Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bacardi Enters the Spiced Rum Category

The folks at Bacardi have developed one of the most well-known brands in the world and their classic, Cuban styled rums are as easily recognized and widely-distributed as their flavored rums. With today’s official launch of Bacardi Oakheart, they’ve added some spice to the mix! Now, normally I am not a spiced rum guy. However, good rum is good rum and thanks to Oakheart, I may have to make an exception from time to time

According to Bacardi, they’ve blended the mixability of their white rum with the smooth finish of their gold rum. These rums, aged between 1 to 3 years, would otherwise be used to blend Bacardi Superior and Bacardi Gold. Then, after infusing this mix of their two award-winning rums with their blend of spices, they filter the rum and bottle it at 35% ABV. What does this mean to you? Well instead of using an inferior rum and a bunch of flavors (a practice more common than you might think), Bacardi has released "the longest aged, and one of the mellowest, spiced rum in the US!" And their competitors better watch out because they’ve priced it to compete at less than $15 for a 750 ml bottle at my local “supply store!” By the way, the 1.75 liter bottle was almost $10 less than its closest (and well-known) competitors in the spiced rum category, so I expect to see this rum more often at parties now (and trust me, that’s a good thing!)

Swirling this straw-colored spiced rum  quickly forms short legs that race down the sides of your glass. The nose on this one comes in with strong scents of vanilla and honey with a slightly sweet, peppery note. Hidden in the aroma is the subtle scent of charred wood from the oak barrels from which it takes its name. It is slightly drier on the palate than you would expect based on the aroma, but one thing I didn’t initially pick up in the nose that is now apparent to me as I taste this rum is how much it reminds me of a good maple syrup. I applaud Bacardi for showing an appropriate amount of restraint in not over-sweetening Oakheart and I think that is what sets sets this rum apart from other spiced rums.

Now if you enjoy sipping spiced rums neat or just adding a couple of ice cubes to them, this rum works perfectly well in that capacity. However, I chose to take Bacardi’s advice and, after my initial tasting, I am trying this rum in their recommended fashion… an Oak & Coke. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to make this one and the proportions are probably best left to your own individual preferences. All you need to do is go out and buy yourself some Coke (go figure) and some limes to pair with Bacardi’s Oakheart and you’ve got all the fixin’s for a great drink that’s simple to make!

Now if only I could figure out why Coke tastes so much better in the classic glass bottles…

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Evening With The Redhead (Wife-Approved)

Sometimes, it really is good to be me! Last week, I was treated to a wonderful dinner by the makers of Panama Red, a new overproof rum that has just arrived on our shores from, well you guessed it, Panama. Jim Wasson, a Florida native and fellow lover of rum, was our host at a special degustation event at Hemingway's Island Grill in Estero, FL. Our tour guide for the culinary event was Mr. Luis Ayala of Got Rum magazine, with whom we followed the journey sugar takes until it is ultimately distilled, aged, blended and bottled.

As we arrived, we were welcomed to the event with a Caipirinha and some great company. Soon we were asked to join our gracious hosts in the dining room for the rest of the nights activities. As we walked into the discrete dining room that would be our home for the next couple of hours, we were immediately greeted by three glasses of fine spirits and a tasting notes sheet. Mr. Ayala introduces himself and his topic and our evening begins.

Our first course soon arrived. A selection of smoked gouda and manchego cheeses, candied citrus, crostini and honeycomb. Being half mouse, I was immediately in a good mood! The recommended rum to accompany this course was Pyrat XO, whose sweet, citrusy notes did make a nice accompaniment to the cheeses and  crostini.

The next course consisted of maduros (ripe plantains to the non-latino reader) and grilled tropical fruit with a vanilla rum dipping sauce. That vanilla rum sauce was delicious, and should any of the kitchen staff from Hemingway’s be reading this and feeling generous, please feel free to forward that recipe to my email! The rum recommended to pair with  this course was Zaya, whose vanilla notes may have been instrumental in the tastiness of that sauce (just a theory).

