South of the Border Zombie

With Mrs CocktailWonk off in Europe this week touring faucet factories and perusing liquor stores on my behalf, I’ve been catching up on some quality bar time around Seattle. However I’d been ignoring my home bar and by Friday I was feeling some homemade Tiki was in order (surprise!) but with an upcoming visit to Tacoma Cabana in my very near future, I knew the rum bases were covered. I’ve always considered rum and tequila to be kindred spirits and I enjoy a hearty, smoky mescal nearly as much as an ultra-funky Jamaican rum. My mind went to the Zombie and the wheels started to turn.

The short version of the Zombie recipe is multiple rums, Apricot Liqueur, pineapple and lime juice. My goal was to replace them with ingredients more associated with Mexico while keeping it balanced and hewing to the Zombie pattern, and I’m pretty happy with the results:

South of the Border Zombie

South of the Border Zombie

  • 1oz Cabeza (blanco tequila)
  • 1oz Sombra mescal
  • 1oz Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal
  • 1oz Damiana
  • 1oz Grapefruit

Shake, pour over crushed ice in a chilled glass. Liberally dash Peychaud’s bitter over the top of the ice.

The Cabeza is a good quality blanco tequila, singing background to the other players here. The Sombra provides a healthy dose of mezcal smokiness. To me, it’s the mescal equivalent of Smith and Cross rum.

The Crema de Mezcal bears special note here – It’s not a regular mescal. Rather, it’s 90% mescal, and 10% agave syrup so it’s much sweeter than a mescal. It’s fantastic to sip straight or simply add a bit of lime juice and you’ve got something akin to a smoky margarita. I relied on the Crema de Mezcal sweetness to help balance out the sour from the lime, so factor that in if you substitute for it.

For the pineapple juice component of a Zombie, I used grapefruit juice like the Paloma, another well-known Mexican drink. Grapefruit juice isn’t as sweet as pineapple juice, but the Crema de Mezcal helps to bring up the overall sweetness. Lastly, the Damiana replaces the Zombie’s apricot liqueur. Damiana is a Mexican herbal liqueur flavored primarily from the Damiana tea leaf. It falls into the same herbal flavor category as spirits like chartreuse or Benedictine, and is moderately sweet in its own right.

The South of the Border Zombie is well balanced and with four different spirits, packs a punch like the original Zombie. You get a dose of smokiness but it’s not overwhelming. It’s not overly sweet, and some people might enjoy it with a touch more Crema de Mezcal or simple syrup to up the sweet to sour ratio.

Rum and Sherry – A shared history and great together in cocktails!

June 2-8 2014 is International Sherry Week and I’m pretty excited about it. I’m relatively new in my sherry knowledge, but it’s rapidly become a favorite of mind when constructing new cocktails. Sherry goes particularly well with rum in cocktails and I’ve got some sherry background and three rum & sherry recipes to share.

Sherry is a fortified wine similar to Port wine. Hundreds of years ago, regular wine was “fortified” by adding a distilled grape spirit to make the mine more shelf stable in barrels during long ship voyages. Fortified wines typically have a higher alcohol content than regular wine but usually don’t exceed the 20% ABV range.

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Was the English Civil war responsible for the birth of rum?

I’ve always been curious about what thought processes lead to the invention of things. On the topic of rum, I’d long wondered who made the first rum and what gave them the idea? The book “Rum, A Social and SociableHistory” by Ian Williams provides a very plausible theory that I frequently recount to friends who are inquisitive about the history of rum.

