Tag - review

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Book Review: The Bar Book, by Jeffrey Morganthaler
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Bar Review: Rye in Louisville
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Bar Review: Liberty in Seattle, WA
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Gin-sperimentation: Caorunn Scottish Gin
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Aloha, Tiki Month….
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Tiki Podcasts

Book Review: The Bar Book, by Jeffrey Morganthaler

The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique, by Jeffrey Morganthaler
Jeff Morganthaler is one of my favorite people in the cocktail industry. This isn’t surprising, since the Morganthler is among the favorite people of most everybody in this line of work. Aside from running the bar at Clyde Common, an iconic bar in one of the world’s iconic cocktail cities, he is one of the most quoted and profiled bartenders anywhere. Jeff also wrote one of the first, and still most respected, cocktail blogs out there, and while he doesn’t update it as much as he used to, many of his posts remain standard references for professional and amateur mixers years after their publication.

Now he has written his first book, and like everything else he sets his mind to, it is a true winner. The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique is a pretty unique book in a number of ways, all of them good.
I divide cocktail books into two general types: References, and Reads. References are books filled with discrete, useful ideas that you grab when you need to refresh yourself on something specific you are working on, usually recipes. Reads are books you can relax with in a comfy patio chair while you toss back a Gin Rickey on a lazy weekend afternoon. The Bar Book is that very rare cat that is both of these.

More importantly, The Bar Book manages to break new ground in its central subject matter: technique. Morganthaler assembles an exhaustive A to Z of what it takes to actually make a great drink. The first half of the book focuses on the selection, care, and handling of the for the most part non-alcoholic ingredients that make or break most great drinks. He starts with citrus and other fruits; how to purchase, handle, and juice them to get the most, best out of them. In covering carbonation and carbonated mixers, Jeff combines some interesting historical reflection on “mixers” with detailed how-tos for things like his signature ginger beer and tonic syrup. He moves on to simple syrups, examining the different types of sugar, their flavors and textures, and how they each effect a drink. How many times do you see a recipe that calls for demerara simple, or honey syrup, with no explanation for why it was chosen? Building on that is a great chapter on more advanced syrups such as the borderline molecular mixological gomme syrup, and all manner of herb and fruit concoctions.

An author could probably do a three volume set on the production of bitters and tinctures, but the chapter here gives a clear and detailed enough outline of the basics to enable anyone with the creative culinary chops to produce anything worthwhile more than enough to go on. The chapters on measuring, dairy and eggs, and ice all seem like insanely simple subjects, but mess any of them up and your product will fail.

The twenty pages on shaking and stirring are hugely entertaining and if you disagree with the slightest detail therein… you are wrong.

There is a huge and fun section on all the sort of tools and techniques where a lot of the fun in making drinks, and watching them be made, come in. Jeff’s discussion of things like muddlers, swizzles (the real kind), and especially fire as cocktail tools is going to fascinate, whether you are a newbie or an old pro.

The final chapter is fittingly on the garnish. He combines his discussion of with some evangelization for the subject of garnish. It is true that too many bartenders, even higher end pros and crafty amateurs (like me on occasion), view the garnish as an afterthought to be omitted when one can get away with it. To this, Morganthaler replies,

Although I applaud the modernist, minimal approach in the right situation, there is a time and place for everything. And when it comes to garnishing, the time is often, and the place is in your drink.

In my liver-ruiningly comprehensive experience, good garnishes make you happy, bad garnishes make you sad, and no garnish makes you bored. No one making a drink for anyone, even themselves, should be in the business of making the recipient sad or bored.

Throughout, The Bar Book is filled with beautiful photographs that are much more than just drinkporn, but essential elements of the instruction, often filling in details that would have been very hard to otherwise describe. Jeff told me and a few of Columbus’s best at a meeting of our book club that it took eight straight 12-14 hour days to do all the pictures for this book, and that time and effort shows through. Indeed, my only real complaint with the entire book was that there weren’t more pictures in a few places. And while it is in no way a recipe book, there are a bunch of recipes throughout, each one designed and placed to illustrate an ingredient or technique or concept that was just discussed. Drinking your way through The Bar Book over the course of a couple of weeks would make an excellent final exam, a test of how well you’ve absorbed the knowledge therein.

