Monday, 11 July 2016

Flying Dutchman white rum - an unexpected winner

Dutch rum? It sounds like something you’d nick out of your parent’s booze cabinet when you were 16 to sneak down the park because you knew no-one would ever drink it. But step back from that and consider this is a triple copper pot distilled white rum, aged 12 months in heavily charred virgin American oak? That definitely sounds more like something in my wheel house.
Dutch rum, actually really good
The Netherlands haven’t much of a rum culture, their former colonial empire being based in the Asia as they could actually navigate unlike that Columbus guy meant that they weren’t as involved in the repugnant triangular trade that brought rum to the heart of the Anglo-Saxon world. In modern times however the Dutch have expanded their spirits offering from the standard Genever to premium vodkas and now a selection of rums.
An often overlooked, but yet key, part of any spirit is the yeast and the fermentation from that. Yes, soaring burnished copper stills and coopers charring casks before they’re rolled into a dark, secretive warehouse are all very sexy, but where’s the love for this humble microorganism?
There is huge variation in yeasts, with distillers (mostly) jealously guarding which strain they use. Yeast doesn't just produce ethanol, there's other alcoholic compounds produced as well as other reactions going on during fermentation, producing acids, congeners and esters (the compounds that give Jamaican rum its glorious funky flavour). Generally fermentation is like good barbecue, low and slow produces the most flavour. Now from what I've been able to glean online Zuidam have a two week fermentation of the wine that goes to make Flying Dutchman, this is a very long process and should produce something packed with flavour.

Unusually for a white rum this is pot distilled, and is distilled three times in small hand-made copper pot stills. Pot stills are inefficient compared to column stills but they do, again, produce a more full-bodied, flavoursome spirit. Once distilled this is aged in heavily charred virgin American oak barrels for at least twelve months at 60% ABV, then comes the filtration to bring this back to a white rum, which inevitably strips out some of the flavour that those poor wee yeast cells have spent so long creating.

As you might expect from all this carry on the liquid itself is quite special, it's fruity and floral on the nose with much more depth than a white rum has any right to have. Flavour wise there's a lot of subtle citrus-y notes going on along with summer fruits, praline and a deliciously creamy mouthfeel from that magnificently inefficient pot still. There's a little bit of a bite on the way down to remind you this is a very young rum but it's remarkably subtle for something this age.

While it's very pleasant on its own the test of any white rum is how it mixes, and using this in a Daiquiri (I favour Difford's 10:3:2 recipe makes for a very pleasant drink, the rum has enough body to stand up to the lime and enough flavour to not be wiped out by the combination of sugar and citrus. At £26 a bottle this is definitely one worth adding to your white rum line up.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Bonus Post - Rum Sixty Six Cocktails

While researching Monday's post about the excellent Rum Sixty Six, I came across a number of suggested cocktail recipes on their website. Now, in the interests of science I decided to try a few of them that were achievable without too much extra investment in ingredients and lined up with my own taste in cocktails.

Midnight Rum

Rum, bitters, sugar n apple
A variant on the classic old-fashioned this swaps out the standard Angostura bitters for the vivid red of Peychaud’s, which are more classically associated with the glorious Sazerac and adds in a dash of apple juice.

I was intrigued, if a little skeptical about the apple juice. The recipe is simple:

  • 60 ml Rum Sixty Six
  • 15ml apple juice
  • 10ml sugar syrup
  • 2 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Lots of ice and stirring

As it’s January and a distance to payday I made my own syrup and there’s no reason you shouldn’t do the same, just add 2 parts sugar to 1 part water and heat gently until it’s dissolved then leave aside to cool.
For experimental purposes I made two syrups, one with caster sugar and one with Demerara and tried the recipe with both.  The two cocktails were both delicious but markedly different.  Demerara syrup made the drink heavier with a more burnt edge to it and really highlighted the rum while the standard syrup made for a fresher, lighter drink.  The Demerara variant was more of a winter’s evening drink for in front of an open fire with a good book or an obscure subtitled French cop show while the white sugar was more of a summery, barbecue drink

