An Introduction to “Nippy” Blending

An introduction to “Nippy” blending

For starters, we are talking about blending rum, and “Nippy” is the pronunciation of the acronym N.I.P.I.E which stands for Nuance, Intensity, Persistence, Intrigue, and Economy. Professional blenders use a similar frame work, but their job gets further complicated by the responsibilities of inventory and sales projection meets production pipeline.

You may become a great Nippy blender, but utterly collapse in the professional world. We get to explore the fun part and leave all the stress and anxiety of blending for the world to someone else. Many people feel that bottled products are complete and it would be wrong to mess with them, but Nippy gives you permission to break the rules as long as you are guided by the principles of enhancing a final product by using Nippy criteria and celebrating the symbolic uniting of various places. We also get to “cheat”.

It is basically cheating how effortlessly we can explore themes that professional blenders just can’t afford to arrange; mashups even beyond the reach of E & A Scheer. We can blend any Jamaican rum we can get our hands on with a Cape Verdean grogue. We can sprinkle Batavia Arrack here & there. When friends come to visit, we can stretch the good stuff so that we have the economy to entertain large groups with cocktails. If we are a bar program with holes in our market for blended rum, we can blend as much Hampden as we can afford with our most affordable column still spirit. If our new two part blend adds even a single dollar to our costs, we would still be blending, improving sensory quality, and solving problems the market overlooks.

The early 20th century rum market referred to making simple blends as grading up. Many grand arôme heavy rum blending stocks were built and sold for the purpose of improving the quality of column spirit at the level of large pubs, hotels, and grocers. With the increase of ultra distinctive heavy rums sold by the bottle, particularly Jamaican, we are back where they were. Markets are just as flooded with blandness as back then, but we now have the luxury of grading up at a smaller more personal level. Is blend your own rum the new make your own bitters? (Yes.)

Blends can take many forms, from two parts to 7+, but they are guided by the idea of maximizing nuance, intensity, persistence and intrigue within a given need for economy. These categories also become the criteria by which we judge blending components. A basic blend is a pot still rum like Hampden stretched with column still rum while more elaborate rums start to look like:

5% Hampden Golden Devil sold by K&L
5% Batavia Arrack Van Oosten
7% Smith & Cross
20% Cape Verdean grogue
63% Cheap column still rum from my local market (PA state store’s “Castillo”)

This blend sits at roughly $19.22 per 750 ml and rings in at 42.19% ABV. Another variation quickly emerges that trades the column still rum for R.L. Seale’s 10 year.

5% Hampden Golden Devil
5% Batavia Arrack Van Oosten
7% Smith & Cross
20% Cape Verdean grogue
63% R.L. Seale 10 year

Our cost shot up to $34.81, but we gained a decadent (under valued) aged base.

As a personal rule of style, nearly all my more complex blends feature Hampden when I can, and best case, something from Foursquare. I also strive for including Cape Verdean grogue, Haitian clairins, particular Cachaça’s, and Madeira rum in that order. I also rarely focus on age and would never waste my time calculating an average. Rum favors maturity over age. Maturity isn’t “subjective” so much as simply not an easy number.

Those percentages are arrived at with a spreadsheet working backwards from price economy. Blending has changed how I buy rum. I am quick to buy $100 distinctive bottles, but I am quicker to use them in $40 blends so they last me a long time. I am either pursuing luxuriant stretchability or I’m buying a lot of under valued trash from my local market. If your market has weirdly good bottom shelf options, that leaves you more money to blend in pricier distinctive stuff. Stretching a rum to its full potential is a form of honoring a rum and that directs us to examine each item of the acronym.

Blenders talk about blending components differently than the end consumer. The end consumer may be really into generating a string of tasting notes that make Robert Parker blush, but the blender thinks more in luxuriant generalities, how a component contributes to a blend and especially its price. As you learn to blend, consider what kinds of language and categories are helpful to organizing the work. The Nippy acronym was distilled from various blender dialects and may be new to people because it does not closely resemble the reviews of end consumers.

It is often said in the wine world that the difference between a cru and a grand cru is nuance and intensity. Nuance may relate to intervals of character, but don’t expect that to relate to how many object comparison comma! object comparisons you can name. Much pleasure is beyond language and even taps into non-linguistic frames of mind. It may relate to detectable features of a sensory image which draw the attention of the mind’s eye across a flavourscape; a sort of arabesque. Intensity is how obvious and in your face that is. Sometimes features of a rum may be too intense and lie above a certain threshold where they are perceived as a gluey “non-culinary” flaw. This explains some of the excessive ethyl acetate of heavy rums that begs to be blended down.

Fine rums are also known for their legendary persistence and their ability to stretch while maintaining their distinctive rummy character. The marks of Hampden and Long Pond best represent this. Persistence is measured by systematic dilutions very much like the Scoville scale for ranking chilis. This method was called quantitative tasting by the old European blenders and can be a useful proxy for luxury. Most of the chemical compounds responsible for persistence match the old rum oil of early 20th century conversations. These became the radiants of the perfumers and are still incredibly valuable to blends. You will want to know where you can reliably find persistence.

Intrigue comes in with with penetrating sensory features or sometimes a defined sensory percept. It is a way of building upon nuance. The most basic strategy for adding intrigue to blend is by adding in non-molasses rums that contribute the fresh cane juice character sometimes called vesouté. This character is penetrating, but lacks persistence. Vesouté gives a rum vitality! A few molasses rum producers make small amounts of cane juice rum for their own blends and they probably want more, but cannot easily expand production. Luckily, within the Nippy system, more is just a bottle of Cape Verdean grogue away.

At a grander level, intrigue comes from distinctive esters like ethyl butrate which contributes, at it’s best, a focused pineapple character or even ethyl tiglate which can contribute reddish berry aromas. Intriguing character is also enhanced by features that contribute persistence; exuberant radiance. Very few rums are the total package and even rums we can consider very fine may be enhanced by simple blending.

What we’re missing is that you may mix things and improvise all you want, but to truly realize a Blend (capital B!) that others should care about and duplicate, you must show proof of work. Proof of work will get its own post, but it is made up of extremely affordable analog homework like the evaporation test, the exhaustive test and simple exclusion tests to prove saliency. You must get to know your blend and it’s components; walk the talk! No one wants an arm chair quarter back! So get yourself a 5000 μL pipette, a 100 ml volumetric flask and get to work!

Dream a little! Blending at this level can solve a lot of problems. It can be wildly fun for bar programs or advanced drinkers at home. Tiki world, you’re already doing it, just formalize it! Blending can honor hard to understand rums that have confounded the market like high ester products. It can allow you to sneak in the underdogs like Cape Verde & Haiti that make among the most important rums I know. You may share holiday blends with friends that tell of your travels across the year. My blends, to a large degree, reflect how many times I’ve traveled to NYC (with time to visit Astor Wine & Spirits) or my trips to Boston where I stock up on Portuguese diaspora rums at Martin Brothers.

In the next post, we will get into proof of work and beyond that we will explore some themes.

Discover more from Boston Apothecary

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close