Friday, November 30, 2012

The Pot Still: A Short History

Wood Fired Pot Still at Callwood
   Distillation made its first appearance in the era around 800BC in Asia.   Distillation was used for turning sea water into fresh water as well as the distillation of fermented liquids to alcohol.    The process finally found it's way to Europe after it's growth in India and Egypt.  How the distilling process originally found it's way to Britain is still a mystery, but the Brits have mastered the art.

     The pot still was the still of choice for the ancient Celts to create a fiery spirit they called "uisge breatha", meaning "the water of life".   For the Celts, the power of the liquid  to revive tired bodies, drive the chills out, revive hope and to put an end falling spirits was truly a gift from the gods.

Currently Operated Pot Stills at DUSA
   The Scots really developed the art of distillation for making the whiskeys that is so intricately woven into their history.   Today the pot still is really a thing of the past, but is is still in use for producing the more viscous and flavorful spirits that make your favorite spirits so nice.

     In modern rum distillation, the majority of the distillation is accomplished in column stills, but the traditional pot still still plays a critical part today's rum production.   At the DUSA Plant in Venezuela, Tito Cordero takes the fermentation first to a column still for the initial distilling to produce the "low wine" then for the special rums it is placed in a pot still for the second distillation.   The pot stills are used to produce the heavy wines for the bolder and more viscous rums.

Retired Pot Still at Santa Teresa
    When you visit most any modern distillery you will see a variety of very sophisticated digitally controlled automated column stills. The venerable pot still a manually operated unit that is used to make the heavy wines for the blending of the finer rums.   Look around the grounds in the historic part of the distillery or just sitting out as a decorative piece in the garden you will find some of the more interesting old pot stills.

     The pot still is a vital part of the making of fine  rum, but the ancient pot still and the origins of distillation are a part of the spirits history that will probably be around for many more years.   ;o)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Being Resposnsible for the Holidays

     We are headed into the time of year when we tend to drink more than usual, more parties and more trouble if we don't pay attention to what we are doing and drink responsible.  A lot of the troubles can be avoided by doing some planning before you start drinking and you judgement begins to fade away.    If you are alone, maybe you might want to take a cab to the party or town, that way you won't be tempted to drive your car home afterward.   The biggest part of planning is a solid choice of not to drink and drive.

Americans have been doing a much better job in the past five years, we are down 30%, but this is still a very serious problem.     Men are the worst culprits in the problem, involved in 4 out of 5 drinking and driving episodes in 2010. and young men ages 21 to 34 the worst, 32% of all instances ( the group only makes up 11% of the population).    Binge drinking has been reported in 85% of drinking and driving incidents.   The practice of doing shots, one after another is leading to trouble in the quickest possible way.    Binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more for women in a short period of time. 

     The statistics are dead against you if you are drinking and driving, make a plan and stick to it this holiday season.  I really don't want to loose any of my readers of my friends.    Choose an alternative to binge drinking this holiday season, choose to select a quality spirit that you can savor and have a plan that does not include you driving to get you back home.    Make this a very happy holiday season and be around for 2013.   ;o)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An in Between Cocktail

     Tis the season between the holidays, a time for a nice evening cocktail that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy as you ease into the evening.    I'm thinking of a creamy fun cocktail that will make you yearn for the Egg Nog in a few weeks.    Lets see, we can start with a bit of Rum Chata and work from there.    Next lets look at a bit of Frangelico just to enhance the nuttiness, and follow it with a little bit of half and half to make it really creamy.    It sounds like this will be a fun combination so lets put it together.

In Between Cocktail
  • 2 oz. Rum Chata
  • 1 oz. Frangelico
  • 1 oz. Half and Half
Stir all ingredients in a rocks glass filled with ice and top with cinnamon and nutmeg.   for the chocolate freaks, a float of Marie Brizards Chocolat Royale  would be a nice treat.

