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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Posted: May 15, 2014

Remember Portland’s Rum Riot, with cocktails

Written by: Susan Axelrod

The “Rum Room” at Portland City Hall with deputy sheriffs sitting on seized illegal alcohol. From the time Maine went dry in 1851 until the repeal of Prohibition in 1934, each town in Maine had a Rum Room where seized liquor was stored, then dumped into sewers, rivers, or the ocean. Photo and caption courtesy of the Maine Historical Society.

The favorite drink of sailors and pirates, rum has a history of association with rebellion. Portland’s famous Rum Riot occurred on June 2, 1855, when a group of Mainers discovered that Mayor Neal Dow — nicknamed by his constituents “Napoleon of Temperance” — who had enacted the nation’s first ban on booze four years before, had a stash of rum in the basement of City Hall. He claimed to have stockpiled the liquor to distribute for “medicinal and mechanical” purposes, which seemed hypocritical to the mob storming City Hall. Things got ugly, rocks were thrown, a man from Deer Isle was killed and seven others were wounded.

Thankfully, the mercurial Neal Dow is long gone. But Bowstreet Distributing, a liquor distributor in Freeport, is remembering the Rum Riot with what else but a series of cocktail events from May 31 to June 2.

25th Anniversary of the Cosmo Happy Hour

Saturday, May 31, 4-6 p.m. | Top of the East | 157 High St., Portland

The pink drink made famous by “Sex and the City” was created by legendary NYC bartender Dale Degroff, who served it to legions of celebrities at the Rainbow Room. Portland’s version of that celebrated cocktail lounge is the swanky Top of the East at the Westin Harborside, where event sponsors Reyka Vodka and Solerno Liqueur will put their own spin on the drink: a Blood Orange Cosmo.

Rum Riot Celebration

Sunday, June 1 | 6-9 p.m. | Infiniti Fermentation & Distillation | 250 Commercial St., Portland
A new generation of distillers are once again putting Maine rum in the spotlight. At this event, you can meet some of them and watch a special run of Infiniti’s Rhum Blanc off their still.

Fernet Branca Industry Party

Sunday, June 1 | 9 p.m. – midnight | Portland Hunt & Alpine Club | 75 Market St., Portland
Restaurant and bar industry folks sure love their Fernet Branca, and if you do too, join them for Fernet drink specials and your chance to pick up some Fernet swag.

Bartender’s Brunch

Monday, June 2, Noon – 2 p.m. | Eventide Oyster Co. | 86 Middle St., Portland
Bartenders and other restaurant workers get their chance to relax over brunch on Mondays, which Eventide offers every week. Reyka Vodka is hosting this event, so the Bloody Marys are sure to be good and strong.

Harvey Wallbanger Sunset Cruise

Monday, June 2, 6 – 9 p.m. | Casablanca Cruises | 18 Custom House Wharf | $15 | Tickets
Keep the groove going with a 1970s-style cruise around Casco Bay, sponsored by Galliano and Double Cross Vodka. Drink Harvey Wallbangers, listen to Yacht Rock jams and if you’ve got it, sport some 1970’s yachting attire (whatever that is).

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