Category Archives: rum

Ginger Beer the easy way…

 Here is a bottle of Cruzan Aged 151… What was I thinking??????

I previously stated that here in southern New England we have adopted the Bermudian “Dark and Stormy” as a regional favorite. My sense of local drink history tells me it started in Newport, RI and the south fork of Long Island, and spread out from there. This is the spicier version of the Rum and Coke, or more specifically the Cuba Libre (viva lime wedge!!!). I won’t belabor the point: it is a highball of rum and ginger beer, garnished with a lime wedge. You should be able to figure out how strong you want it and not need a recipe. Squeeze the wedge or don’t. Your call.

The Gosling’s rum people have a lock on the “Dark ‘N Stormy” recipe, made with their dark rum, their ginger beer, and your lime wedge. If that sounds excessive, think of it as a badge of honor traceable to the Bacardi Cocktail. Bacardi had a bug up their bung about Bacardi becoming generecized (kleenexed, if you will) and started policing bars to ensure that their rum was not being subbed out of a “bacardi cocktail” for some other, lesser, rum. (Please, no laughing) Goslings wants the same kind of respect, but it seems over the top. You now have to avoid the shorthand “‘N” and use “and” or “&”… I guess. The truth is that not only can you bypass the Goslings Dark entirely, you can bypass their ginger beer as well. Sure, prepared ginger beer is super convenient, but it is also super sweet. You can use crushed ice, or water, to dilute the drink, but you will also dilute the ginger flavor.

Enter Ginger Syrup. This could be the solution to the D&S issue, and it can add a kick to other drinks as well.

There are two paths to follow:

One involves using sliced peeled ginger in a simple syrup base, then straining. The drill is the same for many flavored syrups. You make a simple syrup at some ratio between 1:1 and 2:1 sugar:water, add your flavoring as the sugar gets fully dissolved, steep for a few hours, and strain. Hit it with a small dose of silver rum as a preservative and you are done. It will last a while and does have a ginger flavor.

But you will not be happy. You want a strong ginger bite with real ginger heat. You are always looking for stronger siblings in the already limited ginger beer family. Reed’s is kid stuff. D&G is as close as you have been to the ginger promised land. You, friend, need to get on the juice. No, not Barry Bonds’ juice. You need to juice that ginger, then use that as a base for your syrup. In fact, you can stop at the straight juice stage and blend with syrup to taste, but that might be overkill and involve taking a lot of notes and using a precision measuring device. You can go straight to ginger syrup by mixing one part ginger juice with two parts simple syrup. Either way it is better than anything you will buy.

I was introduced to straight ginger juice by my friends Sharon and Mike, who have Caribbean roots and know what is what. I get my ginger at the Indian market because it is better and cheaper than the regular supermarket stuff. Then I peel it (a spoon works great to scrape the thin skin off the rhizome) and feed it into my impeller juicer. Viola, juice. Blow ya head off if yer not careful.

Here is a more complete exploration from Summit Sips

The resulting juice will be super strong. Probably too strong to take straight unless there is serious cash prize money involved. But nailing down an exact ratio will be difficult because some ginger will be stronger and some juicers will be more efficient. Let’s start like this:

  • 1/2 oz ginger juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup
  • 1.5 oz Jamaican Rum*
  • 4 oz sparkling water
  • 1 Lime Wedge
  • Combine ginger juice, syrup, and rum over ice in a tall glass
  • Stir.
  • Add sparkling water
  • Squeeze/drop lime wedge, stir, serve

As usual I will not get prescriptive with your rum selection other than to say that the charm in this drink is the way a stronger rum flavor plays with the spicy ginger beer, with a little lime kick for balance. Using a dry white rum may not be horrible but it will miss the mark. It will be drinkable, just not delicious. Your usual dark rum suspects like Goslings, Meyers, Coruba, and El Dorado will do just fine. Likewise, Plantation 5, Pussers, Bacardi 8, Angostura 7… will be delicious. You want a big tasting rum to tangle with that big tasting ginger root.

