A visit to Diam’s high-tech cork facility

Most of the press trips that wine, spirits, and beer writers are invited on focus on what goes into the bottles we drink. In July, I was invited to Spain for a trip dedicated instead to the part that seals so many of those bottles: cork. Corks are one of those things we tend not to think about until they malfunction by crumbling apart, oxygenating a wine, or introducing “cork taint.” The growing acceptance of screw caps and synthetic corks is partly a response to the challenges of using natural cork. Our host in Spain, Diam, is a company that makes a sort of hybrid technological cork, combining natural cork material with new techniques for removing impurities and increasing consistency. They brought us to their facility in San Vicente de Alcantara to show off the process.

Preparing for this trip, I had romantic visions of the cork forests of Spain and Portugal. These visions were eventually fulfilled on an evening trek into the countryside, as seen in the photos above.

However most of our visit was spent here to learn about Diam’s technological process for transforming bark from cork trees into reliable stoppers that won’t ruin a bottle of wine. This was more industrial than romantic, but it was a fascinating learning experience.

We arrived a little too late in the season to see the local cork harvest, but the photo above (provided by Diam) shows how it’s done. The bark of cork trees is rich in suberin, a rubbery, waxy substance. In nature, the suberin prevents water loss by keeping moisture inside the tree. This same quality makes it great for keeping wine locked inside bottles.

Slaking the world’s thirst for wine requires a lot of cork. (Above: piles of fresh cork bark awaiting processing at Diam; you can barely make out a few people working on top.) Fortunately, harvesting bark doesn’t kill the trees, and after reaching maturity each tree can be harvested about once every decade. Driving through this region of Spain and Portugal, the brightly colored trunks of recently stripped trees stand out along the roadside.

After processing, traditional corks are made by punching through the bark. Obviously punched corks can only be extracted from sufficiently thick bark and much of the material is left behind. This can be put to other uses, including the technological corks made by Diam.

Here my friend Baylen demonstrates his invention of cork knuckles. Not a product offered by Diam — yet.

The Diam process begins by grinding the bark and sorting out the suberin-rich powder, which they call “cork flour,” so that it can eventually be reformed into a cork shape with food safe binders and microspheres. Agglomerated corks have been around in some form for years; it’s the step prior to agglomeration in which things get interesting.

Diam’s biggest innovation is treating this cork flour with supercritical carbon dioxide. In a supercritical state, created under very high pressure, fluids take on properties of liquids and gases. They are able to both permeate a substance and dissolve materials. By fine-tuning pressure and temperature to control its density, supercritical CO2 can be used to extract some substances while leaving others behind. If you drink decaffeineated coffee, there’s a good chance the beans you brew were treated in this way. The CO2 process is one of the main methods used to selectively extract caffeine from green beans.

Diam uses this same process to remove impurities from cork. The most important of these are TCA and TCB, the chemicals associated with cork taint. But lots of other stuff gets removed too, resulting in a cork that is neutral in its potential flavor impact on wine. (Above: quality control testing of corks by infusing them in water.)

A neat advantage of making corks this way is that other characteristics can be controlled too. By varying the elasticity of the corks, Diam can design them for less expensive, short-term aging, or for higher end wines intended to age for years. The box above shows their 1, 3, 5, and 10 year corks; they’ve also recently introduced a cork designed to last for 30 years.

They’re also able to control the permeability of the corks. Corks are naturally permeable, but a cork allowing too much air into a wine can ruin it. On the other hand, depending on the wine, a little bit of oxygenation could be a good thing. These corks come in varying degrees of permeability, allowing wine makers to choose the corks best suited to their wines.

Though conversation about corks tends to revolve mostly around wine, Diam also uses its process to make corks for beer and spirits (photo above courtesy of Diam). The corks for spirits raised an interesting question for me. I’ve rarely come across spirits I’d identify as suffering from cork taint, but on the few occasions I have the off aromas have surpassed anything I’ve come across in wine. Since spirits are much higher in alcohol than wines, and since alcohol is such a good solvent, I’d have thought that TCA would be an even bigger problem for spirits than it is for wine. Yet we rarely hear about spirits being “corked.”