St. Nicholas Abbey, Barbados
It’s generally accepted that rum as we know it was first distilled on Barbados in the mid 1600s. Barbados had been visited by Spanish and Portuguese forces prior to the English arrival, but it was the English that decided that it was a good spot to grow sugar cane and set up a permanent settlement in the 1620s. At the time, sugar was scarce and very highly desired in Europe. Soon, nearly the entire island was dedicated to growing sugar cane, so much that food needed to be imported because Barbados land was more valuable for sugar production than for more readily usable food crops.
In the sugar making process, the cut cane is crushed and the resulting juices collected. Those juices are then boiled, causing the sucrose (what we think of as table sugar) to crystallize out. This process may be repeated to extract yet more sucrose. What’s left behind? Molasses. The various grades of molasses available are really a function of how much sucrose has been extracted.
In Barbados during the mid-1600s, molasses was an industrial waste product with very little value. It was used in mortar, fed to slaves, mixed with hay and feed to farm animals, or dumped in the ocean. So the natural question is “So who decided to ferment molasses and distill the result?” Ian William’s book suggest that Scottish/Irish whiskey making tradition may have birthed rum.
Going back in your world history, the English Civil war (1642-1653) was between various forces in England, Ireland and Scotland. Long story short, a collection of Irish and Scotsmen on the losing side ended up on Barbados either voluntarily (perhaps fleeing from home), or involuntarily as indentured servants. Ian’s book pick up the story here (quoting):
“Without being too stereotypical, we can hypothesize that some thirsty and inventive Scot or Irishman landed, voluntarily or involuntarily, in Barbados in its early days. Any exiled Celt who had dealt with malt to make a mash for a still would not need to be an Einstein to make the connection with molasses, not least on an island like Barbados, where traditional cereal production was insufficient for food, let alone brewing. So the odds are high that it may well have been an aesthete Celt, desperate for decent drink, who decided that all those spirits needed releasing from their distasteful, wet and murky brown shroud.”
Of course, this is conjecture and we likely never will know exactly what happened. However, if true it does provide the critical link between whiskey in the British Isles and rum in the New World. Folks who knew how to make whiskey simply adapted to a new source of fermentable mash. This narrative repeated itself later in America. For a while, rum was the dominant spirit in America, however its production requires molasses, which was economically prohibitive to transport to the western frontier. During the westward expansion corn and other grains were locally available, which led to the rise of American whiskeys such as Bourbon.

The origins of rum at St. Nicholas Abbey in Barbados

In April 2103 my wife Carrie and I visited Barbados for the first time. A few months earlier we’d won the bidding for a week’s stay at a home in Barbados after remembering that Barbados is considered the birthplace of rum. It went without saying that we planned to visit every distillery on the island, but the story of St. Nicholas Abbey made it the obvious first stop.

The Abbey has a long and storied history going back to 1658, which I won’t attempt to replicate here as it’s well documented elsewhere. What you need to know is that the Abbey was a fully functioning plantation and distillery, growing its own sugar and doing nearly everything else in-house. The owner’s mansion on the property is enormous, beautifully maintained, and would be worth a visit even if there wasn’t rum involved. At some point in the late 1900s you could visit the house as a heritage attraction, but the Abbey was no longer a functioning plantation after 1947.

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A good post on the impact of environmental conditions on barrel aging of whiskey

A nice, easily readable post for folks curious about whiskey over on DrinkSpirits this morning. It talks about barrel aging of whiskeys, the difference between Scotch and Bourbon aging, and how environment matters more than the number years in a barrel. Plus, empirical proof! The Buffalo Trace folks aged the same distillate for an identical length of time in three different locations in their aging warehouse, and got very different results which you can buy and taste for yourself.

Among the key points of the article:

  • Bourbon (i.e American whiskey) must be aged in new charred oak barrels, whereas Scotch is aged in previously used barrels, often bourbon barrels. Yes, we Americans ship a lot of our used barrels overseas for use in aging other spirits.
  • Bourbon usually reaches optimal flavor somewhere around 8 years, whereas Scotch takes several years longer.
  • Kentucky has much wider temperature variation than Scotland. Bigger temperature swings mean the whiskey expands/contracts more, thus passing through the wood in the barrel more.
  • Just because it’s aged longer doesn’t mean it’s better. You can over-age.
As you can imagine, the same environmental considerations apply to rum, which ages in a very hot Caribbean environment.

The Essential Arsenal of Tiki Rums

When I first fell down the Tiki rabbit hole, working my way through Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, I realized how little I knew about rums. Demerara, Jamaican, Lemon Hart, Virgin Island, Trinidad, Wray and Nephew… So many names and styles to keep track of and start acquiring! Since then my rum collection’s grown far beyond the space I set aside when designing my home bar.

By this point I’ve made enough Tiki recipes to have a good sense of what I keep coming back to over and over in my Tiki drinks. These are the bottles that I always have a backup bottle or two in reserve. Most of these rums aren’t traditionally considered “sipping” rums, so just because a superb rum like Mount Gay X0 isn’t on this list doesn’t mean I don’t consider enjoy it.

This list isn’t intended to be comprehensive and cover every rum style used in Tiki. The list is also constrained by brands available to me in the United States, which is often much different than what’s available elsewhere, especially with the more boutique brands.

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