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Angostura Aromatic Bitters

Have you ever had a Daiquiri or a Mai-Tai? Manhattan or a Mojito? An Old-Fashioned (with rum we hope!) surely? In that case you’ve most likely already been introduced to “Amargo Aromatico” or as it is more commonly known, Angostura Aromatic Bitters.

Although not a rum in itself, the concoction is produced by the House of Angostura, the main producer of rum in Trinidad & Tobago. The origins of the bitters are found further afield however in Venezuela, where in 1824, after four years of experimentation, a German doctor finalised his organic remedy to assist with the digestion, stomach pains and general well-being of the soldiers fighting in the war.  Dr. Johan Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert was based in Angostura (renamed Ciudad Bolivar in 1846 after the famous general whose soldiers Siegert was administering his aid and bitters to) and it was there that he perfected his blend of water, ethanol (44.7%), gentian, herbs and spices. Angostura’s own brand bitters do not contain the Angostura bark however some other brands do.  That being said, to this day the recipe is a secret known but to a handful of people!

Such was the success of the highly concentrated solution that in 1830, Siegert set up a distillery in Angostura to keep up with demand.  In 1875, now a family business under the name Dr. J.G.B. Siegert & Hijos, the entire operation relocated to Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago.

The final name change for the company came in 1992, when Angostura Limited was formed and over the years Siegert’s vision and execution saw the company in its various forms become exclusive purveyors of aromatic bitters to, amongst others, the King of Prussia, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George V and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In 2012 they even produced a limited edition bottle and gift canister to celebrate HM Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Anniversary.

The bottle is iconic for its dark brown neck, yellow cap and of course its tall paper sleeve that stretches past the shoulders. The smell is rich with spices, cloves and zest. You immediately think of Jamaican spiced cakes and sweet Caribbean chicken. Funny that the first thing the mind goes to is food and not a delicious Old Fashioned poured over a large spherical ice-ball with a twist of orange peel. It is in this cognitive moment that the very essence of Dr. Siegert’s idea all those years comes to the fore: food. Food, nourishment, appetite and digestion. The wonderfully over-sized label even tells us about some of the many, many food items we should be adding the aromatic bitters to such as soups, salads, vegetables, gravies, fish, meat, fruit juices, stewed prunes, jellies, sherbets, ice-creams, sauces for puddings, fruit pies and apple sauce.

Rich in history, rich in flavour and a rich companion of many cocktails around the world, many thankfully that contain rum! Let us know which food and cocktails you like to add your Angostura Aromatic Bitters to!

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Everyday Rum – Review 5: Captain Morgan (The Original Rum) – £14 (700ml)

Alongside its Spiced Rum which maybe more widely recognisable, Captain Morgan’s original offering is their dark rum. I wrote an earlier article on spiced rums which included the Captain’s spiced contribution to the rum world which can be found here alongside some background on the brand itself.

The bottle is very similar to the spiced variety. The label looks like a darker version which helps keep continuity in the branding. This version however states it is a “Jamaica Rum.” The rum is matured in charred white oak barrels with a very low angel share of just 2%, a very efficient process indeed.

Similar to the Spiced Rum, the original Dark Rum is designed as a mixing rum. It is an entry to the dark rum world for the general public, at a price which allows pretty much any spirit drinker a taste. It is also very widely stocked throughout the UK in bars and pubs, so you should never be too far from a bottle.

In the bottle and when poured into a glass, the rum is a very dark, rich brown colour. On the nose it is quite powerful with the alcohol at the forefront. It transitions into a very sweet smell. The strength and power of the rum indicates it hasn’t been aged for very long in barrels and that the smell indicates it has added sugar and sweeteners as well as caramel to give the appearance of an older, more mature rum. From what small information I could find, it is aged for up to 7 years, although I feel there is only a very small amount of rum from the latter end of that.

Although this rum is marketed and meant to be a mixing rum, I have decided to try it neat for the purposes of helping figure out which cocktails I think it will work with best. The first taste is quite pungent with alcohol and quite harsh. I get a small hint of aniseed but the strength of the alcohol is really overpowering almost everything else here. The ending has a very harsh burn and it’s quite bitter. I can also taste a small amount of what seems to be Benylin (cough mixture) which I also smelt in Kraken when poured out into a glass. There is definitely a small smoky taste as well to the ending, but in general I cant bring myself to keep trying this neat.

