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.