Imbibe Hour

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rum punch challenge in Alexandria, brings another visit with Bacardi

 "This smells awful, what was this?... Bacardi Superior, wow shocking, and if I can help it I am never having this light rum again". - July 7th 2010 - concluding my own personal blind light rum tasting.

When I first started this blog and video channel, it came out of a necessity to really examine what I was drinking and to have some balance between seriousness and fun.  As time has gone on I've learned quite a bit, and it's always interesting to revisit past tastes.  When I think of Bacardi I can only think of one thing, and that is of course rum.  They are the largest distiller on the planet and make ubiquitous products for easy consumption in my opinion.  Most of their really good stuff is impossible to get or just flat out unheard of (I can think of ONE product).  I sort of think of them as the Anheuser Busch - InBev of the rum world.  However, I was given another opportunity to spend some more time with Bacardi in a historic setting, in what looked like an excuse more than anything to also have a good time.  It was almost 2 years since the last visit with the bat himself for me.

There was an event in Old Town Alexandria VA that was being held at Gadsby's Tavern, a historic place which was built in 1785 (with the adjacent hotel coming in 1792, check out the website link for the fabulous history of this place).  It was here that the 8th annual Rum Punch challenge was being held.  Punch?! I asked myself..  Could I go drink 6 different rum punches, complete with catered food snacks, judge the entries made by local restraunters and vote on who was the best?  I think I needed to pay a visit, as many others did the same.

I arrived with a good group of friends, was presented with a solid rocks glass, 5 tickets which represented 5 votes to enter for each punch I thought was worth it's weight in salt (or in this case rum!), and of course came with thirst and desire. With a historic setting and friends and some simple eats what was not to enjoy?  So how did the punches turn out?  They went as follows in the order I tried them.

The first one I tried was "Jones Point Punch" from the actual Gadsby's Tavern Restaurant.  Using Bacardi Select Dark, the punch didn't have the sense of dark rum to it to me.  It was memorable in how I always associated punch, kind of fruity, summery.  There was a good amount of fruit in this one, somehow it really tasted like pineapple juice too much to me.  However, as nice as it was it didn't really grab me.
Onward hoe!  For there would be much more, taking in a great open space that also serves as a ballroom.  The second punch was also with Bacardi Select Dark but went for a different angle.  The darkest of all the punches served, this was the "Queen Anne's Revenge" made by FireFlies restaurant.  Here they went for a dark molasses angle, spices, and ingredients that were often quite extensive, that many times I couldn't remember them all.  It was very much heavy on molasses, but not thick.  Burnt brown spiced edges of cinnamon, warm, charring, quite delicious.  I imagined myself having this punch nestled up in front of a fireplace on a cold winter night, perhaps not the angle we think of for punch, but it was I thought a very unique and fantastic creation.

After two punches it was obvious to me that there was some good thought that was going into these punches.  Rum punch is actually one of the classic serving summer cool downs of yore.  Much of it was consumed here in George Washington's day.

Our third contestant was Bittersweet's "Pomander punch".  After taking another happy dip, my grove started to hit, or perhaps it was the merriment of enjoying fireplace and molasses like punch tickling my fancy.  Here we dove in.  This punch out of all the ones I had, had the best smell.  The nose on this was a glorious orange and clove bouquet, hints of floral, extremely airy.  It was fairly solid in taste as well, but also kind of a classic fruity punch.  Very impressive, but.. I think I was looking for something unique.

After three punches I was beginning to think of the angles each participant was going for.  Should they go for something fruit and basic?  Or were there going to be more things challenging unexpected??

I headed to another corner and saw the "isla besos" ("island kisses"??) from RedRocks.  My eye glanced to the Bacardi Select Dark, and then saw the ubiquitous Superior.  Yeah I remember you... we didn't get along so well last time did we?  However, I was beginning to notice that Bacardi's rums mixed pretty well in punch with a slew of ingredients quite nicely so far.  Would I want to take a 80 dollar bottle of Agricole rhum and dump it in for punch?  Probably not.  The island kisses punch was.. well it was pink, and slushy in appearance.  Served with a message in the bottle (which later contained a coupon, but boy was it hard to get that message out!).  I thought I finally had some time to relax and talk to the participants, and so I began asking questions.  Before I took a sip I asked, "so what's in this?".

I got a bunch of ingredients listed that were very unexpected.  Strawberry puree, agave nectar, the two rums of course, some club soda, honey (I think?), and some jalapeno for kick.  Wait.. did he say jalapeno?