   This is actually pretty good for something that was made up on the fly like this.  Try it, you'll find it very interesting and dreamy creamy.  ;o)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Kind of Day

   Today is one of my kind of days, the weather is in the low 70's a few clouds and the wind is out of the Northeast at 6.    This is a day to hop in the dinghy and cruise around for the first time in a while.     It is one of those days that you live in the keys for.     I'm not sure of where I will head off to, but I'm definitely taking a short cruise today.

     If nothing else I'll be on the water to just relax from the chores and getting everything in good running order again.     I'm thinking a little bit of rum, some snacks and a bottle of water will get the job done.   

     Most of you have to get away once in a while, it is the same for me, but it only takes me a few hours to go, return,  and loose all of the blues and relax away from all of the stuff that keeps you tense.    I know, you don't feel for me, but I too get a little tense after a while and need to slip away for a while to relax.

     Guess what, it is Karaoke at the Hurricane Hole tonight, and I'm really looking forward the the return to normalcy after the Thanksgiving  holiday last week.   Anyway, just enjoy your day and I'll have something worthwhile to write about tomorrow.   Oh, this was worthwhile, because I feel better already just talking about getting out on the water today.  ;o)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mayan Riviera in December 2012

Kukulacan Temple in Chichen Itza
     2012 is the year for our biannual trip to the Mayan Riviera for vacation. I find it interesting and ironic that the visit coincides with the end of the Mayan Calendar. I've listened to all of the doomsday predictions, but really don't have any more faith in them than I did in the Y2K predictions that didn't happen either. I do have a lot of respect for what the Mayan people accomplished in the jungles of Mexico and won't belittle their beliefs or predictions.

I always wonder about where people get the dates that these cataclysmic events are supposed to happen on. In this case 21 December, 2012 is the date on a Mayan stairway in Guatemala at the La Corona site. In April–May 2012, a team of archaeologists unearthed a previously unknown inscription on a stairway. The inscription, on what is known as Hieroglyphic Stairway 12, describes the establishment of a royal court in Calakmul in 635 AD, and compares the then-recent completion of 13 k'atuns with the future completion of the 13th b'ak'tun. However, it contains no speculation or prophecy of what the scribes believed would happen at that time.
Astrological Observatory at Chichen Itza

In 1983, with the publication of Robert J. Sharer's revised table of date correlations in the 4th edition of Morley's "The Ancient Maya" each became convinced that 21 December 2012 had significant meaning. By 1987, the year in which he organized the Harmonic Convergence event, Arg├╝elles was using the date 21 December 2012 in "The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology." He claimed that on 13 August 3113 BC the Earth began a passage through a "galactic synchronization beam" that emanated from the center of our galaxies, that it would pass through this beam during a period of 5200 tuns (Maya cycles of 360 days each), and that this beam would result in "total synchronization" and "galactic entrainment" of individuals "plugged into the Earth's electromagnetic battery" by (21 Dec. 2012). He believed that the Maya aligned their calendar to correspond to this phenomenon.

Temple of 100 Columns at Chichen Itza

I find this date has some logic to it that many others have not, but I don't believe this is going to be a cataclysmic event either. The Mayan's were scientists and looked at things in a different way than others of their time did and spent a lot of time developing their calendar and temples. The Kukulacan Temple in Chichen Itza is placed so on the Solstice the sun's cast shadows of the corners that give the appearance of a serpent coming down from the top of the pyramid. This is only possible if they truly had an understanding of the cycles of the earth and documented it.

I am Looking forward to writing my blog on the 23 December, 2012 and for some time beyond. ;o)



Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tito Cordero at the Hacienda Saruro

Meeting with my Friend Tito Cordero at the DUSA Diplomatico facitlity hacienda in Le Meir

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Santa Teresa Away from the Rum

The morning fog shrouds the mountains behind the sugar cane
     Santa Teresa distillery is set in a very beautiful mountain valley in Venezuela.   The thing that really go to me was the surroundings of the distillery.   They have a recreational park on the distillery grounds and a train that takes the guests around the facility.   The distillery is very interesting and the tasting of the rums is also very interesting, but the scenery is just breath taking.   


