Distilled Discovery

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It was a crisp spring morning in downtown Vancouver BC, perfect for another day of exploring. The overcast sky was getting brighter as the day was slowly warming up. Even better – it wasn’t raining.

Google maps showed a marina just a 10-minute walk away. On the map’s aerial view, I saw a ferry that took people across from the pier to Granville Island – VBC’s version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Today’s adventure was a ferry ride to Granville Island, and whatever was waiting to be discovered along the way!

 

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The Discovery

 

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Several hours later, I had a bag full of gourmet, artisan yummies, and headed back through the upscale waterfront neighborhood and flowering cherry trees. Suddenly, across the street, the clouds parted, the sun exploded and sweet melodies started playing in my head as I realized what was right in front of me!

The Distillery

Vancouver BC’s first microdistillery was tucked away from the downtown core, looking politely inconspicuous on the outside. Inside, customers were already celebrating handcrafted gins and other fine spirits in “a place where kindred spirits meet.” I sat at a corner table, which gave me a view of the whole room.

 

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Bottom photo of distillery, courtesy of their website

 

The microdistillery equipment was in a large room, just to the other side of a glass wall, behind the bartender. I’m guessing the place was named after the long, beautifully-stained raw wood community table at the center of the room.

 

longtable_customers

I waited for customers to leave so I could get this shot of the table

 

I noticed customers would occasionally walk back in from the fish and chips truck out front, bringing deep-fried delicious badness to enjoy with their craft cocktails. A Rubix Cube was placed in front of the order pick-up window, to distract you from the windchill while you wait.

 

 

The wall next to me was covered with framed articles and accolades about the new distillery. One article mentioned that it was a trip to Portland, Oregon, with its multiple distilleries within and just outside city limits, that inspired co-founder and master distiller, Charles Tremewen, to open Vancouver BC’s first microdistillery. He came over to say hello, and to chat with my server. That’s him in the picture, on the right.

 

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longtable_owner

 

The Gins

I had gotten there in time to order from their happy hour menu, and went straight to the Gimlet. One had the option to have the cocktail made with their Texada Vodka, instead of gin; I asked Colin, my gin experience guide and server, if “Texada” was a wordplay on Texas and Florida. Um, no.
#facepalm. Insert <shaking my head> emoji here.

According to one of the articles, their Texada Stoned Vodka was filtered and mineralized with Canada’s own Texada Island limestone, resulting in a “soft, almost oily, mouthfeel.” Lemongrass was added afterwards for a light touch of citrus. Interesting, but…nah! I’m sure they make a fine vodka, but I’m a GIN lover at a GIN distillery, here to try their premium-quality GINS.

 

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The bourbon barrel aged gin, listed under the Anathema Devise and Wallach IX cocktails, caught my eye. I knew that with a whiskey, about 60% of its flavor comes from the barrel it was aged in.

But gin aged in bourbon barrels? Bourbon on top of botanicals? Huh!

I ordered a shot. It was sublime, smooth, aromatic and deep. Completely wonderful! I could bliss out with this, listening to some downtempo and ambient house, while looking out at the VBC skyline.

 

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Excited, I put down my shot glass and looked for my next cocktail – Musashi’s Blade, with cucumber-infused gin, sake, vermouth, etc. Colin said the sake smoothed out the gin’s “edges”. My inside voice said, but isn’t that what the vermouth does already? Confused, I decided to trust, and ordered it anyway.

 

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I took a sip and frowned. Hm. Here’s the thing.

The Do-Over

Their Musashi’s Blade cocktail recipe called for Nigori Sake, milky white due to its rice sediment. While appropriate when enjoyed on its own, this sake’s creamy richness and sweetness more than smoothed out the cucumber gin’s edges – it overpowered the gin altogether.

I apologized to Colin for the change of heart, and asked if I could have the cucumber gin as a martini instead of in a cocktail, which I should have done in the first place. I wanted to really taste the gin itself, and the sake was interfering with that. He smiled and said I shouldn’t apologize; when a customer says they want to taste and enjoy more of the product itself, that’s a very good thing. The cucumber gin was quite enjoyable – light, fresh and elegant!

