Passion Fruit Syrup

A while ago, I purchased another bottle of El Dorado 15-year-old, one of my favorite rums (and one that I need to review properly before finishing this bottle). When I got home, I flipped through the Beachbum’s books to find an appropriate cocktail and came across the Demerara Dry Float. The recipe calls for some passion fruit syrup, so I went out the next day to find some passion fruit juice so I could make a batch of the syrup, something I’ve done in the past with some success. Though I prefer using the Looza juice, I ended up with a 1-liter carton of Ceres Passion Fruit Juice. This is 100% juice, though it contains “apple and/or pear juice” but it was the best I could do on short notice.

I emptied the carton into a medium saucepan and simmered it down to 50% of the original volume, and then added an equal amount of pure cane sugar. When it had cooled down I tasted it, and it tasted decent even though I’ve never had “real” passion fruit syrup. I made myself a Demerara Dry Float, but cut down on the amount of lime as I usually do. It was a decent drink, but not spectacular. The passion fruit flavors just didn’t seem to be right. I tried a few more versions of the same cocktail, trying to get the ratios correct, but none of the variations really pleased me.They were all good, just not great. I did have a nice glow after drinking four DDFs, though.

I did some research online, and went through my cocktail books looking for any hints on making passion fruit syrup. Checking the Beachbum’s Sippin’ Safari, I saw that he recommended either Finest Call puree or Goya frozen passion fruit pulp made into a syrup. He specifically recommends against using Ceres or Looza fruit juices since “they are already cut with sugar, water, and other ingredients that render them unsuitable as a syrup base.”

Bummer.

Well, the Ceres doesn’t have any extra sugar, but the other ingredients – “apple and/or pear juice” – made me want a “real” passion fruit syrup. I decided that I wanted to do a comparison of passion fruit syrups, so I hit the road again looking for Passion Fruit stuff. I found the Finest Call and Monin Passion Fruit syrups (not the good stuff, alas), and grabbed another carton of Ceres just in case. I could not find the Goya frozen pulp, nor the Looza juice. After trips to seven different stores, I finally decided to give up, and ordered two bottles of Aunty Lilikoi’s Passion Fruit Syrup. Shipping was expensive, since it comes from Hawaii, but I’d heard that it was worth it. We’ll see.

Ingredient Comparison
Finest Call Passion Fruit Puree – Water, sugar and/or corn sweetener, passion fruit juice and puree from concentrate, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, xanthan gum, malic acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, FD&C yellow #5, titanium dioxide, and FD&C red #40. (Wow. But it does contain 13% juice.)

Monin Passion Fruit syrup – Pure cane sugar, water, passion fruit flavor, citric acid. (Apparently, this does not contain any natural flavors or passion fruit juice.)

Aunty Lilikoi’s Passion Fruit Syrup – Sugar, water, passion fruit juice, pectin.

Scottes’ 50% – Ceres Passion Fruit Juice (passion fruit juice, apple and/or pear juice) reduced to 50% of original volume and an equal amount, by volume, of organic cane sugar.

Scottes 33% – Ceres Passion Fruit Juice (passion fruit juice, apple and/or pear juice) reduced to 33% of original volume and twice the amount, by volume, of organic cane sugar.

Taste Comparison
Finest Call Passion Fruit Puree – This is sweet, like candy, with a mild passion fruit flavor. It’s not overly sweet and tastes quite natural, without the artificial flavorings tastes that I expected. It’s quite good, actually.

Monin Passion Fruit syrup – This isn’t as sweet as the Finest Call, and not as candyish. The Monin tastes slightly better than the Finest call – but not but much – though it’s a tiny bit more acidic. Since this costs most than twice the Finest Call ($9 versus $4), I doubt that I would buy it again unless I was in a pinch.

Aunty Lilikoi Passion Fruit Syrup – The passion fruit is quite a bit stronger in this one, and it’s slightly sweeter than the first two. The taste is magnificent, with a stronger and better passion fruit flavor that retains a bit of tartness even though it’s slightly sweeter than the others. The balance of passion fruit and sugar is perfect, and the bit of tartness gives a touch of extra complexity. This is excellent.

Scottes’ 50% – Slightly less sweet than the Aunty Lilikoi, but not by much. The passion fruit taste is not as good as the Aunty Lilikoi, but better than the first two. It has a very slight taste in the background, something that I can’t identify. It may be the “apple and/or grape juice” but could also be the cane sugar. Overall, it is wonderfully smooth and tasty, but it’s not as good as the Aunty Lilikoi.

Scottes’ 33% – This is thick and super-sweet – far sweeter than any of the others. Surprisingly, the passion fruit taste is not as strong, and this is probably due to the abundance of cane sugar. While it’s good, it doesn’t compare to the Aunty Lilikoi or the 50% reduction.

