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.

The Essential Arsenal of Tiki Rums

Coruba Dark, Wray & Nephew, Smith & Cross, Bacardi 8, Plantation 5

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.

Continue reading “The Essential Arsenal of Tiki Rums”

The Hampden Negroni, featuring Smith & Cross rum

The Hampden Negroni (yeah yeah, I did this one over ice)

Next week (June 2-8, 2014) is National Negroni Week, but being impatient, I’m sharing my favorite Negroni variation now. The Negroni is a very common and simple cocktail pattern, but one that offers a near infinite variety of combinations of ingredients that sing together. To quickly recap:

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