Tuesday, August 16, 2011
First Is Fun, Especially With Rum
I was among the first in the world (literally) to try Panama Red, an over proof rum from the makers of Panamonte. The first tasting outside of the distillery in Panama, was held last night at Hemingway's Island Grill in Coconut Point (Estero, FL). It was such a big deal that Master Distiller, Francisco "Don Pancho" Fernandez flew in from Panama for a rare appearance.
Upon arrival we were handed a delicious Cachaca Caipirinha then escorted to tables set with three glasses of rum. I had never even considered the possibility of a rum dinner until I was in the middle of one. We started with the Pyrat rum and a plate of crostini, salty Gouda and sweet honey comb; Salt and sugar is always an enjoyable combination. The second course of tropical fruits didn’t excite me much, however, the vanilla rum sauce was excellent with the Zaya rum. Next up, a jerk snapper with a yogurt thyme sauce, served with a Red Sky rum punch. Cooked perfectly, a big hit! There's more. A dessert I could've drowned in; white chocolate bread pudding and a Bourbon caramel sauce, served with the star of the night; Panama Red rum
So why was is Panama Red such a big deal? Because of it's higher alcohol content, overproof rum is typically used for mixing not sipping; it was a challenge to pull off. Panama Red is made from sugar cane, aged in used Bourbon casks in small batches and then blended together. The rum was very complex with sweet vanilla, hot cinnamon and comforting spice.
After dinner, the force behind Panama Red and Hemingway's, owner Jim Wasson, treated those of us who were still there to a rare, 25 year-old, Panamonte Reserva. This rum had notes of a fine Cognac and we sipped it like one.
I have a new appreciation for rum after learning about the distilling and bottling process. I was amazed that unlike wine, heat is good for rum in the barrel. That’s why the best rums typically come from tropical climates. The shape of the glass and how you breathe into it increases your ability to enjoy rum on it’s own. I was told that white rum will entice vodka drinkers and that there is an actual Rum University.
Hemingway's will be the first restaurant in the US to serve this special rum. A few bottles were purchased last night ($25) but were quickly stashed in bags and whisked off to unknown destinations. The existence of the only bottle in Southwest Florida, that I can confirm at this moment, is the one in my in my personal bar; signed by Don Pancho himself. YES!