The Five Questions: John Lundin, Owner of Bluewater Organic Distilling
I’m pretty sure that I met John Lundin through my friend Jackie at DrinkGal.com, but then again I might be wrong. But as anyone who has spent any time on the open ocean can tell you, once a sailor, always one. Like the time that I met Ed Hamilton from the Ministry of Rum. It was over an ice cold and quite refreshing rum cocktail on the stern of my family’s yacht moored off Tortola about twenty- five years ago. I’ll never forget how enjoyable it was to have Ed sign his Rum’s of the Caribbean book for me. Now, I just have to get John Lundin to autograph a bottle of his salubrious spirit for our bar.
This friendly demeanor holds true for sailors the world over. However, sometimes the where and the when I meet people as fascinating as John, forces me to recall things that I cannot. The original meetings sometime get a bit fuzzy with the drink.
So it goes for me at least.
1. Where did you get your inspiration for spirits? Why organic?
My inspiration for distilling comes largely from my Swedish roots, given the Nordic love of Vodka and the country’s history of distilling. Growing up, Mom would make traditional Swedish vodka infusions and liqueurs using homegrown black currant berries and botanicals. These home-made spirits have always been coveted items in the family, and are reminiscent of recipes dating back hundreds of years.
When I entered the world of distilling it was driven by the convergence of so many factors – a personal and cultural connection to spirits, a deep desire to manufacture, my culinary interests and the fortunate timing of the market beginning to open up to craft spirits. I launched in with head-first gusto and devoured books, designed my own equipment, formulated recipes and distilled almost every spirit I could. I formulated gins and rums as well as lovely spirits like raspberry eau de vie. I truly didn’t emerge until my standards were established and my senses tuned. Bluewater definitely has Nordic roots, but it quickly became a clear extension of my own interests and ambitions.
The Bluewater title and imagery is inspired by my love of sailing, with wind-filled sails rising behind a stylized ocean wave. Every aspect of the sailing motif conveys a dynamic motion, which in turn brings a natural connection to the product.
Bluewater sailing refers to the deep, vast stretches of the ocean off the continental shelf. To sail the bluewater, you need to be completely self-reliant and confidently skilled because you’re so far from rescue if something goes wrong. Your boat needs to be capable of enduring whatever the sea kicks up, which means spending huge effort in preparation. The bluewater is a romantic place where you can traverse huge distances, arrive at foreign lands and even circumnavigate the world – and also terrifying in the same go because of the exposure involved.
Bluewater was born to be organic, it just wasn’t going to happen any other way. (I really prefer the European phrase of ecological, over organic – Swedes would call Bluewater an eko-vodka.) I don’t see the industrial food model as something that I could ever engage in. I want to do everything I can to support agriculture that elevates the health of the land and the people working it. The industrial ag machine may bring large yields, but has let us down in so many ways: chemicals and pesticides in our food, people and communities that suffer, excessive genetic modification and over-reliance on petroleum and scarce water supplies. Farming on an industrial scale seems more like an assault on the land. Ecologically responsible agriculture is a beautiful answer.
Organic certification for Bluewater became a great opportunity to finally really learn about the program. I think most of us are somewhat in the dark on the real details of the USDA organic program, even those of us who purchase organics. I found the USDA guidelines to be logically structured and comprehensive, and establish reasonable tiers of organic ingredient content. Enforcement of the rules falls in the hands of accredited independent and state agencies. In my case, the Colorado Department of Agriculture issues my certification and reviews my production and labeling for compliance. The CO Ag department is very thorough in their review, since they need to maintain their own accreditation with the USDA. I always encourage people to look up the USDA organic guidelines, because it will help them in interpreting labels when grocery shopping.
2. Do you cook? If so, who taught you? Mother? Father? Grandparents? What is your FAVORITE childhood meal and why?
I love to cook. I was engaged in the kitchen from a young age and considered a culinary school direction in younger years. Mostly it was Mom who taught me to cook, and always encouraged me to experiment and learn. These days, my wife and I typically take turns with dinner cooking, and have complementary styles. We work hard to cook from base ingredients and limit the processed foods in our lives. My cooking often centers on meat and fish, typically with a hearty starch and fresh vegetables. Jessica often creates wonderful soups and salads, and baked dishes. I’m on deck anytime fish needs frying – I have at least a dozen different ways to sizzle up fresh fish.
