Top Shelf tasting: easy-going rum

Brian Fogarty and Kathryn O’Neill of Bacardi and Chef Chris “Koz” Kozlowski of Crescent City Bistro & Rum Bar and the Orchard Street Chop Shop in Dover led 25 of us Top Shelf tasters on our latest Top Shelf tasting adventure: Rum.

To make any such libation, you need three things: water, yeast and a sugar for the yeast to eat and make alcohol. In the Caribbean, for a sugar to ferment, they used, well, sugar — molasses, sugar cane and sugar cane syrup to be more precise. The resulting mash was distilled, and you ended up with rum.

Rum and cane products were currencies of sorts, involving trade between European countries and the new American Colonies, the West Indies, and Africa.

While rum’s darker side involved piracy and slavery, rum also played a role in American independence. In addition to tea, England also levied a heavy tax on rum, which had been plentiful and popular in the Colonies, helping to spur the American sentiment for self-rule — and the Boston Tea Party. Just prior to his famous ride, Paul Revere is said to have had two glasses rum.

Bacardi is perhaps the most famous brand of rum. Founded in 1862 by Don Facundo Bacardi Masso and his wife Amalia in Santiago, Cuba, after he emigrated from Spain, Don Facundo applied his knowledge of wine to the local (and not very palatable) rum liquor. He isolated a specific strain of yeast and developed the unique charcoal-filtering process that gives Bacardi its flavor.

The fruit bats that lived in the rafters of the original tin-roofed distillery became the familiar bat logo synonymous with the Bacardi brand.

Generations later, the rise of communism in Cuba led the Bacardi heirs to move their rum distillery to Puerto Rico in 1960. Forgarty said legend has it that the Bacardi family smuggled that all-important yeast strain out of Cuba to ensure that the flavor and quality of their rum would remain unchanged. That same yeast that was isolated by Don Facundo is still used today.

For the evening’s tastings, we tried four brands of Bacardi rum. Our first was the Bacardi Light ($10.49).

Clear and colorless, the nose was faintly sweet. Aged for one year and filtered several times, it was light, dry and well-balanced with a smooth, sweet taste reminiscent of tropical fruit. I found it had a gentle burn with a long finish that was ideal for mixing.

Amy Allgaier of Tardis Advertising, Portsmouth, enjoyed Bacardi Light because of its nice flavor. “It’s not overwhelming. It’s very smooth,” she said.

Bacardi Gold ($10.49) takes on a soft golden color imparted from a longer time in the barrel, about two years, and one filtering. Smooth and mellow, this rum had a pronounced oakiness and more vanilla notes.

I found notes of banana, vanilla and honey in Bacardi Select ($10.49). Amber in color from four years in the barrel, the flavors of Caribbean spices and fruits were full and smooth.

Wayne Kibbe of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill, Mass., enjoyed its drinkability. “It’s easier to drink by itself,” he said.

Paul Barton of Norris Inc., Greenland, and Roland Morin of Dover
also liked its smooth character.

The premium brand, Bacardi 8 ($18.99), was sippable on its own. Aged eight years to a dark mahogany color, the mouth feel was full, with the least amount of heat. Strong fruit and brown sugar flavors reminded me of crème brulee.

Jeff Feingold, editor of the Business Review, liked the full mouth feel. “You could drink it over ice like premium scotch,” he said.

Cindy Gaffney from the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce agreed, adding that she liked its ultra-smooth character.

New Hampshire Magazine sales executive MaryJo Drewn likened its scents of banana to a Yankee candle.

A show of hands had the votes for a favorite fairly evenly split among the four brands, however most of the tasters enjoyed the Bacardi 8 for its cognac-like drinkability.

Note: Price information was taken from the State Liquor Commission Web site as of Aug. 24.

Look out, Cosmo!

The hottest cocktail in the bar scene today is the mojito. The Cuban concoction of lime juice, mint leaves and rum is quickly replacing the cosmopolitan as the trendy drink of choice.

Since most of us know rum as a supporting actor in a cocktail drama, I tried the mojito and found the herbaceous notes of the lime juice and mint very refreshing.

While many folks have paired food with wine, pairing rum with the spicy flavors of the Cajun and Creole cuisine from the Crescent City Bistro was complex and satisfying, and had stunning results. The Bacardi 8 with Chef Koz’s blackened crab cakes and red pepper remoulade was a real winner. The silky sweetness of the rum highlighted the red pepper in the remoulade and the sweeter flavors of the crab.

The fiery New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp paired beautifully with the spicy character of Bacardi Select.

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