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Cheers! An old pal in an Old Pal

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Some of the ingredients in the Old Pal.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Tammy Coxen mixing an Old Pal.

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings had a couple of cocktail coupes on the table and some small whiskey tasting glasses and a bottle of Grand Traverse Distillery’s Small Batch Rye Whiskey. Obviously, this was going to be more than just mixing up a drink.

“I wanted you to taste this on its own because I also found this absolute treasure in my basement. And what I found was a bottle of this same rye, the Old George whiskey, 100 percent straight rye whiskey from Grand Traverse distillery that I've probably had since about 2011,” Tammy said.

We took a sip of the old version first. It was nice. Then a sip of the new rye whiskey. I thought it was very similar, but preferred the newer version. Tammy loved the old version.

“You and I know from writing the Cheers to Michigan book that up until 2006, it was really hard to do distilling in Michigan. Then you could make brandy, but you couldn't make anything else. [Grand Traverse Distillery] were the first on the grain to glass train. So all the grains that go into their spirits come from a farm 11 miles away. And they'd been doing that since 2007,” Tammy explained.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

She added one of the things Grand Traverse has been doing from the beginning is using full-sized barrels. When distillers want to get their whiskey to market faster, they’ll plan on using small barrels to sort of accelerate the aging process. Grand Traverse doesn’t do that.

“That longer, larger aging process just gives a different flavor to the whiskey than sort of doing the smaller barrel,” she said.

After the delicious history lesson, she started mixing a drink, a relative of a very popular drink.

“I am going to make an Old Pal.  So you've heard of the Negroni: gin, Campari, sweet vermouth. If you take out the gin and you put in bourbon instead, then you have a Boulevardier. If you take out the bourbon and you put rye instead and substitute dry vermouth for sweet vermouth, then you have an Old Pal,” she explained.

The Old Pal and the Boulevardier appear in the same 1922 book, The ABCs of Mixing Cocktails by Harry MacElhone.

Often Tammy has already tested and tasted a recipe, but not this time.

“It's really interesting to me. I just did an online rye class and I used a different rye whiskey that I had when I was testing my Old Pal for it. And I liked it. But when I was thinking, ‘What do I want to mix with this Grand Traverse one,’ this is exactly where my head went to. Because there's so much going on here with a full ounce of Campari, you need something that can really stand up to that. And then the dry vermouth has a lot of botanicals as well. And this is such a rich and full rye. I just thought it would play well with those other ingredients,” and then she added, “It actually doesn't taste like I expected it to. It's always a great surprise when I mix the cocktail,” she said, smiling.

I can only imagine what it’s like to have a pleasant surprise. So often when I’m making a drink, the surprises are not so pleasant.

Old Pal

1 oz rye whiskey (Grand Traverse small batch)

1 oz Campari

1 oz dry vermouth

Garnish: lemon twist

Combine ingredients in mixing glass or tin with ice. Stir well and strain into coupe or martini glass. Garnish.


Classic)Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham are the authors of Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers from the University of Michigan Press. The book is based on the Cheers! episodes heard on Michigan Radio.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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