What it is

Late-breaking telexes from the craft spirit front by Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails, columnist for Imbibe, and designated drinker for The Atlantic magazine.

  • And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
    And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
    by Wayne Curtis

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Pyrat says: Aaarghnge! And why.

During a tour of the Patron tequila distillery in Mexico last week, I was standing at the bar sampling one of Patron’s sister products: Pyrat Rum Cask 1623. (Yes, I know, it’s shocking I was in a tequila distillery drinking rum.) It’s their top-end rum, selling for nearly $200 a bottle. It’s as rich and deep as a nicely aged cognac…. and yet still quite orangey, just like the more familiar Pyrat XO Reserve.

Pyrat's distinct citrus taste is subject of considerable discussion among rum folks, who seem to fall into two camps: those who love Pyrat and those who distrust it. But even fans have been mystified as to why Pyrat is not labeled as a flavored rum because, seriously, that sweet flavor comes at you like someone stuffing a fresh orange peel up your nose. If Pyrat were truly unadultered, I'd be pretty sure you could squeeze orange juice from whatever sugar cane they were using.

Patron's in-house bartender then said to me and my companion in drink, the veteran bartender and writer Toby Cecchini, “Hey, I’ve got a secret for you.”

We leaned forward, anxious to know where the orange came from. Whereupon he proceded to show us how to make a Vampiro from tequila.

Um, well, thanks.

But if you need proof of synchronicity, how about this: about thirty seconds later noted Alcademic, Camper English, who had been sitting on a divan nearby with Patron’s master distiller, Francisco Alcaraz, yelled over to us: Hey, guess what I just learned!

And the two of them had been talking about the the orange in Pyrat. And it turns out the secret’s not so devious. In fact, it’s a plain as the bung in your barrel: they age their rum in casks that previously aged orange liqueurs. (Read Camper's account here.)

Our conclave was broken up shortly thereafter, and so some of the lingering questions didn't get answered. Like, what orange liqueurs? (We were later told that the don't use ex-Citronge barrels, a product also produced by Patron.) And aren’t most orange liqueurs aged first and then flavored?

A little snooping around turned up the fact that Cointreau and at least most curaçaos are not aged after flavoring. But at least one triple sec is -- Grand Marnier, a cognac-based spirit redistilled after maceration with orange peels, and the distillate then aged for six to eight months in oak barrels. So, there is precedent here. And I’d bet some others somewhere else are aging an orange-flavored something and would be willing to sell barrels to Patron. 

So the details of this mystery persist. But those who enjoy Pyrat — and I’m one of them; try it with a cigar — can see the outline of an answer take shape in the mists. And it doesn’t involve artificial flavoring.

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