The SOMM Journal

August/September 2014

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80 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 { spirits } the five members, Savitri, Melvin, Ashvin, Kiran and Siri] from importing luxury goods to exporting tea," says Akal. That's when the company expanded into luxury, bespoke teas and Akal was struck by how similar high-end teas were to wine. "The way that tea is accessed, revered, tasted and enjoyed is with the same amount of care and attention and detail as wine in France, Italy and Spain," he says. "After all, the U.S. is a relatively young country when it comes to tea, but its popularity is growing quickly with powerhouses such as Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities taking up tea."(Akal is referring to Oprah's new chai tea latte, available at Starbucks.) "What happened with Pinot Noir will happen with tea. People are really get - ting into tea and discovering that there are grades of leaves and ways to handle it—they are learning that good tea is iden - tifiable," says Akal. Serendipitously, Akal read a book in which a Dutch admiral in 1665 mentioned the combination of tea and rum. This captured the interest of the history buff, whose life has been marked by education, the grandeur of exotic places and a global perspective. But the only combinations Akal could find from his research were recipes akin to the Hot Toddy. Realizing there was far greater potential in mixing tea and rum, Akal began shaking things up and Chai Rum was born. Game Changer Initially Akal started mixing handmade teas with different rums in his sister and brother-in-law's home, but he knew that there must be a more sophisticated way to infuse the botanicals into the alcohol. He reached out to a chemist in a lab in New York, and they came up with ways to do an infusion. "You can't just drop tea into rum," explains Akal, who was about to add another feather to his cap. "In the meantime," he explains, "the Trinidad government had launched a com - petition for innovation to generate rev- enues, and realizing the size of the spirits and rum industry, I knew that our product would be a significant game changer." Three or four days before the deadline, Akal and his team put a proposal together and won the largest possible grant avail - able—a milestone that led to their working with the Caribbean Agricultural Research Industrial Unit and rum distilleries within the West Indies. There, Akal's knowledge of tea saw its full potential. "We began with 18 combinations of tea leaves with rum and narrowed that down to about six; then we worked on the process of post-production, and it took months to get it right," he says. "The pro - cess is proprietary, and involves a secret blend of reserve rums and botanicals." A True "Rum of the Oceans" Like gin, the infusion of tea and rum allows the opportunity to introduce floral botani- cals, and Akal wasn't concerned just with the flavor profile but also with the body or texture of the spirit. "Indeed, the marriage between the notes of tea and the notes of rum has cre - ated Chai Rum, which has a dark amber color, heady, exotic aroma and velvet fin- ish—it is lauded as the only true 'rum of the oceans' because of its unique combi- nation of teas from the East and rum from the West Indies," says Akal. It is offered as a super-premium brand. "Rum is an old spirit with surprisingly little innovation," explains Akal. "Wines have been turned into Cognacs and grappa, and there is an enormous amount of room for innovation in rum. Between the leaves of the tea and this spirit, there is a lot of potential." Although Chai Rum is perhaps best savored neat, the company has also created several signature cocktails that incorporate the exclusive, super-premium rum. In the dramatic "Boucané" cocktail, a blowtorch is used on a plank of cooking- grade cedar wood until it smokes (about 30 to 45 seconds), with a double Old Fashioned glass used to trap the smoke. The rum is then poured over a large block of ice in the upturned glass and garnished with a rind of orange. Other mixologists are mixing Chai Rum with Champagne or Prosecco—"The Jacomo"—or Chai Rum with spicy ginger beer, a super luxurious take on the Dark 'n Stormy—"The Fleming." Chai Rum at The Setai, Miami Beach The latest hero in the evolution of Chai Rum is the stunning Setai Chai, a complex and unique cocktail developed by Philip Khandehrish, mixologist at The Setai, Miami Beach. The Setai has taken its right - ful place as one of the most glamorous and exotic locales in this tropical town, and this cocktail captures its mood perfectly. "The Setai Chai plays off the Chai Rum and spices," says Khandehrish. "It is a mix - ture of saffron shrub, which I make myself, with Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur and yuzu, a Japanese citrus—and, of course, the most important ingredient, Chai Rum." The elegant cocktail is a win-win for both Chai Rum and The Setai. Says Khandehrish: "When Kiran came to the bar and presented Chai Rum, it fit the hotel theme because we are an Asian- inspired hotel." Khandehrish feels that the tea-and-rum spirit is well-made and highlighted by a balance of haunting flavors that work together beautifully. He encourages his customers to try it because it's so differ - ent. "Chai Rum is a great opportunity for our guests to get outside their comfort The James Bond of tea meets rum: Kiran Akal, takes full advantage of the famous courtyard at The Setai, Miami Beach.

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