A Rum Tasting at the Desmond Aloha Lounge

This past weekend I gave two rum tastings – the one at Bargoyle’s mentioned yesterday, and another at the Desmond Aloha Lounge hosted by Joe & Nicole in their New York City pad. While the Bargoyle tasting was rather structured, I knew that I couldn’t do two such tastings in a row, so this one was a bit more informal, which allowed me to wing it. And this was a very good thing for me since it took me almost 6 hours to drive to NYC and find a parking space. That was no easy feat in itself, since this my first visit to NYC. Well, I drove over the GW bridge once… I don’t think that counts, though.

Joe and Nicole had managed to round up about a dozen people interested in tasting some rums, and I also invited Rick – aka Kaiser Penguin – and his friend David. Most of the folks were not rum drinkers, though Joe has a very impressive collection including some fine rums only available on the islands. I sampled a couple of these before I started – a wonderful snort of Tortuga 12-year-old, and an amazing toasted coconut rum from St. Martin. That stuff was truly wonderful.

I then apologized to Joe for forgetting his orgeat. I have been adventuring in home-made orgeat in nitty-gritty detail, and wanted to get Joe to stop using the Fee Brothers’ Orgeat, which is relatively vile stuff when sipped next to some carefully hand-made orgeat. I had been driving an abnormal 45 through Hartford’s traffic when I realized the forgotten orgeat and yelled “OH SHIT” so loudly that the amateur in the next lane swerved. Bummer.

Some Simple Rums
Since I knew in advance that most of these folks weren’t rum sippers I could not put them through the same pain that I forced upon the Bargoyle crowd. All the same, I think it’s important to start with some simple flavors in order to build up the taste bud knowledge, and I started with Prichard’s Crystal. This is a fine white rum noted for its multiple distillation runs and resulting smoothness. It is still, however, a simple rum showing a nose of alcohol and simple molasses and licorice tastes – though it was nice to hear someone mention the vanilla tones so I knew that I had some experienced palates in the house.

Next up was the Maui Gold, from Haleakala Distillers in Hawaii. This smooth rum led into a short discussion of aging techniques and some tidbits about the Maui cane sugar, which is quite different from the Caribbean strain. And if I remember correctly we also discussed how the cane and terroir affect the taste of the final rum. They don’t – it’s primarily the fermentation and aging which give rum its final taste. (No, this isn’t entirely accurate but it is a long explanation that I won’t go into here…)

Though it’s not really a simple rum, Cockspur 12 was up next, which was a nice step up in tastes from the Maui, and thus a nice build-up of taste bud knowledge. This is a very nice rum with a lot of taste, though if it were a bit smoother it would have pleased more of these folks who weren’t used to drinking rum neat. Even still, many of the people enjoyed it. It was good to see their taste buds building from one rum to the next.

Some Flavors
Next on the list was a rum that I had not yet tried, the Temptryst Tropical Light. (Look for it in stores in about a year.) This delicate rum was full of subtle flavors, but they were missed by many – including myself. Nicole and her exquisite palate thought it was great, and she loved all the things going on in this rum. I will certainly have to explore this rum carefully some night, since I know that I missed a lot in my haste.

And this led into the Temptryst Cherrywood Reserve, which was simply fantastic. I was a bit surprised at how good this was. I mean, I was expecting a good rum but this just bowled me over. Mary, someone who drinks only Chardonnay and is definitely not used to drinking rum neat, gave this a big thumbs up. Between her reaction and mine I knew we had a winner here, and I asked for a vote of hands. It was unanimous – everyone loved it.

I had expected a better opinion of the next rum, the Foursquare Spiced. It must have been because it came after the Cherrywood, but nobody was overly ecstatic about this rum. That must have been it, because this is a very nice rum. Next time I’ll reverse the order!

These “flavored” rums let me talk a bit about things like spiced rums and how difficult they are to make because of a lack of shelf life. Most truly natural flavors will fade over time, and this is not good for the American market so most distributors and store-owners require the flavor to last at least a year. This leads many spirit makers to use some artificial flavoring in their rums, which just about always detracts from the taste in my opinion. An interesting point here is that the BATF – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms – allows a small percentage of artificial flavors while still allowing it to be called “natural.” (For more info, see this article.)

