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Cheers! An all Michigan ingredient twist on a San Francisco original

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Tammy Coxen with Tammy’s Tastings received a “lovely gift pack” from Iron Fish Distillery in Thompsonville, Michigan. It included a sample of its bourbon whiskey finished in maple syrup barrels, its maple syrup finished in bourbon barrels, and its aromatic bitters. It was everything she needed to make and Old Fashion.

“But I make maple syrup Old Fashions a lot, so I wanted to take this in a slightly different directions and also bring in another Michigan product and that is the Spaulding’s Coffee Liqueur from Ann Arbor Distilling Company,” Tammy said.

The drink she mixed is called a Revolver. It is a variation on a Manhattan concocted by a bartender named John Santer in 2004 in San Francisco. You can read about it here.

“It’s really easy, really straightforward and I thought it would give these ingredients a chance to shine,” she said.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
The ingredients for Tammy's version of the Revolver.

She was particularly excited to use the bitters. While still not easy to get, Michigan distillers and some bars are making their own bitters. The catch is that most of the time you have to visit the distiller or the bar to buy a bottle.

“It’s a little like Angostura bitters,” Tammy said, explaining, “It definitely has some of those same cinnamon, clove kind of baking spices profile.” She added the Iron Fish bitters have a brightness that Angostura does not have.

Tammy says for this drink, you can use orange bitters as a substitute.

When you talk about bourbon aged in maple syrup barrels, you might think it’s going to be sweet, maybe too sweet. But Tammy says that’s not the case.

“They've taken their bourbon barrels from some previous batch and they've put maple syrup in them and then that's been aged in the barrel. Then they take the maple syrup out and there's a little bit of maple syrup left in the barrel when they add a new batch of bourbon in. But the bourbon, at the point it's being put into the barrel, is quite high proof.  It's probably like 60% alcohol or so when it goes into the barrel, which means there's not actually a lot of water free water available to soak up the maple syrup. So you get much less sugar or sweetness in the finished whiskey than you think you would,” Tammy explained.

The Revolver is a very balanced drink and not overly sweet despite the maple syrup and coffee liqueur mix. It does remind you just a bit of a Manhattan, but this cocktail has a much more robust flavor.

And while this drink was invented in San Francisco, this version’s ingredients are pure Michigan.


Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Stirred, not shaken.

  • 2 oz. bourbon (Iron Fish maple syrup finished)
  • 1/2 oz. coffee liqueur (Spaulding's)
  • 2 dashes orange bitters (Iron Fish Aromatic bitters)
  • Garnish: orange twist

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Stir well, strain into coupe or martini glass, garnish.
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.

Want to support reporting like this? Consider making a gift to Michigan Radio today.

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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