Gin review: Roku & Etsu Japanese gins.

優秀な日本のジン

Gin review: Roku & Etsu Japanese gins.

The gin world divides itself more or less into two styles which, very approximately, are: a) London Dry gin in which juniper is the main flavour and b) New World/New Western gin in which it isn’t – or is at least more restrained. The latter are often more citrus forward in flavour which is fine but it’s the name that troubles me as many gins in this style have little to do with the “New World/West”. Today’s review is a case in point as we examine two very interesting Japanese gins in the lesserly junipered style. At first glance it seems these two gins have a great deal in common but then it get interesting – so let’s get to it!

Roku.

I’ve been enjoying Roku for some time now so it’s not new to me as is normally the case in my reviews. However it seemed sensible to review it alongside Etsu as they appear to have much in common. Produced by Suntory, a large Japanese producer better known for their whiskey, Roku is a widely available gin due to the owner’s expansive distribution network. I like the hexagonal bottle with the images of the botanicals and names in kanji raised from the glass – which also helps give the bottle some grip. It’s really quite elegant for such a mass produced product. The plastic screw top provides a good solid seal but I feel lets the perception down a touch. I’d rather have that than a poorly fitted wood stopper though. The label is simple but classy with the name written in a brushstroke style that fits its heritage very well. There is some information on the botanicals – of which I always approve – on the back label so we know that six Japanese ingredients are used (sakura flower, yuzu peel, sencha tea, sansho pepper, sakura leaf and gyokuru tea) in addition to any “traditional” ones. Indeed the name Roku is the Japanese word for 6 in reference to those botanicals. We also see that the gin is bottled (at least in the European market) at a sensible 43%. On the nose Roku gin is fresh and citrusy with a definite whiff of juniper. Tasted with just a little water to open it up Roku delivers a nicely balanced complex flavour. The floral and citrus elements seems spread out before you to taste individually and your attention seems to bounce about between them. At the same time it is soft and subtle with no one flavour too dominant and then has a pleasantly long lingering finish without any overly bitter notes. This is a nicely made gin with some real attention to detail. I particularly enjoy it in a gin and tonic with a relatively straightforward tonic such as Schweppes but find it a little too subtle to shine in most cocktails but then there are plenty of other gins we can use for that. As a mid-priced gin (€28-30 here but often on sale for less) I find it a valuable addition to my gin shelf and score it a respectable:

A-.

Etsu.

As far as I can tell Etsu – which means “pleasure” – is a relative newcomer to the fabulous world of gin. While being Japanese, having some common botanicals, 43% alcohol and having a name with four letters ending in “u”, I was expecting something fairly similar to Roku but it turns out I was in for a surprise. But first: Etsu comes in a squat cylindrical bottle which at first glance looks like one of those 500ml bottles yet due to its width is in fact a full 700ml. The closure is a beautiful cobalt blue synthetic stopper with a wooden top which has a gold “coin” sunk into it (not very visible in the photo: my bad). Likewise the label looks pretty classy in the same striking blue tone with some gold highlights. While Roku is made by the gigantic Suntory company it appears that Etsu is a much smaller affair made on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and imported into Europe by the relatively new and small BBC Wines & Spirits in France so it is certainly trickier to find than Roku. I sniffed quite a bit more juniper than I expected for a Japanese gin but it was when I tasted it that I was really surprised. The botanicals – again fairly traditional but including bitter green orange peel, sansho, yuzu and licorice – gel into one lovely united front on your palate combining seamlessly into a wonderful pepperiness that reminds me a little of a high quality tequila. And that pepper element seemingly contains the floral and citric notes in a kind of zen-like one-ness as if the flavours are somehow bonded together. It’s not subtle and nuanced like Roku but the polar opposite: concentrated vs diffuse, punchy vs smooth. It takes quite some skill – and the practiced use of flavour fixatives like angelica and orris root – to pull this stunt off. While it makes a great, if unsubtle, gin and tonic it also plays well in cocktails with the peppery edge coming though nicely in a Gimlet or Southside. While a little deeper into the higher-middle price range (around here €32-35) it’s a gin well worth seeking out especially for those who enjoy a very good tequila. I love it:

A+.

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Mai Tai (revisited).

Remco eyes my Mai Tai.

Mai Tai (revisited).