     With the sugar cane growing on the grounds and the beautiful tassel plumes brightening up the valley floor.   The mountains transition down to the valley and the trees, sugar and the distillery.     It really doesn't matter which way you look from the park area of the distillery, you see something that hold your eye.   In the open fields there are horses grazing and people having a picnic lunch.  Just a really peaceful serene setting in which to make some very good rum.    

Trees, mountains and sugar cane, what a beautiful picture

Following the row of graceful palm trees down the lane through the sugar cane fields you see the towering still jut up from the tops of the sugar cane.   This is the reminder of the other side of the plantation.    The reason for the huge plantation is here in the first place, making of the rum.   That is what supports the park, the train station and the rest of the operation.   It is nice however to be able to enjoy the lush bird filled scenery that surrounds the manufacturing of rum here.

Oh Yes the rum and the lineage of the rum, just as colorful as the park where it is produced.   Santa Teresa Bodega Privada, the private reserve of the family, beyond the imagination for taste and flavor.   The traditions that keep the place in full operation producing these fine rums.   ;o)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday: 4:00 am for Tires?

Turkey Takeover: Black Friday moves
 in on Thanksgiving - Tennessee Journalist
    I'll sure be glad to see Christmas behind us this year.  It wasn't bad enough to be bombarded with political ads right up to the start of November, but now we have Black Friday crap that is about to drive me to DRINK!    Madison Avenue and a very weak economy seem to be hard at work trying to get the American public to spend more of the money they still don't have by getting them up at some ridiculous hour to go to the store and stand in line for stuff they really don't need or want.

   All of this stuff could drive a sane man to drink.   That is not such a bad idea either, at least I'd be at home and still watching those hideous ads.  So much for that Idea.  It is straight to the back of the boat and rock with the evening breeze to the sounds of some nice music and sip a glass of a nice rum like a 15 year old Barbancourt or maybe some Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva.    Tonight a nice liqueur called Hacienda Saruro has my attention.   Sitting on the aft deck of the boat, I often wander in my mind back to places that make me feel very relaxed and comfortable.   This is a part of why that I live the way and where I do, it allows me some real peace.

   Tonight it is just to get away from the noise of Thanksgiving and thinking of how it has really lost its meaning.   The nice breezes of the evening and a glass of Hacienda have really mad me thankful of where I am and all that I have the privilege of seeing and doing in my life.   This has been a very exciting year with all of the visits to places that I have never seen before.   Bucket list places like Havana,Trinidad, and Venezuela, all of the people that I have met in my travels, and all of my latest rum friends that I have gotten to taste.

     Black Friday this morning, yeah, I guess I'll just go to work and see if I can make a few people who are not shopping a little happier.   Maybe I can get a few that have been sitting in those lines and didn't get what they were really looking for happy too.    If you've had enough and need some time to unwind from your shopping, try my method of easy music, fine quality rum, and a nice place under the stars and rocking with the breezes.   It brings a smile to my face, how about you.  ;o) 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grog with a New Twist

Ye Olde Grog Dispenser
    Grog is a curious mixture of rum and water with a little lime to cut the foul taste of the water that was carried in casks aboard the ships in the 1700's.    The Name Grog came from the nickname that Vice Admiral Edward Vernon had because of the coat that he wore made of "Old Grogram" or "Old Grog".   More modern recipes include boiling water, lime juice, Cinnamon, sugar, all to improve the taste of the rum.   In most of the English speaking world, Grog is a rum based alcoholic drink.    To the Swedish it can be a mixture of any spirit and a soft drink and with only one spirit in the blend.  

    This brings me to today's story.   There is a group of guys that were "sitting around drinking some Coronas and telling lies", when they got this idea to start a new business.    Marcus Alden, Lloyd Williams, Greg Scott and Ken McFarland "took the bull by the horns", if you will and built their own distillery and developed their own "grog".   The boys all had strong engineering and distillation backgrounds and were able to create a reflux column still and a more traditional pot still.  Ye Olde Grog Distillery of St. Helens, Oregon was born.  They  make whiskey, vodka, and a pair of grogs.     

