Interview with Cocktail Historian, David Wondrich

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DavidWondrichEat My Globe by Simon Majumdar
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David Wondrich Interview Notes

In this episode of Eat My Globe, our host, Simon Majumdar, shares a fascinating conversation with cocktail historian, David Wondrich, author of the remarkable new book, “The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails.” As well as sharing his wealth of knowledge across the genre, David also gives us some history of his favorite “unknown” drinks from Asia.

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TRANSCRIPT

Eat My Globe

Interview with Cocktail Historian David Wondrich


INTRO MUSIC


Simon Majumdar (“SM”):

Hey everybody. Welcome to Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn't know you didn't know about food. And on today's very special episode, I am so excited to introduce you to a gentleman who, I've known now for about 15 years, and I've been trying to find lots of reasons to bring him on to Eat My Globe. And now we have the perfect one. Now this gentleman I first met, as I said, about 15 years ago at the launch of a, an event from Beefeater 24 – one of my favorite gins, by the way, ‘cause a lot of people asked me about my favorite gins – um, where we went to create a bottle of Beefeater gin, and then spent the next 24 hours traveling around London to cocktail highlights, I would say, in London, which obviously has quite a few of them. And we got to know each other very well. And then since then, we've shared drinks at the Smithsonian, I think for an event at the Star-Spangled banner event, way back when. And in, uh, New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail. So, it is a real joy for me to introduce this gentleman who's written many, many books, which we'll talk about, and the person who I consider the ne plus ultra of cocktail historians. Let me introduce you to Mr. David Wondrich. 


How are you David?


David Wondrich (“DW”):

I'm very well Simon. Well, first let me say, it's lovely to see you. It's been too long. And uh, here we are, you know, locked up in our little silos and uh, it's just, it's just, uh, great to even, even virtually to, to, to see you. And uh, next time, hopefully we'll have glasses in our hands that we can clink.


SM:

Well, I know that you, you’re a little later on in the day than I am, ‘cause I'm in LA and uh, eight o'clock is that. . . even by my standards is a little early to be having a cocktail. Uh, so I'll. . .


DW:

Well, to be perfectly frank, 11 o'clock my, my time is a little. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . early for me to be having one as even in my old age.


[Laughter]


SM:

I'm glad that you're taking one for the team.


Uh, but as I mentioned before, yeah, I've been trying to find a great excuse to have you come on Eat My Globe. And um, and I think we've finally got there now because as well as the other books you've published, and I have them all. I have “Imbibe.” I have “Punch.” I have even, I think books you've written with Esquire. Uh, yeah, no. As I said, I always have all of your books, but I found out last year and I was very excited. I've got it in my hand here. I, I should wave it at the camera. So if we do a nice picture, when we do later, um, a very already very well thumbed copy of an incredible book called, “The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails.” Um, and before I go on, I just want to say to all our listeners, at the end of this episode, you are definitely gonna want to go and order this. You're definitely wanna go and buy it. We've got. . . I know from listening to the Eat My Globe listeners and on Patreon and everything else, uh, people are, you know, those who drink are big cocktail fans and they're gonna want to have this book. Uh, so we'll make sure we give you all that information.


But before we go on that, tell me a little bit about the kind of the gestation of, of a book like this. When I saw it, uh, those of people who know Blackadder might know Blackadder III where Dr. Johnson comes in and they start talking about a dictionary and because they hate it, they start making up words that have never been in there. . .


DW:

[Laughter]


SM:

. . . and he gets terribly upset at, at. . . . When I saw this, I, I have no idea where you start. I mean, how do you start to do a companion that literally. . .


DW:

[Laughter]


SM:

. . . goes from A to Z?


DW:

Uh, you know, I've blocked out that part. It's, it's, it's like, uh, when parents, uh, uh, parents of like 10 year olds have forgotten already the, the immediate baby, uh. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . .weeks, uh, ‘cause it's just too grizzly.


[Laughter]


The, the immediate gestation of this, uh, you know, once I signed the contract, uh, I can't even remember what I did, but I probably started making lists. And uh, you, you know, it's all about lists. What needs to be in here. And, uh, we had a board of people to, uh, tell me what needs to be in there. And, uh, then we started assigning entries to get people to write them. And then we started keeping after them. Uh, and eventually, uh, we had a mass of 1100 entries, which is a lot.


SM:

Incredible.


DW:

And I, I went through every one of them and, and uh, you know, put it into the Oxford Companion style and where it wasn't and, uh, and, uh, made them more or less harmonized with each other so. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . we don't have things saying a million different, uh, different things and put in cross references and so on and dates and, oh my God, it was, it's an insane amount of work.


SM:

No, I, I, I know that you've been working on this for a, a huge amount time. But I have to ask, given that you mentioned it, what does it take to get on to a board to help you tell, to tell, tell you, of all people, what needs to be in a book on cocktails?


DW:

Well, well, it's. . . . The problem is it's not just a book on cocktails because it's also a book on spirits.


SM:

Of course.


DW:

So, I had some master distillers on the board and, you know, uh, people like Alexandre Gabriel at, uh, at, at, uh, Pierre Ferrand and, and, and Plantation Rum, who also, who knows everything about distilling and, and has a very, uh, curious mind when it comes to distillation. So, we needed people like that. We had some of the top, uh, drinks writers, people I knew had, uh, a broad, general knowledge because you need that. Then we had some specialists, uh, we had, you know, Audrey, Audrey Saunders, uh, to, to help our, our practical cocktail part, uh, you know, mixology and, uh, and, and what cocktail recipes and things like that. So, we, we had a lot of, you know, very, uh, accomplished people there that we really needed their expertise. Dave Arnold, uh, for, for the, some of the science stuff, that just to, to help us get the scope of this.


SM:

Yeah. The scope is absolutely incredible and people will find that when they go out and buy a copy. So do they come, did Oxford come to you and go, we've got this idea. We want to do it. Or was it the collaboration you had before?


DW:

Uh, they came to me. Uh, what happened was, uh, my, my friend and almost neighbor, Garrett Oliver, my old friend of mine, the, you know, great master brewer and, uh, and, uh, knowledgeable champion of all things, beer, uh, had just finished “The Oxford Companion to Beer.” And the people at Oxford University Press said, what other companions do we need?


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

And he said, well, there should be one among several others. There should be one on spirits and cocktails. And they said, who would you get to do that? And, uh, out of, uh, mischief. . .


[Laughter]


. . . I'll say, he put my name in.


[Laughter]


No, it was, it was, it was kind of him to suggest me and, uh, and also very mischievous because it's a hell of a thing. But, uh, so they came to me and, you know, at first I, I hemmed and hawed and thought it was a too big a job for me to do, but eventually, uh, they were able to, uh, twist my arm into, into taking it on.


SM:

Yeah.


DW:

Uh, and, uh, that was in 2012.


[Laughter]


SM:

Wow. So, we're talking a decade, which is incredible. . .


DW:

Yeah.


SM:

. . . to get. And I'm glad that we have, you had a publisher who was able to put that kind of dedication and allow that time to, because. . .


DW:

Oh my.


SM:

. . . it is because. . . . To have someone try and rush something like this, and it, doesn’t. What I love about this book – and I put it together with another Oxford Companion, which is Alan Davidson's, uh, “Companion to Food” – and to me. . .


DW:

I’m flattered.


SM:

. . . these are. . . yeah. . . which no, absolutely, I have them together on my bookshelf. These are books that I turn to all the time. And I'll mention that in a moment. Um, to have a publisher that allows you to have that time to do it properly. This is a, this is a marathon, not a sprint.


