Tag Archives: Zacapa

The spirit of the game

A world cup is inevitably a time of reflection about how we approach our rugby.   Following this last iteration Patrick Leclezio prescribes how to get the most from your viewing.

First published in Prestige Magazine (November 2015 edition).

As it appeared - p1.

As it appeared – p1.

As it appeared - p2.

As it appeared – p2.

I lost the plot during that fateful 2011 quarter-final. As in berserk. At the special viewing arranged for us by the hotel at which I was staying in Mauritius, attended by me and two Brits, I conducted myself in less than ambassadorial fashion. We lost both the game and a couple of potential tourists on that day. Reflecting on it now, I needed fortification. I needed the pleasantly tranquilising effect of a stiff drink. I don’t drink before 11am as a rule, so the time zones conspired against me on that occasion. This time I didn’t make the same mistake. The combination of rugby and liquor (enjoyed responsibly people…), apart from being a time honoured tradition, presents you, me and all bibulous fans with a win-win scenario. The highs are higher – oh that victory buzz! – and the lows are higher – the pain of defeat is cushioned in a warm haze. This year I set out to do it properly. I came up with a spirit pairing for some of the leading teams, so that I could enjoy the drink, the rugby, and a little slice of each country’s culture, all at the same time. It’s the ultimate rugby viewing template – for World Cups and for between World Cups. In the future, regardless of how we fare, I’m confident of some great memories, and being able to look back on tournaments and matches savoured to the fullest. Join me on my journey.

Argentina
There’s a bizarre category of drinks known as bitters, and, whilst the constituent products differ substantially one from another they’re typically a witch’s brew of herbaceous ingredients. One of the world’s best-selling bitters is Fernet Branca, for which the brand largely has Argentina to thank. The Argies love this stuff, knocking back millions of litres per year – with coke or soda, or neat as a digestif. These guys are a bit dodgy with their application of the laws – give them a clueless French referee and they’ll make hay till the final whistle blows – but one has to admire how their game has progressed, and the passion with which they play it. When they started bawling during the singing of their national anthem I was raising my glass of Fernet Branca to the West in salute.

Australia
“ I’ll have a Bundy mate”. Well, not exactly. I did want to make the effort for our Aussie cousins, and the fortuitous absence over here of their mainstay – the infamous Bundaberg Rum – greased this wheel for me. I’m not averse to the mix-with-coke variety of rum to which Bundaberg belongs, but I’d much rather partake of something a bit finer. So I joined them in rum-drinking rugby kinship with a few fingers of Ron Zacapa, the sugar-cane honey derived, high-altitude matured, petate-attired Guatemalan favourite. Now I just need to learn to sing Waltzing Matilda in Spanish…

England
After those feet in ancient times walked upon England’s mountains green they would have been grateful I’m sure for a cool, tall glass of Pimm’s – maybe on a pleasant pasture – to refresh and restore. There is no more quintessentially English drink. Garnished with strawberries to colour match the red rose on an England jersey, and entwined as it is with a setting of green English turf, it is an all-appropriate accompaniment to that country’s rugby endeavours.

France
French rugby is a bit hit and miss, much like the drink I’m advising for watching their matches. Pastis, an anise-flavoured (specifically using star anise as an ingredient), unmistakeably Mediterranean spirit, is one of France’s most popular drinks, particular in the south of the country – corresponding loosely (more east than west) to the area where rugby also predominates. It’s a cliché of French rugby that they either pitch up or they don’t. Similarly you either like the polarising anise flavour or you don’t. There’s limited choice in SA but Ricard pastis, bedrock of the eponymous liquor giant Pernod Ricard, is generally available in local stores. It’s usually mixed with chilled water and ice, resulting in an iconically cloudy, superbly refreshing liquid – best enjoyed whilst watching French rugby…or at a street-side café in Marseille.

Ireland
The most underrated style of whiskey, like its perennially underrated team, comes from Ireland. Single pot still is Ireland’s traditional style, a full bodied whiskey made from both malted and unmalted barley that inexplicably lost popularity at one time, but that’s now back with a test-match winning intensity. I recommend answering Ireland’s call with Green Spot, an orchard-in-a-bottle exponent that’ll transform your rugby viewing into a total sensory experience. It’s a great reason to catch as many of Ireland’s games as possible. The colour correspondence by the way is completely coincidental, but surprisingly pleasing nonetheless.

