The Flare Rum Glass

Some time ago, I was contacted and asked if I’d care to review a glass designed for sipping rum. As usual when I’m contacted like this, I warned the person that I would give an honest review to the best of my abilities, and would not show favoritism towards any product. I also told them that I’d be comparing it against similar products, and I generally name a couple that I think would make for a fair comparison. This usually scares off about half of the folks, which is great because I don’t have to drink any swill or feel like I owe the company anything because I got something for free.

None of this bothered Jay from Spirit Sippers, and he sent me one of the rum glasses, The Flare.

Comparison Glasses
As I promised Jay, I compared the Flare to several other glasses – a Riedel tequila glass, a wide-mouth glass of the type that Ed Hamilton recommends, and a simple plastic cup that I use when I do rum tastings and can’t possibly wash 150 glasses.

The Riedel glass is designed for tequila, and looks like a wine glass though much smaller and more delicate. It has a relatively tall stem with a 3oz bowl on top, and the top is slightly narrower than the bowl in order to concentrate the smells from the spirit. I purchased this set some time ago, and soon regretted it since the design isn’t well suited for rum. The small bowl isn’t large enough to let the rum breathe, and rum does not benefit from the narrower opening. I never use it to drink rums, but have occasionally used it to sample other spirits.

The wide-mouth glass is a small old-fashioned glass with the sides slightly tapered outwards. It’s about 3 inches tall and 3.5 inches wide at the top. There’s ample room for the rum to breathe – but perhaps too much. The wide opening at the top makes up for this a bit, as it allows one to tilt the glass and detect separate smells between the “high” side and the “low” side. This method does allow one to detect individual aromas coming from the rum. I almost always sip from a wide-mouth glass, generally following Ed’s methods described in the link above.

The plastic cup is a 3oz Dixie cup. It’s cheap and easy when dealing with a 12-rum tasting with 15 people. I’ve always known that it wasn’t an ideal glass to use, but since I don’t make a profit doing a tasting I tried to save a few bucks by using these small, cheap cups. But I’ve learned – now that I’ve done this comparison – that it is unbelievably utterly wrong for rum. I won’t use them again.

The Flare from Spirit Sippers is easily the classiest glass of the bunch. (Yes, Riedel certainly makes some fancy glasses, but the tequila glass that I have is fairly simple.) The Flare is about 4.5 inches tall and 2.5 inches in diameter, with a short thick stem. This makes for a generous bowl that holds an ideal amount of rum with room to breathe. It curves inwards a bit to form the bowl and then gently flares out to the rim. The glass at the rim is somewhat thin – not thin enough to seem fragile, yet it’s thin enough to allow the rum to gently flow into your mouth without splashing.

The Comparison Method
I poured a measure of El Dorado 15-year-old into each glass. This is a fantastic rum, with many smells and tastes that would allow each glass to show off its strengths and weaknesses. I let this breathe for a few minutes, something that benefits this rum and allows many of the more subtle aromas to develop. It’s a rum I know well, and enjoy immensely.

I tested the glasses in an order that I believed would go from worst to best – the plastic cup, the Riedel, the wide-mouth, and finally the Flare. I sniffed first, going through the above order twice, then testing glasses against each other in order to bring out the best and worst of each. By this time, the rum had been breathing for a while, and the aromas were driving me crazy, so I started sipping. I followed the same order twice, and then randomly compared glasses while sipping. Finally, I let a tiny bit of rum sit in each glass for about 15 minutes and returned to them for a quick sniff and taste.

The Competition
The plastic cup, as you might have guessed by my remarks earlier, proved to be a colossal mistake and waste of fine rum. Any time I returned to this glass I thought I was sampling a rum that was different from the rum in the other glasses. It’s not large enough to allow the rum to breathe, it’s too small to detect many aromas, and when sipping the mouthfeel is, well, plastic. Gripping the cup was a nuisance since it’s so small. All in all, using this cup for rum was A Big Mistake.

