Rum & Ginger, Part 2

Yep, I figured there would be a part 2. I did not figure that I would continue with the Stirrings’ ginger ale. But there’s still a little bit of exploring to do. As I mentioned yesterday in Rum & Ginger Part 1, the Stirrings’ is pretty potent in ginger, and somewhat sweet. Tonight the plan is to try some rums that balance these points. Alas, I have one small bottle of Stirrings’ left, and it’s only enough for 3 “lowballs” so I hope that I planned my choice of rums well. We’ll see.

The rums planned for tonight are:

Mount Gay Eclipse – Chosen for its spiciness with a hope that this balances the ginger and keeps up with the sweetness.

Clément VSOP – Chosen for its dryness and bold taste. I actually don’t expect this to deal with the ginger as well as the Mount Gay should, but I’m hoping that the dryness does balance the sweetness of the Stirrings’.

Rhum J.M. VSOP – I haven’t tried this rum yet, but I’ve been looking for a reason to crack the bottle anyway. I’m expecting this to be a little bit dry like an aged agricole should be, but I’m also expecting a lot of flavors from this rhum. Given how the El Dorado 12 worked last night, I’m hoping that the J.M. will have enough complexity to work in a similar way. I am, of course, guessing at some of the aspects of the J.M. VSOP.

Another change planned for tonight is to reduce the lime. I think that some lime will be appropriate in this simple drink, but I think that I used too much last night. So I plan to reduce substantially, from 1/4 of a lime to a slice squeezed on top.

Rhum J.M VSOP
I cracked the bottle, so I had to try it, right? This rum smells a tiny bit of sweet, with some fruitiness, and some dark honey smells and a bit of barrel. I want to say that I smell some molasses, but since this is an agricole I just have to say that it has a great rum smell. The taste is certainly dry, even with all the sweet smells, with a good amount of barrel tastes mid-stream, and a fairly long, spicy finish with a mild burn. This has all the indications that this will be much better in 5 or 10 minutes, but I have no patience so I’m going to move on to the Rum & Gingers…

By the way, I’m a little worried that the barrel taste will conflict with the Stirrings’ in the same way the Cruzan did last night, but my initial expectations of this rhum as close to the experience. I’m not going to change my mind on this rum.

Mount Gay Eclipe & Stirrings’
Well, the Eclipse isn’t strong enough to overcome the Stirrings’, but it does balance it decently. This is a somewhat plain, but very refreshing, summertime drink that would disappear quickly on a hot day. It’s quite enjoyable, but not quite the taste I was looking for in this run of comparisons. It’s a bit too light, and the rum really doesn’t come through. I may, however, have found a new favorite for those nights where I feel like going beyond the rum and diving straight into the alcohol. Hey, it happens.

Clément VSOP and Stirrings’
The dryiness of the agricole balances the sweetness of the ginger ale, but those typical agricole tastes and smells come right through. Well this isn’t bad, it’s not a match, and the ginger ale does not suit the agricole tones of this rhum. A failure of my own making. But this failure taught me something, so it was not a failed experiment in that sense. And it taught me that a dry rum was a good idea, but something in the line of Flor De Cana rums might be a better choice. Dry, with a taste powerful enough to come through, but one without the distinct tastes of the agricole which clash.

Rhum J.M VSOP and Stirrings’
As I feared, the barrel does not match the ginger ale, and this, too, is a flop. I am, however, amazed at how much the ginger ale brings out those agricole flavors – which were not very apparent in the straight sipping of the J.M. The agricole doesn’t clash as much as the Clément, but that’s not surprisingly since the older J.M. is a bit subdued in these flavors. Instead, the ginger clashes with the barrel and the agricole tastes. This remains a better drink than the Clément, but it’s still not good enough to drink.

Lime
OK, I went to the opposite extreme with the lime tonight, mostly because of the fear of having my mouth pucker up like it did last night. The lime should be there, should be noticeable, but it should lie in the background complementing the rum and not be forceful enough to clash with the ginger ale. It does help the drink, but should be used in moderation here.

Coming back to this paragraph after a while, I have noticed that my mouth has that “puckered” feeling again. It was not the lime that did this last night, but must be the ginger – or the Stirrings’ type of ginger. I should find out more about this tomorrow night, or whenever I get to Part 3.

Update: I found a possible reason for this. According to Stirrings’ web site, “Our Ginger Ale is made with triple purified water, real ginger, Mexican lime and cane sugar.”

Summary
Eclipse, with it’s fairly strong rum tastes and somewhat excessive spiceness, was still not enough to stand up to the Stirrings’. I’m somewhat surprised that I have now tried 7 rums with this ginger ale and can’t find a match. Well, that’s a bit harsh, and I should say that I did not find a *perfect* match. The El Dorado made for a very interesting drink, and the Eclipse definitely makes for a nice summertime cooler. I guess that I was just hoping for more, like I always do.

The agricoles I chose were not very good matches. Now that the Eclipse Rum & Ginger is gone I’ve been sipping on the J.M. version. Even with all the ice melt it still doesn’t work too well, but it’s drinkable. The Clément just clashed. Chalk this lesson up to my needing more experience with agricoles.

The most obvious point of the night was that I am out of Stirrings’ Ginger Ale and must move on to another brand. I’m not sure if this is a bad thing because – as good as the Stirrings’ is, it’s a bit odd with its sweetness and unique ginger tastes. I did find yet another giner ale made with sugar cane, Boylan’s, which I got at Trader Joe’s. I drank a bottle today and have high hopes for it, since it seems to have more ginger taste than the Whole Foods 365 and certainly more than the Schweppes and Canda Dry. I say “seems” because I did not compare it directly to the others. Tomorrow night I plan to try the Boylan’s and 365 using some of the more standard gold rums. The Eclipse might be good with either of these, as might the Appleton V/X again. I’ll have to think a bit on this and make some decisions.

