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 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.

 

Eastside Distilling Below Deck Silver Rum

The day after the Iron TikiTender competition at TikiKon 2014, Mrs. Cocktail Wonk and I had an afternoon to spend in Portland. We made the requisite trip to Pok Pok for amazing Thai food, and the rest of the afternoon was spent at the Pearl Specialty Market and Spirits, as well as several distilleries. Portland has become a hotbed of small producers, and six of them are close enough to have banded together as a collective known as Distillery Row. On this particular Sunday, we had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Eastside Distilling with the owner, Lenny Gotter. At the end of our visit, Lenny generously provided me with bottles of the Below Deck Silver Rum and the Burnside Oregon Oaked Bourbon. In this post I’ll cover the Silver Rum, while a subsequent post will cover the Oregon Oaked Bourbon.

The Eastside Distilling stills

Although Eastside Distilling is only six years old, they have a fairly large and diverse product line.  Most of their operations including fermentation, distilling, and bottling fit within a medium-sized room at the back of a single-story industrial building. There are numerous big blue plastic vats containing mash and distillates that take up a big chunk of the room. Eastside has an interesting, locally built still setup utilizing 100, 35 and 8 gallon kettles. In addition there’s both pot and column still “heads” which can be fitted to any of the kettles. The output from one head can be fed into the kettle of another to create a multi-still configuration.

Section of Eastside’s column still

The Silver Rum is distilled using a pot still configuration up to 65% ABV before being bottled without aging. Lenny told me that he has aged some of his rum, but not yet released any as of yet. As it is now, his existing barrel space is primarily devoted to whiskeys, but he’s considering the future release of an aged rum after he acquires more space for barrels.

To my taste, the Silver Rum is on the slightly sweet side relative to other silver rums and has a subtle fruity essence. To validate my initial tasting notes, I had a friend blind-taste the Eastside Silver Rum, Bull Run Distillery’s Pacific Rum (also from Portland), and Cana Brava, an aged, filtered white rum from Panama which I’ve covered recently. Although these three rums are substantially different in how they’re made, they are good representations of the spectrum of the non-blended white rum used in cocktails. My friend and I agreed that the Eastside rum was the sweetest of the three and was smoother than Pacific Rum. Separately I put it side by side with the well-regard Plantation 3 Stars Silver Rum and was surprised at how similar they were. At $18 per bottle, I’ll happily use the Eastside rum in daiquiris, mojitos, and similar cocktails.

Eastside Distilling’s bottling station
Some of Eastside Distilling’s vats

To take the Silver Rum out for a spin, I chose a daiquiri variation I particularly enjoy, using both a spiced-infused syrup and maraschino liqueur:

Eastside Daiquiri

  • 2 oz Eastside Silver Rum
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/4 oz Clement Sirop de Canne
  • 1/8 oz maraschino

Shake over ice, strain into a chilled coupe.

While you could use 2:1 simple syrup here, the Sirop de Canne makes it substantially better, and it’s worth the effort to find it at around $15 per bottle. The Clement website describes it thusly: “…fresh pressed sugarcane juice is slowly reduced down over a low temperature with a maceration of crushed rolls of cinnamon, pulverized cloves, and cracked vanilla beans to make our spiced sugarcane syrup.” In short, yum! You need this!

Eastside Daiquiri

Besides the Silver rum, Eastside also offers other rums that start from a base of the Silver–Spiced, Ginger, and Coffee. I found their taste to be pleasing and nicely restrained in sweetness, i.e., they weren’t sugar-bomb liqueurs. I could easily picture experimenting with them to come up with some interesting cocktail recipes.

Eastside Distilling currently has distribution within Oregon and Washington State, and their spirits are offered in a number of restaurants and bars (listed on the Eastside web site). And as mentioned earlier, stay tuned for a post covering Eastside’s Burnside Oregon Oaked Bourbon.

The Hottest Tot North of Havana – Lost Spirits Cuban Inspired Rum

Lost Spirits Cuban Inspired Rum

Given the number of posts I’ve written about Lost Spirits Rums (including this, and this), you might think I’m a bit obsessed – and you’d be right. However, the crazy amount of behind the scenes information Bryan Davis has shared with me, plus the aggressive release schedule of three different rums with more in the pipeline, begs to be written about. I’ve just received a sample of their third release, the Cuban Inspired Rum, and am sipping a daiquiri made with it as I write this. If you’re unfamiliar with the Lost Spirits story, I highly suggest starting here for context, as I’m moving fast in this post.