     The Dutch Harbor Breeze Grog is a 100 proof Whiskey based grog that was named for "it's smoothness.  The 70 proof Good Morning Glory Grog, a vodka based grog sweetened with blue agave nectar and four natural flavors.   Both of these are young spirits that are colored with caramel.   They were aimed at the college aged crowds in Oregon originally, but now they have reached the east coast and the Florida Keys.   Though not in the true grog spirit (not made from rum), they are a good mixing spirit that can fulfill the spirit side of a good cocktail.   The marketing and the packaging of these grogs is very unique and shows a great deal of creativity as does the entire program.  ;o)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wishing I Could be on a Beach

     Today it is windy and chilly here in Key West.  It is one of those days that you think you need to head a little farther south.   Sometimes I guess I really don't realize how good I have it down here, but it is nice to dream for a while of being on a really cool beach where it is really nice and warm.   You know what I'm talking about, one lonely strip of sand that you can't get to without a small boat.    You don't have to be in the freezing north to feel the winter time blues, it happens here as well.    The good thing this year is that the cool down has been a very gradual one, but now it is jacket time here in the keys.

     I was thinking about Barbados or Antigua, the temperature there is still in the 80's and the beaches are calling me back there again.   Isn't it funny how now matter where you are, the season changes have an effect on you mood.    I'm still wearing shorts, and sad because I have a jacket on instead of a tank top.      Oh well, this too will pass and I'll be back on the water cruising out to the beaches of Mud Key, Boca Grand, Snipes, and the Marquesas soon enough.

     I'm thinking back to last January, we all got bundled up and headed out to Boca Grand in a pontoon boat for a birthday party.  All of us bundled up like a bunch of Eskimos, even though it was in the 70's that day.    The fun part of the day was that we were at the beach especially because it was January.   I guess that verbalizing my thoughts does make me feel better, but I still miss the warmth even though most of you wouldn't mind our temperatures right now where you are.   ;o)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Fine Feathered Friends

Frigate in St. Thomas
    it is really interesting as I peruse through my many thousands of pictures that I have taken over the years down in the keys and in my travels.   I keep finding that there are always a large number of pictures of birds that I bring back with me.   I guess that I find that the many varied species of these birds are a source of contentment when I get the chance to photograph them and bring them back for my enjoyment over and over again.

Boobie in the British Virgin Islands
    It amazes me to see the expressions on the faces of the many birds as they fly freely overhead.   The gorgeous colors and shapes of their bodies and wings draw me in over and over again.   These birds from my home in the marina to all over the Caribbean  get my attention every time.    The really cool thing about all of these is that is all for free every where I roam.

Egret and a Green Heron
     At home I have a pair of wading birds that greet me every morning as I walk down the dock to my office.  An beautiful white Egret and a Green Heron that are having their breakfast as I wander by.  The have gotten use to me as I drift by and are not the least bit bothered by the interruption as I quietly slip past them.
Venezuelan Bananaquit
     On my last trip to Venezuela, I saw for the first time parrots, and many other very colorful birds that I have never seen before in the wild.  I found it very refreshing to see the birds that a so very common place here in America in cages flying free in the wild. 

     It really doesn't matter what parts of the Caribbean or the United States that I travel, I'm able to find a very large number of interesting land and sea birds to photograph.   Take a look up into the sky and enjoy the aerial performances that are all around you every day anywhere you are.  ;o)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Ron Santiago de Cuba Anejo

   Looking through some of the information that I gathered while wandering around Havana about a month or so ago I found a picture of a rum that really caught my attention.    Ron Santiago de Cuba Anejo, this nice little rum was enjoyed by the group of us one evening in the Telegrafo Hotel.   It was one of the more enjoyable evenings there in Havana chatting among the guys and sipping a fine Cuban rum.

