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Reviews

How I feel about drinks, books, and other stuff.

Getting to the Keys

In just a couple of weeks, it will have been ten years since my first trip to Key West. I will, of course, be celebrating that tenth anniversary by spending even more time in the Keys than I ever have on a single trip.

(You can listen to my song, “Living Key West,” while reading this. Just click the link.)

Southernmost - beautiful beach!

Southernmost – beautiful beach!

As part of my preparations this year, I’m rereading the book that probably did the most, after years of Buffett music, to get my fundament out of its comfortable rut here in the Bay Area and on a plane to south Florida. The book is titled Callahan’s Key, by Spider Robinson, a somewhat wacky romp by a loose “tribe” of individuals, formerly the clientele of Callahan’s Place, formerly the clientele of Mary’s Place, sick and tired of Long Island, who caravan to Key West to open up a bar and get telepathic in the hopes of saving the Universe. The back cover calls it an “improbable tale of impending doom, a road trip, space, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.”

Oh, and they all tell puns.

I’m not making any of this up.

As a writer, Spider has been influenced by the likes of Robert A Heinlein and John D. MacDonald, among many others. His descriptions and characters draw you in and keep you reading, even when you’re not entirely sure what’s going on. This book introduced me to the Keys, to Key West, and to some of the fascinating places there – Schooner Wharf, Mallory Square, and more. And motivated me to go *see* these places for myself.

So I did. :)

And over the years, I’ve collected my own share of pictures and stories about being in the Keys.

Picture of sunset at Mallory Square

Sunset at Mallory Square

This is the way I want to go to work every day.

This is the way I want to go to work every day.

Reef them sails before we capsize!

Even the cloudy days are beautiful.

Ten years of memories…and more to be made! :)

So this year I’m arriving in Ft. Lauderdale on 10/26. Yes, I’ll miss Fantasy Fest again. So it goes. Instead of racing to get to Key West like I have the past few years – needed to make the trip quickly in order to make gigs – I’m taking my time. I’ll spend two days traveling the 160 or so miles from FLL to Mile Zero, checking out places I’ve never been before, taking pictures, making memories. I’m hoping that Eric Stone will have his new bar, Dockside, open by the time I get there on the 27th; if not, I can always hang out at the Sunset Grill. Or both – I’ll have the time. :)

My “big gig” of the week is Monday night in Key West at the Rum Barrel. It’s my second year there, which is another first for me. I’ve got a four-hour set starting at 7, I’ll have Allen “Frankendread” Holland playing steel pan with me, and I know that a few of my musical friends will be stopping by to play a few.

I’ve got a show at Green World Gallery on Thursday at 2:30, will be in Key West Chris‘ showcase at Durty Harry’s sometime after that, and will otherwise be roaming the island with my guitar, hopefully playing a few songs here and there.

As well as getting off the beaten track every now and then to recharge and maybe write something new.

I bid farewell to Key West on Monday the 4th, and fly home on Tuesday the 5th.

There and back again, ten years after my first trip.

Should be fun.

Prohibition and Arizona Rum

I had the privilege of spending the evening at one of my favorite local watering holes, Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge. They had a double-bill special program tonight, with a history talk and a rum tasting. Both turned out to be extremely interesting, and I’m glad I was there.

The talk was given by Richard Foss, author of Rum: A Global History. I’ve encountered Rich here and there over the years through some of the circles we share. His talk was “How Prohibition Changed America.” I can’t begin to remember everything involved, but here are some high points:

  • Before Prohibition, drinking was a much more integrated part of American life. There were hundreds of local breweries and distilleries, and various alcoholic beverages were marketed as healthy. Not only that, but alcohol was the basis for many of the “herbal compounds” of the early 20th Century, from Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound on down the line.
  • Prohibition was pushed as anti-immigrant (Irishmen and Germans drank; Irishmen and Germans were the Mexicans and Muslims of the early 20th Century), primarily by the then-Republican party, and much more by women than men. Drinking at bars became a predominently male occupation, and led to men not enjoying a leisurely dinner at home, because their wives were the ones pushing abstinence. (“Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine!”)
  • Many towns had two newspapers: One pro-prohibition, one anti. Apparently they seemed to report two entirely different views of reality.
  • Beer and wine distributors supported the Volstead Act (which enacted Prohibition nationwide), thinking that it was only about distilled spirits. They were very surprised to discover that they were included.
  • Americans got very creative about finding ways around Prohibition. Italian restaurants would give away wine with dinner, which helped Italian cuisine become popular.
  • The way Utah ended up voting to repeal Prohibition apparently was sold by saying, “This will be adding tax to liquor. But since we good Mormons don’t drink, we won’t have to pay that tax, though we’ll get the benefits from it.”

And there was much, much more – this is just a rapid and random brain dump. It was enlightening, how many elements of our current culture and how people try to enact social change have been around for at least a hundred years.

And then there was the rum.

There’s a new “micro-distillery” in Kingman AZ called Desert Diamond Distillery, makers of Gold Miner Rum. They’ve been open about five years, serving four rums and a vodka. I got to taste them all.

The vodka and white rum are decent examples of their respective categories. The white rum has its own set of flavors and aftertastes, very unlike something like Bacardi. I happen to think this is a good thing for their white rum. :)

They have three dark rums. I can’t recall which of them tastes like bourbon and which is just a very good dark rum, but the agave rum has somewhat of a sweeter flavor, and they call it a “dessert rum.” Definitely smooth on the palate.

