Rum and cigars both have long traditions in the Caribbean and the Brasserie Restaurant played host to an event that celebrated two premier examples of these cultural icons.
The Brasserie Restaurant took on a distinct Latin American feel when it teamed up with Jacques Scott Wines & Spirits and La Casa del Habano for an evening billed Zacapa & Cigars Under the Stars on 2 March.
Similar in format to the restaurant’s harvest dinners, guests met in the chef’s garden for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to begin.
The event featured three rums of Ron Zacapa Centenario, an award-winning distillery in Guatemala. Upon arrival, guests received a Bilimbi Sparker, a cocktail which married Zacapa 15 and bilimbi, a fruit in the carambola – or star fruit – family. In keeping with its commitment to use local, fresh products as much as possible, the bilimbi fruits came from Joel Walton’s Plantation House Organic Gardens.
While guests mingled in the garden area, the Brasserie served two hors d’oeuvres – cassava croquettes with safrito aioli and ropa vieja – shredded beef brisket with a tomato sauce served over small crostinis.
Before sitting down, Jacques Scott Marketing Assistant Jo Austin spoke a bit about Ron Zacapa rums and what makes them special.
“The rum was first created to celebrate the town of Zacapa’s centenary year in 1976,” she said.
Unlike most rums, Zacapa is not made from molasses, but from the first pressing of sugar cane juice, something Austin said sets the rum apart from the start.
“It makes Zacapa a bit smoother and sweeter than other rums.”
Geography also plays a part in Zacapa’s unique body and flavour. It’s barrels are stored in the Guatemalan mountains at an altitude of 7,544 feet, making the storage facility called “The House Above the Clouds” one of the highest ageing facilities in the world. The thinner mountain air and lower atmospheric pressure help infuse the rum with the barrel flavours, as does the climate.
Austin said the temperature stays a cool 62 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.
“This slows ageing down and intensifies the taste of the rum.”
Zacapa uses a maturation process called the Solera system, which was initially developed more than five centuries ago in Spain as a way of ageing sherry.
Using the Solera system, different age rum is blended in barrels that had previously been used to age various wines or spirits such as bourbon, sherry and sweet wines to allow the rum to pick up a complexity of flavours.
“Every drop goes through the three different kinds of casks,” Austin said.
The number on a Zacapa bottle, such as the 15 in Zacapa 15, means that the oldest rum in the bottle is 15 years old. The youngest rum varies. In Zacapa 15, the youngest rum is 5 years old; in Zacapa 23, the youngest rum is 6 years old. However, because of the way the Solera system works, rums in between the youngest and oldest also become part of the blends.
Before everyone sat for dinner, La Casa del Habano’s Wallace McLaughlin spoke about the cigar each guest would be served with dessert, the Partagás Series D No. 4.
Partagás is one of the oldest brands of Cuban cigars, having been established in Havana in 1845 by Spaniard Don Jaime Partagás y Ravelo.
McLaughlin said the D No. 4 was first produced in 1930.
“But it wasn’t produced the way we know it today until 1975,” he said.
The medium-to-full bodied cigar is a robusto, just under 5 inches in length.
“The D-4 is a classic,” McLaughlin said. “It is considered by many to be the best robusto on the market today, and I agree.”
Unlike many cigars that change taste constantly as the more of the cigar is smoked, McLaughlin said the D-4 was made to keep same taste profile until the cigar was down to its last third.
McLaughlin brought cigar roller Lazaro Collazo with him to give demonstrations. Collazo, who is recognised as a top-line Cuban cigar roller is in Cayman for a three-month stay, having spent time recently rolling for royalty in Dubai.
The Brasserie mojo
Brasserie Executive Chef Nevin Patel said that since the evening included Cuban cigars, he created a Cuban-style dinner menu.
The meal came in two courses, both served family style and both paired with Zacapa 23 served clean. The first course included hot tortilla soup with garden cilantro and avocado and ceviche made from fresh wahoo caught on the Brasserie Catch.
The second course included mojo – pronounced moy-yo – roasted pork, a classic Cuban-style dish, and escabeche-style fish using freshly caught tuna.
Escabeche, which is more often referred to as escoveitch here in the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, involves covering the fish with a vinegar sauce that includes onions, scotch bonnet peppers and sometimes other thinly sliced vegetables. In Cayman, it is usually served with snapper or some other sort of reef fish, but Patel served it with tuna and the results were good – not Cayman fish fry, but unique and tasty.
The proteins were served with an array of side dishes, including Cuban-style black beans and rice; roasted broccoflower; sliced local tomato salad with cilantro and lime; and Cuban-style bread with garlic chives from the Brasserie’s chef’s garden.
Since the Brasserie’s garden area is outdoors, the true highlight of the night came when guests were able to light-up cigars while drinking super premium Zacapa XO and enjoying a trio of rum-inspired desserts.
The bittersweet chocolate rum mousse atop the peanut butter feuilletine was the favourite of most guests, but the strawberry rum cheesecake and pineapple rum upside-down cake also were delicious.
Zacapa XO is super premium rum made from a Solera system blend of rums ranging from 6 to 25 years old. An extra ageing stage in French oak barrels that previously held Cognac is used for the XO, giving it more complexity than Zacapa 23.
Zacapa 15 is designed for cocktails, and Zacapa 23 is meant to be consumed clean, with ice, or in a simple cocktail that allows the rum to shine. XO on the other hand, is meant to be drunk neat only. That is the way the Brasserie served it.
The XO is smooth and sweet with flavours of dried fruits, vanilla and tropical spices.
With the stars shining above on a beautiful night, the guests – including several of the women – enjoyed their cigars as several bottles of XO were passed around the tables for guests to refill their glasses – until all of the bottles were empty.
Zacapa & Cigars Under the Stars was a delightful variation of the standard wine dinner, one which certainly made cigar and rum aficionados happy.