As it turns out, I was half right. Spirits are a more effective solvent. But the team at Diam directed me to a scientific paper evaluating tasters’ ability to detect TCA in cognac, and it turns out the threshold level for perceiving it is much higher. The paper is in French, but in loose translation the tainted spirits had aromas of “mold, mushroom, wet mop, etc.” However the concentrations needed to perceive these notes unambiguously appear to be an order of magnitude larger than for wine. Higher alcohol seems to have a masking effect for the TCA. (I suspect that the tendency to store wine on its side, in contact with cork, and to store spirits standing vertically may also be a factor, but I don’t know for sure.)

One funny aspect of the Diam corks is that, at the insistence of wine makers, they have striations printed on them to mimic natural cork. A casual consumer could pull one out with a corkscrew and never notice the difference. Seeing the unfinished Diam corks come out and then get printed to resemble their purely natural punched cousins reminded me, of all things, of Howard Roark’s critique of the Parthenon in The Fountainhead:

“Look,” said Roark. “The famous flutings on the famous columns — what are they there for? To hide the joints in wood — when columns were made of wood, only these aren’t, they’re marble. The triglyphs, what are they? Wood. Wooden beams, the way they had to be laid when people began to build wooden shacks. Your Greeks took marble and they made copies of their wooden structures out of it, because others had done it that way. Then your masters of the Renaissance came along and made copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood. Now here we are, making copies in steel and concrete of copies in plaster of copies in marble of copies in wood. Why?”

Because wine is tied up with tradition, that’s why. Despite the rise of synthetic stoppers, screw caps, and wine that comes in kegs and boxes, people still want to pull a plug of wood out of a bottle neck, even if that means occasionally dumping a corked bottle down the drain. And for wines that are meant for aging, corks are still one of most proven tools.

Are all these new high-tech corks really necessary? Claims about the rate of cork contamination are controversial. For one thing, cork isn’t the only source of TCA; it can enter wine at other stages of the production process, but the final consumer will declare the wine to be “corked” regardless of whether the cork is the actual source. Other defects, real or imagined, may also be attributed to the cork. (Working for several years in a top wine bar, it wasn’t uncommon to have “corked” wines returned that seemed fine to me. Did customers imagine it or just not like the wines? Am I less sensitive to TCA than other consumers? I suspect it was a little of both.)

Estimates of the rate of cork contamination range from 7% at the very high end to under 1% on the low end. The Cork Quality Council claims that rates have dropped more than 80% in the past decade thanks to improvements in the industry; they have a website, CorkTaint.com, dedicated to rehabilitating cork’s image and promoting studies showing low rates of contamination. Diam, for its part, declined to wed itself to a particular number.

Still, no one likes to open up a special bottle of wine to find that it’s been ruined by a fault that could have been prevented. The market now offers a lot of options varying in price, consistency, and longevity for sealing different wines, all of which have their place. The Diam corks are an interesting addition to that spectrum. I’m not a winemaker, nor do I pretend to possess the expertise to say which closures are best for which wines, but after this visit I certainly wouldn’t mind finding a higher tech cork in the next bottle I open.

Spirit of Sri Lanka: Coconut arrack

My trip to Sri Lanka was primarily dedicated to tea, but along the way we made a point to explore as many aspects of the local drinks culture as possible. For distilled spirits, that meant coconut arrack, the country’s signature and most popular spirit.

To prevent confusion, it’s best to start with what coconut arrack is not. It’s not Batavia arrack, the Indonesian spirit distilled from sugar cane and red rice. It’s also not Mediterranean arak or raki, the anise-flavored liqueur. Though these spirits may share a common etymology, the similarities end there. The tastes and methods of production are completely different, and they’re not substitutes for each other.

Sri Lankan coconut arrack is distilled from nectar drawn from coconut flowers, collected by “toddy tappers.” This nectar rapidly ferments into a low-alcohol beverage called toddy. Sadly I did not have an opportunity to try this, but it’s photographed below.

The fermented toddy is distilled and aged in barrels of oak or halmilla, an indigenous tree species. After ageing it’s bottled and sold in the ubiquitous “wine shops,” which purvey all kinds of alcoholic beverages.

In every example that I encountered, spirits were purchased by walking up to a window display and ordering from a cashier who retrieves the requested bottles and completes the transaction. Even if the alcohol counter was within another store, it was completely cordoned off. I’m guessing this is a legal requirement. Regardless, outside of the airport duty free store I didn’t come across any place where one could freely roam the shelves.

The shop windows range from utilitarian…

… to more upscale.

