We’re shaking up great cocktails for spring, featuring some of our favorite spirits and ingredients. Light and refreshing drinks like these are the perfect way to toast the official start of a new season. And you can save now when you pick up the spirits you’ll need for spring at Total Wine & More.
Every town has its favorites when it comes to cocktails. However, when we think spring our minds can’t help but go to a Margarita. This season, we love a twist on that classic cocktail: the Tequila-Berry Twist.
Pour tequila and strawberry liqueur into tall glass with ice. Stir. Add bitters, lime juice and club soda. Stir and garnish with lime slice.
The gimlet dates back to the 18th century, but it accrued true cultural cachet when it appeared in Raymond Chandler’s famous crime novel “The Long Goodbye.” This easy recipe calls for fresh lime juice plus sweetener, instead of the more conventional bottled lime juice, because hey – it’s spring.
It seems J.J. Abrams has caused a disturbance in the you know what. However, according to reviews and nearly universal fan approval, it’s all for the better. Like many of our customers, we’re heading out this weekend to watch the new movie and catch up with some of our favorite characters.
And we couldn’t think of a better way to commemorate such a momentous occasion than with cocktails that celebrate the entire series, even the ones that weren’t fan favorites.
We collaborated with mixologist and rebel leader Beautiful Booze to use the force and create an out-of-this-world set of inspired cocktails.
Paradise on a Desert Planet
Thanks to its two suns, we can’t imagine what summers were like for Luke on his home planet. That’s why we whipped up the cool and refreshing Paradise on a Desert Planet.
In a cocktail shaker, add ice, rum, condensed milk, lime juice and orange juice. Shake mixture forcefully*. Rim glass with graham crackers. Pour mixture into serving glass and make sure to make one for Luke.
*This cocktail needs to be shaken very hard to mix up the condensed milk
Yield: 1 serving
Whether you’re flying solo or meeting friends to listen to a great house band, the Cantina Cooler is the perfect choice to start your adventure off right.
In a metal shaker add vodka, cranberry juice, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake and strain mixture over crushed ice, then top with beer (we recommend a Helles Lager, but just about any lager will do).
Yield: 1 serving
If you enjoyed getting a taste of the galaxy, make sure to check back coming up for more recipes.
Editor’s Note: Happy National Punch Day! To celebrate, we’d like to journey down to Florida, to explore the creation of everyone’s favorite punch ingredient – rum!
Sitting on Florida’s Siesta Key beach in 2007 sipping El Dorado 12 Year Old rum, Troy Roberts decided to take his love for the beverage to a new level. He ordered his still and prepared for the opening of the first rum microdistillery in Florida, Drum Circle Distilling. Six years later, each of his three core rums have won prestigious awards including Gold at the Miami Rum Renaissance. We asked Troy where he learned the art of rum-making and his background with the spirit beyond drinking enjoyment. “The manufacturer showed us how to operate the equipment, but we learned how to make great rum by visiting other distilleries, reading lots of materials, but mostly through experimentation. There were lots of bad batches early on, but through trial and error, we’ve created rums that we are very proud of. And we think they speak for themselves.”
Drum Circle, named after a local weekly beach event, currently makes three rums as part of their Siesta Key brand: Silver, Gold and Spiced. Troy told us that his goal was always to make the best quality rums possible. “We start by selecting the highest grade of molasses. We use all real spices, no liquid flavorings. And we use honey instead of corn syrup. We know this will result in the best flavored rums on the market.” Troy further noted that quality products cost more but that it’s totally worth it. And it’s hard to deny the distillery’s success: tripled sales in Florida over last year and distribution to 13 other states through Total Wine’s Spirits Direct program. “We’ve already ordered another fermentation tank and my business partner Tom Clarke and I work well over 40 hours per week. Our distillery operates a lot!”