Aboard the boat there’s no microwave, so we never buy any precooked stuff. I abhor non-stick kitchenware, and every pot/pan we have is stainless steel or cast iron. We try to keep things basic, and avoid the techies items and the mystery chemicals they include. With stainless or cast iron, you can cook most things without sticking if you use the right technique, and enough butter. *editor’s note: Butter makes everything taste better!*
My Swedishness has predictably contributed a hearty meat and potatoes style, but Nordic food isn’t usually too heavy. A favorite Swedish meal for me would be Janson’s Frestelse (Janson’s Temptation), which is a savory oven-baked potato dish with anchovies, similar to an au-gratin dish. But a childhood dish that really stands out is Mom’s stuffed cabbage rolls, baked in a cream gravy in a deep iron pot.
3. Do you own a Smart Phone? (iPhone, etc.) Do you Tweet? Facebook?
I love my iPhone,. The interface is so simple and effective, and the steel and glass construction is artful. On the go things like mapping, news, email or networking are so easy now. I indulge in reading the New York Times App in bed in the morning with a coffee. It’s like the future has finally arrived, when you can really enjoy the Times without the paper.
I resisted switching over to Apple products a few years ago, but now I’m as fanatical about their tech solutions as so many are. I’m increasingly justifying the need for an iPad – that will happen very soon. We’re even working on a Bluewater App for the Apple store featuring our mixology and other features.
I tweet with Bluewater, www.twitter.com/bluewatervodka Twitter is a unique platform – I appreciate the dynamic world of tweets and the positive sharing of information. Twitter moves at a blistering pace. I don’t think I’m a great tweeter, but it’s fun to engage as much as I can.
On Facebook, we’re at www.facebook.com/bluewatervodka The Bluewater page is always evolving and I load this with as much content as possible. I think Facebook will continue to power up the internet for some years to come so it’s definitely a focus for Bluewater. I’m fascinated that businesses can now consider launching without their own dedicated domain, just a page on FB.
4. You live on a sailboat. Have you ever taken it really far from the home port? Caribbean? Vancouver, BC? California coastline? Have you ever thought you were going to sink? (I have been in seas so tall that I went below deck so I wouldn’t have to get buried by the waves.)
You never want to sink! Most sailors deal with that fear constantly, it’s just inescapable with the constant threat of groundings, collisions, gear failures and heavy weather. So we spend great efforts on maintenance, skills, knowledge – anything that can thwart a mishap or anticipate a complication. Someone said sailing is 90% terror and 10% ecstasy. The fears are always present, but the payback of blissfully flying across the water with only the power of the wind is so worth it.
Sailing has always been a part of me, since my first memories. We sailed as a family all around Sweden and New England growing up. As I got older I sailed extensively in the beautiful archipelago of Stockholm in the Baltic Sea. I also spent a lot of time on the water in Florida, though that was mostly by motorboat. Now I sail in the Pacific Northwest and moor our boat in Seattle, in the saltwater of the Puget Sound.
I’m a total waterdog, and water has always had a pull on me. In college and some years afterwards, I lived in the Rockies for the skiing. I took up whitewater kayaking to stay connected with the water, and learned so much about reading the river for obstructions, flow, eddies and hydraulics. Now I find myself reading the coastal waters when the tides are pushing at max ebb or flood for the fastest path or avoiding eddy rips. Water is fascinating, and I love experiencing the whole hydrological cycle – from the mountain snows and glacial ice, to the rivers and oceans, and the weather that drives the whole system.
We sail as often as we can, and just returned from six days sailing in the San Juan Islands. It was early in the season, with no other boats out there. We sailed to the Rosario resort on Orcas Island where we got married and had the place to ourselves. I suppose it was a sales trip since Bluewater made its appearance at a few locales.
A trip that stands out as especially delightful, was spending a month exploring the area of coastal B.C north of Vancouver called Desolation Sound. We sailed through deep fjords with glacier-capped peaks above and swam in 75F water. It was so stunningly beautiful and relaxing. At one point we were anchored next to a huge waterfall at the head of the Princess Louisa inlet nestled amid towering mountains. The coast from Seattle to Juneau offers a lifetime of wild coastal terrain to explore.
