Last week at a rum tasting the presenter opened with a line designed to get everyone’s attention. “I’ve yet to find a white rum that I like,” he said, and proceeded to pour one of the smoothest, most refined white rums available today. But that was last week, and things change – or sometimes they simply appear to change, for it was simply a lack of experience that brought about that sentence.

For I have found a white rum that I like. Oronoco.

Now that sentence from the tasting is harsh and it was used for dramatic effect, but it’s not a complete lie. The white rums of my past have primarily been mixing rums, yet sipping rums are my true passion. Out of the 25 or 30 white rums that have passed my lips neatly there’s only one other that could be called a sipping rum, Prichard’s Crystal. But Prichard’s lacks any extreme rum tastes and gets its “sipping” title because of it smoothness and refinement. Oronoco, on the other hand, has a pleasant aroma and slightly fruity, floral tastes followed by a relatively clean finish spiked with flavor.

Oronoco Rum

This rum is produced in the mountains of Brazil from fresh-cut sugar cane juice distilled in a traditional copper pot still. It is further refined with multiple passes in a column still, and then mixed with aged Venezuelan rum which gives it a slight tint. Finally, this mix is married by resting in casks of native Brazilian hardwood called Amendam. This intricate process brings this rum several fine highlights: the crisp tastes and aromas typical to cachaça, sweet flavors and finish from the aged rum, and some unique undertones from the unusual wood used for the final resting casks. The final product is quite unique as a result, smooth enough to sip and tasty enough to enjoy.

An Initial Taste

The initial smells are slightly fruity with hints of floral tones and slight whiffs of molasses and vanilla underneath. The fruity and floral aromas hint of cachaça rather lightly while still allowing Oronoco to possess natural rum characteristics. This rum would not surprise someone who’s not used to cachaça – in fact such a person would probably accept these smells naturally. A small sip shows a slight sweetness and a touch of peppery spiciness, but little heat from the alcohol. A larger sip continues these trends and shows a nice balance since everything is quite clean and light in the mouth. The finish is a little short, but this is relative because it seems somewhat long for a white rum. A bit of wood appears in the finish along with reminders of vanilla again.


This is a very unique rum, and one well worth sipping. In fact it’s been sipped quite a bit tonight, since it’s a white rum that I like. Though pricey at $35 one must remember that this is a full liter, which brings it down to approximately $26 for 750ml. At this price Oronoco is most certainly worthwhile. While expensive for a mixing rum this has the potential to make some exciting cocktails. I would not think twice about using it in a daiquiri or another drink which would let the rum shine.

In any case, at any price, it’s an exquisite white sipping rum which holds an esteemed place on my shelf.


Rum Field Training

Just passing along some info about a good thing… I wish I could make this event! Somebody go and have a good time for me, please?


NEW ORLEANS – October 8, 2007 – Tales of the Cocktail, with support from The Museum of the American Cocktail, presents a one-day rum course and tasting titled The Rum Field Training School, on Saturday, Dec. 8, from 11:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. The course includes a historical review of rum by local author Wayne Curtis and a tour of the Celebration Distillery, makers of award-winning Old New Orleans Rum. Tickets are $150 per person and can be purchased at www.TalesoftheCocktail.com or at 504-558-1840. The course has a 30-person maximum.

The Rum Field Training School is a one-day boot camp dedicated to understanding everything about rum – its raucous role in American history, how it is made, how geography and aging alters how it tastes, and how to drink it: straight up, in cocktails, and paired with food.

Rum was once the drink of the disreputable, but Wayne Curtis affirms that the spirit is today appreciated by true connoisseurs. The author of “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails,” Curtis will begin the Rum Field Training at the Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide, 300 Poydras Street with an introduction to the spirit while students enjoy a welcome punch crafted by Curtis and Swizzle Stick bar chef Lu Brow.

“I think people will be surprised at how complex and versatile rum can be in mixing contemporary cocktails,” says Curtis. “And compared to the high prices for premium scotches and bourbons, rum offers outstanding value for buyers in today’s market.”

