Amy Faulkner, promoter and producer extraordinaire in Seattle, Washington made her way back to Richmond this fall to put on the Carnival of Cocktails at Main St Station on October 21st. She’s a dear old friend and creator/co-host of our podcast The Dead Men of Whiskey. I’m only on season 2, so you know which ones to avoid. Check it out, it has aged well. Like a good peaty scotch from some rainy European bog.
Christian Detres: Hey Amy! Why a carnival? What’s up with that?
Amy Faulkner: Because my life is a circus but also my business is named Gilly Wagon, which is a circus vehicle. Basically. It is the cart that takes the circus around. I really like circus stuff. There’s gonna be a contortionist and an aerialist at the event as well.
CD: Oh cool. So, a gilly wagon is the thing on the box of animal crackers the animals are trying to get out of?
AF: It is the box. Ha, yeah.
CD: You don’t happen to have a ton of those in your house, right? Not animal crackers. gilly wagons. I kid because I know you do. I’ve been to your place. They’re all over the place.
AF: I do in the form of whiskey decanters. Antique, Jim Beam whiskey decanters that happen to be shaped like Gilly Wagons.
CD: For the record, this woman has one of the best collections of whiskey I’ve ever seen in a private home. It’s amazing. I drank at least a third of it while I was at your house for ten days a couple years ago, when we recorded the Dead Men of Whiskey podcast together. I pretty much stalked the house at all hours, sipping whiskey until I depleted the collection down to something more manageable. I did that for you. I was curating. I mean, shelves get heavy.
AF: eye roll
CD: I’m used to the bar crawl setup for cocktail festivals, but in Richmond, you’ve opted to go with the single venue. Tell us about what’s happening on the 21st at Main St Station.
AF: We are changing it from a cocktail week type of thing, and really focusing on consumer experience. It’s more manageable and people can get to all the vendors easier when we’re all in the same place. Also, no concerns about bad weather. Everyone should come, because who doesn’t like cocktails?
CD: Richmond does like to drink.
AF: I’ve lived here, hahaha. I know. I also think people have an interest in learning more about the spirits in their cocktails, how they’re made, and getting a better view of the artistry behind it. So this event is made for people to try really great spirits in really great cocktails prepared by incredible mixologists. So you can try a lot in one day, well, but not too much…
CD: You are legally obligated to say that.
AF: We believe in responsibility. There’s also little classes on mixology you can attend at the Carnival so you can take some knowledge back with you to your home bar situation.
CD: Oh, so there’s demonstration style things?
AF: Yeah, set up like little classrooms that you can pop into for a quick 20 minute educational thing on agave, tequila and the like.
CD: Are there any particular ones that you are looking forward to seeing or you think people will be excited about?
AF: I think people should be excited about the agave one because I think that there’s a lot of confusion with people about how you get mezcal, how to tell the difference between it and tequila, that kind of thing. They’re going to go into that and with these education sessions, it’s not like school because you get to drink. Then there’s one with Laird’s Applejack. I am obsessed with Lairds. They’ve been around since the 1800’s, still in the same family. They started in New Jersey, but I learned today that they have production in Virginia. It’s one of the spirits that built this country. They’re just one of many participating brands. We’re also bringing RTD drinks into the mix this year. That means “Ready to Drink”. That’s a big category right now for those that don’t want to make their own cocktails at home. Yeah, there’s some really good RTDs on the market that are just “pop open a can and pour it over ice and have something delicious.”
CD: So, Main Street Station right? I’m assuming you’ve got vendors arranged inside the main hall?
AF: I’m gonna walk through it in my head to remember everything but outside we have the city’s best food trucks. We’ve got two classrooms that will have sessions going on all day where you can taste your way through some education. And then we have our tasting area where brands will be sampling, either neat pours, like quarter ounce neat pours, or three ounce mini cocktails so you can try their product directly or in cocktail form. The vendors have fun things to give away. We have a DJ area, a party space – in that area we have pop ups from local bars. That’s where you can try cocktails from local bars around Richmond.
CD: Are there any in particular that that stand out?
AF: We are really excited to have The Jasper working with us.
CD: Yeah, Brandon Peck from Jasper is an old Sticky Rice dude. He used to work at Sticky for like, forever. He was a sushi roller. And then he was a bartender. He was on CBR with us a couple times. (CBR, or Cannonball Run, was a Sticky Rice-produced reality travel/adventure show from the 00’s. If you don’t remember this, ohhh, you missed out. Hilarious. If you go to the Jasper and you see Brandon, ask him about the handful of smelly fish, hot sauce, and cigarette butts he was dared to eat on a Bushwick rooftop.) I know he was on season 10, but I think on 7 too. I think. I just have a terrible memory. I can’t remember shit from those bleary years. Ha, moving on. There’s cocktail vendors, there’s classes. And what time is this going on? During the day?
