Monday, February 22, 2010

A Taste of Puerto Rico

By Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

Would you like to know how rum is made? When I read those words it made me feel like I was about to hear a story about a stork invading the privacy of my home by flying in with a squealing bundle of sugar cane.

I was invited to a Rums of Puerto Rico event on Wednesday February 17. The event was the launch of ROPR's advertising campaign in the U.S. The campaign is called "Reflections" and it is all about being fun, hip, and energetic. I was vastly under dressed, but I have found in my experience that most media that show up to events are regularly vastly under dressed. I think I have figured out why: There is no note on the invitation telling you the formal dress requirement. Or maybe that is what I have been telling myself to make me feel better about looking like a shlub. I was not out of place in a sweater and sports coat, but I probably would have put on some better pants at the very least.

But back to the story.

Rum is made from sugar cane, either the syrupy juices called "guarapo" or honey. Like all alcohols, the sugar is combined with yeast that will ferment into an alcoholic soup. This soup is then distilled to remove water and other substances that you do not want in your Mojito. According to ROPR, in Puerto Rico the resulting rum is then aged in charred barrels of white American oak, similar to how wine is aged in charred barrels of French, American, Slovakian, Romanian, and other types of oak. The rum is then aged for the desired amount of time, blended with other barrels of rum, bottled, and shipped to your door.

The aging is important. I actually was not aware that most rum from Puerto Rico was aged at all. For instance let us take Baracdi's signature brand, Bacardi Superior. It is a clear or "Silver" rum that you can find everywhere. In fact, if there is an alcohol retailer that does not carry this brand there is probably something wrong with the business sense of that owner. With so much rum from one company it is hard to believe that there is enough space in Puerto Rico to house that many barrels of rum for over a year, year after year. However, that is exactly what happens, although perhaps there is more than one storage house and perhaps not all of them are located in Puerto Rico.

The aging labels for rum is as follows:

Light or Silver: Aged at least one year. ROPR says, "Has a subtle flavor and delicate aroma and is ideal to mix with fruit juices. Generally light-bodied and filtered to remove any color." This is your off the shelf, bring it to a party, dump it in the punch and do not tell anyone type of rum.

Gold or Amber: Aged two to three years. ROPR says, "These rums are aromatic and full-bodied in taste and have a deep, mellow flavor. They are a perfect compliment for seafood dishes. Enjoy with sodas and juices." What?! Seafood? Really? Well, I will need to test that out sometime...

Dark or Black: Aged four-five years. ROPR says, "Full-bodied with deep, velvety smooth taste and a complex flavor. Enjoy on the rocks and with juices." You ever hear the expression that "the old black rum has a hold on me"? If you do not, you should drink more. If you have then you either drink too much or you listen to too much folk music. (see embedded video below. if you cannot see the video you should go to Wine Post to see it)

Super Premium: Aged six-12 years. ROPR says, "These rums are specially aged and blended to provide a slight twist in flavor. They include cognac-type rums." If you get your hands on any of these, do not let go.

That aside, the drinks being made at this event were good. I had a Blueberry Mojito, which confused me slightly because I had expected the drink to be on the bluish side of the color wheel, but it turns out the fresh blueberries make everything slightly redish/purplish (see photo).

The highlight of the event was the Super Premium (Aside: why can't we just call them "fantabulously awesometastic"? I feel that would be much more effective than Super Premium. SP has been used, it is old. Bring on new media speak. I am starting a Facebook fan page, who's with me?! Social media forever!... hem, where was I...) rums. Below are my notes and the order I would rank them, going least fantabulous to most awesometastic (ok, I'll stop.):

Ron del Barrilito Three Star - Smoky caramel, with a big kick of flavor at the beginning, but a sharp slope downwards after that.

Don Q Grand Añejo - A little more rustic than the Barrilito, but with a little more spice and richness to it.

Ron Trigo Reserva Añeja - This one was interesting because there was a strong mineral component to the rum. It gave it slight tang that was very pleasant.

Bacardi Reserva Limitada - Absolutely gorgeous. And I am not saying that because I had three tastes of rum before this one. This balanced rum was smooth with a lighter caramel taste and a spiciness that was very tasty. Not only that, this was the only rum that I felt linger on my palate for more than 30 seconds. It was the most enjoyable for me, by far.

The only issue is that the only one available in the US is the Don Q Grand Anejo, although the bartender I spoke to at the event said that it was likely the Bacardi Reserva Limitada would make it to the U.S. soon.

Disclosure: This post came directly after attending the Rums of Puerto Rico press event.
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