The first seminar we attended at Tales of the Cocktail was called “Rum’s Punch: A spirited view of rum’s rise, fall and return.” Rum aficionado Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, moderated the session. He began by detailing the history of rum, including the widely varied processes of making rum from basic ingredients (sugar cane, molasses) to distillation.
Panelist Jeff “Beachbum” Berry then enlightened us on the rebirth of rum in the 20th century, mostly due to cocktail visionary Don the Beachcomber and the dawning of the Tiki movement. Rum is the main ingredient in Tiki drinks. I’ll get into more about Tiki in a future post, though I will say that for whatever reason Jeff Berry was my favorite of the “cocktail personalities” I met at the convention. Must be the laidback “Beachbum” attitude. Or maybe it’s because he appealed to my love of zombie movies by spending hours in a make-up chair for some sweet photos that appear in his new book.
The other seminar we attended on Thursday was called “Lost Ingredients: obtaining (or making) rare ingredients for even rarer cocktails.” Moderated by Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh, “Lost Ingredients” highlighted what he referred to as the “holy trinity” of rare spirits: absinthe (illegal in the U.S. up until very recently), Crème Yvette (a violet flavored liqueur), and Pimento Dram (rum and all-spice combination available only in Jamaica).
Panelist Chuck Taggart was the resident Pimento Dram enthusiast. He told the a humorous story of his introduction to the sweet Caribbean concoction involving Ted Haigh letting him taste it, savor it, and instantly get hooked. The punch line was Dr. Cocktail’s playfully mocking revelation that it is in fact a lost ingredient nearly impossible to procure.
An undaunted Mr. Taggart then embarked on a long journey full of trial and error in attempt to replicate the spice flavor that originally enamored him. He brought the fruit of his labor to the seminar for attendees to sample, garnering near universal approval.
If curiosity has gotten the best of you and you’d like to take a stab at making a lost ingredient, here’s Chuck’s personal recipe for Pimento Dram, which he distributed at the seminar and is also printed in the July/August issue of Imbibe Magazine.
Chuck’s Jamaican Pimento Dram No. 3
2¼ cups 151-proof Demerara rum
½ cup whole dried allspice berries, crushed
3 cups water
1½ lb brown sugar
Crush allspice berries in a mortar and place in 1-liter jar with rubber seal. Cover with rum and steep for at least 10 days, agitating the maceration daily. Pour through a fine strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquor as possible, then pour the strained liquor maceration through another strainer line with a coffee filter (it will take a while).
Make simple syrup by heating water and brown sugar until sugar dissolves, then allow it to cool. When cool, combine with the rum maceration and age for at least one month. Decant and enjoy. This will fill two 750 ml bottles.
Check out Chuck’s website for a cocktail recipe specially crafted to take full advantage of his Pimento Dram’s unique flavor.
Other ingredients that were discussed in the session included Batavia Arrack, Amer Picon, and Falernum. Joe Fee of Fee Brothers spent some time discussing Falernum and his role in revitalizing the once-fading ingredient. He also took advantage of his time at the podium to introduce Fee Brothers new grapefruit bitters, eliciting a round of applause from the audience.
If the seminar taught me one thing, rare ingredients once thought to be gone forever probably won’t be lost for much longer due to the diligence, patience and resourcefulness of many in the cocktail industry.