Next, students will board a luxury bus for a short trip to the Celebration Distillery, makers of award-winning Old New Oleans Rum, where Wayne will set the stage with a capsule history of 350 years of rum history. Ben Gersh, general manager of Old New Orleans Rum, will then take his guests step by step through the processing of making fine rum. Everyone will receive a signed bottle of the newly released Old New Orleans Spice Rum, a timely spirit for the holidays.

The course ends back at Cafe Adelaide for a spirited lunch paired with rum cocktails. Drinks will be specially prepared by nationally noted bar chef Lu Brow who will share her expertise on making three rum-based cocktails for the holidays. Guests will also receive a signed copy of Curtis’s “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails,”

The lunch menu will include the Adelaide Spinach Salad with island spiced pecans, goats cheese, shaved red onions and Nueskes bacon-molasses vinaigrette, paired with the New Orleans original lime daiquiri. The next course, Walker’s Wood Jerked Bob White Quail with mango-braised cabbage, smoked pork dressing and tobacco rum syrup will be paired with a Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Cocktail. Dessert is a West Indies Rum Cake featuring Hawaiian Gold pineapple, drunken raisins and vanilla bean ice cream and will be paired with the Between the Sheets cocktail.

For more information on The Rum Field Training School on Dec. 8, contact Ann Rogers at 504-343-4285 or visit www.TalesoftheCocktail.com.

Tales of the Cocktail, a culinary and cocktail festival, takes place July 16-20, 2008. Featuring award-winning mixologists, authors, bartenders, chefs and designers, Tales of the Cocktail takes place in the New Orleans French Quarter with five days of cocktail events such as dinner-pairings, cocktail demos and tastings, seminars, mixing competitions, design expos, book-signings and much more. Visit www.TalesoftheCocktail.com and register your name to receive email updates and ticket-sales announcements and view the exciting line-up of events and celebrity presenters for 2008.

The Museum of the American Cocktail is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing education in mixology and preserving the rich history of the American cocktail. The museum’s goal is to establish a museum and tourist attraction in downtown New Orleans that highlights the fascinating 200-year history of the cocktail, while also serving as a valuable resource for beverage professionals everywhere. For more information, visit www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org.

Rum Fest 2007, NYC

Last Monday I enjoyed Rum Fest 2007, at a little restaurant called Valbella in the Garment District of New York City. This is a very nice little 2-story restaurant that was dedicated to rum for the night, with about 15 tables set up displaying about 50 rums from over 20 distilleries. I had managed to “convince” about ten other friends to go, too, and we devoured the scene quickly and dove right into the rums for the next 4 hours.

I stopped briefly at the first table, Gosling’s, but they were a little crowded as a few of my friends were sampling Dark & Stormies. I’m quite familiar with all the Gosling rums, so I passed them over for now, but did sample the Sea Wynde. I’ve heard a lot of bad stuff about this rum, but the taste surprised me since it was much better than the stories had led me to believe. It was a bit dry, with a lot of subtleties, and smoother than its 92 proof would have had me believe. I’ll have to put this on my list of rums to get since it deserves a more concentrated tasting.

I turned to find the Zacapa/Botran table and jumped over to sample the Botran Solera and talk with Ray who was working the table. But working is too harsh of a word, since the Zacapa and Botran lines sell themselves and Ray was mixing some drinks and chatting with ease. The Solera, by the way, was one of the finest rums at the event and I can’t wait to get a bottle. (I’m stunned at the price – $30! What a great rum for this price!) I also tried the Botran 12-year-old, which is very nice indeed, and makes me realize that I need to go back and try the 8-year-old again which I did not care for the first time around. The Zacapa 23-year-old remains my favorite rum, and Ray gave me a little good-natured grief for comparing it to Zaya in an older post. Even though the two are close, I always recommend the Zacapa to folks. Always.