For a hundred years, no major cocktail book has given much more than a perfunctory nod to the bedrock, essential skills, tools, and techniques a person must possess to properly construct all the marvelous recipes that are being created or rediscovered in modern days. Detailed treatment of technique in the preparation of food has always been an essential part of cookbooks and culinary texts. As cocktails gain more and more respect as a culinary art, this kind of book is well past due. What took you so long, Jeff?

Current and aspiring professionals who would like to be able to work in the high craft end of the bar industry will need virtually every piece of knowledge in The Bar Book at some point in their careers. Buying it, reading it, absorbing it, and at least making a start at proficiency with many of the skills taught in it will put you head and shoulders ahead of competing applicants. And please also understand, even if your bartending aspirations are just rocking away Saturday nights behind the stick at Applebee’s while you complete your degree, there is plenty here to help in that environment as well.

And while the Bar Book is primarily aimed at working bartenders, I think it deserves prime shelf space on the shelf of any amateur mixer who aspires to make great drinks as well.

The Bar Book is currently available from Amazon for about twenty one bucks, or thirteen in Kindle format. If I were you, I’d get it in hardcover. This is a seminal cocktail work, and is going to be a standard reference for the craft and general cocktail industry for years, and probably decades to come.

Bar Review: Rye in Louisville

VISUAL | RYE
The good photos in this post can be found larger on Rye’s site.

Rye is a restaurant and bar located in Louisville, Kentucky, and while I am sure I’m not revealing any secrets to residents, people who visit Louisville should keep in mind that the corner of Market and Campbell is an outstanding location to both eat and drink.

Rye occupies a narrow, renovated, brick two-story with an attractive patio and extensive kitchen garden outside. They have their own parking, though I have no idea how sufficient it is, as our visit was late on a Sunday evening. The main floor is split into two fairly equal parts, the dining area and the bar. The barroom is huge, with high ceilings and lots of open floor space. The bar itself is a massive, light-colored, wooden surface with very heavy iron and wood stools that provide seating for 6-8 guests at each end of the bar, with a wide standing area in the center. I really like this design element in a bar as this stretch provides patrons access to the bartenders when the place is packed. The rest of the room is fairly open, with the length of the opposite wall lined with standing height shelf-tables, complete with more stools. There is plenty of light as well. The overall feel possesses that vaguely 20′s vibe that seems so de rigeur of craft bar/restaurants these days, but completely avoids the twee bits which send such decor over the edge in many instances.

We ate at the bar, and I will start with the food. To be honest, I was really paying attention only to the drinks when we arrived, so the extraordinary quality of the food caught us pleasantly off-guard. The “Coulotte Steak” was a perfect medium rare, no ordinary feat in itself for such a thick cut. And while I must admit to usually viewing any significant sauces on my beef as distractingly gilding the umami, the gorgeous one offered here complimented the meat both to the eye and to the tongue.

The triple-cooked fries we shared were exactly what french fires are supposed to look and taste like. I think we may have been the last customers of the night, and the kitchen had already started to break down the fryer when we came in and ordered. Instead of saying it was too late for the fries, or some other excuse, they set it back up and got us our deliciousness. This is called a desire to take care of the customer….

The real highlight however was the Berskshire Pork Chop my wife had. Delicious, but what struck me was that it was every bit as moist and tender as my steak. That is something you just don’t see with modern pigs. I understand that Rye buys their pigs whole and cuts them on site, so our chops had likely still been part of a whole pig that morning.

Rye Pig
They do other interesting things with pig, too.

All in all, chef William Morris knows what he’s doing, as you can see from all the time I’ve spent on the food in a bar review.

Our bartender was Ben Greer, and he took great care of us, even when I lingered over dinner on a Sunday night where he might otherwise have gotten home at a reasonable hour. Thanks, Ben.