If you notice a trend, you are correct: I put a lot of stock into the mid-range of the rum world. Rum is, after all, relatively rough company. You can get some very amazing sipping rums, but they are hard to compare without spending a lot of money since they only come in full size bottles and run upward of $35 a piece. Cheaper than a scotch habit, but still, not cheap. In general I stick with a rule of avoiding sipping rums in highball drinks, and only using them in cocktails when they will stand out and I have the time to do a proper job of it. That rule is a money saver as well as allowing me to stretch my rum dollar further and get to know more good rums in place of many fewer great/expensive rums.

That’s it for now. Next up is a list of resources for rum information and tiki culture.

RhumBoogie – Part II of my Rum Odessey

My rum explorations started out, over 25 years ago, with the basics:

  • Meyers Original Dark
  • Coke

Yep, the classic upgrade to a Bacardi and coke. I don’t even remember if I had a lime wedge handy. If I had acquired a Bacardi silver, I used that. and so on… Occasionally I would mix it up with a pineapple juice faux tropical. Very stylish!

At some point I found out about the “tiki resurgence”, probably a few years after it happened. But as a wannabee mixologist I am enchanted by weird drinks. It helps if they are tasty. I’m sure I read an article on tiki in an issue of Saveur magazine, and it no-doubt featured Jeff Berry. And it was a smart move to feature him. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is probably the foremost popularizer, with his books Sippin’ Safari, The Grog Log, Intoxica, and Potions of the Caribbean, among others. His works are essential because he has done the groundwork that many others skipped over. He names names, names ingredients, spills secrets.

One thing that is immediately apparent: If you want to make one authentic tiki drink, it might involve a lot of work and sourcing of ingredients. It might involve finding two or three rums. It might mean making a syrup or two, or three. It will mean squeezing fruits. Crushing of ice… etc… if you want to be a tiki-naut, you will be both poor and smell like nutmeg. The array of liquors, fruits, syrups, bitters, and accoutrement is staggering.

Yeesh! I wanted a drink to chill out with, not a fugazi chem lab in my kitchen. Initially I probably wanted no more than a tasty rum drink to round out my summer rotation. I probably did want a fugazi chem lab, but that is beside the point. A fully stocked tiki bar is not simple nor is it inexpensive. But… if you want a tropical and tasty experience and don’t mind a little time in the kitchen, there is a solution… make your own rum punch mix!

Here is a scalable version of Jasper’s Secret Mix:

  • 1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 cup turbinado/raw sugar
  • 1 oz Angostura Bitters
  • 1/2 small nutmeg, grated

Combine and stir until sugar dissolves. Bottle! Refrigerate!

Like any syrup or mix this can be stabilized with a small dose of silver rum, or better yet, Wray Overproof or another overproof/151.

Now you have an easy way to knock out an above-average tropical drink in a below-average amount of time. My personal ratio is 2:3. Two parts Jasper’s Secret Mix and three parts Plantation 5, stir with crushed ice, and you can even lengthen with seltzer, ginger beer, or ginger ale if you so desire. You can use whatever rum you have on hand, but bad rum will not help any drink.

Speaking of which, we have tripped over a deep and treacherous subject:

Bad Rum

Really, no rum is worst of all. And most rums can produce a palatable result, if not especially delicious. What I am really on about here is better rum, occasionally excellent rum. One thing that might pop up if you rev up the Google and start looking for this kind of info is that Bacardi has many detractors. Not that it is horrible, but the dry, vodka-esque character will add precious little to the taste of a tropical drink. In fact it can be downright nasty. I absolve Bacardi 8 because it is a little heavier and has a little more of the buccaneer under the hood. That is a great choice in a Bacardi product. If you want to know why “the bat” is omnipresent, ask the same question about any giant american yellow-beer brand.

Good Rum, A Sensible Approach:

The key here is to find the sweet spot between availability, affordability, versatility, and quality. This is the “sweet, sour, strong, weak” of the smart rum shopper. I could rattle off a few good rums that you might not find, or might need to go far afield for. I hate when people do that and then say that you are a horrible person if you substitute anything for their precious HeathCliff Unobtanium 18. Pay that no heed. You want to avoid straying too high or low, too strong or too weird.

