THE WASHINGTON POST

The Beachbum is a firm believer in recycling.  Especially his own material.  But on his second visit to Washington D.C. in under a year, there were so many new bars to visit that he found it completely unnecessary to steal from his previous post on Capitol cocktails.

Tom Brown’s congenial new watering hole, The Passenger, masquerades as a beer bar, but Mr. Brown and his staff actually take cocktails quite seriously.   We would happily have swigged their custom quaffs all night, but an unmarked door at the back of the house beckoned.

Behind this door is a speakeasy called the Columbia Room, whose gatekeeper is Hilary Swank.  (Actually her name is Katie, but she’s the spitting image of the actress.)  She leads you into a tiny chamber that used to be the dressing room of a burlesque house, but now houses Tom’s brother Derek’s theater of the bar.  Two tiers of seats face front, as if the Columbia Room were a miniature college lecture hall — appropriately enough, since Derek (pictured above) is literally a bar-room philosopher who’s consulted Notre Dame professors about how to apply Aristotle’s theories to cocktail creation.

Aristotelian precepts like “the essential accident” and “the unchanging core” roll off Derek’s tongue as he puts you through the paces of the Columbia’s two-drink tasting session, which pairs gourmet snacks with state-of-the-art drinks — each prescribed for you personally, based on Derek’s diagnosis of your wants and needs.  After sizing up the Bum, Derek determined that we required a 50/50 Plymouth Martini chased by truffled popcorn.  He followed this up with his delectable Knickerbocker Al Señor (house-made fig-orange granita, sherry, mint, and powdered sugar), paired with a salad of fig, radicchio, and orange tossed with sherry vinaigrette.

Speaking of pairings, Derek is married to the Tabard Inn’s mixologist, Chantal Tseng, who also had us pegged the moment we bellied up to her bar (perhaps because our belly was covered with a Hawaiian shirt) and made us her smashing Tiki Smash:  Jamaican and coconut rums, house-made ginger beer, lime and pineapple juices, garnished with a shiso leaf from Larry’s Garden.  We assumed that Larry’s Garden was a local specialty store, but Larry turned out to be the guy on the next stool, holding a bag of shiso from his yard.  In keeping with D.C.’s penchant for pairing, Chantal served the Tiki Smash with a home-made Tiki Trail Mix (pictured below).

At PS7’s Restaurant, house “mixtress” Gina Chersevani is a culinary Dolly Levi, a match-maker who can take any dish and find it the perfect liquid mate.  “We really want to make a new food movement,” says Gina’s collaborator, PS7’s chef Peter Smith.  “We’ve really pushed to make it work.”  Judging by the cocktail dinner we attended, they can stop pushing.  Each of the seven pairings we sampled was spectacular, none more so than Peter’s Carthusian Duck (cooked in Chartreuse and stuffed with carrot) accompanied by Gina’s “The Blessing” (Chartreuse, carrot juice, Muscadine wine and ginger, topped with a highly huffable Chartreuse dry-ice vapor; pictured below).  Fellow diners Cheryl Charming, a cocktail book author who is no stranger to pairing drinks with food, and Bruce Tomlinson, a former chef turned bartender, both agreed it was the best combination they’d ever tasted — no disrespect to Gina and Peter’s grand finale of after-dinner mint and deconstructed Grasshopper, the latter a sly mix of mint granita, chocolate vodka, and cream that moved local Tikiphile Vern Stoltz to observe, “The only way this evening could be better is if I went home and my bathtub was filled with this.”

Upon hearing that the D.C. pairing trend had traveled down Route 50 to Annapolis, we did the same.  Our destination was the 200-year-old brick building that houses Level, whose bar and kitchen work in the same vein as PS7’s, combining cocktails and small-plates.  All ingredients — right down to the herbs growing in Level’s window sills — are from the surrounding Chesapeake Bay area.  Even the mixologist is locally sourced:   “I was born here,” says John Hogan, who sees “no reason why Annapolis shouldn’t be a major culinary city, like San Francisco, Portland, or New York.”  To that end, he and chef Alfred Manilis have worked up masterly combinations like Rockfish Ceviche and Smoked Margarita (lime, agave syrup, tequila smoked with hickory and lavender, and a smoked salt rim; pictured below).

