Edible South Florida Spring 2012 : Page 16

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Rum Diary

Mix two parts Old and New World history, one part Caribbean culture, one part rich caramel, spice and vanilla flavors, and a generous dash of international intrigue. Add a few drops of exotic abandon. Serve with ice and sip outdoors, under a rustling palm moved by a briny breeze, paper umbrella optional. The story of rum is a true South Florida cocktail.

Thoughts on this cane spirit

Why does rum seem to garner less respect than other spirits? Is it rum's shady past or its association with frozen drinks? Maybe it's the kitschy pirate, tiki-party marketing that makes it hard to take rum seriously. Then there's the price. Upper-end rum is often cheaper than other premium spirits, so it seems like less of a luxury than a blue bottle of scotch – even though the price has to do with lower production and import costs, not the quality of the booze lurking within.

"Rum is accessible, palm tree, sailboat, sand-in-your-toes kind offun," says Miami rum expert Robert Burr. But it's also a spirit that's equally comfortable dressed up for a night on the town. As editor of the Gifted Rums Guide, founder of the annual Rum Renaissance Festival and judge in many international rum competitions, Burr gathers connoisseurs to explore, discern and savor the world of premium rums.

When bourbon was having its moment in the 90s, rum producers started seeing rumblings of future progress and began aging rums in anticipation of its rise. Now, these rums are peaking in the barrel. They're being released at a time when sipping spirits is in vogue again.

The range of this versatile spirit, made from molasses or sugarcane, spans bold and brash, smooth and delicate, sweet like dessert or rich like cognac. "Rum has wonderful flavors. People respond to these delightful tones of caramel, butterscotch, vanilla and spices that come from the interaction with the wooden casks," Burr says.

And no two rums are the same. "Rum has no rules," says rum ambassador Bahama Bob Leonard of the Rum Bar at the Speakeasy Inn in Key West. Unlike bourbon, scotch or other spirits made according to strict standards, "rum can be whatever it wants to be. It fits the pirate image."

As a result, there are myriad rums to fit any palate. Says Burr: "If you think you don't like rum, you simply haven't tried enough of them."

By Daniel Treiman | Photography by Robert Parente

"If you thinkyou don t like rum, you simply haven't tried enough of them"

– Robert Burr,
Miami rum expert

Columbus to Capone Once upon a time, rum was the most popular spirit in the world. It was even used as currency. Its rich global history is populated by a vast and colorful cast of characters – pirates, drunken sailors and organized crime figures, among others. South Florida claims part of that past, thanks to ties to the Caribbean, hundreds of miles of coastline and secret channels, and a magnetic ability to attract scoundrels, adventurers, opportunists and entrepreneurs of all stripes.

It was Christopher Columbus who brought sugarcane to the New World. The Caribbean was well suited to growing the giant grass, and slaves toiled in the sugarcane fields to harvest and process the crops. Then it was discovered that molasses, a byproduct of sugar production, could be fermented and distilled into rum. Rum grew in popularity in colonial America – in 1763, there were more than 150 rum distilleries in New England alone. A trade triangle was born: molasses was sent to the Northeast for distilling into rum, which was bartered for slaves, who were sent to labor on the plantations.

Rum was popular with the British navy, which switched its daily rations from French brandy to rum after capturing Jamaica in 1655. Most sailors were given a watered-down version called grog, which started as a rich, quality spirit so that the diluted product would still retain its flavor. Higher-ranked officers drank this rum straight, extolling the virtues of this worthy product that helped them through the tough times at sea. Here began rum's association with pirates, as English privateers turned pirates and buccaneers maintained their affinity for the spirit, inspiring many a marketing campaign in the future.

Rum played an integral part in early American politics, used to sway many a voter. Candidates who drank with their constituents were seen as men of the people, and their generosity was judged by how loose they were with the hooch.

Behold the humble spirit Because of lax laws on what constitutes rum, as well as
the variety of locations and cultures producing it, rum is available in many different flavors, colors and levels of quality. Most are familiar with white and flavored rums, most often used for cocktails. But that barely scratches the surface of what rum has to offer. Cacha^a from Brazil and true aguardiente, found in Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, are also made from sugarcane, and can be considered rums as well. Then there are aged and premium rums, equally suited for sipping as a fine cognac or scotch.

By law, bourbon and whiskey must be aged in new barrels. Luckily for the producers of these spirits, Kentucky is a good place for making barrels cheaply and efficiently. Many of these used barrels are sent to rum-producing countries, where the distillers make up for their lack of native oak by repurposing these perfectly good barrels.

This does more than help the planet - it also affects the flavor of the rum that is aged within.

uThe bass line in the music vibrates the wood, which releases the flavorings of the wood even faster!"

