A rum tale: E&A Scheer of Amsterdam.

Lesson 1: Never judge a book by its cover.  AKA hiding in plain sight: an extravaganza of rum.

A rum tale: E&A Scheer of Amsterdam.

I hate January. Nothing ever happens in January. The weather sucks. The piggy bank is empty. Why some fools decide that it’s the perfect month to go “dry” baffles me (to me Dry January is an excuse to focus on London dry gin). However this January finds our intrepid cocktail blogger battling through the elements on his trusty (OK rusty) steed to the soul-less Amsterdam docklands where lie the facilities of the worlds largest independent rum blender; E&A Scheer. Wait, who? Yes, good reader, it is a valid question for until very recently this company has been, at best, an open secret known only to the rum cognoscenti. For many years they existed only (even to us Amsterdammers) as a curious brass plaque above that of the Jamaican consulate on the city’s prestigious Herengracht. But in recent times E&A Scheer have decided to move ever so slightly out into the open which is how this bedraggled writer found his way, via the wrong side of the tracks, a couple of industrial unit loading bays and the truck entrance (gee, thanks Google maps) to their impressive new ultra-modern offices. Now that old city centre office might have been quite charming but despite my difficult bicycle ride I am more than happy to be out here. Because. This. Is. Where. The. Rum. Is. Just me, my guide Niels and about 9,000,000 litres of rum to cure all the ills of this otherwise worthless month. And what rum. Scheer’s modern sample room (and bar) contains a world of astonishing rums. High ester Jamaican pot stilled flavour bombs, almost neutral 95+% spirit, 12 year old Nicaraguan rum, Barbadian classics and even Indonesian Arrack; it was all spread out there before me to sniff and taste – and almost all at still or cask strength. “Why pay to ship water?” explained Niels and I could hardly disagree. I had certainly expected a good range of Caribbean rums but there were some very interesting surprises too. Who knew Ghanaian rum could be so good even existed or that Thai rum could be so refined? The only disappointment is a lack of Cuban rum due to some US investment in Scheer. Stop: History time!

A brief shaft of weak sunlight illuminates the wonders of Sheer’s sample room.

The beginnings of E&A Scheer are a bit hazy but basically about 300 years ago a couple of German brothers who were likely already distillers by trade showed up in Amsterdam to set up shop trading in wine and frankly anything else they could think of. Why Amsterdam? Well in those days Amsterdam was the centre of the world and, especially if you wanted to trade, it was absolutely THE place to be. As time went by their descendants – still happily trading away under the name of their forebears – found a profitable niche in Batavia arrack. Yes, we’ve been there before: Arrack is that intriguing Indonesian “rum” that in those days was much beloved by the Dutch, Germans and Swedes the last of whom used it to create Swedish Punsch (which we’ve also talked about). Eventually, after gradually cornering the arrack market the popularity of that wonderful spirit declined – who knows why – and Caribbean rum, which they’d long had a little bit of a finger in became more important to them. Despite being a tiny company with never more employees that you count on your fingers E&A Scheer were always ahead of the game (as evidenced by their URL www.rum.nl) and in 1995 transformed themselves, under the guidance of new managing director Carsten Vlierboom, into an altogether more modern business. Carsten saw the rum boom coming early and the company’s experience in the arrack trade positioned them perfectly to repeat the same trick over 100 years later. In typical Dutch style Scheer have quietly cultivated relationships with rum distilleries the world over to the point where the palette of rums they can draw on to blend with is nothing short of spectacular. In line with recent interest in rum worldwide the last three years have seen yet further growth at Scheer – Covid-19 hindering them not the slightest – with a doubling of output and staffing. Even so with just 41 employees they punch well above their weight. Think of any blended rum that isn’t stabled at one of the big international drinks companies and it is more than likely that blend was the work of Scheer. While you won’t see their name on the bottle as they prefer to let their clients hog the limelight a good example is Denizen who are unusually open about their partnership with E&A Scheer.*

A tiny portion of the 6-8 megalitres of Scheer’s rum. Beyond this line photography is forbidden – remember some of this stuff is north of 95% – but I can assure you I’ve seen it! Note the larger steel tanks at the back. The vast majority of the spirit is stored in those.