The Riedel, while quite possibly a fine glass for tequila, is simply not suited to rum. It was also too small to allow the rum to breathe, and the inwards taper concentrated the smells – and alcohol – in a way that is not suited to rum. It did hold a lot of flavor for the final 15-minute test, though. When sipping, the mouthfeel was quite nice – though again the inwards taper caused me to tilt my head back as if I was downing a shooter. Gripping this glass is a bit unwieldy for me, with my short thick fingers. The relatively tall stem and small bowl didn’t really allow for a comfortable hold.

The wide-mouth old-fashioned glass was excellent for the aromas. Ed Hamilton’s methodology of smelling the high side and the low side is a great way to detect many smells. As a result of this design, the wide-mouth crushed the plastic cup and Riedel in this test, and beat the Flare noticeably. Alas, the thick walls of this glass lost the mouthfeel part of the test when sipping – big and thick and clunky, it caused the rum to practically splash into my mouth as it rolled over the edge. Gripping the glass is easy and comfortable – though I found that I tended to hold it like a beer can. Finally, the large amount of air space in this glass meant that most of the smells and flavors got lost after the 15-minute test.

The Flare
The Flare did very well in the aroma test, losing only because of the wide-mouth’s larger volume, which helped separate the aromas. Though the Flare can certainly be tilted, the constriction in the center of the glass seemed to concentrate the aromas a bit, and the mouth is narrower than the wide-mouth. Even with his slight drawback, the Flare was certainly a hell of a lot better than the other two glasses.

The Flare was absolutely outstanding when sipping the rum. It’s just about the perfect size, though someone with a large nose might find it a bit small. The flared edge and thin glass at the rim made for a wonderful feel on the lips, and let the rum flow into my mouth and across my tongue. My nose was fully inside the glass, allowing the aromas and tastes to hit simultaneously, and the result is a perfect blast to the senses. This is the way rum was meant to be sipped.

The Flare also beat the competition handily on the 15-minute test. The bowl allowed the rum to breathe quite well, while the constriction above the bowl didn’t let to much evaporate and cause the rum to go dull. The Riedel had a very similar effect, though it’s smaller and didn’t breathe as well. The wide-mouth glass was the worst at this test, closely followed by the plastic cup. Both are poorly designed for this test, as they do nothing to hold in the aromas.

A few members over on The Ministry Of Rum commented about the short stem of the Flare, wishing it were longer. While I certainly would not mind a longer stem, I felt comfortable enough with the grip. I’m sure that it will feel very natural in a week or two.

Summary
I’d say that the Flare is an absolute winner. The Riedel and plastic cup were no-shows in this event, and I’ve wasted too much of your time on them already. Though the wide-mouth did perform better during the aroma test, the Flare beat it every other time, particularly during the sipping test. It’s a joy to sip from.

Spirit Sippers

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.

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.

Rum & Ginger, Part 3

Back again for more about Rum and Ginger Ale, but first I have to review another ginger ale. This one is Boylan’s, which I found in a local Trader Joe’s.

Boylan’s Ginger Ale
Ingredients: Carbonated water, cane sugar, citrus oils, natural ginger flavors, citric acid, caramel color, sodium benzoate

I bought a 4-pack at Trader Joe’s and seem to remember it being about $4, though it could have been $4.50. This is in line with most others in this area, like the Outrageous. This company from New Jersey makes a number of sodas made with cane sugar, and also produces a small line called “The Natural Kind” without artificial flavors, artificial colors, or preservatives. Alas, no ginger ale in this line. http://www.boylanbottling.com/

Small bubbles, but crisp. A bit sweet but not bad. Decent ginger taste, but still milder than I’d like. It has a much milder taste than the Whole Foods’ 365, but the Boylan’s does taste a bit more natural. The bubbles in the Boylan’s are much better though, which isn’t too difficult against the 365. The Boylan’s has noticeably more taste than the Schweppes, and actually has better bubbles, too. This is quite good, actually, and might be preferred by many since it tastes more like a typical ginger ale than the other cane sugar ales.

