Best Michigan Made Spirit Valentine Vodka
Ferndale is not Russia. And it definitely isn't the Ukraine or Poland. So exactly how does one account for a first-rate vodka being made on a weekly basis on Vester Street? We suggest a tour of the facilities to grasp the technical answer. Our words can only describe the clarity of the finished product and the seductive fire it gives when Siberian gusts play havoc with your circulation. Founder and Master Distiller Rifino Valentine deserves special praise here for both expertise and patience. Four years of experimentation preceded what eventually ended up in the bottle. And speaking of the bottle, we're also great fans of that comely and friendly blonde who appears on the label.
Best Michigan Craft Beer - Bell's
History tells us that Bell's started its journey for better crafted beers with a 15-gallon soup kettle. We hope that noble artifact has found its way to either a niche on the premises or a museum, because a great deal today is owed to it - and to the people who started this Kalmazoo operation two decades ago. Bell's now rings in over 20 beers for distribution as well as an impressive number of small batch beers that are served nationwide. We're talking Third Coast Ale, Oberon Ale, Java Stout and others. More than all this, however, is the equally satisfying fact that Bell's has been an inspiration to other individuals and small companies that have opted to buck the trend and to see if imagination, hard work and dedication can produce a better product for an always deserving public.
Best Michigan-Made Wine Leelenau Wine Cellars
Say a little prayer that this winter wasn't overly harmful to the vineyards up north - especially the ones around Omena. Leelenau Wine Cellars has spent nearly four decades on its 90 or so acres producing winners like Tall Ship Chardonnay, Witches Brew, Summer Sunset and Renaissance. These delightful reds and whites lend credence to the "delight of life" description that native Americans gave the region centuries ago. More so, they validate the votes of praise you've been supplying for several years now.
Best Priced Beer - Pabst
It's a reason to be grateful when a satisfying brew is reasonably priced by its distributors and then by the generous innkeepers of so many local bars. That's invariably the case with Pabst Blue Ribbon, a tried-and-true friend for untold numbers of customers. The "PBR Special" is a hallowed tradition at Royal Oak's Gusoline Alley and on one occasion we saw no fewer than 200 bottles being duly opened when a wedding party showed up to toast the newlyweds. That's one way to start married life with a sensible sense of economy.
Best Rum - Bacardi
Although historians still debate the matter, we've always believed that pirates were drawn to the Caribbean for three equally important reasons: ships to plunder, spicy women and rum. Perfected in Cuba long before that island fell victim to utopian notions, Bacardi rum is hot enough for a buccaneer and civilized enough to inspire poetry and song. The beautiful island of Puerto Rico maintains the tradition today and there are no fewer than 60 potables to be enjoyed with selected ingredients - including the immortal Rum and Coca-Cola.
Best Scotch - Dewar's
The folks at Bacardi know good spirits when they taste it - and that (among other reasons) probably accounts for their legal ownership of Dewar's Scotch. They let well enough alone, however, and the methodology that John Dewar & Sons followed for years is still scrupulously followed to produce the same distinctive flavor that made this "Caledonian cocktail" a byword for excellence. Here's a novel way to have some fun with White Label. Sip it slowly while watching Braveheart. Mel Gibson's acting improves - and the bagpipes sound better.
Best Shot - Jagermeister
A former intern once revealed to us that half the reason he decided to go to college had something to do with the way Jager was poured at a certain Ypsilanti bar. We're not about to second that as a proper way to pursue higher education, but our fondness for this 70 proof liquor is a matter of record. Spice-sweetened and herbally-fortified, it has a taste like no other.
Best Spirit To Mix With Red Bull - Absolut
You really want to put more spirit in that Crimson Toro you enjoy so much? Try adding some Swedish sizzle called Absolut. With a spectrum of flavors ranging from Mango to Berri Acai, you can mix and mingle til you hit Absolut perfection. And if you arrive at three or five formulas for perfection, consider it one of the blessings of modern alchemy.
Best Tequila - Hornitos
You can't make tequila without a magical plant called the blue agave. Hornitos takes that first distilling step to wonderful and thoroughly satisfying heights by preserving the flavor to a truly manifold strength. The result is the sort of potable that you can easily imagine both Salma Hayek and Fred C. Dobbs endorsing with gusto.
Best Vodka - SKYY
An 80 proof vodka is not to be trifled with by any means. When you enjoy SKYY, treat it courteously and with a desire to sample the flavored infusions sequentially and patiently. Incidentally, this vodka is red, white and blue, so think now about a future Fourth of July treat that truly marks the end of the Cold War.
Best Whiskey - Jack Daniel's
There is something surreal and ironic about the world's most popular whiskey being distilled in a Tennessee county that is traditionally and legally "dry" as a bone. Thank goodness for interstate travel and saner laws in other parts of the country, because a world without this batch of southern hospitality is too awful to contemplate. Fiery straight, mellowed (a tad) when you mix in the right mixer, Jack is the undisputed favorite of those who want to salute life with a clear and healthy rebel yell.
