Monday, October 31, 2011

Old Dog Tavern - The Independent Musicians' Best Friend

Kalamazoo, Michigan was once known for its production of guitars, mandolins, buggies, checker cab, stoves, paper, paper products and drugs (don’t get too excited, I’m talking about the Upjohn Company).  Glen Miller loved this city so much that in 1942, he recorded a song about a gal he once had in Kalamazoo. The song is still played as part of the Western Michigan University Broncos Marching Band's pregame performance prior to all home football games. 

Orville Gibson
Orville Gibson began to sell his unique mandolins in 1894 out of a one-room work shop in Kalamazoo. During the 1920s, Gibson was responsible for many innovations in banjo, guitar and mandolin design.  The Gibson Guitar Company called Kalamazoo home until the mid-1980s, when it moved all operations to Nashville, Tennessee and Bozeman, Montana.  A few Gibson employees decided to stay in the area, and they established Heritage Guitars in the old Gibson factory, building boutique versions of classic Gibson designs. 

Music has always been a major component of the community. Kalamazoo was once home to many live music venues that specialized in all styles and forms of live music.  Blues, country, rock-a-billy, alternative, heavy metal, or classical live performances could be found every weekend, while weekly open mic nights provided the live entertainment junkie the fix that they needed until the weekend lineup came to town.  The ugly and sinister recession cloud that entered our lives a few years ago put a damper on the sunny side of live entertainment venues.  This cloud changed the normally lively and upbeat rhythm and harmony that musicians brought to Kalamazoo patrons via the live venue. All of a sudden, doors began closing. The live music staples of Club Soda and Kraftbrau closed their doors, and slowly but surely, others followed. The live music scene began to dwindle down to a single note you could faintly hear - but only if you listened carefully.

Kalamazoo was also once known as the “Paper City." This 1908 postcard, published by the Star Paper Company, captures a glimpse of the Kalamazoo Paper Mills that once graced downtown's landscape.  The Kalamazoo Paper Company was started in 1867, burned down in 1872, and rebuilt in 1873 to make book paper. The Star Paper Company was located in downtown Kalamazoo at 402 E. Kalamazoo Avenue, snuggled up next to the railroad tracks. This historical building is now the home to Old Dog Tavern.
I remember visiting the Star Paper Factory building on many occasions years ago, when Kraftbrau Brewing Company was taking up residency in the Star Paper Company building.  Kraftbrau was a fantastic place to catch some of the best live entertainment Kalamazoo had to offer.  One thing I know for sure, Kalamazoo residents like to have a good time, they like to be entertained, and they are culturally educated. Entertainment runs rampant throughout the city. It is hard not to find something to do every night of the week - theater, art, museums, music, university and college events, live stage shows, movies, food and drink. Kalamazoo has it all, and far exceeds many communities in these departments.

I hadn’t been to the Star Paper building in quite some time.  Kraftbrau had since closed, and I had been shaking up cocktails in the Windy City for ten years. I was very happy to hear that the Star Paper Company had a new tenant.  A new “dog” was in town, only this was an old one.  I also heard a bit of gossip from that snarky thing called the internet that I was thrilled to learn was the truth:  Old Dog Tavern purchased the now defunct Club Soda bar fixture.  Those of you who go back a ways know that the Club Soda bar was THE place to see live entertainment back in the 1980s. Does anyone remember the “Boppin’ with the Taxman” event?  Although I shouldn’t remember it, I vaguely do.  I spent quite a few of my college days at this little entertainment spot that is tucked away on East Michigan Avenue. Many fond memories are kept closely guarded inside my psyche so I can always relive what the Club Soda bar experience was like. I felt very nostalgic knowing I could relive the energy of this bar fixture at a new establishment. 

