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Cocktail Curiosity

Chad White doesn’t look like what you’d probably expect from the founder of the Ohio Rum Society. He lacks the sailor’s swagger and pirate’s pedigree some mistakenly associate with the world’s most versatile and diverse distilled spirit. Also absent is the alienating ego that easily identifies pretentious experts in elixirs as unmistakably as a parrot, [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Chad White doesn’t look like what you’d probably expect from the founder of the Ohio Rum Society. He lacks the sailor’s swagger and pirate’s pedigree some mistakenly associate with the world’s most versatile and diverse distilled spirit. Also absent is the alienating ego that easily identifies pretentious experts in elixirs as unmistakably as a parrot, an eye patch, or a peg leg.

Instead, you’ll find the modest charm and Midwestern demeanor of a kid from Toledo, captured by the allure of Columbus more than a decade ago, who carved out his own corner of the local craft cocktail scene in a category that stretches far past the fabled shores of the Caribbean.

“I was the victim of really great niche marketing,” White confessed of his college years at Ohio University and an early affinity for rum. “It wasn’t until I ordered a flight of premium rums with a friend at a rum bar in Cleveland that I realized there was more out there.”

The most familiar names in American rum aren’t awful, but aren’t exactly transparent either. Adulterated by artificial flavoring and coloring, many are more like alcoholic soda pop than true spirits. Luckily, White and his future wife’s shared love of travel afforded him the opportunity to collect interesting bottles from exotic locations, a hobby that quickly escalated, perhaps out of hand.

“It wasn’t long before my suitcases were coming back filled with rum,” he chided. “My wife told me I either had to drink it or share it—not just the rum, but my passion for it.”

Columbus has a knack for finding or following the next new thing. From coffee and cocktails to breweries and barbecue, White knew he couldn’t be the only one in town experimenting at home with his spirit of choice. What started as just another Facebook group to exchange articles and opinions on the emerging rum scene didn’t stay there long.

“That online conversation soon evolved into inviting friends to my house for tastings,” he recalled. “If there were a bunch of bourbon drinkers, I’d start out with something dry and well-balanced, but with a little weight, obviously aged, with bold flavors.”

Further reinforcing the notion that everyone already seems to know everyone else in Columbus, that first formal gathering at Grass Skirt Tiki Room quickly grew to connections and subsequent soirées at Curio, Denmark on High, Blind Lady Tavern, and The Light of Seven Matchsticks. It turned out there was quite a bit of quiet dabbling behind local bars as well, substituting rum for traditional base spirits.

“It connected me with all of these underground rum geeks—bartenders, proprietors, but also curious cocktailers—people who love brown spirits like bourbon, or white spirits like tequila. People who love the craft of fermentation and distillation.”

White is a recruiter for the tech sector by day, a knack that clearly extends beyond his keyboard. Unlike similar ‘societies’ that simply need to usher a readymade community into the same room, White had to educate and elevate rum among the masses while roping everyone into the same orbit.

Two years in, there’s no slowdown in sight, with meetings nearly monthly, an updated membership program, and a new name—recognizing the greater geographic reach and influence of his growing group of self-described ‘rumheads.’

“We began as the Central Ohio Rum Society, but soon started pulling in members from around the state for our tastings. So we’re now the Ohio Rum Society, even though our interest is really international.”

Themed meetings from “January in Jamaica” to “Rum, Beer, and Revolution” tap into the convergence of history and chemistry, as well as practical and tactical conversations, like getting rum into the country a little easier by flying back through Puerto Rico for a less onerous trip through U.S. Customs.

“I have three bottles of rum I ordered from Europe that have been waiting for weeks in Customs in Chicago,” he explained. “Importers are still figuring out if there is enough interest in the States to distribute here. So that’s part of the hunt.”

Speaking of flights, no conversation about rum would be complete without one. Like most, I know what I like even if I lack the keen palette or industry jargon to put it into words. But that’s where White and his fellow rumheads earn their reputation as approachable connoisseurs, not another class of liquor snobs. Chad carefully curated a collection based on my beer and bourbon background. In fact, he could easily spot each style and brand at a glance, an impressive feat after more than an hour of cocktails and chit-chat in a deliberately dim tiki bar.

He described the origin and attributes of each as I sipped and swished, noting the time and terroir evident in the sweet heat and woody finish of the aged rums before moving up to the bright bite and botanical nuances of the rhum agricole, made from distilled cane juice, not fermented molasses. The journey from 60 proof to 120 was dangerously delicious, and it’s a flight that might require a copilot to get home.

“Rum is a shapeshifter,” he explained. “That’s what we love about it.”

Obsession over such subtleties may sound like the musings of wine wonks. But as an admitted rum amateur, the flavor profiles actually fit right in line with my inner coffee geek—sometimes spicy, earthy, or even floral, but never one note.

We wrapped up with shots from his personal stash (a rare bottle from Barbados actually signed by the distiller) and a couple more classic cocktails, further burnishing the depth and breadth the right rum can bring to nearly any glass—not just those with a garish garnish or bawdy boat drinks in your buddy’s basement.

“None of these rums were available in Ohio when I started,” he revealed, noting the reach of the Ohio Rum Society in creating demand from restaurants to retail. “It’s why rum is still so shrouded in mystery for most, past the major brands. But that’s why we’re here. Columbus is a trendsetter, and we’re fundamentally changing the way people think about rum.”

For more on the Ohio Rum Society, find them on Facebook.

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Food & Drink

Harrison West brewpub announces open date

614now Staff

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The highly-anticipated brewpub coming to Harrison West finally announced its open date. Cleveland-based Saucy Brew Works will celebrate the grand opening of its 443 W Third Ave. establishment in early April.