To better explain this it is perhaps best to imagine that we wish (and how) to establish our own rum brand. Assuming you have made the appropriate preliminary steps such as the legal shizzle and securing the services of a bottling plant a first approach to Scheer via a handy tool on their website will get the ball rolling. Even an order for as little as 1000 litres Scheer will create a range of blends for your consideration and ship them out to wherever you are. It is important to note that Scheer are not a bottler but supply the rum in bulk, undiluted, uncoloured and,yes, unsugared. Those decisions are down to the individual client. While there are more strings to Scheer’s bow** this is their core business and certainly that most of interest to all you rum fanatics.

Yeah, I told you it was dark and wet. Proof company vehicle, illegally parked, bottom right.

Meanwhile back at the rain-soaked docklands we move on to the storage and bulk blending facilities. It’s incredible. From huge wooden casks to a towering forest of stainless steel tanks each inscribed with not-too-indecipherable product codes that hint at their contents: Barb.8, ThaiB, St.L.5, Phil2yo, Wor.Pk. I’m Charlie and this is The Chocolate Factory. But then after that spectacle, hidden away in a dingy corner of the facility is the most fascinating little room of all. E&A Scheer’s archive contains a little bottle of every blend they’ve sold. Row after row of lovingly created individual blends, stored for eternity so that any can be re-created or checked for consistency. As well as documents and ledgers going back hundreds of years, a result of Scheer being a family business for almost its entire history. It reminds me of the closing scene in the first Indiana Jones film. And you know what? Maybe January isn’t so bad after all.



If you want to start your own rum brand, you’d better talk to E&A Scheer.

The Ark of the Covenant is in here somewhere. This is just some of it…


A few more pictures for the curious:

Scheer luxury. This is just their private in-house bar yet it would make some Tiki bars weep in shame. Some clues here so I’ve left the resolution quite high 😉

Like to try a sample? Don’t mind if I do.

All there in black and white. If you can read that spidery 19th century handwriting…

Endless rum. I told you there was more…

*And damn, I wish I could get my hands on a bottle of Denizen Merchant’s Reserve. A Dutch based company, with Dutch blended rum that doesn’t sell their product in Europe. It makes me crazy (reader: “You were crazy already!”)

**Supplying the flavour and fragrance industries and dealing in rare casks of rum via their subsidiary The Main Rum Company, Liverpool to name just a couple.

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Rum review: Chairman’s Reserve Original.

No reservations.

Rum review: Chairman’s Reserve Original.

I’ve written before about the importance of having a good base/anchor rum for Tiki cocktails. Last time around I was in the process of looking for a replacement for Havana Club Anejo especial which, frankly, was less especial than most of Havana Clubs other rums (3 años, 7 and Selecion de Maestros being pretty damn fine). I settled on Mount Gay Eclipse at that time but the good cocktailista is always in search of a way to raise their game and here, a few years hence, I sense that am again drifting away from my big base rum. I do recall that I also promised to inform you if my choice of anchor rum were to change. Yes, Mount Gay Eclipse remains a solid choice with a very mid-Caribbean style that suits many cocktails which contain more than one rum. To justify a change we need another jack-of-all-trades rum that gives us more oomph than it does yet doesn’t have such an idiosyncratic personality that it dominates other flavours. An interim experiment was Appleton Estate Signature blend but, while an excellent mixing rum, it falls at that very last hurdle as it has enough of that Jamaican funk to skew the balance. Besides, I have plenty of other funky Jamaican rums that I can reach for if needed. So today I’m going to look at a new candidate for my anchor rum. Let’s have a look and see if it cuts the mustard:

Chairman’s Reserve.

