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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Rum Collective Meets at Naga Lounge

The Rum Collective's 2nd Meeting
Naga Lounge
When presented with a special opportunity, one should take advantage of it. Having the owner of a spirit, such as Novo Fogo Organic Cachaça, guest lecture at your meeting provides a unique opportunity indeed. Did you say cachaça? Well that isn't rum, or is it? Cachaça isn't rum technically...and one could argue this simply because it is cachaça. It differs in that it originates in Brazil and we learn that culturally, most Brazilians wouldn't consider cachaça to be rum or rum to be cachaça. However, cachaça's relationship to rum might be best described as a distant cousin originating from the same plant, sugar cane, and around a similar timeframe in history, albeit different locations. Unlike most rum, cachaça is not distilled from molasses, a by-product of sugar manufacturing. Rather, cachaças are distilled from sugar cane juice. Now, to clarify, not all rums are distilled from molasses. Cachaça is most simliar to Rhum Agricole produced in the French speaking Caribbean and also several other rums produced from sugar cane juice only. However, many aspects of their production, such as type(s) of sugar cane, terrior, temporal processes of sugar cane juice extraction to fermentation, yeasts employed, distillation end points and respective laws regarding aging and additives are different. These differences provide an explanation of why rum and cachaça's taste profiles differ significantly.

Brazilian Negroni
Like rum, the selection of cachaças are limited here and are unkown to many outside of Brazil. Regardless, we learn it is consumed in heroic volumes, ranking third place among all spirits worldwide! Anyone up for a trip to land of the Amazon rainforest and ubiquitous cachaças? Dragos Axinte, owner of Novo Fogo, gave a hand tailored informative discussion full of insight into how his cachaça is hand crafted, enjoyed and what makes it unique. The lecture is really more of a conversation as Dragos discusses Morretes, the rainforest town where Novo Fogo is produced. We sip our first cocktail and listen to the story of Novo Fogo. Tasty!

Brazilian Negroni
1.25oz. Novo Fogo Silver infused with pineapple and Thai basil
1oz. Cardamaro
Basil leaf garnish

Dragos' relaxed informal style sets a tone that brings forth questions, answers and more information for everyone to learn from. The tasting ensues beginning with the Novo Fogo Silver. It is aged in steel tanks for over one year. The variety of aromas of this clear spirit is surpringly impressive. Those who attended had the unique opportunity to be the first to try a Novo Fogo product not available anywhere else. An unreleased sample bottle of a Novo Fogo, aged for one year in American oak barrels, was brought back from Brazil recently and has made its way here. Oh yeah!

Novo Fogo Silver, Unreleased 1 yr Aged Sample, Gold
(Left to Right)
This unreleased sample is tasted and responses from those present are overwhelmingly positive. At first sip, full flavor representative of pot still distillation is appreciated. Its texture reveals more substance than the Silver and finishes with a nice smooth oily coating in the mouth. Comparative tastings between cachaças or any spirit is useful. When done between multiple aged products within a brand, such as Novo Fogo, it brings forth an informative lesson in what time aging in oak barrels imparts into the flavor and body.

Brazilian Old Fashioned
Finally the Novo Fogo Gold reveals the maturity of another year aged, complex and fun to sip. And sip an Old Fashioned we do. Delicious! Is it the Novo Fogo Gold? Evan Martin's skills behind the bar? Some spirits just don't work in this classic cocktail, but this is not one of them.

Brazilian Old Fashioned
2oz. Novo Fogo Gold
0.5oz. Ginger-Cane Syrup
3-4 dashes housemade Brazilian Coffee Bitters
Maraschino cherry & orange peel

Spirits Display at Naga Lounge
Display materials and books were passed around the audience highlighting, visually, the points of discussion. The craftsmanship and attention to detail that Novo Fogo employs from their choice of premium sugar cane juice to their bottle design culminates in a cachaça that speaks for itself. Those who were present at this meeting received a Novo Fogo gift pack containing two mini Novo Fogo cachaças and a dark wooden muddler as the meeting ended and afterparty began! Naga Lounge reportedly maintains the best rum selection in the state. Their award winning bartender, Evan Martin, has no problem assisting you in selecting a personalized rum or cachaça-based cocktail to please your palate. Yes please!

The Rum Collectivce would like to thank Dragos Axinte, Novo Fogo Cachaça and the staff at Naga Lounge for an oustanding meeting. Brazilliante!!