Cachaça—It’s What’s for Happy Hour

461px-Caipirinha2Since the publication of Vodka: How a Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless Spirit Conquered America, I’ve been fortunate to receive the occasional sample of liquor. But a recent miscommunication led to my acquiring an entire case of Cachaça 51—that clear spirit fermented from sugar cane (as opposed to molasses, which leads to rum). It was only proper that I write a column about this booze from Brazil, right? You’ll find it here at

Photo by Cachaca Dave at the English-language Wikipedia

Will Jon Taffer Rescue America?

Jon Taffer 2Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking with business entrepreneur Jon Taffer, host of Bar Rescue on Spike. He had just spoken at the Defending the American Dream Summit in Columbus, Ohio. It was his first political event and probably not his last considering how much he enjoyed it. You can find my write up at Below, however, you can find our entire unedited exchange on the phone. Enjoy.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 25, 2015, 12:15 p.m.

VM: Did AFP come to you? Did they offer you honorarium? Did you know who they were and what they do? Or did they have to explain a bit about their message to get you on board?

JT: They came to me. They offered me an honorarium. I was lightly familiar with the organization. Of course I did my homework. And I share common platforms with them as came out in the speech, particularly with regard to small businesses, and I wanted to provide what I felt was a policy speech and not so much a political one. And I put together a speech that I believe I could have given at a conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican event. And I really focused on that policy rather than any party and I hope that came out that way.

VM: You seemed very on message and connected with the audience. It’s a speech I assume that you’ve given before in various forms. But was this the first politically connected event you’ve done? I mean, I think you might’ve been the only nonelected person on stage at that summit.

JT: I was. I was the only nonelected person there. Most of them as you know are candidates. Yeah, that was the first—other than ranting in my living room after watching—it was the first political speech I’ve ever given.

VM: How did it feel?

JT: Oh, it felt fantastic. You know, honestly, I feel like I have a message. I feel I’m extremely passionate about that message and I feel I have a platform and honestly I’m hoping that I can develop a relationship with whoever the candidate is and be a voice of that platform. And that can make a difference and I’m really committed to doing something.

VM: Listening to your speech on YouTube, you don’t waste any time—as usual, you get right to the point. It’s the problem of big government, federal regulators, and busybody bureaucrats. What is it about these guys that drives you crazy?

JT: They don’t understand business. And the choices sometimes just defy logic. And I had a really moving experience. I was shooting Bar Rescue in Youngstown, Ohio, for two weeks. And I mentioned it slightly at the beginning of my speech. I mean, you know how I do my demographics, Vic. The median household income was $14,000 a year. I had to go three miles out to get to $22,000 a year in median income. I mean, downtown is gutted. Nobody is investing. No big corporation’s going to come in and resolve this and I spent the whole day with the mayor and it was incredibly moving. But what bothered me was it was so illogical, it so slapped any premise of logic, economics, motivation, stimulation. It slaps it all in the face. And it’s astonishing to me that we can’t be more practical—forget politics, just more practical in our regulatory and political choices.

VM: You also mention Obamacare. You’re not a fan. You think it’s a hindrance to small business as well.

JT: I do. But I think as I said in the speech there are two major issues. I think half of America, from a small business standpoint, still doesn’t understand it. They still don’t quite know what it’s going to mean, what it’s going to do there. They think as bad as the economic impact is, people think it’s worse. To this day, they’ve never made small business comfortable with it. And there are people I believe every day that are not pulling that trigger of starting their own business because of this fear, and it’s still there, and it’s amazing to me that after all these years that that fear of the unknown is still there. And our politicians have failed completely in making the unknown known.

VM: I think part of the fear is that the Obamacare bills have been kicked down the road—we haven’t had to pay for any of it yet.

JT: You bet. You bet. And let’s face it—this is not the highest trust time for our political leaders. So we know there are bona fide things we should be fearful of that are coming down the pike. But I think the average American now worries about what they didn’t tell us. And that’s a discussion in itself that’s horrifying.