DW:

We needed it because the whole, uh, uh, historiography of, of, of things like spirits and cocktails, but a lot of other things, has been completely revolutionized during the decade I was working on it, and new sources became available and new ways of searching that were impossible before. And suddenly there was so much new information that needed to be integrated because the book wouldn't be any, uh, of any use if, if we had kept to the same old sources. You know, we really needed to, to, to reflect that, uh, revolution. And that took time. That took a, that took a lot of time.


SM:

And I, and I think we should also just, uh, obviously to give him his due credit, let's talk about Noah, your associate editor.


DW:

Oh please.


SM:

. . . Noah Rothbaum, uh, because I know he did a lot of work and he's obviously someone who's incredibly well respected in the business and I've read his articles in The Daily Beast. And, oh, he. . . as someone who I follow on Twitter. Uh, tell me about how that works. An associate editor. Is that, and I, I always, I joke about it here. Is he the one who kind of runs into you and says, we've forgotten, blah, blah, blah. And you, suddenly go. . .


DW:

Oh that's a big part of. . . . You know, a big part of it was somebody that, uh, I could talk this stuff over with. You know, that, that, that, uh, I could see where I was making mistakes and, and, uh, he didn't start, uh. I started this thing as, as the sole editor and after a year and a half, I realized I needed help.


[Laughter]


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

You know, it was just too much. It it's a very broad mandate. Spirits and. . . . The cocktails part is fairly narrow, but the spirits part, uh, as we, as we'll discuss is, is, uh, is quite broad. And I, I really needed, uh, somebody to, uh, help scope it, to help with assignment, to, uh, basically, uh, a right hand man, uh, somebody who, uh, uh, knew the, in. . . . Uh, no, nobody knows the industry as well as Noah. Uh, two industries, really. The spirits industry, but also the writing about spirits industry. So, when it came time to, uh, assign things, uh, I, I needed help in, in, in finding people. And, uh, Noah has just been amazing at all that stuff. I mean, just really, really, uh, without him, there would be no book. You know, it was, uh, it was essential to, uh, to have, uh, that sort of, uh, sounding board and, uh, font of suggestions and, uh, and, uh, that extra, uh, set of eyes and, and, and, and ears and brain, uh, to, to, to make this thing slowly crumble into home.


[Laughter]


SM:

Well, I'm, I'm so pleased that we're able to give him due credit because he deserves it. And, and, and as I said. . .


DW:

Absolutely.


SM:

. . . um, I, and I'm not saying this just because you're on here, and you’re on Eat My Globe. Um, I think the end result is magnificent and, and I, I've spent. . .


DW:

Bless you.


SM:

. . . many, many, many hours just reading it as I, I mentioned even before we, we kind of press record, I sit at home and if I'm in the few moments where I'm not doing my own writing or doing. . . writing Eat My Globe or whatever I'm doing, I just get it, and I turn to a page and I go, let me see what they say about barley, or let me see what they say about whatever. And for me, that's the joy of this book, and I'm sure everyone will go out and use it.


DW:

Well, you, you're really the ideal reader for this.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

You know, this is. . . . It's a book for curious people, uh, because, uh, we tried to link everything as much as possible with cross references. There are also, uh, bibliographical references, and I gave away all my secrets in the, in the, in the. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . uh, bibliographies. Uh, but, uh, anybody who, uh, is a member of the audience for my Eat My Globe would be an ideal reader for this too, I think because it, again, it is for curious people and our, our policy was to have the main highways through this material, but also to put in lots of scenic byways.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

You know, just little things that are, that are a little bit, uh, odd, curious, cool, funny, whatever. Uh, you know, the many of the best entries are very short. Uh, we had an entry for Ra Chand, which is the type of juicer that's, that's kind of, uh, has a cult among bartenders. And David Moo, who we got to, uh, write that entry. Uh, he had been a, uh, contestant on Jeopardy.


[Laughter]


And, uh, and is a local bartender here in Brooklyn and a very smart guy. He called up the founder and found some very funny stuff about Ra Chand that I'll, I'll leave people to discover, uh, because it's, it's, it's kind of amusing where the name comes from, and, uh, the, the history of it. It's very much a hippie product. It turns out and. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . that's kind of fun. Uh, and there's a lot of little stuff like that. That's just… Really? That's how that happened?


SM:

Well, let's talk about that because, you know, I just used, uh. . . . They said if people haven't listened yet to last week's episode, uh, I used this as a starting point when I wrote about the History of Rum. Yeah, and I lo. . . love rum and I drink rum, but, you know, just going back into the history of rum, I found it fascinating. And it took me off in all kinds of directions, whether it was talking about privateers or whether it was talking about. . .


DW:

Um-hm.


SM:

. . . grog or whether, what taking me back into, uh, Asia, as I know we're gonna talk about in a moment.


Let's talk about just two or three things that you found in this book where even you, who, as I said, has, has been doing this for a long time went, I had no idea. Wow. I love that story. I love X.


DW:

Well, I, I mean, they're, they're, they're a great many because I did a lot of digging into things. You know, I had to. It turns out, uh, I, I, they, they, they hired me to do this book because I thought I knew, they thought I knew a lot about this stuff. And it turned out I really didn't.


[Laughter]


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

It's like anything else, the more you look into it, the more baffled you get. But, uh, the first thing I did for this was, uh, go to the British Library. As soon as I signed the contract, I got on a plane and I got a little, uh, Airbnb, uh, up in Islington and walked down to the British Library.


SM:

Oh. My part of London.


DW:

. . . couple weeks. Uh, I love that part of London.


SM:

Yeah. I, I live right by Old Street or my apartment still is in Old Street, so very close.


DW:

Oh. Phenomenal. Yeah. Very close, indeed. And, uh, so I, I walked over to the, the reading room and, uh, I had a list of things I was, uh, of books I wanted to look at, but one that I didn't know, I just saw there was this little, uh, book about, uh, an American book on distilling from the 1850s by a guy named McCullough. And, uh, in it, he says, he starts talking about the American style of still. And he describes this thing as a wooden column with, uh, copper plates dividing it into chambers and. . .


SM:

Oh.


DW:

. . . complicated piping. And he goes on and I always knew that there were pot stills. And there were column stills. But this was not a column still even though it was a wooden column. Uh, it was something else. It was like a stack of pot stills, and I'd never heard of it. And it turned out to have been used incredibly widely in America up until World War II.


[Laughter]


Uh, from the beginning of the 19th century, it was a three chamber still, it's called, and I had never, ever heard of it.


SM:

Wow.


DW:

And I thought I knew a lot about American whiskey and it turns out it had been used, uh, universally for rye whiskey. It had been used for making California brandy. It was used a little bit in the Caribbean for making rum. Uh, and it was this whole. . . neither, you know, neither flesh nor fowl, uh, uh, type of, uh, of still that was a complete mystery. So that's one thing. There was stuff like that. Uh, another was, uh, I was researching the history of bartending and I came across. . . . Uh, uh, there was a bar I knew of, Ciro’s, which was very popular in London and Paris.


SM:

Yes, of course.


DW:

And it turns out it came from Monte Carlo and I found there was actually a Ciro behind it. And he turns out to be one of the most influential people in the history of bartending. Ciro Capozzi. A Neopolitan who had worked with Jerry Thomas, the guy who wrote the first cocktail book, uh, and sort of the, the Dean of American bartenders. Ciro had worked with him in New York. And then, Ciro’s, his bar empire, uh, the opening bartender at Ciro’s of London was, uh, Harry McElhone, who's Harry's New York bar, which. . .