The back bar at Rye is not one of those showy craft bar walls with the bewildering floor to ceiling selection of bottles you will never get around to trying. It being Kentucky, they simply spread out their excellent, sizable collection of whiskeys all the way down the back shelf. It didn’t surprise me that they had a truly impressive selection of ryes, in addition to all those lovely bourbons. The rest of their more than sufficient inventory is tucked away, leaving a neat, uncluttered arena.
Rye Backbar
The cocktail menu holds two pages of a variety of originals, as well as a page of suggested classics. The offerings tend toward the strong and aromatic, but there are enough lighter efforts to keep any responsible drinker happy. Among the real standouts is their Santa Anita, which is made with Cerrano-infused tequila, a bouquet of citruses and cilantro, and Hellfire Bitters. We were warned it was spicy, and it was. But lordy was it delicious, and seriously refreshing, too. Even if you aren’t usually a fan of spicy cocktails, I recommend giving this one a try.

Of course, you also learn a lot about a bar staff by going off the menu, and the slightly modified Whiskey Sour, complete with Peychaud’s-garished froth, was just as delicious.

Rye features fresh juices and house-made syrups, of course, but these days that could just mean the kitchen boils up some simple every Thursday. Not here. Any time I can have a fifteen minute conversation on the making and application of bar syrups, I a) am in cocktail geek heaven, and b) can tell there is going to be all manner of clever and interesting flavor offerings for the clientele. (Beyond those I personally sampled, that is)

To wrap up, I’ll come back to where I started. If you live in Louisville and haven’t tried Rye, why on Earth are you waiting for me to tell you to get down there? And if you plan to visit Louisville, I don’t think you’ll go wrong making an evening of it at Rye. They’re on Open Table, so set up your date. They are also on Twitter @RyeOnMarket, and their feed is active and full of information and good pictures.

Oh, and a quick thank you and shout out to Lindsey Johnson (@LiveTheLushLife on Twitter), who sent me to Rye, and who has been a wealth of knowledge about all sorts of places to perch, in Louisville and elsewhere.

Bar Review: Liberty in Seattle, WA


I had a chance to visit Seattle this Summer with my family. Since we had the kids with us, I didn’t get a chance to do a real detailed exploration of this, one of America’s premier cocktail towns, but I made sure to have enough time to hit a few highlights, and to get a feel for the general cocktail environment in town.

For a variety of reasons, I will lead with a review of Liberty, at 517 15th Ave. E. (@LibertyLovesYou on Twitter) Liberty is the love child of cocktail warriors Andrew Friedman and Keith Waldbauer. Andrew started Liberty in 2006, with Keith joining him later, so that makes this a very well-established and long-lived high-end bar. I’ve known, or at least “internet known”, Keith since I started blogging, as his now fallow Moving at the Speed of Life was one of the first cocktail blogs I read and among the first such blogs written by a working pro.

Liberty and its owners take great care to characterize it as “just a neighborhood bar”, rather than some Fancy Dan Craft Bar.
This is a load of bull fritters.
I insist that this is a fabulous, high-end bar. From the back wall (pictured above) full of a head-spinning array of ingredients headlined by a magnificent but not over the top selection of whisk(e)ys, to the menu filled with a great selection of classics and modern creations, to each and every drink that I saw placed before me or any other customer, Liberty is a cocktail lover’s dream. This is place with drinks like the Point of No Return, which simply lists fire among its ingredients. (If you visit Liberty, be sure to try one. It’s both delicious and a lot of fun to watch being made.)
There is also an excellent balance between the types of drinks on the menu. Andrew and Keith offer not just a wide variety of spirit bases and flavor profiles, but also what I’ll call “levels” of drinks. Many craft palaces I enter have menus of naught but ridiculously baroque concoctions that will be awesome to talk about with one’s fellow geeks at Tales of the Cocktail, but are too bitter, complex, or simply weird for anyone else. There are drinks here for the snob who isn’t “on duty” that evening, and the “training wheels” offerings still have something of interest to be learned from.

That said, Liberty also really is a neighborhood joint. Liberty’s location is one of the things that really strikes me about it. It is is located on a fairly modest stretch of retail shopping in a quiet residential neighborhood, rather than in the restaurant, tourist, or entertainment districts where most “serious” craft bars dwell.
Tourists like me are an anomaly in Liberty, and businessmen drinking here are likely doing so on their own dime, rather than an expense account. As a result, the prices are almost shockingly modest for such offerings.
To satisfy the Licensing Gods’ demand for food service, not to mention that of any reasonable drinker’s stomach, Liberty has the elegant and tasty solution of devoting about five feet of its bar to a sushi counter, with one or two cutters as demand warrants.