As seen above, a lot of the big global brands are here. There’s also a variety of coconut arrack to choose from. The cheapest of these can be had for about three US dollars per 375 ml bottle. At the higher end, I found an offering from Mendis with an eighteen year age statement that sold for about $35 for 700 ml. In total, I sampled about eight different bottlings of coconut arrack, and brought four home with me.

One word of advice about buying arrack in Sri Lanka: Read the fine print! One of the bottles I picked up was awful. So awful, in fact, that not even a bus of bartenders would drink it. A glance at the label revealed the reason. Just as there are mixto tequilas that blend agave with neutral spirits, there are coconut arracks that do the same with neutral spirits and distilled toddy. But whereas mixto tequilas require at least 51% of the spirit to come from agave, the percentage of coconut spirits in some arracks is as low as 3%. The ones I tried have nothing but price to recommend them.

The pure arracks, though, can be quite nice. They strike me as most comparable to rum, though with a distinctive floral note and brightness. Barrel ageing contributes hints of vanilla and smooths out the spirit.

Fortunately, one no longer has to go all the way to Sri Lanka to try it. White Lion VSOA is now available in the United States, produced by Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka. The VSOA stands for “Very Special Old Arrack,” an abbreviation used to comply with American labeling regulations regarding the word “arrack.” It’s definitely among the best I’ve tried and worth seeking out for a unique addition to one’s bar. (White Lion also provided the toddy photos above.)

One more word of advice when shopping for alcohol in Sri Lanka: Keep an eye on the sky. Poya, which fall about every thirty days and follow the lunar calendar, are religious holidays. If there’s a full Moon, the sale of alcohol is forbidden. Even in hotel bars catering to tourists, you will be greeted with a sign like the one above. Fortunately our hosts warned us of this the day before, and our bus of thirsty bartenders was well rationed with local beers and arrack.

Speaking of beer, the one above was my favorite of the ones I tried in Sri Lanka. Most of the beers sold here are refreshing lagers, but this was a full-bodied stout. Was I man enough to deserve it? Maybe not, but I enjoyed it anyway.

By this time in our trip we’d made it well up into the hill country to Nuwara Eliya, once known as “Little England” for its popularity with the British. I understand the appeal. Up here the weather is comfortably temperate compared to the heat and humidity along the coast. It’s no wonder the British moved inland and upward, bringing colonial architecture, a golf course, and billiard rooms with them. Visiting the Grand Hotel is like stepping back in time a hundred years, with wi-fi.

Indidentally, I wonder now if the American drinks writer Charles Baker stayed in the same hotel. In the foreword to Jigger, Beaker, and Glass, he mentions spending “two days in Newara Eyliya, hill station back of Colombo, Ceylon, to get our breath.” On that same adventure he also went to visit a friend at Galle Face…

“… where we swam in the blood-warm Indian Ocean and drank enough of his Flying Fish cocktails to do, and lay on the cool sand and listened to Tauber sing Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz on the gramophone. Then when we swam again we slipped out of our suits to make the water feel better, and finally, when it was very late indeed, we dressed and said goodnight and vowed eternal friendship to our host; then for precisely no reason at all dismissed our waiting carriage with a flourish of gross overpayment and walked all the way back in our evening clothes through a new quiet rain to the jetties and the motor launch, just in time to prevent one of our best American cruising friends from consummating bribery of of the Quartermaster of the good ship RESOLUTE into letting him hoist a purchased baby girl elephant — whom he said was Edith, and over whom he politely held a Burmese parasol of scarlet oiled silk — from a hired barge onto the forward hatch in a sling!”

And, well, you get the picture.

The Grand Hotel is home to one of Dilmah’s T Bars, cafes in which one can order a nearly full range of Dilmah teas. Whether coming down to it for tea in the morning or sitting outside late into the night with a hookah, I loved this place.

On our final night here, we each gave a presentation on various ways to incorporate tea into cocktails. For my own, I opted to go with a riff on classic punch technique, which often uses tea instead of water to dilute the strength of the higher proof ingredients. Given how much coconut arrack I was hauling around with me, I wanted to use that too.

Teamaker’s Punch
500 ml Dilmah green tea
100 g palm sugar
7 oz lemon juice
6 oz Damrak gin
3 oz White Lion coconut arrack
cinnamon
nutmeg

Brew the tea and then pour it hot into a punch bowl with the palm sugar. Using a muddler, crush the sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients, grate nutmeg and cinnamon atop the punch, and slip in an ice block or ladle into ice-filled punch glasses. (In Nuwara Eliya I used jaggery, but I’ve adapted the recipe to palm sugar, which I find more readily here.)

