Colonial American Inspired Rum – The next level of rum wizardry from Lost Spirits Distillery

Longtime readers of this blog know I’m a big proponent of Lost Spirits rum. From his tiny distillery in the agricultural farmland of central California, distiller Bryan Davis has been putting on a fireworks show of rum science, using proprietary, patented techniques to create intensely flavored, high-proof rums that emphasize specific flavor characteristics that he wants to showcase. So far this year Lost Spirits has already put out three rums which I’ve covered extensively: Navy Style, Polynesian Inspired, and Cuban Inspired. As I write this, the release of a fourth rum, dubbed Colonial American Inspired and exclusively available through Bounty Hunter Wine and Spirits, is imminently available. With that in mind, I had a long conversation with Bryan about what’s new and unique with the Colonial American Inspired rum. As usual after talking with Bryan, my brain was filled with dozens of factoids and anecdotes that take hours to fully process. Here’s what I learned.
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Five Great Multi-Heritage Rums

 

Within the spirits world, many liquors highlight their particular provenance – bourbon from Kentucky, Scotch whisky from, well, Scotland, cognac and calvados from France, tequila and mezcal from Mexico, and so on. However, you rarely see bottled blends of those spirits where the components are from different countries: Picture a blend of Irish whiskey and Kentucky bourbon – a bit odd, right? Or even Peruvian pisco and Chilean pisco – they’re quite different, and the rivalry between the countries about who makes the real pisco is heated. As you can imagine, they’re unlikely to appear in the same bottle together.

The rum world, with its relaxed, laissez-faire, no-rules attitude is the outlier – French Agricole AOC regulations notwithstanding, which is a story for another day. Sure, most rums hail from a single island or country, but there are also more than a few blended, multi-heritage rums.  For this list, I’m not talking about blending rums of different ages from the same distillery. Nor am I talking about rums originating from multiple stills, like Guyana’s El Dorado distillery uses for its higher end rums. The rums in this list are all a blend of rums from multiple countries.

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A good article on maddeningly inconsistent spirits pricing

Here in Washington state where I live, we have the highest liquor prices in the country, generally speaking. A huge chunk of the price of a bottle are state-imposed taxes, unambiguously the highest in the country. However, if you look at the price of a bottle on the shelf at a store here, it’s almost always pre-tax. And the price of that bottle is still quite a bit higher than I can find it on the shelves in other states, most notably nearby California or Oregon. Out-the-door costs of a typical bottle here are nearly double what I would pay for it from an online source.

Along those lines, I came across this excellent post on the K&L blog. If you’re at all interested in the business side of the liquor industry–how spirits flow from the distiller to you, and how prices are set–this is a must-read. At the end it becomes a bit of a rah-rah for Anchor Distilling’s import business, but I’m okay with that. (They import some of my favorite brands, including Luxardo and Tempus Fugit)

Highlighted quote from the post:

While you all have a choice as to which retailers you purchase from and the freedom to look around for the best price, we as retailers do not. We have one choice and one choice only. If we don’t like the price being offered for Lagavulin 16 we can choose either to buy it and be unhappy, or choose not to buy it and explain to our customers why. I can only purchase Buffalo Trace whiskies from their one chosen California distributor. I can only buy Diageo products from their one chosen California distributor.

In Today’s Bad Idea file: Whiskey Elements – Better whiskey in 24 hours via wooden combs

So this popped up on my radar today. “Whiskey Elements” is a Kickstarter project claiming to be a radical new product that “filters” your whiskey in 24 hours, making your cheap bottle of whiskey as good as a $100 bottle. The product pitch includes a hand-drawn whiteboard video, teaching you how whiskey is made, why your inexpensive whiskey gives you hangovers, and how Whiskey Elements fixes it, all while folksy music plays behind the narrator.
What Whiskey Elements appears to be is strips of wood, cut with a series of notches, then charred. Different strips impart different flavors, e.g. smokey, vanilla, maple, peaty, allowing you to add “..your own personality to the whiskey.” Drop one or more strips in your inexpensive bottle of whiskey, wait 24 hours (ok, you’re advised to agitate occasionally) and voila – a much better tasting whiskey, free of all those nasty hangover inducing chemicals like you find in rat crap. 
Or so the claim goes… Here’s the problem: Barrel aging isn’t about filtering – the bad stuff you shouldn’t consume needs to come out during distillation. Beyond that, liquor is aged in wood for two primary reasons:
  • Converting shorter chained fruity esters into longer chained esters with notes like honey and spice.
  • Extracting flavor and color from the wood

I covered the first point in some detail in an earlier post about Lost Spirits and the science behind their rums.