Rum & Ginger, Part 1

For some reason I don’t think I’ll make it through all the combinations in a single night, so I’m calling this “Part 1″ in anticipation…

After tasting a bunch of ginger ales a few days ago I sat down tonight to make some Rum & Ginger “cocktails.” Is this really a cocktail? No. I guess this is a highball – rum, ginger ale, and a squeeze of lime. Some mixologist will set me right I’m sure.

My favorite of the comparison from the other night was the Stirrings’ Ginger Ale, though this statement has to be taken with some consideration. Not all of the sodas were strictly ginger ales, and some where quite atypical. Reed’s Jamaican style ginger ale was excellent, but I can’t bundle it with a “typical” ginger ale like Schweppes. The Ginger People’s ginger beer was fantastic – again not very typical of a ginger ale. Stirrings’ had the greatest ginger taste of the ales but still wasn’t perfect. I like it a lot, and it’s a high-quality product, but it may prove to still be too extreme in ginger and sweetness to be considered a typical ginger ale…

Over-analyzing and pondering are just my way of procrastinating…

I grabbed 4 rums somewhat at random, and proceeded to mix up some Rum & Ginger highballs. I made them small (does that make them a lowball?) with 1 ounce of rum, 2 ounces of ginger ale, and the closest I could come to 1/8 of a lime, squeezed. Ice, then rum, then lime, finally the ginger ale poured gently to keep the bubbles that I love, and a mild stir. Here we have them:

Appleton V/X & Stirrings’
Good, with a lot of ginger coming through – too much really. The rum is gone in the background. On the second round through these drinks this is still boring. Will the Appleton Extra work, or will that be a bit too smoky or rich, rather than complex?

Cockspur Fine Rum & Stirrings’
The rum comes through a little better, but it’s kinda flat and boring. The tastes aren’t complementing each other, but conflicting in a way that almost balances out. Back for another taste and the rum has receded even more into the background. I was expecting more from this combination, expecting the spice to come through, but it’s too mild. This makes me think that the extra spiciness of the Mount Gay Eclipse or Gosling’s Gold would have been a better choice.

Cruzan Single Barrel & Stirrings’
This works fairly well, with nice flavors coming through from both products, but the Cruzan is a little weak. A little more Cruzan would make this work quite well I’d think. I still agree with this thought on the second round, so I added another 1/2oz of Cruzan. This works fairly well, but not ideal. They don’t really complement each other after all, but rather compete a bit. The barrel doesn’t agree with the ginger.

El Dorado 12 & Stirrings’
This has turned into a different drink. There’s no real experience of ginger, no real experience of rum. Oh, they’re both there underneath, but the tastes have merged into something which simply reminds me of rum and reminds me of ginger.
On the second round through, this is working quite well. Some of the sweetness of the rum is coming out. I’m surprised that the barrel doesn’t compete like the Cruzan does. Everything works together to form a completely new “third” taste. While I like this, I’m fairly surprised by it and I’m not sure what to make of it. I was expecting rum & ginger, and got something new. Interesting…

Summary
I’m limed out. My tongue is puckered from less than half a lime. Next time they get barely squeezed, or I just do wedges – or I use fresher limes. I suddenly remember why my days of gin & tonics were short-lived.

The Stirrings’ is a fairly powerful ginger taste – it’s strength make me almost afraid to mix with the Ginger People’s ginger beer. I’m noticing that the Stirrings’ is also fairly sweet. This is not be the best choice for a rum & ginger using lighter rums. It works well with the El Dorado, which is by far the heaviest and richest rum laid out. The other rums are probably better suited to a lighter, dryer ginger ale like the Whole Foods’ 365.

In the end, I finished only the El Dorado mixture. Which is a good thing because pounding down 4 ounces of rum on a work night would not be an intelligent thing to do. But the fact that this one is gone kinda proves the thought that the Stirrings’ need a more powerful rum. I would not think it would go well with dark or extensively aged rums, but rather one from the more powerful golds. The ones that come to mind are Mount Gay Eclipse, Gosling’s Gold, some of the Plantations… Something in that range. The sweetness probably needs to be balanced by a dry rum, so I’d also think about the Kaniche Martinique or Clement VSOP.

This may be premature, but I am debating the thought of removing Stirrings’ ginger ale from my list. Yes, this *is* premature – it just needs the right rum.

More experimentation is needed…

A Bunch Of Ginger Ales

I have been on a bit of a rant against High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) lately. It started some time ago when I made my first batch of orgeat and compared it to the Fee Brothers’ Orgeat. The Fee’s was foul stuff, and I dumped the entire bottle down the drain. Since then I’ve been occasionally destroying the kitchen making a number of homemade ingredients like orgeat, more orgeat, passionfruit syrup, grenadine, and rock candy syrup. In all cases I’ve been using organic cane sugar, and have seriously begun to appreciate the taste of a quality sugar in a beverage.

I began to notice some of those “artisanal” sodas, like Jones Soda and Stirrings Ginger Ale, and have been checking the ingredients. If it was a flavor that sounded interesting – and it contained cane sugar – I bought a bottle. My wife has been going crazy since I’ve been packing the fridge with this stuff lately. Sheesh. I could have worse habits.

Some of these sodas have been quite good, and some mediocre. The Jones Sodas are simply fantastic. If you have not tried one yet, please do so. I love vanilla cream soda, and Jones is one of the best, along with Polar Premium Classic – or something like that. The Polar website does not list this exact soda, though it does list the typical version with HFCS. They are not the same, not in the slightest. Many of the others I’ve tried – like Boylans, Mercury, and a few others from the local Whole Foods Market – have been decent but I haven’t found anything that comes close to the Jones. Yet. I’ll keep looking.