Most of the sailing we do now is helping train us for future adventures. My wife studies Glaciology and we are both avid skiers and climbers. We want to acquire a metal sailboat capable of voyaging to the glaciated mountains of the higher latitudes. The ultimate goal would be to even winter-over in some of these remote areas. It’s still a ways off, but we’re working towards that style of exploration.
5. What is in your galley fridge right now?
For the cocktailing front, there’s blackberries, strawberries, olives, plenty of citrus and ice. On the food side, we have a couple nice Austrian cheeses and butter that Jessica brought back from a recent trip. Pickled herring and assorted kippers for sailing snacks. Veggies are abundant thanks to the arrival of our organic produce box today. There’s also whole milk, eggs and bacon (a staple). One gem in the fridge is Arthur Bryant’s barbeque sauce from Kansas City.
Thank you John. I’ve got a bottle of your Bluewater Vodka in the freezer right now, infused with a handful of caraway seeds. Cheers to you!
Rebecca Carlisle is the Senior Editor of Workman Publishing, a boutique firm in TriBeCa. I became friendly with her after I wrote the Five Questions with another of her authors, Mark Kurlansky: who wrote World Without Fish, Cod, Salt and many others pertaining to the lore of the sea. She sent me a copy of: French Classics Made Easy and immediately I was hooked.
I was trained to be a chef. From pot sink to dish sink to cleaning out the trash in the heat of the summer to peeling potatoes. Sure, people graduate from culinary schools; there are dozens of them. I believe that the best way to become more proficient in the kitchen is to have strong teachers, yes. But more importantly, the desire and passion to cook should be the driving ambition. Tasting, sipping, drinking, eating. You must love food and not be afraid of food to be able to write about food.
Richard Grausman, the author of this book is passionate about food. The first thing I did after unwrapping the package sent to me from Workman Publishing was spill some flour all over the book. If I had the time, I’d dog- ear all the corners and underline most of the book with my annotations and scribbled cooking notes. If the book was edible, I’d season it, cook it, and finally consume it.
The recipes read clearly and the execution is flawless. I like the easy to follow illustrations and the writing makes me salivate. Even the Balthazar cookbook doesn’t go as far with French cooking as Richard does with his book. I’m dying to try the Veal Medallions with sauteed root vegetables- but Fall is several months away. I think the Shrimp a la Provencale will do rather nicely with a white Cotes du Rhone gently resting in the wine cellar. One from Louis Dressner will do rather nicely with the iodine salinity of the shrimp. I loved the easy to read instructions, the classic hand drawn illustrations and the simple translations. There are even simple recipes for jams! Chocolate desserts are no less important than the preparations of ice creams. Bananas Flambeed with Rum? Classic! Instructions how to flambe? Brilliant!
I want to meet this chef and discuss aged rum with him. I have a feeling that we will be on common ground surrounding this salubrious spirit!
Now that it is strawberry season, the mere mention of Strawberries with Sabayon makes me sweat.
Crepes? Why not with Richard’s easy to follow instructions for the lightest and airiest crepes imaginable? You’ll never stop on the street and get gouged by the crepe merchants again when you see just how easy it really is to make crepes a l’orange.
Easy to read, entertaining and well researched, this is a marvelous easy to read cook book. Everyone should buy a copy.
Please click here for a brief bit of enlightenment! http://www.eattv.com/watch/more/food_social_media
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
COCKTAIL WHISPERER, Editor
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Billy Reid: Bourbon, Branch and a Splash of Southern Lore
Blue Hill/Stone Barns: Time Exists in Harmony with Nature
The Cocktail Whisperer asks Anthony Bourdain Four Questions about Scotch
The Five Questions: Andrew Bell, American Sommelier
The Five Questions Catherine Reynolds
The Five Questions: Lincoln Henderson (Master Distiller)
The Five Questions: Natalie West (Foppiano Wines)
The Five Questions: Randall Grahm
The Five Questions: Sustainable Sushi
A Glass of Bourbon, Branch, and History
Midnight in the Bronx: Visit to Hunt’s Point Wholesale Fish Exchange
A Modern Day Absinthe Alchemist
A Summer Cocktail Party for Artie Shaw
Tales of the Cocktail: New Orleans, Louisiana