Detroit’s Hospitality Specialists Discover Why Lot No.40 is So Good

Detroit’s Hospitality Specialists Discover Why Lot No.40 is So Good

Detroit’s Hospitality Specialists Discover Why Lot No.40 is So Good

By Bill Scott

Last March, thanks to Lot No.40, the Daily Beast’s Food & Drink Senior Editor Noah Rothbaum was in town rounding up and educating Detroit’s finest hospitality specialists on the complexities of Canadian whisky. Among the group, Sugar House founder Dave Kwiatkowski was invited to indulge in some quality Canadian whisky at the Hiram Walker distillery, in Ontario. They spent the day with the extraordinary Master Blender at Hiram Walker,

Dr. Don Livermore with Noah Rothbaum (Photo: Lot 40 & Le JIT Productions)

Dr. Don Livermore with Noah Rothbaum (Photo: Lot 40 & Le JIT Productions)

Dr. Livermore is one of only two Master Blender’s in the world to hold a PH.D. in his field. He also holds a Bachelor’s in microbiology and a Master’s of Science degree in Brewing and Distilling. With such an expert spearheading their tour, Dave K. was blown away at the knowledge and proficiency that Dr. Livermore presented. In an interview we had with him, recounting what he had learned, Dave K exclaimed,

“The entire process of Canadian Whisky is incredibly different than American whiskey.

He’s absolutely correct. Canadian whisky is unlike anything else in the world. Its distinct characteristics can be mostly attributed to comparatively less regulations regarding the production of spirits. In the rest of the world, you see a pretty consistent requirement for at least a 51% mash bill of a particular grain—such as rye—to allow for it to be legally labeled a “rye whisky”. With Canadian whisky, there is no percentage requirement for that label.

Speaking on this, Dave K. said,

“They basically call everything a “rye”, because rye, as a crop, is extremely hardy and it grows in the north really well. So they pretty much put rye in everything.”

Now, before we get too technical, let’s establish some basic distilling information to help the rest of us understand what all of this means.

Before you begin the process of distilling ethyl alcohol from grains, you need to first have a mash bill. A mash bill is basically the recipe for a kind of beer that is created through a fermentation process. This beer is referred to as the “mash”.

Typically, as with American whiskeys, the mash bill would consist of a combination of corn, wheat, barley and rye. These grains are combined and after they are fermented, we are left with a mash that we can then extract (or distill) alcohol from, through a process of heating and cooling. However, Canadian whisky is not your typical whiskey. This process is largely different than most parts of the world. Concerning this, Dave K. explained,

“The big difference is that they don’t combine grains in the fermenter. They just distill rye, they just distill corn, they just distill barley; some of those are malted, some of them are not. In the end, after they are distilled, they put them in a barrel and age them and they take those and mash them together. That’s how they create their flavor profiles.”

What this means is that they may have a much broader definition of what a ‘mash bill’ is. Moreover, this could be an advantage since they are able to use multiple batches in order to concentrate the exact flavor that they are trying for. Since they use aged spirits as flavoring to be compiled in the end, one might go as far as to consider the entire process (from fermentation to aging) to be considered a kind of ‘batch bill’.

Hiram Walker’s Lot No.40 is a special kind of Canadian whisky in that it is made from 100% rye. Lot No.40 is a double distilled spirit; it is first distilled in a column still, then again distilled in a pot still. As with all whiskeys, after all congeners are stripped, what you are left with is essentially a vodka. It’s an unaged, neutral grain spirit. What makes it a whiskey is the flavor that is added from the wood inside the barrels that it is aged in. Taken from an interview in 2015 with, Dr. Don Livermore spoke on the quality of Canadian casks,

“As I discovered in my Ph.D. studies, virgin oak barrels will give you 4-5 times the amount of vanilla, caramel and toffee notes than a once-used American bourbon barrel. In fact, in 60 days of aging in new wood will get more vanilla, caramel and toffee notes than 18 years of ageing in a used barrel. Quality of wood is more important than aging. Sometimes people do not like a wood-forward whisky but a grain-forward whisky, so in Canada we use our barrels over and over again. Barrels act like a sponge. What was in the barrel beforehand will come out into the next whisky. Likewise, port barrels will add a nice fruity texture. All these differences are very cool to play with, and the Canadian whisky category allows for creativity.”

