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.

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Orgeat

Orgeat is an almond-flavored sweet syrup with a little orange flower water, most often used in Mai Tais. I’ve made several batches of it over the last year, but I’ve never really studied it. I made it, tasted it, gave half away and made random Mai Tais for a while. Recently I decided to do some serious studying of the Mai Tai – more on this later – and needed some orgeat. I grabbed the ingredients and followed this recipe over at FXCuisine.com. When I was done, I compared it to the memory of my last batch, which was Darcy’s recipe over on his Art Of Drink blog. And I thought further back to the experiences I documented the first time I made Orgeat. That experimentation was based on KukuAhu’s thread about Home Brew Orgeat over on Tiki Central.

And these memories made me feel unhappy about the batch of orgeat that I had just finished.

Every time I made orgeat, I felt that it was too sweet and that the almond flavor was too weak. These thoughts were after tasting the orgeat, on its own, not in a cocktail. I also didn’t care for the mouthfeel or texture, since these recipes made for a mildly almond-flavored simple syrup. A Mai Tai made with any of these orgeat recipes always seemed to have very little almond taste, to the point of being unnoticeable. I wanted more.

A part of me struggled with this. The recipe at FXCuisine cites some old French cookbooks, so it’s a historical (though the author does mention that the recipe is a modern interpretation). Darcy is a professional bartender with a chemistry background and knows what he’s talking about. KukuAhu and The Gnomon have made more orgeat than I probably ever will. A part of me felt that it was wrong to break away from these orgeat recipes, and thus break away from a classic, “correct” Mai Tai recipe.

So I took a batch of the FXCuisine orgeat and made up a Jeff “Beachbum” Berry $100 Mai Tai. My first thought was that there was way too much lime (I just don’t like overpowering lime or tartness, and tend towards sweeter cocktails). My second thought was that the cocktail was too sweet, though it might have been because of my homemade Rock Candy Syrup, following The Gnomon’s recipe. Finally, on my third sip, I was studying the tastes contained within, and I could not detect any almond.

After making 5 more Mai Tais using slightly different variations, I came to a couple conclusions. The first was that the $100 Mai Tai was not the Mai Tai recipe that I liked. Oh, it’s a damned fine recipe, very authentic, and makes for a damned fine cocktail. But I grew up on very unauthentic Mai Tais made in New England Chinese Restaurants, and those taste very different from the $100 version, so this was simply not the Mai Tai that I loved. (Call me a heretic, its OK.) The second conclusion that I came to was that I wanted an orgeat with more almond flavor, less sweetness, and a better mouthfeel (even though I’m not so sure that last point will affect the cocktail very much).

So I bought some more almonds, replenished my supply of Orange Flower Water, and got to work in the kitchen.

Ingredients

1 lb whole blanched almonds (slivers don’t produce as much almond taste)

3 cups filtered or spring water

1 cup sugar (preferably organic cane sugar)

1 teaspoon high-quality almond extract

1 tablespoon orange flower water

You’ll also need

3 more cups filtered or spring water (for cleaning/soaking)

1 medium (1.5 liter or 2 quart) saucepan

1 medium plastic bowl, with cover

Stirring utensil

Cheesecloth or nylon straining bag

1-liter bottle for finished product

My Orgeat Recipe

Take 1 pound of whole blanched almonds. Let them soak in 3 cups of filtered or spring water for a half-hour, swish them around a bit in an attempt to clean them, and drain (throwing out this water). Grind them up in a food processor until they’re about as fine as coarsely-ground coffee (or something close to that if you have a cheap food processor and a lack of patience, like me). Toss the ground almonds into a plastic bowl that has a lid, and heat 3 cups of filtered or spring water heated to about 150F. Add the water to the ground almonds, cover, and let sit for about 2 hours.

Strain the mixture through a piece of cheesecloth or a nylon straining bag, saving the liquid (almond milk) in the saucepan. (By the way, I highly recommend nylon straining bags. They are a washable, reusable form of cheesecloth that are far stronger and far superior to cheesecloth – all this for $1 more. You can get them at most wine-making stores, whether walk-in or online. I get the Small Coarse Bags from beer-wine.com – they’re plenty big enough and fine enough for this.)

