And with that said, what is that stuff that they have been drinking? Well, up to now this product bears very little resemblance to authentic rum. What? The bottle says rum? What’s wrong with that?
There are very few rules that govern the distillation and eventual bottling of a bottle of rum. Why is that? Well, first of all- distillers take something other than sugar cane juice and they distill with that product. Why don’t they use sugar cane juice? That’s pretty simple, sugar cane juice is a fragile and tempestuous beast. From the moment it is either machine or hand cut with a machete it begins to ferment. Uncontrolled fermentation becomes something that becomes unusable for distillation, the product sours quickly in the high humidity and sizzling temperatures. While some distilleries utilize wild yeast strains in distillation- Jamaica for instance, the majority of rum distilleries use plain bread yeast and molasses as the base ingredient. This is not bad, please don’t get me wrong. But what it is- is uniformity in flavor. The only thing that really changes the flavors of this kind of rum are the barrels where the rum is aged. Sometimes they use bourbon casks. Other times Scotch Whisky fits the bill. I’ve heard of wine casks being used in Japan and there are some distillers who are utilizing Sherry and Port casks. Truth is, rum tastes pretty much the same at the lower end of the price equation. But since I don’t cover that side of the business, please move along if this is what you enjoy drinking, because there is nothing to see here!
My passion for rum is about authenticity. I love rum that speaks of a place, of a distillery- (pot stills anyone?) or the lack of caramel coloring (should I tell you who does, you may not want to know), or how about the rum distilleries who add massive amounts of industrial sugar back into the rum to make it more potent- thereby boosting the alcohol. No, I think I’ll save the outright trickery for another article. One I won’t be writing. And of course, since there is no ingredient label on a bottle of liquor, well, what is that all about? Is the liquor that we drink any less important than the food that we eat? Then why not?
This article is about series of authentic rums that require your careful examination.
The rums that I seek speak clearly of wine-like ‘terroir’ or quite simply, a taste of the place. Mezan Rum has revealed itself to me in this fashion. Mezan? What is Mezan Rum?
First of all, I’ll tell you what Mezan isn’t:
• Not Caramel Colored
• Not Chill Filtered
• Not aged with chunks of re-used wood added to a cask to augment both color and sweetness
• No sugar-re-added…. Oh, if you’ve ever had a rum hangover, you’ll know why, they added sugar…
• Authentic, made in small batches… some batches from distilleries long shuttered!
• Only lightly filtered- the essential fats and oils from the distillation process are intact leading to more authentic flavor!
• Actually from a specific place/country
• Stylistically pertinent….
• As essential as Bourbon, Scotch or Cognac after a meal
• Mixes like a dream, there is nothing like the XO with carrot juice and Royal Rose Simple syrup of Roses with Bitter End Moroccan Bitters… That is delicious!
The rums and my tasting notes…
Panama 2006- Look at this rum as if you are a whisky aficionado, examining the year of distillation, the distillery where it was lovingly created, the fact that it is not chill-filtered nor is it colored. This rum speaks to me in the quality of the cask. The smoke and light char shine right through each glistening sip. Panama is a luxury item, as pertinent and essential as your finest bottle of single malt or your grandfather’s bottle of Madeira from the 19th Century… Panama 2006 speaks of quince paste and brine slicked sea stones. There is smoke in there, but not as profound as an Islay Whisky, more like a Highlands and certainly skewed more to the lighter bourbon whiskies in the finish than some of the Panama rums I’ve tasted recently. This is dark in color but elegant in the nose and across the palate. I recommend dribbling some water over the top of your glass, or in my case I took some pineapple slices and toasted them in the oven for about an hour at 300 degrees…. Then I muddled the caramelized slices with some freshly squeezed lime juice and plucked mint. Not too much, just to reveal the secrets of the flavors. Like making soup. Then I added two ounces of the Panama 2006. Gorgeous. Adding some ice, a quick stir and voila! The perfect way to greet the evening.
Guyana 2005- Single Distillery Rum: The Guyana 2005 is to rum as green peppers are to South African wine… It is a subtle taste of the place- subtle like having an I-Beam hit you in the head, cut free from the top of a skyscraper that is… Guyana 2005 is explosive in the glass. All at once magical, mysterious and oh so delicious. Green pepper predominates in the nose and all I can think about is that specific, Cabernet from South African terroir… Each inhalation reveals smoke, char, white flowers, lemon curd, lead pencil and crushed sea grasses. I also get Scotch whisky in the mouth… it lingers as if to say, “look at me” and then it evaporates into brown sugar woven pralines.