Until then, I’ve been exploring making my own sodas. I’ve got a little studying to do, since most of the information out there has to do with fermented sodas and I’d prefer to have more control over the carbonation. I love carbonation. I love those big fat sharp bubbles that almost cut my tongue. So I’d prefer to carbonate by forcing carbon dioxide into the soda rather than experimenting with yeasts and temperatures until I get it right. Maybe I’m fussing for nothing, but I have a habit of over-studying a subject before starting something. Oh well, I do enjoy the knowledge-gain.

Ginger Ales
While these sodas are good or great, none have sounded too appetizing if mixed with rum. And it’s all about the rum, and a rum & ginger with a squeeze of lime is a simple, quick, enjoyable mix. So I went out looking for ginger ales made with cane sugar, and managed to find just a few. I decided to compare these against some of the typical ginger ales, and some of the not so typical ones.

Alas, so many ginger ales are regional. I seriously wish that I could find Vernors around Boston, or Blenheim’s.

The High Fructose Corn Syrup Selection
Oh, boy. I get to swig down some HFCS. And I do it willingly! All in the name of science…

(I’m not going to mention prices on these HFCS ones since they’re fairly typical prices.)

Schweppes
Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, citric acid, natural flavors, sodium benzoate, caramel color.

Sweet, tiny sharp bubbles, small amount of ginger, very crisp feeling but a mild taste. HFCS isn’t too noticeable – at least it’s not horrid. Overall, not bad, but definitely not enough ginger by a long shot.

Canada Dry
Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors, sodium benzoate, caramel color.

Much softer than Schweppes in the bubble department. Drier, but not by much. The ginger amount is about the same, but the ginger seems a tiny bit sweeter.

Seagrams
Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, citric acid, sodium benzoate, caramel color, and natural flavoring.

Bubbles are almost as sharp as the Schweppes, but there’s very little taste. Really, why bother? This is a waste of good carbonation, and I’m left feeling sorry for a bunch of ginger plants that gave up their existence for nothing. It’s sad that this contains more preservative than natural flavor.

Polar
Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavoring, and caramel color.

Not a lot of taste here. Bubbles are mediocre – smooth and tiny. Somewhat sweet. Pretty much a waste of time though. No sodium benzoate though, which has got to be better for the taste – if there was more taste…

Summary
The HFCS isn’t so terrible is all of these. Granted, none are as sweet as a Coke or a typical Cream Soda, so maybe I was afraid for no reason. But none have much taste, in my opinion. The ginger is quite mild in all of them, like an afterthought – or an active thought that this stuff needed to taste different when compared to seltzer. My pick is the Schweppes, but I primarily chose that because I love the bubbles. They are all equally boring in taste, so I have to pick for some reason, right?

The Cane Sugar Selection
As I mentioned, I was not able to find too many ginger ales made with cane sugar. Well, not “pure” ones at least – I did find some Jamaican-style ginger ale, some ginger beers, and a ginger ale seltzer. I’ll get to these “oddball” ginger ales after I go through the “typical” ginger ales.

Outrageous Ginger Ale from Natural Brew
Ingredients: Sparkling filtered water, evaporated cane juice, brewed ginger, natural flavors, citric acid.

I bought a single 12oz bottle of this, but I seem to remember that a 4-pack was about $4.50. Don’t quote me on that though. Natural Brew is a division of Smucker’s – http://www.smuckers.com/fc/brands/default.asp

This stuff has lots of ginger taste, is fairly sweet, with very smooth carbonation. It’s got a hint of oddness to it, not unpleasant at all, just different. I’m going to take a wild stab and guess that this might be from the use of Jamaican ginger. (Note: After tasting the Reed’s below, this guess is more of a hypothesis.) It is very good, but I can imagine better. And the carbonation is too soft for me.

Stirrings’ Ginger Ale
Ingredients: Triple filtered carbonated water, sugar, citric acid, ginger extract and other natural flavors.

Update: Interestingly enough, the Stirrings’ website says “Our Ginger Ale is made with triple purified water, real ginger, Mexican lime and cane sugar. ” Lime?

This soda comes in a 4-pack of 6.3oz bottles, for about $5. That’s quite expensive for a ginger ale, but if it’s worth it…

This has an incredible punch of ginger, far more than the Outrageous above. The ginger is mildy sweet in itself – perhaps because they use ginger extract? Beyond the ginger itself this is a bit sweet – sweeter than the HFCS ones above but still far from a Coke. The bubbles are tiny, but still a bit sharp. (The bottle calls the “Champagne bubbles.”) This is very good, though the ginger itself is slightly imperfect. http://www.stirrings.com/

365 Ginger Ale
Ingredients: Filtered carbonated water, pure cane sugar, natural ginger flavor, citric acid, and caramel color.

This is Whole Foods Market store brand, and is priced quite aggressively at $2.29 for a 6-pack of 12oz cans. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/

This has a decent amount of ginger flavor, but it seriously comes across as the quality of a store brand. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just that it not quite as refined as the two above. It’s a little sweet, and the bubbles are very smooth – barely above the Outrageous. Chances are good that I’d grab this if I were throwing a party – it’s about 1/6 the price of the Stirrings’.

Boylan’s Ginger Ale
Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, citrus oils, natural ginger flavors, citric acid, caramel color, sodium benzoate

I bought a 4-pack at Trader Joe’s and seem to remember it being about $4, though it could have been $4.50. This is in line with most others in this area, like the Outrageous. This company from New Jersey makes a number of sodas made with cane sugar, and also produces a small line called “The Natural Kind” without artificial flavors, artificial colors, or preservatives. Alas, no ginger ale in this line. http://www.boylanbottling.com/

Small bubbles, but crisp. A bit sweet but not too far at all. Decent ginger taste, but still milder than I’d like. It has a much milder taste than the Whole Foods’ 365, but the Boylan’s does taste a bit more natural. The bubbles in the Boylan’s are much better though, which isn’t too difficult against the 365. The Boylan’s has noticeably more taste than the Schweppes, and actually has better bubbles, too.

