What We’re Reading: Strand Brewing Co., plummy gin, Sailor Jerry on TV, American rum, perfect ice cubes and more

July 9th, 2012 — 3:03pm

Strand Brewing is tasting success after years of struggle – Los Angeles Times
By Drex Heikes

Two surfing buddies who created one of Southern California’s fastest-growing microbreweries have advice for anyone eager to follow in their steps. Don’t do it. Seriously, dude. Don’t.

Joel Elliott and Rich Marcello built Strand Brewing Co. in a tiny space at a Torrance industrial park by working 100-hour weeks for three years, without vacation or pay or employees.

They borrowed money from relatives and friends. Then they hit them up again, and again, and again. They tapped out their own credit cards.

Money was so tight in 2010 that when Marcello loaded kegs into his nicked-up ’98 Chrysler van to make deliveries, Elliott would think: “Just don’t crash.” A wreck might finish them.

Marcello never crashed — and Strand’s by-tap-only beers are now served in more than 200 bars, restaurants and hotels across Southern California, including places as diverse as Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at L.A. Live, the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey, and craft beer meccas Father’s Office and Beachwood BBQ & Brewing.

Sales nearly tripled the second year to $309,000 and are on pace to hit $750,000 in 2012. The partners hired their first employee in April, an assistant brewer, and have signed with a distributor, Wine Warehouse — freeing Marcello from making every sale and delivering every keg from his van.

It’s all quite nice. But getting there? In Elliott’s word, insane, especially for two guys whose knowledge of beer had been: “We drank a lot of it.” Even the idea of opening a brewery was something of an accident.


Plummy Gin, Close to Home – New York Times
The beach plum is a delicacy for the vacationing New Yorker. The scraggly bushes that bear the small, tart fruits love sandy soil and are familiar to anyone who frequents the dunes and beaches of the Northeast during July and August. Spot a jar of beach-plum jam in a kitchen pantry and you know its owner has recently returned from Cape Cod or eastern Long Island.
For those stuck in the city all summer, such preserves are hard to come by. Those folk will have to be content drinking their beach plums.

Greenhook Ginsmiths in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has introduced what the company believes is the only beach plum gin on the market. Like its predecessor, the distillery’s American Dry gin, which came out last February, the beach plum gin puts a Yankee spin on a traditionally English spirit.

“I wanted to do a traditional sloe gin,” said Steven DeAngelo, the founder of the small Greenhook Ginsmiths. Sloe gin, a liqueur associated with England, is flavored with astringent sloe berries, common in Europe.

But Mr. DeAngelo soon learned that sloe berries are hard to come by in the United States. He abandoned a plan to contract an English farmer to ship berries, fearing they would spoil even if frozen. So he cast his sights on indigenous fruit.

“I knew about damson plums, but there’s a damson plum gin on the market, so I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “I learned that beach plums were close relations to damsons and sloes, but they’re native to the U.S.”

Fruit-wise, Mr. DeAngelo, who grew up in Brooklyn and has the accent to prove it, could hardly have gotten more local. Early explorers of the New York area, including Giovanni da Verrazano and Henry Hudson, mentioned beach plums in their writings. Plum Island, off the North Fork of Long Island, is named after the fruit.

But the bushes, which seem to thrive in harsh conditions, are difficult to cultivate. In time, the distiller found a crop at Briermere Farms in Riverhead, N.Y., and bought all it had: 800 pounds of plums.

The idea for the liqueur wasn’t entirely new: the New York bartender Toby Cecchini has concocted a homemade beach plum gin for years.

To make Greenhook’s version, Mr. DeAngelo macerated the fruit in its signature gin, a process that took seven months, far longer than he expected. He then removed the plums, sweetened the brew with turbinado sugar and filtered the result.

The vibrant red liquid is less viscous and earthy than sloe gin and slightly more fruit-forward than damson gin. Only 1,800 bottles were produced, to be sold in New York State alone. The gin, about $49.99, is carried by Astor Wine and Spirits, Park Avenue Liquor Shop and the Brooklyn Wine Exchange, among others.

A few Brooklyn cocktail bars and restaurants (Maison Premiere, Hotel Delmano and Marlow & Sons) were given bottles for building cocktail creations.

If you’d rather take the mixing into your own hands, you could do worse than topping a measure of the liqueur with twice as much tonic water. Mr. DeAngelo, who professes to be a man of simple tastes, likes his with Champagne. The fruit is seasonal, so the liquor will likely be a once-a-year thing. “Once we run out of this,” he said, “we probably won’t have any more till next April.”


Yo-Ho-Ho and a bottle of Sailor Jerry? – New York Times
A spiced rum named after a tattoo artist is hoping to make more of a mark in a competitive category by joining the growing ranks of liquor brands being advertised on national television.

