Feb 052015
 

200

 

***

Who would have thought, that when Liquorature first started as a small club in 2009, that the rum reviews portion of its website would split off into its own, let alone ever surpass a hundred reviews? With the review of Rivière du Mât Rhum Vieux Traditionnel Millésime 2004, some three years after passing the 100th write-up and more than five years into it, I have reached the next milestone, the 200th, and I have to admit, it would have been faster if I had not stopped writing for a year when I moved to the Middle East.  It’s not the best in the world by volume (and never will be), yet it still gives me a small sense of accomplishment to have even done this much.

The opening of this site in 2013 was a major shift in the shared review philosophy we had followed on Liquorature.  It was inevitable: like anyone who produces a fair amount of mental product on his own time and with his own dime, I wanted a display case for that and that alone (I’m not much of a community person and don’t do things by committee — the “Lone” in my title is not an accident, and exists on several levels of meaning). The reactions and feedback from our small subculture and miscellaneous passers-by have been generally positive and gratifying, in some cases surprisingly so.  Even when I was on an extended absence in 2013/2014, the hits kept ticking over fairly constantly (if minimally), suggesting that there was a small audience for my eclectic and eccentric writing. I have made no major changes to the site design-wise, except for allowing people to find a rum by name, by maker and by country — I deemed ages, colour categories and styles to be too limiting, if not actually vague, and so stuck with simplicity.

Two developments on the 1st One Hundred which I noted at the time and which continue were the adding of scores and the cessation of accepting, let alone soliciting, industry samples, a policy which I have followed with exactly two exceptions ever since.  I don’t pretend this makes me better than anyone, it simply speaks to my fear of undue influence in the latter case, and (in the former) my desire for calibration and rankings in a collection that is now quite extensive.  Much to my chagrin, I found that descriptions alone didn’t tell the tale of any given rum, and developed a scoring system that worked for me, and which I use to this day. In the coming year, I know I will discard the 0-100 rating with 50 as a median, and move towards a relatively more standardized system whereby 90+ is top end, and an average score will fall around 70-80…I just have to recalculate and recalibrate two hundred reviews to do it, and that’s no small task.

Also: I still write the same way, still put as much as I feel like into a review, and provide as much information as possible in a one-stop-shopping approach for the reader.  I am in awe of others’ pithy one-liners, and think Serge’s haikus of tasting notes on WhiskyFun are brilliant, but I lack their abilities in this area and must play to my own predispositions and abilities.

As time went on, my palate changed and moved more towards stronger rums.  At the very beginning I decried rums with too much burn and whisky-like profiles.  This approach had to be modified as I tasted more and more and built up a collection I was able to use to cross-taste.  I was already thinking that 40% was too limiting back in 2011, but in 2012 I went to Berlin and bought and tasted the rums of a spectacular company called Velier for the first time, and they convinced me that full-proof, cask strength rums in the 50-65% range, when made right, deserved their own place in the sun.  In 2014 that opinion was solidified at the Berlin RumFest, where so many rums were full proofed that finding a forty percenter was actually not that easy. These days, given my proximity to Europe, that’s most of what I can get anyway, and I’m not unhappy with it.

I also gained a fondness for agricoles and their lighter, cleaner profiles, though they will be unlikely to ever surpass my love for Mudland products, good as they are.  The really good agricoles from the pre-1990s are, alas, very rare and quite pricey. Still, I persevere – aside from Dave Russell’s Rum Gallery, too few reviewers outside France and Italy (L’homme a la Poucette and DuRhum come to mind) really push out or have serious quantities of agricole reviews. So there’s definitely some opportunity to champion them, I think, and who can call themselves rum reviewers and ignore such a wide swathe of product?  Availability might be the problem: Josh Miller from Inu a Kena bemoans his selection in the USA, for example and I know Chip in Edmonton has the same issue.

I started a new and very occasional series called “The Makers” inspired by a conversation the Hippie and I had many years ago, and which I felt had real potential to provide more information to the reader. With whatever information I can glean online and from my books and conversations, I try to put together a biography of the companies that make rums, and (if at all possible) a list of all their products.  To that I added another section called “Opinions” because there are many issues confronting the rum industry and general and bloggers in particular, upon which I at least want to comment.  Still a work in progress.