VM: So what’s the solution? Any solution for what’s ailing this country? What is it we need?

JT: You know, we recognize that schoolchildren need school supplies. And we recognize in many places in America that every August we have to do something for families to make certain that they can get the supplies they need for school, so there are many places that eliminate sales taxes for a period of time, over clothes and certain things—you know what I’m referring to there. And I find it interesting that as a society we can step up and turn our back on all those sales taxes because of education.

How about if we turned our back on small business taxes, created federal enterprise zones, if you will, and created a moratorium on small business taxes for businesses that do under $2 million a year, are truly owned by individuals—not corporations—have under 50 employees, and they’re going to be built in a downtown or economically hungry area that if we set not partial—not 80 percent—a complete tax moratorium on those entities for one, two, or three years, what would that do to small-town America? Suddenly rather than people saying, “I’m going to wait another year and see what shakes out with Obamacare” and everything, they would say, “We should start our business now and take advantage of the full tax opportunity.” We would have businesses opening in months.

And when we look at the economic impact of the relief that we give in other ways, this to me seems a no-brainer. What we could accomplish in three years, with the tax moratorium on new small businesses, I think could be remarkable. And the economic impact, I believe, would be extremely manageable compared with other programs.

And I’m being aggressive. But I’ve learned in my life, Vic—excuse me for the long answer—if I do two-for-one cocktails or a moderate, or a slightly incentivized offer, I’ll get 10 people to come. But if I give away free chicken wings all afternoon, they’ll line up around the block. We need to be bold. I want them to line up around the block and open businesses, not four people walk up.

VM: Did you run any of this by the presidential candidates? Anyone you like?

JT: I did not. We came in and out of green rooms at separate times, so I did not. And honestly, between you and me, I’m surprised I haven’t heard from any of them….

I like a number of them. I’m not certain who’s electable and who isn’t. You know what’s interesting—this is a sideline—I went on the Stuart Varney show about six months ago, and I said that Hillary Clinton was unelectable. I used the word “Nixonian.” I used the word “coverup.” I said the coverup would be greater than the crime. And Varney looked at me like I was crazy. I just thought I’d mention that, between you and me as friends. And I did on the air, by the way.

You know, I like Trump for a couple of reasons. Here’s my feeling: I really don’t want to elect someone who owes favors all over town. And when I look at Bush donations, I get terrified when I read that 50 percent of his donations are coming from people who donated to his father and his brother. So these are three generations of favors this guy owes. That scares me as much as I like him. Three generations of indebtedness and favors to people scares the hell out of me at this time in our history.

So, names aside, I’m hung up on hiring a politician who’s too entrenched right now. And I believe our next president should owe a minimal favors. And I think America speaks in the same focus. Look at the candidates who are leading—the least political history and connections. So, I’m one of those. And when I look at Trump, I’m not sure I’d vote for him for president, but I think his approach right now … but I also think the fact that he doesn’t owe anybody anything is very appealing to America.

VM: You’ve got a loyal following, a cult following, a hit TV show. So … have you given any thought to running for president?

JT: No…. But I would certainly get involved and contribute to whatever is necessary.

You know one thing did happen at AFP. Cruz spoke after me and he did use the words “small business” two times in his speech and I can’t help but wonder if that was in there prior to the speech. But if I had created any part in getting him to say those two words …

But I’ve gotta tell you. If a candidate puts together a small business platform, I’ll go out on the road for him. You know, I’ll support him. I’ve got a good millennial base that I think can bring some voters, but I’ve got to believe in their platform because of small business.

VM: So no one’s asked you to run?

JT: There are posters online. And there’s a viral thing that’s been going on about running for president. Of course, I get a kick out of it, Vic. And between you and me, I think I can do a far better job than the people in the White House who do it. You know, I’d be more inclusive. I’d get in the car, I’d drive to Capitol Hill, I’d walk up those stairs, and I’d break down … And that’s the kind of president that I think we need. They don’t come to him. I’m going to come to them.