The Premium Rums
The next rum up was a flavor powerhouse, the El Dorado 21-year-old demerara. This was a bit much for most of the folks this night, especially Nicole who found it to be “too industrial.” Her comment led me into a short talk about the flavors in rum and how they come from the congeners – esters and fusel oils.

I tried another rich but sweet rum next, the Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva, but most found it to be too sweet for their liking. I quickly moved to the Santa Teresa 1796 while discussing the Solera system of blending and aging. This was far better received as people dug into the variety of tastes. Finally I was ready for the finale – the Zaya Gran Reserva from Guatemala. This was a big hit, and people talked about it quite a bit.

A Summary
Though many of the folks at this tasting were not used to sipping rum I thought that I managed to win several over to a few rums. I know that Joe, Nicole, Ray and Rick certainly appreciated many, at least for the variety of tastes. I think I did a decent job of passing some rum info without getting too in-depth or technical – two crimes I am often guilty of performing.

There was no doubt that the winners of the night were the Zaya and Temptryst Cherrywood Reserve. (Daniel, send me a case and I’ll have it sold in a night!) The Zaya has been one of my favorites for years, and again I have to say that the Cherrywood astounded me. What a great rum, and it’s a damn shame that it will be some time before it’s commercially available. Be patient – it will come.

Shortly after the end of the tasting many of the people filed out, and several stopped to thank me. A couple of folks were obviously excited over some of the rums, and I enjoyed the hell out of that.

All in all I think it was a pretty good night, and I know that I enjoyed bringing good rums to good people. Opening someone’s eyes – and taste buds – to a good sipping rum is always something that I will enjoy doing.

Several Grand Finales
After many, but not all, of the folks had left we had a few very special treats. Joe broke out his bottle of Pyrat Cask 1623 and we savored that for some time. What a delicious rum, and I was quite upset when Joe told me that he paid about half of what it usually cost. Ouch. I want a bottle!

I remembered a rum, the Castries Peanut Rum Creme. When I had arrived I wanted it to be cold so I asked Joe to put it in the freezer, where it lay forgotten for several hours. We poured some large sips of that and enjoyed it, leaving but an inch on the bottle. This is so unique that I wanted to share it with many people – it doesn’t deserve to be bogarted.

Now that I had (mostly) stopped talking, I realized that I was a bit hungry and started picking at some of the fine finger foods that Joe and Nicole had laid out. I remarked about a particular cheese, a Truffle Brie, which reminded Nicole that she had purchased some cheese specifically for the rum tasting. They live down the street from an exquisite cheese shop and Nicole had asked for a cheese which would go well with rum, and she received one. It was delicious, and would have gone perfectly with several of the rums we had that night.

The Real Summary
I guess there’s no real summary. But I have to say again that I truly enjoy bringing good rums to people who appreciate it. It was a great night.

A Rum Tasting At Bargoyle’s

Last Saturday night Bargoyle threw another one of his spectacular Tiki parties, and I spent some time doing a rum tasting before the party started. Since this was a crowd used to Tiki drinks I decided to organize the session around suitable rums mixed with rum history, trivia, useless facts and other assorted nonsense.

I had spent weeks – probably in close to 100 hours – researching material for this session to ensure that I got things right. I also found myself going down deep holes because I’d research some particular aspect in a way that would leave me wondering about the details of one tiny little point. So I’d research that point until I was satisfied, but this resulted in some trivial, unanswered detail which “needed” even more investigation. And so on, and on, and on… In the end I spent far too much time and amassed far too much material.

In the end I culled things down to about 4 or 5 hours of material that I was going to attempt to pack into a 2-hour session. (I didn’t make it.) I had prepared some sheets to take pertinent tasting notes, and got permission to reprint a number of rum articles and thus had a little packet of info for each person. I also had what turned out to be a 7-page outline of things to discuss. Yeah, a little excessive.

Those Poor Bastards
I wanted to concentrate on rums important to Tiki cocktails, but first I felt that some info on the history of sugar cane would be interesting. Right before I started Bargoyle – who was going to be pouring all these shots of rum – asked how long I’d talk before the first rum would be served. I told him “10 minutes” and had every intention of hitting that mark.

Well, the sugar cane history easily rolled into the process of sugar extraction. This led into some info on molasses, which naturally led to fermentation, which led into distillation, which led into discussions about pot stills and column stills, which led into…

Jon, one of the folks who attended, constantly kept asking questions that led to the next point. It was amazing, actually, how he’d listen for 5 or 10 minutes and his mind jumped to the next step. Each of his questions led into another 5 or 10 minutes of me yapping about some part of rum or sugar or molasses or distillation.