Things have been going very well for Lot No.40 in recent years. In 2015, at the prestigious sixth annual Canadian Whisky Awards, they won the coveted “Canadian Whisky of the Year” award. Something Dr. Livermore referred to as, “like winning the Stanley Cup of whisky.”

Back at the distillery, Dr. Livermore demonstrated a controlled taste test for the group of Detroit hospitality specialists. With that, Dave K. assured us that the success of Lot 40 was validated right before his eyes; he said,

“It used to be 80/20 (rye, to malted rye), and malting helps the fermentation process, but once they started adding enzymes (which is a relatively new thing) they stopped having to malt it. We tasted all these years side-by-side of 100% rye, and 80/20 (rye to malted rye), and it was really phenomenal.”

For a better understanding of what these magical enzymes are and what they do, we turned to the book “Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert” by Davin de Kergommeaux. Inside, he explains that the grains used to make whiskey are actually seeds. Each seed contains a tiny embryonic plantlet (a micro-version of the plant). Within the seed, it also contains a starchy endosperm that actually produces food for the plant for when it sprouts. That starchy endosperm is what needs to be converted into sugars in order for it to be fermented. There are already natural enzymes within the seed that convert that starch into sugar, which is the food the plantlet needs when it starts to germinate. However, what Canadian distillers are now doing is using their own microbial enzymes to prematurely activate the starch and convert it into sugars themselves. These sugars are then fed to yeast cells, which is what eats sugar and expels ethanol; this is called fermentation. So, to put it plainly, alcohol is yeast poop.

Before they began this process of using their own enzymes to produce sugars, they had to use a malted grain. Malting is basically tricking the seeds into germinating by using warm water to get those natural enzymes to turn the starch into sugar. Once sugars are present, they dry the seed so it doesn’t actually sprout. Then the fermentation process can begin.

With a side-by-side comparison, contrasting the use of malted rye in Lot No.40 with the use of microbial enzymes, the entire group was in agreement that the new technique was king.

Lot No.40 is a beautiful bright copper color that offers a rich and savory flavor with a hint of spicy and sweet caramel. It has a trace of fruity notes with a touch of cinnamon along with unmistakable rye grain. It finishes off with a pleasingly lingering moderate heat.


Cocktail Jesus, Run Amok in Detroit

Cocktail Jesus, Run Amok in Detroit

Cocktail Jesus, Run Amok in Detroit

By Bill Scott

As it is unmistakably evident, Detroit has been going through a kind of revival in recent years. With that, we have seen Detroit making the ranks on multiple ‘top destinations’ lists from very reputable and popular publications. Most recently, The New York Times published an article ranking Detroit 9th of ‘52 Places to Go in 2017.’ That’s 9th in the world, folks! The article appropriately states, “Detroit’s revitalization, after its 2013 bankruptcy filing, has long been building.”

Albeit, there are many great things that are contributing to the recovery of Detroit. However, the one that is irrefutable is that people have a real yearning for fine food and drink, and Detroit has the talent and diligence to provide it. This incredible turnaround has coined Detroit a new nickname, “America’s Great Comeback City.”

Although Detroit is no Hollywood, it certainly is attracting a distinct kind of celebrity these days. Most easily defined, they are food and drink connoisseurs; or rather, professional drunks. One of these scholars in particular is hailed a cocktail God, among Detroit’s finest hospitality workforce. The man, the legend, David Wondrich, otherwise known as the “Cocktail Jesus” has graced us with his presence.

David Wondrich is probably best known for authoring one of the most influential cocktail books of our time, “Imbibe!” Dave Kwiatkowski, proprietor of Sugar House refers to it as “The Sugar House Bible.” In an interview with Dave K. regarding Wondrich’s visit he said,

“It says a lot that guys of his caliber are coming here to talk about mixology. I think it lends credibility to Detroit, and supports the idea that the big cities are taking note of what we’re doing here.”

Mr. Wondrich is a historian and has a PH.D. in comparative literature. He is described as ‘one of the world’s foremost authorities on cocktails and their history.’ Moreover, he has been a contributor to a number of magazine publications.  Notably, he has been a long time contributor to esquire magazine, with articles dating as far back as 2005. This is where many of Sugar House’s 101 classic cocktails were inspired from. Regarding this, Dave K. stated,

“I owe Wondrich a lot because I based our bar program off of his writing. It really helped to identify what it was that I wanted to do here.”