SM:

Wow.


DW:

. . . uh, enabled, which was the model for American bars after Prohibition. So, it, it's all the, there's this unbroken tradition of these three people. You know, one leading to the other, leading to the other. There's things like that, that. . .


SM:

Which I. . . . I love that kind of family tree of bartenders. . .


DW:

Yeah.


SM:

. . . that you see. It reminds me again of the peak frame, rock family trees, where you just see everyone going and into those areas. I still remember, just to throw this in. I still remember you telling me something about Ciro’s when we were doing our tour, that it had, I think it had a floating dance floor, is. . .


DW:

It did.


SM:

. . . that right?


DW:

That isolated dance floor.


SM:

Isolated. . . .


[Cross talk]


DW:

They spent. . . . They spent an incredible amount of money on it. And, uh, it had to be a private club because, uh, they hated British opening hours.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

So, they wanted to keep it late. They had the, uh, the first African American, uh, like turbocharge rag time band there in the teens. A rag time dance orchestra that would be, was, was one of the roots of jazz. The immediate roots of jazz. Of certainly of, of, of New York style jazz. And that was, uh, they came over there and played at Ciro’s. Uh, there was all kinds of stuff went on there. It was really a wild place in the, in the teens. It was shut down during World War I for breaking opening hours.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

And, you know, all the people who were in there were army officers who, uh, many of who came back from the front and, uh, really wanted to cut loose. And, uh, that was the place they did it.


SM:

Definitely a place that I wanted to go. I have to say, it's on my kind of list of places. I wish I'd been. Uh. . . .


DW:

Same. Oh, for sure.


SM:

It just. . . . You know, it would've been fantastic.


Now, as you know, part of the, uh, reason apart from you telling us about your wonderful new book. Um, I always like to set people a challenge when they come on to Eat My Globe. . .


DW:

[Laughter]


SM:

. . . just to talk about, you know, five things that come from their area of expertise that are a little unusual and I'll, and I, again, for the intellectually curious people who listen to Eat My Globe, which I know are all out there. Um, and so I, I said to you, give me five things that you would like to talk about. And you came up with a, a really interesting one, which was distilling in Asia. So, I, I was really thrilled about this apart from being, coming from India or having background in India. But it also made me just go out and want to research this. So, it's a big subject. So, before we go into that, just tell me what you thought about in terms of this Eat My Globe challenge.


DW:

Well, I thought it was a great opportunity, for one thing, because, uh, the history and I, because, uh, the frankly, because you go into things in depth and, uh, do re. . . do your own research, which I think is, is great and, uh, is, is rare. And, uh, so it seemed like a great place to talk about this. Uh, and I know you're interested in, in like the real history, not, you know, like what really happened as far as we could tell. And not the, the, not just regurgitating stuff.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

And, you know, the history of, of, of distillation as, as we know it, uh, in, in Amer. . . in American or European popular culture is it was invented by the Arabs. And, uh, and, uh, then, uh, perfected in Europe and, uh, spread around the world from Europe. And really, that's not what happened.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

We don't know when distillation started, but, uh, uh, there's evidence in Asia going very far back, uh, certainly going back well over 2000 years.


And, you know, it's, it's, uh, not fully established in part because this isn't something that archeologists have ever specialized in, is archeology of distillation. Uh, it's hard to get funding for, for studying distillation and studying drinks. Uh, there are only a few people who've been successful at that. Uh, and, uh, it is. . . . But there's early evidence in Northern India of like quite strong evidence of distillation there. There's evidence in, uh, China. Uh, the distillation in India. I mean, going back to the, uh, Ghandara Kingdom, which, you know, is from something like 300, uh, BCE to 200 or a little even further, uh, CE. So, a, a good five, 600 years up, uh, in what is Southern Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan now. Up at the headwaters of the Indus river. And, uh, it seems like they were really distilling. Uh, they were certainly, uh, there's documentary evidence of them distilling there from the 600s, which is a little later, but it's still very early, you know.


[Laughter]


It's, uh, uh, and I'm always interested in not just like some alchemist has figured out this little trick. I'm always interested in, when does it become an industry?


SM:

Yes.


DW:

When are people doing it and selling it and, you know, making it a part of their culture. And that's what you see in the 600s for sure is, uh, or pretty sure there's a, uh, Chinese monk goes to visit the, uh, home ground of Buddhism. And he finds, uh, uh, the various castes in, uh, up in that part of, of India, in the headwaters of the Indus. Uh, one drinks, uh, a spirit distilled from grapes. Another one drinks a spirit distilled from grain. And the third one, it appears, drinks a spirit distilled from sugar cane. . .


SM:

Wow.


DW:

. . . which is the begin of rum. And, uh, later, certainly there was, uh, by the 1200s, rum was a sugar cane spirit, let's call it, uh, it wasn't called rum, of course. But it was, uh, absolutely being distilled in, in Northern India, in, uh, in the Delhi Sultanate. They had laws against it and laws for it. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . and laws regulating it. And once, you know, once the lawyers get involved, you know, people were making money. There was stuff being distilled and aged and transported, and it was a complete industry. And that, uh, is very early.


SM:

It became, as you said, it became an industry.


I'd love to know. . . because you. . . we do – and I'm definitely guilty of this – not being an expert, think in a very Eurocentric way with distilling. . .


DW:

Yeah.


SM:

. . . as you said. You start with Arabs. You go through. . .


DW:

Um-hm.


SM:

. . . Venice or, and then you find your way through medicinal. And then you find your way through, obviously to, to Britain and, uh, whisky and gin and blah, blah, blah, and then taken around the world. So do we think that in Asia, we're talking about, uh, a separate kind of big bang. They, they had their own, you know, distillers they had? Or do we think this is part of trade? I, I'd love to know how the notion of distilling kind of went east.


DW:

Well, you know, so would I.


[Laughter]


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

The problem is nobody's ever written a comprehensive history of distilling in Asia. I mean, that's the really difficult task, for one thing. You need to know a lot of languages. You probably need a team working on it. Uh, you need to, you need archeologists involved. Uh, the most recent good history of it, uh, came out early last year by Hyunhee Park. And she, she wrote this lovely history of, of Soju in Korea. But it, it goes into China and, uh, Asian distilling, distilling in general, but North Asia. There's nothing really comparable for South Asia.


SM:

Oh.


DW:

There's also Joseph Needham’s, uh, uh, uh, “Science and Civilization in China.” And he's got, uh, two, two volumes that deal, uh, in part with distillation in that series. Uh, you know, the last, the last one is posthumous. It came out in, uh, maybe 20 years ago. Uh, and, uh, unfortunately those also just really mostly stick to China and, and, and parts north. And nobody has, that I know of, has done anything comparable for India.

In India, when the Portuguese got there in 1498, they found distillation everywhere. Uh, there is in south, south, uh, India was making palm spirit. They were making cashew spirit, which we might talk about at some point. Uh, they were making cane spirit in Bengal in the north. In the Northeast, you know, there, and their detailed description of distilling from the, from the late 1500s of, uh, cane spirit distilling there. And that's, uh, 80 years before they were making anything in Barbados or. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . or so, so, you know, and it's, it's detailed and, and, uh, it's definitely strong cane spirit was being made. And, uh, this is, this stuff should be col. . . common knowledge. But it isn't. Uh, because again, there's no compelling, uh, comprehensive history of distillation in Asia. I think it was probably a soft bang. You know, it's, it spread slowly. Uh, but it did it spread, uh, all over. There's so many trade networks in Asia.


