Rumtastic Happenings at Tales of the Cocktail 2015

It’s 8:45 AM on the second full day of Tales of the Cocktail 2015, and I’m in bed, dreading the imminent alarm clock. Only a few hours earlier I’d been drinking 140 proof Jamaican Rum and cask-strength rye at an impromptu hotel room get-together, followed by a nightcap at the Monteleone’s Carousel bar, before finally falling into bed at 2:30 AM. What I really need is more sleep, but I’m scheduled to drink more rum in an hour. Ordinarily I’d miss the rum and opt for more shut-eye but this is no ordinary tasting. No sir! Plantation Rums had reached deep into their rum reserves, picked of their best casks from all over the Caribbean, and bottled just enough for two dozen people to enjoy at Tales. At 10 AM. The things I do for rum….

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Minimalist Tiki: What you truly need to make the classics at home

Recently there’s been a torrent of articles in the mainstream press heralding the re-emergence of Tiki drinks as worthy of the craft cocktail movement, and highlighting well-regarded top-tier Tiki bars like Smuggler’s Cove, Three Dots and a Dash, and Hale Pele. Readers are regaled with tales about bars with hundreds of rums and all sorts of exotic ingredients, making these bars destination-worthy. I’m completely down with this upsurge in interest, and I myself regularly go overboard in my home bar, creating drinks with ten-plus ingredients, multiple rums, and flaming garnishes.

However, it recently occurred to me that all these exotic Tiki recipes that specify seemingly esoteric ingredients and very specific types of rum can seem a little daunting to the beginning or mid-level home bartending enthusiast. I imagine it’s easy to flip though a Tiki recipe book (or the incredible Beachbum Berry’s Total Tiki app) and feel deflated that you can’t find a single recipe to make with what’s already in your home bar.

With this in mind, I set out on a small research project: Determining the minimum set of ingredients necessary to make a dozen or so of the most popular, beloved Tiki and tropical drinks. By deconstructing classic Tiki recipes and finding the most common elements, I’ve created a minimal working set of ingredients, which enables you to craft all sorts tropical libations without spending a fortune and taking over your living space.  It’s too late for me in that regard, but you can enjoy top- notch Tiki cocktails at home with limited space and budget.

My starting point is a list of Tiki/tropical cocktails that I consider the essential classics; as all lists are, it is completely subjective, but I’ve also conferred with Jason Alexander, @tikicommando. who makes classic and original Tiki drinks for a living at the Tacoma Cabana. For consistency, my recipe reference is the aforementioned Total Tiki app. Because some Tiki recipes have evolved with multiple variations, when there’s more than one recipe I’ve selected the oldest version. Without further adieu, here we go:

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Now Boarding TikiKon Air: Iron TikiTender 2015 Recipes from Seattle Bartenders

A highlight of the CocktailWonk blog last year was attending TikiKon 2014 in  the Portland/Vancouver vortex. In addition to classes and parties, my personal highlight was the Iron TikiTender competition, which my good friend Jason Alexander, owner of the Tacoma Cabana, won in his first time as a competitor. The contest pits three bartenders against each other in a series of challenges, such as “Most Mai Tais in 10 minutes” and “Best drink with a mystery ingredient,” with judging by rum celebrities like Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove. Sadly, I’ll be missing the 2015 TikiKon as Mrs. Wonk and I are headed to New Orleans a few days in advance of Tales of the Cocktail. Nonetheless, I was glad to hear that some of my local, Seattle-based bartenders are applying to compete at Iron TikiTender 2015.

Iron TikiTender 2014 – Felix Fernandez, Marie King, Blair Reynolds, Jason Alexander

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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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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

Going Deeper with Denizen Merchant’s Reserve, and Dutch rum powerhouse E&A Scheer

I recently did a post about three Dutch rums, including the new Denizen’s Merchant’s Reserve, a blend of aged Jamaican and Martinique rums. The Merchant’s Reserve has a bit of buzz around it from Tiki wonks as it’s been promoted as being a good facsimile of the rum used to make the original Trader Vic’s Mai Tai back in the 1940s and 1950s. After acquiring my bottle of the Merchant’s Reserve, trying it out, and reading as much as I could find online, I still had questions beyond what I was finding. I emailed the founder of Denizen Rum and he graciously agreed to talk with me in more detail about the Denizen rums.

