The Rum Diary Part 4: Classique and The Prince   •   Comments »

Picking up from the last entry of the Rum Diary. We were just about to get into the details of The Prince, Yanni's spirituous endeavor with Barbancourt, a Haitian Rhum. In this Spiritual, The Prince is perhaps the furthest style from its counter, Classique. For this reason, it is also best reveals the intention of the Spiritual. If you wanted to play the game, either by yourself or with a friend, these would be the two to taste side by side. Barbancourt dolled up and Barbancourt stripped down are two very different experiences.

A Bitter Diatribe: As described in the last segment of the previous post, The Princebegins in a rocks glass, with a few drops of bitters. Yes, bitters. Most people know bitters. Actually, most people are familiar with bitters.

Of all the difficult to pronounce/decipher bits on our cocktail list, bitters is actually a reprieve. Thanks largely to the Manhattan, Old Fashioned or perhaps your thrifty grandmother, (who employs it as a tonic for an upset stomach), you've seen bitters around. It's typically identified as the medicinal bottle blanketed in oversized white paper and tiny font, and is a staple on just about every bar counter in America. And it definitely tastes bitter, but what the hell is it?

Bitters, according to Grossman's Guide for Wine, Beer and Spirits is, aromatic essences and flavors incorporated into an alcohol base. The flavors come from fruit, plants, seeds, flowers, leaves, bark, roots and stems.

In simplest terms, bitters are a high proof infusion. The most common among those flavorings come from gentian (a mountain flower) root and cinchona-tree bark from the Andean forests in South America that harbor a chemical compound called quinine. It's the quinine that contains the medicinal value (best known for malaria treatment), and is really the origins of bitters.

The big three of bitters, so to speak, is Angostura (the Lebron James of bitters), from Trinidad, Peychaud's (of Sazerac fame, from New Orleans) and Underberg, from Germany. But as in kitchens, these days, the ante has been raised behind the bar, and many a bartender (including ours) have taken to making their own. And you can believe that when bartenders play chef, a wide range of the aforementioned ingredients are used. Pretty much, bitters can be as diverse as intricately constructed as the cocktail itself. You can even buy obscure ingredients to make your own bitters here.

The Prince & The Classique

Sugarcane at Barbancourt

Here's where it gets fun. First, a rundown of the ingredients of these two drinks.

The Prince:

  • Angostura bitters
  • Bharbancourt 8 Year Rhum
  • Velvet Falernum
  • Vina AB Amontiallado Sherry

To begin, a rocks glass is gently coated with Angostura. It is used sparingly as it is quite an intense ingredient. The rest of the cocktail is built in a pint glass. The rhum, is followed by a splash of Velvet Falernum and (the wild card savory ingredient) Amontiallado.

Velvet Falernum is a syrup primarily seen in rum cocktails. This is perfectly logical since its origins (over 200 years old) are in Barbados. Imagine Falernum as simple syrup that has been infused with lime, almond, ginger and clove. It is viscous and milky, obviously sweet, but nuanced. It's actually quite delicious.

Viña AB is a sherry from Gonzalez Byass, the 5th generation bodega in the town of Jerez. Jerez is in Andalucia, the sherry province in southwestern Spain. We use it a lot in our cocktails. The application is basically the same as vermouth, which is to say, it is a stabilizer: the brace that binds fruit, acid and/or spirit. Viña AB is typical of fine Amontialldos. It smells of roasted almonds and is bone dry. Sherry is an integral part of our beverage program, both in wine (we have 9 offerings by the glass) and behind the bar. Each have dedicated entire features to sherry and many of Yanni's original cocktails contain sherry. Last month, New York Times Wine Editor, Eric Asimov wrote a great piece on the modern sherry industry. There's lots of great info there. But for the purposes of this article, Viña AB is the thing separating the Prince and the Classique- The Prince has it, the Classique does not. And the separation is vast.

All the ingredients are poured into a pint glass, then topped with ice. Yanni shakes it once, maybe twice, really quickly, just to lower the temperature. The mix is poured over the bitterly calibrated rocks glass, then topped with two large ice cubes. Yanni grabs an orange and twists the peel over the drink sending a furious orange mist just over the top. This is a common bar technique utilized purely for aromatic indulgence.

The Prince smells of heavily spiced banana nut bread. It is serious. The Barbancourt reveals itself, and so do the other spicy elements. It is a slow sipper, but the cohesion is impressive. So much so, that it is hard to tell if the spice comes from the bitters, the Falernum or the rhum. Interestingly, there is no detection of sweetness. The Falernum has added weight and spice, but the sweetness has been subdued.


The Classique is fleshy, tropical and tart

With the Classique, the coin is flipped. The down tempo sherry note is replaced by high toned acidity. The offspring is a luscious kaleidoscope of tropical fruit, all bound together by fresh lime juice.

Tasting The Prince first seems like the way to go. It is the more nuanced of the two. In particular, beginning with The Prince makes the already distinctive qualities of the drinks even more apparent. This may not be the highest truth for rum, but it definitely feels authentic. It harkens the Sidecars, Punches, Runners and Daquiris. It is so evocative of all the familiar attributes of rum cocktails, without the animated sweetness and prepubescent sugar levels.

In short, Classique affords you the opportunity to order a rum cocktail without any shame.  The Classique is both the gateway and epiphany, and truthfully, a rather uplifting departure from the rigidity and precision typically associated with our bar.

*For a less amped up version of the sweet-spicy-tart profile, you could also enjoy a half bottle of Huet Demi-Sec Vouvray or the delicious (off-menu) Montenegro and Lime, which has the same ingredients as the title of the drink.

Posted August 20, 2012 • Filed under Spirits,

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