Boston Area Liquor Stores

I just answered 2 emails about Boston liquor stores that carry a good selection of rums. I figured I’d just re-post what I wrote to them.

I frequent a few places in and around Boston:

Blanchard’s in Jamaica Plain (You can order online and pickup there, so it’s great. Mediocre selection, really, but they’re the only place around that sells El Dorado. Check online first.)

Liquor Mart in Boston on Mass Ave – huge selection

Brookline Liquor Mart
Marty’s
Kappy’s – These last 3 are in a 1-block area – VERY convenient, and always a great selection between the 3. This is easily my recommended stop, since you get 3 for one.

For agricoles, especially the high end, there’s a place in Back Bay called Charles Street Liquors. They’re small, and not cheap, but when they have something good they have the great stuff. I was there once and saw the Clement Cuvee Homere and their XO – both very highly recommended, if you have the cash.
I go into NYC once in a while, and hit Astor Wines. If you’re ever dying for a dozen new rums to try, that place is worth a once-a-year trip.

Not quite so far from Boston, but barely an hour away, is Joyal’s in Warwick, RI. They have their inventory online so you can check before you go. Damn, they don’t anymore. What a bummer. But they are worth a trip, honestly.

Also, Julio’s out in Westborough is worth the trip. Ryan knows his rums.

Awesome mug to benefit the MS Society

I have to pass this on for a friend (SBiM), a worthy cause (The MS Society), and a very cool tiki mug. This article is by Jon Bartholomew.

MS Mug

Why a mug to benefit the MS Society?
An explanation of motivation by Suffering Bastard in Maine, aka Jon Bartholomew

Traci I met Traci ten years ago while living in Tacoma. Besides an instant physical attraction, we quickly found we were the absolute best possible match for each other. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love. About a year after we met, we moved into an apartment together and one of the first things we added to it was a really cool bar we found in an antique/retro shop in town. This bar had a fantastic shape to it, but needed something. I bought some bamboo and added it to the exterior, and voila, a tiki bar! I already had a couple of tiki mugs but this was really the start of our mutual enjoyment of the tiki culture.

Since then, the bar has come with us as we moved around the country (currently in Portland, ME) and we have had a great time participating in the tiki world. We have traveled to Tiki Oasis in San Diego, we have gone on the first Northeast Tiki Tour (and will be on the second!) and have met tons of great people through all of our activities. Many of those great people are here in New England where I have been honored to be part of the Queequeg Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai.

About three years ago now, we were delivered a blow. Over a Thanksgiving weekend, Traci rapidly lost sight in one of her eyes. After going to an eye doctor, we were referred to a neurologist who soon confirmed that Traci has Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a strange disease that nobody knows the cause of, but at least today there are some treatments. Unfortunately those treatments involve regular shots she has to give herself. Every other day. And Traci hates hates hates needles!!

MS is basically the body’s immune system attacking the coating of nerves. Therefore the impact can be many different things. It can be a lack of balance, it can be numbness or tingling in a body part, it can be blindness, lack of energy, or forgetfulness. You don’t see someone and say, “Oh, that person has MS,” as it’s not that obvious. However, many people with MS end up in wheelchairs because of the permanent damage it can cause to the nervous system.

For my part, it’s difficult to watch the woman I love so much have to give herself shots, suffer from symptoms, and have the fear that she may one day lose her mobility. And there’s nothing I can do.

But there is.

The National MS Society was there right from the beginning offering a support group for Traci. They provided information that made this easier for both of us. They have been advocating for increased research into the causes and treatments for MS. The MS Society does a great amount of work to make those living with MS have better lives.

So the one thing I can do to battle MS is to support the National MS Society. And what do I have at my fingertips to help with that? I have a connection to the big ol’ Tiki Ohana!!

I proposed the idea of doing a mug to benefit the MS Society to my fellows in the FOM Queequeg Chapter. Everyone thought it was a great idea. We hashed out a design and I took it to Holden at Tiki Farm. Holden was happy to work with me and has bent over backwards to make this work out! He wanted to make sure it was great, so he connected us with Squid who took our ideas and turned them into this freaking awesome mug! Both Holden and Squid have reduced their rates as they are truly part of the Ohana as well. Thank you guys!!!

