Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer in Seattle Brings a Climate of Rum

Summer Rum Arrivals
Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier (background)
Summer is here! This change of season brings a few more bottles of rum to choose from. Although rum's versatility makes it a choice spirit for all of the seasons, it is more often associated with the summer months. Hot weather-inspired tropical rum drinks, barbeques, rum punches and classic rum cocktails sipped over waterfront views come to mind, not to mention less clothing and warmer rum-filled nights. While the Northwest's seasonal weather changes seem less diverse and more monotone, the climate of rum in Seattle is shifting to better quality and wider selection to make up for it. Variety is the spice of life right? And that spice may now come in the form of a new spiced rum. Presented with more options, one needs to know which new arrival they want to choose first. The Rum Collective is interested in making that choice an informed one!

Bardenay Rum: Looking for a rum from the Northwest? How about a different mixer for that rum and coke? Well, here it is, coming to Washington from its neighbor Idaho and more noteworthy, the first restaurant distillery in the United States! "Distilled from cane sugar" and not too expensive with a reported "Northwest" flavor at $22.45.

Chairman's Reserve Rum: Undervalued, Chairman's Reserve is full of flavor and reasonably priced. This is a great combination if you are looking for a quality rum. St. Lucia's finest will find you pleasantly surprised. This rum's profile holds up great in quality cocktails and will work nicely on ice or in simple mixers like coconut water, ginger ale or orange juice (fresh pressed of course). A steal of a deal at $21.95. Its clear colored counterpart is also available if you want a solid mixer without as much flavor for $23.60.

Banks 5 Island Rum: A great choice for making daiquiris, mojitos and many other craft cocktails where a unique and delicious white rum is necessary. Yes, you should try to taste all five islands this summer and now you can do it all at once for $38.05!

Dancing Pines Rum: If spiced rums are your thing, try Dancing Pines Spiced Rum, a small batch rum from Colorado. Small batch and boutique distilleries are on the rise and here is yet another example. A good choice for a late night Hot Toddy or Spiced Cider. Priced at $37.35 it falls in price range of other products made in the USA.

Kōloa Rum: Kōloa Dark is the second rum in their line to become available in Washington this year. It works with tropical fruit and other cocktails requiring a dark rum. Also a nice finishing touch for certain desserts, like ice cream or rum cake. Made in Kauai, (see my post) this premium Hawaiian product shouldn't be overlooked at $48.10.

Ron Abuelo: Ron Abuelo 12yr is a respectable, go-to sipping rum, served neat or on the rocks. It is versatile, working well in premium cocktails or paired with a cigar and priced right at $34.95. If you are looking for something really special to be enjoyed at a celebratory event or perhaps to show off to those fine spirit loving friends, then Ron Abuelo Centuria is the right choice. From Panama (see previous post) this is a blend of aged rums up to 30 years you will not want to miss at $125. Yum!

Another round of applause for those WSLCB stores that are making better rum selection a reality!
(Note to buyers: look at stores #96, #136 and #101 first)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Touring Varela Hermanos, S.A.: A Closer Look at Ron Abuelo

Home >> Touring Varela Hermanos, S.A.: A Closer Look at Ron Abuelo
Touring a rum distillery should provide an experience that allows for a more well-rounded understanding of how that rum is created. Such experiences often yield a perspective with significantly more meaning beyond what can be obtained from the name and face of the bottle. Visiting the Varela Hermanos plantation was educational indeed and I bring you that firsthand account here, so read on.

Varela Hermanos, S.A. is located southwest of Panama City in a town called Pesé. We pass a local school on the way where children are being taught how to till the ground and others are planting seeds. Socially responsible and environmentally sustainable practices are important to Varela Hermanos as they employ are large number of workers locally. In addition, I am told they provide financial support to the local school as well as education about such agricultural practices. The entrance is marked by an archway with their name across it. Fields of new growth sugar cane can now be seen after the February harvest and provide the background for the various fruit trees that line the road to the distillery. After a tasty lunch and trying out their newly released and refreshing product Seco Herrerano Platinum, we begin the tour.
Statue of Jose Varela B.
Andrea, our tour guide, is very friendly and discusses each area beginning with the site's origin and founder, Jose Varela. In 1908, Don Jose Varela Blanco, a Spanish immigrant opened the first sugar mill in the newly formed Panama. In the background, three rows of five warehouses are used to store and age Ron Abuelo. Each Bodega de Añejamiento holds 7200 barrels except for No. 3, which holds 6000 barrels. Enter rum heaven! The rum in Bodega No. 3 dates to 1978 and is aged using a solera method. These barrels are stacked on their sides in a pyramid style.

Bodega de Añejamiento No.3
To contrast, the vertical barrels on pallets in the other Bodegas are not undergoing a solera process of aging (see photos). Ron Abuelo is aged in American white oak barrels acquired from Jack Daniel's. After being used once by Jack Daniel's, each barrel is inspected and hand selected for quality to ensure optimal and consistent results when aging the rum.
Barrels Aging Solera Style
Bodega de Añejamiento No. 3

Barrels Aging
Bodega de Añejamiento No. 2
The sugar cane is harvested here each February and they are proud to inform us of their responsible methods of cultivation. Varela Hermanos employs ox cart and wagon for transporting sugar cane from closer fields and trucks for the more distant ones due to the size (2000 acres) of their land. In addition, and as mentioned in an earlier post, they are one of the few rum producers that do not burn their fields after harvest.