First, a bit of back story to help frame what I learned. Citizen Spirits and its Denizen rum line was founded by Nicholas “Nick” Pelis in 2006. Nick had worked in the finance part of the spirits industry with major companies for a few years before forming his own company, Citizen Spirits in New York. One of Nick’s motivations for going into rum was that the Daiquiri had been butchered over many years, becoming an unrecognizable fluorescent green slushy drink made with inexpensive, flavorless rums. A real Daiquiri as consumed by Hemingway and JFK is a simple, robust cocktail made with rum, lime and sugar. The rum in those daiquiris, while clear, was still robust and flavorful, unlike silver rums today that aspire to compete with vodka in their lack of flavor. The first release from Denizen was an aged white rum, a blend of rums from Jamaica and Trinidad. It’s a relatively inexpensive white rum, around $18, and well regarded from what I understand.

While the Daiquiri was the inspiration for the Denizen Aged White, the Trader Vic’s 1944 Mai Tai was the target for rescuing via Denizen’s next rum, the Merchant’s Reserve. As the story goes, Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron originally used J. Wray and Nephew 17 year aged rum from Jamaica in his original Mai Tai, but the Mai Tai’s popularity eventually dried up the stock of that rum, wherein Vic switched to the 15 year Wray and Nephew. When that supply dwindled as well, Vic switched to a blend of younger Jamaican rum and rum from Martinique. These days, the J. Wray and Nephew 17 year rum is a bit of a Holy Grail for Tiki and rum experts, and if any bottles were available they would command a very steep price. Thus a blend of rums is realistically what modern Tiki aficionados have to work with in pursuit of the Original 1944 Mai Tai.

There’s an important detail here that’s easily overlooked and which deserves emphasis. Some modern recipes for a “1944 Mai Tai” specify a mix of Jamaican rum (for the fruity “funk”), and Rhum Agricole, which has a grassy, vegetal flavor because it’s made from raw sugar cane juice rather than molasses like most rums. While a Jamaican rum and an Agricole rhum play nice together, a Tiki expert (and I’ll say who in a moment) contends that the Martinique rum used by Trader Vic wasn’t an Agricole style, but was instead cheaper and molasses based, termed “Rhum Industriel.” This type of rhum isn’t common on Martinique, as most distilleries focus on the Agricole rhum style — considered more refined.

As previously mentioned, Nick wanted to release an ideal rum for a Mai Tai. After consulting with Martin Cate, renowned Tiki expert and owner of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, Nick selected a blend of rums as close as possible to the mix Trader Vic used after the J. Wray and Nephew 17 and 15 were no longer available. Thus, the Denizen Merchant’s Reserve isn’t simply a more aged version of the Denizen Aged White rum. Instead, it uses a different blend of Jamaican rums as well as Martinique rhum industriel, as opposed to the Trinidadian rum found in the Aged White.

To actually produce the Merchant’s Reserve, Nick continued his prior collaboration with E&A Scheer, a Dutch company with a long history going back to 1712. Originally E&A Scheer was a merchant trading company with ships sailing the “Triangle Trade” route between Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Eventually the company focused their efforts on bulk rum shipping and blending, and today their storage facilities hold around 20 million liters of rum, Batavia Arrack, and Cachaça for various customers, which will be blended and sold as drinkable spirits or used in the flavor and fragrance industries. E&A Scheer has extensive experience working with distilleries and transport logistics so they’re a natural choice for a company like Citizen Spirits to partner with.

80% of Denizen Merchant’s Reserve is comprised of rum from Jamaica, sourced from four distilleries:

  • Worthy Park
  • Hampden
  • Clarendon
  • New Yarmouth

The Hampden distillery might be familiar to Jamaican funk aficionados as the source of Smith and Cross rum. The New Yarmouth estate is owned by J. Wray and Nephew, who produce not only the Appleton line but also an  essential Tiki rum, Wray & Nephew Overproof. Worthy Park sells rum domestically within Jamaica and is the source of the Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still rums. Some of these distilleries are relatively small and are working hard to stay afloat in a world of much larger competitors. Nick said he intentionally selected rum from the smaller distilleries to obtain a particular flavor profile as well as to help support and keep them operating.

Of the Jamaican rum in the Merchant’s Reserve, 60% is aged for eight years in used American oak barrels. Another 20% is aged for four years and the remaining 20% is fresh, un-aged distillate. All of the aging is done in Jamaica.

A natural question is: Why not use an even more aged rum? There’s a few reasons: First if aged too long the funk that’s such a great part of Jamaican rums starts to diminish. As I described in my post on Lost Spirits distillery, the barrel aging process converts shorter, fruity esters to long chain “honey” style esters. Second, it’s hard to commercialize a rum older than 8 years. Distilleries need to make predictions many years in advance about anticipated demand, and then distill/age towards those targets. Nick says it’s a challenge for distilleries to do this more than 8 years in advance.

