The Cocktail Wonk Top Ten Stories of 2016

While 2016 was a year many would have gladly skipped, here in the Cocktail Wonk corner of the boozy blogosphere, it’s been gangbusters for great experiences and stories. As I wrote my 2015 roundup post a year ago, I wasn’t altogether convinced that 2016 would be able to top it. Boy, was I wrong!

Over the past twelve months, I’ve written fewer straight-up spirit reviews and cocktail recipes and more long form essays. It’s taken a while to get to that level. The opportunities for unknown stories and fresh takes on topics are there to be found, but it requires waiting for the right contacts and opportunities to fall into place, as they did this year.

What follows is my take on the most important topics I covered this year. It’s an entirely subjective ranking on my part, without regard to actual page visit statistics. Some entries represent a single post that particularly resonated with readers, while others are a collection of posts.  Hyperlinks to the original posts are interspersed in the descriptions below.

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Stalking the TTB: Upcoming U.S. rums from Mount Gay, Barbancourt, St. Lucia Distillers, and more! September to November 2016

With three more months in the rearview mirror, it’s time for another methodic scan of the TTB site for new rum releases–or more accurately, TTB approvals for new releases. The list at the end of this post contains my curated picks for new rums with a good chance of appearing on U.S. shelves and in your local watering holes in the next few months. I’ve previously written about searching the TTB site for recent label approvals; if you’re not familiar with the TTB and/or the approval process, that post is a good place to start before diving in here.

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The Cocktail Wonk Guide to Effective Social Media in the Spirits Industry

At the recent California Rum Festival, I presented a session about my experiences in building a large social media following for the Cocktail Wonk brand, plus observations on what works and doesn’t work for other social media feeds.

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Stalking the TTB: Upcoming U.S. rum releases from Mount Gay, Appleton, Samaroli, and more! July and August 2016

With two more months in the rearview mirror, it’s time for another methodic scan of the TTB site for new rum releases–or more accurately, TTB approvals for new releases. The list at the end of this post contains my curated picks for new rums with a good chance of appearing on U.S. shelves and in your local watering holes later 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 approval process, that post is a good place to start before diving in here.

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Stalking the TTB:  Upcoming U.S. rum releases from Plantation, Hamilton, Samaroli, El Dorado, Rational Spirits and more!  May and June 2016

Continuing my episodic pillaging of the TTB site for new releases, the list at the end of this post contains my curated picks for new rums which should be appearing on U.S. shelves and in your local watering holes later 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, that post is a good place to start before diving in here.

To construct the list below, I query the TTB database, constraining the results to the past two months. I then exercise editorial prerogative to cherry-pick label approvals likely most interesting (in my opinion) to the rum community. The original list I harvested from the TTB for May and June was huge – almost two hundred approvals– and I’ve made sweeping cuts to bring the list down to the fifty or so here. Unfortunately, this meant eliminating all but one domestically produced rum. 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. If you’re after domestically produced rums, it’s easy enough to construct a search on the TTB site, as I demonstrated in the aforementioned post. I also eliminated a few imported rums of dubious heritage and interest – typically silver or gold rums at 40 percent ABV from no-name brands, with no source given other than “West Indies” and without meaningful age statements.

Before getting to the highlights of the new rums, here are the standard disclaimers for my TTB lists:

Reader beware:  There’s no clear way to determine from a TTB label approval if it’s a new product or simply a small change to an existing product’s label. In some cases, producers submit labels for products that may not ever make it to the shelves for various reasons. In other cases, a release is very limited in nature, maybe only a few hundred bottles, and destined for a particular store or bar.

I make a best effort to filter out existing products with minor label changes, but I may miss a rum that’s already available. Please let me know if an offering on the list below is already on the shelves. Also, there is often a significant length of time between label approval and bottles appearing for sale. In short, just because you see it on the list below, it’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to purchase it.

New Rum Highlights

Plantation, the French producer, makes a splash on the vintage rum front with releases from Jamaica, Reunion Island, Belize, Guyana, Barbados, Panama, and Haiti. As usual, they’ve each spent the majority of their time aging in their source countries before being shipped to France for more aging in Cognac (and possibly other) casks. Of particular note is the Guyana (1999, fifteen years in bourbon, two years in “Ferrand” casks), that comes in at 56.3 percent, quite a bit higher in proof than most Plantation vintage releases.

Tiki fans will rejoice over a new addition to the Hamilton “Ministry of Rum” line: A 114 proof blend of Jamaican and demerara rum from Guyana, unsurprisingly dubbed “Navy Strength.”  Will it be the house rum of Seattle’s forthcoming Navy Strength bar? One can only hope! Also new from Hamilton, although not included in the list below, is a Pimento Dram liqueur that will go head to head with St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram.

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Navigating Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, by Martin and Rebecca Cate

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:

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