Summary
Though none of these are perfect, they are all above the HFCS selection. They have more natural tastes, far more ginger taste, and are simple better tasting all around. Stirrings’ wins this round easily. The Boylan’s comes in second, but it might actually be preferred by many since it tastes more like a typical ginger ale than the others. The 365′s bargain price is not to be missed at the right times though. And if you might prefer the Outrageous, if you happen to like its slight oddness that I guessed was Jamaican ginger.

The “Atypical” Selection
These are not what I consider to be typical ginger ales in the style that I grew up with, so I call them “atypical.” They certainly have their own categories, so categorize them how you like. One is made with 80% fruit juice and I just can’t call that typical. Another is a Jamaican ginger ale, and having tasted it in the past I can not file this along with Schweppes or even Stirrings’. The last two are ginger beers, which are typical less sweet than ginger ales and pack more ginger flavor.

Knudsen Ginger Ale Spritzer
Ingredients: Sparkling filtered water, white grape and apple juice concentrates, ginger root, natural flavors.

I got this at Whole Foods Market. A 6-pack of 12oz cans was $4.69, so it’s about in the middle of the cane sugar ale pricing. This one is certainly unusual because it contains 80% fruit juice. Yet they call it ginger ale. And the can also says its a “flavored sparkling beverage from juice concentrate.” How typical is that? Even though it doesn’t contain cane sugar at least it has natural sweetening from the fruit juices. http://www.knudsenjuices.com/

The smell of the pear juice hits as the can nears my mouth. It’s sweet, and there is ginger in it. The bubbles are very small and far between so I’m not a fan of the carbonation. If you wanted a different taste to your fruit juice this is the way to go. It is quite good but it’s just not a ginger ale, and I would be hard-pressed to use this in for mixing. (Though some mixologist might put this to good use in a cocktail.)

Reed’s Premium Ginger Brew
Ingredients: Sparkling filtered water, sweetened by a blend of Canadian white water clover honey and pineapple juice from concentrate, fresh ginger root, lemon and lime juices from concentrate, and spices

A 4-pack of 12oz bottles was $4. This bottles uses the phrases “ginger brew” and “Jamaican style ginger ale” so categorize it however you like, but I can’t directly compare this to Canada Dry. Also, it’s sweetened with honey and pineapple juice, so it doesn’t really fall in with the sugar cane drinks. http://www.reedsgingerbrew.com/brews.html

This packs some strong ginger tastes, but not the same type of ginger as those above.Between the Outrageous above and this bottle I will attribute this difference in taste to the use of Jamaican ginger. Then again, this contains a whole bunch of ingredients that aren’t in the other ginger ales, so I can’t be too sure. This is fairly sweet, with tiny smooth bubbles. Luckily there’s a good deal of those bubbles so my desire for carbonation is satisfied. Overall, this is a very good drink, and the taste difference will probably grow on me and I’ll like it a lot more. There’s no doubt of the quality in this one, it’s just that the taste is a little different right now.

Reed’s makes several variations of this ginger ale. I’ll have to try some of the others.

The Ginger People’s Ginger Beer
Ingredients: Water, cane sugar, naturally pressed ginger juice, natural ginger extract, citric acid, natural flavor.

Another Whole Foods Market purchase, a 4-pack of 12oz bottles was $5.50 putting it at the high end of these sodas, though still far cheaper than the Stirrings’. Apparently this won an award – Most Outstanding Beverage – from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. The Ginger People make a whole slew of ginger products – I even purchased some of their ginger extract today. http://www.gingerpeople.com/

There is quite a bit of ginger in this, by far the most so far. The aroma hits before the bottle touches my lips. This has so much ginger that it gives a bit of a spicy burn at the back of the throat. And this stuff kinda tastes like they roasted the ginger – though this isn’t possible given the ingredients. Perhaps they age it? Vernors ages some (or all?) of their ginger drinks.

This is not very sweet, very tiny bubbles and a decent amount though I’d wish for more. Very high quality. I’m not sure what else I can say about it other than I simply *must* try a “Darkn Stormy” with this ginger beer. Outstanding.

Barritt’s Ginger Beer
Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavoring, citric acid, sodium benzoate, gum arabic, caramel color, guar gum.

This seems to be available at most good liquor stores around me. I have no idea how much I paid for it. Let me be upfront by stating that I am *very* depressed that the beer I got was made with high fructose corn syrup, not sugar. And canned in Florida. And look at those other ingredients – guar gum? I did not get the real thing. I’m very depressed. http://www.barrittsgingerbeer.bm/

This has a very good amount of ginger in it. Not as much as Stirrings’ or The Ginger People’s, but more than the Reed’s. So for ginger strength, this comes in third. It’s fairly sweet, but does have the tinge and burning sensation of HFCS. The bubbles are very good – medium seized, slightly sharp, and plenty of them. It is quite good. I can only imagine how good the sugar version is. Even still, this is good enough to continue buying.

Summary
This is an easy decision – The Ginger People’s Ginger Beer is outstanding. Simply fantastic. The Reed’s is very good, too, though it has that blend of ingredients that make it quite unique. The Barritts, despite the HFCS, is quite good and comes in a close third. The Knudsen’s fruit juice stuff is simply out of the running. Though it’s very good and high quality, it just does not belong here amongst the others.

Overall Summary
Well I’ve spent almost 3 hours now sampling 11 carbonated ginger beverages and I’m not quite burnt out yet. But I’m tired as hell, so I certainly can’t continue.

This entire comparison was intended to pick a ginger ale suited for mixing in a Rum & Ginger. To that end, the Stirrings’ is probably my first choice. I’d probably pick the Whole Foods 365 next, unless I wanted some powerful bubbles and then I’d grab the Schweppes. Go figure on that last one. But this choice for mixing is a bit of a guess at this point, and I’ll have to do some comparisons with rum. Hopefully very soon.

