Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Spicy Wee Dram

The wee dram I'm talkin' 'bout is Pimento Dram. It's a little something I came across a fair while back on Paul Clarke's exceptional drinks blog The Cocktail Chronicles and it has since proven itself to be an handy little formula. Dash it into Milk Punch and Navy Grog or include it in your original cocktails - for ailments that Pimento Dram cannot remedy there is no cure.

For those discombobulated by exactly what  I'm meaning by 'pimento', let alone 'dram', let me render this into something more digestible. Pimento is another name for allspice - a Caribbean spice valued for its flavour that is akin to a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. The word pimento is a corruption of the Spanish pimiento meaning pepper. Indeed, allspice is also know as Jamaica pepper or myrtle pepper. It's not to be confused with what is stuffed into your olives.

Dram, on the other hand, is one eighth of an apothecaries' ounce or rather 3.89 grams (you'll be tested on this later). Of course this isn't the meaning of dram I'm looking for. Rather a dram, in the sense it is used in this post, refers to a small measure of liquor. Over time the usage of this word has changed to mean a valued bottle of liquor - something that you might dispense in small doses. 
A known panacea for all ailments
Over the years I've tinkered slightly with the recipe that Mr Clarke has provided in the link above. Whilst the simple mix of allspice, sugar and rum ain't to be knocked, the variation below bumps up the spice a little to create a memorable little tipple. I call it McGoram's Fine Old Pimento Dram:

  • 1 Vanilla pod split and scrapped 
  • 1/2 Cup whole dried allspice berries
  • 6 cloves
  • 25.7 (100 grams) drams of fresh ginger (sliced)
  • 1 cup Inner Circle Green Dot (or another rich 57.2% pot still rum) 
  • 1 cup Lambs Navy Rum (or Coruba works a treat too)
  • 1 cup rich raw sugar syrup 2:1 ratio - The Simple Syrup Company Raw Sugar Syrup is perfect for this.

Infuse the spices and rum in a sealed vessel for 72 hours shaking every 12. Fine strain out the spices and add sugar syrup. Drink to your health. 

If you really can't be bothered making this recipe yourself the German based The Bitter Truth produce a pungent Pimento Dram that, with a little bit of effort, you should be able to acquire in Australia. Chapel Street Cellars in Melbourne have started to bring the Bitter Truth range I hear.

You could always head along to Sydney's Low 302 where they stock McGoram's Fine Old Pimento Dram for my cocktail entitled 'The Stylist' (it's an in joke). Here's the recipe if you want to give this a whirl:

The Stylist 

45ml Havana Club Añejo 7 Años
15ml Fresh lime juice
10ml Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2.5 drams of McGoram's Fine Old Pimento Dram
Dash real pomegranate grenadine

Shake briskly and strain into a chilled vintage coupette. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rhum Negrita - A product of outdated ideologies and defunct distilleries

A recent find out at Sydney's Petersham Liquor Mart - a real treasure trove of a bottle store if you've never been - was a bottle of Bardinet's Rhum Negrita. Being the braggart that I am, I did not waste any time sharing my discovery with industry fellows. Whilst I wasn't claiming that the product was of high value or quality I felt a little chuffed that I'd managed to find something a bit different. Until I bumped into Mr David Ramos Hernandez that is.

David, the manager Low 302, is a Spaniard. And as it turns out this wee product used to be one of the big sellers in Spain and once upon a time was one of the few alternatives to Bundaberg or Bacardi available in Australia too. David, in need not be said, hardly raised an eyebrow.

Nevertheless, I decided I'd find out a little bit more about the product, and give it whiz past the old palate.

The producers of the product - Bardinet, founded in 1857  - are a bit of a giant in the French spirits market. Since 1974, the company has been based at Domaine de Fleurenne - a 14-hectare estate just outside Bordeaux. The complex is home to 90 000 hL of storage facilities of spirits, with 30% in ageing casks housed in 5 different cellars; 5 fully automated bottling lines with a maximum capacity of 14,000 bottles an hour for an annual production of 50 million bottles; and 12 000 m2 of warehouses. Lots of big numbers, but certainly no revelations here.

This particular spirit was distilled and aged at the Dillon Distillery, Fort-De-France, Martinique though Dillon, according to the Ministry of Rum, stopped distilling at the end of the 2005 season. The brand is still available today (in over 100 countries according to Bardinet's website) though I'd have to find a new bottle to establish where it it is made today.