The mug itself has a few interesting features you might not realize right off the bat. The basic design is that of a Moai, because, well, we are the Fraternal Order of MOAI! And our Queequeg Chapter was named after the character in Moby Dick who had Maori-style tattoos all over him. Therefore, we included tattoos that symbolize health and life (the sun) and rebirth/renewal (the “koru” swirls). Since this is to benefit the MS Society, we figured that symbolism was appropriate. Another little bit is that the mug has feet. We know Moai don’t have feet, but these Moai in New England have walked together in the MS Walk, so we figured, hey! We’re the walking Moai! Give the mug some feet!

So today, we offer this mug to you in the spirit of fellowship, friendship and love. We hope you will buy at least one, perhaps donate a little extra and tell a friend.

And to you I say a humble MAHALO! for supporting the cause.

You can buy the mug from the link below, and help a worthy cause.
http://www.northeasttikitour.com/msmug/

Old Mill Gold Rum

Old Mill Gold Rum is distilled in St. Croix by Cruzan, and then delivered to Oregon where it is aged for 2 to 4 years. The color is a light gold, almost as dark as apple juice, with long legs. The aroma that comes off this rum is a little sweet, with toffee-like smells mixed with a hint of apple. There’s a mild wood smell to it, but one of a light mild wood, not quite the charred bourbon barrel smells that are usually in an aged rum. There’s a touch of alcohol that remind me that I’m drinking straight liquor, but it comes forward as a sweet rum odor so it’s a welcome touch.

When sipped, the rum is initially sweet, but a well-balanced sweetness that blends very well with the wood tastes. Toffee comes across in the taste, there’s a bit of a woody spice burn, and the hints of apple linger. The finish is quick, crisp and very clean, followed by a fairly long, not-too-strong spice burn. Even though the rum doesn’t burn, the spice after the swallow does, but I am mostly surprised at how clean it leaves my mouth.

Sipping for a while, I truly appreciate the cleanliness of this rum. The sweet toffee apple smells are extremely pleasant when I begin a sip, and once inside the mouth it shows off some very nice aging for a 4-year-old rum. The light wood in the taste is very nice, being clear that this is a nice rum without being overburdened by char or leftover bourbon common in many rums. Right after the swallow, my mouth is left clean with a little wood taste and the toffee, with a touch of apple lingering in the air. Then it goes quickly into that spice burn as it slowly flows down the throat.

I like this rum quite a bit – the balance of apple, toffee, wood and rum are very well done. It’s extremely smooth for a 4-year-old rum, and I appreciate the hell out of that. It makes me drool at the thought of a 10- or 12-year-old version of this rum, though Old Mill does not make one available to the best of my knowledge. I certainly wish they did.

The spice burn after the swallow is the only distraction of this rum, since it doesn’t quite fit the rest of the rum. Now don’t get me wrong – the spice is far from overpowering and it is not unpleasant. But since it’s at the very end, it seems to leave a mark stronger than it actually is. It just doesn’t fit all the wonderful smells and tastes at the beginning.

And this spice at the end stops me from considering it to be a true sipping rum – though it comes close. I would have to label this as an excellent mixer, though perhaps a sipper if one were to add an ice cube to possibly dull the spice. Checking the web, I find that this rum can be had for anywhere between $13 and occasionally $20 a bottle. For that price I could easily use it as a mixing rum, though I would not use it in a cocktail that might mask all those good attributes.

All in all, this rum is definitely recommended.

Castries Peanut Rum Creme Again

Last November I drove down to New York City to attend the Rum Fest. I went down a day early and gave a small rum tasting to a group of folks who were mostly cocktail drinkers. I had brought down a bottle of Castries Peanut Rum Creme, but it was forgotten during the tasting. I finally remembered about it after most of the folks had left, and the six of us left quickly finished the bottle. Delicious stuff.

Since then, I have been without Castries since it’s not distributed – yet – in Massachusetts. Disheartening as this was, it was made much worse because some of the people at that tasting kept mentioning that they had purchased bottles of their own. Out of the 15 or 16 rums we tasted that night, people remembered only two of them – Pyrat Cask 1623 and Castries Peanut Rum Creme.

A couple weeks ago, Joe mentioned that he was coming up from NYC and I asked him to pick me up some Castries and any Brinley rums that he could find. He found three of the Brinley rums – fantastic stuff that I have to review soon – but could not find any Castries in stock. With what can only be described as unselfish benevolence, he brought me his own personal bottle of Castries.

