One of the best products I sampled at Tales of the Cocktail last year was a new rum from Haus Alpenz. Eric Seed’s aim was to recreate a traditional Jamaican rum with a flavour profile similar to that which was prevalent in the early 20th century. Modern Jamaican rums tend to focus on a flavour profile for sipping, a quality which marrs their use in traditional rum drinks that were created with older, bolder styles in mind. With the help of cocktail historian David Wondrich, as well as a team of bartenders including Audrey Saunders and the crew of Pegu Club, they eventually arrived at Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican rum.
Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum
Distilled in Jamaica at the Hampden Estate it is a blend is 50% Wedderbrun rum (a traditional heavy-bodied style) aged 6 months and 50% Plummer rum (a medium-bodied style) aged from 1½ to 3 years. Whereas modern Jamaican rums tend to be column-distilled with just a little pot-still distillate to add depth, Smith & Cross is entirely produced with pot stills, using a combination of the molasses, skimmings, dunder, cane juice, and syrup bottoms from sugar production. The rum comes in at a hefty “Navy Strength” 57% – so called because at such a high proof rum-soaked gunpowder will still ignite.
Some six months after first trying it I finally snagged a bottle while Eric was in town last month, and I’m pleased to say my initial feelings about the rum hold true. The result is an amazingly deep and flavourful rum, funky in the extreme and packed full of vegetal notes. The nose is heavy with alcohol, and a fuel-like aroma that opens out to a little tropical fruit and caramel. In the mouth an initial hint of caramel gives way to a hefty vegetal funk, backed with spices and tropical fruit. There is a distinct alcohol burn on the finish, and the vegetal notes linger for some time.
Not exactly a pleasant sipper, it is nonetheless packed with incredible flavours that excite the tongue. Clearly such an intense rum isn’t really meant to be consumed on its own – this is a spirit made for mixing drinks. Traditional rum drinks like the Daiquiri and Planter’s Punch are perfect fits for Smith & Cross and showcase the rum perfectly. However perhaps my favourite Smith & Cross cocktail is an adaptation of a Don the Beachcomber drink I came across over at Alcademics.
- 1½ shots / 45 ml / 1½ oz Smith & Cross Jamaican rum
- 1 shot / 30 ml / 1 oz 1:1 honey syrup
- ½ shot / 15 ml / ½ oz grapefruit juice
- ½ shot / 15 ml / ½ oz lime juice
- ¼ shot / 7.5 ml / ¼ oz pimento dram
- 4 dashes absinthe
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Shake well with ice and strain in to a glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with an grapefruit zest twist.
Adapted by Erik Adkins of San Francisco’s Heaven’s Dog after coming across the cocktail in Beachbum Berry’s Intoxica, you can’t help but think the Montego Bay was made for a rum just like Smith & Cross. The pimento dram, citrus and honey create a heady spiced sweet/sour mixture that I think most rums would struggle to show up in, however the Smith & Cross punches through providing a hefty dose of vegetal funk that works great with the other ingredients but never overwhelms.
Drinks like this, and others like The Winchester, occasionally remind me that I really do need to spend more time taking a look at tiki drinks. Maybe Doug has the right idea with his tiki month… Anyway, back to Smith & Cross, this really is a very unusual rum and one that is really worth trying. It’s no sipper, but as a rum for cocktails it excels, adding to many existing rum drinks and opening up a whole slew of others that I think wouldn’t quite work as well without it.
Keep up the good work Eric!
Note: In the interests of full disclosure, a sample bottle of Smith & Cross rum was supplied to me for review.
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