The name of the product, Bardinet's logo and their old advertising posters are really what draws the eye. Negrita according to the is: "n. A blackish fish (Hypoplectrus nigricans), of the Sea-bass family. It is a native of the West Indies and Florida". Although in this case I think we can be certain that the name actually means 'little negro woman'. 

The term and branding are politically insensitive to say the least especially as the spirit comes from Martinique. This country was built on the back of the slave trade and saw racially charged labour strife well into the 20th century despite the abolition of slavery in 1848.

Admittedly the posters and labels are more curious, than shocking to a modern audience, but that Bardinet have been unwavering with their branding for most of their 150 years deifies belief.

The product itself is an agricole rhum - made from sugar cane juice as opposed to molasses - as is the Martinique way. Allspice and cocoa dominate the nose and on the palate I get an initial sweetness which gives way to cocoa, dried apricots and fresh pressed sugarcane with a particularly hot finish. Very hot considering this rum weighs in at 38% abv. Whilst you know I like a rum with a bit of heat - this one doesn't deliver the goods on the high-ester, high-flavour end of the ballpark.

Whilst she ain't a goer I've had far worse. Still with it's strangely outdated brand ideologies (read; slightly racist)  I'm in no wonder as to why this product is no longer taking the world by storm.       

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Rumbunctious Mistress

Never trust a man who wears a hat indoors
Rum and I have an interesting relationship. I mean every man has their type right? Scotch will always be my first love - the spirit I'll write poems for, take out to fancy dinners and moonlit walks along the beach. Scotch, well, she's a classy wee lass.

Rum, on the other hand is my mistress - it's all heated, passionate flings. It's slightly subversive and sometimes I come out the other-side feeling a bit dirty. In saying this, these are qualities I admire - not abhor - when it come to rum. My kind of rum is easy and cheap  - the sort you don't feel like you need to dress up for or take to a swank uptown joint to enjoy her pleasures. What's more she could be a local - the girl next door.

More and more these days I see bartenders go for high falutin' rums from exotic shores - rums that boast aging in ex-Cognac barrels and distillation from virgin sugar-cane honey (why would I want an affair with a virgin?). Yes, I'm talking about luxury rum brands like Ron Zacapa - brands that have elevated the rum category to the prestige Cognac and Scotch. Whilst I admire their work and the craftsmanship (in this case it's actually craftswomanship) of the product it's not personally what I'm after from my rum.

Call me base, but I'm after a hot spirit - something with a bit of fire, funk and an abundance of in-your-face character. She doesn't need any class and she speaks with an Australian twang. I'm talking about Inner Circle. 

Inner Circle pre-1986 bottlings
Coming in three bottlings: Red Dot (40% abv); Green Dot (57.2% abv) and Black Dot (75.9% abv), Inner Circle is a pot still Australian rum brand  that we can be proud of. Unfortunately, it's actually a product of Fiji - fortunately it's still pretty darned good.

I realise that championing this style of rum may be controversial, but it's this high ester spectrum of the rum category which I think is often maligned. The rum 'stink' of this unctuous spirit can be smelt the moment you pour it into a glass. Molasses, cut grass and coco fill the air and it's this aromatic quality which makes Inner Circle an amazing weapon in the mixologists' arsenal.

Cocktail historian and Author David Wondrich, who was recently visiting Australian shores thanks to the Mixxit team, is also a hugh fan of this style. He laments the loss of old skool, pot still Jamaican Rum 'redolent of funk' and recommends that Inner Circle Green Dot is the best substitute in historical recipes that call for this style. But give it a whirl in more modern recipes too. It can boost the aroma and add a depth of character in Tiki styled drinks in particular.

I guess the other reason I'm waxing lyrical about this product is because I recently came into possession of a couple of  pre-1986 bottles of Inner Circle - the original CSR produced rum that was made right here, where I live and work, in Pyrmont, Sydney. In fact, the Bartender magazine offices, as some of you might be aware, are the in the old cooperage for this very rum brand.

The two products pictured above are the 'Black Dot' and the 'Red Dot' (37.2% abv and 75.9% abv respectively). They offer a very different taste profile from today's Inner Circle, but you can see the family resemblance. The original is slightly less aromatic, but displays an almost nutty sherry-like nose with a sweeter more syrupy palate and some pleasant citrus notes almost reminiscent of Havana Club Barrel Proof, but with a heavier, lingering, cocoa finish.

A fantastic rum that unfortunately is now extinct (except at my house) - at least evolution has given us a throwback with Lion Nathan's Fijian produced, 'Australian' rum - Inner Circle (mark II).