Well, about 40 minutes later we were ready to try the first rum.

Those Poor, Poor, Sorry Bastards
Though I had designed the class to concentrate on “Tiki Rums” I felt it was important to build up the “taste knowledge” and start with simple rums and build up to more complex ones. As a result, I started with the most basic rums, the whites. And since “Puerto Rican Light Rum” is a very common phrase in tiki cocktail guides this was the first rum. I gave them all a small measure of what I think is the best white Puerto Rican rum that one can obtain on the mainland – Palo Viejo White.

These poor folks never knew what hit them. Only 1 or 2 were used to sipping rums, and generally not of the caliber of Palo Viejo. Once the coughing, wheezing, and gagging subsided I launched into a bit of a diatribe about why the original Tiki bartenders used PR rum so frequently. I recounted the stories of Jeff Berry and Wayne Curtis sampling Stephen Remsberg’s Bacardi rums from the 1920s, which were so different from the rums available today. I weeped and moaned about the present lack of such rums.

And after 20 minutes of this I gave them their next rum, the recommended modern-day white rum for Tiki drinks, Cruzan Light and a discussion of the column distillation process.

More gagging and wheezing commenced.

Mind you, these rums are the best Whites that are commonly available today, but most of these folks were not rum sippers. I could hear that folks were beginning to see some light though, as I overheard some discussing the different tastes and aromas found in the Cruzan.

Gold Rums – A Little Better
Things got moving a bit faster after this. By now we were an hour in, but I had discussed quite a bit of the entire sugar-cane-into-rum process and was left with some random discussion points. Next up was the Appleton Special, my choice for a Jamaican Gold, which is a damned fine rum for general mixing but still a tough sipper. This was the first aged rum of the night so I used it to discuss barrels and gave an intro of the aging process. Then came the Cockspur 5-Star from Barbados, and a history lesson of rum in Barbados. The Cockspur is a great mixing rum and has enough tastes to begin to appreciate when sipping. The two of these back-to-back do a good job of distinguishing the differences between Jamaican and Barbados gold rums, both of which are very important in Tiki cocktails.

Next, in an act of mercy after serving 4 mixing rums, I broke out the Cruzan Single Barrel. I distinctly heard one person say “Finally! A rum I actually like!”

By now, though, folks had a good idea of the different tastes and aromas in rum, and the Single Barrel was a welcome relief. It’s a decent sipping rum, or a damned good mixer if one would use it in a cocktail. I made this choice as a substitute for Puerto Rican Gold rums, since it’s very light like the PR ones, but also because I felt that everyone needed to taste a good sipping rum by this point of the night. People seemed to appreciate it and found a bit to discover in it.

A Tough Act – Dark Rums
This was not easy. Dark Rums are notoriously bold in taste and not very conducive to sipping. But they play an important part in tiki drinks because some cocktails are designed to utilize those bold tastes. I had a tough time deciding which rums to showcase, and finally had to settle on Myers’s Original and Appleton Extra. The Myers’s truly shows what dark rums can be like and though it’s not really the best choice I felt it important to show. But I wished that I could find Coruba somewhere in New England.

The Appleton Extra, at 12 years old, was fine enough and sippable enough to bring some folks back. Though it’s not a perfect dark rum – and I’m still not sure there is a perfect dark rum for Tiki drinks – it’s a good general substitute for darks and fine enough to drink neat. It’s also a great example of Jamaican rums, much more complex than the Appleton Special tastes earlier. The Extra also gave me a chance to explore some of Jamaica’s part in the history of rum, and discuss some of Appleton’s fermentation and distillation methods.

A Single Demerara
It seemed logical to me to try a demerara rum after the darks, and I didn’t want to go to Lemon Hart, the obvious choice for Tiki mixing. Again I felt that people would need a break from “mixing quality” and I decided to break out the El Dorado 21-year-old. This is a damned fine rum, and I love the older El Dorados quite a bit. I find the demeraras to be very interesting, and I wish that I could find more information about the methods and processes of Demerara Distillers Limited, the makers of El Dorado. Even with my limited knowledge I managed to keep folks interested by discussing their wooden pot stills and a bit of their bulk rum business.

