“The subject of tonight’s seminar will be to find out what works as the best replacement for the Lowndes rum,” said Stephen Remsberg, owner of what’s likely the best private vintage rum collection in the world. He offered this pronouncement a few minutes after the tiki authority Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, his wife Annene, and I showed up for a visit to Remsberg’s house last weekend. You can loosely translate that first sentence from Remsbergese into, “Let’s drink some rum.”
The reason for finding a substitution of Lowndes is two-fold. First, it was specifically called for in several essential tiki drinks, most notably Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie Punch — the original Zombie about which the Beachbum wrote in some detail in Sippin’ Safari. Second, you can’t find Lowndes today for love or money. I’ve had only one sip if it, and it was in this same room — a couple of years back Remsberg turned up a mini of Lowndes, and it was sacrificed to make an “original original” Zombie, crafted wholly of pre-1934 ingredients. (See Martin Cate’s account of that night here.)
After a few moments of idle talk about the Jamaica planter’s punch boom of the early 20th century, and some nostalgic reverie triggered by sipping another now-extinct rum — the intriguingly layered Appleton Punch rum commonly available until the 1970s — we moved on to the task at hand. Stephen first made a Don the Beachcomber’s punch using readily available Myers’s dark rum as the Jamaican substitute for Lowndes. Remsberg made it Donn’s way with crushed ice and a five-second turn in a milk-shake blender. We drank. There’s no denying that it’s a great drink just as is. It’s simple but no less glorious for its simplicity.
But could it be improved — or made more authentically like the original punch?
Stephen’s been a fan of Smith & Cross rum since it debuted in the U.S. last year. It’s part of Eric Seed’s portfolio of imported spirits, and is a big, traditional Jamaican rum, made in a pot still and bottled at Navy Strength (114 proof). Drill down further and you’ll learn it’s a blend of two traditional types of Jamaican rum, Wedderburn and Plummer. (Professor Remsberg explained that Jamaican rums were historically classified into five categories based upon the concentration of cogeners, and these two — named after old island plantations — were in the middle of the range and generally the most highly regarded.)
After we consumed our control group, Remsberg crafted a second round of Donn’s punches, this time with an ounce each of Myers’s and Smith & Cross. We drank. And it was clearly a different bit of business. The second had more depth, and definitely a bit of lumber to it. I preferred the second to the first, but not hugely so, and didn’t think it necessarily merited spending the extra money on the better rum for this drink. Remsberg more or less agreed with this assessment.
But not the Bum. He thought the second version far superior, with much more complexity and range, which he suspected was heightened by the higher proof of the Smith & Cross. The second drink, he said, was much closer to what you would have tasted had you sidled up to the bar at Don the Beachcomber’s a half-century ago. And I don't doubt him.
So what’s the price of authenticity? By my calculations, about $8 — roughly the cost difference between Myers’s and Smith & Cross. The night's theorem — that a fifty-fifty mix of the two rums produces a credible replica of a flavor profile that’s been lost — has been tested, found to be reproducible, and may be entered into your laboratory notebook.
Test on Thursday. Class dismissed.
Learn more about Smith & Cross and Eric Seed’s other uncommon imported spirits at Hauz Alpenz.