I revisited the building a few months ago when I was in town preaching the gospel of local Michigan spirits for Incentive Vodka.  I stopped by for lunch on a Friday, hoping to grab a quick bite and talk about cocktails. I entered and felt the energy of this historic building one more time. Heavy timbers and Chicago-style brick add to the already eclectic atmosphere at Old Dog Tavern. The stage was moved from the East side of the room to the North end, allowing for more user-friendly audience viewing.  The former Club Soda bar graces the East side of the building, in the same L-shaped style as it did at its prior home. I sat down and felt the energy of a bar I had given energy to so many years ago.  An added bonus of nostalgia included Club Soda's marquee sign proudly hanging in its new home.  I was a little surprised to see that I was the only one present at noon, on a Friday that had gorgeous weather.  The bartender, Danielle, greeted me immediately with an enormous welcoming smile. I decided to have some lunch. Danielle let me know the lunch special of the day was a White Bean Chili that Amy Smith, the owner, had prepared.  Although it was a beautiful day, it was a little brisk, so a nice bowl of chili sounded good.  I agreed to the special and settled in with a Maker’s Mark cocktail. My chili soon arrived, and it was the perfect Friday afternoon lunch on a beautiful autumn day in Kalamazoo. Danielle was amazing as a bartender and a lunch companion. I probably stayed a little longer than I usually would for lunch, but we were having such a great conversation. Again, I was a little surprised to see only a handful of people come in for to-go lunches. I did learn that Old Dog Tavern doesn’t accept credit cards -- yet.  Yet is the key word here, kids. They are working on getting this added convenience of payment for guests very soon. Luckily, I had twenty bucks in my pocket that I was supposed to give my nephew after he completed his chores for the day. I had time to replenish his cash with a stop at the ATM before chore inspection, so all was good. Old Dog Tavern has fantastic lunch specials, and I would highly recommend it for those folks who don’t want to wait for a table and prefer a historic, rustic and rugged building with an atmosphere that is filled with old-style charm, character and energy. This is Kalamazoo history at its finest. 

I ended my visit with a promise to return in the near future when live music would make the place jump with even more energy. I fulfilled my promise on a Friday night after downtown Kalamazoo’s Art Hop. After a successful Art of the Cocktail demo at Webster’s Prime, Doug Stanke, Master Distiller of Incentive Vodka, and I wandered down to check out the scene at Old Dog Tavern. The parking lot was packed and the streets were still alive and vibrant with Kalamazooans absorbing all that the downtown area had to offer via the monthly Art Hop event.  Across the street from Old Dog is the famed Bell’s Beer Brewery.  This particular corner of downtown was brimming with beer aficionados and live music entertainment, very reminiscent of an artisan-crafted microbrew keg that’s been freshly tapped. This corner of downtown was effervescent, bubbly, hoppy, filled with flavor and crafted by passionate artists. We crossed the threshold and the old historic building was alive and happy with music. The tavern was filled with an eclectic group of patrons that ranged in age from college students to card-carrying AARP members. Amy Smith, Co-owner of Old Dog Tavern, was the Goddess of the Bar, taking care of all guests with a smile and an appropriate laugh, while still enjoying the music and moving at the speed of light to keep up with thirsty tipplers. 

The music lineup was stellar. I had the pleasure of catching Delilah DeWylde & The Lost Boys performance. Their rendition of Buddy Holly’s “That’ll be the Day” was taken to a new level of spectacular. Their performance of The Ventures’ “Pipeline,” note-for-note, complete with stand-up bass, brought the crowd to a new level of celebratory ritualistic happiness on a Friday night. Interesting enough, this was the second band that I enjoyed in Kalamazoo that had a stand-up bass player during Art Hop celebrations - very cool!  I was honored to step behind the bar and shake a few signature cocktails with Amy using my Spiced Apple Simple Syrup (see Autumn Harvest Cobbler posting for recipe). Although I spent many years on one side of the bar as a patron, it really meant a lot to me to step back behind the bar as a Traveling Elixir Fixer and mix up a little SW Michigan. There is a magic and creativity you can only experience when actually visiting the area - this is energy and magic that I believe Orville Gibson left behind as the Heritage Guitar Company continues to thrive.

I will definitely be back to the Old Dog Tavern - I love its charm, ruggedness, kitchy bar memorabilia, and the energy that this historic Kalamazoo building still holds. I hope to again go behind this legendary bar, mix up a few elixirs with Amy and Danielle, and keep the energy and magic flowing via prohibition-era cocktails. I firmly believe that Old Dog Tavern is the musician’s “best friend” when it comes to live music venues - a friend that Kalamazoo lost when Club Soda closed its doors years ago, but now lives on at the Old Dog Tavern. 

The Gibson Factory Smokestack, Kalamazoo, MI

Friday, October 21, 2011

Webster's - Kalamazoo's Best Kept Secret of a Bar

I am feeling a little like Indiana Jones right now, as I am pretty sure I have discovered a hidden cocktail mecca in Downtown Kalamazoo during Friday night's Art Hop.  Art Hop is an event that features multiple art exhibits that are open at the same time and are held on the first Friday of the month.  Art Hop is a fun, friendly, informal happening where people meet friends and family for an evening of art and entertainment.  Four times a year, the Art Hop is expanded to include downtown Kalamazoo merchants, and I was honored and thrilled to be asked to be part of October's Art Hop at Webster's Prime Steakhouse Restaurant with Incentive Vodka

The Tasting Room, the "bar" area of Webster's, is an entity of its own, completely separate from the main dining area of Webster's.  Although it is a large room, the design of the Tasting Room is set up to be comfortable and cozy among friends, with group seatings of leather club chairs, comfortable couches, and a large fireplace.  The bar area is stylish and inviting. The Mix-Masters of Webster's, Anna and Anne, are the goddesses of the bar, and they work gracefully and passionately creating the perfect cocktail and other libations for their guests. 

