Nothing can bring out the essence of the product more than its history and if the history spans over 5 centuries then it gets even more interesting. Rum akin to a few other spirits has seen its ups and downs and can certainly make for a good documentary! Let us look at how it all began for Rum….
Sugarcane moves East to West
The Indian sugarcane industry which fuels many a political heavy weights in the country also has its share of the pie when one speaks of the genesis of Rum. In 350 BC; Indians were consuming a fermented sugarcane beverage and as sugarcane travelled from east to the west the knowledge of cane juice fermentation spread. Fast forward to the 13th century when the French physicist Arnaud had distilled grape for a potent potable spirit, distillation was the new trend. Marco Polo the traveler during his travels during the same period also found a drink in Indonesia made out of Red Rice and Sugarcane juice and wrote it in his travelogues and this led to lot of merchants from Italy importing the drink. It is also said that this drink may have led the Russians to start making their own spirit, Vodka of today! The Spanish and Portuguese in the 14th picked up colonies in the islands close by like the Canary and Madeira and sugar was grown there, sugar was considered a spice and was everyone vied for the control of the industry; beverage was still not on their minds. It is only after Columbus went westwards and landed in the Caribbean that the sugarcane beverage flourished.
Rumble in the Caribbean:
The Portuguese were the first ones to make spirit in Brazil in the 16th century, now called the Cachaca and then called ‘crazy sugarcane juice’ in the local dialect. The Dutch known for their sailing prowess and of course Gin established Caribbean colonies in the 17th century and starting actively making Sugarcane spirit not just out of juice but also molasses the byproduct of the sugar industry. They called it Kyldevel which was later anglicized to Kill Devil by the English who had taken over many Spanish colonies. The Dutch passed on their knowledge of cane distillation to the English too and the latter eventually called the drink Rumbullion, a term commonly used in West England referring to great tumult, what else would one expect as an aftermath of people drinking a 70% spirit!
Royal Navy Rum:
Beer was slowly being replaced by rum as daily ration in the British Navy as Beer couldn’t survive the seas. It all began in 1687 and by 1731 the Rum completely replaced beer, it was a pint of 70 % ABV as opposed to a Gallon of beer. Over the decade Rum had created enough Rumbullion for the admiral to dilute their drinks with water, sugar and lime juice and the men called it the Old Grog after the admiral who used to wear a Grogram coat. You will see variants aplenty of this drink, cocktails of today!
The invention of patent still in 1832 affected most spirit categories and Rum was no exception. Before the patent still, Rums were dark and big and when Cuba adopted patent still for the first time in the 1860’s to make lighter style rum other followed and over 1600 distilleries adopted the method and it spread. Light rums became the delight of the bartenders then a profession which was gathering momentum. Today Cuban and Puerto Rican rums are known for their lighter style rums.
The rise of cocktails and the Tiki Culture:
The late 1800’s saw the rise of rum and rum cocktails, Daiquiri, Cuba Libre, Dark n Stormy were popular. The American prohibition helped the Rum Cause even more when the wealthy of America came down south for rum and bootlegger like the famous McCoy took the rum northwards to thirsty Americans. 1931 saw the listing of Mojito at the Sloppy Joe’s bar in Cuba. The repeal of prohibition in 1933 saw the rise of grain spirits saw the decline of Rum only to go up again with the advent of the Tiki culture. Don Beach who opened up a Tiki themed bar in Hollywood served heady rum cocktail using myriad ingredients and with a lot of fresh juices. The Zombie was one of his most popular. The Trader Vic who drew inspiration from Don Beach was known for the Mai Tai a cocktail which depleted rum stocks in Jamaica and pushed up Jamaican Rum prices. The mid-late 1900’s saw a dip in the popularity of Rum and the rise of other grain spirits, majorly Vodka.
Rum over the last two decades is gaining popularity with the advent of internet, the travelling consumer, the travelling bartender and Rum expos the most popular being the UK Rum fest. People now have gone back to the Pre-grog days of sipping rums neat as they have plentiful options of beautifully aged rums from across the world, primarily the Caribbean!