I bounced over to the JM/Clement table for a bit and chatted with Ben Jones, who made me a fantastic Ti Punch with the JM Blanc. This is a very fine agricole and the Ti Punch is a perfect little cocktail to show it off. I also sampled the JM Rhum Vieux 1997, which I had tried some months ago at an agricole tasting hosted by Ben. I remembered it being delicious then, but when I found it at a local liquor store I was turned back by the $85 price tag. I knew it was good, but is it that good? After my second taste at the Fest I knew that I had to get a bottle, and luckily I found it locally for $70. This truly is a fantastic rhum full of luscious subtleties on par with great cognacs. I dragged several of my friends over to try it, and we all agreed that it was simply wonderful.

By this time the place was crowded, and I simply spun around looking for a relatively quiet table. There wasn’t one, so I became a sheep and allowed the crowd to push me along. Which was fine with me because I was like a lost child in a candy store, and it all looked good.

I think that I ended up at the Cabana table next, a cachaca that I found rather plain. There were a couple other cachacas at the event – Sagatiba and Boca Loca. I felt the Boca Loca was the best of the group since it had more of the fruit & floral tones typical to a cachaca whereas the Cabana and Sagatiba were both a couple steps closer to vodka due to their multiple distillations. The Boca Loca will have to go on my list and get compared to the Fazenda Ma De Ouro and Beleza Pura. A quick check shows that it is probably not available in Massachusetts, so I’m happy that the event’s goodie bag included a mini.

Joe grabbed me at that point. Joe had tried the Cockspur 12 for the first time the night before and had loved it so he brought me over to the Cockspur table where I was able to speak with Rob from Cockspur, USA. Rob had sent me a couple bottles of Cockspur and I was glad to meet him and thank him since I had put them both to good use in the tastings I had done recently. I tried their Rum Punch, with a touch of Cockspur 12 on top per Rob’s recommendation, and loved the fact that they managed to make a pre-mix that tasted very natural and quite good. Later in the night I had Kaiser Penguin try it, and I though he agreed with everything I said I knew he would rather have had a fresh-made cocktail.

I bounced around quite a bit, traveling from table to table and sampling anything that looked interesting. I tried the Flor De Cana 12- and 18-year-old rums, and they were both excellent. Flor De Cana makes a fine rum throughout their entire range, and they were prepared to show off every one of their products. I passed up the 21 since I have a bottle, and made a note to get my hands on the 12- and 18-year-olds for my collection. (As a side note, I tried the 7-year-old the other day and was extremely pleased with that, too. It’s a very nice line of rums.)

Even though I had missed several tables, by this time the downstairs section was quite crowded and I bolted upstairs which was much quieter. I found the Bar-Sol Pisco table and tried some. Though not a rum they were attending due to the Latin nature of the event. I found the Pisco to be interested, and even learned how to pronounce it (Pee-sco, not piss-co).

Depaz agricole was up here, and it was very good but I’ll have to admit that it beginning to be difficult to pay attention. I have a bottle at home, so I’ll have to make a note to do a full review. I also tried their Cane Syrup, which is quite good. But I didn’t catch anything exciting about it, and I have to wonder how it would fair next to the simple syrup I make using evaporated cane sugar. I’ll have to grab a bottle some day and compare.

I sampled the Hudson River Rum, which I didn’t care for due to its smokiness. I simply don’t care for overly-smoky tastes in my spirits, which may be a reason why I don’t like whiskey, Scotch, or many bourbons. I also find it to be extremely expensive, at $40 for a 375ml.

I overhead an English gentleman say something about his book, and asked if he happened to be Ian Williams (author of Rum: A Social And Sociable History Of The Real Spirit of 1776, a very good book and highly recommended). He was indeed the author, which was a pleasant surprise. We talked about rum history and rum books for a bit, and – of course – rum. At one point the conversation drifted towards Mount Gay, and I mentioned my new-found lack of desire for it after comparing it against some other gold rums. He recommended trying it with a touch of lime, which would open it up a bit. I’ll have to give that a try some day, because Ian says so. I got the sense that I could spend a very happy night just chatting with him, but there were rums to taste, and we both had to move on.