Taste Ranking
1. Aunty Lilkoi
2. Scottes’ 50%
3. Finest Call
4. Monin
5. Scottes’ 33%

The Aunty Lilkoi Passion Fruit Syrup is easily the best, but also the most expensive by a long shot. At $6 for a 10.5-ounce bottle, plus shipping charges from Hawaii, this is almost three times as expensive as the Monin (which was $9 for a liter). My syrups weren’t terribly expensive – $3.29 for the Ceres juice plus a cup of sugar makes the cost of the 50% syrup about $4 for 20 ounces. The 33% syrup is about $5 for 16 ounces. The Finest Call is easily the bargain of the bunch, at $4 for a liter.

If I made my syrups again, I would make a hybrid – I’d reduce to 33% of the original volume and mix that 1:1 with sugar. It still wouldn’t be as good as the Aunty Lilikoi, but would be worth the cost and work if I couldn’t get the Aunty Lilikoi again.

Cocktail Test
Well, I didn’t end up doing a cocktail comparison after all. I made a couple Gone The Beachcombers using the Aunty Lilikoi syrup, and a couple Hurricanes (the Grog Log recipe) using my 50% syrup, but I wasn’t too enamored with either. Even though I tried a couple variations of each, I couldn’t succeed in making a great cocktail, so I decided to forgo the cocktail comparison for another day. Sorry, but I just didn’t think it would be fair to use any recipe that I didn’t love. Another day.

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Mai Tai Component: Orgeat

As a Mai Tai fanatic, I have also become a bit of an orgeat fanatic. In the last year, I’ve made 8 or 10 batches using three different recipes and a few variations on them. Finally, I decided to compare four different orgeat recipes in Mai Tais and compare the results. I’ll start with the ingredient list, describe each orgeat tasted on its own, then compare them all mixed in an otherwise-identical Mai Tai. I used my variation of Beachbum’s $100 Mai Tai recipe:

3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1-1/4 oz Appleton Extra
3/4 oz St. James Royal Ambre
1/2 oz Marie Brizard Orange Curacao
1 oz Orgeat

Ingredient Comparison
Finest Call – $4 – High Fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, water, natural and artificial flavors, citric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, xanthan gum, sodium metabisulfite, glycerol abietate, gum arabic.

Monin Almond Syrup – $9 – Pure cane sugar, water, natural almond flavor

FXCuisine.com Recipe – $10 and 2 hours work – Pure cane sugar, water, almonds, orange flower water, organic almond extract
(The full recipe can be found here.)

My Recipe – $10 and 2 hours work – Pure cane sugar, water, almonds, orange flower water, organic almond extract
(The full recipe can be found here.)

Taste Comparison
Finest Call Orgeat – This has a sweet almond smell, a bit like a candy, with a citric smell that must come from the citric acid. The consistency is a little watery, like thin simple syrup. The taste is much like the smell – a little sweet with too much citric acid. It’s slightly less sweet than a typical 1:1 simple syrup. The almond flavor is mild, but a good quality and not too artificial. The almond flavor is about as strong as the citric acid, which means there’s far too much citric acid as far as I’m concerned.

Monin Almond Syrup – This smells like a simple almond sugar syrup. The almond smells very natural, and is slightly stronger than the Finest Call. It doesn’t smell as sweet as the Finest Call. The consistency is also a little watery. The taste is a well-balanced almond sugar syrup, nice and simple, and high quality.

FXCuisine Orgeat – This has a stronger almond smell than those above, and smells quite sweet with a caramel touch. (This is my fault, since I overheated it when adding the remaining sugar. If you make your own, DO NOT let this get above 105F.) There’s a slight smell of orange flower water. This is extremely thick due to the extra sugar, and is also quite a bit sweeter than the others for the same reason. The almond taste is not much stronger than the Monin, but is of a noticeably higher quality. The super-sweetness causes a bit of a “burn” in the throat after swallowing. Overall, this is excellent, but a little too sweet for me.

Scottes’ Orgeat – This has a strong almond smell, noticeably stronger than the FXCuisine orgeat, with a decent amount of orange flower water in the background. It doesn’t smell as sweet, and doesn’t have the caramel hints of the FXCuisine. It’s also not as thick. Tasting shows a good balance of almond to sweetness, better than the FXCuisine, but with the same high-quality ingredients.

OK, this is all by design, since this I wanted an orgeat that was less sweet than the FXCuisine, with more almond and orange flower water. Also, thanks to the lesson learned while making the FXCuisine batch, I didn’t burn my batch when adding the sugar to the almond milk. In the end, I got exactly what I wanted.

