New “science of rum” paper from Lost Spirits Distillery now online

Longtime readers know I’m a big fan of Lost Spirits Distillery in central California. I’ve written about them extensively, with most of the hard science the result of long conversations with Bryan Davis, co-owner and master distiller. This is really wonky stuff: yeasts, acids, esters, and chemical analysis – true rum science.

Very recently, Bryan put up the first (of what hopefully will be several) pages on the Lost Spirits site where he shares the results of in-depth chemical analysis of pairs of rums, including annotated gas chromatographs. Titled “Trace Carboxylic Acid & Ester Origin in Mature Spirits”, it’s full of meaty observations like this:

This observation appears to confirm that the trace ester density is not only predetermined prior to the spirit entering the cask but that the distillation cuts and level of rectification has a massive effect on the final character of the aged spirit.

The page link is here. Alternatively, visit the Lost Spirits site and click on the “Science” link.

Suitcase Booze: The Cocktail Wonk Guide to Buying Liquor on the Road

One of the occupational hazards of Cocktail Wonkdom is an insatiable desire to find the next great bottle, the big score, the one you’ve only heard rumors of. After tapping out your local liquor stores and become bored (or frustrated) by ordering online, how do you feed the desire? The simple answer: Travel. The moment Mrs. Wonk purchases our tickets for our next great destination, domestic or international, I’ve already started plotting a strategy to maximize the goodies we’ll bring home in overstuffed (but under 50lbs/23kg) suitcases. I’ve learned a lot and am here to share some hard-won wisdom.

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Suitcase Rum: Bristol Black Spiced Rum (Bristol Classic Rums)

“Suitcase” posts here on CocktailWonk cover spirits that aren’t readily available in the United States– they’re spirits I’ve discovered while traveling and brought home in my suitcase, warranting an in-depth look.
The Bristol Black spiced rum is among the most interesting of my finds during our recent trip to London. I don’t normally gravitate towards spiced rums – Captain Morgan, begone! Away with you, Kraken! Too often they are vanilla/sugar bombs. However I have a soft spot for Chairman’s Reserve spiced rum from St. Lucia Distillers, and I will confess to using and abusing Sailor Jerry’s in my early proto-mixology days.

The Bristol Black is my third rum from Bristol Classic Rums, along with the previously covered Royal Vale Wedderburn and the 1999 Port Morant Demerara from Guyana, which I found in Glasgow on the last day of our previous European excursion. I fully expect my Bristol Classic Rum collection will grow at the next available opportunity. As the store clerk pulled the Bristol Black from the case at The Vintage House in London, it pained me that I had to forego its Cuban stablemate sitting next to it. Even though the change to US-Cuban relations had been announced just days before, the U.S. import laws on Cuban rum acquired somewhere other than Cuba were still cloudy enough to not risk it.
The Bristol Black’s color is, well, darn-near black. Holding the clear glass bottle up to bright light, it has the hue and opacity of a deep red wine. It comes in at 42% ABV (84 proof), a tad lighter than I’d prefer. I paid U.S. $62 for it in London, and it’s still available online at a few UK sites.
The components of the Bristol Black are a blend of 6-year aged from the Caroni distillery in Trinidad, and 3-year aged white rum from Mauritius. Mauritius, if you’re not familiar, is an island country to the east of Africa and Madagascar, with six active rum distilleries. Unfortunately, I can’t dig up exactly which distillery produces the Mauritian component. However, Bristol Classic Rum has another bottling of Mauritian rum that appears to be from the Rhumerie de Mascareignes, which produces Rhum Agricole style rum. If I had to bet, I’d put money on the two bottlings being from the same distillery.
Taste wise, the Bristol Black is a head-turner, unlike any other spiced rum I’ve encountered. There’s no vanilla, and it’s not syrupy sweet. Instead, it’s fruitcake, tea, tobacco, and mince. The exact flavorings aren’t listed anywhere on the bottle or Bristol’s site, but one source says they include blackstrap molasses, salt liquorice, and orange zest.
How to use the Bristol Black? The bottle suggests “over ice with your favorite mixer.” Not particularly helpful. With its mince, orange, and tobacco overtones, I can picture it being nice with a bit of sweet vermouth, a kind of Holiday Rum Manhattan, if you will. However, I’m perfectly content to sip it neat, ideally by a nice fire on a cold winter night.

Checking out the Barbarian Bar Tool

A while ago on Instagram I noticed a rather aggressive looking multi-function bar tool from @barbarianbartools in my feed. Essentially a hand citrus press with a number of additional useful bartending tools such as knives and zesters attached to it. With its matte black finish and multi-winged prow giving it a mace-like appearance, it certainly looks imposing, even more so when all the tools are extended. (Not that you’d use it that way, of course.) The other thing I noticed from the photos was the background scenes, which I recognized as Seattle and nearby environs.
Eventually JC Davis, the man behind Barbarian Bar Tools and I met up in person. JC is definitely a builder-type, always tinkering with things and looking for ways to improve them. Although not a bartender, JC became fascinated with the concept of a multi-functional bar tool several years ago and has spent a ton of time evolving a design and soliciting feedback along the way.
As an advanced home bartender, I’m always interested to see innovative new tools. Barbarian actually has two tools. The “Simple tool” is a thin, rectangular blade style tool with zesters and bottle openers, while the “Barbarian” is the much larger citrus-press tool. JC was kind enough to lend me his near final prototypes of the Barbarian for me to evaluate and provide feedback on.
The Barbarian has these tools:
  • Citrus press
  • Jigger (measuring cup)
  • Corkscrew & lever
  • Bottle opener
  • Zester (small and large)
  • Channel knife
  • Bottle opener
  • Can lance
  • Knives (2)

