Mar 242013
 

First posted 26 November 2010 on Liquorature.

Herbal, different and like few other rums (we’ll be generous with the term) ever made; will add variety to cocktails and cheer to any Czechs you booze with, but my take is to exercise care when you have it neat.

(#050. 46/100)

***

We must establish from the outset that all labeling to the contrary, Tuzemak is not a rum.  This is because it is made from potatoes (some travel bloggers and websites say beets, so I’m still trying to find out which), not sugar cane, and while you might find it in the rum section, it’s simply because the Czech manufacturers have in the past included colouring and taste additives to make it more like a real rum, and called it as such.  I’m no fan of over-regulation, and the EU has whole warehouses crammed floor to ceiling with them, but in this case their ruling that to be classified and sold as rum in Europe, the thing can’t be made from pommes-de-terre, finds much favor with me.

Which is not to say I actually despise the drink I bought on a whim at willow Park the other day (my curiosity and nosiness will be the undoing of me one day, I fear). As a confirmed internationalist and pretender to cosmopolitanism, I try to take a more tolerant view of differences, and if this thing more or less looks like a brown drink, tastes sweeter than whisky and smells a bit like the good stuff, while being trumpeted as a rum in Czechoslovakia even though they have been forbidden to do so…well, I’m not averse to taking it at face value (The Last Hippie, who refuses to concede that there is any other whisky than the Scotch kind even as he snootily reviews what he terms “lesser offerings” in an effort to call himself fair, would probably be horrified at my laissez-faire attitude, but them’s the breaks).

Tuzemak actually means “domestic” in Czech, and simply refers to its down home origins (not a maid).  Previously called Tuzemsky rum, it is, like Stroh’s, something of a local institution, and made with an old, supposedly traditional recipe. Czechs are great beer drinkers, but they do like hard stuff as well: aside from the rum, there is both slivovice (a kind of plum brandy) and Becherovka, (a herbal 38% liqueur). This one seems to take the best part of tose and creates a drink for the people who never have drinks…just a drink, and then another drink and then…

Enough temporizing, then: what’s the story on the rum?

On the nose, it’s not too shabby. It’s a little pungent, a shade sharp, but as it settles, wafts of vanilla billow gently into your nose without too much sting or burn.  There is a very slight medicinal undertone that kind of spoils the taste, but not so much as to seriously detract from the overall quality, just to show it’s not an aged product.  What kind of blend it is – that is to say, what’s in it or how many differing ingredients there are – I cannot say. There’s too little information available.

The palate continues enhancing what the nose promised.  As one tastes, the vanilla becomes more pronouced, keeping in step with a gradually increasing floral note, some kind of herbs (similar to the Stroh 54) and a faint liquorice hint that blends pretty well into the overall balance.  It’s like a light sweet semi dry cognac, and for once I do not mean this in a bad way. It’s young and a little rambunctious, not too sophisticated…yet nice too, even as a low end sipper. The finish is short and dry and without serious sting or burn, the warm breath of the fumes come up the back of your throat and linger gently before dissipating

In summary, I think this is a very workmanlike entry to the genre.  I’d drink it neat, yes; but it makes a phenomenally different and pleasurable mixer too, largely due to its unusual herbal properties which give even that old faithful, the rum and coke, a uniquely different perspective.  Remember how I despised the plasticine taste of the Stroh 54?  This delectable local tipple from middle Europe avoids the pitfalls of that overproof, and is a decent rum, an interesting sipping tipple and something that I’d recommend for any who want to try something a little off the reservation.

Na zdravi!

A: 4/10 N: 15/25 T: 15/25 F:10/25 I:2/15 TOT: 46/100

 Posted by on March 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm
Mar 242013
 

First posted 13 October, 2010. #039

The  best selling and most commonly quoted spiced rum in the world.  It’s the standard by which all other spiced rums are measured not because of its excellence, precisely, but because of its overall “okay-ness”. It’s okay everywhere while being truly outstanding at little. It’s sweetness and spice are part of the appeal.

***

The fact that this is a low end mixer should not dissuade you from giving it a shot (no pun intended) if you’re in the mood for a reasonably low-priced little something. It’s about on the same level as the cheaper Bacardis (Gold, and Black), but it is spiced and therefore somewhat sweeter than normal, and also not meant to be taken seriously as a sipper.  Yet many aficionados with a less exclusive turn of taste are quite ardent supporters of The Captain’s spiced variant.