This rum from the tiny island nation of Saint Lucia* comes in a fairly plain squat bottle with one of those dismal thin metal screw caps. I’m paying a shade under 20 pan-European currency units for a 700ml bottle and Appleton Signature manages to provide a nice wooden stopper in a cheaper rum so it is possible to provide a better closure at this price if still uncommon. Otherwise the clear bottle is fine being broad enough to be stable without taking up too much rum shelf real estate. The label is a bit dreary, dated and over-complex. I feel like it is due an update. We do have some information though, as it is declared to be a mix of column and pot still (huzzah!) distillates. There are some tasting notes on the back which I found unusually accurate but we’ll get to that. I don’t at all like the “finest selection” text that sits under the main text. This is their entry level rum with many more expensive ones to save such claims for. On some fake “medals” we see a little more information some of which are pretty meaningless but do glean that it is aged in oak for an unspecified period. However, a trip to their website adds more information including that Original is aged for an average of 5 years in ex-bourbon barrels. We’re at 40% abv here which is not unexpected at this price but I would be much more impressed with a bottling a touch stronger. So far, so meh. But hang on – how about we actually pour some of this stuff? In the glass we see a bright coppery/golden hue that is very pleasant but likely caramel influenced. A sniff gives an initial unsubtle ethanol hit but backed by some reassuringly “rummy” smells of spice and vanilla. Suddenly I find my interest awoken. A taste reveals more of the same: a fair amount of burn for a 40% rum but while undesirable in a sipping rum unlikely to do much harm in a cocktail. I suspect that no attempt to “smoothen” it with added sugar has occurred. I take a minute to test this (with the hydrometer and table method) and can confirm I can measure no such addition. Excellent! The flavours which are very present and forward are indeed of vanilla, raisin and spices with a hint of wood that tells me they certainly haven’t been too stingy on the aging. There are hints here of a more expensive sipping rum but they do hide behind that harshness that hasn’t had time to be fully aged out. It’s a bold rum for the money and while not unlike Mount Gay Eclipse it just has more presence. For me this is exactly what I’m looking for in anchor rum. Yes, it is a little more expensive than my previous candidates but not by very much. It has bags of flavour but none of them too left of centre and (after some enjoyable testing) it indeed forms that solid base in multi-rum Tiki drinks that other rums can expand on. Place it in the centre of a Navy Grog or Mai Tai and you will not be disappointed.

Mission accomplished: Chairman’s Reserve Original is now my new anchor/base rum and well deserves (in the above context) a Proofcocktails:


*Incidentally the only country in the world to be named after a real** woman (Eire being named for a mythical one). Funnily enough Mount Gay rum is distilled in the town of Saint Lucy in Barbados named after the very same lady.

**OK, maybe.

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Tour le Carbet

Is everyone ready for the tour?

Tour le Carbet.

Being a cocktail blogger means that sometimes folks expect you to know everything about the subject and yet it is an enormous field. A reader was recently asking me about some good uses for unaged rhum agricole and to my embarrassment I didn’t really have that much to offer. For the uninitiated agricoles are a style of rum made directly from pressed sugar cane rather than molasses and – especially the unaged – have a grassy/earthy flavour that takes some getting used to. While I have some experience with aged agricoles in cocktails I had only recently bought my first unaged 50% abv and was thus in much the same place as the aforementioned reader. Another thing about being a cocktail blogger is that you tend to buy a lot of cocktail books to expand your knowledge and then some of them get forgotten after a cursory examination. These two disparate events collided when I “rediscovered” my copy of Shannon Mustipher’s somewhat oversimply entitled Tiki. Shannon loves her some agricole and scatters them generously throughout her book. Once I started mixing up some of her recipes I quickly realised she has truly mastered the art of incorporating those difficult flavours into tropical cocktails – often with a modern twist. One such is her Tour le Carbet which leans on a very non-Tiki ingredient: Suze is a French bitter aperitif that I have never seen used in the Tiki genre but with the French influence present in rhum agricoles makes a certain sense. Falernum and lime juice complete the picture more conventionally. I personally find the Tour le Carbet to be a fascinating cocktail for a few reasons. At first sip I always say to myself “Hmm, this is a bit weird – do I like it or not?” but by the last sip I’m in Tiki heaven. Also, considering that the drink contains a fairy heavy pour of falernum it doesn’t taste strongly of that liqueur. Normally I like to taste my falernum in a drink but here it just kind of melds with the Suze in a most delightful way. Both are strong flavours but here they seem to “tame” each other. The idiosyncratic flavour of the agricole still shines through but again is slightly reigned in by the other ingredients. It’s a wonderfully conceived cocktail, complex, quirky and intriguing – yet very simple to make*. For those looking for further Tiki inspiration Shannon Mustipher’s Tiki**  is a pretty good place to start with a mixture of classics and her own more modern takes.