Thanks Joe!

Being the type of person I am – generous but not too bright – I cracked the bottle and shared it with six or eight people the following week. I enjoy sharing a great rum, and all of the folks that tried the Castries loved it. That seems to be par for course with this stuff – I’ve shared it with well over a dozen people and have gotten positive remarks from every single one. Considering that I went nine months without it, I got a bit selfish after a while and put the bottle away. I vowed to finish it alone, which is what I’m doing right now.

I reviewed Castries last year, and just read it again to see if my current thoughts matched my initial tasting. They do, and I can’t augment or add to that initial review. This is a fantastic product, and one of my all-time favorites.

Luckily for me – and any other New Englanders – Castries is coming to Massachusetts! I spoke with the CEO of Team Spirits recently, and they’ll be launching in Massachusetts on October 1, 2008. Excellent!

Castries Creme
My previous review of Castries

The Flare Rum Glass

Some time ago, I was contacted and asked if I’d care to review a glass designed for sipping rum. As usual when I’m contacted like this, I warned the person that I would give an honest review to the best of my abilities, and would not show favoritism towards any product. I also told them that I’d be comparing it against similar products, and I generally name a couple that I think would make for a fair comparison. This usually scares off about half of the folks, which is great because I don’t have to drink any swill or feel like I owe the company anything because I got something for free.

None of this bothered Jay from Spirit Sippers, and he sent me one of the rum glasses, The Flare.

Comparison Glasses
As I promised Jay, I compared the Flare to several other glasses – a Riedel tequila glass, a wide-mouth glass of the type that Ed Hamilton recommends, and a simple plastic cup that I use when I do rum tastings and can’t possibly wash 150 glasses.

The Riedel glass is designed for tequila, and looks like a wine glass though much smaller and more delicate. It has a relatively tall stem with a 3oz bowl on top, and the top is slightly narrower than the bowl in order to concentrate the smells from the spirit. I purchased this set some time ago, and soon regretted it since the design isn’t well suited for rum. The small bowl isn’t large enough to let the rum breathe, and rum does not benefit from the narrower opening. I never use it to drink rums, but have occasionally used it to sample other spirits.

The wide-mouth glass is a small old-fashioned glass with the sides slightly tapered outwards. It’s about 3 inches tall and 3.5 inches wide at the top. There’s ample room for the rum to breathe – but perhaps too much. The wide opening at the top makes up for this a bit, as it allows one to tilt the glass and detect separate smells between the “high” side and the “low” side. This method does allow one to detect individual aromas coming from the rum. I almost always sip from a wide-mouth glass, generally following Ed’s methods described in the link above.

The plastic cup is a 3oz Dixie cup. It’s cheap and easy when dealing with a 12-rum tasting with 15 people. I’ve always known that it wasn’t an ideal glass to use, but since I don’t make a profit doing a tasting I tried to save a few bucks by using these small, cheap cups. But I’ve learned – now that I’ve done this comparison – that it is unbelievably utterly wrong for rum. I won’t use them again.

The Flare from Spirit Sippers is easily the classiest glass of the bunch. (Yes, Riedel certainly makes some fancy glasses, but the tequila glass that I have is fairly simple.) The Flare is about 4.5 inches tall and 2.5 inches in diameter, with a short thick stem. This makes for a generous bowl that holds an ideal amount of rum with room to breathe. It curves inwards a bit to form the bowl and then gently flares out to the rim. The glass at the rim is somewhat thin – not thin enough to seem fragile, yet it’s thin enough to allow the rum to gently flow into your mouth without splashing.

The Comparison Method
I poured a measure of El Dorado 15-year-old into each glass. This is a fantastic rum, with many smells and tastes that would allow each glass to show off its strengths and weaknesses. I let this breathe for a few minutes, something that benefits this rum and allows many of the more subtle aromas to develop. It’s a rum I know well, and enjoy immensely.

I tested the glasses in an order that I believed would go from worst to best – the plastic cup, the Riedel, the wide-mouth, and finally the Flare. I sniffed first, going through the above order twice, then testing glasses against each other in order to bring out the best and worst of each. By this time, the rum had been breathing for a while, and the aromas were driving me crazy, so I started sipping. I followed the same order twice, and then randomly compared glasses while sipping. Finally, I let a tiny bit of rum sit in each glass for about 15 minutes and returned to them for a quick sniff and taste.

The Competition
The plastic cup, as you might have guessed by my remarks earlier, proved to be a colossal mistake and waste of fine rum. Any time I returned to this glass I thought I was sampling a rum that was different from the rum in the other glasses. It’s not large enough to allow the rum to breathe, it’s too small to detect many aromas, and when sipping the mouthfeel is, well, plastic. Gripping the cup was a nuisance since it’s so small. All in all, using this cup for rum was A Big Mistake.

The Riedel, while quite possibly a fine glass for tequila, is simply not suited to rum. It was also too small to allow the rum to breathe, and the inwards taper concentrated the smells – and alcohol – in a way that is not suited to rum. It did hold a lot of flavor for the final 15-minute test, though. When sipping, the mouthfeel was quite nice – though again the inwards taper caused me to tilt my head back as if I was downing a shooter. Gripping this glass is a bit unwieldy for me, with my short thick fingers. The relatively tall stem and small bowl didn’t really allow for a comfortable hold.

The wide-mouth old-fashioned glass was excellent for the aromas. Ed Hamilton’s methodology of smelling the high side and the low side is a great way to detect many smells. As a result of this design, the wide-mouth crushed the plastic cup and Riedel in this test, and beat the Flare noticeably. Alas, the thick walls of this glass lost the mouthfeel part of the test when sipping – big and thick and clunky, it caused the rum to practically splash into my mouth as it rolled over the edge. Gripping the glass is easy and comfortable – though I found that I tended to hold it like a beer can. Finally, the large amount of air space in this glass meant that most of the smells and flavors got lost after the 15-minute test.

The Flare
The Flare did very well in the aroma test, losing only because of the wide-mouth’s larger volume, which helped separate the aromas. Though the Flare can certainly be tilted, the constriction in the center of the glass seemed to concentrate the aromas a bit, and the mouth is narrower than the wide-mouth. Even with his slight drawback, the Flare was certainly a hell of a lot better than the other two glasses.

The Flare was absolutely outstanding when sipping the rum. It’s just about the perfect size, though someone with a large nose might find it a bit small. The flared edge and thin glass at the rim made for a wonderful feel on the lips, and let the rum flow into my mouth and across my tongue. My nose was fully inside the glass, allowing the aromas and tastes to hit simultaneously, and the result is a perfect blast to the senses. This is the way rum was meant to be sipped.

The Flare also beat the competition handily on the 15-minute test. The bowl allowed the rum to breathe quite well, while the constriction above the bowl didn’t let to much evaporate and cause the rum to go dull. The Riedel had a very similar effect, though it’s smaller and didn’t breathe as well. The wide-mouth glass was the worst at this test, closely followed by the plastic cup. Both are poorly designed for this test, as they do nothing to hold in the aromas.

A few members over on The Ministry Of Rum commented about the short stem of the Flare, wishing it were longer. While I certainly would not mind a longer stem, I felt comfortable enough with the grip. I’m sure that it will feel very natural in a week or two.

Summary
I’d say that the Flare is an absolute winner. The Riedel and plastic cup were no-shows in this event, and I’ve wasted too much of your time on them already. Though the wide-mouth did perform better during the aroma test, the Flare beat it every other time, particularly during the sipping test. It’s a joy to sip from.

Spirit Sippers

Passion Fruit Syrup

A while ago, I purchased another bottle of El Dorado 15-year-old, one of my favorite rums (and one that I need to review properly before finishing this bottle). When I got home, I flipped through the Beachbum’s books to find an appropriate cocktail and came across the Demerara Dry Float. The recipe calls for some passion fruit syrup, so I went out the next day to find some passion fruit juice so I could make a batch of the syrup, something I’ve done in the past with some success. Though I prefer using the Looza juice, I ended up with a 1-liter carton of Ceres Passion Fruit Juice. This is 100% juice, though it contains “apple and/or pear juice” but it was the best I could do on short notice.

I emptied the carton into a medium saucepan and simmered it down to 50% of the original volume, and then added an equal amount of pure cane sugar. When it had cooled down I tasted it, and it tasted decent even though I’ve never had “real” passion fruit syrup. I made myself a Demerara Dry Float, but cut down on the amount of lime as I usually do. It was a decent drink, but not spectacular. The passion fruit flavors just didn’t seem to be right. I tried a few more versions of the same cocktail, trying to get the ratios correct, but none of the variations really pleased me.They were all good, just not great. I did have a nice glow after drinking four DDFs, though.