If I had to stock up on a few decent rums on the cheap I would stick with Cruzan, Mount Gay, and Coruba.

  • Cruzan Aged Light Rum is a steal at under $14/750ml, even here in the expensive northeastern USA. Mount Gay Silver is a good equivalent. Meyer’s Silver is a respectable 3rd place.
  • The same logic goes for Cruzan Aged Dark Rum and Mount Gay Eclipse. Both are a good choice for a versatile gold rum. To go off that simple script for a second, If you find Plantation 5 in good supply you should go that way.
  • Now, hold on to your wallet. None of the good dark rums are cheap, but I prefer Coruba if I can find it. Coruba has the best balance of the dark rums I have tried, but it is not especially cheap, it is not always easy to find, and for some reason there is often only one bottle hanging around longingly in even the better shops. One. Not sure why. Meyers Original Dark is readily available but seems overpriced, and Goslings is the darling of the Dark and Stormy crowd, though I don’t like it in any other drink.

For somewhere in the area of $50 you will now have a light rum, a gold rum, and a dark rum and can get a general feel for what the rum-gods are offering. As always, buy the smallest bottle you can find and don’t be shy about asking the shopkeep. They know what they have.

(In a future post I plan on creating a simple style/rating grid for rums I have tasted/purchased)

If you feel an overwhelming desire to branch out, do so cautiously.

HERE BE DRAGONS

If you do not choose wisely you will either be holding your nose or giving a partial bottle away to a friend (maybe a stranger). I will hit a few highlights and you can search out more on your own:

Martinique Rhum Agricole: These are rums made from pressed cane juice, not molasses, and they can have a grassy, earthy character. I especially love this style. Rhum Barbancourt is an easy find and while the 3-star is more affordable (and good), the 5-star is worth the upcharge. These are not especially expensive or challenging, and can be mixed in place of other rums. Another distiller, Rhum JM, makes a wide range of rhums and the top of the line are very pricey. Also in this category are La Favorite and Clement. Clement VSOP is pricey but very good, and that seems to apply to all the Clement variations I have tried. Not cheep, but very good. BONUS INFOooooo… if you like a mojito or a caipirinha you should try using a white rhum agricole such as Clement Canne Bleu, or their Platinum. It is a match made in Martinique. Bonus Bonus: the mother of all applications for rhum agricole is the ‘Ti Punch: Squeeze a lime wedge into a smallish old-fashioned glass, dose with some simple syrup, and add rhum agricole to your taste. Ice cube optional. Very austere and not easy to find that good balance right away, so start small.

Overproof Rums: These are typically in the 115-160 proof range and vary wildly in character and drinkability. Wray Overproof is the rum that Jamaica runs on. I have likened it to “what if you could turn bananas into gasoline”, but it has a special charm. You will get seriously damaged on this so go lightly. As well as being the true flavor of the islands (not the cruise ships) it is also essential to making a good falernum… but I digress. Unless you are lucky enough to find the Hamilton 151 (successor to Lemon Hart 151), you are on your own. Most are suitable as a float or to flambe some bananas. The worst are a crime against humanity.

Flavored Rum: A bottomless pit of pain lies beneath the label! I am not much of a fan or consumer, and most of them taste very bad or one-note to me. Showing up at a buffet bar and finding Malibu as the only rum choice is a panic-trigger akin to my abhorrence of McDonalds coffee… it brings back nothing but memories of deep despair and broken dreams. That said, I would be very sure I was going to like a spiced rum before purchasing it. The cost of one drink at a bar is worth the effort. As I mentioned previously, I bought a bottle of Quebecois spiced rum last year, in Quebec, and it is decidedly not horrid. It is made entirely in Quebec, so go figure how they pulled that off. Original Captain Morgan is not the worst. How is that for faint praise?