The Tasting Room's small bites & sandwich menu is eclectic, very friendly on the wallet, and sources its ingredients locally.  The chefs show their passion in these offerings. We had the seafood sampler appetizer; it was so good that we ordered another to keep the dance party going on in our taste buds. Webster's Tasting Room takes pride in offering flights of Michigan-produced spirits, as well as a large assortment of seasonally-changing Michigan microbrews. It's a great place to grab and share a few appetizers and libations with friends.

The Tasting Room also features live entertainment, and Friday night's lineup was spectacular. Joel Rydecki rocked out on guitar until 8 pm, and then Joe Wang and the Test Pilots (complete with a stand-up bass player) played from 8pm until close.  Nice accoustic music stylings playfully set the stage for an evening filled with magical tunes performed by local Kalamazoo musicians.

Mixology demo with Incentive Vodka - celebrating the perfect PURE MICHIGAN Autumn Day in liquid form with the Autumn Harvest Cobbler (see recipe blog posting). The crowd loved learning the history behind Cobblers and were absorbing all that Webster's had to offer - great food, great atmosphere, great entertainment, and great cocktails. This is the kind of place to go for a nice, quiet and cozy atmosphere filled with passionate food and drink.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Autumn Harvest Cobbler with Incentive Vodka (Sturgis, MI)

The Traveling Elixir Fixer was on tour with Incentive Vodka this past weekend in SW Michigan.  I was getting prepared for two events that would utilize the same cocktail created with Incentive Vodka, an artisan-crafted vodka distilled from 100% Michigan-grown corn at Big Cedar Distillery, located in Sturgis. Because the area is entering peak Autumn flavors (apples), and SW Michigan Fall foliage was beginning to burst with all of the colors that make the Fall Color Tours famous, it was time to try and capture the perfect PURE MICHIGAN Autumn day in liquid form, using locally-sourced ingredients. I began concocting my weekend experience the night before, through olfactory sensory stimulus - poaching my Michigan Gala apple garnish.  The aroma of rum, apple juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, orange and poached apples awakened my senses and I began to daydream of crisp and cool Autumn days, apple orchards, and cider mills.

My travel day was perfect - the temperature was hovering around the mid-60's and the sky was as blue as the few white, puffy clouds would allow.  As I crossed the Michigan border on I-94, my visual sensory stimulus began to unfold - green leaves were replaced with vibrant gold, red and orange paintings of leaves.  My mp3 player even got into the Michigan groove by ensuring that Tommy James and The Shondells' "Sweet Cherry Wine" would randomly play as I passed the Niles Exit. Yep, it was time to celebrate all of the Michigan flavors in liquid form - The Autumn Harvest Cobbler.

The Cobbler is an old form of mixed drink that consists of a base spirit (originally some form of wine, modern versions sometimes leave it out), sugar and fresh fruit. Just a little history for you behind the lost (but NOT forgotten) Cobbler cocktail: it dates from at least the 1830’s, and made excellent use of two items that were very new to the people of that time – ice and straws. It was time to celebrate Fall flavors, and I felt that an Autumn Harvest Cobbler would be a perfect fit for the weekend festivities in SW Michigan.

Downtown Kalamazoo's Art Hop - Liquid Art at Webster's

Autumn Harvest Cobbler

1 1/2 oz. Incentive Vodka
1 oz. Schultz Fruitridge Farms Apple Cider
1/2 oz. Spiced Apple Syrup (see below)
1/2 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
Poached Apple Slice (garnish - see below)
Dusting of Fresh Grated Cinnamon and Nutmeg (garnish)

Combine vodka, cider, syrup and lemon juice in a mixing glass.  Add ice to Boston Shaker, shake ingredients for 10 seconds.  Strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass and garnish with a poached apple slice and a light dusting of fresh-grated cinnamon & nutmeg.

Poached Apples
1 cup water
1/2 cup locally-sourced honey
1 cup Castaway Rum
(available at Incentive Vodka's tasting room)
4 cups Indian Summer Apple Juice
(Suttons Bay, MI)
8 cups sugar
4 - 2" long fresh ginger root pieces, skinned
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp. Bourbon Vanilla Extract
2 oranges, cut into wheels
12 Michigan Gala apples

Peel and core apples and cut into 1/2" wedges.  Store in cold water until ready to begin poaching.