Mai Tai Preparation
In order to compare these orgeat recipes fairly, I had to make four Mai Tais as quickly as possible. I did not want the first one to water down before the last one was completed, and this took a bit of preparation. I dumped a fresh bag of cocktail ice into a large bowl for quick access, and put it back into the freezer so that it would be dry for every drink. I squeezed a bunch of limes, prepared four small sprigs of mint, and proceeded to accurately measure and pour the Mai Tais, without ice, into small plastic cups. I lined up the equipment – Boston shaker and strainer and double old-fashioned glasses – and glanced at the clock.

I filled the metal shaker with ice, filled the DOF glass from that, poured the pre-mixed ingredients into the shaker, shook for a 15-count, strained the resulting cocktail into the ice-filled glass, tossed in a straw, lightly squeezed a sprig of mint to release the aroma, and placed that in the glass. I made four Mai Tais in 1 minute 42 seconds. I was a machine, a human Tikilixor Mai Tai Mixor. My wife said I was nuts. I was going to explain, but I’ve never won that argument in the past, so I kept silent.

Mai Tai Comparison
I lined up the Mai Tais and starting sipping, going from one to another and taking notes.

The Mai Tai with the Finest Call Orgeat was too citrusy and tart, which I can only think to attribute to the citric acid added to this mixer. Lime lovers would probably not notice, but I don’t like lime as much as others do. My Mai Tai recipe uses less lime then most because I don’t like the tartness, and the Finest Call put it back in an unpleasant, acidic way. Again, most lovers of “real” Mai Tais would probably not notice, though drinkers of Mai Tais typical to most east coast Chinese restaurants would be surprised. The almond was there, barely perceptible it seemed. Once I got past all my complaints – actually just nuances – it was a very decent Mai Tai. You could do a lot worse, that’s for sure.

The Mai Tai made with the Monin Almond Syrup was darned good. The almond was a bit more noticeable, not by much but the extra little bit helped. I was quite happy with this Mai Tai.

The orange flower water in the FXCuisine Mai Tai was a nice little addition, even though the amount that made it into the cocktail was probably a few drops. The smell of the orange flower water added a hint of complexity to the cocktail, and the stronger almond taste was a bit more noticeable than the Monin recipe. This was a very good Mai Tai, though perhaps a touch too sweet.

The Mai Tai made with my orgeat had everything in it that I had wanted from the time I developed the recipe. The almond was stronger as was the orange flower water. It wasn’t as sweet as the FXCuisine – it was closer to both of the others. All in all, this Mai Tai had a near-perfect balance, even though the differences were very slight when compared to any of the others.

Summary
The Finest Call, for a measly $4, was worth every penny. It’s certainly a hell of a lot better – and cheaper – than Fee Brother’s Orgeat, which I’ve tasted in the past and found to be swill. The Monin is definitely a step up, and the addition of a tablespoon or two of orange flower water would make it into a “real” orgeat. This is as close as lazy people will ever get to real orgeat. The FXCuisine was fantastic, and probably the closest one will ever get to classic orgeat. Still, I found it to be a little bit too sweet. My orgeat recipe is carefully tuned to what I want, and I got it. These last two orgeats come with a price – they’re slightly more expensive than the Monin Almond Syrup, and require a couple hours work in the kitchen. However, if you can’t find the Monin, either is far better than the Finest Call if you don’t mind the work.

In the end, though, any differences between any of these Mai Tais were very slight. I doubt that anyone would notice them unless they were doing a comparison or were making a very fine-tuned analysis of the cocktail. In other words, you’d be very happy getting any of these Mai Tais in a restaurant.

For some people, like me, those nuances are worth the extra price or time.

A Diversion
About an hour after finishing those Mai Tais, while re-reading my notes, my eyes focused on a line I wrote about the Mai Tai made with the Finest Call. It said simply: “almond barely perceptible”. This got me to thinking about the very subtle differences between the Mai Tais, like the presence of orange flower water. The lack of this ingredient wasn’t very noticeable – I actually forgot about it while sampling the Monin and Finest Call Mai Tais – but the presence of it was certainly noticeable, as I found when I tried the FXCuisine Mai Tai. Then I forgot about it again as I cycled through the Mai Tais.

This got me to thinking some more… If the almond is that subtle, just how important is it? So I made myself a Mai Tai without orgeat.

Don’t try that at home, folks. This was just about undrinkable after having had four correct Mai Tais. I poured it out, and promised myself that I’d never have another stupid thought like that again.

4 Dark Rums

I’ve recently been trying to find the formula for my ultimate Mai Tai, and some early experimentation based on Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s $100 Mai Tai left me wanting for a darker, heavier version. I decided to try some dark rums, rustled four bottles out of storage boxes, and was left unpleasantly surprised that I could find only four. I actually found more dark rums, when I was thinking in terms of color, but only four when I was thinking in terms of rum. That got me to thinking, “What makes a dark rum a dark rum?”