Every Rum making nation have their own set of regulations or maybe not. The WIRSPA ( West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association Inc.) comprising 15 Caribbean country associations have set up common production standards and certify their rum as 'Authentic Caribbean Rum' if it follows the following guidelines.
-Rum must be fermented and distilled in one or more of these countries from product of sugar cane origin
-Additives are not permitted
-Where a statement of maturity and/or age is given:
o It shall be that of the youngest distilled spirit in the product
o The rum shall have been matured in wooden vats or barrels for not less than one year
Some other Rum labelling terms are as below:
Rhum Agricole: Rum made from Sugarcane juice
Rhum Industriel: Rum made from Molasses, a byproduct of sugar production. Doesn’t indicate inferior quality but a lighter taste profile
Light Rums: They are clear, mostly unaged light bodied rums perfect for cocktails. Puerto Rica, Cuba, Trinidad etc are known for this style of Rums. E.G: Havana Club, Angostura
Golden or Amber Rums: These age in oak barrels for several years to create a medium bodied spirit rich in Oak influences .Barbados, Jamaica, Venezuela etc make this style of rums
Dark Rums: They are heavy, luscious and heavy on oak aged aromas. Most of them could be drunk neat. Guyana, Jamaica, the French islands of Martinique and Haiti etc are known for its full bodied styles. One style you must try are Demerara Rums from Guyana, they are spicy and sweet with a hint of smoke. For E.G: El Dorado 12
Cachaca: Brazilian spirit made out of cane juice and unaged. Best known for its use in Caipirinhas!
Aged Statement: Just like whiskies some Rum cos will have an age on the label. Depending on the region that number would indicate the oldest or the youngest Rum in the blend. Last words, the numbers on a Rum bottle can be misleading unless of course you know of the country regulations.
Rum Cocktails: Mojito, Daiquiri, Pinacolada, Zombie, MaiTai, Planter’s Punch and Hot Buttered Rum…
This is a good start to rums, whilst one could certainly be an Old Monk fan forever!
Vodka is a colourless, flavourless, odourless spirit; it is what most people would say about Vodka, they are wrong! Like most other wines and spirits, Vodka also has a history and a story to tell, let’s take you through it before we give you brief pointer on identifying vodkas based on ingredients….
16th- 19th century:
Vodka comes from the term Woda or Voda means little water and both Russia and Poland claim it to be their invention. This ‘little water’ initially was used for medicinal purposes and was macerated with various herbs and sweetened but only in the 16th century that it began to be consumed for pleasure. In the same period Russia, Sweden, Poland and Finland saw a huge rise in Vodka distilleries and it was made from all things grain. The popularity continued to grow and it grew so much that Catherin the great from Russia and King Gustaf of Sweden actually made it a monopoly by making the whole industry state owned, this was in the 18th century. Today potato vodka is a luxury however distillation from potatoes began in Sweden in1746 when failed harvests leading to a grain shortage and Poland eventually made potato vodkas their specialty.
Vodka and War:
Vodka had got very popular however it was restricted to Eastern Europe and Scandinavian countries often called the vodka belt. Smirnoff which started in 1818, Absolut in 1877 gave the product a great push to an extent that there were calls of prohibition in early 1900s and Sweden finally saw rationing of Vodka and most other vodka belt countries saw a 10-20 year ban on selling and consumption of Alcohol. The market of vodka went down and adding to it was the US prohibition, the US however didn’t have much access to Vodka anyways. The 1930 cocktail book by Harry Craddock listed more than 100 cocktail recipes but only 2 of them had vodka in it and if you were to look at bar menus now, it is a sea change!
Smirnoff who had fled to the USA during the Russian revolution started Smirnoff in the US in 1934 and the same year saw the first Vodka cocktail competition in the country. The Dry Martini and the Moscow Mule were doing their bit for Vodka. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale the James Bond series pushed the category even further and Vodka became aspirational after Bond’s Vesper Martini. Soon after US and the UK saw an influx of brands from the east and Vodka had officially arrived.
