The World At Your Door
Have you ever dreamed of traveling the country and the world to taste unique spirits? I have, but until I can afford it, I found the next best thing! SipScout, a monthly spirits-tasting membership program, is bringing the world to my doorstep (or at least the tastes of the world!). For about the price of a meal out, The Crafty Cask has imagined a globe-trotting tasting subscription that curates unique and regional spirits, wine, and beer and packages them into a complete tasting experience for two that arrives by post every month.
I received my first SipScout package yesterday, neatly bundled with a complete tasting for two. This month, my kit contained all the makings for two very generous Painkiller™ cocktails (probably enough for three), including four sample bottles of three Pusser’s rum expressions, coconut cream, Dole pineapple juice, an orange, garnish, and a Painkiller™ recipe card with tasting notes for the rum samples. Despite the lack of instructions on rehydrating the pineapple slices, I was impressed by the thoroughness of the package (see pics at the end below).
Being a malt-whisky drinker used to sipping my whiskies neat, I started by sampling the rums in their out-of-bottle format. I must say that I was blown away! The Pusser’s Blue Label, the brand’s flagship expression, was my hands-down favorite (not that the others were “lesser,” I just really liked the “Blue”). Poured into my trusty Glencairn nosing glass, the color of the rum was dark amber with coppery highlights when held up to bright lighting. The aroma of burnt brown sugar and molasses hit me upside the head like a brick, backed by notes of tropical fruits, oaky barrel spice, toffee, coffee, and roasted nuts. After some hand-warming and swirling, I noted additional wafts of vanilla pudding, baked pie crust, creamy hot chocolate, cooked apricots, and a hint of candied orange peel. The aromas were complex, layered, and so enticing that I found myself repeatedly sniffing the empty glass!
The Blue Label’s mouthfeel was fat, oily, and relatively cool, even at its 42% ABV. Burnt sugar notes dominated the initial sip, but after several seconds, I noticed additionally intense notes of molasses, candied orange, and a surprising level of oakiness. Mid-sip reveals hints of old leather, winter spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves), cooked fruits (raisins, apricot, plum), and dark coffee. The burnt sugar returned in the swallow, followed by an explosion of winter spice mix, cocoa, dark molasses, and a hint of sulfur (but not in a bad way). The finish was long and luxurious.
The second sample bottle, Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof, is a cask-strength version of the Blue label bottled at 54.4% ABV. Despite bringing some heat, it also fattened the mouthfeel. The flavors were significantly less open and layered, although the burnt sugar and molasses were more prominent. Swirling and hand-warming helped to open up the flavors and aromas, and there was no question that I was tasting the same Blue label, just at a higher octane. Surprisingly, the finish was equally smooth as the 42% ABV Blue label!
The story behind the “Gunpowder” handle caught my attention. According to the brand, Pusser’s ‘Gunpowder Proof’ is distilled in traditional British Royal Navy style, being produced with the original blending recipe and at the strength still in use when the Royal Navy discontinued daily rum rations on July 31, 1970. The term “Gunpowder Proof” refers to how the ships Purser (or colloquially, “Pusser”) proved that the rations were not watered down, as some sailors accused. Prior to the invention of the hydrometer, the “Pusser” doused a sample ration with gunpowder. If, when lit, the mixture ignited, the rum was “at proof.” If it didn’t burn, the Pusser might end up “tossed in the drink!”
Aged 15 Years
Many reviewers liken Pusser’s rums to single malt whiskies partly due to the lack of additives and colorants (most rums use them) and partly due to an impressive depth of character and complexity. Extended maturation in oak barrels, 15 years in this case, certainly adds to that assessment. This is a refined rum with an elegance usually reserved for spirits at a much higher price point. It poured with the same deeply coppered amber hue, but I immediately noticed a much different nose. I noticed many of the same attributes as the Blue and Gunpowder but with less intensity and more integration. The Blue’s burnt sugar and molasses notes screamed from the glass, whereas the 15-year “whispered.” Perhaps the lower ABV is responsible (40% vs. 42%), but I believe it was due to the extended maturation.