 

longtable_cucumbergin

 

Where to Get Them

Now that I’ve whet your appetite for some new, amazing Canada gins, here’s the catch: Along with their other award-winning spirits, Long Table Distillery’s gins can only be purchased onsite, at select stores in Canada, or online in the UK.

When I’m back in town, this place will definitely be on my list of must-visits.

Cheers!



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Photos of ferry and Granville Island Market by JE Alexandria Julaton

Long Table Distillery room, courtesy of their website http://longtabledistillery.com/

Various quotes from the distillery’s website and articles

Life as a Cocktail: Trying Something New

 

vesper

I had a rough week – the kind of rough week that made me want to re-think several of my life and career choices.  After surviving yet another one, I was trying to put it out of my mind and get to a happy place, as I sipped my vodka lemon drop. My thoughts started drifting off randomly to paths taken, and experiences that shaped decisions made along the way as I felt, figured and clawed my way through this existence. All while trying not to feel completely overwhelmed. Or fall flat on my face.

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I meditated and thought back to choices others I knew have made, and the happiness and fulfillment those decisions brought (or didn’t). It was easy to conclude that making those same choices, walking that same path, would result in the same for anyone else. Treading well-worn paths. But if our lives become all about playing it safe, how can we know there is another path, or level of happiness, that could be more rewarding? One more unexpected, surprising, even exhilarating, and perhaps more fulfilling? We really can’t know until we…pivot.

A great idea or quest for some form of happiness had to start somewhere, and it might have been an amazing journey along the way.

A cocktail analogy.

Pivot. Twist. Zag. Change IS scary, with no guarantees of success. Then again, it doesn’t guarantee failure, either. Think about THAT for a moment!

A well-made cocktail is a thing of beauty and wonder. The balance of ingredients, one in step with another, and that with another, and so on, creating the mesmerizing dance of flavors. But is it a perfect cocktail? That depends.

huckleberry_moodlight2

On YOU, and if you want to stick with one recipe and be perfectly happy to never deviate from it, or decide that tweaking it a wee bit would make it different, and possibly better. Perhaps the art of the cocktail can be more interpretive dance, than classical ballet – creating your own new combination of moves, instead of following someone else’s footsteps.

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The well-worn paths, the classic cocktails, have withstood the tests of time, but they haven’t always existed. Someone started with a gin, aged and smoothed to perfection, added – just for giggles – a liqueur of 130+ herbs and botanicals whose recipe has been guarded by monks in Europe for centuries, then sweetened it with the fermented juice of a thousand cherries. A few more ingredients and experiments later, one of the most famous cocktails (and one of my personal favorites) was created.

But anyway, back to the story.

One evening at home, I decided upon a vodka lemon drop. Nothing like a sweet, citrusy kiss to smooth out my ragged soul after a long week. A few minutes relaxing in my lounge chair with a cocktail, and the world was slowly obscured by a veil of bliss. I wandered over to the refrigerator to choose ingredients for tonight’s dinner. Deciding on stir-fried veggies, I reached for the fresh ginger and noticed the stalks of lemongrass beside it.

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PIvot.

Hey…what if…?

I pulled out another martini glass and poured in a couple of ounces of vodka.

I sliced off a thick piece of ginger, pounded it with a mallet, and let it sit in the vodka while I finished my cocktail. Later, I put some ice in a mixing glass, and added the piece of ginger I had used to infuse the vodka.

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Zag (Ladies and gentlemen, now for my NEXT trick…).

I chopped some of the lemongrass and dropped it into the mixing glass. After muddling and pounding the lemongrass and ginger on the ice, I added a quarter ounce of triple sec, and a quarter ounce of simple syrup, then the infused vodka.

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I poured in a wee bit more vodka (wink), shook the whole thing for a few seconds, then strained the exciting concoction into my martini glass.

MMMMM!! Ginger lemongrass martini – a delicious vodka martini with a couple of exotic twists. If the ginger is too strong, add less next time. If you like it sweeter, add more triple sec and simple syrup. The idea is to adjust it to your taste. As with life, the cocktail is all about you and your happiness, after all.