All this gourmandizing was well and good, but the Bum’s D.C. visit had another purpose:  we’d originally come because Tikiphiles Douglas Sexton and Jeff Westlake had separately alerted us to a new menu item at The Majestic’s bar, the Ray’s Mistake.  This is the legendary signature drink of Los Angeles’s Tiki-Ti, which has kept the recipe top secret since Ray Buhen created it there in 1968.  We met Mr. Westlake at The Majestic to see if the place had actually cracked the recipe, something the Bum has been trying to do — without success — since he first tasted one in the early 1980s.  While The Majestic’s bartender Sydney mixed us several truly majestic Tiki drinks, including a flawless Missionary’s Downfall, we must report that Ray’s secret is still safe.  The Majestic’s version — an acidic construct of rum, gin, coconut milk, guava, passion fruit, pineapple, and house sour mix — is a mistake, but not Ray’s.

THE PASSENGER & COLUMBIA ROOM

TABARD INN BAR

PS7’S RESTAURANT

LEVEL

THE MAJESTIC

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MAI TAI ROA EUROPA

After tasting Trader Vic’s latest concoction at his Oakland bar in 1944, a visitor from Tahiti proclaimed the drink “mai tai roa áe.” In the parlance of our times, this roughly translates to “awesome.”  Vic named his drink the Mai Tai, which went on to enjoy fame less as a cocktail than as a symbol — a liquid vacation, Hawaii in a glass.  But unlike other iconic holiday drinks, such as the Piña Colada, the Mai Tai was actually good.  Although decades of cheap knock-offs tarnished its reputation well before our fin de siècle cocktail renaissance, Vic’s Mai Tai is now taking its rightful place in the pantheon:  From San Francisco to New York, connoisseurs who usually turn up their noses at anything invented after 1917 have come to respect the elegant simplicity of Vic’s original recipe.

Tramping across Germany, Holland, and Britain last month, the Beachbum found that Europe’s cocktailians have also rediscovered the Mai Tai.

In Berlin, a trio of bars does Vic proud.  Lebensstern is the most upmarket of the three, a labyrinthine lounge that occupies the entire second floor of a mansion once owned by silent movie star Henny Porten.  Our bartender was Bernhard Stadler, who mixed formality and friendliness as skillfully as he mixed our Mai Tai (pictured above, with Bernhard in background).  He combined fresh lime, Cointreau, orgeat, and a gold Jamaican rum we’d never heard of:  Renegade Monymusk 5-year, a 92-proof, bracingly dry dram aged in Scotland in tempranillo wine casks.

Rumclub Berlin, Dirk Becker’s rowdy rumpus room of a bar, houses Dirk’s collection of vintage German rum vershnitt bottles (our favorites were Pott Rum, Robby 54, and Rum Polar, which featured a smiling Eskimo on the label).  Like Bernhard, Dirk makes his house Mai Tai with lime, Cointreau, orgeat, and aged Jamaican rum, in this case Appleton Extra.  He also offers a Rumclub Mai Tai, in the same mold but goosed by a secret “Mai Tai Rum Blend” and a house-made “Rumclub Intense Falernum.”  Of the two, the Rumclub Mai Tai is definitely the one to order — intensified indeed by the thick, aromatic, boozy falernum.

With its windowless walls, opaque glass lampshades, and ancient reel-to-reel tape deck, the Rum Trader could pass as a set for Krapp’s Last Tape — if Beckett’s monologuist preferred Tiki to self-recrimination.  A Trader Vic’s kava bowl enjoys pride of place among the antique bric-a-brac in the tiny room, which was opened in the 1970s by a bartender who once worked at the London Vic’s.  Gregor Scholl, a dapper gent who likes vintage suits almost as much as vintage rums, was such a devoted customer that he ended up buying the bar.  While his Mai Tai uses the Trader Vic template, it’s tarter and bolder, the perfect thing to nurse while time-tripping in Herr Scholl’s hideaway.