But another wildly different cocktail is the Dark n Stormy, traditionally made with Barritt’s and Gosling’s Black Seal. The ingredients are almost identical to a Rum & Ginger – rum, lime, and ginger beer instead of ginger ale. I can’t help but think about a Dark & Stormy made with The Ginger People’s brew, and I’ll get right on that as soon as possible. I’m curious too, about making one using Gosling’s Old Rum. Hell, it’s the same rum as the Black Seal – just aged longer. Will a Ginger People and Gosling’s Old make for an upper-crust Dark n Stormy?

Not to skip it in the end, I have to mention the Reed’s again. This stuff is very good, but a bit unique for mixing. For me. One of the talented mixologists out there should be able to create something using this ginger ale.

Edited 11/16/07 – Added Boylan’s Ginger Ale.

4 Plantation Rums

I’ll always have a fond memory of Plantation Rums, since one of them was the very first “great” bottles of rum that I ever had. Damned if I can remember what it was, but I wanted more when it was gone. Back then I didn’t know jack about rum, and I figured that I’d just grab “that” bottle called Plantation. Alas, the first store I visited had 5 or 6 different Plantation rums, all lined up and looking identical in their straw-wrapped bottles. Among all of the Plantation bottles on that shelf, the only things that were not identical were the important things – the island, the year, and the price. At this point I was betting that the stuff inside the bottles wasn’t very identical either, and I left the store, confused. And sad.

I never did remember which Plantation Rum I had. I’m a whole lot smarter now, though, and I’ve learned to write things down and take tasting notes. Which doesn’t do me much good with the Plantations, because they are almost all vintage years, thus they change and become unavailable. I’ve had most of these for some time, even though only one has been opened (and fairly well drained). I don’t know if any of these are still on any shelves, anywhere.

It may be obvious to you by now that I’m going to write a review which quite possibly won’t do you a damned bit of good. Ever.

What da ya want for nothing? A rubber biscuit?

Plantation Rums

Plantation Rums are made by Cognac Ferrand, makers of Pierre Ferrand cognac, Gabriel & Andreu cognac, Mathilde Liqueurs, Citadelle Vodka, and a few other high-quality spirits. They currently market 6 different rums from various islands – 2 of which I’ll be reviewing. Let’s hope the other two aren’t as good… or, even better, that they’re fantastic and still available. (Hey, I can dream…)

One irritating thing about their marketing is that their web site briefly mentions that their rums are aged in barrels previously used for bourbon, cognac, or sherry. OK, that’s kinda cool, but the irritating part is that they don’t say which ones! Their web site is silent about the specifics, and the bottles say even less. Oh well.

So maybe these were aged in cognac or sherry casks, but I’ll bet money that used bourbon barrels are more likely. You’ve got to love the law that states that bourbon must be aged in new barrels, thus making all those old barrels available for rum producers. But I’d love to see more rums aged, or at least finished, in other casks. Doorly’s XO, which is finished in used sherry casks, is the only rum that I know about that switches to such a barrel. Oh, I’ll bet there are more, but I just don’t know which ones. Yet.

Trinidad 1991 – Price Unknown

I figure that I’ll start with the oldest. Well, the oldest rum, not necessarily the one that’s aged the longest. These Plantation rums don’t mention the aging time, except for their Jamaican which is aged 8 years. So I have no idea how long this rum was aged. I really wish companies gave out a little more information about their rums. I’d love to know how old it is and whether it was really aged, or finished, in cognac or sherry casks. I have seen reports on the web that it was aged for 9 or 10 years – a couple mentions for each age, so take that as a rumor.

I guess the thing that matters is the taste, eh? So let’s get to it.

This is a very light rum – the lightest of the 4 I have. It still manages to be a golden color, like a light tea. The smell is pretty intense – a lot of sweet fruitiness – mostly sweet – and a bit of molasses followed by a decent amount of barrel, but it rather light and pleasant barrel, not like heavily charred oak. It’s all very nicely balanced, and almost comes across as a single, delicious smell.

A little sip shows a lot of sweetness, quickly followed by a spiciness around most of the mouth. A larger sip finds a good amount of barrel, somewhat smooth, and a long, slow, spicy finish. The spiciness indicates to me that an ice cube would probably tame this rum quite a bit, but I have none handy so I’ll brave it neat. (By the way, this is 90-proof. They all are, except the Barbados Grande Reserve) Another sip, and I’m a little bored with the flavor. It’s so balanced that it’s almost flat – well, that’s a bit strong, but it isn’t as complex as the smells led me to believe. I’m wondering where all those smells went if they didn’t go into the flavor.

A final sip, and I’ll have to say that this isn’t bad at all, but it’s not great since it’s a little boring, and too spicy. It hits quick with some sweetness, startles the mouth with spice, and finishes long and slow and spicy. It reminds me of the Mount Gay Eclipse or Gosling’s Gold, but sweeter and slightly better than either. I really think this rum deserves a couple drops of water and 5 or 10 minutes of sitting, but I have no patience tonight. I’ll have to try it again some other night.

Trinidad 1993 – $25

This rum has won a couple awards, including Food & Wine’s Best Rum Of The Year for 2003. The Beverage Tasting Institute rated this a 93, which is very respectable from a source I trust. Supposedly this has been aged for 11 years, and even though I’ve seen a few mentions of that I can’t confirm it, so your guess is as good as mine. Other than these tidbits, I can’t find much about this rum. The 30 words on the website closely match the 20 words on the bottle.

This rum is quite a bit darker than its older brother, and comes with the first plastic cork I’ve ever seen. Yeah, a plastic cork with one of those black plastic tops on it. I’m kinda bummed, since I’m so used to the Plantations being topped with sealing wax. Of the 3 unopened rums here – the Trinidad 1991 was opened quite a long time ago – only the Venezuela 1992 has the sealing wax. Oh well, it doesn’t make much difference to the rum but it was a nice feature.