Many may wonder why I didn’t go with the 15-year-old, which is generally considered to be better, and I won’t argue. It was just that I wanted something a little bit smoother for these non-sippers who attended, and the 21 is a bit smoother than the 15. I did have the 15 just in case, and a few of us tried that later in the night.

The Premiums
By this point we had covered most of the categories of rums used in Tiki cocktails and I figured that folks would deserve some of the premium sipping rums. The first I brought out was the Pyrat Pistol which also allowed me to discuss the Pyrat XO. I think that the XO is a bargain for a sippable rum, and still plenty cheap enough to use in cocktails. (Well, it’s cheap in any state other than Mass or New Hampshire.) This rum also shows how sweet a rum can get, and I figured that many would not like it but some would and would thus enjoy the Pyrat XO, too. Since several in the room were familiar with Pyrat XO and had heard about their 1623 Cask I used this rum family to discuss Pyrat’s blending and aging a bit. I wish that I had more details, but discussed how Pyrat makes all 3 rums with the same rums, simply blended and aged differently.

The next rum I broke out was the Doorly’s XO, which led into a discussion of tastes that can come out from aging. The Doorly’s is an extreme example of that, since it’s finished in a sherry cask, but such a rum allowed a discussion about some of the barrel tastes.

The Gosling’s Old Rum was next. This rum is the same as the rum used in their Black Seal, just aged longer, so it could have been used to highlight dark rums but at $65 a bottle this is not a mixer. This rum made for an interesting, in-depth discussion of aging, which made sense since this is the same rum as the Black Seal though aged much longer.

The last rum of the night was my personal favorite, the Ron Zacapa 23-year-old. Needless to say this rum was very well received, and allowed me to describe the Solera blending process and some about how rums age differently in the Caribbean as compared to Scotch aged in the different climate of Scotland.

A Summary
Overall I think the night went rather well, particularly since it was the first tasting I’d ever done. The entire session ran just over 2-1/2 hours, and I covered quite a bit of the history of rum, and a lot of the processing of sugar cane and rum.

It wasn’t perfect, though, and I’ve learned from some of the mistakes. The 40 minutes of blabbing before the first rum was wrong, but I’m used to giving “corporate” presentations and the lack of Powerpoint slides meant that I wasn’t focused on the flow and was easily side-tracked. Some visuals would have been better – it was quite difficult to describe column distillation without a picture! The rums might not have been absolutely perfect, but I think they were perfect for what I had at hand. But I’m not so sure I’d give this exact presentation again unless it was to a room full of bartenders who could appreciate the mixing rums.

But I think it went quite well, and it was certainly appreciated by folks. Next time, though, they get a bunch of premium sipping rums, and I’ll make sure every one is worth sipping.

Maui Gold And Dark Rums

I got interested in Maui Rums when I saw a post on Tiki Central that managed them. As I had never heard of them I was curious, especially since they’re made in Hawaii from Hawaiian sugar cane. Alas, I could not find them anywhere around and it seemed that they were not available anywhere in New England. Come to find out they are only available in Hawaii, or through their Internet store.

Well, I managed to obtain 3 – the Gold, the Dark and something called “Braddah Kimo’s Da Bomb Extreme Rum” which most certainly caught my attention. It’s 155-proof – yes 155-proof – which won a Gold Medal from the American Distilling Institute in the category of Over-Proof Rum. Nice. And scary at 155-proof. Since I always try the rums neat, I think this one is going to have to wait for another night since I just finished tasting the first two.

Haleakala Distilleries
Haleakala Distillers was apparently founded in 2003 when Braddah Kimo, the distiller, built the entire distillery himself. Braddah Kimo, a man of mystery, has 33 years experience as a distiller, starting as an Apprentice Distiller at E&J Gallo making brandies in 1974. In 1977 he spent 3 years making rum at Port Morant Distillery in Guyana, and by 2002 he was a Master Distiller making scotch at Glenlivet. In 2003 he moved to Maui and built the distillery now making Maui Rums.

The rum is made in a tiny distillery using molasses made from Maui cane sugar and Maui rainwater. After being double-distilled in copper stills the rum is aged in used Jim Beam bourbon casks. The entire process is done 2000 feet above sea level, adjacent to the Haleakala Ranch, a 30,000-acre cattle ranch which borders the Haleakala National Park.

