One thing you’d like to change about the Indian market…
The perception that the Indian whisky or brandy that one drinks is actually “Whisky” or “Brandy”, they need to read the label carefully. It’s nothing but RUM that’s artificially flavoured to give some whisky and brandy characteristics. Rum is the original & indigenous spirit of India tracing back 6000 years from where it spread to the west.
Ever heard of a Mexican Vodka or Mexican Single Malt whisky? or Scottish brandy? Go figure please readers.
Who do you think sets drinking trends in India?
Celebrities unfortunately. I wish it were Mixologist’s instead.
What according to you is the most overrated drinking fad / drink in India at the moment?
Patron XO Cafe, I fail to understand what part of the consumption has any Tequila characteristics. You might as well have an espresso, with some vodka and sugar syrup instead.
What’s the next big thing for India?
Drinks that are beyond just giving one a high, where there is an emotive connect between consumer and brand within what his wallet can afford but of course from time to time splurging a bit more for those special occasions. So that demarcation between a special occasion and the casual drinking sessions. In an ideal world every catch up of friends over drinks should be special
Which is your favourite liquor brand ad campaign?
There are some really cheesy one’s out there that are chauvinistic and stereotypical but the Carlsberg campaign’s are amazing…’if Carlsberg did boardrooms……that one is a stand out. Who doesn’t want to have a boardroom meeting in a pool after all right? 🙂
Which is your favourite Bar in India and why?
Don’t particularly have a favourite one but if I had to pick it would be Skye in Bangalore mainly for its 360 degree panoramic views. It’s the best place in Bangalore to escape from the hustle, bustle and pollution all whilst sipping on a Martini, that besides my friends and I are well looked after by Santosh Martin and his team at Skyee.
Which of your competitors gives you sleepless nights?
Have never looked at that way, we are still a cub in the world of Rum, but perhaps someday we could maul that Captain and unleash into that Bat too (Pun intended)
The one fictional character you’d like to have a drink with…
The Joker I suppose.
If you were alone on a desert island, which drink would you want with you?
Did I not tell you that a Bottle of Wild Tiger after drinking up also serves its purpose as an anti poaching Weapon 😉 So now I have had good rum on a sunny island and I can protect myself too from Pirates and creatures.
Sanjit Singh, rum connoisseur and Vikram Achanta from Tulleeho are in conversation with Komal Samaroo, the Chairman of Demerara Distilleries, which make the famed El Dorado rum, represented in India by Keshav Prakash of The Vault
What brings you to India?
We have been shipping small quantities of El Dorado to India for the last 3 years now. I thought it was time to sit down and “eyeball” with Keshav and see where we go from here. That was the main purpose. At the moment we sell the El Dorado 12 and 15 year old rums from our luxury cask collection.
Komal now turns inquisitioner and asks Sanjit and me for our views on the rum market in India. He says that he is getting the impression that rum doesn’t have the same proposition as whisky in the Indian market. That whisky consumers are prepared to move up to the next level of brand, but the same doesn’t seem to apply to the rum consumer in India. Does Rum have an image problem in India asks Komal? If so, that’s a huge problem to overcome for any category he feels. The world over says Komal the image of rum is changing and aged and sipping rums are gaining popularity. The El Dorado 12 yo for example targets whisky drinkers. Markets like Europe are home to a large rum connoisseur community.
It has been a combination of cocktail culture and premiumization which has also helped grow the rum market. Mixologists are saying that your cocktail is as good as what’s inside. So a rum old fashioned made with a 12 year old rum is far superior to a rum old fashioned made with anything else. I had this at the Shangri La in Toronto and it was a fabulous drink. In New York in some of the top bars, they use aged rums. So it’s not the cocktail culture per se, but premiumization which is helping aged rums and other premium spirits. Consumers and bartenders are also going back to history and roots and origin.
What kind of casks do you use to age rum?
We use once used Bourbon barrels. Sherry casks are not normally used. I suspect there is a cost factor involved in the same (explaining the fact that sherry casks are not used). We have just done an experiment by aging our rums in different styles of casks – white port, red port, red wine, Sauternes, etc. The same liquid in 6 different barrels and monitored for 18 months (reviewing the liquid every 6 months) and it’s incredible how they are all very different. It makes it clear that the kind of wood you use affects the final profile. We called these Special Finishes and it was an experiment. We produced around 600 bottles of each of these and ended up selling it at 2 times the price we would normally sell a 15 year old. It was a collectors item.
