By Christopher McCollum
We at Culture of Spirits brought in the New Year in a variety of different ways, with Micah up in a remote mountain village, and myself spending a quiet night alone, lost in thought and a bottle of rum. Despite my love of Champagne, my drink of choice was the Cuba Libre, which was actually quite appropriate, because I spent a bit of time earlier in the day playing the latest Call of Duty video game, which allowed me to take part in the Bay of Pigs invasion. I started my evening at around 8pm, and finished it at 5am, when sleep finally overtook me. There are many things to be reflective about for 2010, from the alcohol world to every other facet. My own personal reflections, without getting too personal, are usually worth jotting down, or at the very least remembering them, as they transpire throughout the year. Of course, some things are taken for granted when they happen, and their significance does not become evident until a later time. When that occurs, one can only hope that all the memories are correct, and haven’t gone fuzzy. From growing a new business, to camping under the stars, 2010 was full of adventures, people, places, and things.
I didn’t do much traveling in 2010, unlike 2009 when I went to Puerto Rico, Grand Cayman, Belize, and Florida. This past year I was limited to California and Oklahoma, but what a time both were. I spent nine days outside San Francisco in wine country this past July, attending a wedding as the best man. It goes without saying that the bachelor party was held in San Francisco, where we traveled to many notable bars, such as Absinthe and Danny Coyle’s, but the highlight of the evening was definitely Smuggler’s Cove, the brilliant hideaway of Martin Cate, the renowned rum expert and mixologist. Tucked away in a non-descript building across from a residential complex in downtown San Francisco, it took us an unexpectedly long time to actually locate the address that one of my friends had programmed into his iPhone’s GPS. Just while the bachelor was resigning himself to having to urinate in a bush, we saw a door open across the street and heard the sounds of a bar coming from within. We went in, admired the decor that
made us feel like we were in the cargo hold of a sea-faring vessel of antiquity, complete with maps, netting, barrels, and plenty of exotic rums. We ordered ourselves some drinks. We had the Scorpion, a flaming ceremonial style drink that came in a large enough container for the four of us to sip on for about fifteen minutes. After that, we made short order of a variety of Tiki drinks, with the consensus favorite being the Navy Grog. However, since this particular place was recommended to me by mine and Martin’s good friend Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, I was sure to name-drop him to everyone I came across. Unfortunately for me, Tales of the Cocktail was still going on in New Orleans, so I didn’t have the opportunity to meet the good Captain Cate. I did, however, find The Bum in the drink menu.
Given the awesomeness of seeing my buddy’s name in the drink menu of one of the best tiki bars in the country, I obviously had to snap a picture of it. But that was not the only bar in California that I visited and took special note of.
Towards the middle of the visit to California, I went to Yosemite National Park with my good friends Kevin and Colure Caulfield, where after an exhausting day of staring in awe at El Capitan and Half Dome Mountain, bouldering and wading under waterfalls, we ventured into the tiny little hamlet of Groveland, population: Not very many. If I recall correctly, as my camera batteries were dead so I couldn’t take a photo, the welcome sign proclaimed a population of only a couple hundred people. It was a fantastic place to stop and look around, and we turned it into about a half hour pit stop, looking through shops and finally setting our sights on the Iron Door Saloon, the bar that is claimed to be the oldest in all of California. Of all the little towns and villages we passed by, we happened to pick Groveland, and found the Iron Door. I immediately knew that I would one day write about the experience, so we took our seats at the bar and were immediately carded by the second action of the bartender (the first being to say hello to us). There was a baseball fan
to my left, watching a San Francisco Giants game on the television behind the bar. The beer selection was nothing more than average, which I suppose was to be expected in a small, relatively isolated town. They had Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on draft, so Kevin and I ordered that and were consequently stunned when the tab for the two beers came out to $13. Prior to that day, the most I had ever paid for a draft beer was $5, which was a couple days prior at Danny Coyle’s, when I ordered an Anchor Steam. Nevertheless, the bar was enjoyable. There were some animal heads on the wall, as well as dollar bills and old posters for a variety of things. It had a lively spirit, and seemed like a good place to spend some more time if we weren’t pressing to get back to home base before midnight. I traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma in October to attend the funeral of a cousin, and experienced the two longest car rides of my life: There and back. What was supposed to take 13 hours took us nearly 16 after all the stops and one failed attempt at taking a nap outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. Fortunately, my sister was up to the task, and didn’t request any help, because I’m pretty sure I would have turned down the request in order to keep the other passengers dry and snug instead of floundering in the Arkansas River. After getting approximately one hour of sleep during the night, we