2 October 2015

Rev JW Simpson's Spirited Sermons: Santa Teresa rum


Behind a nondescript black door, down stairs lined with peeling wallpaper and in a former brothel, you’ll find Reverend JW Simpson: a compact bar with Prohibition at its heart. Their cocktails are creative and strong - think a pinot noir reduction with pink peppercorns stirred into bourbon and bitters, or tequila, campari, vermouth and absinthe shaken with an egg white.
Earlier this year, they introduced their weekly Spirited Sermons masterclasses, taking drinkers on an interactive journey through their favourite spirits and inviting guests to try their hand at shaking them to life. Following the huge success of the summer series, the Reverend returns with his autumn and winter line up and boy, are there some seriously tasty cocktails lined up for you to sample.
They invited me down to get to grips with Santa Teresa rum, a Venezuelan spirit that's made from molasses. First up, was sampling the spirit in a cocktail created for the event by the geniuses by the bar. I started with the 'Perfecta Dama' which combined Santa Teresa Anejo with orange-infused aperitif wine, fresh lemon, egg white and bitters. Served tall in a heavy cut crystal highball and garnished with mint, this was a light and refreshing entry into the game but it reminded me a little of a Moscow Mule with a citrus twist.
Then, came the making. I spent ten years behind a bar knocking up various concoctions so I'm not a total stranger to a shaker but mixologist Pauline put me through my strokes to make the 'Cafe Caspiroleta' - their take on the espresso martini. Add 40ml of the Santa Teresa Claro (2 to 3 year aged white rum), 40ml of the homemade coffee and vanilla spirit, shake with ice and strain into a coup before delicately topping with a dulce de leche foam and garnishing with white chocolate. Thankfully no high pressure cream foam accidents, but a rich and tasty cocktail that actually pipped a few of its rivals to prime favourite.
Finally came the tasting with brand ambassador Stuart. He explained that Santa Teresa was established in 1796 at a family-run hacienda where the treaty for the abolition of slavery in Venezuela was signed. You might not have heard of Santa Teresa - that's because Venezuela's civil war and high taxes makes it difficult to export, and richer brands such as Havana Club or Bacardi (from Cuba) have the money to pour into marketing over here - but its Anejo (aged 3 to 5 years) is the biggest selling rum over there.

The rum itself is light and dry, not super sweet but quite peppery because of how it's fermented and distilled with a patented yeast through a column. It's aged in American oak before being transferred to cognac barrels, which gives it tobacco and leather undertones, and makes it spicy like whisky. Nice. And a huge departure from the naval grog of years gone by (so named after the admiral's coat 'groggan' and believed to have cured scurvy, when in fact it was the squeeze of lime added to the rations of 3 parts rum, 1 parts water to make it palatable). And the expression 'fill your boots'? Well, if you didn't have a vessel to hand when the rum came round, footwear was the next best thing.

And it's interesting to see how rum threads its way through history, from pirate's currency to Project Alcatraz. When one of the Santa Teresa brothers was mugged in 2000, he offered the gang members a job and a place to live rather than turning them into the police. His only caveat? They have to play rugby - to learn discipline and respect. The project has grown into a huge rehabilitation centre and yep, there are plenty of strapping lads on hand to help.

Sadly they didn't bring the players over to the masterclass but instead plenty of rum. And there's loads of other Spirited Sermons sessions in over the next few weeks:

6 October: Makers Mark
13 October: Kappa pisco
27 October: El Jimador tequila
10 November: Konik's Tail vodka
24 November: Nikka whisky
1 December: Old Forester Bourbon

Tickets cost £25 and you get three cocktails and the masterclass - book them here.

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