The rum you make is made from Demerara sugar. In what way does the kind of sugar used influence the taste profile of the rum?
We follow a traditional rum making production process. The coast of Guyana is below the sea level so soil and climatic conditions are a bit different, therefore the sugarcane and hence the molasses are also different. However what is also critical is the yeast being used by each distiller. Every distiller has their own secret yeast. The third thing is that everyone’s distillation equipment is different. We have 8 different distillation units, and each is very different from each other. And lastly is the maturation of the spirit in the oak casks.
How much rum do you loose to evaporation each year?
We keep the Angels happy. In the first year its on the higher side, around 5% and moving on from there – its about 2 to 3 percent per year. (Editors note – I mention to Komal my visit to Amrut distilleries in Karnataka and the challenges I understand are faced as regards maturing of spirits in tropical climates of India and no doubt, the West Indies). Komal says that in fact Neelkanth Jagdale, the current managing director of Amrut had visited Komal in Georgetown. He says that an experiment was carried out to observe the comparative aging of the same batch of rum in Jamaica vs Scotland and he thinks the ratio is at least 2:1 (one year of spirit being aged in Jamaica is equal to 2 years in Scotland).
As Komal explains, a full bodied pot stilled rum is a sturdy distillate and you can age this for a very long time and it keeps getting better and better. The oldest rum they have done has been a 50 year old. To commemorate Guyana’s 50th year of independence, El Dorado has recently released the El Dorado Grand Special Reserve 50-year Old Rum which is for sale at USD 2500 per bottle. This is part of our efforts to say to consumers that rum is a good and respectable drink, like cognac and single malts.
Is it true that when Lord Nelson died, his body was sent home pickled in Demerara rum?
Komal laughs and says he doesn’t know, but “Nelsons Blood” is indeed a good story (the rum used to pickle his body and which was apparently drunk was given that name!). What is true however is that the British navy used to issue a rum ration to its sailors from 1740 till 1970, a ration known was Grog after the nickname of Admiral Edward Vernon, one of the early British naval officers responsible for the issue of this ration.
The quest for differentiation takes brand owners to new heights, and even sometimes, to new depths. Seven Fathoms Deep to be exact, as at certain spots in the Caribbean, that’s where you’ll find oak barrels tethered to the ocean floor filled with rum. “Which is the pirate’s favourite letter”? asks Nelson Walker, the co-founder of Seven Fathoms Rum, as he flags of a tasting session I’m attending at the 5th German Rum Fest in Berlin.
The pirate’s favourite letter in case you’re still guessing is “C” (get it!). It struck Walker and Nelson, the co-founders of Seven Fathoms, that back in the days, rum used to be transported by sea, and sure enough used to be below decks, and the casks were in a constant state of agitation, with the rum constantly moving around in the barrel, which played a role in developing the character of the liquid. To mimic the same, they began experimenting with aging casks underwater, until a passing diver found out what they were upto, and took a cask back up to the surface. With their secret out, they began their venture in earnest, tethering their casks to the ocean floor, with the barrel agitation by the ocean, helping ensure says Nelson, that 1-3 years underwater is the same as 5 to 7 years on land.
He is also experimenting with aging casks at greater depths, and friendly oceanic research vessels (no doubt paid in rum!) are dropping casks to as low as 20 fathoms. A diving helmet is the big, bold logo you’ll see on the bottles, and whether the underwater aging is a marketing gimmick or not, I don’t know, but the rum tastes delicious. I ask Nelson, what the equivalents of the Angels share is underwater, “It’s ~4% a year” he says. “Lets call it the Mermaid’s Share” (in Scotch whisky, the term used is Angels share).
As spirits & cocktails consumers are getting more and more educated about their favorite tipples; as the bartenders are increasingly becoming knowledgeable about the ingredients of their trade, we seem to be seeing an interesting challenge emerging: How to retain one’s competitive edge in an environment that is more and more controlled by very strict label definitions. Last year’s war of words between Diageo and Jack Daniel’s about the legal definition of “Tennessee Whiskey” is an example of how the big boys are increasingly pushing the boundaries of their Geographical Indications’ legal definition to keep abreast of the competition. Some even send their product into space for a different aging method – Although probably a PR stunt rather than a future product line.
Rum is one spirit category (read: aged spirits) that seems to be relatively un-scathed with all this G.I. talks at the moment. While there are international guidelines in place (Cachaca, Agricole to name the most famous) they remain relatively few considering the scope of the category, and this is probably why rum remains very vibrant and exciting; but perhaps a bit confusing too!