Back to the Rum & Ginger
I had planned on using the 365 for tonight’s comparison, but the Boylan’s beats it so I’ll try that instead. I opened a Schweppes and a 365 for the above comparison, so they might get thrown in if the mood strikes me.

Due to comments from Hank and Adam, I’ll be trying the Appleton V/X and the Appleton Extra tonight. Hank has mentioned that he enjoys the V?X with ginger ale, while Adam says that the “Appleton VX is very hard to play with.” And he suggest the Appleton Extra while I’m a bit worried about the barrel/smoke in this rum. We’ll see. I’m also going to through in a couple high-end rums that aren’t overly bold like the El Dorado I tried a few nights ago. A comment from Angelsword made me think about the Vizcaya VXOP, and once I grabbed that I revealed a bottle of Flor De Caña 18-year-old. What the heck.

Same lowball recipe as before – 1oz rum, 2oz ginger ale, a bit of lime. I’m going somewhere in between with the lime tonight – a gentle squeeze of a wedge. Since I found that the Stirrings’ already contained lime flavorings I’ll probably need a little bit more tonight.

Appleton V/X And Boylan’s
The rum and ginger ale have fused into a whole new taste, but not quite a pleasant one. The first part of the sip is simply odd, a bit of rum comes up and is followed by some ginger. Alas, neither really make themselves known, but rather pass quickly by. This is a bit dry. A bit more lime might help… and it does get better. It’s not odd any more, but it’s not great.

Appleton Extra and Boylan’s
I hit this with a bit more lime to start, hoping that it has an effect like it did on the V/X. This is decent, it seems. The rum comes through quite a bit, and the lime just a touch, but I’m wishing there was more ginger in here. Overall, it’s a little bit too rummy so another splash of ginger ale goes in, and it’s better. But still, the ginger itself is lost. It’s decent, but not a great balance of flavors.

Vizcaya VXOP and Boylan’s
I have no idea what made me pick this rum tonight, but I did want to try some high-end rums in this comparison, and this is such a damned nice rum. In a Rum & Ginger, this works fairly well, but it’s a little different than I had expected. It reminds me of my mistrials with the agricoles last night, which might be because of the Vizcaya’s sugar syrup origins. This drink doesn’t have those agricole tastes, but it does have some unexpected floral notes. Another sip, and it’s growing on me. Though it’s not quite perfect, it does let some of the rum tastes out without them obliterating the ginger like the Appleton Extra did.

I came back to this a few more times while tasting the mixtures below. In the end, this combination doesn’t work. Near the end of the glass, after some ice melt, this tastes more and more odd.

Flor De Caña 18-year-old and Boylan’s
There’s a nagging little voice that is telling me that mixing an 18-year-old rum with anything is a sin. But I’ve been known to sin, and have thus discovered some of the better things in life. This drink is pretty darned good, and a nice balance of all flavors involved. The rum comes through a bit, as does the ginger, and everyone plays together nicely. But it’s a bit too plain, though luckily not boring. The Vizcaya mix is certainly more interesting, but maybe a little too different, while the Flor De Caña is good in a somewhat plain way. Good, not great. Entertaining, but not enthralling. Attractive, but not quite beautiful. This is a safe mix.

Appleton Extra and 365
Since I’m not quite done yet, I thought I’d try one more. I sipped through the ginger ales again, and felt that the 365 deserved a quick test. In ways, the flavors in the 365 remind me of the Appleton Extra, so I thought that I’d give that a try. I came close to trying the 365 and Vizcaya, but as I kept sipping the 365 the Appleton kept coming into my head.

A quick sip shows that the Appleton is too powerful for this ginger ale, so I added some more bring it up to a 2½-to-1 ratio. This is more drinkable, but again not very exciting. Well, a couple more sips prove that it is quite drinkable, and has a nice balance. I’m just not excited about it.

Summary
Boylan’s is a good ginger ale in a style close to the more typical mass-market brands like Canada Dry. It is, however, made of quality ingredients and is certainly better than these HFCS concoctions.

