Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Meeting With the Ministry of Rhum

For the last several years Ed Hamilton has run a website called The Ministry of Rhum, which is an exhaustive compilation of information, product review, recipes and all things Rhum. In addition, he is an importer of several labels of Rhum Agricole, that is to say rhum distilled from fresh sugar cane juice from the French islands in the West Indies. But mainly he just knows everything there is know about rum

Ed conducted a staff training session this morning and cleared up a number of myths and misunderstandings.

Ed started his life designing and selling mechanical actuators for bombs until he realized that what he really wanted to do was live on a sailboat in the Caribbean. So he quit his job, worked his way around the world a couple of times and wound up on a 38 foot sailboat in the Caribbean. Since the longest distance between any island is about 80 miles, that was all he needed. He soon discovered that every island had their own rum and that prices varied widely and soon he was bootlegging good cheap rum to islands with bad expensive rum. Then he started asking questions and found that when he said he was writing a book, companies would just give him free rum, so that's what he did. And now he makes money because he knows just about everything there is to know about rum.

Which is a lot to know, because rum is "the most diverse of all distilled spirits." That's because it's different on every island and there is no governing body with strict regulations. We see some labelling standardization because of Federal laws and regulations. Except for the French islands, where production of Rhum Agricole is strictly regulated. There are lots of websites to go into all that. But it gives me tiredhead.

Several times Ed discussed methods of consumption and this interested me as we've been hitting three-digits on the themometer the last few days and cold rum drinks can be delicious and refreshing. And what I learned is this: 2 parts Rum, light or aged, 1 part simple syrup, 1 part lime. Repeat that several times until you can remember it.

  • Daiquiri:  Combine in a shaker with ice, shake and strain straight up into a cocktail glass. Light or aged rum.
  • Mojito:  Muddle 6 mint leaves with lime juice and syrup. Add white rum and ice, shake and pour in a highball glass, Top with 2 parts club soda.
  • Rum Punch: Combine in a shaker with ice. Add dash of Angostura bitters, pinch of nutmeg. Shake and serve in a high ball glass. Use aged rum.

See how they are just variations? It's easy! Now Ed kept referring to Ti Punch all morning. You'll see why. It has nothing to do with tea.

  • Ti Punch:  Short for petit. Proportions vary to taste. Speed is of the essence. Frequently used as a morning pick-me-up.  2 ounces Rhum Agricole Blanc, 1 lime wedge, 1/2 tsp sugarcane syrup. Squeeze lime into a tall glass, Add rhum and syrup. Stir vigorously, Ice as you like, enough to chill, but not dilute. Drink, don't sip.

Memories of Flavor 1.0

The other day a customer was telling me about his memories of his first bottles of great wine. As it happened, they were Bordeaux. So were mine. In a different time, in a different economy.  Acquisition was based on knowledge rather than economic status. But I don't want to gripe about prices, I'm interested in memories.

What was driving my customer was his memory of the experience. That memory is there whenever he opens a bottle of wine. Flavor is part of the equation, but so it's mainly a kind of magic, a kind of time-travel if you will. I'm told Proust wrote a long book about it.

Memories like my customers drive me as well.

A number of years ago I was in the Bay area with my wife and one of my sons. We were driving through Berkeley when we passed Chez Panisse and on a whim we stopped to see about lunch and a little later we were seated next to an open window. We ordered plates to share. Some I can't recall, but I remember the depth of the salmon served with a fresh relish of corn and multicolored pepper. I remember this toasty discs of goat cheese on the mixed green and I remember the fresh flinty aromatics of the Pouilly-Fume that tied the meal together.

Many's the time I've created versions of that meal. Sometimes I get close.

Last Sunday was the most recent. I tossed corn cut from cob with red bell pepper, green onion,  tomato, fresh oregano from the backyard and dressed it with lemon juice and olive oil. I grilled a salmon fillet and we had a bottle of Chateau de Sancerre Cuvee Connetable, a barrel aged Sauvignon Blanc. Chez Panisse? No, but pretty damn good!