Saturday, 27 June 2015

Jefferson's Extra Fine Dark Rum - A Northern oddity

Caribbean rum..from Whitehaven?
For a drink so intimately associated with the tropical climes of the Caribbean rum has a long history in the UK.

From the centuries of tradition behind London's Smith & Cross to the upstart Dark Matter in Banchory the booze reaches across the centuries.

Wandering the rum selection at Royal Mile Whiskies I came across this interesting looking bottle, at £27 it didn't really scream "buy me" but one of the staff recommended it so I figured why not?

Whitehaven in Cumbria is a historic trading port, merchants imported tobacco from their holdings in Virginia until the American War of Independence saw them pushed out and into the Caribbean where sugar and its byproduct rum started to be traded back to the mother country. The Jefferson's, distantly related to US founding father Thomas Jefferson started shipping rum in 1785 from their Yeaman estate in Antigua, hence the name of this rum. Over the years the Jeffersons expanded their booze empire and were the suppliers of fine wines & spirits to White Star Lines, owners of the ill fated RMS Titanic.

I've been able to find very, very little information about this rum, the bottle describes it as
"an impressive marriage of two classic rum styles aged in oak casks to impart a complex balance of flavours"
which is nice, but doesn't say what those two styles are or how long it's been aged! From what I can glean the spirit is imported from the Caribbean then blended and aged in a bonded warehouse in Liverpool.

Once you pour a glass of this and give it a swirl you see the long, long legs and get a pungent, slightly grassy hit of toffee & nuts. This is clearly heavy on the pot still distillate and has some similarities to Smith & Cross  on the nose but is a tamer 40% ABV.

A sip gives you an initial light toffee and nutty, banana-y notes follow with dark chocolate and slightly burnt treacle edge to things, the mouthfeel is thick and chewy, you can feel it coating your mouth but then it gets a little thin as you swallow it, likely due to the young age and/or some column still making its way into the blend. Most likely it's a bit of both, column distillate is relatively expensive so a cheaper column distilled rum can help keep costs down while also adding lightness to the rum.

It's certainly warm on the way down but stops short of being harsh and there's a lingering after-taste of stewed bananas.

It works perfectly pleasantly with coke but trying it in a treacle is really impressive, there's a real depth of flavour that makes for a particularly good cocktail.

All in all this is a good buy for the price and something a bit different.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Dark Matter Spiced Rum - science for the win!

Spiced rum, the creator of myriad student hangovers, a drink that somehow takes the word "spiced" to mean "a ton of synthetic vanilla".  With a few, very few, honourable exceptions I'm not a fan of the breed.  Into this market, dominated as it is by the nautical themed behemoths that are Captain Morgan's Spiced and Kraken comes Dark Matter.

Founded by brothers Jim and John Ewen this new micro-distillery based in Banchory in North-East Scotland is about as far as you can get from the "yo-ho-ho" "but why is the rum gone?" marketing that predominates in the rum world both in approach and geography.

Taking a scientific approach to the rum making process the brothers spent two years experimenting with different yeast strains and indeed isolated a local wild strain of yeast in an effort to perfect their product. After changes to the tax laws made micro-distilleries more economically viable they spotted that while new gin distilleries are popping up everywhere there was no-one else distilling their own rum.  

Working with a custom still that is designed to give lots of lovely copper contact to the liquid the brothers have started their portfolio with this spiced rum at £35 for a 70cl bottle at 40% ABV. Made using the highest purity molasses available in a custom built distillery this is obviously going for a more discerning drinker, the type of consumer that has helped fuel the craft beer and micro-distilling explosion in recent years.  

Firstly I have to say I love the bottle design, it's simple, it's clean and it's distinctive bearing the statement:
"Our curiosity drives us while science inspires us. Combining knowledge and imagination we obsessively pursue flavour through systematic study, observation and experiment."

Now many a lovely bottle has been let down by a poor liquid but opening a bottle of Dark Matter you're immediately hit by, well, spice. Ginger and cloves mixed with stewed fruits give an immediate warmth.

That ginger comes to the fore on the first sip followed by pepper and a soft chilli and the fruit mellows everything out to create a very well balanced drink. 

There's a very pleasant lingering aftertaste and this goes down very, very smoothly for a rum that must be very young indeed given their first distillation was only in April.

Some of the depth and complexity of flavour comes from borrowing a technique from the bourbon world. As the molasses is fermented some of the liquid that is left in the still after distillation is added back to increase the complexity of flavours produced, bourbon fans will recognise this as "sour mashing".

This is a very, very impressive rum indeed, a spiced rum that is truly spicy, that can be sipped easily.  Innovation and craft like this should be applauded. 

What a rum aged in the Aberdeenshire climate will turn out like I'm very keen to find out and also look forward to the white rum that is in the pipeline.