    The really interesting part of the rum is that is is produced in the historic old Bacardi Distillery in Santiago de Cuba.   After the revolution in 1959, the distillery was nationalized and the Bacardi family left the island.  This is not the high tech factory that the Bacardi Rum is mad in now in Puerto Rico, but the original distillery opened in 1868 by Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, and is steeped with all of the history of the Bacardi years in Cuba.     The family left the island after the Revolution, the Cuban government has continued to make traditional rum in the distillery.     Ron Caney brand coupled with smaller amounts of Ron Santiago and Ron Varadero are what is produced by at the historical distillery.    The factory knocks out nine million liters a year, of which the majority is exported. There are no factory tours, but the Barrita de Ron Caney, a  bar for tourists attached to the factory, offers rum sales, cocktails, and tastings.

Bacardi Distillery Circa 1940 in Santiago de Cuba

    The rum itself is quite tasty, a deep copper colored aged rum with a delicate feel on the palate is underpinned by sweet almond and chocolate and a long finish. Although this is a rich, full bodied oakey aged rum, it is still a great mixer.  Serve it on the rocks with a squeeze of fresh lime or used for your favorite cocktails.   I know that I enjoyed it in Havana with a couple of cubes of ice.  ;o)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Morning Waking Up

What a beautiful morning in Key West, hope your day starts as beautifully as mine has.   ;o)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Hacienda Botucal in La Meil

    The Hacienda Botucal in La Meil, Lara, Venezuela is a very unique place with cattle grazing around a classic hacienda style house that is located  just outside of the gates to Distilleria Unitas.   We were the guests of Diplomatico for an afternoon fiesta of appetizers, rum, music and lunch in the grand style of the Venezuelan hacienda life.     We were greeted by Tito Cordero at the gate, a group picture in front of the main house, then inside and the beginning of the afternoon fun.  

     The group of us were first treated to a tour of the grounds and a chance to see the lunch being cooked in a bar-b-que roasting box at the rear of the house.   Then it was out to the front porch for some Mojitos, Diplomatico rum cocktails, and music from a trio of local musicians.   There was a never ending table of local appetizers that were brought out one after the other and the local cheeses were like no other I've ever had.

The afternoon and the lunch were absolutely wonderful, but like all good things, the afternoon was gone before we really knew it.   I found it so peaceful out there on the grounds with a warmth and friendliness that country living can only provide.   I really enjoyed the food, rum and companionship Tito, Alfonso, and the crew that runs the Hacienda Botucal afforded us.

   And for dessert, was an aperitif of Hacienda Saruro aged rum liquor.  The perfect end for a perfect day in the Venezuelan countryside.   ;o)

Friday, November 16, 2012

CARIFORUM Likely to go to World Trade Organization

     "There is every indication that the Forum of the Caribbean Group of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (CARIFORUM), which includes the Dominican Republic, will likely file a formal international trade discrimination claim against the U.S. in the new year if Washington does not agree to talks over heavy subsidies being given to British and American producers in the region to the great disadvantage of CARIFORUM exporters."    This is a definite step forward in the Caribbean Rum Wars.   There is a feeling of desperation among the CARIFORUM countries that if these subsidies continue much longer they will not be able to compete for the US market.
    The Caribbean governments have been petitioning the Obama lead administration about these heavy subsidies for the past year or so, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears.    The real issue in my mind is that the US is subsidizing a British Giant Diageo.   I have  less of a problem with Cruzan, and American owned operation, especially when the rum producers on our home soil are not receiving the same consideration.   In a quote in the New York Amsterdam News, "Frank Ward, chairman of the Barbados Rum Industry, drove home this week the fears of the CARIFORUM nations by telling a national audience that a challenge to the Geneva-based WTO trade disputes agency will be the likely outcome of the current rum war if all other options fail as feared."
     With the election behind us, it is time for the administration to take a second look at this problem.   It is not only a problem for the Caribbean, but one for the rest of the world's rum producers.   Like any other industry, you can not subsidize one brand without providing the same assistance to the others or we will be suffering from the failure of the true American system of business.   

