I love my alcohol sweet without being too fruity. My absolute favourite is Old Monk and Thums Up. Yes! Still! Even after 22 years! I also prefer rum based cocktails like dark & stormy, mojito, bushwhacker, daiquiri, caipirinha and hot buttered rum in the winter.
So when Joanne from Love Pop Ups London mentioned that Cottons at Vauxhall (the newest of four branches - opened last month) was looking for some bloggers to sample one of their Rum Masterclasses, I jumped out of my eating/writing ennui and applied.
The setting of the restaurant itself is absolutely serene and beautiful on St George's wharf. And I suspect their outdoor tables will be heavily coveted on warmer days. They also have a huge indoor area which is well lit and very comfortable with bar seating and table seating.
We started the masterclass at the bar. Barry was in charge. The wealth of information that he has regarding rums is mind boggling. Rum tasting is as complex and complicated as single malts. Their origins could be from anywhere, where sugarcane is grown.
Then its a matter of distilling, fermenting, ageing, shipping etc. This branch of Cottons has over 250 varieties of rum, their Notting Hill branch has 372+.
We started with a 5 year old Plantation Rum from Barbados. This was aged twice. First in Barbados for 3 years and again in France in Cognac casks for 2 years. Plantation Rum, are originally from different Caribbean islands (original island clearly marked on the bottles), but the company is based in France. This particular rum had its own sweetness from its contact with the cognac casks.
We next sniffed at a Goslings Black Seal Bermuda Black Rum. 151 proof makes it an overproof rum with 75.5% alcohol. Barry recommended that this one would go best with ginger beer and its also a great rum to flambe with.
The Angostura 1919 is a Trinidadian Rum. After a fire in 1932, which destroyed the Government Rum Bond, the master blender of Fernandes Distillers, bought the charred casks, only to discover they had been filled in the year 1919. The prized rum was skillfully blended and called "1919 Aged Rum." Even today this rum is aged in charred Jack Daniels casks. So while the rum itself is fruity with vanilla flavour, the undertones are markedly woody. This particular one is aged for 8 years.
This limited edition Venezuelan Rum from Diplomatico has won best rum 4 times. This rum is made from sugar honey which makes it sweeter than the other rums that we tasted and is aged for 12 years. This was my second favourite rum of the evening.
Barry also produced some lovely home made dark chocolate chunks which added so much to the flavour of the following rums. I suspect that I may have enjoyed the chocolate much more than the rum.
We next tried a Demerara Rum from Guyana - El Dorado. The rich soil and Demerara river lend their name and flavour to these rums. This particular one is aged for 15 years. While it had a lovely taste, I found it a bit on the heavier side. More suitable as a liqueur than for pre-dinner, for me.
Since we specifically asked about rum agricole (we were in a Caribbean bar after all) which is made directly from sugarcane juice (rather than its molasses), Barry recommended the Clement XO from Martinique. This is an Extra Old 7-8 year old rum and because it has been aged for so long it can be drunk on its own, unlike younger agricole rums. Given the smooth seductive tastes of the the other rums that we had sampled, this one tasted lovely, but felt much harsher on the throat and in its after taste.
The 20th anniversary Plantation Rum was our last taster of the evening and also my absolute favourite.This rum is blended from 12-20 tropically aged rums from Barbados and then aged again in cognac casks in France. While I could taste vanilla and citrus, there were also hints of cinnamon, cocoa and other christmassy spices.
Every single rum that we tried was amazing enough to be drunk on its own. The experience has forced me to rethink rums as just an alcoholic base which needs a mixer, to something that can be savoured on its own. They are great in cocktails and some rums go partuicularly well with certain specific mixers - like Ginger beer. But a lot of them can be slowly sipped on and enjoyed for just what they are.
There's such a large variety out there, that an experience of a masterclass like this one really helps start you down a wonderfully interesting path. Priced around £20 per person for rum masterclass only or £35 per person which includes a 2-course dinner after the class, its money well spent.
After we were done with the class, we were allowed to choose a cocktail from their menu. This was a tough choice as the menu had some of my favourites, but also some very intriguing new ones. My curiosity won out and I ordered a Strong Back - with dragon stout, Jamaican Wray & Nephew Rum, condensed milk and nutmeg. This was like a lovely iced dessert. I was surprised at how much alcohol was in the cocktail and everyone else at the table said the same about their drinks too.
We also had some nibbles to share at the table. Caribbean food served in style. I've previously eaten Caribbean food at the Notting Hill Festival - a disaster, and some really tasty places in Brixton which focus on food rather than seating / atmosphere etc.
The salt & pimiento squid was lovely and really did not need the accompanying pesto sauce. The pork ribs with the rum and molasses glaze was outstanding as was the ebony wings. I've had much better salt fish fritters made by Vanessa Bolosier, so I found these a bit dry and too tightly packed to enjoy the flavour. But the others at the table did like them and also raved about the whole grilled prawns (I'm allergic)
The sweet potato patties and the chick pea patties were lovely, so I'd say the vegetarians could enjoy the food here too.
Great rum, exciting cocktails and finger licking food. Definitely a place to bookmark and visit. The Notting Hill location is much closer to me, so maybe I'll try that one next. But I'm definitely returning here on a warm sunny day to enjoy the outdoor location.
Joanne has made a lovely video of our experience and its up on youtube.
Unit 12 Flagstaff House,
St Georges Wharf,
Vauxhall, SW8 2LE
T: 0207 091 0793