None of the Rum & Gingers did much for me tonight. None were bad, but none were great. The Vizcaya is the only that I would not recommend, since it just came off too odd. The Flor De Caña was probably the best of the night, but not worth such a fine rum. And it’s not a contender when compared against mixing Stirrings’ with either Mount Gay Eclipse or El Dorado 12.

I am enjoying finding all these differences, and particularly pleased finding out how the ginger ale brings out flavors that are otherwise subtle, or even non-existent. Those odds taste with the Vizcaya simply do not exist without ginger ale – much like the agricole flavors that came out last night with the J.M. VSOP. The simple act of mixing ginger ale and rum is not as simple as it might seem.

HFCS & Ginger

Intermission time…

My distaste of High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS, was the original reason for starting my exploration of sodas made with sugar cane. Then I got involved in a series of emails with Robert about the Cuba Libre using sugar-based Coca-Cola. This got me searching for Mexican Coke, which is made with cane sugar rather than the US version using HFCS. I had planned to blog about the Cuba Libre, but Darcy at The Art Of Drink beat me to it by posting about the Rum & Coke. This sparked even more interest in sugar cane Coke, and I managed to find some Mexican Coke (and Pepsi) so I planned on doing a comparison of Rum & Cokes. And then Darcy posted a Rum & Coke taste test. I was beaten to the topic by Darcy, twice, but I certainly enjoyed his posts so I forgive him for thinking about things before I did.

Over on on The Ministry Of Rum’s forums, a post from Hank about Rum & Ginger had thinking about this simple but tasty drink. My searches for Mexican Coke and sugar cane sodas led me to find several ginger ales made with cane sugar. I decided that this was worthy of some exploration, so I broke out 11 ginger sodas and compared them all. This, of course, led to the last two posts about comparing various Rum & Ginger lowballs made with Stirrings’ ginger ale.

I wanted to take a break from the ginger ales tonight and talk about HFCS, but Darcy beat me to it, again! I don’t mind this at all, really, I just find it curious that he keeps posting on subjects that I was just about to talk about.

This was getting seriously weird… But this coincidence is great for all of us, since this chemist-turned-scientist will certainly do a more interesting job on HFCS than I would.

Instead, I did some research about Ginger and compiled a bunch of interesting factoids. (These are cut & pasted from a number of sites listed at the end of this post.)

Ginger

Ginger became so popular in Europe that it was included in every table setting, like salt and pepper. A common article of medieval and Renaissance trade, it was one of the spices used against the plague. In English pubs and taverns in the nineteenth century, barkeepers put out small containers of ground ginger, for people to sprinkle into their beer – the origin of ginger ale.

Although often called “ginger root” it is actually a rhizome (a rhizome is a horizontal stem of a plant that is usually found underground and often sends out roots and shoots from its nodes.)

Ginger is a known diaphoretic, meaning it causes one to sweat.

Ginger is most commonly known for its effectiveness as a digestive aid. By increasing the production of digestive fluids and saliva, Ginger helps relieve indigestion, gas pains, diarrhea and stomach cramping.

Ginger root is also used to treat nausea related to both motion sickness and morning sickness. Ginger has been found to be even more effective than Dramaminer in curbing motion sickness, without causing drowsiness.

When shopping for fresh ginger, look for pieces with a plump, smooth, somewhat shiny skin. If its wrinkled or cracked, the ginger is drying and past its prime.

Fresh ginger will get moldy in the refrigerator. It’s best to store it at room temperature much like you would potatoes.

Queen Elizabeth I of England is credited with the invention of the gingerbread man, which became a popular Christmas treat.
BUT
A Greek baker on the Isle of Rhodes is credited with introducing gingerbread in 2800BC.
(I’ve found several references to both “inventors” of gingerbread… I don’t know which to believe, really.)

Ginger is thought to have been introduced into Jamaica about 1525. By 1547 though, it is reported that the export of ginger amounted to over 22,000 quintals (1.2 million Kg). Between the 1930’s and 1960’s, Jamaica was listed as one of the three largest producers of ginger in the world, along with India and Sierra Leone. A 10-mile radius around Christiana was identified as the region which grew the finest ginger in the world. Since then the production has fallen significantly, from close to 2 million kilogram of ginger in 1953 to around 0.4 million kilos in 1995.