The one other aspect of the experience of reviewing rum and rhum that has taken off in the last couple of years is the friends I’ve made, the contacts.  To say I have been startled by this development is an understatement because in the first years I worked almost in isolation…but pleased and touched as well. Henrik, Cyril, Marco, Francesco, Luca, Fabio, Curt, Maltmonster, Gregers, Steve, Josh, Chip and all the others… muchas gracias to you all. I get helpful comments, offers to share samples, clarifications, info and all kinds of assist when stuck for a detail or a path forward.  Rum Folks…they’re great guys, honestly.

So here’s looking forward to my next hundred, then.  I know I’m playing a catch-up game with the guys like Serge, Dave and Chip, and it’s not always and only about the numbers.  The important thing is that it remains interesting to me, I like the writing and the research and the back-and-forth…and I still revel the pleasure at discovering a really great rum, previously unknown, about which I can craft an essay that hopefully makes people think about it, appreciate it and maybe laugh a little.

Cheers to all of you who’ve read this far and this long..

Jan 292015
 

 

 

Masked man

 

In December 2014, Ian Burrell put a survey up on FB’s The Global Rum Club Page.  It read: “If you had to pick 5 people who have been a major influence for the rum category, who would you pick ? It can be brand founder, distiller, blender, brand ambassador, bartender, promoter, blogger, marketer, etc. Vote for your pick or add your own major influence. I’ll throw 5 (pre 1950’s) into the mix (in no order) Don Facundo Bacardi Massó ; Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt AKA Don the Beachcomer; Admiral Edward Vernon aka Old Grog; Constantino Ribalaigua Vert and James Man (ED & F Man)”

I both love and hate lists.  Perhaps because I’m into the numbers game as part of my day job, I love the exactitude of things nailed down and screwed shut, copper-bottomed and airtight.  And so I devour top ten lists, readers favourites, drinker’s grails and all the various classifiers we humans enjoy creating so as to rank the objects of our passion.  As a reviewer of rum, I dislike them intensely.  Because in any subjective endeavour – be it art, literature, film, food, drink, the perfect significant other – taste and experience and quirks of personality dictate everything, and what one person might enjoy and declaim from the rooftops, another vocally despises (both with flashing eyes and elevated blood pressure).  So for me to create a list of any kind is problematic, and I try not to.

Still, this one piqued my interest.  Until I saw it, I sort of thought I was reasonably knowledgeable about matters of the cane (even if it’s possible I’m the only one, in the country currently called “home”).  But as I went down the list, I could tell that I  was as green as a shavetail louie, and my own knowledge, while extensive, couldn’t come near to figuring out who all these people were, or how they could rank in terms of influence.  And of course, loving a challenge, I decided to create a small glossary for that one person who might have a question.  Indulge my sense of humour as I go along…I’m kinda stoked up on hooch-infused coffee right now.

***

Don Facundo Bacardi Masso – you’re kidding right?  Who doesn’t know the Catalan-born founder of Bacardi, the bête noir of those who prefer premium rums, that guy who founded the company which whips up a gajillion barrels of dronish tipple a year, and has a market cap that eclipses the GDP of small nations.

Don the Beachcomber – actually named Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, hailing from Texas, he was the founding father of tiki restaurants, bars and nightclubs, often with a Polynesian flavour.  A bootlegger and bar-owner (he opened Don’s Beachcomber Café in 1933 in Hollywood), he was increasingly referred to by the name of that bar.  He actually changed his name several times to variations of this, until finally settling on Donn Beach.  He was a lover and ardent mixer of potent rum cocktails, God love him. Supposedly created the Zombie cocktail, Navy Grog, Tahitian Rum Punch, Mai Tai and others. Trader Vic was a competitor of his (the rivalry was reputedly amicable). Died in 1989

Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron – much like Don the Beachcomber, Victor Jules Bergeron Jr., a California native, founded a chain of Polynesian themed restaurants, which he named after his nom de guerre, “Trader Vic,” the first one way back in 1932 as a pub, which moved into alcohol in a big way as a as soon as Prohibition ended (that one was called Hinky Dink’s, renamed Trader Vic’s in 1936  and it did not have the tropical décor and flavour it later acquired). The first franchised “Trader Vic’s” restaurant/bar opened in 1940 in Seattle.  It supposedly created the franchise model which many other restaurants – not the least MacDonald’s – subsequently emulated.  It hit its high point in the 50s and 60s when the Tiki culture fad was at its height. Both The Trader and the Beachcomber claim to have invented the Mai Tai.  There are a line of rums of the same name that are readily available in the US.