The 190-seat space, formerly occupied by Caffe Apropos, will feature a brewpub with both indoor and outdoor seating. Guests can enjoy specialty New Haven-style pizza, appetizers, sandwiches, and more alongside their brews.

In many ways, the new location will be similar to the flagship Cleveland brewery and brewpub. But, Columbus will have something unique: Saucy Coffee.

A craft coffeehouse owned and operated by Saucy Brew Works, the offerings will include a single-origin house roast, pour overs, espresso, and a specialty menu inspired by Saucy beers such as What’s His Nuts, a Vanilla Stout with Peanut Butter and Coffee, and Modern Crimes, a Toasted Coconut Porter.

"Saucy’s Columbus location in Harrison West has been a long time in the making,” said Brent Zimmerman, CEO and Co-owner of Saucy Brew Works. “We have deep roots over multiple generations in Columbus and wanted to make our entrance perfect! We are excited for Saucy’s next chapter in Columbus. Columbus has embraced us with open arms, and we love them too!”

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Food & Drink

Secret Swensons: Off-menu items you have to try

614now Staff

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It was a dark time in Central Ohio two years ago when there were no Swensons drive-ins. Now, we've got four locations to choose from (Dublin, Polaris, Hilliard, and New Albany), and a list of off-menu items to spice up your next visit.

Because the restaurant begins cooking your food the moment you order, a wide range of customizations are possible. Pair this "kitchen-at-your-command" concept with Swensons “never say no” attitude, and you've got a unique cornucopia of hidden-in-plain-site item customizations available.

"Over the course of our 86-year history, eager and loyal customers (known as Swenatics) have found hidden treasures in our menu possibilities," Swensons said in a release.

Below are a few customizations you won’t find listed on the menu but are crowd favorites.

Sandwiches

  • Grilled Cheese with Coney Sauce: For those who love a little bit of burger with their cheese.
  • Fish Sandwich “Galley Boy Style”: Galley-boy goodness isn’t only for burgers. Swenatics often order fish sandwiches or fried chicken “Galley Boy Style,” with two secret sauces (one tangy, one sweet) and cheese.
  • Egg Salad Sandwich with Cheese and Bacon: Although Swensons don’t serve “breakfast,” Swenatics have found a tasty breakfast hack by adding bacon and cheese to their egg salad sandwiches.

Crispy Extras

  • Broken Onion Rings: Think of an onion ring that handles like a fry. Swensons takes their onion rings and breaks them apart before cooking, which creates the perfect bite-sized piece. No more worry of half of the onion falling out on the first bite!
  • Ordering “Cajun-style:” Amp up the flavor by ordering something “Cajun-style.” The smoky, garlicky, and peppery Cajun spice can be added to any crispy extra or sandwich.

Sweets

  • Swensons has 18 different milkshake flavors available, and you can mix as many as you want. Really. Some favorites include a PB&J shake (Peanut Butter and Grape), Mocha & Mint, Blueberry & Lemon, and Peanut Butter & Hot Fudge.
  • Swensons is always down for a dessert mashup. Try asking for a Hot Fudge Milkshake with a brownie or Xango (our cheesecake rolled in flaky pastry) mixed in.

Never been to Swensons? Check out the following tips to optimize your first visit:

  • Park facing the restaurant. Since all dining takes place within your vehicle, service revolves around your headlights. Turn them on and a Curb Server will come sprinting over to help you. Leave them off and they’ll leave you to enjoy your meal.
  • No need to leave your car—Swensons is a drive-in through and through. Once your order’s ready, their Curb Servers run it out to you on a nifty tray that either hooks to your window or the inside of your door, weather permitting.
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Food & Drink

Discount Date Destinations: Saturday Samplings at The Refectory

Lindsay Pinchot

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Welcome to Discount Date Destinations, where we’ll bring you the best places in the city with date-night-worthy atmospheres and food and drink specials that won’t break the bank. In today’s installment, we head to The Refectory.

For many, The Refectory evokes images of elegant anniversary dinners and impressive date nights, and rightly so. The Refectory has long been established as one of Columbus’ best and most beautiful restaurants, serving contemporary American and classic French cuisine. It probably isn’t one of the first places you think of when you hear “discount,” but maybe it should be.

Every Saturday afternoon from 12pm- 3pm, The Refectory hosts Saturday Samplings, a weekly wine tasting event. For only $15-$20 per person, depending on the flight that week, you taste a selection of different wines and help yourself to light hors d’oeuvre while relaxing in the Refectory’s charming bar area.

When you’re done tasting, additional glasses of the wines are only $5 each, so you can stay and sip your favorites. Last weekend, my husband and I attended the first in a themed, two-part Saturday Sampling series: For the Love of Wine. We had a great experience.

The ambiance was wonderful, especially for a wintry Saturday. Upon arrival, we were given a warm welcome and tasting cards listing information about each of the wines we’d be sampling. At the top of the tasting cards was a question, “When did you first fall in love with wine?” which led to some entertaining conversation, both between the two of us and with the staff. The sommelier poured each wine as we were ready for it, giving us a little background on it and explaining what we could expect from the taste. Between glasses we snacked on an array of breads, cheeses, oils, and hearty dips.

The best part? None of the selections were too pricey and all were available for purchase from The Refectory’s wine shop. Our favorite taste of the day was only $12.99 a bottle.

Saturday Samplings is a fun, relaxed way to experience The Refectory where all wine drinkers, from newbies to decades-long aficionados, will feel welcome. For the Love of Wine (Part 2) is this Saturday, so grab your valentine and head to The Refectory for a cozy afternoon. When you’re done, buy your favorite bottle to take home and split snuggled up on the couch.

https://www.facebook.com/refectoryrestaurant/posts/10158294760883826:0

The Refectory is located at 1092 Bethel Rd. For more information, visit refectory.com.

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