- Matt Malone, Destileria Caneca

Rums and where to drink them New to rum? Robert Burr has some recommendations about what to drink and where to go. A few great rums, he says, get instant reactions. "Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva, Atlántico Private Cask, Centenario Fundacion XX Años and Zacapa Solera 23 are luscious, fullflavored, delicious rums that always get the attention of new tasters." In Palm Beach, Reef Road Rum Bar (reefr).oadwpb.com). has "an excellent selection of top-shelf rums and great cocktails. It's a true rum bar." In Key West, he suggests checking out the excellent rum selections at Rum Barrel (rumbarrel.com) and Conch Republic (conchrepublicsea food com). Try total immersion at Burr's Rum Renaissance Festival (rumrenaissance .com) April 16-22. One of the top international rum events, this festival celebrates the fine arts of distillation, maturing and blending fine cane spirits with parties, a two-day exhibition of rum brands, seminars, workshops and cocktail competitions.

Within the Caribbean, styles of rums vary based on the language of the islands where they're produced. For example, French-speaking islands such as Haiti are known for a variety called rhum agricole, which uses straight sugarcane instead of cheaper molasses and thus maintains more of its flavor, which is reflected in both its taste and price. English-speaking areas, including Bermuda and Jamaica, specialize in molasses-heavy rums that are darker in color and rich in flavor, while Spanish-speaking countries and islands often produce golden anejo - aged - rums that feature a smooth finish.

White rums still rule the market simply because they are cheaper to produce and thus more profitable - the number of mojitos and daiquiris greatly outnumber the glasses of boutique rums sipped. The bulk market and an increase in interest for aged rums will no doubt increase production and, in turn, perception of rum in the near future.

South Florida connections

In Miami, the new Destileria Caneca is poised to become a trailblazer in South Florida spirit production. Located in Wynwood, Caneca - the first and only distillery in Miami - is producing rum using local sugarcane and other natural ingredients. Matt Malone, CEO and originator of Miami Club Rum, intends to create Miami's hometown rum using a handwritten recipe for rum from Don Primitivo Grau, Sr., who first produced rum in 1882.

Malone is adding a secret ingredient to this mix. He says their rums are "infused with music," which involves playing salsa tunes 24/7 in the distillation room. He developed the technique as a way to speed up the process of producing the rum. "The bass line in the music vibrates the wood, which releases the flavorings of the wood even faster," he says. "The music also brings positive energy to the spirits while they are aging," he says, starting the party before the bottle is even opened. They are first producing their Miami Club Rum, a white rum designed to be mixed into a Cuba Libre, aka rum and cola.

You will note cinnamon on the nose with subtle orange, cardamom, vanilla and a few others when you drink it. Basically, if s a liquid rum cake."

– Troy Roberts, Drum Circle Distilling

Elsewhere in Florida, Sarasota's Drum Circle Distilling produces Siesta Key rum, made with Florida molasses that makes for a sweeter, smoother rum. Founder Troy Roberts says they take a creative approach to artisanal production, in one instance taking a drill to their shiny copper pot still used for their small-batch silver rum. "We permanently modified the way vapors flow through it," he says, adding that unlike big producers, "we can break the rules." It paid off – the first batch after they made the change took Best in Class at the Rum Renaissance Festival. Roberts says for their spiced rum, they infuse rum with their own mixture of dry spices, not liquid flavorings used by big suppliers. "You will note cinnamon on the nose with subtle orange, cardamom, vanilla and a few others when you drink it. Basically, it's a liquid rum cake."

On a much larger scale, Bacardi, the top-selling rum brand in the United States and a driving force in rum's popularity, has long been a part of South Florida culture. Their former U.S. headquarters – the blue-and-white tiled 1963 modernist building on Biscayne Boulevard and its colorful annex – are architectural landmarks. Bacardi USA, now located in Coral Gables, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

Award-winning rums

Robert Burr believes anybody with dedication and attention to detail can create an American rum to compete with the classic Caribbean brands. At his Rum Renaissance Festival, which returns for its fifth year in April, American distilleries have come in first in the white rum blind tasting the last two years in a row.

As for those drinking rum, it's a mixed barrel. Old-school rum drinkers include laid-back island types and buttoned-up aficionados. New converts, says Burr, include "an interesting mix of baby boomers who have traveled extensively through the Caribbean, along with active and aware 20- and 30-somethings who are adventurous. Some might be surprised to see that women make up nearly 50 percent of the mix." Rum is a natural fit for folks who live or visit the super-casual, island-paced Keys, according to Leonard. For connoisseurs, he says, "Key West is the international meeting place."