SM:

Yes.


DW:

Uh, Asia was the richest part of, of, of, of, of the, of the human earth, you know, by far. India was the, was a bigger economy than all of Europe. Uh, when, when the Portuguese got there. The economy there was just stupendous. And rich. And there was a big spirits trade across the, uh, the, uh, Indian Ocean, uh, between Siam and, uh, you know, uh, with modern Thailand and, and Burma and South India. There, there was a, there was, uh, a lot of palm spirit was being shipped back and forth, and up north, uh, cane spirit was getting around. And then, uh, in the South China Sea, there was a big spirits trade. There was a lot of, uh, spirits trade between the Philippines and South China and, uh, and between the Philippines and Indonesia. And you know, and it goes on and on. Between China and Indonesia rather. And, and it goes on and on. And, uh, just a vast, uh, array of spirits being made that, uh, we know from European travelers. Uh, the original sources have, as far as I know, nobody has gone through and compiled, uh, the, the, the, uh, you know, the, the, the local sources. It's mostly European travelers accounts we have.


SM:

What I love about this is it brings into, uh, accounts, something that I talked about when I talked about the spice trails, and when I talked about this. And we think of it again as being east coming to west. And we forget that a lot of things were going west to east as well. And this spice trade and all. . . . And so that these were incredibly sophisticated trading patterns that have been going on from, you know, before the, you know, the BCs, as it were, the BCEs.


DW:

Oh, yeah.


SM:

Incredible. . .


DW:

The Greeks and Romans had all kinds of stuff from China, you know. . .


[Laughter]


SM:

And pepper. I still remember in Rome. . .


DW:

Yeah.


SM:

. . . they had the Pepporium where they would keep pepper, that they would bring in from Sri Lanka. And it was the, the, one of the five great, uh, luxuries of Rome. And they. . . . It was so expensive and they would bring it in from Sri Lanka.


Let's talk about, um, how we've talked about, obviously these as drinks. Um, and I always think about spirits going through a kind of process in the west, which I think they did being used as beauty. Then being used as medicinal. Then people going, ooh, this tastes nice. And it becoming, you know, used by King John when he played poker. Or when he was drinking a, a form of whisky or whatever, all of these things going on. Is that similar there in Asia? Or is it pretty much they’re making this and going, kind of like this, I'm gonna start drinking it.


DW:

Sources are really slim. But, uh, it, in the, the parts I've seen it, it seems like in China, it started medicinally as well. Uh, and, but, and quickly became recreational and became part of drinking culture. I mean, I think it's, it's, it's pretty universal. At first, it's experimental and expensive as hell because people are figuring it out and figuring out how to do it economically. And, uh, because it's actually effective medicine compared to so many medicines, they were traditional. Uh, you know, it's an effective pain reliever. It's an effective. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . uh, although brief, soporific. It's things that, that, that so many of these other traditional medicines were really, uh, uh, relying heavily on the placebo effect, let's say.


SM:

Yes, definitely.


DW:

This, this stuff actually like, like opium, it was effective. And it did do something. So, it was at first, uh, it seems to have been medicinal and expensive. And then, uh, because it is actually very easy to distill, uh, as opposed. . . . It's very hard to make very good spirits, but to make spirit at all is not hard. Uh, it, it, uh, it, it seems to have spread, uh, pretty quickly into, into recreational. Uh, certainly by the time the Europeans got there, it was being drunk recreationally or casually, like throughout Asia. Uh, spirits were, were, were quite popular in, uh, in the, uh. . . . Magellan founded in the Philippines. Uh, the Dutch founded in, in, uh, Batavia in, in, in, uh, in, uh, Java rather. Uh, the Portuguese all over India. You know, whenever people landed there, they found spirits, uh, throughout Asia and already spread, uh, in, into like common use.


SM:

And still hugely popular. Now, I obviously, you know, I always say I'm Filipino by marriage.


DW:

Yeah.


SM:

So, I go to the Philippines whenever I can. I adore the Philippines. And, you know, they are the single biggest run drinkers, I believe, in the world by far.


DW:

Absolutely.


SM:

And gin, I believe, is certainly pretty high up on the list. They, they, they, their $2 gin that I buy sometimes when I go to the supermarket.


DW:

And that's been there for a very long time, you know, and, uh, uh, also, Lambanog, the, uh, palm spirit from, uh, from the Philippines, which, uh, some of it is, is made in, in, in the, in the very modern Asian style. That is, artificially flavored and colored and. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . and like bubble gum flavors and all kinds of wild, uh, pop culture flavors. But there's also traditional Lambanog, which is, uh, it's palm, distilled palm spirit. And that goes way back. And, uh, uh, when it's well made, which it often is, it's one of the, just cleanest, most lovely spirits. I know.


SM:

I've well, that's. . .


DW:

Yeah, go ahead.


SM:

No, I, that, well, that, I think that brings us on to. . . . Let's, let's talk about the challenge.


DW:

Okay.


SM:

So, you've, you've, you sent me five things and I have done a little bit of research, but I want this to come from you. So just tell us about the. . . . First of all, uh, you know, where they came from. Tell us about any unusual elements about their distillation. What you've done, I think, in a very nice way. So, if people listen to this and they really enjoy it. . .


DW:

Um-hm.


SM:

. . . you've done them in a, in an order of pungency, as it were, going up. . .


DW:

[Laughter]


SM:

. . . a potency, rather, going up.


DW:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.


SM:

And, uh, and so, um, I, I love that. So, let's talk about how you made this selection. And give us. . . . Here's the thing. If you’re listening to this, Eat My Globe, you have got one of the great experts on spirits and cocktails in the world. The person has written this amazing Oxford Companion telling you about these spirits. So, I suggest you do a second listen, where you get these, online, wherever you get them.


DW:

[Laughter]


SM:

And we, and I'm gonna do this, where I'm gonna have a little glass of each while you tell us about them. So why don't you start and tell us what, what you started with. A little bit about it. And what we should be looking for.


DW:

Okay, cool. Uh, that, well, it's a hell of a challenge, but I, I. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . I picked five Asian spirits, uh, that are less known in America, you know? So not Japanese whisky, for instance.


SM:

Yes.


DW:

Uh, but these, these are, these are Asian spirits in the Asian traditions and, uh. . . . Started with is Japanese Shōchū. Uh, this is a Japanese Shōchū. Uh, Akanone, uh, carrot Shōchū that's distilled from carrots.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

Uh, Shōchū is a catchall category of distillation. The, the first time, uh, not the first time, but the first time I was in Japan as a spirits writer, I went to a liquor store there in the basement of one of the huge towers that, uh, dot Tokyo. And, uh, I walked in and I did not, it was fully stocked, large liquor store. I did not recognize a single product.


SM:

Wow.


DW:

It turns out they specialized in Shōchū. None of it had English on the labels, or even the Roman alphabet. It was all Japanese products. And I could identify some by the paintings of, uh, on, on the label of what it was distilled from. Japan, uh, they distilled from anything they can. Uh, these are usually distilled to a low proof. This is, uh, 25% alcohol. So, very soft. Uh, often they use, uh, vacuum distillation, uh, there, which is a pot still that you put a vacuum pump at the end of, uh, to kind of pull the spirit through.


SM:

Oh.


