Friday, July 29, 2011

Panama Red 108: A Review

Historical depiction of Panama Red
Dr. Christina Armstrong (model),  adapted photo of Red O (background)
(Art by Daniel Young)
Timeless stories of romance and rum are not new, but embraced by many who listen today, just as yesterday. She was born, Carolina Cansino, into a musically gifted family at a time when a great engineering marvel known as the Panama Canal was being completed. Carolina grew up in the midst of passion found in Flamenco and  Tango dances studied by her parents. She developed a love for music and spoke many languages. Around the time Germany invaded Poland, this red-headed woman in Panama made her voice known. With her charms, she invaded the hearts of many men; transforming the old town bar in the Casco Viejo, into an even more famous lounge named Cantina Roja's. Despite Panama's new transport gateway, this classy joint was a final destination for many high profile visitors. Learned in seductive spanish and latin dances, speaking many languages, her attractive features, most notably her hair, kept one captive soon to become victim to her song. This siren's colorful singing voice brought smiles as guests sipped their rum cocktails. The American soldiers' called her "Panama Red" presumably after drinking a bit of the fine rum she offered there. The name became famous. But whether you were famous or not, people came to see and be seen at Red's Place. Appearances of distinguished guests, such as Hemingway or John Wayne, were not uncommon. A worker's fears or visitor's cares would be soon replaced by the next performance. Red's Place closed shortly after she fell in love and left, leaving behind only the legend of her name. Just like the age old story of an attractive woman's effect on any man goes; she gives him a reason to get up, go to work, to have a glass of rum and return to visit her one more time...

That is my depiction of the Panama Red's story. Here is my review of the rum it inspired.

Panama Red 108

Origin: La Cabras de Pesé, Panama

Age: Blend of rums aged up to 5 years in bourbon casks

Strength: 54% ABV (108 proof)

Size: 750ml

Cost: Not available in Washington State

In the bottle: The bottle design is simple. Upon first glance, one's eyes are drawn to its red metal screw cap and matching name on the label. Notice the satin red color on the cap's sides give it a softer look whereas the top surface is more brilliant cherry red in appearance. Outlined in gold, the label displays a red-headed woman reclining slightly. Perhaps she is Panama Red, becoming more comfortable over a classic rum cocktail? The label clearly reads "Red Sky at Night, Sailor's Delight" but its meaning is a bit of a mystery. Below it marks the year 1967 signifying when the maker began "raising cane" (described on the back label). The label claims a "full-bodied, hint of sweetness with great legs and a smooth, exciting finish" rum. So, let's find out.

In the glasss: Its color is a rich, golden-brown shade with a orange-reddish highlights. (Note the rum's color works well with the bottle's overall color scheme.) Upon swirling or tilting the snifter glass, the legs (residual liquid on the sides) are toned, slendor, and moving briskly downward. These legs may tell you something about what's to come

In the nose: Sweet brown sugar and vanilla bean aromas come first surrounded by a mild alcohol essence with hints of oak and baked fruits. Further exploration reveals a landscape of warm maple syrup, banana creme dusted with cinnamon and cocoa powder. After a 10% dilution with water, lively aromas of ripe banana nut bread and chocolate mousse may be unveiled and enjoyed.

In the mouth: An immediate and rather pleasant sensation of a hot cinnamon like heat is noted. The heat rises from the tongue to the soft palate bringing forth a brown sugar sweetness with oak overtones. Select spices of cocoa powder, cinnamon, vanilla rise up with the banana bread notes providing depth. Full-bodied, its texture is silky smooth moving slowly, coating the palate like oil. Minimal drying and mild astingent effects are noted.

The Finish: A resonating warmth in the back of the throat and mouth is pronounced. The relatively short finish, smoother than expected, leaves a lingering flavor of buttery maple syrup.

Overall Impression: A mouthful of full bodied warmth leaving you with short but sweet memories is this uniquely smooth overproof rum. The bottle's appearance gives an impression of nostalgia for a time past. I wouldn't classify it as a sipping rum, but it may be enjoyed neat for those who like a heated performance. The rum definitely benefits from a little time to breathe. Adding room temperature water to taste (I recommend a 10% dilution) significantly opens up the flavor profile and enhancing the finish for those trying it neat. Its full bodied, sweet overproof character may be useful in mixing as well (see below). The romantic legend behind the rum is a conversation piece and a reminder of beautiful times gone but not forgotten. This Panamanian rum story is best enjoyed with a full glass among good company!

Panama Red Sky

Panama Red Sky
A famous cocktail named Panama Red Sky was crafted at Red's Place. Reportedly made of fresh squeezed Panamanian oranges, guava nectar, guava soda and Red's rum, it was sipped by many and inspired a popular song back in its day called "Red Skies at Night". The old saying, "Red Sky at Night, Sailor's Delight" is found on the front label (see above). For those unfamiliar with the meaning of the phrase, it refers to the sky's weather forecast. If a sailor could see a red colored sky at sunset, it indicated good weather ahead. Was this all the saying meant? Perhaps it also meant a promising forecast for some cocktails at Red's Place. I have attempted to recreate a variation on this simple, but guavalicious rum drink. Here is the recipe:

1.5 oz. Panama Red 108
4 oz. guava juice (I used Gina brand)
0.5 oz. orange juice (fresh squeezed)
0.25 oz. lime juice
Grenadine float for red color effect (optional)
Orchid garnish


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