Tiki Kava Bar in Hippie Town, Maui

Authentic or canned, I’ll take a Polynesian paradise experience any way I can get it! Along with blissful chillouts on a gorgeous beach with ukelele music nearby, the chickens are wild and the natives are sometimes restless.

During a recent trip to Maui, we drove to the North Shore area and wandered through Paia – a hippie/hipster/beach bum/surfer town beloved by tourists. If there’s a kava bar to be found, it would definitely be here!

A yoga instructor, on her way home, helped me find the parking lot ticketing booth. She was a recent transplant from the mainland, and was “really stressed” about going back to attend a meditation retreat. Had to think about that one.

Kava Lounge

Aumakua Kava Lounge’s entrance was in a corner of a strip mall near the edge of town, across from a church. Soon as you walk inside, the vibe is 1930’s tiki hut with thatched roof, bar stools and charming island theme touches, including mermaid light fixtures. And, of course, the tiki gods! A huge fan of tiki lounges, I was diggin’ this pretty hard.

It was just before sunset, and the kava bar wasn’t crowded yet. Later on, we got a taste of the local flavor – chatted with a couple of sweet guys with salty stories. Just going to say that Paia is a laid-back town with a whole lot of character(s).

History

We wanted to first try straight-up kava in coconut shells – like the traditional ceremonies in Fiji and ancient Hawaii. From what I’ve read, kava is the drink of choice when good things happen, or when you want them to.

In Fiji, kava is traditionally served on special occasions and as part of a ceremony welcoming guests to a village. In ancient Hawaiian culture, kava was offered as a ceremonial gift to ancestral spirits to ensure the prosperity and well-being of the village. Farmers offered kava to the gods to ensure the success of their crops; canoe makers would offer kava to the forest gods while choosing a Koa log for an unsinkable canoe (one hopes); plus, kava was fed to the ocean spirits to bring lots of fish to nearby shores.

The Kava Experience

During Fiji’s welcoming ceremonies with the village chief, guests are seated around a kava tanoa communal bowl, where the dried kava root is pounded. The pulp is then placed in a cloth sack, and mixed with water. The result is a brown liquid – the “Kava gold”. After it’s strained, it’s ready for drinking.

The lounge sources their dried kava roots from Vanuatu, which is ground into a powder. Our hostess mixed and strained the kava in a large bottle of purified water, then served our kava in coconut shells.

The hostess offered us our kava cups at “high tide” (full cup). The kava looked like a brownish tea. We all clapped once, yelled “Bula!”, then drank the entire cup. After that, we clapped 3 times and she shouted something that meant the ceremony was done. Might have been ‘Maca!’ ?

After drinking it, I felt a little loopy. Not drunk or high, just calm and floaty. Makes sense that kava’s been a go-to to relieve anxiety and stress, or even just to get that feeling of calm happiness. Also, there was a little numbness around my lips and tongue. Probably due to it being a nightshade plant.

Kinda gives new meaning to bartenders asking customers “What’s your poison?”

The kava was a teensy bit bitter, but not unpleasant. If you want to bypass the kava ritual and bar (why??), you can get it at organic and natural food stores as a liquid in small bottles. Use the dropper to place drops into your mouth, or into other liquids (like juice) that cover up the taste. You can also opt for kava capsules.

Even better, you can have it in a cocktail!
This kava lounge makes classic cocktails and uses kava in place of rum. And they’re tasty! We had a round of Blue Hawaiians and Hurricanes.

I would love to partake in a traditional kava ceremony with a village chief in Fiji, someday. Until then, I’m down for the faux ritual prep, followed by clapping, shouting and drinking at the nearest kava bar with friends!

Bula!

Even more fun than a recipe, here’s a video on how kava is made, Hawaiian-style:

The Pickleback: Booze and Pickles, #Why?

Some experiences are more “cautionary tale” than “epic adventure”. Like cocktail ingredients that shouldn’t occupy the same shot glass. Irish Cream and lime juice, for instance. Plus, others that shouldn’t even be in the same room.
Case in point, mayonnaise.

AND YET!…
Bailey’s Irish cream + lime juice = The Cement Mixer
Absinthe + vodka + mayonnaise = The Stinger Worm

Just goes to show there are people with minds and palates far more open than mine. Like the Irish! Although their reactions don’t vary much past anger:

https://youtu.be/rFH0J29QMKc?t=109

Or even bewilderment:

https://youtu.be/rFH0J29QMKc?t=119

Which brings me to today’s cautionary tale (or epic adventure) – The Pickleback!

Cocktail History: The Pickleback

But first, a little cocktail history. The pickleback is a whiskey shot chased by a shot of pickle brine/pickle juice, or a bite of whole dill pickle. Upon first hearing about the pickleback, I was torn between curiosity and outrage. So I tried piecing together the pickleback’s origin story.

