The Five Questions: Max Watman (Author of Chasing the White Dog)
October 28, 2010
Of course we would have a few glasses of brown, then some more…
Max is one of the undisputed author-stars of the spirits-journalism world. His topic is small batch- handcrafted Whiskey. Specifically the kind of Whiskey that doesn’t have a tax stamp on the side. I like his way of telling stories. He states, “I’m not a distiller; I tell stories.”
Thanks Max. You are a marvelous story-teller, which is exactly what we do on Wild River Review. We tell stories.
I was initially introduced to his writing from my friend Bella Stander who has a passion for all things Whiskey. I’ve read Max’s writing in the New York Times. He writes with a forthright style- friendly, unpretentious and informative. I’ve been doing a fair amount of tasting of Whiskey lately. First over at the Marriot Marquis a few short weeks ago for the Ultimate Beverage Challenge where I tasted my way through an historical snapshot of Whiskey, all of them sweet and delicious. Tasting whiskey with the pros teaches me about each one in a very specific manner.
Plus, I am fortunate to get to try many things that I may not ever get the chance to taste otherwise!
Yesterday while in NYC for an interview on cocktail bitters I just had to drink some Rye Whiskey to drive the taste of bitters deeply into my subconscious. Reading Max’s writing is like enjoying a sip of the sublime.
1. Where did you grow up? Have you always had a taste for adventure? When did you catch the Whiskey bug?
I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, out in the woods. My backyard was a ridge of the Massanutten Mountain, and if you walked it far enough, you were in the George Washington National Forest. I’ve always liked wandering and I’ve always been an amateur anthropologist.
Adventure for me is about the people one meets along the way — the weirder it gets, the more I enjoy it.
I don’t remember a moment of realization with whiskey, I always liked it. I remember going on a catering job with my father; we were doing an event in Virginia, some big party at Strattford Hall, where Robert E. Lee was born. We were there with Jamie & Rachel Nicolls fromSummerfield Veal. After the job we all went back to the hotel with leftovers and slurped oysters and passed a bottle of bourbon around. I was pretty young — maybe 13 or 14 — but it struck me as perfect, still does.
2. Do you cook? If so, who taught you? Mother, Father? Grandparents? Cookbooks? Television?
I cook. My folks are astoundingly good cooks. Throughout my childhood I sat on a stool by the butcher block while something was cooked. I thought I was ignoring it most of the time, but I wasn’t. When it came time to bone my first chicken, I found that I knew exactly what I was supposed to do.
My family worked as purveyors — and very occasional caterers — when I was in my adolescence. We sourced the Shenendoah Valley for good lamb and beef and rabbits and sold those in Washington D.C. A friend of ours started the Shoreham Squab company in Maryland, and that was the cornerstone of our business. My mom was making bootleg, unpasteurized chèvre, too. I came of age, so to speak, sitting around in the kitchens of very good restaurants — places like Jean Louis at the Watergate.
There was always a taste of this or that, bits of caviar and chocolate and glasses of port.
I began my adult life with enough of a food education to work in kitchens, and I worked as a cook for most of the eight years I spent going to college. I worked at greasy spoons, zooming through 300 covers with no one else in the kitchen except the dishwasher. I worked in some very nice little kitchens, too. I never worked on a formal brigade, I don’t know how I would have done with that level of formality. I almost went to work with Jimmy Sneed, when he was running the Frog and the Redneck in Richmond. I balked during the interview process when they were talking about the hours and the specificity of the thing. I don’t remember what they needed, but basically they said something like “You’ll have to come in at 5 AM Sunday through Thursday and assemble terrines for 11 hours.”
I read cookbooks and food books, and I love them, but I rarely cook from them directly. They inspire, they bring new ideas, new flavors to think about. And they remind me of things I can never remember for some reason, like how much liquid it takes to cook a half cup of polenta.
3. I saw you use both Twitter and Facebook. Do you have a social media strategy? Do you have a smartphone?
My phone is smarter than me, I’m sure. I don’t have a strategy — maybe I should ask my phone if it does? I bet it does.
4. If you could be anywhere in the world where would that be? What would you eat/drink once you got there?
I would really like to see one of those outdoor noodle bazaars that spring up at night in Vietnam, but if I have to choose one place, I’d always say that I want to be at home. My perfect day involves shucking oysters in my yard, with a good fire and some good whiskey, maybe a bottle of champagne. It’s a very attainable goal — in fact, it’s what I did this weekend.
5. Is there anything that you’ve imbibed that brings a tear to your eye? What is it? Why?
Just this weekend! A friend of mine shot a wood duck, and we hung it for a few days to get some high game flavor. We put it in a smoker with a hot wood fire going and fire roasted it. We ate it off the cutting board. I smeared some foie gras on a piece of crusty baguette and laid a slice of the breast on top of it. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
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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