Fifty percent of the world’s harvest is produced in India. The other major producers in the world include Brazil, Jamaica (whence the best quality is exported) and Nigeria–whose ginger is rather pungent, but lacks the fine aroma of other regions.

Ginger ale was the No. 1 soft drink in America for over seventy years, beginning its vast popularity around 1860. Early ginger ales would not be recognizable to modem palates. By most descriptions, few bottlers made ginger ale worth drinking by today’s standards.

1936 – The first soda in a can, CLIQUOT CLUB Ginger Ale, was test marketed in a Continental low profile cone top can. Leakage, flavor absorption problems, and difficulty in stacking and handling spelled failure for the initial introduction.

Ginger takes about nine months to reach maturity.

When buying, look for ginger root with the least amount of knots and/or branching.

Ginger root should be kept in a cool, dry place, usually at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. After purchasing, ginger may be refrigerated in plastic wrap for up to one week. Freezing for up to three months is also an option.

Ginger was used in ancient times as a food preservative.

Peel skin from the root and gently peel the skin beneath (that closest to the root is the most flavorful).

Ginger was cultivated in China up to 5000 years ago.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginger
http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/ginger.html
http://www.gono.com/cc/bottle.htm
http://gingerpeople.com/hottips.html
http://www.hungrymonster.com/FoodFacts/Food_Facts.cfm?Phrase_vch=Ginger&fid=7103
http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/ginger.htm
http://www.asianpacificpost.com/portal2/402881910674ebab010674f4e68f156f.do.html
http://www.foodreference.com/html/artginger.html
http://www.buderimgingershoppe.com.au/buderim_ginger_facts.htm

Rum & Ginger, Part 2

Yep, I figured there would be a part 2. I did not figure that I would continue with the Stirrings’ ginger ale. But there’s still a little bit of exploring to do. As I mentioned yesterday in Rum & Ginger Part 1, the Stirrings’ is pretty potent in ginger, and somewhat sweet. Tonight the plan is to try some rums that balance these points. Alas, I have one small bottle of Stirrings’ left, and it’s only enough for 3 “lowballs” so I hope that I planned my choice of rums well. We’ll see.

The rums planned for tonight are:

Mount Gay Eclipse – Chosen for its spiciness with a hope that this balances the ginger and keeps up with the sweetness.

Clément VSOP – Chosen for its dryness and bold taste. I actually don’t expect this to deal with the ginger as well as the Mount Gay should, but I’m hoping that the dryness does balance the sweetness of the Stirrings’.

Rhum J.M. VSOP – I haven’t tried this rum yet, but I’ve been looking for a reason to crack the bottle anyway. I’m expecting this to be a little bit dry like an aged agricole should be, but I’m also expecting a lot of flavors from this rhum. Given how the El Dorado 12 worked last night, I’m hoping that the J.M. will have enough complexity to work in a similar way. I am, of course, guessing at some of the aspects of the J.M. VSOP.

Another change planned for tonight is to reduce the lime. I think that some lime will be appropriate in this simple drink, but I think that I used too much last night. So I plan to reduce substantially, from 1/4 of a lime to a slice squeezed on top.

Rhum J.M VSOP
I cracked the bottle, so I had to try it, right? This rum smells a tiny bit of sweet, with some fruitiness, and some dark honey smells and a bit of barrel. I want to say that I smell some molasses, but since this is an agricole I just have to say that it has a great rum smell. The taste is certainly dry, even with all the sweet smells, with a good amount of barrel tastes mid-stream, and a fairly long, spicy finish with a mild burn. This has all the indications that this will be much better in 5 or 10 minutes, but I have no patience so I’m going to move on to the Rum & Gingers…

By the way, I’m a little worried that the barrel taste will conflict with the Stirrings’ in the same way the Cruzan did last night, but my initial expectations of this rhum as close to the experience. I’m not going to change my mind on this rum.