It’s almost five years since I started this blog and one of the first drinks I ever wrote about was the Mai Tai. Recently a reader (groetjes Andries!) was commenting on how much he loved the Mai Tai and it made me realise that it might be time to revisit this fabulous drink. If you didn’t yet read my original article I suggest you do that now. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

(elevator muzak)

…Over the last five or so years things have improved for the poor old Mai Tai. Yes, those dreadful MTINOs (Mai Tai in name only) with all sorts of non-original fruity and sweet ingredients have been largely exterminated and a “real” Mai Tai more easily found – and confidently ordered. Yet there has also been much discussion in the online cocktail community as to how one should make one’s “proper” Mai Tai and that is what I wish to address with the update. First is the discussion as to which rum to use. The original “1944” Trader Vic Mai Tai called for Wray & Nephew 17 year old rum and given that approximately one bottle of that remains in existence substitutes must be made. Much discussion has ensued about this subject largely revolving around Trader Vic’s own replacement: Martinique rum. I think it’s folly to get too deep into the subject and best to just leave that to the uber-geeks*. To me the joy of the Mai Tai is seeing how it responds to different rum combinations, and indeed, that simplifies matters for the average home bartender. That is not to say the Mai Tai can be made with just any rum as it is a drink which rewards a touch of quality in the rum selection. I’m not going to give you a definitive rum combo but suggest – as a starting point – a decent gold Barbados or Jamaican rum as the “base” and a good aged rum to lift it yet higher. Experiment until you find a favourite or if, like me, you have an extensive rum collection just enjoy the journey to Mai Tai perfection. Furthermore it has come to my attention that many otherwise good intentioned folks are reducing the lime content of their Mai Tai to three-quarters of an ounce. No, no and thrice no! The Mai Tai must be a balanced drink and reducing the sour content from Trader V’s “juice of one large lime”, vague as it is, must be interpreted as one full ounce in order to maintain the sweet/sour balance. Which brings me tidily to the next topic and this time it’s a modern twist that I am actually fully behind. In my previous article I suggested making a Mai Tai mix of all the sweet components in a 2:1:1 ratio of curaçao, orgeat and 2:1 syrup to be used an ounce per drink. Many modern Tiki-heads are now upping the orgeat to a half ounce per drink and (mostly) dropping the sugar syrup entirely. I feel this is justified in a few different ways: The profile of the drink is better with the orgeat coming more to the fore. I believe 1944 orgeat may well have been more assertive and that this balance of orgeat and curaçao is what The Trader was really after. But better still it much simplifies the making of the drink and renders the making of a Mai Tai mix unnecessary. Just half and ounce each of a good curaçao and orgeat and you’re good to go. Speaking of those, these days I have settled on Monin orgeat (there may be better orgeats including home-made but Monin is perfectly decent) and Pierre Ferrand dry curaçao (to me the most versatile and balanced of the many orange liqueurs).

So equipped we once again mix ourselves one of the greatest cocktails ever created:


Mai Tai (Proof preferred version).

1oz / 30ml dry gold rum (see text).
1oz / 30ml quality aged rum.
1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.
0.5oz / 15ml Pierre Ferrand (or another) dry curaçao.
0.5oz / 15ml Monin (or another) orgeat.

Shake with crushed ice and pour (unstrained) into a tumbler.
Garnish with half a lime shell and a sprig of mint (intention being to look like a little tropical island).

Toast my loyal moose Remco (pictured above) who loves a Mai Tai.


*In which case I concur with Martin Cate’s view that a Martinique rhum traditionnel was the likely substitution yet still enjoy my Mai Tai with some rhum agricole in it now and then.

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Kelpie.

The Kelpie’ll get ye!

Kelpie.

Inspired by a comment from a reader and the imminent arrival of St Andrew’s day (now past) I set out on a mission to create the most Scottish cocktail possible. I casually informed Mrs Proof that I was working on a mix containing Scotch, green ginger wine and Buckfast and was authoritatively informed that this would be “disgusting”. And as we know Mrs Proof is never wrong. Against all wisdom I proceeded with my ill-advised experiment and arrived at the concoction presented below. Somewhat Negroniish – or perhaps more Boulevarieresque – in profile it uses the Bucky as an Italian Vermouth substitute and the Crabbie’s as a Campari substitute although skewed more toward green and gingeriness rather than red and orangy rubarbiness. After a little while playing with proportions, the addition of a dash of bitters as a binder and some positive reactions from a couple of test subjects I came to the shattering realisation that Mrs Proof is sometimes wrong. I liked this enough to name it after a mythical Scottish water spirit and present it before you good people.

Those outside of the UK may struggle to get some of these ingredients but green ginger wine can often be found in Chinese grocery shops and a good Italian Vermouth – especially Carpano Antica with its similar vanilla edge – will get you close enough to Buckfast.


Kelpie.

