Sunday, April 14, 2013

Route 66: Dam the drink

Hoover Dam. Hard to get a shot that properly
conveys the magnitude of the thing.

I hesitate to skip over the Las Vegas detour we indulged in on our Route 66 trip because I’m afraid no one will believe the reason why: nothing happened. We had an excellent steak dinner, and wandered through a few casinos, but none of really gambled and I, personally, was too worn out from the drive to stay out very late, despite all my worst intentions.

So, a bit of a bust, debauchery-wise. On the other hand, it was conveniently close to the Hoover Dam, AKA the Holy of Holies for the engineer in our complement, at which we duly paused on our way out of Nevada.

We rejoined the Mother Road in Arizona, and headed off the Interstate roughly in a place called Kingman. Our trajectory into the desert was immediately diverted into the Kingman International Airport Industrial Park by a sign that promised a local distillery. Our eyes dancing the prospect of grizzled cowboys peddling washtub firewater and snake-venom whiskies.

Grand Canyon Caverns. There was also a sign for Harley
Davidson parking, "All others will be burned."
Pushing through the door of the Desert Diamond Distillery, we entered the sales room and tasting bar, in which promisingly amber bottles glinted through the miasma of fermentation and high-proof alcohol. The décor was, as you would expect, burnished wood and tarnished metal. Even the brochure that I just discovered I kept from the visit played into our preconceptions… “Come on in and set a spell. Take a gander around our Still, you might get lucky and see it steamin’…”

On taking up the invitation and bellying up to the bar we were surprised, and more than a little disappointed to learn that the twin tipples of the Triple D were… vodka and rum. Never having developed a taste for rum, and being somewhat afraid of vodka, we were not inclined to shell out for full bottles, but we indulged in a few sips of several of their varieties, and bought a gift pack of mini bottles for later consumption.

I ducked into the bathroom before hitting the road, only to find my traveling companions missing on my return to the showroom. They had somehow finangled a tour with… a man who I think might have owned the distillery, though maybe he just worked there, or just happened to have been passing by and decided to pull a fast one on some tourists.

Any casual Dorothy and Toto who only visited the showroom would only have seen down-homey old-timey plain-speakin’ Old Westness. Behind the curtain, however, was the Wizard as he truly was: a computer controlled, twenty-foot tall still of gleaming , stainless steel, precision-cut to exacting German standards.

The man giving the tour (who had a very East Coast accent, for a man selling Gold Miner Rum) was rightfully proud of his machine – it was, he boasted, the first of its kind in North America, and the Triple-D offered seminars to other small distillers around the country on its use. With a couple of punches of a button, it could produce any kind of hard liquor of any grade you could want: “Even whiskey” he said, as if gagging on the word.  

The discombobulation I experienced between the cowboy esthetic and the futuristic production carried throughout the rest of the tour. You rather expect that when someone goes to the trouble of setting up a distillery at great cost and difficulty that they have some love or affinity for making spirits. Yet our guide seemed keener on the swamp coolers that they used to keep their barrels from drying out than he did in the nuances of his product: “You know, I just read a book on this, and these barrels can add tens of thousands of different chemical compounds that affect the flavour,” he told us, adding in a wondering tone. “Can you imagine? Tens of thousands!” He only just read up on this?
And no, he never explained what a swamp cooler was, let alone why each bottle bore the words “hand crafted” when the whole process was controlled by the algorithms pumping through the digital heart of the Alco-Matic 3000.

Next: Meteor crater! Meteor Crater! Meteor Crater!!!


Victor Chisholm said...

"Never having developed a taste for rum..."

Strasmark, you are henceforth summoned home from your exile in Chicago, thence to your natal province, until you correct this deficiency!

Mark Reynolds said...

I have to go back to Ontario?

I try to make up for my failings by pretending "beer" is just an Upper Canadian way of saying "Keith's," and that Oland's is in any way palatable.