Friday, May 21, 2010

Barbancourt: the Jewel of the Antilles

One of the few success stories coming out of Haiti lately is the perseverance of Barbancourt Rhum in the face of the country’s devastation. At first glance, the survival of a distillery may not be something to cheer about in contrast to the life and death struggles of millions of Haitians, but then again, Barbancourt, a pure sugar cane rum, has always been a source of pride to Haitians, and as such is a source of comfort for Haiti and those who love her.

Before the earthquake, Haitian expatriates and knowing visitors at the Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince would return to the U.S. loaded down with as much Barbancourt as allowable by law and bicep. Barbancourt’s survival is a symbol of survival for all Haitians.

CNN features a longer article on the distillery’s fortunes since the earthquake; Barbancourt figures it lost about a third of its yearly profit, four million dollars, in damages incurred during the 36-second earthquake. Closed for about four months for reconstruction, the distillery is back open. We salute the return of Barbancourt Rhum, one of the world’s best dark rums, with a rum punch.

I’ve had many a rum punch, some I remember, some I don’t, on the porch of the famous Oloffson Hotel in Port-au-Prince. Following the Twitter patter of proprietor, Richard Morse, I’m happy to report the beautiful old hotel survived the earthquake, its wooden structure standing strong in contrast to the poorly reinforced concrete buildings of its neighborhood.

This is a recipe for the Oloffson Punch, lifted from the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails of Boston. They claim to be dismantling the patriarchy... one drink at a time. And I for one support that.

Oloffson's Punch

2 oz Barbancourt dark rum
1 tsp maraschino liqueur
3 oz orange juice
1 1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup

Shake in an iced cocktail shaker. Strain into a glass filled with crushed ice. Serve with straws and garnish with twists of orange and lime.

Maraschino liqueur should not be confused with the juice from Maraschino cherries or other cherry liqueurs. Maraschino liqueur (Stock or Luxardo are two available brands) is made from Marasca cherries, pits and all, which gives the liqueur a clear, dry taste. If you cannot find maraschino liqueur — and a warning, it is hard to find — I suggest substituting a cherry liqueur (Heering is one) and eliminating the simple syrup. Cherry liqueur is sweeter than the maraschino liqueur.

Barbancourt not only makes a quality, consistentely medal-winning rum but it also serves as a model of how a business can be possible in the impossible state of Haiti. Before the earthquake, Barbancourt provided benefits for its employees, paid more than minimum wage, and offered scholarships and soccer fields to the town around its sugar fields. Here's hoping the company can extend that kind of community once again.

Mesi, Barbancourt, it’s good to see you back.

You have a year now to plan your vacation to NYC around the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, which wrapped up last night. The multi-day event in celebration of the cocktail is ever-expanding. It's an event not to be missed in 2011!

Article originally published on

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Horses, the Horses, the Horses Are on the Track....

The word on the Kentucky Derby, and indeed on the whole summer racing season, is there are no quality horses this year. The economic downturn has greatly affected the thoroughbred industry with tracks and horse farms being put out to “pasture.” Here in New York State, we are facing the possibility of no Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown, the Derby being the first. The New York Racing Association has had to ask a loan from the state which is a month overdue on its own budget, so you can see where this is heading.

Another sign that the gift horse has clearly left the barn, our New York City Off-Track Betting Parlours, the country's biggest betting receiver with an estimated gain of one billion dollars annually, filed Chapter 9 bankruptcy. This is beyond understanding - an operation whose business is to collect losing bets and many of them - goes out of business. But I digress. Weren’t we talking about juleps? Weren't we talking about bourbon?!

There's no lack of quality bourbon around despite the economy. And maybe because of it.

It's the first Saturday in May. It's time for the grand Mint Julep.

This recipe is lifted from Bobby Heugel’s Houston Press Cocktail Blog:

The Mint Julep

2 ounces bourbon

1 bar spoon rich simple syrup (two parts sugar, one part water)

8-10 mint leaves

1 large, pressed mint sprig

In the base of a julep cup, or a smaller glass, gently muddle the mint leaves and simple syrup. Pour bourbon over the mint leaves and syrup and mix thoroughly. Fill the cup with crushed ice and stir briefly. Pile more crushed ice onto the cup, forming a dome above the brim of the cup. Take a mint sprig and press it until it becomes aromatic. Garnish the julep with the sprig.

Notice how Mr. Heugel uses a sweeter-than-usual, simple syrup - a syrup he calls a "rich simple" syrup. It is a two-to-one ratio, sugar to water rather than a typical simple syrup: one cup of sugar completely dissolved in one cup of water. In making the julep, he recommends a moderate bourbon meaning a bourbon not too sweet or "wheated, an example of which he cites is Maker's Mark, or too rich or "rye-heavy" like Wild Turkey. He recommends Buffalo Trace, but I am fond of Tuthilltown's Baby Bourbon with the julep. Drinker's choice: the trick is to have a equilibrium between the mint and sugar with the bourbon.

For a cocktail in the same family, but something a little different, mixologist Bobby Gleason came up with a drink that every trainer, jockey, owner, and exercise rider could use - The Good Luck Charm. An appropriate expert for race day, Mr. Gleason is one of the world’s fastest bartenders. Last year, he broke the Guinness World Record for most cocktails made in an hour. But take your time with sipping this by the rail. You don't want to do a Danny DeVito under the influence of the Limoncello.

Gleason's Good Luck Charm

2 oz. Jim Beam White Label.

1 oz. Limoncello

3 oz. fresh lemon sour

5-6 fresh mint leaves

Shake all ingredients with ice until well blended. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass with an optional sugared rim. Garnish with a lemon wheel. Please note that the little pieces of mint that should be floating around in the cocktail are little bursts of flavor that are considered good luck.

In making the fresh lemon sour, another variation on the simple syrup, I looked to Kathy Casey. Her recipe makes two cups of fresh lemon sour. It simply combines one cup of simple syrup with one cup of fresh lemon juice. Place in a large jar with a tight jar. The lemon sour can be refrigerated up to two weeks or even frozen.

Good luck with the ponies. Good luck to the ponies. Without them, there will be no mint juleps on the first Saturday of May.

Article originally published on