Posted on April 20th, 2012
The opening credits of “Jane’s Journey” show a nearly 80-year-old Dr. Jane Goodall first packing and then enjoying Johnnie Walker Red Label on a plane to Africa. She holds a Collins glass containing a generous pour of the whisky while reading an academic paper as the clouds rolls by. That’s how Dr. Jane rolls. Even if all you do is read the Wikipedia article on Dr. Jane, you’ll quickly realize you are learning a little bit about a genuine badass. She is the only human to have been accepted into chimpanzee society (she was kicked out in the end, which is badass in its own right). She earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge University without having a B.Sc. (her undergraduate education started with a self-funded boat ride to Tanganyika at age 23). She’s a humanitarian, a great orator, and just straight-up wise. Dr. Jane probably doesn’t have a lot of time to visit craft cocktail bars, but she would make a wonderful guest.
Her mentor, Louis Leakey, believed that women have superior observational skills and make for natural naturalists. Upon becoming the founding member of “Leakey’s Angels” Jane’s bravery and patience rewarded the world with intimate knowledge of our closest phylogenetic relative. Of course other (probably male) academics of our species criticized her observations as being less than scientific due to her personification of the chimps she studied. When you see the swollen genitals of, get punched in the head by, and are in turn studied by extremely intelligent animals, how can you not assign them names? It’s what humans do. But Dr. Jane’s critics have been stifled by her tremendous achievements, and really I’m just here to offer her a drink.
Agricultural rum, or rhum agricole is distilled from fermented fresh-pressed sugar cane juice instead of the molasses and syrups that lead to “industrial” rums. The resulting spirit is more complex, and when unaged its fumes are heavy with some of the most interesting molecules. Typically rhum agricole comes from Martinique, but I recently tasted the only stateside agricultural rum whose terroir is Southern California: Agua Libre from St. George Distillery. It is a primal rum. When I spotted a bottle of it high up on the shelves of a bar in San Francisco and asked the bartender if she’d ever had it, she said she had but her tasting notes caused my friends and I to furrow our collective brow. Instead of the typical pleasantries such as “floral,” herbal,” and “vanilla,” she ticked off “funky,” “dirt,” and “mushrooms.” Then she climbed up onto the backbar and nimbly edged along the ledge to retrieve the bottle (there was a library-style ladder nearby, but she didn’t use it). She poured a bit in a small glass and the smell of gently burning tires wafted up. The first sip was undeniably loamy. My friends added “burnt teeth” and “distilled mulch” to the tasting notes as I accepted the bartender’s offer of an Agua Libre Ti’ Punch.
It wasn’t the most pleasant drink at first, but with the the melting ice and sugar softening the spirit it became exciting and enjoyable. My friends still carried on finding “notes of burning hefty bags stuffed with bison hair,” but I was lovin’ it. Agua Libre really does taste like mushrooms and dirt, and that’s pretty special. Remarking on the sensory experiences triggered by congeners is probably as close as most people get to doing science on any given day, so why not be bold and really challenge yourself? You’ll end up tipsy after a typical Ti’ Punch no matter what crazy esters and aldehydes the rhum is bringing to the table.
From what I’ve come to learn about Dr. Jane, I would urge her to give Scotch a little break and commingle her adventurous spirit with another: agricultural rum. After tasting them straight, one should always ask for a Ti’ Punch if it hasn’t already been suggested. For a drink that is essentially three ounces of rhum, they go down smoothly indeed thanks to the sugar and touch of lime. These “condiment” ingredients can be added to taste to skew the balance whichever way you choose. Like an Old-Fashioned, the simplicity of Ti’ Punch allows the spirit to be softened and showcased for one’s consideration. And for Dr. Jane’s Punch, I would recommend the Agua Libre just to see if she is able to pick up any sweaty chimp notes. I mean that in the best way possible.
A slug of your favorite agricultural rum (I prefer unaged)
Preferred amount of cane syrup (most places, like my apartment, use demerara simple syrup)
Preferred amount of lime
A big ice cube (preferred but optional if you’re going to shoot not sip)
Squeeze the lime, anywhere from a small disc to half the fruit, into the other ingredients assembled in an Old-Fashioned glass and mix to incorporate the syrup.