Bottles line the shelves in my basement, a great source of insulation in the summer heat, or in winter’s cool. At times though, the collection can be a touch overwhelming, like a library bookshelf of half-read books, dog-eared pages and slightly bent spines, waiting for a bit of time and patience. Sometimes, though I appreciate their presence, I see the bottles for what could be there.
My day-to-day mixing rums and other liquors get replaced on about a monthly basis, but my sippers and “this and thats” tend to stay quite awhile, sometimes years, before they make any movement. So, what better way to make some headway and share some fine fun with folks than hosting a rum tasting!
Last Friday was the first in what should be a bi-monthly or so event, with a rum tasting at the Reynoles Galley. The theme this month, Top Shelf Rums! A fine selection of rums from Guatemala, Venezuela, Cuba, Antigua, Jamaica, and two blended Naval rums. Here’s a link to the tasting notes PDF that was used for the event. Use it, find the rums, and taste for yourself!
Here is some info on the rums tasted, along with tasting notes from a few of the local liquorati.
Sea Wynde - Light Vanilla and butterscotch nose, sweet and smooth body with a bit of fire. Smokey finish. Did not stand above the crowd, but generally smooth.
English Harbour - Gentle honey notes, but very light nose. Very vanilla body with no burn on the finish.
Havana Club Barrel Proof - Floral nose, surprisingly smooth all over for a barrel proof rum. Complex with lots of floral and maple notes, and extremely well-balanced.
Diplomatico Exclusiva Reserve - Sweet vanilla, some citrus on the nose. The body is like pure maple syrup, with no burn on the finish. Fantastic sipper, though a bit one-noted.
Zaya - Almost no nose, strong brown sugar and maple body, with an almost bourbon-like finish. A fantastic top shelf rum.
Pusser’s 15 year old, in the Trafalgar-edition bottle. - Fantastic bottle Sweet, fruit and grassy nose. Complex but balanced body, with some strange copper notes, but mostly honey and a bit of woodiness to it. Sugary finish with a bit of pleasant burn. An outstanding rum.
Appleton 21 - Citrusy, cinnamon nose. Nose follows into the body, with the same flavors, along with some honey. Smooth, sugary finish. Top of the Appleton line (until we see the 30 year, maybe).
Ron Zacapa XO - Sweet and smokey nose. Subtle and smooth body, with light tastes of apricot and honey, and a hint towards salt. The finish is strongly maple. Fantastic, but maybe not worth the jump in price from the Centennario.
I’ll have to put up a template for those tasting notes. Ed Hamilton also has a great post to read at the Cocktail Times on Rum Tasting, which I passed out to attendees. Grab some bottles and invite some friends over, it’s a guaranteed good time.
Update: Here’s a blank rum tasting PDF. Enjoy!
What a nightmare. A beautiful, delicious nightmare.
Here’s some basic information on DragonFruit, also known as Pitaya. It is the fruit of a cactus, and is native to South America, but commonly planted in SouthEast Asia. There are three colors, white flesh with pink skin, red(magenta) flesh with pink skin, and white flesh with yellow skin. You can read plenty more on them at the Wikipedia Dragonfruit page.
I picked up a few of these expensive (10.99 per lb.) fruit at New Seasons, a local chain with lots of great selection on organic, tropical, and niche ingredients. This was after the produce manager gave me the whole sample fruit to eat, as it was near closing time and as of yet untouched. I couldn’t say no to such a bright colored and expensive gift. The flavor of the unmodified fruit is sweet, with almost a pear and apple flavor to it. For its looks, the taste is not very exotic. But, in hopes of experimentation, and lending its beautiful color to drinks, I absolutely had to have a few to take home.
Getting the juice from this thing wasn’t difficult at all. It’s very juicy. As well, it’s also pulpy, with lots of tiny seeds. So, I cut out the flesh, stuck it in my strainer by 1/8 pieces, and muddled. Well, really crushing it to strain, but involving the same motion. The juice comes out quick, but a lot of the seeds and pulp made it through the strainer. So, into the coffee filter it went, and then began the waiting… and waiting… and waiting…. and refill, and wait, and change the filter, and wait and…. yeah, at this point the idea of a juicer, once fended off as another useless gadget, seemed to me the apex of civilization. But so, I waited, with great patience, until the last drip had dropped.
