Rummy Ruminations – and the El Presidente Revisited

The new issue of Drink is out. The theme for this issue is rum, well known as one of my favorite topics. Fittingly, I got to write not one, but two articles. . .

The first article was about the luxury rum trend. More rum is obviously a good thing. But more expensive rum? Hmm. . . the only thing to do is get tasting and find out. That is what I did by joining the tasting session. Some of the rums were old favorites while some were new – at least to me.

Barceló is an old favorite I had not tasted in years. I have a soft spot for Dominican Republic rum since the DR is the first place I visited in the Caribbean, and where I lingered longest. China has suffered without until now, and I hope Barceló does well. Besides being delicious rum at a good price it is attractively packaged – it has the look of some high end cognacs and bourbons. Also, I think the taste is more accessible than Brugal, which has heavy rancio flavors not everyone enjoys. Barceló is certainly the DR rum I would have picked as best suited to China.

The second article was on the El Presidente cocktail, and contains some things I only recently discovered. I have completely changed my ideas about the El Presidente since first coming across the drink. When I first posted on the El Presidente, back in 2007-2008, I used a solid pour of curacao rather than a whisper, and the grenadine seemed essential.  I also remember that the few bartenders who promoted the drink (Marcus from Tara 57 in Shanghai was one) often used sweet vermouth. That seemed strange. However, when I visited Cuba I found that the Hotel Nacional also used sweet vermouth. The Hotel Nacional may have left the grenadine out too – they certainly didn’t use much.

Two things changed my take on the drink. First, the Dolin line of vermouth arrived in Shanghai courtesy of Magnum Wines, who specialize in wines from Chambery. The blanc was proudly introduced as the star product in the lineup. But while it tasted delicious, how many cocktail recipes use blanc/bianco vermouth? That got me looking into ways to use blanc vermouth. Second, the ever resourceful David Wondrich tracked down the earliest existing recipe for the El Presidente and noticed that it specifically called for Chambery vermouth – i.e. the blanc vermouth style for which Dolin is famous.

The recipe to which David Wondrich refers is in the Manual de Cantineros (published in Havana in 1924), which is available online here. Check page 14. Even if you can’t read Spanish you can see the vermouth is indicated simply by ‘chambery’. Presumably this was later taken by some to mean generic French (i.e. dry) vermouth, while others took to substituting sweet vermouth as Chambery vermouth became difficult to obtain, and eventually everyone forgot how the drink was supposed to be. Also, the recipe states either grenadine or orange curacao (preferably the latter), and only a dash. The suggestion of an orange peel garnish also works better than the lemon peel suggested in some subsequent recipes. Interesting stuff.

5 Responses to “Rummy Ruminations – and the El Presidente Revisited”

  1. theboolion Says:

    Nice! We only have three of the rums from your tasting in Taiwan, but Iv’e seen a few of the premiums and ultra premiums crop up. I loved the Planters Pyrat XO. We have a couple of ‘blended’ lines (what do you call that when an outfit blends and rebrands rums?) Rum Nation and Dictador (I managed to sample a couple fo the latter in-store and they were very nice, but they’re insanely expensive. I mean the Zacapa 23 goes for 1500NT and these rums go for like 2500-5000 a bottle. I think there’s even one or two 10 000NT bottles. That’s about $US 330 a bottle.

    On a cheaper note, do you think the Brugal worth buying? I’d sort of pegged it (from hearsay alone) as a second-choice alternative to real Cuban for US buyers.

  2. seamus Says:

    Maybe it depends on which Brugal you are talking about, how much it costs in Taiwan, etc.? I think it’s a nice rum though and wish I could get it in Shanghai.

    When Shanghai Expo was on I managed to steal some from Dominican Republic pavilion. Actually I paid for it, but I don’t think the employee who sold it to me was supposed to be selling bits of the display.

    I have not played with the unaged Brugal much in cocktails. There were not many places doing good cocktails in the Dominican Republic, and the aged rum was incredibly cheap, so while I was there I’d just drink aged stuff straight. Since then I just haven’t lived anywhere it was easily obtainable.

    I think though that the young stuff should work fine as a substitute for Cuban. Whether the older stuff works might depend on personal taste. It’s definitely similar (i.e. smooth, light and semi-dry), but seems to pick up a salty ‘marine’ flavor that I haven’t noticed in any Cuban rums.

    I did do a review of Brugal rums before. So that gives some idea. Not sure if I mentioned the saltiness. When you are over there and surrounded by the stuff you kind of stop noticing it.

  3. theboolion Says:

    This is the Brugal, I was talking about. It’s pretty cheap, so I might get it. But, next time, I think. I’ve finally got a bit of spare cahs for the first time in months, and my ‘replacements’ bill alone is huge.

  4. theboolion Says:

    I mean THIS:

  5. seamus Says:

    Looks like a great buy at that price. I’d be stocking up if it was over here.

    Brugal Anejo was the first rum I had when I visited the Caribbean.

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