Heat water over medium heat in a non-reactive pan.  Gently stir in honey.  Once honey is dissolved, add rum and apple juice and continue stirring over medium heat.  Add 4 cups of sugar, stir well, then add cinnamon sticks, bourbon vanilla, ginger root and orange wheels.  Continue heat over medium temperature and add apple slices.  Cover and simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until apples are soft, yet firm.  Do not overcook.  Remove apples with a slotted spoon and allow to cool in a bowl or on a plate.

Spiced Apple Syrup

Remove cinnamon sticks, oranges and ginger and set them aside for later use.  Continue on medium heat and stir in 4 additional cups of sugar. Stir well until dissolved and remove from heat. Return oranges, ginger and cinnamon and allow to steep for an additional 20-30 minutes, depending on taste profile.  Once taste is achieved, remove orange wheels, ginger and cinnamon and allow syrup to cool.  Fine strain syrup into a bottle and refrigerate. Once the spiced apple syrup is cool, pour it over apples and refrigerate for up to three days.

Downtown Hastings, MI "Girls Night Out" Event at The County Seat Lounge with the Autumn Harvest Cobbler. Cocktail Created by Mixologist Angie Jackson.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Highballs and High Heels - A Guide to "Girls Night Out" in Hastings, MI

Hastings, Michigan is located on the Thornapple River in the heart of Barry County. Ideally situated between the metropolitan areas of Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Battle Creek, Hastings is a vibrant community, home to quaint shops and unique restaurants surrounded by nature's beauty. The ladies of Hastings, MI treat themselves and their girlfriends to the best shopping party EVER in downtown Hastings, via the "Girls Night Out" event. This glammed-up event is sponsored by the Hastings Downtown Business Team, a committee of the Barry County Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Development Authority.  

Ladies enjoy special dining and shopping fun with over 30 downtown businesses offering  special discounts, demonstrations, and lots of refreshments. These ladies love crafted cocktails and The County Seat Lounge provided the perfect backdrop and proper tippling environment for this occasion.

We celebrated this fabulous event by enjoying Autumn Harvest Cobblers, using Michigan's own Incentive Vodka, distilled in Sturgis from 100% Michigan-grown corn. The Autumn Harvest Cobbler, crafted from locally-sourced Michigan ingredients, is not only good, it is GLUTEN-FREE.

For the recipe, see Autumn Harvest Cobbler with Incentive Vodka posting.

Fenn Valley Winery was on hand for wine tasting at The County Seat Lounge for downtown Hastings' "Girls Night Out"

Carla and Gary Rizor, owners of The County Seat Lounge, are truly passionate about their establishment. Their eclectic, fresh and seasonally-driven menu includes everything from gourmet burgers to fine cut steaks.  And they do it right - all of their ingredients are sourced from local farms.  The Rizors have a wonderful taste for all things local - including Michigan-crafted beers, wine and spirits.  Look for their new fresh and seasonal cocktail menu program, that will feature locally-sourced ingredients, coming in the near future.

After a day of traveling and eating two meals served in bags in the car, I was ready for my taste buds to be tantalized and I was placing bets that the County Seat's steak would be up for this challenge.  I knew I had a winner after the first bite of my perfectly-marbled medium-rare ribeye, served  with cheesy potatoes au gratin and fresh steamed carrots.  This ribeye melted in my mouth, and was so flavorful and juicy -- I will definitely be back for this one!

The Ladies who attended enjoyed our Incentive Vodka cocktail demonstration and even managed to have a little fun with  the rescued cocktail relics from The Rusty Rabbit's Cocktail Cottage in Mattawan, MI.  The Rusty Rabbit donated the award-winning cider, from Schultz Fruitridge Farms in Mattawan, MI, for this high-heeled event.

Until we cross paths again, a HUGE THANKS AND CHEERS to all who came out and supported their local establishments in downtown Hastings via "Girls Night Out!"  The Traveling Elixir Fixer will be back at The County Seat Lounge for a Michigan-inspired "spirited" dinner on Friday, October 28, 2011.  Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Journeyman Distillery Blazes an Artistic Liquid Trail in Harbor Country

Three Oaks, MI is a Village in SW Michigan's Harbor Country, and is named for massive oaks that stood near a town rail crossing.  Three Oaks is a culturally-rich little village, a true piece of Pure Michigan Americana, filled with quaint shops and live theater, with artistic energy flowing through town.