Vic’s formula got real workout at the Bols Bartending Academy in Amsterdam, where the Bum taught two full-day Tiki drink workshops with Bols staff Polynesiacs Rob “Ihi Lani” Rademaker, Jeanette Van Urk, and Malika Saidi (workshop pictured above; more photos by Ming Chao at Sensez Mixology).  The Bols method is for the guest speaker to make a drink, then have the attendees make the same drink themselves at one of the high-tech classroom’s twelve individual bar stations.  While everyone used Vic’s exact Mai Tai proportions, the crew from Eindhoven’s De Minibar chose to vary the rum mix.  The results were fascinating:  Mount Gay Extra Old rum paired well with anything, from aged Rhum Clément to young Havana Club, while El Dorado 12-year turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to … El Dorado 15-year.  (Who knew?)  Breaking taboo, we eventually dispensed with rum altogether and made a Vic Mai Tai with Bokma genever.  Sacrilegious, but delicious.

No such nonsense occurs at Amsterdam’s premiere speakeasy, Door 74.  Head bartender Timo Janse, who studies cocktails the way Rembrandt studied light, makes his Door 74 Mai Tai with a carefully considered rum blend:  Barbancourt 5-Star, a  Haitian sugar-cane rum that echoes and amplifies Vic’s midcentury use of Martinique agricole, and Angostura 1824, whose vanilla vibe adds another layer of flavor — one that doesn’t violate Vic’s intent, since Vic’s house sugar syrup did in fact contain a whisper of vanilla extract.  Across town at Vesper bar, we sampled the Mai Tai of another Dutch Master:   Stefano Andreotti (pictured below), who turned out to be a strict Classicist, opting for Vic’s preferred mix of aged Jamaican and Saint James Martinique rums.

Our first order of business in London was to try Alex Kratena’s Mai Tai at the Artesian Bar, upon which Atlantic Monthly’s cocktail columnist Wayne Curtis heaps praise — and praise is not something Mr. Curtis often heaps.   Alex was off that night, but his colleague Simone Caporale more than made up for his absence, whipping up show-stopping drinks that looked as if Cecil Beaton had garnished them for Marie Antoinette.  “You know, in the cartoons, when they hit the head, the birds fly around?  That is how I see the garnish,” said Simone as he assembled a Rum Julep bedecked with a silver-bead necklace and a jewel-shaped pink sugar crystal, with ice diamonds adhering to the outside of the engraved julep cup … which arrived with a side of minted seasonal berries flambée.  Oh, and did we mention that the rum in the Julep was the Artesian’s own bespoke blend, aged solera-style in a miniature cask behind the bar, and delivered from the cask to your chalice via an antique wooden ladle?

It was a hard act to follow, but the Artesian Mai Tai garnered even more curtain calls.  Wray & Nephew Overproof, not the most subtle of rums, somehow combined with Appleton Extra, lime, and orgeat into a delicate, gossamer, elegantly refreshing cocktail, chilled by a single ice-ball exactly the diameter of the glass.

On the plane home, aglow with pleasant Mai Tai memories, we envisioned a not-too-distant future in which any Tiki toper, regardless of his or her physical location, could order a Mai Tai and actually get a Mai Tai — Trader Vic’s original, not the ersatz sugar-bombs that too many bars still serve, and too many customers still expect.  But six miles high, our high was ruined by a glance at the in-flight cocktail menu.  There, listed between the Stirring’s Margarita and Pomegranate Martini, was the Stirring’s Mai Tai:  “Tropical blend of pineapple, orange and cranberry mixed with Bacardi silver rum.”  Ach du lieber!

LEBENSSTERN

RUMCLUB BERLIN

RUM TRADER

BOLS BARTENDING ACADEMY

DOOR 74

VESPER

ARTESIAN BAR

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POUR YOUR HART OUT

Last year, rum evangelist and importer Ed Hamilton grew his hair down to his shoulders.  Apparently, this was merely his first step toward becoming the Jesus Of Rum, because Mr. Hamilton has now performed a miracle:  he’s brought Lemon Hart 151-proof rum back from the dead.

