Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New Zealanders debut rum with smoke and fanfare

New to the United States
Flavored spirits come at us with unrelenting intent. "Buy me! I'm different!" they yell.

Among the endless array of flavored vodkas, I have found a few are good as the base spirit for mixed drinks -- the citrus flavored ones, some of the fruity flavors, for example. And, I like the occasional flavored whiskey -- like Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack Tennessee Cider, a blend of apple cider liqueur and Tennessee whiskey.

But, for the most part, I don't like most of the flavored vodkas that, to my palate, come off as decidedly artificial. Offer me a shot of Smirnoff Fluffed Marshmallow Vodka or Kings County Distillery Chocolate Flavored Whiskey from Brooklyn and I can't be held responsible for my adverse reaction.

I'm an unreconstructed purist. My favorite spirit is a good small-batch bourbon, which in my view should be regarded as a food group. So, I always approach the latest flavored products with trepidation. That was the case with something called Stolen Smoked Rum. It is just making its U.S. debut, in New York and four other states, before a national rollout.

The sample, and accompanying promotional material, arrived the other day, and I must confess I was not intrigued. Here is how it is described: "What is Stolen? Vision to create a cult spirits brand. Inspired and influenced by rock and punk music, and premium street fashion. ... Anti-establishment views with a focus on personal freedom."

Say what?

Let's cut through all the funky rhetoric, the label that displays what represents a scribbled-out name and some handwritten "stolen" replacement wording, and wade through all the other gimmicky claims so we can arrive at what this new spirit is.

Its creators, Jamie Duff and Roger Holmes, founded the Stolen Spirits company in 2010 after they moved from London, where they embraced the punk scene, back to their home in Auckland, New Zealand.

They connected with a distillery in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad & Tobago that makes column-distilled rum that then is aged in used whiskey barrels, infused with Madagascar vanilla, Moroccan fenugreek, and Colombian arabica coffee beans. The new product is punctuated with a tincture of smoked American hardwood. The result is bottled at 84 proof (42% alcohol).

Stolen has four other rums, all bottled at 75 proof -- Stolen Dark, Stolen Gold, and Stolen White, all described as premium aged rums, and Stolen Spiced. The Smoked Rum is the company's first new product since Liquid Asset Brands LLC of Chicago and Spirits Investment Partners LLC announced in November that they had made a $14 million investment in Stolen Spirits for a majority stake in the business.

So, all that said, what does Stolen Smoked Rum taste like? The answer isn't easy.

At first sniff, it makes one think immediately of a pleasant wood fire on a fall evening. Then, the aroma begins to reveal a few other notes such as honey and pine. The first sip is a bit of an assault on the palate -- at once sharp, immediately bringing smoked ham or bacon to mind. But, a few more sips, including after the introduction of a cube of ice to help the spirit open, brings out bold notes of beef and leather and tamer notes of vanilla and butterscotch. But, overarching is the smokey taste and smell, which apparently is what its creators wanted. As they say in their promotional material, "We wanted to create something masculine and edgy. Stolen's not afraid to push boundaries or deviate from the norm, We wanted to take the badass elements of smoke, a known concept in the food and whiskey industries, and apply it to rum, which has never been done before."

I rate Stolen Smoked Rum as worth a try. But, I'd suggest that after sampling it you use it in a cocktail. The company suggests such drinks, all served over ice, as Smoke & Cola (a rum and coke with an orange garnish), Smoke & Gee (rum, ginger beer, orange garnish), and Smoke Old Fashioned (rum, muddled sugar cube, dash of Angostura bitters, orange peel twist).

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