For me (that is, Christa), it started on a trip to Hawaii. I was waiting for dinner one balmy evening and looking at the drinks menu at the lovely resort where I was staying. I decided a Mai-Tai sounded sufficiently tropical and decided to have one. And when I got an actual Mai-Tai, as opposed to the Tiki lounge version of that drink I was familiar with, it changed my perspective on cocktails in one life-changing minute! Up until that point I always thought of cocktails as overly sweet drinks that happened to have booze in them. What struck me about having a properly made drink instead was being able to taste each ingredient. Instead of the generic citric acid and corn syrup taste of “sour mix”, I could taste rum and lime and and the faint almond notes of the orgeat. I also realized that apart from the fresh bright flavors, the cocktail was balanced, not just sweet. It was delicious, and I was deeply impressed. It occurred to me that when I got home, I could start making cocktails of my own with the same level of care. I started with classic cocktails that I heard of that sounded appealing. Whiskey sours with actual lemon. Mint Juleps with real mint and quality bourbon. I continued my efforts at mixology on and off as the mood took me for a number of years. Then a second event occurred that spurred along my interest in this area. In the autumn of 2009, a friend invited me to Drinking Lessons, a local event sponsored by the Hotel Sorrento here in Seattle. They were bringing in the bartenders, distillers, and cocktail aficionados that were at the forefront of the cocktail revolution starting in several places across the country, to discuss cocktail history, make drinks, and educate us enthusiastic amateurs. The first one I attended, Erik Hakkinen was behind the bar, where he discussed the Sazerac, the Manhattan and other classic drinks. I was fascinated by the alchemy that went on to turn a handful of disparate ingredients into a harmonious, nuanced drink. I started getting more interested in making a broader range of cocktails, and started to track down what were to me at the time obscure ingredients – Carpano Antica vermouth, Peychaud’s bitters, Herbsaint. I was hooked. But I needed a partner in crime. I decided to invite Shaun to the next Drinking Lessons.
And for me (Shaun now), it all started when I ordered a Sidecar at Canlis. Julia (my wife) had recommended it to me because her father used to drink them. I was surprised and delighted by how tasty it was; to have a drink that was made from fresh quality ingredients was a revelation. It became my drink of choice whenever we were out at a decent restaurant. Up until that point, I’d always just had well drinks at average bars from time to time, largely forgettable. However it took until Christa invited me to the next Drinking Lessons that I started to become obsessed with cocktails. This one was with Alex Day and, Toby Cecchini, who made a long string of classic and historically interesting cocktails Definitely an evening to partly remember 🙂 We had something like 12 drinks over the course of ~2 hours.. They were small but even still! Toby made a large pitcher of G&T’s the way his father had, muddling the limes and letting them macerate in the gin. He took a big whiff and declared, “Smells like cologne”, then passed it around and let all of us smell. It smelled delicious! Much like Christa, the idea that cocktails could be balanced and nuanced was a revelation for me, indeed a thing of beauty.
With both of us now deeply interested in making delicious cocktails at home, we started acquiring yummy booze. It started out modestly enough. We had a nice bottle or two of each base spirit, some baseline mixers like Cointreau and vermouth, and Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, but nothing unreasonable. Finding spirits that were outside of the big brands was hard too, as Washington still had state-owned liquor stores that hadn’t yet caught up with the demand for better selection. That Christmas Julia gave Shaun “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails”, which was fascinating, but we could barely make a handful of the drinks because we didn’t have all of the ingredients. Then a confluence of fortuitous circumstances came together that helped get us to where we are today. The craft cocktail bars led by the likes of Murray Stenson and Jamie Boudreau were providing inspiration and leading customers to expect better cocktails at all of their bar and restaurant destinations. This in turn pushed the state stores to carry a significantly better selection. Additionally, the artisan distilling scene started to explode here in the Pacific Northwest, with lots of fantastic small producers springing up, especially in the Puget Sound and Portland metro areas. Within a short period of time, we were able to find almost anything we needed to make a wide variety of drinks. Every time we trolled the local liquor stores, each of us would find something new and interesting that we’d have to try, and then make cocktails with. We were traveling all over the city, the state and across borders to acquire different types of booze. Trips around the country had requisite stops at local liquor stores to acquire regional or hard-to-find spirits. Friends were given shopping lists when they went on vacation to pick things up in exchange for drinks upon their return. In short, we bought lots of things, tried them, made drinks with them, and slowly figured out what we liked and didn’t like.
Fast forward a few years. We’ve learned an awful lot about spirits and cocktails. Our passion for finding great booze and mixing a mean cocktail has done nothing but grow, so we thought we’d share what we’ve learned with other enthusiasts. We’ve found that it is not easy to find a lot of information about different spirits, and reviews can be hard to find period, often non-existent for small artisan distillers. We’ve seldom seen comparative reviews of several varieties of the same spirit, and it’s uncommon to see discussions comparing different spirits in a given cocktail. One of our main goals here is to remedy that. Also, we really love our local craft distillers and the experimental booze that seems to be becoming more and more commonplace, so we want to help as many people as we can learn about what they are doing. We love drinking what they’re making, and we want them to make more of it! Finally, we get around and about in the Pacific Northwest food and booze scene quite a bit. So we’ll be posting reviews of local bars, how cocktails at local restaurants measure up, and maybe even saying a thing or two about the amazing food most of these places offer as well.
Welcome to our blog. We look forward to sharing our ongoing journey with you.