Weirdo Rums:CruzanBlackstrap is probably the easiest to call “weirdo”. It is overpowering in any dose, but does make for a full-flavored experience. Still, you can live without it. Even if I am using theCruzanBlackstrap as a little kick or a float, it dominates. The flavor is like vanilla meets off-brand root beer. One bottle could last two people a good long time. I think I only paid $11 for it, so there is some price relief to buffer the regret. Stroh might be a stretch to call “rum”. Nuff said. I see Kraken in many shops and in many bars. I had a Kraken dark and stormy, and one with coke. All I could taste was vanilla. I liken it to a less-complex, less funky Cruzan Blackstrap. Not my choice.

I will end with a suggestion that you keep an eye on the bottle selection (or ask) at the bar, or seek out rum-friendly bars. You can try a new rum in a cocktail and get a feel for it without buying a whole bottle.

Next up, a quick survey of syrup technology, and a small glossary of my favorite web resources on the subject of rum and cocktail chemistry.

Rhum for the Hills!

I have not been blogging recently, but I have had a project in mind and now is as good a time as any. Even through there are many Tiki culture and craft cocktail books out there, many of them are either extremely broad or end up being very complicated. I enjoy a good cocktail, and I especially enjoy rum. That means stumbling into one of the most confusing and dangerous sections of your local liquor store. Rum is mysterious! They said. Well, yeah, it is mysterious. The range of styles and flavors, and quality, is broader and less predictable than in any class of alcoholic beverages I can think of. Rum ranges from bone dry white liquor that compares to vodka, to dark and heady “pirate juice” with aromas that can be overpowering to the unsuspecting consumer. My plan for the next few posts is to establish a plan of attack, and look for ways to simplify while lowering the initial cost of a basic rum selection.

  

Clement VSOP, a very nice Martinique rum. This is not where the rest of this blog post is heading. Thanks for looking at this rather spendy rum. This is distilled from pressed cane juice, not molasses. Nerd, out.

What’ll ya have, sailor?

What kind of drinks are you interested in? Rum can play well in anything from the simplest Cuba Libre to the most devious Zombie. Narrowing your focus is a good way to get off to a good start, and making a tasty drink, without needing a shelf full of specialty rums.

  • Long Drinks, aka Highballs (rum, ice, mixer)
  • Cocktails (rum or rums, syrups, bitters, lime juice)
  • Tiki Drinks (rum, fruit juices, syrups, ammendments)

When it comes to the rum itself, let’s keep the categories simple:

  • White Spanish (dry white rum such as Bacardi, Ron Matusalem, and Ron Barrelito)
  • White Jamaican/Caribbean (lighter but flavorful such as Cruzan, Don Q, Meyers White, and J.Wray)
  • Gold Rums (medium bodies rums such as Bacardi 8, Appleton VX, Plantation 5, Pussers)
  • Dark Rums (Meyers, Coruba, Goslings, El Dorado 12)
  • Specialty Rums (Wray Overproof, Cruzan Blackstrap, Flavored Rums, Spiced Rums)
  • Overproof Rums – the bad boys of the bunch. Ranging from 120 to 160+ proof, they are usually used for flaming in a tropical presentation, or as a float. Beware: the bad ones are a waste of money and the good ones will kick your ass.

Even that simple list is up for debate, especially the Gold/Dark distinction. I love El Dorado 12. It makes the best Dark & Stormy I have ever had. It is more “rum” than the vanilla, molasses, and rootbeer flavors that dominate other darks. But some rumheads will balk at calling it a true dark. Getting over the nit-picking is the best way to save time, money, and frustration. The wealth of information in books and on the internet is astonishing, but it can also be confusing. I will list some resources later, but remember that one good rum is better than a lot of bottles of “meh” rum.

The first order of business is to nail down what kind of drink you want to make, and then find a good recipe and a good rum. I have no idea what that will be, but I don’t need to know. I will pick a few examples as we go along and hopefully my reasoning will become clearer.

