MEJ Masthead

The Rum Bar: A New Angle

Tess Parisotto

A few months back, I ventured to the Kingston foreshore for the Rum Bar’s Rum & Dine degustation evening. The idea of a degustation certainly isn’t a foreign one – basically it’s designed to showcase a wide variety of food and drinks for the diner to experience. A degustation is not about just eating, it’s about tasting and identifying an array of different flavour combinations, and; experiencing and enjoying food and drink in a different way you may not have thought about doing before.

A degustation with Rum pairings, however, is something foreign to me. Matching up food with specific spirits and cocktails is a relatively new trend and has gained momentous popularity in recent years. Normally you might expect food to be paired alongside a glass of wine, or even a nice craft beer in some instances, but now people are becoming more open to experimenting with different types of drinks, and learning more about them too (because there’s only so many times you can discuss fermentation and earthy undertones). You’ll see whisky and scotch used more commonly than others, but a Rum-based degustation is something you’ll seldom hear of. So I was anticipating what the Rum Bar had in store for us.

It was a four course degustation with matching Rum-based cocktails. Initially I thought it a bit strange to pair decadent cocktails with food, but the beauty of cocktail pairings is that there are so many different flavour combinations you can create and explore, unlike wine and beer which can be somewhat limited in the tasting profiles they offer. Therefore there are many ways to pair up the drink and the dish! It also opens up more possibilities for those who aren’t particularly fond of wine or beer, but still want to experience a good drink pairing.

For their Rum & Dine degustation, the Rum Bar aimed to do something different, and share their knowledge and passion for Rum with the Canberra community. Owner and venue manager Leigh Barnett told me “We haven’t seen a cocktail degustation here before [and] wanted to give Canberra a taste of something different”. Their aim was to showcase what they could do, not only with booze, but with their food too, having recently added Head Chef Jodie Johnson to their ranks. And to do it in such a way which directly supports your drinking. What’s not to love about that?

Upon meeting with my posse for the evening (also known as my dining soulmates – they understand my need for photographing my meals…) we wandered inside and sat ourselves down in the centre of the dining space. The bar was packed with hundreds of bottles of Rum. Whenever I see a fully stocked bar I feel a little giddy, like a kid walking into a candy store for the first time. Except I’m 21 years old, and instead of candy it’s alcohol. Jack Sparrow would have been in heaven.

Soon enough we were handed our welcome-wagon drinks, and our host for the evening, Lee Potter Cavanagh, approached our table to get things kicked off. He explained the menu was designed to take us on a tour through the history of rum, so the cocktails would be served according to chronology. We started with Rum Punch made with dark rum, black tea, sherbet, lemon and honey.

Originating from the early 16th century this was the drink which really brought rum into the wider world. Lee explained that rum punch was inspired by spiced wine, created by travelling colonialists and men in the navy. While at sea, these men wanted to recreate the kind of drink they would normally enjoy at home, however they were reluctant to use beer or wine as it spoiled too quickly. Eventually it filtered back into life on land and many people adopted the idea with enthusiasm. By the early 18th century, Rum was enjoyed by both low society and high society and Rum Punch was considered a sign of great hospitality.

As Lee spoke we listened, ears a-prick. It was refreshing to learn about the history behind what we were drinking which wasn’t limited to the specific drink in front of us.

Our entrées soon arrived, accompanied by their matched rum-based concoctions. We had Kingfish ceviche with dried salted grapes, chardonnay vinaigrette, crostini & flying fish roe. And for the cocktail; a Daiquiri made with white rum, lime & lemongrass simple syrup. Then came the fun part; dissecting the pairing.

Now, it is commonly acknowledged that there are two basic ways for a drink to be paired with food – that is, to either create contrast between the flavours of each, or to mirror them. By contrasting and mirroring flavours, one is able to more clearly establish what exactly they taste and experience how certain flavours complement each other.

In this case, the salted grapes and vinaigrette in the Kingfish Ceviche mirrored the acidic flavours of lemon and lime we tasted in the Daiquiri. However the white rum & sweet lemongrass syrup in the Daiquiri was sweeter and stronger than the acidic flavours in the Kingfish, creating more of a contrast and allowing us to appreciate and differentiate between the sweet and savoury elements of the dish and the cocktail, too.