Squeeze the almond mash to get every last drop – or until your hands get tired and you give up. Toss out the almond mash. Heat the almond milk on a very low flame until it reaches about 105F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, stick your finger into the liquid. When it’s so hot that you really want to pull your finger out, that’s hot enough.) Pour in 1 cup of sugar – preferably organic unbleached cane sugar, but you could use the highly processed, bleached stuff if you want a pretty white orgeat. Stir constantly until all the sugar has dissolved.

Cover the pot, remove it from the burner and let it cool for an hour or so. Add 1 teaspoon of high-quality almond extract, and 1 tablespoon of orange flower water. This will yield almost exactly 1 liter of orgeat. (You can add a couple ounces of vodka or white rum as a preservative, but even without this the orgeat will keep for many months in the refrigerator – as long as everything used is very, very clean.)

Summary

This recipe is similar to those listed above – I’ve mainly reduced the sugar and increased the almond extract. In my opinion this results in an end product with more almond flavor and a very nice balance of almond, sugar, and orange flower water. The mouthfeel of this is interesting, and doesn’t feel like a simple sugar syrup like the others did.

Though I started with the exact $100 Mai Tai recipe, I tweaked things from one Mai Tai to the next, and ended up reducing the lime to 3/4 ounce, eliminating the rock candy syrup, and using a  full ounce of this orgeat. That strays a bit from the recipe, but produces a Mai Tai that is slightly less tart and has slightly more almond flavor. I still have experimenting to do though.

Rum Season 2008 Started

It’s been a while since I posted, and that was a bit of a cheap post, really. I kinda had a crappy winter – not a horrible one, just one of those winters when lotsa stuff went wrong. The worst thing about it was that I was not able to build my Tiki Bar due to the fact that several more necessary things which decided to crap out, requiring every penny in my Tiki Bar fund. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Summer is here now, the “summer home” is opened for the season, which means that my Rum Season has started. I’ve certainly had plenty of rum over the winter, generally in the form of tiki cocktails with the FOM ohana, but Memorial Day is when I get together with Phil and we start our summer-long concentrated effort of rum exploration. This year has been no different, and the last three weekends have had a good deal of rum. So far I’ve tried 5 or 6 new rums, made a few syrups for tiki cocktails, explored a bunch of cocktails from the Beachbum books, and put some time and effort into perfecting my Mai Tai. It will take a few posts to catch up on all this, so bear with me.

Pyrat Pistol
Once the summer home was opened and cleaned up, I grabbed several bottles of rum and headed over to Phil’s. Over the course of the next few hours we shot the breeze, caught up on each other’s winters, and sipped rum. We started the night with an old favorite, the Pyrat Pistol. One of the first excellent rums that Phil and I found, many years ago, was Pyrat XO, and Pistol is its little brother. Well, the bottle is smaller – 375ml – but the price is not much smaller at all . The tastes are very similar, but I find the Pistol to be a small step up in quality and smoothness. I’d say that you’ll like the Pistol if you like sweet, apricot/orange tastes of the XO, and want to go a little better and a little smoother. However, I have to say that I don’t find the price difference to be worthwhile. I’ll generally pay $36 for a bottle of Pyrat XO in Massachusetts, and the Pistol is generally about $30. These prices are insane, since they’re about 2/3 the price in the rest of the country ($22 and $13 respectively). The bottle of Pistol is half the size of the X0 (375ml vs 750ml) yet the price difference makes the Pistol 1.5 times more expensive for me. I don’t think the price difference is worthwhile – stick with the XO – but I’d have to say that I’d buy a lot more Pistol if I could find it for $13.

Brinley Gold Coffee Rum
I had high hopes for this bottle from St. Kitts, since I had heard good things about the entire Brinley line. When I first heard about this rum the idea of mixing coffee and rum seemed a little strange, but I started to think about some of the coffee tastes that linger in background of some older, fine rums. Some rums – Khukri and Maui Dark come to mind immediately – have very noticeable coffee tastes, and it works quite well. I was able to find this rum last November, when I attended the Rum Fest in New York.

