Guyana: Day 4 – Let's Get to Work
Today was our day to get down to business and start talking seriously with DDL's blender Sharon Sue-Hang Baksh about our exclusive rum blend for K&L. As I mentioned in the week leading up to our departure, I'm interested in building a serious relationship with DDL and a creating a sustainable (as in: we can sustain our supply) product that isn't a one-off or a super limited release you have to buy within the first few days before it sells out. I'm sure we'll talk about single casks and older, more allocated rums as we continue to prove ourselves as an ambassador for Guyana's finest spirits, but I don't want to bombard consumers who don't yet understand what makes these rums so amazing with something esoteric or expensive. I wouldn't give someone new to single malt a single barrel cask strength whisky, so I don't think we should do that with rum either. We'll need to prove ourselves with this project – both to DDL and our customers – before we start getting fancy.
We're working with a strong single malt whisky consumer base, so we obviously wanted to create something robust and flavorful, rather than light and smooth. The key to that creating that intensity is the PM double pot still distillate. The heavy, funky, rather sulfurous character captures and retains the flavors inherent in the molasses. Most of us in the states think of pancake syrup when we hear "molasses," however, the black strap stuff is thick, highly-fragrant and has almost an anise, clove, and root beer like aroma. The smell of fermenting molasses can get pretty intense if you're around it too long. The pot-distilled rums from DDL capture more of that character than their column distilled brethren, so we wanted a heavy amount of the Port Mourant rum in the blend.
That being said, we also really enjoyed the fruity and floral flavors of the Savalle still rums. Even though most people swear by the 15 year (mostly because of its cepage of older, pot-still rums), I'm a huge fan of the El Dorado 12. I love the soft, supple mouthfeel and the subtle cane flavor that penetrates the finish. Finding a balance of those two rum styles, at an age that was appropriate for our needs, was going to be our task that afternoon. We obviously wanted to present something sippable, but thought it would be great if the rum was also affordable, so that our customers wouldn't be afraid to mix with it. The 12 and 15 year El Dorado rums are amazing on their own, but they're incredible in a Daiquiri or rocks-based cocktail. I had never even thought about using the 12 as a Daiquiri base until I tasted one on this trip. I've never been a fan of añejo Margaritas, so I'd never even considered using it. I had always opted for the El Dorado 3 year because it's fresh and clean like a blanco tequila.
Speaking of whites, we also wanted to explore the idea of a pot-heavy white mixer for rum geeks who want that fuller body and more intense character in their cocktails. We worked with a few ideas that consisted of 50% or more pot distillate, but we found that the more subtle flavors were completely wiped out by the potency of the PM. By scaling back the percentage we were able to coax out more of the fruity, almond-like notes present in the straight Savalle distillate. Since these the flavors from these two stills were by far our favorites, we decided not to complicate things by adding in the EHP wooden Coffey still rums or some of the other high-ester spirits. One thing I absolutely wanted to make sure of was that we would be able to clearly to explain to each customer why they were tasting what they were tasting. By focusing solely on the very different characters of these two rums, we would easily be able to contrast the lighter against the heavier style in our final flavor profile.
We didn't also didn't want to bottle a full proof rum. 62% spirits tend to scare away some of the uninitiated, however, a standard 40% rum wasn't exactly what we wanted either. We figured 100 proof might be the ticket for the rum as it would provide the maximum level of alcohol before requiring us to pay extra taxes, which would raise our overall price. We tasted the rums at both higher and lower levels, but we also made samples to bring back home in our suitcases, which would allow the blends more time to congeal and come together. Now we can assess our work later on with the council of the K&L staff before making a final decision. So far, I'm very excited about what we've been able to hammer out in a very short amount of time.
And…how awesome is it that El Dorado's blender is a woman? We don't see a lot of women in authority positions here in the booze business, so I'm always excited to get the feminine perspective from a producer (mainly because they're often better tasters than men and they're much easier to work with). It's definitely a male dominated industry, especially on the production side of things. But, let me tell you: it's the women who are running the show at DDL and so far they're the most organized operation I've ever worked with. Everything ran like clockwork during our stay in Guyana and it wasn't because of the men (nothing against the men, either). Besides Sharon, there's Nalini running the American side of the business from New York as the U.S. brand ambassador, Najuma working in the chemistry lab with Shaun, and Tamsia in control of the international office, along with her two assistants – Sanja and Amanda, who are as sharp as tacks. We spent a lot of time with these women and they are the real deal. Tamsia pretty much dedicated her entire week to making sure we were on schedule to accomplish all of our goals, which was great for us because she's such a joy to work with. I'm going to be very sad when we have to say goodbye to everyone.