Monday, August 9, 2010

[amor fati]

3/4 oz. J. Wray and Nephew rum
3/4 oz. Rothman and Winter Orchard Apricot
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. ratafia des noyaux (housemade)

Shake with ice in a Parisian shaker, strain into a cocktail glass, letting the finer ice shards out so they form a slush on top of the drink.

My notes state that I tasted the cherry and apricot flavors at the same time, followed by the tartness of the lime, then finished with the distinctive J. Wray funkiness (aww, yeah). I quite enjoyed this extempore creation by Scott, which paired well with my dessert of cherry-rhubarb crostada.

I had barely been back for 48 hours from Tales of the Cocktail, and the rums were still calling out to me. Fred had emailed me earlier in the day, saying he was off to a cognac seminar in Westborough that evening to chase down some creme de noyau - noyau being one of the recurrent themes during our trip to Tales this year. This gave me a rare evening to myself to indulge in my favorite culinary (etc.) vices.

My boss, Adam, had headed over to Green Street to enjoy some dinner with his wife, and he'd invited me to catch up with him there after I closed up the Shaker. By the time I arrived, I'd managed to miss him, but I sat happily at the bar and ordered some tacos (one yucca, one duck) and the lobster gnocchi. On the opposite side of the taco menu was a selection of tequila cocktails, so I deferred my rum craving in favor of a Taxco (one of my favorite drinks). Though the bar was rather full, I felt comfortably anonymous. One straight week of being "on" is pretty rough for an introvert like me. That's why I like being surrounded by New Englanders, who know how to respect one's mental space. I tried to catch up on facebook and LJ on my iPhone as I ate, and soon my glass and plates were empty. Time for my other vices, rum being one of them. Funky rums were a sub-theme for my trip to Tales this year. French spirits and cocktails were the the other sub-theme. I wanted a cocktail to honor my extraordinary experiences at Tales (more on that below). So, where to indulge my fancy? As if there were any question.

Rendezvous' bar wasn't as full as Green Street's, but the few remaining seats were taken shortly after I arrived. Scott welcomed me back and poured me a glass of water. As usual, he waited for me to settle in a bit before asking me what I wanted to drink, though in this case I knew the instant I spotted the J. Wray. I had forgotten he had it, though of course it was the base spirit for the ratafia des noyaux. I patiently waited my turn and then gave my order. "You've got this?" I asked. As if there were any question.

The first day of Tales, I had still been bright-eyed and outgoing. A couple of tastings in, I spotted Wayne Curtis and Jeff Berry talking with another gentleman on the mezzanine at the conference hotel. I walked right over and introduced myself, saying to Wayne and Jeff that their books continued to sell very well at the Boston Shaker. I also told them about my dream that someday we would once again have authentic Old Medford rum on the market. Their eyes collectively widened - the third gentleman turned out to be famed rum collector Steve Remsberg. He asked me if I'd ever tasted a New England rum, and I sadly shook my head. And then he oh so casually mentioned that he might be having a tasting at his house at the end of Tales, and maybe an old New England rum would be on the docket. I walked away from that conversation with Steve's phone number and a small amount of amazement that I had the nerve to introduce myself in the first place. Over the next few days, we ran into Wayne several times, and he was careful to impress upon me the honor I had been accorded in being invited to Steve's tasting. But still I hesitated to call as my ingrained shyness took over. By the last day of Tales, my ability to socialize had dwindled to almost nothing, and I had gotten maybe 7 hours of sleep total over the past 2 nights. I wanted nothing more than to relax by the pool. Still, I knew it would be the height of foolishness to let this opportunity pass. So after settling into the hotel on our last night, I begged Fred to make the fateful phonecall for me. Steve was perfectly gracious and gave us his address and directions. I took a shower, put on my new favorite skirt, and headed down to the lobby to fetch a taxi. We were the first Tales stragglers to arrive, and Steve and his wife Cheryl made us feel right at home with a serving of the house rum punch. Soon Jeff, Wayne and his wife Louise, and a couple of others arrived. The relaxed atmosphere was the perfect way to unwind after a hectic week. Delicious food, good company. I noted the little plaque on the family room wall, about 3 or so feet from the floor, which indicated the water-line in the house from Katrina.

We all gathered around the bar as Steve brought out a bottle of Austin, Nichols & Co. Old New England Rum, distilled in Everett, MA and then aged 17 years in wood. I blushed crimson as Steve announced to the room that this would be the first rum we would be tasting, in honor of my presence, and in hopes that the style would someday soon be revived. I raised my glass to those assembled and sipped. I gave my first few impressions to Steve - almost like a combination of rum and whiskey. The first sip smelled and tasted very like bourbon. This rum had been bottled in bond and its heat left a waxy feeling on my lips. It was much drier than I had anticipated, with almost a sour cherry flavor. Wayne said it had probably been aged in whiskey barrels. As the rest of the crowd compared notes, I backed off to the side to savor and record. Dry, almost metallic, little to no caramel, stone fruit, ferric, like overcooked molasses. I frantically tried to capture in writing what I was tasting. I hadn't tasted anything quite like it, and Steve told me that this particular rum was characteristic of all the New England rums he's ever tasted. Other rums (pre-revolution Cuban, old London dock-aged Jamaican) were offered up for tasting, and out of politeness (and a sense of awe) I sampled a couple. But I hoarded the flavor of the old New England on my tongue, on the remote possibility that I might one day taste a modern version. I didn't want any other flavor memories to overwrite this experience before I had a chance to completely internalize it. As the evening wore down and folks began to gather to leave. Steve pulled me aside in the kitchen. He pulled out a little nip bottle, still sealed, and handed it to me with a twinkle in his eye: "For the cause." The label said Caldwell's Old Newburyport rum.

When I walked up to Wayne, Jeff, and Steve that first day, I had no idea how the idea of reviving the style would become reality. The evening of the tasting, Wayne said he had gotten an email that some Matt guy was working on it - already had a lead on a space for lease in Boston, currently wading through the permits. A web search the day after I got home revealed nothing about who this person might be. As I began to relax back into normal post-Tales life, I thought it was all some crazy dream. Then a couple of days ago, two guys walked into the Boston Shaker and asked to speak to Adam about making bitters. One of the guys mentioned wanting to know about some drink slut guy in Boston who was making bitters, and Adam pointed me out. He stuck out his hand and introduced himself as Matt. Old New England rum had once again found me.


Devin said...

Great post, Andrea. Captures the same sense of awe I felt talking to all these people for the first time. Cheers!

(P.S. So who is this Matt guy??)

Unknown said...

I did a paper on Medford rum for a food history class this fall and now that the semester is over I can relax and follow up on my research that didn't make it into the paper. I was wondering what you know about it. I'm specifically interested in the Lawrence distillery, which I know their rum is next to impossible to obtain but I'm trying to find any advertising post 1880 or photos around the same time. Tasting notes, or anyone who has tasted it, I'm interested in talking to. It's a fascinating subject that may turn into a thesis...

frederic said...

The Medford, MA, historical society would probably have that information. Wayne Curtis (who wrote And a Bottle of Rum, which I hope you have or will read) used them in his research.

We got to try Old New England Rum (of which Medford Rum is a part of) and my wife gave tasting notes in this post. Steve Remsburg (who hosted the tasting) could tell you more, but his comment was that most of the style tasted that way.

I asked my friend who works for M.S. Walker (they bought the Medford Rum brand name from the Lawrences, but not the recipe) if he knew it's history. His emails to his higher ups haven't yielded anything, but an outside inquiry might get further.