GREAT WHITES WORTH FISHING FOR



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This month, white spirits rule the Spirits Buying Guide as we examine a bevy of rums, unflavored vodkas, and three offerings of the fetching grape-based spirit of Peru, pisco.

First, some observations regarding rum. Rum as a spirits category is all too frequently looked upon as the idiot cousin of what are perceived to be more "aristocratic" distillates, namely brandy, whiskey, gin and liqueurs. Here are the pertinent questions: A.) Is rum, the sugarcane-based spirit of the tropics, an innocent victim of consumer ignorance or, worse, outright prejudice against the laid-back societies of the warmer climes? Or, B.) Has the rum industry shot itself in the foot over the centuries by offering inferior products that have given the entire rum segment a vagabond reputation? The truth lies somewhere between A and B. Yes, to some extent, self-pleased and sanctimonious consumers have over the last century branded in broad strokes all rums as renegade, swamp water spirits. And, indeed, the rum producers themselves are partially at fault, first, for not establishing an independent regulatory body to oversee international production standards, and, two, for occasionally belching out into the marketplace genuinely deficient spirits that have the name rum on the label.

What can consumers do to procure the finest sugarcane-based spirits? In my mind, nothing beats direct experience. First, I suggest that consumers who want to learn about rums first sample various rums neat in bars and restaurants to identify the top brands without having to purchase full bottles. Quality in rum, like all distillates, is quite clearcut even to novices. Second, keep your eyes open for rum tastings that might be occurring in your city or town. Oftentimes bars and restaurants that feature Caribbean cuisines (for example, Jamaican, Cuban, Haitian, et cetera) offer rum tastings for patrons. If they don't, request one. Third, host a tasting of four to six rums for friends in your home to ascertain the differences between brands and distilleries. Have each participant bring one rum for the tasting. Once you begin down the rum road you'll be surprised at the pleasures that await you around every curve. The light-bodied white rums provide imbibers with superb cocktail bases while the more complex oak-aged varieties can resemble, even rival, fine brandies.

I also review a handful of unflavored vodkas in this month's Buying Guide, as well as one of my favorite grape-based brandies, pisco, the native spirit of Peru. If you want to try a zesty mixed drink that I guarantee will become a favorite in your personal cocktail repertoire, create a Pisco Sour (2 ounces of pisco; one ounce of lemon juice; one-half ounce of simple syrup; one dollop of egg white, and a dash of Angostura bitters.)
Cheers, m' dears.

—F. Paul Pacult

RUM

CLASSIC (96-100) Highest Recommendation

Appleton Estate Extra Rum (Jamaica; Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, Louisville, KY); 43% abv, $25. Dazzling, bright bronze color. Tightly knit, mature scents of bacon rind, walnut butter, oak resin, and buttered corn-on-the-cob. Buttery and dry at palate entry; at mid-palate the flavor goes full-throttle in buttery/creamy, brown sugar tastes. Bittersweet, luscious finish. A classic example of the skilled blending of sugarcane-based spirit and oak barrels. A masterpiece. Best Buy.

SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Rum (Jamaica; Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, Louisville, KY); 43% abv, $65. Coppery/tawny appearance. The alluring aroma is floral (think violets) at first, then it turns bean-like and pleasantly nutty after about five minutes. The palate entry is keenly astringent while at the midpalate point a baked nuttiness comes on strongly in bitter tastes of molasses and oak. Aftertaste is long, sap-like, sugary and dry.

Appleton Estate V/X Rum (Jamaica; Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, Louisville,KY); 40% abv, $17. Pretty harvest gold hue. Ripe, elegant aroma, brimming with scents of light spice, brown sugar, molasses, and buttered toast. Simply delicious right from rich, toasty palate entry through midpalate that features flavors of wheat-bread toast, honey and refined sugar. True connoisseur's rum that is reliable, luscious and ideally balanced. Best Buy.