In addition to quality ingredients, Troy noted some other important factors necessary when making the best rums available. He first pointed to their still, custom made and affectionately known by the manufacturer’s name CARL. “CARL uses a lot of copper, which interacts with and removes harsh molecules from the vapor during the distillation process. The copper needs to be clean to be effective during this process. We meticulously rejuvenate the copper by regularly cleaning it with a citric acid wash.” In addition, the yeasts, the recipes, and the skill of the distiller all come together in the final products.
Drum Circle has been very busy trying to stay ahead of the curve and making enough rum. In addition to the Rum Renaissance and nationwide program with Total Wine & More, Drum Circle got some additional notoriety this year when their Spiced Rum was featured in the Dole Whip, a specialty drink made at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival this year. Other projects include perfecting a fourth rum. Troy said, “We are currently creating a Reserve version of our spiced rum, aging it in whiskey barrels. The aging process makes some spices more prominent while subduing others, so we tinkered with the final recipe. I originally made this rum for me, but I let others taste it and was finally convinced to make enough to sell. We are currently aging that now.” You could tell by the excitement in Troy’s voice that he loves this new rum.
Troy wrapped up our chat by saying, “This is a fun and challenging business. There is a lot of hard and physical work, but it’s a great feeling to create a quality product. I know we have something special here.”
Beat butter, sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg with a mixer on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute.
Combine 2 tablespoons spiced butter with 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) dark rum in each of 4 heatproof glasses. Pour 3/4 cup boiling water over each, and stir. Top each with a squeeze of fresh orange juice.
Ernest Hemingway famously said, “Write drunk; edit sober.” And who are we to argue with a legendary author known almost as much for drinking alcohol? To say Hemingway loved his cocktails would be a massive understatement. Being known for binge drinking is only the tip of things, too. Hemingway immortalized many cocktails in his books, spent time creating his own versions of several classics, and got behind many of his friends’ creations over his lifetime. But what exactly was Hemingway drinking to get to that state of mind? Author Philip Greene has made a substantial effort to compile all drink references from Hemingway’s books and written his own about the subject. To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion talks about the cocktails in Hemingway’s life. Let’s explore a few interesting ones.
As a regular at the El Floridita bar in Havana, Cuba in the early 1920s, Hemingway was rewarded for his patronage with a drink named after him. Bartender Constantino Ribalaigua created an upscale version of the Daiquiri known as the Hemingway Daiquiri (also known as the Papa Doble). This version included a recipe of white rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice and lime juice. Simple syrup is usually added though Hemingway was known to forgo the sweetness. He was also known to put more than a few away in a single visit!
Hemingway pours himself a drink
Hemingway also created a handful of cocktail recipes of his own. Take the classic Tom Collins, replace the soda with coconut water, and you have the drink the way Hemingway liked it. And again, he always skipped the sugar part of the drink. As a fan of anise-flavored spirits, Hemingway created Death in the Afternoon, named after one of his books. The cocktail recipe was published in 1935 with the following instructions: ”Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”
Hemingway, his fourth wife Mary, and Spencer Tracy partying in Havana, circa 1955
As noted, Hemingway was well known for making references to drinks he enjoyed in his books. The Jack Rose cocktail is an example made famous in his book The Sun Also Rises. Other favorite cocktails had connections to his friends — the Josie Russell, named after one of Hemingway’s friends from his Key West days. Josie was able to supply Hemingway with rum from Cuba during Prohibition and afterward opened one of his favorite hangouts called Sloppy Joe’s. While living in France, Hemingway’s friend named Gerald Murphy created the Bailey, which became a staple while living there. Hemingway enjoyed variations on the Cuba Libre and added Angostura bitters to the classic Gin and Tonic to liven it up. There are dozens of other cocktails consumed and written about: we found a great recap of many in this article.
Do yourself a favor and try some of these Hemingway classics … in moderation.
We’ve all heard this famous saying, but do you know where it originated?
In 1883 British writer Robert Louis Stevenson had just published his most famous book Treasure Island.
Although there were pirates and buried treasure in Barbados, there is no R.L. Stevenson Treasure Island connection to Barbados, as the book was most likely inspired by Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands.
