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Locally Sourced: Two James Spirits Makes History in Detroit

By: Toni Cunningham | September 30, 2013

Move over, craft beers. Craft cocktails are gaining popularity in Metro Detroit and Two James Spirits is ready to take center stage.

The recently opened distillery is the first to be licensed in Detroit since prohibition, which is only one of several reasons why it’s a big deal.

Located in Corktown, one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods, the folks in charge of Two James are hoping to help revitalize the area with their business.

“In addition to providing employment opportunities, we hope to become a destination in Corktown for people to come and enjoy our spirits and the company of friends. Neighborhoods are made by the people who live and exist in them, and (we) are excited to be a part of the Corktown neighborhood,” Andy Mohr, director of marketing and social media at Two James Spirits, said.

The distillery is currently crafting cocktails and conducting tastings with their Grass Widow Bourbon and 28 Island Vodka. Also available is a Tasting Room Series Version of Old Cockney Gin, which is not quite the finished product, but very close to the final botanical blend.

The 28 Island Vodka is available for purchase by the bottle now, while the Grass Widow Bourbon will be available to take home the first week of November.

The spirits are being released one by one due to the process it takes to complete each. Creating the Grass Widow Bourbon is somewhat complex—it’s finished in Madeira casks from Portugal, so it will take a little longer to release.

When it came to the vodka, Mohr said they wanted to create something smooth and refined, but still wanted people to recognize that they were drinking vodka.

“Great effort was placed on coming up with the perfect blend of wheat and corn for our 28 Island Vodka. The final product is 70 percent corn and 30 percent wheat. The sweetness of the corn is balanced out by the smooth, creamy finish the wheat provides,” Mohr said.

Two James’ 28 Island Vodka is 82 proof, providing a hint of burn with each taste. Mohr suggests serving it chilled with a lemon twist.

While the cocktail list for the tasting room is still being created, emphasis will be placed on ingredients that compliment and add to the complexity of each spirit.

“At the moment, my favorite cocktail is Disco in Detroit, which is constructed with Afghan raisin and date infused Grass Widow Bourbon, caraway and agave syrup, fresh lemon juice, and bitters,” Mohr said.

According to Mohr, the cocktail menu itself will evolve with the seasons and release of each spirit. He noted that Two James will continually strive to create cocktails that are both unique and delicious.

And with so many craft cocktail bars popping up in the Metro Detroit area, it’s a good thing they’re making sure to set themselves apart.

“Our cocktails are crafted using spirits distilled right in Detroit, so there is an element of history and civic pride embodied in our product,” Mohr said. “Our products will also stand out due to our dedication and commitment to crafting small, handcrafted batches of premium spirit, using locally sourced ingredients that highlight our love for Michigan and the people and city of Detroit.”

Two James takes its mission to remain environmentally conscious very seriously. The distillery has implemented a water reclamation system that enables the reuse of hundreds of gallons of water for each fermentation run. Also, 100 percent of the rye for the upcoming Two James Rye Whiskey is sourced in Michigan, and after the distilling process, all spent grain is donated to local farmers for use as compost or animal feed. Even the tasting room is enhanced with reclaimed wood from Detroit buildings. I don’t think it gets more sustainable than that.

“We currently source 100 percent of the rye used in our 100 percent Rye Whiskey from a local farm in Jasper, Michigan. The agricultural abundance of Michigan makes this area an ideal location for a distillery and we try to locally source our ingredients as much as possible,” Mohr said. “We plan to distill an apple brandy in the future using Michigan apples and eaux de vie using Michigan fruits.”

Additional future releases will include Two James Bourbon, Two James “Reserve” Single Malt Whiskey, Absinthe, and Calvados.

If all of this is sounding great so far, you might want to join the Corktown 500. The five-year, $2,000 membership allows you to attend a weekend distilling run and essentially create whiskey with your own two hands.

“The greatest benefit of the Corktown 500 is to gain a hands-on experience of the entire process of distilling a true Michigan whiskey, from start to finish,” Mohr said, noting that more details to the program will be announced soon.

Currently, tasting room hours are every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., but Mohr says they hope to expand to Wednesdays and Sundays soon. The grand opening of Two James Spirits will be held later this fall, with Mohr stating they are aiming for the first week of November.

“We would like to use the grand opening to invite all of our friends, family, fellow business owners, people from the neighborhood, and patrons who have played such a vital role in making Two James Spirits a reality,” Mohr said. “It will be a festive event with music, food, and of course, spirits.”

For more information on Two James Spirits, visit the official website or Facebook page.

TJS