DW:

And that means it boils at a lower temperature, which for delicate, uh, base materials is very useful. And so, uh, this carrot Shōchū, I'm gonna pour a little in my tasting glass here.


SM:

Now I'm getting jealous.


DW:

You know what, when you get carrots that have been sitting around a little too long and they smell, you could smell a little alcohol coming off of them?


SM:

Absolutely. They begin to ferment.


DW:

They ferment. Yeah, this is fermented carrots.


[Laughter]


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

And it smells like carrots.


[Drinking]


It's very light. It's very lightly flavored. It's not super pungent. I started at almost no pungency, but there is some carrot in there. And, uh, it's, uh, it, it, it, it's fascinating and cool and, uh, Shōchū is a very pleasant drink. That's the whole kind of the whole background for it. It's, it's meant to be drunk straight. Uh, you can drink it warm. You can drink it mostly. I think it's better cold. Personally. But, uh, it's, uh, a very subtle and, uh, and smooth and, and, and, and quite lovely. Uh, they're made from sweet potatoes, made from rice, made from barley, even made from sugar canes. So, it's. . . even ventures into the rum category. So. . .


SM:

And you could drink this through the meal?


DW:

You can drink this through the meal with your meal. You know, uh, parts of Japan are, are, are poor for making sake, is why this really caught on. They're too hot for, for, for, for making something like that. And, uh, dis. . . distillates, uh, there's a reason they spread during the age of exploration, you know, uh, globally, uh, into the parts that didn't have them like the New World and, and, uh, even spread further into Europe is because they're, uh, they keep forever, you know. And they keep in hot climates. So, uh, they're very useful.


Uh, this next one comes from a very hot climate. From Sri Lanka. And, so this is V S O A, Very Special Old Arrack.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

Palm, a palm spirit, uh, pure distilled coconut Arrack from, uh. . . . It's not made from the coconuts themselves. It's made from the stems of the, of the flowers.


SM:

Oh.


DW:

As, as the, as the, as the coconut palm puts off a flower, you cut the stem and you tie a pot to that, which means somebody has to climb all the way up that tree. And, uh, you collect the sap and, uh, it ferments instantly, on its own, spontaneously, and makes, uh, palm wine, which you then distill. It's a specialty of South India but it's also a specialty of West Africa. They used to make it in Mexico in the, uh, uh, up until certainly the 19th century. They still might make it, but I don't know. A lot of things happen in Mexico.


SM:

So, this is called, V S O A, Very Special Old Arrack, which kind of. . .


DW:

Old Arrack.


SM:

. . . almost has like a brandy link to it, I guess, in terms of the naming.


DW:

Exactly. And it's, it's, it's aged in, uh, halmilla-wood vats, which is a, I believe, it's a relative of teak. Uh, it's so. . . a local woods. You know, spirits geeks start to get really, really. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . uh, really, uh, excited when you say, well, we age it in local woods. And it, it's very low proof. It's, uh, it's 37% alcohol. Uh, so it's, it's not, it's not super strong. Uh, even 36.5, I think.


SM:

And is that color, the color that you've got there, it's, uh, just to try to explain, it's kind of a slightly darker color. Is that natural? Or is that caramel? Or is that. . . ?


DW:

There's probably some caramel in it. But there's, you know, it is, it does have some natural wood age. It's, it's light, it's pleasant, it's a little bit funky lactic, funky, you know, uh, which is, is interesting.


SM:

In terms of trying to explain this to people. Obviously, we’re audio only here. Um, how, if they had never smelled any of this before, or they'd never tasted any of this before, what would they be looking for? What would you get out of this? Because it sounds unique.


DW:

It, it is unique. It's, it, it's, uh, you'd get a little bit of a brandy thing going on. It’s not, it's not like rum really, you know. It, it, it, it, this is the great category of spirits that is not available in America and Europe, or, or is only lightly available is palm spirits. We get cane spirits. We get grain spirits. We get fruit spirits. But palm spirits go throughout the tropics and are, are very, uh, traditional. But. . . . So, it, it's kind of hard to explain because it, it's almost its own thing. But it's a little bit brandy-ish. It's a little bit woody. It's, uh, there's a little sharp kind of, uh, yogurt-y thing going on. . .


SM:

Oh.


DW:

. . . which is unique to palm spirits. Uh, it can be, uh, very strong in the nose. Uh, this is a, this is a very, very easy to drink one and a well-made one. Uh, there's a, it's a little bit sweet. Uh, palm sap is fairly neutral. Like the grapes that are used to make Cognac, for instance.


SM:

Uh-huh.


DW:

It's fairly neutral. So, it, you get a lot of the aging flavor and not, not an overpowering raw material, uh, going on in here.


SM:

And so, would this be a kind of after dinner kind of thing, or would this. . . ? Where would this. . . . How's this used, really?


DW:

Uh, you, you can sip it, uh, alongside, you know, appetizers and things like that. Uh, you can drink it after dinner. You can also make punch out of it, which, uh, was always a, a big use for that. Uh, and, uh, if, you know, if you're making punch, you're mixing it with citrus and sugar and water, and, uh, maybe grating some nutmeg on top. And it becomes very tasty, particularly if you, uh, as William Dampier suggested, fortify it with a little bit of strong brandy.


[Laughter]


SM:

[Laughter]


That sounds very. . .


DW:

He thought it was a little weak.


SM:

Well at 37%. Uh, if people haven't read David's book on “Punch,” uh, and you're interested in punch, you should definitely go and read it because I, I think that's one of the categories that got forgotten for a little while, although it seems to be coming back now, which is great.


DW:

Yeah. Thank goodness.


SM:

Yeah, I love that.


So, okay. So that was. . . . We went to Sri Lanka. Uh, so. . .


DW:

We have Sri Lankan Arrack. Now we've got, uh, Bovens Echter Arrack, a German brand, but, uh, this is Indonesian or Batavia Arrack, which was sort of a joint product of the overseas Chinese community in, in, in Java and the Dutch colonial power there. And, uh. . .


SM:

Tell us a little bit about Arrack. Because you've got Arrack from Sri Lanka with one R. Arrack’s with two R’s and I see Arrack being drunk in Turkey. I see Arrack being drunk everywhere. And yet, the truth is, I don't kind of understand the, the background and the connection between them.


DW:

Well, the problem is, the word, Arrack, is like the word, liquor.


SM:

Oh, okay.


DW:

You know, if, if you, if you tell your friends, bring a bottle of liquor with you, uh, what’s. . . it could be anything, right? Uh, some of them are gonna bring fireball flavored whiskey.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

Others are gonna bring, uh, a nice old barrel aged rum. Others are gonna bring some gin. And, and, uh, the commonality between those spirits is, is like the commonality between Arracks. Arrack is the, you know, it's the Arabic word for spirit. And, uh, it could be anything.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

It could be distilled from Kumiss from, from, from fermented mare’s milk. It could be distilled from, uh, from palm sap, as we saw. It could be distilled from grapes or dates, and then flavored with anise as in, uh, uh, Lebanon, uh, and, and, and the Near East. It, it, it, it, it really could be anything. But the, uh, the stuff from Indonesia that the Dutch shipped back to, uh, Europe was the world's first, uh, transcontinental luxury spirit. And, uh, it was the most expensive spirit available in Europe in the 18th century.


SM:

Huh.


DW:

Uh, uh, because it was well known as a quality spirit, and it had to come from a very long way away. And it made, made the best punch.


SM:

I have to just throw a. . . throw in here, I have drunk the Arrack from Mongolia when I was in Mongolia. It’s, uh. . .