Assuredly, David Wondrich’s visit wasn’t all leisure. We have The Daily Beast and Lot 40 to thank for his presence. Lot 40, a Canadian rye whiskey produced by Hiram Walker, sponsored his trip. The intention was to educate Midwestern professional bartenders and hospitality workers on the complexities of Canadian whiskey. As a historian, Wondrich also spoke on the history of drinking in Detroit. He just couldn’t help himself, he had to dedicate his last words to Detroit’s most famous cocktail…  

Wondrich held his presentation at Detroit’s historic ‘Detroit Athletic Club’ (DAC). Keep in mind, it was no mistake that Wondrich held his seminar there. Apart from being a long running private social club, their bar has significant historical cocktail relevance. The DAC has been named the unrefuted creator of one of the best gin concoctions known to man, the Last Word. Dating back to 1916, the Last Word first appeared on a DAC menu, later getting its revival in New York and Seattle. It soon became world-known. It currently reigns as one of Detroit’s most ordered classic cocktails.

Although Wondrich was in town for the seminar, the DAC was not his first, nor his last stop. Dave K. and David Wondrich, along with a host of Midwest’s best and brightest bartenders, spent the day marauding through Detroit’s hospitality district like scholarly savages. The group met up for breakfast at the Whitney before going to the seminar at the DAC. Next, they had to stop at Old Miami because according to Dave K, “Wondrich loves the Old Miami.” Then, Wondrich showed us how to make a proper Blue Blazer at the Sugar House before trotting off to Nancy Whiskey’s for another drink. They finished off the night with dinner (and more drinks) at Cliff Bell’s.

David Wondrich said that he was very impressed with the progress of Detroit. Saying that it’s grown so much since last time he was here, around two years ago. What this says about Detroit is extremely encouraging.

It’s experiences like this that give the Detroit Optimist Society the reassurance in their goal of shaping Detroit to be a capital of culinary convention.

Dave & Dave at the DAC

Dave & Dave at the DAC

That Gardenia is a Tiki Kind of Guy

That Gardenia is a Tiki Kind of Guy

Recently, PUNCH reached out to learn more about an ingredient used in one of the seasonal menu cocktails created by head bartender Alex Kirles.  We went and dug a little deeper.

That Gardenia is a Tiki Kind of Guy

By Billy Scott

Thanks to the resilience of piquant ingredients and attractive garnishing, tiki bars have had a bit of a resurgence in recent years. The first tiki bar of its kind was created by a former prohibition era bootlegger Donn Beach, in Los Angeles 1933; called Don the Beachcomber. Carried by the popularity of other establishments such as Trader Vic’s, tiki bars experienced robust popularity from the 30’s all the way through to the 1950’s. However, its attractiveness slowly faded as the sixties brought about a new age of popular culture and trends.

The era of the tiki bar has inspired so many amazing cocktail innovations that one could never truly gauge its effect. However, the list certainly does not fall short from the city of Detroit. Thanks to Donn Beach, we have been able to experience a taste of something unforgettable right here in Corktown. Sugar House’s own, Alex Kirles has remastered and revamped an obscure (almost forgotten) ingredient, and it is oh so sweet.

As head bartender, Alex Kirles is always on the prowl for new and innovative ways of tantalizing his patron’s palates. While researching the history of Caribbean cocktails, he stumbled upon a real gem in the book Potions of the Caribbean, by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. This remarkable resource was Winner of the 2014 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award for best new cocktail book. Inside, Jeff Berry uncovered 77 vintage recipes, 16 of which were “lost” and 19 that were never before published. This is where Kirles discovered an interesting ingredient called Don’s Gardenia Mix. It was comprised in a Donn Beach original cocktail, The Pearl Diver. In an interview we had with Kirles regarding this, he said,

“I read that [recipe] in Potions of the Caribbean and I said “Wow that sounds delicious.” I made it and I immediately found how difficult it was to work with, but it tasted so good I didn’t really care.”