Back downstairs I finally found the Vizcaya table had some space for another sipper, so I made my way over to try some of the rum that has some rum folks buzzing. And it was absolutely fantastic! What a great rum, and certainly one that I will put to a proper tasting soon. I had heard a lot of good things about this rum, and while that may be part of the reason why I was so enamored with it there is no doubt that this is a wonderful rum.

I then drifted over to the Khukri table, dragging Joe and Ray over to try it. Both liked it quite a bit, and then I mentioned the price – $20. Joe’s face lit up ecstatically. This is an excellent rum, one of my favorites, and probably the best bargain in sipping rums. Actually, it probably is the bargain of sipping rums, because I can’t think of any others that are as good for anywhere near the price. And this rum isn’t just about price – I tasted this from a sample bottle and easily marked it as one of my favorites, and it wasn’t until the day of Rum Fest that I found out how cheap it was when I grabbed at bottle at the New York Wine Exchange. Excellent stuff. (Seriously, buy a bottle, and if you don’t like I will refund your money. I have that much confidence in this rum.)

The rest of the night was a bit of a blur… Not just because of the rum imbibed, but there was just a lot happening.

I met Daniel Watson from Temptryst rums, and dragged a few others over to meet him since we all loved his Cherrywood Reserve the night before. I introduced Daniel and Nicole – who loved the Tropical Light since her exquisite palate was able to taste things that I could barely imagine. Nicole’s face lit up, and the two of them proceeded to discuss scorpion infusions. In case you’re thinking of trying this, note that the Black Emperor scorpion is a bit too pungent for most folks, and the Mexican Double-Pronged scorpion will give a slightly sweet, nutty flavor like hazelnuts. Though it seems crazy to do this type of infusion, it may be worth trying since it will, over time, make one fairly immune to the scorpion’s sting. (Yes, this is all true.)

I found myself at the Gosling’s table again, and asked for a Dark & Stormy. This is a very nice cocktail that’s insanely easy to make – even though I had to go begging for limes at another table since the Gosling table was out. Delicious.

I had a cocktail at the Zacapa table made with the Zacapa 23 – which might seem like a crime but the cocktail was delicious. I thought that Ray had said it was a Rum Sidecar but it may have been their Honey Martini. Either way, it was very good.

Kaiser Penguin kept reminding me how much fun I missed by not going to Tales Of The Cocktail. He especially rubbed it in when he mentioned that they always change the presentations, so it was very doubtful that something like Jeff Berry’s Tiki presentation would be seen again. Damn him. Other this these little rubs (just kidding Rick) we had a fun time all night discussing liquors – the consummate cocktail-mixer and the consummate sipper of straight liquors and liqueurs. It was quite interesting to discuss the investigation of spirits from two completely different angles. And Rick, I promise to start making more cocktails – once I really know my rums.

I had a great talk with Martiki-bird about orgeat and almonds in general. She left me a long post at Tiki Central that I have to read when I can think about it, since it contains some great info about orgeat. This means that I’ll have to make yet another batch of orgeat, but none has gone to waste yet, so it’s not a bad thing – just a time thing.

I ran into Ben from the Rum-Bar in Philadelphia, and we had a rousing, passionate talk about rum. He introduced me to Adam, another from Rum-Bar, and the three of us spent some time in our own little world discussing rums. It’s great to find other folks who are so passionate about rum. If you’re ever in Philly, give the Rum-Bar a try. These guys really know their rums.

Ypioca Cachaca was listed in the pamphlet, but I somehow missed their table. I did see a nice gift box of the 160 on the auction table… Either I was blind and didn’t see their table or they weren’t actually there.

Speaking of that, I was kinda bummed that Fazenda Mae De Ouro did not attend. That is a mighty fine cachaca and I would have dragged several folks over to taste it.

And not a single American distiller of rums attended. No Hurricane, no Prichard’s, no Rogue, no New Orleans. Bummer.

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?

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:

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!