Part of the exquisite enjoyment of the cocktail renaissance is the wealth of knowledge to be had about what you drink. And the beauty of it all is that you don’t have to depend on books. Case in point: Ron Taylor, one of the many talented bartenders at Mama’s Fish House.
I dropped in on Taylor without notice on a sunny afternoon in Kuau. With no reservation, I headed straight for the bar to check out some of the signature cocktails the Mama’s mixologists dream up. These drinks—a rotation of about 45—aren’t on the regular menu, but rather are featured as specials of the day. The pupus and cocktails experience at Mama’s is unpretentious luxury, and can be spontaneous.
Taylor—standing behind a bar made from one piece of shedua wood, crafted by Bill Cole—is a great tender of booze. The drink of the day was a paniolo lemonade mixed with fresh Meyer lemonade and Jack Daniels, one of Taylor’s own creations. “[Owner] Floyd Christenson gives us the freedom to try different things, and work with fresh ingredients,” says Taylor. “This cocktail is a twist on the Lynchburg lemonade—not everyone comes in wanting Jack.”
In fact, the tropical drinks are most popular here—blending well with the Polynesian-inspired menu—and the Mai Tais are out of this world. Their fully stocked bar features some hard-to-find selections; I noticed Koloa rum, made on Kauai, and asked Taylor about it and he gave me a taste, explaining that it is a very young rum. Next, he poured me a taste of the Zaya gran reserve, aged for 12 years, so I could get a comparison. Even, or perhaps especially, if you don’t know anything about rum, it’s an interesting comparison.
Taylor is a walking Wikipedia of spirits, and the rest of the staff at Mama’s will tell you as much. With his background lore on the origins of drinks and wealth of facts about the spirits you order, I kept the questions coming. Taylor never missed a beat, and clearly enjoyed sharing his information. What’s the difference between brandy and cognac? What kind of cocktails can you make with it? “Cognac is distilled from grapes, and from a specific region in France,” Taylor told me. “One of the cocktails made with it is the Sidecar; it’s known as an after-dinner drink.” The Sidecar, Taylor continued, “was invented during world War I in France. There was a guy who came to [a] bar and ordered it—of course [he] came in a motorcycle side car.”
Since I’m a whiskey fan, and the Paniolo lemonade featured Jack, Taylor gave me a quick lesson in the particulars of this beautiful brown booze. “Its name is Gaelic in origin, and whiskey means water of life. In Scotland it’s served with a few drops of spring water to open up the flavors. We do that here [at Mama’s], a special treat for our Scotch drinkers.” He served me up the basics of the bar in easy-to-drink form: Irish whiskey is from Ireland, Scotch is whiskey made in Scotland, bourbon is whiskey made in the U.S. The barreling process is fascinating, and Taylor has traveled to nether parts of the world to witness it himself.
While I came to examine (and imbibe) fine mixed cocktails, I came away with a wealth of knowledge, making me a more discerning drinker. Finding a great bartender to help you along on your quest is an important part of the puzzle. I can’t wait to park myself in front of Taylor again for my next lesson.
Mama’s Fish House 799 Poho Pl., Paia, 579-8488 Bar open daily starting at 11am