The Flower Of The Cane

28 March 2012

Although Americans tend to associate Nicaragua with civil war more than fine spirits, this now-peaceful country produces one of the world’s greatest rums: Flor de Caña.

This company dates back to 1890, but it didn’t start producing rum called Flor de Caña until 1937. The revolutionary years in the 1980’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Sandinistas didn’t have the best reputation for protecting private property rights, to put it charitably, so to safeguard their stocks of rum, Flor de Caña sent many of their best barrels to neighboring countries. By the time Flor de Caña could finally repatriate their spirits without fear they would be confiscated by the government, they had their hands on some of the largest and finest stocks of aged rum in the world.

While staying on an island in idyllic Lake Nicaragua, I ordered a glass of the 18-year-old Flor de Caña. Seeing my interest in the rum (or perhaps noticing my notebook), the bartender asked if I would like to sample range of different ages. Why yes, yes I would. The couple from San Francisco next to me certainly had no objection, and we began our impromptu tasting. (more…)

Not For Mixing With Coke

9 October 2011

It wasn’t until I traveled through Guatemala that I realized rum could be more than just a tasty component of a Cuba Libre or a Piña Colada. There, on my very first evening in the country, I encountered the supremely delicious Ron Zacapa Sistema Solera rum.

My traveling companion and I expected  a relatively low-key first evening in the bar of the Camino Real hotel, but before long we’d made friends with some rather tipsy locals. Our new, seemingly wealthy friends insisted on buying us round after round of Ron Zacapa, which we insisted they help us finish. They gladly obliged, and much ridiculous dancing ensued.

Later, when I had a chance to actually focus on the flavor of the Ron Zacapa, it floored me. I had no idea rum could rise to the level of a fine bourbon or even Cognac. As our time to return home drew nearer, I despaired that I had been unable to find a bottle to bring back with me. But Ron Zacapa, ever a step ahead of the game, thoughtfully provided a fully stocked shop in the airport.

I brought home a couple of bottles of the Sistema Solera 23, which blends rums aged between six and 23 years in “one of the highest aging facilities in the world,” 2300 meters above sea level in Quetzaltenango. Here, “the thinner air and lower atmospheric pressure helps intensify the infusion of flavours from the barrels,” according to the website.

Perhaps I should have guessed that you can also purchase Ron Zacapa in the U.S. Binny’s carries the 23-year rum for $43, not much more than what it costs at the Guatemala City airport. It’s worth the investment.

The rum smells tantalizingly of vanilla and molasses, and it presents surprisingly complex flavors. When you sip it neat (the Ron Zacapa website suggests adding a cube of ice), a momentary burn of alcohol makes it seem as if it will be unpleasantly strong, but the rum instantly relaxes on the tongue, giving way to a sprightly, butterscotchy goodness and a long, warm finish. It’s an ideal autumn digestif.

Fortunately, just as my bottle of Ron Zacapa is about to run out, the Wall Street Journal ran a column on October 8th recommending an array of fine sipping rums. That Santa Teresa 1796 from Venezuela sounds mighty tasty at $40…

Drinking And Driving

9 September 2011

When taking a road trip, bringing along the appropriate beverage is crucial. And though my paternal grandfather reportedly used to declare, “You’re never really too drunk to drive,” I err on the side of caution and pack some non-alcoholic treats.

My current #1 road trip drink is Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew, an “All Natural Jamaican Style” ginger beer. Sold in packs of four bottles, this ginger beer, unlike regular ginger ales, is “carefully brewed and aged like fine wine in small batches by [Reed's'] expert brewmasters,” according to the website.

However they make it, the ginger beer tastes delicious, with small bubbles and a powerfully spicy ginger kick (sure to keep you awake while driving). It lacks caffeine, but since caffeine is a diuretic, that can perhaps be an advantage.

Once you reach your destination, you can save any leftover bottles for the trip home, or even better, make a proper cocktail. My favorites are the Dark ‘n’ Stormy and the Moscow Mule: