Rum Run: Lincoln Liquors, Billerica

Lincoln Liquors – aka Mall Liquors – is a funky place that is 2/3 liquor store and 1/3 greeting card store. What the heck is up with that? I like to stop in occasionally because I’ve found some obtuse stuff there, like Marie Brizard Orangero which is apparently no longer made, and I’m not so sure it’s been made for some time since I can’t find any info about it. I’ve also found Doorly’s XO there for $17 as a close-out, and Barrows Grand Reserve for $17 (which was no bargain IMHO, but it’s normally about $45 so I had to try it). They also have occasional oddities like little 200ml Appleton Estate rums, in bottles the exact shape of the regular 750ml. For some reason I didn’t buy one, and now they’re sold out. (I’m sure they exist elsewhere, but I’ve never seen them before).

It’s been a while since I stopped in, so I figured they might have some new stuff, so I popped in. They didn’t have much, really, other than a bottle of Barbancourt 15-year-old for $35. I’ll wait.

But I picked up a slew of other things.

Mount Gay Barbados Sugar Cane Rum – called “Sugar Cane Brandy” elsewhere in the world, US laws require that this be called Rum when sold here. I haven’t had this stuff in a dog’s age – so long ago that I don’t remember it. But I picked it up to add to my collection of Gold Rums since I want to do a comparison of a bunch.

Appleton Special Jamaica Rum, purchased for the same two reasons: It’s gold and it’s been a while for this stuff, too.

A pint bottle of Ron Barcelo Dorado, from the Dominican Republic. I think I bought this because I have been trying to find El Dorado demeraras… But it’s also gold, a pint is cheap, and the Ron Barcelo Imperial is pretty darn good.
A nip of Captain Morgan Tattoo for a spiced rum comparison. But I really need to find a couple more spiced rums if I can. I’ve seen some cheap-ass-looking spiced rums. When the bottle scares me I won’t buy it. But I want to find something like Papagayo which is supposedly sold in Massachusetts. I called their Massachusetts distributor yesterday to find a store that might carry it, but I haven’t heard back from them. I’m getting anxious since the same company distributes El Dorado in Massachusetts. Call me back you bastahds!

A nip of Captain Morgan Parrot Bay for a coconut rum comparison. I actually thought the Cruzan was pretty decent, so I want to do a 3-way shootout with Malibu. Maybe a 4-way if I can find a nip of some other coconut rum, but I really don’t want to have multiple $12 bottles of coconut rum lying around if most of it is crap, so I’ll look for nips.

And two half pints of Palo Viejo, white and gold, to try some other Puerto Rican rum other than Bacardi. And I still can’t find Don Q or Ron de Barrilito, so a PR comparison will have to wait. No, I’m not going to drink Ron Rico neat, or Castillo. I’m just hoping that the Palo Viejo is at least drinkable. Even if it’s not I figure that 3 or 4 rums will give me a decent idea of “The Puerto Rican” style of rum. The so-called “gold” Palo Viejo is so pale that I thought the clerk gave me two bottles of white… Let’s hope it’s not rotgut.

If you’re in the area, and curious, you might want to pop into Lincoln Liquors. Route 3A in Billerica, in the K-Mart plaza right near the town center. You might get lucky and find some interesting spirits. And if you’re hungry, Sichuan Gourmet is in the little strip mall near the set of lights. Fantastic food, and highly recommended.

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Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-Year-Old

Ah, the Zacapa 23. Nectar. Sweet Gautemalen nectar. Man, I love this stuff. So I figured that it was finally time for a review.

Actually what recently made me decide to do a full review was a high-end sipping session with Phil. Among other things, we tried the Zaya Gran Reserva which instantly reminded us of the Zacapa 23. Phil cracked his bottle of the Zacapa and we sat down with both, side-by-side, tasting each one and trying to figure out which was better.

We failed to find a winner.

From the best we could determine, the Zacapa is sweeter, with some lighter fruits and honey, and a tiny bit smoother. The Zaya was richer, fuller, with heavy fruits (tastes of raisins or figs and such). But they were both equally superb, just in slightly different ways.