DW:

[Laughter]


SM:

. . . fairly frightening stuff.


DW:

It is, it is. Uh, I tasted it in, uh Kyrgyzstan. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . and, uh, it's, it's, uh, it, it fortifies you.


[Cross Talk]


SM:

So, tell us about this one.


DW:

Batavia Arrack is made, uh, these days from molasses with a little bit of Chinese fermentation starter. A little bit of red rice. Like, uh, Koji style fermentation starter. Uh, in the 17th century, when it started, uh, the Chinese were making a spirit with those red rice cakes and palm wine, and they were distilling that. Then, the Dutch and the, and the Chinese put together a sugar industry in Java. And sugar industry threw off all kinds of molasses. And the Dutch, or the Chinese came up, we don't know, came up with the suggestion of putting that molasses in there to supercharge the fermentation.


SM:

Wow.


DW:

This idea later, uh, arrived in the Caribbean when they started putting molasses in with cane juice, uh, for rum. But, uh, it, it really seems to have started in, in Java. And, uh, the molasses made for a very funky spirit.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

And this is a funky cane spirit these days with, uh, extra weirdness, because it uses, uh, ambient yeasts that are not of the saccharomyces, uh, strain. There are different one, there's a, uh, uh, uh, zygosaccharomyces that, uh, behaves differently. It, uh, breeds differently. It, uh, it splits in half instead of budding, there's all kinds of weird behavior, and it brings in all kinds of other flavors. And you end up with an incredibly pungent spirit that you can mix anything with it, and you'll still taste the spirit.


SM:

Let's. . . Can I see the color of it? I haven't, I, I just. . . .


DW:

Yeah, it's very lightly aged in teak wood vats. Uh. . .


SM:

It's so. . . . It is. It's almost. . . I hate to use the term, but it's almost kind of pale urine-y. . . .


DW:

Exactly or straw color. You could say.


SM:

Straw. Let's say straw colored. . .


DW:

. . . rather be diplomatic.


SM:

. . . rather than bringing urine into it.


[Laughter]


Uh, particularly at my age.


DW:

It's, it’s phenomenally tasty. If you. . . . But it's also a shock.


[Laughter]


If you, if you like this kind of thing, this is the thing you're gonna like. If you like funky rums and, uh. . .


SM:

Which I do.


DW:

And, uh, just wild, you know, wild amounts of, of esters in there. I’m saving this. This is a, a rare bottle. Uh, uh, it all goes, the trade all goes through, uh, the one company in the Netherlands these days. Uh, then that’s the, that’s the remains of this, uh, Dutch Arrack trade, uh, that had. . . goes back to the early 17th century. So, it's, it's very old, it's a very old trade. And, uh, it really, uh, is fascinating. It is one of the most pungent spirits, but I've got two more that are even more pungent.


SM:

Well, let's, before we go on to take, uh, talk about the next one, uh, just touch on again, that trade to the Dutch. So, this was. . . . This, you were getting somewhere coming from Java, coming into, uh, Holland. Coming into Germany.


DW:

Yeah.


SM:

Coming in. . . . I mean, that, and then the fact that this was the most expensive spirit in the 1800s, or which part of the 1800s?


DW:

In the 1700s really. Uh, more. Uh, the trade began faltering after the Napoleonic Wars and, uh, or during them, and, you know, because of naval blockades and so on and so forth. But it was still, it was still around, uh, uh. . . . kept it, resold it. And in England, this was, uh, the prince of spirits for making punch. Rack punch was what the, uh, society for steaks in the, in the Regency period, the, uh, private club that had 25 members, one of them was the Prince of Wales and all they drank was port and rack punch.


SM:

Wow.


DW:

Arrack was, is the English short. . . . Like, you know, England shortens every spirit name.


SM:

[Laughter]


Yes.


DW:

So, uh, rumbullion because rum. Uh, brandywine wine becomes brandy. Uh, uh, genever becomes gin. And Arrack becomes rack.


[Laughter]


And so, uh, rack punch was, was just the connoisseurs punch. It was the funkiest, the strongest, uh, the wildest punch there was. And, uh, and this is what, what the real rakehells drink.


SM:

So, if we want to go and do a little bit of historical recreation, we need to go and get some of this, and then we can make some. . .


DW:

And fortunately this is available in, in, in, uh, uh, America and, you know, and in Europe, uh, through the, uh, good offices of, in America, through the good offices of my friend, Eric Seed at his importing company. Haus Alpenz.


SM:

Well, we could. . . . We'll definitely talk about that at the end because I'd love to. . .


DW:

Yeah.


SM:

. . . give people some ideas about how they can find all of these, ‘cause I know people will want to try them.

So, let's go onto to number four, because now. . .


DW:

[Laughter]


SM:

. . . looking at this, I, I believe this is actually the biggest selling spirit in the world, isn't it?


DW:

Oh, it is.


SM:

Yeah.


DW:

Almost, uh, very, very little appreciated or drunk in America, but, uh, in China, uh, Baijiu is. . . . Well, Baijiu is another name like liquor. All it means is white wine. And wine, uh, as it did in Europe until the 1600s, uh, could mean spirit. It could mean wine. It was anything, really, anything that wasn't beer.


SM:

Ah.


DW:

So, this is, uh, this white wine is, uh, comes off, uh, it's bottled at around 53% alcohol usually. So, it's strong.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

106 proof. Uh, it's incredibly pungent. The Chinese don't sit around nosing spirits out of, uh, tulip shaped glasses. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . and commenting on the aroma. Uh, that is very un-Chinese. What they do is drink endless toasts in little tiny. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . [inaudible] around glasses, uh, and it's, uh, fruity. Mushroom-y. Yeasty. It's yes. Is that aroma in there? Yes. Does it matter what that aroma is? No.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

It's all in there. It's, it's designed, uh, to produce maximum aroma. It, it's, uh, Western spirits are kind of narrow spectrum. We're trying to emphasize this. Baijiu says, why choose? Or at least the strong, the, the, the funky kinds of Baijiu. There are some much more neutral ones. Uh, there, like, like, like liquor, there are different genres.


SM:

I, I always think that when I talk, when I've had it, and when I talk with, uh, Chinese drinkers of it, they don't see it as something like we often do with drinks. We kind of fetishize, particularly, we see this with bourbon right now.


DW:

Yeah.


SM:

They see this as a functional drink. It's there to do a purpose.


DW:

Yeah.


SM:

Uh, uh, and, and I love that about it.


DW:

And it, it's, it's truly one of the world's great spirits. For Westerners, it's truly an acquired taste. You know, you really, you need to acquire it. Uh, you, you have to sort of, uh, let yourself relax and, and, and, and let. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . the pathways in your nose open. You know, because, uh, I used to teach, uh, uh. . . . One of the courses I used to teach, we did, uh, a lot of spirits tasting and we poured, uh, uh, Baijiu as one of the spirits. We had to put, uh, little spits of Saran wrap over each tasting glass so that, uh, you could smell all the other spirits in the tasting.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

And then only remove these when, when, when, when you're at the end, because otherwise it will completely fill the room. It's so aromatic and so pungent and thick and rich and funky. Uh, it it's quite wild.


SM:

I'm gonna have to, and this, you, uh, I know we'll talk about where you can find this, but this, I think this is one that everyone should give a try, when you're having a spirit, this is the one that always says it to me. You, when you smell it, when you taste, you know exactly where you are.


