Identifying Rums While Blindfolded

Yesterday I was subjected to a blindfolded test of rum identification as part of.. Well, let’s just say it was a test. My friend Bargoyle officiated and picked 10 rums out of the 30 that were available. I have to admit that I knew the 30 – some of them were mine that I brought for the occasion – and had tasted all but one. But I didn’t know which rums Bargoyle would pick, nor the order in which I would sample them. While I was blindfolded, he picked 5 rums and prepared small shots, between 1/4 and 1/2 ounce each. I was given all the time I wanted to sniff and taste and even request more if necessary. By the end, I had sampled 10 rums and did my best to identify each one.

Let me tell you, this shit ain’t easy.

I did manage to nail the first one – Cruzan White. (Yeah, I’m proud of that success.) The next 4 I bombed on, not even identifying the Mount Gay Special Reserve with its distinct odor of bananas, nor the Ron Matusalem Platino, the only Cuban-style rum in the house. I also failed to identify the Gosling’s Gold, which doesn’t bother me as much as the first two. And for some reason I can’t remember the last one, though I think it was Appleton White.

After this round was over we paused to relax my mouth and nose, and I sniffed a couple of the bottles. I was assaulted by the banana smell in the Mount Gay. When I sniffed it I even shouted “THERE it is!” – surprised at how I could possibly have missed that distinctive odor during the test.

I did much better on the next 5 rums Bargoyle picked, as they were more distinctive premium rums. The first was Appleton Extra, which I incorrectly identified as the Appleton 21-year-old. Hey, this wasn’t too bad, especially considering that there were 5 Appleton rums in the house. The next one was Lemon Hart demerara, which I incorrectly identified as the El Dorado. Kinda close, though demeraras are quite distinctive so it should have been a 50/50 chance anyway. The next rum blasted me sideways, and I grimaced and correctly identified it as St. James Hors D’Age.

The 4th rum in this premium series also blew me away, and I had no guess. It was delicious and delightful, and I asked for another taste even though I had no hopes of identifying it. It was just so damned good that I wanted more. The rum was the Barbancourt 5-Star, the 8-year-old. Wow. This rum is definitely going on my shelf, and soon. Delicious.

The last rum was kinda easy to identify, but I lingered with it since it too is a fantastic rum. It was the El Dorado 15-year-old, and this rum is simply magnificent in its smoothness, tastes, and complexity. As this was the tenth and final rum I removed my blindfold and sniffed the glass again. A few minutes later I sniffed it again, and new smells came out that were even better than the original ones. Magnificent, simply magnificent.

So, out of 10 rums, I identified 3 cleanly, and got 2 half points (the Appleton and the Lemon Hart). But it really, really bothered me that I had missed a couple others, mostly the Mount Gay Special Reserve and the Ron Matusalem Platino.
It ate at me a bit, and I obsessed about missing the Mount Gay for a good portion of the ride home. I kicked myself for missing it.

And then it hit me… Suddenly I knew why I had missed it.

When Bargoyle had set up that first round he poured all 5 at once and we fussed for a few minutes before starting. I then spent several minutes on each rum, going down the line. By the time I hit the Mount Gay it had been sitting in a glass for 10 minutes or more. This relatively simple rum had spent too much time exposed to the air and had gone flat, nearly tasteless. No wonder I couldn’t smell those bananas!

I was so happy with figuring out why I had failed that it took me most of an hour to remember one small detail – I had asked for more of that rum, and Bargoyle had poured me another dram to taste a second time.

My glee was smashed, left for dead along the roadside, bleeding out somewhere on the Mass Pike.

I had, most certainly, failed to identify that distinctive banana smell of the Mount Gay Special Reserve.