The distillery is a small family-owned business dedicated to making fine rums and contributions to Maui and its non-profit organizations. They’re very environmentally-conscious, as proven by their delivery van and sales vehicles which run on bio-diesel. The fuel is made from recycled cooking oil from around the island, and their delivery van gets 26 miles per gallon from the stuff while their modified VW Jetta gets 40mpg. Way to go guys!

Maui Gold Rum
This is a very plain bottle with a very plain label. The bottles look like they were sealed by hand using the PVC shrink-wrap one would use for home bottling. The web site says that this is because they care more about what’s inside the bottle, not the bottle itself. Though I do find the bottle to be rather boring, it’s not really that important, and I certainly do like the implications. This was done by hand, not by a massive bottling machine, and I like that kind of attention. Each bottle comes with a small, very colorful lei around the neck, and I like that quite a bit. Maybe it’s the Tiki in me, but I love the significance of that lei and its symbolism of Hawaii.

The rum itself is a medium-gold color, a little on the light side. I could smell the rum as soon as I started to pour it. It wasn’t overpowering, just strong and it carried to my nose. When I brought the glass closer I could smell the molasses, though it leaned more toward a dark sugar, like demerara, rather than straight molasses. It smells rather sweet, and some hints of vanilla and a little bit of fruit come out, too. Strangely, though pleasantly, I could detect some hints of spice. Since I’ve been drinking a lot of spicy gold rums lately this was quite apparent once I got past the sugar and vanilla aromas.

A tiny sip finds this rum to be extremely smooth, fairly sweet with sugary overtones, with a touch of spice on the finish. But otherwise this rum seems somewhat simple and doesn’t have complexity like I always desire. But this was a small sip, and none of those things should be judged from such a small amount, so I dove in for a larger sip. This sip shows less sweetness than the smell, a bit of fruit comes out, and it finishes with some spice but not too much. I have to say that I am fairly amazed at how smooth this rum is. Braddah Kimo has done a very nice job of producing a very smooth rum, especially considering that this could not have been aged too long.

And I love the touch of spice at the end. This isn’t an overpowering assault of spice like Gosling’s Gold or the Mount Gay Eclipse. This is just a touch, and it’s quite pleasant. The finish is somewhat quick, which is not a surprise since this is a young rum and the spiciness doesn’t linger like some others. The mouthfeel is just a touch on the thick side, but it finishes very clean and leaves the palate quickly.

Alas, I still find the overall rum taste to lack complexity, and the molasses doesn’t come across as much as I’d like. Even after letting it sit for a bit, the taste is more like a dark cane sugar than a molasses. This has a very good flavor, even though it’s somewhat simple, though with a unique twist that makes it interesting. But I’d love to find more flavors underneath the basic rum, but there’s not much there. As a result, I don’t find this to be a sipping rum, though the smoothness and hint of spice would imply. This is quite sippable thanks to the fine crafting by Braddah Kimo, but the lack of complexity lends it towards some fine mixing. And it should excel at mixing, and I’d recommend its use in lighter cocktail when one doesn’t need a blatant rum taste.

Overall, this rum is very good and extremely smooth for a young gold. I like it quite a bit, and I look forward to an bottle of this that has been left in the cask for a few more years.

Maui Dark Rum
The bottle is similarly simple, but with a black label and black shrink-wrap at the top. After tasting the Gold this means nothing, as it’s apparent that they do put good stuff inside a simple bottle. This rum is very dark – espresso dark – in the bottle. But holding it up to the light shows some brown tinged with red, and it’s more of a very dark mahogany color. Still, even with only a half-inch of rum in the glass I could not see through it.

The smell isn’t as strong as I had expected, though it’s certainly no weakling! It smells primarily like a burnt dark sugar mixed with dark-roasted coffee beans, though there’s some molasses and a touch of alcohol, along with some faint aromas of over-roasted nuts. This stuff smells thick and heavy, that’s for sure.

The taste is all about coffee, almost like an espresso sweetened with brown sugar. But it’s not really a direct taste of coffee, more like my mind smells coffee and expects it to taste like coffee, even though there’s more going on. It took me a bit to get through that expectation, and I can detect the molasses (or burnt sugar?) easily, and roasted nuts take a bit of concentration. Like the Gold, it lacks complexity, but it’s certainly not boring since it’s bold with the coffee and burnt sugar tastes. At the same time, though, it’s not an overpowering taste – just bold. The finish is almost as smooth as the Gold, and almost as clean, but lasts a bit longer with a bit more spice. Again, hat’s off to Braddah Kimo for making such a smooth, clean rum.