Tour le Carbet.

2oz / 60ml of 50%/100 proof rhum agricole (I used Clement).

0.5oz / 15ml Suze

0.75oz / 22ml falernum (preferably home-made).

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lime juice.

Shake with ice and double strain into a chilled Champagne coupe. Lime garnish.

Toast Shannon Mustipher – queen of the agricoles. And cheers to Rick from Alkmaar!

*As long as you have some Suze. If you don’t just get some it’s not expensive.

**Rizzoli International Publications ISBN13:978-0-7893-3554-8

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Take my Word.

We’re going green.

Take my Word.

Two drinks I really love are a Gin & Tonic and The Last Word. One day I was constructing the former and I thought, “I wonder if adding a few drops of Elixir Vegetal de la Grande Chartreuse (an interesting Chartruese variant we discussed some time ago) might be interesting?” And it was. But then I thought, “I wonder if adding the other flavours in a Last Word might be even more interesting?” And it was. So with a little splash of Maraschino and a long thin strip of lime peel (AKA a horse’s neck) the Take my Word was born. If you lack Elixir Vegetal (highly likely) simply use a scant half a teaspoon of green chartreuse instead. Done correctly the result is still very much a gin and tonic but with just a hint of the indulgent pleasure that is a Last Word. It’s certainly a quirky twist on the classic G&T but is it actually any good? Take my Word for it…

Take my Word.

2oz / 60ml London dry gin of choice. I like Tanquaray No 10 in this.

6 drops Charteuse elixir vegetal or green Chartreuse (see text).

0.25oz / 7.5ml Luxardo maraschino liqueur

200ml of a fairly neutral tonic water*.

Long swathe of fresh lime peel.

Add above to a well iced gin glass and stir very gently.

Toast James Lovelock (1919 – 2022). The King of Green.

*Standard issue Fever Tree Indian tonic, Schweppes or similar.

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Blood Meridian.

Judge not lest ye be Judged…

Blood Meridian.

O loyal reader, it seems I owe you an apology. Reviewing my recent ramblings I realise I’ve been leaning rather heavily on my own loves (yes, rum and Tiki) rather than truly exploring the wider world of cocktail diversity. My bad. To redress this egregious imbalance I present to you this very day a drink of my own creation that is both the polar opposite of Tiki and fucking delicious (if I do say so myself). Furthermore it is also low in alcohol without being all wishy-washy like some low proof drinks are wont to be.

In a moment of curiosity I wondered if ruby port would work as the base “spirit” in an Old Fashioned. Spoiler alert: It turns out with a bit of tweaking it works wonderfully. But first a quick time-out to explain that there already exists a well established drink called a Port Old Fashioned that is not a Port Old Fashioned. Yup. Because it’s actually a rye or bourbon base with just a little port added. Why anyone thought they could use up the name on that drink is a mystery to me but at least opens the gate for me to give my totally port based O.F. a more interesting name. Hence “Blood Meridian” from the name of the astonishing if harrowing book of (mostly*) the same name by Cormac McCarthy.**  Those tweaks though: I settled on ginger syrup – the freshly made kind wot I explainified to you a while back – for the pleasant way it interacted with the heavy tannins in the port as my sweet component. The bitters I liked best in it were the illustrious Bogart’s reboot from The Bitter Truth which melded seamlessly into the port. But there was still further to go. I thought first of adding a dash of orange bitters but instead took a thin 5cm/2” swathe of orange peel and dropped it into the mixing tin where it would release some oils during the stirring process without adding any more bitterness. Old Fashioned variants are normally served “down” with a block of ice (at least these days) but port being a mere 20% abv needs no further dilution so we serve it on the stem – coupe or Nick & Nora – instead. Being balanced to my satisfaction I felt no inclination to garnish my Blood Meridian so left it as naked as a judge on a trek through the desert. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Blood Meridian.

2oz / 60ml Ruby port – reserve or even LBV.

1 tsp Ginger syrup (best if homemade).

3-4 dashes of Bogart’s (or another aromatic) bitters.

5cm / 2 inch very fine swathe of orange peel.

Stir all above ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe or Nick & Nora glass. No garnish.

Toast Cormac McCarthy.

