After a year when many distilleries found their stills turned to making sanitizer instead of spirits, metro Detroit’s watering holes are making up for lost time. Take Griffin Claw. Home to Norm’s Raggedy Ass IPA, Griffin Claw may be better known for its beers than its distilled spirits, but that could change, as the brewing company has recently been making a splash with some great liquid packaged inside beautiful bottles.
Griffin Claw began distilling when it opened in 2013 to serve cocktails and spirits to taproom visitors who weren’t beer fans. And while bottles were available to purchase from the taproom, they were mostly an afterthought. COVID-19 changed that, as the brewery saw the opportunity to get not only its beers but also its spirits right into people’s homes. But the company wanted a package that was as high quality as the liquid inside. Since Griffin Claw upgraded its look in October 2020, its bottles have become social media darlings.
This includes a 4-year-old bourbon and a 5-year-old rye whiskey, both single-barrel selections bottled in bond at 100 proof. Most distilleries are under a lot of pressure to get their whiskey to market — because that is what pays the bills — but as a successful brewery, Griffin Claw could afford to leave its whiskies in barrel longer. The result was worth the wait, with a rich and oaky bourbon and a rye that reminds one of toffee kissed with clove.
In February, a new Navy Strength gin joined the existing lineup, while early spring will see the release of a spiced rum. But Christopher Lasher, marketing director for Griffin Claw, was perhaps most excited about the upcoming Mr. Bluesky, a whiskey distilled from the company’s popular wheat ale and brewed with coriander and grapefruit peel. “It’s really nice,” he says. “You get some of the citrus from it, and it’s lighter in color and will be bottled at 80 proof. That’s going to be a really fun one.” It’s perfect for summer drinking and, like all Griffin Claw spirits, only available for purchase directly from its taprooms.
Griffin Claw isn’t the only distillery with exciting new spring/summer releases, though. Detroit City Distillery is launching a Summer Rum. With the help of bartenders from some of Detroit’s best bars, the distillery has created a blend of rums sourced from Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, and Guyana that offers the perfect island vibe for summer drinking.
Ann Arbor Distilling Co. recently released its Aperitivo, a bittersweet liqueur inspired by Campari. It includes 18 herbs and botanicals, including hibiscus, sage, and clove along with grapefruit, orange, and pomelo peels. Bartenders suggest mixing it into a Negroni using one of the distillery’s fruit liqueurs in place of the original’s sweet vermouth.
But in the end, whiskey still reigns in Detroit distilleries’ plans for spring releases. Two James will release versions of its Catcher’s Rye finished in Cognac, vermouth, and Armagnac barrels. Rusted Crow in Dearborn Heights will finally get its long-awaited Rust Belt Bourbon into distribution — another case where the bottle is as much a thing of beauty as the bourbon itself, with each custom bottle hand-assembled using metal parts stamped by a local factory.
Meanwhile, Motor City Gas in Royal Oak has four new whiskies in the works that will join a rotating lineup of 12 to 20 whiskies available only at the tasting room. They include T-Boned, which is a straight rye malt whiskey aged over five years in white oak barrels, and Jack Knife, a peated wheat whiskey featuring Michigan-grown raw wheat and malted barley as well as peat-smoked malted barley imported from Scotland.