The original gardenia mix is essentially a butter syrup with vanilla, spices and honey. However, the recipe was slightly tweaked to assert a distinct kind of flavor, representative of the undeniable Sugar House charm. With that, Kirles added half-and-half, black peppercorns, whole cloves and corn syrup. The difficulties mentioned lie in the viscosity and consistency of the mix itself, as well as the oily residue that it leaves inside jiggers, shakers and tiki mugs. Concerning this, Kirles explained,

“Regardless of how well you make it, in my opinion, it will always re-solidify to some point when it gets cold enough. You have to be very careful with your bartools (your tins that shake butter, gardenia mix) because it will leave oily residue, which is kind of hard to get off.”

This sweet and savory concoction was used to comprise one of the best-selling cocktails on the seasonal “Chinese Zodiac” menu at Sugar House; the Year of the Rat. This drink recently gained national notoriety after Punch featured it on their popular website According to Kirles, the Year of the Rat is a marriage of two Don the Beachcomber original cocktails, the Zombie and The Pearl Diver;

“I wanted to showcase the gardenia mix as the focal point of the drink. From there, I looked at my favorite tiki drink, the Zombie, and then I looked at The Pearl Diver. I drew similarities. I took some ingredients out and I sort of married the two drinks together, and that’s how I came up with the Year of the Rat.”

As fantastic as this drink is, it won’t be around forever. The new seasonal cocktail menu is set to be released on May 1st, so time is of the essence. If you haven’t already, it may be a good time to visit the Sugar House and give the Year of the Rat a try, while you still can!


Year of the Rat

  • 1oz Plantation OFTD overproof dark rum

  • 1oz Aquavit (Long Road)

  • .25oz Raspberry liqueur (St. George)

  • .5oz Gardenia Mix

  • .5oz Falernum simple syrup

  • .5oz Pineapple juice

  • .5oz Grapefruit juice

  • 1 Dash absinthe

Garnish: Orchid and torched cinnamon bark


  1. Dry Shake ingredients first to combine. Then lightly shake over pebble ice to avoid chilling the Gardenia Mix to a solid state.

  2. Frappe into a tiki mug, then top with more fresh pebble ice until heaping.

  3. Garnish with an edible orchid and torched cinnamon bark.


Gardenia Mix:

8 grams Whole cloves

8 grams Cracked cinnamon

8 grams Whole black peppercorn

8 Sticks (2 pounds) unsalted butter

8 ounces Raw honey (by weight)

2 ounces Vanilla syrup

2 ounces Allspice dram

1 ounce Light corn syrup

8 ounces Half-and-half

Heat the first three ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat for about 30 seconds. Then add everything except the half-and-half. Once the butter has completely melted remove from heat, strain the spices off and add the half-and-half. Use an immersion blender to incorporate. Bottle and chill until ready for use.


Once ready to use, you will need to heat the bottle until the mix becomes a consistent liquid form. Putting your bottle inside a large tin with hot water seems to do the trick.

The Violet Hour Takeover

The Violet Hour Takeover

Attention fellow Detroiters: Spring is upon us! Along with mother nature’s fresh growth and renewed vitality, comes the symbiosis of hospitality, cultivating the revitalization of Detroit.


Last September, The Sugar House was honored to be invited to Chicago to deliver a definitive Detroit drinking experience to ChiTown’s Violet Hour patrons. Soon, the Violet Hour, one of GQ Magazine’s “25 Best Cocktail Bars in America” will be honoring Detroit with a taste of Chicagoland craft. Violet Hour will be doing a total bar takeover at Sugar House on April 17th.


There are yet many parallels that the Violet Hour and Sugar House share. Mainly, both are fragments of large, thriving restaurant groups. The Violet Hour is part of ‘One Off Hospitality’(OOH). The Sugar House is from ‘Detroit Optimist Society’(DOS). Both have some real powerhouses among them.

Notably, the OOH has multiple James Beard Foundation awards under their belt. In 2015, Violet Hour won “Best Bar Program”. Also, the OOH’s Blackbird’s executive chef Paul Kahan, won “Outstanding Chef” in 2013. Similarly, DOS partner and executive chef at Wright & Co. Marc Djozlija was a semi-finalist for “Best Chef in America” in 2015.


