Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Miami Rum Renaissance: Beach Blanket Babylon!

By Dwight Casimere

Sandy, sun-drenched beaches, bongo rhythms and a cortege of beauties serving premium rum cocktails poolside at The Raleigh Resort in South Beach, Miami, provided the ingredients for the Grand Tasting of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival 2010.

From light, almost floral aromas and flavors to deep, rich mahogany cognac-like esters, more than a hundred of the world’s premium rums showed their versatility in a dizzying array of cocktail creations served in the tropical atmosphere that is their birthright.

“The way we make rum, it’s like an art form,” said Javier Figueroa, Director of the Rums of Puerto Rico program, based in Puerto Rico. “It takes a lot of craftsmanship to do our rum.

Rums, their texture, colors and flavors are as varied as the colors of the rainbow. “We have the light rums, which compete head-to-head with vodka. We have the Gold Rums, which are aged at least two to three years and then we have the super premium rums, which are aged anywhere from six to twelve years and those you can drink on the rocks or straight up or neat in a snifter like cognac. People should know that whatever your taste preference is, there’s an alternative with rum.”

Dennis Rodman, the former Chicago Bulls superstar, Celebrity Apprentice contestant and all-around eccentric was holding court in the Ron Zacapa cabana. Raising a glass of 23-year-old Centenario ($39.99), he declared. “Dwight you know me from ‘the Day.’ I’m a Jagermeister man and a cognac and cigar man all the way. But this stuff here—this is excellent. You here what I said, ‘cause I don’t use that word often. This is EXCELLENT!”

Dennis was not exaggerating. The rum was excellent. Dark and rich, it had all of the properties of a fine cognac with hints of the French oak barrels that it spent six months aging in. There were flavors of apricot and dried fruit on the tongue and a whisper of smoke as it slid smoothly down the back of the throat. This was perfect rum to have with one of the excellent Cuban-seed cigars that were being prepared by master rollers just across the way.

Ron Abuelo rum of Panama presented a delectable array of cocktails with its Anejo ($15.99), 7-year ($22.99) and 12 year old ($35, in its Premiere U.S. tasting) rums. Abuelo (‘grandfather’ in Spanish) is authentic, dark rum made from sugar can grown on their estate. The rum is best drunk neat or with a few cubes of ice so you can appreciate the rich, complex flavors that are not unlike those of a reserve cognac or brandy. Despite its dark amber color, the rum is somewhat light in texture, giving it an almost ephemeral quality. It glides over the tongue, releasing a rush of tobacco and dark roast flavors before vanishing in a whisper of oak and smoke at the back of the tongue. The word “outstanding” comes to mind when thinking of this rum in hindsight.

Ron Barceló Imperial ($24.95) is lush, buttery toffee rum with a rush of delicate floral aromas on the nose and delicious dried fruit dancing on your tongue. Its distinctive brilliant copper color almost jumps out at you in its distinctive ‘soft shoulders’ shaped bottle. Bikini clad beauties were on hand to entice VIP party-goers with a selection of cocktail creations from traditional mojitos to exotic Daiquiri creations, but I see no need to have Ron Barceló any way other than in its natural state, straight up in a glass or cut-crystal snifter.

Vizcaya VXOP Cask No. 21 Cuban Formula Rum ($35.99) was a real scene-stealer. It has the pedigree to back up its reputation as well. A Gold Medal winner in both the 2007 and 2009 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition, this brown rum is distilled from fermented fresh sugar cane juice and then aged in used whisky and bourbon barrels. The results are nothing short of dazzling! This is a favorite among serious spirits aficionados and, priced under $40, is a real go-to for drinkers who would normally spend a hundred bucks or more to get the same experience in a different type of high-end spirit. I’d have Vizcaya in my garden any day of the week!

Just for fun, I took a tour of St. Aubin’s Rhum Agricole selection of flavored rums, among them White ($32.54), Vanilla ($32.87) and the newest incarnation, Coffee ($35.54). There wasn’t a Captain in the house. First of all, the vanilla pods used in this infusion are from St. Aubin’s own vanilla plantations and are among the most pungent in the world. I was given a few strands to take home for my own cooking experiments and the aroma quickly filled the room. On the palate, the vanilla is upfront with agricole notes still coming through. The sweetness balances the rum out completely and makes for a wonderful sipping experience. St. Aubin’s Vanilla is great over ice or in making the perfect daiquiri.

It was great catching up with an old favorite from my sailing days at the Sausalito Yacht Club near San Francisco, Seven Tiki Spiced Rum ($17.95). This is probably the first ‘step-up’ rum most drinkers will have when they graduate from the mass-produced commercial stuff. For the price, it can’t be beat. Deep brown amber in color, it mimics the volcanic earth the nurtures the sugar cane used in its production. This rum captures the scent of Fiji’s forests where it is nurtured. Hints of sugarcane and vanilla are accented by flavors of peach, banana and dark wood.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the array of flavored rums presented by the House of Bacardi. VIP events included a visit to the new Bacardi Americas Headquarters in Coral Gables, Florida. The visit included an excursion through the World of Bacardi and a walk down the Sugarcane Corridor to learn of the legacy created by Don Facundo Bacardi Masso that has become one of the most recognized brands in the world. The Emilio Bacardi Company Museum is like a life-sized family album containing rare family photos and historic memorabilia dating back to the 1860s. Back on the beach, Rum Festival revelers got a reminder that the famous brand isn’t living on its historic laurels. They got an elaborate introduction to Dragon Berry Rum ($17.95) and Razz Raspberry ($17.95) served by some of the most beautiful Beach Blanket Babes this side of Santiago de Cuba, the hometown of the original distillery.

Brazilian producer Leblon showcased its Cachaca and Caipirinha ($26.95). Leblon is an ultra-premium cachaca produced in Minas Gerais, Brazil. The rum-like spirit, made from fresh-pressed Brazilian sugar cane, is the main ingredient of Brazil’s national cocktail, the Caipirinha. It was served as a sorbet by an attention-grabbing trio of seductive servers at the Caribbean Beach party cum Grand Tasting. This put the punctuation point on a splendid afternoon of sippin’ and swingin’!



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