To prepare for the highlight of the evening and our rum of honor, we were shown what Panama Red can do to a cocktail. This took the form of a Planter’s Punch. The recipe for this punch varies from source to source but the basics include dark rum, lime juice, lemon juice, grenadine, sugar or simple syrup and probably some bitters. Many punches try to hide the liquor, a practice frowned upon by yours truly. However, Panama Red will not be hidden away in a mountain of sugar and food coloring! She shone through and made this drink highly memorable!
Our main course was a jerked snapper with yogurt thyme sauce. To accompany these bold flavors, only a bold rum will do. Bold like “the Redhead” herself, Panama Red Rum! As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Panama Red is  and overproof rum – so this blend of rums up to 5 years old is bottled at 108 proof. Despite the strength of this rum, it is still very enjoyable neat. The spirit is a warm reddish brown and it forms thin legs that move quickly back down your glass.  The aroma (bear in mind that this rum packs a punch so let it rest before diving in nose first) has hints of vanilla and citrus wrapped up in oak that reminds you this spent some time in a barrel. The warm, spicy palate is both citric and earthy adding some tobacco to the mix.  You are left with a caramel finish that carries some of that heat that is inherent in a higher proofed rum.

But wait! What is dinner without dessert? We wrapped up the night with a delicious white chocolate, Panama Red bread pudding with ice cream and a bourbon caramel sauce. YUM-O!! The blender, “Don Pancho” set out to make a rum that was equally adept on its own or in a cocktail. While I prefer this one with an ice cube and a couple of drops of water, I am happy to congratulate him on a job well done!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rum Tasting Event (8/25/2011) - Newly Released Luxury Rums

NOTE: This post is a reprint of an announcement that was sent to the Gifted Rums listserv. The formatting has been altered from the original message to fit the theme of this page. All of the text and pictures are reposted with authorization from the original author, Robert Burr. To subscribe to the Gifted Rums, click on the link:

You're invited to an exclusive tasting event featuring three of the most exciting new prestige rums available in South Florida, presented by the Miami Rum Club and sponsored by Rob's Rum Guide and The Aging Barrel.

The event takes place in Miami at Big Game Liquors on Thursday, August 25 from 7 to 9pm. The cost is $20 per person.

These are world-class luxury rums that represent the most exceptional family reserves, some of the rarest and most magnificent blends.

I hope you can join us as we explore, savor and appreciate these gems together.
RSVP required.
-- Robert Burr

August 25
 -- 7 to 9pm

Big Game Liquors
930 S. Lejeune Road
Miami, FL 33134

just south of SW
 8th Street at 
LeJeune Road
free parking in the
Midas Muffler lot 
after 6pm
$20 per person

RSVP Required 
or call 305-443-7973

Brugal 1888
Truly a prestige expression that spotlights a great Caribbean rum family's legacy, double distilled and double aged Brugal 1888 aged rum delivers first-class upscale flavor at a surprisingly affordable price.
Be the first to try this amazing new rum which sells for less than $50.
read more -->

Abuelo Centuria
The crown jewel of Panamanian spirits features a luxurious blend of up to 30 year old aged rum, presented in a first-class package to celebrate the company's first century of success.
The list price is $139, but ask Eddy for his special price at this event.
read more -->

Mount Gay 1703
From one of the oldest rum producers in the world comes one of the finest rare aged rums ever bottled, Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask Selection. Blended entirely from the treasures of Mount Gay's prized reserve, each aged for 10 to 30 years, the rare 1703 is a masterpiece of perfect sumptuousness, a deliciously complex nectar created by artisans and rum masters with centuries of skill and expertise.
The list price of this rare Bajan rum is $99.
read more -->

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

National Rum Day / Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva

With today (8/16) being “National Rum Day,” I thought I’d reminisce a little about the rum that started my love affair with the sugar-derived distillate. But before I go into the rum itself, I have a confession to make… I was a whisky drinker long before I was legally able to purchase a drink. It’s what the old man used to drink, so it’s what I would sneak sips of before I could pronounce many of the names of the single malts in my collection (but let’s be honest, I probably still butcher some of those names today). So how did the big switch come about?