I was astounded that we could not determine which one we liked more. I am still astounded, and have since wondered if we were just in some kind of mood that placed them at the exact same level of quality. Is that really possible? I suppose it is – if I was in the mood for a sweet rum I’d grab the Zacapa. If I wasn’t in the mood for sweet then I’d grab the Zaya.

So I decided that I’d have to give each one a full review, and then square them off again, side-by-side, for another shootout.

So here’s the review for the Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-year-old, a truly superb rum.

Solera Process

As an immediate point of interest is that the Zacapa 23 is not really aged for 23 years. It is produced using a solera process, which is a blend of rums… It can be difficult to explain the age of a rum from a solera process, so I’ll have to describe the process.

Take a barrel and fill it with rum. Wait a few years, and fill another barrel with fresh rum. Wait a few more years, and fill yet another barrel with fresh rum.  And so on, and on, until you have a stack of rum aged for different years.

Now go to that first barrel – the oldest stuff – and draw off some rum. Fill that barrel to the brim from the next barrel, using rum that’s slightly younger. Fill that barrel from the next one in line, again filling the barrel with rum that is slightly younger. Keep doing this process until you remove some rum from the barrel containing the youngest rum. And finally, fill that barrel with fresh rum.

Within time, that barrel containing the oldest rum is a mix of rums across time. That oldest barrel will still contain traces of the original rum that was first poured into it.

The solera process was originally used for making Sherry in Spain, and some sherry-makers have barrels that contains traces of sherry that is hundreds of years old. I don’t know when Zacapa began it’s solera, but the Ron Zacapa Centenario has an average of 23 years of aging.

Initial Tastes

The rum smells sweet with touches of honey, hints of vanilla, a touch of spice and a slight fruitiness. What a wonderfully complex and well-balanced bunch of aromas. The first sip is sweet, touches of chocolate, somewhat rich and full. The swallow is wonderful, with a medium finish with a barely-detectable burn – the smoothest rum I’ve ever tasted. Some spiciness some through at the finish, but well-balanced and not overpowering. Simply superb.

More Tasting

The worst thing about the Zacapa 23 is the end. Not the finish – it’s great – but the end of the glass when the bottom is clearly visible. The only thing to do is to pour another, and try to make it last.

It’s not easy. This rum is so very drinkable and so very smooth.

But there’s not much more to say – everything comes out quickly in the first few sips and stays superb all night long.

Water & Ice

Though I’ve had this on ice, it’s really not necessary. Sometimes in the summer it’s nice, since a cold drink is more refreshing. Water doesn’t do much to this rum except weaken it, and again it’s not necessary. So if I wanted it cold I’d put it in the fridge for a bit, or store it there and let it warm up a bit before drinking. You’d be missing things if it’s too cold, and it’s certainly not necessary.

This rum really deserves to be neat, but having it slightly cooler than room temperature is nice, too.

I once told a friend that this rum should never be mixed with anything, except maybe a piece of ice. I now take that back – this rum should only be mixed with friends.

Summary

Ron Zacapa Centenario is absolutely the best rum I’ve ever had.

Except perhaps for Zaya Gran Reserva. But I’ll have to decide that another night.

Rum In Your Luggage

Flying to the islands? Bring back some rum? Want to get it home safely?

Thanks to new regulations on airlines, you can’t bring much in the way of liquids in your carry-on bags. It can be difficult to fly with that precious supply of hard-to-find rum in a manner that allows it to be consumed neatly once home. You can wrap it bubble-wrap and hope, or stuff it into carpet tubes, or find some other ingenious way to keep those liquids safe. And you can hope that your methods works.

Well, check out this article about a new way to package your rum so it flies safely. It describes the “Liquor Travel Safety Pack” that is designed to withstand 20-foot drops without breakage.

Damned if I can find a way to order one, but that should come soon. Keep an eye out for it.

Some Outstanding Rums

Last night my friend Phil and I sat back and sampled several outstanding rums.

We started with Gosling’s Family Reserve – heavy, dark. Very good but I’m not such a fan of dark rums like this.

Next came Appleton 21-year-old. Excellent stuff, quite complex, but the strongest burn of the bunch.

Then Santa Teresa 1796 – excellent, quite excellent. Definitely one of the top rums I’ve ever had.

