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Detroit’s first Cocktail Classic launched in 2014, with a respectable 12 bars and restaurants serving drinks alongside a relatively modest brunch. In the fifth year, more than 40 establishments will be mixing it up at Friday’s Cocktail Classic — and that doesn’t include the dizzying (perhaps literally) schedule of events in the days leading up to the main event. The celebration of local drinks — and their creators behind the bars — has grown into an entire Detroit Cocktail Week.
The schedule is jam-packed, and includes way too many interesting events for most reasonable people to drink their way through. So we asked Nick Britsky, host of “Nick Drinks at Night,” to distill (sorry, not sorry) the fest down to the basics and bests. Read on to hear what Britsky forecasts for this year in Detroit drinking, discover the bartender to watch, and learn how to do Detroit Cocktail Week in style without the hangover.
DETOUR: Any predictions, trends you’re seeing already or other things you’ll be keeping your eye on this week?
NB: Look out for current cocktail trends like drinks with low alcohol, fortified wines and lesser known base spirits like brandy and mezcal. People are thirsty for creativity, but flavor still sells. There will be one impossibly simple cocktail that will be well-balanced, delicious and get annihilated well before the event is over. Overly complicated cocktails are fun, but might be ready for a break.
Best event if you’re iffy on spirits or new to craft cocktails?
The Kraken Karaoke — if you’re just looking for a good time and maybe not too into spirits, this would be a great spot. Mutiny has a variety of easy-sipping libations and Kraken rum goes well with many mixers. A good choice for the casual imbiber. (The Kracken Karaoke at Mutiny Bar, Thursday, Oct. 4)
Best event of the week to impress a date?
I did the Takoi dinner last year and it highly impressed. It was relaxed but intimate. I learned a lot about spirits and I’m sure any significant other would enjoy the experience. (Plantation Rum Cocktail Dinner at Takoi, Wednesday, Oct. 3)
Best event for the bar decor alone?
Willis is a showstopper and paired with the heavyweight [alcohol company] Diageo, you know they will have an epic soiree. (Diageo Happy Hour at Willis Show Bar, Thursday, Oct. 4)
Any tips for attending the Cocktail Classic without going way overboard?
With any festival or event that focuses on drinking, pace yourself. You don’t need to try every cocktail. First off, you will get drunk — and second, your palette will get tired and you won’t appreciate the later cocktails. Get yourself a good dinner, and drink water throughout the event. (Detroit Cocktail Classic at Eastern Market Shed 3, Friday, Oct. 5)
Beyond the festival, who’s the next mixologist rising star on your radar? What’s their signature?
Theresa Moriarty just landed at Johnny’s Speakeasy in Royal Oak. She has a good deal of bar experience, but has really been given the chance to fly at this place. Not only is she upping the credibility of Johnny’s, but she is helping up the craft cocktail game in the suburbs. Keep an eye on her skillful use of her local garden. She sources herbs and flowers that elevate both the flavor and the appearance of her drinks.
Fill in the blank: Compared to 5 years ago when the Cocktail Classic began, Detroit’s fine drinking scene is…
…ready for the big leagues. We have the talent, we have the educated consumers and we have the demand.
Get more of Nick Britsky’s boozy expertise in and after Detroit Cocktail Week on the Nick Drinks at Night Facebook page. And if you can’t make the Cocktail Classic, you can catch it from home — he’ll be streaming live.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.