Ian Burrell – London based drinks enthusiast with his own bar not too far from Camden Town.  Instrumental in organizing the annual UK Rumfest, and holds the Guinness Record for largest single tasting event (in 2014).  And he started this list going.  I meant to go visit his rum bar in December and hoist a few rarities with him, but got drunk on Woods 100 and ended up in Greenwich.

Ernest Hemmingway – Also known as “Papa” Hemmingway; journalist, war correspondent, writer, deep-sea fisherman, Nobel Prize winning author of superbly spare, masculine tales.  Popularized rum and rum cocktails during his later life when he resided in Cuba.  Alas, he killed himself in 1960, but one hopes he had a good rum or three before deciding there was no better rum to be had and he’d better go out on a high note.

Christopher Columbus – nope, not my Italian neighbour across the way, nor a film director of fluff puff pieces. A Genoese mapmaker from the 15th century who legend has it, was looking for India when he accidentally bumped into the Caribbean islands in 1492, and promptly named the natives “Indians.”  Sure glad he wasn’t looking for Turkey.

Admiral Edward Vernon (“Old Grog”, died 1757) – popularized the sadly discontinued practice of issuing rum diluted with lemon juice on board Royal Navy ships partly to ward off vitamin C deficiency (scurvy), to make shipboard drinking water more palatable, and – we can hope – to boost morale.  You could argue he therefore created the first cocktail. We still, call rum “grog” because of his being affectionately named after his frock coat, called a Grogram.  As a nice bit of trivia, George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon, was named after him.

Aeneas Coffey – inventor (or perfecter) of the single column still in 1830 — he enhanced a previous 1828 design of Robert Stein’s , and this led directly to the industrial mass-production of rum; previously, pot stills were the main source of rum production, but suffered from higher costs, wide batch variation and small batch sizes of lower alcoholic content.  The Coffey still addressed all these issues and kicked off the explosion of rum production (and, one can argue, the 20th century resurgence in craft pot still products).  I suspect he was more interested in whisky than in rum, but nobody’s perfect.

Constantino Ribalaigua Vert – Catalan immigrant who began working in the famous Floridita fish restaurant and cocktail bar in old Havana, back in 1914…four years later he became the owner.  Constantine is on this list because he invented what is one of the most famous rum cocktails ever made, the Daiquiri, somewhere in the 1930s, and it became inextricably linked with Floridita’s, which even today is known as La Cuna del Daiquiri. The bar became known for producing highly skilled cantineros whose expertise lay in crafting cocktails made with fresh fruit juices and rum, which he may have been instrumental in promoting.  Hemmingway supposedly frequented the joint.

Homère Clément – founder of one of Martinique’s better known distilleries and rum houses, Clemente, which makes superlative agricoles to this day. Clemente was mayor of La Francois and purchased a prestigious sugar plantation Domaine de l’Acajou in the 1880s, just when the introduction of sugar beets was decimating the Caribbean sugar industry.  He instigated the practice of using sugar cane juice to create rhum agricole, and modeled his rhums after the brandy makers and distillers of Armagnac in southwest France.  I haven’t done enough research to test the theory, but Old Homere might have saved the French sugar islands from utter ruin with his rhum.

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry – Jeff is a bartender, author, contributor and cocktail personality who specializes in cocktails and Tiki culture; thus far he’s written six books on vintage Tiki drinks and cuisine, and he is referred to by the Los Angeles Times as “A hybrid of street smart gumshow, anthropologist and mixologist.”  He’s created original cocktail recipes and been published in many trade, liquor, bartending and cocktail magazines.  He doesn’t exclusively focus on rum, but it’s certainly a part of his overall interest, and he has raised the profile of rums in the published world like few others have.

Richard Seale – owner and manager of 4-Square distillery in Barbados, and therefore the maker of rums like Doorly’s and 4-Square brands, as well as providing barrels for many craft makers in Europe.  He provided the initial distillate for St Nicholas Abbey, as they waited for their own stocks to mature.