On the website and via their marketing the two main cocktails or mixers they recommend are with Cola and Ginger beer. I have had Captain Morgan with Cola a lot in my younger days as it was my go to choice of drink throughout university. It is sweeter than your average drink though and as I have gotten older I find it too sweet to drink. The sugar in the rum and the sugar in the cola make that pretty obvious. It also still leaves a burn which the cola cannot mask. Not ideal in a cocktail in my opinion.

I feel with ginger beer the rum is a lot more drinkable. The fieriness of the ginger beer does seem to make the burn of the rum, and the powerful Jamaican side of the rum gives it a punch. Its not too sweet and definitely works much better than the cola mixture. However, there is nothing special here. It is drinkable but not really what you want in a cocktail.

The final mixer I tried this with was lemonade. Surprisingly this for me was the best mixer. The sharpness of the lemonade helps to cut through some of the sweetness and also seems to prevent the bulk of the burn from occurring. But again, the flavour of the rum doesn’t really shine through. All I can taste is the power of the alcohol to give it a small kick but none of the rum flavour.

Overall for me I am yet to find something to mix this rum with to really help it shine and flourish. Until then I will be inclined to go for almost any other dark rum in its place when at a bar. I would personally try this with a fruitier cocktail when I am next at a bar just to see how the flavours meld together but I’m not very hopeful. However, if you have found the perfect cocktail or mixer for this, please let us know!

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Everyday Rum – Review 4: Lamb’s Navy Rum – £14

Alfred Lamb was born in 1827. He was the son of wines and spirits entrepreneur William Lamb. Just 22 years later, he blended together ’18 superior rums’ from Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana and created the worlds first Lambs Navy Rum. The rum was blended and aged for 4 years in a warehouse in West India Docks in London by the Thames River. This warehouse was unfortunately a casualty of the London Blitz and had to be rebuilt. Their website is fun and informative and can be found here.

You can find Lamb’s Navy rum throughout the land here in the UK. Pretty much every bar/pub/supermarket will have this rum and as a result of this for many it is their go to choice of rum. There are a few other offerings from Lamb’s but this Navy is the staple release and the one which Lamb’s have built their brand on.

The Lambs bottle is quite unique as you can see from the picture. It is a hexagonal shape rather than the typical cylindrical bottle that we see over most bottles. I do think it is easier to hold when pouring than your standard bottle shape. The label lends itself to the branding towards being a rum for the British Navy. However I could not find any information to corroborate that it actually is linked to the British Navy. None the less it seems to be proud to be a British rum and the label displays this.

The rum is a deep red/brown colour when poured in the glass. On my first smell I find this to be quite sweet. Toffee and dried fruits such as raisins are at the forefront. There are notes of burnt sugar and vanilla and the distinctive molasses. On my first sip I taste molasses and toffee similar to the nose. This melts away into some spiciness of nutmeg and slight cinnamon. A very sweet sip, although there is a burn at the finish along with some oak notes. Whilst it is possible to have this neat, I really don’t recommend it. The taste on the palette just doesn’t work for me and the finish leaves a long lasting alcohol burn which I think needs to be mixed. Plus the Lamb’s advertising doesn’t lend itself for this to be a sipping rum.

I have almost always mixed this rum with diet coke when I have been out drinking socially. When mixed, it brings out more grass and earth flavours from the rum. This is a nice alternative to how sweet the other popular dark rums, such as Captain Morgan, become when mixed with diet coke. This is actually a surprising turn with Lambs due to how sweet it is neat. The drink is still definitely sweet, but now mixed; the coke takes the edge off making it a much better option.

Personally I would have this rum as a nice alternative to a simple dark rum  and coke when on a night out. It wouldn’t be my go to choice for a simple mixer but it’s a nice alternative. Other than with coke, I’m not sure where else I would place this rum. Potentially a sharp citrus based cocktail may help to cut through the sweetness, but I am yet to try one of these cocktails with this particular rum.