After a short period of moping the real reasons for my failure came to me:

1. This shit ain’t easy.

2. I suck at this.

OK, so maybe I don’t completely suck at identifying rums, but please believe me when I say that I’m no expert on rums. Sure, I most likely know more about rum than the average person, and maybe I know more about rum than many mixologists. But I also know that there are a heck of a lot of real experts out there, too. I stand in awe of people like Ed Hamilton and Jeff Berry and Stephen Remsberg, and respect many of the guys over on Tiki Central and The Ministry Of Rum forums. All I do is taste rums and blog about it, mainly because I don’t think enough people talk about this fine spirit. But I’m no expert. I’m working on it, so come back in a few years (if I’m lucky and stay persistent at this).

Just the same, the next time I get subjected to a blind testing I will make sure the rums are poured fresh, and I will be sure to sniff the bottle to get the full blast.

Until then, well, I’ll keep studying.

Updated info:
Bargoyle video-recorded the entire proceeding and then edited it for time and content and added titles and all that hoopla. He did a fantastic job, and his edits are quite hysterical.

You can view the proceeding, 2 videos edited to about 8 minutes each, on YouTube:
Episode 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7UkV8YwXmU
Episode 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOwo2IL4o9k

The Gnomon Rulez – Homemade Orgeat and more

A discussion about Orgeat syrups was started over on the Tiki Central Forums, and soon it digressed as some threads are wont to do. Luckily, in this case, the thread digressed into a discussion of homemade Orgeat – including a 10-minute “emergency” version – and homemade Rock Candy Syrup, and then digressed further to discussed a homemade “Pickless Drink Pick Rock Candy Swizzle Stick” which sounds like a work of art.

This information is amazing and priceless in my opinion, and The Gnomon is to be commended for sharing this info.

Check these posts out:
Homemade Orgeat
Emergency Orgeat Syrup
Homemade Rock Candy Syrup
Pickless Drink Pick Rock Candy Swizzle Stick (It’s the second post in the Rock Candy Syrup thread)

I am *so* looking forward to a Mai Tai right now! And one with a fancy swizzle stick.

In Case You Missed It

Natalie over at The Liquid Muse has a great little post called Conduct A Home Tasting. This has some details she recorded at the Tales Of The Cocktail tasting seminar. She covers some tips on how to taste liquors, and goes into some details about Vodka, Gin and Rum.

This is yet another post that makes me sorry that I missed TotC. Great info.

An Agricole Rhum Tasting

The other day I had a couple minutes to kill before a meeting, so I hit Google looking to find any mention of rum tastings in Boston. The third link listed “An Evening of Rum & Bossa Nova at UpStairs” in Harvard Square. The blurb didn’t say much about the rum other than mentioning “AOC Martinique Rums” and I my curiosity was piqued about tasting some more agricoles. Then I noticed the date and time – the event started in 3 hours! What kind of luck was that, eh?

After work I drove into Harvard Square, found the place, and parked in one of those tiny parking garages that charge you by the minute. I walked over to the restaurant – UpStairs On The Square is the full name – and inquired about the rum tasting. When asked if I had a reservation my heart sank at the thought that I had wasted a trip into Cambridge and $10 for 12 minutes of parking. But they found room for one more person, and I was in.

I was 10 minutes early, and one of the few people in the room, so I browsed some the placards they had lying around. They listed agricoles from J.M. and Clément, and the small menus by every setting listed a tasting menu of drinks paired with food. Interesting. A moment later a gentlemen introduced himself, and it turned out to be Benjamin Jones from Clément, who I have had some email conversations with in my quest to learn more about agricole. We chatted about this blog, agricoles, my recent review of the Clément XO, and this event.

Ben introduced me to the local distributor of Clément and J. M., Jim Robbeson, and we discussed the difficulties of finding agricoles in Massachusetts. Jim mentioned that he was expecting to deliver some J.M. and Clément to a couple of Boston stores, Brix and Charles Street Liquors.

Créole Shrubb
People were slowly coming in, and the wait staff appeared with trays of a tiny cocktail – Clément Créole Shrubb with the house-made Orange Sorbet. The Shrubb is an excellent orange liqueur made with rum as a base, and it matched perfectly with the sorbet. It was a delicious way to start the evening.