The 20% of the Merchant’s Reserve that’s not Jamaican comes from the Le Galion S.A.E.M. distillery in Martinique. It’s the last remaining sugar factory in Martinique that produces brown sugar, and they produce a rum called “Le Galion Grand Arome.” The rum from Le Galion is molasses-based rather than starting from cane juice, so by definition it’s not an Agricole rum. [Update: Be sure to see Martin Cate’s notes in the comment section about the alternative to the “industriel” designation as well as about the fermentation and flavor of “Grand Arome” rum.]

Given all the moving parts of putting together a blended rum like this, I was wondering about its long term availability. Should I be snapping up bottles of the Merchant’s Reserve? Nick says he’s got enough in reserve to expand production and make it an ongoing commercial release. The initial bottling of Merchant’s Reserve was just 700 cases and targeted primarily at the New York/New Jersey, California, and Chicago markets. However, it’s available at online stores that ship nationally.

With two well received rums released, I asked Nick what’s next for Denizen rums. He indicated something more “allocated,” to use his words. By that he means something rarer, for example a single barrel rum, aged longer, perhaps in the 15-year range. I strongly encourage this sort of thing. In Europe there are a number of independent bottlers such as Rum Nation that have limited runs of bottles from a single still or barrel. Unfortunately these sorts of bottles are relatively difficult to come across in the United States. I vividly remember visiting a whisky store in a Glasgow cellar and coming across the whole set of Bristol Classic rums, then agonizingly choosing one as I only had room for one more bottle in my overstuffed luggage. I really hope the U.S. based Denizen can help supply the US market with exotic rum treasures like what are available in Europe.

During my conversation with Nick I was surprised at how open and forthcoming he was with details about his rum’s background. His reasons for sharing boils down to the fact that rum is relatively unregulated and big producers will play games with it to lower costs and/or sell more. For rum to rise in respectability to where Scotch is today, provenance and traceability are key. I’ve seen traceability taken to an extreme with Ed Hamilton’s rums, where you can enter a number from the bottle into a web site and see photos of the actual barrels containing the rum, shipping manifests for the barrels and much more.

Back to Denizen Merchant’s Reserve, the label design is similar in concept to the earlier Denizen White rum, reminding you of an “old school” rum label you might find on a bottle that floated up on a beach somewhere. The label’s orange color is a nod to the Dutch role in its creation.  The lions at the top symbolize courage, while the crown symbolizes being the king or queen of your domain. The “Merchant’s Reserve” name is a tribute to the Dutch West Indies trading company – They discovered that during the long sea journeys, the taste of the barreled rum improved. They selected the best of these rums and sold them for the highest premium.

While Denizen rums are still mostly available in a small number of US states, the set of distributors signed up is growing. If you can’t find it locally, check out online sources.

Talking Rum with Erik Carlson and House Spirits’ Bridgetown Rum

House Spirits of Portland, Oregon is dipping their toes into the rum pool with their new Bridgetown rum, part of their limited release, small batch series. House Spirits has made a name for themselves with their Aviation Gin, Westward malt whiskey, and other releases. To help define the character of the rum they partnered with Erik Carlson, the bar manager at Stoneburner and Bastille, and one of Seattle’s better known craft bartenders. Having studied Erik’s cocktail list at Stoneburner, I can tell he’s passionate about tropical style drinks, although certainly not limited to them. Thus he was a natural choice to work with House Spirits team, which he did over a number of sampling sessions.

Having attended the Bridgetown Rum launch party at Bastille, I was sufficiently intrigued to acquire a bottle and chat with Erik during a visit to the bar at Stoneburner. The Bridgetown name is a nod to the capital of Barbados, considered the birthplace of rum and home to Mount Gay, Foursquare, Cockspur and St. Nicholas Abbey rums. Bridgetown also alludes to the bridges between Ballard (a Seattle neighborhood) where Erik lives and Portland, about 170 miles south, where House Spirits is located.

Erik described to me the details of Bridgetown rum making process. It starts with “Barbados style” molasses, which is unsulphered, baking grade molasses and is fermented with Guadeloupe yeast strains. After double distillation in copper pot stills, 80% of the distillate is aged for six months in used House Spirits Westward whiskey barrels. The other 20% is aged for 3 months in New #2 char American Oak barrels before the two parts are brought back together. For the flavor profile, Erik targeted a mixing rum that merged his three favorite styles:

  • Agricole – Straw, grass and sugar cane
  • Jamaican – Funk, molasses, baking spices
  • Barbados – Ripe fruit, vanilla, butterscotch

In its substantial, individually numbered bottle, the Bridgetown’s color is a light-to-medium gold. Although intended as a mixing rum I first nosed and sipped it neat. There’s an initial enticing hint of Smith & Cross style Jamaican funk. This quickly turns to a bit of moderate burn and tails off to a woody finish. Yes, the Bridgetown is not a sipper. Instead, its flavor profile is more attuned to cocktails where the blend of rum styles is an asset. To me, the agricole and Jamaican notes are equally present, with the Barbados a bit less evident.

