In January 2016, Mrs. Wonk and I crossed the pond to spend eight days the Islay and Speyside regions of Scotland, visiting as many whisky distilleries as possible during an all-too-brief visit. We battled snow, hail, fierce winds, flooded railway tracks, comically narrow roads, and tire-killing curbs. In the end, it was the trip of a lifetime, visiting thirteen distilleries and experiencing profound moments several times per day. Over the next dozen or so posts, I’ll share the stories of each distillery through words and photos.
We also made appearances at Ardbeg and Aberlour, but circumstances prevented a full tour.
Continue reading “Essential Highlights of a Scotch Whisky Distillery Visit”
It takes a brave–and possibly mad–person to name their latest project “Mea Culpa Rum.” Yet that’s exactly what Bryan Davis just did, posting the label image recently on his Lost Spirits Technology/ Distillery Facebook page. Longtime readers of this site know that I’ve spent an obsessive amount of time over the past two years keeping close tabs on the Lost Spirits story. Starting with their bold, polarizing rums (Navy Style, Polynesian Inspired, and Cuban Inspired), through the science of rum flavors and barrel aging, and onto licensing the amazing THEA One aging reactors to upstart distilleries, Lost Spirits has been an ever-changing story covered by major news outlets like Wired and CBS News. So it’s with a certain amount of pride that I can say this site covered it first and the most in-depth.
When I last wrote about lost Spirits in September 2015, I had been present for the unveiling of Santeria rum, made for Rational Spirits of Charleston, South Carolina– the first reactor licensee. A few months later, a second licensee called Rattleback received their reactor. Behind the scenes, Bryan and his partner, Joanne Haruta, were continuing to sign up yet more licensees while evolving the reactor design to process larger quantities of spirits. I chatted occasionally with Bryan during this time, naively assuming that he’d be busy for a while building reactors and helping new licensees get underway with their technology. Sure, there were occasional only-in-Lost-Spirits-land elements–like working with an actual Santeria priest to bless Rational’s reactor–but not enough to warrant a full news flash here.
Continue reading “E Pluribus Unum: Lost Spirits Confounds Expectations Yet Again”
A recent trend in the cocktail world is for high-end, world class “destination” bars and celebrity bartenders to further extend their brand and cement their reputation via authoring a book. Some hotly anticipated tomes of note recently include The PDT Cocktail Book (PDT, NYC), Speakeasy (Employees Only, NYC), Death & Co. (Death & Co., NYC), and The Bar Book (Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Portland, OR). All have been eagerly anticipated and well received. In that light, the only surprise is that Martin and Rebecca Cate’s new book, Smuggler’s Cove – Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, took so long to appear on the cocktail book scene. In fairness, they’ve been a little busy with other things, like oh…opening Whitechapel, a shrine to gin akin to what San Francisco’s Smuggler’s Cove is to rum.
Even among the cocktail enthusiast population, the Tiki crowd is particularly passionate and eager for fresh material. I’ve witnessed firsthand the insane demand and interest for the Smuggler’s Cove book, scheduled to be generally available in early June 2016. As the fortunate recipient of one of the first books off the press, I’ve taken on the task of reading the entire opus–which clocks in at a solid 350 pages from cover to cover. As a teaser before jumping into my thoughts about the volume overall, here are ten of my favorite factoids you’ll encounter:
Continue reading “Navigating Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, by Martin and Rebecca Cate”
The Tiki revival movement is clearly having its moment these days, having been heralded in dozens of articles to that effect. Even an old standby like The Washington Post has gotten into the act, running stories about Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and how to make your own orgeat. This is indisputably a good thing for people like yours truly who enjoy a balanced, expertly crafted tropical libation rather than a quart of fruit punch with cheap white rum thrown in. The elaborately constructed rum rhapsodies of the 1940 and 1950s took a serious dive downward for the following fifty years, picking up bad habits like flavored vodka and powdered drink mixes. By the start of the 21st century, Tiki was just about left for dead, consumed ironically if at all. Fortunately, the rise of the craft cocktail movement swept Tiki into its whirlwind of vintage recipes and ingredients. A decade or so later, dedicated Tiki-centric bars are popping up all over the world and modern Tiki recipes are just as easy to find as the classic Donn Beach, Trader Vic, and Steve Crane recipes from the 1930s through1950s.
