While you're frying up some eggs and bacon, we're cooking up something else: a way to celebrate today's food holiday.
Does it feel like the tropics to you? Or do you want it to? Pour yourself a glass of sunshine and celebrate National Rum Day today!
When you’re drinking something like bourbon, you’re drinking a heavily regulated spirit, with laws that strictly dictate the ingredients, methods of production and aging. Rum is just the opposite, and can’t be pinned down. Rum “is whatever it wants to be,” writes Wayne Curtis in his And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.
He continues: “There have never been strict guidelines for making it. There’s no international oversight board, and its taste and production varies widely, leaving the market to sort out favorites. If sugarcane or its by-products are involved in the distillation process, you can call it rum. Rum is the melting pot of spirits. . .as the bon vivant James Beard put it in 1956, ‘Of all the spirits in your home, rum is the most romantic.’”
We look across the pond for today’s food holiday. The Scots have been making whiskies since at least the 15th century, and it’s that tradition we celebrate today: Happy National Scotch Day!
Scotch whisky (generally not “whiskey”; Scotch and Canadian whiskies tend to be spelled without the “e”, while Irish and most American whiskeys use it) by law must be distilled and aged in Scotland from malted barley and, sometimes, other grains. If it’s made with just malted barley and water and bottled as whisky from one distillery, it’s one of the famous “single malt” Scotch whiskies. If a Scotch is made with other grain, it’s referred to as “single grain.” There are also blended Scotches - such as the top-selling Johnnie Walker - that use whiskies from multiple distillers.
Scotch whiskies are aged in oak casks, but unlike American straight whiskeys, the casks don’t have to be new. Many American white oak casks that once held bourbon or other American whiskeys find a second life in Scotland to age Scotch whisky, and some distillers also use casks that formerly contained sherry or port to add different flavors.
Today we set our sights south of the border, and concentrate on a great spirit that’s often maligned. Happy National Tequila Day!
Tequila (the spirit, not Pee-Wee Herman’s favorite jam) is made in and around the state of Jalisco in Mexico, from the blue agave plant. Blue agaves are related to asparagus, and these succulent plants are pollinated by bats and grow at high altitudes. When the plant is twelve years old, the piña - the pine-cone-shaped heart of the agave plant after the sharp leaves are stripped away - is cooked and then mashed, and the resulting pulp is fermented and distilled.
I don’t know where you’re reading this, but in New York City where I’m writing this, it’s hot. More sticky than sultry, the tropical mugginess envelops you when you venture outside, and at the end of a long day you want something that’ll give your insides some contrast. Might I suggest a celebration of National Daiquiri Day?
“A perfect blend of lime, sugar, rum, and ice, the Daiquiri cuts through the humidity, heat, and haze of the tropics with an uncanny precision,” writes Wayne Curtis in And a Bottle of Rum. “It has an invitingly translucent appearance when made well, as cool and lustrous as alabaster.”
Famous Daiquiri enthusiast Ernest Hemingway also rhapsodized about its appearance in Islands in the Stream: “It reminded him of the sea. The frappéed part of the drink was like the wake of a ship and the clear part was the way the water looked when the bow cut it when you were in shallow water over marl bottom. That was almost the exact color.”
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