The obvious choice for testing out a rum like this is the Daiquiri. However, to mix it up a bit I went with a variation of the Daiquiri’s slightly more sophisticated cousin, the Royal Bermuda Yacht club:

Royal Bridgetown Yacht Club

  • 2 oz House Spirits Bridgetown Rum
  • ½ oz lime juice
  • ¼ oz Dry Curacao
  • ¼ oz Falernum
  • ¼ oz simple syrup

Shake with ice, strain into a chilled coupe.

In cocktails the Bridgetown holds its own but plays well with others like a good mixing rum should.  It’s nice to see that the Bridgetown rum is further expanding flavor dimensions of rums from craft distilleries along the West Coast of the US.

Bartender! There’s Chile in my Tiki Drink (The Aztec Warrior)

The Aztec Warrior at Rob Roy, Seattle

Recently I had the good fortune to be at Rob Roy in Seattle on a night that Brady Sprouse was tending bar. I’ve enjoyed Brady’s previous work at Smith and have wonked out on a few occasions with him about craft cocktail ingredients and such. After the abnormally busy Thursday night crowd died down I asked Brady to make me something off-menu and of his choosing. What he delivered to me was a mezcal-based Old Fashioned variation that included Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur.

Ancho Reyes is a relatively new spirit from Mexico, flavored primarily by the ancho chile. Up till this point I’d never tried it so Brady offered me a small sample of it, neat. I anticipated that it was going to be fairly spicy but I was pleasantly surprised when it had a mild to medium heat and enough sweet and other spice elements to make it easily sippable.

As I nursed my drink, the thought “Hey, this might be interesting in Tiki!” popped into my head. I mentioned this off-handedly to Brady and he immediately replied “I’ve got an interesting idea along those lines if you’re willing to try it.” Never one to forego mixological experimentation I said “Sure!”

Brady went to work with his magical bottles, and other then a quick dash of Smith and Cross at the end, I saw no rum appear. What he eventually set in front of me had the full on Tiki mug treatment, so that was encouraging. I naturally asked about the ingredients and was most surprised that he used the Ancho Reyes as a base spirit. Turning back to the Ancho bottle in front of me, I saw it was indeed 80 proof, and subsequent research shows that the primary ingredient is “neutral cane spirits”, which I’m going to call close enough to rum for this discussion.

Finally taking a sip, a smile crossed my face. The chile spice is definitely present but doesn’t dominate and it’s unquestionably a tiki-style drink. Brady was nice enough to jot down the recipe, which he quickly dubbed the “Aztec Warrior.” If you’re a tiki-wonk you’ll notice a certainly similarity to the Jet Pilot, one of the house specialties at Casa CocktailWonk. The primary difference between the Aztec Warrior and the Jet Pilot are that the rums are swapped out for Ancho Reyes and Batavia Arrack.

Aztec Warrior (Brady Sprouse)

  • 1.5 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Licor
  • .5 oz Batavia Arrack
  • .5 oz rich cinnamon syrup
  • .5 oz Falernum (Use alcohol-based, house made, rather than Velvet Falernum)
  • .75 oz grapefruit
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • .25 oz Smith and Cross (for the float)

Combine everything except the Smith & Cross. Shake, pour over crushed ice. Float the Smith & Cross, then garnish with a dash of Angostura Bitters and whatever Tiki-like garnish you like.

Going Dutch (Rum-Crazy) – Denizen Merchant’s Reserve, Zuidam Flying Dutchman, and Tres Hombres Republica Dominicana

Three Dutch Rums… Three Dutch Rums…

I started this past week with no Dutch rum in my collection and ended it proudly possessing three very different bottles from the Netherlands, each with a great story to tell. Wait – rum from the Netherlands you may be thinking? It’s not a big stretch to associate the Dutch with rum given that they had a long history of colonization in the Caribbean during the 1600s right alongside the English.

When Mrs. CocktailWonk told me she was headed to Germany and Amsterdam for a work trip I immediately started researching what sort of goodies she could bring back that I can’t easily get here in the United States. I got some great advice from the fellow members of the Ministry of Rum Facebook page and assembled a “Things to look for” guide for her. After getting a pointer from the bartender at Door 74 in Amsterdam, she went to Le Cellier in Amsterdam where she was able to reach me by phone – She read bottle labels to me while I rapidly researched what she was finding. Among the finds were two unique rums.