Holetown Daiquiri

Just four ingredients
This uses Falernum, a Bajan rum-based liqueur containing almond, cloves and lime. Now, as a daiquiri fan I like a strong, sour hit of citrus as typified by the delicious Difford's number 1 so this using lemon instead of lime made me curious.  Another simple recipe here:

  • 50ml Rum Sixty Six
  • 20ml lemon juice
  • 10ml sugar syrup
  • 10ml Falernum
  • Add ice, shake and strain

While this doesn't have the upfront hit of citrus that I usually look for in my daiquiris it is very well-balanced and the Falernum adds a nice spiciness that contrasts with the sweetness to make for a drink that slips down very easily indeed. I’ll add the cautionary note that the Demerara syrup mentioned above really didn't work with this at all.

Quite often the suggested serves for a spirit are either uninteresting or so complex you'd never bother making them, these cocktails, and the others suggested are straightforward, only needing one "special" ingredient in addition to the rum itself. I can safely say both of these will be

Monday, 18 January 2016

New Year, new rum - Rum Sixty-Six

As a fan of Bajan rums and those from the Foursquare Distillery especially I was delighted to come across this wee beauty on a wander round the ever-reliable Royal Mile Whiskies.  

Over time I've come to appreciate good packaging and this bottle definitely catches the eye.

Foursquare is the site of the first Bajan sugar plantation, dating from 1636 with the Seale family who now run it tracing their own rum family tree back to 1820 so there is some serious history going into this bottle. Richard Seale, the current Master Distiller of Foursquare, has been very forthright lately around the use of added sugar in rum production arguing for greater transparency and a lot less added sugar, indeed Bajan (as well as Jamaican) law prohibits the addition of sugar, viewing it as an adulterant. So, with that in mind I reasonably assumed that this would be a good drop.

This rum was apparently originally only made for members of the Seale family who had returned to England, hence the “Family Reserve” tag-line with the name “Rum Sixty Six” deriving from the fact that it was on 30th November 1966 that Barbados became independent from the UK. The rum is a blend of Coffey and pot still distillates which are blended then aged, rather than the typical approach of other distillers of aging then blending. When you think about it doing it this way shows serious confidence in the product as once it’s blended that’s that.

You see the term small-batch bandied around a lot without anyone really defining what the hell it means, it often seems to be one of those generic “feel-good” phrases that are stuck on packaging in order to justify a few extra quid on the price (see also: artisanal, hand-crafted ).  In this case, however, Foursquare state each batch is around 112 small American white oak barrels they purchase from “A famous distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee” which we can reasonably conclude is Jack Daniels. 

Various sources put a Jack Daniels barrel at around the 200 litre mark, which makes each batch around 22,400 litres.  This sounds a lot but consider this, the angels’ share is 6% per year in the tropical climate of Barbados which means after the 12 years are up you’re left with 47% of the liquid you started with.Interestingly the rum is aged at 65% ABV rather than the typical 70-75% that other rums use, as such this helps minimise the angels’ share and increases the wood exposure, helping maximise the wood’s effect on the rum itself.

After 8 years the barrels are sampled with the best being let down to near the bottling ABV of 40% and then re-casked for the remaining four years. 

So, we’ve established there’s a lot of work and heritage going into each bottle, but is it actually any good?

The short answer is yes, very.

This has a rich, treacley, raisin scent to it, with vanilla coming through as the glass warms. A sip and this rum does its utmost to coat every millimetre of your mouth with a pleasingly oily, viscous mouthfeel while the flavour profile develops from an initial lightly burnt toast with golden syrup note followed by treacle, raisins, vanilla and brown sugar.  It’s a fascinating balance of bitter and sweet that showcases the brash, punchy distillates of the pot while still being balanced by the more nuanced Coffey still. 

On the way down this is smooth and warming with a long, slightly spiced, vanilla finish.

