Another successful San Francisco Rum Festival and Congress is in the books. We had a great time at the Hibernia in downtown SF for this year’s event. Everything seemed just about the same as last year in terms of attendance and rum sponsors. So nice to meet many rum reps and to taste some new rums and expressions.
Having been doing the rum thing for several years now, I try to stick to things I haven’t tried before. So when I went to the El Dorado/Diamond table I unbelievably didn’t ask for a pour of cask strength Port Mourant but Diamond’s new Coconut rum. And I liked it! The Diamond line is a lower-priced product line and everything I’ve tried has been really great, including their two 151 expressions.
Barbancourt from Haiti has an interesting 110 proof white rum expression that I found interesting and had some bold and complex flavors. Same was true for the Monymusks’s forthcoming Overproof rum. This Jamaica rum is issued at 126 proof, but it quite a bit different from Wray/Rum Fire. Definitely a little lighter including Column-still distillate and a more subdued fruit-forward flavor. Worth checking out.
There were several good seminars. I really enjoyed the session from Johann Jobello covering the line of Haitian Clairins from La Maison & Velier. Clairins are wonderful and tasting these expressions side by side shows how diverse they can be – even when they’re just coming from the same country. The session from Monymusk led by blender Robert Gordon and supported by Adrienne Stoner was also quite informative. Based on rums coming from the Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries, Monymusk is relaunching their brand in the U.S. and seems poised for wider availability.
A session about estate-grown rums featured Zan Kong from Worthy Park and was paired with Steve Jefferson and Kyle Reutner from Hawaiian distilleries Kuleana and Kō Hana respectively. This was a little looser in style and more for a Q&A format with some cogent and respectful questions from the audience. Three of my favorite rums companies.
In addition to the Zanj rum tasting we talked about yesterday, there were also some special cocktails available at The Kon-Tiki in Oakland on Wednesday. As is the tradition, these were made with the rum from the brand doing the tasting.
I tried the Madame Mueze, named after the sugar cane varietal used in these rums. This one used the excellent unaged San Zanj rum for the base, along with Ayete Bitters, Benedictine, Lemon, and a delightful Lavender Honey Syrup. The honey really shined in this delicious tropical cocktail.
Cocktail specials like this are always a draw for regulars who are looking for something new, and the Kon-Tiki always does a great job with these.
All are produced with Creole Column Stills, so they’re a little lighter than some Haitian spirits and all are issued at 43% ABV. The aged rums are produced from a low yield varietal named Madame Mueze and aged in new French Oak and ex-Cognac barrels. There is no artificial coloring, flavoring, or added sugar.
San Zanj: this is an unaged expression that’s a mix of rum and clairin from three Haitian producers and tasted great. This is easy to sip and has a wonderful mix of traditional sugar-cane based clairin flavors but tempered a bit by molasses-based rum. Very similar to the Equiano I wrote about a few days ago and worth seeking out.
AK Zanj: this cane juice rum is aged between 3-5 years and is the entry-level aged product. It is intended to be a cocktail rum.
AK Zanj 8 year and 10 year: Both are quite nice sippers, with the 10 year being a little better. Some nice barrel notes and not much of the Clairin flavor you see in the unaged expression. Overall these two are so similar that it seems that one is pretty redundant.
AK Zanj 15 year: the spicy notes from this incredible expression were impressive to me and fairly unique and really worth exploring. There are savory notes with a finish that is dry and nutty. I really loved this.
Rum tastings like this can be invaluable to trying something new and learning about new styles of rum. At The Kon-Tiki these tastings can also be applied to your Expedition rum list as well.
Congrats to @coldbrew429 for completing the rum list at The Kon-Tiki. Mike says it took less than a year which is quite an achievement. As is the tradition, there was a special cocktail list tonight in Mike’s honor.
The Kon-Tiki was in fine form tonight and Mrs. Mai Tai and I decided Friday Eve was a perfect time for cocktails and the world famous Kon-Tiki Burger. Just outstanding, and a great eclectic mix of music that spanned Yacht Rock but also 1970s funk, David Bowie deep cuts, and even a little vintage Gary Human. When that vintage music is playing, there aren’t better places than The Kon-Tiki.
I also decided to start a new Expedition rum list. We’ll see how long it takes to complete 100 rums; I’m certainly not going to push too hard to complete it in less than a year like I did last time – but you never know. The Kon-Tiki has a pretty nice selection of rum, so there are plenty that I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting.