This takeover convergence was not an accident. Restaurateur and cocktail enthusiast Dave Kwiatkowski was a Chicago resident and Violet Hour patron prior to establishing the Sugar House, in Corktown. It’s no secret that the Violet Hour was a big inspiration for the Sugar House concept.


In the same way that the Violet Hour set the standard for cocktail bars in Chicago, since 2007, the Sugar House has done the same for Detroit, since 2011. It would seem that they both had in effect, started a bit of a local cocktail revolution among themselves. In a 2008 interview, Violet Hour partner and head mixologist Toby Maloney commented on the current cocktail environment in Chicago by saying,


“I’ve seen places that are doing cocktail things a little bit more than they did before in Chicago. But I think it’s an evolution that was bound to happen because the cocktail thing has been so big on the coasts for the last ten years, and now it’s slowly going toward the middle of the country.”


Ten years later, we can absolutely say that Maloney was correct in his assertion. Similarly, from an interview with Dave Kwiatkowski in 2011, regarding Detroit and the lack of a cocktail scene, he said,


“…people in the city have so few options and even less high-quality options. We saw that as our opportunity. We thought if we create a beautiful space, keep it high-end but affordable, we will be successful. Quality sells in Detroit. There is an audience for it. People that live in the suburbs want cool stuff in Detroit.”


We could all agree that there are no longer a lack of options in Detroit. The common consensus is that there seems to be a new restaurant opening up every couple of weeks. With so many choices, the Sugar House has continued to remain relevant and on top of its game by staying true to quality and excellence of service.


The Violet Hour takeover will start at 5PM and end at 12AM. There will be four Violet Hour bartenders mixing up a series of their own modern classic creations. Come up and witness history, as Chicago meets Detroit!


FOX 2 Morning Starts the Day Off Right (Whiskey DUH)

FOX 2 Morning Starts the Day Off Right (Whiskey DUH)

Thanks to FOX 2 Detroit for having us on to talk about Irish whiskey in preparation for the St. Patrick's Day festivities taking place this Friday.  Head bartender Alex Kirles gives the ladies a lesson on spirits and shakes up an Irish Cream.  

Join us for the St. Patrick's Day celebration at Sugar House starting at 11AM on Friday, March 17th.  We will have Irish drink specials and a live band playing all the classic Irish tunes starting at noon, with some Irish fare will be provided to keep you sustained for a long day!

You can watch the whole segment HERE.


If you would like to make an Irish Cream at home, we suggest:

2 oz. good Irish whiskey

1 oz. half & half

.5 oz simple syrup (we use demerara sugar)

Grated nutmeg 

Shake to chill and dilute!



Valentine Distillery Tour

Valentine Distillery Tour

"Last week Sugar House was lucky enough to visit Valentine Distillery for a very unique tour showing off what makes Valentine so different, especially what differentiates them from other craft distilleries around the country. Rifino, the architect behind this empire, explained that Valentine started off as an idea on Wall Street to bring hard work and quality back into craft sprits. Too often he saw companies going public and losing what made them different from the rest. They put everything into the bottom line and not into the heart of the product. He wanted to create a product he could be proud of, something with dedication to the final product and not the paycheck.  

It is not just the beginnings of Valentine that makes them different, it is the brain and experience of head distiller, Justin Aden. Justin knew what he wanted as a young kid studying yeast fermentation and the rest. That is what made him a perfect fit for the Artisan Distilling Program at MSU after graduation, where he met Rifino.  After working together to get Valentine started, Justin spent some years working on various spirits projects around the country before coming back to Detroit to rejoin Rifino a few years ago.  Justin has been able to apply his knowledge and intense study into each carefully crafted product.  

After our science lecture we dove into tasting the current offerings and products currently in the works at the distillery. From their award winning vodka, to a rye aged in gin barrels, Valentine showed us what it really meant to put your heart into a product. Of course, this hit home for us at the Sugar House. We have been trying to perfect a craft and bring it to people looking for cocktails accompanied by great hospitality for over 5 years. That is exactly what we got while visiting Rifino, Justin, and the rest of the Valentine crew. We look forward to seeing what Valentine has to offer in the future and could not thank them enough for the knowledge and experience they shared."

Jake Darmofal, aka Average Jake, aka Reggie

Check out this WhiskyCast episode featuring Rifino & Justin for a little more background!