South Africa
Our flagbearing sports team and our signature spirit – it’s a union ordained by the sporting and spirituous gods. Rugby in this country is synonymous with brandy, particularly blended brandy, so I’ll signal my support accordingly – with one of the best blended brandies that I’ve yet had the opportunity to taste: the Carel Nel 15YO from Boplaas. Let’s hope we’ll be drinking it in more frequently victorious circumstances in the future.

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The sum of all rum

From corsair to connoisseur

First published in Prestige Magazine (August 2012 edition).

As it appeared – page 2.

“Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest-

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Drink and the devil had done for the rest-

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!”

This is the gung-ho opening stanza of the pirate’s anthem, as sung to us in Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’.  It epitomises the rum ethos – that of hard-drinking bravado.  There is simply no other drink that’s quite as synonymous with masculine adventure as rum: be it boarding a Spanish galleon, or bush-diving from a balcony, it’s more likely than not to have played a part.  Whilst some of the rough edges may have been smoothed away and the fairer sex accommodated with the inception of light, spiced, and other flavoured versions, rum has nonetheless remained steadfastly raucous since its epic days of yore.  In ‘The Rum Diary’, the movie based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name, one of the characters famously says to another “I think we’re drinking too much rum”, to which the other replies “there ain’t no such thing”.  Indeed.  Rum is an all-out, balls-to-the-wall party drink.

Or, I should way, it was.  Allow me to announce, ahead of the approaching dawn, that our society’s experience of rum is set to change.  In Jekyll and Hyde fashion (also Robert Louis, how droll) this is a dissociative drink.  Whilst many of us in the Anglosphere – and it’s still very much the case in South Africa – have been distracted, or even misled, by its often emetic incarnation (which has somewhat tainted its image), discerning rum-lovers, in the Latin world in particular, have for many years now been charmed by a different, altogether more suave and elegant persona.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Before rum, there was the inventively named brum, a drink fermented from sugar cane juice by the Malay people of antiquity.  It wasn’t until much later however, half a world away (the Caribbean of the 1600’s), that distillation was introduced into the mix.  Rum quickly became a staple in the British navy, issued to sailors in rations, and from that source the habit found its way first to privateers and then to pirates, proving a hearty companion during those endless voyages on the seven seas.  These chaps took their libations as grog and bumbo respectively, concoctions including any of water, weak beer, lime or lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to accompany the rum.  And these unlikely forerunners of the cocktail era set the trend of mixing rum into motion.  The Cuba Libre, rum mixed with coke (and lime, strictly speaking), then took the baton during the twentieth century and went on to become spectacularly popular, propelling Bacardi at one stage to the position of world’s best-selling international brand.

Despite this dubious, albeit colourful, legacy, rum, as I implied earlier, is actually a fine spirit, offering a variety and complexity of flavour to those who seek it out.  It makes an effortless transition from spring break to cigar lounge.  Rum is defined almost everywhere as a spirit distilled from cane sugar and its derivatives, although there has been the odd attempt, such as Sweden’s Altissima, to make “rum” from sugar beets as well.   This may seem like a blandly uniform recipe but cane derivatives are surprisingly diverse, and each has a distinct impact on flavour.  Rum producers in the majority use molasses, a thick, gooey by-product of the sugar refining process, as their primary ingredient, but sugar cane juice and sugar cane syrup (also known as sugar cane honey) are also frequently used.  Product made from sugar cane juice, known as Rhum Agricole, is a feature of the French Caribbean islands, and also of other francophone islands such as Reunion and Mauritius.  Martinique in particular has an Appellation designation (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or AOC being the French system for regulating certain agricultural products), giving their accordingly produced rhums a special cachet.  One of the world’s best rums, Ron Zacapa of Guatemala, is produced from sugar cane syrup – in fact these guys differentiate their ingredient further as first-press or virgin sugar-cane honey.  I’m sold on that description alone.  Most importantly though all the better rums share the same pedigree as good whisky and cognac – dictated by extensive cask maturation.  New casks, bourbon casks, sherry casks, and various wine casks are employed – often, especially in Latin territories, in a Solera system (a complicated ageing method in which liquid from one cask is blended into others at intervals) – to produce exquisite, expertly blended liquid.

Rum then it appears is a spirit for all seasons.  I’m partial to a Captain and Coke, with its foaming head and its promise of unruly fun, but increasingly I’d rather seek out Zacapa, or Barbancourt of Haiti, or others of their ilk whenever I can find them.   Whilst the awareness and acceptance of premium rums is still unfolding over here, the signs are unmistakable.  Aye me hearties, a new rum era is upon us for sure.