Episode 097 - Solera Aged Rum
What’s shakin, cocktail fans?
Welcome back to another episode of The Modern Bar Cart Podcast!
This time around, we pull up a seat to chat with Andy Keller, head distiller for Blackwater Distilling, Maryland’s oldest currently operating craft distillery. We examine one of the really unique and ambitious projects they began just a couple years ago: aging some of their product in a solera system.
Some of the things we discuss include:
What a solera is, and how it’s used to add both consistency and complexity to a spirit.
A tasting of Blackwater’s flagship products, including the first batch of their solera aged rum
How the solera is organized and managed, including barrel sourcing, aging time, and blending specs.
A vertical tasting from all five levels of the Blackwater Distilling rum solera - and this is where we really uncover some of the surprising differences between different levels and barrel finishes.
Some interesting thoughts on yeast strains and fermentation styles
What to drink if you run into Russian novelists Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky
And much, much more
This was a really fun interview, and if you enjoy some of the episodes where we taste through a number of spirits and offer tasting notes, we think you’ll really enjoy it.
One quick thing to add: if you’re interested in learning more about the solera from the Sherry side of things, which is where it’s been really perfected over the centuries, be sure to check out our interview with Chantal Tseng.
Featured Cocktail - The Hemingway Daiquiri
This week’s featured cocktail is the Hemingway Daiquiri. You know the daiquiri, right? Rum, lime, simple, shake it all up? Delicious.
Well, the Hemingway Daiquiri is a riff on this classic that’s a bit more complex...and yes, it was developed for Ernest Hemingway himself at La Floridita bar in Cuba. And legend has it, he always ordered a double.
To make it, you’ll need:
1½ oz. white rum
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
¼ oz. fresh grapefruit juice
¼ oz. maraschino liqueur
For me, this cocktail can skew a bit sour depending on the nature and quality of your citrus juice. So, because the Maraschino is taking the place of simple syrup here, if you need to up it to a third or a half an ounce to make the drink really taste good to you, we’re not gonna tell.
Like the classic daiquiri, the Hemingway Daiquiri can really teach you a lot about the rum you’re drinking and how it plays with other flavors, so use it as a lens through which to view the various bottles on your bar. Just don’t start slamming back doubles like Ernest Hemingway and blame us for your hangover.
In this episode, we focus intensely on the solera aging system that Andy has developed to help add both complexity and consistency to some of their more premium aged rum products. Below, we give you a rundown of what a solera is and how it can be used to age spirits.
What is a Solera?
“Solera” is a Spanish architectural term referring to a “foundation” of some sort. But really what it refers to is a fractional blending and aging system where barrels don’t get fully emptied. The simplest solera is a single barrel that doesn’t get fully emptied every time you bottle. It is then subsequently refilled with new (or erstwhile aged) spirits and given more time to age and integrate before the partial emptying process begins again.
A more complex solera involves multiple barrels in a level and multiple levels that empty into the subsequent level’s barrels each time bottling occurs. Sound complicated? Yeah…you’re right. It requires a great deal of tracking and a lot of really deliberate planning to execute.
Blackwater Distilling has a five-level solera, with the bottom level being where the spirit gets bottled. Then the rum from all the second level barrels is blended together and used to re-fill the partially emptied bottom barrels, in a process that gets repeated all the way up the solera until new-make spirit is finally added to the top level.
We had the privelege to sample spirits not only from the Blackwater Spirits portfolio, but also from all five levels of the solera. Below, we’ve got some great shots of their current lineup and tasting notes on all five solera samples we sampled.
Solera Tasting Notes
The 400-Level: A combination of new-make spirit from Blackwater’s normal yeast strain, as well as from a long-fermentation yeast used to generate some extremely fruity esters. On the nose, extremely well integrated oak (originating from relatively new charred oak). The flavor profile races to the back of the palate with fruity notes you might expect from a younger rum and an extremely three-dimensional mouthfeel.
The 300-Level: Very different from the 400 level. On the nose, very youthful, with lots of vanilla and copious fruit. On the palate, quite soft and really silky. The flavors follow through from the nose, with a bit of salted fruit cake on the finish, offering a really sophisticated-tasting rum.
The 200-Level: On the nose, lots of pepper and black tea (perhaps bergamot?), and a hint of dark fruit. On the palate, incredibly smooth, with lots of vanilla and some cola notes. A distinctly refined sipper.
The 100-Level: On the nose, extremely clean, with white pepper and pimento. On the palate, dark, rich pineapple with a bit of menthol on the finish.
The 000-Level: Contains the most aged Jamaican rum (used to seed a portion of the solera initially). On the nose, it has a funky, distinctly Jamaican fingerprint. On the palate, it’s extremely refined and represents what might happen when a bourbon and a great Jamaican spirit collide.
The Last Word
If You Were a Cocktail Ingredient What Would You Be?
Campari or another Amaro. I can take a little while to get used to, but my wife is still around!
Cocktail With Anyone, Past or Present
Authors Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. They’re very different, but I’d like to pick their minds about the human condition. With Dostoyevski, it would probably be vodka, but with Tolstoy, it would have to be a glass of really nice sherry.
Advice for New Rum Enthusiasts
In general, rum isn’t a well understood category in the U.S., and as a result, most of the good rum doesn’t make it here. So seek out independent bottlers, who can offer some really fun stuff. Also, one of the dirty secrets of rum is how much sugar is added after distillation, so do yourself a favor and seek out that knowledge on the internet before you make a big purchase. Adding sugar isn’t necessarily bad, but you should be able to know these things.