Rum Results

Remember when I noted last week that I was in Tampa to judge rum? Well, so I did, and along with several other judges, including friends old and new, we decided on the following medals and awards:

5th Annual Polished Palate International Rum Competition Results:

(Bold denotes Best of Category.  Note: Not all categories received a Best of Category award in 2010):

White Rum


Don Q Cristal/Puerto Rico

Diplomatico Blanco/Dominican Republic


Siesta Key Rum/Florida

Ron Barcelo Gran Platinum/Dominican Republic


Carta Viejo Claro/Panama

Koloa White Hawaiian Rum/Hawaii

Gold Rum


Bacardi Gold/Puerto Rico

Koloa Gold Hawaiian Rum/Hawaii


Don Q Gold/Puerto Rico

Old Lahaina Premium Gold Hawaiian Rum/Hawaii

Dark Rum


Khukri Rum (Nepal)

One Barrel Rum/Belize


Koloa Dark Hawaiian Rum/Hawaii

Carta Vieja Anejo/Panama


Old Lahaina Premium Dark Rum/Hawaii

Rum Aged Up To 8 Years


Ron Abuelo 7 Anos/Panama

Bacardi 8/Puerto Rico

Ron Abuelo Anejo/Panama

Ron Medellin 8 Year Old/Colombia


Ron Barcelo Imperial/Dominican Republic

Plantation Barbados 5 Year Grande Reserve/Barbados

Ron Medellin 3 Year Old/Colombia

Ron Viejo de Caldas 3 Year Old/Colombia

Ron Viejo de Caldas Grand Reserve/Colombia


Don Q Anejo/Puerto Rico

Ron Carupano Oro Reserva Especial/Venezuela

Rum Aged 9-15 Years


Ron Abuelo 12 Anos/Panama

Don Q Grand Anejo/Puerto Rico

Ron Carupano Solera Centenaria Reserva Limitada/Venezuela


Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva/Venezuela

Plantation 20th Anniversary/Barbados

Vizcaya VXOP Cask 21 Cuban Style Rum/Dominican Republic

Rum Aged 15+ Years


Zafra Master Reserve 21 Rum/Panama  BEST IN SHOW

Ron Anejo Carupano Legendario/Venezuela


Bacardi Reserva Limitada/Puerto Rico

Ron Millonario Solera 15 Reserva Especial/Peru

Flavored Rum


Don Q Coco/Puerto Rico

Don Q Limon/Puerto Rico


Aguardiente Antioqueno Sin Azucar/Colombia

On a personal note, I’d like to add my own accolades to two rums that I thought terrific, but out-of-character for the category in which they were judged. Both Carta Viejo Claro, from the white rum class, and One Barrel Rum, from the darks, would have arguably performed better had they been listed with the gold rums instead. In particular, I thought the One Barrel from Belize had outstanding complexity and balance, but was too light in both character and colour for the dark rum category.

We Interrupt This Trip for the Following Observations

  • Sink the Bismark.” Oy! Will these boys never stop? Next up, almost for certain: 42%+ from Schorschbräu.
  • I like the new Ranger IPA from New Belgium. Not unconditionally, but in a surprised, “hey! this is from New Belgium?” kind of way. And I like this video, in an admittedly cheesy, lowbrow, white-guys-rapping kind of way. Jeff Alworth does not.
  • And speaking of Mr. Alworth’s observations and opinions, “a little brand-forward for my tastes”? As if craft brewers should be above marketing their beers? C’mon, Jeff, it’s a mature market out there and surviving means selling.
  • Those who are regularly asking me about craft distilling and how to learn it should check out the American Distilling Institute’s 7th Whiskey & Moonshine Distilling Conference at Huber’s Starlight Distillery in Borden, Indiana, from May 2 – 5, 2010.
  • I’m not in the habit of giving gratuitous ink to upcoming events, but this cheese and beer dinner in West Chester, Pennsylvania, looks too good and too good a value to pass up. If you’re in or planning to be in the area, and you’re not lactose intolerant, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

More Looking Back: Non-Beer Discoveries

In addition to beer finds, I’m also constantly on the look-out for new and interesting flavours in other gastronomic realms, as well. Liquid or solid, raw or cooked, fermented or distilled; I’m not all that picky, I just like good things.

