The Urbanite: Lifting spirits in Corktown: Two James is Detroit’s first post-prohibition distillery

The Urbanite – Jon Liedtke – April 9, 2014

On a Friday afternoon in Corktown, just feet away from the hollowed and empty shell of the once majestic but still grand and awe inspiring Michigan Central Station, sits roughly 30 well-dressed spirit sip- pers celebrating the end of the work week at Two James Distillery. 

Sitting along the horseshoe shaped bar in the tasting room just shy of five o’clock, patrons buzzed amongst themselves commenting on the commotion being caused by a film crew on the distillery floor. 

A decorative still hangs off the side of the building at the entrance, a glass orb in which water appears to be bubbling, mimicking the distillation process. 

This is just another Friday explained Andy Mohr, a partner at Two James Distillery. 

“We do 20 bottles [of bourbon] a day in the tasting room and then we try to get as much out through our distribution partner … but it’s been selling out quite quickly.” 

Two James Distillery produces Detroit made bourbon, rye whiskey, vodka, gin, apple brandy and absinthe in the first legal distillery to open in Detroit post-prohibition.

“We researched it and found out that we are the first licensed distillery. There’s always been an underground spirit making process going on, [however].” 

Two James opened its tasting room in September 2013, but the enterprise was officially launched two years ago. 

“It’s been great so far,” said Mohr. “[The] tasting room we didn’t really know what to expect, we’re a little bit further down the street in Corktown, but it’s been great so far.” 

The distillery offers tours on Fridays and Mohr joked that patrons seem to take off early from work to kick off the weekend. 

The distillery is the brainchild of founders. David Landrum and Peter Bailey following Landrum’s heightened interest in distilling. 

“[Landrum] was looking for a new venture. He was always in the craft cocktail scene, he made his own bitters [and mixers],” said Mohr. “He was thinking of opening his own bar and then he got the idea of making his own spirits [and] what really got the ball rolling was we met Dave Pickerell by chance one day on an airplane flight.” 

Pickerell was the head distiller at Maker’s Mark for 20 years and is considered one of the nation’s preeminent distillers. That serendipitous meeting between Landrum and Pickerell developed into a fruitful friendship and business relationship as Pickerell’s new venture is helping launch craft distilleries. 

Expanding from offering just spirits, Two James last weekend launched Camp James, a hands-on three-day whiskey making class taught by Pickerell which costs $2,000 a person. 

“[It’s] hands on doing a whiskey run from milling of the grain, the mash, fermentation, distillation … put it in the barrel, hammer it closed… start to finish,” said Mohr. “They’ll sign the barrels [and] people also take their own two-litre to age at home, and once that barrel’s released, we’ll get a bottle to each person or let them know it’s out.” 

“Having that knowledge and when we learned about it, we wanted people to have that opportunity,” said Mohr regarding the motivation for the class. “We felt [that] whiskey enthusiasts who are really interested in whiskey and cocktails, distilling [it’s] an opportunity to have that first hand experience.” 

Two James embraces the craft mentality of distilling and brewing and is not concerned about revealing trade secrets at Camp James or of new competition. 

“Locally in the state of Michigan, other small distillers, we always view it as a family so if somebody took it to the next level and opened up their own distillery we’d be happy to help them. If we were kind of the push that got them going, we’d see that as an honour rather than as competition.” 

The Urbanite: Lifting spirits in Corktown: Two James is Detroit’s first post-prohibition distillery
JON LIEDTKE – April 9, 2014
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Jon Liedtke (The Urbanite – Jay Verspeelt)

Jonathon Liedtke is the managing editor of The Urbanite, Windsor’s alternative newspaper. He is also a member of Windsor’s “Punk with Horns” band The Nefidovs, and as such, is committed to enhancing and sustaining the arts community.

The Urbanite


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