Another larger sip has more of the same, though my brain is easing off the coffee expectations and letting more come out. Alas, what comes out is more of the same – burnt sugar, roasted nuts, and nothing much more than that. It is extremely well-crafted, but just not exciting as I always hope when trying a new rum.

I have to admit that this rum is not meant to be a sipping rum, but I always like to taste them neat to make sure that I experience the rum itself. I will have to go back to this one and do a comparison against some other darks, like Myers’s and Black Seal and the Cruzan Blackstrap. A better comparison would be to make a number of Dark & Stormies and see how they compare in their natural environment. Or a Jamaican Coffee – I wonder if the Maui Dark would complement or disappear in a cup of Starbucks?

Summary
Overall, I find that the Maui Dark leaves me with the same feelings that I had about the Gold – both rums are extremely well-made and very smooth – especially considering that they’re quite young. I’d love to try either one after a longer aging – perhaps some more time in the cask will produce more complexities. And that is the rub with both – though they posses many characteristics of fine sipping rums they both lack the complexities that I always wish for. But I really don’t think that sipping is the intent of these rums – they are obviously mixing rums, and I’m sure that they’ll be damned fine ones. The Dark requires a bit of exploration to find the correct cocktail, but the Gold is extremely versatile though I’d lean towards lighter drinks. As a general mixer this would do quite fine, but I think it deserves better than general mixing, and I’ll look forward to finding an appropriate cocktail for it.

For now, one can’t get Maui Rums on the mainland, but they can be ordered over the Internet from their store. These are both $20 each.

Haleakala Distillers: http://haleakaladistillers.com/index.html
Their Store: http://haleakaladistillers.com/_wsn/page18.html

Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival (with rum, too)

I got an email today about the Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival today. At first I thought it was spam, but it turns out it was ham – they talk about rum, too. Good enough for me – a premium spirits tasting festival involving rum is better than no rum at all. So here ya go:

- BLAZING A NEW TRAIL -
The Whiskey Trail Stops at Heinz Field on November 2nd

Tickets Now on Sale for Inaugural Festival of World-Renowned Whiskies and Premium Spirits

September 30, 2007 PITTSBURGH, PA — The spirit of the American Whiskey Trail continues with the 2007 Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival, Pittsburgh’s first large-scale whiskey and premium spirits tasting event, to take place Friday evening, November 2, 2007 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. in the West Club Lounge at Heinz Field.

The 2007 Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival will attract and engage both “whiskey” and “whisky” enthusiasts alike. The festival will feature more than 60 premier distilled spirits producers and will present a wide variety of the finest Scottish, American, Canadian and Irish whiskies, including single malts and bourbons. Premium tequila, rum, gin, vodka and cognac will also be presented for tasting. The fest, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, will include a buffet and a silent auction.

“It is befitting for Pittsburgh to have a world-class tasting event that celebrates premium spirits,” said Ed Harrell, producer of the Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival and president of the Pittsburgh Wine Festival. “In the tradition of the Pittsburgh Wine Festival, we are excited to have some of the finest distilled spirits producers in the world coming to Pittsburgh for the Whiskey Festival.” The Whiskey Festival will offer whiskey and other premium spirits enthusiasts to “try before you buy” spirits that will be available through the onsite PLCB Premium Spirits store.

The heritage and history of distilled spirits in America is fascinating, with many pivotal events and landmarks in this region, from The Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 to Pittsburgh’s mark on The American Whiskey Trail. “Our region is so rich with whiskey heritage” says Max Miller, Managing Partner of Raise Your Spirits, a Sensory Experience Firm that provides customized interactions with luxury spirits and products. “Any exploration of the evolution of the whiskey industry, its migration from Europe, and its importance in American culture, invariably includes western Pennsylvania. We look forward to the Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival being an exciting and anticipated tradition for years to come.”

Tickets to the Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival are $85 in advance and $95 at the door. Tickets are now available for advance purchase online at www.pittsburghwhiskeyfestival.com, along with additional event information.

###

The 2007 Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival is produced by Pittsburgh Wine Festival LLC, one of the top ten wine festivals in the United States. Wine Festival fans should mark their calendars for the sixth annual Pittsburgh Wine Festival’s Grand Tasting Event set to take place Thursday evening, May 8, 2008. For more information, please visit www.pittsburghwinefestival.com, or call 412-281-2681.