*Because “Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West” is a bit wordy for a cocktail name.

**Those on a quest to find The Great American novel need search no further.

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Super juice.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s…

Super juice.

In cocktailworld various fads come and go. There’s always some wax-mustached dude in a leather apron and Iron Rangers resurrecting some ancient obscure technique or creating some poncy trick to make a cocktail in a wafer thin globe of ice or whatfuckingever. I value simplicity and accessibility* over gate-keeping and showiness so colour me suspicious of such tomfoolery. No surprise then that I spent quite a while studiously ignoring a new thang called “super juice” (rolls eyes) which purports to create an ever better kind of lime juice using limes, water and some acids. However, I’m also a guy who runs a cocktail blog and feels a duty to keep his readers up-to-date and given that I already had all the required ingredients recently decided to see if there’s anything to this juicy new religion for all you good, good people**. TL;DR: There is.


Yeah, I know. So here’s the story: Not very long ago a fellow by the name of Nickle Morris of Bar Expo in Louisville Kentucky came up with a more sustainable way to make lime juice and it has absolutely taken the cocktail world by storm. It takes a little more time than just squeezing a couple of limes but creates much more “juice” and claims to taste even better, be much cheaper and, most importantly, have a far longer shelf life than normal lime juice. I’d normally have little truck with this but for my recent experiments of turning a Caipirinha into a Caribinha that hinged on the realisation that there is more flavour that can be extracted from a lime by heavy muddling which in turn made me think there might be something to Nickle’s magic tricks. Halving one formula down to a more manageable size I dutifully peeled four limes and doused them in 22 grams of citric acid crystals and 4 grams of malic acid powder in a Pyrex jug. I mixed it all up and let it rest for about an hour until the peels had started to brown and absorb the acid. Then it was just a case of blending that with the juice of the said limes and 500ml of water and straining the lot through a fine sieve. That’ll give you just north of 600ml of lime super juice to use in exactly the same way and quantity as you would fresh lime juice. And once again in pictures:

1. Skin ’em limes good.

2. Measure your acids (yes, I know how dodgy this looks). Small precision scales like this are dirt cheap and very handy – even if you’re not dealing the Devil’s lettuce.

3. Stir the peel and acids well.

4. Wait until it starts to look a bit brown and curly and the granules are mostly absorbed.

5. Chuck in the blender with the water and lime juice. Make sure to get all the remaining acid granules in there too. Blend until the peel is well fragmented (pic is pre-blending – I forgot to take a post-blend pic. Sue me!).

6. Strain well and you’ll end up with this.


Well, you know what? It totally works. The super juice is just as good as freshly squeezed and most importantly still tastes fresh many days later by which time fresh juice has certainly gone south for the winter. Why is this? Citrus juice keeps pretty well due to the high acid content which is largely citric and malic acids but with a few others that – while adding almost nothing to the fresh flavour – turn quite quickly when exposed to air. This is why lime juice tastes gradually less fresh and zingy almost as soon as it is squeezed. However our super juice has a much reduced percentage of those “bad” acids so it stays fresh for longer. How much longer? I find it still tastes fine after a couple of weeks and as a bonus I find it also freezes better than fresh juice. It’s been said that this is a technique that mostly benefits cocktail bars rather than the home bartender but I find it perfectly delightful to only have to make a weekly supply and have some spare in the freezer. I take a little more care in selecting my limes as the condition of the peel is more important but then I’m saving so much money with this system I can easily afford the best. The same technique is equally suitable for lemon juice and I use the formula above but use only citric acid (so 26 grams). There are various formulas to be found online including a handy super juice calculator by Kevin Kos for a range of different citrus fruits. So far I’m happy with the formulae above but it’s still early days. Er, hello! Why are you still here? Go away and make some super juice immediately!

While we don’t normally toast non-recipe articles hats off to Nickel Morris for this creation.

*Yeah, yeah, I know I can veer a little in that direction at times but only when the techniques are of value and not overly intricate.

**listen to me. You’re just about done with the way that you feel. ‘Cause nothing rings home enough to dig your heels in. You don’t have to leave me to see what I mean.


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Muddle me up.
Muddle me up.

Just muddlin’ along.