And, finally, remember not to let good punch go to waste.

[Photos that are not my own courtesy of Bols, Dilmah, and White Lion.]

Elevating tea in Sri Lanka

My first post about Sri Lanka talked about my informal, very quick tour of Colombo. For the rest of my visit with Dilmah and Bols I was on a much tighter schedule, with a ten day trip around the country devoted to tea education, video and photo shoots, various cocktail events, and some amazing excursions. From that point forward we were also joined by a professional photographer and film crew, so these posts will have great images like the one above in addition to my amateur shots.

Our began at Dilmah Tea headquarters with a tasting, which took me back to my coffee cupping days. The tasting process for tea is similar to that of coffee, involving examination of the dry leaves, infusion, and lots of really loud slurping.

Another parallel to coffee is in the desire to emulate wine. Wine is the template for many other foods and drinks that producers seek to raise from commodity to specialty item. Dilmah follows this path with their Watte (literally “garden”) series of teas. Marketed in direct opposition to commodity blends, these each highlight a different growing region of Sri Lanka. They’re all black teas, grown and processed pretty much identically with the exception of elevation. The difference this makes is striking, as one can tell just by viewing the brewed teas next to each other.

The low elevation tea is darker, stronger, and robustly astringent. As origins get higher into the hills, the tea mellows and becomes lighter and more delicate. Dilmah makes the parallel to wine explicit in their marketing, comparing each tea to a different grape or style:

Yata Watte (low garden, 1000 feet above sea level) — In the style of Cabernet Sauvignon!

Meda Watte (middle garden, 2-3000 feet above sea level) — In the style of a Shiraz!

Uda Watte (high garden, 4-5000 feet above sea level) — In the style of a Pinot Noir!

Ran Watte (golden gardens, 6500 feet above sea level) — In the style of fine Champagne!

This was the most enlightening tasting of the trip, and I recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about tea.

With initial classes out of the way, we moved on to the really fun part of the trip: Departing the city and heading into the hills to visit tea estates. While on the road, each of us bartenders was also tasked with filming a short cocktail video. I volunteered to be one of the first, gathering ingredients as we worked our way up and improvising a drink with local ingredients.

Our first stop was a roadside fruit stand where I picked up nelli fruit, also known as the Indian gooseberry (not pictured). Tart and fibrous, and tough to eat on their own, these were completely new to me. Locally they’re often prepared by long simmering in sugar syrup to sweeten and soften them, so I figured I would use them that way.

Stop number two was our first actual tea estate. Sri Lanka produces much of the world’s true cinnamon and the estate cultivates cinnamon trees interspersed among the tea bushes. Inside we inhaled the heady fragrance of fresh cinnamon bark being shaved and bunched into sticks, then got to try our hands at it ourselves. Below, UK Bols ambassador John Clay gives it a go.

Further upward at the estate manager’s bungalow, fellow bartender Simon Toohey and I coaxed this fantastic cinnamon into a lightly tart syrup with sugar and nelli fruits. The final ingredients needed for the cocktail were tea from Dilmah and spirits from Bols. Being in the region, I naturally picked the Yata Watte low grown tea. And while one might have expected me to indulge my love for Bols Yogurt, being outside of the US I seized the opportunity to use the six year old Corenwyn, my one bottle of which I ration carefully at home.

Lastly, it was up just a little higher to a spot on the estate with a stunning view. Behind me going down the hill were rows of tea bushes. Rising up in the distance, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. This is, without a doubt, the most stunning setting in which I’ve been invited to make cocktails.

It was not, however, the easiest. We had to contend with fading light, an incoming storm, and, most vexingly, a bakery truck — like an ice cream truck in the US — playing its music somewhere in the rolling hills. Seemingly every time we began a take, the dulcet tune of Fur Elise would come echoing through the pristine setting. Getting around this required clever mic work from the video crew, and whenever it started to rain I was rushed into the van to stay somewhat dry. The set was completely broken down and put up again at least once. Between takes, Bols brand manager Ara Carvallo kept me looking presentable.

By the time we got to the final close-up shots, rain was pouring down and we huddled awkwardly with umbrellas to keep things somewhat dry. It’s a testament to the crew that in the actual video everything comes together so smoothly.