Some say in 2006, a customer at Brooklyn’s Bushwick Country Club – one of the divey-est dive bars in New York City, according to Eater – asked for a shot of pickle juice to accompany her vodka. Curious about this request, bartender Reggie Cunningham decided to have his own little experiment by downing several shots of Old Crow Bourbon, each followed with shots of McClure’s pickle juice. He loved it, and started serving what he dubbed ‘The Pickleback’. Later, Jameson became the whiskey of choice for the pickleback.

However, pickle juice chasers aren’t new to the cocktail world. Long before Reggie’s epiphany, they were paired with tequila shots in Texas. Plus, pickle dills followed vodka shots in Russia.

The Pickleback Experience

This all sounded like crazy talk. And in my deeply heartfelt opinion, whiskey is an art and a science, involving craftsmanship and a quest for perfection. So why would anyone … ANYONE … want to F– it up with pickles?? According to one theory, the brine soothes the burn from the booze. We’ll see about that.

On a mellow Tuesday late afternoon, I wandered over to a saloon called The River Pig – a quick stop before heading over to meet a gal pal for HH nachos and tequila. Later that night, mosh pit thrashin’ on Bluegrass night at another local bar.

It was the holidays, so the saloon was decked out in Christmas decor.

What is a “river pig”, you ask?
Back in the day, they were the guys who guided logs down the river to saw mills. They also walked on the floating timber, and used a 12-foot pike to free up log jams. It was a super dangerous job, with guys sometimes falling off one log into the river, before being smashed to death by several others. Because it was so risky, the river pigs were paid more than lumberjacks. Later, that hard-earned money was spent on many glasses of whiskey at the end of the day.

Soon as I sat on my bar stool, I ordered a pickleback. The barkeep brought me two shots – shot of Old Taylor Bourbon and shot of pickle juice. For a while, I just sat there staring at them.

The bourbon shot, I could totally do; it was the pickle juice that gave me pause. I mean, it was A LOT of pickle juice! My courage was faltering. Hmm.

Decided to put in an order for some curly fries, as a precaution or ’emergency response’ tactic. Figured I might need them to scrape my tongue, after I threw up in my mouth. As soon as the curly fries arrived, I was ready.

The Verdict

Down went Old Taylor (MMMMM! Zero burn, by the way). Down went the pickle juice, and….
HUH! It really wasn’t all that horrible. It was actually…kinda tasty! The sweetness from the bourbon and salty sourness of the pickle juice reminded me of those experimental, suprisingly tasty fusion snacks you find at the potato chips section, like chipotle ranch dressing Cheetos, or something.

They say conquering your fears makes you stronger. And perhaps I am a better person after this.

But I STILL draw the line at mayonnaise in my booze. Cheers!

The Pickleback
Adapted from recipe at Liquor.com

Ingredients:

1 1/2 ounces Jameson Irish whiskey
1 1/2 ounces pickle juice/pickle brine

Steps:

Add the whiskey into a shot glass.
Add the pickle brine into a separate shot glass.
Instruct the drinker to take the whiskey as a shot, then the pickle brine as a chaser.


Credits:
TRY Channel on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFH0J29QMKc
https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/513951/brief-history-pickleback-shot
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pickleback
https://www.thrillist.com/drink/nation/pickleback-shots-11-things-you-didn-t-know-about-picklebacks
https://www.liquor.com/pickleback-recipe-5087251

You never forget your first time: A hard cider tale

One sultry Saturday evening, my besty and his partner invited me to join them on a neighborhood crawl. It was impossible to resist: summer, Saturday night, and a trendy ‘hood filled with quirky stuff/people – a winning trifecta I just couldn’t turn down.

DGhood2

 

I met D and G at their charming little downtown studio, conveniently located just a couple of blocks from hipster central. We were all hugs and chatter about shops and bars to check out that night. There were a couple of places on our radar, but the rest of the evening was wide open.

 

woodlady_trouncealley

 

We bounced around like pinball triplets – an antiques store here, until we dashed over there to the chocolates specialty store, pondered a visit to the palm reader, went around the corner for adult costumes, which was near an exotic tea shop, next door to a place with soaps that looked and smelled good enough to eat, etc.

 

outsideramshead

 

It was about 8 or 9 pm when we stopped at a pub for some refreshment before we continued exploring. The pub aspired to be unpretentious (which you can’t really be with such a strong hipster vibe), with lots of wood and brick, family-style dining tables, speakers playing random music genres, and a really friendly, young, tattooed/pierced wait staff. We went straight to the drinks menu, to get the really important choices out of the way, before considering any after-thoughts, like food.