Recently I was enjoying a Caiprinha, a favourite of mine which has always intrigued me somewhat. For, to me, the mystery of the Caipirinha is that it is so much more than the sum of its parts and even if made with some fairly rough cachaça it still shines in a way that a Daiquiri constructed with some dodgy rum certainly would not. Sipping and pondering I gradually come to the realisation that the secret must be in the unusual preparation of the drink – specifically the muddling of the lime with sugar. In this way all the flavours of those wonderful green orbs are released; juice, oil from the peels but also a bitterness from the pith which we are normally urged to avoid. Thus inspired I proceeded to make the drink anew but this time using some decent aged Caribbean rum in place of the Cachaça. Wow. The combination is simply delicious with all that I love from the mother drink but with the extra depth of flavour from a more sophisticated base spirit – truly the best of both worlds! Just when you’re thinking, “Rum, lime sugar – can it get any better?” – yep, it can. Thinking “this must surely already exist” I conducted some light “research” (aka looked on Wikipedia) and, indeed, there is thing called a Caipirissima. However the recipe almost always calls for some anemic white rum such as Bacardi Carta Blanca which is a largely pointless exercise if we want to elevate the Caipirinha to new levels. Further (and very enjoyable) experimentation reveals that the process works equally well with a range of aged rums and especially the combining of more than just one – Tiki style – as we would in a Mai Tai for example. For the picture above I used some of the excellent yet affordable Appleton Signature blend which serves as a decent starting point but moving further up the Caribbean rum ladder is amply rewarded. I hereby grant you licence to experiment*. Now, I am probably taking something of a liberty renaming this drink but in my defence proper deference has been given to the source recipe whilst introducing the Caribbean element and thus I present to you The Caribinha.

The process is important so bear with me. First cut a nice fresh lime into eight wedges and throw them into a chilled double old fashioned glass. Add a tablespoon (0.5oz/15ml if measured in a jigger) of Demerara or other raw sugar and muddle well until you have a sugary paste in the bottom of the glass. Add plenty of crushed ice and the rum then stir well with the back end of a barspoon. Note that the amount of sugar may be adjusted to taste and to account for the size and juiciness of the lime. Enjoy!


2oz / 60ml Carribbean aged rum of choice (see text).

1 lime, cut into wedges.

0.5oz / 15ml / 1 tablespoon raw sugar.

See above for process.

Toast Citrus latfolia – where would we be without the noble Persian lime? More on ’em real soon!

*Pssssst, Smith & Cross and El Dorado 8 – just sayin’

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Tiki Bitters – making your own bitters.

This bitter be good.

Tiki Bitters – making your own bitters.

It’s time to make some homemade bitters folks! And why make something that you can buy anywhere when you could be making a bitters that spices up your Tiki drinks that doesn’t really exist in the marketplace? Yep, that’s what I thought too! The basic technique I’m using here can be used to make any other kind of bitters you desire so you may also consider this a Bitters 101 course. Making your own bitters is pretty damn easy in itself but the tricky part can be assembling the ingredients. A good spice supplier – either bricks and mortar or online – is invaluable but even then bittering agents such as gentian and chinchona may have to be sought out separately (all hail the internet!) but at least once you have some they will last you for years. Once assembled it is simply a case of soaking your ingredients in some strong alcohol for a wee whiley to extract the flavours. Most spices and roots are fine to use as they come but some benefit from breaking up to increase the surface area. Therefore gently crush those I’ve marked using a mortar and pestle (feel free to improvise if you lack one) taking care not to powder them. Often strong neutral alcohol is used but if we’re making a Tiki bitters we’d very better use rum. If only there were rums strong enough (heh, heh, heh…) to do the job. In the past I’ve used Mariënburg 81% rum along with the OFTD but it’s a hard one to find for a lot of you and I tend to get some funny looks when I buy it in person even though it’s only the weak export version (no, seriously). This time I subbed in Wray & Nephew overproof Jamaican white rum and it works just as well, even adding some nice funky notes to the mix. You could use other overproof rums than I have but make sure to keep the average abv north of 60% for the best results. Mix the spices and rum in a jar and give it a shake a couple of times a day. After around five days simply strain the lot through an unbleached coffee filter (twice for good measure) and funnel into a bitters bottle. You can either buy a nice bitters bottle and dasher top or save and recycle your Angostura bottles or maybe you’ll luck out and thrift a nice old perfume bottle like I did. Use your Tiki bitters in any Tiki drink you’d like to spice up either instead of or as well as the recommended bitters. Or even when no bitters are called for (we be talkin’ Daiquiris and the like here) where these wonderful tropical spices and bitter elements really liven things up.