Hunter S. Thompson – No idea why he would be on this list, except in so far as he is the author of “The Rum Diary” which is less about rum than it is about a lustful, jealous men stumbling through life in an alcoholic daze, indulging in violence and treachery at every turn (much like my Aunt Clothilde after a pub crawl). Of course, Thompson was known for imbibing colossal amounts of coke and alcohol (he was, like many young authors of the time, trying to copy the uber-mensch lifestyle of Hemmingway), so maybe this is where the connection arises.  As a man with influence on rum as a whole, I’d say he’s more road kill than idol.

Rumporter – publisher of a French language magazine “Rumporter” which is dedicated like few others to the culture of rum.  Too bad there isn’t an English version around, but then, I grumbled the same thing about Luca’s book.  Maybe I should learn a seventh language.

The average British Navy man – also known as a Jolly Jack Tar; he needs no further intro.  Lovers of Navy rums, these boys, and retired or not, keep the names of Watson’s and Woods 100 alive and well in their memories. And mine.

Don Pancho Fernandez – well known Cuban maestro ronero who worked initially for Havana Club.  Developed the Zafra line of rums that are a perpetual staple in many liquor cabinets. Additionally acclaimed for the work he has done in raising the quality and profile of Panamanian rums like Varela Hermanos’s Abuelo line, Panamonte, Rum Nation and his own line of Don Pancho.  Also the man behind the irritatingly named, but better-than-you-think rum Ron De Jeremy. I met him briefly in 2014.  Nice guy, very courtly.

Edward Hamilton and the Ministry of Rum webpage (combined entry) – founder of the Ministry of Rum website where many rum noobs (myself among them) got their start in networking with other rum lovers. Still a very good resource to start researching producers and distillers and rums in general. Ed is also the author of “Rums of the Eastern Caribbean,” and has recently issued the Hamilton line of rums.  Holds tastings and seminars all over the place. As a guy who started to pull Rummies together into an online whole, his influence cannot be underestimated – almost all rum bloggers in some way derive from what he started.

All The Poor Slaves – and damn right too.  We should never forget the backbreaking labour under inhuman conditions that slaves had to undergo to work in the fields that allowed our ancestors to sweeten their tea and create rumbullion. It is the original sin of rum.

Bartender – a good bartender is the aristocrat of the working class, knows his stuff backwards and forwards, and can whip up any cocktail you want.  A great one not only knows your first name, but that of all the rums on his shelf.

Dupré Barbancourt – Founder of the eponymous distillery and rum maker on Haiti.  He was a Frenchman from the cognac producing region of Charente, immigrated to Haiti and founded the company in 1862.  To this day, they make some phenomenal agricoles.

Don Jose Navarro – A former Professor of Thermodynamics (ask him, not me), Don Navarro is maestro ronero for Havana Club (the Cuban one, or the “real” one).  We should all  be lucky enough to be able to take a right turn from our day jobs like he did in 1971.

Peter Holland – Curator, writer and owner of the website “The Floating Rum Shack.”  The gentleman attends tastings around the worlds, acts as a judge of rum festivals, and is a consultant to various companies in the field.  His site deals with primarily rums and cocktails.  Apparently he was in Berlin in 2014, just as Don Pancho, Rob Burr and some of my other correspondents were, but we passed like ships in the night and never met each other.

Martin Cate – A San Francisco-based rum and exotic cocktail expert who collects rum like a bandit, conducts seminars and judges rum and cocktail competitions around the world; aside from that, he’s the owner of Smuggler’s Cove San Francisco, which specializes in rum cocktails, and was named by the Sunday Times of London some time back, as one of the 50 greatest bars on earth; Drinks International Magazine thought so too…three years in a row, and several other magazines think the same.  I’m beginning to think I should move and crash over at Josh Miller’s place. Or just across the road from the bar.

Robert Burr –A promoter and lover of rum (and Hawaiian shirts), he is the organizer of the premier North American rum expo, the Rum Renaissance in Miami. He and his wife and son publish “Rob’s Rum Guide”, as well as hosting the Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise. He created the collective of judges from around the world called the RumXPs and he travels around the world judging and consulting. I met him briefly in Berlin in 2014, but he didn’t recognize my hat, which is something I really have to work on.