When Pernod-Ricard sold the Lemon Hart brand last year, rumors flew that the new owner, a Canadian drinks marketing firm by the name of Mosaiq, planned to discontinue the 151-proof bottling — which is not only the Beachbum’s favorite rum, but an essential ingredient in many vintage Tiki drink recipes, first among them Donn Beach’s original 1934 Zombie.

To Tikiphiles, this would have been a disaster of biblical proportions: since there’s no substitute for Lemon Hart 151, there would be no way to make a Zombie without seriously compromising its integrity (trust us, we’ve tried everything from Goslings 151 to mixing Bacardi 151 with Woods Old Navy 114, and nothing’s come close).

Those in the know scoured liquor stores for dead stock, hoarding bottles in anticipation of the coming apocalypse.  But now they can Zombify to their Hart’s content, as Ed’s company, Caribbean Spirits Inc., has inked a pact to import Lemon Hart into the U.S. on behalf of Mosaiq.

For further developments, check in at Ed’s website:

MINISTRY OF RUM

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A RUMMY’S GUIDE TO EUROPE

Berlin … Amsterdam … London … this may look like the opening credit sequence of the old I Spy TV show, but it’s also the Beachbum’s October itinerary.

First stop:  The Berlin Bar Convent, to talk Tiki history in an October 4 seminar at Europe’s most chic and discriminating cocktail convention (why they’re letting the Bum in is anyone’s guess).

Next:  On October 11 and 12, The Bum will teach two one-day Tiki drink workshops at Amsterdam’s Bols Bartending academy, with Bols master trainer Rob “Ihi Lani” Radermaker.  We’ll make everything from ice molds to Don The Beachcomber’s secret spiced syrups, with a Zombie or two along the way.  (There are still a few slots open if you’re in the area:  click link below for info.)

And finally, where else could we be October 16 and 17 but the UK Rumfest?  We’ll be giving a talk called “Potions Of The Caribbean,” co-judging the fest’s annual Tiki bartender face-off, and, mayhaps, sampling a tot or two of the brown stuff.

Until then … prost, proost, and cheers!

BERLIN BAR CONVENT

BOLS BARTENDING ACADEMY TIKI TRAINING

UK RUMFEST

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PLATO’S COVE

Since the Beachbum visited Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco last April, he’s had flawlessly executed exotic cocktails in Havana, Hawaii, Miami, Los Angeles, Ibiza, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.  But the call of the Cove remains strong.

Why?  Smuggler’s (pictured above) is the only new craft cocktail bar in the United States that lives, breathes, and drinks Tiki.  Other craft cocktail bars flirt with exotica, but refuse to take the Polynesian plunge, pulling back on atmosphere and vibe; like its old-school counterparts, the Tiki-Ti and the Mai-Kai, Smuggler’s Cove walks the walk and talks the pidgin.

The elaborate, imaginative Poly Pop decor — which includes a three-story waterfall that drops from the ceiling to a basement lagoon — triggers daydreams of moonlit islands and tall ships, while the 80 rum drinks on the menu are all expertly, intricately, lovingly mixed.   Equally important, the place is infused with the spirit of aloha.  You feel it emanating from the staff, you feel it reflected back from the guests, and you especially feel it from proprietors Martin and Rebecca Cate.

Strip Martin of his Smuggler’s Cove logo fez, and you have Otto Preminger in a Hawaiian shirt.  But Martin has more in common with the dictatorial Austrian film director than a shaved head and a face made for a monocle.  Like Preminger, Cate is an obsessive.  He’s a kill-devil control-freak, in search of a Platonic ideal:  not just the right rum for every cocktail, but the essential rum.

These days, saying that a craft cocktail bar serves drinks with house-made ingredients is like saying that a big-budget movie has great cinematography.  It’s no longer cause for rejoicing, it’s simply expected — a given.  Stealing a cue from his spiritual fathers, Don The Beachcomber and Trader Vic, Martin (pictured above) has upped the ante:  Smuggler’s Cove not only crafts its own syrups and bitters, but its own rums.