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Everyday Rum – Review 3: Havana Club Rum 7 year – £20 (700ml)

Havana Club has a high pedigree in the rum community and outside. There has been rum in Cuba since the introduction of the sugarcane crop to the Caribbean. Havana Club is currently the leading rum in Cuba and uses a number of Maestros Roneros (Master Rum Maker). It takes 15 years of dedication to become a Maestro Ronero, during which the elder masters impart their knowledge to the newer trainees. Havana Club’s Primer Maestro Ronero, Don Jose Navarro explains “It’s is a cultural legacy, passed on from Maestro Ronero to Maestro Ronero, from heart to heart, from Cuban to Cuban.”

You could be easily mistaken in thinking that this Havana Club 7 year is an entry level offering from Havana due to the price point. Although it maybe entry level in terms of a potential sipping rum, there are a few younger siblings that Havana produce which would be regarded as the entry level. Those are very much regarded as mixing rums, but this rum in their range takes things up a level.

The number written on bottles can be misleading when it comes to aging. However, in this instance Havana confirm that the minimum amount any part of this rum is aged is for 7 years. Thereby sticking to the ‘youngest drop’ policy. This is done by blending individual barrels of rum.

The rise to popularity of Havana Club 7 has been rapid in the UK market and is part of the reason it appears in the ‘Everyday Rum’ segment here. This can be found in supermarkets and most bars and it is becoming popular is restaurants as well. This rum has won awards at spirits championships in the 1990s which helps to display the Havana pedigree.

The bottle is an unusual dark brown colour and has a black label with the familiar red Havana club motif. The bottle has a screw cap rather than a cork which most premium rum manufacturers add when creating the packaging for a premium sipping rum. Definitely a stand out rum packaging when sat on a bartender’s shelf.

On the nose there is an immediate whiff of sweet caramel and a slight oak-ness. There are hints of coconut and passion fruit alongside which meld well together to help give an inviting aroma to this blend. The ethanol smell is still present though and needs to be understood and navigated past.

On my first sip the taste is more pleasant than the immediate ethanol hit from the nose. Alongside some leather and tobacco notes, I taste dark chocolate, burnt sugar and an oak-ness. The finish is creamy, with a hint of burn which does detract from the rum. Having sat for a few minutes I now taste prunes and raisins countering the sweetness found from the molasses. An interesting balance. The finish now is smoke and tobacco like. It doesn’t burn as much now, but the after taste isn’t what I prefer in my rum. Although if you enjoy those smoke and tobacco flavours, or fancy something to go alongside a cigar I can see how this rum would suit your needs.

Due to the wide availability of this rum throughout the UK market it is natural for this rum to have been used as a higher end mixer in cocktails. This is also where I feel this particular rum excels and where I would recommend a more casual rum drinker to enjoy this blend. In my opinion this makes a lovely Rum Based Old Fashioned cocktail and a Cuban classic cocktail of Cuba Libre is probably the best instance of this cocktail I have tried. Why not have a look at an article written earlier on rum based cocktails and experiment with those as well?

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Everyday Rum – Review 2: The Kraken Black Spiced Rum – £23 (700ml)

The Kraken Rum has made a massive splash recently into bars and pubs throughout the UK since its introduction in 2010. The Kraken sea creature has become quite well known with many movies (Pirates of the Caribbean) and advertising using the creature recently. The creature of legend is said to have attacked ships during the 18th and 19th century and is easy to therefore see how it would tie in with Rum. I would recommend visiting their website for a lot more information and a cool experience to boot! The website can be found here. There is a vast array of merchandise that can be purchased from the website, which all adds to the branding and advertising campaign of the Kraken Rum.

The rum itself is strong and dark. It is 94% proof and the colour is meant to be reminiscent of squid ink. It is a mix of 11 secret spices and imported from the Caribbean (no specific island mentioned). The rum is distilled in Trinidad and Tobago though no mention of this is made on the bottle.

Talking of the bottle, I think its design suits its need perfectly. From my understanding the two loops on the side of the bottle were to tie the bottles through rope so they could be placed in the water to keep their temperature regulated and save space on board ships without losing bottles. I love design features even though it would never be used today, in keeping with the theme of the rum. It has a Kraken blown on the glass of the bottle which adds to the character.

When pouring the rum out of the bottle the colour lightens slightly to a more plum or deep purple. On my first smell the spices are pungent with cinnamon and liquorice being at the forefront. I also smell cough mixture reminiscent to Benylin that I was given as a child.