Father Pierre Lebat – This should probably be spelled Pere Labat; I’ll assume we’re talking about the man, because there is a rhum by that name still made on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe), where a French missionary polymath called Jean-Baptiste Labat was stationed.  He was a clergyman, mathematician, botanist, writer, explorer, soldier, engineer, landowner – and slaveholder (lest we get carried away with admiration).  A Dominican friar, he became a missionary and arrived in Guadeloupe in 1696 at the age of 33.  While he was the procurator-general of the Dominican convents in the Antilles, he was also an engineer working for the French government; in this capacity and as proprietor of his own estate on Martinique, Labat modernized and developed the sugar industry, building on the pot still of Jean-Baptiste Du Tetre (see below).  His methods for manufacture of sugar remained in use for a long time. The white agricole produced on Marie-Galante is named after him.

Luca Gargano – an exploding comet in the skies of rum, Luca made his bones by sourcing what is arguably the best collection of Guyanese still-specific rums in existence, the largest surviving Trinidad Caroni hoard any one company possesses, and in between that, issuing rums at anything between 50-65% ABV. I speak only for myself when I say that he is upping everyone else’s game, and showing that there is a market for full proof rums, just as there is for that obscure Scottish drink.  And he’s a great guy.

Pirates – These guys sang shanties, shivered their timbers, pillaged, raped and plundered (and were knighted in at least one case), and drank rum.  Lots of it. They may be long gone, them and all their cutlasses and pistols and sailing ships (maybe they migrated to Somalia and the South China Sea), but their shades hang around and inform the culture of rum like nothing else.

Joy Spence – The Nefertiti of the Noble spirit, Joy is the creative force behind J. Wray & Nephew, who make Appleton Estate rums in Jamaica.  Since we’ve all swigged Appleton rums for decades, I’m not sure there’s much I can add here, except to note she was the first female master blender ever, and that’s quite an accomplishment in a rather male-dominated industry. With degrees in Chemistry, she took a job as a developmental chemist with Estate Industries (they produced Tia Maria) but got bored and moved on to J. Wray and Newphew, which was right next door..and there she stayed ever since.  Owen Tulloch, the master blender for JW&N at the time, took her under his wing and when he retired in 1997, she became the master blender herself.  So her hand is behind many of the Appletons we know and admire today.  You could argue that the Appleton 50 is her and Mr. Tulloch’s love child.

Captain Morgan – The rum or the pirate?  The rum is a world famous spiced baby which in some cases is not too shabby at all, and to some extent sets the bar for decent (read “non-lethal spiced overkill”) flavoured rums.  The pirate did himself well.  Henry Morgan, who lived and freebooted across the Caribbean in the 17th century was a privateer, not a pirate (meaning he sailed and pillaged under letters of marque issued by the English crown).  He acted as an agent to harass Spanish territories and shipping, taking a cut of all plunder and ransoms. Knighted in 1674 and made Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1675.  He was replaced in 1681 and then gained a rep for being extremely fat and extremely drunk and extremely rowdy, like many friends of mine (and they’re all fun to hang with). Died 1688. His connection with rum is tenuous at best – about all you can say is he was a licensed pirate and a drunk.  Come to think of it, so is my lawyer.

Alexandre Gabriel – the force behind Cognac-Ferrand’s magnificent Plantation double-aged line of rums.  Not all of them are top end, but many are, and they have been instrumental, along with other European craft bottlers, in raising the bar for rums in general.

Christian Vergier – Cellar master of New Grove rums, which is based in Mauritius.  And there was me thinking the gentleman dabbled only in wines.  Not much I can say about man or rum, since I’ve never met either of them.  I’m sure that will change.

Oliver Rums – Created by Juanillo Oliver a Catalan-Mallorcan immigrant to Cuba in the mid nineteenth century. After the revolution in 1959 the family departed, but later re-established a sugar plantation and rum making concern in the Dominican Republic in the 1990s. They make Opthimus, Cubaney and Quohrum rums with what is supposedly the original rum recipe of the founder.

Tito Cordero – who doesn’t love the Venezuelan rum range of Diplomatico?  The Reserva Exclusiva in particular receives rave reviews across the board (although I can’t speak to the ultra premium Ambassador…yet).  And it’s all due to this maestro ronero, who, like Joy Spence, has a background in Chnmistry (chemical engineering to be exact). And, oh yeah, he received the 2011 Golden Rum Barrel award for Best Rum Master in the world.  Not too shabby at all.