He started with an in-house Demerara, “Smuggler’s Private Reserve,” a blend of Guyanese rums each distilled in wooden pot stills and aged up to 12 years.  Sipped neat, the blend is thin at the top, but gradually exposes a big, fat, beautiful bottom.  How did Martin’s rum develop this case of liquid steatopygia?  After trying every off-the-shelf Demerara rum on the market,  he approached Demerara Distillers in Guyana:  “I couldn’t afford to call for a new distillate, so I came up with a blend of their existing products and told them, ‘This is what I want.’”

He took an even more hands-on approach with his house agricole (rum distilled from fresh-pressed sugar cane, as opposed to the usual molasses).  Bars normally source their agricoles from Martinique, but Martin wanted something home-grown.  So he hired Bay Area distiller St. George Spirits to craft an artisanal California agricole, using sugar cane grown in Fresno and Imperial Valley.  Martin tasted six separate test distillates, each made with a different type of cane, and liked two — a strain fermented from elephant cane, and another from green cane.  “I put them together in a French oak cask to give the rum a buttery rather than a vanilla flavor,” he says, “and after six months in the oak, I switched it to a second six months in a used Bourbon cask, to help keep a lot of the cane character.  86 proof was just too hot, and 80 was a little limp, so I went with 84 proof.”

The result was Eurydice Single Barrel California Sugar Cane Rum.  “’Single Barrel’ is not a gimmick,” laughs Martin. “At this point, there really is only one barrel!”  He freely admits that his baby “is not a starter-rum,” but the Beachbum instantly warmed to its clean, herbaceous taste, not unlike a marriage of cognac and grappa, with hints of beurre blanc and brown sugar.

On our April visit, we had only a short time at the Cove — and 80 drinks to try.  Fortunately we were in the company of Tiki Central webmaster Hanford Lemoore and Critiki webmistress “Humuhumu” Trott, two Cove addicts who know their way around the ten-page menu.  With a sip of their drink orders to supplement our own, we managed to sample 10% of Smuggler’s specialties.  They were all stellar.  We list them below, in no particular order.

Pampanito: Pampero Aniversario rum laced with lemon, allspice, and a simple syrup that is anything but simple.  Said syrup is a combination of three sugars — white cane, golden turbinado, and dark muscovado — each added in different amounts for just the right density and flavor.  Cate officially enters mad scientist territory with this stunt:  mixing three types of sugar is insane.  But also insanely good.

Carlo Sud: Agricole shaken with Benedictine and Angostura.  Savory and assertive.  (Pictured above.)

Rum Barrel: we detected molasses, passion fruit, and possibly pineapple, offset by the pleasing astringency of a mystery extract which Martin steadfastly refused to reveal.  Admirably presented in a ceramic Smuggler’s Cove rum barrel, complete with logo swizzle stick, orchid, and fresh mint.

Kona Cocktail: aromatic and romantic.

Port Royal: an exhilarating see-saw between sweet and heat, the sweet being Smuggler’s bespoke jerk-seasoned simple syrup, and the heat courtesy of the aptly named Hellfire bitters.  “It’s like making pepper spray,” says Martin, who has to wear a face-mask while rendering this tincture of Scotch bonnet and jalapeño chiles.  “It actually physically hurts us to make it.”

Chadburn: Demerara rum teased with tawny port, pear brandy, and chocolate bitters.

Zombie: the classic 1934 Donn Beach original, nimbly mixed with 151-proof Lemon Hart Demerara and Smith & Cross Jamaican.

These drinks were all made carefully and served cheerfully by the Cove’s gemütlich staff, Christine England, Marco Dionysos, Sudeep Rangi, and Patrick Ponikva.  Since the Bum’s visit, Christine has left Smuggler’s Cove — but having sampled the original cocktails of new Cove barman Steven Liles at his former home, San Francisco’s Fifth Floor restaurant, we can say with confidence that he’ll make a fine priest in Martin and Rebecca’s temple of rum.

SMUGGLER’S COVE

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