a time-tested recipe
It sucks getting older. My knees hurt after every bike ride. One too many comes one too soon; and the mornings after are always less forgiving. What’s worse is that my dream of becoming an NBA star slips further and further into implausibility. Getting old only leads in one direction. It’s not like I’m crying about it, but I’m faced with daily cues of my slow decay and finite mortality.
The other day I entered a place that reminded me that many things get better over time. I entered a place where aging is not only encouraged, but demanded. I entered a place where paradoxically silver ages to mellow amber. I entered the fragrant, warm and pragmatic Treaty Oak Distilling Co. where Chris Lamb, the lead distiller, gave me a ride in a time machine to see what is in store for those who look forward to maturity.
Not far from the border with Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley, the last sugar mill in Texas boils off sugar cane juice to make molasses as dark and sticky as tar.
It all started a handful of years ago. In 2005 an entrepreneurially spirited Sommelier, Daniel Barnes, started experimenting with 200 recipes of rum. He established Graham Barnes Distilling (recently renamed Treaty Oak Distilling Co.) in Austin, Texas with a passion for drink, a copper pot still with a column, and a bent on refining his rum recipe to find the taste he was looking for. Treaty Oak Rum was introduced in in 2007.
Actually the inspiration started before that. Not far from the center of downtown Austin stands a majestic Live Oak. Treaty Oak has reportedly been alive for more than 500 years. Treaty Oak is the legendary meeting place where Stephen F. Austin met local Native Americans to negotiate the first boundary for Texas in the 1830s. Treaty Oak is the namesake for Treaty Oak Rum.
Actually it started before that. Not far from the border with Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley, the last sugar mill in Texas boils off sugar cane juice to make molasses as dark and sticky as tar. Molasses is older than my knees, it’s older than the United States with roots dating to the 1500s. Molasses made in Santa Rosa, TX is the main ingredient in Treaty Oak Rum.
Armed with Daniel’s time-tested recipe, Chris brews rum beer made of molasses and yeast in an initial fermentation that takes four days. He then distills the embryonic rum in a custom made pot and column still that has a unique distillation process that produces the equivalent of six to eight standard pot distillations per run. In the Treaty Oak still, the beer is boiled in the pot releasing vapors into the column where it cools and drips back down into the pot. It then begins the process all over again. The rum is then filtered twice for a smooth, round flavor.
Chris explained the process with the casual ease of Yoda. Despite his proficiency, he’s only been at this for a couple of years and he learned distilling on the job through trial and error. Oh and he has a story about a doozey of an error. Chris, can I tell them about the time you imploded the brand-new still?
As he talked, we dipped our fingers into the run-off from the still to test the alcohol to sugar balance in the flavor. Daniel and Chris have a very specific flavor profile they are striving for consistently in each batch. For the Treaty Oak Platinum they want rum that is not as sweet as some others. The molasses from Santa Rosa is bitter sweet to start and the double filtration cuts down the black strap molasses flavors and leaves behind the desired dark chocolate and vanilla flavors.
The Platinum Rum is delicious, but for those who are willing to wait, we will be treated to Treaty Oak Aged Rum, which is slated for a December 2011 release. The genesis of the Aged Rum is an experiment Daniel and Chris did with a one gallon barrel of platinum and aged it for 2 years. The aging brought out an amazing up-front sweetness that they knew they had to bring to market.
They decided to expand it to 60 gallon new American white oak barrels with a custom select char that results in soft buttery, vanilla blends in the production runs of the Aged Rum. They chose a heavy char on the barrels to get more natural filtration and tannins from a new barrel. Initially Treaty Oak Aged Rum will be produced in small batches aged for about 8 months; just enough aging to bring out fantastic qualities.
The guys at Treaty Oak have great recipes for the Platinum Rum. Not so for the Aged Rum. This rum should be enjoyed chilled, served in a snifter. Don’t mess with it. No ice, no juice. Just enjoy the flavor.
Treaty Oak Aged Rum
Is it worth the wait? Hell yeah. Let me tell you what it’s like. When it’s introduced, the Aged Rum will be 40 percent alcohol, but the pre-release batch I tasted was a heart-warming 49 percent alcohol.
Look: Like looking into deep amber eyes caught in the sun, glistening, bright and sleek, yet deep. The eyes of an old soul looking back unblinking and unashamed of the sticky tears slowly rolling down.
Smell: A vibrant smell of brown sugar, sweet corn and an invigorating rush of alcohol vapors straight up the nostril (remember, I tasted the high-test).
Taste: The aged rum has lush flavors of chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla. Oh and mine had lots of kick. Chris encouraged me to add a dash of water to get it closer to the alcohol levels that will be released at production. That did the trick. It was smooth and sweet as a lasting kiss from a lover. A kiss I wanted to experience again. A kiss that could linger for a long time.
Will Treaty Oak Aged Rum reverse the degeneration of my knees? I doubt it, but I might forget about my dreams of the NBA after a couple glasses.
Treaty Oak Aged Rum will be available at bars, restaurants and retailers in Austin and surrounding areas starting in December 2011.