Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A visit to Two James Spirits

On Saturday EJ, Benji and I went and checked out Two James Spirits in Corktown. The distillery is the first business in Detroit to produce spirits since the Volsted Act. The smallish bar was pretty busy, but the doorman was vigilant about following fire code so it was never packed. After standing for a bout ten minutes, one of the bartenders found us a recently vacated table. He also gave us samples of their yet to be released full rye whiskey. It was cask strength and pre-barrel aging. It was delicious, if potent. The rye had a sweetness reminiscent of some Eastern European fruit brandies I've had, but without the fruit flavor.

The bar offers cocktails ranging from traditional to ├╝ber-craft. At the zenith of the hand-crafted cocktail era, it is nice to see a craft distillery offering Manhattans, whiskey-sours, and gin and tonics in edition concoctions like Springtime for Hoffa (whiskey, apple brandy and currant jam). Prices were reasonable ranging from $7 for basic cocktails and shrubs up to $12 for Springtime for Hoffa. I ordered a glass of their Grass Widow Bourbon, neat. It was very good smooth, with a nice sweetness due to a high proportion of rye in the mash.

Our party was split on shrubs. Shrubs are fruit and herb infused vinegar syrups popular in the Colonial Era. Two James had three varieties of shrub served with their spirits. They have a lot of flavor, and a distinctly vinegar finish. They were good, but I think they could have been better with a little soda water and ice served on a hot sumer day.

All in all, Two James is wonderful. The three space is cozy yet not cramped. It wasn't noisy and there are no TVs. All three bartenders on Saturday were super nice and did a great job getting people their drinks quickly on a busy evening. I'm glad to see that Detroit finally has a working distillery.

On a related note: one of my greatest regrets in life is not getting in on the bottom floor of the craft brewing scene. Sure, it would have been hard to balance running a brewery and going to middle school back in 1995, but still, I think I could have made a good go of it. Anyway, I'm beginning to worry that this whole craft distillery thing is starting to take off, and I'll probably miss it too. That is, unless we start making beet rum. Brum, an idea whose time has come.


  1. The secret to getting served when this place is crowded is to bring an old guy. I waited about ten minutes at the bar, trying unsuccessfully to catch someone's eye. When I went to the bathroom and left my dad standing there, he had drinks by the time I returned. Bring an old guy: it works for buying cars, and it works for ordering whiskey.

  2. I think that the popularity of the tasting room/bar area has taken the owners a bit by surprise. I don't think they initially anticipated running a bar as much as actually being a distillery - but the owners are great guys and I've really liked the liquor of theirs that I've had so far...

  3. I've started making shrubs at home, with a nice drinking vinegar made in Ferndale (McClary Bros.), a shot of Jack, and some soda, over ice. Pretty good stuff.

  4. I have tasted one bottle of Grass Widow (bought by a friend) and am now sampling another (which I bought). It's a very nice whiskey! The Madeira notes make it quite unusual for a boubon. I like the smoothness and those spice notes. It is right up there with some of the best bourbons I've tasted.