 

downtown

 

By the way, this was years ago, before I was fully immersed and versed in the craft cocktail scene, and definitely long before I knew my limitations. D ordered a pint of their hard cider, and G decided on a crisp lager to cool off with on this humid summer night. Being new to the art of imbibing in boozey beverages, I played it safe and ordered a glass of dry white wine. When our order arrived, I kept eyeballing the others’ drinks. Such beautiful amber colors! G let me try his lager, which was refreshing and light, with a tiny bit of hopsey bite. D let me try his hard cider, and I couldn’t give it back.

 

thehipbar

 

I have never had hard cider before. D tried to explain the cider-making process, but I was too distracted to really listen. He may have also mentioned that it was pretty potent. But all my brain could hear was “MMMM it’s like…apple juice! But better! How can a process, with a few steps more or less here and there, end up producing either apple cider, apple cider vinegar or hard cider? Genius!” The hard cider was delicious, fresh, not too sweet, and lovely to look at. So golden. I just couldn’t put it down. It was like apple juice, but better, and with a kick! Realizing he wasn’t getting his hard cider back, D ordered another one.

 

pintofcider

 

Did I mention we forgot to order food? Hard cider on an empty stomach. Naturally, you know what comes next.

It’s funny how the booze gently flows into your bloodstream before sucker punching your brain. I recalled a quote from Jack Kerouac’s book “Dharma Bums”:

“The first sip is joy, the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.” He was talking about sipping tea, but it sort of outlined my stages of hard cider discovery:

1 – What is this tasty, amazing drink? MMMM
2 – I’ve discovered a new thing and it’s wonderful!
3 – Ahhhh, yessss, so delicious…hard cider….
4 – What?? No! You’re not getting this back!
5 – …

kirkandbabe

 

This is where my brain goes fuzzy, then the room, and everyone in it, gets that weird but wonderful haze around it. Like the lotion-on-the-camera-lens effect in a Star Trek scene when Capt. James T. Kirk notices an attractive female on-board. Cue the flutey seduction music.

G paid the bill, and we walked outside. I felt wonderful and float-y, I decided to do a pirouette I just learned in ballet class, when I suddenly felt a couple of firm hands on both my arms yank me back. Apparently, I almost danced into oncoming traffic.

I was insufferably silly, and D and G were losing patience. They outvoted me and called an end to our evening adventure. Spending the night with two lovely men in their cute downtown studio sounded, well, crowded. D, my wonderful knight in shining armor, decided to drive me home to make sure I got there safely, even though my apartment was just a bus ride away. G stayed behind to, I don’t know, fluff pillows or something.

D decided to take a shortcut through the hills. Unfortunately for me, they were winding hills. I opened the window, thinking the night air would get rid of my nausea. I unbuckled my seat belt. With every turn, the cider splashed around in my stomach, becoming increasingly volatile. And ready to erupt.
Splash. Splash.
And then…OMG.

Suddenly, I grabbed D’s arm and gripped it. Hard. I didn’t even have to say a word; he took one look at my face, panicked, slowed to a stop immediately. But it was too late. I lunged onto the door and shoved my head out the window. In my weakened state, I didn’t have enough lung power to projectile vomit a polite few inches away from the car. So it all slid down the outside of D’s car door in waves, as it gushed out of me. Wow. I hoped the stomach bile/hard cider upchuck wouldn’t take the paint off his car.

 

hotlipsfocaccia

 

The next morning, I couldn’t tell which was worse, my loudly pounding head or my gut-churning nausea. I have never been drunk or hung over before. I prayed for death, but it would not come.
Damn it.
I dragged myself over to Hot Lips Pizza across the street, and forced foccacia bread down my throat, in an attempt to soak up the excess stomach acid (my brother said I’d feel better). I got it all down, and spent several minutes breathing slowly, focusing steadily, using all of my willpower to keep it down. I took some painkillers for my throbbing head, and waited for the food and chemicals to save me.

 

array of hard ciders.jpg

Never ever again. Oh man, I really think that cider fermented in my stomach overnight and I woke up with a belly full of vinegar. I had plans with D and G later that day. I felt slightly better in a few hours and headed over. G greeted me at the door and couldn’t get the damn shit-eating grin off his face. He and D probably laughed their asses off as they hosed the vomit. I mean, I managed to hold it just long enough to puke on the OUTSIDE of his car, instead of ruining his upholstery! Where’s the gratitude? Come to think of it, where’s the sympathy?? Aren’t they supposed to be my FRIENDS??

D came out of the kitchen with a huge smile, carrying a pitcher and a large glass.
“Cider, anyone?”

 


All pics taken by Alexandria Julaton, except for Star Trek screenshot