As I’ve noted in my review of Captain Morgan’s Private Stock, Seagram used to make the rum, but sold the rights to Diageo in the mid-eighties, and currently it is the world’s best selling spiced rum. The name is nothing more than a marketing ploy, since it enhances the connection to swashbuckling, seafaring pirate days of yore, but beyond that, there isn’t anything else (note that the TV advertising campaign I have seen in Calgary also plays on the whole bit about being like a pirate in breaking the rules and thinking outside the box to achieve success…an interesting bit of moral relativism given Morgan’s history and actions).

Captain Morgan is a tawny gold colour, and displays a medium light body in the glass. The nose is heavy with rum and vanilla, and a bit of caramel thrown in.  I can’t say I detected anything beyond that, because the scent is so overwhelming.  Yet the youth of the rum is evident in the sharpness at the back of the throat (it’s been matured for two years or less in charred white oak barrels), so there’s not much point in trying the rum to sip (unless you’re a slight nutcase like me and want to try it that way nevertheless). The finish is pretty good, though, a tad sharp, though not nearly as much as the nose suggested it would have. Last flavours of vanilla and nutmeg.

For my money, I suppose it’s okay.  It’s a versatile ingredient in mixed drinks, but just too sweet to really appeal to me — and for all those who have read my reviews about liking sugar in my rums, this must sound strange, but there is something as too much and this is a case in point.  Perhaps adding just a smidgen of coke to mitigate the burn is the way to approach it.

However, like Bacardi, the Captain is available just about everywhere, and as a result, if you drop thirty bucks on a bottle when getting something in a hurry, well, you’ll certainly get what you pay for plus maybe a bit extra. Your friends and guests sure as hell aren’t going to refuse it, and, if offered at a party, neither would I.

 Posted by on March 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm
Mar 242013
 

First posted 30th August 2010 on Liquorature. #034

***

When I was discoursing about rums with a Co-op liquor sales manager (in my normal sneering way, and for the usual reason), I asked about this odd little label from Austria, because, with my penetrating insight and encyclopedic knowledge, I was aware that Austria didn’t have any canefields  — Andrea from the cashier’s till was called over, and noted flatly (in that no-nonsense way that people use to inform you they know the Truth even if you’re too ignorant to), that she’d had them all, tried the lot, was Austrian into the bargain on her mother’s side, and Stroh was quite simply the best spiced rum in the world, bar none (except perhaps another Stroh). Abashed into silence and trembling meekness at this powerful and unambiguous endorsement and the fierce look of “Agree with me if you want to live,” I tried to recover my backbone from the yellow paint in which it was soaking, and bought the bottle.

This illustrates the sad state to which us rum lovers have been forced into, in this whisky loving city: we’re so desperate to try something new, that we are pitifully grateful for any new rum that passes through the local shops.  Not the low or mid range from an established maker, but something genuinely new. I ruefully concede that Stroh’s meets every criteria except one: I’m not entirely convinced it actually is a rum.  Oh, it says it is, and it has the suitable origin in sugar cane by-products, whatever those might be (originally it was made from a diluted ethanol base), but note I don’t say sugar cane juice, or molasses. The problem was that when Sebastian Stroh started making this little concoction in Klagenfurt in the early 1830s, Austria was not participating in the scramble for Africa (or anywhere else), and thus lacked tropical colonies from where they could get the raw materials.  So he added his own spices and flavour and additives in order to make an ersatz molasses taste, and created a domestic rum which eventually became something of a national tipple.  Can’t fault the Europeans for trying to make a good likker, I suppose: I just wish they wouldn’t pretend this was the real McCoy.

Stroh’s is made in several varieties: 80% (who the hell would drink this firewater, honestly?), 60%, 40%…I bought the overproof (54%, 108 proof) version which apparently is the most popular (I expect outraged posts stating that this is the wimpy stuff and how real men drink the 80%), and was the only bottle for sale anyway. At half a litre for $35, that’s a midranger, and in spite of my doubt regarding overproofs (what’s the point, beyond cooking, creating cocktails, making college freshmen drunk faster or simply causing pain?), it did, as new rums usually do, intrigue me.  Curiosity, I fear, will be the end of me one of these days, no matter how careful I am.

Good thing I was cautious.  Scarfing Keenan’s excellent brunch the next day, I cracked the bottle and I swear the alcohol wanted to strangle me right on the spot.  I’ve had some unique and aggressive rums in my day (Bundie and Pyrat’s to start), but this took distinctiveness to a whole new level.  The smell on this thing was like – and I swear this is true – plasticine. I thought for a moment I had entered a time warp and was back in primary school dicking around with play-do. The assault on my nose was so swift and savage that I shuddered, avoided Keenan’s smirking eyes, and poured a shot at arm’s length over ice: The Hippie complains that ice closes up a drink when one should leave it open, but the poor man is a fan of civilized whisky for retired country gents and has never been boinked over the head and had his nose speared by this raging Austrian drink.  You could make out some cinnamon notes and a hint of ginger when your schnozz was reluctantly returned to you, but the truth was that I thought this a vile, underspiced and overstrength drink that should under no circumstances be had “just so.”  Forget the ice.  Forget nosing, smelling, checking for legs or anything fancy. Drown this one in cola, in sprite, in juice or anything else, and quickly.  But I must make this observation: in a cola (a lot of cola), Stroh’s tastes like a damned ginger ale. Plasticine flavoured ginger ale that gives you a buzz. Weirdest thing. Not entirely a loss, therefore.

