Friday, May 21, 2010

Rum, bloggery, and the lash.

You would have thought I considered it unseemly. Me? Enter a blog contest? Am I not legendary for not entering these?

Yes, but not for the reasons you suppose.

I have actually entered two contests. This entry represents the second contest's. The first was to submit a Tiki-drink recipe, more or less about late December 2009, in the hopes of winning Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's latest mash note to the mixologists of yore, Remixed. That contest, if my understanding coincides with the facts of the case is still being tabulated, hanging chads examined, etc. I come from a long line of patient people, so I will wait merrily.

This second contest is in a similar vein. Organized by the estimable (if orthographically undorthodox) Matt "Rum Dood" Robold, it involves the exciting possibility of winning sensational potables, all of which would go towards making a Mai-Tai of glorious excellentness. Under these circumstances I can set aside my abiding phobia for effort and throw myself into the task, pressing on regardless.

This is what I am doing now, so you had better be wildly apprciative.

The problem is the rather broad parameters involved:

Write a blog post about your favorite rum, rum cocktail or best rum experience. Tell me and your readers why a particular rum or drink captured your attention or about the first time a bartender made your eyes pop out of your head with some rummy goodness.
See what I mean? Pretty wide-open.

So let's take those one at a time.

"Write a blog post about your favorite rum"

That's like writing a blog post about my favorite internal organ.

"...rum cocktail"

Not getting easier, is it?

"...or best rum experience."

I may have something under this category. I'll check the memory archives.

"Tell me and your readers why a particular rum or drink captured your attention"

I may have something along those lines as well.

"...or about the first time a bartender made your eyes pop out of your head with some rummy goodness."

That's easy. Never. Possibly owing to the dearth of craft bartending 'round these parts, but that's never happened. All mind-blowing rum experiences (or, for that matter, all mind-blowing cocktail experiences) have been self-induced. So that one's scratched off right away.

So, tell ya what. I'll just ramble cheerfully.

As someone whose ancestral-types hailed (partly, but for the purposes of this entry, most significantly) from Cuba, rum runs a close second to mother's milk. Not just Bacardi* but Matusalem, and others scattered (mostly) in the Caribbean in post-Communist diaspora. You get used to distinguishing between the "mixable" white rums, the more sippable gold rums, and those dark rums which God hath placed in His creation to best accompany cigars.

A quick detour. A while ago someone brought me a rum from Cuba. To be perfectly blunt and for reasons well afield of the purposes of this post, I really don't go out of my way to score Cuban rum. But this was a gift, and I figured there would be little harm in sending -- circuitously -- Castro's sugar crop into the sewer. This rum ("Ron Varadero" of which I had never heard before) was ostensibly a white rum. But I noticed that it looked a bit, well, beige.

I made a few classic daiquiris with it, and then the notion hit me. This rum looked rather like a reposado tequila. Most people don't know that reposado means "rested" in Spanish and it basically works out to mean "aged, but only a little bit." This is in the sense that the ragged edge of youth is just taken off with a brief pause in an oaken halfway house. I deduced this is what was going on at Varadero. So I tried an experiment with some of the last few drams of some silver and gold rums I had left over. Voila.

2:1 silver:gold yields a clone of this, and results in what is, to me, the ideal rum for daiquiris and other very simple, classic cocktails, where the rum is the frontman and there may be the odd sweetener well off in the wings and the merest suspicion of a modifier playing, for a change, acoustic bass. Naturally, the better the rums used, the better the resultant "ron reposado." But for starters, try it with the remaining droplets of Bacardi that loiter in those 1.75L jugs after a biggish party.


Now, in the spirit -- not exactly the letter mind you -- of the contest, I go all stream of consciousness on you, regarding my fondness for rum, touching upon the impressive ridiculousness to which my rum-o-philia has soared.

If you know me as the debonair bon-vivant, the elegant raconteur, the connoisseur of all that is fine and desirable, the man in bespoke gentlemen's apparel, or the aficionado of collectible automobiles, etc. you may be in for a rude shock. You have been warned.

It involves Tiki.

There, I said it.

At some impressionable point during my formative years, after much wheedling and pleading, my parents took me to Walt Disney World. What really stood out from that experience was the Polynesian Resort. Easily the most immersive Tiki environment. In all the other greats, past and present, you have that little voice in the back of your head reminding you that a) there is a Real World outside those doors and b) you had better pace yourself, because soon enough you're going to have to drive through there.