Inevitably, tons of “Best Tiki Bars” lists have popped up online. Of the current “modern era” Tiki bars, these lists inevitably cite Smuggler’s Cove, Hale Pele, Latitude 29, Three Dots and a Dash, and Lost Lake, among others—all worthy of your drinking time. At the same time, a set of celebrity Tiki bartenders has become the face of the Tiki revival – people like Jeff Berry, Martin Cate, Blair Reynolds, and Paul McGee. You’ll find quotes from these fine folks all over the coverage of Tiki these days. They’ve all contributed significantly to Tiki’s new modern era, embracing the classics but not being bound by them either. A lot of attention is lavished on these revivalists, and deservedly so.
Continue reading “At the Bar with Seattle’s Tiki Warrior Justin Wojslaw”
Another post for the rum wonks out there…
On the heels of my earlier posts (here and here), the list below contains my curated picks for new rums which should be appearing on U.S. shelves and your local watering holes in 2016. I’ve previously written about searching the TTB site for recent label approvals. If you’re not familiar with the TTB and/or the label approval process, those posts a good place to start before diving in here.
To construct the list below, I queried the TTB database, constraining the results to the past four months. I then exercised editorial prerogative to cherry-pick the label approvals likely most interesting (in my opinion) to the rum community. The original list I harvested from the TTB was huge – several hundred entries–so I made sweeping cuts to bring the list down to a manageable size. Unfortunately, this time around that meant eliminating domestically produced rums. Not that there aren’t some good ones made here in the good old U. S. of A., but finding the worthwhile rums can be a needle in the haystack situation. Also, smaller distilleries may put out lots of rum, but they often have limited distribution.
Continue reading “Stalking the TTB: Upcoming U.S. rum releases from Lemon Hart, Angostura, Diplomatico, Mount Gay, Foursquare, and more! January to April 2016”
In its highest form, bartending is an intimate, one-to-one experience. A bartender reads your preferences and desires, and with deft dexterity pulls from a full range of ingredients behind the bar to craft something that speaks to your tastes. It’s a casual, two-way conversation. Gone for the most part are the days of uniformed bartenders speaking in hushed tones, moving into the background once the drink is made. These days, we expect the best bartenders to be accessible – our friend who happens to have an encyclopedic knowledge of spirits and cocktails, while retaining a certain edginess and maybe a few tattoos hinting at interesting stories.
In this light, it’s a bit surreal to be sitting among several dozen of the most innovative bartenders from around the world–not across the bar at their home bases in London, Amsterdam, New York, or Bangkok, but rather, in a former U.S. Federal Reserve building in San Francisco. All are impeccably dressed in suits. One by one, eight of them climb onto stage, a backdrop of mirrors and dozens of Bacardi rum bottles arranged in rows for maximum visual wow factor. After carefully arranging the proper ingredients necessary to make exactly two cocktails, they spend a precise seven minutes presenting their story while crafting two identical cocktails. In front of them, seated in giant overstuffed leather chairs, are four of the most famous people in the spirits and bartending world, judging their every move and utterance. It’s a far cry from sitting with these talented competitors at their own bars. Nonetheless, their presentation, storytelling, and cocktail may well turn one of them and their carefully honed recipe into a household name in the global cocktail community. Their winning cocktail–featuring Bacardi rum, of course–will become a cornerstone of their legacy, hence the competition’s name: the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition.
Continue reading “Chasing the Bat: Four Days Embedded In the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition Finals”