This rum is sweet, like the previous, but the smell is a bit darker and richer – more molasses, more barrel. The smell is very rich and inviting, making me want to sip and swallow, but I must sniff some more. (I guess.) There’s some fruit hiding in the aromas – bananas maybe, a tiny hint of orange. And the sweetness keeps its presence very well known.

A tiny sip is actually a bit dry, with some spiciness and a bit of a burn. Dark fruits peek out, and the barrel makes itself known but not obnoxiously so. A larger sip provides more of the same, and a long slow spicy/peppery finish. It’s quite potent, full of dark flavors but not a lot of complexity. Again this seems like a rum that would benefit from some water and a few minutes of waiting, but I still have no patience. There’s no doubt that this rum could stand up to some ice though. It’s full of flavor. I want a cigar.

Venezuela 1992 – $29

Once again I can’t find much about this rum, though a couple blurbs say it’s been aged for 10 years, and one specifies bourbon and sherry casks. At least this one has the sealing wax, and since I’m bored with looking for info I’ll just dive into this one.

This one is the darkest of the bunch, a couple shades darker than the last. Once again the first thing that hits is sweetness, molasses, and a bit of barrel. It’s not as sweet at the Trinidad 93, and the smells are a bit heavier, but mostly of molasses. A small sip is intriguing as all hell. At first I cocked my head sideways like I was about to gasp but never made it because some other very nice tastes jumped up and did a quick pirate shanty on my taste buds. Hold on, lads, I’m going in again… Yeah, there’s a bit of dark barrel in here, but some heavy dark fruits – almost like figs or dates – some out, followed by a bit of sweetness. This rum is playing games with me, taunting me, and teasing me.

And just for that I’m going to play hard-to-get, and let it sit for a moment or two.

Tap, tap, tap – no patience. Yep, dark fruits of some sort, barrel, sweetness follows and then a medium-length finish with a bit of spice. It’s certainly very interesting, though I don’t yet know if this is a sipper. It could easily hold an ice cube – so far they all could, but this one would hold it well. For some reason I don’t think that a waiting period would do much for this rum – it seems like it gives it all up in a quick four-step staccato of tastes.

And the tastes – I would not call them “balanced” by any means. They just hit you one at a time.

Oh, I was so wrong about waiting. Just a few minutes has mellowed this rum a bit, and what were punches of flavors are now tomboyish slaps of affection – yeah, she likes you, but you know she’s holding back. Do you dare? Come on – Do you want to live forever? I’m going back in…

OK, I teased her back, since I poured and I’m going to let her wait a few moments. Older, wiser, sure.

Well I managed to stuff 10 minutes of impatience into a 5-minute period. The smell is milder, and with a different sweetness, almost like a vanilla sweetness. Some more fruit has come up, but it’s still the darker fruits letting themselves be known. A sip now is much mellower, though without so many flavors either. Its quick – finish and all – and much nicer. Again the barrel comes out, with a few more of its flavor like vanilla and a mellow spice.

This is a very interesting rum, though I might not recommend it for everyone. Again, I want a cigar, and I don’t consider it quite a sipping rum. An ice cube and a few minutes of patience will certainly do a lot, but it’s quite intriguing straight from the bottle.

Barbados Grande Reserve – $16

I ran into this rum at Rumba, the fancy rum bar at the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston. I was quite pleased with it, and grabbed a bottle when I could. This one is a little unusual in the Plantation line since it’s the only one that is not a vintage. And it’s quite decent in its price at $16 (give or take) – though none of the Plantations are too expensive in my opinion. So far they’re worth every penny.

This rum is a touch darker than the Trinidad 1993, but a couple shades lighter than the Venezuelan. The smell is the mellowest so far, though it still hints at sweetness and a bit of molasses. It is definitely much lighter with barrel smells though they still exist. The taste is also the mildest, and damn it’s also quite interesting with some vanilla that unusually prominent long before the finish. There is a bit of odd spiciness at the end, with a lingering finish. It’s dryer than I expected, though not as dry as the Trinidad`93.

Of the bunch, this is the most sippable, except for that odd spiciness – not quite peppery but still leaves a tingle. Not that the spice is bad, it’s just a little odd, and I can’t quite place it. It’s not quite sweet enough for me, though it’s far from being called a dry rum. All in all, it’s very good, though not quite prominent at anything it does. (Dang, that sounds a lot like my description on the Mount Gay Eclipse.) Again, not quite a sipper, and this one couldn’t stand up to ice as well as its siblings above. But it is very good, and a good price. I’ll have to go back and compare this against the Mount Gay and/or make a cocktail or two.

Summary

All of the Plantation rums mentioned are very good, and very well done in the craft of rum-making. But none are quite sippers, and the prominent barrel may make most difficult to use for cocktails. (The Barbados Grande Reserve has a good chance, though.) The Venezuelan was certainly quite interesting, that’s for sure, but the one I’m least likely to recommend since it is a bit odd in its display of tastes.

I’m somewhat on the edge about all of these – you can’t go wrong buying one, but you’re not going to find a new favorite rum in this bunch. But after tasting these 4, I’m somewhat reserved about buying another Plantation Rum, since I have to wonder if I’m going to find the same sweet smell, molasses, and a good amount of barrel. Even though they’re all quite different there’s no doubt that the same folks are making these. Same barrels and blending methods…

Now there’s an interesting thought. All four say that they are products of their respective countries, but the Trinidad 1993 says “Bottled By C. Ferrand, 16130 ARS – France.” Judging from the similar tastes and habits of these rums I’d venture a guess that they are bottled in France – but please note that this is just a guess, and I really don’t know for sure. It just seems a little odd for 4 distillers and blenders on 3 different islands would produce similar tastes between the products.

Again, that’s just a guess. But I’ll have to check into it.

Since I digressed a bit about the similarities, I’ll have to repeat a sentence as a final summary: “…you can’t go wrong buying one, but you’re not going to find a new favorite rum in this bunch.”