I did some research online, and went through my cocktail books looking for any hints on making passion fruit syrup. Checking the Beachbum’s Sippin’ Safari, I saw that he recommended either Finest Call puree or Goya frozen passion fruit pulp made into a syrup. He specifically recommends against using Ceres or Looza fruit juices since “they are already cut with sugar, water, and other ingredients that render them unsuitable as a syrup base.”

Bummer.

Well, the Ceres doesn’t have any extra sugar, but the other ingredients – “apple and/or pear juice” – made me want a “real” passion fruit syrup. I decided that I wanted to do a comparison of passion fruit syrups, so I hit the road again looking for Passion Fruit stuff. I found the Finest Call and Monin Passion Fruit syrups (not the good stuff, alas), and grabbed another carton of Ceres just in case. I could not find the Goya frozen pulp, nor the Looza juice. After trips to seven different stores, I finally decided to give up, and ordered two bottles of Aunty Lilikoi’s Passion Fruit Syrup. Shipping was expensive, since it comes from Hawaii, but I’d heard that it was worth it. We’ll see.

Ingredient Comparison
Finest Call Passion Fruit Puree – Water, sugar and/or corn sweetener, passion fruit juice and puree from concentrate, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, xanthan gum, malic acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, FD&C yellow #5, titanium dioxide, and FD&C red #40. (Wow. But it does contain 13% juice.)

Monin Passion Fruit syrup – Pure cane sugar, water, passion fruit flavor, citric acid. (Apparently, this does not contain any natural flavors or passion fruit juice.)

Aunty Lilikoi’s Passion Fruit Syrup – Sugar, water, passion fruit juice, pectin.

Scottes’ 50% – Ceres Passion Fruit Juice (passion fruit juice, apple and/or pear juice) reduced to 50% of original volume and an equal amount, by volume, of organic cane sugar.

Scottes 33% – Ceres Passion Fruit Juice (passion fruit juice, apple and/or pear juice) reduced to 33% of original volume and twice the amount, by volume, of organic cane sugar.

Taste Comparison
Finest Call Passion Fruit Puree – This is sweet, like candy, with a mild passion fruit flavor. It’s not overly sweet and tastes quite natural, without the artificial flavorings tastes that I expected. It’s quite good, actually.

Monin Passion Fruit syrup – This isn’t as sweet as the Finest Call, and not as candyish. The Monin tastes slightly better than the Finest call – but not but much – though it’s a tiny bit more acidic. Since this costs most than twice the Finest Call ($9 versus $4), I doubt that I would buy it again unless I was in a pinch.

Aunty Lilikoi Passion Fruit Syrup – The passion fruit is quite a bit stronger in this one, and it’s slightly sweeter than the first two. The taste is magnificent, with a stronger and better passion fruit flavor that retains a bit of tartness even though it’s slightly sweeter than the others. The balance of passion fruit and sugar is perfect, and the bit of tartness gives a touch of extra complexity. This is excellent.

Scottes’ 50% – Slightly less sweet than the Aunty Lilikoi, but not by much. The passion fruit taste is not as good as the Aunty Lilikoi, but better than the first two. It has a very slight taste in the background, something that I can’t identify. It may be the “apple and/or grape juice” but could also be the cane sugar. Overall, it is wonderfully smooth and tasty, but it’s not as good as the Aunty Lilikoi.

Scottes’ 33% – This is thick and super-sweet – far sweeter than any of the others. Surprisingly, the passion fruit taste is not as strong, and this is probably due to the abundance of cane sugar. While it’s good, it doesn’t compare to the Aunty Lilikoi or the 50% reduction.

Taste Ranking
1. Aunty Lilkoi
2. Scottes’ 50%
3. Finest Call
4. Monin
5. Scottes’ 33%

The Aunty Lilkoi Passion Fruit Syrup is easily the best, but also the most expensive by a long shot. At $6 for a 10.5-ounce bottle, plus shipping charges from Hawaii, this is almost three times as expensive as the Monin (which was $9 for a liter). My syrups weren’t terribly expensive – $3.29 for the Ceres juice plus a cup of sugar makes the cost of the 50% syrup about $4 for 20 ounces. The 33% syrup is about $5 for 16 ounces. The Finest Call is easily the bargain of the bunch, at $4 for a liter.

