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