1.5oz / 45ml Scotch of choice.*

0.75oz / 22ml Crabbie’s (or another brand) green ginger wine.

0.75oz / 22ml Buckfast tonic wine.

1 dash of aromatic bitters (eg. Angostura or Bogart’s).

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled DoF glass containing a large chunk of ice.

Garnish with a swathe of orange peel.

Toast the Kelpies – keeping small children away from dangerous bodies of water for hundreds of years.


*The Scotch you choose will have quite an influence in the drink. A basic blended Scotch is quite fitting but a single malt is just as acceptable. I plied the middle ground with some Monkey Shoulder.

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Sir Walter.

S’wally!

Sir Walter.

Last time we looked at the history of cocktail legend Harry MacElhone and his famous Harry’s New York bar in Paris. This time I’m going to introduce you to a Harry M creation that is largely overlooked and, at least in my opinion, is actually better than some of his more famous creations. Some dispute exists as to whether the Sir Walter is named for Sir Walter Raleigh or Sir Walter Scott but to me the latter is a slam dunk as Harry was, like the latter, a Scotsman and very likely wanted to honour the godfather of the English language blockbuster novel with a drink bearing his name. Furthermore the Sir Walter is an interesting drink with a split base and a slightly peculiar formula.

Codified in the Savoy Cocktail Book as 1 teaspoon of grenadine, 1 teaspoon curacao, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/3 brandy and 1/3 rum the Sir Walter makes little sense as it implies just half an ounce of each of the spirits and I think a typo found it’s way into this (as with the Aviation). More modern versions call for three quarters to an ounce each of the rum and brandy and single teaspoons or quarter ounces of the rest. I’ve played with the more modern formula quite a bit and made it just a touch bigger (probably because I like it so much* and I found it was gone too quickly) and present here my preferred version. One of the tricky things with the Sir Walter is the choice of rum. It simply falls flat with some rums and while Havana Club 3 is often called for – and, indeed, works rather nicely – I found good old Mount Gay Eclipse to be particularly synergous with the cognac and is more likely to be the style (Barbados) of rum originally used. The flavour of the cognac should be clearly present with the rum playing more of a supporting role so avoid your more forceful rums in this case. Pick a decent cognac too but not necessarily a pricey one – for me my go-to Courvoisier VS fits the bill perfectly – and a quality curaçao and grenadine too. These are all ingredients that you will frequently see used in older cocktails where it seems there was a narrower range of liqueurs and syrups than we enjoy today. Curaçao and grenadine were probably the two most common sweeteners the Golden Age bartender reached for when they wanted to balance out a sour. Harry took a light touch with the sweet and sour components here, letting the sprits shine through and I think it was a genius move which I’ve tried to respect with my grown-up version. Made with care the Sir Walter is a cracking little drink that should be far better know than it is.


Sir Walter.

1.25oz / 37ml cognac or brandy.

1.25oz / 37ml Barbados or Cuban rum.

0.25oz / 7.5ml fresh lemon juice.

0.25oz /7.5ml grenadine (pref. homemade).

0.25oz /7.5ml curaçao (pref. Pierre Ferrand – definitely not blue!).

Shake with ice and double strain into a chilled stem glass.

Lemon garnish.

Toast Sir Walter Scott The Wizard of the North.


*The fact that he lived just down the road from where I grew up does no harm to my liking for this drink either.

 

 

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White Lady + Harry MacElhone + Harry’s New York Bar.

She’s a lady.

White Lady + Harry MacElhone + Harry’s New York Bar.

Recently the Proof team (yeah, OK, there’s just me but it sounds cool) were in Paris and no serious cocktailista can visit Paris without a trip to Harry’s New York Bar. Over the last 110 years Harry’s has survived two world wars and the Dark Ages of the cocktail (c.1970 – 2000) largely unscathed. Just a stone’s throw from the Paris opera at 5 Rue Danue – or “sank roo doe noo” as they famously advertised – more classic cocktails were created here than in any other place although, to be fair, there are quite a lot of claims and counter-claims to the creation of classic cocktails around this time, so, like an iffy Margarita, we might take them with a pinch of salt. We’ve covered a few of those drinks already (the Sidecar, the Boulevardier and [perhaps] the French 75) without going too deeply into their creation stories. Time to fix that and add another undeniable Harry’s classic. But first the backstory to the backstory…

Rue D’awakening. Not.