Obviously, the easiest route is a long drink with a prepared mixer. That is not always bad. Somewhere between getting clandestinely hammered on poorly mixed rum and RC Cola in some dimly lit parking lot, and having a Jeff Berry tattoo on your ass, is a lot of very good real estate. If you can make a well balanced Dark and Stormy or Cuba Libre you are off to a good start. So, let’s start there:

  • Dark and Stormy – 1.5oz rum, 8-12oz ginger beer, ice, lime wedge optional
  • Cuba Libre – 1.5oz rum, 8-12oz Coke, ice, lime wedge almost essential

Note: There is one commandment – Thou shalt always use fresh lime juice and fresh lime wedge. Any other source of lime juice is an abomination and you will have only yourself to blame for the horrid results. Amen. If you have a bottle of Rose’s and are not making a pitcher of Kamikaze’s in a frat house, you are on the wrong path. Step up thy game!

Despite the simple appearance, you have some latitude in the strength of the drink (dilution) and the acidity/complexity of the drink. Normally I wouldn’t specify a brand of soda, but Coke has that nutmeg note built in and nothing else does. That is key because someone has put that “je ne sais quoi” into a readily available and affordable mixer, and you don’t have to. As for Ginger Beer, Goslings is easy to find as is the Jamaican DG brand, or the Reed’s Extra Strong. Another option if you want to go all foodie on it is to make a ginger syrup and then top off with seltzer (more on that later). But I digress.

The question is “which rum?”. If I had to pick one rum to make these two drinks I would choose between Coruba and El Dorado 8. First off, they are very good rums. Secondly, you will be making a distinctive drink with a rum you won’t find on the line at the local bar. Lastly, those rums taste like rum. You can pick a lighter option like Cruzan Barrel Aged Silver, or a heavier rum like Kraken (which to me tastes like vanilla and little else). Or whatever you see that piques your interest. I have a bottle of spiced rum from Quebec that is actually quite good, so it isn’t just speculation.

So far all you needed was some rum, a mixer, ice, and a lime. Hardware-wize you needed a paring knife and a stirrer. You can use a pocket knife and your finger, but if you are trying to impress friends or a date, up your game just a tad. The next step up the rum ladder is to use a sweetener, usually in syrup form. They are as easy to make as a cup of tea, and they will improve your life in many ways. Flavored syrups are like moving from a tea bag to loose tea. Still very simple.

  • Plain syrup – equal parts granulated syrup and water, warmed to dissolve sugar, cooled, stored in the fridge
  • Rich Syrup – two parts sugar to one part water, as above
  • Ginger Syrup – Peeled, sliced ginger in plain syrup, bring to barely a simmer, remove from heat and cover. Let sit for about 2 hours, cool, store.

Note: You can add a shot of rum to your syrups to prolong their life and prevent crystallization. It is a good idea.

I will end this entry with the mother of all simple drinks, the daiquiri. This is a great drink and easy to make as long as you have rum, limes, syrup, ice, and a drink shaker. Use any rum you have. Many rum drinkers use this as their reference drink when trying a new rum for the first time. My one caveat is that rums with strong flavors, or spiced rums, will be tricky to balance. But under no circumstances let that stop you. A weird daiquiri is better than no daiquiri.

Classic Daiquiri:

  • 1.5 oz rum
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 0.5 oz simple syrup
  • Combine in a shaker with ice, shake well
  • Strain into a cocktail glass or an Old Fashioned glass

The shaker can be as simple as you want. I have made very serviceable drinks in one of those plastic shakers that come free with tequila bottles. Search the web for all kinds of nerd-lust related to drink shakers and the perceived merits of each type. I am not going to pick favorites. A metal “boston shaker” and a pint glass is what most people get by with. A two-piece metal “french shaker” is better yet. The three-piece “cobbler” shaker is very common and very useful, but usually has a limited capacity.

So that is it. Keep it simple, don’t get dragged into the weeds by mysterious rums from near and far, and don’t buy nasty bottom-shelf rum unless it is completely appropriate. Good rum is out there for not much more money. I will cover my choices for best values in good rums, as well as syrups and accoutrements in the next few entries.