Thursday, March 19, 2015

Festival Rum Bahamas 2015: The Food

Paul "Rhum Chef" Yellin
Festival Rum Bahamas offered a menu featuring local cuisine, served up fresh with compliments by a couple world renowned chefs. It is not easy (or accurate) to talk local or authentic Caribbean cooking without talking about Rum. Each country has their own variation on a theme and from Bahamas to Barbados, rum is part of the social fabric that sets the table. Try talking French cuisine without cheese or Indian without mentioning a spice. Seriously, it's just wrong and plus, the thought of no rum? Yeah, let's not go there... One thing is certain, those who breached the walls of Fort Charlotte were in for a king's feast with a view! Our last article, "All The Rum", showcased the liquid highlights in the Festival that is a celebration of Rum, Food and Culture. This article, the second of our three part series, sharpens the focus on Food. Separate them I try, but the lines of distinction often blur nicely, particularly after a few tasty rums, so I make no apologies for any 'off topic' photos along the way. Grab your glass, lick your lips and enjoy!

Paul Yellin, one of the chefs, is Bajan, trained and talented. If you were lucky enough to find a seat at the two rum & food seminars he gave at the Festival, everything else would have seemed like bonus. I have visited Paul several times now and each time we meet, I am more impressed; partly by his down-to-Earth nature, but mostly by how magical the hand-to-mouth experience is when the food is served shortly thereafter!

Paul prepared a rumtastic menu to enjoy. Oh, and his seminars were FREE...jus' sayin! Oh yeah!!

Take a peak at the selection of rums!

The Menu:



Good God Man! 

It seemed as though each plate that arrived changed flavor, texture and tone, all the while improving on the previous and slowly, but surely building towards...

3rd: HERB BAKED LIONFISH in a rich seafood Creole sauce paired with El DORADO 3yr RUM

wait for it.....



5th: CHOCOLATE RUM BALLS rolled in pralines paired with BLACKWELL RUM

6th: CHOCOLATE & BACON bites paired with OLD BRIGAND RUM
(sorry no photo: photographer was busy eating it! Tasty!!)

Thank you Paul Yellin for the exquisite pairing and hope to see you again next year!!

Ladies and gentlemen, this was but one of the rum and food pairing seminars to attend and I haven't even started on the food booths throughout the Fort! 

The bottles hanging in the trees created a wonderful ambiance surrounding the entrance to Alexandra's at the Fort. A loose collection of food booths featuring a variety of different delectable dishes, it was the beginning of the foodie trail. Fresh conch salads to grilled meat, this was the spot.


Just a few steps away, the folks from Gone Fish'n had grills on swole, Chicken, steak, pork and fish, all grilled up Bahamian style. Oh and did I mention all their house-made marinades. Boom!

Put it in my belly!!!

Care for a healthy serving of grilled salmon in a burger?

Oh, and an ice cold local craft beer didn't sound like a bad idea either. Pirate Republic is a new brewing company with a nice selection. I'm told by their CEO, Susan Larson, a few more styles are coming soon.

A few booths away, you could take your pick...

Whether you were interested in the savory or the sweet, Festival Rum Bahamas had you covered!

In the heat of the day, fresh pressed sugar cane juice or Guarapo is refreshing and delicious. Island Cane was crushing it up right. I didn't hesitate to mix it with a little rum!

Rum and desserts are notorious in these parts. However, when they are signed, Confectionately Yours, well...

You eat it happily!

Drunken Guava: Guava cupcake infused with dark rum and 
topped with guava rum buttercream frosting

Rum cupcakes are a perfect treat, but have you tried Rum Cakes from the Bahamas Rum Cake Factory?? Moist and full of love they stand out above the rest. More on this local shop coming soon...

Best enjoyed hot, sticky sweet...

