I’ve long made the assertion that DonQ is my favorite light rum, and has been so since I had a taste of it in its native Puerto Rico, back in 2008. From that point forward, whenever I spent time in Puerto Rico, I would make sure there was consistently a bottle of DonQ Cristal in my freezer.
Recently, I had the good fortune of obtaining a bottle of BlackBeard Spiced Rum, DonQ’s spicy cousin, produced by Distileria Serralles. Not readily available throughout the United States yet, it is quite an honor to preview the newest product from the Island distillery. At Culture of Spirits, we took care to isolate ourselves from other available reviews, so as not to give ourselves preconceptions about BlackBeard, and to maintain as objective a tasting process as we could. This is something that we try to do with all products that we review, in order to provide an honest, untainted opinion.
Upon opening the bottle, the scent of vanilla is the first noticeable feature. It takes a moment to get notes of anything else, but when the rum does finally come through, it’s business as usual in the olfactory department. Allowing the open bottle to breathe for a few seconds brings more of the rum scent to the surface, but it remains infused with vanilla. Unlike other rums which can have an over-powering smell out of the bottle, whether they be silver, gold, or spiced, BlackBeard maintains a smooth, almost fragrant scent that belies it’s 86 proof content.
On first taste, my immediate thought was that I was, in fact, drinking rum. This was a pleasant thing to note, as the light, aromatic bouquet left me with some concern that there would be such a strong presence of spicing ingredients in the rum that it would mask the natural flavor, rather than complement it. This did not prove to be the case, and the actual flavor of the rum is mild, with a hint of vanilla. There are subtle notes of other, less identifiable spices, that further complement the rum’s overall flavor.
As spiced rums are not generally meant to be drank neat, and we were shut in by adverse weather conditions when the reviewing process went on, it was decided that we would use available ingredients to mix together cocktails that would show off the qualities of BlackBeard, and bring to light any flaws in the product. The first cocktail we tried was a simple Cuba Libre; BlackBeard, cola, and lime. The taste took a little getting used to, as we at Culture of Spirits are accustomed to using a silver rum when mixing with cola, but it ended up being a mostly positive experience. The vanilla flourished in that mixture, and the overwhelming consensus was that the BlackBeard Cuba Libre tastes an awful lot like Vanilla Coke. While pleasant in small doses, it was a little too sweet of a combination to drink more than one glass.
The next drink we mixed was BlackBeard and eggnog, which was a revelation. Normally, I’m not a fan of eggnog at all, but we had an excessive amount of eggs in the kitchen, so we decided to whip it up rather than risk life and limb outside, with ice covered roads, to go to the store for more ingredients. A four part to one mixture of eggnog and BlackBeard made the tasting a success. Oddly, despite the ludicrous amounts of sugar in eggnog, the libation didn’t seem nearly as sickly sweet as the Cuba Libre did, and the spicy undertones of the rum set the drink up as a fantastic creation for the evening. The taste of the rum itself was barely evident, but the vanilla and other spices went hand in hand with the eggnog flavor, and ended up being worthy of multiple refills across the board.
All in all, BlackBeard is an excellent mixing agent when used properly. The sweetness that all spiced rums carry with them can be a detriment in certain cocktails to those who aren’t big fans of sugar, but a smart mixologist can get around this with clever combinations, and the weekend bartender can always find a suitable recipe that will fit his or her needs. When you see BlackBeard on the shelf, I highly recommend it to take a spot in your bar as your spiced rum selection.
The genesis of the blind beer tasting was a simple force of circumstance. One evening, restless and trapped at the house due to adverse weather conditions, the decision was made to walk to the local convenience store for beer. In the absence of a decent beer selection, an idea was born: to have a blind beer tasting of cheap domestic lagers and find out once and for all which was the best and which was the worst. The tasting was hasty and ill conceived, however. And more importantly, one of the judges had already gone to bed by the time it got started. Still, it yielded some interesting results. So one year later the decision was made to repeat the tasting, but to do it right this time. Hence, the Blind Bad Beer Tasting of 2010 was born–bigger, badder, blinder and much better (and yet so much worse) than before.
One of the finest and most exclusive patios in downtown Asheville has always been at 130 College Street. A large, brick-floored area with a sweeping view of nearby Town Mountain, the patio is surrounded by wrought iron fencing, which helps maintain a feeling of exclusivity and security for its patrons. This patio alone has been a staple for summer bar-hoppers for a number of years already, since the Joli Rouge, a pirate-themed private club with alternative looks and an exotic draw, had occupied the location previously. Though the building had remained vacant for the better part of three years since Joli Rouge closed, the property’s new owners have decided to save that great patio for last; after all, the buzz they’re generating has more to do with what’s kept inside.