The place has that well-used feel of many older bars, the kind that have been open forever, have seen weddings and wakes, sometimes for the same customer, yet never ever feel run-down, through the sheer force of the love and responsibility of its proprietors. The seating is comfortable, both at the bar and around the room. The bar itself is moderately sized and fits in visually, rather than dominating the space like some altar to the Gods of Fernet and Angostura. There is even a large back room for meetings and private parties, but which is essentially invisible to the regular clientele.

Your average oblivious Jack and Coke drinker could make of Liberty his Third Place happily for years and never care or even realize that he was spending his time in a temple of high-end concoctions.

And this last point, the seamless melding of tavern and cocktail palace is what makes Liberty so interesting to me and, so important to the craft movement.

Craft cocktails as an industry have had a fascinating decade-plus of growth now, and are in a different stage of development in nearly every city in America. When you travel like I do all over the country killing people, you can move forward and backward through the whole history of the craft, using airline or auto as your time machine.
Many locales still have yet to see the first blush of our passion; the only “lime” in bars still has with the word “Rose’s” writ upon the bottle. Other cities have merely discovered the joys, and the commercial possibilities, of fresh or more exotic ingredients. Many, like my own Columbus, have a few restaurants and bars that are making a try at true high-end drinks. And cities like Seattle or New York have reached the point where the craft bars are a well-understood phenomenon, and most high-end restaurants have reached the point of having to offer competitive programs of their own.

But like any movement that is reaching maturity, at least in some markets, there is now a lot of angst about where to go from here. Because the simple facts are, craft cocktails made with exotic syrups, or oddball bitters, or cinnamon smoke, are not for everyone. And even among those who do enjoy them, they are unprepared to drink them all the time. There are very real limits to speed of growth and profitability in the craft movement.

This is why bars like Liberty, and Anvil in Houston, and to some extent Passenger or Bourbon in Washington, DC, are so significant, and why I admire them so much. These are places that serve all drinkers well, not just our specific clientele. The aforementioned Mr. Jack and Coke can happily hang out there with his buddy Mr. Vieux Carre. And Mr. Sazerac can find the opportunity to hit on Miss Greyhound here. (Mr. Grey Goose Martini, don’t waste your time hitting on Miss Knob Creek Old-Fashioned. It’s not going to end well for you.)

Bar like Liberty are where previously undiscovered reserves of cocktail lovers (as opposed to cocktail drinkers) will be uncovered. The easy atmosphere provides no barrier to entry for the uninitiated (quite the contrary), but the magnificent offerings are the sort that can open doors and minds. If you visit Seattle, take the time one evening to cab your way to Liberty and settle in for a great evening. If you live there, this is the kind of place you take your uninitiated friends when they are resisting being initiated….

Gin-sperimentation: Caorunn Scottish Gin


It’s pronounced “ka-roon“. Caorunn is a new gin from that hot bed of white liquor production… Scotland? Produced at the Balmenach whisky distillery in the Speyside region, Caorunn is a small-batch gin with a uniquely Scottish character, a gorgeous bottle, and fascinating flavors. Given the nature of this blog and my own significantly Scot heritage, I am compelled at this point to ask Mike Myers for his opinion on Scottish gin:

Caorunn does not distill its base grain neutral spirit at Balmenach, since pot-distilled barley is not exactly a great base for gin. The Scot element comes from the water (of course) and the unique blend of botanicals, including five unusual ones which they identify as “Celtic botanicals“. Heather, Dandelion, and Bog Myrtle all are sharply evocative of Highland landscapes. Coul Blush Apples are an early 19th century hybrid, recently rediscovered. The final element is Rowan Berry, which the maker describes as “the very soul of Caorunn.” Rowan berries are traditionally used in a variety of Celtic herbal medicines, and seen as a powerful source of mystical good fortune. Also, they are popular eating and commonly used to make or flavor brandies, though I’ve never seen such here in the US.
The traditional botanicals are juniper, coriander, angelica, cassia, and lemon and orange peels.

The infusion of the alcohol into gin is what is performed at Balmenach and is performed in the above pictured 1920′s made copper berry chamber. The botanicals are spread out on the wide trays you see, then the chamber is filled with the alcohol vapor over a long period to infuse them into the gin. This contraption was originally designed for extracting essential oils used in the manufacture of perfume. It is a pretty uncommon device for distilling gin.

