The popularity of microbrew beers is exploding, but there also is a growing number of small-batch distilleries. A converted lawn mower shop in trendy Ferndale now houses Rifino Valentine’s vodka production, aptly named Valentine Vodka. In 2009, Valentine Vodka became available in bars and stores throughout Michigan, and its numerous awards are proof that Valentine, a former Wall Street trader, is ready to take on the likes of Grey Goose and Ketel One. His distillery and cocktail lounge, open since 2010, is a comfortable barn-meets-speakeasy spot.
His inspiration was fairly simple. As a longtime fan of dirty martinis, Valentine wondered why all vodka was imported. I can make a vodka right here in Michigan, he thought, and set out to prove it. For four years, Valentine tried different recipes before settling on a multi–Michigan-grain concoction. Though Valentine has created an extensive cocktail repertoire, he is most proud of his Detroit Dirty—the drink that inspired it all—made from Valentine Vodka and McClure’s pickles brining juice. The ingredients are, naturally, all from Michigan.
His freestanding distillery and martini bar, set in a quiet residential neighborhood, has an old-school vibe and serves other Michigan products like Vernor’s Ginger Ale. Reclaimed bricks, windows and vintage settees provide a cozy spot for trying some of Valentine’s concoctions, some made with fresh local produce-based infusions. This is not a sports bar; aside from a delectable prosciutto and tomato appetizer, there’s no food, either. Neither is there beer or wine, though a few soft drinks are available. The draw is the vodka and the conversation that ensues because of it. Rest assured everything is local. “We only serve what we make,” Valentine says. Drinks from $8.