Rise of Cocktails:
Cocktails had started to get popular in the 80’s and first flavoured vodka was launched in the market. Absolut Peppar was the one and was introduced as a base spirit for Bloody Marys which were very popular then. The end of the communism in the east saw privatization of brands and emerged the trend of luxury vodkas in all avatars, glacial water, and diamond filtered, n times filtered etc etc and after a while the differentiation diminished. The category continues to grow, you can now check a bar menu and see the number of cocktails with vodka in it! As the distilling cos say “Vodka pays the bills’.
Lastly how to identify Vodka based on ingredients:
Potato: Mashed potato nose with a creamy and full palate E.g. Chase, Chopin
Barley: Malty on the nose with a hint of sweet spice, begins on a sweet note and with a dry finish E.g. Finlandia, Sipsmith
Rye: Very prominent Rye bread nose with a very spicy finish on the palate E.G. Belvedere, Wyborowa, Chopin Rye
Grape: Lime and lemon scented, you can’t miss this one E.g. Ciroc
Wheat: Some show citrus and some anise and some toasted wheat kernel like aromas… E.g.Absolut Elyx, 42 Below, Ketel One
There are more to ingredients like quinoa, spelt, rice etc coming out from the new trend of micro distilleries. After all this, please remember that if you douse your vodka with juices and syrups and still are able to figure your vodka then you must be drunk!
‘Droits de succession’ the inheritance tax in France which can go to up to 45% is one of host of other taxes in France which have led to most from the wine business selling off to bigger corporations and the ones are that remain are working hard and passionately to carry their legacy and heritage. Drappier Champagne which was found in 1808 is one such house and we had the privilege of interacting and dining with the 7th generation scion, Mr Michel Drappier at the Drappier Dinner hosted by Hotel ITC Maratha.
Michel opened the evening with a Jeroboam (3 litre bottle) of the Grand Millesime Exception 2002, as a house they are always Pinot Forward to the extent of almost being a Blanc Des Noirs and this was no exception albeit with slightly lesser; 65% Pinot Noir. It certainly showed the strength. Mr. Philippe Charraudeau, VP West and General Manager of the hotel and Ms Sonal Holland the Wine Director for ITC hotels played perfect hosts as they ensured that our glass were topped up at all times.
Dum Pukht the Awadhi restaurant was all laid up for a 3 course meal to be paired with 4 more beauties from the house of Drappier. The choice of restaurant couldn’t have been more apt considering the affinity of mild and flavoursome Indian food for Champagne and to top it up the brand Dum Pukht celebrates 25 years of success. Drappier Blanc de Blancs made from Chardonnay and 5 % Pinot Blanc shows lovely freshness, was very light and crisp with vibrant acidity and it paired beautifully with Dudiya Kebab, potatoes sandwiched between paneer, shallow fried and finished with dum, Nilouferi kabab, an aromatic lotus stem seekh and the Hara Bhara Awadhi, a crumbly spinach and yellow lentil patty pan fried in ghee.
For mains the richness of the gravies with yoghurt, cashews and ghee was matched with the Drappier Charles de Gaulle edition, an 80 % Pinot which surprisingly was lighter than expected but fruity with higher residual sugar and good acidity. We would have loved to have this more as an aperitif. For the next course of floral and aromatic Awadhi Biryani was the 2010 Millesime Exception and this was our pick of the Blancs. It was a Pinot Noir dominant blend bursting with fruit; was fleshy and had a long finish.
Saving the best for the last held true in the case of Drappier Grand Sendree rose 2006 vintage which saw our perspective of rose Champagnes change completely; this was luscious and laden with red fruits, sweet spice on the palate and had a very opulent nose. Done by the Saignee method of making rose, this is one of the less 3% rose Champagnes made by this method and what made this glass or rather 2 of those exclusive was that it was one of the 4500 bottles from the vintage.
We wish the family-owned Drappier continues to flourish whilst Michel trains the next generations to take on the mantle!