The rums tonight were good spirts to start the exploration; the Saint Benevolence Aged Rum Clairin that I raved about the other day was absolutely fabulous as a Mai Tai at Kon-Tiki. The Worthy Park Port Cask expression was less of a hit for me, and you could absolutely taste the port cask influence even in a Mai Tai. It muted the Worthy Park taste that I love, without adding something that elevated the spirt. I’m glad I tried it but probably won’t revisit.
Among the spirits distilled from sugar cane juice, I generally prefer the Clairins from Haiti. They contain vegetal notes similar to Rhum Agricole from Martinique but they often lean towards olive or brine notes and not grassy notes. Clairins are batch / pot distilled and have a heavy body.
I’ve been a staunch proponent of the Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin for several years, which is an unaged expression at 50 ABV that’s full bodied and delicious. But for the Mai Tai tonight I decided to use Saint Benevolence’s expression aged “for a minimum of one year” and pair it in equal parts with a standout aged Haitian rhum, Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale 8. Barbancourt is a rhum from sugar cane juice but distilled in a column still, so it’s considerably lighter than clairins typicaly are.
Barbancourt is Haiti’s most recognizable distillery and brand, and is widely available in major liquor stores, Total Wine, etc. Whereas Saint Benevolence is an American brand that imports the spirits. The aged expression isn’t as commonly available but you can still pick it up at places like Bitters & Bottles.
Using aged rums brings this cocktail closer to the Mai Tai’s aged rum origin, and boy do these two rums pair well together. The heavy body of the Saint Benevolence is a perfect match for the Barbancourt’s oaky notes. One of the best Mai Tais I’ve made at home in a while.
The Mai Tai is a standard 1944 recipe using these ingredients.
1 oz Lime Juice ½ oz Orgeat (Latitude 29) ¼ oz Demerara Syrup (Liber & Co.) ½ oz Orange Curacao (Clement Creole Shrubb) 1 oz Rhum Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale 8 1 oz Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin Aged in New American Oak Shake with crushed ice
There’s only so much surface area and height inside the few liquor cabinets I have stashed around the house. So bottles that are wide and short are less ideal than bottles with a small foot and that are taller. But bottles that are extra tall aren’t better, either.
So you know that the rums inside these bottle must be pretty special.
Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin from Haiti is one my favorites, so I always restock when a bottle is finished. Definitely a more savory taste than molasses-based rums from places like Jamaica or Barbados, but so far away from the overly grassy sugar cane juice-based agricole rhums from Martinique. Easy to sip but also great in cocktails. Makes a killer Mai Tai.
The El Dorado single still releases were something I tried at the San Francisco Rum Fest, and when Bitters & Bottles put them on sale I knew I had to buy one from the series. So, I splurged on the Port Mourant. More about this rum in a future post.
Had a great time in the city for this annual Rum Fest, this time being billed as the San Francisco Rum Fest now that there’s a companion new event in Los Angeles.
This is an event that’s mix of educational seminars, rum education, rum exploration, and social meetup. Having tasted more of these rums over the years, I lean more into the social side but there’s always some new brands or expressions to try. View the video of the layout.
I was impressed by the single-still releases from El Dorado: Enmore, Versailles, and Port Mourant. These are all aged 12 years and provided at cask strength. I was told these would retail at ~$90, in which case that would be a steal. I do see them offered online for ~$150 which seems to be more what I’d expect. In any case, these are flavor bombs that are so great. I was most impressed by the Versailles, with the Port Mourant being a close second.
Diamond Distilleries was also showing off a fruity and light white 151, aged six months. And a heavier dark 151 aged two years, somewhat more reminiscent of the famed LH151 but still quite lighter.
Rhum Barbancourt had a white expression I’d never tried before and liked. It’s a lighter style than the Haitian rum clairin from Saint Benevolence, which has an aged expression in the market and more things to come.
Copalli rum from Belize seems to be everywhere. I liked both the white and the barrel rested expressions. They were serving a great daiquiri riff by local bartender Maritza Rocha-Alvarez that was superb.
Rhum Saint James from Martinique seemed to be making a push to get better distribution and had a number of new and interesting expressions.
I spoke to the Hawaiian producers about their product, which will be covered in a deeper dive in a couple weeks.