We cracked the Zaya Gran Reserva next – oh, this is beautiful stuff. I have had it before, and I don’t remember it being this good. In fact I’ve considered it over-priced for some time, but last night it was magic in a bottle.

The Zaya reminded us both of the Ron Zacapa 23, so Phil grabbed his bottle from the fridge. Also fantastic, as usual. I really do love this stuff – sweet, smooth, rich, decently complex… great stuff.

But we couldn’t decide between the Zaya or the Ron Zacapa, so we went back and forth between the two several times, taking little sips, trying to decide which was better. After 6 or 8 little samples over time, neither of us could decide which was better. The Zacapa is a little lighter and sweeter, the Zaya a bit heavier and richer. Both are absolutely fantastic.

I know that I owe some full reviews on all of these rums – well, the Appleton 21-year-old has a review listed to the left. But I haven’t had time to sit each one down and give it a thorough tasting. There’s no doubt that all of these belong in the “Highly Recommended” category, but they also deserve an appropriate amount of time to discern all the subtleties.

I’ll also have to go back and compare the Ron Zacapa and Zaya again. Was it just last night? I don’t think so, though. We definitely spent some time sampling the two back to back… But a full review of each may bring out some things.

Stirrings Mojito Mixer

It’s very unusual for me to drink enough to reach a level of intoxication. I don’t see much use in getting smashed, and barely ever go further than a simple buzz. My wife of 10 years says that she’s seen me drunk only once – a night of excess involving most of a bottle of Ron Zacapa Centenario. I love the taste of a good rum, or a good cocktail, but believe in moderation.

Usually.

There are times when I like to tie one on. Sure, I’ll drink a few Mai Tais now and again – when someone else is making them – but generally if I feel like getting buzzed I’m lazy. I’ll have a few shots of the good stuff while my taste buds still function, but once my brain gets rattled I’ll switch to something easy, like Rum & Ginger Ale. Occasionally, very occasionally, I’ll go so far as to make a quart of some cocktail and nurse it, like a baby. A hungry, angry baby.

Quality Ingredients
One day in a liquor store I grabbed a bottle of Stirrings Mojito Mixer, caught up in the propaganda of the display which spoke of quality. Bottled mixers generally taste like crap – because they’re full of crap. Here’s the list of ingredients from one unnamed bottled cocktail mix:

Water, corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, cellulose gum, polysorbate 60, gum arabic, glycerol, abietate and FD&C Yellow No. 5

Ugh.

Here’s the list of ingredients from the Stirrings Mojito Mixer:

Triple-filtered water, cane sugar, key lime juice from concentrate (water, key lime concentrate), citric acid, natural mint and lime flavors, ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

That’s a hell of a lot closer to the real thing.

The Taste
Given that I like to try all rums neat, I felt it was appropriate to do the same with the Mojito Mixer. I found the taste to be extremely natural, without those obnoxious tastes found in most pre-made mixers. It was sweet, like a good simple syrup though much lighter, with a lot of key lime taste and a hint of mint. It was obviously high quality stuff, and very good. I have to say that I wasn’t so pleased with the key lime taste – I guess I like “regular” limes much more. But I deemed it Worthy, and grabbed a bottle of rum and a jigger.

A Mojito
Call me a sinner, but I grabbed the Havana Club Añejo Blanco for my first Stirrings Mojito. What better way to try it, with a known high-quality rum like this, one almost made for Mojitos? OK, enough rationalization – I’m a sinner.

I mixed it up according to the directions, and sipped. It was quite good – hardly a real Mojito made up fresh, but it was tasty and easily drinkable. Granted, it was a hot summer day, so a Mojito was perfect. The Stirrings Mojito wasn’t perfect, but it was quite good.

A little later, when it was time to catch a buzz, I made up a quart of Mojito using Ron Matusalem Platino. It too was excellent – for a while. By the time I reached the bottom of the mug I had had more than enough of the key lime taste. It was a bit much.

Summary
The Stirrings Mojito Mixer is very high quality, and pretty darned good and tasty. It won’t beat a real Mojito made with fresh limes and yerba buena, but it’s good enough for those lazy times. Recommended – but 2 minutes making a real one is even more recommended.

Call me a sinner. I’m guilty.

