Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

Sign in to follow this  
arcadiandj

Advice for a novice rum taster (and maybe spirits in general)?

Recommended Posts

So my journey into enjoying cocktails began with the Manhattan. But it took a serious turn last year when my wife and I stepped into Trader Sam's at Disneyland. It was love at first experience and bam! I just had to learn how to make those amazing tiki drinks. Poof, my liquor cabinet has like fifteen bottles of rum in it, and before I knew it, I'm just loving Kevin Upthegrove's 5 minutes of rum podcast:

 

http://5minutesofrum.com/

 

He introduced me to rum tasting, but the other day, after doing a comparison of Appleton 12 year, their reserve blend, and their signature blend, I realized I really probably don't know what I'm doing. I kept gravitating towards the cheaper spirits and wondered if the more expensive rum was too subtle for my palate.

 

So I thought this might be a good question for the forum. Do any of you have any advice for someone who is new to tasting on how they can develop this aspect of their enjoyment of a spirit?


Edited by arcadiandj (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, arcadiandj said:

So my journey into enjoying cocktails began with the Manhattan. But it took a serious turn last year when my wife and I stepped into Trader Sam's at Disneyland. It was love at first experience and bam! I just had to learn how to make those amazing tiki drinks. Poof, my liquor cabinet has like fifteen bottles of rum in it, and before I knew it, I'm just loving Kevin Upthegrove's 5 minutes of rum podcast:

 

http://5minutesofrum.com/

 

He introduced me to rum tasting, but the other day, after doing a comparison of Appleton 12 year, their reserve blend, and their signature blend, I realized I really probably don't know what I'm doing. I kept gravitating towards the cheaper spirits and wondered if the more expensive rum was too subtle for my palate.

 

So I thought this might be a good question for the forum. Do any of you have any advice for someone who is new to tasting on how they can develop this aspect of their enjoyment of a spirit?

 

 

https://forums.egullet.org/topic/142091-understanding-rum/

 

https://forums.egullet.org/topic/72687-rhum-agricole-the-topic/

 

 

At the moment I'm enjoying a white mai tai:

 

1 1/2 oz La Favorite Blanc

1 1/2 oz Wray & Nephew overproof

1/2 oz Cointreau

1/2 oz Small Hand orgeat

juice of one very giving lime -- about 2 ounces

 

 

I currently use Appleton 12 as one component of my mai tai of color.  Good stuff.

 

Speaking of rum, last count I had about forty bottles, but for the rum lovers here I'm sure that is nothing.

 

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Gravitating towards cheaper spirits sounds to me like a blessing rather than something to fix! :D

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi, @arcadiandj.

 

Sounds like you're coming along nicely.  I had a tidy-up of my booze cabinet recently and was surprised to find I had 12 different rums.  You and Jo are putting me to shame!

 

I think what you like is more important than the label - after all, you're presumably making cocktails for you to enjoy, right?

 

As a general principle, better quality ingredients = a better cocktail, but your taste is important.  If you can't tell the difference between, say, Appleton VX and Appleton 12 (or you can tell the difference but prefer the VX), so what?  Go with what you know you like for now and enjoy saving some money.  You'll return to the 'better' ingredients over time and may then find you prefer them ... or you may not.  In which case, carry on!

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you are on the right track; Kevin does a fabulous job with his rum reviews.

I would consider taking a course. A few years ago, I took the BarSmarts series of online courses (and exam). There was a large portion of the course on learning to taste spirits that I found extremely useful. It's also very helpful to read about the production methods of the different spirits, and all the information about what can influence their taste. Also try attending spirits tastings in your area, often bars have them and it's a good way to educate yourself about a certain product, especially when the people who conceived them, distilled them, etc, are the ones doing the presentation.

I think it's also important to keep in mind that different criteria apply to spirits that you intend to enjoy neat, or the ones you intend to mix with. I've tasted spectacular rums that completely got lost in cocktails.

About Appleton VX vs 12, they are both very good. You've tried both of them neat, maybe try mixing the same drink side by side with both, and see if you have a different perception. Have fun with it! And maybe revisit in a few months/years to see if your taste has changed.


Edited by FrogPrincesse (log)
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Remember that a good spirits store (local government willing) will allow you to taste some of their stock. Some stores, it's just what's on promotion, others give staff leeway to open bottles based on their own judgement. And, most also have tasting events for free or a nominal fee, like $10. It's great way to get some education without spending much money.