DW:

Uh, oh, absolutely. It's, uh, it's, I, I mean, it's the soul of China. It really is. And, uh, it's very fun to drink in the traditional fashion. It's very expensive. But if you can get a bottle of the good sauce aroma or strong aroma type, those are the two funky kinds and bring it to your next, really good Chinese meal. Or if they have it, uh, on sale at the, at the restaurant, uh, it, it really does enhance the meal and it's fun as hell.


SM:

Oh.


[Laughter]


Which is what this should all be about. Now I'm gonna have to hold my hand up here because your next one is something I got into. . . .


DW:

[Laughter]


SM:

I got into a lot of trouble about, because I, I did an article and I have to admit it was a click bait article for Ask Men many years ago. . .


DW:

Um-hm.


SM:

. . . where I talked about some of the worst things, worst drinks in the world. And I put, and I put your next drink in there. Cashew Feni. Because I'd had some really bad stuff. And I wrote about it and I actually got letters from like the chamber of commerce in. . .


DW:

Oh, I bet you did.


SM:

. . . I got, I got groups of like people writing to me, not quite death threats, but certainly threatening me. And, and it was because I'd had some bad stuff and I was looking for button pushing. I'm not gonna lie. This is many years ago. Uh, but I've had better since. So, tell us what you've got for your last drink before we move on to. . .


DW:

[Laughter]


I've, I've got two, two different brands of Cashew Feni. I've got the sort of modernize, uh Cazcar Feni and the completely old school PVV Goa Cashew Feni. These are both from Goa. Uh, they're made from the, the cashew fruit. The cashew nuts that we, that we eat are hang off the bottom of the fruit. So, these do not taste like cashew in any way. They do not taste like cashew nuts. Uh, these are, are some of the. . . . These are the most pungent spirits I know. Uh, they're. . . . Baijiu on steroids in terms of. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . pungency because they're, they're, they're funky pot stilled, you know, natural yeast, fermented, uh, village made spirits, basically. Uh, and, uh, they are not holding anything back. I'm gonna pour. . . . I might as well go to the, to the, the belly of the beast here and pour some of the PVV. Now, I've learned not to say worst because, uh, you smell it. You could say, okay, this smells like cream and sour milk. Uh, it smells like, uh, sandal wood. It smells like, it's one of those things. Every time you go in, you get something different. But it's, it's more focused than the Baijiu. It's, it's a narrower spectrum. It's, it's definitely a fruit spirit, but it's very, very intensely funky.


SM:

Yes, it is. Yes it is.


DW:

And, and, you know, a little bit sweaty more than a little bit sweaty and. . . . But spirits like that, I mean, I remember when tequila was, was talked about like that. And people in Amer. . . . by Americans and we learned to drink tequila. You know, tequila, if you're not prepared is, is quite a lot. Uh, mezcal is quite a lot, but we've learned to love it. And, uh, this, I can't see why it wouldn't happen with this. But it takes a lot of exposure and it takes, you know, figuring out what to do with it.


SM:

And I think the very, yeah, the very first time I tried Feni, it was, I have no idea where it came from. I don’t. . . . never saw the bottle. I never saw. . . . It was, it was an experience. Uh, but, I've had better since. . . .


DW:

It’s definitely an experience. I kinda like it better this time than the last time I tried it.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

I think I’ve had a lot more, uh, uh, practice with funky spirits. It’s very. . . . On the palate it's sweet and fruity, but not, uh, tropical fruity, you know. It's, it's not that, that heavy, comforting fruitiness. It's, it's got fruity plus other things going on. And, uh, it's actually quite clean. The old school one is, is, is in a way cleaner than the newer. Uh, so it's, uh, it's fascinating. Uh, uh, uh, a friend of mine from, uh, from, from South India brought these back for me. So, uh, uh, that was, that was very kind.


SM:

Next time. I'm in, uh, India. And I obviously I try and go when I can, just because, you know, kind of half my homeland, I'll have to go and get some and maybe bring some back.

Um, now that, that was fascinating and I hope people will go and try some of these. And I really appreciate you making the choices.


If they did want to try them. Uh, where's the best way for them to look for them online or are there stores? I know I mentioned, uh, to you earlier that a store in London that I love, that's been there forever, Jimmy's, where you could go in and find just about everything in there in that kind of crazy place. But do you find these online or in stores?


DW:

Well, uh, some of these are available in stores. Baijiu is available in stores. Thank God. Uh, you know, there's a big Chinese community in America, and, uh, and, uh, they. . . . It is distributed and available. Um, Batavia Arrack is available widely, uh, through Haus Alpenz, the, uh, the importer and, uh, brand creator for Batavia Arrack van Oosten, which is, uh, bottled at a, at a still hefty 50% ABV. . .


SM:

Wow.


DW:

. . . and makes a phenomenal bowl of punch. Uh, Shōchū available. And starting to get a big push in, in, uh. . . . People are starting to pay attention to it, partly because it's generally very low, ABV for a spirit, and people are finding new appreciation for such things.


SM:

Absolutely.


DW:

Uh, I, on the other hand, appreciate Baijiu because it's high ABV.


[Laughter]


SM:

[Laughter]


In small amounts.


DW:

Yeah. Small amounts, exactly. Many, many small amounts. Uh, Feni is a tough one. I don't know anybody who's exporting it or importing it into, uh, America. And I don't know about, uh, the UK. Uh, it's, that's, that one good luck.


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

Uh, coconut spirits kind of go in between. It's not available in many states in America. It's available in others. It's always hard to find. Uh, you might have to, to get that online. You might have to call around a lot or, uh, track it down. Uh, coconut Arrack, or Lambanog from the Philippines. Uh, there was a great Lambanog available in New York many years ago because, uh, uh, a restaurateur brought it in. Uh, but that has faded since, and I haven't seen it in a long time and it's a shame.


SM:

So, people have to go out and do a bit of work, but it's definitely worth it for these.


Now, before we move on. And we always love to finish, kind of, Eat My Globe “a,” with some fun questions for you, uh, and then obviously giving you chance to give all of your Twitter and your inter. . . Instagram and all of those things. Um, what's, what's next for you because you, you must have a million calls on your time.


DW:

Well. . .


SM:

People wanting you to be part of what they're doing.


DW:

Right now, I'm, uh, writing the, uh, comic book story of the cocktail.


SM:

Wow.


DW:

So, you know, there's a series of comic book, history book, you know, kind of graphic novel histories in. . . and I'm writing the cocktails, uh, installment in that, which has, uh, been a real challenge and fun and, uh, something entirely different. And, uh, and, uh, a very cool little project for me and I'm enjoying the hell out of it. Uh, so that's, that's neat. Um, you know, hopefully that'll be done, uh, later this spring, uh, and, uh, or, or soon after, and, uh, and, uh, come out, uh, in due course. But that's a, that's just a fun project and a, and a chance to kind of reach a new audience. So, I like that. Uh, and, uh, I've got some other stuff that's in the works that I'm waiting for them to announce. So, you know, a new, uh, a new gig. I just, uh, sadly left my gig at The Daily Beast that I'd done for, uh, for four. . . longer than four years, five years plus. And, uh, that was, uh, that was very fun, but, uh, you know, everything, everything changes in this world.


SM:

Oh, no, it constantly. . . .