This is an excellent purchase that I truly did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Captain Morgan's White

It’s strange to think of a £45bn company like Diageo as an underdog but with the global spirits and
beer behemoth taking on Bacardi in the white rum market then Diageo really is the Rocky to the
Puerto Rican Ivan Drago, pretty intimidating on its own but dwarfed by the opposition.
Morgan's White Daiquiri

Captain Morgan boasted the 2nd highest sales figures for rum in 2013 selling 10.3m cases but this is dwarfed by Bacardi’s 19.1m.  As the spirits market becomes ever more competitive both companies seem to be taking aim at the other's areas of strength, Bacardi have expanded their range to offer more premium sipping rums with the Facundo range while the Captain Morgan’s range has seen some interesting innovations lately from the frankly awful sounding Tattoo, the flavoured parrot bay and the actually rather good private stock.

The folks at Diageo look to be trying to either pull in new rum drinkers from the vodka sector or have something for your standard Captain Morgan’s drinker to move onto as their tastes mature.

Now as you'll have been hard-pressed to have avoided the recent ad campaign's for Captain Morgan's with the mandatory images of swashbuckling, busty wenches and so on it's interesting to remember that Captain Morgan was an actual historical figure, albeit one where history has definitely been written by the victors (and polished by the Diageo marketing department).
Henry Morgan:
adventurer, sailor, kind of a dick

Henry Morgan certainly lived a long and varied life rising from his Welsh roots to be, variously, a privateer, a pirate, an Admiral in the Royal Navy and Governor of Jamaica and amassed a fortune of around £10m in today’s money from raiding Spanish interests from Cuba to Panama.

A privateer is basically a licensed pirate, carrying a Letter of Marque from a government which typically detailed where they could operate and against which nation’s shipping, pirates on the other hand went wherever and raided whoever they felt would be most profitable.   From a victim’s point of view any difference would be fairly academic when armed men are swarming your boat and stealing anything that isn’t nailed down.  Certainly Morgan had a reputation for using torture to extract information and, had be been captured by the Spanish probably would have been swiftly executed.

For a fascinating read about the golden age of piracy that discusses Captain Henry Morgan, Blackbeard et al I cannot recommend Colin Woodard’s “The Republic of Pirates”  highly enough.

White rums live and die on how they are as a mixer, with very few exceptions they're not sippable nor are they designed to be and Captain Morgan's White is no different in this respect. Taking a sip neat is a little harsh, with a soft sweetness and a tiny bit of vanilla and funk on the back end, this is apparently aged for a year in barrels to take a bit of the edge off it which, while it has certainly softened it you're under no illusions this is aged for any significant length of time.

Where I was very impressed though is in a daiquiri (more on this glorious cocktail here).  Using a 10:3:2 ratio of rum/lime/sugar from the ever excellent Difford's Guide the slight funkiness of the rum is cut through nicely with the lime and the absence of the coconut aftertaste that, for me, dominates Bacardi superior makes for a very refreshing cocktail, at 40% it holds up well enough to the sugar and lime to give a bit of bite.

It will be interesting to see how this expression fares, the spiced is already ubiquitous and other white rums such as Havana Club are also nipping at Bacardi's heels.  Price-wise I would expect this to be on a par with Bacardi at the £18 a bottle mark or so

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Rum World Cup - Last Rum Standing

It's hard work sometimes
2015 saw 40 hardy competitors drawn from across the globe compete in the inaugural Edinburgh Rum World cup organised by the fine people at Kilderkin

A supreme athletic endeavour over three months saw each rum blind tasted and scored for aroma, taste and finish in an alcoholic version of Battle Royale (but with rum instead of Japanese teenagers).

Kilderkin, Bennets, Skean Dhu, the Blue Blazer and the Windsor Buffet each served two  flights of four rums a piece at the very friendly price of £8 a flight

To keep things reasonably fair the organisers tried to keep the rums to an average of 8 years old, a tricky endeavour given the loose age statements on certain rums.

Given the  titanic amounts of rum consumed over the period the top 7 rums were re-tasted and re-scored on Easter Sunday before the final identity of the winners (and losers) were revealed.

The top 7 rums were revealed to be (position prior to re-tasting in brackets)....

1 - Pampero Aniversario - Venezuela  (1)

2 - Captain Bligh XO - St Vincent  (4)

2 - Ron Milonario Solera 15 - Peru  (3)

2 -  Ron Zacapa 23 - Guatemala (2)

5 -  English Harbour 5yo - Antigua (6)

6 - Chairman's Reserve - Forgotten Casks - St Lucia  (5)

7 -  Appleton Estate 8yo - Jamaica  (7)

The big surprise was Captain Bligh which for a rum that retails at £28 a bottle beat some illustrious names to claim joint second place and Old Monk of India hitting 10th place while a personal favouite like Pusser's Blue Label only managed 19th place.

While it's a tricky thing to compare these spirits, given some are more aimed at the sipping market and others at mixing (or drain cleaning in the case of Stroh) it was a lot of fun and an interesting experiment in just how much your perception of a spirit is influenced by packaging, price etc.