First up is the Zuidam Flying Dutchman Dark Rum No. 3. Zuidam is an artisanal distillery in the Netherlands that produces a prodigious number of different spirits, including genever, whiskey, rum, and liqueurs. Seriously, check out their product line on the website – They make every other distillery look like slackers. There are two Flying Dutchman rums – No. 1 is a white rum while No. 3 has been aged for a minimum of 3 years. I can’t rave enough about the Flying Dutchman. The bottle is absolutely stunning – I can’t stop picking it up and admiring it. As for the rum, it’s tripled distilled, then aged for a minimum of three year in (quoting the label): “Olorosso Sherry, PX casks, and new American oak.” An interesting choice to go with New American Oak. The taste is sublime – It reminds me strongly of cognac. Not overly sweet, this is a fantastic sipper for rum wonks who are past their Zaya phase. At about 25 Euros, this rum is a total steal. Buy as much as you can when you see it.

Next is the Tres Hombres XV Anos, Republica Dominicana ed 05 2013. The Tres Hombres story is that of three men who make yearly visits to the Caribbean on their boat, seek out interesting rums, and then bring the rum back to the Netherlands on a long sea voyage. The ship is an old German wooden fishing ship that the three Tres Hombres converted into a square-rigged sailing cargo vessel with no engine. Without and engine the journey of the rum from the Dominican Republic to the Netherlands took five months. Part of the claim is that the months at sea, with the rum sloshing around in the barrels, adds to its character. I’m still trying to figure out if what happens to the rum once it reaches the Netherlands – Is it simply bottled or does more happen?

Each year Tres Hombres puts out a different rum. For my bottle, edition 5, the rum originated in the Dominican Republic from Oliver and Oliver Internancional, a distillery who’s products aren’t readily available directly in the US. However, Oliver and Oliver also sell rum to other companies that rum wonks have likely heard of including Atlantico and Vizcaya. The rum has been aged for 15 year using the solera method. While not quite as sweet as Vizcaya or Ron Zacapa, the XV Anos has a dark, mellow character that reminds me of them. At 65 Euros the XV Anos a bit expensive but still a fairly good value given the character of the rum and the story behind it. If you’re a rum collector and you see this bottle, grab it.

My final Dutch rum arrived via FedEx rather than thanks to Mrs. CocktailWonk. Denizen is a Dutch rum blender that up till now has been known for their white rum, a blend of rums from Jamaica and Trinidad, both well-known rum origination points. More recently, Denizen has released their “Merchant’s Reserve” rum, which has caused quite a stir among tiki-aficionados. The Merchant’s reserve is a mixture of Jamaican and Martinique rums, aged for eight years.  The Jamaican portion is a blend of Plummer pot stilled rum from “Worthy Park, Hampden, New Yarmouth, and Clarendon”. This may mean nothing to most folks, but as someone who worships at the altar of Jamaican Funk and Smith & Cross rum, I couldn’t be happier to read those words. The martinique rum component is unusual in that it’s not an agricole style, which is usually what people think of when they think of Martinique rums.

The reason Denizen Merchant’s Reserve has attracted tiki-wonk attention is that beyond just the funk, it’s said that the Jamaican and Martinique rum blend was picked to replicate the holy grail of Tiki rums, Wray & Nephew 17, which the Trader Vic’s 1944 Mai Tai calls for and which hasn’t been available for decades. Once my Merchant’s Reserve arrived I immediately set out to create the 1944 Mai Tai as faithfully as I could.

Pretty close to an original 1944 Trader Vic’s Mai Tai

CocktailWonk’s Pretty Darn Close 1944 Mai Tai
1 oz Denizen Merchant’s Reserve
1 oz Clement VSOP Agricole
.5 oz Clement Creole Shrubb
.5 oz Small Hand Foods Orgeat
1 oz Lime juice

From what I’ve read, the Jamaican funk esters don’t stand up terribly well to long aging – Smith & Cross is a fairly young rum. The Merchant’s Reserve at 8 years has definite funkiness similarities to the Smith & Cross but it’s more subtle. On the other hand, with the additional aging the Denizen is smoother. I can happily sip or mix this rum. It’s not what I’d serve to somebody as their introduction to rum and it’s not particularly sweet, but if you enjoy the many different incarnations of rum, or if Tiki authenticity is important to you (and it should be) grab a bottle or two of the Denizen Merchant’s Reserve. It’s starting to roll out in the US, and at $30 it’s a solid addition to your rum collection. The blog “A Mountain of Crushed Ice” has a nice review with even more background on it.

South of the Border Zombie

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.