After this year to end all years —not to mention the uncertainly of what is going to happen next year —I truly believe we could all use a drink.
Of course, I mean a well-crafted cocktail. One fellow Wolverine friend has used the lockdown to institute a new nightly routine, turning cocktails into a diary of his quarantine. When a windstorm threatened his power, he whipped up a dark and stormy (pineapple rum and ginger beer). For the arrival of spring, he made a purple haze (vodka, cranberry juice, and blueberry liqueur) to match the early buds that bloom in his garden.
With the holidays and winter approaching, I decided to find an expert for some tips on concocting warm drinks for the cold months ahead and was lucky to discover Tammy Coxen, an Ann Arbor mixologist. Not only does she teach mixology classes, she also co-hosts a show with Lester Graham called “Cheers” on NPR member station Michigan Radio. The two recently published a book based on the radio series “Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers” (University of Michigan Press, 2019).
This fascinating book starts by sharing some fun facts about Michigan during Prohibition. Who knew that an estimated 60% to 75% of all the alcohol smuggled into the country during Prohibition came through Detroit? Wanting to learn more about her craft, I reached out to Coxen with some cocktail queries.
Moulton: Do you think there has been a surge in mixology?
Coxen: Absolutely. We are in the second golden age of cocktails. The first was right before Prohibition, when bartending was considered a craft. Then, when Prohibition happened, all the talented bartenders left the profession or the country. Craft in cocktails went bye-bye. It wasn’t until the ’90s that we experienced a cocktail renaissance. Bartenders started to revisit the first golden age, reverting to homemade ingredients and fresh juice. The 2010s brought another big bump in cocktail excitement, helped along by the hashtag #Drinkstagram on Instagram.
Moulton: How has the pandemic affected the industry?
Coxen: Before the pandemic, people were accustomed to enjoying their favorite drink in a local bar. Now, everyone is mixing their own cocktails at home. I have been encouraging people to buy Michigan sprits at liquor stores or local distilleries. In Michigan alone, we have seen roughly 60 new distilleries appear since 2007, so we need to support them. You can also support your local bar by ordering a takeout cocktail. Two of my favorite bars for that in Ann Arbor are The Last Word and 327 Braun Court.
Moulton: What tips do you have for the home mixologist?
Coxen: Use fresh juice and more ice than you think you need. Use an accurate measuring device, and follow the recipe. More alcohol isn’t better. It just knocks the cocktail out of balance. You can make substitutions, but you have to have some idea of what you’re doing. Swapping brands is fine when it comes to base spirits (gin and tequila, for example), but for specialty ingredients, like amaro, you want to be brand specific.Depending on the recipe, shake a cocktail for 10 to15 seconds or stir it for 25 to 30 seconds.
Moulton: What are essential tools for the home mixologist?
Coxen: My preferred measuring device is a 2-ounce OXO measuring cup, which you will also find incredibly useful for cooking. In a pinch, use a measuring spoon or cup. One tablespoon equals a 1/2 ounce, and 2 ounces equals 1/4 cup. If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, you can use a Mason jar or water bottle and the lid as a strainer. You should have something for squeezing citrus, as fresh juice is key to a quality cocktail. For stirring, bartenders use bar spoons, but a chopstick works just as well —maybe even better.
Moulton: Besides your own book, what are your other favorite cocktail books?
Coxen: “The Bar Book,” by Jeffrey Morgenthaler (Chronicle Books, 2014), tells all you need to know to mix amazing drinks at home. “The One-Bottle Cocktail,” by Maggie Hoffman (Ten Speed Press, 2013), is great because every recipe is based on a single bottle of alcohol (like gin, vodka, tequila), with no addition of bitters, vermouth, or liqueurs, and just fresh ingredients and items from your fridge or pantry, like sesameoil or harissa.
For cocktail nerds, I recommend “Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails,” by Shannon Mustipher (Rizzoli, 2019). She writes delicious, but advanced recipes with complicated ingredients. It is also the first cocktail book written by an African American bartender and put out by a major publisher in over 100 years.
Cookbook author Sara Moulton (saramoulton.com) is currently the host of the public television show “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.”
Cozy Winter Cocktails
Coxen’s favorite winter warm-me-up recipes all yield one drink.
- 1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye
- 1/2 ounce maple syrup
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice2 dashes angostura bitters
- 4 ounces hot apple cider
Combine all ingredients in a heatproof serving glass. (For a nonalcoholic toddy, replace the whiskey with more apple cider. The bitters add a negligible amount of alcohol, but a ton of flavor.)
Egg Nog Flip
- 2 ounces spiced rum (preferably Kraken)
- 2 teaspoons superfine sugar
- 2 ounces half-and-half
- 1 egg Dash of vanilla extract or bitters
Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a shaker with ice. Shake hard for 15-20 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with nutmeg.
Hot Buttered Rum
- 2 tablespoons spiced butter (see recipe below)
- 4 ounces hot water
- 1 1/2 ounces aged rum (something with color, not a white rum)
- 1/2 ounce Cruzan Black Strap Rum (or other black rum like Goslings)
- Garnish with lemon wheel
Put butter in bottom of heatproof mug. Add 2 ounces water and stir to mix. Add both rums and remaining water. Float lemon wheel on top.
- 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cream butter and sugar together until light. Add spices and mix thoroughly. Keep refrigerated.