Well, if one rum & food seminar wasn't enough awesome, there was another fabulous pairing offered, which one could simply sit in on. No registration, no lines, just grab a seat. I stress this, as these food & rum pairing seminars were free to anyone, included in your admission price. Seating was key, not surprisingly, for when Chef Geoffrey Blythe and Carlton Grooms (Director at Papa's Pilar, co-founder of International Rum Council), the authors of the game-changing "Rum & Contemporary Cuisine" took the stage atop Fort Charlotte, no seat was left unfilled. In fact, many simply stood to listen and look out for extras samples!

A perfect atmosphere for listening to a world-class chef and rum connoisseur/producer talk about what they love, whilst sipping rum and tasting their gourmet rum-focused cuisine. A light breeze caressed our backs under shade in 80 F degrees (27 C) heat.

The Rum Kitchen

1st: Agricole and shrimp chowder featuring Rhum J.M  
Grassy herbaceous flavors of the rhum along with the heat from the white rhum merge wonderfully with the creamy flavors and richness of the pancetta without overpowering the subtle flavors in each.
-Geoffrey Blythe

Yes Please!

In this brilliant four dish experience, the following pairings came next:

2nd: Roast Root Vegetable Salad paired with Bambarra Gold Rum

3rd: Five Spice Pork Belly paired with confit pineapple paired with AFROHEAD 7yr Rum

The sweet caramel notes of the AFROHEAD and youth of the rum combine well with the richness of the pork and spice notes of the sauce. The tropical flavors of the pineapple further bring out the depth of the rum.
-Geoffrey Blythe

4th: Rum Marshmallow S'mores paired with Plantation Trinidad & Tobago Original Dark Rum

One of the guests figured it out alright!!

Well done Geoffrey Blythe and Carlton Grooms!!

After the seminar, I tried to gather my thoughts and emotions about the food I enjoyed and the superb quality of this event as I looked out over the Fort's wall.

Beautiful Bahamas!

As the sun went down and night took over, the real party had just begun!

Stay tuned for the final article, Festival Rum Bahamas 2015: The Culture


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Festival Rum Bahamas 2015: All The Rum

Center: Captain Jack (aka Rick Martinez)
Bottom Right: Pepin Argamasilla
The second year of any rum festival is often telling. Idealists, scoffers and onlookers alike may wonder, either she'll float and sail onward, or raise the white flag. Festival Rum Bahamas left little to wonder as they once again took over Fort Charlotte; this time further grasping the imagination. For me, the anchor dropped when my eyes met those of Captain Jack. Needless to say, the search for my next rum least for a moment. Honestly, I did a double take and questioned my senses. I had just tasted 50 Rums in the Tasting Competition, (oh, and a pair of refreshing Sands Beers over lunch) but nothing irresponsible. I looked again, could it actually be Cap'n Jack Sparrow!? Well, I wasn't seeing things. I was in the Bahamas, a home to many a pirate and by the looks of the Fort's decor, they weren't straying far from their history. In fact, after meeting him, his walk and talk were simply amazing, point on with the character played by Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Friendly and full of spirit (pun intended), Cap'n Jack, aka Rick Martinez, was the type of top notch entertainer, and literally, one of many, each visitor would have the pleasure to watch and interact with at the Festival. Awesome! So I filled my cup with the local swashbuckling John Watling's Amber Rum and as day became night, my understanding became clear, Festival Rum Bahamas was not going anywhere, but rather they meant for the world of rum lovers to learn about and come to them. Some may recall my recent article, talking up the promise of last year's Festival; this year that promise was rendered.

Dead men tell no tales and I've returned from Nassau with some highlights of this epic three day Festival. Feel free to grab a glass of your favorite rum, open another browser window and turn up the volume on the short video below for those pirates at heart!

Rum was well-mixed, but far from hidden at Festival Rum Bahamas. To find the next potation, one only had to choose whether to go left or right, up or down. There were rum & food lectures at the lookout up top and blind rum tastings in the dungeon below. I doubt Captain Jack had to say, "Why is the Rum Gone?" and mean it at this party. Let's take a look at a small sample of the rum booths where one could find quality cocktails and generous samples. Try it and if you like, you could buy a bottle to take home before you leave! Rumtastic!!