If I made my syrups again, I would make a hybrid – I’d reduce to 33% of the original volume and mix that 1:1 with sugar. It still wouldn’t be as good as the Aunty Lilikoi, but would be worth the cost and work if I couldn’t get the Aunty Lilikoi again.

Cocktail Test
Well, I didn’t end up doing a cocktail comparison after all. I made a couple Gone The Beachcombers using the Aunty Lilikoi syrup, and a couple Hurricanes (the Grog Log recipe) using my 50% syrup, but I wasn’t too enamored with either. Even though I tried a couple variations of each, I couldn’t succeed in making a great cocktail, so I decided to forgo the cocktail comparison for another day. Sorry, but I just didn’t think it would be fair to use any recipe that I didn’t love. Another day.

Mai Tai Component: Orgeat

As a Mai Tai fanatic, I have also become a bit of an orgeat fanatic. In the last year, I’ve made 8 or 10 batches using three different recipes and a few variations on them. Finally, I decided to compare four different orgeat recipes in Mai Tais and compare the results. I’ll start with the ingredient list, describe each orgeat tasted on its own, then compare them all mixed in an otherwise-identical Mai Tai. I used my variation of Beachbum’s $100 Mai Tai recipe:

3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1-1/4 oz Appleton Extra
3/4 oz St. James Royal Ambre
1/2 oz Marie Brizard Orange Curacao
1 oz Orgeat

Ingredient Comparison
Finest Call – $4 – High Fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, water, natural and artificial flavors, citric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, xanthan gum, sodium metabisulfite, glycerol abietate, gum arabic.

Monin Almond Syrup – $9 – Pure cane sugar, water, natural almond flavor

FXCuisine.com Recipe – $10 and 2 hours work – Pure cane sugar, water, almonds, orange flower water, organic almond extract
(The full recipe can be found here.)

My Recipe – $10 and 2 hours work – Pure cane sugar, water, almonds, orange flower water, organic almond extract
(The full recipe can be found here.)

Taste Comparison
Finest Call Orgeat – This has a sweet almond smell, a bit like a candy, with a citric smell that must come from the citric acid. The consistency is a little watery, like thin simple syrup. The taste is much like the smell – a little sweet with too much citric acid. It’s slightly less sweet than a typical 1:1 simple syrup. The almond flavor is mild, but a good quality and not too artificial. The almond flavor is about as strong as the citric acid, which means there’s far too much citric acid as far as I’m concerned.

Monin Almond Syrup – This smells like a simple almond sugar syrup. The almond smells very natural, and is slightly stronger than the Finest Call. It doesn’t smell as sweet as the Finest Call. The consistency is also a little watery. The taste is a well-balanced almond sugar syrup, nice and simple, and high quality.

FXCuisine Orgeat – This has a stronger almond smell than those above, and smells quite sweet with a caramel touch. (This is my fault, since I overheated it when adding the remaining sugar. If you make your own, DO NOT let this get above 105F.) There’s a slight smell of orange flower water. This is extremely thick due to the extra sugar, and is also quite a bit sweeter than the others for the same reason. The almond taste is not much stronger than the Monin, but is of a noticeably higher quality. The super-sweetness causes a bit of a “burn” in the throat after swallowing. Overall, this is excellent, but a little too sweet for me.

Scottes’ Orgeat – This has a strong almond smell, noticeably stronger than the FXCuisine orgeat, with a decent amount of orange flower water in the background. It doesn’t smell as sweet, and doesn’t have the caramel hints of the FXCuisine. It’s also not as thick. Tasting shows a good balance of almond to sweetness, better than the FXCuisine, but with the same high-quality ingredients.

OK, this is all by design, since this I wanted an orgeat that was less sweet than the FXCuisine, with more almond and orange flower water. Also, thanks to the lesson learned while making the FXCuisine batch, I didn’t burn my batch when adding the sugar to the almond milk. In the end, I got exactly what I wanted.