I decided to mix it into a syrup, as I am wont to do. The flavor of the juice wasn’t punchy enough to bring itself to a drink, so I mixed it in equal parts with cane sugar and water, boiled, reduced, cooled, and refrigerated, with just a dash of Cruzan light as a preservative. The color of the syrup itself is a beautiful magenta, not quite as electric as the raw fruit, but certainly something lovely.
Of course, now the true test, the drink! The taste is not to sweet, and actually had a mild hint of citrus to it, almost like a candy orange. As well, I did not whatsoever want to disturb the color. Still, cocktail above all. So, the challenge was set. Bring out the flavors, don’t block the color. I decided to go with a bit of rum because, damnit, that’s what I do. I used Pyrat Blanco, as it is very light, and won’t burn through the flavor. I used a quarter ounce of lime to give it some kick, Parfait Amour to complement the color and the sweet flavors, and just a dash of St. Germain for some perfume.
The Pyrat Blanco, sadly, is the first of three bottles before it’s gone forever. Somewhere in California I know a few who stashed the bottles away when they were 6.99 at BevMo. So, while not wholly irreplaceable, the Blanco is no longer being produced. The good news is that by dropping the Blanco, the XO is still being made. Still, tiny rum soaked tear drops.
I enjoyed it, but the biggest test was getting it to pass the wife test. Whereas I can drink 5 rums mixed together (two of which being 151s) and call it light and crisp, she has a much more delicate palate. The verdict? “Make me one!”. Success, indeed. Perhaps if I make a few more, I can convince her a juicer is a good idea. Any product recommendations are of course invited.
Kiss of the Dragon
- 1 oz. DragonFruit Syrup
- 1 oz. Pyrat Blanco (sub Cruzan Light)
- 1/4 oz. Fresh Lime
- 1/4 oz. Parfait Amour
- dash St. Germain
Shake with crushed ice and strain into cocktail glass.
This past weekend was Rogue’s Great American Distillers Festival. There were over 40 local distillers on site, sampling their wares. A lot of the distillers were part of the Oregon Distiller’s Guild, a guild supporting and promoting local Oregon distillers. There was also a mixology competition put on by Imbibe Magazine. Bartenders from a few of the finer restaurants and lounges were there competing for a cash prize, trophy, and a subscription to Imbibe magazine. The mixology competition was separated into several liquor categories. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for the first day, but, most importantly, I was there for the Rum competition.
My initial impression was enthusiastic. The event ranged over 4 stories of the Gerding Theater (an old National Guard Armory from 1891). The ground and top floor had the distillers, and the bottom most floor contained the mixology competition. I was really impressed when the first thing on the menu was the Aviation, followed by Satan’s Whiskers, La Floridita, and other classic favorites.
There was a great mixture of various liquors available. Most notably were the number of vodka options, but there was a surprising (and surprisingly good) number of Gins available. I was able to sample about half of the variety that was there, and I wrote down a few quick notes to share.
- Prichard’s Fine Rum: non fragrant but needs to sit for a small time to open up. Hints of butterscotch, oak, caramel and vanilla. Made in Tennessee, and tasted like it. A lot of strong Bourbon notes. This was the only rum used in the Mixology competition. It mixed well with other strong flavors.
- Rogue Dark Rum: A lot of strong hazelnut flavor in this, which is probably why they now make a hazelnut spiced rum.
- Triple Eight Hurricane Rum: Pear and vanilla front taste, slightly bourbon middle with a light vanilla scent.
- Cockspur 12 year old: The classic, from Barbados, and so much of what a rum should be. Sweet, savory, slightly smoky, just fantastic stuff.
Other news is that House Spirits will be offering up a Rum next year, and given their talent with their Aviation Gin, I look forward to it.
- Philadelphia Distilling Bluecoat Gin: The Sweetest Dry gin I’ve ever tried, with a lot of berry to it. Very tasty, very sweet.
