Last year at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood, I met a very cool dude by the name of Jason Wilson. Those of you Washington Post readers are no doubt already huge fans of Wilson’s spirits column (his most recent in which he takes on the Williamsburg hipster contingent is classic). But wait, there’s more! Wilson just came out with an awesome new book, Boozehound, which chronicles his quest for the best cocktails and liquors the world over. Not only is the book often hilarious, but full of great insight and fantastic cocktail recipes. It’s my top pick for the cocktail lovers on my gift list these year. And so, gentle readers, I was thrilled to catch up with Jason in between drinks and ask him a few hard questions, some of which involved vodka and Miley Cyrus.
For the cocktail cognoscenti, it’s all about rye, right? At the risk of aligning myself with the buffoons who walk into Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co. demanding vodka, I still dream about the Makers Mark Manhattan that PDT’s Jim Meehan served me at the now defunct Pace years ago. So break it down for us. What rye should we be drinking in our Manhattans instead of trusty old bourbon?
Wait, is it all about rye now? I thought it was all about mezcal? Or over-proof rum? Or not wearing deodorant anymore!? I think it’s totally fine that you like your Makers Mark Manhattan! Makers Mark isn’t so bad—it’s definitely one of those transitional products, like Patron, that convert new spirits drinkers. Also, I often enjoy a bourbon Manhattan (thought I usually go for Buffalo Trace at home). Or better yet, a bourbon-based-Negroni called a Boulevardier.
Boulevardier Cocktail © Julia Ewan The Washington Post
But, ok, getting back to rye. A rye Manhattan is divine. I like cheap ryes like Rittenhouse and Old Overholt. I like pricier ryes like High West Rendezvous Rye and Tuthilltown. And lately my go-to, mid-priced rye has been Russell’s Reserve 6 year old Kentucky Straight Rye (made by Wild Turkey). I like to use rye in the traditional Manhattan and the numerous Manhattan variations, like say the Greenpoint or the Red Hook.
And speaking of vodka, does the world need another one?
Ha. I think you know my answer to that! I’ll quote from something I’ve written: “I can only assume that the development of new vodkas—each in a fancy bottle and with romantic stories involving special places and rare ingredients—will go on until the world ends in fire or ice. In fact, I have a recurring dream in which the first true sign of the Apocalypse is a press release for a vodka that has been quintuple-distilled from tears of flaxen-haired angels and flavored with the ambrosia of Mount Olympus. And it’s promoted by Miley Cyrus.” Short answer: No.
A Cantina San Francisco © Cindy Loughridge & Seth Restaino
What are your top five favorite watering holes?
Oh, that is so hard. I love different bars for different reasons. I would love to say something really pretentious-sounding like, Kaffibarinn in Reykjavik or Bar Magenta in Milan or A Ginjinha in Lisbon. But let’s stick with American cocktail-centric bars in various cities:
The Passenger in Washington DC (as well the inner sanctum of the Columbia Room)
Oh yeah, let me add one more: Nye’s Polonaise Room in Minneapolis. You simply cannot beat a polka lounge with live piano karaoke, and red pleather booths.
Nye's Polonaise Room
What trend would you most like to see disappear?
I think the trend of proclaiming new cocktail and spirits trends…and swiftly then declaring these trends over, all before 99 percent of American drinkers ever had a chance to try whatever it is the trend was.
Do cocktails go with food?
I don’t particularly enjoy my cocktails with food, unless it’s some kind of Italian apertif-based drink. I think some straight spirits go with food, like aquavit and oily fish or tequila and Mexican dishes, or of course something like cognac or Calvados with dessert. But mainly I drink wine with the meal.
I love your chapter on “Liquor Store Archaeology,” in which you and your brother compete to find the most arcane liquors on dusty shelves. As some of these forgotten spirits, such as Old Tom gin, return to the cocktail lexicon what are you happiest to have discovered and most relieved to leave in the past?
I am so happy about real sloe gin—made from real sloe berries—making its reappearance in the U.S. I’ve been making a lot of drinks with both Plymouth and the Bitter Truth sloe gins. But I’m also so so happy about now being able to find stuff like genever from the Netherlands, Zucca from Italy, the unearthing of Crème Yvette. Really, it’s such a wonderful time to be into spirits since every month something long-unavailable is suddenly now available.
As for bottles that ought to stay in the past? I’d say that prize goes to the disturbingly-named Peanut Lolita—a sort of whiskey and peanut concoction that had its heyday in the 1970s. My brother and I may own the only two bottles in existence. These bottles will still likely be full when archaeologists dig them up in the 23rd century.
What bottle would we be most surprised to discover in your bar?
Is this where I admit my guilty pleasure of neon green Midori melon liqueur? It’s something that holds some nostalgic value from my wayward Jersey youth. Actually, I have a lot of questionable stuff. I have an entire Cabinet of Shame that grows every month with really bad new liqueurs and such. But the real surprise? I do actually have several bottles of vodka! And sometimes, I actually do drink from them.