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Spring Spirit Surprise

April 29, 2011

What do you look for in a good wine and spirits store? And how do you know when you’ve found one?

For me it’s generally a combination of selection, price and service, where service means knowledgeable, helpful and friendly clerks who know how to listen. And price plays a bigger role than it should. After all, the bottle of Macallan 12-year-old single malt Scotch whisky is virtually identical from shop to shop.

But recently I was in Providence, Rhode Island for a few hours and found myself in a relatively new store there called Bottles. In addition to wine and spirits, they can also sell beer. However, there is only one Bottles location, so at least in that regard one could imagine a similar type of store (minus the beer) existing in upstate New York. 

There was one remarkable thing I saw in Bottles that let me know I was in a good store.

Maybe that’s not entirely true, because in fact the key thing wasn’t what I saw, but instead about what I didn’t see.

Crap.

There was no crap on the shelves. They had some of the big international brands that I’m not so crazy about like Bacardi white rum. But in truth you can’t make a Bacardi cocktail without it, so I suppose that alone justifies its presence in the store.

Bottles isn’t a store to buy cheap plastic handles of booze that will get you slizzard. It’s a place to go and buy spirits that are well-crafted and delicious.

This distinction didn’t even really jump out at me until I found myself in a quandary.

It was Passover and none of the whiskey back at the homestead would pass our self-prescribed dietary laws for the holiday. Nor would the gin as it is based on grain neutral spirits. So I was in the market for rum. Specifically, I wanted a good white rum to go with the kosher-for-Passover Coca-Cola in the pantry.

Sure, dark rum would go well in Coke too, but spring is here and summer is just around the corner, and I wanted white rum because it would work better in those cooling drinks of the season.

If you recall, I have a soft spot in my heart for the overproof rum of Jamaica. Except instead of the ubiquitous J. Wray & Nephew, they had something I had never seen before called Rum-Bar. Regrettably, I was in a rush and didn’t have the chance to talk up one of their clerks or to even execute a Google search on my phone.

And that’s when it hit me.

I could absolutely buy this bottle with confidence, because Bottles doesn’t sell crap. Everything was selected for a reason, and if they chose to stock Rum-Bar instead of the venerable classic from the island, it must be pretty special.

When I finally got home with that bottle of rum and a bottle of Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Dry, I looked up my new score online, and it turns out that it is pretty special indeed.

Now that Passover is complete all I need to do is get my unsweetened coconut water, and I’ll be totally ready for the next heatwave. Summer, here we come.

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