Also with cocktails, as with life, you can start over and try again – fix something, make it even better, or try something new. Who knows what brilliant schemes and cocktails you’ll dream up next!

 

Absinthe: Green Fairy Cocktail Party

ladiescocktail_absinthe2

 

“None of which equals the poison welling up in your eyes that show me my poor soul reversed, my dreams throng to drink at those green distorting pools.” Baudelaire comparing and preferring absinthe to wine and opium in his poem “Poison”.

Absinthe has enjoyed a tantalizing reputation steeped in decadence, myth and controversy for over a century – the kind of popularity and staying power big-screen actors and rock stars would envy today. Invented in 18th century Val-de-Travers Switzerland, this supposed hallucination-inducing liquor has been rumored to cause convulsions, blackouts, visions of little green fairies, and rampant psychosis. The Fed’s ban on selling absinthe in the U.S. was in effect for decades.

In the 1990’s, its popularity grew worldwide, and eventually – around 2007 – the Fed allowed two European distillers to sell the liquor Stateside. Since then, many have attempted to tap the green fairy portal for visions of demons, angels, creative genius, and so forth. Some say a toxic chemical in wormwood, one of the main ingredients in absinthe along with anise, may have been the cause of these extreme symptoms, and not the liquor itself. According to one recent BBC article, however, “Contemporary analysis indicates that the chemical thujone in wormwood was present in such minute quantities in properly distilled absinthe as to cause little psychoactive effect. It’s more likely that the damage was done by severe alcohol poisoning from drinking twelve to twenty shots a day.”

How to Serve Absinthe

These days, many bar menus feature absinthe as part of a cocktail mixture. The two most popular methods to serve absinthe have been the Absinthe Drip and the flaming sugar cube. The Absinthe Drip, a classic method, involves the slow-drip of cold water onto a sugar cube sitting on a perforated spoon, held over a glass of absinthe.

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The water drips through the cube and into the absinthe, sweetening it.

 

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With the very stylish flaming cube method, you put the sugar cube on the perforated spoon, on top of an empty glass. You then pour the absinthe over the cube, soaking it as the liquid flows into the glass. Then, purely for the sake of showmanship, the cube is lit on fire, and the melted sugar slowly drips into the absinthe. Follow this up by adding ice cold water to the absinthe to get the cloudy effect.

Absinthe’s alcohol content of between 45% and 74% could provide a “transcendent” experience, although mainly without fairies.

I was at a bar one evening, nervously watching a very tall, red-wigged, platform-heeled drag queen in a green dress staring silently and very intensely at me through the gauzey curtains surrounding my candlelit alcove, before suddenly sprinting off into the darkness. The lesson here is, if you’re in the right place at the right time, green fairies can be seen even without absinthe.

 

Death in the Afternoon
A cocktail invented by Ernest Hemingway. Recipe in his own words:

“Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

 


Sources:

Photos by JE Alexandria Julaton at Raven & Rose

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1689232,00.html?imw http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140109-absinthe-a-literary-muse http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2031497_2031504_2031460,00.html http://www.wikihow.com/Prepare-Absinthe http://liquor.com/articles/biggest-absinthe-myths/

The Whiskey Library

whiskeytasting

“Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then it’s time to drink.” (Haruki Murakami)

I waited in line to get into the fairly new, and already very popular, Multnomah Whiskey Library one evening. According to the other customers I chatted with, there’s always a waiting list. If you wanted to make reservations and skip the lines, you’d have to purchase membership, and currently they’re full. The Library was a high-ceilinged, chandeliered modern pub of dark wood, leather and exposed brick, with two of its walls covered by shelves showcasing whiskies from around the world, along with other choice hard liquors. Jaunty Scottish and Irish instrumental classics played in the background, and yet the noise level was comfortably moderate; it never got so loud that you couldn’t hear what the person was saying to you from across your table, even with all the hard surfaces.