Cohiba 8 Year Old Very Old Rum (Dominican Republic; Levecke Corporation, Mira Loma, CA); 40% abv, $18. Brandy-like, amber/bronze color. Evolved, genuinely lovely early bouquet of tea leaves, molasses and distant spice; aeration and swirling in the glass stimulates scents of black pepper, dark caramel and milk chocolate. Displays tastes of almond butter, Bourbon (aging cask?) and honey at entry, then turns creamy sweet and sugary at midpalate. Delightfully oily in the finish. Composed and elegant.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED

Appleton Estate Special Rum (Jamaica; Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, Louisville, KY); 40% abv, $13. Attractive amber/honey color. The bouquet is delicate and sugary with background notes of palm oil, unimposing oak, and almond butter. In the mouth it tastes of brown sugar and soft, oaky vanilla. Supple and correctly sweet in the finish. Nicely crafted and blended gold rum that shows more than its share of tantalizing molasses character. Under-stated.

Cabana Boy Pineapple/Coconut Flavored Rum (Virgin ls./USA; White Rock Distilleries, Lewiston, ME); 35% abv, $14. Pure, particle-free appearance. The nose suffers at first from being overly sweet; after time in the glass the coconut component becomes more evident and adds charm to the bouquet. At midpalate the pineapple and coconut elements blend pretty nicely. The aftertaste is long, nicely melded and not cloying; a subtle note of vanilla extract is detected at the tail end. Make it the base for a pina colada.

Cohiba 5 Year Old Black Rum (Dominican Republic; Levecke Corporation, Mira Loma, CA); 40% abv, $12. Pretty, honey gold/autumnal hue. Scents of chalk, molasses, brown sugar and marshmallow highlight the first few minutes of sniffing; deeper aromas of tar and nougat dominate the latter bouquet stages. Palate entry is dry then quickly bittersweet; the midpalate features tastes of vanilla extract, oak resin and intense, acceptably prickly spirits heat. Bittersweet aftertaste. Tongue-tingling and darn tasty.

ACCEPTABLE (80-84)

Cabana Boy Raspberry Flavored Rum (Virgin ls./USA; White Rock Distilleries, Lewiston, ME); 35% abv, $14. Clean appearance. The first two nosing passes detect an aggressively sweet and ripe perfume of raspberry preserves. The palate entry is numbingly sweet and concentrated; the midpalate sees a lessening of the raspberry jam intensity. The finish is creamy and jammy, brimming with near over-the-top raspberry taste. More a liqueur than a rum.

Cabana Boy Wild Cherry Flavored Rum (Virgin Is./USA; White Rock Distilleries, Lewiston, ME); 35% abv, $14. Clean and clear. The aroma offers dry cherry fruit and cherry stone scents that remind me of lesser kirschs; after several minutes of air contact the bouquet takes on a sweet, overly ripe perfume; no subtlety here. The cherry flavor at entry is surprisingly tasty, almost like chocolate cherries; the midpalate is a sweet, thick cherry bonanza but there's actually enough acidity and spirit backbone to pull it back out of the "cloying" category. Finish is rich, intensely cherry flavored and too candied.

Cabana Boy Citrus Flavored Rum (Virgin ls./USA; White Rock Distilleries, Lewiston, ME); 35% abv, $14. Spring water pure. The initial nosings find a zesty lemon-peel odor that's somewhere between sweet and dry. In the mouth the entry is tart and citrusy, then at midpalate an explosion of fruity sweetness blankets the taste buds. The finish is long, citrusy but sweet. If the distiller would have left more tartness in the blend I would have given it a recommendation. As it is, it's drinkable but way too sweet.

Coruba Jamaica Rum (Jamaica; Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, Louisville, KY); 40% abv, $12. Deep tawny/russet hue. Aroma is snappy, spicy and fabric-like at first, then fades after three minutes; with further aeration a scent of marshmallow appears. At palate entry it's sugary-sweet with core flavors of honey; molasses, caramel and brown sugar; by midpalate the taste is slightly over-caramelized and borders on being cloying. The finish features a taste of burnt toast. Drinkable and mixable, but why be so heavy-handed with the caramel?