If I was president, I would get in the car, I’d go to Capitol Hill, I’d go up those stairs, and … I’d say, “I’m not leaving until we fix something.”

VM: Your life must be so changed now since 2011.

JT: Yeah, it is, you know. The show’s rankings are stronger than ever. I’m doing live back-to-the-bars now in front of a live audience. I signed another development deal with the network for another show. I have two others in production. And you’re right. You and I spoke years ago. I thought I was going to make a TV show and go home. I’m still doing it, Vic….

Now, about a year ago, I realized, okay, I’m not going so quick. Now I had to modify the rest of my life to fit into my TV world rather than the other way around.

VM: What can we expect next from you and the show?

JT: Well, you know, we’re doing these live shows now, which are really, really exciting. We’re shooting them now. I just signed to do 20 more Bar Rescues. And we’re mixing up the format constantly and as long as people keep wanting to watch for me, honestly, the hug at the end means more to me than the check, Vic. And that’s where I’m at with it. And as long as I can keep getting that hug and helping people and saving jobs, it’s really hard to stop doing it.

Guilders and Schillings and Francs, Oh My!

800px-ForintsThe continuing economic crisis in Greece brought to mind my backpacking days in Europe: Traveling around with a college buddy, hitting 11 cities in one month, most of it a blur. There was the antisemitic innkeeper with the Jewish husband in Amsterdam, the drunken captain at a Fasching (as opposed to fascist) party in Trier, Germany, and the Czech dude in sweats and flip-flops who watched soccer all day at our pension in Prague. And then there was our Brewster’s Millions experience in Budapest, with more forints than we had days to spend them. I elaborate at

Photo of forints by Egrian

As I Lay Dying

Patient_room_with_hospital_bedWell, I wasn’t quite dying. It could’ve gone either way. Lucky for me, I recovered (am still recovering) from my Strep A infection/cellulitis, following a mosquito bite late last May. Taking the advice of a friend battling cancer, I compartmentalized, focusing on the next immediate step, whether it be lab results, bringing my temperature down below 100, or lowering that white blood cell count. Don’t think about anything deeper or longer term—don’t speculate. How did I end up here? If only I hadn’t been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Will I ever see the inside of my house again, because we’re approaching a week in the hospital? What will happen to my kids?

Once I turned the corner, I could reflect more deeply on such things. But speculating at a time of uncertainty—I just didn’t find it helpful.

So I’ve shared my experience, at least partially, over at I could’ve written more about the dining experience—for the first few days, my only friend was Jell-O and a fruit cup. Having a bowl of Rice Krispies was a big step. Then came a tuna sandwich (strangely with a most delicious slice of tomato). And finally the hospital cheeseburger in all its melty goodness.

And then I was checked out. I sat alone, no longer attached to an IV or telemetry set, able to walk to the bathroom without the fear of accidentally having my IV tube yanked off (this happened, blood spurted everywhere, and it took the nurses seven tries to get the IV back in my vein). But my room service lunch was late. I could’ve left, or finished half the meal. But damn it, I’m paying for all this, so I might as well enjoy it. And I did.

Photo courtesy of the National Cancer Institute/Diane A. Reid

You Are What You Eat

670px-DoritosHaving recently been hospitalized, I took note of what foods I found appealing—and what my body could handle (digestively). Those first few days it was a fruit cup, Italian ice, and mostly Jell-O. Eventually I was attracted to complex carbs and was able to get down an English muffin with orange marmalade. Then came cereal and by the end of my stay, scrambled eggs and bacon. The experience reminded me of a 1926 experiment, in which a Chicago pediatrician allowed children under his care to eat from a selection of healthy choices, any time and as much or as little as they wanted. Some kids were having liver for breakfast. When mono struck the group, they turned to things like beets. As Mark Schatzker points out in his fascinating The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor, humans know where to turn for sustenance in nature—the same goes for sheep, goats, and insects, based on experiments. But in a supermarket, our directional systems suffer what one scientist calls “metabolic derangements.” Technology has fooled our brains into thinking some foods are a vital source of nutrition when, in fact, they’re just Doritos. I recently reviewed the book in The Wall Street Journal.