My journey into rum appreciation has suffered many ups-and-downs; I have sometimes even turned my back on it – a great personal mistake, I may add. It is however a category that arouses a lot of passion and a great deal of “anorak-ism”. Please note that I say this out of jealousy; some of these guys know the minutest details about each brands, the range and the country they are made in. An amount of knowledge I initially attributed to the best of the bar world and Scotch lovers, but beware… the Rum Lovers are here…. And if the latest trends highlighted at this year’s Tales of the Cocktails are anything to go by, they are here to stay!
It is because of this relative freedom, that rum has such an array of flavors! From the dry styled Brugal from Dominican Republic, to the dark, slightly bitter & sweet Gosling from Bermuda (or even Old Monk, in India) to the complex, cognac-like French “agricole” of the DOM-TOMs; to the spiced and/or flavored and/or even “engineered” rums, there is bound to be rum for everyone interested enough to find their favorite cane tipple, but it may take a while.
There is however a little island that is currently packing a hefty punch when it comes to quality and quirkiness of its rums… And it is this little island I would like to introduce: Mauritius.
Nestled in the south side of the Indian Ocean and to the East of Madagascar; it is a small paradise that has a long sugar making tradition (They have no less than 15 different types of sugars, each of them with their own organoleptic character). With this sugar-rich heritage comes a long rum making tradition; which has often been overlooked, but it is now finally starting to get the international recognition it deserves. Mauritius is well-poised to gain even more notoriety considering the following points:
First and foremost, around 80% of the cultivable land is covered in sugar cane fields; meaning that it is not short of raw material.
It is one of the few islands in the world, which produces both molasses rum and sugar-cane juice rum; which allows it to boasts an incredible diversity of products. It is no wonder that established fine spirits purveyors such as Berry Brothers and Rudd have developed a liking for its rums.
It boasts six different distilleries on its territory, each with their own character, terroir and production methods. What is even more interesting is that at one point in its relatively short history, Mauritius boasted over 70 different distilleries. Quite a lot for a small island just over 2000 squares kilometers.
Because of the above, I am convinced that Mauritius will grow from strength to strength in the rum world. There is a particular rum that I am very found of – yes, so much so, that I became its global ambassador: Gold of Mauritius.
Blended entirely from molasses based rums from the area, and aged in a very specific way, Gold of Mauritius is currently catching the attention of many rums critics across the globe: 91pts at the Ultimate Spirit Challenge 2015, silver medal at the World Spirit Award 2015, gold medal at the Top Rum competition 2014-15, and “best of 2014” at the Flaviar Spirit Community Awards; all of these awards are recognizing the quality and the complexity of this amazing rum!
It is aged entirely in South African “Cape Port” wine barrels… In fact the man behind Gold of Mauritius only uses ex-wine barrels for his various rums, instead of the more usual 2nd hand spirits cask: It adds another dimension to the rum, and a very clear identity. It is this character that is winning the hearts (and the palates) of the judges, the bartenders and the consumers of the world over…
A very sip-worthy rum, it is also an incredibly versatile mixing rum… A fabulous substitute in a classic cocktail such as the Manhattan, as the wood finishing lends itself fabulously well with the vermouth. It has its place in some contemporary cocktails such as the Espresso Martini, where its slightly bittersweet character is a wonderful match to a well-pulled espresso. However it truly shines in in its signature drinks, the “Gold-Fashioned”, as the name implies, it is a riff on the classic old-fashioned cocktail. Mixed with 60ml of Gold of Mauritius, 20ml of Tawny Port, 2 white sugar cubes and bitter, the key of this cocktail is in the preparation.
While there are many ways to stir this classic drink, there are two things to remember: Dilution and patience.
First of all, saturate one of the sugar cubes with the bitter of choice (I recommend chocolate bitters) and add the sugar cubes in a nice, weighty double old-fashioned glass. Add the port wine and some ice cubes and stir patiently using a long handled bar-spoon. Stir until the sugar cubes start to dissolve, if you find that this isn’t happening fast enough, feel free to crush the sugar with the back of the spoon. Add more ice and 30ml of Gold of Mauritius and stir again for about 10 to 15 seconds and repeat the last step. This procedure, while lengthy, should yield a very chilled Gold-Fashioned properly blended with the other flavors. Finish the drink by lightly squeezing the cleaned peel of an orange, so that its oils will float on the surface of the drink, giving a wonderfully complimentary aroma.