Here’s the recipe for the Nelli Hot Pot (aka the Rainmaker), on the off chance anyone reading this happens to have Dilmah Tea, Bols Corenwyn, nelli fruit, and real Ceylon cinnamon on hand.

1 1/2 oz Bols Corenwyn 6 year
1 oz cinnamon-nelli syrup
5-6 oz hot Dilmah Yata Watte tea
Combine ingredients in a tea cup.

And finally, just to demonstrate the skill of the crew in dealing with the elements, here’s the glossy shot:

And here’s what director Steve McCallum and I actually looked like when the shoot was over:

[Photos that are not my own courtesy of Bols and Dilmah.]

Mixologists and the Teamaker trip to Sri Lanka

When I was 21 years old, living in DC for the first time, and knew nothing about alcohol, my friend Courtney took me to a bar and handed me a drink. “Try this,” she said. “It’s a Long Island Iced Tea.”

“No thanks,” I replied. “I don’t like tea.” It was then that I learned that while a Long Island Iced Tea does use practically every other ingredient on the face of the earth, it doesn’t contain any actual tea. Ten years later, I would still politely turn down this cocktail, but for different reasons. And real tea, I now know, is wonderful stuff.

I thought of this story a few months ago when I was offered an incredible opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka to learn more about tea and explore its use in cocktails. As part of a collaboration between Lucas Bols, with whom I then worked more directly, and Dilmah Tea, a unique Sri Lankan tea company, I joined nine other bartenders from around the world — England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia, and New Zealand — for a ten-day tour of the country packed with tea tastings, tours of tea estates, and Iron Chef-style challenges to create tea cocktails at various stops along the way. It was in many ways the trip of a lifetime.

But first there was the matter of getting there, which required nearly 24 hours of travel. Surprisingly the northern route took about as much time as heading west, taking me from Portland to Seattle, from Seattle to a seven hour layover in Dubai, and finally from Dubai to Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo for an early morning arrival. I was the first bartender to land, and despite the time change, was stir crazy from all those hours in planes and airports. So I left my bags at the hotel and wandered off in search of fresh air and street food.

I might as well have had a large “T” for tourist written on my forehead for as obvious as it was that I’d just arrived. It wasn’t long before a friendly off-shift employee of one of the hotels offered to show me around. I didn’t want a tour, I just wanted to walk and find a place to eat. But he was persistent, it soon became obvious that going on foot wasn’t getting me anywhere interesting in that area, and my schedule for the rest of the trip was out of my hands, so I eventually thought what the hell and gave in. We flagged down a tuk-tuk, the ubiquitous three-wheeled taxis, and were on our way for the most whirlwind tour of a city I’ve ever been on. To where? I had no idea.

As the tuk-tuk drove us up an isolated dirt road, I began to doubt the wisdom of zipping off with this stranger in an unknown city. But I needn’t have worried. Our first stop turned out be a towering Hindu temple, which was strikingly ornate, although deserted at the moment. We walked around, snapped a few photos at my guide’s insistence, and were on our way to the next stop within a few minutes.

This turned out to be another temple, Buddhist this time, bustling with people. And one elephant. I wasn’t expecting to find a live elephant right in the middle city, but there he was, getting a good scrub down.

Also present: the temple elephant’s predecessor, preserved in the courtyard. The inside, too, was packed with stunning works of ivory that I hoped were at least few decades old.

Our next stops were political landmarks, including what I think is the capitol and then Independence Square, built to commemorate Sri Lanka’s independence from British rule in 1948. It was empty save for a snake charmer performing on the steps, from whom I kept my distance.

From what I can figure from Googling, the next place we visited was Viharamahadevi Park, the largest public park in the city. Though a nice place, I wasn’t sure why my guide was walking us through it. It was almost entirely full of young couples in various states of making out and that definitely wasn’t on my agenda. Then we got to the tree above. The things hanging from it? Those are flying foxes, among the largest bats in the world.

These are amazing creatures, circling the tree even in day time. It was fantastic getting to see them in person, and I only caught glimpses of them the rest of the trip, so I was grateful that my guide brought me here.

Through all this we still hadn’t stopped for what I initially set out for, which was food that didn’t come from a plane or airport. I finally convinced him to take us somewhere for us to have lunch. By this time I had no idea of where we ended up, but it served some of the best crispy chicken I’ve ever had.