5 White Rums

I had planned some time ago to do a comparison of white rums, and this past weekend gave me some time to do so. But I should have planned better because I didn’t really think it out, and ended up grabbing 6 white rums that I had handy, and they didn’t make for a good comparison. They didn’t match, and they really didn’t differ enough. I should have grabbed a white from each of several islands, or perhaps a few whites from one island. Instead, I ended up with a bit of a hodge podge. By doing so I ended up learning a bit in the process, though, and learning something means that this wasn’t a total loss.

As I mentioned, I grabbed 6 rums – yet this post is titled “5 White Rums” for a reason. One of the bottles was Clément Premiére Canne, an agricole from Martinique. This was so very different from the others that I had to remove it from this comparison. It’s just not like the others in any way besides being a cane spirit. It needs to be reviewed separately, or compared to another unaged agricole. Note that this is not a bad thing – it’s just different.

The Rums
After removing the Clément I was left with 5 rums:

Bacardi Superior (It had to be done, as a base.)
Cruzan Premium Light
Havana Club Añejo Blanco
Pyrat Superior Blanco
Ron Matusalem Platino

Some of these rums are like each other, and some are very different. As I was to discover, and learn in the process. Yes, I should have planned better.

The Comparison Methodology
As much as I didn’t want to, I felt that it was important to taste of these rums neat, at room temperature. Neat is the best way to get all the smells, tastes, and burns of each rum.

Next I was going to try each in a Rum & Ginger Ale, with a bit of lime. Ginger Ale is important to this recipe, and the lack of it canceled this step.

For the last step I wanted to try each in a Rum & Coke. I’m not really sure why I wanted to do this, but I felt it was important when I started. But since the straight Rum & Coke was quite terrible, I did it again but with a healthy squeeze from 1/6 of a lime. This made it much more palatable.

For each of these 3 steps I went back and forth often, sipping one rum and then another and another, then sometimes back to the first or the last. I tried to compare them to each other, not just trying each in a line one after another. This was a great way to go through the process, as different rums brought out things in other rums. Two of the rums might have had a similar smell or taste that each sip made me more aware of a particular taste or smell in a another rum. Between most of the sips I rinsed my mouth with some water, but there were times I skipped the water in order to keep some flavors going from one rum to another.

This process did, however, have it effects on me. Next time I’ll try this with 3 rums. Rotating between 5 rums meant that I ingested a decent amount of alcohol.

The Rums, Neat

Bacardi Superior – $16
Bacardi Light – the ultimate rum for mixing, if you believe all the marketing. I don’t believe much of it, but this rum surprised me. It had a smell of ethanol that was quite noticeable, but I had been expecting it so I didn’t think it was too bad. It also had a noticeable burn – but I’ve been burned worse by other rums, and again I was expecting it so it wasn’t so bad. It was actually a bit smoother than I expected, too. All in all, the Bacardi surprised me by being better than expected. This certainly wasn’t a great rum – even calling it good would be a compliment. But it was better than I expected.

Or so I thought.

Cruzan Premium Light – $11
This rum from St. Croix is aged 2 years, which is twice as long as the Bacardi. This rum really surprised me. It was extremely smooth, smooth enough to be sippable. It smelled a bit of wood, which is expected from the aging, but unexpected since I would have figured that it would have been filtered out. There were hints of some fruit, both light and dark ones, which gave it some nice taste even though they were mild in a white. It carried some hints of vanilla, and bit of a smell of ethanol but far from the Bacardi.

Compared to the Bacardi… there is no comparison. I had thought the Bacardi was decent, but the Cruzan pointed out how harsh it was and made me very aware of how little taste the Bacardi possessed. But the Cruzan isn’t very similar to the Bacardi. The Cruzan has less taste overall – even though I could detect several different tastes and smells they were faint, whereas the Bacardi taste was bolder. The Cruzan seems like a rum that will get lost in a cocktail, and that makes it perfect for certain drinks, when one wants a faint rum taste that is smooth and not brazen.

Havana Club Añejo Blanco – Unknown Price
A friend recently brought me a bottle of this rum, a rum that seemed like I needed to have in my collection. It has a mild smell, a faint hint of ethanol – even less than the Cruzan. It has a very good taste, not strong of molasses or fruit or anything really. It just tastes like what a light rum should taste like. Very good, decently smooth, a touch dry. For a basic, simple white rum this is outstanding.

