For years, local boy Ernest Hemingway held court at the corner bar stool in Havana’s famed El Floridita. He’d order what became his namesake drink: a daiquiri with grapefruit juice and maraschino cherry liqueur. Cozy up to a stool at Sparrow, a new rum-focused bar in the Gold Coast, and you, too, can get a taste of Hemingway’s favorite drink. It’s called El Floridita No. 3. Read the rest of this entry »
By John Greenfield
You might say that Mai Tais run in my blood. When I was a kid in the 1970s, my family used to hang out at a tiki hotel called the Hawaiian Isle, owned by my dad’s cousin Leo Frank. It was located at 17601 Collins Avenue in the Sunny Isles section of North Miami Beach. Don’t look for it; it’s not there anymore.
Images of Polynesian deities were plentiful at the inn, including a twelve-foot-tall, backlit mask by the front door, with eyes that alternately glowed green and pink. A talking parrot greeted guests in the lobby, and there was a floorshow featuring hula and other South Seas dance forms. The place was frequented by everyone from French-Canadian snowbirds to Jewish Mafia figures.
Those early days at the Hawaiian Isle must be a factor in why tiki culture resonates with me so much nowadays. Along with strolling through the steamy Garfield Park Conservatory and soaking in the hot tubs of King Spa in Niles, visiting faux-Polynesian lounges and restaurants is one of my favorite ways to take a brief vacation from the grim realities of a Chicago winter. Read the rest of this entry »
A decade ago, ordering a caipirinha outside the Brazilian enclaves in South Florida or New York would puzzle most bartenders. However, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of producers, the now-ubiquitous cocktail (made with cachaça, lime and muddled sugar) can be ordered in places as diverse as Café Laguardia, Al Primo Canto, Café 28 or Karyn’s on Green.
“Caipirinha has been the object of intense experimentation by bartenders and mixologists in the US,” explains Vicente Ribeiro of Fazenda Soledade in Rio de Janeiro. “A larger variety of fruits have demonstrated cachaça can be as versatile as vodka, albeit with a higher complexity of aromas and flavors.”
“When we started in 2005, awareness was less than one percent of cocktail consumers,” explains Steve Luttmann of Leblon, one of the major premium brands commercialized in the United States. Awareness of cachaça among cocktail consumers is now nearly twenty percent in the major markets (New York, LA, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami). The caipirinha, with thirty-percent awareness, is now one of the top-ten cocktails on menus, and was the fastest-growing cocktail in 2010. Read the rest of this entry »
The Product: Rubi Rey Reserve Rum
The Premise: A single barrel finished white rum that’s aged on the coast of northern Puerto Rico and then later filtered for “clarity.”
The Tasters and Their Qualifications: Emily (works at a nursing home, so drinks a lot), Megan (can’t stop drinking), Marcus (“I don’t drink swill, even if it’s free”), Lenny (“I don’t like being sober, I don’t like my life”), Phil (almost finished the “Century Club” once), Tom (“Booze has no memory, and neither do I”)
Total years of legal drinking: 30
The Packaging: An arresting red bottle invokes summertime recollection, but also that creepy kid from “The Shining” running around the hotel yelling “Red Rum!” over and over. Drink at your own risk!
Tasters rated the following on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “I wouldn’t take it if it was free” and 10 being “I’m heading to the liquor store right now to get my own!” Read the rest of this entry »
The Premise: Originating in Cuba 130 years ago, now aged 15 years in the Dominican Republic, Gran Reserva calls itself the “cognac of rum.”
The Tasters and their Qualifications: Jason, Tara (has drank on four out of seven continents), Brian and Jan (self-proclaimed “shots champion”). Total years of legal drinking: 79
The Packaging: Classic look befitting the high-falutin’ aspirations of this venerable product
Tasters rated the following on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “I wouldn’t take it if it was free” and 10 being “I’m heading to the liquor store right now to get my own!”
The Nose: 9. Smooth, with hints of caramel
The Taste: 8.5 Rich smooth taste, with notes of vanilla. Good finish.
The Recipe (wherein we mix up a drink from the company’s Web site, when relevant):
The Cuban Special
1 1/2 oz. Matusalem Gran Riserva
Juice from half a lime
1 1/2 oz. Cointreau (we used Triple Sec)
1 1/4 oz. Pineapple juice
Shake all ingredients over ice in a shaker; strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a lime twist
This was a very popular and refreshing summer drink. Some tasted a bit too much lime, some too much pineapple, but over all, the verdict was refreshing.
The Overall Verdict: 8.5 A great rum, on the rocks or in a Cuban Special