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!