Early on my path to rum wonkdom, after exhausting the rum selections at my pitiful state liquor stores, a certain set of elegant looking and pricey bottles caught my eye while scouring the shelves at an out-of-state liquor store. The labels read Berry Bros. & Rudd, and each bottle held rum from a different country. I quickly realized that these were somehow different from the big rum brands. I was fascinated and realized I had much to learn. However, the $120 price tags were prohibitive, especially so for someone not yet well informed on the nuances of different countries, much less different distilleries.
One of the joys of my jumping headlong into the world of distilled spirits is meeting highly educated and passionate people who change your perspective and point out rabbit holes you didn’t know existed. One such example was this past October, when I had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas King of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). Nicholas and I were on the same ACSA judging panel for American whiskies. Fancy me, a rum-fixated writer judging whiskey!
Visitors to Maison Ferrand in France’s Cognac region are usually astonished to come face-to-face with a polished wooden egg, easily big enough to hold a full-sized adult. Now, if you’re old enough to recall the 1970s sitcom staple Mork & Mindy, you know that Mork (Robin Williams) arrived on earth nestled within a giant white egg. However, Ferrand’s wooden egg holds something very different, and it’s not alone. A few kilometers up the road, another egg greets visitor in the lobby of Tonnellerie Taransaud, one of the many cooperages – tonnelleries –operating in the region.
Early in my Tiki education, which at that point was primarily Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari and a scattering of blog posts, I learned a mantra: Always fresh squeeze your juice! It’s not so hard with lemons, limes, and oranges, but pineapples are always a challenge. They’re cumbersome and not easily juiced with normal kitchen gadgets. Even after a budget centripetal juicer appeared, juicing pineapples was still something I sought to avoid – the juice was too frothy and the yield too low. It always felt like I was forsaking too much product in the wet, pulpy remains.
Here at Casa Cocktail Wonk, we prefer to go off the beaten path, demystifying complex topics and bringing daylight to the shadowy areas of spirits knowledge. A particular favorite is disabusing people of the “rum has no rules” misperception. Just like Bourbon, Scotch whisky, and Cognac have well-defined regulations protecting them from imposters masquerading as the real deal, the cane spirits world has similar protections.
In recent years I’ve vociferously advocated for the purity and sanctity of the classic 1944 Mai Tai. This Victor (“Trader Vic”) Bergeron concoction is arguably the king of all Tiki drinks. Unfortunately, for some misguided souls, the Mai Tai is a catch-all term for whatever random collection of fruit juices, rums, and syrups are on hand behind the bar—rendering this classic one of the most abused cocktail recipes of all time. There’s no pineapple juice in a classic Mai Tai, folks!
However, it’s totally fair game to modernize a Tiki classic and name it something different. The modern Tiki world is full of innovators such as Jason Alexander, Daniel “Doc” Parks, and Justin Wojslaw, who day in and day out push Tiki’s boundaries while retaining respect for the classics. While I don’t put myself in their league, I do occasionally have a decent idea that ends up good enough to share here.