This rum has some mild coffee aromas lying behind a stronger toffee smell, and the combination certainly smells delicious. The first sip shows a lot of sweetness, buttery toffee tastes, very little rum, and a finish that contains hints of coffee. It’s is very smooth, mainly due to the sweetness and the fact that it’s only 72-proof. Well, that’s really not very far off from the 80-proof that I’m used to, so this is still a strong rum, though your tongue and throat will never realize that. This goes down very easily, and is practically a dessert. Sweet, smooth, butter toffee and hints of coffee… Yep, “dessert” fits the bill quite nicely. This is definitely a delicious rum, and is highly recommended as long as you like sweet rums. But I have to say that I have a hard time calling this a “Coffee Rum” since the coffee tastes are so mild. I’d lean more towards calling it a “Butter Toffee Rum.” Whatever it’s called, this rum is highly recommended.

Brinley Gold Vanilla Rum
Given how much I love vanilla, I was really looking forward to this rum. I came close to cracking this bottle over the winter, but I held back – several times – and I’m not sure why. When Phil and I cracked it, the first smells and sips made me realize that somehow I subconsciously knew that this rum is meant to be shared. Keeping this rum to myself would go against everything I strive for in my attempts to evangelize rum.

The initials smells are of of sweet vanilla, rum and – get this – coffee. Yep, this has more coffee smell to it than the Brinley Gold Coffee Rum, easily. A small sip is thick with sugar and sweetness, coffee, dark rum and hints of vanilla after the swallow. I find this to be a little more harsh than the Coffee Rum, but we are splitting hairs since they are both very smooth. The flavor lingers for a while in the mouth due to it’s thickness, and this is a very nice taste. In a nutshell: Delicious. Like the Coffee Rum, the tastes of rum are very mellow in this, but there is no doubt in my mind that Brinley has created a fantastic product here.

Phil and I stayed on this rum for about an hour, sipping, pouring, sipping and talking. Generally we will go through all the rums, one at a time, slowly tasting and enjoying each rum in its time. Eventually we’ll go back and hit a couple again, or compare a couple side-by-side. Not with the Brinley Vanilla. I think we ended up having 4 shots each, and finally had to put it away or we would have finished the bottle. This extended tasting was a first for us – we have simply never had a rum hit us like this. I think some of our desire to continue sipping was due to the way the taste lingers after the swallow – it must cause a type of addiction.

The next night I brought this rum up to the weekly dance at the campground, and offered it to people that I knew would appreciate it. It was a unanimous hit. About half of the people liked it a lot, and the other half loved it. One couple was not too happy with the idea that it was only available in New York City, so they went online and found a website that would ship it. They bought a bottle based on a single sip. I love this job.

Pango Rhum
I bought this bottle last fall, when I was hunting for Foursquare Spiced and developing an unusual yearning for spiced rums. I got into a conversation with the owner of a large liquor store, and we spent 15 or 20 minutes talking about rums. We somehow got on the subject of spiced rums, I mentioned Foursquare, and he showed me the Pango Rhum and told me that some rum connoisseur always bought it. I almost never buy a rum on a whim, but the recommendation seemed sound. I was also intrigued by the words on the label – “Pango Rhum – Rhum Barbancourt – Rum With Natural Fruit & Spice Flavors.” So I bought it.

My hankering for spiced rums went away for several months, but I saw this bottle when I was packing stuff for the summer home. I generally try to bring a variety of rums for opening day, so this ended up in the box with the others.

Phil and I cracked it, sipped, and we both sat back for a moment in pensive silence. I finally broke the thoughts and said “This is weird.” Phil agreed quickly, and wholeheartedly, and we both talked about it for a bit trying to figure it out. We even poured some more, trying to dive into the rum and identify the tastes. We couldn’t. Even now, sipping it again, I can’t think of a way to properly describe Pango Rhum. Sweet and smooth at 70-proof, there are definitely some mild spices in there, and at least a fruit or three. But all I keep thinking is “mango.”

Don’t get me wrong here – this is most certainly a quality product, just one that I can’t describe. The flavors in this rum are high quality – there’s no cheap artificial flavors here. The spices are mild and complement the fruitiness. The balance of those background flavors is great, but the mango dominates too much. I have to admit that it doesn’t suit my tastes, and didn’t suit Phil’s, but this is not unexpected with such a unique product. If you get a chance, try it, but I can’t recommend buying a bottle.

Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur
This is another rum that I got in NYC last fall. As you might know by now, I love orange liqueurs, and this makes #14 or #15 or something mildly ridiculous like that. Initial smells showed a lot of orange flavor, almost no rum, and a good deal of sweetness comes through. The orange is strong, but not quite to the level of some of the bitter-orange liqueurs that I have. It certainly does have a taste of bitter oranges, and is sweet, leaving a bit of stickiness on the lips. It’s not quite as smooth as the Senior Curacao, or so my taste-memory seems to remember. I let some linger in my mouth before swallowing, trying to get a better idea of the rum underneath, when Phil blurted out that it tasted like Chinese food.

Well, that did it for me. All i could think of was General Gao’s Chicken, and that line of thinking simply destroyed my concentration.

Whatever Phil might think, I definitely do not consider this to be any less than excellent. It’s definitely a high-quality product. I like it a lot and it’s definitely on my “Recommended” list of rums. But, due to Phil’s silly comment, my concentration was destroyed – it still is – and I can’t give this a thorough review at this time.

I do plan on re-visiting my “Orange Curacao-type” liqueurs soon, since I also managed to find some Marie Brizard Orange Curacao over the winter, and some Bols. I only had 3 “Orange Curacaos” when I did my Orange Liqueur Throwdown review a year ago, and I know have 7 it seems. An “Orange Curacao Throwdown” is imminent.

Temptryst Cherrywood Reserve
I tasted this rum last fall, and gave it a quick review in an early post, A Rum Tasting at the Desmond Aloha Lounge, but Phil had never tried it so I brought it up for him to try. Tasting this rum after trying all those flavored ones was not the correct thing to do, though. All those varying tastes threw off our palates, and we had a hard time diving into it to discover all its nuances. There is no doubt that this is a superlative rum, but saying more than that would not be fair. This needs a proper tasting with a clean palate, and I will certainly return to it soon since I truly love this stuff.

In The Upcoming Week Or Two…
I have many other posts floating around in my head right now, and a lot of notes to go through. It’s actually been over 2 weeks since Rum Season 2008 actually Started, and I have a lot to cover. I’ve made Orgeat, Passion Fruit Syrup, Rock Candy Syrup, several Grog Log drinks. I bought some new bar tools, started a serious expedition trying to find my perfect Mai Tai, and I’m sure I’m forgetting 2 or 3 smaller things right now. I’ll do my best to cover this stuff this week… Hopefully.

5 Quickies From Saturday Night

I went out Saturday night with a group of friends, and we broke out some rums….

Thomas Tew, from Newport, Rhode Island
Not a winner. 4 of us all agreed that it was a little off. It did have quite a bit of bourbon tastes, presumably from the barrel, but also something else that was somewhat unpleasant. After many sips and some thoughts, it was decided that this unpleasantness was best described as “apricots gone bad.”

Flor De Cana 18-year-old
Damn fine rum, quite dry, that comes out a bit after resting. Alas, nobody was enamored with this rum. It was good, but not immediately remarkable. I’m not about to write this rum off though, since I feel it needs some resting and some proper exploration.

Havana Club 7-year-old
Very nice, with a great complexity once it rested for a few minutes. There was a slight tinge of something a little weird – not enough to destroy this rum, but it was a taste that was simply out of place. All in all, it was very very good, and would certainly get a spot on my shelf if I could manage to get a bottle.

New Orleans – gold, amber, premium, whatever they call it
This rum was amazing. In it’s burn and harshness. Wow. I seriously think they added stuff to make this taste worse. I am *so* glad that I didn’t buy this one myself.

Santa Teresa Gran Reserva
The winner of the night. Although nobody really approached this as a contest, this rum easily got the most accolades and positive comments. A mix of 2- and 5-year-old rums, this was surprisingly smooth for such a young rum. It had some nice complexity for a young rum, too. It does benefit from a little bit of a rest before drinking, as the initial smells are quite medicinal. But 2 or 3 minutes later and one can find different smells and tastes, a touch of sweetness, and a citrus that I though hinted at apricot. Considering that I paid $18 for this I am quite happy with it.

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.