P.S: Drappier is imported by Ace Beveragez- 011-40503560
Global drinks player International Beverage Holdings Limited (IBHL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Thai Beverage Public Limited Company ( Chang beer fame), has entered the Indian market with three of its finest single malt scotch whiskies; Old Pulteney, Balblair and Speyburn and a super-premium Scottish gin; Caorunn for Mumbai and Delhi. We at The Happy High were introduced to the same at a tasting Edinburgh based Karen Walker the Marketing Director of the company.
Balblair one of the oldest registered distilleries in Scotland changed multiple hands before coming to Inter Bev group in 1996. Balblair until 2006 was non-vintage single malt with an age statement until a positioning revamp which saw the whisky being released with a vintage year akin to wines. They began with 1979, 1989, 1997 and now the 2003 which we tasted. The vintage year represents the year of distillation and the whisky going into casks. Karen said, ‘ We have stocks of ever year laid down in the barrels since the time our company took over from 1996 till now, however when would the whisky’s be released is completely up to the Master Blender . What we tasted today is a 2003 first release; the second release may happen in the next year or the next decade, only time has the answer’. The Balblair ’03 aged in second fill Bourbon barrels has light golden colour however it is bursting with toffee, orange and sweet spice. It shows good body and has a savoury finish.
The Speyburn 10 years label’s speaks of it as a Highland whisky in bold however it is a Speyside one and this anomaly in nomenclature goes back to the time when Glenlivet had reserved the term Speyside for their malts only. The rules have changed now and Speyburn could be seen with a Speyside label soon! This dram was much lighter in body with vanilla and fresh fruits and had a good touch of smoke to it, surprising for unpeated malt.
The last for the day was their flagship Old Pulteney one the most northerly distilleries in the mainland and situated on the eastern coast. This one they call it the maritime malt and it certainly displays the nuances of the salty air on the nose and the palate. It is quite restrained overall is extremely smooth and balanced. The bottle is designed like the classic onion shaped copper pot stills and their 21 year old was adjudged the best whisky of the world in the 2012 edition of the Whisky Bible.
All three are available in Mumbai and are in the Rs 5400-6700 range
After the classic Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Alsace and Port, Hungary introduces Szekszard bottles this September. A new bottle type named after the wine region has been introduced recently, which is dedicated to exclusively used by Kadarka, Kékfrankos varietal red wines and the traditional red blend called Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) produced in this wine region.
Szekszárd wine region is one of the 22 registered wine regions in Hungary belonging to the Southern ones of the country. As a result of a three-year process, almost 20 red wines from 2012 and 2013 vintages are bottled in the common Szekszárd regional bottles in September 2015. To date, a team of local winemakers led by János Eszterbauer, chair of the Guild of Szekszárd Winemakers has been working together in order to select the shape and appearance of the bottle trade-marking the region, as well as to choose a Hungarian glass factory being capable for producing it.
Zoltán Heimann, local winemaker, taking part in the process, explained the project, “Due to the natural endowments of this region, our assortment is based on red wines. At the same time, we consider it extremely important to create our own style in this segment and not to be a follower or imitator of any existing one at international or national level. Therefore, we found our take-off point in local grape varieties and wine types such as Kadarka, Kékfrankos (the same as Blaufränkisch) and Bikavér. Since these wines are about elegance, fruitiness and spiciness, it was completely clear for us that the ideal choice for our wines should be a Burgundy bottle type. Thus, a longer and more extravagant bottle has been chosen for the new Szekszárd regional standard bottle, where the logo of the city providing the name of the wine region with the text ”Szekszárd” can be read in four directions of the bottle.”
József Szabó, sales manager of the glass factory in Orosháza producing the bottle emphasised the advantages of having a regional bottle: ”With this common image, Szekszárd can go ahead not only in Hungary, but also in the international market, since – compared to the individual packing of smaller wineries all around the region – this common appearance of the wines of Szekszárd can be easier recognised by the consumers.”
(Excerpt from a press release)