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. . . (more…)
Archive for the ‘Spirits’ Category
My latest article for DRiNK is on the Pegu Club. It’s a great drink so go check it out. Special thanks to the translator for an excellent job on the Chinese. I did not make her life easy, what with poetry and other assorted weird stuff. The art work is also nice.
DRiNK is a good magazine, and it’s mere existence shows how much the cocktail scene in China has changed since I started this blog.
Years ago I remember sitting on an airplane here and leafing through a hospitality magazine that had somehow ended up in the seat pocket in front of me. It was not bar specific – more like a general restaurant magazine that included wines and spirits info. I forget the title. Anyway, the quality of information was shocking. An article on French wines was illustrated with colorful Belgian beer bottles. Well-bred ladies were cautioned to always add the ice before pouring their wine. Doing things the other way round would be most uncouth! Another article summarized the main categories of spirits and liqueurs. Having no idea what Angostura Bitters were, the writer came up with a tale about elderly Dutch men doing shots of the stuff by the fireside during winter.
I will link to a few other articles I have written for DRiNK soon.
My occasional writing for DRiNK is one reason things have been quiet. Writing articles that get published somewhere else takes the edge off the urge to write here. Despite that though, I do have a few interesting things in store. Besides cocktail stuff, there may even be a cautionary tale or two about the bar industry.
The Daiquiri at the Havana Club, straight from the pages of Graham Greene
While in Havana, when I wasn’t drinking Mojitos I could often be found in close proximity to a Daiquiri. I already discussed the Daiquiri in detail here, so there is no need to say too much more. Still, it would be a shame not to share a few observations on how the drink is made in Cuba.
Street scene outside the famous Bodeguita Del Medio, the little bar that has spent well over half a century promoting itself as the spiritual home of the Mojito
The tropical heat can be a killer, and while in Havana I made sure to stay properly hydrated by drinking lots of Mojitos. This constitutionally prudent habit turned out to have useful side effects, such as affording an excellent opportunity to learn how the Mojito is made in the country of its birth. Little did I know at the time, but the long hours spent lapping up knowledge in stifling barrooms would eventually provide the launching pad for a prestigious writing career with China’s preeminent drinks industry magazine, imaginatively entitled “Drink”. Naturally, I got started by writing about Cuba’s famous export.
Art Deco meets Neoclassical in the lobby of Havana’s Hotel Nacional
Freely as the rum flows in Havana, the selection is limited. Most rum countries are like this, but Cuba may be unique in the total lack of imports. Even Bacardi is conspicuous only in its absence. No Bacardi is remarkable enough, but even more peculiar is that many Cubans name Bacardi as their favorite rum. More on that curious situation later. . .
Revolutionary decor in Havana’s Coppelia ice-cream parlor
Well over a year after I left the place, I’m finally writing about Cuba. I didn’t stay as long in Cuba as I would have liked. The lack of Internet in Cuba made work, and hence a lengthy stay, difficult. My stay lasted only five or so days, but during that time I devoted myself fully to drinking in the sights – and the rum.
I left Guatemala on a dawn flight, transited in Panama, and was in Havana by early afternoon. From arrival Cuba had its own unique feel. Havana airport was slightly worn, but red painted girders and splashes of yellow made it seem bright and cheerful.
While offering pleasant sojourning, the Guatemalan rum landscape does not exactly excite with its variety. Everything comes from a single company, Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala, though that company produces at least two labels – Zacapa and Botran.
Zacapa represents the glamorous international face of Guatemalan rum: attractive, commercialized, definitely expensive, and while it makes for exceedingly pleasant company, you can’t help suppressing the occasional yawn and wondering how thick that make up is. Botran in contrast is the slightly homely stay-at-home sister, working a nine-to-five job and hurrying home to cook instead of mixing with high society, and generally getting taken for granted by all and sundry. Zacapa smugly preens itself from little clusters of high priced bottles in duty free stores and on the top shelves of smarter bars, while Botran runs itself ragged covering the shelves of local supermarkets and bars, where it jostles for attention with the anise liqueur that is ubiquitous in Latin America.The question then is this: does Zacapa deserve to be Guatemala’s Ambassador of Rum?
Being a rebel, and a fan of rum with a glow to it, I’m going to support the underdog and say I rather like Botran.
Exhibits A through E follow.
While passing through Panama’s very pleasant airport en route from Haiti to Guatemala I picked up a sample pack of Nicaragua’s Flor de Caña rum. While I had heard lots of good things about this rum I had never really tried it.
Barbancourt is an interesting distillery. Calling the House of Barbanourt eccentric would be a stretch, but it is definitely an anomaly in the rum world. Standing out as it does from the pack, Barbancourt attracts more than its share of controversy. While few deny that Barbancourt produces delicious and quality rums, some question the raw materials used.
The marketing blurb goes that Barbancourt distills exclusively from fermented fresh sugar cane juice, following the seasonal rhythms of the sugar cane harvest to produce a Haitian version of Martinique’s famous agricole rums. However, some say Barbancourt takes a less discriminating approach, feeding its fermenting vessels and stills with sugar syrup and molasses during the seasons when fresh sugar cane juice is unavailable, producing a delicious but odd hybrid that is quite unlike the rums of Martinique. Through visiting the distillery I hoped to learn about how Barbancourt is made, what makes it unique, and where it fits in comparison to other rums.