The new Asheville Arcade at 130 College Street, according to owners Josh Aaron and Leonard Poe, was built on a simple premise: they wanted “a cool place that people would want to go to.” Combining vintage arcade consoles and a bar area outfitted original NES game systems, the Arcade has quickly launched itself as one of the most popular spots in town, despite having only been in business since New Year’s Eve. Promoting their operation with Facebook, Twitter and good old-fashioned word of mouth, a loyal group of followers had already begun to emerge prior to their grand opening. Poe and Aaron, along with bar manager James Browne, were stammered when a line had formed by early evening on December 31; the building remained at-capacity for the rest of the night as the trio brought in the New Year with their new friends.
Bison Brewing Company, based in Berkeley, California, is an up-and-coming microbrewery known for brewing their entire line of beers organically. Unlike many brewing companies I have seen that produce one or two organic beers, Bison’s small staff believes in supplying the world with a sustainable product that supports small farmers and produces good quality beer at very high standards.
I had learned about Bison Brewing on a whim, purchasing my first Bison product based on its marketing appeal. I was at my local Earthfare grocery store last year, searching for a new and interesting beer to tickle the palate. The time of year was mid-December, and like many drinkers of fine alcoholic beverages, I prefer something dark, thick and malty to assuage the frosty winds of winter. Bison had created an offering called the Chocolate Stout that piqued my interest. There is nothing like a good heavy stout with bold chocolate and coffee characteristics to accompany its smooth velveteen mouthfeel and creamy head of foam. Thus, I made my way to the checkout with high expectations and a feeling of accomplishment, based solely on Bison’s marketing and appeal at the outset. This beautifully crafted and award-winning brew would soon become one of my favorite stouts.
This year around Christmas time, my girlfriend and I were in the exact same place, and with a very similar mission: to discover a beer that was new and creative, and a beer we could enjoy in the dark winter months. I espied a small four pack of beer sitting right next to Bison’s Chocolate Stout in a silver package emblazoned with gingerbread men and cinnamon sticks. Much like many other brewing companies, Bison Brewing’s seasonal brew utilized holiday themes in their marketing scheme, evoking warm Christmas spirits with their Gingerbread Ale. My fair lady is an adventurous drinker, willing to try most beers at least once. But, considering that my choice of beer was between a beer with gingerbread men on the package and another stout emblazoned with a portrait of Rasputin, the choice became clear given the circumstances (and besides, who would turn down a Christmas-y beer during Yuletide?).
We at Culture of Spirits brought in the New Year in a variety of different ways, with Micah up in a remote mountain village, and myself spending a quiet night alone, lost in thought and a bottle of rum. Despite my love of Champagne, my drink of choice was the Cuba Libre, which was actually quite appropriate, because I spent a bit of time earlier in the day playing the latest Call of Duty video game, which allowed me to take part in the Bay of Pigs invasion. I started my evening at around 8pm, and finished it at 5am, when sleep finally overtook me. There are many things to be reflective about for 2010, from the alcohol world to every other facet. My own personal reflections, without getting too personal, are usually worth jotting down, or at the very least remembering them, as they transpire throughout the year. Of course, some things are taken for granted when they happen, and their significance does not become evident until a later time. When that occurs, one can only hope that all the memories are correct, and haven’t gone fuzzy. From growing a new business, to camping under the stars, 2010 was full of adventures, people, places, and things. Read the rest of this entry »
Winter is an interesting time of year, encompassing heart-warming holidays and the dark and strange days of February. Here in my home of the mountains of Western North Carolina, the past few years have seen an influx of snowstorms. As a “young’un”, I don’t remember that much snow, other than a blizzard in 1993 that dumped around six feet on my sleepy community. Though many hate winter, others just love it. Personally, for me the season evokes feelings that I cherish with a warm heart and busy mind, as some of my favorite activities burst forth from the hibernation of summer. If you can’t tell already, I happen to be one who loves winter.
Winter means wood-fueled fires, early mornings in the woods watching the sun come up and catching up on reading. But with winter also comes a change in my tastes so far as food and drink are concerned. When I am asked if I would like a salad on the side, I might choose soup instead. The same goes for my beer. No more Pabst Blue Ribbon, no more light refreshing beers. I want something dark, warm and filling. Therefore, my beers of choice to knock off the chill are porters and stouts. This is not surprising; in fact, it’s a pretty typical habit for many beer enthusiasts.
Traditionally, beers are directly marketed for a particular season or time of year. I have found that “winter beers” are usually among my least favorite varieties of a fine beverage. Thus, the thought of a winter lager sounded a lot like that side salad. “I’m sure it’s nice,” I thought, but I figured I’d rather pass… until a particular winter lager produced by Sam Adams may have changed my mind.
The bludgeoning She-Beast herself, Carrie A. Nation. Poster child of the Temperance Movement and Anti-Saloon League.