 

You might want to start carrying a small blank notebook with you to use as a tasting book. You will thank yourself later for taking notes.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The key difference between the inexpensive spirits and their more expensive relatives tends to be the length and method of ageing as well as the components of the blend.

 

While barrels are water proofed, they are not air proof which means that spirits ageing are exposed to small amounts of oxygen on a continuing basis. This adds complexity.

 

The barrels can also add character while subtracting rougher elements. Bourbon is aged in deeply charred American oak barrels. In these, the charcoal acts as a type of filter that refines the spirit. The oak also adds flavour components.

 

When assessing any spirit (or wine for that matter), the markers of quality are balance, length (how long the pleasant sensations stay in your mouth), intensity, and complexity. What barrels add is complexity.

 

Mind you, with rum there are many other elements that can add complexity. The Jamaicans take what is left after the distilling process, something called dunder and collect it in pits and let it ferment naturally. The dunder pits have an intense, rotten smell. When added into the distillation process, dunder raises the acidity of the wash which slows the ferment and allows very high levels of esters to be created. This gives the rum aromas of bananas and nail polish.

 

Bottom line is that the more expensive rums typically have more components that are aged longer in barrels and more complex "marks" in their blends.

 

I agree with others. Do some study. This will open your eyes to what gives spirits complexity and what the different components taste like. As you do this, you will see your appreciation of more complex spirits increase.

 

Most of all, however, enjoy the journey.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Short answer do a blind tasting and drink what you like

Don't worry about what other ppl tell you should should like.

 

There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in the distilling industry.  A friend of mine who worked at a distiller and looked at opening his own told me $ is as much an indicator of marketing hype as it is of quality .

 

For example which is a better Rye Whiskey.   bulliet rye george dickel rye   or Angels Envy Rye?     All get the rye whiskey from the same industrial  distiller but dickel and AA put their own finishing touches.  The rum finish on the Angels Envy does do something pretty magic imo. 

 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/28/your-craft-whiskey-is-probably-from-a-factory-distillery-in-indiana.html

 

So many small batch producers are doing the same thing across the board with other spirits. vodka gin etc. 

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
17 hours ago, Lisa Shock said:

Remember that a good spirits store (local government willing) will allow you to taste some of their stock. Some stores, it's just what's on promotion, others give staff leeway to open bottles based on their own judgement. And, most also have tasting events for free or a nominal fee, like $10. It's great way to get some education without spending much money.

 

You might want to start carrying a small blank notebook with you to use as a tasting book. You will thank yourself later for taking notes.

 

I have a file on my smart phone for just this - I've only recently been able to drink much at all, so I missed many years of experimenting with alcohol in college and so on. So I've started keeping track of what I've tried (when out, mostly) and what I thought of it, even beers and less expensive items, to start developing an idea of what I'm likely to enjoy in a wine or spirit or beer. (So far beer is not doing too well. Cider is ok, beer not so much.)

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, quiet1 said:

 

I have a file on my smart phone for just this - I've only recently been able to drink much at all, so I missed many years of experimenting with alcohol in college and so on. So I've started keeping track of what I've tried (when out, mostly) and what I thought of it, even beers and less expensive items, to start developing an idea of what I'm likely to enjoy in a wine or spirit or beer. (So far beer is not doing too well. Cider is ok, beer not so much.)

 

A little, off-topic here, but, don't forget to try winter seasonal beers, there are a LOT of them. One of my favorite beers is seasonal, 'Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale' from Anderson Valley Brewing Company. You might want to give it a try. I am not a fan of beers that punch you in the mouth with a fistful of hops - a style that is very fashionable right now. I prefer more subtlety.

 

With beer, like anything else, pairing it with food can be a real revelation. Personally, I think that pizza and beer is a great combination -the bitterness of the beer cuts the fattiness of the pizza, and the (relatively) slight sweetness of the tomatoes gives contrast to the slight, dry astringency of the beer.