Originally just the New York Bar, Scotsman Harry MacElhone (mack-alone) ran the joint (which was literally shipped there from NYC) from its 1911 opening before leaving, bouncing around London and New York for a while and then returning, buying and adding his name to the New York Bar in 1923. Between the wars was boom time at Harry’s when it functioned as the centre of the American ex-pat culture and has been a magnet for celebrities all the way from Ernest Hemmingway to Daft Punk ever since. Still run by the MacElhone family many generations later and tucked away on a quiet side street I was surprised to find Harry’s really isn’t the cynical tourist trap that I was expecting it to be. In fact Harry’s is refreshingly unpretentious with its old world white-jacketed friendly  waiters and bartenders, age old décor and classic but, yes, also more modern cocktails. It’s a true gem and – at least by Paris’ outrageous standards – quite reasonably priced. As team Proof worked their way through the menu every cocktail we tried – leaning heavily on Harry’s classics of course – was perfectly balanced and simply yet elegantly presented. Hats off to Harry and his descendants for keeping a place this special for a staggering 110 years.

A white Lady at Harry’s bar.

Make mine a Sidecar!

White Lady.

The White Lady is the most indisputable Harry’s invention although he changed it over the years and it has changed further yet since. Harry created it during his time in London prior to returning to the New York Bar using crème de menthe* as the base spirit. By 1929 he’d turned to gin and the White Lady was essentially a gin Sidecar. Later egg white was added, and feel free to add that or some aquafaba, but I’m going to go for Harry’s heyday classic here. The White Lady might not be the most exciting or nuanced cocktail ever created but its three ingredients are easy to find and it makes a wonderful exercise in balancing a drink for the budding new cocktailista. Classically the sweetening agent is Cointreau orange liqueur but my personal tweak is to sub in Grand Marnier which, with its cognac base, I find more pleasing – and, hey, it’s still French!


White Lady.

1.5oz / 45ml London dry gin.

0.75oz / 22ml fresh lemon juice

0.75oz / 22ml Cointreau (but I prefer Grand Marnier)

Shake well with ice and double strain into a chilled champagne coupé.

Toast Harry MacElhone (1890 – 1958) the greatest bartender/owner in history.


*Presumably the white kind and not the green stuff.

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Gunfire Grog.

What is it good for?

Gunfire Grog.

To call it a cocktail would certainly be wrong but there exists a drink in British Army tradition that has caught my attention. Simply a rum ration added to a mug of strong black tea, the Gunfire was served as a form of “Dutch courage” since at least the First World War. A bit of rummy warmth before walking slowly toward almost certain death was probably small comfort to the troops yet the Gunfire later took on a semi-ceremonial role in army culture being served by the officers to their soldiers in their beds on Christmas morning and various other occasions. OK, but so what?

Well, I thought it might be interesting to create another frankendrink by combining the Gunfire with my one of my favourite cocktails – the Navy Grog – because; Army vs Navy. So a Navy Grog with tea in it? Sounds a bit crap, right? Wrong. It turns out that, with a little tweaking, the combination of rum and strong black tea is pretty damn fine. Who knew? The British Army apparently.

The trick to the Gunfire Grog is to keep it simple as a complex blend of rums seems to overpower the tea flavours. I found using a single, straightforward but decent quality rum worked best. I suggest Plantation Original Dark, Havana Club 7, Mount Gay Eclipse or something similar – and certainly nothing sweet. The tea must shine through in the Gunfire Grog and to get enough ooomph I made it as follows: Into 250ml of boiled water add one black tea teabag AND a heaped teaspoon of quality black loose leaf tea. I like to use something a bit smoky such as lapsang souchon. Let it steep for much longer than usual (as in at least 30 minutes) and then pass though a fine strainer and bottle and chill. You could do it in other ways but be aware that you’re going for something like triple strength black tea that is much more powerful than you would want to drink on its own. Other than that it’s pretty much just a tea boosted Navy Grog using sugar syrup instead of honey – after all there’s no need to go over the top…


Gunfire Grog

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice

1oz / 30ml white grapefruit juice

1oz / 30ml demerara (1:1) syrup

2oz / 60ml chilled strong black tea (see text)

3oz / 90ml rum (see text)

1 dash Angostura bitters

Blend (just six or seven quick pulses) with a handful of crushed ice and serve in a large tumbler. No garnish required but feel free to use an ice cone if you wish.

Toast Pte Andrew Minto KOSB (189? – 1917 and a relative of mine) who died horribly for a couple of pieces of nickel and bronze (pictured). Just one of the 68 million.


 

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Ready to drink Gin & Tonics – are they any good?

Can we do this?

Ready to drink Gin & Tonics – are they any good?

