Rum goes with more than just Coke

Flor de Caña Gran Reserva 7, served neat, was a surprisingly good pairing with blinis topped with smoked crème fraîche and caviar.

If you were to survey 100 people and ask the Family Feud-style fill-in-the-blank question “Rum and [blank],” chances are that more than 90 of the respondents would answer “Coke.” Rum is married to Coke in the minds of people more so than any other spirit is hitched to a mixer, even though rum is used in many cocktails, from mojitos and daiquiris to Mai Tais and hurricanes.

But rum, as it was discovered on May 19 at Morgan’s Seafood Restaurant, also goes with something other than Coke, namely food.

Presented by Tortuga Fine Wines and Spirits, the five-course dinner featured five different Flor de Caña rums served in various ways with each dish.

On hand for the event was Flor de Caña’s brand ambassador for North America and the Caribbean, John Guilarte, who guided the guests through the rum pairings, talking about his company’s rich history as he did so.

From left, Tortuga Fine Wine & Spirits’ Massimo Consolini and Nancy Harrison, along with Flor de Caña Brand Ambassador John Guilarte. – Photos: Alan Markoff
From left, Tortuga Fine Wine & Spirits’ Massimo Consolini and Nancy Harrison, along with Flor de Caña Brand Ambassador John Guilarte. – Photos: Alan Markoff

First things first

The name Flor de Caña translates to “flower of the cane,” and it is from Nicaraguan sugarcane that the rum gets much of its flavor profile.

Flor de Caña’s first sugarcane fields and distillery were established in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua, in 1890. Towering over Chichigalpa is San Cristóbal, the highest volcano in the country. The sugarcane grown in the volcanic soil of Chichigalpa takes on specific qualities that Guilarte likened to “terroir,” the French word often used to describe the sense of place wines have as a result of the various environmental influences on the vineyard in which their grapes were grown.

“Flor de Caña has a very unique sugar content,” Guilarte said, noting that sugarcane grown in the nutrient-rich volcanic soil results in a molasses with a higher sugar content, and by extension, a rum that is smooth and full-bodied. It also produces a rum that can be drunk neat, even without decades of aging.

The first course of the dinner – caviar served on potato blinis with smoked crème fraîche emulsion – was paired with Flor de Caña Gran Reserva 7, which Guilarte called the company’s “flagship rum.”

“It’s the blend right in the middle ground between young rums and aged rums,” he said.

“It’s especially good for people who don’t really know about aged rums.”

Serving a spirit neat to pair with food might seem strange, but because of the rum’s smoothness in the mouth and its fruity undertones, it balanced the saltiness of the caviar nicely while complementing the creaminess of the crème fraîche on the blinis.

The Flor de Caña Centenario collection of rums.
The Flor de Caña Centenario collection of rums.

Dry finish

Rum is part of Nicaraguan culture, Guilarte said, and Flor de Caña has come to define the Nicaraguan style of rum.

That style presents light-bodied younger wines with a dry finish and older rums with complex layers of flavor that are ideal for sipping.

Even with some age, the finish of the Gran Reserva 7 is not sweet.

“It’s a dry finish, especially for what most people think is a very sweet spirit,” Guilarte said.

The same is true of the Flor de Caña Gran Blanco Reserva 7, which is much like the Gran Reserva, only filtered after aging to be clear.

Launched in 2014, the Blanco Reserva 7 is ideal for cocktails, but it can be sipped as well. However, for the rum dinner it was used to create a “dry” mojito with lemon, mint and soda water. The resulting mojito was not only deliciously refreshing, but also an excellent pairing with the octopus carpaccio served with a herb spring roll. For a less sweet mojito, one that let the mint and citrus really shine with the rum flavor, Blanco Reserva 7 was the perfect choice.

Flor de Caña rum is used in many popular cocktails to be found throughout the island. - Photo: Stephen Clarke
Flor de Caña rum is used in many popular cocktails to be found throughout the island. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

Robust aged rums

Rum is made throughout the Caribbean basin and depending on which country it is produced in, the age listed on the bottle might mean something different. Some rum companies use the absolute age, which means if the bottle says 12 years old, then all of the rum in the bottle is 12 years old. Many Central American countries use the Solera blended-age system and will put the age of its oldest rum on the bottle, even if that rum makes up only a very small percentage of the entire bottle.

Guilarte said Flor de Caña recently moved to using an absolute average, meaning, for example, a bottle of Flor de Caña Gran Blanco Reserva 7 might contain half four-year-old rum and half 10-year-old rum. The Centenario Collection series – which includes 12, 18 and 25 – is therefore made with much older rums than Gran Reserva and Gran Blanco Reserva and are more for sipping than mixing in cocktails. However, premium spirits make premium cocktails, so there’s a growing trend to use what would traditionally be seen as sipping spirits in cocktails.

This trend was displayed in the third course, which paired a blackened tuna steak and braised veal cheek dish with a cocktail made with Flor de Caña Centenario 12, pineapple juice and Peychaud’s bitters. The fruitiness of the drink paired nicely with the tuna, while its acidity balanced the fattiness of the veal cheek. But perhaps the best pairing of all was the cocktail with the fried plantain balls, which offered fruitiness as well as fried-food fattiness, a perfect combination for the cocktail.

Guilarte said he really liked the semi-sweet Centenario 12 with its tropical fruit and spice aromas and its nougat and sherry flavors.

“I think it’s perfect for the Caribbean taste profile,” he said.

Neat but not too sweet

For the final savory course – dry-aged Wagyu beef tenderloin served with asparagus, pave potatoes and a port wine reduction – Centenario 18 was served on the rocks with a slice of orange.

“We like pairing our rum with oranges because the acid doesn’t overpower it,” Guilarte said.

Complex and extremely smooth, the Centenario 18 takes on flavors of tropical fruits, baking spices, dried fruits and nuts. Served in such a way, it was reminiscent of an Old Fashioned cocktail and it paired well with the beef, when taking small sips.

Finishing up the dinner, Flor de Caña’s top rum – Centenario 25 – was served neat and paired with Tortuga Rum Cake. Before indulging, Guilarte asked guests to take part in the “Flor de Caña Five Senses Tasting,” in which they were asked to look at, smell, touch and taste the rum.

On the nose, the rum displayed distinct coconut aromas, with hints of spices like clove. Most interesting of the five-sense tasting was the touching part of it. Guilarte asked all the guests to pour a small amount of the rum into their hands and to rub it around. To the guests’ amazement, the rum did not leave a sticky residue, a testament to the fact that Flor de Caña Centenario 25 is not overly sweet and syrupy like other, older, aged rums.

As for the sound part of the tasting, that was done with the clinking of glasses as everyone raised a toast to a fun and tasty dinner in the wonderful waterside setting of Morgan’s.