Of course, it was only later, doing my research and putting my notes together, that I read it was supposed to be used as a cooking ingredient for cakes and rumballs, as a cocktail base and a mixer with other things to produce smoother drinks of some power (like the B52).  It’s not a drink to be had neat (sure…now they tell me). Well, maybe.  Rums do have this thing about being equal part sippers and equal part mixers, and their plebian origins make it difficult to distinguish which is which, sometimes. I’ll be the first to concede that as an overproof rum, Stroh – any one of the overproof offerings – is not for the meek and mild or those who haven’t seen “300” at least five times.  Stroh’s is a hairy friggin’ barbarian of a drink, a dirty, nasty, screaming crazy, wielding a murderous nose-axe meant to do you serious harm and destroy your sight.  It’s one of the most distinctive liquors I’ve ever had, and while I may not like it much, I ruefully laugh as I recall my encounter with it, will give it due respect and a wide berth from here on in.  Austrians and other Europeans are welcome to have it and enjoy it (although, what the hell, I still have to finish my bottle so Ill probably go back to be bashed around a bit one of these days when I’m in a masochistic mood), and if I have one in my house one day, I’ll serve it to him (along with the Coruba).

But I gotta tell you: I don’t care what they call it, or what its antecedents are – a rum, this one really is not.

 Posted by on March 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm
Mar 242013
 

The Kraken Black Spiced Rum

First posted 27 June 2010 on Liquorature. #027

Overproofed, overpriced, overrated.

***

Kraken Black — the selection for the June 2010 Book Club session — is a victory of advertising over the reality of what it is, of style over substance for those who are ok with it, a low-to-middling value (~$28 Can) wrapped up in a presentation that would have you believe the price is an undiscovered steal.  A lot of people are going to drink this thing, wax loquacious at the spice, admire the darkness and say “wow!” I’m afraid, though, that’s just knee-jerk, because you take Kraken apart, and it just can’t live up to the hype.

Fair is fair: I liked the bottle, and the presentation was cool. I enjoyed seeing a rum with the stones to put a mythological creature that’s created to do a Godzilla on  ancient Greece right there front and center. The small handles I thought were affectations, but hearkened back to old seafaring days, so what the hell: points for that.  Points also for that inky black swirling rum which is by far the darkest I’ve ever seen, and therefore for sheer originality, this rum sitting on a shelf is sure to get your attention.

The rum sits in the glass and soaks up the light, letting just some dark brownish red glints through – decent middling legs, nothing special. It’s a blend, this one, a new addition to the market (Proximo Spirits from NY, which also markets Matusalem, distributes this), and bottled at 94 proof…47%  ABV. And it supposedly has something like eighteen different spices added to it.

The nose is problematic – caramel had to be added to get the colour this dark and that comes through, but so does, vanilla and toffee and chocolate…and a medicinal odour remniscent of cough medicine that is both jarring and unwelcome, and no, I do not attribute it to the 47%. Even a Glencairn glass the Hippie provided could not save the schnozz from being skewered by that hospital reek.

The taste is better. The caramel is not dominating, and lets other flavours like licorice, cinnamon and maybe nutmeg through, but for the most part all I got is a musky cloying taste of too much molasses left in (and that weird chocolate texture) that destroyed the fine balance a spiced rum needs. But I must make note of this: for a 47% rum, it’s damned smooth going down, and so I think a lot of people are going to love this rum in spite of the cough medicine taste that persists and just ruins the whole thing for me. The finish goes on for longer than expected (a definite plus) but what it does is permit the very things you don’t like to persist.

My suspicions are that with the recent resurgence of interest and popularity in quality rums, a lot of lesser wares are flooding the market in an effort to mine the vein. Nothing else explains why so many American and Canadian companies are buying all these Caribbean raw stocks and blending and distributing the results themselves (not always to the benefit of our palates, alas). When Bruichladdich, Cadenhead or A.D. Rattray put their resources and acknowledged street cred behind a rum, I’ll acknowledge the effort and result, but I can’t yet give the same cachet to the (supposedly Angostura-owned) Lawrenceburg distillery in Indiana, sorry.