Well, several years ago, I received an email advertising a rum tasting. Rum tasting? I thought once you add some Coke you were done? Boy, was I ever wrong! So I happily head off to this tasting figuring “What do I have to lose? At worst, I’ll have a couple of drinks and tomorrow I’ll go back to the well-known product of Scotland named for a famed pedestrian that can be found at any bar in Miami.”

Of the many rums that were sampled that day, I can still recall a handful of the expressions offered. I can also still recall my amazement at just how varied the category really is -- the subtle differences that the methods of fermenting, distilling, aging and blending the rums could have on the final product. And there were a few rums that day that I still count amongst my favorites. But one bottle stood out that day because of it’s approachability and, well, for lack of a better word, it’s deliciousness. It was the one bottle I purchased that day (lucky for me this tasting was held in a liquor store) and one of the bottles that I’ve made sure to always have on the rum shelf… Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva – a blend of 80% pot stilled rum blended with 20% column stilled rum aged for 12 years in small white oak barrels from Venezuela.

The stout green bottle bears a portrait of Don Juancho Nieto Melendez, who in the 18th century developed a passion for rum and whose personal rum collection was the stuff of legend matched only by his generosity in sharing his findings. It’s only fitting that the bottle and the label reminds me of currency because, if I may borrow a line from Swingers, this stuff is money! In fact, such was my appreciation for this fine spirit that, at my wedding a few months ago, I was happy to present every guest with a small token of thanks that (I think) represented a little piece of me: 50ml of Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva!

The rum itself is fairly easy on the eyes, liquid the color of cherry wood that grips the glass and forms delicate, slow-moving legs. The aromas of baking spices, caramel and vanilla waft toward you before your nose even meets the glass. A small sip coats the tongue with a layer of vanilla, accompanied by all of the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg your nose first picked up on. As sweet as the rum is on the palate, its finish is slightly drier than you would have expected, with earthy tobacco notes. No mixing here folks… no ice necessary… this one’s an easy sipper!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Visit to a Drum Circle / Siesta Key Silver Rum

A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to join some like-minded rum enthusiasts in a visit to Florida’s distilleries that included Drum Circle Distilling just outside of Sarasota, FL. Drum Circle produces the (deservedly) award-winning Siesta Key rums (Siesta Key Silver was recently named Best in Class by the RumXPs at the 2011 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival and Siesta Key Gold and Siesta Key Spiced took home Silver Medals). Quietly hidden away in a converted warehouse, we were welcomed to the distillery by owners Troy and Tom. I, and the rest of our troop of “rum nerds” pull out our array of photographic equipment (what a bunch of tourists) and after the prerequisite round of “lens envy” we embark on a guided tour of the distilling process.

For those uninitiated into the intricacies of distillation a basic description follows. Furthermore, while the topic at hand is rum, the same basic idea holds true for other distilled spirits. Our journey begins with sugar cane. In the process of making your favorite coffee additive two things are produced: crystallized sugar and molasses. Originally considered a waste product, molasses was soon treasured for what it could be… Rum! (Note: some rums are made from sugar cane juice and “sugar cane honey” but the vast majority of rum is molasses-based). Upon arrival to the distillery, the molasses is mixed with water and yeast is added to begin the fermentation process wherein a mash of approximately 6-12% Alcohol is produced. This mash is distilled several times until it pours from the still at anywhere from 160 – 198 proof (80-99% alcohol).

But that explanation is way to simple! Where does the extra alcohol come from? Well, distillation doesn’t add alcohol – it takes everything else away. Well almost everything. You see something is left behind to give it flavor, and that something is the congeners. These are the substances produced by fermentation, including small amounts of chemicals such as acetone, acetaldehyde, and other higher alcohols, esters, and aldehydes. Which congeners are kept and which congeners are distilled away is what gives a spirit it’s flavor. What you are left with is a very high proof rum. And if you ever have the opportunity to try rum or any other spirit straight out of the still, TRY IT! You’ll be surprised how flavorful it is even at that high concentration.

But our story doesn’t end there. The distilled product is then placed into aging barrels (hey, that sounds familiar) and allowed to pull even more flavor from the wood used to make the barrel as well as the prior spirits that resided in the barrel (most rum uses used bourbon barrels although sherry, cognac and other barrels are frequently used too). Here is where the blender’s expertise comes through. Through careful tasting (although it actually involves a lot more smelling and less tasting) rums from different barrels are mixed together with a little bit of water to come up with the perfect rum – although ask any two rum lovers the best rum and you’ll receive at least 3 answers!

So enough about how it’s made… How does it taste!?!?

Well, lets concentrate on the award winning Siesta Key Silver rum.

A quick swirl in the glass quickly forms medium legs . The initial aromas are floral and grassy with just a hint of sweetness that stays in the back of your nose. A few drops of water really opened up this rum and helped me to identify what that familiar sweetness was - butterscotch candies! A small taste of this rum and you are pleasantly surprised by the flavors of caramel, honey and anise that weren’t really jumping out at you in the nose joined with a light peppery bite that reminds you that this is a young rum. Normally, I think of white rums as mixing rums more than sippers, but I can easily recommend this rum “on the rocks.” The best part of this rum is the finish, which reminded me of the Danish butter cookies my grandma was so fond of!

How do I mix this rum?  That floral note I mentioned in the nose of this rum immediately made me wonder how it would taste in a Martini-inspired drink. At this point I will jump up on my soapbox for a second to yell out that the only thing that should ever be called a Martini is a mix of Gin and Vermouth…. A cocktail glass (the one with the "Martini" shape) does not a Martini make! That being said, this cocktail will not use gin but 2 oz. Siesta Key Silver Key Silver Rum as a centerpiece. So for my re-interpretation of the ubiquitous classic, I have decided to replace the dry vermouth with ½ oz. Lillet Blanc (an aperitif wine) and ½ oz. St. Germain (a liqeuer distilled from elderflowers).  STIR your drink in a mixing glass with ice and strain it into a cocktail glass. (I will jump back up onto my soap box for my thoughts on stirring vs. shaking later) Maybe someone out there can help me come up with a name for this drink that doesn't end in "...tini"?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Black Tot Day

In 1655, The British fleet captured the island of Jamaica. Provided with a newfound supply of rum, the tradition of supplying seamen with French brandy every day quickly changed to the provision of a tot (1/4 of a pint) of rum. Originally served neat, some time around 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon didn’t appreciate his men’s behavior upon consuming said ration and decided to water down this daily ration and provide his sailors with a mix of 2 parts water and 1 part rum… affectionately known as grog.

This great tradition continued until “6 bells in the forenoon watch” (11 AM) on July 31, 1970. After almost 100 years of daily rations of grog (and over 200 years of rum in some form or other), this great tradition came to an end on a day that will forever be known as “Black Tot Day.” In honor of the demise of this tradition, a special edition bottling of the last remaining stock of Original Royal Naval Rum Tot was released as Black Tot Last Consignment. Now in an effort to provide you, my readers, with a full review of this fine spirit, I have removed all of the cushions from every seat in my home in search of lost change. Unfortunately I was unable to gather enough forgotten currency to  purchase a bottle of this fine spirit (approximately $900).

In its stead, I highly recommend joining me in referring to one of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s fine tomes of Tiki literature (in this case Beachbum Berry Remixed) in search of a substitute – and mixing his version of Don the Beachcomber’s Navy Grog. This delicious mix of 3 kinds of rum, 2 citrus juices and a special honey mixture is absolutely delicious (if the Bum is reading this and gives his permission, I will update this post with the recipe I’ve used – for the time being, suffice it to say my three rums are Bacardi Superior, Appleton Reserve and El Dorado). Now, if you enjoy a well-made “Tiki drink”, you have 3 options: first and foremost, you should immediately find and purchase one of “the Beachbum’s” books so you can produce these fine libations on your own; another option would be to immediately make your way to your local rum/Tiki bar; finally, your third option would be to contact your humble narrator and, if you ask real nice and the stars align, maybe you will be invited to join me in the depletion of my supplies.