AFROHEAD Rum 7 year

AFROHEAD Rum, is a relatively new brand from Harbour Island, Bahamas, and with its impressive new logo and charming character, generated much attention. Crowds gathered around this conversation starter and everyone wanted to get a taste of their two aged expressions. If you don't know it yet, you will soon...

Let's head south to Panama. How about a little taste of Ron Abuelo?

Yes, please!!

In a prime location, the local John Watling's Rum was offering their full line of rums and more. John Watling's Rum Distillery is also nearby and definitely worth a visit.

John Watling's Rum Booth

The Plantation Rum stand never disappoints. 

They proudly display their well-deserved medals and a beautiful line-up of unique blends and vintages. 


The judges of the Tasting Competition held public educational tastings deep inside the Fort. Guests could walk in and learn about each of the rums entered into the competition among many others, join in for a blind tasting or simply cool off from the outside sun. Rum tasting in the dungeon!

The charming Mike Streeter (Rum Connection and International Rum Council co-founder) brought out the smiles of quite a few on their rum education journey (see photo above & right).

In addition to the public educational tasting, each of the brands that entered the competition were on display with their medals.

Here's a few to note for your next shopping trip.

Ron Abuelo 7yr, Ron de Jeremy, Plantation Nicaragua 2003
Congratulations to all the winners! 

Ron Abuelo 12yr, Plantation 20th Annivesary, El Dorado 15yr

For more on the tasting competition and results, Rum Connection has the details.

Bacardi, with its rich history in the Bahamas, could not be missed. 

Tucked away and relaxed, enter Ron Zacapa...

At the end of the day (or beginning), if you could find a table or a few inches of elbow room at the bar, Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros was in full effect.


Stay tuned for the next article of the series, Festival Rum Bahamas 2015: The Food


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

From Top-Shelf Sipper to No Thanks: The Fall of Zaya Rum

Zaya Gran Reserva at Rumba
It is rare, for this site, that an article casts a rum into such a disheartening (and now perhaps sobering) light as this one. Don't fear dear readers, our Mission still stands strong. However, there are times when balance and tough love is needed. It isn't without a bit of sadness that I declare Zaya Gran Reserva to be this rum. I can hear many rum lovers' responses now; "WAIT, WHAT!? Are you talking about the same Zaya Rum that I sipped years ago. The Zaya that opened my eyes and those of my friends to world of rum and how good sipping rums can be?" Well, if you are thinking something like this too, here is what I would say to you:

Yes, same Zaya Rum, but...
 Have you tasted it recently? 

No, I'm Not Talking About.... Imported Rum from Guatemala

Let's be clear, this article IS NOT talking about the differences between the Zaya Rum produced and bottled in Guatemala pre-2008 and the Zaya Rum from Trinidad. Now for a quick step back in rum history. In the early part of 2008, Diageo realized the value of a certain rum and, no surprises here, they bought it. That Rum was the lovely Ron Zacapa. Bet that name sounds familiar, eh? Zaya Rum, along with Ron Botran, were also being produced under the same roof by Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala. At the time, Diageo's acquisition created an unfavorable situation for Zaya Rum production due to its similarities with Zacapa; both required a supply of limited aged rum stocks and both competed for more or less the same market share; rich, complex, sweeter style sipping rums. Hence, the brand was moved to Trinidad where it has been produced ever since. What this article IS talking about are the differences observed in Zaya Rum from Trinidad over the past few years.