The knives and can opener tuck neatly into the upper handle, much like the blades in a pocket knife. With one exception, it’s obvious what each tool is and how to use it. The jigger function isn’t obvious at first. The bowl on the upper handle has several rings indicating fill levels of 0.75, 1, and 1.5 ounces. Notched depression on the side of the bowl aid in pouring the contents out.
As a citrus press the Barbarian is about as ergonomic to use as other hand citrus, and it feels sturdy under load. Using the other tools is a bit more unwieldy as you’re moving around a lot more mass than with a dedicated tool such as a knife or zester. As a home bartender with a full set of tools already, the Barbarian won’t replace any of my dedicated tools while I’m at home.
Where the Barbarian can shine is on the road, away from a dedicated bar environment. Think camping, picnics, boating, summer cabin and so on. I’m frequently asked to bring classy drinks to small gatherings. Rather than just pouring Rum and Cokes, I assemble a small, portable bartender’s bag that includes spirits, citrus, glassware and tools. Being able to grab the Barbarian is a great advantage here, especially since it’s easy to forget something like a zester in the rush to prepare.
Some feedback that I gave to JC is that a way to lock the Barbarian in the closed position would be nice. Also, the knives in my prototype weren’t particularly sharp, however JC tells me that this is improved in the final versions.
JC has a U.S. patent for the Barbarian and has recently started a Kickstarter campaign. The Simple tool cost $15 for early birds, and should be available in March, while the Barbarian goes for $45 for early birds and should be available in April.

Suitcase Rum: 2002 Vale Royal Wedderburn (Jamaica)

“Suitcase” posts here on cover spirits that aren’t readily available in the United States, and possibly other locales – they’re spirits I’ve found while traveling and brought home in my suitcase and warrant an in-depth look.

The Vale Royal Wedderburn 2002 is a Jamaican rum, distilled at the Long Pond distillery in 2002 and bottled in 2011 at 40% (80 proof.) It comes from Bristol Classic Rum, a label of Bristol Spirits Limited, an independent bottler based in Bristol, England.

Of all the many types of rum, the one I consistently acquire almost anything I can get my hands on is Jamaican. Good Jamaican rums are high in fruity esters, which most people describe as “funk” or “hogo”, rarely seen at similar levels in rums elsewhere. The funk is the result of the Jamaican tradition of using “dunder”, a nasty cocktail of bacteria that (while toxic by itself), supercharges the production of fruity esters by the yeast and sugar during the fermentation process.

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Bar Notes: Tretter’s (Prague)

Cocktail Wonk Rating: 7.5/10
Tretter’s styles itself as a classic New York bar from the early 1930s and it succeeds at evoking that vibe: Mosaic tile bar counter, vintage cash registers, and an antique mirror running the entire length of the backbar. Bartenders wear white smocks, accenting the fact that Tretter’s also runs a bartending academy of which all bartenders must graduate.

Taking our seats at the long bar, we dove into the cocktail menu: a small bound book, extensive with more than 100 drinks, and featuring classic cocktails as well as Tretter’s originals. My first drink was a Crescit Sour (Genever, Chartreuse, lime, honey water, lemon bitters, egg white), which Mrs. Wonk and I both agreed was delicious. Mrs. Wonk enjoyed her Aperol Cherry Julep (Aperol, lemon, black cherry, elderflower tonic, mint leaves).

Along the bar counter, within easy reach (yes, I did restrain myself) is a large collection of various dry ingredients. Lots of dried fruits and leaves, as well as more unusual ingredients like marzipan and caraway seeds. Scanning through the cocktail menu I could tell these ingredients weren’t just for show. For round two, I had a Provocateur (inexplicably I didn’t record the ingredients, other than the aforementioned marzipan), while Mrs. Wonk had an expertly executed Green Park (gin, lemon, basil leaves, egg white, simple syrup, celery bitters).

Mrs. Wonk, with her great eye for detail, noted a few things in the space needed attention, such as mosaic tiles missing from the bar counter and some threadbare carpet on the stairs leading down to the rest rooms.  Rather than evoke a vintage feel, the space leaned more toward shopworn and in need of some updating, however superficial. Bar staff was mostly warm and welcoming, as were all of those we spoke to in Prague, but not the most effusive of our visit.

Both Tretter’s and nearby Bugsy’s strive to emulate a New York bar experience from the early 20th century, albeit decades apart. Both put out excellently crafted cocktails, but I give the nod to Bugsy’s for their overall execution of the theme as well as focus on the little details.