I normally don’t drink all that much. The occasional beer. Every now and then some single malt. But lately I’ve been drinking a bit more hard alcohol than usual.

One might hypothesize that a certain amount of stress in my life recently might be responsible for this. Certainly reasonable minds can hypothesize all they wish.

Nevertheless. I needed to get some rum to make rum fudge balls. I prefer to use dark rum for rum balls, so that the rum flavor isn’t overcome by the semisweet chocolate. I had finished my last bottle of dark rum, so I stopped by a liquor store to get some more. The last time I bought a good bottle of rum, it had been Appleton’s Estate rum, which was very good indeed. It was smooth enough to drink neat, and I often had.

Rather than get another bottle of Appleton’s, I wanted to try something new. I spotted a bottle of Gosling’s Black Seal rum on the shelf:

My first thought was, ‘Why would they put rum in a black bottle?’ Then I realized it was actually a clear glass bottle, and it was the rum that was dark. Gosling’s has been made in Bermuda for nearly 200 years, by seven generations of Goslings. It was originally sold only by the barrel, but at some point the rum was sold in recycled champagne bottles, with the corks sealed with black sealing wax. Soon it was known as “Black Seal” rum. Gosling’s is the only company that blends and bottles its rum in Bermuda.

At first sip, I was actually a bit disappointed. Given the exceptionally dark color, I expected a ton of rum flavor, with a strong molasses. It tasted a bit thin. Nevertheless, I went ahead and made the rum balls

To my surprise, the rum balls had a strong rum flavor that balanced nicely with the chocolate. I then made a rum and coke with the Golding’s, and it was very, very good. This is a rum that mixes very well without being either overwhelmed or overpowering.

So I went back and tasted it a bit more attentatively. Black Seal has a sweet nose and sweet flavor, with notes of butterscotch and caramel, instead of molasses, and an oaky spiciness. It has a strong alcoholic warmth, seeming even stronger than the 80 proof that it is. It mixes quite well, and in fact the “Dark ‘n Stormy”, a mix of Black Seal and ginger beer, is Bermuda’s official beverage. Can’t wait to try that.

Days later, while shopping, I was suddenly taken by a sudden desire for a gin and tonic. I rarely drink gin and tonics, usually only during hot weather, or at fancy parties where I’m wearing a tie and can’t walk around with a beer bottle in my hand. Once again at a liquor store, I scanned the shelf for a premium gin. I had heard that Bombay Sapphire was highly overrated, so I steered clear of that. I didn’t know much about other premium brands, except that I hated Tanqueray’s recent ad compaigns.

There on the shelf was Cascade Mountain gin:

A local gin? Made in Bend, Oregon? I was intrigued. Cascade Mountain gin is made from juniper berries picked in the high Oregon desert. I brought it home and mixed up a G&T.

It was incredibly good. The medicinal, mouthwash flavor that I associated with gin was completely absent, letting the flavor of the juniper berry come through. Cascade Mountain is terribly smooth, considering it is 95 proof, and I have enjoyed it so much that in only the last week or so I have dropped the level in the bottle by several inches. Mind you, I got a 750 mL bottle for less than $20. I have to believe that once more gin enthusiasts become aware of this stuff, the price is going to go up. In the meantime, I need to go get some Rose’s lime juice so I can try a gimlet.

If you enjoy trying unusual labels, by all means pick up a bottle of either Gosling’s Black Seal, or Cascade Mountain. And let me know what you think.

Update 12/16/05: ‘Dark ‘n Stormy’s are indeed tasty.