Sailor Jerry, sold by William Grant & Sons, began running television commercials over the weekend on cable channels that include Comedy Central, ESPN, Fox Movie Channel and Spike.

The commercials are being created by Quaker City Mercantile, an agency in Philadelphia, as part of a campaign that will include digital ads, social media, print ads and outdoor ads.

The fast-paced commercials feature snippets from a decade-old Sailor Jerry archive of concerts, events and documentaries. The spots — in versions that run 15 seconds, 30 seconds and two minutes — use on the soundtrack a high-energy punk rock song, “Where Eagles Dare,” recorded by the Misfits in 1979.

The commercials can also be watched on the Sailor Jerry Facebook fan page as well as on

The budget for the campaign is estimated at $7 million, a significant increase in ad spending for Sailor Jerry rum.

Sailor Jerry was the nickname of Norman Collins (1911-1973), who became known for his work tattooing sailors. In 1999, Quaker City Mercantile, then called Gyro Worldwide, introduced Sailor Jerry as a life style brand, which grew to include clothing and other merchandise, music and the spiced rum.

The agency initially licensed the Sailor Jerry brand to William Grant, which was also a client; the two work together on other liquor brands like Hendrick’s gin. In 2008, Steven Grasse, chief executive of the agency, sold the rights to Sailor Jerry rum to Grant.

Sailor Jerry is among liquor brands both young and old that are coming to television for the first time. Others include Hornitos, Jägermeister, Maker’s Mark, Pucker, Skinnygirl and Wild Turkey, as well as a black spiced rum, the Kraken.

And that list is getting even longer, with at least one additional distilled spirits brand planning to start running TV spots in July.


The Spirit of ’76 – Liquor
American bourbon, rye and gin have all enjoyed widespread revivals, with major brands and micro-distilleries alike making new, exceptional bottlings in recent years.

So what’s next?

“Rum is the next renaissance,” says Bill Owens, founder and president of the American Distilling Institute. He says that 117 American distilleries are producing rum today—up from almost none two decades ago.

And, Lord knows, it’s about time. Rum was the quintessential colonial American tipple—the true spirit of ’76. On the eve of the Revolution, some 160 distilleries, mostly in New England, were producing rum made from West Indian molasses. Tavern-goers guzzled it in unfathomable quantities.

Then came Independence, and soon after, whiskey gave rum the heave-ho. Settlers moved into the rich bottomlands of the Midwest, which were ideal for growing grains to distill into bourbon and rye. By the middle of the 19th century, canals and railroads made exports to the east economical. American rum was relegated to a footnote.

Thanks to the recent craft-spirits boom, American rum edged back just before the millennium, when Celebration Distillation in New Orleans and Prichard’s Distillery in Kelso, Tenn., started producing the liquor using domestic molasses.

And the momentum has only increased. Not surprisingly, where there’s sugar cane, there’s rum. In Hawaii, Koloa Rum uses local Kaua’i-grown cane. And there are two new Louisiana rum distilleries being built near cane fields, in Lacassine and Thibodaux. Their products are expected to hit shelves within the year.

And, like salmon coming back to spawn, rum has finally returned to the Northeast. “Now, there are probably five distilleries making rum in the greater Boston area alone,” says Owens. Plus, there’s one on Nantucket, and nearby Newport, R.I., is home to Thomas Tew Rum. Among the best of these upstarts is Ragged Mountain Rum, from Berkshire Mountain Distilling in western Massachusetts.

Paul Calvert, bar manager at Pura Vida in Atlanta, is a fan of Ragged Mountain and invented a concoction called the Some Faraway Beach to play off its robust flavor. Mix one up, and hoist a glass to celebrate independence.


Made in China: Add Chinese five-spice to your shaker – Tasting Table
Now it’s China’s turn–in the form of the warm, savory flavor of Chinese five-spice.

Familiar to fans of Cantonese duck, this intense mixture typically comprises star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel and Sichuan peppercorns. It also plays well with the spark of spirits.

Five-spice and lychee nectar give an Asian touch to the Peruvian classic in the Pisco Sour Kuong Tong cocktail at Andina in Portland, Oregon. At Cantina in San Francisco, bartenders infuse agave nectar with five-spice and use it to give smoky warmth to the Five Spice Margarita. Zig Zag Café in Seattle flavors a mixture of rum, lime and vermouth with five-spice in the Bishop Should Go.

At Curio at Harvest in Columbus, Ohio, Travis Owens uses a five-spice syrup to lend earthy depth to the Old Sevillian, an Old-Fashioned variation made with bourbon and marmalade. The bourbon may be from Kentucky and the marmalade from the U.K., but with five-spice in the mix, the drink appeals to palates from around the world.


