In the 1920s, it was still possible to live “rustically” in Westport, Connecticut — as none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald reported doing in a letter of August that year. In the present boom times of 2015? Rusticity — at least of a genuine sort, rather than a stylish affectation — is not on the menu.
You’re not likely to find a detached house in Westport worth less than a cool million. The flock that nests in this enclave on Long Island Sound are a posh bunch. In a town with less than thirty thousand people, there are no less than three yacht clubs within the city limits from which to choose. The boating races held just last year at Cedar Point Yacht Club were the largest in the town’s history, with over a hundred sailboats (up to 37 feet long) in competition.
And as any blueblood knows, nothing goes better with yachting than a good cocktail.
Westport, Connecticut, and premium booze are tight. And this is not only because cocktails are the preferred self-medication technique of the filthy rich. Given its situation on the New England coastline, with Canada not far to the north and New York City even closer, Westport was a haven for bootleggers back in the dry days of Scott & Zelda’s residency in their Compo Road cottage. Smugglers brought illicit liquors aplenty to ground on Westport’s beaches and wharves.
And so thirsty were Westporters for drink that there was a land route for intoxicants as well. The local constabulary were known to regularly forestall Prohibition Agents from stopping and searching suspicious trucks headed into town in advance of the many wild Roaring Twenties parties that some scholars argue had as much to do with inspiring The Great Gatsby as Great Neck, New York, did.
In the case of Q Ginger Beer we saw that hipster tipplers resent mixing their artisinal distillates with subpar mixers.
Well, well-to-do yachtsmen about to set sail for Gardiner’s Bay don’t like that either. Why cut the quality of a top-dollar gin or rum with Canada Dry or the store brand ginger ale from the nearby A&P?
And that’s where Regatta Ginger Beer comes in.
REGATTA: THE BRAND
Here, as with other brands we have encountered, the emphasis is clearly not on drinking ginger beer for its own sake but instead on posing the soda’s participation in Dark ‘n’ Stormies, Moscow Mules, and the burgeoning brigades of derivative cocktails.
Distributed by Westport’s own Affinity Beverages, a small but growing operation run by one Stanley Rottell, Regatta comes ready-branded for the seagoing elite (or at least those with aspirations to be among said elite). Not every ginger beer goes out of its way to associate itself with Bermuda. But this one does. And the aim would seem to be to further identify the product with leisure and luxury.
Is there a note of snobbery to be detected in the ad slogan, “Mixing with the Best?” Parsing the language there, it’s clear that in the main what is being referred to is the premium booze Regatta is targeting. Digging a little deeper arguably leaves you contending with the implication that moneyed nautical types are “the best.”
If these are indeed the intended semiotics, they are only fooling themselves. There is a tendency for the masses to believe that wealthy people actually possess sophisticated tastes, and that the cuisine they indulge in must be as rarified as the air they breathe. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the late, visionary culture critic Paul Fussell put it in his book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System…
“At the very top [of the social strata], the food is usually not very good, tending, like the conversation, to a terrible blandness, a sad lack of originality and cutting edge.”
Affinity Beverages isn’t front and center with its business model. But there is reason to doubt that Regatta Ginger Beer is actually produced there in Westport. One would hazard a guess that it is made and shipped by third party contract, probably by a place like Polar Beverages or Natrona Bottling Company.
Nevertheless, Mr. Rottell has done a highly respectable job getting Regatta on shelves. I have found it listed for sale all over the Northeast, at comprehensive retailers like BevMo, and had no problem getting it here on the U.S. West Coast through a distributor. (Although as you can see from the accompanying photo, my bottles arrived with the appearance of having been somewhat roughly smuggled in).
The company’s own literature reports that it “use[s] new distillation techniques to provide greater flavor impact to the beverages consistent with the same technology in the beverage alcohol industry.” But hey, let’s not prejudice the MBAs with the expectation that they should be able to write the Great American Novel.
Fitzgerald might blanch at the quality of this here prose. But how about the drink itself?
REGATTA: THE EXPERIENCE
I suppose this should be reiterated from time to time. I’m not one to shy away from the alcohol. In fact I have co-authored an upcoming book on the 9,000 year history of beer, having done my share of first-hand research. But the purpose of I Love Ginger Beer is to rate and pontificate about ginger beers qua ginger beers. So I won’t speak to the aesthetics of Regatta as a mixer.
I will say that Regatta is flavorful and drinkable. Its bouquet is a particular highlight — and should you get your mitts on a bottle (which, from what I understand, probably won’t come in the attractive green glass vessel I procured, but instead, owing to a shortage, in a clear glass version of the bottle) you should make sure you take the time to enjoy that fragrance yourself.
Regatta’s ginger taste, despite coming from extracts rather than fresh ginger or ginger oil, remains robust with no hints of anything obviously synthetic. The flavorists have done their job well. And for the squeamish there are no unsightly particles or sediment in the liquid. This being a cane sugar-sweetened beverage, Regatta is on the sweet side. In the finish I detected something of a tart, green apple personality as well. Other than that, the personality of the drink is not especially complicated.
If you seek the ginger beer afterburn, however, you are best moving on. Regatta is likely formulated not to overpower or interfere with the liquor with which it is meant to be mixed.
So in the end, this is a solid entry. But not necessarily what I would call a distinguished one. True “foodies” and heat extremists can comfortably overlook Regatta. But those who are really just on the prowl for a more robust version of ginger ale should definitely make room for Regatta in the ensuite wet bars and galleys of their Oyster 875s.