In April 2011, I had the pleasure of mixing and shaking cocktails at Boyne Mountain, MI for the 4th Annual Chef’s Challenge. The Chef’s Challenge is the premier Michigan epicurean event, held at Boyne Mountain, benefitting Challenge Mountain, a non-profit organization devoted to improving and enriching the lives of the mentally and physically handicapped through outdoor recreation. Challenge Mountain is the nation’s only adaptive recreational facility dedicated exclusively to people with special needs. 100% of all donated dollars go directly to Challenge Mountain programs. The event showcases Michigan’s great agricultural diversity, at its succulent finest, complimented by fine Michigan wines, micro-brews and spirits. This two-day event features a high school competition where culinary high school teams from across the state prepare dishes using chicken, beef tenderloin, Koegel Italian sausage, and a dessert. Chef teams, micro brewers, vintners and spirits distillers are judged by a team of celebrity judges as well as the public.
|La Vega Family|
I was shaking and hanging out at this incredible sensory tasting event with all of my wonderful distillery, brewery and winery friends from New Holland Artisan Spirits, Grand Traverse Distillery, Black Star Farms, Incentive Vodka, and Good Harbor Vineyards. I attended Friday evening’s high school challenge, and was quite impressed by a pair of young enterprising brothers, who were inspired by their grandmother, to begin creating delectable Michigan-made jams. The La Vega Foods brothers began selling produce at local farmers markets, and have now exploded into their own culinary enterprise while still in high school. The brothers also created Jeff’s Smokin' Barbecue Sauce; Mama V's Jellies, Jams & Preserves; Natures Garden Honey; and Casa Vega Salsa. All of their products are Michigan made, and you will see "I am made in Michigan" on all product labels. I was so impressed with these young and talented chefs’ salesmanship skills, I decided to sample their goods.
I was astonished at the flavor profiles they achieved in their jams, especially the Nature’s Garden Cinnamon Roll Walnut Jam and the Apple Pie Jam. I decided that I needed to honor their craft with my craft by designing a signature cocktail using their jams and a Michigan whiskey. I had the perfect spirit in mind for this creation - Ole George Rye Whiskey, produced at Grand Traverse Distillery in Traverse City. Ole George Whiskey is distilled from a 100% rye mash bill, is bottled at 93 proof and distilled in the traditional rye whiskey fashion. Prior to prohibition, Americans drank rye whiskey. Rye has a unique character that no other grain can provide - a spicy flavor profile. Grand Traverse Distillery’s Ole George Whiskey is bottled straight from the barrel. They do not chill filter Ole George, as chill filtering can remove flavor from the whiskey. Their goal with Ole George Whiskey is to let the unique flavor of the rye come through. I had a sneaking suspicion that the spicy rye of Ole George would blend beautifully with Nature’s Garden Cinnamon Roll Walnut Jam.
This is the perfect drink recipe for upcoming winter celebratory gatherings – PURE Michigan style. It is named after the wife of our country's first President (who also happened to be the largest and most successful whiskey distiller in the late 1700s), and Grand Traverse Distillery’s Ole George Rye Whiskey. Cheers!
2 oz. Ole George Rye Whiskey (Grand Traverse Distillery, Traverse City, MI)
1 tablespoon Nature’s Garden Cinnamon Roll Walnut Jam (Whitmore Lake, MI)
½ oz. Ginger Infused Simple Syrup (see recipe)
¾ oz. Fresh squeezed lemon juice
Muddle jam, lemon juice and simple syrup in a mixing glass. Add whiskey and shake all ingredients with ice for 10 seconds in a Boston Shaker. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Ginger Simple Syrup
2 cups of fine turbinado sugar
1 cup water
1 four-inch piece of skinned ginger root, cut into 2-pieces
Heat water in a non-reactive sauce pan over medium heat. Add ginger root pieces as water begins to heat, and slowly add sugar while stirring well. Continue stirring. Once sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and allow ginger to steep an additional 10 minutes or until desired flavor profile is reached. Remove ginger, allow syrup to cool. Bottle and refrigerate. Syrup will last up to 30 days in refrigerator.