We descended upon London Cocktail Week‘s top-secret basement pop-up bar at 71 Monmouth Street for a decadent El Dorado rum and chocolate tasting.
A cosy subterranean setting, it was like sitting in the bowels of a glorious 19th century British Navy ship. In fact, we quickly found out from our host, Steph, that British sailors used to receive half a pint of El Dorado rum every morning to steel them for the high seas. Needless to say, the majority of the Navy's success came after the morning rum initiative had been stopped.
A tasty rum and pineapple welcome cocktail accompanied some more of El Dorado's backstory. Made from sugar cane from Guyana's Demerara River, the rum is aged in Jack Daniel's barrels, before distillation in the world's only wooden distillery. According to Steph, rum is a lot like men, getting smoother and richer with age. Such was the pretext for the samples of 12, 18 and 21 year-aged rum that followed.
The first was matched with 70% cocoa Lindt chocolate. The chocolate engages with certain flavours in the rum, cancelling out any mutual flavours and bringing others to the fore. The 12 year rum had sweet and spicy notes of vanilla, maple syrup and even Christmas pudding. There was a smoky tone from the barrel, which was cancelled out by the bitterness of the chocolate.
The second sample, slightly older and slightly stronger, had taken on more of a smoky flavour. Accordingly, it was matched with a more bitter 85% chocolate, which helped to bring through some of the sweeter notes. This stronger rum was also a little more dry, demanding a lot more rum to wash it down.
Alcohol ages quicker in warm climates than in cooler regions. Twice as quick in Guyana, in fact, than in Scotland. So, the final sample of 21 year-old rum's equivalent in whisky years would have been a whopping (and expensive) 42 years. Resultantly, this rum was very strong and smoky, only divulging its fruity flavours as an after-taste. The big guns of 90% chocolate samples were brought out to mask some of the bitter flavours, bringing through a sweeter, biscuit-like quality in the rum.
After this we had a chance to ask a few questions. We asked what distinguishes white rum from dark, and how spiced rum is made. Interestingly, in bygone years, white rum was just young rum that had not taken on the darker tones of the barrel. Now, the distinction is a little more complex; rum is often aged and then filtered to remove the colour. Spices can be added during the barrel ageing, although more often than not spice ‘essence' is added after the ageing process.
What we liked about the tasting was that it was something a little different. It was educational and good value at £10 a head, leaving guests a little bit wiser about rum, if also a little bit more drunk.