Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Something's Brewing with the Blues in the 'Zoo Inspired by a Dance with KoKo the Queen

Here is a Michigan-inspired cocktail recipe using locally-owned Something’s Brewing (Kalamazoo, MI) hot chocolate, Grand Traverse Distillery's Chocolate Vodka (Traverse City) and appropriately named, The Kazoo KoKo Taylor.

The Kazoo KoKo Taylor

1 ½ oz. Grand Traverse Distillery Chocolate Vodka (Traverse City, MI) or substitute
1 ½ oz. W. R. Welter White Rye Whiskey (Three Oaks, MI)
4-5 oz. Something’s Brewing Hot Cocoa (Kalamazoo, MI)
4 chilled egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3 oz. simple syrup (2:1 ratio)
Fresh grated nutmeg (garnish)
Great Lakes Tea and Spice Co's Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon (Glenn Arbor, MI)

Combine spirit and hot cocoa in an Irish coffee mug.  Stir well.  

BEAT egg whites and cream of tartar in mixer bowl with whisk attachment on high speed until foamy. Beating constantly, ADD simple syrup 1 Tbsp. at a time, beating after each addition until sugar is dissolved before adding the next. Continue beating until whites are glossy and stand in soft peaks. Spread meringue over drink using a small spatula.  Lightly toast meringue with a creme brulee torch.  Sprinkle with a dusting of fresh grated nutmeg and cinnamon.  We are very fond of using Great Lakes Tea and Spice Co's Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon in our cocktail creations.  Vietnamese 'Saigon' Cinnamon is considered the finest quality and most flavorful cinnamon in the world due to its high oil contents and rich, dark, distinctly sweet flavor and complex aroma. Use in baking, meat dishes, soups, and add a pinch to hot drinks and cereals.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of “The Blues” is:

“Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre that originated in African-American communities of primarily the "Deep South" of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll is characterized by specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues chord progression is the most common. The blue notes that, for expressive purposes, are sung or played flattened or gradually bent (minor 3rd to major 3rd) in relation to the pitch of the major scale, are also an important part of the sound.” 

Sounds pretty difficult and complicated; but, if you presented this definition to any blues aficionado/player/singer, they would look at you with a blank stare.  Most would probably correct you by saying, “honey, you thinkin’ too much.  Blues gotta come from within, from the soul. You gotta FEEL it and you gotta LIVE it.  That’s all I know.”

Kalamazoo has a nice little thing going with KalamazooValley Blues Association (KVBA).  KVBA was originally founded in 1994 with the sole purpose of organizing the first annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival. The resulting success gave birth to the ideals in which the organization embraces and utilizes today. Their goal is to keep the blues alive in Southwest Michigan, and they do a great job doing so.  I’ve always been impressed with SW Michigan’s musical talents.  I’m sure these talented musicians study, and one cannot possibly study music without crossing paths with the 12-bar blues. KVBA keeps the opportunity alive for these aspiring musicians by bringing in national performers and supporting the local blues music scene.  I began my love of the blues with this organization and had the pleasure of experiencing these events before moving across the pond to Chicago, where I knew I was going to experience the blues firsthand.

Many years ago, I worked at one of the best blues clubs in Chicago.  Originally, this masterpiece of a music venue was Famous Dave’s Rhythm, Blues and BBQ, located on Clark Street just south of Chicago Avenue, across the street from Blue Chicago.  After two years, the club merged with the original “Chef” himself, Isaac Hayes, to become Isaac Hayes’ Music, Food, Passion with Famous Dave’s BBQ.  The club was an enormous 2-story structure with a stage to house at least 12 musicians.  The seating area was decorated and set to resemble being below Chicago’s famous EL train tracks.  An enormous square bar with a tin roof meant to resemble a Delta-Blues juke-joint was at the other end facing the stage.  Oh yes, I was home in Sweet Home Chicago and I was ready to hang my bartending hat here for quite some time.