8 Gold Mixing Rums

I’ve been planning to do a review of gold rums for quite some time, but didn’t manage to find time for such a large undertaking lately. And the last few weeks have been extremely busy for me, which explains the lack of posts. I finally managed to dedicate a weekend to rum, and sampled quite a bit – 19 or 20 rums. Yeah, that’s quite a bit of sampling, but it’s due to the nature of my quest. I want to learn more about rum, the different types, the differences between the islands, the similarities, etc. I do not feel that I was doing this when only high-end tasting sipping rums, so I grabbed a bunch of white ones and tasted them all together, one after another. I’m doing the same thing now with 8 gold rums.

I should mention that these are what I consider to be “mixing rums” chosen for their moderate prices. I have plenty of sipping rums that are gold, and plenty more gold rums that might be considered too expensive to use for general mixing. (Well, some folks might consider them too expensive – I’m one that believes in using the most appropriate rum for the cocktail being made, regardless of price.) But for this comparison I’m keying on moderately-priced gold rums.

Without further ado, 8 Gold Mixing Rums.

Appleton V/X – Jamaica – $17
In 1893 there were 148 distilleries on the island of Jamaica. By 1948 there were only 25, and now there are only 5 left. Appleton’s rum distillery dates back to 1749, though its history of sugar cane production dates back to 1655. It is is the oldest distillery on the island and the world’s second oldest rum producer.

Appleton’s V/X rum is a blend of rums aged between 5 and 10 years. After blending they are placed in large oaks vats for several months, a process which allows the rums to “marry” or fuse together.

The rum smells a little sweet with a good amount of oak and molasses. The molasses almost smells a little bitter, though this may be because of the char of the oak. There’s some nuttiness coming through, along with a touch of citrus. An initial sip shows a sharp bit of spiciness, and the oak taste isn’t as strong as the smell. It’s full of flavor, fairly well-balanced, and not too sweet. The nut tastes come out a bit, and it finishes dry with spiciness in the back of the throat along with a mild burn, and a somewhat long finish.

This is a good rum, though not really one for sipping neat. It’s full flavor lends it to cocktails that have enough taste to balance the rum. The oak smell and spiciness will certainly come through a simple cocktail.

Appleton Special Gold – Jamaica – $12

This rum is a blend of pot- and column-column distilled rums, aged separately and the hand-blended. This should result in a richer, fuller flavor that rums that just meet the column distiller. Apparently this rum was formulated during World War II as a substitute for whiskey, which was difficult to find at that time. Jeff Berry, the Beachbum, recommends this rum in a simple but effective way: “For your gold Jamaican, stock Appleton Special Gold.”

Though the Palo Viejo has the lightest color of these rums, the Appleton Special is a close second. The smell of this is fantastic – sweet, with some honey and apple smells backed by some molasses. It’s delectable, and very inviting – I want to sip it immediately. The smell isn’t strong – I can stick my nose inside the glass and it’s not getting burnt out – but nicely balanced and lively. An initial sip gives a fair amount of burn, but the taste of sweet apples and mild molasses is very nice. There is a bit of an alcohol hit to this rum, but it’s not bad just noticeable. The finish is a bit quick, with a touch of wood, and leaves the mouth feeling clean.

Though I’ve got to give the other rums a chance, I’m already inclined to keep this one stocked at all times for a wide variety of drinks. The flavors are milder than the V/X, with less wood and more sweetness. This is definitely a very good choice for mild or light cocktails calling for a gold rum. Very nice.

Gosling’s Gold – Bermuda – $12

Gosling’s began it’s rum history in 1857 in Bermuda, when the Gosling Brothers store received its first barrels of rum. After 3 years of trials, the famous Gosling’s Black Seal Rum was offered for sale. It wasn’t until 2004 that its Gold Rum was introduced. This rum is a blend of pot- and column-distilled rums, with the majority being aged 5 years.

The smell of this rum is very mild, with only hints of wood and molasses coming out. A few more smells make me a little leery – the smell seriously gives me the feeling that this rum will have a bit of a bite. An initial sip shows that it does not, though it doesn’t show much more than a bit of spice. A larger sip certainly has more flavor – of wood and molasses and spices. There’s almost no burn, really, which is a surprise after the second smell. But there’s not really much happening with this rum – it’s doesn’t have many tastes, just some spice at the end. It’s a touch dry, not enough molasses taste for my liking, and the predominant tastes are of wood and spice.

This is not a bad rum, and its smoothness is a pleasant surprise, but there’s just not enough of the right things going on here. If you like a sharp, spicy finish – or have a cocktail that needs a little extra edge – then this would be a good choice. It’s good enough to ensure that I won’t waste it, but I don’t foresee the purchases of another bottle.

Mount Gay Eclipse – Barbados – $17

Mount Gay of Barbados is the world’s oldest rum producer, according to a deed that dates back to 1703. Although some people believe that rum was being produced in Barbados as early as 1663, the deed of 1703 is the only legal evidence listing rum distillation equipment on the island – and the world.

This rum smells of a rich molasses and some sweetness. I have to dig deep into this rum to get some more smells, and I can detect bare hints of banana and toffee or caramel. The taste is light – not very strong at all. But there’s a good amount of spice in here, mainly a peppery burn that’s not overwhelming but you certainly know it’s there. The finish is long, but it doesn’t really finish like much.

This seems to be most like the Gosling’s so far, and I’d choose the Gosling’s which has other tastes that one expects in a rum. The Eclipse certainly isn’t a bad rum, but I’d have to say that it’s not very worthwhile because of it near-lack of taste.

And I have to admit that this tasting has changed my opinion of the Eclipse, a rum that was regularly one of my go-to rums for almost anything. I stand corrected now, and the tastes of the two Appletons above will pretty much ensure that I don’t buy the Eclipse again. Alas, many tiki cocktails do call for a Barbados Gold, so I’ll have to find some Cockspur.