Andres Brugal – the founder of Brugal and Co from the Dominican Republic.  Also a Catalan, he migrated from Spain to Cuba and then to the Dominican Republic in the mid 1800s…but not before soaking up equal quantities of rum and expertise.  He introduced the first dark rum from his company in 1888, and over a century later, his descendants repaid the favour by naming one of their top end rums the 1888 (I liked it a lot, as a totally irrelevant aside).

James Man – Ever since I bought my Black Tot bottle, I see references to Navy rums wherever I go.  And so it is here: James Man was a sugar broker and barrel maker who in 1784 secured the exclusive contract to supply rum to the British Navy.  And now, more than two centuries later, his descendants, running a company called ED&F Man still trade in sugar and molasses (they are a general merchant of agricultural commodities).  By the way, Man held the rum contract for 186 years – although not exclusively so for that whole time – which ended on…yup, Black Tot Day.

Silvano Samaroli – Silvano, an Italian craft bottler who started with whisky in 1968, makes this list because he may have been the first bottler to source rum, age it and issue it under his on label as a craft product in its own right.  To this day I have never tasted a Samaroli (many of my correspondents wonder what my malfunction is), but by all accounts, the man’s work is superb.  Fabio Rossi and Luca Gargano are his intellectual heirs.

John Gibbons – a RumXP member, rum judge, bar-trawler, independent spirit ambassador, cocktail enthusiast and rum lover.  Moved to UK in 2010.  Started the website Cocktail Cloister (no updates since 2011) and the Glasgow Rum Club.  Does not appear to have been very active since 2013, but maybe the XP page has simply not been updated

Leonardo Isla De Rum – another XP member, Leonardo Pinto has been a rum enthusiast since 2008, and curates his rum-themed website Isladerum.  Nothing unusual with all this; but Leonardo has gone a step further, developing the Italian Rum Festival (ShowRum) as well as acting as a consultant for brands that wish to enter the Italian market.  Honestly, I feel like a rank amateur next to people with such commitment and drive.

Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī – this guys gets my vote for sure.  A Persian polymath, doctor, chemist (or alchemist, if you prefer) and philosopher, who lived around 854-925 AD.  Why is he influential, and why should he be in the list?  Well, leave aside his contribution to experimental medicine (he wrote a pioneering books on smallpox and measles as well as treatises on surgery that became de rigeur for western universities in the middle ages); ignore his many philosophical books, his work in chemistry and his desire for factual information not tied to traditional dogma; but just consider that he created (or at least popularized) the forerunner of all modern distillation apparatus – (drum roll) the alembic.  We may now know it as a pot still and he’s the guy who is credited with spreading its usage. I’ll drink to him.

Ron Matuselam – one of the best brands of rum coming out of the Dominican Republic, and, like others, an exile from Cuba after the revolution.

Pepin Bosch – The man who could be argued to have saved Bacardi…twice. Jose M. Bosch, who died in 1994, was born in Cuba, and married into the Bacardi family.  He was instrumental in rescuing Bacardi from bankruptcy during the Depression, and again in the 1960s when Castro seized all the company’s assets.  Mr. Bosch ran the company from 1944 to 1976, when he retired.

E&A Scheer – A Netherlands-based ship owning company formed in the 18th century, heavily involve din the triangular trade between Europe, the West Indies and Africa – they therefore were instrumental in shipping bulk rum to Europe, at a time when (pause for loud cheers) rum was the primary tipple, and whisky wasn’t.  They were also involved in shipping Batavia Arrack from the Dutch East indies at that time.  By the 19th century, the company specialized in just shipping rums and then started their own blending and bulk distillation processes.  To this day, they still concentrate on this aspect of the business (dealing in distillates), though they have expanded into other shipping areas as well.

Retailer –where would we be without the retailers?  Too bad most corner store Mom-and-Pops don’t know half of what they sell, or speak knowledgeably about it.  But then there are more specialty shops like Berry Bros & Rudd, Willow Park, Kensington Wine Market, or Rum Depot, and these guys keep the flame of expertise burning.  Online retailers are going great guns too (this is where I buy 90% of what I taste these days), and if Canada were ever to get its act together regarding postage, I l know a lot of guys who would be buying a helluva a lot more.

