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?
I came across a Facebook post recently:
“I’ve been dabbling with aging my own rum. I put a couple liters of the overproof unaged Wray & Nephew into a two-liter oak cask. Anyone have an idea how long it should sit before it mimics the 17-year Wray & Nephew used in the original 1944 Mai Tai?”
After removing my palm from my forehead, I realized it was time to fire up Ye Olde Reality Generator and shed some light on this all-too-common question.
The screech of wood meeting an industrial planer blade pierces the air. One by one, rectangular boards a meter in length meet their fate, emerging from the machinery just a bit more trim and shapely. A few meters away around a corner, huge balls of fire burst to life and subside, leaving behind the evocative smell of charred wood. The background accompaniment to the theatrics is the constant, arrhythmic clanking of metal hitting metal, hammers striking bands of steel. The scene is worlds away from the calm serenity that wine and spirits markets strive to convey in promoting their products.
Outside, it’s a sunny, blue-sky February morning in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Federico Sanchez-Pece Salmerón, the director of Communications for Grupo Caballero, has brought us to the Antonio Páez Lobato cooperage, one of several that supply sherry producer Lustau with newly made casks for their sherry wines. The casks being constructed mere inches from us will soon hold sherry, but won’t reside in a place of honor within a sherry solera. Rather, their final destination is far away from Andalucia, where they were born here in the southwest of Spain. But we’ll come back to that later.
While 2016 was a year many would have gladly skipped, here in the Cocktail Wonk corner of the boozy blogosphere, it’s been gangbusters for great experiences and stories. As I wrote my 2015 roundup post a year ago, I wasn’t altogether convinced that 2016 would be able to top it. Boy, was I wrong!
Over the past twelve months, I’ve written fewer straight-up spirit reviews and cocktail recipes and more long form essays. It’s taken a while to get to that level. The opportunities for unknown stories and fresh takes on topics are there to be found, but it requires waiting for the right contacts and opportunities to fall into place, as they did this year.
What follows is my take on the most important topics I covered this year. It’s an entirely subjective ranking on my part, without regard to actual page visit statistics. Some entries represent a single post that particularly resonated with readers, while others are a collection of posts. Hyperlinks to the original posts are interspersed in the descriptions below.
A friend recently asked me for a recommendation for a decent quality Islay whisky. Hitting an online site to see what’s available locally, I came up with Laphroaig 10, Bowmore 12, and Ardbeg 10–all good candidates and priced within a few dollars of each other. Sending him the list, I braced for the inevitable question: “All things being equal, why wouldn’t I get the twelve year? It’s better than a ten year, right?”
While it’s true that the time a spirit spends aging has a huge impact on the resulting flavor, an attempt to reduce the complicated factors and interactions that go on inside a barrel to a single number is a hopeless oversimplification that confuses consumers. Spirit production and the resulting flavor is complicated and messy, and not readily quantifiable in every dimension. Sure, you can compare the alcohol by volume (ABV) content across two whiskies, but ten years of aging from Producer X may be vastly different than ten years of aging done by Producer Y. Unfortunately, this fixation on aging as reduced to digits leads some producers to play a numbers game, putting big numbers on their label to draw the eye of an unsuspecting consumer.