A contemporary of R.L. Stevenson, Young E. Allison, was so impressed with the book he wrote an epic poem based on the book. The poem is called Derelict and it started with these lines:
“Yo, ho ho and a bottle of rum.
Drink and the devil had done for the rest.”
In 1901 the poem became a song in a Broadway musical, “Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest.”
How rum got its name is a matter of conjecture. Its origin has entered the realm of “legend and lore”. Some possible sources were (1) derivation from the Latin word saccharum (sugar), (2) a corruption of the term ‘rombustion’ meaning ‘a strong liquid’, (3) from the word ‘rumbullion’ which means “a great tempest” and (4) from the Spanish ‘ron’, because it is likely that the Spanish were distilling in the West Indies before the British arrived.
Close up of sugar cane stalks
So, what is rum exactly? Well, it’s a spirit chiefly produced in the warm climates of the Caribbean, Latin and South America where sugarcane is grown.
Rum is made by distilling fermented sugar and water. This sugar comes from the sugar cane and is fermented from cane juice, concentrated cane juice, or molasses. Molasses is the sweet, sticky residue that remains after sugar cane juice is boiled and the crystallized sugar is extracted. Rum does not require a malting process (turning starch into sugar) for fermentation as it already uses by-products of sugar.
Unlike some other spirits, notably whiskey, rum has no defined production methods other than the required use of sugar cane as the fermentable resource and a maximum distillation proof level. Instead, rum production is based on traditional practices that vary between locations and distillers.
One of the most important aspects of rum production for most serious rum lovers is the length of time each rum is aged for. This is probably one of the most interesting aspects of rum production and the one that least is known about.
As there are no consistent laws on how rum is aged throughout the world, rum is aged in various locations and for varying lengths of time. Rum can be found aging at sea level, thousands of feet up in the mountains and even underwater, thus creating wide varieties in styles and flavors. Rum can be bottled straight from the still with little or no aging, or can be aged up to thirty years or more in oak barrels. Rum is aged in the humid tropical islands of the Caribbean, in the cold climates of Northern Europe and even in the mountains of Nepal.
When rum is aged for long periods of time in an oak barrel it will slowly evaporate. This evaporation is often called the angel’s share. The evaporation rate can be as high as 10% a year in the tropical Caribbean, while it can be as little as 2% for Cognac or whiskey producers in colder climates. While the oak barrel allows the rum to breathe through the wood during the aging process, which in turn adds great flavor to the rum, this evaporation is costing the distiller large amounts of money in lost profit. Obviously the longer you age the rum, the more is lost to evaporation and so less rum is left to bottle.
If you’ve never tried an aged rum, we highly recommend checking out the fine rums from Foursquare distillery in Barbados.
Foursquare distillery is of the oldest remaining sugar plantations and rum distilleries on Barbados today. Taking its name from Square Pond in the area, the Foursquare distillery was completely renovated in 1996. It is also the only remaining Barbadian owned rum manufacturer in Barbados. Fermentation at Foursquare takes place in closed tanks where they recover carbon dioxide and sell it to carbonated beverage bottlers!
The flagship rum from R.L. Seale distillery in Barbados is a classic – their “Finest 10 year” which is aged in used bourbon barrels with additional maturation in Madeira casks of American oak and Brandy casks of French oak. These influences provide the spirit with a range of complex flavors and aromas, similar to a fine Cognac, and at a fantastic price.
This is a continuation of our interview with Rum Expert Robert Burr. Part 1 can be read here.
What types of events are part of the Rum Renaissance festival? With so many different options at the Grand Tasting finale, how would you recommend approaching so many rums? It can’t be possible to try them all, right?
As always, we have several hundred rums on display. There’s also lifestyle products, artists, apparel, travel, gourmet products, etc. No, you can’t try them all, but surprisingly, if you sample a very small amount of a rum, you’ll know right away if you like it. You could sample 50-60 small tastings in a day without getting tipsy. Of course, we’re drinking water and enjoying a good bite or two along the way.