The spirit resulting from these unique as the processes and ingredients is pretty special in its own right. Caorunn is bright and very clean in flavor, and has for me the rather odd effect of smelling lightly sweet while tasting fairly dry. The apple in particular seems evident in the nose and less so in the mouth. It is certainly no Tanqueray, but I think it is closer in character to a London Dry than it is to the hard to define “New American” gins.

I like this gin. A lot. But it is not a gin you can deploy indiscriminately in all cocktails. Its real strength is in combination with other herbal flavors. To that end it is a simply magnificent Martini gin. It is difficult to describe why this gin goes so very, very well with vermouth, but it does. I don’t go with the whole olive thing, so I cannot attest to how things will go if you like to dirty up the waters. On their extensive and beautifully illustrated recipe page, they recommend garnishing a martini with a slice of apple, which I have not tried, but will next time I get my hands on some really good ones.

I’m into my second bottle of Caorunn, largely because it’s about the only thing I’m making Martinis with any more. When I find a particular brand that seems perfect in a particular drink I make regularly, I tend to just dedicate it to that particular purpose. But of course, as with all gins I had to try Caorunn in the Greatest Cocktail Ever Mixed™. I actually tried this first, and it almost made me give up on Caorunn from the start. I think the product has a Kryptonite, and it is indeed green: The Lime. There is some chemical interaction happening between the two that triggers a very slight but notable acridity in the mix. If you peruse the brand’s recipe page, you won’t see lime listed at all in the excellent Search by Ingredient feature.

So, no Pegus, no Rickeys, no lime with your Caorunn. It seems to go quite nicely with other citruses, however, and some whose taste I trust say it works particularly well with grapefruit. Rather than get frustrated with this weirdness, I just chalk it up to the marvelous opportunity for experimentation cocktails offer.

Caorunn is not yet available all over the US, so I am happy indeed that Ohio is among the first states where it is distributed. I’m guessing that it will be appearing in lots more markets before too long, so if it isn’t in your local store right now, keep looking. In the meantime, it is available from several online retailers such as DrinkupNY.

Aloha, Tiki Month….

Well folks, the long, tropical, volcano-lit dusk of Tiki Month is at last over. The sun peeks up over the eastern horizon, and the spirits of the Tiki Gods flee their hand-carved wooden totems.

Reality intrudes….

I think this has been my best Tiki Month to date. Although the Tiki Month 2012 page link will disappear sometime tomorrow from the header, it will still be available, and you can look back over everything I wrote this time through there. But I thought I’d do a little roundup of everything I posted, so you can see what you might have missed and want to look for.


I did eleven drink posts, from the sublime to the ridiculous. I had a great time talking with Ed Hamilton, the hero of American Tiki fans who brought us back Lemon Hart 151. I really started to get into the whole Tiki mug thing this year, alas for my wallet.


I also managed to gin up some almost controversy over Beachbum Berry’s comment about Tiki and “guilt-free sex“.


I had a full-on, dress-up Tiki party in my temporarily Tiki Basement Bar. My kids loved the makeover at first, but they now want it restored to normal conditions. They like to hang out down there and it is hard to read by “volcano light”.

I spent a good bit of time navel gazing here at the end on why I did the first Tiki Month, and more importantly, why I keep doing it.


And of course, the blog highlight of the month was Mixology Monday LXIV: Tiki! Thanks once more to all the bloggers and other writers who contributed the more than 40 pieces to February’s carnival. And yes, I hijacked MxMo for my own purposes. I think it worked out well for all.

The most important thing to me about this year’s Tiki Month was all the buy-in and participation I got from so many of you. There were vast opportunities to employ Rule 2 as blogger after blogger hopped on the Tiki Month bus and made their own contributions on their own blogs. I linked every post I saw, if I missed yours, please let me know. Beyond that, I got lots of comments this month. Comments are like nectar for bloggers, folks. When we get them, pro or con, we know you are paying attention. We all need to comment more. This month I got tons of feedback and it really kept me going. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to average just over a post a day, not counting sideblogs. It wasn’t easy, but the attention people were paying made it so.

Aloha everybody. I hope you come party with me again next February, but I also hope you stick around and keep reading here the rest of the year!