The Library made it a point to never exceed their maximum capacity of 50 customers in a room at a time, so there were never too many people loudly crowded into a room, bumping into each other and spilling their expensive drinks. As soon as I was seated and looked around, I noticed a majority of the patrons that night appeared to be in their late 20s to early 40s, with a slightly higher men-to-women ratio. My eyes explored the room and paused at a very well-dressed man sitting at a lounge chair a few feet away. He was slowly swirling a dark liquid in a snifter, possibly a Scotch.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, Scotch connoisseurs recommend sipping from a tulip-shaped glass, or any glass with a wide base and narrow mouth, to improve the tasting experience. For example:

properglass

I watched him quietly sip his beverage with such obvious pleasure, and realized I have never seen a man rush through a glass of premium Scotch, or toss it back quickly. Oh, to be a glass of really good Scotch – to be tasted slowly, savored completely, and enjoyed with complete focus.

This place had pretty much everything that will put you in a really good mood – world-class liquors, tasty appetizers (the bacon-wrapped dates and crab fritters were fabulous!), and a very attractive staff. Lovely ladies greeted you at the door, my server looked like he’d stepped out of a men’s clothing catalog, the bartender with the great smile and brawny good looks was very attentive…I could go on and on.

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I turned my attention to the menu. The prices were a bit steep, with whiskey tastings ranging from $14 to much higher. Expect to pay for the level of selection and superiority one prefers in fine beverages, as well as for the exclusivity and ambience of a place that offers them. Classic cocktails, gins, vodkas, rums, beers, wines, and so on, were also well represented. But if you’re at a place that calls itself a “whiskey library”, you order the whiskey.

I ordered a Talisker Storm single malt Scotch, from the shores of the Isle of Skye. As I raised the glass for a sip, I was pleasantly surprised by the peat-y, smokey aroma. Some people don’t like a smokey Scotch. With that first sip, a delicious warmth spread from my throat to throughout my body. I gasped softly and shut my eyes as the room swayed a bit and my cheeks tingled pleasantly.

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Wow. The boldness, the smoothness. And interestingly, the flavor wasn’t nearly as smokey as I thought it would be, considering the first fragrant impression. With its blend of new and old scotches, Talisker Storm managed to smooth out the smokiness. Nicely done!

Interestingly, there are articles online on how to properly drink and enjoy a Scotch. According to an askmen.com article, entitled “10 Things to Know About Drinking Whiskey“, the process is as follows:

Aroma: Swirl the whisky around the glass and take in the aromas as they are released. Don’t poke your nose straight into the glass, as all you’ll pick up is alcohol.

Taste: Take a nice, long sip and let the whisky feel its way around your entire mouth before swallowing.

Finish: A good whisky should linger like a fond memory, and you will still be feeling and tasting it for minutes afterward.

According to a “How to Drink Scotch” article I found online:

“Before actually drinking the Scotch, take a moment to savor the scent of the Scotch. Doing so will help to prepare the taste buds for the flavor that is about to come. Sip a small amount of Scotch. Allow the Scotch to settle onto the tongue and gently move the liquid around the mouth. This action will distribute the flavor and enhance the pleasure derived from the drink. After a moment, swallow the Scotch and prepare to enjoy another sip.”

In my opinion, as with any all-encompassing, sensual experience, I’d say the only right way to enjoy such a moment is to do so completely and at your own pace.

Cheers!

Gie him strong drink until he wink, That’s sinking in despair; An’ liquor guid to fire his bluid, That’s prest wi’ grief and care: There let him bouse, an’ deep carouse, Wi’ bumpers flowing o’er, Till he forgets his loves or debts, An’ minds his griefs no more. (Robert Burns)


Interior shots #3 & 4 courtesy of Multnomah Whiskey Library website
Articles mentioned in blog: http://www.ehow.com/how_2304608_drink-scotch.html http://www.askmen.com/top_10/entertainment/the-expert-10-things-to-know-about-drinking-whiskey_3.html

Urban Sanctuary: The Hotel deLuxe

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I wandered into the Hotel deLuxe one evening some weeks ago, to catch up with friends over martinis. On my way in, I passed a middle-aged fashionista making her way down the steps to a town car, Gucci bag under one arm, mini lap dog under the other. At the top of the entryway and through the door, a towering classic black-and-white movie still confirmed my destination. The lush palms, and soft cream and peach colors with touches of gold gave the elegant, high-ceilinged lobby an irresistible warmth, making it a welcome alternative to the cold damp streets I’ve just walked in from.