The practice of accelerating aging via the addition of charred wood chips and barrel staves is a frequently used and occasionally controversial technique used by many distillers in many types of spirits. There’s even a US patent for “Accelerated Aging of Wines and Spirits” via “…finely pulverized wood of less than 1 mm size and in such quantity to achieve equivalent aging in one-tenth to one-hundredth of the time required for traditional barrel aging….” In other words, there’s tons of prior art here. And if it’s really this easy, wouldn’t the distillers of “well whiskey,”  as it’s called in the video, simply take an extra 24 hours to do this themselves?
This isn’t to say that Whiskey Elements won’t affect the taste of your whiskey, Scotch or Bourbon. I guarantee you, if you dunk some charred wood in whiskey, the solvent properties of the alcohol will pick up some amount of wood flavor. But 24 hours isn’t much time to do so. More importantly, in 24 hours you’ll get barely any short to long chain ester conversion. Long chain esters are a big part of what makes your high end whiskey (or rum, or brandy, or….) taste great. And that takes time.
Whiskey Elements isn’t a radically new idea, and it won’t give you anywhere near the effects of actual barrel aging that they claim. The only real innovation here (I use that term loosely,) is notching the wood stick to increase the surface area. The science they espouse sounds awesome, but I suspect you’ll be radically underwhelmed by the results.

Update (2/18/2015): Here’s one expert’s take on Whiskey Elements. 

Lunar Tiki: The Ganymede Cocktail

Recently I visited Jason Alexander at the Tacoma Cabana – a frequent experience, to be honest. On this visit, he was super excited about a new drink he’d just created. After experimenting unsuccessfully with a number of recipes, including the classic Saturn cocktail, one experiment just clicked. I of course ordered it and had to agree, it’s damn good! Jason named it the Ganymede, a reference to the largest moon of Saturn. It’s a great name, even though the recipe now looks nothing like the original inspiration.

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A bit of gin history with Tanqueray’s Old Tom gin

Gin is one of those spirits like tequila that invokes strong feelings. When people say they “don’t like gin,” I suspect many just haven’t met the right gin yet. Most people’s experience and perception of gin is based on the London Dry style – Gordon’s, Seagrams, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, etc… – all London Dry gins with a strong juniper component. The “dry” in the name indicates that little or no sweetening is added. However, London Dry wasn’t always the big dog of gin. In this post I’ll look at Tanqueray Old Tom gin, a new release based on a recipe from 1835, giving us the chance to create pre-prohibition era cocktails closer (in theory) to what they tasted like originally.

Most gin origin stories start with genever, aka jenever, aka “Holland gin.” Genever has a sweet, funky, somewhat malty flavor in addition to the juniper note. (Juniper was originally added as a flavoring to mask the bad flavor results of primitive distilling techniques.) Genever is still made today in the Netherlands, and Mrs. Wonk brought me back several bottles from her recent trip there.  Most genevers come in cylindrical brown clay bottles—easily recognizable on a back bar or in a retail store. In his book Imbibe, David Wondrich points out that genever was likely what was meant by “gin” in the first wave of cocktails that came about in the mid-1800s.

While the Dutch were making genever, UK distillers were making what later became known as “Old Tom” gin. Like genever, it’s juniper flavored and sweet, but nowhere near as malty. The Old Tom name allegedly comes from a picture of black cat — “Tom” –that hung outside a London bar. Imbibers would push coins through a slot in the wall and receive a shot of the gin in return through a pipe connecting the bartender to patrons outside.

