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.
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?).
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.
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.
Tequila aficionados are no longer the only ones lauding the present over-abundance of Agave, a plant used in the distillation of the Southwestern liquor famously used in Margaritas (and hangovers). Now, the Agave plant has also been associated with beneficial prebiotic bacteria, according to a new study.
Researchers with Reading University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico suggest in the study that Agave displays prebiotic activity, as observed in samples of inulin extracted from the plant. The beneficial bacteria present in the samples, according to experts, may provide both a useful and cost-effective alternative to chicory inulin, which presently dominates the market. However, Inulin extracted from Agave tequilana managed to similarly boost levels of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, two bacteria that are commonly used in commercial inulins, as well as a host of other components.
Two evenings ago, Micah Hanks and myself were spending the evening interviewing brewers, and tasting beer. The following morning, there were 6 inches of snow on the ground. While we had seen the forecast that called for several inches of snow, we figured that, like usual with mountain weather reports, it was grossly over-exaggerated. Little did we know, we would receive what would become known within hours as the worst winter storm of the decade in this part of the country, and we would receive some 11 to 17 inches of snow in Asheville, within a 20 hour period.
As the afternoon went by at my house, one tree came crashing down in the backyard, missing the house by no more than 4 or 5 feet.
This led to a frantic next couple hours, with my roommate and I doing our best to knock snow off the lower branches of trees, trying to keep them from snapping and causing potential damage to the house. These frantic efforts relieved the stress on the trees and they rose back up to the sky, with hundreds of pounds of snow dropping to the ground, down our sleeves, and down the open collars of our coats. But fortunately, our power stayed on, even though thousands around the city were already flickering out.
We stayed inside, ate ham sandwiches and drank some beer, until 11:15pm. Right after the basketball game we were watching ended, the power finally flickered once and died, for the rest of the night. After gathering all the flashlights together, lighting some well placed candles, and watching the eerie scene out the window, of a bright snowscape that breathed beauty.
At around midnight, we finally decided that since we weren’t going to be going to sleep that early, we might as well make some cocktails. So we did it in the style of Culture of Spirits, with cutting boards, oranges, limes, lemons, tequila, bourbon, and vodka.
It’s not the dreary outlook of a troubled writer, the ridiculous quote of restaurants and bars around America, or the daily routine of persons with questionable character. Beer in the breakfast hours has become a stark reality in the modern American world, and one that isn’t quite as easy to dismiss as alcoholic behavior as some of the older generation would like. In some sports circles, the Art of Tailgating has an almost religious fervor associated with it, and the proper rituals quite usually consist of grilling a variety of delicious staples, merriment, revelry, predicting how the game is going to unfold, and… beer. Lots, and lots of beer. I had always seen this on television, heard about it from associates, but never seen it first hand, until I began spending time in Clemson, South Carolina. Clemson is an agricultural university, and one of the best in the country, however most sports fans and even most Clemson students I’ve spoken with, proudly declare that Clemson is a football school first and foremost. Whether or not they were being facetious is of no concern to me, as the purpose of this writing is to demonstrate the love of beer in the morning.
Halloween and the days preceding it is the busiest time of year for me, and as such, my energy was sapped to the point that I actually developed a mild cold and then a less-mild fever, in rapid succession. The weather was awful, I was outside for most of it, and eventually it wore me out so much that I felt like just crawling up in a ball under my covers on my luxuriously soft bed, and simply hiding away from the world for a couple of days. That is precisely what I did, and after getting a little bit of video game time in on my Xbox 360, I recuperated fully and I am now back to swinging for the fences, so to speak. Here’s what’s on my mind today, as I allow it to become re-immersed in the sophisticated culture that we value so highly.
Around this time each year, I begin to see an awful lot of Halloween-themed drinks (many of them are quite silly, and just down-right fun). Among these I always tend to see a lot of variations on the Bloody Mary, since its name alone tends to evoke a slightly creepy tinge of murder and despair, in addition to conjuring images of ghosts that appear in mirrors. However, there is one not-so-popular variation worthy of mention that, if anything, is as delicious and wholesome as a regular BM, and yet has that slightly seasick vibe you want for an ideal Halloween “shocker.”
The general idea here is to use green tomatoes in your Mary instead of your average tomato juice, resulting in what I would affectionately call a “Mary’s Green Goblin.” As much as I’d love to be able to claim first rights to creation of this cocktail, people have probably been doing various renditions of the Bloody Mary with pre-ripened tomatoes for as long as green tomatoes have been fried and served with relish (mmm mmm)! One particularly delicious looking recipe I’ve found at the Viceroy’s Sizzling Cameo Bar in Santa Monica calls for Absolut Vodka, Green Tomatoes (pureed), Cucumber, Tomatillos, Garlic, Cilantro, Parsley, Green Onion, Jalapenos, Salt. No doubt, this blend of ingredients would bring your drink to life with such voracity that it may very well just wink at you after the first sip!