- House Spirits Aviation Gin: Notes of citrus, spice, and strong juniper. I need a bottle of this.
- BenDistillery Desert Juniper: Lightly alcoholic (very low proof), with a nice juniper flavor.
- Rogue Spruce Gin: Another conifer-based liquor, the spruce tips mixed very well with the Gin, giving a lot of sharp bold notes and spiciness to it.
I really, really need to get a few more bottles of Gin around the house. Ever since my first experiments with Tanqueray as a teenager, this is a liquor I truly love and need to know more about.
- Clear Creek Distillery Douglas Fir Eau de Vie: Like drinking a Tree. I can understand why the distiller doesn’t want this being mixed with (and at its pricepoint, I understand from my own perspective). It’s a wonderful and surprising flavor that I could see pairing amazingly wel with Pimento Liqueur.
- House Spirits Krogstad: Fairly light caraway flavor, would mix really well in a drink that called for Aquavit.
The Mixology competition, hosted by Imbibe magazine, featured a number of talented and experienced bartenders from the Portland. The restaurants represented included SauceBox, Teardrop Lounge, and a few other local imbiberies. Rules involved 15 minutes to mix 4 drinks, and a liquor from one of the distillers at the event had to be used as the base liquor. The concoctions brought for the event were a pretty strong mix of the classic and the nouveau movement. David from Teardrop, who I had the pleasure to mix words with over the inclusion of Falernum in their Mai Tai, even represented Teardrop with a Gin and Tonic. The Gin was Aviation, and the Tonic a homemade blend made specifically to pair with the Aviation. Having had a sample of both, I must say they would indeed blend well, with lots of spice and citrus notes. I will definitely be dropping by Teardrop in the near future. There is a passion to the drink there, and that is definitely after my own heart.
There were quite a few drinks using Rosemary. Something I would never think to use, and something I don’t see looking for in the flavor profile of a drink, but on trying the “Portland Streetcar”, I found the mix of Rosemary and Lemon Verbena really interesting and complex, almost like Chartreuse in character. I could really see using these savory herb in a nice bitters.
Sadly, no Tiki bars were represented. The two in town being Thatch and The Alibi. Thatch is still up and coming, and needs a few original drinks, but the Alibi has given way to the Rum and Coke wants of a Karaoke bar. Sad but true about the old Tiki haunts of times past, but it never was famous for its original drinks, as far as I know. Maybe someday I’ll step behind the bar, but meanwhile I’m pretty happy down in the Galley.
The GADF was a very nice event, where I got to meet a number of fantastic people, the owner of my favorite liquor store, the fine people at Imbibe, and a few more of the local bartenders and mixologists. I very much look forward to next years event.
Update, more writeups on the event. Thanks to Phil from Lamb Martini.
A new bottle of an as of yet tasted liquor is like a newborn child. So much life to live, so many experiences and joys and failures. Even a new bottle of what is regularly stocked can be like a dear friend, ready to sit and reminisce, or forge through new adventures.
And so, I am proud to announce a few new additions to the Shelf.
I contacted Joe Fee of Fee Brothers a while back, as I was looking for sponsors for Tiki Kon. After a few exchanges, we traded information, and care packages! I sent a Tiki Kon 2007 mug, CD, and program (available for purchase at the Tiki Kon store), and soon received two great packages of Bitters and Cordials!
A few comments, of course, are to follow. The first being that I am absolutely in adoration of Fees Old Fashioned Bitters. It’s a really nice clove, allspice, woody taste to add into almost any old favorite where bitters are called for. Angostura has its place, pretty much all over the place, but it’s so nice to have options and new ingredients available. Along with Fees, and their amazing selection of bitters (mint, lemon, orange, grapefruit), There’s also Regan’s Orange Bitters, Stirring’s product line, Peychaud’s, and the list marches on. Selection fantastique! I’ m so very excited to have their bitters in my dirty little fingers. I’m expecting to kick the mint in my mojito, make my martini a classic, stir up the grapefruit in a salty dog, and whatever mysteries can be unlocked with the lemon.
