That Certain Spirit: Rum – and Tasting Time

From time to time, Happy Hour will be focusing on a group of base spirits in hopes of encouraging you to learn more about what you like and to expand your tasting experiences.

A New Orleans summer, at least on paper, is not conducive to ingesting alcoholic beverages. Alcohol’s effect on the body is actually to raise the level of temperature. Ever heard of an Alpine St. Bernard finding a stranded hiker or skier and providing a cup of hot chocolate with a marshmallow? Nope, it’s a strong alcoholic beverage that is needed to bring  body temperature back up to respectable levels.

And because our summers do not rob us of any body temperature percentage deviating from 98.6 degrees, maybe drinking alcohol does not take us to our goal. Nah, that discussion misses the point.

We don’t drink in the summer to stay cool. We drink alcohol in the summer for the same reason we drink during our other season, “fallwinter.” (In New Orleans, we only have two seasons, just in case you just came to town and wondered, "If it’s this warm in May, what can August bring?" Wait and see.)

Anyway, there is no more perfect summer spirit than rum. It is a spirit just begging to be mixed with all kinds of tasty and refreshing supporting fruits and mixers, and, in the end, it turns out to be quite the cooler-offer.

I have a beef with rum drinks, and I need to get it off my chest now. Many people who drink rum – and there are even people who are drinking rum who don’t realize they are drinking rum (insert the name of any bar on Bourbon Street and a few on St. Peter here – all include a souvenir glass in the cost of a drink) – mix rum with massive amounts of pineapple, cherries, simple syrup, grenadine and even sweetened sparkling mixers.

Those usual added ingredients, as diverse as they are, have one thing in common: They are all loaded with sugars, both natural and added.

Okay, here’s today’s pop quiz: What is rum made of?

Yes, you are well on your way to graduation. Rum is made of sugar. It’s the product of sugar cane, to be exact. What you have been doing for way too long, probably since college, is adding Big Sugar to Big Sugar. Then you wonder why you suddenly have the energy and stamina to stay out way late, hopping, literally, from bar to bar, dancing the night and morning away, followed by a big crash when even taking another step seems like way too much work.

Now I’m a big proponent of the drink-what-you-like-when-you-want school of cocktail pleasures. But I’ve gotta tell you, piling sugars on sugars on sugars is where nighttime trouble begins, ending with morning-after head pains and an inability to conquer even the simplest eye-hand coordinated movement at 10 a.m.

Many rums have a beautiful aroma and flavor. They are terrific in minimalist cocktails because these nuances come through. I like the flavor of a dark rum and tonic, with a twist of lime. Can it get any simpler?

Rums are made directly from the juice of sugar cane or from the molasses. The rum brand itself is the key to the determination of which style will be used, and most rum distilleries made that decision long ago. The direction they now take is all-or-nothing. You won’t have both sugar juice and molasses from the same house. I mention this because if you like a sweeter, heavier rum, then you now know which style is your preference and which distiller for all of its products fits your needs. The same is true if you prefer something not so heavy with not so much sweetness. 

Personal rums of choice: Meyers Dark (molasses) or 10 Cane (juice). New rum of choice: Old New Orleans Rum Amber (molasses).

All of these rums have been aged for a few years, and they all present a nutty flavor with molasses overtones, except 10 Cane, which is a “cleaner” flavor and often fine by itself over ice with a twist of lime. Good rum is pretty refreshing when it is the dominant flavor in a cocktail and not part of the supporting cast.

Rum can also bring a new dimension of flavors to cocktails when some of the newer creations are used, such as spiced rum. It used to be that spices were added to the rum by the mixologist for different flavor variations in different cocktails. Now the rum distilleries have done that work for you. Word of caution: Spiced rums are not to be used in every drink. Often the mix does not work and becomes too heavy and cloying. 

The point is rum is a great summertime refresher. And you should check out what type of rum you prefer. But don’t cover up the beauty of the spirit with a lot of cheap, sweet additives.

Tasting Time
Actually I want you to read that heading not as an upcoming clock moment but rather as a reflection back over the years – because that is exactly what wine tasting is all about, sampling the product from a moment in time, maybe a long ago time, and a sense of place.

The Windsor Court monthly tasting series will do just that tonight, Thursday, May 19. Sara Kavanaugh, the talented, knowledgeable and loaded-with-personality wine sommelier at the Grill Room in that esteemed hotel, has put together a most interesting tasting. More important, you don’t often have the opportunity to do this pleasurable experience. That alone is enough of a reason why you should.

Sara will guide the group through a series of wines that tell their stories in the usual way with the current vintage release, and then you will receive a tasting of some previous vintage to see how the wine and/or the grape progressed. 

Here is the line-up for this evening:

Kalin Cellars, Sauvignon Blanc "Reserve", Potter Valley, 1997
Brogan Cellars, Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley, 2008
 
Barolo, Bovio, "La Morra", Piedmont 1997
Barolo, Fantino, ‘Vigne de Dardi", Piedmont 2003
 
Burgess, Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1992
Burgess, Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2007

What’s really fun about such activities is that although you can focus on the wine, maybe you should focus also on you. Where were you in ’92? Doing what? With whom?

It’s a walk down memory lane, and it’s fun on all kinds of levels.

Reservations are required. Call Windsor Court at 504/522-1994. Hey, 1994 was a pretty good year.
 

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