Best Wine Selection - Retail, Holiday Market
We went with two faithful readers of our paper to see if several hard to find wines were available at Holiday Market. Well, they were found - as were three other French delights we hadn't even expected to see anywhere in the state! That commitment to bringing as wide a selection as possible to an ever more grateful body of customers obviously prompted your votes.
Best Beer Selection -Retail, Red Wagon
The Super Bowl party you threw was perfect! And why? Because you went out of your way to stock up at Red Wagon and fill the fridge with eclectic brews from all over the world. Heck, even the commercials were more entertaining after that second bottle of Imperial Stout. Or was it the Belgian wheat? Maybe the ale from that small brewery in New Hampshire.
Best Bourbon - Jim Beam
Bourbon is NOT merely another name for whiskey; it is a specific type of whiskey aged in barrels after a careful distillation from corn. You'll thank us someday for that brief snippet of information - especially if a visit to the Bluegrass State finds you touring areas where Jim Beam is both a source of pride and the only name automatically associated with this American treasure. The recipe they use is still a secret, but that hidden away formula is present in everything from Red Stag to Devil's Cut. Oh, and the company is thinking of even newer variations of the original for 2013, so keep your eye on the immediate future and your thirst on alert.
Best Domestic Beer - Bud Light
A world without Bud Light is a frightening and apocalyptic scenario - a dark vision of tomorrow that makes The Road look like a National Lampoon Vacation movie by comparison. Thankfully that isn't going to happen (we hope) for a very long time, so let us echo your sentiments and votes by raising a glass to this light and refreshing quaff for the deserving masses.
Best Energy Drink - Red Bull
We need it every day - a spark, a jolt, an added boost to the acceleration that helps us perform all the tasks required and still permits us to embrace the fun that comes at the end of our servitude. Red Bull suits the purpose and gets the job done 24/7. We also love the fact that the people at Red Bull have brought two marvelous things to Detroit - the air races and the corporate sponsorship that brought an art gallery to Eastern Market.
Best Soda - Faygo
That wonderful Faygo soda you're enjoying traces its name back to 1899 and it is 100% made in Detroit. That liquid refreshment that Violent J just splashed on your shirt is the bev that should always be referenced in your head when you think of Bob-Lo or Emily Gail. That joyful Motor City beverage is Red Pop or Mango Tango or Rock & Rye or Blue Moon Mist. Doesn't matter really - as long as it's Faygo.
Best Flavored Vodka - Three Olives
An outfit bringing nearly two dozen distinct flavors to its lineup of vodkas is obviously waging a very lusty battle to win over our taste buds. We think surrender is the best option, so join us in praising Three Olives for their singular dedication to producing every single solitary flavor of vodka the mind could possibly conceive (including "Loopy," as in Fruit Loops, and S'Mores, and Cake) - and pass the white flag over while you're at it.
Best Gin - Bombay Sapphire
Well, the guys over at Bacardi seem to like gin as well. They distribute Bombay Sapphire - but wisely let Bombay Sapphire take care of its own carefully-chosen ingredients, triple distillation and wonderful taste. The Brits who carved themselves an empire drinking nothing but this stuff (oh, and some tea now and then) undoubtedly approve of this London dry gin's homage to the Raj and the Royals and the Rolling Stones ... okay, that last bit may be going too far, but we suspect it ties in with the approval YOU expressed, dear reader.
Best Imported Beer - Labatt's
Granted, it's not like the Canadians have to trek THAT far to bring Labatt's to our stores, our bars and our thirsts, but THAT is a foreign country across the river ... so why quibble? A marvelous taste that actually gets better when thermometers crack from the cold and the best quaff to down when global warming fries us in the summer. Here's to America! Here's to the land of the maple leaf! Now let's play some damn hockey!
Best Craft Beer - Goose Island
Our friends in the Windy City are no slouches when it comes to being craftsmen with the vats. Starting with two modest brewpubs, Goose Island quickly started producing several critically acclaimed seasonals and the exceptional Bourbon County Stouts. Their classic series includes popular brews like Honkers Ale, but their Vintage series shows the brewery's true artistry with the lovely ladies Lolita, Sofie, Juliet and more. And yes, we found 'em all at Red Wagon.
Best Microbrewery Royal Oak Brewery
With a 14 Barrel Specific Mechanic System producing gallons of wonderful beer on schedule every week, it's little wonder that Royal Oak Brewery is an example we turn to when someone asks for a definition of "autarky" and all those other terms for happy self-sufficiency. It's also little wonder that you and others frequent this cozy and boisterous enterprise on Fourth Street. In addition to such marvels as Suicide Blonde and O'Rita's Imperial Irish, a hungry patron can sample some of the best pub grub in Oakland County. It's an added treat as well when management schedules music and entertainment during the warmer hours of spring and summer.
Best Mead - B. Nektar
A brewery brews beer and a distillery distills the hard stuff. A meadery ... well, "meads" is not a verb, so what occurs at B. Nektar Meadery is just plain hard work and a spirited dedication to keeping the traditional in step with modern methods and tastes. And taste for mead and other honey wines is always the raison d'etre at this ever so busy hive in Ferndale. We're partial (obviously) to Evil Genius, but we duly noted the hymns of praise you wrote for Zombie Killer and Imperial Funky Monky.