Anyway, I was enchanted. I was WAY too young to drink, but my parents ordered some and they came in fanciful vessels ferried by some lissome young ladies. I remember the whole experience vividly. This is what I wanted to have as my fantasy space. Cool.

Aiding and abetting my aberrant tastes was the lovely and gracious Poppy, who kept slinging Trader Vic's written output my way.

See it's not one thing with rum.

It's everything.

Rum, as opposed to every other ardent spirit, is a veritable rainbow. Bourbons, vodkas, cognacs are all, in a very broad sense, more-or-less the same. They are like cats. There is SOME variety from one to the next, but for the most part they are far more alike than they are different.

Rums are a riot, like dogs. Big, small, hairy, hairless, pointy, squashy, loud, quiet, slobbery, shy, and in a rainbow of colors and hues and shades. They continually mix themselves up with other breeds and give rise to new breeds. This is the analogy most apt for rum.

Anyway. Tiki.

When I was a kid, my parents Saturday afternoon cocktail of choice was the Mai-Tai (made, sadly, with powdered mix) and it was in search of this experience that I went researching. It seems that when Trader Vic invented this -- admittedly, riffing off Don the Beachcomber's QB Cooler -- the idea was to highlight the wonderfulosity of the J. Wray & Nephew 17 y.o. rum.

"Aha!" I said.

This is about the rum, and the rum matters. Rum, really good rum, this cocktail proved, can be liberated from the strightjacket of sniftery sipping. It can be showcased in a cocktail.

Highly, highly fabulous.

This, naturally, led me to on a lifelong quest to seek out rummy excellentness where'er it may be found. Which, in turn, led me to find it in rather unusual places.

See, because rum is such a whirlwind of variety, in order to make all of the various drinks you want to make, you will need to have...um...inventory. You can get away with a couple of Scotches, a couple of bourbons, and whichever your favorite cognac/rye/vodka/gin might be.

But you can't do that with rum.

Tequila sort of aims for the same thing, but can only manage the first couple of steps in the fandango, because tequila is tied, inexorably, to a fairly restricted chunk of Mexico. Rum, as we all know, is distilled anywhere someone has any leftover scrap of sugar cane. It is this geographical promiscuity -- along with the different distillation styles brought to bear by those people populating all these different places -- which explains the infinite permutations.

So all this (purely for the sake of science) research has led me to cultivate a panoply of rums, ready to leap into any number of Tiki drinks.

Anyway.

Here is my go-to list of cocktail rums, in no order:

Cruzan Aged Light
Bacardi 8 -- I know Bacardi is often showered with sneerage, but the "Ocho" can proudly stand in the most exalted company. Really. Great price, too.
Cruzan Single Barrel
Rhum Barbancourt 8
Appleton Estate Extra
El Dorado 15
Bacardi 151 -- I realize this isn't the most flavorful 151 around, but it's the only one I have found locally. This leads to some rummy juggling.
Appleton V/X Estate
Zacapa Centenario "23" -- The ultimate sippable rum, especially for those of us whose OTHER side of the family hails from Spain and consider sherry brandies the stuff with which one is to be weaned.
Flor de Caña 18

Finally, let me tell you about the Rum I Miss The Most.

Eons ago, I had a client who was in the cigar business. This led to meeting with another guy, in the rum business, who had dire need of my services. This guy, for all his failures in strategic and tactical business thinking, made a HELL of a rum. He had left Cuba and set up shop, for reasons which were never satisfactorily addressed, in Mexico. Whatever. He had background in sherry brandies and used his expertise with rum. His brand was called "Caña & Roble" and cam in utterly, unspeakably hideous vessels I can only describe as "corn jugs" decorated with watercolor scenes of sugar cane fields. He was very proud of his artisanal presentation but I was aghast.

He distilled some from molasses, some from sugarcane juice, some from sugarcane syrup. He aged them in barrels of varying sizes and woods, and blended them the way Rain Man counted cards. This was glorious, epochal stuff. Elixir-of-the-gods stuff.

The distiller, Ramón Portela, sadly, got cleaned out in a divorce and shortly thereafter developed cancer. I have never been able to reestablish contact with him. I don't even know if he "is still with us." To this day, when I taste a high-end rum, it's his "21" I have in my mind's palate. I have tasted others which I have loved and delighted in.

But, oh, that rum.

It haunts me to this day.

-J.

* Bacardí, if one wishes to be pedantic.