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

DIY Spiced Rum - Update and new batches

10 days ago I decided to embark on an experiment in rum, trying to spice my own rum, after some maturing it's time to have a look at how things have gone.

Batch one

This consisted of passion fruit, lime zest, cinnamon, vanilla and lemon grass.  I'd hoped that the sweetness of the passion fruit and vanilla would balance the sharpness of the limes and the woody spiciness of the cinnamon.

So far the lime has come through strong but started to fade out slowly, I still can't taste the vanilla or passion fruit but I'm prepared to be patient with this one, I still think there's potential here.

Batch two

Now because I had rum left I decided to try another few batches, if batch one was going to be sweet I'd go for something more sharp with batch two.  

Hunting about the internet I came across this recipe and used:

  • 200ml Bacardi
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Zest of 1 blood orange
  • Flesh of 1 blood orange (no pith)
  • a peeled and diced thumb of ginger
So far this has a nice bite to it from the citrus if a little harsh, I've added more ginger as that really wasn''t coming through particularly.  I think there's an interesting cocktail to be made with the end product of this.

Batch three

With some rum left over I decided to go with the flavours that I liked outside of rum and see what happened, so, for batch three it's

  • 300ml Bacardi
  • 12 mint leaves
  • 1 vanilla pod and seeds
  • 1/2 a trimmed pineapple, caramelised the outside of the fruit on a griddle pan to get that slightly burnt flavour
Well, this is the big winner so far, the vanilla is subtle and along with the pineapple it's rounding out the edges of the rum with the mint adding a lovely freshness to it all.  This could actually be drunk neat quite easily.
The question is how long I leave the spices/fruits to macerate, it looks like it'll have to be a thorough tasting schedule.  The things I do for science...

Thursday 22 May 2014

DIY Spiced Rum - An Experiment (batch one)

I'm definitely not a spiced rum fan, Sailor Jerry et al bore me, hitting you over the head with a nasty synthetic vanilla sweetness. So I figured how hard can it be? 

In the interests of science I decided to have a crack at making my own, I like sweetness but want some other flavours in there as well so I'll add in some other elements to (hopefully) balance it out.
So here's the ingredients :

  • zest of 1 lime
  • half a cinnamon stick 
  • half a vanilla pod & seeds
  • seeds from 2 passion fruits 
  • 1 lemon grass stick

 I've no idea how this will work out but I think the lemongrass, lime and cinnamon will balance the sweetness of the vanilla and passion fruit but we shall see, I'm wary of the proportions but I'll leave it for 48 hours then taste and see what needs tweaking.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Alnwick Rum - Northumbria's Finest

Rum is an exotic spirit, it conjures images of far-away lands, sunshine, Caribbean bacchanals, palm trees and the obligatory pirates, Hemingway getting blitzed on Daiquiris.  Safe to say that Northumberland doesn't immediately spring to mind, but yet 4,000+ miles from Havana there is a growing rum business.

Alnwick rum has been around since before World War One, with the business changing ownership and stopping production a number of times over the years until in 2001, after a 20 year gap, the original recipes were rediscovered and production restarted.

So, after a relaunch here we are, the rum is a blend of Jamaican and Guyanese rums, blended on contract in Holland then bottled here in the UK. The website says they're aged up to three years in ex Bourbon & Whisky barrels.

Pouring a glass you can see a very dark spirit with a reddish tinge, from the look you expect a heavy, thick, aggressive trawler style rum, you take a sniff and it's lots of treacle, molasses & orange, heavy, full and punchy.

Now taking a neat sip you're thrown a bit, there is an initial warmth but nothing too amazing but then the flavour really develops into something a lot more subtle than you'd expect, a little bitter coffee and citrus behind the treacle & molasses hit. Bottling at 43% makes it a bit punchier than you'd expect, only 3% but it does make a significant difference.  The finish is remarkably dry and lingering.

This being said this isn't a sipper, it's a mixer.  Alnwick Rum works nicely with coke but I was most impressed with it in a Dark n' Stormy especially with Old Jamaica Ginger Beer the power of the ginger and the dryness of the rum work together beautifully for a drink that slips down very easily. Moving on to fancier cocktails a daiquiri is another winner, I found both of the following proportions to work very nicely:

  1. 50ml Rum
  2. 25ml lime juice (fresh)
  3. 15ml sugar syrup
  4. Shake over ice, strain and serve
or, if you've a sweeter tooth try only 5ml of syrup and 5ml each of Cointreau & orange juice which takes the bite off the lime juice.

