Tastemaker: Adam Roelle, spirits manager, Cavalier Distributing

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Why he's a Tastemaker: You may never meet Adam Roelle, but if you've imbibed at a Columbus cocktail bar in the last year, you've likely reaped the fruits of his labor. When Roelle joined Cavalier Distributing in mid-2014 to jump-start its spirits division, the Ohio craft beer distributor had two products in its spirits portfolio. Today, it boasts more than 80-rum, whiskey, liqueurs and bitters among them. Roelle's secret to cracking Ohio's antiquated liquor laws? Lobbying the Division of Liquor Control, one craft spirit at a time.

Chicago transplant: Everything changed when Roelle moved to Chicago in 2000. Illinois is not a liquor-controlled state, and the transplanted bartender was introduced to a new world of craft whiskies, rums, gins and liqueurs-right on the cusp of the national cocktail renaissance. When he returned to Columbus in 2010 and landed a job handling booze at Weiland's Market, he knew he had to usher change. So he scheduled meetings with state senators, the superintendent of liquor control and even the director of the state Department of Commerce. Before long, Weiland's had Columbus' first bitters bar, and Roelle was turning fewer and fewer customers away.

Rum renaissance: In the last year, Roelle single-handedly tripled the volume of rum in Ohio. Bartenders at spots like Mouton and Curio are now jiggering drinks with funky craft rums such as Venezuelan Diplomatico, Jamaican Smith & Cross and Agricole-style Rhum JM. The latter, unlike common molasses-based rums, is distilled with sugar cane juice and oozing with botanicals, not sugary vanilla flavor.

Beer before liquor: It's no secret Columbus is growing into a serious beer town. And Roelle's playing on that very spirit to drive quality products into bartenders' hands. "If you don't have crap on tap, why do you have it on the back bar?" he says. "The same reasons bartenders give for having Bacardi and Captain Morgan are the same reasons people gave for having Miller Lite and Bud Light on draft 10 years ago-it's what people know, it's cheap, etc."

Age: 35

Previous gigs: Beer and spirits manager at Weiland's Market

Guilty pleasure: Cream liqueurs

Go-to drink: "If I amhome, then a true martini. No blue cheese olives-your drink is not an appetizer-no olivebrine, no vodka, no shaking. Good fresh vermouth, good gin, bitters, stirred."

Favorite ingredient? Quality ice