UNFLAVORED VODKA

CLASSIC (96-100) Highest Recommendation

Cristall Premium Vodka (Russia; The Frank Pesce International Group, Ltd., Boca Raton, FL); 40% abv, $25. Clear and clean. The bouquet is tight, trim, integrated and brims with charcoal and mineral scents. A Big League, multilayered vodka aroma. The palate entry is lusciously oily, stone dry and textured; the midpalate offers evolved flavors of minerals, bittersweet grain and cocoa. The aftertaste is long, muscular, and concentrated. About as good as vodka can get. Best Buy.

SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Kutskova The Noble Russian Vodka (Russia; A. V. Imports, Inc., Columbia, MD); 40% abv, $25. Silvery clear but with some sediment floating about. The initial nosing passes detect mildly sweet, even fruity scents of grain; time in the glass encourages late fragrances of vanilla bean and red berry. After the aroma benignly charmed me, the entry starts with huge, viscous, toasted, and concentrated flavors of grain and molten spirit; the midpalate shows moderate heat, spirity oil and a thick texture. Finish is long, bittersweet, grainy and oily.

Reval Classic Vodka (Estonia; Reval Trading International, Fairfield, CT); 40% abv, $12. Pure. The nosing passes right after the pour find lovely, toasted grain aromas present; further aeration brings with it a significant deepening of the totally dry and very fetching roasted grain/toasty perfume. In the mouth the entry shows a touch of vanilla sweetness, then at midpalate the flavor turns grainy dry and a bit toasty. The aftertaste is long and the feel is silky and remarkably smooth.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED

Blue Ice Potato Vodka (USA; Silver Creek Distillery, Rigby, ID); 40% abv. $20. Made from Idaho Russet potatoes. Silvery clear. The aroma after the pour is a bit shy, showing barely discernible dry scents of spirit off the still; air contact over the course of several minutes does nothing to coax out more fragrance. This vodka comes alive at palate entry in the forms of sweet grain and licorice tastes; the midpalate walks the fence between being potato sweet and astringent, but it works in that there's a sense of balance. Aftertaste is long, off-dry and slightly bitter.

PISCO

CLASSIC (96-100) Highest Recommendation

La Bojita Italia Pisco (Peru; CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 41.5% abv, $17. The initial nosing passes detect an array of aromas, from vegetable oil to cotton candy, to popcorn to grape pomace, to aniseed; time in the glass brings out biscuity, seed-like aromas like caraway seed and allspice. Palate entry is juicy, fruity and nothing short of luscious; midpalate is even more enjoyable as the creamy, grapy, and beautifully balanced flavor wraps around the tongue. Finish is lush, full-bodied, viscous and remarkably fresh and vibrant. Easily the finest pisco I've ever evaluated. Best Buy.

SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

La Bojita Acholado Pisco (Peru; CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 41.5% abv, $16. Clear as rain water. Highly perfumed right from the pour, the grapey nature of this pure brandy is enchanting and simple; a very pleasurable sniffing experience. The cleanness of the spirit impresses the taste buds at palate entry; midpalate point features vibrant tastes of ripe grapes and, interestingly, cane sugar. Finish is soft, warming and sweet. A delicious, textured and intensely grapey pisco.

ACCEPTABLE (80-84)

La Bojita Quebranta Pisco (Peru; CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 41.5% abv, $16.
Translucent. The opening nosing passes offer piquant, almost prickly aromas of fresh-off-the-still spirit, steamed white rice, and soy sauce; aeration encourages a slight odor of metal to mix with the spirity aroma. Palate entry is creamy and sweet; the midpalate point displays a sharply bitter note that tries to balance the ripe fruit, but actually ends up clashing with it. The aftertaste is sweet, viscous, long and amiable. Drinkable, but average.

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