With Pittsburgh’s cocktail scene in the midst of a several-years golden age, many opportunities to learn have come and gone for the amateur booze enthusiast. We’ve been lucky enough to take advantage of several — from our very first classic cocktail class, to sampling Islay scotch in an evening hosted by Laphroiag, to a year-long challenge during which we tasted over 200 1/2oz pours of different tequilas and mezcals…well, you get it. There’s a lot of fun cocktail and spirit stuff going on in the city.
Recently, Fox and I decided to broaden our horizons and learn about a new spirit, with guidance from the fine tiki drink crafters at Hidden Harbor: rum. Being a tiki bar, Hidden Harbor has a whole wide array of rums on hand, and in the interest of educating the masses (and having a little fun), they’ve created a little rum tasting association called…The Dead Parrots Society.
How does one join The Dead Parrots Society? First, you must acquire a special Rum Passport, which you can get simply by asking for it at the bar. Then, you must try all 20 of the rums in said passport (over time, not all at once!). This achievement will chronicle our journey to membership into the Dead Parrots Society, with a few tasting notes along the way. Here are the first five rums we tried over the past couple months.
Our first stamp in the rum passport came when we tried Dictador, a rum produced in Colombia using the solera method of aging. Essentially, in this method, younger spirits are added to the barrels of longer-aged spirits, working toward a consistent blend at an average age. The rum is lightly back-sweetened, which is to say that it has some sugars added to it after distillation for sweetness/color. When we tried it, we found that Dictador had a butterscotch nose, and it tasted like a pancake breakfast going down, all buttery and maple-syrupy, with a smooth finish.
Our next destination was Guadeloupe, for a taste of Berry Bros. Guadaloupe 12-year. This rum is produced in the French style, meaning that it is made from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice, rather than molasses. On the nose, we got caramel and coffee scents, but on the palate it was unexpectedly smoky, sort of like a mezcal, but with additional notes of oak and baking spice. (Note: this tasting, in order to keep the pricing on a relatively even distribution, is only a one-ounce pour.)
The next rum we tried was Brugal 1888, which hails from the Dominican Republic. It is described as “the single-malt Scotch of the rum world” in the passport’s notes, and our own tasting notes agree. It had an oaky character, and its finishing in sherry casks was definitely apparent on the nose. The flavor was rich but light, with mild sweetness, vanilla, and allspice, along with a hint of something earthy, like a forest floor. Extremely sippable.
For our next tasting, we trekked a little further east to Puerto Rico and sampled some Ron del Barrilito 3-Star rum. It smells very boozy at first sniff, but the flavor is much softer on the palate. It has notes of freshly cut wood, toast, and caramel (perhaps from the aging in charred oak) — and, very, very weirdly enough, you might get a hint of what is sort of like hairspray on the tip of your tongue, like when you used to spray your hair with a mister and would get a tiny bit of it in your mouth. But mysteriously, this is not a bad flavor in context!
Our final rum (for this installment, anyway) was the Trinidadian rum, Zaya Gran Reserva. This one was very different from the others in this post; it had a hint of passionfruit, and this pronounced vanilla-cola thing going on, like a Vanilla Coke, along with a bit of confectioner’s sugar.
So that takes us a quarter of the way to being full members of The Dead Parrots Society. We will return with the next installment during the summer! Stay tuned — or better yet, go try some rums, take some notes, and have your own adventure.
Hidden Harbor is located at 1708 Shady Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217. It’s open Tuesday-Thursday, 5pm – 12am, and Friday-Saturday, 5pm – 1am.
Obligatory disclaimer: While we’re quite fond of the folks at Hidden Harbor, we were not compensated in order to promote the rum passport or the business in general. Like with anything we discuss on this blog, we’re just doing it because we’d like to.