The bitter end.

Tiki Bitters.

1 tablespoon bitter orange peel.

1 tsp gentian.

0.5 tsp chinchona chips (not powder).

1 tsp cocoa nibs.

1 small star anise*.

1 Ceylon cinnamon stick (the crumbly type)*.

10 dried allspice (aka pimento) berries.*

2 green cardamom pods.*

2 cloves.*


Gently crush those marked *


Add everything to a jar containing 150ml of Wray & Nephew overproof rum and 100ml of Plantation OFTD overproof rum (see text).

Leave for 5 days shaking briefly at least daily.

Filter and bottle.

If you want to read more about bitters (including making your own) I strongly recommend Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari by Mark Bitterman (yes, that really is his name).


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Double rum review: Blackwell and Worthy Park 109.

A tale of two rums.

Double rum review: Blackwell and Worthy Park 109.

What’s better than a rum review? Two rum reviews! And betterer still Jamaican rum reviews! Nope, we don’t do things by halves on the good ship Proof me hearties.

At first glance these might be mistaken for similar products – both are dark Jamaican rums after all – but upon closer examination we find them to be very different beasts. How so? Read on, dear reader, read on!

Blackwell Black Gold Special Reserve.

Straight away I’m gonna drop the descriptors and just call this Blackwell’s like everyone else does as there is no other variant of it beside the cheesy 007 branded bottle (rolls eyes). Blackwell’s is supposedly the secret family recipe of famous Jamaican record producer Chris Blackwell but I’m wary of this kind of blurb that we find on the rear of the bottle as it often amounts to little more than an iffy attempt at whipping up some historical mumbo-jumbo to shift product. It may or may not be true but I’d much prefer some solid facts about how the rum is produced. Hence I was reluctant to try this rum for a time seeing it as bordering on one of those “rock” branded spirits such as AC/DC Thunderstruck tequila or Motörhead rum (rolls eyes again). I think this branding may have done more harm than good but I’m way off track now and need to reboot this review.

Blackwell comes in a straightforward 700ml brown glass bottle with a metal screw cap. The label is quite nicely done being all deliberately misaligned and with a distinct “piratey” aesthetic. The seal on the side is a nice touch but aside from that it is a pretty uninteresting bottling for the price. The marketing jibber-jabber aside there is zero useful information beyond the compulsory 40% ABV statement (the website provides nothing more concrete either). No indication of age. Pot or column? Who knows? Who’s making this for Chris? Does he even know? If he does he’s not telling! I’ve gotta be honest; the signs are not encouraging. Undeterred* I pour a measure. I was expecting something much darker (a reason I dislike coloured bottles) than the coppery liquid that hits my glass. Everything I’ve seen was signaling a black rum but this is a few shades short of such. OK, let’s have a sniff. Damn, but this smells lovely with distinct caramel and vanilla fragrances and a little spice in the background. When tasted we get pretty much what we smelled as well as a smooth and buttery texture with little burn. It’s really quite decent for something with so little providence. While you could definitely sip this I bought it with mixing in mind and as a possible replacement for Myers’s in my Zombies and the like. I don’t hate Myers’s like some folks do but I always had the feeling I could do a little better. Lo and behold subbing Blackwell’s into my Zombie made a noticeable improvement to the point I would stock it for that purpose alone. Furthermore I found Blackwell’s a pleasing rum as a component of a Mai Tai. Well, I’m still a little shocked that this rum had anything under the hood at all let alone that it would be a permanent fixture on the Proof bar. It’s a tad pricey in my parts at around €28 but largely for it’s excellent mixability I’ve got to award it an:


Worthy Park 109.