So I’ve said it fails for me, but fails as what? As a sipper or a mixer? As a sipper, yes but not by as much as you’d think: it’s smooth enough and intriguing enough – cough syrup crap taste aside — for me to not to mark it below the Young’s Old Sam, or Bundie or the Coruba: though none of these has pretensions to grandeur the way the Kraken does, and if you doubt me, just compare the websites and the forum chatter among all these.  As a mixer I have to be more careful – remember, the purpose of the mix is to either fill the weaknesses of the rum, enhance the diluter, or create a synthesis of rum and additive(s) which is greater (and weaker) than the sum of its parts. Put like that, this rum shows its dichotomy and in trying to be both cocktail and sipper, pleases neither. It’s too spiced, too medicinal – too cloying –  to work well as a mixer, for coke, ginger ale or others.

And so my recommendation would simply echo old Zeus, call in Harryhausen, and issue the command to (what else?)  — release the Kraken.

 Posted by on March 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm
Mar 242013
 

First posted 22 June 2010 on Liquorature. #026

***

“The spice must flow,” said the Padishah Emperor in Dune. I agree, because I do love my cheap-ass spiced rums. My sweet tooth and plebian background make having a rum with no stratospheric price or ostentatious pedigree such a pleasant experience, truly.  And I could tell, that day when I trotted out the Renegade 1991 for my Newfie squaddie (who snatched it happily out of my hand with a speed his corpulent frame does not begin to hint at), that even if I was a snob with pretensions to the peasantry, he had more grandiose notions of what kind of rum he liked to drink (or deserved to be poured).

Which is not to say Lamb’s is a bad rum, or even particularly limited in quality. Alfred Lamb, who started making this dark rum from West Indian raw stock in 1849 in London — his factory was bombed out during the London Blitz and subsequently rebuilt — simply added spices, aged it in cellars below the Thames (hence the original title of London Dock Rum) and made pretensions to the Royal Navy cachet by stating his product was made with that recipe.  Pusser’s did the same, as readers of that review may recall. In the years since, Lamb’s has become more of a tipple than a refined drink, and not – to my knowledge anyway – any kind of top tier rum; though I know a few who swear by its 151 proof offering. One can find it pretty much anywhere in Calgary for under thirty bucks.

When I’m drinking with a good friend, I like a good grog, but the point is not the drink but the conversation that the drink enables.  Of course, if the conversation is about the drink, that’s another matter (for example, the higher priced stuff which I like company to taste with) – but for the most part, when I talk I just like a good little mixer on hand, and this is why SDRs (single digit rums) are always good…one never worries about how much money is being pissed away, only what a good time you’re having with it.

The rum is dark reddish in colour and has a very decent, almost heavy body. Lamb’s is a blend of rums from all over the Caribbean (up to 18, or so my research suggests), and has a virulent nose that I should warn you against taking a deep sniff of, if you don’t want to go crying to your mommy about how the bad rum bottle biffed you on the hooter.  The spirit burn on the nose fades fast and leaves the brave and persevering soul with an overwhelming sniff of caramel, with vanilla and cherry undertones.  The spices are harder to pick out – nutmeg and licorice come through at the tail end.  The taste is strong with the spice, and the spirit burn from those nose hasn’t gone anywhere, just grabs you by thre throat and holds on – yet it can be tolerated and even adjusted to (as I did), at which point it transmutes into a sweet and caramelized almost-sipper that I quite enjoyed. The finish is hard to gauge because you’re being assaulted by the admittedly harsh spirit burn, which lasts long after the taste has vanished.  Lamb’s is about as subtle as a charging brontosaurus, really.

I’ll concede that the rum is better as a mixer, but I would caution against coke or (god forbid) pepsi.  Some kind of cola with a little less sugar would probably enhance it better, otherwise you get a syrupy mess that you either like or toss away.  For the record, I had only coke on hand so that was what I used, but as I got drunker that evening in Keenan’s house, I found that it got progrsssively better over ice.  Maybe that was my throat being sanded away, or something.

In summary, I liked its simplicity and taste, even as I acknowledge how devoid it is of real complexity – a connoisseur would probably never buy one of these except as a reference point. If I were to wax metaphorical, I’d say Lamb’s is the hot country chick with a heart of gold, the one who can rope a steer or take apart a John Deere tractor, who’s on the square-dance floor at Ranchman’s giving you the eye, who you really can’t go wrong with if you don’t expect too much, treat her right, don’t tread on her toes and give her a kiss when the night is over.

That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure as hell is mine.

 Posted by on March 24, 2013 at 6:12 pm