In this regard, my Non-Beer Discovery of the Year has to be…

Forgotten Casks Cognac!

I discovered these gems while preparing the cognac edition of my “Accidental Connoisseur” column for Beer Connoisseur magazine, and I was blown away from the first sniff. Never have I encountered such depth and complexity within a family of brandies as what I found in these four babies, Vats 48, 49, 54 and 91001.

As I understand it, each of these is a blend based upon some very old cognacs discovered behind a false wall at Chateau Paulet, combined with some newer distillates. They are very limited in their availability and likely quite expensive – I was supplied all-too-tiny sample bottles by the importer, Preiss Imports – but if ever there was a reason to splurge, any one of these is most certainly it!

Three Books: Booze, Beer and Norm!

I have in my possession a trio of recently issued books that may be of interest to readers. However, for varying reasons, I cannot alot to each a full-on review, so I’ll hope you’ll instead settle for the capsule comments below. Don’t forget that Christmas is just around the corner!

  • Drinking with George

What: A rather sparse hardcover filled with the beery reminiscences of George Wendt, who famously played Norm Peterson on the sitcom Cheers.

First Impressions: There is probably about a hundred pages of text here, spread by wide line spacing and the generous employment of lists and sidebars to over 225 pages.

Second Impressions: Wendt’s anecdotes are vaguely amusing, his beer-based insights rather spurious.

Why the Capsule Review: If the author won’t put more effort into writing it, I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend a bunch of time reviewing it.

Who You Might Give It To: Casual acquaintance, host/hostess gift.


  • World’s Best Beers

What: An illustrated, around-the-globe guide to what British author Ben McFarland thinks are the finest ales and lagers in the world.

First Impressions: The U.K. cover and subtitle – “1000 Unmissable Brews from Portland to Prague” instead of “One Thousand Craft Brews from Cask to Glass” – are much better than the North American versions.

Second Impressions: A great book for absorbing in snippets, a listing of the “World’s Top Ten Designer beers” here, a survey of the beers of Israel, Lebanon & Palestine there.

Why the Capsule Review: I contributed the Canadian content plus a few essays to the book, so even though I have been paid in full and won’t make a cent more from any sales, it could be said that I have a conflict of interest in supporting this book.

Who You Might Give It To: Beer Advocate/Ratebeerian (just to get the arguments started), beer novice with a healthy curiosity.


  • The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits

What: A condensed guide to distilling and more expansive overview of the world of craft-distilled spirits, edited by Bill Owens and Alan Dikty.

First Impressions: More than a “how to” book for would-be distillers, as the title might be taken to imply, this is a 176 page profile of the new world of small scale, artisanal distilling.

Second Impressions: My first impressions were right, although that is in no way to belie its usefulness. There is much of interest and use within the pages of this book, not the least of which is the International Directory of Distillers that closes it.

Why the Capsule Review: I haven’t yet finished reading it, frankly, but wanted to get something useful posted while the release is still fresh.

Who You Might Give It To: Anyone who drinks any spirit straight up, ever.

I’m Back!

My week’s worth of “radio silence” was the result of a relocation of home and office last Thursday, a disruption now thankfully ended. Or at least, more or less so, my office and a few other aspects of our condo being still very much works in progress, albeit manageable ones.

I mention the above purely as an excuse for not having posted for a while and not because I think that you, dear reader, should care one iota where I live or how messy my office is. Still, what the move did bring about was cause for celebration, and you may well wonder with which beverages I did celebrate?

And the answer to that query is threefold. To mark the end of the moving day and the assembly of bed and desk, I trotted out a bottle of Avery duganA IPA, about which I can’t tell you much because I have said beer only to fulfill my duties as part of All About Beer’s “Beer Talk” panel, and it would be unseemly to spill the beans before the issue of the magazine containing the review hits the newsstands. It was certainly the hop blast I was craving, though, and very much appreciated.

The organization of our living room my wife and I toasted with glasses of Vineland Estates 2007 Brut Reserve, a sparkling wine from Ontario’s Niagara region that even the Champagne-o-phile lady in my life can appreciate. And finally, when the main organizational work of the day was done, I kicked back with a martini made of my latest gin obsession, Sipsmith London Dry Gin from London, England. Wonderfully spicy and aromatic, and a prefect blend with a 5:1 ratio of vermouth, this is a bottle I will dearly miss when it empties, as at present it is only available in the U.K.