To end this post, I raise a glass and ask you to join me in the traditional Royal Navy Toast for Sundays: "To absent friends and those at sea!"

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

National Scotch Day / Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask

So apparently, July 27th is “National Scotch Day” and in observance of this holiday… I am dipping into a dram or two and telling the tale to my small but growing audience. What do you get when you mix the essence of a used rum barrel into the development of a wonderful Speyside scotch? The Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask! I was lucky enough to have received a recommendation to try this Scotch by the proprietor of my local “supply shop” a few months ago and, I have to admit, he was right when he said I’d love it!

This expression was released late last year after David Stewart blended it specifically for the US market. Balvenie previously offered a 17 year-old limited edition which was exclusively aged in rum casks, so they’ve got some experience with the effects of rum barrels on a whisky (Unfortunately, your humble narrator was not able to try that whisky). For this expression, the Balvenie is allowed 14 years of maturation in traditional oak casks before a final round of aging in rum casks.

This crystal-clear whisky is the beautiful color of golden straw. It quickly develops a nice set of legs, which invite you to follow them as they slowly work their way down the sides of your glass. Initially, you are met with the sweet perfume of brown sugar and apples, rounded out with a hint of honey-vanilla, but still carrying a bit of the smoke that all Speyside whiskies should carry. Thick on the palate, the sweet and malty honey/cereal character common to the Balvenie’s other expressions are present in this whisky and continue into the finish.  This whisky isn’t overly smoky and doesn’t have too much of a bite, but served “on the rocks” it really shines as it just gets smoother and smoother as the ice melts and opens up the congeners. I really like this whisky – balanced yet complex, while not overly expensive.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ron Atlantico Private Cask

I’ve chosen to write a review of Atlantico Private Cask for many reasons. Maybe it’s the fact that it starts with the letter “A.” Or maybe it’s because their office is within walking distance from my home. Or maybe it’s that everyone I’ve ever met that is associated with this small brand is extremely friendly and eager to watch their labor of love grow.

The first time I tried this rum was shortly before the product was launched in 2008. I was lucky enough to be afforded the rare opportunity to try a new rum before it hits the shelf. Obviously, I was thrilled with the prospect and was presented with rum poured from a small bottle that had what could only be described as a label designed by a chemist: a form of sorts with only the batch number and other identifying information written by hand.

Atlantico’s Aleco Azqueta and Brandon Lieb blend several hand-picked small batch, aged rums from the Dominican Republic which they then allow to further age in used bourbon barrels before a third and final aging in the solera method to produce a blend of rums from 15 to 25 years old. The solera method, which is frequently used in producing sherry, involves bottling some of the wine or spirit from the barrels containing the oldest liquid (the solera) and transferring younger rums from barrels containing younger wine or spirit (the criaderas) in to take their place. This process is also used by other distillers in Spanish-speaking countries such as Santa Teresa, Matusalem and Zacapa to produce smooth, sweet rums. Every bottle is hand numbered and carries with it Brandon's and Aleco's initials... If that doesn't show you that they stand behind their product, I don't know what will.

A few years later, as much as I’ve learned (and have yet to learn) about rums, and having tried a great variety, I still love to return to this lovely rum and frequently recommend this as a “gateway rum” to the many people I’ve met who claim (at the beginning of a conversation) not to like rum or to be able to drink a spirit “neat”.

Tasting Notes

This beautiful honey-colored rum wants to grab hold of your glass and just will not let go! A quick swirl leaves a nice thick layer on the edges of your glass and eventually forms legs that slowly walk their way back down into the bowl.

The first impression I get when I bring my glass up to my nose is the inviting aroma of vanilla and dried fruits – perhaps raisins or figs. This initial scent quickly opens up and reveals a bit of the history of this rum with molasses, wood and tobacco notes coming through at the end. The sweet fragrance of this rum even stays with you for a little bit of time after you put your glass down!