Clément Première Canne
After a few minutes most of the people were in and the bar manager, Augusto Lino, got up to say a few words and introduce Ben Jones, who spoke a bit about the rums and some more about the island of Martinique. The wait staff delivered small cocktails mixing Clément Première Canne with wildflower honey, cucumber and lemon juice. The cocktail was excellent, allowing the smells and flavors of the agricole to clearly come through while nicely balancing the distinct flavors. The food, salmon with cucumber and a cherry-honey and creme fraiche, was an excellent match for the rum, and all the flavors complimented each other very well. Nicely done!

Clément VSOP
Next up was the Clément VSOP, neat, served with sesame-encrusted asparagus on a plate covered with a delicious yuzu emulsion. The VSOP is a fantastic rum with a multitude of rich floral notes delicately balanced by earthy tones and the barrel tastes produced by the complex aging process. It’s a wonderful rum, one that I have on-hand and need to fully review. It went well with the asparagus, but I think I was thinking too much about the rum to really appreciate it.

I chatted a bit with a couple at the table who seemed to be primarily bourbon and single-malt drinkers. Though my dislike of whisky and whiskey limited the conversation, I did try to explain a bit about rums, and suggested a few I think whiskey drinkers would enjoy.

Rhum J. M. Blanc
Ben got up again and spoke while the wait staff delivered the next round – a cocktail with Rhum J. M. Blanc and Ahi tuna with caramelized banana and clove. Again the cocktail was very good – a mix of the J. M. and lime juice and a house-made ginger beer – though not quite up to the level of the first cocktail. Still, one could tell that the pairing was considered carefully and done well.

J. M. Blanc Vintage 1997
After some more words from Ben and Lino, the last rum of the night was delivered – the J. M. Blanc Vintage 1997. This was an exquisite rum, very complex with the floral and earthy notes typical to agricoles, well balanced with some nuttiness and a lot of vanilla. It’s a cask-strength rum, so after a number of sips I had to tone it down a bit with a single ice cube. This brought out a lot of vanilla and some sweetness and turned it into a truly exquisite rum. The dessert served with this rum was a nutmeg flan, which was quite good despite though the flan itself seemed a bit underdone. It was, however, no match for the rum, which was simply exceptional. I can’t wait to add this rum to my collection.

Summary
By the end of the night I considered myself extremely lucky to have experienced this rum tasting event. It started with chance hit on Google, followed by getting the last seat available without a reservation, followed by almost 3 hours of excellent food and exceptional rum. I loved the care taken to match the rums to the food, and especially the creation of the cocktails which accentuated the rums.

I certainly enjoyed meeting Ben and Jim and discussing the Clément rhums, as well as talking to that couple about the similarities between fine bourbons, whiskeys, and rums. On the way out I managed to catch Lino, a Brazilian, and we discussed cachacas a bit. It was a very fine night of drink, food, and conversation.

Agricoles
This tasting gave me a much better understanding of agricoles and certainly a much better appreciation for them. Hopefully I’ll get my hands on both J.M. rhums sometime next week, thanks to Jim telling us about a couple stores that should be stocking them soon. I’ll have to beat the couple at my table, though, as they were planning on buying 3 or 4 bottles of the J. M. 1997. And if they read this – I was wrong. I estimated about $60 a bottle, but it seems like it will be closer to $90, judging from some searches on the web. Expensive, yes, but not too bad for a rum like this.

Lino’s Blog (edit)
I just stumbled upon a blog entry from Lino, the bar manager at Upstairs and the creator of the fine cocktails had that night. He talks about the night, and it’s interesting to get a view from behind the scenes. Check it out at: http://upstairsonthesquare.blogspot.com/2007/08/agricole-rum.html

Search Terms

Whenever I check the statistics for this blog I always check the Search Terms section. This lists various phrases that people have used in some search engine which somehow produced a link to this page. Checking this list gives me an idea of what some people are looking for. People often search for reviews of rums I have not yet tried but are listed on my List Of Rums. And that sometimes gives me incentive to try to post something about it. Alas, I don’t do that often enough so I thought I’d take up some space “answering” some of those searches as best as I can.

