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April 2008


WINE & SPIRITS

Born To Rum
By Baroness Sheri de Borchgrave

WITH A SLEW OF HIGH-END DISTILLATIONS, THE CARIBBEAN CLASSIC IS MAKING A COMEBACK

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The headlines that announced Fidel Castro's resignation after half a century in power brought me back to the week I spent in Cuba just before the millennium.

Often, when recalling exotic travel, the cocktails are the first things I remember: mai tais in Tahiti, caipirinhas in Rio, Singapore slings in...well, you get the picture. Daiquiris—particularly the famously tart versions served up Hemingway-style at the writer's favorite bar, El Floridita, lubricate my most vivid Havana memories.

Decades after the two-fisted scribe ordered up double rum shots in a rendition of the drink made specifically for him—with maraschino liqueur and the juice of lime and grapefruit—I stood where he once had and ordered my own. That first "Papa doble" gave way to an even more austere classic daiquiri, made only with lime juice, rum and simple syrup. One of the world's simplest cocktails, it's the quality of the rum that makes it soar.

Recently, while researching this retro drink I stumbled upon savethedaiquiri.com, a Web site with a singularly inspiring mission. I put in a call to the man behind it, Brooklyn-based Ben Jones, who just happens to be a fourth-generation member of the French-Caribbean Clément Rhum family.

Jones, who has made it his mission to put Martinique's rhum agricole on the American cocktail map, agreed to offer me a personal primer on his family's superior handcrafted spirits. The 30-year-old arrived for our meeting bearing a wealth of rich tipples, samples of every bottle distributed in the U.S.

Clément, like all Martinique rum, is regulated by the same strict Appelation d'Origine Controllee (AOC)—French government standards—as the country's wine and cheese. "Most of the world's rum is made from molasses and is processed very industrially," Jones explained. "But AOC Martinique rhum is made from freshly pressed sugar cane. Even the aging is very specific, in both French Limousin Cognac barriques and a mix of new Tennessee oak and re-charred bourbon barrels."

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