A Rum's Blend May Change a Bit Over Time or....Metamorphosize 

Everyone with any common sense knew that Zaya Rum would likely taste a bit different after production moved from Guatemala to Trinidad. In fact, some thought it might actually improve! Consider its new location, Trinidad Distillers Ltd., the distillery that makes Angostura Rum, one of the best rum brands in the world. Okay, so Trinidad makes GREAT rum; but they have their characteristic style and that differs from Guatemala. Certainly it takes a lot of skill to come up with a blend of rums, using different molasses and water, different stills, barrels, climate, etc. for each rum, to smell and taste the same, right? Plus, consider that they probably didn't transport a sufficient supply (if any) of the aged rums stocks from Guatemala necessary in the blend to carry them over for another 12 years. So how did they do it? Well, when the first bottles of Zaya Rum from Trinidad came out, there were far more similarities in aroma and flavors to its Guatemalan version than differences. Vanilla and caramel were a bit more dominant in the aromas and flavor, but otherwise, it still maintained much of its complexity, mouth feel and enjoyable finish. Don't get me wrong, it was not the same rum. That stated, if you ask me, Carol Homer did a pretty damn good job with the new blend. What many people didn't expect was that Zaya Rum made in Trinidad would continue to change. Further, that new rum from Trinidad would change so much, that to some seasoned palates, it became unrecognizable to the Zaya Rum they had once loved.

It's Fall From Grace....and the Shelves of Rumba

Zaya's fall from grace isn't meant to be interpreted literally, unless it happens to be at Rumba, one of the best rum-oriented bars in the country. Jim Romdall, their talented bar manager, not only boasts about their 400+ rums in stock but can show you how and what do with them. Bottom's up! More recently Rumba is faced with busier nights and limited shelf space and selecting new rums for their coveted "Wall of Rum" has become challenging. Jim announced to me he was pulling Zaya off Rumba's shelves after he had a taste of the most recent iteration of Zaya Rum. I went down to speak with Jim and after tasting and talking more, he admitted cold-sober, "If someone asks for it, I would recommend a different rum. If I have a bottle on our shelf that I can't recommend [anymore], then I shouldn't have it on our shelves." His words ring true from a business standpoint and from someone who loved what Zaya Rum once was and why it meant so much to so many rum enthusiasts. It was a gateway rum for many people who only knew rum to be Bacardi and Captain Morgan. Rumba, you may know if you'd had the pleasure, is filled with much respect and rumlove, and now, will no longer serve Zaya Rum. Let me repeat, Rumba is going to remove a luxury "sipping" rum from its shelf because they can no longer recommend it based off quality. This is saying something. Although, to be fair, there are lots of other rums that have changed for the worse over time that I won't mention here. So why make an example out of Zaya? Perhaps it is the gross difference between the quality perceived and/or expected of this rum, what it has become and the bartender's frustration on reconciling this disconnect with each patron of the bar. Regardless of the reason, the truth is difficult to swallow (pun intended) and now they have spared you that surprise at Rumba.

What Happened to My Zaya....and By the Way, You Forgot to Take Off the Petate!!

So just what happened to Zaya Rum from Trinidad?  A quick search indicates, that after the Guatemalan version received a "Double Gold" from the respectable 2007 San Francisco Spirits Competition, there are no such comparable "awards" for the Trinidad version to be found. This may be simply explained by whether or not it was entered into any competitions. Professional rum reviews also give some indication of changes witnessed. For example, well-respected rum advocates, such as Dave Russell was one of the first to post a formal comparative review of the Guatemalan and Trinidad versions on Rum Gallery in late 2008. He indicates subtle changes and their underlying explanations when factoring in working knowledge of some of characteristics of Angostura's aged rums. Nice! Then, another well-written and balanced review of the Zaya from Trinidad came out in 2010, from Matthew "RumDood" Robold. He accurately noted, "Its intense vanilla and caramel flavors can either be very welcome or entirely-putting off depending on your palate". Even by the end of 2012, The Rum Howler, Chip Dykstra, found in his review that Zaya Rum from Trinidad, "lacked balance due to the overabundance of vanilla". Despite its noticeably sweeter and unbalanced aromas and taste, each review noted some degree of complexity and character found in an aged rum. So what has happened since between 2013-2015? Bottle changes happened and so did the blend.