Ox pulling cart of sugar cane to the weighing scale
Instead they hire local labor to prepare the fields manually. This prevents exposing the sugar cane and land to harmful substances released by the use of machines and burning of the remaining cane fields. Such processes require more time and monetary resources but demonstrate commitment to eco-friendly and socially responsible practices. Upon cutting the sugar cane, it is first weighed and may then go to the refinery to produce molasses for making Ron Abuelo or is pressed onsite for its juice, which is is used for the production of Seco Herrerano. The used cane stalks are then dried, bundled and become the energy source that fuels the boilers. Waste not, want not!

 Pressed sugar cane drying
Feeding sugar cane to the boiler
Varela Hermanos, S.A. utilizes several different yeasts and spring water to ferment the molasses and fresh pressed sugar cane juice, taking 36-48 hours per batch. The product is then distilled
Fermentation Cylinders
using only column stills prior to testing, aging and blending. The bottling and distribution site is located a few
Column Still
minutes driving time towards town right next door to Jose Varela's original house. Bottling is observably a very mechanical, machine-oriented process and in my opinion contrasts with that of the aging and blending art form: human-oriented and palate driven. Inside the bottling facility, I learn they have a recycling process for bottles locally. Ron Abuelo is bottled at 37.5% and 40% ABV for the local and majority of international markets (with exception of Spain) respectively.

Ron Abuelo Añejo
Bottling Facility

Ron Abuelo: An Intimate Tasting

Restaurant Casuale was the perfect setting for an intimate tasting of Ron Abuelo. Ron Abuelo's complete line of rums selectively paired with fine cuisine from master chef Fabricio Torcivia...oh yeah! The tasting was led by Ricardo Henríquez, Director de Investigación y Desarrollo, and Daniel Fábrega, Director de Exportación, and although formal in setting it moved forward in a very casual and freindly fashion. Ron Abuelo 501 is in session! Ricardo is full of information and despite his youthful appearance, his title of Master Blender became readily apparent in his answers; highly articulate, tailored to your understanding in technical details and tastefully mature. He explained that four processes are occurring during the maturation process, which imparts the aromas, flavor and overall character of the rum.

Ricardo Henríquez and Daniel Fábrega of Ron Abuelo
Restaurant Casuale
First, there is extraction of the color and flavors from the wood. Second, oxidation begins as the spirit is exposed to air over time. We are told the barrels are filled with 190 of the 200 liters in each barrel, hence its constant interaction with air as it ages. Third, the marriage of the chemicals over time. Although unstated, I can attest to some love in this relationship. The fourth process is the concentration of the rum due to evaporation. We begin tasting each rum beginning with Ron Abuelo Añejo, then Ron Abuelo 7yr, followed by Ron Abuleo 12yr and finally Ron Abuelo Centuria. Note, Ron Abuelo Añejo does not provide an age statement as its older siblings, Ron Abuelo 7yr and 12yr. I learn the name Añejo was given to stay true to the traditional style of naming aged rums and other spirits. However, further questions revealed it to be a blend of  rums aged a minimum of five years. As we move to the 7yr and 12yr, several of the processes Ricardo describes become more pronounced and resolute as the balance of sweetness, toastiness and woody highlights are appreciated.

Ron Abuelo Tasting
I also learn that the blend making up these products contain some rums aged up to 20 years. The final rum to be tasted, Ron Abuelo Centuria, was named, as it may sound, to celebrate "a century of rum-making tradition" at Varela Hermanos, S.A. Although this article is not meant to be a formal review of the product, I will add that the presentation of the Centuria is elegant and a visual spectacle. From its wood laden interior to its clean magnet closure, this classy casing pairs well with its sophisticated
taste profile. The Centuria's complexity and extended finish mark the end of an incredible evening. Winning!

A very special thank you to Richard March, VP Sales and Marketing, and Andrea for an insightful tour of Varela Hermanos, S.A.

Cheers to Ricardo Henríquez and Danny Fábrega for their informative discussion on and tasting of Ron Abuelo!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cassata: A Taste of Italy in British Columbia

Cup of Cassata
Dolce Gelato
Nothing whispers love like an Italian gelato. Apply an age old dessert recipe from Sicily infused with rum and you may be singing, "That's Amore!" A little over two hours driving time north of Seattle across the border in Canada, one can experience this sort of rapture at Dolce Gelato. Located along the south end of White Rock's famous beachfront walkway just across from the Pier, visitors will also find a picturesque setting. A cup or cone full of Cassata gelato is a perfect treat for a walk along the beach looking out at the body of water known as the Strait of Georgia.
Cassata in Display Case
Dolce Gelato

This gelato's presentation is attractive looking through the glass display case, but a label reading "contains liquor" prompted a closer look. I am told the milk and cream are obtained locally, while the chopped pieces of pistachio nuts, chocolate bits and candied orange peels are from Europe. But what about the Rum? I learn that a certain bottle from a recent trip to Puerto Rico was used. Unfortunately, the owners could not recall the rum's name. Was it Don QRon del Barrilito, Bacardi or another brand that was used? Perhaps a proper visit and a sensitive palate will reveal the mystery. The flavors of nuts, chocolate and orange each pair well with rum in cocktails. In gelato, their diverse textures work well too. Finely chopped pistachio nuts, quick melting tiny chocolate pieces and chewy candied orange peel compliment a refreshingly cool, silky gelato with notes of Puerto Rican rum mixed throughout. Sensational! One more please!! 

Cheers to Davide and Elisabetta of Dolce Gelato for their Cassata, a rumtastic gelato!