Welcome to Mixology Spirit. In this edition we visit with Dave Blomberg to learn about his passion for cocktail making and the inspiration behind his startup, CT Cocktail Car. Dave built us a delicious Blackberry Bourbon Sour, while working out of his classic 1974 Volkswagon Camper Van, which has been retrofitted to serve as a mobile bar.
Batchers: Where do you work and what’s your role?
Dave: I am the owner of and the principal bartender for the CT Cocktail Car. I also consult for restaurants and catering companies, customizing menus and training staff.
Batchers: When did you catch the bug for cocktail making?
Dave: I think it was sometime between buying a copy of Liquid Intelligence, by Dave Arnold and the moment I realized that sour mix from a bag is awful. It was an enlightening period of time. I started bartending about 15 years ago but really got serious about my technique in the last 5 years or so.
Batchers: What inspired you to launch CT Cocktail Car?
Dave: A few years ago, my wife and I were talking about where to have our outdoor wedding and quickly realized there were not too many options for off-site caterers with a cocktail focus. There are a few out there who definitely take pride in ingredients and technique, but their delivery seems to be the inevitable folding table set-up. I chose the VW bus for reasons both personal and practical. My dad and grandfather worked on them and I guess I thought it would be cool to have that connection. The VW bus has wonderfully nostalgic and timeless charm, but has a real practicality with the perfect amount of usable space for two bartenders and all of their requirements. I’ve seen them elsewhere but not in the Nutmeg State so, here we are!
Batchers: Tell us what it took to customize your 1974 VW Campervan into a mobile cocktail bar?
Dave: It started out as a clean, but rough vehicle from Arizona, by way of Tennessee. I shipped it up here three years ago, stripped it down to bare metal and built it from the ground up–with the help of a couple handy friends and a couple very talented auto shops. Everything in it is brand new: the motor, wiring, brakes, suspension, upholstery in original materials and colors, original factory colors, window, seals, refrigerators, a sink, glass rinsers, sweet antique shelving made from sailboat seats, custom cabinetry, and a beautiful handmade butcher block bartop. We installed two ice coolers in order to be able to store shaking ice and large format clinebell ice, which I cut for individual glass sizes using a bandsaw. We had to use the steel and aluminum framework in the roof wisely to ensure we had the proper structural strength we needed. In the future, we might need something like these steps for caravan to make getting in and out of the van a little easier (especially if we’re carrying a whole load of supplies) but, for now, we’re managing fine with that. There is a lot more detail about the restoration, but all in all, it took three years of hard work.
Batchers: Given you’re one of the first to launch something like this, was it hard to get the proper permitting?
Dave: Not as hard as you think! As a catering company, we serve some great food–both by preference and by law. As soon as Hartford realized my intention wasn’t to just use it as a portable bar, the process of permiting went quickly.
Batchers: What has the response been like so far?
Dave: Incredible! The van certainly helps attract people and creates an instant connection. Lots of people have a story about a bus they took a trip in or an uncle who used to have a VW bus–they love to talk about it. It’s not that I overlooked that aspect of familial nostalgia, or that it was a happy accident, but I’m pleasantly surprised how it helps break the ice and creates conversation and conviviality.
Batchers: What is your favorite Litchfield Distillery spirit to work with?
Dave: It varies. In the summer I like their Batchers’ Gin. It is a workhorse of a gin with a subtle, citrusy sweetness that is both mellow and bright. It lends its qualities well to a broad spectrum of drinks. In the cooler months, I’ll treat myself to a simple Manhattan with their Port Cask Finished Bourbon Whiskey wth amaro instead of sweet vermouth, and serve it in a cedar-smoked glass. Pricey, but special!
Batchers: What does The Spirit of Hard Work mean to you?
Dave: I think being able to acknowledge that your pain, stress or discomfort is momentary–and that believing something better is on the other end. That’s The Spirit of Hard Work. In the combat world they say “the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in the fight.” I resonate with that, however cliche it may be. I think you also need to have a “why.” You can be the reason you work hard or it could be your partner or a cause you are passionate about. If you believe in that “why,’ half the battle is won for you.
How to make the Blackberry Bourbon Sour
Muddle 2 blackberries in a shaker. Add remaining ingredients and shake. Pour over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with citrus peel and a blackberry.
About Mixology Spirit:
Mixology Spirit is a Litchfield Distillery blog series dedicated to sharing the stories of creative and passionate mixologists who embody The Spirit Of Hard Work . Think you got what it takes to be featured? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2018 Litchfield Distillery. Photography & Editing Credit: Tony Vengrove