Overall for a rum aged under 3 years this is pretty tasty and something a bit different to add to the drinks cabinet

Colour - Mahogany
ABV- 43%
Bottle - 70cl
Price - £25
Nose - Molasses, treacle, coffee
Palate - Coffee, molasses, treacle, subtle but with bite
Finish - Dry and long

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Hyper-nerd rum article

fascinating article from Lost Spirits Co head distiller Bryan Davis on his approach to rum from yeast to barrel with a massive amount of detail.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Diplomatico Single Vintage 2000

The year 2000 saw many things, the election of George W Bush & Vladimir Putin, the launch of the PlayStation 2, the death of Screamin' Jay Hawkins (thanks wilkipedia) and an unusually good harvest of sugar cane in Venezuela. Master blender of Diplomatico Tito Cordero spotted this and thus started the creation of this rum as the packaging describes:

The year 2000 saw one of Venezuela's best sugarcane harvests in recent memory. High daily temperatures and humidity combined with lower than average rainfall created ideal growing conditions in which the sugar cane flourished.

Given this exceptional harvest, DUSA (Destiler'ias Unidas SA) more closely than ever monitored the maturation of the spirits distilled in their ancient copper Pot stills and Kettle Batch stills in the hope of one day being able to proclaim this rum a true vintage.The Master Blender, Tito Cordero, was so pleased with the results that he decided to use the very best Bourbon and Single Malt casks he could find to age this splendid spirit. 

These casks held the rums until they reached their optimal age. After that, the rum was transferred to Spanish Sherry casks for its final finishing.The result is a superb rum. Subtle oaky notes balanced with dried fruit, vanilla, chocolate and light toasty characters evoke in this elegant, complex and intense Diplomatico Single Vintage 2000, which leaves the drinker in no doubt they have tasted a truly fine rum.

Recommendations for Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva come up all the time, and rightly so, it's a beautiful rum, but cane aside how does the single vintage differ?
You can break this down into 3 sections: the mash, the stills and the barrels.
The mash
For this rum only sugar cane honey was used, cane honey (or light molasses/treacle depending where you're from) comes from the first heating of the sugar cane juice, you heat it again to get mollasses and a third time to get blackstrap molasses.
Once they've got this it's fermented for 48 hours before distillation, a slow fermantation gives plenty of time for all those lovely congeners to develop and give more body and weight to the rum. In making DRE it's a mix of cane honey and molasses that's used, so you can see it's going to be very smooth.
The stills
Single vintage was produced using pot stills & kettle stills only while Reserva Exclusiva uses pot, kettle and column with around 20% being from column stills.
The barrels
The single vintage was aged in ex bourbon and single malt barrels then "rested" (whatever that means) in Oloroso sherry casks, as this was released late in 2013 I think it's safe to assume the rum is 12 years old while the Reserva Exclusiva is up to 12 years old.

Anyways, enough waffling, is it any good?

Before tasting I've got to say that the bottle is beautiful, very eye catching. Bottle design and packaging aren't massively important to me but this is really rather lovely.

When you've poured a glass and let it warm up a bit a quick swirl shows that the legs are very long-lasting, take a sniff and there's vanilla and milk chocolate, fudge and raisins all coming together in a very, very inviting mix.
A sip and this really coats your mouth, very buttery, rich, smooth with vanilla, fudge, good quality milk chocolate all combining beautifully. It's certainly sweet but far from cloying.
This just glides down, not a hint of burn just a long, warming feeling, the fudge from the palate has become a caramel with a bit of praline as well. This finish really is a warming hug on a cold day. For a 43% rum to be quite so subtle is very impressive.
Overall this takes everything you love about the Reserva Exclusiva then refines and perfects it, gloriously easy drinking and beautifully packaged I'd recommend this to anyone.
My first thought on seeing the bottle  was that it must be around £100 a bottle, but at £79.99 no, it's not cheap but a Zacapa XO will cost you £100, an El Dorado 21 around £75 but to my mind this beats them both hands down. 
While I think that there's a different rum for every mood when I sat down and tried to think of a rum I've tasted that's better than this I really can't think of one, it is that good.