It’s a Riot

Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum! The Rum Riot celebrates spirits, cocktails and everything that goes into crafting & drinking.

On June 2, 1855, smack in the middle of Maine’s prohibition, Portland Mayor Neal Dow stupidly hid a cache of rum inside city hall. That is, he did until city residents discovered it and stormed city hall — Portland’s mini-Bastille moment. History says about 3,000 residents protested Dow, nicknamed the Napoleon of Temperance, and the city council.

Now, Portlandites — and anyone else wanting to join in the fun — are celebrating that act of defiance this weekend with the second annual Rum Riots, a series of events celebrating cocktails, bars, and bartenders from around New England.

Portland bartender John Myers calls himself a "frustrated librarian and latent hoarder" | Photo by Tom Minervino

Portland bartender John Myers calls himself a “frustrated librarian and latent hoarder” | Photo by Tom Minervino

The five-day celebration, May 30-June 3, takes place in a variety of locations in and around Portland. Presented by Bow Street Distributing, the celebration of all things alcohol includes everything from learning about bitters, shrubs, and spirits to a bar technique seminar with Jeffrey Morgenthaler, bar manager of Clyde Common (2014 winner of Best Hotel Bar in America by Tales of the Cocktail & 2015 James Beard semi-finalist for Outstanding Bar Program) and Pépé Le Moko (Named one of the 5 Best New Cocktail Bars in America by Bon Appétit). Lest you worry Rum Riots is too cerebral, a bartender competition and a downtown bar crawl are also on the to-do list.

We caught up with one of the presenters, well-known Portland bartender John Myers, before he was too breathless from mixing up mint juleps for 20. (Yup, that’s part of his presentation. Even the chats feature booze at this event.) Myers, who works at the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, and Don Lindgren, owner of Rabelais, an acclaimed Biddeford, Maine bookshop specializing in food and drink, will talk about the history of the cocktail book and cocktail ephemera. They’ll also be serving up four different cocktails from different eras.”

“Books are a great vehicle for transmitting culture,” says Myers, noting this is especially true in niche markets such as cocktail books and cookbooks. “The names and ingredients evoke the times so transparently,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Rum Riot

Photo courtesy of Rum Riot

Myers chose the mint julep as one of the featured drinks in this seminar because it was a subcategory in one of his favorite post-Prohibition books: an eponymous book by a well-known southern bartender called Irwin S. Cobb’s Own Recipe Book. “He’s hilarious and curmudgeonly, an authentic Kentuckian,” says Myers. “He’s the Jon Stewart of his age.” He could also, Myers says, properly concoct bourbon drinks.

Reservations are required for some events. See details on the Rum Riot website or on Facebook.

Emily Hannigan-PageIt’s a Riot