Craft Brewing and Craft Distilling in Near-Perfect Harmony

I know the reason I’m here in Denver is the Great American Beer Festival, but bear with me here. Because my first stop yesterday had something to do with beer, but more to do with whiskey.

Together with Lynn Davis, publisher of the new and forthcoming Beer Connoisseur magazine, I went for a visit of the new Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey distillery, where distiller Jake Norris was kind enough to show us around the company’s new digs, on his birthday, even. And it was an impressive your indeed.

Suffice to say, they won’t be needing to move again any time soon, since the building that now houses the distillery covers a city block and a rambling 60,000 square feet. And for the first time since Stranahan’s was originally distilled way back in January of 2004, they are now making their wash on site.

What this effectively means is that Norris is in charge of both a brewery and a distillery, in that the wash production takes place on a small brewery set-up and involves a complex grain bill. (For those of you unfamiliar with whiskey or whisky distilling, what goes into the still is essentially an unhopped beer, usually made from at least 51% corn in the US.) I offered the generalized characterization of the “beer” that Norris is making as an unhopped Scotch ale and he was comfortable with that, but the important thing to note is that this is a 100% barley malt wash made from multiple malts.

The wash is then distilled to first 100 proof and then 140 proof, before entering the new charred American oak barrels at 110 proof. If you’re a whisky fan, you’re probably making the connection of Scottish and American practices by now, and this is what makes Stranahan’s unique. Also quite tasty.

Norris has been playing about with some wine barrel finishes – called the Snowflake Series – but he admits that he’s just a bit irritated by the disproportionate attention they receive, since what he’s really about is the basic product. (Which, by the way, is blended in batches from whiskeys between 2 and 5 years old.) And rightly so, because Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is a singular spirit, and one I think is deserving of as much attention as it can receive.

Check it out if you can. And if you can’t, come to Denver some time and take the tour yourself. Just not on the distiller’s birthday…

Tasting Last Week – Part 2

The second part of my great non-beer tasting week came courtesy of Sandy MacFadyen of Toronto’s leading tequila bar, Reposado, and Miguel Puga-Langle of the import firm Intercambi. My having missed the mezcal-promoting reception the previous Sunday, the pair generously invited me to a quieter tasting on Thursday.

I sampled six every different mezcals in total, plus one tequila, and having never done so before, it was a tremendous experience. I’ve tried several excellent mezcals in the past – like the extraordinary Del Maguey Tobalá – so I knew that this oft misunderstood spirit can be far superior to the stuff with the “worm” in the bottle, but the opportunity to taste this number of mezcals from different regions and distilled from different varieties of agave was an eye-opener.

In aroma alone, the six mezcals varied about as widely as I could imagine, with Maria Agave Karwinski – distilled from wild agaves and therefore very rare, Miguel told me – sporting a fragrant, orange blossom nose and the same company’s Triple Distillation Mezcal offering a very smoky scent that was more like soot than fire. Of the latter mezcal, Miguel said a friend of his commented that the aroma reminded him of the smell of a Mexican village, which rang true to me, too.

In contrast to the florals and smoke of the Marias, the Murcielago Organic Mezcal has a sweet and fruity nose, with notes of fresh papaya, white pepper and a hint of petrol. This translates into a fresh and vibrant flavour, with gentle sweetness, receding fruit and a compelling herbaceousness, ending with a note of something almost approaching mintiness.

More fruit was found in the Raicilla El Real Oro, a Puerto Vallarta-area spirit for which the makers are apparently seeking their own appellation (“raicilla” rather than mezcal). Its nose is peachy rather than papaya-like, with a faint note of fennel lurking in the background and a soft, round and caramelly body.

I had a feeling that the small, mysterious-looking bottle Miguel was saving for the finish would be something special and I wasn’t disappointed. Mistique Chromium Añejo is a fascinating spirit, with vanilla, almond, a faint smokiness and citrus peel on the nose and a sweetish, apricot pit-accented start. In the middle, the sweetness recedes while the smoke grows a bit, bringing it all to a spicy, vanilla-edged finish. In this, I recognized, I was tasting a dessert mezcal, a thought Miguel confirmed by offering alongside my glass a seed-square dessert – looking like a Rice Crispy Square made of sesame seeds – drizzled with a sweet syrup. The combination was compelling and delicious, and capped off the tasting very nicely.