At £35 this is a very enjoyable sipper, and one I can highly recommend for anyone looking for something with a bit more subtlety than some other rums, certainly I can see whisky drinkers finding this a good gateway rum. Like other Foursquare rums this drinks like a more expensive rum than it is.

Coming soon - a look at some of the cocktails recommended by the Rum SixtySix website

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Book review – Classic Cocktails and Cuban Cocktails

Note – I won these books in an online draw courtesy of the ever-excellent Floating Rum Shack and Sterling Epicure publishers.

Two books dropped though my letterbox just before Christmas and while quite different in their styles both are written by people who truly care about a good cocktail and have a quite staggering array of experience to call on. 

Classic cocktails by Salvatore Calabrese

This is a pleasingly hefty new edition of Calabrese’s 1997 tome, a veteran of various legendary London venues such as the Lanesborough Hotel and Dukes Hotel Calabrese is clearly passionate about his drinks. 

An engaged and clearly passionate writer Calabrese takes his time discussing the history of the cocktail, glassware, ice-handling and even famous bartenders and drinkers of the past before diving into a chapter devoted to the Martini. The book is gorgeously illustrated with photography so the cocktails juxtaposed with old and rare bottles of the spirits concerned, drawing the reader into the notion that these are drinks that have been around for decades and we drinkers are another part of that history.

There are another 200+ cocktails detailed within the book, all being at the more refined end of the spectrum, as you’d expect from the title, with little titbits about their history here and there.  At the end is a sections of “Calabrese Classics”, drinks he has created over the years for family members, celebrities and special occasions including the wonderful Breakfast Martini.

I only have one small quibble with the book, while Calabrese is clearly a very enthusiastic and passionate man the exclamation point is deployed much too often for my tastes and it did begin to grate a little after a while. That is, admittedly, a very minor point and a question of personal taste more than anything else.

Currently at £14.94 on Amazon this is an interesting read, with some delicious sounding cocktails I look forward to trying out myself.

Cuban Cocktails by Ravi DeRossi, Jane Danger & Alla Lapushchik

Reflecting a generational difference to Calabrese this is a more rrelaxed, informal feeling book.  The writers have cocktail CV’s including some of the legendary US venues such as Death & Co, PDT and Cienfuegos, the Cuban rum bar that inspired this book.

Now, there’s one rather obvious problem with a book on Cuban cocktails from the US, they can’t actually use any Cuban ingredients thanks to that pesky embargo (naughty, naughty communists). This being said once you accept that it’s an enjoyable book to dip into with some delicious sounding recipes that are more Caribbean-inspired than strictly Cuban in a lot of cases e.g a mint julep with Barbancourt rum from Haiti it’s very enjoyable. 

The book shows some serious knowledge and it’s worn lightly with a conversational writing style that’s relaxed and friendly with a section covering the history of Cuba before an introductory section covering the essential techniques, ingredients and so on.

The recipes themselves are divided into four sections covering colonial times, citrus drinks such as the daiquiri, Tiki drinks and modern interpretations.  

The photography mixes street scenes from Cuba with shots of the cocktails themselves, both are evocative and enticing, making me simultaneously crave a Daiquiri and to start pricing flights to Havana.

At £17.99 on Amazon this is a well-presented and gorgeously photographed book, albeit it feels more like a book to leaf through on an idle Sunday afternoon than one I’d pick up and start trying to make the drinks mentioned, delicious though they do sound.  

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Caribana Sol - an insulin chaser please barman!

Spiced rum has a bad reputation and, while there are some decent ones out there its reputation as a drink for the young and the skint is pretty accurate, largely it's low grade spirit whacked full of sugar, vanilla, maybe some cinnamon and has a vague nautical theme on the bottle.

Picked up by a friend coming through Miami duty free as a bit of a joke (I hope) for the princely sum of $14, it’s fair to say I held little hope for this bottle and yet it somehow still managed to limbo under that very low bar.

At 35% ABV this doesn't strictly qualify as rum, but given it doesn't qualify as drinkable we can let that minor quibble slide.