 

Same goes for spirits. Something that might be too heavy, or too floral, or just weird when consumed neat can open up into a whole new flavor experience in a cocktail.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, Lisa Shock said:

 

A little, off-topic here, but, don't forget to try winter seasonal beers, there are a LOT of them. One of my favorite beers is seasonal, 'Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale' from Anderson Valley Brewing Company. You might want to give it a try. I am not a fan of beers that punch you in the mouth with a fistful of hops - a style that is very fashionable right now. I prefer more subtlety.

 

With beer, like anything else, pairing it with food can be a real revelation. Personally, I think that pizza and beer is a great combination -the bitterness of the beer cuts the fattiness of the pizza, and the (relatively) slight sweetness of the tomatoes gives contrast to the slight, dry astringency of the beer.

 

Same goes for spirits. Something that might be too heavy, or too floral, or just weird when consumed neat can open up into a whole new flavor experience in a cocktail.

 

Part of the issue with beer is probably just that I don't know a lot of beer drinkers. Most of the people I know who have a drink on occasion go for wine or spirits, and one of my tasting methods is to steal a sip if the person is the sort to be okay with that. So to try beer I have to buy it myself and quite often there is something more interesting sounding I could try instead, like some variety of cocktail. We do have a couple of places where you can buy beer by the bottle and mix your own six pack - I should do that sometime and aim for beers that are less hoppy and maybe any known to go well with certain foods? I've definitely tried a beer or two that tasted like it was THIS CLOSE to being something that would go really well with pizza. So I believe the pairing exists. :)

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is there much craft brewery activitiy in your area, @quiet1? They often provide small tasters or the option of ordering flights so you can taste multiple offerings.  In many areas, there's good, friendly cooperation within that small brewery. community with a larger brew pub that serves food showcasing the beers of a smaller neighboring brewery from time to time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Lisa Shock said:

A little, off-topic here, but, don't forget to try winter seasonal beers, there are a LOT of them. One of my favorite beers is seasonal, 'Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale' from Anderson Valley Brewing Company. You might want to give it a try. I am not a fan of beers that punch you in the mouth with a fistful of hops - a style that is very fashionable right now. I prefer more subtlety.

Sorry to (continue to) side-track the discussion, but I bought that beer last year and it's one of the very rare beers I couldn't finish. Down the drain it went. I really didn't care for the flavor which reminded me of cherry-flavored cough syrup. I bought a six-pack and have five left... Too bad you don't live closer. :D

 

I agree with @blue_dolphin's suggestion. Find a local brewery and try different styles to figure out what you like; flights are great for that purpose. Some places even give you a free taste if you are not sure.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, blue_dolphin said:

Is there much craft brewery activitiy in your area, @quiet1? They often provide small tasters or the option of ordering flights so you can taste multiple offerings.  In many areas, there's good, friendly cooperation within that small brewery. community with a larger brew pub that serves food showcasing the beers of a smaller neighboring brewery from time to time.

  

I have to investigate. There is one place that has a restaurant also and they do flights, but there is something about the building triggers migraines for me sometimes, so I don't go there often. (I'm not sure if there is a faint smell, or if it is the lighting somehow - it is a converted church so the lighting is a bit odd for a restaurant. It's hard to pin point what it is causing the problem.) There must be more, though - I know we have a whiskey place. :D

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Unfortunately the current state of rum is pretty bad.  There are a *lot* of illegal things going on...such as adding sugars and other things to make young rum look older.  You need to be careful and do your homework to avoid being duped.  I'm not saying that adultered rums don't have their place, I'm saying that the rum buyer should be informed of what they are buying.  Here are some great bottles of rum that wont break the bank and are not sugared up young rums being sold as something else.

 

1.  Smith and Cross  $30 and is an absolutely spectacular example of fine Jamaican rum.  It's also 114 proof IIRC.

2.  Appleton XO  This has been renamed but is the same rum.  It's around $20 and is another example of a classic Jamaican rum

3.  Scarlet Ibis $30  This was Death and Company's house rum.  It's old Caroni rum from Trinidad and it is a steal at this price.

4.  Bacardi 1909 Heritage $20   This was supposed to be made from the original Bacardi recipe and while I have no idea if that is true, I can tell you that it is an amazing rum at an amazing price.  it is also pure and unsugared.

5  Anything from Doorly's   Seriously, I have them all and they are great rums at stupid low prices.  A poor man's Mount Gay XO ($50)...the Doorly's range from $12 to $25 for the 12yr.  That's an insane value.