I crossed paths with many of the great blues players, Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, Lonnie Brooks, Buddy Guy, you name them, I probably poured their beers, mixed their drinks, ordered their food, chased after them to pay their tabs, listened to their sets and wished them well when they left, even if they stiffed me.  Although each one of these artists gave me great memories, two encounters with two legendary performers gave me two unforgettable experiences that I will never forget.  I smile fondly when I think of these memories.   

One night the club was getting pretty busy and the bar was filling up.  I noticed what looked like a homeless man had entered the club and sat down at a nearby high-top table next to the bar.  He sat there, didn’t make immediate eye contact with me, and was getting into the groove of the evening’s blues entertainment.  This man looked like he had been on the streets for weeks.  He was smoking what looked like a cigarette he picked up off the street and his clothes were disheveled and dirty.  He looked like he was truly living the blues. (Side note: smoking was still allowed in the bars in Chicago when this occurred. It is not anymore.) I was betting he didn’t have any money and just wanted to warm up a bit and check out the entertainment so I decided to buy him a drink.  When we made eye contact, I smiled and asked, “Hey there, I would like to buy you a drink.  What’ll you have?”  He nodded and replied without a smile, “I’ll have a Crown Royal straight.”  I handed him the drink, which he graciously accepted, and continued to enjoy the entertainment.  He promptly gulped the drink down and demanded another.  I was slightly startled as I was pretty sure this man had no money and he downed the drink in record time.  I replied, “Sweetheart, the first one was on me, you will have to buy the next one.”  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few wadded up dollar bills and a bunch of change.  I made him the drink, charged him appropriately, and he paid with exact change.  I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m done with this guy” and continued servicing the rest of the customers at the bar.  He promptly swilled back the next round of Crown Royal, jumped off the high-top chair, came to the bar top, slammed the glass down and stated, “Woman!  Bring me another Crown Royal.”  Those who know me know that I do not take kindly to these kinds of words, and I have a knack of ensuring that this never happens again.  I looked at the current bar guest I was serving, smiled and said, “Would you please excuse me for a brief moment?”  I turned and slammed my beer bottle opener down on the bar and announced, “EXCUSE ME?  My name is Angie, not WOMAN.  In fact, YOU will now address me as Ms. Jackson. Now, I’m going to give you a few minutes to think about how you disrespected me and when you have chosen an appropriate apology, I will be back.”  The rest of the bar guests applauded and shouted, “You get ‘em, Ms. Jackson!”  I promptly continued servicing my bar guests and after a few minutes he called me over and said, “Ms. Jackson. I am very sorry for the way I disrespected you.  May I please have another Crown Royal?”  I replied with a smile, “Of course you may.  Now you know my name, what is yours?”  He answered, “I’m Little Eddie King and I’m the next performer for the evening.”  From this day forward, he called me Ms. Jackson. 

“Little Eddie King (born Edward Lewis Davis Milton, April 21, 1938) is a Chicago blues guitarist, singer and songwriter.  His parents were both musical, with his father playing guitar and his mother a gospel singer. King learned basic guitar riffs from watching from outside the window of local blues clubs, and was inspired by the playing of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Little Walter.  He relocated to Chicago in 1954.  Given a break by Little Mack Simmons, he first recorded under the tutelage of Willie Dixon and, in 1960, played on several tracks recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson II.  He then became the guitarist backing Koko Taylor, a role he undertook for two decades.” - Wikipedia

I passed a bit of this historical encounter on to my friends at Journeyman Distillery.  Remember the beer bottle opener I slammed down on the bar after being addressed as “WOMAN”?  The opener became bent at the end after this altercation.  Stop by the Tasting Room in Three Oaks to check it out.  It is alive and well, kept under the supervision of Matt (J-Man) Janotta, the Bar Manager.