Okay, enough praise about the bitters. Now, the cordials… what to say. Well, I’ll just say I haven’t opened them yet. Being an advocate of fresh squeezed juices, I must say I’m a bit halted in my willingness to accept almost any syrup not made in my home kitchen. But, I’m more than willing to give their stuff a fair shake. There’s even the suggestion on the bottles to mix the flavorings with rum or vodka to make a nice liqueur, and a few drink recipes. I will say, however, that their Falernum is very strong on the clove and lime. The orgeat and American beauty grenadine I’ve yet to try, but will definitely have to do a taste test. Ever since I started making my own grenadine, well, life changed a bit, and my tongue got a lot redder.
The next arrival had me literally running towards the poor UPS delivery man. I’m sure that man hasn’t had such fear in his eyes since the last Harry Potter novel came out. Many thanks to Chuck Taggart for pointing out to me that Drinkupny.com had these in stock, with free shipping over $50.
I can’t even begin to describe how happy I am. Part of it may stem from the abundance of recipes from my bookshelf calling for Absinthe, not to mention its use in just about every damn Don the Beachcomber drink there is (Rum + drop of Absinthe + dash of bitters = a Donn Beach recipe!). I had to break into it tonight, just had to. Understand, my palate is not versed in Absinthe, having only had a bit of “the czech stuff” ages ago. But I am a huge fan of strong anise Pastise liqueurs. Pernod on the rocks is a fantastic summer favorite. Add some seltzer to Pernod for a real refreshing drink. But man oh man, there’s something special about the real deal. The color is a surprisingly gentle green, with a very sweet and calmly herbal smell, of course, with a nice hit of Anise. The cork had turned green from the liquor. The taste, when straight, was very nice, with the bit of alcoholic burn alongside the herbs and anise, as is, I believe, the way it should be. Of course, I had to drip it in the traditional style. The louche was spectacular, exploding in a cloud which expanded throughout the glass, a tiny universe of oils and delight spreading through the glass. The taste has something spectacular to it. More than just the flavor, there is a mouth/lips/head/throat feel to it, leeching through the skin into the bloodstream, soon taking away all pain in a haze of green-tinted glory.
It’s damn fine stuff.
The St. Germain I had to get after seeing Martin Cate using it in a cocktail competition, the internet exploding about it, and, on Looka, probably the best reaction to anything ever. I’ll be sampling this soon, with full review.
Tonight, tonight… what a night indeed.
Tonight’s Sippin’ Safari drink was the Donga Punch. A delicious little number featuring Martinique Rum.
I have one bottle of St. James Extra Old I use on rare occasion. The only reason I open it so infrequently is because it is my favorite Martinique of what I’ve tried, and while I could easily drown in the stuff (and the debt which would incur), I prefer to save and savor it for special occasions. A Donn Beach recipe, of course, is a very special occasion indeed. There are only a few ingredients, but in them you can really feel the brilliance of Donn’s drinks. Now, this is not a typical Beachcomber, in that it is missing out on the Absinthe-Sub and Blender mixing he seemed oh so fond of, but it does contain Donn’s Mix, which is Grapefruit Juice and Cinnamon syrup. This pairs with the Martinique fantastically, with the lime to balance the spicy and earthy tones with citrus. This is certainly my new favorite cocktail. Until the next one, of course.
Rum & Cigar pairing
Down at Forbidden Island in Alameda, this is done monthly. For my budget, it’s done a bit less frequently, but is savored when done so. This evening, it was Ron Pampero Aniversario with a Cubano Limitido Fonseca Robusto. The cigar was recommended by the fine folks at Rich’s Cigar shop on Alder in downtown Portland. The Cigar, medium-bodied, carried a nice strong spice which really mixed well the the flavors in the Aniversario. The spice in both mellowed out, bringing out a lot of the calmer sweet flavors. The Rum & Cigar combination is not as commonly done as the Scotch and Cigar, such as those held at Mcmenamin’s, but is just as much the experience. Just choose a good rum, Sea Wynde or Zaya also come to mind as potentially good pairings, and get a recommendation from your local tobacconist. I’m still a newbie to cigars, but this seemed to work pretty well for me.