Rick, are you out there? Craig? This is in your neck of the woods guys!

Castries Peanut Rum Creme

This liqueur is a mix of Madagascan vanilla, roasted peanuts, spices, cream and St. Lucian rum. It’s packaged in a very unique bottle and is the first spirit from St. Lucia to become available in the United States. It comes very highly rated – it received a 94 from the Beverage Tasting Institute and 2-time winner of BIT’s Best Cream Liqueur category, received a Gold Medal and 95 points in the 2004 International Review of Spirits.

Rum, peanuts, and a boatful of accolades and awards. I’ve been drooling over this stuff for months now, and I was finally able to obtain a bottle a few days ago. It runs about $29 for a bottle – for a 32-proof spirit – so it’s not quite cheap but still affordable. I hope it lives up to the hype, because I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

Initial Tastes

Although this liqueur, as with any cream liqueur, should probably be served on the rocks, I have to start with it neat to get the full tastes and aromas. I’m sure that I will progress to a glass on the rocks – I may even try one of the cocktails listed on the website – but for now, it’s neat.

The first smells are a very nice balance of cream, peanuts, and slightly fainter rum. While this is to be expected I have to mention that there’s a very nice balance here – no one smell is predominant. The rum smell is a little beneath the surface and I wouldn’t be surprised if a non-rum drinker would not recognize it as rum. A good sip – it’s only 32-proof, remember – continues that balance of flavors I mentioned. This is very nice, though I have to think that it hasn’t opened up yet. A cream liqueur drunk neat is not ideal. Another sip was swished about gently since I wanted to check the mouthfeel. Most cream liqueurs coat the mouth with a cream leftover that I generally find unpleasant since I am not a lover of milk. The Castries also does the same, though it’s a bit cleaner than other creams I’ve had. The swish seems to have brought out the peanuts since they were predominant this time, pleasantly so, but noticeable. The finish here is expectedly mellow, but this is where the small amount of spices make themselves known.

Overall this has a very nice balance of tastes. The rum hides in the background a bit more than in the smell, and the peanuts come up a notch. The spices after the swallow are very pleasant and a nice way to finish.

On The Rocks

I have to stop a moment to talk about ice, the often-forgotten component of cocktails. This is because I grabbed the ice-cube tray in the freezer and it had obviously been there a while since the cubes had shrunk a bit from evaporation. I grabbed a half-dozen and threw them into an old fashioned glass and carried that over to the Castries. Then I sniffed the glass containing the ice cubes and made a face. They definitely picked up a number of smells and flavors from the fridge.

Be nice to your cocktails: Use Fresh Ice! Store-bought packaged stuff is best, since it goes through such a clean environment. But the ice in your freezer is probably a bad thing to add to a cocktail, so throw it out and make some fresh stuff.

I’ll be back in a few hours. Dammit.

On The Rocks – For Real This Time

OK, fresh ice that smells like fresh ice (that is, it doesn’t smell at all), and I’m ready for some Castries on the rocks. Yes, this is definitely the way to go – cold and tempered a bit, the Castries really tastes great. None of the tastes are forceful in any way and the balance is extremely pleasant. I could probably finish this bottle right now.

But I won’t, since I have a habit of sharing rums with friends in order to make them see the light. Most are usually very receptive to my sharing habits, and it’s a good way for me to get more insight into a rum. But hey, I have a full bottle, and that drink went a little too quick, so just one more…

I must have let the last drink sit a bit before I damn-near-guzzled it, because this one is more like it should be. It’s not too cold and not too watery so the aromas and flavors are far more apparent. It’s really surprising me how the peanuts work in this liqueur. That is, I had expected to be assaulted by the tastes and smells, but Castries has done a damn fine job of balancing the flavors. The rum and peanut tastes lag slightly behind the cream until the swallow when the peanuts take the lead role without being overly dominant. It’s really a quick flash of roasted peanuts that go by as it finishes, and then the mild spices let themselves be known. And I have to reiterate that it’s nice to have a relatively clean cream liqueur that doesn’t leave the mouth coated after a drink.

I have to say that I don’t really notice the vanilla – while I think that’s a shame because I love vanilla, I have to expect that the Castries folks are doing the right thing. When I search for the vanilla I can find it, but it’s really just another piece of the fine balance in this liqueur.

