Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pusser’s Rum, British Virgin Islands, West Indies

Pussers Rum Public House, Tortola
Pussers Rum Public House, Tortola
I’m a man who craves routine; yearns for some semblance of pattern in the chaos that is life with a two-year old, and so, it is with no small amount of nervousness that I recount the tale of 330 years of tradition, routine and pattern, shattered.
The British Navy had issued it’s fighting men a daily dose of rum for centuries and, suddenly, while reading this I can understand the allure of leaving home to sail the sea for years at a time. Waves, the tropics and a bottle of rum? Heck yeah! But in 1970 that all changed when the Navy quoted Bob Dylan by stating that “The times had changed…” though I’m sure even Bob didn’t know they were changing this much. And so to this day sailors re-enact the dark day the rum stopped in an annual ritual which is well attended and draws the finest sort of people. My kinda people.
So it’s 1970 and the rum ends, but a few sailors keep the odd bottle and such in a footlocker for a rainy day. Enter to the story a Mister Charles Tobias ( ) who crossed the British Navy on a (metaphorically) rainy day in 1978: taking his ship from Gibraltar to Barbados, a small pump stopped working. Not an optimistic way to start a long voyage, the Navy is close by and so Charles hails them, hoping for a spare part. Whilst convening with the ship’s captain, said captain offers Charles a parting gift to soften the rough trip ahead: a 2-gallon cask of Pusser’s Rum. Now remember: this had never been sold privately before, and had been “off the market” for 8 years! It’s a challenge for me to keep rum in my house for a year… so a treasure to be certain.
Well the rum didn’t last as far as Barbados and Charles ended up with the happiest crew in the Atlantic that month. But beyond that, Charles had an experience; for he had never tasted rum with such depth, such dimension, such character.How, how could he get more???
He couldn’t. The producer had closed, the patent locked, the recipe in the hands of the Admiralty. Hopeless. Well, being a rummy myself, I understand all too well the impetus for Charles to march himself to said Admiralty and ask for the recipe in order to restore the vintage Pusser label back-to-life. As anyone who has ever dealt with government, much less military government, will understand: I admire Charles Tobias for his tenacity, and must believe that he has angels looking out for him that it only took 2 years for the British Navy to accept Charles’ proposal.
And the part that clinched the deal for Charles and the re-born Pusser label was the commitment from Charles to donate a significant portion of every sales dollar back to the Navy sailor’s fund. How significant? Over a million pounds Sterling since 1980, making it the biggest source of income for the Fund outside of it’s seed-money. That’s not window-dressing, that’s not publicity, that’s genuine, responsible business… to give back to our community is one of the truest marks of profitability.
But let me get off the soap-box and back to the rum!
wooden pot still, circa 1792
wooden pot still, circa 1792
What makes it so flavorful? So full of life and energy? Well a little secret, that I’ve written about before, with two parts: the pot-still and the wooden-still. Pot-stills are shunned by many (read: most) large distillers due to it’s low efficiency and slowness of production. On the flip-side, master-distillers and connoisseurs adore pot-stills for their ability to evolve the production of a spirit into a work of art. Column stills, in general, produce a lack-luster product that is bereft of dense flavors, but technical sound, and do so in a matter of minutes as opposed to hours.
And then there is the matter of wood over metal: as anyone who knows wine will well understand, wood imparts flavor on liquids be they wine or spirit. A wooden still which has some age to it can then impart nuances of flavor from each and every successive vintage before… Pusser’s Rum is not the only distillery to adopt this practice, but they certainly are in the upper-echelon of practitioners with this behemoth which has been in constant production since approximately 1792. It’s craftsmanship like this which yields a rum so full of flavor and dimension that there are no additives. 100% natural product. And what difference, really, can such tools and such dedication make to the end result?
The results are in the glass~!