I quickly grabbed a good chug.  But I was sort of jealous that I asked what was in it before tasting, for I would have been even more surprised I do think.  Yup you heard that right, strawberry backbone with a sweet rum kick, mixing some syrup sweetness and this just right peppery green punch from the jalapenos.  Talk about a unique creation, and I DON'T LIKE STRAWBERRIES! but was VERY impressed by this one.  Someone here was making something unique, someone did some serious homework here, and everything was balanced nicely.  However, it was a big risk to make a punch like this, it was so different and was probably going to rub some people the wrong way.  This was a polarizing punch for sure.  But that's what you have to do some times you have to take a chance.  This was my other personal favorite, a summer beat the heat punch with pepper kick and fruit, just great.

Still reveling in the rum punch tales, the ice house slew that was attached to the tavern back in the day to keep the punch as cold as possible during those swampy 18th century nights, I saw a familiar sign or should I say fish, and in a punch bowl too.  Dogfish Head.  The brewery!  THE DOGFISH HEAD BREWERY IS HERE!!  I was ready to see if Sam was under the table, and my mind started racing as the beer geek in me was ready to explode out.  Palo Santo and Dark rum!  What about Noble rot and something?  okay wait a minute calm down now... I don't think punch is going to have BEER in it (not that you couldn't try), but this was a rum night dude. Then I forgot...  Dogfish makes rum!  I even remembered I have their rum at home.

The punch they offered was "Alison's Folly", a punch made with Dogfish Head's small batch Spiced Wit Rum.  I actually have a bottle of this orange peel and coriander made rum at home and it's quite nice.  I totally forgot they make spirits also besides beer, and I am also a big fan of their Honey Brown rum too.  However, the punch while certainly decent was rather basic, and not unlike the other two fruit punches I already had.  Unfortunately, those punches were also a little better than this.  The rum angle of the orange and the sense of the Wit Rum just did not come out here.  It was subtle and nice, lingering, delicious, but I knew it wasn't going to win amongst some of the other contenders.  I actually prefer this rum not to be mixed with anything.  They made a solid punch but it was not a favorite of mine for the night.

Speaking of rum, there was a new product that was being offered by Bacardi that was in two of the punches.  One was in the Pomander, the other in the next and last punch I tried the "Oak Ball Punch" with a new rum from Bacardi called Oakheart Spiced.  

I looked at the bottle, 35% alcohol (which would make it 70 proof).  The punch was pear based, and had a very large oak vanilla nose to it.  The smell was actually quite nice, with a faint caramel hiding.  Once again though with a pear base it was more of the classic fruity punch angle going on and not seeming to bring much of the taste out for the punch.

I asked a server if I could try the rum just by itself which I could.  It had that similar great vanilla nose, but even at 70 proof the rum had that harsh varnishy quality, not unlike the superior of days past, also had next to nothing texture wise.  It really did not taste good by itself.

So with all punches taken and imbibed, I had to decide on favorites.  It was clear that two punches stood out for me, and both felt seasonal.  One seemed right for winter, the other for a hot summer day.  I took 2 of my 5 tickets giving two votes to both "isla besos" and "Queen Anne's Revenge". I threw my last vote into "Pomander" mostly cause of all the other punches it has the best bouquet.

Votes were tallyed by all who attended, with a runner up and first place announced.  The runner up was....

Gadsby's Tavern and their Jone's Point Punch.

The winner of the best punch competition was:

Pomander Punch by Bittersweet.

So in the end my favorites didn't get it, but we all seemed to have a good time trying all the different concoctions.  I sat in the hallway on break and had a good chat with an older guy about the history of the tavern and Alexandria (the first place I lived in when I came to DC).  Full of tales of George Washington slept here, and ghosts that allegedly roamed the nearby cemeteries, there was good punch to be had for all who wanted.  As the town criers finished (that's our crier with a friend of mine in the photo) their announcements, we all settled home safely knowing that rum has a good place even if it is from Bacardi.

There's no question, all the punches made tonight were far better than the Cava version I made myself ;)

Gadsby's rum punch challenge offers a well planned out, executed and fun night of merriment.  Food doesn't run out, punches are out with no losers, and with it all comes with a great piece of historic setting that makes rum punch the center piece and star.  I don't think I'd want to have rum punch anywhere else in the world.

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