     "We find it extremely difficult to compete, and it is a challenge at this point in time. We are appealing not just to the Barbados rum industry, but the CARIFORUM rum industry in general, and to our governments to take this issue very seriously and to seek to have a dialogue with the U.S. government, with a view to resolving what we feel is an iniquitous and pernicious use of subsidies for multinational spirit companies and their rum production," Ward stated.

      Kelly Railean said "There are over 80 American manufacturers of rum operating in the USA and it is time to establish quality standards for "American Rum." Ask any American rum manufacturer and they will tell you that the main obstacle to growing the domestic rum category and their small business is the unfair tax subsidies offered exclusively to rum companies operating in U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and USVI. These subsidies restrict free market competition and give global manufacturers such as Bacardi and Diageo an unwarranted hold on the American rum market. The American Rum Association is fully committed to exposing these unfair practices and providing products made in the U.S.A.; thus providing jobs, fueling our American economy and aiding in the recovery of our economic system."
     The time has come to create a level playing field for the rum industry to grow in a time when America is rediscovering rum.  I for one do not want to have my choices of rum determined by the bureaucrats in Washington D.C., by subsidizing foreign producers at the expense of the American ones.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Angostura:The Aromatic Bitters

    It is said that Queen Elizabeth's favorite cocktail is gin and tonic with a dash of Angostura Aromatic Bitters.   The preparation has a long history that was started by Dr. Siegert in 1872.  Developed in his lab located in Trinidad, he developed the bitters as a digestion aid, but became the seasoning for the world's cocktails as its true legacy.

     Bitters are made much like coffee is by percolating hot water over the ground up barks, herbs and grains in the basket.  The actual formula is a closely guarded secret, but resultant bitters do wonders for many of today's cocktails.    Making of the bitters is a relatively simple process that takes up only a small corner of the "House of Angostura".

     The House of Angostura is by appointment of Queen Elizabeth II the manufacturer of Angostura Aromatic Bitters.   There is a special "Diamond Jubilee" edition of the bitters that was made in very limited quantities for her 50th annaversary as the Queen of England.

     The Aromatic Bitters is only a small portion, but the basis of what is now one of the largest manufacturer of rum and the aromatic bitters in the world.  I found the tour and the simplicity of the operation to be very interesting.   It is always a wonder to me how a simple idea can grow into a huge success like this one has.   ;o)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Magic is in the Barrel

     One of the important things in getting the exact flavor that you want from a great rum comes from the barrels that are used to age the rums.   The barrels can and are used for many other types of aging before being used for aging rum.   The oak barrels can be charred, lightly or heavily depending on what is to be the desired result for the maturing of the rum.  They may also be unburned as well.   Most of the barrels are former bourbon barrels made of American Oak that were used only once to age bourbon.

Charred and unburned staves
     Today in the modern distillery the blender has many different rums at his or her disposal from which to create a new rum.   At DUSA, Tito Cordero has some sixty different rums from which to create his new blends.   The differences are for the most part how and in what the rums were aged.  I have tasted rums that are aged in sherry barrels, cognac barrels, scotch barrels, and many other types of barrels, and each has a distinct flavor that is imparted by the type of barrel in which it is aged.  Most of the alcohol that is placed in the barrels is of a similar in nature to start with, although some is heavier than others, but it is the time spent in the barrel that gives the rum its unique characteristics.
     There is another side of the story too, many of the rums have spent time in barrels before blending, and some are rebarreled after blending to marry the flavors creating a new and different characteristic again.   This will generate a completely different rum that just blending and bottling the rums can not.  

     How come a bottle of old rum is so much more expensive than a young rum?   The most expensive portion of making rum is the aging.  The rum from the distillery has 2 to 30 years of aging before the bottle can be sold.  This means that huge amounts of rum are sitting in storage for many years before they can be bottled and sold.   Think about if you could not reap the benefits of your labor for that long and you had to have enough space to store it as well.  This is expensive any way you look at it. 

     The next time that you open a bottle of twelve to fifteen year old rum, just think about where this nectar has been and what the barrels have done for it in the time since it was distilled.  It is truly a magical change.   It is the natural and slow way of getting a rum flavor, and the best rums are done this way.   ;o)