BREAK MUSIC


SM:

Hi everybody, this is Simon Majumdar, the creator and host of the Eat My Globe food history podcast. Now, those of you have been listening to the podcast since we began over two years ago – nearly 50 episodes so far – will know that we have never sought out sponsorship for the podcast. It’s very much been a labor of love. However, along the way, a large number of people have approached us suggesting they would like to support the podcast. And so, we have opened up a page on Patreon dot com to allow those of you who listen regularly to do just that. Any support we will get will allow us to purchase research materials, buy ingredients for recipes, and maybe, when we can get out and about, to bring you some very special in-the-field reporting. But, and this is really important. This is not just a one-way street. For varying levels of membership of our Patreon club, there will be access to fantastic Eat My Globe swag, including that incredible chopping board so many of you have written to me about, recipes based on historical periods about which we chat each week, video shout outs, signed pictures, and even along the way, some very special episodes just for members. So, if you’ve enjoyed the episodes of Eat My Globe you’ve listened to so far, and would like us to make many more into the future, do head over to www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe and consider taking out a membership. Any support will be much appreciated. Remember, that’s www dot Patreon dot com slash Eat My Globe. So, thank you very much, and keep listening.


SM:

Okay. So let, we're gonna ask some fun questions. Are you up for these?


DW:

Okay. Good.


SM:

So, these fun questions are. . . So, we. . . what we'd like to do is just throw these simple questions that you would see what your response is.


So, question number one, if there was any period in time where you could return to experience a meal, a style of meal, a drink, or a cocktail, what would it be?


DW:

Oh, that's. . .


[Laughter]


You know, it, it would probably be like New York in the 1840s to stand at one of these, uh, early American bars where they, they've finally gotten it down. And, and they did everything with incredible style. And to, to just, uh, watch these, these, these bartenders, uh, uh, and if not New York, I would go down to Virginia and see some of the great African American bartenders who were, who were put, putting in incredible work, like, uh, with, with fancy Mint Juleps and, uh, and, and, and, and just showing off, uh, wild bartending chops. And, uh, you know, that, that would just be so fun for me, just, just to, to see the, the, the genesis of the art. Uh, I have to say, I mean, I would also love to see ancient Rome. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . but, uh, but, uh, I, I think it would be more sanitary in America slightly.


SM:

Yeah. You might, you might survive a little longer.


[Laughter]


DW:

Maybe not.


SM:

Yeah. Well. . . .


DW:

Considering what I'd be drinking.


SM:

[Laughter]


Yeah. I know it reminds me of a weekend at Tales of the Cocktail or something.


DW:

[Laughter]


SM:

I always have to always have to take a little bit of time to recover.


DW:

Yeah, it does take time.


SM:

Yeah. Definitely to dry out.


So, if, if someone was to make a bloody blah, David Wondrich, what would that dish be? Or what drink would it be?


DW:

Well, it would, it would be the drink that's known as the improved Holland gin cocktail, which is sort of the New York version of the sazerac. It's, uh. . .


SM:

Ooh.


DW:

It's, genever like a good pot still, like all malt genever. Uh, I like to use the old Duff, uh, brand, which my friend, uh, Philip Duff has launched, uh, quixotically to take on the spirits world. Uh, so a Dutch genever with a spoonful of rich sugar syrup, of thick sugar syrup. Uh, a spoonful of Curaçao or Maraschino, you know, some liqueur in there. Uh, some good old-fashioned bitters like Boker’s bitter type. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . or Peychaud’s bitters, or any of those. And, uh, a dash, just the one dash, from a dash or bottle of absinthe.


SM:

Ooh.


DW:

And, uh, stir it up. Strain it into a cocktail glass and twist lemon peel over the top. I mean, that is, that is just, that is, that is my jam right there.


SM:

Oh, wow. Just even the thought of that just sounds fantastic.


DW:

Oh, it, it, it's a little ice dew drop, you know?


SM:

Oh.


DW:

You only, it's a, it's a short drink, like two ounces of booze and some splashes of this and that. But, oh my goodness. Uh, just thinking about it, uh, sends me into paroxysm of anticipation.


[Laughter]


SM:

[Laughter]


Oh gosh. Okay. Well, that's definitely something I'm gonna go.  Maybe I should get the recipe from you. And I could share that.


DW:

Absolutely.


I, I, I, I will, I will, I will send it along.


SM:

Oh, fantastic.


Now, as finally, for the fun questions anyway, uh, I'm sure you've seen, you know, dozens of inventions. You mentioned things about squeezes and juices and all kinds of things that you've seen, uh, before.


What do you think. . . particularly in your industry, is the single greatest invention in kind of food and beverage? And we've had so many different suggestions for this.


DW:

Oh. Well, I would say it's the pot still. Hands down. And, you know, an invention so old, we have no idea who invented it. An invention so Protean that you can make it out of wood. You can make it out of clay. You can make it out of copper. You can make it out of anything. Uh, you can make any kind of spirit with it. Uh, you can improvise it out of just about anything and it's, it takes that stuff that, uh, you made a lot. . . too much of to drink in one sitting and it's gonna go bad, and it makes it keep forever. So, uh, it's the greatest thing there is. The greatest preservative known to mankind.


SM:

I think that's the perfect answer.


Um, so before we let you go, um, this has, first of all, this has just been a delight. I knew it would be.


DW:

Oh, for me, as well. I mean, c’mon.


SM:

Uh, I, this is just, just quite frankly, even if nobody ever listens to this, I. . . they will. . . it's just been a delight to talk to you. And I love the book.


If people want to follow you on Instagram, Twitter, or wherever they can find you and they want to buy the book, let me mention it again. And we'll take a picture after we finish, uh, “The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails,” which is edited by you with, uh, Noah, uh, did an incredible job. It, for me, this is a, an absolute must, must, must have in your, in your food and drink library. If you are interested at all in keeping, you know, collections, uh, you've got to get a copy.


So, tell me how people can find you.


DW:

Uh, well, I, I'll make it easy. I'm only on Twitter.


SM:

Okay.


DW:

At David Wondrich [Ed. Note: @DavidWondrich] on Twitter. So easy. Uh, I, I tend to answer people if they ask me questions, uh, if I know the answer and, and, uh, if I don't, I'll try to tell you that. Um, I post amusing things when I find them and, uh, uh, and, uh, retro, this is and that. So.


SM:

David, um, this is, has been as I said an absolute delight.


DW:

Um, oh, for me as well, Simon, this was, this was great. Thank you so much for having me on here and, uh, uh, for, for, uh, coming up with such great questions. . .


SM:

[Laughter]


DW:

. . . and I love the challenge, you know, it got me a, uh, I got a chance to, to, uh, take stuff down from that shelf.


[Laughter]


You know, that there's the one where, where, where I keep the stuff that's, that that's hard to find and, uh. . .


SM:

Hidden, hidden up there in the corner. . .


So, David, again, thank you so much. This has been a complete joy, really recommending everybody, go out and get “The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails,” just already one of my go-to books. So, David, thank you very much.


DW:

Thank you.


OUTRO MUSIC


SM:

Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode, along with all the references and resources we used putting the episodes together, in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There is also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.


And, if you like what you hear, please don’t forget to subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us a good rating on your favorite podcast provider. That really makes a difference.

Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar, and we’ll speak to you soon on the next episode of EAT MY GLOBE, a podcast about things you didn’t know you didn’t know about food.


CREDITS

The EAT MY GLOBE Podcast is a production of “It’s Not Much But It’s Ours” and “Producer Girl Productions”


[Pa pa pa pa pa sound]


and is created with the kind co-operation of the UCLA Department of History. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Doctor Tawny Paul, Public History Initiative Director, for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which can be found on the website.

Published Date: May 23, 2022

Updated: June 20, 2022

For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.