Mai Tai Preparation
In order to compare these orgeat recipes fairly, I had to make four Mai Tais as quickly as possible. I did not want the first one to water down before the last one was completed, and this took a bit of preparation. I dumped a fresh bag of cocktail ice into a large bowl for quick access, and put it back into the freezer so that it would be dry for every drink. I squeezed a bunch of limes, prepared four small sprigs of mint, and proceeded to accurately measure and pour the Mai Tais, without ice, into small plastic cups. I lined up the equipment – Boston shaker and strainer and double old-fashioned glasses – and glanced at the clock.

I filled the metal shaker with ice, filled the DOF glass from that, poured the pre-mixed ingredients into the shaker, shook for a 15-count, strained the resulting cocktail into the ice-filled glass, tossed in a straw, lightly squeezed a sprig of mint to release the aroma, and placed that in the glass. I made four Mai Tais in 1 minute 42 seconds. I was a machine, a human Tikilixor Mai Tai Mixor. My wife said I was nuts. I was going to explain, but I’ve never won that argument in the past, so I kept silent.

Mai Tai Comparison
I lined up the Mai Tais and starting sipping, going from one to another and taking notes.

The Mai Tai with the Finest Call Orgeat was too citrusy and tart, which I can only think to attribute to the citric acid added to this mixer. Lime lovers would probably not notice, but I don’t like lime as much as others do. My Mai Tai recipe uses less lime then most because I don’t like the tartness, and the Finest Call put it back in an unpleasant, acidic way. Again, most lovers of “real” Mai Tais would probably not notice, though drinkers of Mai Tais typical to most east coast Chinese restaurants would be surprised. The almond was there, barely perceptible it seemed. Once I got past all my complaints – actually just nuances – it was a very decent Mai Tai. You could do a lot worse, that’s for sure.

The Mai Tai made with the Monin Almond Syrup was darned good. The almond was a bit more noticeable, not by much but the extra little bit helped. I was quite happy with this Mai Tai.

The orange flower water in the FXCuisine Mai Tai was a nice little addition, even though the amount that made it into the cocktail was probably a few drops. The smell of the orange flower water added a hint of complexity to the cocktail, and the stronger almond taste was a bit more noticeable than the Monin recipe. This was a very good Mai Tai, though perhaps a touch too sweet.

The Mai Tai made with my orgeat had everything in it that I had wanted from the time I developed the recipe. The almond was stronger as was the orange flower water. It wasn’t as sweet as the FXCuisine – it was closer to both of the others. All in all, this Mai Tai had a near-perfect balance, even though the differences were very slight when compared to any of the others.

Summary
The Finest Call, for a measly $4, was worth every penny. It’s certainly a hell of a lot better – and cheaper – than Fee Brother’s Orgeat, which I’ve tasted in the past and found to be swill. The Monin is definitely a step up, and the addition of a tablespoon or two of orange flower water would make it into a “real” orgeat. This is as close as lazy people will ever get to real orgeat. The FXCuisine was fantastic, and probably the closest one will ever get to classic orgeat. Still, I found it to be a little bit too sweet. My orgeat recipe is carefully tuned to what I want, and I got it. These last two orgeats come with a price – they’re slightly more expensive than the Monin Almond Syrup, and require a couple hours work in the kitchen. However, if you can’t find the Monin, either is far better than the Finest Call if you don’t mind the work.

In the end, though, any differences between any of these Mai Tais were very slight. I doubt that anyone would notice them unless they were doing a comparison or were making a very fine-tuned analysis of the cocktail. In other words, you’d be very happy getting any of these Mai Tais in a restaurant.

For some people, like me, those nuances are worth the extra price or time.

A Diversion
About an hour after finishing those Mai Tais, while re-reading my notes, my eyes focused on a line I wrote about the Mai Tai made with the Finest Call. It said simply: “almond barely perceptible”. This got me to thinking about the very subtle differences between the Mai Tais, like the presence of orange flower water. The lack of this ingredient wasn’t very noticeable – I actually forgot about it while sampling the Monin and Finest Call Mai Tais – but the presence of it was certainly noticeable, as I found when I tried the FXCuisine Mai Tai. Then I forgot about it again as I cycled through the Mai Tais.

This got me to thinking some more… If the almond is that subtle, just how important is it? So I made myself a Mai Tai without orgeat.

Don’t try that at home, folks. This was just about undrinkable after having had four correct Mai Tais. I poured it out, and promised myself that I’d never have another stupid thought like that again.

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