AF: We’re not trying to turn it into a nightclub. It is geared to be a celebration of the Richmond mixology scene where people can come and try great liquor, learn, and leave excited about cocktails and have a really good time. We’re not trying to cut into anybody’s nightlife haha. We also know that bartenders on a Saturday typically have things to do. We want to make sure the industry folks out there get a chance to enjoy it as well. If you’ve ever bartended or worked in a restaurant, you know just how many awesome events you miss while you’re at work. We’d like to see them represented here too.
CD: That’s excellent. I’m sure there are a lot of bartenders that appreciate that. Okay, so that’s the event. I’m assuming you’ve had a long-ish track towards making this happen in Richmond. Why are you coming from Seattle to do this here?
AF: Well, that’s a good question. I love Richmond. I moved to Seattle from Richmond. I have plans to move back to Richmond. I visit frequently. I have family here. I consider Richmond home, but most importantly, to see what has happened in the food scene here. Richmond punches above its weight so hard. It really does. I love it. Every meal that I have had here the last few times I’ve been to visit has been like the best meal I’ve ever had. It’s crazy.
CD: But still that’s an effort to go cross-country to do an event even in a place that you know. You could have done this anywhere.
AF: Correct. But Gilly Wagon produces events all over the world. And yes, we could have done it anywhere. But I felt like highlighting all of the amazing stuff that’s happening with the cocktails in Richmond was important. Here more than any other city. Like I’m not going to go to Toledo and be like “let’s do this.”
CD: Nobody’s going to Toledo.
AF: Yeah, yeah. And I have to be excited about what we’re doing and promoting and I felt like I could be excited about doing it in Richmond.
CD: Oh yeah? What are your favorites? I feel like the dude that makes you name three songs from the band shirt you’re wearing to test if you’re a real fan.
AF: No, no, I can’t do favorites.
CD: Why not? Someone doesn’t make the list, they can cry about it. What are your favorites, Amy?
AF: Okay, sheesh. The Jasper has amazing cocktails and an amazing cocktail program. The Emerald Lounge, which I know is tied in with Jasper has the best pina colada I’ve ever had.
CD: Oh really?
AF: I’ve never in my life thought that I would be promoting a pina colada. I feel weird doing favorites.
CD: You can have favorites. I don’t think it’s disrespectful at all to have favorites. But then again, I’ve been a loudmouth critic for a long time. If they don’t make your list then they have something to aspire to. And you know, you’re someone who I think restaurants and bars would want to impress. Your opinion matters and has weight. Okay, best whisky collection?
AF: Oh, fuck. Mac. Of course. Yeah. Big Whiskey Grill. Insane. There’s nothing that even comes close to that. Like that’s not even disrespectful to anyone else. That’s just facts. And so I’m not gonna say these places are my favorite. From here forward, these are places I’ve recently been to that were incredible. There’s Metzger.
CD: Okay, another great choice.
AF: What’s the thing called? the German cutlet? God dammit… Schnitzel! Every schnitzel I’ve had in Germany, and I spend a lot of time in Germany, has been dry. I just got to the point that I was like, I don’t like schnitzel. And I was at Metzger and somebody ordered schnitzel and let me try it. I was like, this is the best shit I’ve ever had. Sorry, cussing. Oh but, so, so good. And the person behind the bar was so amazing and made one of the best cocktails that I’ve had and like it was just this amazing experience. Hotel Green has these little –
CD: Oh, I love that place.
AF: ….these little like, platters of drinks? That place has a lot of style.
CD: You should check out Blue Habanero too. Incredible cocktails. It’s where Strawberry Street Cafe used to be. Their tacos are great, too. I mean, everything I’ve had there has been really good. The carnitas tacos especially.
AF: My last trip was really short so I didn’t get to go everywhere I wanted to. Let’s see Hotel Green, Metzger’s, Brenner Pass, Black Lodge – all impressive. Funny, Black Lodge in Seattle is something entirely different.
CD: What is it? A swinger club or something?
AF: No, it’s an underground music venue. Off topic, but have you noticed Richmond is obsessed with Duke’s Mayonnaise?
CD: Oh, listen honey, I grew up in Brooklyn, which is Hellman’s all the way. Like it’s a damn football team. Saying you prefer Duke’s is like saying you’re a Cowboys fan. Everyone here bullied me into buying Duke’s. I had to try it. I posted a picture of a Hanover tomato sandwich (as one does) on IG and got several comments demanding I reveal whether or not I used Duke’s. I tried it. It pains me to say that yes, it is better than Hellman’s and I hate myself for admitting that.
AF: If you’re reading this and you work for Dukes, I really want to do some Duke’s fat washed cocktails.
CD: Excuse me, what? That’s a thing? Help me get my vomit back down my throat. Explain.
AF: Ooh, you don’t even know. [excitedly] Basically you can take fats, like bacon grease, mayonnaise-
CD: You’re really already selling this real hard. I mean, I love bacon. Yeah, okay, bacon grease is – just keep going.
AF: Shhh! Basically, you whip these fats and you infuse the spirit with the grease and then pull out the grease so the spirit has the flavor of the bacon, or the mayo. There’s a way that you could do that with Duke’s that would make it like a very smooth creamy kind of cocktail.