Three Oaks is also home to the E.K. Warren Featherbone Factory, which was built over a century ago, to strip turkey feathers of their quills to use in women's  corsets.  This past Saturday, October 8, 2011, marked a magical beginning for Journeyman Distillery, which now calls the Featherbone Factory home. They officially opened the doors to their new distillery and tasting room.  I was unable to attend this grand event, as I was absorbing the perfect PURE Michigan Autumn Day at the New Buffalo Harvest and Wine Festival via my merchant booth for The Rusty Rabbit's Cocktail Cottage.  However, I was 100% sure that the event was a tremendous success.  I had the pleasure of consulting with the Journeymen months before they saw their dream become a reality on Saturday evening.

I met Bill Welter and Nick Gurniewicz approximately eight months ago when they were in the early stages of crafting their spirits. The Featherbone Factory building, which now houses the distillery and tasting room, was vacant with a blank slate for improvement.  A few months later, Bill contacted me, asking me to teach them everything I knew about crafting cocktails in a two-hour private mixology class.  We had so much fun that the two hours turned into a five-hour friendship gathering, complete with Matt Jannotta, who joined us as Journeyman's new Bar Manager. I was honored and completely thrilled to be asked to guest bartend the "Friends and Family" night on Friday, September 23, as a preview to the Grand Opening Night.

I was amazed at the transformation of this portion of the Featherbone Factory.  Bill and Nick had kept the original feel and contents of this historical site. The original maple factory floors are from the 1800′s.  Gracing the stage is an original concrete bar, made in Grand Rapids, with coordinates etched into the side—to mark this historic and unique location.


Bill used wood from his family's barn in central Indiana - wood that was once the flooring for an early turn-of-the-century schoolhouse. An original photograph of Featherbone Factory employees, taken in 1923, is artistically framed and crafted into a wooden nook in the bar area of the tasting room.

E.K. Warren, the original builder of the factory—while being a staunch prohibitionist—would be proud to see his building shining bright.  As a tribute to the builder, the distillery tasting room uses its sense of humor to the fullest, and features a twist on the classic Mark Twain cocktail, called the "E.K. Warren," using Journeyman's Ravenswood Rye, Fresh Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup and 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters. Their balanced, locally-sourced, seasonally changing cocktail menu is fresh and simple, allowing Journeyman's artisan crafted spirits to shine appropriately.

Currently available at the Three Oaks Tasting Room:  W.R. Welter White Whiskey and Ravenswood Rye Whiskey.

Cocktail aficionados enjoying fine crafted libations using Journeyman Distillery Whiskeys - The White Manhattan and White Dog Cocktails.

The first cocktails to flow at the Journeyman Distillery Tasting Room during Friends and Family night. The Greenbush Brewing Company crew, of New Buffalo, stopped by to extend their best wishes and congratulations to their new neighbors in Three Oaks.

Friends and Family night was a complete success -- cocktails were flowing, guests were having the time of their lives, and, the Journeymen? Well, they were grinning ear-to-ear like proud fathers watching their children dance and perform at their first school play.  Their "spirited" children performed with the cocktails gracefully and elegantly without a flaw. After months of hard work, tough hurdles overcome, and the drive and determination to succeed, their dream had become a reality.  I was truly impressed and very proud to have been a part of the early stages of Journeyman's development.  I wish my friends at Journeyman Distillery all the GOOD SPIRIT KARMA in the world!  If you are in SW Michigan's Harbor Country, be sure to include a stop at Journeyman Distillery's wonderful tasting room, filled with liquid art in the Village of Three Oaks, MI.  I look forward to my next visit with my friends!  Cheers!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Harvest Moon Elixir with True North Cherry Vodka

 According to

"It's when 19 million acres of woods slowly explode in a frenzy of color. It's when an entire state is in its annual blaze of glory. It's when autumn arrives in Michigan. And there's no better place to see the dynamic colors of a trillion trees aflame than along our highways, country roads and coastlines. So let's head out to the forests. And let's prepare to be amazed.”

Here’s a great PURE MICHIGAN cocktail celebrating all of Michigan’s finest Autumn Flavors using one of Michigan's finest spirits, True North Cherry Vodka from Grand Traverse Distillery, Traverse City, MI.  It's like a perfect Michigan Autumn Day in liquid form.

Harvest Moon Elixir

1 oz. True North Cherry Vodka (Traverse City, MI)
½ oz. Amaretto
1 oz. Indian Summer Apple Juice (Suttons Bay, MI)
½ oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
Fresh Grated Cinnamon/Nutmeg (Garnish)
Thin-Slice of Michigan Gala Apple (Garnish)

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass.  Add ice to Boston Shaker.  Shake well for 10 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with thin-sliced Michigan Gala Apple slice and a dusting of fresh grated cinnamon and nutmeg.

Recipe Created By:  Angie Jackson, Mixologist