It's Not You, Zaya Rum....It's Me

After speaking with Jim and having some personal concern this new finding was a batch issue, I went out to purchase a few bottles at different liquor stores in the Seattle area. I also happened to have a bottle from 2010, before they changed the sticker on its crest to read "Producers of World's Finest Luxury Rum - Aged 12 years" and embossed "Zaya" into its side. It is worth noting that changes in bottle design have long been associated with changes to the contents inside. I tasted each of the 2015 iterations side by side with its earlier counterpart. I even brought out a Guatemalan version from 2008. The Zaya Rum from Trinidad has changed over time without question. I'm not trying to understand why they call this a Hand Selected Spirit, but why it has changed. Moreover, without transparency by the brand of such changes, it is arguably perceived as deception. But I'll admit, I'm no Rum Expert. Zaya Rum today offers a intense candy like sweetness and ripe vanilla and caramel aromas with subdued baking spices and cocoa giving the impression you are smelling a spiced rum, not a sipping rum. Kilo Kai anyone? I note strong butterfinger candybar aroma. I'm sorry Infinium Spirits, I just don't like that much added sugar and flavors. The initial flavors that once developed towards the finish are more heated and hollow in the 2015 version, rapidly fading by mid-palate; the long complex finish, now mostly empty, offering a more astringent mouth feel as some lingering fusel alcohol and petroleum distillate like flavors come together to reveal cough syrup notes reminiscent of Vicks Formula 44. I'm sorry Infinium Spirits, I just prefer honesty to the claim that this is still a blend of 3-5 rums each aged a minimum of 12 years. 

"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."
John Wooden

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

4th Annual 'Tis The Season for a Holiday Punch Competition & Toy Drive

Young St. Nicholas Punch - 1st Place

Each December, The Rum Collective joins forces with Seattle Gin Society at Liberty Bar and does more than just celebrate our respective spirits; we drink them from a punch bowl for a good cause. That is to raise money for the Toys for Tots Foundation. In fact, over the past four years, it is one of the highlights of the year where our mission becomes even better; it becomes philanthropic. The event's end effect not only  "increases awareness and develops appreciation for rum" but also brings a smile to a few local area children that holiday season. If only every event could be more like this one! This year, guests brought either $20 cash or equal-valued unwrapped toy for a cup of each of the four different (two rum and two gin) punches in the competition. Seriously, "gin vs. rum punch", you ask? Is that even a fair competition? It is arguable  that most well-made rum punches would win. However, this is all in good fun and more votes, made by poker chips deposited in to glasses, could be bought for a small fee. It became apparent (over the past three years) gin people have more money than rum people, but this year, attendees voted without their pocket books and guess what? The Rum Punches took 1st and 2nd place. Not to rub it in but well over half of the attendees were "gin people". Big surprise, eh!

Let's take a closer look at these rum punches!

Young St. Nicholas Punch feat. Diplomatico Anejo
This punch was created as the greeting cocktail for The Rum Collective's 3rd Anniversary event featuring Ron Diplomatico. It was well-received by guests then and now. Simple, refreshing and balanced, here is the winning punch of the event! 

Young St. Nicholas
recipe by Rebekah Karnofski

(single serving)
0.5oz lime juice (fresh pressed)
0.75oz grapefruit juice (fresh pressed)
3 healthy dashes of Angostura Bitters


Korporal Krampus's Quarterdeck Punch - 2nd Place
This year we had special guest, Jason Alexander, create the second rum punch. Hailing from Tacoma Cabana, he tends and owns one of the best tiki bars in the country and it's located a convenient 40 minutes south of Seattle, Jason does tiki with the best of them. His tiki punch featuring the recently released Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum awakened many palates to the complexity of flavors found in this style of cocktails. A more or less magical potion overflowing with happy endings, his was the first punch bowl to go dry!

Jason Alexander serving it up
It was the United States Marine Corps who founded Toys for Tots, so military men and women are more than welcome at this event. In addition to a being an award-winning bartender and owner of one of the coolest up-and-coming cocktail bars in Washington State, Jason, also a marine, served his country prior to choosing a station behind the bar. Respect! Well, when some quality overproof rum flows, lips loosen, and soon the running joke of the evening recalled Proctor & Gamble's Secret punchline and went something like this:

"Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum, Strong enough for a Marine, but made for the Navy"

Probably good we didn't have any folks from the Navy there! Haha!!

