Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rhum Agricole

Last night my friends and I had the great pleasure of attending a special dinner to showcase Rhum Clement and Rhum J.M. Both are brands of rhum agricole, a type of rum distilled from freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice rather than from molasses like most rums. Only recently have these brands jumped through all the necessary hoops to find their way onto the shelves of Washington liquor stores, and on this night we were lucky enough to have them shaken up for us by some of Seattle's top mixologists then paired with five incredible courses made by the chefs at Spur Gastropub.
Pairing cocktails with food works surprisingly well. As with wines, cocktails can span every flavor profile from sweet to acidic, from earthy to mineral, from smoky to herbaceous to floral. The key difference between the two is that, when making a cocktail, a bartender has the opportunity to take a variety of different flavors and mix them together at different ratios on the spot. While I won't argue that nothing is more awe-inspiring than a flawless wine and food pairing, there is something impressive about a mixologist who's skilled and knowledgeable enough to blend the perfect libation to go with an already perfect dish. This was my experience last night:

Tuna Tartare
wrapped in avocado with chili and lime "chips".

Saint Pierre
Clément Primier Canne, ginger, champagne vinegar, lime bitters.
by Cale Green

Throughout the dinner we were brought our cocktails first, followed by the food. This course was my favorite pairing because, at first sip, this cocktail came across as a little too sharp and acidic. Once I was able to try it with the food, however, I found it to be balanced as the ginger and vinegar elements in the cocktail helped to cut through the rich flavors of avocado and raw tuna.

Sous Vide Pork Belly
with cabbage, pineapple, and creole mustard.

Carley’s Conundrum
Rhum J.M Gold, lemon, orgeat, demerara, boker’s bitters.
by Nathan Webber

Both of these would be just as good on their own as they were together. The complex and sweet flavors of the orgeat (an almond and infused syrup flavored with rose or orange flower water) and the demerara (a golden raw sugar) in the cocktail mirrored those of the soft pork belly and cooked pineapple on our plates.

Smoked King Crab
on braised greens with butternut squash soup and pecans.

Calypso King
Brown Butter infused Rhum J.M Silver, falernum.
by Craig Schoen

As the bartender was describing his cocktail to us he proposed something I’d never heard of before: we were to dip or smoked king crab into the cocktail. Equally fun and delicious, the browned butter flavors infused into the rhum paired expectedly well with the crab, and the bite of alcohol in the finish served to cleanse the palate. 

Beef Cheeks
with raw, braised, and pureed carrots, curry demi-glace, and horseradish foam.

Clement VSOP, rye, cynar, punt e mes, hickory syrup, orange bitters.
by Marley Tomic-Beard

This cocktail seemed to get mixed reviews from those sitting around me, but all agreed that it was much better with the food than on its own. The strong notes of hickory smoke and cynar (a bitter apéritif flavored with artichoke) were too much to handle alone, but the beef cheek sauced with curry demi-glace did much to help these potent flavors find there place.

Rhum Walnut Sponge Cake
topped with a dehydrated banana-juice chip, paired with praline ice cream and banana panna cotta drizzled with caramel. 

Rhum Clément Cuvée Homère and Clément X. O.

For our final course we were given two blended barrel-aged rhums, served neat. The first, Cuvée Homère, was a marriage of the brand’s best rhums over the last fifteen years: 2001, 1999, and 1997. The second was a rare blend of very old aged rhums including the highly regarded vintages of 1976, 1970, and 1952. It was a great opportunity for all to see the incredible range of character that rhum agricole can have. After all, wasn’t that the point of the entire meal?

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