Summary

One thing I have to mention is that this liqueur may surprise you. A rum-based cream liqueur? A peanut-based cream liqueur? Rum and peanuts? Forget all that unless you’re allergic to peanuts, because this liqueur is not what you think if you’re asking those questions. It is an exquisite liqueur, with an outstanding balance of tastes.

This is a damned fine liqueur, for sure, and one that easily goes onto my Highly Recommended list. The flavors work very well together, and the balance is superb. This is going to be one that I love to share but I’ll hate to see it go.

http://www.castriescreme.com/

Cockspur 5-Star Fine Rum

Cockspur rums, and their Rum Punch, are made by Hanschell Inniss, Ltd. Hanschell does not make their own rum – they buy it from the West India Rum Refinery who age it for Hanschell in old Kentucky bourbon barrels that have been scraped clean of the charred oak inside. Hanschell blends and bottles the rums and has numerous bottling facilities in several countries, including the USA.

Initial Tastes
As a note, this is yet another bottle of rum with a plastic cork. Strange that I’d run into so many within a few days, yet I’ve never seen (or noticed) a plastic cork in the past. I’m getting to like them – they’re very unlikely to fall apart, and they fit very tightly yet can be remove somewhat easily. Better than a natural cork, and certainly a lot better than a screw cap!

This rum is medium-gold in color, with somewhat thin but very clingy legs. The smell is a little on the sweet side, with some noticeable vanilla and spice. A small sip shows a very clean, crisp taste – somewhat sweet and some molasses well-balanced with some underlying tastes that are quite faint. The finish is medium-long and spicey, though not (from memory) as spicey as the Mount Gay Eclipse or Plantation Grande Reserve.

As it’s been sitting a bit the smells of vanilla come out more, and some underlying fruitiness makes itself known. This smells like a simple but very nice rum, except that the vanilla tones bring it up quite a bit. A larger sip shows more of the same as above, but this large sip really shows how clean this is. The mouthfeel is very clean, not oily or thick or thin – just clean. This allows one to enjoy the finish without interference, and the finish is a touch spicy but otherwise very pleasant with a hint of barrel. The spice tingling becomes gentle quite quickly, and my mouth is left with the barest touches of rum with a bit of fruit and vanilla.

I left a few drips lingering in the glass as I browsed the web, and the smell of this glass is wonderful. It does not smell like a $17 bottle of rum, but is much richer than I’d expect and the vanilla and fruit now apparent are wonderful.

Second Round
For the second round I added a couple small drops of water and let it sit for several minutes. The smell is much sweeter, and the vanilla has become more apparent though a bit mellower and not as sharp. There’s a bit more fruit apparent, but it’s a muddled smell and I can’t detect any particular fruits other than feeling that they’re tropical and light. (And that could mean mangoes and the like.)

A sip shows that the rumminess is much more apparent, and this has opened up beyond the simpleness of the initial tastes. There’s a bit more going on now, with more fruit and molasses and some spice apparent in the tastes before the finish. The finish comes quicker and is a little shorter. Overall the water and waiting has certainly done this rum some good.

Summary
I’m extremely pleased with this rum. It’s not quite a sipper, though a glass on the rocks would definitely be worthwhile. The spiciness that I’ve been finding lately in these younger golds is not so forceful as some of the others, though it’s certainly still apparent and over somewhat quickly. The flavors are not very complex, but definitely not simple, and are extremely well balanced. This is a very, very nice mixing rum and I definitely recommend it.

Since it comes from Barbados I’m reminded of the Mount Gay Eclipse and I’d definitely choose the Cockspur 5-Star for mixing any day. The Plantation Grande Reserve comes close, but my memory and notes find the Cockspur to be better balanced and without the odd spiciness that was too blatant in the Grande Reserve. Again, my choice would be the Cockspur.

Thinking back to another great mixing gold, the Appleton Special Gold, I find the Cockspur to be a bit stronger and rummier and more refined. The Appleton, though, is close but has its own specialties and is a touch more complex. I think the two are different enough to warrant having both on hand at all times, and I would chose one over the other only when the cocktail calls for a decision. I’d keep the Appleton for the lighter drinks when a milder rum taste is appropriate, whereas the Cockspur would be used for the drinks where a strong presence of rum is more desirable, or when mixing a drink where a lighter rum might get lost.

Overall, I would put the Cockspur 5-Star into the Highly Recommended category, directly above the Appleton Special Gold. It’s a damned fine rum.

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.”

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