I believe the marketing of this rum is as a higher end mixer, not really meant for sipping.  Nevertheless, on my first neat sip I find the spices are at the forefront.  I also get some cherry which is nice but doesn’t seem to fit well with the spices. However, this rum does have a higher alcohol volume to the usual yet is actually surprisingly smooth. Unfortunately for my taste, the cough mixture flavour comes through in the tasting as well. This flavour becomes overpowering and ruins the end of the rum for me. There are still spices and some vanilla in the end but the cough mixture taste dominates the finish.

The Kraken website says to mix this rum with either coke, ginger beer or an energy drink. Having mixed this rum with coke is where I find it shines through. The flavours work well with the coke, and it helps remove most of the cough mixture type taste which is the main drawback for me. I have also had a twist on the infamous “jaeger-bomb” shot by swapping the alcohol to Kraken and keeping the energy drink. The flavours do meld together well and the shot is actually more drinkable in my opinion. Another winner from them it seems. I haven’t as of yet tried this with ginger beer, but I will shortly.

Overall, I find this rum to be excellent mixing rum. It could be drunk neat, but definitely first-rate when mixed with readily accessible mixing ingredients such as coke or an energy drink. I don’t think it is suited to a more classic rum based cocktail though. I believe Kraken Rum is an economical way to enjoy your night out drinking with friends. As they say “To not respect the power of the Kraken is to not respect the sea!”

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Everyday Rum – Review 1: Bacardi Superior White – £12 (700ml)

A new segment here on RumCask, I’ll be reviewing the rums that are available to the general public in supermarkets. Hopefully these will showcase some of the qualities of rum and may lead onto more people enjoying the basics and deciding to look deeper into the sugarcane spirit.

Bacardi is the name synonymous with rum. Almost every person I have spoken to who doesn’t know anything about rum will mention Bacardi when I say rum. It goes a long way to show how well their marketing team has done over the years. The Bacardi brothers purchased a distillery in Cuba in 1862 and made a smoother version of the local rum of the time via different methods of filtering the rum. However, Bacardi left Cuba when Fidel Castro planned to nationalise all private property and moved to Puerto Rico to continue their production. This Superior White is a direct descendent of that particular blend. Although it has been refined and production methods have changed, they still age the rum for up to a couple of years and filter through charcoal. For more on the history of Bacardi and their logo especially, here is a link to an article I wrote earlier.

The Bacardi Superior bottle is clean and elegant. Everybody knows what it looks like and when presented, the rum looks perfectly clear in the bottle. It is obviously very economical as it is mass produced. But everybody knows what the bottle looks like. It is in almost every bar and is the standard rum that is served with any rum drink unless specified otherwise. This particular flagship offering from Bacardi is meant to be the superior mixing rum and is not meant to be drunk neat.

To get the basic notes of the rum I will taste the rum neat. This will hopefully give me a better explanation as to the particular ways I would personally mix the rum to get the most from it for you. On the nose it is quite grassy and pungently raw with a fruity finish creating quite an intense nose. On my first sip neat I find the rum very harsh. It is quite dry and I can taste hints of nut and grass. I think I can taste some lemon zest alongside some apple and pear. In the throat afterwards the grassy notes seems to linger the most but in general this is not rum I would purposefully sip neat again. It is too much of a rough and raw ride for me.

My personal opinion on which cocktails work best with Bacardi has always been the classic Mojito. Having tried it again for the first time in a while I have to say it still works well. I have tried better, but with more expensive rum. The fruity notes are complimented well and it creates a fresh very drinkable Mojito. It is easy to see why this is a commonly used spirit in mixers. It is cheaper than most and the flavouring really adds to basic cocktails.

The other cocktail I have been told to try this rum with is the Cuba Libre. Basically Bacardi mixed with coke and a dash of lime. This didn’t work for me. I found the drink too sweet and the flavours didn’t match well. Nothing really inspired me to have this again. I would prefer a dark rum such as Lambs or Captain Morgan as the mixer here for this cocktail.

Overall, at this price point I don’t think a more commonly found white rum can compete with Bacardi when it comes to mixing white rum. Potentially the Captain Morgan White but that is it. Bacardi is an excellent economical mixing rum that can be found anywhere that produces a very drinkable cocktail. If you agree with my recommendation here then why not look at my piece on white rum which can be found here for more expensive alternatives to further your journey along!