Cruzan Estate Dark - St. Croix – $12

Cruzan Rum Distillery was founded on St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, in 1760. At one time the island used to grow sugar cane, but this is no longer true and Cruzan now imports all of its molasses for its rums. All of its rum is distilled in a process involving 3 column stills and distilled rainwater, resulting in a very clean taste in the final product. This rum is labeled as a “dark” rum it’s really a mildly dark gold – it’s the darkest of these 8 rums, but not by very much. Cruzan Estate Dark is aged a minimum of 2 years in charred casks of American oak.

The Cruzan has a fairly strong smell of alcohol backed by somewhat sweet molasses. It took me several sniffs to get past the alcohol, but I could finally detect some fruitiness and a touch of spice. The initial taste on the tongue is the spice, and the alcohol gives it a bit of a burn mixed with a peppery spice. After the tasting with the Cruzan white some time ago I am quite surprised by the showing of their gold. Kicking in with some bravado, I’ll take a few more sips hoping to find some tastes behind the spice, but it’s hard. It’s got a fair amount of taste, and I must be used to the alcohol because it’s no longer bothering me. But the peppery spice is predominant, overshadowing the bits of molasses and hints of fruit. I had much greater hopes for this rum, but they’ve been shattered by the pepper and not much else.

DonQ Gold – Puerto Rico – $12

The Serralles Distillery, which now produces over 60% of the rum sold in Puerto Rico, got its start in 1865 near the city of Ponce on the southern coast. In 1985 they acquired Puerto Rico Distillers, makers of Palo Viejo. This company Ronrico and the rum used to make Captain Morgan’s line of rums. This rum is named after Don Quixote, the famous character from La Mancha. This rum is aged between 1 and 5 year.

It takes a few initial sniffs to get past the mild alcohol of this rum. Not that the alcohol is strong, it’s just the smells behind it are very light. It finally has some molasses coming through, a bit of sweetness and some dark fruits. It’s not too bad at all, which surprises me after the miserable DonQ white that I had last week. A small sip has some sweetness, some molasses, and a touch of fruit. The finish is a touch spicy and interesting, and it’s moderately long which gives this rum a nice little touch after the swallow. There is a hint of something odd in this rum, almost like they used a wood other than the American oak that I’m used to. I can’t really place it, but it does add a nice little bit of something unusual and interesting.

So far in this tasting, I haven’t had much reason to go back and compare two rums like I usually do. As luck would have it the rums that made sense to compare were already back-to-back, but this rum makes me feel like I finally have something to compare to the Appleton Special. The Appleton is sweeter with less alcohol, and more fruit. It also has a lot more smell than the DonQ. And the tastes hold true to this sniff comparison – the Appleton beats the DonQ handily, showing more of everything good and less of anything less-than-good.

Bacardi Gold - Puerto Rico – $12

Once again I feel that I have to take one for the team and compare the mass-marketed rums of Bacardi to the others in the line-up. Luckily Bacardi is always available in small bottles, so I only have to waste a couple bucks at a time. Regardless, I don’t think that I’d be doing the world any favors if I skipped over Bacardi, so here I go…

The smell is reminiscent of the DonQ – light, some alcohol, and molasses and a touch of fruitiness hiding in the background. The first part of the taste isn’t bad, and I found myself arching my eyebrows in surprise. But it was short-lived as the alcohol wafted through my mouth and a touch of…

OK, I’m going a little too hard here. The Bacardi Gold isn’t that bad, though it does have an unpleasant hit of pungent alcohol. The finish is a touch spicy and fairly long and not unpleasant like the taste. A comparison to the DonQ show that the Bacardi is almost as good, but the DonQ has a nicer taste of molasses and is a touch sweeter. But I can see the Bacardi Gold doing a decent job in a general cocktail – certainly better than the Bacardi Superior would fair.

Palo Viejo Gold - Puerto Rico – $8-10

The Palo Viejo is the lightest gold of this bunch, and I have some hopes for it after tasting the white last week. Though not great, the white was a surprise because it was so good for the price, and I’m hoping that the Gold is the same.

A sniff shows some alcohol and some sweetness. The alcohol isn’t a pure ethanol smell, though, but has a touch of a medicinal quality that’s a bit more objectionable than ethanol. The taste is decent though, with some sweetness and molasses along with a touch of spice. There is a slight burn, but less than one would expect with an $8 rum. So I’d certainly say that this rum is a winner for the price.

But it needs some comparison, and it’s obvious to me that the most likely candidate is the DonQ. Though the DonQ has a better molasses smell, it also shows more alcohol in the smell, too. The DonQ is a touch sweeter, and a bit more refined. I’d have to say that the DonQ wins this little pair-off, but at 2/3 the price the Palo Viejo should not be ignored. Like it’s white sibling, the Palo Viejo Gold would make a good well rum.

Summary

I’m kinda bummed by this round. Out of 8 gold rums, I only found 2 that I can really say that I like – the Appletons. I’ll have to admit that I would buy the Palo Viejo or DonQ again if in need of a decent Puerto Rican gold for a cocktail.

I was surprised, and depressed, by the Mount Gay Eclipse and the Cruzan Estate Dark. I had really expected more out of both, but simply found that I would not buy them again. The Eclipse’s overall lack of taste was a surprise, like a lost rum which didn’t know what it wanted to taste like. It had a number of nice tastes, but they were quite light and this basically meant that nothing came forward. The Cruzan was similar, but at least it had a reason – that peppery spiciness which hid every other taste.

Although initially saddened by the Gosling’s Gold, it may actually get used before the Eclipse or Cruzan. At least its tastes were a bit more noticeable.

The 3 Puerto Rican rums all did decently, though nothing to write home about. But they are Puerto Rican rums – light, and useful when a drinks needs a boost of 80-proof rum that tastes like something. The Bacardi Gold was a bit of a surprise because it wasn’t as bad as the Bacardi Superior white.

I’m off to pour myself a dram of the Ron Zacapa 23…

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