I found one of my friends sitting in one of the lobby chairs with a “this place is amazing!” huge grin on his face. We took turns naming off all the old Hollywood movies we’re seen recently, as we waited for another friend to arrive.

Gracie’s

Entering Gracie’s was like wandering into a 1940s/1950s Hollywood movie set, where a fabulous dinner scene was about to be filmed. We were one of the first arrivals, and took in all its vintage glory in loud, open wonderment, to the amusement of the waitstaff. Throughout dinner, I secretly hoped for the dining room to soon fill with handsome tuxedoed men, and women looking like beautifully dressed Vargas girls on their arms, like in the casino dining room scene in “Gilda”, starring the incomparable Rita Hayworth.

 

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Driftwood Room

We wandered across the hall for post-dinner drinks at the Driftwood Room. The long, curved bar, dark wood and kitschy design pulled together a room reminiscent of the 1960s/1970s. As we waited for our cocktails to arrive, it seemed like Don Draper and Joan could, at any moment, come in from out of the rain to have drinks at this very bar. Don would order a couple of Manhattans, and the bartender would hand them a full-page list of Manhattan Martini options, all named after movies and movie stars. Because the Driftwood Room is just that cool.

Movie Posters and Cinema

Cocktails in hand, the three of us wandered throughout the hallways on every floor to see the movie posters the bartender told us about. We made a contest out of who could name the movies the poster scenes were from. We were so laughably bad at it. Which is probably why, for people not lucky enough to have seen these movies in their heyday, the hotel has a small cinema where anyone can watch free screenings of classic films while sipping a toddy in their comfy chair.

With the global economic downturn in the last half decade leaving everyone feeling worried, it’s easy to see how one would want to escape to another time – one when the world still felt magical, hopeful; when women were goddesses, and the men who worshipped them, courageous and heroic. Hotel deLuxe is one such gilded sanctuary. My next visit here will definitely include a long evening dress, Manhattans and a classic movie.

*Note: The Driftwood Room no longer offers themed Manhattans.

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Driftwood’s Signature Manhattan (barrel aged)

(Measurements are approximates only)

1 oz Cherry Bomb Bourbon
1 oz Burnside Bourbon
1/2 oz Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth
1/2 oz Taylor port
2 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters

Combine in a mixing glass, add a fistful of ice. Stir for about 20 seconds, and serve up neat in a Martini glass.

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Lobby, cinema and hall posters images courtesy of Hotel deLuxe.

The Manly Pedi

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How many guys would “man up” for a manly pedi?

Don’t know about you ladies, but I have certainly been seeing a resurgence of metrosexual activity in our midst. At a recent visit to my day spa, I noticed several men donned in robes, sipping their herbal teas next to the water feature, awaitng their treatments. Even those who go for a more hipster bad boy appearance are putting serious effort into their stylized and strategically trimmed facial hair. The term “manscaping” has been floated about, but we’ll delve into that in a future post.

How did this interest in appearance and wellness come about, I wonder? Are men feeling more optimistic? Do they merely want a change from the scraggly, unkempt look that was rampant during the Recession? Have we really reached “peak beard”?

For some guys, what the ladies like is incentive enough. HELL yeah! In a recent CNBC.com article, entitled “More men indulge in spa treatments, tailored just for them“, there has been a steady growth in male customers at spas in the last 10 years – about 33 percent. However, that number surged to 47 percent in just the last year. As mentioned by spa association president, Lynne McNees, in this article, the main reason is the increased effort in catering to, and creating treatments around, men’s preferences.