Finally it was time for me to get back, but the guide insisted on one more stop, trying to sell me on bargains at a dubious gem store from which he’d presumably get a kickback. Then there was an offer of stopping for a massage with implied extra services, which I also declined. The tuk-tuk brought us back, and I paid for the tour — a little too much, in hindsight, but it was a side of the city I wouldn’t see during the more structured experience to come.

Back at the hotel I went to the pool and found a David Wondrich book left open by a chair, a good sign that other bartenders had arrived. Our first day was mostly free of responsibilities, so we spent it drinking Dilmah teas and spirits from our home countries. The next day, however, we had a our first challenge: Presenting a variety of tea cocktails to about 70 guests visiting from all over the world to learn more about tea.

My usual go to for tea cocktails, smoky black lapsang souchong, was picked by someone before me. But Dilmah had something even more interesting, what they called their Ceylon Souchong. Instead of firing the tea over pine, they use fragrant wood from cinnamon trees, which are often grown right alongside tea plants. I made a simple syrup with the brewed tea and it worked perfectly in a variation on one of my drinks from a few years ago, the Smokejumper:

2 oz Bols Genever
3/4 oz Ceylon Souchong syrup
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz orange juice
1/2 oz Galliano
freshly grated cinnamon, for garnish

Shake and serve on the rocks.

Here’s a short video of the event, which was a fun way to kick off our week of events:

This was the first of five cocktail challenges we had throughout the trip, so I’ll be posting the rest soon, along with notes from the more official parts of our tour.

[Photos that are not my own courtesy of Bols and Dilmah.]

Tales itinerary 2013

As I do nearly every year, I’ll be attending Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans next week. This time I’m staying longer than ever before with a bunch of events lined up. If you’ll also be at Tales, I hope to see you there!

Toast to Tales of the Cocktail (2 pm Wednesday at the Hotel Monteleone) — I’ve never made it to town in time for the opening ceremony, but this year my drink was selected as the official cocktail, so of course I want to be there. Come be among the first to try the Portland Rickey.

Indie Spirits that Rock (12:30 – 2 pm Thursday in the Fleur de Lis Room at The Royal Sonesta) — I’ll be here with Dragos Axinte sampling Novo Fogo Cachaca and cachaca cocktails.

Ritual Drinking Spirited Dinner (8 pm Thursday at Sylvain) — Daniel de Oliveira, Jason Littrell, and I team up with Altos Tequila and Chef Alex Harrell for a Spirited Dinner to remember (or not). Sold out!

A Noble Experiment (5:30 – 7 pm Friday at Batch in The Hyatt French Quarter) — Come try barrel aged cocktails and Batch’s own house-aged Bols Genever while flappers dance to a live band.

Uncorked (Saturday 12:30 – 2 pm in the Fleur de Lis Room at The Royal Sonesta) — Dragos and I will be here once again with even more Novo Fogo Cachaca cocktails during the Sidecar by Merlet competition.

Spirited Awards (7 – 11:30 pm at the Celestin Ballroom in the Hyatt Regency) — Another first-time event for me, I’ll be wrapping things up at Tales here on Saturday night, then staying in town until Monday morning.

Something rotten in La Jolla

As soon as I read the introduction to this Reason post about a “lovely California seaside town” with an odor problem, I knew it had to be La Jolla. From the New York Times:

Until a few years ago, the smell was never a problem because the bluffs were open for people to walk on. But since the rocks were closed off, partly because of safety concerns, sea gulls and cormorants have taken over, their droppings have piled up and the smell has grown more acrid by the day.

In theory, a solution could be simple. Sherri Lightner, the local City Council member, said there were biodegradable and nontoxic cleaning agents that could be safely used to clean the bluffs occasionally without any ill effects to the environment.

However, because the waters in the cove are part of a coastal area specially protected by the state, multiple state regulatory agencies would have to issue permits before the agents could be used, a process that regulators have indicated would probably take at least two years.

I visited La Jolla for the first time a couple months ago and both the views and the smells live up to their reputation. The bluffs really are amazing, with daring swimmers paddling among giant sea lions and birds flying along the rocks. And the odors really do permeate everywhere. If the wind blows the right way, you might fool yourself into being reminded of pungent fish sauce. But mostly it just smells like sea bird dung. The town is worth a visit, but business owners there are justifiably upset.

