Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Boston Cocktail Summit: Resurrection Of An Icon-Rum On The Rise

"Alcohol is all about escapism."
--Karen Hoskin 

For many people, Rum brings to mind tropical drinks in the Caribbean. Yet Rum involves much more than just the Caribbean and New England was also once a hot spot for rum production. In a previous post, Rum: A Brief History & Trivia, I discussed some of the history of this intriguing spirit. Yet the origins of rum may extend much further back in time, at least according to Karen Hoskin of Montanya Rum.

Karen led a free seminar, Resurrection Of An Icon--Rum On The Rise, discussing its history, the various styles, ingredients, production, cocktails and more. In addition, she discussed a bit about her own rum distillery and rum bars in Colorado. You can read my previous review of her two rums, the Oro Dark Rum and Platino Light Rum. Karen provided some very intriguing information about the history of rum and it was a worthy seminar.

It all began with India. On a beach in Goa, India, Karen began her relationship with rum, sipping some Old Monk Rum and having an epiphany of sorts. As the importer is located in Massachusetts, Old Monk is available locally. In the conventional history, sugarcane allegedly originated in New Guinea around 6000 BC and spread from there to the rest of the world, though Karen believes that sugercane may have also developed independently in India, and that it was an East India strain that led to its hybridization.

In addition, Karen feels, and she is supported by other historians, that India may have produced the first sugarcane based alcohol, the ancestor to modern rum. The ancient Malay people also produced a sugarcane based alcohol that they called "Brum." Interesting how that name is so similar to "rum." During the travels of Marco Polo, he spoke of a sugarcane based alcohol he encountered in Iran. Our more modern rum industry spread from Brazil in the 1620s, to the Caribbean in the 1650s and then New England in the 1660s.

There are two primary rum production ntraditions, that of the islands and that of the mountains, sea level versus higher elevations. Rum also varies by the main ingredient, such as molasses, processed sugarcane juice, or raw cane. Island rums are often molasses based, and it needs to be noted that molasses has a high sulfur content, which can be dulled with age. Island rum also ages quickly and can emit a bit of sulfur on the finish. The quality of the water used to produce rum is also very important.

When producing Montanya Rum, Karen decided to produce a rum in the mountain tradition and using raw cane. Raw cane lacks any sulfurous by products and Ron Zacapa is one of the other rum distilleries that produces a raw cane rum. Montanya Rum uses sugarcane from Maui, Hawaii, which is traceable from a labor union sugarcane farm. Sustainability has become a growing concern for Karen. A $4000 pallet of raw cane will create a couple thousand bottles of rum, a higher yield than they once produced. Colorado water, from a 350 feet deep well, is used, which has a good minerality and would work well to produce any type of spirit.

The distillery is more of an old style facility, using two alembic copper pots from Portugal. They produce about 90,000 bottles of rum annually, split equally between Oro and Platino. Most of their rum is sold in Colorado but it is currently available in 37 states, with major growth in Southern California. The new markets of Atlanta and Las Vegas are also showing potential.

Karen also briefly categorized the history of rum cocktails into four main types: Islands (with tropical fruits), Tiki (with different herbs), Classic (Cuba playing a major role) and Contemporary (with a culinary edge). Karen and Brice Hoskins own 2 rum bars and the only rum sold at those bars are their own two rums. They have over 100 cocktail recipes, and all of those recipes can be found on their website. Their best selling rum cocktail, outselling all others by 2 to 1, is the Maharaja, which is made from fresh ginger, chai spices, and the Oro Dark Rum. We got to try this cocktail and it did have a pleasant spicy edge to it.

Tonight, why not make a rum cocktail and escape.

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