Cucina 24's Donnie Pratt Goes to Camp


Cucina 24's Donnie Pratt Goes to Camp

  • asheville grit

    Asheville Grit is what Asheville has to say. It's a free-form, curated forum for Ashevillians to submit blog posts on music, art, food and drink, opinions on local things and more. Contact us if you...

Written by Mary Rich of Spirit Savvy
Asheville, we’ve got a good one, but you knew that already.
Donnie Pratt, bar manager at Cucina 24 was one of 300 participants chosen out of 3000 applicants to attend Camp Runamok.  This 5 day camp situated in the heart of Bourbon Country is for the top bartenders, brand ambassadors and wine and spirits importers from around the country and .... Canada.  It’s like any other camp with field trips, pool parties, themed dances, cabin chores, kitchen duty, bourbon drinking and cocktail parties.
Camp Runamok is the brain child of the Cocktail Maven, Lindsey Johnson, of Lush Life Productions.  Almost anyone in the ‘Spirit World’ knows of Lindsey Johnson.  Lush Life is not only the founder of the famed camp, but also the producer/founder of Portland Cocktail Week.  Johnson’s mission is to help proliferate the craft cocktail movement and she is a promoter and marketer of good liquor brands.  Lindsey’s work was an inspiration for Spirit Savvy and I was pleased to get to meet her and thank her in person last January in LA at Golden State of Cocktails. Through her fun loving, creative promotions, she is participating in “raising the bar” for those in this Craft Cocktail Culture.  If you are lucky enough to have her sit at your bar, you’ll most likely make her a cocktail that’s “Brown, Bitter and Stirred”.  A woman after my own heart.
Donnie Pratt and Stefan Hueber, from Charlotte’s Heist Brewery were the only 2 NC attendees. All campers went free of charge, sponsored entirely by participating liquor brands.  I sat down with Donnie to talk about his experience at Runamok:
Spirit Savvy:  What was a typical day like at Camp Runamok?
Donnie Pratt: We woke up at 7:00am, breakfast at 8, then on the bus at 9 for a distillery visit.  We would return around 4 or 5 for a pool party before dinner, then dinner, then we’d usually have some sort of themed party at night.  For each party, a couple cabins would team up and be responsible for the cocktails for the evening. I basically got about 3 hours of sleep each night.
SS: What were your cabins like? 
DP: They were pretty rustic.  We had about 7 campers and a counselor from Lush Life was in each of the cabins.  Each cabin was sponsored by a liquor brand and came with the brand ambassador.  Ours was called “Highly Flammable” and sponsored by J. Wray and Nephew- a premium Rum brand.

Donnie Pratt behind the bar at Cucina 24 on Wall Street in downtown Asheville
SS:  They must have seen the video of you and Jasper blowing flames all over the bar at Cucina 24.  (Actually, anyone who knows Donnie, knows he has a passion for Tiki Cocktails.  This was a great fit). It seems like they took some time to match the campers with the cabin of their favorite spirit.  What were some of the other names of cabins?
DP: I think they did try to match us up like that.  Some of the other names were the “Whiskey Wizards”, “Lime Crisis”, “Rose Buds” (sponsored by 4 Roses), The “Dames Tequila For” (Espolón), Spice Girls (Sailor Jerry) and the Canadian Cabin had a name, but everyone just called them the Canadians....
SS: What was the most inspiring part of your experience at Runamok?
DP:  I think it was getting to meet the Master Distillers at each distillery.  Meeting Fred Noe, Jim Beam’s grandson and 7th generation Master Distiller, was really great.  Each Distillery had their own take on their whiskey and wanted to be the best they could be.  No one spoke ill of any other distillery.  That was refreshing to see.  We also got to taste some whiskeys from the distillery’s whiskey libraries that weren’t open to the public as well as sampling straight out of the high proof barrels. 
It was a great experience and I’m glad I went.  I think I learned a lot and certainly met great people from all around the country.  We always traveled with the same 40 people on the bus, so we got to be super close with those folks. These hours on the bus were times that we got to share information and learn from one another. 
SS: Sounds like a pretty well designed experience.  I’ve been hearing about this camp for a while, but not much information was out about what happens there.  Thanks for sharing.  We are all so proud that you got picked to go!

Camp Runamok is really the only one of it’s kind.  It is a brilliant way to bring the best of the best in the field together.  Stefan Heubner of Heist Brewery said that his highlight was making friends with 150 other bartenders.  “I know now that most anywhere I go in the country, I’ll have a couch to sleep on”.   As we dive deeper into this cocktail culture, we find that there is always more to learn... more ways to experiment... and of course more people with whom to connect.  Runamok is a big part of moving all that forward.  Go have a cocktail with Donnie at Cucina 24 and get him to tell you about the Canadians... and Camp Runamok.
(Look for Donnie and his Wray and Nephew cabin mates in their Jamaican Bobsledding Outfits in the main photo above)