Upcoming events in July

Denver: I’ll be back in Colorado this week to do some work for Bols in Aspen and Denver. While there I’ll be doing a guest bar shift at the Coupe Bar at Denver’s Ghost Plate and Tap. The event runs from 5-10 pm on Wednesday with cocktails featuring Bols Genever, Galliano L’Autentico, and Damrak Gin.

Portland: It’s that time, you guys. That time when I turn 30. A time to reflect on how I should take some responsibility in life and get a real job and stop drinking out of animal bones and wonder how I let my youth escape so easily. Or, alternatively, a time to drink awesome beer and sip excellent rum and smoke great cigars. Yes, let’s go with the latter.

My 30th birthday is this Thursday, July 12, and I’ve planned some fun events for the night. We’re going to kick things off at Breakside Brewing, where we’ll be tapping a beer brewed for just this occasion. Brewmaster Ben Edmunds has created several cocktail-inspired beers in the past and for this event we wanted to make a beer inspired by the Harvey Weissbanger beer cocktail, which was in turn inspired by the classic Harvey Wallbanger. That’s a weird lineage for a beer but we have high hopes for it. We made a traditional German hefeweizen and are going to spice it with many of the same flavor notes found in the Weissbanger cocktail, including orange peel, star anise, and vanilla. (All references to “we” really just mean Ben, as he did all the hard work of creating and executing a recipe while I just lifted, poured, and cleaned stuff.) This will run from 6 pm to at least 8 pm.

I’m not sure where we’ll go after that but there’s no better place to end the night than at Rum Club. Starting around 11 and going till close I’ll be there for cigars and rum on the patio. Blue drinks may happen. Galliano bottles may be emptied. You won’t know if you don’t show. I hope to see you there!

New Orleans: On Wednesday, July 25, from 6-9 pm, I’ll be behind the bar at Avenue Pub. I’ll be mixing drinks but if you want to take a break from cocktails, this is the spot: This two-story pub on St. Charles Avenue is one of the best beer bars in the country.

Then on Thursday, July 26, is the big Brewing Up Cocktails Spirited Dinner at Emeril’s Delmonico Steakhouse, held in association with Tales of the Cocktail and sponsored by El Dorado Rum and Drambuie. The dinner will feature four courses from Chef Spencer Minch paired with four original beer cocktails. Tickets and full menu are available here.

Upcoming events in Colorado, Texas

Bols Genever

Over the next two weeks I’ll be traveling to put on a few events with Bols Genever in Colorado and Texas:

Bols Genever Denver Launch — Tuesday, February 7, 1-3 pm at Colt and Gray. Enjoy genever punch, cocktails, and a Kopstootje. Industry and press only.

Guest Shift at Bitter Bar — Wednesday, February 8, 5-7 pm at Bitter Bar in Boulder. I’ll be behind the bar with a guest menu of Bols and Galliano cocktails. Open to the public.

Bols Genever Austin Launch — Wednesday, February 15, 1-3 pm at Haddington’s. Enjoy genever punch, cocktails, and a Kopstootje. Industry and press only.

Guest Shift in Houston — Thursday, February 16. I’m still working on a venue for this one but hoping to make it happen.

To RSVP for our Denver or Austin launches, contact me here.

[Photo from our Portland launch courtesy of Lush Angeles.]

Kopstootjes in Nashville

My next stop for Bols is Nashville, TN. It’s been four or five years since I’ve been in the city, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s developed and revisiting the Vanderbilt campus. What are the bars and restaurants I shouldn’t miss?

If you’re in town, join me at the aptly named Holland House for a Kopstootje tomorrow (Tuesday). We’ll have them on special from 5-7 pm.

Bols in Houston

I’m headed back to my hometown today for the launch of Bols Genever in Houston. For industry and media, we’re hosting an event at Anvil Bar and Refuge from 1-3 tomorrow (Wednesday); contact me if you’d like to attend. Then for the rest of the night Anvil is offering a menu of cocktails featuring Bols and Galliano for anyone who’d like to stop in.

On Thursday I’m guest bartending with Mindy Kucan at Grand Prize Bar. This should be lots of fun, with Bols cocktails, kopstootjes, and even a frozen Harvey Wallbanger. That will run from 4:30 till 7ish. If you’re in Houston I hope to see you at one of these events!