While a Gin & Tonic is hardly the most challenging drink to assemble there exists a range of ready made versions for reasons that mystify me somewhat as to their purpose. None-the-less I regularly amble by them at the supermarket and am nothing if not a curious fellow. Thus purely for that reason I have endeavoured to test a number such that us serious embibers might know the answer to the eternal question: “Canned G&Ts – are they shite or what?” So I swept the shelf at my local “Appie” and then as an afterthought added a couple more I found at my favourite bottle shop. I then drank them all and noted my thoughts on them as detailed below. Bear in mind that tastes vary so this might be somewhat subjective but also consider this to be a evaluation of the entire concept of park-ready G&Ts and their relative merits and value for money. The sacrifices I make for you guys…

Methodology.

I served myself all the competitors in the same way – as pictured – in a balloon glass with plenty of ice and a swathe of fresh lemon peel. This may not be the way they are intended to be drunk (ie. Out of the can at a party or in a park) but it’s the best way for me to compare them to a “proper” Gin & Tonic. As it would clearly be madness to drink these one after another I had one a day over a week and under similar circumstances (ie. Sober). All are marked out of 10. If something gets a 10/10 that means it is as good as say 50ml of Tanqueray export with 200ml of Fever Tree Indian tonic properly made. Let’s see what happened!

Tanqueray 275ml bottle. 6.5% abv. 69Kcal per 100ml. €2.99 at a bottle shop.

Unusual amongst the contenders in being in a rather nice green bottle that holds a little more that the others I held high hopes for this one as Tanqueray is essentially my house gin. I could hardly wait to get the screw cap off and then I could hardly get the screw cap off. That thing was on there tight. I was about to reach for a pipe wrench but decided to give it one last go with a damp cloth and finally it came loose. Not exactly ideal for the park but then maybe they are not all that impregnable? Despite the odds being stacked in its advantage, once finally in the glass I was a little disappointed with Tanqueray’s offering. It was a pretty decent G&T but was a bit dull and, let’s say, “safe”. There was certainly nothing offensive about it but it just came over a bit weak and lacking in flavour. The balance was in a mildly citrusy direction but I suspect that the choice of tonic (which is the wild card in all of these as we are not informed which tonic is used) was a bit uninspired. Nice try Tanqueray but while perfectly drinkable it was distinctly unchallenging. As one of the more expensive of the group I can only give it a 6/10.

Bobby’s 250ml can. 9% abv.  78Kcal per 100ml. €3.99 at a bottle shop.

By far the most expensive in the group Dutch made Bobby’s is a kick-ass 9% which makes up somewhat for that. Bobby’s gin is also by far the most expensive base gin here so I’m not going to murder it on the basis of the price. It comes in a slim 250ml can (as do the rest aside from the Tanqueray) with a nice simple zig-zag decoration similar to the bottles and says proudly on the front Amplified Mixed Drink. No shizzle! We’ve got 21.4% of the content being the gin and Bobby’s is a 42% abv gin. All good news. I had no troubles getting the can open and was pretty soon sipping on a very interesting G&T. There was a massive hit of clove and spice that while very pleasing might get a bit tiring if you were to go for a second one. Now Bobby’s gin is a spice forward gin but to me its lovely lemongrass notes were getting completely swamped by the additional clove/allspice flavours which must be coming from the tonic. It’s a decent and exciting drink – the polar opposite of the Tanqueray – but in my view could have been more nuanced if the tonic was a bit milder. Not a bad effort though and worthy of a 7/10.

Sloane’s 250ml can. 10% abv. Kcal not stated. €2.19 at the supermarket.

Wait. 10% alcohol for €2.19? Can that be right? Indeed it is. It looks like Sloane’s looked at Bobby’s and said, “Hold my beer!” It says right on the can that 23% of the content is Sloane’s gin, which, by the way, is not a budget gin. These are the proportions of a pretty stiff G&T and therefore highly laudable. While Sloane’s is the only base gin here I’m not familiar with it’s a pretty well regarded Dutch gin and therefore this is looking like amazing value for money although it might be a bit more alcoholic than some would prefer. Things were looking pretty promising for the Sloane’s – despite the pretty dreary looking can – but unfortunately, once tasted, I felt the combination was massively hindered by the choice of tonic. While it’s impossible to know for certain it tastes to me like they use local Royal Club tonic which I find to have a nasty artificial and metallic bitterness that overpowers the flavours in the gin. In my opinion this is a (probably) good gin let down by an inferior tonic. Nuts – I really wanted to like this one! Please change your tonic guys otherwise I can’t give more than 5/10.

Bombay Sapphire 250ml can. 6.5% abv. Kcal not stated. €1.99 at the supermarket.