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Eight Excellent, Lesser Known Rums for under $25

Here at Casa Cocktail Wonk we drink a lot of rum. While I happily pull out my wallet for well-regarded high end rum, I also wonk out over finding great rums at a great price. There’s plenty of well-established brands with wonderful entries for less than $25 US. For instance, the Plantation Grande Réserve 5 is a steal at around $15. However, I also get a kick out of promoting the smaller, lesser-known brands with great bottlings that I stock at home. Below are eight rums I personally endorse, all available online somewhere for less than $25, before shipping. For each rum I’ve listed the best current price and the site where I found it.

Caldas Gran Reserva Oak Cask
This 8-year aged rum from Columbia is very smooth and moderate to dark gold in color. It’s dry and seems to have little or no sugar added after distillation. It’s somewhat comparable to Bacardi 8 in overall feel, but I prefer it to the Bacardi. Good enough to mix in spirit forward cocktails with abandon because of its taste and price, I end up sipping a dram every time I open the bottle.
17.99 luekensliquors.com

Cana Brava
Aged for three or more years, then filtered to strip the color, this rum comes the legendary Don Pancho Fernandez in Panama. Don Pancho is behind numerous well regarded rum lines including Ron Abuelo (see below.) Cana Brava works well in drinks calling for flavorful silver rum, such as the Daiquiri. It’s part of the 86 Co.’s line of spirits targeted primarily at bartenders.
$24.99 (1 liter) hitimewine.net

Denizen Aged White Rum
A blend of aged rums from Trinidad and Jamaica. The founder of Denizen tells me the Aged White was created to make the perfect Daiquiri. I recently reviewed its sibling, Denizen Merchant’s Reserve. Both are blended by master blenders E&A Scheer in Holland, and deserve a spot in your bar. $16.99 drinkupny.com

Doorly’s X0
A blend of rums from Barbados, aged between six and ten years in American oak, then finished in sherry casks.  As with everything from Richard Seale’s Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, there’s no sugar added to juice up the perceived flavor. Richard’s insistence on quality rums are well known in the rum world. Doorly’s XO is what I brought back from Barbados for my rum loving friends.
$19.99 totalwine.com

Hamilton Jamaica Black
This 92 proof rum comes from Ed Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum collection. If you’re a fan of Jamaican hogo, this rum delivers in spades. I find the funk to be more vegetal than the fruity funk of Smith & Cross, but equally intense.  Put Hamilton Jamaica in your drink and the flavor will pop right through, so I enjoy it in Tiki drinks where there’s a lot going on. There are both gold and black version of this rum – the only difference is the type of caramel coloring added, imparting a slight flavor difference.
$23.99 hitimewine.net

Pacific Rum
Bull Run Distillery in Portland, OR makes one of the many new American white rums popping up all over. What makes Pacific Rum unusual is that it starts from sugar cane juice instead of molasses, and is then aged for about a month. This rum is essentially an American version of an Agricole style rum – somewhat organic and grassy tasting, in a good way. Not as intense as La Favorite Blanc, I use it frequently in Tiki style drinks that call for an agricole rum. I’ve mentioned it previously in my Essential Arsenal of Tiki Rums post.
$24.56 clearviewspiritsandwines.com

Ron Abuelo 7 
Ron Abuelo is a Panamanian rum from Don Pancho Fernandez, born in Cuba and considered a master of the Cuban style. The entire Ron Abuelo line is well regarded, but at Abuelo 7 is a smooth sipper at a bargain price.  I enjoyed my first bottle of Abuelo 7 so much that I didn’t hesitate to purchase the Abuelo 12 as well.
$21.99 hitimewine.net

St. Lucia Distiller’s Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum
I’m normally not a spiced rum kind of guy. However, at a local tasting of the Chairman’s Reserve rums from the St. Lucia Distiller’s group, I was shocked at how well executed the Chairman’s Reserve Spiced rum is. The cinnamon and clove elements nicely complement the aged rum flavors, rather than attempt to mask it like so many other spiced rums. Sure, you could mix with it, but you’ll be happier to just pour out an ounce or two and savor it slowly.
$19.99 drinkupny.com