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.