Catching Up – What I Drank Last Labour Day Weekend

Now that my computer is at least somewhat behaving itself, it’s time to catch up on a bunch of posts, beginning with what was a rather remarkable long weekend for the enjoyment of fine beverages. Some highlights:

1)      A roughly four year old bottle of Cantillon Gueuze enjoyed before dinner on Friday night was an adequate, no, a tremendous reminder of just how great this beer really is. In the face of all the special releases the brewery has offered in recent years, I sometimes lose site of that.

2)      The Kellerbier from Molson-owned Creemore Springs Brewing might be pretty damn fine in the can, but it’s even better on tap, as I rediscovered at The Harbord House. If you’re listening, decision-makers at Creemore, this is something that deserves more than a one-shot release.

3)      While in London for the GBBF, I found time to drop by the Sipsmith Distillery and try their vodka and gin, and bring home a bottle of the latter. I cracked its seal on Sunday and made a fairly dry and positively delicious martini. Straight up, with about a half ounce of vermouth to two ounces of gin – far drier than I’ve been making my martinis of late, and without the drop of orange bitters I’ve come to favour – it expressed a beautiful mix of softly perfumey citrus blossom, spice including cinnamon and licorice, and a steadily growing but never overwhelming juniper.

4)      Before dinner on Saturday, we dropped by Toronto’s cocktailing nirvana, Barchef, and allowed genius mixologist Frankie Solarik to have his way with us. One of three wonderful concoctions he surprised us with involved saffron-infused bourbon and Islay whisky, and oh man, was it ever extraordinary! Best of all, it will soon be appearing on the bar’s fall cocktail menu.

Back to the World of Gin

I know, I know, I mentioned some time ago that I would be delving into the big, wonderful world of gin this summer, and I haven’t yet. Partly this is due to my August computer woes, from which I am only now recovering, and partly it’s because of work and travel. But I aim to fix my omission over the next week or so.

Starting with an announcement about a worthy piece of gin research, or at least something I presume to be worthy because although I have not yet read it, I do know the author. Gaz Regan, the reprobate formerly known as Gary Regan, has finally self-published his long-awaited tome, The Bartender’s Gin Compendium, and it’s available for purchase over here.

I’ll be getting my own copy in due course and will let you know further what I think, but if I know Gaz like I think I know Gaz, it’s going to be a tremendous asset to the professional bartender and amateur ginologist alike. The man knows his gin, is at least acquainted with pretty much every skilled mixologist in the western world, can turn a lovely phrase when he wants to and is not above having a gin-based cocktail at almost any time of day. Honestly, I can’t think of any better credentials for the author of such a book, so go on, get yourself a copy..

More on gin tomorrow, I promise.

Blogging at World of Gin

I’m way overdue for this, probably because it’s been such a crap summer here in southern Ontario and I haven’t yet experience the kind of heat and sun that makes me reach for the ice bucket and a bottle of good gin. But a post by Jack Robertiello over at his Drinks Ink blog, combined with the arrival of a lovely box of artisanal tonic waters from KegWorks, was enough to remind me that this was supposed to be my self-declared Summer of Gin, and I’d better damn well get on with it.

Hey, man does not live by beer alone. At least, not this man.

I’ve been assembling quite the assortment of gins in my liquor cabinet of late. There’s the new Beefeater 24, Tanqueray Rangpur, my go-to Plymouth, both Martin Miller’s – the regular plus the stronger Westbourne – some G’Vine and I think even a little of the Rogue Spruce stuff kicking around the back. Plus, a little over a week from now, I’ll be paying a visit to the new Sipsmith Distillery in Hammersmith, London, to sample their London Dry Gin. And then there are those tonics I’m itching to pair off against one another.

Long story short, stay tuned for several upcoming posts about gin instead of beer. (Don’t worry, gin-o-phobes, there will still be plenty of beer in the mix. Hell, I’m going to London primarily for the Great British Beer Festival, so chances are high I’ll be posting more than a bit about what I find there.) And while I’m always willing to pick up a bottle on my own, if there are any spirits company reps reading this who are interested in having their gin included in the mix, by all means drop me a line and we’ll see what we can arrange.