This is my relaxing place. That is Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in October of 2015. World famous Sugarloaf Mountain is tucked behind a cloud on the left. In front of me lies one of Rio’s world famous Caipirinhas. It’s a simple drink – sugar, lime, and cachaça (pronounced like ka-shah-suh), Brazil’s national spirit of choice distilled from local sugarcane. And, Rio is a magical place – mountains, sea, bossa nova music, samba dancing, and kind people. To this day, all it takes is a few simple ingredients, and I’m transported back there to feel the sun on my face and smell the scent of fried seafood lingering on the air.
This is my fun place. That is Kantar Consulting China’s 2019 Lunar New Year Party in Shanghai, China. In front of me are four (actually eight!) colleagues confusedly dancing like infants with their arms and “legs” swinging wildly. To the right is the culprit behind my first baijiu experience. Wow! Anise, oily texture, burn, wooooo, that’s like nothing I’d tasted before. And, I couldn’t think of a more perfect complement to a slightly confusing, incredibly fun opportunity to lose myself in the euphoria of a fascinating foreign culture. Baijiu is the national spirit of China distilled from fermented sorghum. It accounts for 99.6% of the spirits consumed in China and represents more than $100 billion in annual sales. But few of us in the US have ever even seen it, let alone had the opportunity to try it.
To me, that’s part of the beauty of the spirits industry. Spirits have provenance, pride of place, and local eccentricities and traditions. And, like all culinary delights, our senses link them strongly to memory. A Mai Tai on the beach, a Cuba Libre at the bar, a Bloody Mary over weekend brunch, each drink triggers our memories of usually happy times surrounded by friends or family or beautiful scenery. And the summer version of those happy times is what inspired our first collections.
Now, when the world feels more distant, more disconnected, and more unreachable than ever before, I look for those little tokens that give me a day pass to a brief daydream in some faraway place. Last weekend, it was bossa nova music on the stereo, a Youtube video of waves lapping on a beach, a hot bowl of feijoada, and a caipirinha in my hand. When your wife is eight months pregnant, and you haven’t left the house in four weeks due to a global pandemic, you take every opportunity you can for a brief respite to happy adventures. Discovering new, fascinating, foreign drinks is one of those tickets.