It was early 2014 when I attended the inaugural “Golden State of Cocktails” event, an educational conference focusing on various aspects of the beverage industry. Out of curiosity, my own information and to collect content ideas for this blog, I decided a day in downtown Los Angeles would be time well spent.
Thrilled about some new-found knowledge, I was particularly excited to write about the session called “Rum For All.” But alas, the notes I took on my iPad were nowhere to be found. That is, until recently, when I accidentally checked an old email account using that same device. Voila! As if by magic, my valuable content returned.
At the time, Rum For All was not only the name of the conference session, but a full-blown initiative spearheaded by two cocktail industry authorities, F. Paul Pacult, who has been called “America’s foremost spirits expert” by Forbes.com, and Sean Ludford, who is editor of the respected online BevX.
As I recently went back to research more about Rum For All, it appears that program has since gone the way of my original set of notes. Poof! It’s gone. But its messages live on.
That day almost two years ago, Rum For All offered an interesting all-encompassing look at the sugar-based spirit, complete with a tasting. Pacult and Lunsford founded the program in 2011 and presented seminars around the country, supported by at least 15 top rum producing companies.
Presented in a classroom setting with an academic approach, Pacult and Lunford made a convincing case that rum is one of the world’s great distilled spirits and should be held in the same esteem as vodka, gin and a number of whiskeys.
The class focused on rum’s origins, history, production, varieties and uses in cocktails. Distilled from either sugar molasses or directly from sugarcane juice (although more than 95 percent is from molasses), rum production is most commonly associated with Caribbean and Latin American countries and islands. That’s because centuries ago, sugarcane production was found throughout the world’s tropical regions. Molasses became popular trade product with the United States during the early 18th century, and the New England area became a major rum producer of the time. Today, rum is produced virtually everywhere in the world.
Pacult and Lunford claim that molasses and sugarcane juice are equally good in rum production; the key factor is how ingredients and distilling equipment are utilized, which is the case for all spirits.
The base spirit for the Mojito, Mai Tai, Caipiríssima, Daiquiri, Dark and Stormy, Zombie and one of my favorites, the Pain Killer, rum is actually very flexible and can be substituted for other spirits in a variety of applications. Rums are also produced in various grades, ranging from light to gold to dark, and also including categories such as flavored, spiced, premium and over-proofed. The spirit is also classified based on the nation or region in which it is produced, and standards vary within each rum-producing country.
Pacult and Ludford could boast all day about rum’s pedigree, but it took a tasting session to truly prove that rums are indeed both distinct and elegant. This portion was conducted as a blind tasting, with all “students” taking two separate swigs of each of the 10 samples. As our instructors noted, the first swig is to clean out your mouth, and the second to let the liquid spill over your palette to identify and enjoy the flavors within each sip. Spitting was optional, and since this class was on a weekday morning, that proved to be the more prudent approach.
Here are my tasting notes from January 2014, along with select comments from the instructors, in order of tasting:
Blue Chair Bay White Rum… (Barbados)
Aged White Rum. Classic Daiquiri. Acid, clean and fresh. Very nice. Instructors: Molasses. Blue Chair makes a good coconut rum, too
Brugal Especial Extra Dry (Dominican Republic)
Aged White Rum… Some fruit. Grassy and earthier than first one; a bit sweeter, but not much. Acid/citrus seems to stay on middle of tongue. Nice. Wood age notes. Instructors: Good for a Mojito.
Shellback Silver Rum (Barbados)
Aged White Rum. Much sweeter and fruitier. Tropical. Vanilla, caramel, marshmallows. Sweetness comes out. Instructors: Molasses. Good for Mojito and Rum Cosmo.
10 Cane (Trinidad and Tobago)
Aged Rum… A little oak, wood… Pretty dry and acidic. Smooth. Instructors: Good for cocktails. Aged in cognac barrels. Good in a classic Daiquiri.
Rum Five Mount Gay Black Barrel (Barbados)
Aged Rum… Banana and fruity; earthy. Very good and full, dry and nutty. Sense of char. Instructors: Blended pot and column stills. “Whiskey lover’s rum.” Good in a Cuba Libre.
Bacardi 8 (Puerto Rico)
Aged Rum. Fruit forward, but more delicate than previous taste. Dry. Notes of caramel. Comes alive with taste over smell. Fruit and spice. Layers. Stays on roof of mouth. Complex and deceptive. Instructors: Good in a Rum Old Fashioned.
Don Q Gran Anejo (Puerto Rico)
Aged Rum… Dry. Very caramel that stays on tongue. Sophisticated. Really nice. Sherry aspects. Toffee and caramel. Instructors: Molasses, column still. Good in a Rum Manhattan.
Appleton Estate Reserve (Jamaica)
Aged Rum. Nice Topaz color. Earthy aroma. Grassy, wild, elegant, creamy and then vanilla. Instructors: Good value. Twenty different rums in this blend. Both pot and column stilled. Perfect for a Mai Tai.
El Dorado 8-years-old (Guyana)
Aged Rum. Maybe some tobacco and tea aromas; figs, nuts, dried fruits. Opens up with taste (over nose). Full flavor, earthy, but sweet. Excellent. Instructors: Rum Sidecar (rum for cognac, lime for lemon)
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela)
Aged Rum. Big aroma… Fruit, sweet, delicious… Sweet and flavorful. Fantastic. Sweetness up front and acid in flavor. Stays in entire mouth; front of gums. Vanilla. Almost a dessert drink. Stands by itself as a sipper. Instructors: Molasses and bits of sugar cane, which gives it acidic character. Good in a Rum Toddy.