It reminded me a bit of the Bacardi, so I sipped them both back-to-back. The Bacardi definitely had many similarities to the Havana Club, which made sense given Bacardi’s Cuban history. But again the Bacardi failed, trying to do what the Havana Club did but failing miserably in the process. The Bacardi tastes cheaper, more raw, more like a cheap imitation. But they were similar in many ways, and I could easily put them in the same category.

Pyrat Superior Blanco – $16
This rum from Anguilla is quite nice. Though it has more ethanol smell than the Cruzan, it’s not bad at all. It’s a sweet rum – well, sweeter than the others. And it’s a bit fruity, so it is a rum that would go very well in many cocktails and tiki drinks especially. This rum had the most flavor of molasses, but in a white rum this is still a hint of taste, which made me consider this the most “typical” rum. It had the most burn, though, stopping it from being a sipping rum even though it is the most flavorful of the ones tested.

Alas, it appears that this rum is no longer made, which is a shame. I like it quite a bit for a white rum, and would use it often if I could only get more.

Ron Matusalem Platino – $17
Made in “the spirit of Cuba” the first smell of this Dominican rum made me immediately think of the Havana Club. I did a lot of comparing between the two. The Matusalem is a bit heavier, and tastes of the rum came through stronger. Even though it’s triple-distilled it seemed to have more “leftovers” in it – more congeners perhaps? These are not unpleasant in the least – it’s just that it has more than the Havana Club. It also tastes a little sweeter and a little less refined than the HC, though nothing like the Bacardi’s near-lack of refinement.

And this thought made me compare all three – The Havana Club against the Matusalem against the Bacardi. I easily and quickly put these three into the same category as they all have a lot of similarities that show their common Cuban heritage. But the Bacardi was left far behind, while the Matusalem was very close to the Havana Club. There’s no doubt that I will keep buying the Matusalem once my bottle of Havana Club is dry. Bacardi, however, will hopefully never be purchased again.

Rum & Coke
I made a set of Rum & Cokes – 4 ice cubes, 1 ounce of rum, and 4 ounces of Coke – all carefully measured to ensure an accurate comparison.

OK, who drinks this shit? Rum & Coke is nasty. I took about 2 sips from each, and almost threw them out. But I remembered that I had a lime, and quickly carved it into 6 relatively-even pieces. I squeezed each into a drink and dropped it.

The lime made this drink a lot more palatable. Lucky for me. However, it didn’t take long for this part of the test, since they still weren’t very good. I won’t ever do this again – at least not with white rums. Next time I promise to remember the Ginger Ale.

In the end the comparison was easy – I rated each rum as Bad, OK, or Good. The Havana Club and – holy cow – the Bacardi were the only ones that tasted decent enough to be called Good. The others were all OK, but certainly not Good. Again the Bacardi surprised me, but perhaps its foul tastes combined well with the Coke. But I was surprised that the Best and the Worst of the “Cubans” tasted good, but not the middling Matusalem. For some reason the Matusalem just didn’t work in the Rum & Coke.

Summary
By now you’ve hopefully realized the mistakes I made in picking these 5 particular rums. Somehow I managed, without thinking, to grab 3 Cuban-style rums, and two others that were totally different.

So for the Cuban-style rums, the Havana Club Añejo Blanco wins easily, followed quite closely by the Matusalem Platino, while the Bacardi Superior was a distant third. The Havana Club will be hoarded, and somehow made to last as long as possible. The Matusalem will always have a place on my shelf, for Mojitos at the very least, once the HC is a memory.

The Cruzan wins for being the smoothest and being the best bargain. At two-thirds the price of the others it’s a steal, and I’ll be sure to keep a bottle on the shelf at all times. It’s quite good, and very versatile.

The Pyrat Blanco wins for being the tastiest of the bunch, and is voted Most Likely To Appear In A Tiki Drink. This is a very good rum.

All of these rums – other than the Bacardi – are very good. They all have a place, and they all belong because of different reasons.