Sunday evening dog blogging

Because I so rarely get the opportunity. I’m in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, where my parents’ dog Peekay never tires of playing fetch in the lake.

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Previously: Photos from the UP a few years ago with our previous dog, Divot.

Los Angeles blog meetup

I’m taking a vacation to Los Angeles next week and my friend Ron Dollete (of Lush Angeles) and I thought it would be fun to organize a Booze Nerd Meetup while I’m in town. We’re going to meet at Bar and Kitchen in the O Hotel in downtown LA from 8-11 pm on Wednesday, July 13. Booze nerds and nerds of any type — I’m looking at you, libertarians! — are invited to join us. I’ve heard great things about the food and drink there, so I’m looking forward to it.

In an unexpected bit of synchronicity, Bar and Kitchen is also taking part in a Bols punch crawl that very night. Even when I go on vacation the genever seems to follow. Details for the punch crawl are available on Thrillist.

Here’s Ron’s Facebook description of the meet-up; hope to see you there!

Come join Jacob and Ron at Bar & Kitchen for a meetup of drunks, fools, liars and drunks.

This is just a meetup, so you’ll be covering your own tab. Unless you order a Harvey Wallbanger, in which case Ron will probably buy your drink.

Wednesday, 13th of July at 8pm at Bar | Kitchen.

Jacob Grier is a bartender and writer based in Portland, Oregon. You can check out his site at http://jacobgrier.com/ and on Twitter @JacobGrier

Ron Dollete is not to be trusted under any circumstances. You can check out his site at http://lushangeles.com/ and on Twitter @LushAngeles

Located inside the O Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, Bar & Kitchen offers something for everyone, from addictive bar snacks to full sized entrees. And because it’s Ron and Jacob, there will of course be cocktails, beer, wine and plenty of amari.

Twitter hashtag #BoozeNerdTweetup

Amsterdam

House of Bols

I’m flying to Amsterdam today along with the rest of the Bols USA team to hunt the Kopstootje in its native habitat of the Netherlands. I’ll be back on Thursday, hopefully with a suitcase full of genevers, kruidenbitter, and maybe even the intriguing Bols yoghurt liqueur.

My schedule will be pretty packed, but any recommendations for site-seeing or places to get good coffee (by which I really do mean coffee) are appreciated.

[Photo by Effervescing Elephant.]

Gone chupacabra hunting

After a quick stop at Rickhouse in San Francisco tonight, I’ll be catching a flight to Guadalajara with a group of bartenders to celebrate Día de los Muertos and tour tequila distilleries. Call it vacation, call it professional development, either way I won’t be blogging. I’ll be back late next week.

UP with Michigan!

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I’m headed tonight to Upper Peninsula Michigan. Door to door this trip will require a train, 3 planes, a car, and a boat. I tried to work a dirigible into the route too, but tickets were unavailable. While there I’ll do some blogging, but hopefully most of the time will be spent in lakes, boats, or hammocks, and at night taking in the peak of the Perseids meteor shower under spectacularly clear skies. I’ll be back in Portland late Friday night.

New Orleans bound

I’m headed out to New Orleans this morning for a return trip to Tales of the Cocktail along with the rest of the Bols team. Obviously this isn’t the most conducive environment to blogging — not the sort of blogging for which I’d to be remembered anyway — so this may be the last post of the week. I’ll be twittering while there though, and if you’re also in town for Tales let’s be sure to grab a drink at the Carousel bar.

DC bound

This morning I’m heading back to DC for the Cato Institute’s first-ever intern reunion, a massive event bringing together veteran interns from the think tank’s long history. This will be my first time back in well over a year. On my last visit I’d only been gone a few months and it felt like coming home. This time the city and my lifestyle there seem more distant, though perhaps I’ll slip right back into once I’m there. I will say this for DC: Despite the political world’s constant careerism and its priorities that are often not my own, I do miss the intellectual engagement the city always had on offer and the camaraderie shared by libertarians living in the belly of the beast. Where else could one pack a bar to the walls by offering drink specials and airing a Milton Friedman documentary?

In any case, the weekend will be fueled with copious food and drink. I already have a reservation at Columbia Room and Sunday brunch plans at my old hangout Eatbar (even if we can’t light up stogies there anymore). The lure of pollo a la brasa is strong. I’d like visit all the places on my old list, though that’s impossible. Eventide and Birch and Barley have opened since I left and I would love to visit them. What else is new that I should seek out?