Men’s spa rooms are decorated with a more rugged ambiance, such as wood paneling and more masculine colors, like purple (Purple? Really?). Spa menus reveal offerings and treatment names with a just-for-men angle, like a facial fragrant with sandalwood and citrus instead of flowers, and a deep massage using Texas ale, followed by more for drinking.

Outside of the spas, men have adopted routines to maintain themselves. These range from the periodic, like pedicures, to the daily, such as using men’s spendy specialty face and body products. In my opinion, there’s nothing “sissy” about men taking pride in their appearance.

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One such metrosexual is Chaz. While he’s managing and recruiting fresh talent for his company, or hunting game in the wilderness with full-on guns-and-gear, there’s one thing you can definitely count on – his toenails are impeccable! Like many a metrosexual, he believes it’s important for a man to take good care of himself. For him, part of that means daily and periodic grooming rituals, monthly spa treatments and pedicures.

I asked him for his view on the manly pedi. “I like the salon treatment because then I know they’re being done correctly and my feet feel awesome afterwards. I have good toes!” Chaz told me proudly, “And yes, I DO own more than eight pairs of shoes.” Like the men mentioned in the article, he doesn’t go in for the fragrant lotions or perfumed water. His preference is clean, basic pedicures that involve foot scrubs to remove dead skin, and finish with a clear polish to protect the nails. Haircuts for him are done at a trendy salon.

“To me,” Chaz explained, “spending a little bit extra to get the correct haircut is just as important as finding the right jacket.” And we all know, ladies, that the right jacket can not only pull a look together, it can also completely class it up. Once a month, he goes out of town for hot tubbing and body wraps at a favorite hot springs resort. For those of you who haven’t tried it, this detoxifying treatment involves wrapping someone’s body with algae, seaweed, mud, clay, or hot blankets like a mummy (Chaz’s preference). The clients have these wraps removed in about 20 minutes, then follow it up with a warm, refreshing shower and an all-over slather of softening creams.

His daily routine includes a deep moisturizing treatment facial lotion he gets at a department store cosmetic counter. Because some ladies do like smooth soft skin on their guys. “Everything I do is for the ladies!” Chaz grins.

And that puts you on our radar, mah man! Right, ladies?

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The Slightly Dirty Martini (Chaz’s recipe)

Jar of green olives

Vodka

Vermouth

Portions are to taste

Put vodka in the shaker and add a little bit of green olive juice. Introduce the shaker to the vermouth, let the two mingle, then put vermouth back on the shelf. Shake it like you mean it, then pour it into a Martini glass.

Urban Sanctuary: Troubled In Paradise

Urban Sanctuaries: Troubled In Paradise

You’re never far from sanctuary, in one form or another, when you’re on a tropical island. Honolulu’s soft, white-sand beaches are just minutes away from immersive culture, high fashion, and, of course, you may have heard about the luaus.

Wandering along Waikiki’s beachside, with its stylish boutiques and upscale hotels, one gets a bit thirsty for cocktails and an ocean view. So I wandered into the bar of a gorgeous hotel known for its rich history. The service was friendly and impeccable. You would think this harmonious blend of genteel and tropical would soon culminate in a perfect moment, with the arrival of my cocktail as a finishing touch.

You would. But then you would be wrong.

The cocktail was a liquid blush of tropical loveliness topped with bright flowers, umbrella and fruit.

And then I tasted it.

It wasn’t the expected bliss that came next; it was righteous anger. The thought of paying $$$ for colorful sugar water was infuriating! Well, actually, I was scowling quite deeply on the inside, but frowning gives you wrinkles. Therefore, my righteous anger was effectively expressed with pursed lips.

There was perhaps half an ounce of actual alcohol in this cocktail, if even that!

This…abomination…made a mockery of a delicate art. Heavens! It just makes a girl want to march over to one of those liquor-stocked ABC Stores on every block, come back with a bottle of hard liquid goodness and pour it into my cocktail in front of the bartender!

Upon further investigation, it turns out a number of bars along Waikiki’s beachside participate in this despicable practice. The hotel and bar I visited shall be unnamed, as I do not recommend them. As for the rest, you deceivers know who you are!

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