Exit Question: What do I drink tomorrow night, Old-Fashioneds or Manhattans?

Tiki Podcasts

At this point in Tiki Month, I think it appropriate to discuss one of the many legacies of the late Steve Jobs: The podcast. Sure, he didn’t invent it, but he didn’t invent the MP3 player, the personal computer, or digital music downloads either. He just made them workable and/or legally reasonable for white-bread Americans like me. I am not a huge podcast guy, but there is one activity I do a lot of that is conducive to listening to podcasts.

You see, if I don’t mow my grass every couple of days in the Summer, full-grown deer can hide it in with no trouble. Having a lawn in Ohio is a constant fight to keep your house visible from the street.

Thus, every few days, I mount my mighty steed and do battle with the bluegrass besieging my home on all sides.

I thus have plenty of time to listen to things over my noise-cancelling headphones whilst Blade-Biter and I do battle with the green horde, and I fill that time with podcasts. Two of my usual favorites are the Ricochet Podcast (Warning: Includes conservative screenwriters, columnists, and others who often use the term “RINO”, as well as the occasional Pat Sajak. This makes it obviously a broadcast of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy™) and How to do Everything (WARNING: A production of National Public Radio, and thus obviously a broadcast of the International Communist Conspiracy®). Both make me laugh, but they aren’t enough to get me through all the grass.

I’ve put together a few podcast suggestions for you that are appropriate to Tiki Month, some of which I’ve known for a long time, others that are new to me, but are ready on my computer for when the Spring comes. Listen to them when you like.

I’ll start with a few Tiki music-oriented audio podcasts:

I’ll start with Brian Cooper’s Exotic Tiki Island Podcast. This is a brand-new one that features music from Brian’s own collection of vintage exotica on LP. The sound quality of the music is exceptional for vintage vinyl, and the music is great. He doesn’t talk a lot, but he does throw in some other stuff between songs, including some vintage, Tiki-themed advertisements. As I write this, there are only four episodes, but the latest one is less than a week old, so I expect more content to come.

The Zen Tiki Lounge Podcast is another fairly new effort. It is more of a chat show with lots of music. In between the music there is a lot of banter and some good discussion about Tiki drinks in addition to Tiki Music. It also has been a very regular producer of new podcasts over its still short history. The companion website has episode summaries and any food or drink recipes discussed during each.

The Quiet Village Podcast, from Digitiki is inexplicably not directly available through the iTunes store, but iTunes users can still subscribe manually, as I have. I think that this one is the best of the batch. Digitiki himself is a member of one of the very best exotica bands out there today, the Tikiyaki Orchestra.
As of last week, there have been forty five episodes of The Quiet Village, an extraordinray number. The podcasts have become less frequent of late, but Digitiki is to be forgiven since he recently spawned a child or something. Each episode features lots of cool music and very detailed, interesting discussion about most every song played. There is usually a guest for him to talk with about the subject matter as well. While most of the one hour podcasts center on Tiki-style music, he does go slightly away for some thematically close stuff. His two-part podcast retrospective on James Bond music is simply awesome for even the casual Bond fan.
The production values and Digitiki’s voice on this podcast are utterly professional, better frankly than most such programs I’ve heard on places like NPR or Pacifica. If you like Tiki music at all, you need to check out this podcast for a sea of music you simply will not be able to hear anywhere, much less buy.

Podcasts also come in video as well. The very first one I ever subscribed to, video or otherwise, was the late, much lamented TikiBarTV. Come back to us, Lala! OK, you can bring back Dr. Tiki and Johnny Johnny if you must…. Tiki Bar TV is a must watch, even if you don’t give a damn about Tiki.

The Velveteen Lounge Kitschen video podcast is genius. A dead-pan retro housewife (Kelly Camille Patterson) first mixes up a decent-sounding cocktail, Tiki or otherwise, then produces a somehow appetizing-sounding dish straight from what ought to be the darkest culinary days of 1959…. I may actually go buy some SPAM. The podcast is not 100% Tiki, but it is definitely of a piece with the era. If you don’t want to subscribe to the podcast, the whole series (34 episodes so far) is available on YouTube as well. I’ll wrap up this survey by embedding the episode A Lovely Luau With SPAM.

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