Mount Gay Eclipe & Stirrings’
Well, the Eclipse isn’t strong enough to overcome the Stirrings’, but it does balance it decently. This is a somewhat plain, but very refreshing, summertime drink that would disappear quickly on a hot day. It’s quite enjoyable, but not quite the taste I was looking for in this run of comparisons. It’s a bit too light, and the rum really doesn’t come through. I may, however, have found a new favorite for those nights where I feel like going beyond the rum and diving straight into the alcohol. Hey, it happens.

Clément VSOP and Stirrings’
The dryiness of the agricole balances the sweetness of the ginger ale, but those typical agricole tastes and smells come right through. Well this isn’t bad, it’s not a match, and the ginger ale does not suit the agricole tones of this rhum. A failure of my own making. But this failure taught me something, so it was not a failed experiment in that sense. And it taught me that a dry rum was a good idea, but something in the line of Flor De Cana rums might be a better choice. Dry, with a taste powerful enough to come through, but one without the distinct tastes of the agricole which clash.

Rhum J.M VSOP and Stirrings’
As I feared, the barrel does not match the ginger ale, and this, too, is a flop. I am, however, amazed at how much the ginger ale brings out those agricole flavors – which were not very apparent in the straight sipping of the J.M. The agricole doesn’t clash as much as the Clément, but that’s not surprisingly since the older J.M. is a bit subdued in these flavors. Instead, the ginger clashes with the barrel and the agricole tastes. This remains a better drink than the Clément, but it’s still not good enough to drink.

Lime
OK, I went to the opposite extreme with the lime tonight, mostly because of the fear of having my mouth pucker up like it did last night. The lime should be there, should be noticeable, but it should lie in the background complementing the rum and not be forceful enough to clash with the ginger ale. It does help the drink, but should be used in moderation here.

Coming back to this paragraph after a while, I have noticed that my mouth has that “puckered” feeling again. It was not the lime that did this last night, but must be the ginger – or the Stirrings’ type of ginger. I should find out more about this tomorrow night, or whenever I get to Part 3.

Update: I found a possible reason for this. According to Stirrings’ web site, “Our Ginger Ale is made with triple purified water, real ginger, Mexican lime and cane sugar.”

Summary
Eclipse, with it’s fairly strong rum tastes and somewhat excessive spiceness, was still not enough to stand up to the Stirrings’. I’m somewhat surprised that I have now tried 7 rums with this ginger ale and can’t find a match. Well, that’s a bit harsh, and I should say that I did not find a *perfect* match. The El Dorado made for a very interesting drink, and the Eclipse definitely makes for a nice summertime cooler. I guess that I was just hoping for more, like I always do.

The agricoles I chose were not very good matches. Now that the Eclipse Rum & Ginger is gone I’ve been sipping on the J.M. version. Even with all the ice melt it still doesn’t work too well, but it’s drinkable. The Clément just clashed. Chalk this lesson up to my needing more experience with agricoles.

The most obvious point of the night was that I am out of Stirrings’ Ginger Ale and must move on to another brand. I’m not sure if this is a bad thing because – as good as the Stirrings’ is, it’s a bit odd with its sweetness and unique ginger tastes. I did find yet another giner ale made with sugar cane, Boylan’s, which I got at Trader Joe’s. I drank a bottle today and have high hopes for it, since it seems to have more ginger taste than the Whole Foods 365 and certainly more than the Schweppes and Canda Dry. I say “seems” because I did not compare it directly to the others. Tomorrow night I plan to try the Boylan’s and 365 using some of the more standard gold rums. The Eclipse might be good with either of these, as might the Appleton V/X again. I’ll have to think a bit on this and make some decisions.

Rum & Ginger, Part 1

For some reason I don’t think I’ll make it through all the combinations in a single night, so I’m calling this “Part 1” in anticipation…

After tasting a bunch of ginger ales a few days ago I sat down tonight to make some Rum & Ginger “cocktails.” Is this really a cocktail? No. I guess this is a highball – rum, ginger ale, and a squeeze of lime. Some mixologist will set me right I’m sure.