arrived in Tulsa in the morning long enough to get dressed for the funeral. Afterwards, I spent some time connecting with family, and was invited to go out that night for a drink with one of my other cousins. We went to a little Irish bar featuring an entire menu section devoted to different Guinness concoctions. It was the next evening, however, when we decided to go out to a couple bars of note. One in downtown Tulsa, featuring a number of locally brewed beers from Marshall Brewing Company. The ones I tried were quite nice, but the prize of the evening was yet to come. After bidding adieu to half of my cousins, the rest of us went to another bar: Baker Street Pub & Grill. While fairly bland from the outside, set in a modern shopping center, the interior was decked out to the hilt in Holmesian decor, with trinkets and flags and pennants and books galore taking up shelf space. Plenty of dark wood and low lighting to set the mood, and the only uneasy part of the spectacle being unable to find the correct book shelf to unlock the hidden door to the restroom for a couple of minutes (something that I have heard has caused much consternation in the past). I have since learned that Baker Street is a franchise in 13 mid-western cities, but that in no way, shape, or form diminishes the appeal of the establishment. The beer was good, the food was good, and abruptly, the trip was over. We came back to North Carolina the next day, and much sleep was had. So for my travels, I will have to rate California being the best overall, with a special thanks to The Bum for recommending that I visit Smuggler’s Cove. Speaking of The Bum, another Hallmark Moment of the year was a little tiki test party at The Bum’s enclave, where he featured a preview of his new Tiki cocktail before debuting it in Washington D.C. at the Repeal Day Ball. It was a smooth beverage and exciting experience to partake in, and with an encore in the future, it surely will be a memory to reflect upon next year, as well. Another reflection of the alcohol world was a Bourbon taste test that Micah Hanks and I participated in,
at The Ugly Dog Pub in Highlands, North Carolina. While not exactly where one would expect to go to find a Bourbon tasting, perhaps that was what made it as fantastic as it was. Ugly Dog is a wonderful bar and restaurant that could, in the very near future, establish itself as a premiere craft bar, given the desires of the owners and already existing quality of the bar. We sat down with five shot glasses with top shelf whiskey and bourbon, and sipped away. The amazingly high content George T. Stagg Bourbon (143 proof) left the impression of drinking moonshine, and I could feel my taste buds quivering in fright of another encounter. I will likely subject them to the harsh, uncut bourbon again some day, under proper circumstances. The Thomas Hardy Rye was a quality high proof (126) whiskey that didn’t burn as much as expected, but lost out to William Larue Weller in the battle of the big dogs. The two lower proof (90) selections were Eagle Rare Bourbon and Sazerac Rye Whiskey, with Eagle Rare taking the top spot in that category, and overall. A very smooth bourbon that makes a great sipping beverage, I definitely plan on trying this one again on the rocks. Other events of course transpired throughout the year, but perhaps none in the local alcohol world as important as finding that my beloved Don Q rum is now available in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. After being unavailable for years with no return in sight (according to local ABC store operators), I had given up hope on having Don Q in the house except for when I go to Puerto Rico to buy some. Of course, I could travel elsewhere, but really, if you’re going to travel to buy rum, why not just go to the rum capital of the world? I discovered this improbable inventory back in June, and immediately bought a bottle and enjoyed Cuba Libres for the rest of the weekend. I have since kept a pretty steady supply in my liquor cabinet , and I opened a new bottle just in time for New Years Eve. While I ended up missing the clock striking midnight, as I was lost in my collective thoughts until about 12:30am, I certainly did not miss out on my Cuba Libre. On the technological front, I have finally upgraded to an Android OS phone, the Samsung Fascinate. A pretty piece of machinery that taps into the unequivocally awesome Android Market, which has of course led me to begin development on a number of applications for a variety of uses. On the business front, my company grew from an idea to success during our first year, and we are expecting big things for 2011. And of course, one of the most pivotal parts of any New Year’s Eve for me, is thinking ahead to the next one, and what I hope to accomplish between now and then. Rather than setting New Years resolutions, I set out a list of things I want to do and check them off as I go. So without further ado, I present several of these things:
- Publish my first book.
- Discover more good beer.
- Get a Macbook.
- Read more and write more.
- Appreciate a fine cigar.
- Improve fitness.
- Build a hydroponic vegetable garden with solar powered water pumps.
- Learn more about wine.
- Brew my first batch of beer.
And last but not least… enjoy every moment, because with each passing year, that is one you won’t get back. Time is the most precious commodity, and should never be squandered. I am reminded by Jimmy Valvano’s ESPY speech shortly before he passed away in 1993, when he said that there are three things you should do every day: “Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears. It could be happiness, it could be joy, but think about it: If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re gonna have something special.” Onward!