On the palate, the 15-y.o. was significantly more refined, almost to the point of subdued. That’s not to say it was “lesser.” It was just less intense. The mouthfeel was also quite soft and round, with the raisin and nut flavors more prominent than with the Blue. The “Blue” flavors were present throughout the sip, just not as individually prominent, especially the “burnt sugar” and molasses. I can understand the frequent comparison to a well-aged whisky – I wouldn’t mix this rum, as it makes an ideal aperitif or even dessert dram – not sweet, but luxurious. In fact, I would treat the entire line as sippers, although given its relative affordability, I’d likely use the Blue for the few rum cocktails I might create.
The pièce de résistance of the kit, the Painkiller™ cocktail, came in component form, including a fresh orange, a can of unsweetened coconut cream, a can of Dole pineapple juice, and a nicely packaged garnish kit consisting of two individually packaged Maraschino cherries, a packet of ground nutmeg, and two dehydrated pineapple slices. As I noted previously, there were no instructions on reconstituting the pineapple, but I can forgive that, given my overall satisfaction with the kit.
Preparing the cocktail according to the included recipe yielded perfectly executed Painkillers™. For those unfamiliar with this cocktail, it was trademarked by Pusser’s, with a brilliant origin story. The excerpt below will give you the gist, or you can read the whole story here).
“The infamous Pusser’s Painkiller™ had its start at the six-seat Soggy Dollar Bar on a long stretch of white sand beach at White Bay on the island of Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. There’s no dock, so the usual way in is to swim. Of course, your dollars get wet – hence the name: Soggy Dollar Bar. When all this started, the bar with its four adjoining cottages was owned by an English lady, Daphne Henderson. Boaters, including Pusser’s founder Charles Tobias, came from all around to sample her tasty Pusser’s Painkiller™ for which she’d become locally famous.”
The story continues. “Soon after, Tobias started promoting the Pusser’s Painkiller™ in the two Pusser’s bars he had at that time on Tortola. But he always gives Daphne Henderson credit with a by-line in Pusser’s printed media: AS INSPIRED BY DAPHNE AT THE SOGGY DOLLAR BAR AT WHITE BAY ON JOST VAN DYKE. From this modest beginning, the fame of the Pusser’s Painkiller® has spread throughout the boating and sailing communities of the Caribbean and the U.S., and is probably the most popular mixed rum drink amongst sailors today in the West Indies. And it continues to spread throughout many other parts of the world.”
The Painkiller™ is a distant cousin of the Piña Colada; the main differences are that PCs use light rum, and they’re typically served as a blended slushy. In comparison, I much prefer the Painkiller™ – primarily for the rum, but I also like that it’s shaken and served sans ice. I also like the nutmeg float. As I surmised in the intro, the ingredients easily fulfilled the promise of “for two” cocktails – I was actually able to create three very generous Painkillers™ (I had two, my wife just one – shhh!!! Don’t tell her!) with enough remaining components for a couple of additional custom cocktails.
I’m excited by Crafty Cask’s SipScout membership program. Although it’s not inexpensive (it runs just under $100 per delivery, with discounted rates available for various membership types), it’s a bargain considering the new doors it will likely open for you. I doubt that on my own, I would have sampled Pusser’s rums and, by extension, the Painkiller™ cocktail. And because of the program, I have a new favorite rum (at least for this week!). It goes doubly for the Painkiller™, as I am not generally a “cocktail guy,” almost exclusively opting for malt whisky, neat.
I’ve been a member of tasting programs many times in my lifetime, and each time, I’ve become bored in short order. SipScout offers plenty of variety – each month is a different genre with differing origins (geographically and conceptually). This bodes well for preventing the conceptual fatigue that plagues many other tasting membership programs. Even if you’re not keen on receiving a fun monthly tasting kit, it would make a perfect gift for the person in your life who “has everything.” It’s almost a guarantee they won’t have anything like it!
I imagine some of you may be thinking, “Why do I need to pay someone to send me a tasting kit when I can do it myself!” I thought something like that before receiving my first SipScout tasting box. As I stated earlier – I’da never thunk it! You’d be hard-pressed to consistently come up with a unique monthly tasting regimen that includes collecting tasting samples and cocktail components, creating tasting notes and backgrounder info, and assembling cogent digital resources. Unless you were dedicated, resourceful, and motivated, you couldn’t do a better job curating such a great package!
Just a minor housekeeping note – I received my membership in exchange for a promise to post an honest review of the SipScout tasting kit. I assure you that my opinion would never be influenced simply because I was part of the program. I call balls and strikes “as I seez ’em,” and in this case, it was a home run!