The second way – and the one I favor, as it is slightly quicker and thus more commercially viable in a busy operation is as follow: add all ingredients into a mixing glass with about 15ml of chilled mineral water and stir all ingredients together for about 15 seconds and strain the mixture over a big single chunk of beautiful clear ice, and garnish with the orange peel. Asides from the slightly speedier delivery, there is something mesmerizing about big, clunky, clear ice in your cocktail… It is one more finishing touch to a superb drink! The big advantage is that this type of ice is very slow to melt, and thus the drink is that little more stable.
That being said, a good Gold-Fashioned is a bit like a great cup of coffee… everybody has their very own way of enjoying this cocktail.
With this note, and a Gold-Fashioned in hand, I bid you farewell, and I also take the liberty to remind the rums lover who read this little wrote up that October is the month of the Rumfest, taking place in Berlin, London and Brussels, so I hope to see you there! Best,
Martinique is an island in the lesser Antilles in the Caribbean sea, crowned by a volcano called Mont Pelee which wiped out the city of St. Pierre in 1902. A place of great beauty, it wasn’t the volcano however which captivated Sanjit, but a bottle of rum from that island, which when he first had it 10 odd years ago, had him spellbound. Until then as he says, he had only drunk the usual suspects of Old Monk, Bacardi and Captain Morgan. This particular rum was however made in the style of Rum Agricole, which is made from sugarcane juice, unlike the bulk of rums the world over, which are made from molasses and are known as Rum Industrielle. Agricole rums are smooth as silk, and enjoyed with ice and water, very much as you might a glass of Single Malt. And the first drink we enjoy in his house is Rum Zaya, from the island of Trinidad, and an excellent example of a Rum Agricole. Since then, he’s stayed loyal to rum, and as he says, has never “graduated to drinking whisky”. “I tried it”, he says, “but it didn’t do anything for me”.
At current point Sanjit has over 50 rums from around the world, and as we sip the Rum Zaya, he starts bringing out some of the choicer rums from his collection, and we discuss the obsession that collecting rum has become for him. Collecting rum hasn’t been easy, and it helps that he travels frequently, as also passes on requests to friends. He doesn’t really believe in collecting really expensive rums, and there are some rums he says which are known as “shipwrecked rums”, which as the name suggests may have been salvaged from shipwrecks and can quite often sell for a few 1000 pounds. Most of the rum he collects is dark rum. He doesn’t like white rum. Some of the gold rums (anejos) are ok, he says while spiced rums are a hit and miss, though some can be good.
Unfortunately in India, says Sanjit rum as a drink has got short shrift, which is sad in a country, where there is a significant consumption of rum and where you will find rum made across multiple states. It’s a fall out of Old Monk’s popularity says Sanjit and the fact that you get a hugely accepted product at 300 rupees. It’s a fantastic benchmark, so no one really sees value in buying a product which is 4 or 5 times the price. As Sanjit goes on to say, the fact that rum is made in so many places around the world means that it has more variety than say Scotch whisky, which adds to the allure of the spirit. The popularity of rum has also increased the world over, and 15 years if you went to a liquor shop in the US you’d barely find 10 to 15 rums. Now you’ll find 50 different kinds of rum. The increase in immigration into the US from the Caribbean has also definitely helped boost the cause of rum in the US.
He’s hopeful though for the future of rum in India. As a few years ago, it was seen as a little cheap to be collecting rum or have rum in your bar, but that’s no longer the case. As Sanjit says, who would have thought 15 years ago, that wine would get so popular in India. Another issue that rum faces is that it’s perceived as a seasonal drink, to be drunk in the winters.
It’s the paradox of rum, that even at the swishest of parties in India, or even 5 star hotel bars, you will find a bottle of Old Monk, but it’s these same customers who even though they love rum, will baulk at paying a few thousand rupees for a bottle of rum.
After the Zaya, we move on to Rhum Clement, another Agricole style rum, from Martinique. I ask him how he normally drinks his rum, and he says, “it’s normally half tonic, half soda, with a dash of lemon, instead of cola. Cola is too sweet”. Rum cocktails he dismisses as a waste of time.
He brings out some of the stars of his collection, an Appleton estate 25 yo and a Samaroli. The Samaroli is made by an Italian who blends rums, and makes them in small batches of 300-400 bottles of each. Rums of the Caribbean or Rums of Africa for example, all bottled in Scotland. “when will you open it?”, I ask him, “a special day”, “It will be one, when I open it”, he replies.