The biggest argument against public drinking is that it leads to mayhem, violence, and eventually death. It is upon this idea that almost every state in America has laws against open containers of alcohol in public. There are eight states that do not have open container laws, but within those states, there are only a few select communities that have not passed local ordinances that prohibit public drinking. The historic district of Savannah, Georgia is one of them, as well as Butte, Montana; the Las Vegas Strip; Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee; The Power and Light District in Kansas City, Missouri, and New Orleans.
In a sort of mind numbing paradox, there are several states (Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky, Connecticut, Delaware) that allow open containers of alcohol to be in a moving motor vehicle, but do not allow open containers in public. Furthering the incredulous nature of this paradox, Mississippi even allows drivers to drink while operating their vehicle, as long as they remain below the legal limit of .08 BAC. Despite allowing people to drink while driving, it is illegal to drink on a sidewalk in Mississippi, and despite allowing open containers of alcohol in a moving vehicle, the other states also prohibit it.
The laws don’t make much sense, but then again, they oftentimes don’t. Take these gems for example: Up until 2004, it was illegal in North Carolina to practice palmistry or fortune telling unless in a school or church; It is illegal in Virginia to engage in pre-marital sex, under a law titled “Fornication”; in Tennessee carrying skunks into the state is outlawed, and in New Jersey it is illegal to wear a bulletproof vest while committing murder.
Last year, fellow Culture of Spirits writer Micah A. Hanks wrote an articleabout Japanese brewing company Sapporo’s efforts to produce beer from space-grown ingredients. The rising popularity of the notion of future space tourism will indicate, for some, the next gold mine in fields that are wishing to prosper… beer should be included among these, also. After all, who would want to take a trip to space without the ability to enjoy a cold one along the way?
Space.comreported Monday that the Australian non-profit space organization Astronauts4Hire will perform a series of tests on a beer developed and brewed by Sydney’s 4 Pines Brewing and Saber Astronautics Australia. The goal of the research is to test the sustainability and drinkability of the beer in space, and the tests being done by Astronauts4Hire will include taste tests as well as the physiological affects that come from drinking it in a zero-gravity environment.
In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell’s proposition to raise funds for road improvement by privatizing liquor sales has been met with sharp criticism from state lawmakers. In the wake of the controversial measure, some legislators have argued that privatizing the sale of alcoholic beverages will, in the long run, only cost Virginia hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue. Though privatization may afford independent liquor store owners new flexibility in the products they choose to acquire and sell, new regulations paired with the privatization effort may do little to boost the alcohol economy, as well.
McDonnell and his staff, on the other hand, claim that 94 percent of all the revenue being brought in at present will remain. In order to achieve this, an excise tax of $17.50 per gallon has been proposed, which will be levied on the wholesale of distilled spirits to raise what administration officials say will amount to $175.7 million annually. Another alternative will involve a “convenience fee” which retailers can opt to pay, which will constitute 2.5 percent of on-premise sales instead. If retailers opt for the 2.5 percent increase, officials say the resulting annual revenue gains could amount to $19.4 million per year.
Back towards the end of March, the 10th annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition took place in (of course) San Francisco, California. 30 experts from around the United States judged 1024 spirits from 57 different countries, before casting their votes to find the best in the world. The winner of the Gin category was no real surprise, with Beefeater pulling the Best Gin award, and the winners of Rum and Tequila coming from the right parts of the world, as well as Bourbon and Scotch. However, the biggest surprise of the event was Chase Vodka, out of Herefordshire, England, winning Best Vodka over their more traditional Russian, Swedish, Ukrainian, and Polish counter-parts. The small operation near the border of Wales in western England is owned by William Chase, who had the desire to create a potato vodka using the pre-dominantly agricultural and potato-based industries in Hereforedshire as the backbone of his operation. Growing his own potato crops allows him to cut down on production costs, as about 35 pounds of the spuds go into each 700ml bottle, which sells for £32.95 (about $48 USD).
The bulk of production lately has been pint bottles, with about a thousand of them a week being produced and a good portion of them going to rising markets in the United States. The gourmet brand has an overall production capacity of about 3,000 bottles per week, and according to Chase, will not be expanding their operations and risk lowering the quality of their product.
Right now, the product can mostly be found on the internet.
In other categories, the Best Rum award went to Vizcaya VXOP Solera Rum from the Dominican Republic, which is a dark/gold.
Best unaged Tequila award went to Trago Silver Tequila.
Bourbon went to Elijah Craig Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
Best Canadian Whisky went to Seagrams VO Canadian Whisky.
Best Irish Whiskey went to Bushmills 1608 Irish Whiskey Limited Edition.
Best Blended Scotch went to The Grand Bark Equinoxe Blended Scotch.
Best Single Malt Scotch went to Ardbeg Single Malt Scotch.
Best Cognac went to Comandon Cognac XO.
The best in show for liqueurs went to Grand Marnier’s 100th Anniversary Liqueur, which sells for $135 a bottle.
If you take a sip of any of these spirits, drop us a line and let us know what you think!