Workshop pt. 1: the what

October 10, 2008

Two things are rattling around my head as I write this. The first is Bacardi’s 2008 Legacy Cocktail competition, with a shot at 10 month stint as a de-facto ambassador for both Bacardi and your own cocktail. The second is Wired’s fairly awesome Storyboard blog, which followed a feature article for the magazine from conception to completion. The deadline for entries for the Legacy comp is October 16th 2008 – one week from now (a little under, if you’re being picky) – and I’m going to use it as an opportunity to look at how I go about creating a new drink.
There are, of course, rules to the competition. I’ll cover them in more depth in the next part, but the key regulation is that the final drink must use Bacardi Superior Rum as its base ingredient. This is not unexpected. On the downside, Bacardi Superior – or Carta Blanca, call it what you will – has a bit of a reputation.

It’s not that it’s thought of as a bad rum (although I do remember hearing it described as a “rum-flavoured vodka” by a brand ambassador from a rival), it’s more that there are other rums that are considered “better”. There’s a comparative tasting of white rums at Scottes’ Rum Pages which uses it as a base against which the others are judged. It doesn’t fare well.

All in all, the Bacardi surprised me by being better than expected. This certainly wasn’t a great rum – even calling it good would be a compliment. But it was better than I expected.

Honestly, I think the bad press that Carta Blanca gets isn’t entirely deserved. I agree that there are more flavourful white rums out there, but for me, white rum isn’t about big flavours. If you want complexity, leave it in the barrel and the hell away from the charcoal filters. Bacardi Superior, for better or worse, embodies the idea of a light, uncomplicated, charcoal-filtered spirit distilled from molasses. Whether it’s the best embodiment of that idea is a discussion for a different day.

It’s also irrelevant in this context. After all, the rules are the rules. Even if I hated Bacardi Superior, I’d be stuck with it, and the sentence “I’d much rather use Brand X instead, but hey, whatever,” isn’t one you want to say in a competition. On the upside, I had been lucky enough to do some training with Ian McLaren, Training and Mixology Manager at Bacardi UK (you can see his contribution to the first edition of the Legacy Cocktail book here). On what? Helpfully enough, we did an whole afternoon on Bacardi Superior.

There are things that everybody knows about Bacardi. The distillery was founded in 1862 by Don Facundo Bacardi Y Masso, formerly an importer of brandy and wine from Spain. Thirty years later, his rum was credited with saving the life of the Spanish king, and in October 1960, the company made its escape from Castro when troops raided the Edificio Bacardi – its headquarters in Havana – instead of the distillery where all the important stuff was. Then there’s the thing that aren’t so well known. For one, Bacardi Superior is barrel-aged for at least 12 months. And there’s more: it’s made from two distillates, each undergoing separate fermentation and distillation processes, and the colour removal that comes from charcoal filtration isn’t or at least wasn’t, initially, intentional.

The key to Bacardi’s rums is that split-production process; the two distillates, known as the aguardiente and the redistilado are very different in character. The former is heavier, more pungent, coming off the still in the ballpark of 80% ABV. The latter is much lighter with some interesting floral and citrus notes, and is column-distilled five times. In something like the Bacardi 8 year old they combine to devastating effect, creating a rum that is still recognisably Cuban/Spanish in style but that also has some of the depth of flavour found in an English style rum. Unfortunately, the effect isn’t as pronounced in the Carta Blanca, but maybe there’s enough in there to work with.

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