The other encounter didn’t begin on the wrong foot; in fact, it was the right foot.  The club was hosting one of the pioneers of the Chicago blues scene, the Queen of the Blues herself, Koko Taylor.  We had a back stairway area where artists entered and exited the Green Room.  The back stairwell area was a space allotted for artists and employees to smoke. I was back in this area taking a break when I heard the band begin playing one of Koko’s most signature songs, “Wang Dang Doodle.”  I love this song and didn’t want to miss one of my idols perform this live at the venue I happened to be working.  I came running out of the back stairway area which led to the kitchen area entrance where artists entered the stage.  I was grooving along, dancing to the music when I looked up and saw Koko Taylor standing in front of me smiling.  She said to me with a sly grin on her face, “Girl, you got some smooth moves!” and began dancing with me.  What a thrill!  I was happy just to be able to see her and now I was dancing with her in the kitchen area of the club I worked at to her most famous song.  We briefly danced together, both smiling and laughing when I said, “sweetheart, you probably should go out there and get on stage.  I think the band is waiting for you.”  She replied again with a little smirk, “They can wait.  I’m busy.”  What a thrill to continue dancing for another minute or so with the Queen of the Blues herself, KoKo Taylor!  The time came when the Queen needed to be on stage.  I promptly kissed her hand and said, “You are fabulous! Thank you for spending a few minutes with a fan.”  She smiled, continued dancing through the doorway, turned to me and blew me a kiss as she grabbed her microphone and began singing and heading towards the stage. 

“Koko Taylor (September 28, 1928 – June 3, 2009) was a Chicago blues musician, popularly known as the "Queen of the Blues." She was known primarily for her rough, powerful vocals and traditional blues stylings.  Born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee, Taylor was the daughter of a sharecropper. She left Memphis for Chicago, Illinois in 1952 with her husband, truck driver Robert "Pops" Taylor. In the late 1950s she began singing in Chicago blues clubs. She was spotted by Willie Dixon in 1962, and this led to wider performances and her first recording contract. In 1965, Taylor was signed by Chess Records where she recorded "Wang Dang Doodle," a song written by Dixon and recorded by Howlin' Wolf five years earlier. The song became a hit, reaching number four on the R&B charts in 1966, and selling a million copies.” - Wikipedia

I want to honor this great woman who gave her soul to her fans and the blues. I also want to give a little kudos to the man who gained more respect for me after I yelled at him.  I also want to give a shout out to the folks who began an amazing organization that continues to keep this genre alive in my home town, the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association (KVBA).  A little piece of Chicago Blues still lives in Kalamazoo.  I recently gave my work shirt from the club to a dear friend who's father is one of Isaac Hayes biggest fans.  She grew up listening to "Shaft" and has amazing childhood memories of her family listening to one of the greatest songwriters of all time.



True North Chocolate Vodka is a wheat-based vodka that has been naturally infused with organic cocoa. Fresh navel oranges are infused secondary and impart a natural sweetness and deeply satisfying citrus twist.  Created in small batches, this product is only available at the distillery.  Be sure to pick up a bottle when visiting the area.  For those of you who want to keep the blues alive in their souls, substitute Journeyman’s W.R. Welter White Rye Whiskey in place of the vodka.  Be sure to pour and serve the bottle from a paper bag for realistic purposes.



Tile designed by artist Nancy DeYoung.  A contribution to Hospital Hospitality House of Southwest Michigan was made by purchasing this limited edition tile (#370/500).  The House provides a home-away-from-home for families and/or patients at Borgess Medical Center, Bronson Methodist Hospital and the West Michigan Cancer Center.  Over 1,000 guests are served here each year.  This tile is proudly displayed in my kitchen to remind me of my "Home Sweet Home" Kalamazoo.

Along with free lodging, guests are provided with emotional support through round-the-clock staffing, laundry facilities, a well-stocked kitchen, donated personal items, bathrobes, slippers and, if needed, clothing.  Hospital Hospitality House is supported entirely by donations like this.


Do a little Wang Dang Doodle dance for the Queen of the Blues today.  CHEERS!