Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lemon Hart 151 Rum Returns

Old bottle on the left, new bottle on the right.
While Lemon Hart 151 is a somewhat obscure spirit outside of tiki circles, within it is one of the best loved ingredients out there. A potent rum distilled by Demerara Distillers Ltd. in Guyana and bottled by the Lemon Hart Company, this rum has a surprisingly long history. The eponymous Mr. Lemon Hart began supplying the British Navy with rum at the beginning of the 19th century. While the Lemon Hart brand remained quite popular for nearly two centuries, it slipped into relative obscurity outside of Canada after the first wave of tiki wound down in the late 70s and early 80s. The resurgence of tiki drinks and culture began to bring it back into the light, though the brand retained a very simple and unassuming packaging that belied the prominent "premium" statement on the label. To make matters worse, a change in ownership last year meant that it looked like the brand would disappear completely as the new owners had not made arrangements with DDL to continuing using the trademarked "Demerara rum" name. There was great wailing and gnashing of teeth among the tiki community. Thankfully everything was eventually settled, but there was a 6-12 month period when LH151 was nearly impossible to find for love or money. Now it has returned to shelves with much more upmarket packaging. It's clear that the new owners are trying to reposition this rum, both in terms of the presentations and a slight (~$5) increase in the price.

Brought down to a more tractable 100 proof, this rum is still has quite potent flavors. On the nose, there's quite a bit of caramelized, almost burnt sugar, molasses, tropical fruits, butter, toasted oak and a fair bit of alcohol. A couple more drops of water bring out savory notes that remind me of an Indian restaurant. The taste is primarily the caramelized to burnt sugar and smoky toasted oak, which becomes more subdued and sweeter if you add a bit more water. I'll have more to say on the subject when I review some of the other rums distilled by DDL, but Guyanese rums seem to bear some relation to Islay Scotch whisky.

Where LH151 really shines is in tiki drinks. It's an integral and irreplaceable ingredient in a number of cocktails such as the Zombie, Jet Pilot, Aku Aku Lapu, and of course, the 151 Swizzle:

151 Swizzle
1.5 oz Lemon Hart 151
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz simple syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
6 drops Herbsaint

Combine all ingredients and blend with a handful of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Pour into a chilled glass over more crushed ice and dust with freshly ground nutmeg.

This is a dangerous drink. If you use a little bit too much crushed ice, the LH151 will get too dilute and you can all too easily forget just how much alcohol is in this cocktail. However, if you get it just right, the ice lengthens the drink as time goes on and lets the experience mellow over time.

Compared to a lot of tiki drinks, this is almost blissfully easy to put together as it is little more than an extremely potent daiquiri. There's only one kind of fresh juice needed and apart from the rum, all of the ingredients are pretty easy to find.

The rum is obviously prominent as it forms the bulk of the drink. The lime juice adds its usual snap and is balanced by the simple syrup. The extra touches are what make it really special. The standard Don the Beachcomber one-two punch of Angostura bitters and Herbsaint do their dance around the main flavors and are accented by the nutmeg. The rich, bold, smokey flavor of the LH151 is wonderfully complimented by these additions and everything comes together as a simple but very tasty drink.

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