Where to Start Your Detroit Bourbon Tour

By: Melanie Grinnell | May 24, 2022

If it seems like you’re hearing a lot more about bourbon in the last several years, that could be because everyone from your boss to your BFF to your brother-in-law has been jumping on board and becoming aficionados. According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, sales have increased over 300% in the last twenty years and bourbon distilleries have proliferated. There are more barrels of bourbon aging in warehouses in Kentucky than there are people living in the state—over two times as many! 

But what even IS bourbon? Bourbon is like whiskey’s cornier cousin—in that it has to be made with at least 51% corn. It must age in fresh, charred, American oak barrels, and it has to be made in the US (95% comes from Kentucky). And finally, it must contain no additives. 

Whether you are a connoisseur or completely uninitiated, it can be fun to taste a handful of different brands on a night out and see what appeals to you. Bourbon is known for its smokey sweet flavor that can have hints of vanilla, cherry, caramel, oak, and countless other tasting notes. As with wine, the subtle hints of underlying flavors give the spirit its character and make it such a well-loved liquor to explore and embrace.

The Painted Lady Lounge in Hamtramck is an under-the-radar goldmine of bourbon in the Metro Detroit area. The top of the bar back is lined with empty fifths of Pappy Van Winkle and all of Pappy’s relations on down the line. Owner Andrew Dow is able to procure a surprisingly high number of those coveted premium brands. They are difficult to come by and they don’t last long, but he’s always trying to get them when he can. 

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He makes trips down to Kentucky several times a year to meet with distillers and select barrels for his bar. Over the years, he and his bartenders have become very knowledgeable about bourbon and are happy to point you to the perfect match for your pallet and budget. They offer everything from high-quality bargains to mid-level stand-outs to the top-shelf bottles for those wishing to live the high life and sample something special. A shot from that range might set you back quite a bit, but it could be fun for a night of indulgent adventures.

Your Metro Detroit Bourbon Tour Guide 

Andy generously shared his expertise to help compile this list of great spots in and around Detroit for checking out bourbon. Whether you’ve got an event to plan, or you just want some fun ideas for this summer, this list should get you going on a fun night out—or many fun nights out. Throw a party bus and a handful of friends into the mix and you’ve got yourself a fine Metro Detroit Bourbon Tour! 

The Painted Lady

We’ll start off with Andy’s bar. It’s not one that might leap to mind for fine bourbon, but don’t let the location fool you. It’s a gem. His bartenders have honed their craft and his bourbon selection is worthy of a trip to Hamtramck’s working-class south end. He has bourbon clubs and tours that visit frequently. It’s a fun social vibe in the oldest commercial building in the city of Hamtramck and his prices are hard to beat. They keep a list of their bourbons and whiskeys on their website. 

Sugar House

On Michigan Ave., smack dab in the heart of Corktown, you’ll find Sugar House, a swanky, but inviting lounge with a vibe of quirky opulence. It’s a place where you’d expect to find a good bourbon selection and you shall. They have a long list of house single barrels on their website. The bartenders there know their spirits and can guide you on your bourbon journey. 

Butter Run Saloon

This is an old-school steakhouse, bar, and grill in St. Clair Shores with a huge selection of whiskey and bourbon. Andy thinks they probably have the largest selection in the Detroit area and you can often find bottles here that came out several years ago; bottles that most places would have sold out long ago. They have a great list of all their bourbons on their website, along with detailed descriptions so you can do your homework before you go. 

Churchill’s

Churchill’s in Birmingham is Andy’s fav. It’s a steakhouse with a fireplace and fine leather furniture for lounging. He notes their excellent food, an outstanding selection of bourbon that is fairly priced, along with outstanding service. If you enjoy cigars, with your bourbon, this place will make you happy as you can smoke them indoors. Check out their liquor selection on their website.  

If you’re new to bourbon, here are Andy’s recommendations for what to order:

  • For a high-quality, affordable selection, Buffalo Trace is a great one—Andy has been getting barrels of that for his bar for years. He also recommends Old Forester 1920.
  • For a step up to a mid-range option, Andy likes Old Medley 12 Year and Rebel Yell 10 Year.
  • If you want to indulge in the best, top-of-the-line selections, they can be harder to come by, but if you spot anything with Van Winkle on the label, you can’t go wrong.

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