A Wikipedia entry about Meyers’s Rum says, “Dark rum differs from gold in that some residual molasses is retained in the final product, in order to slightly sweeten the flavor.” I can go with that. It’s not exactly what I consider a dark rum, but then again I have some odd habits in the way that I categorize things, mainly because I don’t like to categorize so I keep things simple. As it turned out, the four dark rums that I found all fit that description, so I’ll keep it.

Gosling’s Black Seal
I’ve always enjoyed the story of Black Seal rum: In 1806, James Gosling boarded a ship bound for America. The winds did not cooperate, and the ship landed in the port of St. George’s, Bermuda. He decided to stay in Bermuda, and opened a retail shop. Some 50 years later, he and his brother blended rums and sold the finished product in barrels only. After the First World War, they began to bottle this rum in used champagne bottles sealed with black wax. The product became quite popular, and people kept asking for “that black seal rum.” Eventually, the Black Seal balancing a rum barrel on its nose was added to the label. Good story.

The rum itself smells a bit sweet with hints of molasses, and the smell of wood. Mild spices and vanilla linger in the background. There’s nothing remarkable in the smell, except that there’s a nice balance between all the dominant smells, which means that the molasses isn’t too dominant. The taste is heavy – rich and full – and fits the “dark rum” description well. Simply put, it tastes like slightly burnt, woody molasses – though the taste is actually quite better than that description! The balance of all the tastes is quite nice, and some subtle tastes round it out and give it some depth. The finish has a bit of a burn, and some spices come out.

Overall, this is quite good; a solid rum tastes with wood and molasses dominating. It is sweet and decently smooth, though not quite a sipper. I had expected the molasses to linger in a cloying way, but the rum finishes cleanly.

Myers’s Original Dark
The smell is much lighter and sweeter-smelling than the Gosling’s, with some spice and earthy tones typical to Jamaican rums. There are some floral hints that are quite subtle. It has a decent molasses taste, not overpowering at all, and a bit of wood. Some butter or toffee tastes are in here too. This is less “burnt” and less woody than the Gosling’s – more along the lines of a lightly charred wood, rather than the more distinctive burnt oak of the Gosling’s. It’s sweeter and more complex than the Gosling’s, and a lot of this complexity comes from the spice. It’s certainly more distinct than the Gosling’s, with more pronounced tastes, and not quite as well balanced as the Gosling’s. The finish is quick, and mildly spicy, but the smoothest of them all. This is quite good – better than I expected – but distinct enough to save for the cocktails that call for it.

Maui Dark Rum
This is a very dark-colored rum, and the smell of molasses is quite strong with coffee odors not too far in the background, and mild hints of roasted nuts. It smells a bit sweet, but not like the first two above. This has some floral smells, which are quite subtle yet remind me of “heavier” flowers – not the light flowery smells sometimes found in white rums or agricoles. The molasses taste in this rum is quite strong, though not by leaps or bounds above the others. The molasses tastes like it was cooked a bit, almost to burning but not quite. There are distinct coffee tastes, and very mild tastes of roasted nuts. The finish is long and smooth, and a little bit spicy (but nothing like the Myers), leaving a bit of a “charred” taste that lingers.

Cruzan Blackstrap
This rum is almost as dark as the Maui, but just a bit lighter. Molasses and sweetness are the two predominant smells here, and it’s a very nice molasses smell. Whereas the Gosling’s molasses smell charred, and the Maui’s burnt, the Cruzan has a very clean and sweet molasses smell. A bit of a buttery smell comes out, and some charred wood, but both are very far beneath the molasses and sugar smells. It seriously reminds me of pancake syrup – not the maple smell of pancake syrup, but rather the overall smells and butteriness. The molasses is very strong when tasting, and the sweetness lingers afterwards – almost, but not quite, cloying. The butter comes out a bit, and the wood comes forward with a lightly charred taste. The burn is slight, but long and lingering, to the point of where it felt like it was numbing my tongue. The molasses is the strongest of the four rums tasted, and the finish is the longest.

Summary
The Cruzan had the most molasses taste of the bunch, and the longest finish. The Myers’s was the spiciest – it’s Jamaican heritage – and was the most distinct, though the strong molasses taste of the Cruzan makes it a close second. The Maui came close in distinctness, due to its burnt molasses and coffee tastes. The Gosling’s had the best balance, and seemed to be the most versatile for cocktails. None were quite sipping rums, though the Maui comes the closest in this regard, for both smoothness and taste characteristics.

Overall, I’d have to choose the Gosling’s as the winner of this taste test, though I didn’t really mean this to be a contest but just a comparison. I guess that if I had just one dark rum in my cabinet it would be the Black Seal, thanks to its versatility.