Berlin… Just the name conjures up a huge amount of visual images: The good ol’ Trabant, the wall, the war etc.… However, in spite of its long history, the city feels young and is bursting with energy and boasts some of the best bars I have ever been to. Not so much because of the often simple, well crafted drink lists but because there is a fundamental understanding that the quality of a bar goes well beyond its cocktail list, indeed, Berlin operators understand that a great bar is greater than the sum of all its elements: The theme, the bartenders, the drinks, the surroundings, all of them must match and be coherent with one another… It is an attention to details that many emerging cocktail capitals should emulate.
What better place then, than for two of the most impressive trade show I have ever visited: The Berlin Rumfest and the Bar Covent Berlin.
The Berlin Rumfest was started by one of Europe’s rum visionary, Dirk Becker. The show takes place before the UK Rum fest and B.C.B. early October. A great news for travellers and show goers, as they can kill three birds with one stone in a short period of time. The Berlin Rumfest is its 2nd year and has rapidly grown to be THE rum show for continental Europe… it has enough rums on offer to repeal “black tot day”!
While I pride myself being an educated drinker, I must admit that I am forever amazed by the varieties of rums that are available to us! From the dry, clear over-proofed rums from Nine-Leaves made in Japan, to the complex, creamy and outstanding rums from Gold of Mauritius (Definitely one to watch!) and the more esoteric Frankonian rums of Germany to the big brand names; all are there to be sipped, tasted, discussed and learned about! Another great feature of this show is that you are usually in direct contact with the person who makes the rum, rather than a bored salesperson who drew the short straw! The educational seminars are usually well done, and as commercially minded as expected. Lastly, the blind tastings are all conducted by some of the biggest contemporary names in today’s Rum industry… A pleasure to witness! These are two brilliant days not to be missed if you are a lover of rum and its sub-culture! The show even has its very own panama shop!
One would think that two days of rum drinking and catching up with some old friends would satisfy my thirst; you would be sorely mistaken! After just a day of recovery, starts the ENORMOUS Bar Covent Berlin… When I say enormous, I mean enormous! Enormous in size, enormous in numbers of visitors, enormous in the sheer amount of seminars… An enormous amount of everything!
At the start of the show, you would be forgiven to think you accidentally got into the queue of some yuppie pop star’s concert! One, because the queue was like everything about the show, enormous! (It is really quite amazing that our industry attracts so many people from all walks of life and from every corner of the world). And two -and this is a personal peeve- THE AMOUNT OF WAXED YUPPIE MOUSTACHE IS REALLY NOT OK!!! I understand that we are embracing a whole new culture of cocktail making focusing on the bygone era of classic drinks, but please… It is really not ok to have a waxed moustache when you are barely over the legal drinking age, and calling yourself a “mixologist” when you cannot have possibly been legally drinking for more than 18month! It REALLYREALLYREALLY is NOT ok! –Peeve is over now, back to the show!
The redeeming features about the queue are the many G&T bars scattered along the way, ensuring that the waiting is somewhat pleasant –even under the rain. What could be better than tasting various gins and their tonic counterparts at 11AM?
Once inside this international drinking paradise, you are bound to find your fill! All of the bartenders you have been reading about… They are here. All of these new spirits you wanted to taste… They are here. These new bar toys you have seen on youtube… You can buy them here. That book you’ve been wanting to read for a while… Which language? There is something for absolutely everyone… Cocktail geeks, flair bartenders, beer connoisseurs and bar-toys lovers are all catered for, inside the show and in the evening gatherings. There is EVEN a Jägermeister mixology stand -which struck me as being a little peculiar, if not completely counter-intuitive.
While I spent two fabulous days sipping Negroni’s, catching up with some old friends and mingling with some new ones, there was one theme that became somewhat apparent relatively early in the show: Gin! Gin was, without a shadow of a doubt THE star of the event… If anyone was unsure about this so-called gin revival, I can assure you that it has well and truly arrived. The numbers of new gins on display was astounding! Smoked gins, aged gins, sweetened gins (granted, not so new…) colorful gins, preposterous gins, gins with a HUUUUUUUUUGE amount of botanicals, gins with only a couple botanicals -I tasted a cardamom gin which, was quite fab! The list was endless, but not all of them were good.
All and all, it was an awe-inspiring trade show, very much gear at all serious industry professional. The seminars, the brands, the gear and the contacts that are possible at the BCB made this show one of the fundamental ones in Europe. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to dig deeper in the industry and be exposed to international drinking trends and witnessing the very clean German bartending style. Four days that really left an impact, and four days that I will certainly repeat next year…