The other nations and their positions were:

8 - Angostura 1919 - Trinidad & Tobago 
9 - Bacardi 8yo - Puerto Rico 
10 - La Mauny XO - Martinique 
10 - Old Monk - India 
12 - Gosling Black Seal - Bermuda 
12 - Fair 5yo - Belize 
14 - Mount Gay XO - Barbados
14 - Barbancourt 5 Star - Haiti 
16 - Abuelo 7yo - Panama 
17 - Flor de Cana 7yo - Nicaragua 
17 - Cruzan Single Barrel - St Croiz 
19 - Pusser's Blue Label - British Virgin Islands 
20 - Cubay Anejo - Cuba 
21 - Mekhong - Thailand 
22 - Cadenhead's Green Label - Brazil 
23 - Papagayo White - Paraguay 
24 - La Hechicera - Colombia 
25 - El Dorado 8yo - Guyana 
25 - Seven Fathoms - Cayman 
27 - Alchemist - Guadeloup 
28 - Pyrat XO - Anguilla 
29 - Don Papa - Phillipines 
30 - Berry Bros & Rudd - Grenada 
31 - Flamboyant - Mauritius 
32 - Cadenhead's Straight from cask in store - Scotland 
33 - Montanya Oro - USA 
34 - Ryoma 7yo - Japan 
35 - Ron Prohibido Solera 12 - Mexico 
36 - Bundaberg - Australia 
37 - Brugal Extra Viejo - Dominican Republic 
38 - Jefferson's 1785 Dark Rum - England 
38 - Berry Bros & Rudd - Fiji
40 - Stroh - Austria 

If you do ever find yourself in Edinburgh and in need of some rummy goodness I really can't recommend any of the bars that participated in this highly enough.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Monday, 21 July 2014

Daiquiri documentary

An interesting watch from Vice on the many faces of the New Orleans daiquiri, from the refined classical to the trashy frozen version it's all here. Definitely worth a watch so settle back with a glass of something good

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Abelha Cachaça - Saude!

With the World Cup now over and Brazil dealing with its extended period of mourning it seems a good time to dip into the world of Cachaça

Cachaça is Brazil's national drink, with  1.9 BILLION litres produced annually and an estimated 10 litres drunk annually by each Brazilian. This is a staggering number and a range of upscale cachaças are finding their way to British bars including Diageo's Ypioca, Campari's Sagatiba  and this little number, Abelha Organic Silver. 

Cachaça differs from rum in a few subtle ways:

  • Firstly during the fermentation of the wash a starter of corn or rice bran can be used to kickstart  the fermentation and add flavour where as rum is by law only made from sugarcane byproducts and yeast. 
  • Secondly cachaça is distilled to a lower ABV, coming off the still at between 38% and 54% whereas a "normal" rum will be around 72%.
  • Like Scotch can only be from Scotland cachaça can only be from Brazil
Abelha are a relatively recent entrant into the cachaça  market in the UK, taking a more artisinal, ethical approach than bigger producers. The sugar cane is grown organically by small local farmers in the Chapada Diamantina National Park who are paid a fair price and taught organic farming techniques. 

As part of the organic harvesting process the cane fields are not burned before harvesting, this reduces water use and improves the biodiversity of the cane fields (for those interested a good article on this topic can be found here). 

Abelha's copper pot still
Within 24 hours of harvesting the cane has been washed, crushed and the cane juice is starting to ferment.  Unlike larger producers Abelha use yeasts cultured from the natural yeasts found growing on the canes themselves.  

After fermentation the wash (or Vinho) is distilled in a 400 litre copper pot still.  As you can see from the photo a 400 litre still is tiny, so when Abelha say it's a small-batch cachaça  you can know they mean it. Only the heart of each run is kept for sale.

Once distilled the silver cachaça  is rested for 6 months in open stainless steel tanks, this lets the more volatile, less desirable compounds evaporate before being bottled at 39%.

Now, after all that, is the drink any good?

Taking a good nose you get honey, fermented fruit and a slight grassy freshness as you'd expect from a cane juice distillate.

Taking a swig you get more honey sweetness, the aforementioned grassyness and a lightly stewed fruit flavour, it feels thick and coats the mouth very pleasantly there is a little bit of burn as it goes down but this is a lot smoother than you'd expect for a 6 month old spirit.  I'd go so far as to say you could happily sip this neat which was a very pleasant surprise.

Now, this being said I bought this for caipirinhas and this makes a superb one, the sweetness is cut by the lime while still having that slight honey note making a gloriously refreshing drink. If you're in the mood for a caipirinha they couldn't be simpler to make.

  1. Wash and slice half a lime, add to a heavy bottomed glass
  2. Add two teaspoons of caster sugar
  3. Muddle, dissolving the sugar in the lime juice
  4. Add 50ml of cachaca
  5. Fill with ice (most recipes recommend crushed ice, but I don't have a crusher and prefer cubed)
  6. Enjoy!
At £22 a bottle this is an absolute bargain, packed with flavour and produced with care and attention.  I'll be picking up their gold, which is aged 3 years, in the near future. 


Colour - Silver
ABV - 39%
Bottle - 70cl
Price - £22
Nose - Honey, grass, fruit
Palate - Light stewed fruit, honey, thick
Finish - Long, slightly warm, very pleasant

With the summer sun it's definitely cocktail weather and the caipirinha is one of the classic summer cocktails but, like any classic,  it's only as good as the ingredients.