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Around 1900, London Dry-style gins began to dominate the gin world. More recently, “New American” or “New Western” style gins have come to the foreground, partially because hundreds of new distilleries have opened in the US in recent years, and gin is a relatively quick and simple spirit to make, leading to sales sooner rather than following the many years of barrel aging often required for other spirits. Looking to distinguish themselves, the wave of small gin distilleries emphasize their own unique flavor profiles, often leaving the juniper in the background. With all the established London Dry gins and all sorts of New Western style gins vying for attention, Old Tom gins weren’t getting much love, at least not here in the United States.

Things took a turn in 2007, when in collaboration with David Wondrich, Hayman’s introduced an Old Tom gin. Since then, a few more Old Toms have popped up – others I’ve had first-hand experience with include Ransom, Sound Spirits, and Jensen. With the recent release of the Tanquery’s Old Tom gin it’s interesting to see a much bigger player enter the market. Let’s see how Tanqueray Old Tom fares.

Coming in at 94.6 proof, the Tanqueray Old Tom is delightfully smooth. It starts out with lime and juniper and ends with a bit of pepper. Compared to the Hayman’s Old Tom that I tasted it side-by-side with, the Tanqueray had more aromatic definition. I could easily sip the Tanqueray with just a big ice cube in a glass. I used it in two classic cocktails known for specifying Old Tom style gin, and both were very enjoyable, not only to myself but Mrs. Wonk (an Old Tom fangirl from her first discovery) and a friend who seeks out good gins.

First up is the Martinez, considered a precursor to the Martini and with strong similarities to a Manhattan. As usual, recipes for the Martinez are all over the map, ratio wise, so I experimented to come up with proportions that provide balance while keeping most of the gin flavors readily discernible:

Martinez

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  • 2 oz Tanqueray Old Tom Gin
  • 1.25 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
  • 0.125 oz maraschino liqueur (e.g. Luxardo)
  • 4 dashes orange bitters (I used Bittercube)

Stir with ice, serve in chilled coupe.

The second recipe is the Casino Cocktail, a very gin-forward drink that despite its miniscule amount of lemon and maraschino, is extremely nice and not gin overkill. The gin sweetness is just enough to balance out the tart lemon, giving the classic sweet/sour combination that doesn’t dominate the base spirit like in so many other cocktails.

Casino Cocktail

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  • 2 oz Tanqueray Old Tom Gin
  • 0.125 oz lemon juice
  • 0.125 oz maraschino liqueur (e.g. Luxardo)
  • 4 dashes orange bitters (I used Bittercube)Shake with ice, strain into chilled coupe.

Tanqueray says their Old Tom is a limited edition, but at 100,000 bottles, I’m not worried it will become scarce anytime soon. The one liter bottle is a nice surprise – Other mainline Tanqueray products come in either 750ml or 1.75L here in the US, and I much prefer the one liter format for its optimal use of shelf space. The bottle is the traditional Tanqueray shape, patterned after a cocktail shaker. Where the normal green Tanqueray bottle has a red insignia seal near the top, the Old Tom’s seal is blue, a small detail, but appreciated.

Below the main front label is a smaller label containing the unique bottle number. Immediately before the number on my bottle was “CC,” which I initially dismissed as some part of a product code. However, while looking online I noticed other bottles had different letters. It turns out they’re the initials of ten cocktails that Tanqueray suggests using the Old Tom gin in. On my bottle, the “CC” is “Casino Cocktail,” while others have initials like “TC” (Tom Collins) and “GD” (Gin Daisy). A bit gimmicky, but fun nonetheless.

Pricewise, the Tanqueray Old Tom goes for between $31 and $35 at my usual U.S. sources. That may seem a little expensive, but that’s for a liter, not the usual 750ml bottle size. It works out to an equivalent of $24 for 750ml, about $4 more than your basic Tanqueray London Dry, but at the bottom end of the price scale compared to other available Old Toms for the same quantity. For a gin I enjoy this much, that’s a bargain.

Disclosure: I was provided a sample bottle for review purposes, but all opinions are strictly my own.