It turns out Worthy Park 109 is the polar opposite of Blackwell’s with providence coming out of its ears. One of Jamaica’s most ancient and revered distilleries whose juice often finds its way into special bottlings for other brands the Worthy Park name immediately caught my attention. The other attention grabber is that 109 on the label. Yup, that’s 109 proof better known as 54.5% ABV or the revised Navy Proof of the British Navy. At €32.50 for a litre at such a high strength this looks like pretty fine value for a rum from such a prestigious distiller. Furthermore we have an ocean of useful information on the production. Right up front on the simple but tasteful label we read The Magic Words “100% copper pot distilled”. I’m in! There are more details but the most relevant is that it is a blend of their own aged and un-aged rums and that everything is done in-house. But enough, let’s get to it.

Poured from the large clear (smiles) bottle which in itself is satisfactory if dull we see the expected deep mahogany colour. Clearly it’s a caramel coloured rum then but, hey, that’s what makes a dark rum dark**. The first sniff is pretty unforgiving. Ethanol hits first in a pretty brutal way but as it subsides we get a nice treacly impression with dark roast coffee in the background. The taste is similar: treacle scones at halloween accompanied by a sip of bitter espresso. There are raisin and spice flavours in there too and no sweetness to be found. This is grown up rum and certainly not for beginners. The finish is long and warming but the alcohol doesn’t hide its presence and this is certainly not a rum I’m going to be sipping on. I can see a sailor downing one after a cold, hard shift but that’s little help to us cocktailistas. I really wanted to like this rum and I kinda do. But. The problem is that there are other better rums in this zone. For a Navy rum it can’t supplant Wood’s and for an overproof demerara stand-in it can’t touch Plantation OFTD. I tried it in a number of cocktails and it just wasn’t a rum that plays nice with others as its bitter notes seem to dominate and take over the drink. I still think a might find something interesting to do with it but for now I can’t recommend it as a flexible mixing rum – and if it’s not a sipping rum where does that leave it? It leaves it with a:


Note on sugar/sweetness.

I tested both of these rums for added sugar and neither had any significant dosing. Unsurprising as Jamaican rum pretty much never does. There are differences in perceived sweetness but it is just that a perception based on the flavours present. Blackwell tastes sweeter due to the vanilla notes and WP109 somewhat bitter due to the coffee notes is my best guess. Similarly Myers’s tastes sweet due to the molasses flavours yet also tests negative for added sugar.


Don’t judge a book by its cover folks. Labels with production details usually help us a lot but here we a clear case where they didn’t and it shows that there is no substitute for tasting.

*OK somewhat deterred.

**Yeah, it’s rarely got anything to do with ageing in barrels at this price or below.



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Mr Mojo.

Keep on risin’

Mr. Mojo.

I’ve always hated the Mint Julep which is probably why it’s one of the few classic cocktails I’ve not written about here. With just bourbon, mint, sugar and ice it lacks the balance that I consider so important in a good cocktail. Yes, Americans tend to love them but then they are used to a lot of sugar in their food and drink. So instead I present unto you a summer drink that has a certain amount of common ground with the Mint Julep but with the requisite balance and a simplicity of preparation – which we all value, right? The Mr. Mojo also borrows a fair amount from the Mojito (hence the name) and drops in a favourite amaro of mine to give some extra depth. I used Ramazzotti but Averna, Lucano and a few others are close enough in profile to work too. I tried both lemon and lime as the sour component but the latter seemed more pleasing to me. To keep things nice and simple we’ll put our mint directly into the shaker but do remember that mint gives up its flavoursome oils pretty readily so we just give it a light shake to prevent it over-fragmenting. Done properly this means no bits of mint small enough to get sucked up a straw should remain. A “dirty dump” of the entire contents of the shaker into a partially iced glass ensures sufficient chillagé and prevents us from over-diluting with the soda water. Simple. Delicious. Now show me the way to the next whisky bar…

Mr. Mojo.

1.5oz / 45ml bourbon of choice*.

0.5oz / 15ml Ramazzotti or similar amaro.

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

0.75oz / 22 ml demerara syrup (1:1).

7-8 mint leaves.

Shake relatively gently with ice and pour entire contents of shaker into partially iced Collins glass. Top up with a little soda water (2-3oz/60-90ml maximum!). Stir gently and garnish with a mint sprig.

Toast The Lizard King (1943 – 1971).

*But choose Wild Turkey 101!

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