When you arrive at the festival, first listen and learn. The exhibitors are extremely knowledgeable about their products, methods, styles and objectives. Look for rums that suit your purpose. Which will be your favorite great sipping rum? Which are perfect for making cocktails or punch with friends at your next get-together? Which are the full-flavored rums that you love to share with friends? What defines the styles of rum from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Venezuela, Jamaica, Guatemala? This is the best place to learn, discern, savor and demystify rum.
Would attending the Rum Renaissance be good for a beginner rum drinker? Are there seminars that show students key things to look for in a quality rum? If someone couldn’t make it, do you have a few approachable rums that you could recommend for rookies?
It’s the perfect place for beginners to start. Some of the seminars, such at Martin Cate’s “Tiki 101” will teach you all about delicious, tropical tiki drinks; how they were invented; how to make them for friends. This is fun. A beginner can’t find a better place to get a basic education. At every turn, experienced rum professionals are ready, willing and able to help you learn. Your friends will discover something amazing and insist you go right over there and try it. There is excitement and opportunity to learn. A beginner will leave the show with a new-found understanding of rum styles, categories, territories and blends.
Rum is not expensive, especially compared to Scotch, Bourbon, Cognac or Tequila. You can afford to experiment, to be adventurous, to discover for yourself which styles and expressions are best suited to your palate.
Are there any special surprises happening or guests appearing at this year’s festival that you can tell us about? A teaser?
There are always new products to discover. Big companies will reveal exciting new products. Small American companies will bring their rums to the show for the first time. Some rums that we love from the islands will finally make it to Miami. A host of rum’s finest presenters, lecturers and ambassadors will be sharing their knowledge and passion for rum. The VIP area offers a place to relax, enjoy hand-made premium cocktails and complimentary food.
As a world traveler, what are some of the most exotic destinations you’ve visited to drink rum? Are there distilleries buried in a jungle somewhere? Were there any unbelievable experiences during those visits you could share?
So many stories … so little time. From the far reaches of Guyana, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Jamaica, Guatemala, Panama or Peru to the well traveled paths of Barbados, Trinidad, St. Barth, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, St. Vincent, Martinique, St. Lucia or central Florida, each visit to a distillery or aging facility is a world-class experience. Some require helicopters to reach over rugged, often dangerous terrain. Some are quite secretive, rarely allowing a visit to see the operation in progress. Some are ready for tourists, with marvelous displays, museums and tours of their operations.
A little distillery in Grenada still uses a very large stream-fed water wheel to crush their cane, lighting a wooden fire under their pot still to evaporate the alcohol, then hand-filling each and every bottle. This is how they did it back in 1785 and nothing has really changed. Another traditional pot still facility in Jamaica produces rich and flavorful authentic style rums, as they have for centuries, now commanded and automated by a customized state-of-the-art touch-pad controller. The variations seem almost endless.
Finally, what are a few interesting rum facts that your everyday person probably doesn’t know?
Most people associate rum brands with distilleries. In many cases, a rum brand owns and controls their own distillery, such as Bacardi, Appleton, DonQ or Flor de Caña. But many brands and distilleries are separately owned and operated. For example, in Barbados, Mount Gay Rum is owned by Remy Cointreau, a large corporation based in Europe. Their rum is — and always has been — created by a small distillery in Barbados owned by the Ward family. Malibu coconut rum is a world-famous brand produced by West Indies Distillery in Barbados. Atlantico Rum is created by Oliver and Oliver in the Dominican Republic. Captain Morgan spiced rum was recently made by the distillers of DonQ in Puerto Rico, and now it’s made by Diageo in St. Croix. Zaya aged rum was once made in Guatemala, now by Angostura in Trinidad. Increasingly, new rum brands use spirits created for them by independent distilleries, aging facilities and blenders to their specifications.