British Navy Pusser’s RumPussers rum Barbados

92+ points

$50+ CAD in BC
Gold Medal WinnerBest Dark Rum, London 2001
Gold Winner, San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2005
Double Gold Winner, San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2003
Gold Medal Winner, IWSC International Wine and Spirits Competition, 2011
Double Gold Winner, The Fifty Best, New York 2012
Double Gold Winner, The Fifty Best, New York 2012
Gold Medal Winner, IWSC International Wine and Spirits Competition, 2011
Gold Winner, San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2005
Double Gold Winner, San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2003
  • TO THE EYE:   beautifully rich amber/gold liquid, light apricot tones
  • ON THE NOSE:   full bodied aromas of Winter spices, molasses, hard-candy, ripe peaches and apricots
  • ON THE PALATE:   Intense! Big, bold flavors ranging from aged tobacco to warm apricot compote to salt-water toffee. Brilliant structure and balance, I find that at 42.5% ABV it benefits from a dram of water like great single-malt
  • How to serve it?:   rum like this needs no fruit juice or soda to make it quaffable and I delighted in this bottle on its own, with the barest whisper of water. Ice I find dulls the aromas. I sat on the veranda many times with the rum and a good cigar, and with a friend was the perfect treat at the end of the week.
British and Russian sailors celebrate Victory Day
British and Russian sailors celebrate Victory Day
So what the heck does Pusser’s mean anyways? It’s slang for purser: the officer on-board who was responsible for handling the ship’s money. And while this bottle certainly was a bit of money, it was a worthy investment. All the more so now that I learn that I’m not alone in my appreciation of the decidedly artisanal approach this company has taken. I’m also not alone in appreciating that, quietly, they have also been supporting the men and women of the British Navy for decades. I don’t pretend to be vigilant enough with my consumer dollars… I need to research more and spend less much like many (read: most) North Americans. That being said, it made me smile to see the photo of a few crusty sailors having one last kick-at-the-can with a bottle or three of Pusser’s rum. It’s a privilege, to me, when we can repay those who have served our society selflessly. That I can help by choosing a great bottle of rum – well that’s just dandy with me!
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ron Barcelo "Imperial" Dominican rum

When I read that the BTI (Beverage Tasting Institute) of Chicago has rated a rum 97 points not once, but twice, then I take notice. You see, 97 points is the highest score they have ever given a rum.
So I do some digging, find out that they guys at Ron Barcelo have accumulated a succession of medals that would make any distiller dizzy with pride: 10 gold medals, a double-gold medal in Miami where it was also voted "Best in Class". The list goes on... pretty good legacy for the company that Julian Barcel√≥ started in 1929 when he emigrated to the Dominican Republic from Spain.
rum Ron  Barcelo barrels
The company grew out of a vision of quality, quality, quality. So much so that even the locals ditched their hither-to favorite libations in deference to the Barcelo brand. Time passed and the natural progression of a company with strong vision and the support of the community: Barcelo rum became the most popular brand in the country! Impressive! But there's always room to grow, right?
In 1980, Miguel Barcelo (?grandson to Julian?) created the new icon: "Imperial" label. A testament to the family/company values, only the best would do and the company invested heavily in their infrastructure: from the sugarcane plantations to the molasses refinery to the labs to the aging cellar. Quality because more then a catch-phrase for the Ron Barcelo company (Barcelo Export Import S.R.L.), it became the Prime Directive.
The led to great accomplishments: the company earning the first ISO 9001:2000 Certification in the Dominican Republic spirit industry and the second in all of the Caribbean, international expansion to 10 countries in the 1990s,  the company winning a team of highly skilled, highly motivated Spanish rum professionals and by 2010 a distribution plan the extends to over 50 countries world-wide.
The massively accelerated growth can be directly linked to that 97-points I started talking about: it's the octane in the Barcelo fuel. But obviously grandson Miguel would never have been able to push such dramatic expansion without the leg-work of grandfather Julian. When a company starts with such a determined vision or goal then anything is possible.
My one challenge with the Barcelo company propaganda is that they state the "Imperial" is made in "limited quantities to maintain its mystique... its uniqueness". The Barcelo company is immense, employing many thousands of people, and exporting its own ocean of distillate to over 50 countries. To a country-lad such as myself, this doesn't seem much like "limited production". That being said, the spirit is quite good, so let's move straight to the tasting-notes:

"Imperial"rum Ron Barcelo Imperial

no age given: research shows from 6 to 10 years, but flexible depending on the year

91 points

$42+ CAD (Quebec)
$35+ US (Washington)
  • TO THE EYE: a pretty rum, it shows so well in the glass with it's dark coppery hued amber tones
  • ON THE NOSE: it displays rich, unique salt-water toffee, young pineapple and mild Szechuan pepper aromas
  • ON THE PALATE: is where the score starts to dip for me: clean flavors of dark toffee, coffee and warm wood-tones are reminiscent of great Bourbon (positive) but some of the spirit in the blend is a tad juvenile/rough and clumsy and burns (negative). The structure is quite good, but not all of the flavors truly seem to marry together and this particular vintage seems to have some bits and pieces sticking out on their own. Well made but perhaps benefiting from further maturation.
  • How to serve it? Too good as a blender with cola or fruit-punch, too much ice will also dampen the more subtle aromas and leave it somewhat mono-dimensional. I found that room temperature, with a splash of water allowed it to open more in the nose and left the palate in better balance.

So a good little sipping rum, from a company with a strong history of over-delivering. Just the type of company I like to support! This rum is a great gift for you celiacs out there who find yourselves missing a splash of Bourbon or Kentucky whiskey... similar flavors and will do in a pinch on your veranda one lazy afternoon. 
rum Ron Barcelo pouring into glasses
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
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