What's in a barrel? (Besides the Duke of Clarence.) I should probably explain...
George, Duke of Clarence, was the younger brother of English King Edward IV. Like so many during the Wars of the Roses, Clarence switched sides-York to Lancaster and back again-many times. So perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that his brother would eventually have him thrown in the Tower and executed for treason. The real surprise is the method of execution: stabbing, then drowning him in a barrel of sweet Malmsey wine, a scene faithfully described in Shakespeare's Richard III. And while the Bard was certainly not above embellishment or outright invention in the service of good theatre, this story is probably true. Among other proofs, Clarence's daughter, Margaret Pole, is depicted in a portrait wearing a wine barrel charm on her bracelet. In any case, the Duke was known to be fond of wine...what a way to go!
King Edward likely had many barrels of wines and spirits handy from which to choose; alcohol was then transported in oak barrels, glass bottles not appearing in any significant quantity til the mid-17th century.
Early on, makers of wines and spirits noticed that those that had spent significant time in a barrel were different-and frequently much better-than those which had not.
Sticking strictly to spirits, barrels of course lend color. But they also contribute lignins, compounds that smell and taste of vanilla or various fruits, spices, and nuts. And while barrels are airtight enough to transport spirits without leaking, the are also lightly porous, letting in tiny amounts of oxygen. This oxygen then catalyzes chemical reactions resulting in the formation of the esters which lend long-aged spirits their particular and prized character. So what's in a barrel? A lot!
Which explains why we were so excited to select and sell our very own barrel of Privateer Rum. Privateer, our 'house' rum almost since we opened our doors, is not only local but also simply fabulous. Distiller Maggie Campbell is an encyclopedia of distilling, a veritable rockstar of the industry, and a whole lot of fun, besides. We love everything (really, everything: Silver, Amber, Navy Yard, Queen's Share, Gin...) she does. So did I want to drive up to Privateer, taste through rum barrels with Maggie, and pick one out? No brainer.
The barrel we selected was a low fill, with a fair amount of evaporation, so it came in at 116.4 proof. We elected to have it bottled at cask strength. The barrel is also what is known as a 'honey barrel': it had been extensively dripped upon by a leaky barrel above it at some point, resulting in caramelization at the top of the barrel. I tasted pineapple upside down cake; Maggie said pineapple marmalade. Splitting hairs-the rum is tropical, heady, and voluptuously, decadently rich.
The barrel yielded 209 bottles, and they're all ours! If you love fine spirits, you will want one. If you love fine spirits AND interesting people, you'll also want to meet Maggie, who will be at our barrel release party signing bottles and chatting about Privateer. Jay Needleman will be making some killer cocktails. It promises to be great fun.
Beats the crap out of drowning in Malmsey.