Agricole Libre (Part One)

There are things that I like to think I do well on the blog.

Generally: research, photography, and content creation

There are things I do pretty badly.

These things include: posting timely journalistic content and spirits reviews or comparisons

So no real surprise that the photos for this post were taken in April and the post has been sitting in my “Drafts” bin for most of that time.

One day I was hanging out in the Mixoloseum Bar when Camper English mentioned that he had been invited to a launch party for the new R(h)um from St. George Spirits. Being that it was in Alameda, and he doesn’t have a car, he was trying to figure out some way to get to the party that wouldn’t involve a half day on public transit. Oddly, I had the care of the Flannestad car that day. Hm. Free Booze, check. Free Food, check. Cool people, check. Visit distillery, check. It did not take me long to come to the conclusion that I should give Camper a ride over to Alameda, if he could figure some way to get me in.

Thankfully, it wasn’t hard to convince them, and a short time later, we were both sampling Cuba Libres made with St. George’s Agua Libre!

A few Craft Distillers make Rums, but just about everyone in the US makes their Rums from some form of Sugar or Molasses.

The people at St. George decided to take a different tack and make an “Agricole-Style” R(h)um from fresh pressed Sugar Cane Juice.

They did something similar when they made their Agave Spirit, sourcing freshly roasted Agave Pinas from Mexico, fermenting and distilling them.

However, when they investigated the Farming and Agriculture rules for Sugar Cane, they discovered it was Illegal to import “live” sugar cane into California. It would have to be cooked or something, which wouldn’t work for making an Agricole style Rum from fresh cane juice.

This meant they would have to find a Sugar Cane farmer in California.

A few years ago, as part of a plan to increase productivity from his Sugar Beet farms Carson Kalin, of Kalin Farms, had started planting a few varieties of Sugar Cane. Sugar Beets are only harvested once a year, so much of the year, his Sugar Refining facility sits idle. He thought, if he was able to get sufficient interest, he could use his refinery during the idle part of the year for processing sugar cane into sugar, and maybe even use the cane byproducts (bagasse) for Ethanol production.

Unfortunately, he never found sufficient investors to bring that idea to fruition, and has simply had a few experimental plots of Sugar Cane growing on his farm.

When Lance Winters of St. George Spirits called, asking about purchasing Sugar Cane for Rum, I imagine he was pretty thrilled, maybe even incredulous.

The thing about Sugar Cane, is it must be juiced very soon after harvest. St. George purchased the mill above for crushing cane. You push a cane stalk in one side, and cane juice and fiber come out the other. But even then, while not as challenging as the Agave Debacle, it was a difficult enterprise due to the variety in diameter of the cane, from an inch to a few inches. Well, it wouldn’t be a St. George product, if there weren’t some threat of death, or at least life threatening injury, during the production.

Once they have the cane juice, they inoculate it with yeast and start the fermentation process, racing the wild bacteria and yeast, which would love to turn it into Cane Vinegar. While we were there, they were just distilling a new batch, and so, had a big container full of “Cane Wine”. Dave Smith was more than happy, overjoyed perhaps, to tap a taste of it for us. Let me just say, “Wine,” is kind of a stretch, and vinegar isn’t far off. I was really surprised how sour the “wine” was. Not something you’re going to see on tap in a bar near you any time soon.

As I mentioned, this was something of an exhibit, celebrating the release of the original batch of Agua Libre, now 2 1/2 years old, along with the distillation of a new batch made from cane from the same producer. A number of bartenders and local press in attendence, we were given a fair bit of attention from the producers, including samples of some of their more obscure experiments, like this Carrot Eau-de-Vie…

…and the mysterious young Corn based Whiskey below, fresh from a very attractive graduated beaker, cigar optional. ┬áNot to mention some product involving Foie Gras and Vodka… What did they call it, Foiedka? ┬áThe whiskey and carrot eau-de-vie were tasty. Not so sure about meat flavored vodka.

But, for me, the star of the show was the fresh R(h)um coming off the still. I’d never tasted the fermented product and distillate together before. It amazed me how much of the flavor, scent, and character of the “Cane Wine” was captured in the R(h)um. It had such and interesting vegetal and complex taste. Descriptors like grass, green beans, and ripe olives seemed appropriate.

As the flavor haunted me over the next couple weeks, I wondered how close the current unaged spirit was similar to that which they had been serving, so I sent a note to Lance Winters asking about how similar the spirits were before aging.

He replied:

As for the rum, the character of the barrel aged was almost identical to this one as a new make spirit. It’s going to calm down dramatically as it sits, even out of wood. You should come by and taste it as it ages.

To which I replied, “I may just take you up on that offer, but for now, I just kind of want to make a Ti Punch with it as it is…”

8 thoughts on “Agricole Libre (Part One)

  1. Interesting blog sir. Stumbled upon it while researching an item I have uncovered. A set of Old Forester Formula 1 Glasses. Still no info on the glasses, but an education of and for the spirits! Well done. V

  2. I picked a bottle of Agua Libre Fresh Squeezed a few weeks ago, and finally got around to opening it last night. It had a funkiness and complex vegetal bouquet I was not expecting. Very different, yet interesting. Gotta figure how to use it now.

  3. Hey Raymond! First of all, thanks for picking up the rum. Second, you’re spot on with the funky, complex vegetal nose to this stuff. We did all that we could to capture everything that the sugarcane wanted to give, and it gave big and funky, agricole/cachaca style. On my birthday, we mixed it with fresh pineapple juice, and it rocked. Lime juice, cane syrup and ice are great accompaniments as well. Let us know what you come up with that you like.

    • Thanks for making the delicious R(h)um, Lance!

      I still have to do another piece about how it is being used at Bar Agricole, so something to look forward to!

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