“Joe-Bob says check ‘em out.” :)

All Aboard the Key West Express!

During my recent tour to southwest Florida, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to sneak away to one of my favorite islands for a day.

It’s a good long drive – 6-8 hours – each way from the Ft. Myers area to Key West. The Key West Express ferry service gets you there in about three and a half hours. If you’re prone to motion sickness, Dramamine isn’t a bad idea, especially if it’s a very windy day. But on our trip, the motion wasn’t bad – comparable to the average plane flight.

Picture of the Key West Express

The Key West Express

It costs about $150 for a round-trip, less if you buy tickets ahead of time. I got the best rate buying more than eight days in advance. You can either go back the same day, or stay in Key West for a while and go back when you’re ready.

There are several types of seating. On the main and second decks, there’s a mix of tables along the windows and “airplane”-type seats in the middle of the cabin. It looks like you can fit a lot of people on this boat!

Picture of the inside main cabin on the Key West Express

Inside the main cabin

There’s also a top deck, open to the wind. Once the boat gets up to speed, this can actually feel chilly, even in 80+ degree temperatures.

Picture of the top deck on the Key West Express

From the top deck – departing Key West

Once the boat gets under way, after the obligatory safety talk – where to find life vests and rafts in the “unlikely event of an emergency” – there’s a cute tourist video describing some of the wonderful attractions of Key West, most of which have probably paid for product placement. That didn’t bother me; I was on my way to Key West. But it’s worth noting that at least one hotel in town and the Conch Train have special deals for Express passengers.

For the rest of the trip, they’ve got movies playing. This trip, the focus seemed to be on science fiction and comedy; I’m guessing that other trips might have other movies. Or you can read, play games on your phone, or just watch the water slide rapidly by.

Speaking of your phone, there’s no Internet access and spotty phone coverage on the trip. Once you’re mostly out of sight of land, it’s two bars of signal at best and no 3G or 4G coverage. That’s on Verizon; other carriers might have better coverage. Truth to tell, I managed just fine for several hours without Internet or phone service.

You can also buy food – breakfast-type stuff on the way down, hot dogs, burgers, chicken strips and such on the way back. You can get various beverages, and they have a bar. Which I did spend a bit of time at, for research purposes of course.

We were coming into Key West at about the same time as a cruise ship, and I discovered something I’d never really noticed before – cruise ships are taller than the entire island!

Picture of Key West from a distance.

Key West on the horizon! Note the slightly higher bulge of the cruise ship at the right.

Once you arrive on the island, there’s a service willing to store your bags until it’s time to check into your hotel, motel, or B&B, cabs willing to take you wherever you want to go, and other people willing to help you get where you’re going and find what you want, for a fee. And it’s not a huge island; you can easily get wherever you need to go without a car.

Something you should keep in mind: It’s important to show up early, to make sure you get on board before departure. The earliest passengers also tend to get the table seats by the windows. The KWE Website has all of the necessary info on boarding times both ways – read it. In general, you’ll want to show up about an hour before the posted departure times.

I love driving down the Keys. Most trips, that’s how I get to Key West. And I’ll keep doing that when I can. But it’s nice to know there’s another worthwhile option for getting into town.

Loren’s rating: Five rum drinks (on a scale of zero to five).

Booze Reviews: Parrot Bay Frozen Strawberry Daquiri

I’m starting to see more of these pre-mixed, freeze-your-own, single-serving drink concoctions in the marketplace. I may previously have mentioned the Shark Attack frozen margarita pops – I know I did on Facebook. I can’t say I much cared for that one; they apparently used a fairly cheap tequila and the flavor was a bit on the nasty side. It *did* work well as “ice” for a properly-made margarita, when I squeezed it out into a glass and added my own ingredients.

(While you’re reading this, to get you in the mood, try my song “Margarita Monday.” If you like it, consider buying the album. End of commercial plug. :) )

On a recent trip to BevMo, I noticed some packages by a company called Parrot Bay. They had several options – pina colada, mango daquiri, strawberry daquiri. I decided to sample the strawberry daquiri, as it’s the flavor I was most likely to enjoy from that list.

It comes at room temperature as liquid in a sealed pouch:

picture of Parrot Bay strawberry daquiri package.

It says to freeze for six hours and then consume. Well, I left it in the freezer for a couple of days before I got around to trying it.  Even after squishing it up in the package, it still came out with the consistency of semi-solid sherbet rather than a frozen drink:

Picture of the Parrot Bay daquiri in a glass

As you can see, it was pretty chunky. Not one to be daunted by this, I got a spoon and figured I’d eat it like sherbet, at least until it melted partway. Which it did, over the course of consuming it. In small bites, to avoid the dreaded Brain Freeze.

My opinion: It was flavorful, but not excitingly so. It definitely had a strawberry flavor, but not a fresh strawberry flavor. You would never mistake it for the type where you blended your own frozen strawberries with rum.

The package said it was 5% alcohol – about the same as beer – and a “malt beverage.” Which kind of makes it like the frozen version of something like Bacardi Silver. If it had been a bit less frozen, I might have tried adding a bit of real rum to it, just to see what the result was.

On a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a 7. Sort of like kissing your sister, if your sister was okay-looking, treated you well, and didn’t have bad breath. You’re still better off making your own if you can, but if you’re going out on a picnic and don’t have room for the gas-powered blender, this isn’t a horrible option.