As you take your first sip, a spicy warmth fills your mouth that carries with it all of the honey sweetness and vanilla your nose first discovered. Allow this rum to stay on your palate for a little time and you are rewarded with a subtle note of hazelnuts. The spiciness of this rum comes out in the finish. This rum is wonderfully smooth and leaves the flavors of cinnamon and cloves on your tongue.

I love to sip Atlantico ‘neat’ – but it’s affordability (roughly $30 for a 750 ml bottle at my local supply shop) makes it great for use in some really good cocktails too. My favorite way to mix Atlantico? A modified Sidecar! Just replace the cognac with the same amount of Atlantico:

2 oz. Atlantico Private Cask
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. freshly squeezed Lemon Juice

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

National Daiquiri Day (July 19)

I’m celebrating National Daiquiri Day, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how. Now if the first thing you pictured was a frozen drink with a little umbrella sticking out of it, you need a good bartender. And if the next thing you pictured was me in a “G-string,” sitting poolside enjoying the aforementioned frozen concoction – well then you need a good psychiatrist too!

The story of the Daiquiri dates back to the period following the Spanish American War in 1898 in a town in just east of Santiago, Cuba that would give its name to the drink. According to the most common version of the story, an American engineer named Jennings Cox ran out of gin and was forced to innovate using what was available – Cuban rum, limes and sugar. The mixture was an instant success! (But why shouldn’t it be? Sailors and other people in the Caribbean had been drinking rum with lime juice and sugar for hundreds of years)

A classic Daiquiri couldn’t be easier to make! In a cocktail shaker, combine cracked ice, a teaspoon of sugar, the juice of a lime and an ounce and a half of rum. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled glass.

But our story doesn’t end there! You see, in 1918, a young Catalan immigrant named Constante Rigalaiua Vert became the owner of a small bar that opened in 1817 as “La PiƱa de Plata” on the corner of Obispo and Monserrate in Havana, Cuba. A few years before Constante purchased the bar, the name had changed to "El Florida", but it was popularly known as "El Floridita." In fact, the Daiquiris at El Floridita were so good that Ernest Hemmingway once scrawled on the wall of another famous Havana landmark, La Bodeguita del Medio, “My Mojitos in La Bodeguita, my Daiquiri in El Floridita”

Supposedly, Ernest Hemmingway stopped into El Floridita because he needed a restroom. On his way out, he noticed a cantinero (maybe even Constante himself) making Daiquiris. Now, Papa was not known to deny himself a good drink, so he took a sip, but he preferred them with no sugar and double the rum. The cantinero made one as specified, and then named the drink after him.

The bartender may have called this drink the Papa Doble, which, with some ingredient additions (and bringing the portions back down to scale), morphed into the Hemingway Daiquiri – an ounce and a half of rum, juice of one lime, half ounce each of Simple Syrup and grapefruit juice and a splash of Maraschino Liqueur.

What makes this story even more fun to write is the fact that this describes the precise contents of the cocktail glass in front of me right now!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Welcome to the Aging Barrel!

I created The Aging Barrel so I could share my thoughts on some of my favorite things… AGED SPIRITS! But what makes me an expert? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! In other words, I never took a special course in college, haven’t sat for any certification exams, haven’t worked in the industry for countless years. I am just a well-educated consumer who has been lucky enough to have tried a many of the greatest spirits to have spent some time in a barrel.

The majority of my posts will probably deal with two of my favorite beverages: rum and whisk(e)y (although not necessarily at the same time). Don’t be surprised if an occasional brandy, tequila, wine, mixed drink, cigar or some other of life’s little pleasures occasionally sneaks its way onto these pages, too.

I will start with reviews of some of the spirits I’ve collected – and that could keep me busy for a while! However, if you are involved in the Spirits Industry and would like to send me a sample for a future review, please send me an email! However a free sample will not guarantee a review. I still have a day job to show up to in the morning!

Have fun and remember that comments are always welcome at The Aging Barrel, but I do reserve the right to remove anything that may be offensive or inappropriate. Also please remember that all of the written material and photographs contained on this blog are protected by copyright. Please seek permission before republishing any material.

- Joey