The bottle insists it was established in 1893 but I can find almost nothing out about this rum online other than the makers website which, after invoking the usual hackneyed and cliché ridden imagery of pirates and carnivals, tells the reader it's made with "Barbados virgin rum with spices and natural flavours". I'm taking that to mean it was aged as long as it took the distillate to come to room temperature.

Once you pop it open there’s the obligatory cheap vanilla smell and such an overwhelming cloying caramel sweetness that you’re left wondering if there’s such a thing as nasal diabetes.

Tasting is just more of the same, vanilla and so much sugar you can almost feel your molars
dissolving with every sip, the finish is a lingering vanilla that will be familiar to anyone who's had a 99p cupcake from a petrol station.

Coke does improve things a little, offsetting the worst of the sweetness but it’s still pretty terrible.

Not every rum can be, or needs to be, a premium sipper, there’s a place for volume brands in the
marketplace and I've mentioned elsewhere how impressed I am by Captain Morgan’s white rum but
this just comes off as a lazy, cynical drink, created on a spreadsheet somewhere with the cheapest
ingredients that could be found and a general “eh, it’ll do” attitude.

Good rum doesn't have to be expensive, you can pick up some cracking bottles of rum for under £20
in most supermarkets these days, so, if you find yourself in Duty Free looking at a remarkably cheap bottle you know nothing about, do yourself a favour and spend the extra and get something genuinely good.  Unless you know someone with a masochistic taste for reviewing ropey rums that is..

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Bardinet Rhum Negrita - How bad can it be?

As I've mentioned in other reviews here I am a sucker for good packaging, so when I saw this little beauty peeking out of the shelves of a French supermarché you can imagine, I had to have it and the price point of a princely €3.49 doesn't hurt either.

Johnny Ive eat your heart out
Joking aside I was curious to see what on earth you get for that little money, would it be an abomination like Stroh or a French bargain like the Plantation range

From what I can see the Bardinet company has been around since 1875 and are a bit of a French spirits behemoth with a facility that ages 30,000 hectolitres at any one time while storing another 60,000.  To put that in perspective that's nearly 4.3 MILLION bottles of spirit sitting and maturing so, I figure, they must know what they're doing.

Information about the rhum itself is not easy to find, it's a rhum agricole being made from cane juice as opposed to molasses in traditional rum production (which the French term rhum industriel). The bottle itself only states "Iles Francaises du Rhum appellation d'origine" which just means it's from the French Rhum islands.  Others online have suggested it's a blend of rhums from Martinique, Guadeloupe and Réunion which certainly fits.

Once it hits the glass you get an initial huge hit of oaky vanilla that's quite overpowering but fades away quite quickly leaving not much behind to be honest, really inhaling deeply there's some fruit and the typical grassy agricole funky smell but you have to hunt for it.

Once you take a sip there's a lot of oak and a peppery spicy dryness that's not unpleasant but fades off very quickly leaving a slightly medicinal taste which I found oddly enjoyable in a Laphroaig kind of way.

There's a definite burn on the way down but nothing too harsh.  Now this is clearly not intended to be a sipping rum and, much like Stroh a lot of the material online is around cooking with it but using it in a rum and coke worked pretty well with the pepperiness holding up well to the coke sweetness.

Overall for €3.49 you really have nothing to lose with this, it's a serviceable rhum, not a great example of the agricole form by any stretch of the imagination but for sticking in a rum and coke while on your holidays it does the job.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Rum Blender - bespoke rum

The idea of blending rum conjurs images of dark, humid warehouses, barrels racked up as the angel's share escapes over the years while flavours mature and secrets passed down from blender to blender over the years. Much as I like that idea I live in Edinburgh so without a lottery win I'll not be in one of those warehouses any time soon.

Typical tourist, full of booze
Taking a deceptively simple concept and making it easy for your average drinker to make their own unique rum from the comfort of their couch (or on their smartphone while having a wee skive from work - sorry boss) rumblender  are a fascinating new entry into the rum world.