New York State of Mind

×ì÷,FìßgÿÙTwo things jumped out at me while watching last night’s series finale of Mad Men: One, we are finally told when the episode is set. In Joan’s apartment-makeshift-office, we see the calendar stating in large print, “November 1970.” When Pete Campbell tells Peggy she could be the first female creative director by 1980, she is struck by how far away that sounds, even though it’s a mere 10 years. Of course 2025 sounds like the distant future as well.

Second was the wonderful cameo by … Helen Slater! Matthew Weiner must have a soft spot for ’80s actors—think Harry Hamlin, Ted McGinley, child star Mackenzie Astin. Our Supergirl played the part of a crunchy commune leader, which seemed appropriate since she’s so all-naturally beautiful, now age 51. (And did you recognize the land-speed mechanic as Spencer Treat Clark, the little boy from Gladiator and Unbreakable?)

Considering that Weiner is a Sopranos alumnus, I was surprised and relieved by the less-than-ambiguous ending. (I also find it curious that Brian Lowry at Variety did not address the Coke ad and its connection to McCann Erickson in real life.) It seemed clear to me that Don Draper returns to New York and helps develop the iconic ad, which McCann actually rolled out in 1971. Love, peace, and happiness—all in the service of a giant corporate product. Don absorbs his surroundings, grinning with a vision—and we even hear the “ding,” as if a light bulb is turned on.

Yes, it would have been nice to see the cast in 10 or 20 years (remember how Six Feet Under jumped to everyone’s death scenes?). Some had speculated Don would witness the Apple ad from 1984 before keeling over. But let us count our blessings. At least Roger Sterling didn’t collapse from a heart attack. At least the Campbell family did not die in a plane crash en route to Wichita (remember Col. Blake’s demise in M*A*S*H?). And at least it wasn’t all a dream.

Photo Courtesy of AMC

Office Space

eefa99d9-c02c-a10f-fa35-b690970900fc_MM_712_JM_0530_0766Was it just me, or did the empty offices of the now-definct SC&P remind you of the final days inside Hitler’s bunker? Still, all you need are an organ, a bottle of sweet vermouth, and a pair of rollerskates, and you’ve got yourself a party! It took some convincing to get Peggy into the spirit of things—but that’s Roger Sterling’s job. He convinces, even with that ridiculous mustache.

Leaving an office where, as a colleague pointed out to me yesterday, you can spend more years of your life inside than in the house you own, must be rather disorienting. There are new adventures to be had, but the aura and dynamic will never be the same. It sure isn’t for our friends from the old firm, who have now been scattered to the four winds (one of those winds can take you all the way out to Racine, Wisc.). You’ll run into each other randomly in an elevator and remark on how time flies. You promise to meet for lunch soon, as Don promises Joan, but that definition of soon may be some time in the next year.

There are always things to complain about in the office you’re in—Joan and Peggy suffering the slights of being a woman in the workplace, Harry never making partner (and deservedly not!), the senior ad guys feeling increasingly irrelevant. Then you move into the new place, which is all so sparkly, but at the end of the day you realize you never had it so good and wish to be back in the old Time-Life building. But you can’t go back, only forward, as Don would say.

So I guess the lesson is to enjoy the here and now, which our friends at SC&P often did not (something that Dave Barry noticed). And enjoy these last two episodes, imperfections and all. Because when it’s over, it’s over. And you’ll have to find a new “greatest show ever” to glom on to. (I still haven’t seen Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. I hear they’re pretty good.)

