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

23 things only a Smith & Cross rum drinker will get!

Apparently BuzzFeed listicles replete with gifs are mandatory now, so here's mine

1 - Smith & Cross is tasty

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. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Adding sugar to rum - more controversial than you may think

A controversy kicked off last December after details surfaced on Facebook of how much sugar is added to rums.  Alcohol sold in Sweden and Finland has to be tested by their regulators and, from that testing you can discover how much added sugar there is. You can skip ahead for the original articles that prompted this post

Given that we, as humans, have a natural sweet tooth it's not surprising that the most common recommendations for non-rum drinkers are Zacapa 23, Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva and El Dorado 12, all sweeter rums. From the lists circulated these three all have significant amounts of sugar added to them (up to 45 grams per litre).

Why this matters

Sugar covers a multitude of sins, a man after my own heart has undertaken an experiment to see how adding sugar changes the flavour profile of a simple white rum (Havana Blanco). The conclusion was that small amounts smoothed the edges off and made it more drinkable while larger amounts gave an impression of longer ageing. 

So you can see that you could , if you were of a nefarious mindset, take a low quality spirit and add sugar to pass it off as something more refined and charge accordingly.  I'm NOT suggesting anyone is doing that but I can understand the concern.

From my point of view this is similar to the addition of caramel and chill-filtering of Whisky, does adding sugar make for a bad rum? No, obviously not, there are bad rums with no added sugar and good rums with it and vice versa.  Rum is an expression of the quality of ingredients and the care taken to produce it, I am certainly on the fence as to adding sugar, I can see the value in disclosing it but I'll certainly still be drinking a glass of El Dorado 12 later.

Further Reading

I'd recommend two articles from the floating rum shack, one from Alexandre Gabriel of Plantation rums making the case that added sugar is not a big deal and one from Richard Seale of Foursquare arguing that it is.

Both articles come from their own commercial positions. Gabriel is a cognac blender and as such the addition of sugar to spirit as part of the blending process is a natural step and a skill, he argues that, like salt, sugar is a natural flavour enhancer in small quantities.  Seale, as a Barbadian rum producer is barred by law from adding sugar, distillers in Barbados, Jamaica and Martinique are forbidden from adding flavour enhancers. 

Monday, 2 June 2014

The Daiquiri

The daiquiri, that simple mix of rum, lime juice and sugar is one of, if not the, classic rum drinks. David A Embury, in his classic title "the Fine Art of Mixing Drinks" classed it as one of his six basic drinks (along with the Jack Rose, Manhattan, Martini, Old-Fashioned and Sidecar).

For all that it's a simple drink it's simple to get wrong and, as Embury himself said:

"So far as I can ascertain there are two main reasons why more daiquiris are not sold: The use of inferior rums and the use of improper proportions"

To deal with the first point, the origin story of the Daiquiri has it being made with Bacardi Carta Blanca which is now sold as Bacardi Superior.  I'm not a fan of Bacardi by and large but Superior does make a good daiquiri however, my personal favourite daiquiri rum is Plantation 3 star which has been distilled with the daiquiri in mind.  Whatever your preference make it a good quality rum, I've tried using supermarket own label rums and it's a false economy.

Embury's recipe is a simple one, 1 part sugar syrup, 2 parts lime juice and 8 parts white label Cuban rum, shaken over ice, strained and served in a chilled glass.  This recipe is simple, refreshing and has a lovely smoothness to it.

For me I prefer the variation taken from the excellent Difford's Guide (Note that a shot is 30ml/1 oz:):

Daiquiri Number 1 on the rocks

  • 2.5 shots of rum
  • 3/4 shot lime juice
  • 1/2 shot sugar syrup
  • Shake with ice and strain into an ice filled old-fashioned glass
For me this has more of a citrus bite to it and I find it very refreshing. If either of these sounds too sharp then I'd suggest trying one of the variations below , especially the number 2