A company run by two of my fellow countrymen who already have a  whisky blending website and who have now expanded into the world of rum.

As this is a bit different to a standard rum write up I'll separate this into two sections: blending & buying the rum and the actual booze itself.

Blending & buying the rum - how hard can it be?

The website endeared itself to me immediately by just asking if I was old enough to be looking at it, rather than asking for my date of birth, which country I'm from and what I had for lunch. We're all adults and it's good to be treated as one.

Once you're in you're presented with a virtual empty bottle exactly like the one you'll receive and a choice of 7 different distillates you blend to fill it, 10ml at a time. Each has simple tasting notes ranging from the white rum named Buttered Strumpet to the smokier, heavier Smoke and a Pancake, the age and provenance of the distillates themselves are kept secret, understandably though there are apparently 218,618,933 different possible combinations!

Now, given this is the Internet you're obviously not able to taste it beforehand so there are six pre-chosen blends you can choose from and then tweak if you're not feeling brave enough to start from scratch. I went with the Heavy Stuff option as my previous attempts at rum creation did not end well.

After a wee bit of tweaking I finalised my blend.  I love big, bold flavours and thought upping the smoky proportion would work nicely, as I modified things the price of the bottle changed with it and I could always see what I was going to be paying.

Once I had finalised the blend it was time to name my rum, as a life-long fan of Hunter S Thompson I always loved the line uttered during Raoul Duke and Dr Gonzo's hallucinatory drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400
"We can't stop here, this is bat country!"
After that it was a simple matter of paying and sitting back and waiting. One touch I very much like is that all blends are stored on-line and you can share it with anyone who might like to order it or tweak it and make it their own.

Now, to what is the first, and almost certainly the last, mention of logistics on this website. Anyone who orders goods on-line knows the vagaries of courier companies, just search for Yodel and see the apoplectic rage induced by them if you don't believe me. With rumblender their courier sent me emails and texts when the order was dispatched which let me re-direct to a shop near work so I could pick it up rather than have to trek to an industrial estate in the backside of nowhere and told me once it had been delivered. It may be a small thing but it makes a huge difference to the customer experience.

Also worthy of note is that I ordered my bottle on a Thursday afternoon and was picking it up by Tuesday lunchtime, a very fast turnaround indeed, I have to say the customer experience is absolutely flawless.

The rum itself

On to the actual booze itself, which came in a beautiful, understated presentation box that was a little extra at checkout but I'm a sucker for good packaging. 

Simple, elegant packaging
On opening you have a wee certificate of blending and the decanter itself, it's a lovely shape, nice and solid and feels very premium in the hand.

A small thing perhaps, and indefinable, but this bottle has a very satisfying cork-sound.

Now, to the liquid itself, it's bottled at 40% ABV, personally I find an extra 2-3% can really make a difference but I understand why companies prefer to keep it to 40%.

This is a somewhat odd review, given I'm the eejit/genius responsible for this rum so I'll try to be as objective as possible.

Pouring a glass and giving it a swirl there are good, thick legs to it suggesting a good amount of pot-still rum.  On the nose it's full and rich, with some Jamaican/Agricole style funk coming through along with the promised smokiness. Taking a sip you get a pleasing dryness with woody, leathery notes blending with light hints of vanilla and dark chocolate before the smokiness comes through strong but not overpowering.

On the way down it's smooth and you're left with a refreshing dryness and an almost meaty flavour. Overall I'm very happy with this, at a guess I'd say there's maybe Jamaican and Trinidadian rums in the mix here for the funky, earthy notes and the light but dry notes but whatever it is I sure as hell enjoyed it.  Personally I loved the big,bold flavours from the "Smoke & a pancake" but a little does go a long way so tread lightly if adding it to your own blend.

Overall this was a fast,easy and enjoyable experience that let me create my own unique rum, something I've always wanted to do but have never had the mechanism to do so before. Yes there is the risk that you won't like what you create but there is that risk with any bottle you buy and at least with this you can pour someone a glass of a rum that is uniquely and unmistakeably your own.