Total Wine & More recently asked Rum Expert Robert A. Burr to answer a few questions for us. Robert is the founder of the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, and along with his wife and son, hosts this annual “celebration of cane spirits in the new world” each April. In addition to the festival, Robert has authored Rob’s Rum Guide, which offers tasting notes on hundreds of different rums. Robert is also the National Rum Examiner, a position that allows him to be an ambassador and promote all things rum to his readers. Be sure to say hello to Robert at the festival this year!
Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions today, Robert.
First, what is your background? How did you become such a well-known figure in the rum world, running a hugely successful festival and writing a national column among other achievements? Did it start as a hobby? Do you work in the spirits industry?
I’ve been a rum enthusiast since my early years. The drinking age was 18 when I grew up in Miami. I discovered Barbancourt Rhum from Haiti in 1976. It was like no other rum I’d ever tasted. It made me curious to discover the various styles of rum. In 1986, I began publishing Fisheye View scuba magazine, traveling to nearly every island or country in the world where I could go beneath the waves to photograph brightly colored corals, fish and invertebrate species. It seems every island I visited shared one fact — they each made the best rum in the world! I was pleased to further discover the wide range of styles that had evolved with each territory.
In 2006, I predicted that rum was ready for a new era of enlightenment, a period of greater appreciation and better understanding, featuring higher quality premium products and more brands being imported to our shores. As it turns out, my timing was right. We’re now in an expanding era of great new rums coming to market and classic, authentic Caribbean spirits being imported here in greater numbers. At the same time, we envisioned a bigger and better rum festival, located in Miami.
No, I don’t work in the spirits industry, but I talk about it a lot.
You are a highly respected rum judge as well. What are some of the most prestigious events that you’ve been asked to be on the judging panel? What skills are required to be a successful rum judge?
If you have a good palate, a fine sense for identifying flavors and scents, an ability to describe what you’re experiencing, the basis for sense memory from visiting and learning many aspects of rum production and development, you might make a fine rum judge.
We’ve been asked to judge rums at many events, from Tampa and San Francisco to New York, Berlin, Prague, London, Madrid, Rome and Paris, just to name a few. Along the way, we’ve become good friends with a number of the best rum judges from many countries. In 2009, we began organizing ourselves into the International Rum Expert Panel. We each gain a lot by sharing our experiences and working together to better define the means of judging, scoring, discerning qualities of fine rums. We often travel together to visit our favorite distilleries, obscure locations, large operations and very small concerns. We’re always learning more, gathering information and identifying the means by which various styles of rum are created.
The Miami Rum Renaissance has been growing rapidly in each of its first four years. We noticed that you again moved to a new location this year, the Doubletree Hilton Miami Airport Convention Center. Is that because you needed more space, a common trend for your festival? What is fueling the enthusiasm for rum here in Miami and is that a trend everywhere else as well?
In 2008, we began with 150 friends enjoying 50 different rums at a beautiful poolside setting in Coral Gables. This encouraged us to launch the festival in 2009. We attracted about 1,000 rum enthusiasts at the Shore Club on Miami Beach. The following year at the Raleigh Resort we gathered 1,900. Moving to a larger venue each year we reached 4,000, then 8,000 attendees. This year, we’ve doubled the size of our exhibit space again — now 40,000 square feet — to accommodate upwards of 15,000 rum fanatics, professionals and beginners.
Yes, we’ve outgrown every exhibit venue due to local costumers’ ever-expanding enthusiasm for rum brands and expressions. Rum is so subjective. There are so many styles. Everyone finds something they love. Then, their own enthusiasm spreads to their friends. Rum is delicious. Rum is fun. Rum is a sailboat, a palm tree, a beautiful beach. The delight of discovering new rums is infectious. We share our love with friends and it spreads.
It’s not just in Miami — rum is thriving in many markets around the world. But Miami is the center of the rum universe, the unofficial capital of the Caribbean. Across this region — across the entire western hemisphere — almost everyone has a cousin in Miami. So, this is where the world’s biggest and best rum festival must be located.