Pat O’Brien – creator of the Hurricane cocktail in the 1940s (it’s a daiquiri relative), which he made in order to rid himself of low quality rum his distributors were forcing him to accept before they would sell him more popular whiskies.  At the time O’Brien was running a tavern in New Orleans (it was known as Mr. O’Brien’s Club Tipperary” and required a password to get in during Prohibition). It is still served in plastic cups (New Orleans allows drinking in public…but not from glass containers or glasses).  The name of the cocktail derives from the shape of the glass it was originally served in which resembled a hurricane lamp. O’Brien’s still exists to this day.

Bertrand-Francois Mahe de La Bourdonnais – (1699–1753) French Naval officer and administrator, who worked in the service of the French East India company, primarily in Mauritius and Reunion.  His inclusion on this list stems from his introduction of a free enterprise system on the islands, and the concomitant launch of commercial sugar (and therefore rum) production.  This generated great wealth for Mauritius and Reunion, and sugar and rum have remained pillars of their economies ever since.

Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre – (1610-1687) A French blackfriar and botanist, he spent eighteen years in the Antilles and wrote many books about indigenous people, flora and fauna.  His written work created the concept of the “Noble Savage”.  Why is he on this list? Because he designed a rudimentary pot still (an alembic variation) to process the byproducts of sugar mills on the French islands, and thereby indirectly spurred the development of agricole rhum production upon which Pere Labat built.

Lehman “Lemon” Hart – Like Alfred Lamb and James Man, a purveyor of Navy Rums in the 1800s and liked to boast that he was the first to get such a contract but I think his license, issued in 1804, is eclipsed by Man’s (above).

George Robinson – Another master blender/distiller makes the cut, deservedly so.  George Robinson was the Big Kahuna at DDL in Guyana and was in the company for over forty years (he passed away in 2011 but DDL hasn’t gotten the message yet, because their El Dorado website still has him alive and kicking.  Maybe they think he’s faking it).  The man was a cricketer in his youth, but it was his ability to harness the lunacy of the various stills DDL possesses that made his reputation and places him here. RIP, squaddie.

Capt William McCoy – I’m hoping I have the real McCoy here because no glossary of rum could be complete without at least one or five pirates, in this case a bootlegger who paradoxically never touched alcohol. The guy was unique, that’s for sure: he called himself an honest outlaw, never paid money to organized crime, politicians or the law for protection.  He thought the Prohibition was daft (as do I) and made it his mission to smuggle likker from the Caribbean.  He finally got collared in international waters in 1923, spent less than a year in clink, and ended his smuggling activities.  He died in 1948.

Helena Tiare Olsen – Ah, Tiare. Runs one of the most comprehensive, long running and detailed cocktail blogs out there.  She does rum reviews (always with the angle of what it would do for a cocktail), and until Marco of Barrel Aged Thoughts took the crown, had one of the best online articles on the stills of Guyana.  Her site is an invitation to browse, there’s so much stuff there.  She attends various rumfests around the world as and when she finds the time.

Daniel Nunez Bascunan – Danish blogger, rum enthusiast, owner of RumClub bar in Copenhagen and micro-brewer. Don’t know the gentlemen personally, but that bar looks awesome.

Joe Desmond – Rum XP member and mixologist.  Lives in New York, acts as a judge to various festivals, collects rums and is reputed to have one of the most extensive collections in New York.

José León Boutellier – You’d think Bacardi ran out of entrants, but no, here’s another one from the House of the Bat.  Sometime after Facundo Bacardí Massó came to Cuba in 1830, he inherited (through his wife) an estate of Clara Astie; this included a house, and a tenant, the French Cuban Mr. Boutellier, who ran a small distillery there which produced cognac and sweets.  After hammering out the rental agreement, the two joined forces and Facundo was granted use of the pot still, creating the Bacardi, Boutellier y Co. in 1862.  By 1874 Don Facundo and his sons bought out Boutellier’s stake as he declined in health.  But it is clear that without Boutellier’s pot still and the happenstance of him being in that house, Bacardi would not be the same company.  Small beginnings, big endings.

Jennings Stockton Cox – American mining engineer who is said to have invented the Daiquiri, perhaps because at the time when he made it, he had been working in Cuba, close to the village of Daiquiri.  Supposedly running out of gin and not trusting local rum served neat, he added lime juice and sugar.  Some say that Cox just popularized an already existent drink, but whatever the case, he’s now associated with it.

Rafael Aroyo – Author of an ur-text of rum-making in the 1940s – “The Production of Heavy Rum.”  It is used by many home brewers as a veritable bible on how to make home-hooch.  I wish I’d had it when I was a young man working in the bush.  The white lightning we made could have used some expertise, and I could have saved some IQ points.