My favorite of the comparison from the other night was the Stirrings’ Ginger Ale, though this statement has to be taken with some consideration. Not all of the sodas were strictly ginger ales, and some where quite atypical. Reed’s Jamaican style ginger ale was excellent, but I can’t bundle it with a “typical” ginger ale like Schweppes. The Ginger People’s ginger beer was fantastic – again not very typical of a ginger ale. Stirrings’ had the greatest ginger taste of the ales but still wasn’t perfect. I like it a lot, and it’s a high-quality product, but it may prove to still be too extreme in ginger and sweetness to be considered a typical ginger ale…

Over-analyzing and pondering are just my way of procrastinating…

I grabbed 4 rums somewhat at random, and proceeded to mix up some Rum & Ginger highballs. I made them small (does that make them a lowball?) with 1 ounce of rum, 2 ounces of ginger ale, and the closest I could come to 1/8 of a lime, squeezed. Ice, then rum, then lime, finally the ginger ale poured gently to keep the bubbles that I love, and a mild stir. Here we have them:

Appleton V/X & Stirrings’
Good, with a lot of ginger coming through – too much really. The rum is gone in the background. On the second round through these drinks this is still boring. Will the Appleton Extra work, or will that be a bit too smoky or rich, rather than complex?

Cockspur Fine Rum & Stirrings’
The rum comes through a little better, but it’s kinda flat and boring. The tastes aren’t complementing each other, but conflicting in a way that almost balances out. Back for another taste and the rum has receded even more into the background. I was expecting more from this combination, expecting the spice to come through, but it’s too mild. This makes me think that the extra spiciness of the Mount Gay Eclipse or Gosling’s Gold would have been a better choice.

Cruzan Single Barrel & Stirrings’
This works fairly well, with nice flavors coming through from both products, but the Cruzan is a little weak. A little more Cruzan would make this work quite well I’d think. I still agree with this thought on the second round, so I added another 1/2oz of Cruzan. This works fairly well, but not ideal. They don’t really complement each other after all, but rather compete a bit. The barrel doesn’t agree with the ginger.

El Dorado 12 & Stirrings’
This has turned into a different drink. There’s no real experience of ginger, no real experience of rum. Oh, they’re both there underneath, but the tastes have merged into something which simply reminds me of rum and reminds me of ginger.
On the second round through, this is working quite well. Some of the sweetness of the rum is coming out. I’m surprised that the barrel doesn’t compete like the Cruzan does. Everything works together to form a completely new “third” taste. While I like this, I’m fairly surprised by it and I’m not sure what to make of it. I was expecting rum & ginger, and got something new. Interesting…

Summary
I’m limed out. My tongue is puckered from less than half a lime. Next time they get barely squeezed, or I just do wedges – or I use fresher limes. I suddenly remember why my days of gin & tonics were short-lived.

The Stirrings’ is a fairly powerful ginger taste – it’s strength make me almost afraid to mix with the Ginger People’s ginger beer. I’m noticing that the Stirrings’ is also fairly sweet. This is not be the best choice for a rum & ginger using lighter rums. It works well with the El Dorado, which is by far the heaviest and richest rum laid out. The other rums are probably better suited to a lighter, dryer ginger ale like the Whole Foods’ 365.

In the end, I finished only the El Dorado mixture. Which is a good thing because pounding down 4 ounces of rum on a work night would not be an intelligent thing to do. But the fact that this one is gone kinda proves the thought that the Stirrings’ need a more powerful rum. I would not think it would go well with dark or extensively aged rums, but rather one from the more powerful golds. The ones that come to mind are Mount Gay Eclipse, Gosling’s Gold, some of the Plantations… Something in that range. The sweetness probably needs to be balanced by a dry rum, so I’d also think about the Kaniche Martinique or Clement VSOP.

This may be premature, but I am debating the thought of removing Stirrings’ ginger ale from my list. Yes, this *is* premature – it just needs the right rum.

More experimentation is needed…