If you make your way (and you should) to Tacoma Cabana, ask for this punch. Jason may serve it to you as he envisioned it (see photo below). 

Korporal Krampus's Quarterdeck Punch
photo credit and permission by: Jason Alexander, Tacoma Cabana

Korporal Krampus's Quarterdeck Punch
recipe by Jason Alexander

1.5 cups grapefruit juice (fresh pressed)
1 cup lime juice (fresh pressed)
1.5 cups vanilla spiced syrup (Tacoma Cabana house-made)

In addition to sampling punches, the night was filled with many raffle prizes and two silent auctions. Although we didn't meet the fundraiser goal, we managed to raise $736 dollars that night for local area kids! All of the money and toys raised at the event were donated. To collect the donation we had the pleasure of having a decorated marine, LtCol Michael J. Byrne present with us at the event.

Left to Right: Gene Shook, LtCol Michael Byrne, Nicholas Feris

A big thank you to Ron Diplomatico, Lost Spirits (both distributed by American Northwest), 
Giffard and Vinum for their generosity and support!

A round of applause for Jason Alexander's service and skills!

Special thanks to Andrew Friedman of Liberty Bar for his continual support of our events!

Thank you to Toys for Tots for their commitment to helping children!!

Cheers and rumlove until next year!!!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Festival to Shine in Nassau: A Look Back at the Promise of Rum Bahamas 2014

Festival Rum Bahamas 2014 Opening Ceremony
Today, we are fortunate that there are many events happening around the world called, "Rum Festivals". They sell themselves on their name. Sometimes, they hold true to their namesake; sometimes they do not. Not surprisingly, people get excited about the Rum part, I mean, seriously, who doesn't? Rum conjures up scenery of the Caribbean islands surrounded by turquoise waters, pirates, beautiful people and that tropical heat. But what about the "Festival" part? Many who go to "Rum Festivals" more often find air-conditioned rooms, characterless banquet halls under fluorescent lights inside stuffy hotels and convention centers. Instead of the white sandy beach paradise they imagined, attendees are surrounded by carpeted walkways and sterile white rooms straight out of the sitcom, The Office. Thank you, but no thanks, you can keep that type of festivity. For me, I'm headed to a Festival like no other. Where's there's hot sun overhead, the natural environs of the Caribbean, captivating water views among endless booths overflowing with exotic rums, island food, local crafts and plenty of live music. One needn't search any further for this sort of festival, for it's returning to Nassau at the end of February. Oh yeah! Set inside the stone interiors of Fort Charlotte, its charms will offer something special for each visitor who makes the trek. This historic venue will set the stage, but Festival Rum Bahamas will flaunt more than just ruins and rum, it will inspire to re-capture the idea of what it means to be a 'festival'. Whether you prefer it shaken or stirred, this three day event showcases a delicious and rather intoxicating blend of rum, food and culture for any palate. Sound exciting?! Well, don't just trust my words, get a ticket and go see for yourself! In the meantime, here's a inside look at some of the rum-filled fun that happened last year.

Local rum and food pairings!

John Watling's Pale Rum & Conch Salad

A quick sample of some of the goods from Ron Botran...

Ron Botran booth 

...and smile or two from Bacardi

Bacardi booth

Historical canons line the walls of Fort Charlotte....

....and in the distance the hip shaking rhythms of Cuban Music....

Havana Club Rum and Cuban music

....of course mixed with Havana Club!!

Havana Club booth

Walk around to see booths filled with local artists selling their crafts 

Local Arts and Crafts

Decorative relics of yesterday...

How about a refreshing mixed drink, Caribbean style?

Fresh coconut water and Rhum Clement VSOP

Award winning rums and local beauty.
You needn't read the shirt to understand such a combination produces "Body Solutions"

Gold medal winner Plantation 3 Stars with G's Spa & Body Solutions

Festival Rum Bahamas 2015 is coming soon. Hope to see you there!