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How the Hummer Became Michigan’s State Drink

The Hummer—a mix of white rum, Kahlua and ice cream—was invented at a Detroit yacht club fifty years ago. It’s now a statewide phenomenon.

For the past 93 years, Detroit’s Bayview Yacht Club has been the launch pad for the Bayview-Mac, a 200-plus mile freshwater sprint, beginning in Port Huron and ending at teeny Mackinac Island. There, more than 200 boats from the Great Lakes race annually, many of them world-renowned. So it stands to reason that anyone in the racing circuit will know Bayview Yacht Club. But they’ll also know Jerome Adams. 

The story goes something like this: Fifty years ago, Adams, originally from Georgia, got a job at the club as a dishwasher, quickly graduating to porter before landing a spot behind the nautical mahogany bar overlooking the freighters in the Detroit River. This is where, on a slow afternoon in February, 1968—an undeniably odd time to break out a blender—Adams served the first Hummer, a whirred-up combination of white rum, Kahlua, vanilla ice cream and a couple of ice cubes.

It is now, without contest, Michigan’s state drink.

Adams, now 77, is still behind the bar at Bayview five nights a week and Hummers have become so popular that they’re often sold by the pitcher. What’s more, Adams has become an ambassador of sorts, traveling around Michigan and to yacht clubs countrywide, sometimes serving thousands of Hummers in a night. So while the drink is inextricably linked to its home state, it’s also become a standard in the racing community.

“When I was racing on the Grizzly with Chuck Bayer, he had portable chainsaw blender that went everywhere with us,” says Bob Bailey, who’s been sailing from the Bayview since he was 12 years old (or “40-some” years). “In Key West, we’d go through maybe 100 gallons of ice cream, serving Hummers to everyone, people from around the world.”

Hummers are most commonly served as an after-dinner drink everywhere from the Detroit Athletic Club to the Jockey Bar at Mackinac Island’s anachronistic Grand Hotel. Hummers turn up in unexpected places, too, including in slushie machines at clubs, at dive bars and even so-called “west-Mex” restaurants like Harbor Springs’s Mustang Wendy’s.

The only place they aren’t, is anywhere outside the Michigan state lines. Though, that hasn’t stopped Michigan ex-pats, like my friend Curt Catallo’s grandmother, from requesting them wherever she went. “When we’d go visit her on Longboat Key, Florida, we’d go out to Moore’s Stone Crab or Euphemia Haye she’d order a Hummer as her pre-dinner cocktail,” Catallo tells me. “Apparently, they’re great with shrimp cocktail and calamari.”

While the Bayview version of the drink is still the archetype, many bartenders have taken to upgrading it. At the Detroit Athletic Club, lead bartender David Bertolino’s version of the Hummer calls for housemade ice cream (the X-factor, according to him) and excludes ice. During Hummer high season at the Club, in fall and winter, it outsells the Last Word, the beloved classic cocktail that was also invented there.

While the Hummer has seen its fair share of homegrown innovation, it’s still the ice-cream based original that remains nothing short of a Michigan institution, sating everyone from grandmothers to sailors. Only recently have Michigan bartenders taken to riffing on it.

Dorothy Elizabeth, formerly of Detroit’s Standby, began workshopping Hummer variations by breaking the drink down to its basic components—something creamy, something sweet, something slightly bitter—and then rebuilding it. Her resulting Munising Falls is a frappé made with a whole egg, house-infused banana rum and Spaulding’s Coffee Liqueur from nearby Ann Arbor. Her Sorbet All Day, meanwhile, blends coconut sorbet and rum that’s been infused with burnt cinnamon, giving it the toasty bitterness that’s usually borne of a coffee element.

Moving even farther away from the frozen standard, Beaux Kerin at Sugar House spent months working on a Hummer riff for a Detroit cocktail tribute menu. The menu concept was ultimately scrapped (there just aren’t enough Detroit classics), but the drink found a home on the bar’s summer Corktown Carnival menu. Stirred and served up, his World’s Strongest Man combines milk-“washed” Cruzan Blackstrap Rum, St. George’s Nola Coffee Liqueur and Averna.

Such alternations would be heretical at Bayview, where Adams is frequently called on to tell the birth story of the Hummer. With each recounting, he gives credit for the name to one of the first members that he served the drink. “One of the guys asked me, ‘You got a name for it?’ ‘It doesn’t have a name,” I told him.” Having ordering a second round, the man said to Adams, “‘You know, after two of these, it kinda makes you want to hum.'” 

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