Photo credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

About That Letter

And suddenly it’s April. Where’d the time go? How is Vodka doing? And who am I talking to?

Vodka is doing just fine, and on August 8, I will be moderating a panel, History of the Cocktail: The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, at the National Archives. I’ll provide updates as the date approaches.

But in more recent news, over at, I posted a letter written by an 8-year-old boy named Peter. He addressed the letter to First Lady Michelle Obama but never sent it. His parents found the letter in his room. It’s precocious to say the least. He’s upset about the ketchup-rationing in public schools but then goes on a foreign policy rant (Peter is rather interventionist, calling for boots on the ground in the Middle East, bombing Syria, and U.N. peacekeepers in Ukraine).

The letter seems to have gone viral (a term I loathe). It’s been reprinted numerous times both here and abroad. And I just did The Jonathon Brandmeier Show on Westwood One. But what has surprised me are the number of people who doubt Peter wrote the letter. Or to be more precise, these skeptics believe his parents told him what to write. Meaning the whole thing was just a publicity stunt and, as one commenter put it, “I am either näive or complicit.” But I’ll say neither.

So just to clarify: Although other media outlets are reporting that the letter was submitted directly to The Weekly Standard, in reality, it was sent to me on a personal basis. I have been friends with Peter’s father for many years. He sent along the letter to me and two other buddies, saying, “I thought you might get a kick out of this.” I wouldn’t have minded if he suggested I post it online, but he didn’t. That was my idea, and Peter’s parents only reluctantly agreed to on the condition we disclose just the boy’s first name and absolutely nothing else. For those who think the parents want the publicity, you won’t be seeing them put Peter on Good Morning America. They aren’t redirecting everyone to their YouTube channel like those “Good Looking Parents Sing Frozen” (20 million views and counting!).

Others simply refuse to believe an 8-year-old knows anything about current events, which says more about the state of education than about Peter and his family. When I was seven, I already knew about the Iranian hostage crisis. I made fun of a fourth-grade girl whose parents voted for independent candidate John B. Anderson. It might be unusual, but it’s not impossible. My son found out about 9/11 when he was 6, while reading Fireboat: The Adventures of the John J. Harvey with his mother.

As for Peter’s composition skills, I’ve come across readers who either believe no 8-year-old could write so neatly or that no 8-year-old could write so sloppily. My son’s writing skills (at age 7) are acceptable, but I know a boy his age who attends a private school and whose writing skills are astounding (he’s even edited his father’s work!). If Mozart was able to compose music at age 5, surely an 8-year-old boy can take six months to write this letter.

But there’s no definitive proof Peter was or wasn’t coached. I don’t have video of Peter composing the letter without assistance. But knowing the family—I met Peter two years ago, and he was a quiet, quirky, and adorable kid in love with his books—I see no reason to doubt this was entirely the boy’s handiwork.

Was he simply regurgitating what his parents might have been discussing at the dinner table? Sure. I’m always surprised by what children remember. It turns out they hear everything—mine simply choose to ignore my demands they take their shoes off and wash their hands. But they do hear everything.

Car Talk

Over at the Weekly Standard, I’ve got a column concerning auto illiteracy. How many of us have studied arcane subjects that, while admirable in a life-of-the-mind sort of way, have little use when you’re, say, stuck on the side of the road with smoke billowing from beneath your car hood? Along with those AP courses, we should have been required to take shop class—carpentry and the basics of electrical work, plumbing, and auto repair. And who knows, you may even find it enriching.

Meanwhile, at WFB…

Aside from promoting Vodka, I’ve started writing occasional columns at the Washington Free Beacon. These include reviews of John Jobling’s U2: The Definitive Biography, Frances Larson’s Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found, Russell James’s “gripping” Angels, and essays celebrating the return of foie gras to California and National Meat Month. Do check them out as well as the rest of the Beacon—frequently provocative, never boring.