Sip A Newfangled Old-Fashioned Cocktail At The US Grant Hotel

Malahat Spirits Co. has collaborated with the historic downtown San Diego property to commemorate the end of Prohibition. It’s the bee’s knees!
A label from Malahat Spirits Co.’s US Grant Old Fashioned. (Courtesy photo)

There’s a bit to unpack in the story of Malahat Spirits Co.’s new cocktail being served exclusively at the luxurious US Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego.

I got to sample Malahat’s pre-mixed Old Fashioned at a launch party inside the historic hotel’s Grant Grill Lounge. This “cat’s pajamas” libation is just-out-of-the-barrel, packaged-in-bottles and made with plum-imbued Rye whiskey.

But let’s start with some shared history.

The US Grant opened in 1910. It was created by Ulysses S. Grant Jr., in honor of his father, the 18th President of the United States.

A decade after the hotel opened, along came Prohibition. Liquor was outlawed during the Roaring Twenties, but that didn’t mean fancy places like the US Grant didn’t have on-the-sly speakeasies onsite.

There used to be secret tunnels that transported saltwater from the San Diego Bay to the hotel’s underground plunge pools. The tunnels (which are blocked off today) are where the booze came in.

The liquor arrived on local shores via small bootlegger boats. Often, those rum runners ferried the illegal spirits in after picking it up from an infamous, five-masted Canadian schooner called Malahat (there’s a documentary).

The 246-foot vessel was created to be a lumber transport. But Captain Stuart Stone discovered liquor was a more lucrative cargo. The Malahat reportedly could carry upwards of 100,000 bottles at a time.

Nicknamed “Queen of Rum Row,” the Malahat would anchor in international waters and unload its hard stuff onto smaller boats all up and down the California coast.

Malahat Spirits Co. head distiller Ken Lee at the US Grant.

Ken Lee is the head distiller at Miramar-based Malahat Spirits Co.

“We did our research, went to the San Diego Historical Society and that boat is where we got the name of the company.” Lee says.

He and two friends founded the distillery, where handcrafting is the focus.

Malahat puts out small batches of rum, bourbon, vodka and Rye whiskey. Pouring the latter, Lee’s personal go-to drink is an Old Fashioned.

He told me that in the recent past, he wasn’t getting decent versions of the cocktail at bars–even in posh destinations like Santa Barbara and Napa Valley.

If you want something done right…right?

Consistency isn’t a problem with The US Grant Old Fashioned. Pre-mixed with liqueur and plum syrup, it’s packaged in bottles (unlike the current trend to can pre-mixed cocktails).

Don’t look for it in stores. This Old Fashioned can only be ordered at the bar in the Grant Grill Lounge. Bottles are exclusively sold to guests staying at the hotel.

This collaboration was forged in commemoration of the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.

Next time you want to “go on a toot” and get some “giggle water” at a “juice joint,” you should “know your onions,” “put on some glad rags” and “flap” over to the US Grant. Y’see? SDSun

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