For the second course we had Confit Duck with roast parsnips, dates and orange puree, paired with ‘El Presidente’, which was made up of dark rum, aromatised wine, Maraschino liqueur and grenadine. This was not a drink for the faint-hearted, let me tell you. Originating from around the time of The Prohibition, this cocktail had a strong alcoholic taste; the aroma alone was intoxicating.

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Confit Duck with roast parsnips, dates and orange puree

 

Lee explained that the El Presidente is traditionally dry in taste, but ours was sweeter to match more appropriately with the menu. The sweetness and flavour of the duck and dates mirrored and matched well with the aromatised wine and the grenadine, which is typically quite tart and sweet. The acidity of the orange puree was also complemented by the slightly sour cherry taste of the maraschino liqueur, and the mixture of sweet and sour flavours of both the overall dish and the drink made for an outright delectable meal. My only grievance was that there wasn’t more of it!

By the time we hit our third course the rum was beginning take its toll (I blame it on the El Presidente). Amid my slight head swirls and giddy adolescent-like giggling, Lee explained that this course was taking us away from the Prohibition era and into the 1940s. During this time, Rum started to ‘kick off’ in America and many tropical-tiki/Polynesian themed bars were popping up. Our drinks most definitely reflected Lee’s explanation of the era, both aesthetically and in taste.

We were served a ‘Mai Tai’ cocktail made up of dark rum, dark rhum (yes they are different!) triple sec, lime, almond syrup and celery & mint infused Campari. And to go along with it: Sous Vide Lamb Leg with smoked potato, almond skordalia, peperonata & pancetta crumbs.

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Sous Vide Lamb Leg with smoked potato, almond skordalia, peperonata & pancetta crumbs

 

Mai Tai was very easy to drink. It was light, fun and sweet, but not overly so. The acidic citrus flavours in the Mai Tai – lime & triple sec (an orange flavoured liqueur) – contrasted wonderfully against the richness of the lamb, and the celery & mint infused Campari (a type of bitter) acted as a sort of mediator and evened out the stronger flavours. The classic combination of mint and lamb was delicious, and the celery flavour matched well with the smoked potato (which was utterly brilliant by the way – it tasted like bacon!) And tying it all together was the almond skordalia, mirroring with the almond syrup of the Mai Tai. Who would have thought that a cocktail of all things could match with your meal in so many different ways?!

Eventually we were met with the final course: dessert. Generally the rule of thumb is to make your dessert drink sweeter than your actual dessert because sweet flavours are generally more prevalent on the palate, winning out against the savoury and sour. Basically the sweeter your food the more bitter your drink tastes, which definitely is not an ideal way to finish off your meal for the evening.

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Vanilla sponge with raspberries, red jelly, cream, mint puree & lime meringue at the Rum Bar

 

We had vanilla sponge with raspberries, red jelly, cream, mint puree & lime meringue – a relatively light dessert – paired with a Pina Colada made with three year-old white Eldorado rum, absinthe, coconut vinegar, coconut water, pineapple juice, bitters and a coco lopez foam. This final cocktail was very moreish, indulgent even, and most definitely the star of the course. The fruity flavours in both the dish and the drink married together delightfully. The citrus acidity was balanced well by the sweetness of the coconut water and the rum itself, known for its tasting notes of coconut & dark brown sugar, and a vanilla sweet finish. All elements combined, this course finished the degustation off on a sweet note with no trace of any bitter aftertaste!

By the time I took the final sip of my Pina Colada I was feeling satisfied. We travelled through time (and four courses!) learning about the history and evolution of Rum through the ages, and we experienced a myriad mixture of unsuspected flavour combinations and tastes. The experience was a refreshing one – one that certainly would not have left the same impression had it been done with the same old wine and beer pairings. For me, it was a new and exciting way to experience and appreciate food and drink. I very much enjoyed the evening and left feeling relaxed, rejuvenated, and a little tipsy if I’m totally honest.

the essentials

What: The Rum Bar
Where 6/2 Trevillian Quay, Kingston Foreshore
Phone: 6162 1256
Facebook: www.facebook.com/therumbarcanberra
Web: www.therumbar.com.au/

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Tess Parisotto

Tess Parisotto is a 21 year old freelance writer and University student currently studying a Bachelor of Writing at the University of Canberra. Born and raised a Canberran, Tess loves her city and being a part of the Canberra community. She has a love for all things local, and is a self-confessed coffee nut, fiercely passionate about coffee and cafe culture in general. Follow @tessparisotto on Instagram for your daily dose of Canberra goodness and other pretty things.

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