There is crumpled clay and pipe smoke in the nose vying for your attention. Sea smoke offers itself like waves upon the shore, tightly wound around a core of green citrus rinds. This further reveals itself into a flurry of just collected diver scallops, sliced thinly and dashed with dots of lemon zest and gray fleur de sel. I’m thirsty for more and each sip slides happily down my throat leading to the next sip, jagged and sharp like a serrated knife against a frozen bagel. With a few drops of water, pure white nicotine flowers suddenly bloom into my mouth, raising the hair on the back of my neck with glee and allure. This is sophisticated stuff, certainly more than worthy of your hard earned liquor dollars. I’d buy a case because there isn’t much of it to begin with… Once it is gone, it’s gone!
My recommendation is to add a nice dose of the Guyana 2005 into a mixing glass filled ¾ with ice. Add a couple drops of Maraschino liquor, a splash or two of gin and 1.5 ounces of the Mezan Guyana 2005. Stir like crazy for 30 seconds and strain into a coupe, dot with lemon bitters and serve with a slice of a shallot. Mmmmm. Savory.
Mezan Extra Old Rum “XO” From Jamaica…. The core distillate is aged between four and twenty-three years. Then it is blended and re-aged and use American Bourbon oak for a lightly toasty and highly drinkable pour. This rum from two different distilleries in Jamaica- the Monymusk and the Hampden distilleries respectively, is my way of introducing authentic Jamaican rum to the world. Most people have never tasted real Jamaican rum. So before you jump up and tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about, let me try to explain what you have been drinking and why it is not authentic in the context of authenticity. Remember when we discussed ingredients? And I discussed yeast strains? I touched on Jamaican rum because some of the higher end rums still use a technique that dates back from the days of the triangle trade. Keeping a yeast strain alive in the hot and humid weather is not easy. Yeast is a living thing and hot weather kills it very quickly. Without yeast there is no fermentation. Without fermentation there is no rum. Rebellions started over the lack of rum… Rum kept productivity up on a long sea voyage. It was essential not to run out of rum, bad things happened.
Most rum from Jamaica is not made with a dunder. It’s just too time consuming. Therefore, most Jamaican rum is industrial in nature.
Most Jamaican rum is not at all like Mezan… Mezan is made with mysterious, time hewn methods- so don’t ask!
Jamaica, long a stewing pot of cultures and wisdoms because of sea travel, one such technique, an ingredient known as a dunder is utilized in fermentation. This use of a dunder still holds true as unique in a world of faster and more efficient. What is a dunder? A dunder is a traditional yeast source in Jamaica. It lives in something named a dunder pit. I’m sure it is not pretty in the dunder pit. But like a sourdough doesn’t smell sweet, this “mother” certainly makes great bread. And a dunder pit is not something that you should be sticking your head into. But one thing is for certain. It makes magnificent rum. If you haven’t tried authentic Jamaican rum get yourself two bottles of Mezan XO. One for your neighbor, because he’s going to want one after sipping yours.
My highly personal tasting notes… wet stones, leading into white flowers. Dissolving into freshly dipped pralines.. dunder funk.. Banana leaf. Wet tobacco flowers. More funk… breadfruit, dripped in raw honey syrup, dry dry dry finish… sumptuous mouthfeel. Zinging acidity. Brioche Toast. Wet stones.. Orange curd.. sea smoke!
This rum is like drinking a Sean Connery- James Bond movie! It’s exciting and it drinks in a thrilling manner in a cocktail.
I recommend the Bosphorus Fizz for the Mezan XO Rum:
- 2 ounces of Mezan XO Rum
- 3 oz. Freshly Crushed Carrot Juice
- 1 oz. Royal Rose Simple Syrup of Roses (Available at Williams-Sonoma)
- Bitter End Moroccan Bitters (Available on Amazon)
- Mix together in a Boston Shaker with ice
- Strain into a coupe glass
- Dot with the Bitter End Moroccan Bitters.
- Garnish with Rosemary… Yum…