Sunday, November 16, 2008

Two Sublime Tastings: Yamazaki and Flor de Caña

We were very excited to be invited to two special lectures in the past few weeks for two very special spirits: Flor de Caña Rum and Yamazaki Whisky. At both lectures we were treated to tastings of several different spirits in each of the brands’ lines, as well as delicious appetizers created by the hosting establishments. Both put big smiles on our faces.

The ladies at Truth Be Told PR know how much we love Yamazaki whisky, so we were delighted when they invited us to a small sit-down lecture and dinner at the esteemed 21 Club in Midtown Manhattan. The dinner–lecture was held in the Remington Room (the exquisite Western art of Frederic Remington on every wall!), and the waiters brought the few guests profuse amounts of delicious short rib and potato appetizers, as well as mini crab cakes, and more. After chatting with Tanya Thomas form Truth Be Told, the lecture and tasting was conducted by Mike Miyamoto, Master Distiller from the House of Yamazaki in Japan. Mike, a handsome, venerable gentleman, with a wry sense of humor, spoke of the history of Suntory Yamazaki Distillery and the emergence of Japanese Whisky created to suit the discerning Japanese palate. He explained how each of the Yamazaki Single Malt whiskies is distilled and aged, explaining how the wood from each cask and the years required for the aging process give each whisky its distinct color, aroma, and flavor. He also gave us a tour of the Distillery, via a PowerPoint presentation, from obtaining the malt required to start the fermentation process (it’s cheaper to ship the malt from Scotland than it it to obtain it from Japan), through distillation, aging, blending, and finally bottling.

Mike Miyamoto, Yamazaki Master Distiller, with Paul, at 21.

Then the tasting began. Before the nine of us guests were three snifters of 12-year, 18-year, and 1993 Cask Strength (a very rare whisky not available in the U.S.). First we sipped the 12-year, which we are already familiar with having created two cocktails featuring the whisky (click for recipes for the Bank of Japan and the Tokyo Momo). We discovered it’s Mike’s favorite, and no wonder: its gold color, honey-vanilla aroma, and sweet spice finish (from aging in Japanese Oak) make it unique and excellent, mitigating the woody earthiness of most single malts. This whisky can be drunk with dinner, and some sushi and other Japanese appetizers were offered to us as we sipped and sipped. This 12-year is lighter and drier than the second tasting, the 18-year whisky. Sweeter, with a less prominent nose, its full body and flavors of cherry, honey, and toast paired perfectly with the rich chocolate torte that enticed us from the moment we walked into the room. The third tasting, and the pièce de résistence, was the Cask of Yamazaki 1993 “Heavily Peated Malt.” Only 554 bottles of this whisky, aged in American white oak, were produced. Bringing the deceptively light in color whisky to our noses, we instantly smelled the peaty smokiness, akin to the scent of magic marker and aged leather. One sip confirmed the nose; however, we, along with our beautiful and delightful tasting companion, food and drink writer Akiko Katayama, were surprised by its honey-blossom sweetness, which helped balance the leathery smoky flavors that permeated our palates. We all agreed that this was a special moment and were honored to have been a a part of the experience.

A week earlier was Ed Hamilton’s rum lecture, sponsored by USBG and Flor de Caña Rum, held at the Aspen Social Club. If you haven’t been to the Aspen Social Club (or its parent restaurant lounge Aspen), run, don’t walk. Its Colorado-Rockies-Chic interior has to be seen to be believed. Glass walls that allow you to look into seemingly endless rows of trees, a white-antler sculptured ceiling in the back, various seating and socializing areas with their own bars varying degrees of intimacy, it’s a place that makes you feel special. And Ed Hamilton, one of the world’s leading rum authorities, made us feel special. After the waitstaff handed us each a tangy, superb Daiquiri, and we were encouraged to gobble up polenta fries and gourmet quesadillas, we chatted with Ed before his PowerPoint lecture about his love for rum and his quest to find the world’s best rums. You should check out the Web site he curates called Ministry of Rum. It’s a fascinating compilation of lore, brands, profiles, forums, distillation processes—you name it—much of which he discussed during his lecture.

The tasting consisted of five Flor de Caña rums, each with its own distinct flavor, color, and age. First was Limón, a clean, bright 4-year rum blend with natural flavors to create a liqueur perfect for mixing your favorite rum cocktail, such as a Mojito. The second tasting was a personal favorite, the 7-year Gran Reserve Rum, full-bodied, mahogany-colored, and tasting of crème caramel. Its mouthfeel was silky, and it made us want to sip it for the rest of the evening, but we had three more to go. Third was the 4-year Gold Rum, another perfect mixer, with hints of vanilla in the nose, and a medium-bodied overall taste. Its golden hue will add a beautiful shimmer to your tiki drink. Fourth up was the 4-year Extra Dry White Rum, the only aged white rum on the market, that was used in the our meet-and-greet Daiquiri (which we downed a little too quickly, after which we had a Firecracker, made with the 7-year Gran Reserve, triple sec, lime juice, simple syrup, and chunks of watermelon, all shaken with some cayenne pepper for some zing zap kapow). The fifth and final tasting was of the 18-year Centenario Gold, a smooth sipper with hints of nutty maple and caramel. This one makes for a great postprandial quaff.

Tastings are a perfect way to get to know a brand or spirit, especially those that are new to the market, rare, or expensive. We highly recommend both Yamazaki for all you scotch drinkers who want to try something unique, and the Flor de Caña rums, for their smoothness and adaptability. Cheers!

photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz

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