6.  R.L. Seale 10 yr   One of the finest rums in the world and it is about $25 a bottle.  Made by the same man that makes Doorly's.

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I will second the smith and cross recommendation, awesome rum.    

 

Edgar- do you have any thoughts on El Dorado?  My brother-in-law and I did a blind  vertical tasting over the holidays .  5, 8,12, 21 yr old   ( neither of us has the 15 yet).   My favourite was the 12 for sipping neat. It has more flavour and much more pronounced pleasing smell than any of the others but is slightly more harsh on the finish than the 21.    For mixing the 8 yr old was my favourite.  Don't worry we didn't mix with the 21 yr old, on the mix test with stopped at 12 yr. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Ashen said:

I will second the smith and cross recommendation, awesome rum.    

 

Edgar- do you have any thoughts on El Dorado?  My brother-in-law and I did a blind  vertical tasting over the holidays .  5, 8,12, 21 yr old   ( neither of us has the 15 yet).   My favourite was the 12 for sipping neat. It has more flavour and much more pronounced pleasing smell than any of the others but is slightly more harsh on the finish than the 21.    For mixing the 8 yr old was my favourite.  Don't worry we didn't mix with the 21 yr old, on the mix test with stopped at 12 yr. 

 

Yes, I do.  I wont touch the stuff.  El Dorado is one of the more egregious examples of what I was talking about earlier.  Their 12 yr has tested at between 35-39 grams of added sugar.  That's an insane amount of added sugar and it begs the question...if it really was 12 yr old why the heavy dosing?  Only they can answer that question and they haven't as far as I know.  Please understand that I am in no way trying to keep you from drinking that rum, I am simply saying that I have a real problem with companies that, IMHO, are misrepresenting what they are selling.  If they are adding that much sugar, then it *legally* ceases to be a rum and is actually a liquor.  Please keep in mind that sugars are destroyed in the fermentation process and a pure rum should only have trace amounts in it...35-39 grams of sugar can't happen unless it has been added after, it is simply impossible.  If you enjoy the rum, then by all means, drink it and please enjoy it....just know what you are buying and be an educated consumer.  American whisky and Scotch whiskey would *never* tolerate this nonsense and companies who did it would be ostracized by the people who love those spirits.  Why these rum companies get away with it is baffling to me.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Try a white rhum agricole. Couldn't be more different from a heavy Jamaican-style molasses rum like Smith and Cross. I like both. For some reason, good agricoles can be hard to find, at least around me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, EvergreenDan said:

Try a white rhum agricole. Couldn't be more different from a heavy Jamaican-style molasses rum like Smith and Cross. I like both. For some reason, good agricoles can be hard to find, at least around me.

 

 

Indeed...and some of the really good ones can be *expensive*.  I mean, like, rare vintage Scotch expensive.  lol

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, edgarallanpoe said:

 

 

Indeed...and some of the really good ones can be *expensive*.  I mean, like, rare vintage Scotch expensive.  lol

 

I don't believe it.  Neisson l'espirit is around $70.  The most expensive that I know of.  Admittedly I have to think a moment before I down a glass, but I would not call that expensive as rhums go.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Neisson 15 or even 21 year old are much more expensive and some vintage single cask can also be pretty costly too :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, JoNorvelleWalker said:

 

I don't believe it.  Neisson l'espirit is around $70.  The most expensive that I know of.  Admittedly I have to think a moment before I down a glass, but I would not call that expensive as rhums go.

 

 

Believe it...Neisson 18 is about $550.  Rhum JM 15 is about $250.  There are others, trust me.

 

 

 

 


Edited by edgarallanpoe (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 hours ago, EvergreenDan said:

Try a white rhum agricole. Couldn't be more different from a heavy Jamaican-style molasses rum like Smith and Cross. I like both. For some reason, good agricoles can be hard to find, at least around me.

So true.

 

The biggest alcohol buying power in the world (The LCBO) for whatever asinine reason, cannot seem to get its hands on any agricole, let alone a really decent rhum selection....

 

If any Ontarian's have suggestions, I am all ears!

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, edgarallanpoe said:

 

Believe it...Neisson 18 is about $550.  Rhum JM 15 is about $250.  There are others, trust me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a bottle of Neisson 18 on my shelf.  I assure you it is not a white rhum.  I doubt JM 15 is either.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×