Michigan Bourbon Club member Chris Perry calls it “Schrodinger’s Bourbon”: it’s that bottle of bourbon you’re afraid to open because it’s rare or valuable. You worry it won’t be worth your money or, worse, so good you’ll cry when you realize you can’t have any more. With bourbons becoming more and more popular – yes, still – as well as more and more specialized, it can be difficult to decide what to splurge on and what to discard with a Stroh’s chaser.
We assume you have your favorite shooting location. So we spoke to some whiskey fanatics and purveyors of the best bars and shops to visit for this unicorn bottle. Since each has its own individual character, we don’t rank them like we did in our quest for the best chicken wings. In many cases, you will get a single pour at this location. Most locations on this list have individual store choices – a barrel or part of a barrel found only at that location.
Distilling, aging, bottling and distributing American whiskey is an incredibly complex undertaking. Sometimes it’s not easy to understand why one bottle costs $30 and tastes good, while another costs $2000 and tastes very good, but more intense. All recommendations here are presented as a general overview, and we would never pretend to dictate individual preferences. Some like a buttery, caramel-pepper whiskey with more corn, and others prefer an oaky, high-rye bourbon that bites you back. To each his own. Whatever your preference, if you’re a whiskey drinker, you’ll find something you like at each of these places.
We’ve listed a few below and, as always, your bartender knows his stock best. We’ve also rounded up the best shops to visit, in case you fancy sipping in solitude, Ron Swanson style.
500 Woodward Avenue, Detroit; 313-723-1000; eatattownhouse.com
If you’re ready to open your wallet, this chic downtown spot has plenty to choose from. Owner Jeremy Sasson has spent years collecting whiskey privately, and it shows in the huge number of rare bottles, from Barterhouse to Bookers. If you’re looking for that whiskey “I’ve always wanted to try”, they’ll have it. You may just find a new favorite.
The salon of the beautiful lady
2930, rue Jacob, Hamtramck; 313-874-2991
Quite possibly the antithesis of Townhouse, the Painted Lady is a stripped-down bar with the occasional loud band and bottles of whiskey crammed into every nook and cranny. Owner Andrew Dow frequently travels to Kentucky to taste barrels and pick up bottles you can’t get in Michigan. Their current barrel choice is a solid Buffalo Trace Single Barrel, and like all the other installments out there, it’s incredibly inexpensive, so please don’t tell anyone you don’t like it or you’re going to ruin it for the rest of us.
The sugar house
2130 Michigan Avenue, Detroit; 313-962-0123; sugarhousedetroit.com
Corktown’s favorite cocktail club also has a solid selection of whiskey. If you’re in the company of someone who’d rather not take their nectar neat, Sugar House can provide enough for both of you. It’s obvious that Dave Kwiatkowski and his team put as much homework into crafting their whiskey stock as they did perfecting the cocktails, and they’ve collaborated with several Michigan distillers for unique Michigan picks, including Long Road and Traverse. . City distillation company.
Ale Mary Beer Hall
316 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-268-1939; alemarysbeer.com
It might be a little cheating, but paired with the beer selection at Ale Mary’s, the non-bourbon American whiskey selection is solid and as well-regarded as their beer list. The whiskey list covers a wide range of taste profiles and distillation processes, from Speyside Scotch to Colorado Rye. Dark non-bourbons are a specialty, and they also stock the standards. Reasonable prices mean you can try this odd bottle without wasting a fortune.
Butter Race Saloon
27626 Harper Ave, St. Clair Shores; 586-675-2115; butterrun.com
This St. Clair Shores bar has a printable list of whiskeys to try, and just looking at it is almost enough to get you drunk. Here’s an example: Do you like Jefferson’s Reserve? Awesome, they have 11 different expressions, from standard shelf to Presidential Select 18. Deciding what to drink can be both terrifying and exhilarating, so plan some time (and maybe a designated driver) in case you fall for more than one couple.
201 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-291-5295; theoaklandferndale.com
Didn’t you know that Ferndale’s speakeasy-style cocktail bar also offers ultra-rare spirits? You’re not alone. Oakland’s Sandy Levine prides himself on his ability to get the old stuff done. He has an older Old Weller than most of his customers. Old Weller of all kinds in fact, and for much less than the Pappy who wishes it still tasted just as good as the original Old Weller. If you’re not quite ready for that once-in-a-lifetime pour, ask what they have in Four Roses Barrel Picks. There are usually a few on hand, which makes for a great impromptu tasting menu.
Detroit City Distillery
2462 Riopelle Street, Detroit; 313-338-3760; detroitcitydistillery.com
Two James Spirits
2445 Michigan Ave, Detroit; 313-964-4800; twojames.com
325 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-599-1427; motorcitygas.com
Valentine Distilling Co.
161 Vester Ave, Ferndale; 248-629-9951; valentinedistilling.com
If you’re in the mood to buy local, try the latest in one of these great places. The service staff at all four distilleries never fail to impress with their knowledge of the whiskey-making process. Although each tasting room has its own vibe, they are all great places to spend a casual afternoon.
The last word
301 W. Huron St., Ann Arbor
112 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-8757; alleybarannarbor.com
Both spots are owned by Robben Schulz, and his staff enthusiastically whips up a wicked cocktail and a neat cut. If you find yourself this way, be sure to stop.
The Wine Garden
22425 Harper Ave, St. Clair Shores; 586-777-4198; thewinegardenscs.com
Tony Batou knows his stuff and prides himself on stocking the best American whiskeys this side of Ann Arbor. He easily makes 30 or 40 trips a year to Kentucky, to sample strains for his amazing in-store selections. Tony is also friendly and more than willing to talk filtration and bill crushing with anyone from novice to expert. A recent trip left us cash poorer but in possession of a single ironclad 1792 gun which is heavenly.
The Palace of Wine
13971 Middlebelt Road, Livonia; 734-522-4400; winepalace.net
There must be something about the name “Wine” in a liquor store that points to dedicated whiskey nuts. Cliff and Kelly stock all the usual suspects, plus some hard-to-find beer and a few different store choices.
1555 E. 14 Mile Road, Birmingham; 248-644-1916
They hold whiskey bottle signings, frequent tastings, and they don’t mark up the prices outrageously. Beyond that, there’s not much more to know, is there?
4845 Ann Arbor-Saline Road, Ann Arbor; 734-665-3690
Dominic Aprea is the king of Michigan’s four roses. Its store reflects this, with rare bottles aplenty and staff happy to discuss the Byzantine intricacies that make up the brand’s various taste profiles. Later this month, it will host legendary Four Roses brand ambassador Al Young for signings and a major bottle release.