Here at Casa Cocktail Wonk, we prefer to go off the beaten path, demystifying complex topics and bringing daylight to the shadowy areas of spirits knowledge. A particular favorite is disabusing people of the “rum has no rules” misperception. Just like Bourbon, Scotch whisky, and Cognac have well-defined regulations protecting them from imposters masquerading as the real deal, the cane spirits world has similar protections.
In recent years I’ve vociferously advocated for the purity and sanctity of the classic 1944 Mai Tai. This Victor (“Trader Vic”) Bergeron concoction is arguably the king of all Tiki drinks. Unfortunately, for some misguided souls, the Mai Tai is a catch-all term for whatever random collection of fruit juices, rums, and syrups are on hand behind the bar—rendering this classic one of the most abused cocktail recipes of all time. There’s no pineapple juice in a classic Mai Tai, folks!
However, it’s totally fair game to modernize a Tiki classic and name it something different. The modern Tiki world is full of innovators such as Jason Alexander, Daniel “Doc” Parks, and Justin Wojslaw, who day in and day out push Tiki’s boundaries while retaining respect for the classics. While I don’t put myself in their league, I do occasionally have a decent idea that ends up good enough to share here.
Recently I’ve had the opportunity to try out a good selection of extremely high ester rums. From unaged Hampden Estate DOK at 85 percent ABV, to Long Pond TECC, Savanna HERR, and several others, I’ve tasted enough samples to seriously contemplate the extremely high ester rum world.
As much as anybody else, I once craved the high ester experience, plotting the day I’d have my own sample of Hampden’s DOK at home, available at a moment’s notice. Today, I’m thrilled to have two very different DOK expressions in my rum library. Yes, I’m unabashedly a high hogo Jamaican rum dunderhead.
When Maison Ferrand (parent company of Plantation Rum) purchased the Barbados-based West Indies Rum Distillery in 2017, it came with a bonus: One-third ownership of Jamaica’s Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries. While master blender Alexandre Gabriel is no stranger to Jamaican rums – witness Plantation’s Jamaican vintage rums and blends like O.F.T.D. Overproof–in the past year he’s ventured deeply down the Jamaican rabbit hole. The first visible sign just hit the wires today with Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry announcement – a 100 percent pot still, blended rum from the two aforementioned distilleries.
During my recent visit to Maison Ferrand (home of Cognac Ferrand and Plantation Rum) I posted a picture on Facebook that seemed innocuous enough. The caption read: “If you’re going to drink a cask-strength, 18 year Long Pond marque, the ITP (280 g/hL AA) is highly recommend. Even Mrs. Wonk loved it.”
A few minutes later, someone extremely knowledgeable about the rum industry posted a comment that caught me completely off-guard. The gist of the comment: Long Pond’s ITP marque is known to be in the 90-120 g/hL AA range. How can it be 277 g/hL AA?
In the past year or so, the chatter amongst the uber-wonks frequently turns to the perceived friction between Richard Seale of Foursquare Rum Distillery, and Alexandre Gabriel of Plantation Rum. Without getting into myriad of points of contention, it’s safe to say Richard advocates for precise rum categorizations, geographical indications such as Martinique’s AOC, and rum free of undisclosed additives. Alexandre says that badly-formed Geographical Indications freeze a spirt category in time and constrain innovation. In addition, Alexandre believes rum can be further enhanced by traditional techniques like boisé, aka “dosage”. Trust me, it goes much deeper than this. I could write a book on just this debate, but that’s not my goal here.