Rum experts agree that their favorite cane spirit is continuing to grow in popularity, especially as artisan producers raise the bar and expand possibilities. Whatever camp you're in, there's never been a better time to embrace this humble spirit and all its varieties.

A taste of Prohibition

In Key West, the home of famous rum runner Raul Vasquez has been converted into a bed and breakfast and world-class rum bar called the Speakeasy Inn (speakeasyinn.com). Rum expert and Bahama Bob Leonard says their232 different rums are one of the largest selections anywhere. Miami's oldest bar, Tobacco Road (tobacco- road.com), was originally disguised as a bakery where liquor was stored behind a false bookshelfand is one speakeasy that has survived In Lighthouse Point, what's known today as Cap's Place (capsplace.com) was a popular supper club and casino. Its secluded location on an island near the Hillsboro lighthouse was ideal for rum running, and owner Cap Knight never got caught. Today, its Broward's oldest restaurant, in a setting that remains much as it was 70 years ago, when Pompano was a whistle stop on Henry Flagler's railroad.

Rum Running: A South Florida Tradition

Because of its location near rum-producing areas, South Florida was central to the rum-running industry during Prohibition. Under-the-radar places like Key West, which at the time had few legitimate employment opportunities, were a perfect middle ground for boats smuggling rum and other spirits from the Caribbean. The rum runners then entered South Florida through Government Cut, the hurricane-created channel between south Miami Beach and what's now Fisher Island.

Running inexpensive rum was less profitable for smugglers than higher-priced spirits like gin or whisky, which were more popular in larger cities like New York and Boston. In South Florida, an endless supply of rum and other spirits was available from the nearby Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Three miles off the coast, where the U.S. jurisdiction ended, large boats lined up along this Rum Line to transfer the rum to smaller boats that could outrun the government patrol ships. The reward for rum runners was profits, hundreds of thousands annually, compared to a salary of $30 a week for a Coast Guard seaman. Converted fishing boats were replaced by yachts retrofitted with armor, weapons and aircraft engines. Smugglers even took to the sky, loading their illegal hooch onto small planes and flying boats for transport. Al Capone, who chose Miami as his winter home, was there to assist with the transport of the cargo to the rest of the United States by way of false-bottomed train cars. He also owned a 56-acre property between Boca Raton and Deerfield Beach, now Deerfield Island Park, that he used for rum running in the 1930s.

Local speakeasies were the recipients of much of this rum. These underground drinking establishments were a place to drink and gamble. Because of lax regulation, they thrived along with the rest of the local economy until Prohibition ended in 1933. This contributed to Miami's first construction boom, causing a population explosion and laying the groundwork for the party-loving city we know today.

Bahama Bob's Rum Runner

The Rum Runner, a fruit cocktail, was the creation of a bartender at the Holiday Isle Resort Tiki Bar in Islamorada who was challenged to make a drink out of the overstock of liquor in the storeroom. Here is Bahama Bob Leonard's version, served at the Rum Bar at the Speakeasy Inn in Key West, reprinted with his kind permission. For more classic rum recipes and his variations, visit his excellent blog, Bahama Bob's Rumstyles, at bahamabobsrumstyles.blogspot.com.

1 oz. dark rum
1 oz. light rum
1 oz. blackberry brandy
1 oz. banana liqueur
1 oz. orange juice
1 oz. cranberry juice
1 oz. pineapple juice

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Pour into a Collins glass and garnish with an orange wheel. Can be floated with a suitable rum if desired. All ingredients can be placed into a blender with ice and blended until slushy and poured into a tall glass, but this is not recommended. It just waters down a really tasty cocktail.

Rich Rum Cake

MAKES ONE 10-INCH TUBE CAKE Few spirits do as much as rum does for desserts, bringing complex molasses, caramel and vanilla sweetness to the party.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup good-quality dark rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
Rum Syrup (see below)
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Rum Syrup (see below)
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, butter, rum and vanilla to the flour mixture. Beat at medium until blended, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and beat on high speed for 2 minutes. Add the cream and beat on low speed until just blended. Pour batter evenly in a buttered and floured 10-inch tube pan and bake for 65 to 75 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Using the skewer, poke holes in top of the cake and pour half the syrup over top. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert cake onto rack. While it's still warm, brush the remaining syrup on the cake until it's absorbed, then let cool completely. Dust with confectioners' sugar just before serving

Rum Syrup

1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup good-quality dark rum

Combine sugar, salt, butter and rum in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for 2 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Let cool until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Use while still warm.

Read the full article at http://onlinedigeditions.com/article/Rum+Diary/1027709/106834/article.html.

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