So we have a pretty decent, if unspectacular, base gin premixed to a sensible strength at a reasonable price – what could possibly go wrong? Well, as we’re learning, it all comes down to the tonic used and it seems Bombay Sapphire haven’t quite nailed it either. It’s not terrible, being nicely carbonated and having a strong woody/herby balance and yet still remaining “bright”. But I feel there’s a lack of quinine content (there’s no subtle blue shine when held to the light) and that it’s, again, not a good fit with the gin as the tonic takes the lead role – and not for the best. It does puzzle me that the makers allow this to happen to their gins. Is too little money and attention being devoted to the tonic? If so it’s certainly not only this horse who is falling at the same hurdle. It doesn’t exactly help that a mere 16% of the can’s content is the gin. I’ll admit that some might like this one more than I do so I might be being a touch harsh with my 5/10.

Gordon’s 250ml can. 6.4% abv. 65Kcal per 100ml. €1.85 at the supermarket.

Gordon’s is the cheapest gin in our test as well as being (marginally) the weakest. It’s not looking good for poor old Gordon’s. But wait – what’s this? Once freed from it’s prosaic looking tin this one finally tastes close to a proper Gin & Tonic. Huzzah! And guess what – it’s all because they used a decent tonic that matches well with the botanicals in the gin. When held to the sunlight we see that blue tinge that indicates some quinine content and indeed it specifically says so on the label. If I had to guess – and I do – I think they might have used Schweppes or at least something with a similar profile. Yes, it could have had a bit more gin in it and a touch more carbonation but otherwise we have a nicely balanced drink. Gordon’s (Diagio group) is a big manufacturer with a main product that seems a bit unexciting and left behind by recent developments but I think they knocked it out of the park here by just keeping it simple. In my view this is by far the best ready-to-drink G&T in the test despite being the cheapest by a decent margin. It’s not perfect but it’s well worth 8/10.

Inspired by the success of Gordon’s I also picked up a can of Gordon’s Pink Gin & Tonic. It was hideously sweet so I threw it down the sink after one sip and didn’t look back. ‘Nuff said.

TL;DR It’s all about the tonic! And Gordon’s knows it.

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Mezcalculation.

The brothers gonna work it out…

Mezcalculation.

One of my favourite cocktails is the Martinez with its oude jenever base, healthy dose of Italian vermouth and a touch of maraschino liqueur – all tempered by a few dashes of bitters. One day I was sippin’ on one and thinking “Wouldn’t this be pretty fine with mezcal?” The next time around I did exactly that and it was indeed pretty damn fine. Then I reviewed how I’d spec’d it and realised I’d made a mistake: just one ounce of Punt e Mes instead of one and a half. And what a fortuitous error ’twas for the drink was all the better for it – the mezcal singing just slightly more forcefully in the mix. Indeed the cocktail canon does contain a number of drinks that are born of such errors – I can think of the Max’s Mistake and Ray’s Mistake off the top of my head. The lesson? If you make a mistake, have a sip before you pitch it as you never know when it might have been for the better. And when you make something new remember to write down everything you do on a scrap of paper, otherwise you may never be able to repeat it. There’s not much else to say except that I’ve since made a couple of other tweaks namely that I upped the bitters a little and serve the Mezcalculation “down” over ice rather than on the stem.


Mezcalculation.

1.5oz / 45ml good quality joven mezcal* (no worm).

1oz / 30ml Italian vermouth (Pref. Punt e Mes)

0.25oz / 7.5ml maraschino liqueur.

2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

2 dashes or orange bitters (eg. Regan’s)

Stir with ice and strain over a big block of clear ice in a chilled double Old Fashioned glass.

Garnish with a swathe of orange peel.

Toast little mistakes.


*I used some Verde Momento mezcal, as seen in the picture. It’s a superb, affordable and sustainable mezcal and carries a variety of pictures by local artists on the label. I’d review it but unfortunately it’s a bit tricky to find.

UPDATE: For those of us lucky enough to live in Amsterdam Verde Momento is now carried by Cane & Grain/Bart’s Bottles.

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Rum review: El Dorado 8 vs El Dorado 8.

City of lost rum
City of lost rum

The golden ones. New label on right.

Rum review: El Dorado 8 vs El Dorado 8.

Wait. What? Oh, right – my bad – some explanation is needed before I launch into this review. Now, as I’ve hinted at before, individual spirits can change over time. It’s a mistake to think otherwise and it’s something the serious cocktailista needs to keep a wary eye on. Formulas and production techniques are prone to change due to financial pressures, market demand, the sourcing of raw materials and a host of other reasons. While it’s tempting to say these changes are often for the worse it’s certainly not always so. Often the changes for the worse happened some time ago and producers realise there is a demand to restore the product to a former glory. I’ll get into some detail on this on a case by case basis in due course but today we’re talking about rum so we’ll stick to that. Rum has recently become a more seriously regarded spirit than it was in the past. Some say, and not without merit, “Rum is the new whisky” although I stubbornly believe that “Whisky is the new whisky”. Whatever. But rum is not a universally well regulated spirit* and all sorts of additives are possible depending on where it is made. The most controversial of those is sugar. I’ve touched on sugar-in-rum before but it’s safe to say some serious rum heads (self included) have had enough. We generally don’t oppose the sweetening of some rum, which after all some people enjoy, but sickened of buying well reviewed bottles only to discover they are essentially rum liqueurs, we want to see the added sugar (called dosage in the industry) clearly marked on the bottles. A few rum nuts have taken to using a cunning trick to calculate the sugar content of various rums and publishing it for all to see. I’ve just started trying to do the same but am not yet fully confident of my methodology – of which more later. The European Union has also had enough and have recently mandated some new regulations on what can be called “rum” that is imported into the zone. Most notably nothing that contains more than 20 grams of sugar per litre may be labelled as rum. It’s a sensible level to draw the line at but I’d much rather they also mandated the labelling of the dosage on each bottle. Given the size of the EU market this must certainly be an effect on many distillers’ decisions in the future. One distiller of rum has clearly been paying attention to both of the above pressures and is thoroughly revising their range. Guyana based Demerara Distillers Limited (aka El Dorado) have some well regarded rums but until now many of those suffered from a relatively heavy hand with the sugar content. In the past I’ve discovered their highly regarded 12 year old far too sweet for my palate but have settled on the much drier 8 year old as my default Demerara rum to put a little rich smokiness in my Tiki drinks and rum blends. Changes in spirits are not usually heralded by the producers but in this case the word on the street is that versions with the reduced dosage will also come with a new label. So when I noticed the newer label when I went to restock it was going to be time for a comparison. And here we are.

Now as El Dorado 8 was already one of the driest rums in their range I’m not expecting to see a massive change here. For my first trick I will attempt to scientifically assess the sugar content of each version of El Dorado 8 using the hydrometer method. I measure the old version of El Dorado 8 at about 8g/l and the new label version at around 6g/l but with my limited tools and experience – and the already low sugar content – it’s hard to be sure. There is some evidence that ED 8 used to be around 15 g/l so it could well be that the reduction happened some time before the new label after all. So is there actually any difference between the new label and the old at all? Looks like we’ll just have to taste some…

Let’s first look at what they both have in common. Each has the same elegantly shaped if somewhat top-heavy clear bottle with a normal screw cap. Both are bottled at 40%ABV. Nothing too impressive here but it’s hard to complain at this price (I paid €19.95). The newer version has a similar label but somewhat larger and kind of “cleaned up” compared to the older one and with the background colour changed from black to maroon. I slightly prefer the newer one but there’s not much in it and neither are exactly great works of art. But who cares – let’s crack ’em open!

Both have a very similar pleasing coppery hue which looks great in the clear bottles. I much prefer to see the colour of a rum in the bottle and therefore dislike coloured bottles. While it is possible that the colour comes from 8 years in the barrel in a tropical climate it is also possible some caramel colouring (which incidentally is not sweet) has been added to maintain a consistent colour. I’d like to take this opportunity to warn those new to rum about rum age statements. El Dorado rums are all aged to at least the number of years in the bottle as you might well expect but some producers are less honest and use a couple of tricks to, in my opinion, deceive the buyer. One is used by those who use the solera system of blending rums of different ages and then label the final product with the oldest rum used (likely a tiny proportion). For example, ahem, “23 years”. So check for the word “solera” on those. The other is even more deceptive and that is to put a number on the bottle as the name of the rum. A number that is entirely arbitrary and has no relationship to the age of the contents. Dastardly. So always check that you see, as we do on these bottles, the word “years” accompanying the number. Since I’ve got that one off my chest we can move along. And it’s good news:

When I compare the newer version in the maroon label the difference is quite clear. It’s as if a veil over the flavours has dropped away. All the rummy goodness is just magnified and it’s abundantly clear that sweetness – perceived or measurable – deadens real flavour. Those baking spices, woodiness and subtle smokiness are there in spades now. It has a little more “bite” than the older version and some might describe it as less “smooth”. It is my belief that when many people say a spirit is “smooth” they are really experiencing a sweetness that masks the inevitable “bite” of  alcohol. Hence some will think the newer version less smooth but frankly that’s their problem. To me what was already a rich and rewarding rum is simply even more enjoyable from a reduction in sweetness. It’s certainly possible that more than just reducing the sugar slightly DDL have also changed the blend of rums used in their 8 year old offering but whatever has occurred, to me at least, the newer version is a significantly better rum and that the producers should be commended. A typical use of demerara rum for the Tiki enthusiast would be as one of a duo or trio of rums in a tropical drink. I enjoy El Dorado 8 in a Navy Grog (or variation thereof) on a pretty regular basis and found that drink just a shade better with the newer version. While I would consider the older version a good mixing rum the newer bottle would be equally enjoyable in a whisky glass on it’s lonesome – or maybe just a cube of ice. That’s pretty high praise for a rum I can buy a couple of blocks away for a hair under twenty standardised European booze tokens.

My conclusion is that even if there was an earlier reduction in the sugar content of El Dorado 8 well before the label change there has been a further improvement with the change. El Dorado 8 (new maroon label) is better than ever and is a stellar mixing rum of superb value which I award an:

A+

While the older black label version is likely not going to be kicking around for much longer it is still a serviceable rum worthy of an A-


*It is on some Caribbean islands including Jamaica, Cuba and Barbados but even those regulations don’t necessarily align with each other.

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Rum Barrel.

Straight to the rum show.

Rum Barrel.

The Rum Barrel is a drink that shows up on the menu of bona fide Tiki bars yet leads to some puzzlement regarding the recipe. And there is a good reason for this confusion. Like the Planter’s Punch – but even more so – the Rum Barrel isn’t a specific drink at all. Let me explain. The Rum Barrel is the blank canvas that a Tiki fanatic uses to express themselves using their advanced palate and their palette of exotic rums, syrups and juices. Therefore there is no definitive recipe for a Rum Barrel. However, anyone who takes their Tiki seriously should have their own secret recipe ready for when they open their own (fantasy?) Tiki bar. Now, while there are no hard and fast rules for such an endeavour there are certain guidelines of which I will shortly avail you of. But first we must address the obvious dilemma: how can I show you how to create a superb Rum Barrel without giving away my own secret recipe? Hmmm. OK. I’ll give you an example that is a predecessor to my current house Barrel and I believe paints a pretty good illustration of how to create your own. But first those guidelines.

Your Rum Barrel should contain a pleasing combination of at least three different rums. They should be interesting ones and yet they should be relatively affordable. Why? Because they are going to be a staple of our fantasy Tiki bar and must maintain a viable profit margin. Next up your Barrel should be a pretty large drink to make it appear to be good value for money. It should have a lot of ingredients yet the formula should be relatively simple. And finally it absolutely, positively must be served in a barrel. My Rum Barrel is pictured in my much treasured Mai Kai barrel which was acquired with much difficulty from the Mothership of Tiki in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Other ceramic barrels are fairly easy to find – just Google “Tiki ceramic barrel”.

Beyond the above guidelines the Rum Barrel is a licence for you to go freestylin’. Keep an eye on your sweet/sour balance and make sure to get some exotic flavours in there (passionfruit is often involved though I chose not to). If you’d like a nice foamy head, as seen above, pineapple juice will be more than happy to help. Take plenty of time to get all of this just right as the Rum Barrel should be both a revelatory introduction to the uninitiated as well as deeply satisfying to the experienced cocktail drinker. It should have complex layers of flavour which are well balanced and do not individually dominate the drink. The drinker – given the secrecy of recipe which, incidentally, you may never fully reveal – should be left guessing as to the components yet able to pick out individual flavours (“ooh, is that almond I’m getting now? And what juice is this I’m tasting?)

So let’s go! Here’s something that’s a bit like my Proof Rum Barrel and now you’re on your own. And good luck with your new Tiki bar!


Rum Barrel (Proofish version)

1oz / 30ml El Dorado 8 year old*.

1oz / 30ml Coruba NPU.

1oz / 30ml Plantation Original Dark.

1oz / 30ml fresh lime juice.

1oz / 30ml white grapefruit juice.

2oz / 60ml orange juice (good carton is fine).

2oz / 60ml pineapple juice (fresh is best).

0.5oz / 15ml golden falernum.

0.5oz / 15ml ginger syrup.

2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Blend (just 6 or seven quick pulses as always with Tiki) with a cup of crushed ice and pour into a ceramic rum barrel containing enough ice to make the finished drink full to the brim.

A flower garnish is perfectly acceptable here although I didn’t bother. Sue me.

Toast yourself as this is going to be your Rum Barrel in due course.


*More on this rum very soon.

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