Wednesday, March 3, 2010

South Beach Wine & Food Festival - The Spirits

Wine is not the only beverage served at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. In fact we spend more time tasting the many spirits that are displayed - either neat or within one of the many cocktails created just for the event.

The Rum
Our favorite brands are always on display and that means Ron Zacapa, Vizcaya, Diplomatico, and Ron Barcelo. We have described these rums at previous tastings here and here, so we won't repeat ourselves here. There was one new brand via Diplomatico, the Diplomático Blanco Reserva - a nice white rum. It is a blend of light and heavy rums distilled in copper pot stills that have been aged up to 6 years. The product is then charcoal filtered creating a very smooth product; very little burn when drinking neat. At their table, Ron Zacapa was offering an awesome strawberry concoction that we may have indulged a little too much. Needless to say, these are the bomb; every liquor cabinet is incomplete without at least one of these.

The biggest surprise in rum was sampling our first Panamanian version, the Zafra Master Reserve 21 year old rum. It is imported by Dana Importers who also introduced the Zacapa rums into the U.S. market in 2001. What I particularly liked about this rum is how it transposed itself when adding a drop of water. It seemed nuttier with even a bit of chocolate. Apparently Master Distiller Pancho Fernandez knows his craft.

The two main rum sponsors for the event were Cruzan Rum and Malibu Rum. The later is distilled in Barbados and is best known for its Coconut Rum made with natural coconut extract.
During the grand tasting they were serving several drinks - the blend of coconut and pineapple being my favorite. Cruzan Rum is distilled in Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and hosts the "dance" party. Wherever reggae music is involved, there's a dance party. Cruzan is one of our everyday rum brands - particularly for blending - although they have a nice selection of affordable dark rums: Cruzan Black Strap Rum (Navy Rum), Cruzan Single Barrel Rum, and the Cruzan Aged Dark Rum. All are nice for sipping and we suggest them all. And too bad they were not located inside the tent so that we could compare their Navy Rum with Pusser's.

Another of our everyday rums is Bermuda's Goslings Black Seal Rum. They were present serving the Bermudian Dark and Stormy. No ginger beer for me - no need to get gassy at this event. But love the rum.

The Vodka
There was a larger presence of Vodka producers at this year's festival - including three domestic producers. This was an interesting tasting experience because the vodkas differed with ingredients, (rye, wheat, even corn) and distilling method.

Tito's Handmade Vodka
Tito's Handmade Vodka is produced in Austin at Texas' first and oldest legal distillery. It's made in small batches in an old fashioned pot still by Tito Beveridge. It is micro-distilled in an old-fashioned pot still six times.

Sobieski Vodka
Sobieski Vodka is the #1 premium vodka in Poland and one of the world’s bestselling and fastest growing vodka brands. It is produced exclusively from the revered Dankowski rye at the Starogard Gdanski distillery dating back to 1846.

4 Orange Premium Vodka
The Sunshine State is now be home to the world's first vodka you can "squeeze" - 4 Orange Premium Vodka - a super-premium vodka distilled exclusively from pure Florida oranges. Crafted at Florida's first registered distillery, Florida Distillers Company, this revolutionary orange-based vodka embodies the essence of Florida. 4 Orange is distilled from 100% orange spirits derived from four unique Florida orange varieties - the Hamlin, Parson Brown, Temple and Valencia. One 750 ml bottle of 4 Orange contains approximately twenty Florida oranges.

Medea Vodka
From the 18th century comes a flawless vodka imported from Schiedam, Holland—the world’s first center of distillation excellence. For seven generations, our distillery has used the finest whole grain wheat to perfect the time-honored process of single batch distillation. Distilled slowly, in small batches using natural artesian water, the result is a subtle, flawless vodka. Multiple distillations depending on the distiller's opinion.

Diamond Standard Vodka
Every now and then, something comes along that raises our standard of excellence. The Diamond Standard Vodka is the world's premier luxury vodka. It is hand-made to a higher standard than any other vodka in the world. Crafted in small batches at Poland's historic Polmos Siedlce distillery. Distilled four times and filtered by thousands of De Beers® diamonds for exceptional purity. Each perfume-grade glass bottle is appointed with a round-cut 25 mm Swarovski crystal from the crystallized elements collection. Experience the new standard in vodka. Introducing, in limited quantities, The Diamond Standard Vodka.

Krome Vodka
Krome is the culmination of a quest to find the world's best vodka. After a yearlong search, it turned out that the best vodka was being hand crafted right here in the United States, in Bend, Oregon. Born of Cascade Mountain spring water and locally grown corn, Krome Vodka starts with superior ingredients. It is then filtered five times through charcoal and crushed volcanic rock. Corn provides the vodka with a heft that can't be found in a rye or wheat vodka and a sweetness that can't be found in potato vodka. The ultra-clean Cascade Mountain spring water and thorough filtration process gives Krome its incredible smoothness. This combination of first-rate ingredients and hand-craftsmanship make Krome Vodka a world-class spirit. In addition to being an award winning spirit, Krome Vodka is gluten-free.

OK, there's the marketing fluff. But these are good vodkas. The Four Oranges is the least refined, but its much better than a flavored vodka. You can really taste fresh oranges. The Krome Codka may have been the first we tasted made from corn and we were expecting a corn whiskey flavor - nope. The Medea Vodka stands out with their programmable label - yes you can spell your name and watch it loop around the bottle. Sobieski Vodka is still our favorite - but these are close, close behind.

Drinking so many vodkas came at the expense of the cachacas. We really didn't spend that much time focusing on this Brazilian treat. In general, cachaca is made from distilling the juice from the pure sugar can - no converting the cane to molasses like most rums. Our friends at Cachaça Moleca were present and as always were making several drinks. According to our female editors, their Caipirinha and strawberry concoctions are always worth the calories. Yea, their Caipirinhas are good, but I prefer their Gold neat. Sagatiba Cachaca is another brand we've tasted in the past and fortunately we had several at the Guy Fieri Closing Party. They were serving their Sagatiba Velha neat, with a strawberry and cayenne pepper\sugar mix. That is an interesting combination.

The only tequila we tasted was Skinnygirl™ Margarita, a pre-assembled cocktail made from
100% Blue agave tequila , agave nectar lime juice and triple sec. Once again our female editors liked the caloric information - only only 100 calories per four-ounce serving.
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