Pyrat XO – Old vs New

Some time ago I came across a post about Pyrat XO on Bilgemunky’s Rum Reviews. In this post he compared the Old Pyrat XO to the new Pyrat XO, which made me quite curious. It just so happened that I soon ran into a bottle of the new Pyrat XO that my friend Phil had procured, and – of course – I drank some. I found it to have a strong orange taste, much stronger than I remembered from a couple years back. I made a note to compare Phil’s bottle to my old near-empty bottle of Pyrat.

Phil wasn’t around this weekend, but I made a Rum Run and came across a bottle of Pyrat XO for $21, so I grabbed it.

Side rant – Why the heck does Pyrat XO cost $36 in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, yet runs about $21 in most other states? That seems crazy. But I’ve paid $36 a couple times, and have seen it as high as $50 in on over-priced Massachusetts liquor store.

I definitely believe that Pyrat XO is worth $21, and my old bottle had very little left, so it was a definite purchase. And it allowed me to compare the old to the new.

Label Comparison
Old:
Planters Gold Rum – Pyrat XO Reserve -Anguilla Rums, LTD, BWI
The Hoti medallion says: Anguilla Rums

New:
Pyrat Rum – Pyrat XO Reserve (In a circle around Hoti on the label) Anguilla Rums LTD – British West Indies
The Hoti medallion says: Pyrat Rums

The old says that the sole importer is SMS LTD, Las Vegas, Nevada, while the new lists the sole importer as Patron Spirits Company, Las Vegas, Nevada.

On my old bottle, the hand-written “Certification Of Hand Bottling” lists the number 16737, while my new bottle is numbered 435425. If they number sequentially, that’s quite a difference – though I have no idea of the time involved. It would imply that my old bottle was quite a bit older.

The new bottle still has the little description card around its neck, so I got some interesting facts about the rum. “Pyrat XO is a blend of 9 unique Caribbean rums aged up to 15 years in Limousin oak and American sweet oak barrels.” Limousin oak is generally used for cognac, from what I remember, though it was also commonly used for California wines. I have never heard of “American sweet oak” though it might just be some marketing propaganda to describe white oak, a standard for barrels made in the US.

Taste Comparison
For one thing, the old Pyrat XO seems to be a bit darker than the new stuff. It’s slight, and it might have been the lighting, but there did seem to be a difference. A quick comparison of the smell between the two seemed to be very very close. I couldn’t tell the difference between the two. They both smell like a good hearty rum, a bit sweet, with honey smells and a hint of vanilla. Too close to call, by my nose anyway.

The old has a very nice taste, good basic rum but sweeter. Tastes of caramel and honey came through, with hints of vanilla and a slight orange taste. It’s sweet, but not overly sweet, and quite smooth. It has a slight burn that lasts, and the finish lingers a bit as well. This is an excellent rum.

The new has a distinct orange taste, is definitely sweeter, and has more honey coming through. It’s a bit smoother, with less burn and a longer finish. There’s a small bit of spiciness coming through at the end, leaving a bit of tingling in the mouth. This is also an excellent rum.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these are two different rums.

More Comparisons
These are both excellent rums, and both are quite sippable. The differences in the sweetness and distinct orange taste of the new might turn some people off. I do prefer the old for sipping, as I consider it a truer rum, or a more classic rum one might say. I think the new version has less general use in the world because of it’s orange tastes – it would be fine in basic drinks like a Rum & Coke, but would probably throw off some cocktails. Again, both are excellent for sipping – very smooth and little burn, with great complexity.

Value
For the $21 I paid – not the $36 I used to pay – I’d have to say that Pyrat XO is one of the biggest bargains in the rum world. For this price area, not many other rums are as smooth or as complex. I have happily paid $36 in the past, several times, so to find it for this new low price it’s a bargain in my opinion. More than good enough to sip, yet cheap enough to mix.

Summary
Both versions of this rum are sweet, complex, tasty, and very sippable. Again, there’s no doubt in my mind that the formula for Pyrat XO has changed. The new version is sweeter with more orange taste. They are not huge differences, but they are significant since they are quite noticeable. People who don’t like sweet rums, or distinct orange flavoring, will probably not like the new stuff. But if you ever find a bottle of Planters Gold Pyrat XO that is not distributed by Patron then I urge you to grab a bottle and enjoy it. I like them both, but I do prefer the old version.