Breaking the Mold; Keeping cool with some of the summer’s hottest ice trays July/August issue –
Summer is in full swing, and while temperatures are heating up, we’re keeping cool with a frosty mix of iced cocktails. So much so that we dedicated “On the Rocks” in our July/August 2012 Summer Drinks issue entirely to icy-cool drinks. And perhaps nearly as important as the liquid that goes into the glass is the ice, which cools, dilutes and adds style all at once. We recently tested a number of ice trays in various shapes and sizes and found 10 that are ready to help you mix the coolest cocktails around.

Tovolo Perfect Cube
This silicone mold produces 1-inch cubes as close to professional-grade ice as you’ll find short of forking out the big bucks for a commercial machine. They’re inexpensive, durable (ours are going on 4+ years now) and the silicone doesn’t off-gas. Just note that because there’s no airspace between the cubes, they take a tad longer to freeze, so be sure to plan ahead if you’re going to mix up multiple rounds of drinks. $9/set of 2,

Rubbermaid Quick Release
Freeze. Twist, twist, release. Seriously, making ice in these Rubbermaid trays is that easy. And they hold up, too—an Imbibe staffer has kept her freezer stocked with one of these trays going on three years now. The turquoise is a limited release for summer, so get your hands on a set while you can. And while you’re at it pick up one of these storage bins, which the trays stack neatly atop for added space-saving convenience. $8 per tray,

Onyx Stainless Steel Ice Cube Tray
Classic cubes go retro with this stainless steel ice tray modeled after the aluminum version first made popular more than half a century ago. Since stainless steel is a thermal conductor, these cubes freeze faster than those in plastic or silicone, and a handy lever up top helps loosen the ice once solid. Just a quick trick for those first trying the tray out—don’t fill it beyond 2/3 full; otherwise you might have a hard time freeing the frozen cubes. $30,

Casabella Big Ice Trays
When size matters, look to these colorful silicone trays from Casabella, which freezes 2-inch, slow-melting cubes perfect for cooling down a drink without over-diluting. The trays are also oven-safe (up to 500 degrees F) meaning they can pull double duty for baking and candy-making. $12/set of 2,

Tovolo Sphere (pictured)
Featured as a “Favorite Thing” in our July/August 2012 issue, these BPA-free 2 1/2-inch sphere-shapers feature a flat bottom and silicone lid for solid stability and convenient stacking in the freezer. $14,

Japanese Ice Maker
Japanese bartenders have long been ahead of the ice curve, and while many of them are known to hand-carve individual ice spheres for their cocktails, this anodized aluminum mold does the work for you, shaping perfect 1-inch diameter spheres from larger cubes. A splurge for sure, but it definitely beats the cost of a flight to Asia. $200 includes both the sphere mold and two large cube trays,

Tupperware Jel-Ring Mold
Tupperware has certainly come a long way since the potluck parties of the 1950s and ’60s. Case in point? This mod mold that freezes a scalloped, nearly nine-inch ring of punchbowl-ready ice. $15,

Tultztiki Ice Mold
Over-the-top tiki drinks are bigger than ever, so why not add another pop of Polynesian flair to your next drink with these tiki-fied cubes? $9,

Casabella Water Bottle Ice Tray
Ever tried to pack a narrow-mouthed water bottle with ice? Not so easy. But thanks to the slender ice rods frozen in these clever silicone trays, never again will you need to fuss with trying to cram cubes into a bottle. Plus, the rods also neatly double as frozen stirring sticks and ice spears in mixed drinks. $12/set of 2,

Pi Ice Tray
Math meets cocktail mixing with this smart silicone tray that freezes ice in the shape of everyone’s favorite numerical symbol. Form may overtake function just a tad, but who can argue with an irrational number? $9,

Container Store Freeze & Press Ice Cube Tray
The Container Store streamlines home life yet again with this BPA-free, dishwasher-safe tray. The lid prevents spills and keeps ice cubes from absorbing odors or water from evaporating and allows for easy stacking. You can also release the ice cubes easily by simply pressing on the flexible pads on the base of the tray. $10,

Outset Hex Ice Cube Tray
Who can resist a honeycomb-shaped ice tray? Drop these hexagon cubes in a honey-based cocktail, and you’ll complete the theme. $8,


Quote of the Day: Seven Grand

July 9th, 2012 — 2:45pm

“Drinks to separate the ladies from the lushes.” -Seven Grand

Quote of the Day

July 7th, 2012 — 5:54pm

“History flows forward on rivers of beer.”

Want to go where the beer flows? Get your tickets to the LA Craft Beer Crawl at

Quote of the Day: H. L. Wilson

July 6th, 2012 — 3:48pm

“While beer brings gladness, don’t forget that water only makes you wet.” -H. L. Wilson

Get your tickets to the LA Craft Beer Crawl before they sell out! Check out the brewers list and more details at