“coyopa rum review”
I bought a bottle of this recently and tried a little. I wasn’t very impressed – it’s decent enough but outrageously priced for what you get. I used it to mix a giant batch of Pina Coladas and it was very good, but $50 for a general mixer is insane.

“cruzan vs bacardi
Cruzan is better, and much cheaper. Check out my review of 5 White Rums.

“leather covered rum bottle”
That would be Ron Pampero Anniversario, which I’ve had numerous times but have not fully reviewed it. It’s excellent, and will certainly land in my Highly Recommended list.

“how much zacapa centenario”
About $35-$40, at least in Massachusetts, for the 23-year-old. The 15-year-old is a bit lower. Both are worth every penny.

“The best rum for a mojito”
So far, my vote is for Ron Matusalem Platino for an “authentic” Mojito. Jeffrey Morgenthaler recently posted an excellent article about Mojitos, and the Comments list a number of opinions about which rum to use.

“new rums to try”
Check out my Rum Rankings list and start from the top and go down.

“flor de cana in nyc”
I believe Astor’s Wines and Spirits carries it.

“how to drink rum neat”
I pretty much follow Edward Hamilton’s suggestions. They can be found here.

“solera process”
My review on Ron Zacapa 23-year-old describes it and this Wikipedia article gives some insight and history.

“sweetest rum”
I’d say the Pyrat Pistol from all of those that I’ve tasted. The Clément Créole Shrubb is *much* sweeter, but it’s not a rum, but rather a rum-based orange liqueur.

“rhum forum”
Ministry Of Rum forums.

“make bacardi superior taste good”
1oz Bacardi Superior
1/2 lime, cut & squeezed
2 liters Coke

“tasting note pyrat 1623″
I’ve had this rum, but it was some time ago and I didn’t take notes. It is fantastic, though. I seem to remember it being a more classic rum, nothing like their sweet and orangey XO or Pistol. It’s not cheap, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever pay $240+ for it, but it sure is nice…

“cruzan vs. malibu coconut rum”
What a coincidence! My plans for this weekend include a 3-way between the Cruzan, Malibu, and Parrot Bay coconut rums. Check back in a few days.

“how to open ron centenario rum”
You must have one of the old bottles that’s entirely covered in the straw wrapping. At the base of the “cap” – right on the “shoulder” of the bottle – you should find a thin red line. Find the beginning of that line, and pull around the bottle. It’s much like a pack of cigarettes. Once you’ve pulled all the way around the straw “cap” will lift straight up.

“what is the smoothest rum”
In my opinion, for 80-proof rums, the Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-year-old.

“hoti, saint”
According to Pyrat’s web site, Hoti is “the famous Zen patron saint and protector of little children, fortune tellers, and bartenders.” Checking the web I can’t find out much more about this, so believe at your own risk. Pyrat (and/or Patron) has woven some great stories about their rums…

“easy rum mojitos with lime concentrate”
Don’t do it! Mojitos are easy enough. Heck, I even tried the Stirrings Mojito Mixer, which is quite good but not nearly as good as the real thing and saves about 30 seconds per drink.

“is tommy bahama rum any good”
Not from what I’ve heard, but I did pick up a nip of each in order to do a review. I’m just not psyched to try it…

“lemon hart rum vs captain morgan”
There is no comparison. This is like comparing Brandy to Dr. Pepper. Lemon Hart is a demerara while Captain Morgan is a spiced rum.

 

Well, that’s about it for now. I did note a bunch of rum reviews that people where searching for, and I’ve made a mental note to push them up in the list. A lot of people are looking for info on Angostura, for instance, and I’d actually like to do a comparison on the 1824 and the 1919 sometimes soon so check back. Many of the other rums are not in my collection nor can I find them anywhere locally, so they’ll just have to wait. But if you see a rum on my lists and would like to get more info, or a full review, please leave a comment.

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