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"?