When I first moved here in July, we had a housewarming party where friends brought gifts of nice bottles of wine and alcohol, flowers and local finds. Detroiters are proud of their heritage and are proud to bring anything that is locally made and I welcome it. Three different friends all brought three different bottles of vodka. One from Two James distillery in Corktown, another from Our/Detroit in Detroit and the other bottle was from Valentine‘s Distillery in Ferndale–all Detroit local vodkas. The Two James bottle was opened right away even before I got a chance to say thanks for the gift. It has a “manly” appeal with it’s old school label and metal embossed logo of two prohibition era-type looking silhouettes, of two men. The Our/Detroit bottle is much simpler and still 6 months later, hasn’t been opened. It looks as if it came out of a pharmacy or chemistry lab with it’s almost medicinal shape and simple handwritten-like font. The Valentine bottle also not yet opened, has a sexy, pin-up girl plastered on the bottle with a seductive look,whispering “Come hither” as she holds her welcoming martini glass. At first glance, I associated the pin-up girl to something cheap and assumed if the bottle looks cheap the vodka must be cheap and not all that good… wow, was I WRONG!!!! I apologize for judging a vodka by it’s label and now understand that in fact, this lovely “Valentine” is a lot smarter than the other vodkas out there and she’s a reminder of high standards and quality. Valentine vodka has won numerous awards for quality and taste. It received 94 points of some award that I’m sorry I can’t remember, but it beat Belvedere by 2 points, Ketel One by 3 and with Grey Goose by 4 points!
Before yesterday’s tour of the Valentine Distillery, the bottle of Valentine’s tucked away in the back of our liquor cabinet had no chance of being opened, but now since the tour I’m dreaming of the next cocktail to serve with it at our parties or just pour a little for sipping as a night0cap. The two-hour tour flew by. Fifteen of us from the BBNC group- a newcomer group of expats and people who have moved around as much as me, met up at 10:30AM to start our vodka tasting. A bit early for most of us moms that had to pick up kids at 3, but it would give us enough time to grab some lunch and soak up the alcohol. I don’t think I’ve been to a bar this early in the morning since my World Cup days in NYC following my Brit, “futbol” maniac, obsessed boyfriend, at the time. Sometimes he’d have us wake-up at 5AM, dragging me to a bar that was open on off hours, just for the match. I was foolish then! Anyway, I quickly forgot the hour of the day because once inside Valentine’s Distillery, I was transported in time, back to a relaxed speak-easy from the years of prohibition. The building alone has so much history as it’s comprised of many different elements from that era. Everything has been repurposed from the windows to the old Packer Factory to beams from a Micihigan farm and so on. It’s real. I especially loved the tasting area, to me it had a Parisian vibe with the gorgeous velvet red sofas and soft lighting, or maybe it was the French music playing in the background that had me dreaming of quaint Parisian hide-outs. Never the less, we weren’t in Paris, but in Detroit, which was however once called, the “Paris of the Midwest.”
For my complimentary cocktail I focused on an acceptable early-morning drink and chose a Bloody Mary. A perfect choice. The local McClures pickles were spicy, the tomato juice smooth and the vodka wan’t too strong nor too weak.
After a bit of chit-chat and socializing with the other women, Heather, the very informative bartender started the tasting. We tried each alcohol in little beakers. Our first taste was of Valentine’s original vodka. I don’t normally sip straight vodka but this was wonderfully smooth and not harsh like other vodkas. It was great. Our second tasting was my favorite –a bit more on the sweet side, the Elderberry Flower infused Vodka called White Blossom was delicious. I can’t wait to re-create a drink I saw on their menu with basil,honey and their white blossom vodka!
We also tasted two kinds of gin–both had strong delicious notes of cardamon, which was a nice change from the typical, harsh Tanguerey or other yulky smelling gins. It was a pleasure to rediscover gin as I swore off from it 10-years ago. Finally the last tasting, the bourbon, which my husband would have loved, but he wasn’t with me so I selfishly went home with my favorite, the White Blossom Vodka. The tour of this local distillery was inspiring and made me proud to see great production, or more appropriately AMAZING production, coming out of Detroit. It was completely worth my little $20 bill and I will never buy mass-produced vodka, again! I definitely found my love for vodka, my true valentine!