CD: This sounds like a thing I could be very surprised by, but it sounds gross.
AF: I have surprised people with gross sounding cocktails. There is a pre-prohibition cocktail called the Bullshot.
CD: Not sure I want to know what that is.
AF: Think of a Bloody Mary. Okay, but made with beef broth instead of tomato.
CD: Okay, no, that’s not that weird. Considering that people use Clamato in vodka cocktails too. Also, I’ve seen Prohibition era menus with a beef broth soda on it. Like with ice. Like… no. But then I’m thinking how many times I’ve gone into my fridge and sipped beef broth out of a to-go container full of leftover pho. Because it’s effing delicious.
AF: Add some like spicy vodka to that and bam!
CD: I’m not sure only because I’ve never tried it. But like I said, I could be convinced by tasting something like that. I’d be surprised. Discussing it is not making me want to try it, to be honest tho.
AF: Have you had celery soda?
CD: Dr. Brown’s Cel Ray is all the way yo. Yeah, of course.
AF: People hate it.
CD: Yeah, not everybody. Again with the Brooklyn thing too. I mean, I probably had a Cel Ray before I had a Dr. Pepper. I thought kosher food was just Food until I was about 11 years old.
AF: A good celery soda with a good gin?
CD: Oh, I bet that’s really good. I’ve never had that but I bet – that does sound really good. With like, what’s the one? Hendricks with like the cucumber.
AF: Everybody has a different gin that they like.
CD: Which one is your favorite? Oh my god, just tell me which one you like, if not your favorite? What’s one of your favorites? What gin would you pair celery soda with? Should I guess?
AF: You’re not gonna guess. It has an Indian spice backing. Oh damn, what’s the name? Brain farts…
CD: Oh, don’t even explain. I understand how brains don’t work. Mine’s up on cinder blocks in the front yard of my head. Collecting rust.
AF: I didn’t see it on my way up here. What is it? Opihr!! Yes. It’s an Indian spiced gin, cardamom on the front end. That’s gonna make it heavier. But if you use something more botanical? I mean, we can pull a Ryan Reynolds and say Aviation is gonna make it a lighter celery soda. We just toured the —
CD: Wait. How does Ryan Reynolds fit into this?
AF: He owns Aviation.
CD: Oh okay, he bought a lot of shit recently, this dude. Didn’t he just buy a football team? Or was it a futbol team?
AF: Yeah dude runs my cell phone too.
CD: Oh, that’s right. Mint Mobile? I need to do that because I’m still using Verizon spending like four times as much as what I need to actually spend. Ha, I’m still recording. I forgot we were doing an interview. Haha. Before I let you go, give us your highlight reel. What did people miss while you were gone? I know there’s people here in Richmond that know you. But then you moved away and became queen of the Northwest. So, you know, how many Bigfeet did you beat up? and why are you queen of the Northwest liquor scene?
AF: Haha, Bigfeet..
CD: It’s plural, hahaha. I guess it’s Bigfoots. It’s not Bigfeets.
AF: Anyway… not going down that road. I run Seattle Cocktail Week, which is a week-long event. We have over 150 bars that participate. We run the same Carnival of Cocktails event there. It’s the largest consumer-facing spirits tasting event in the country. And, I think, don’t listen to anything I say. Come try things for yourself. I might like something like celery soda and you might hate it. So all of these-
CD: Doesn’t that just mean people’s tastes aren’t as good as yours? I’m not gonna make this easy on you, you know that. Hahahaha.
AF: No, you’re really not.
CD: Of course, but there are a lot of reasons to listen to you. Your opinions on liquor related issues matter more than most. Expertise still counts for something. I’m giving you a compliment. No matter how humble you want to be about it. So, back to Seattle…
AF: I got to Seattle, I continued doing events, and got Gilly Wagon up and going. Some of our events focused around alcohol. Okay, um, let’s be honest, a lot of events are focused around alcohol.
CD: Any one that I’m going to. Bet.
AF: Through that time period I produced Seattle Cocktail Week. I’ve been a judge for cocktail competitions. I run a club that’s for consumers where we teach people about spirits called Seattle Cocktail Club. It all started from there and now Gilly Wagon does similar events all over the world with a homebase in Washington state.
CD: Word. So where do we buy tickets for the Carnival of Cocktails? I will definitely see you there.
AF: Go to carnivalofcocktails.com and buy em up! Tickets are $54.99. That includes 12 tasting tokens and gets you in all the classes. If you use promo code RVAMAG, you’ll get $15 off the ticket price with the same perks.
CD: Cheers! I’m really surprised we haven’t had a drink throughout this whole interview.
Carnival of Cocktails is happening at Main Street Station on October 21st, 2023, buy your tickets HERE
Give Carnival of Cocktails a follow HERE
Check out Gill Wagon HERE
Again! tickets are $54.99. That includes 12 tasting tokens and gets you in all the classes. If you use promo code “RVAMAG”, you’ll get $15 off the ticket price with the same perks.
Main photo by John Arano