A Michigander

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At its’ heart a rather simplistic drink, with tons of flavor laying throughout, the Michigander is followed by complexity and depth on account of the ingredients.

Another MxMo post,  this months’ theme is drinks that use spirits other than the basic “standard” spirits as a the base.  In other words, drinks that use things other than vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila or rum.  The theme this month is brought out by Filip over at Adventures in Cocktails, a blog which focuses on artisan cocktails and the experiences that the author, Filip has with different aspects of the bartending profession, community and lifestyle.  Filips blog talks about cocktail culture quite a bit, and is quite an exquisite blog.  Cheers to you Filip, for a great theme of the month and a great blog.

For this month, I decided to talk about a cocktail that I’ve been mulling over and enjoying at 320 Main, which is quite possible the Cheers of my life.  The cocktail is a wonderful fall aperitif: a Michigander.  Created by 320 Main‘s owner, Jason Schiffer, the cocktail features two ingredients prominently which make up the base of the drink, but neither of these ingredients are the generic spirits: the first being Cynar, and the second being Applejack.  Both of these ingredients are popular in a lot of different craft cocktail bars, but by no means are common ingredients, and the taste of the combination between the two, as well as the two other ingredients in the cocktail is quite exquisite, seeing as how it formulates an extremely deep drink in terms of flavor profile.  At its’ heart, the drink is a riff on a sour.  Considering the proportions of the ingredients and the choices of ingredients themselves, honey and lemon juice alongside the Cynar and Applejack, it turns this into a rather complex sour.

Cynar, which is a pretty strange liqueur and bitters, is the product of thirteen different herbs and spices, including the artichoke.  Another product of the Campari group since 1995, Cynar is another Italian liqueur which is drunk quite often in Italy with a bit of soda water.  In the case of other Europeans, such as the Swiss, the aperitif is drunk mixed with orange juice.  The artichoke component in the drink also allows the beverage to be served as a digestif.

Applejack has a very different origin: a popular spirit of the Colonial period, the beverage was oftentimes used as payment for workers in New Jersey area.  Made of distilled apple cider, it most probably is a descendant of Calvados, the French apple brandy that originates from Calvados, France.  The name Applejack originates from the term jacking, which is slang for freeze distillation, which is also called fractional freezing: by chilling a mixture of different ingredients, liquids with different melting points will be frozen at different temperatures, allowing for the separation of different ingredients.  In the case of Applejack, hard cider was left outside, and the different elements would be separated to increase the volume of alcohol in the overall mixture.  This process was repeated until the alcohol reached the desired amount of around 40 percent alcohol by volume.  Laird’s, who solicits the only Applejack on the market currently, comes either bottled in bond or at 40 percent; this recipe calls for the lower proof spirit (only because the bottled in bond version is not carried by his bar).

Jason mixes quite a few drinks, and constantly experiments and constructs cocktails that are uniquely his.  Because he makes so many concoctions, he usually gives it a very quick name, based upon how he conceives of the overall cocktail.  In the case of this drink, with the use of honey and the earthy notes coming from the Cynar, augmented with the floral and fruit notes of the Applejack, the cocktail invoked memories of the fall.  Quickly giving it a name, he dubbed it Dead Leaves, but since he already had another Dead Leaves cocktail, he was dissatisfied with starting down the path of creating multiple variations on a drink, and sought for a new name.  Growing up in Michigan, the cocktail speaks very well about the orchards of apples and characteristics of the landscape and people that live in Michigan, and so he decided upon a final name for the cocktail, that being Michigander.  For those of you who are not familiar with the term, Michigander is a demonym for the people of Michigan and is actually, though sometimes considered pejorative, a phrase that is preferred by the locals to Michiganian.

Whenever creating a drink, Jason takes an approach which is similar to an artist or musician: he focuses in on the ingredients as if they were colors or notes, and tries to use them to paint a picture or compose a song that can only come together though the combined and joint efforts of the individual components.  His muse for creating these inspired cocktails are actually the liquors themselves in many cases, as he tries to take small aspects of the liqueur or liquor or other ingredients, and augment them: in the case of the Michigander, Jason wanted to work with both the floral notes of honey and the earthy notes of the Cynar, and so tried to bridge those two using other ingredients, resulting in this drink.

As many of you know, it is difficult to work with honey. The honey in this drink is a honey syrup, consisting of two parts honey to one part water, mixed over heat as if one would make a rich simple syrup.  Honey also has slightly different flavors as a result of the factors contributing to the creation of the honey, but the most common honey available in Southern California, which is where this drink originates and thus what Jason uses, is clover honey.

The grapefruit twist, a garnish at the end, works really well with the flavors of the drink, bridging the citrus from the lemon and the earthy notes from the Cynar.  It is the predominate aroma on the nose.  Grapefruit also adds a slight numbing sensation over the tongue when you are exposed to it over long periods of time, and so as you mull and sit on this drink, the flavor changes on account of that as well.

The Michigander:

1 ounce Applejack
1 ounce Cynar
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce honey syrup (heavy)

Combine the ingredients shaker tin with cracked ice.  Shake until thoroughly chilled, and fine strain into a chilled old fashioned glass, over ice.  Garnish with a grapefruit twist.