José Abel y Otero – founder of Sloppy Joe’s in Cuba just after the First World War. Immigrated from Spain to Cuba in 1904, then moved to New Orleans in 1907, then again to Miami, and returned to Cuba in 1918, where he worked in a bar called The Greasy Spoon before founding his own bodega called Sloppy Joe’s.  In 1933 another bar with the same name opened in Florida (and Hemmingway was a patron…the guy sure did get around) which specifically referenced the original from Old Havana.

Alvarez & Camp – the two families who united to form Matusalem.

José Arechabala y Aldama – Founder of the Havana Club rum and the company that made it, before being expropriated following the 1959 Cuban Revolution

Robert Stein – inventor of a columnar still subsequently refined by Aeneas Coffey (see above).  Stein’s 1828 still was itself inspired by the continuous whiskey still patented by Sir Anthony Perrier in 1822

George Washington – Possibly one reason the first president of the USA is on this list is because he liked rum – so much so that he demanded a barrel or two to be on hand for his inauguration.  On the other hand he did operate a distillery himself on Mount Vernon, and it was the largest in the country at that time.  Alas, it mostly produced whiskey.

Owen Tulloch –Joy Spence’s mentor in Appleton, he was the master Blender until 1997. I hope he and Mr. Robinson are having a good gaff somewhere up there, smoking a good Cuban, playing dominos on a plywood table, and arguing about the relative merits of El Dorado versus Appleton.

Alfred Lamb – creator of Lamb’s Navy Rum and London Dock rum in the 1800s.  Another pretender to the crown, if either Lemon Hart of James Man are to be believed.

And there you have it.  All the reference points people have made on the list.  This took me the better part of a day to hammer together under the influence of both coffee and some homemade hooch, so please forgive any errors I’ve made in the spelling.  It was fun to do, and I hope you who have had the stomach to read this much and have reached this point (drunk or sober), walk away with a few laughs and a bit of extra trivia.

Oh, and one other influence on rums…

All we drinkers: it is we as drinkers, writers and exponents, who make the industry. Cheers to us all!

Mar 312014
 

Poor rums. They always get a bad rap. That piratical background, the snootiness of the whisky world (and my friends, who cast me the pitying glances reserved for congenital defectives, every time I trot out a new and favoured libation). The classiness perceived of all things British. The purported complexity of the Scottish brew, the Russian tipple, or the Mexican hooch. We who sing of the pleasures of the cane just don’t get no respect. Sometimes I feel like a go-player in a chess world.

But you know, for a long time whiskies, tequilas, vodkas et al, took back seat to rums, and were merely regional and not global favourites. Rums were for a long time more popular than whiskies (but that may be because whiskies were all crap at the time, or cheap blends for the proles before they woke up and realized everyone was speaking Jamaican or Guyanese patois, and this had to stop). Washington supposedly rolled in a keg or two for his first inauguration. Rums were among the most smuggled and traded goods in the West Indian trade. Hemmingway immortalized them, trumpeting his favourite cocktails.

And then the Scots started to make standardization and rigid rules the name of the game, upped their ante a jillion-fold, appealed to the nouveau riches and freshly affluent middle classes, and suddenly it became chic, genteel, well bred – even cultured – to be into whisky, specifically the single malts. Or, for yuppies these days, craft vodkas, at which I kind of scratch my head and say okay, whatever. Like a strumpet past her prime, rum was relegated to a dismissive back corner with a dunce cap on its head. Even Larry Olmstead, when he wrote for Forbes some years ago, made it sound like rum was undergoing a resurgence, as if they had ever been away. It’s gotten so bad that when I can convince a dedicated and committed Scotch guy like the Hippie to even try an aged and powerful expression of the cane, I consider this a major victory in my undending battle against the forces of Mordor (where, as we all know, the orcs swill tequila, and the Nazgul are really into Scotch).

But whatever the case, rums have always been glorious creations, avatars of mankind’s seemingly inexhaustible desire to get hammered in new and inventive ways.

And therefore I present my favourite reasons why I think rums are a preferably drink to all the others. This of course comes to you courtesy of a famously impartial judge who would never dream of introducing bias of any kind. Or, for that matter, of convincing my friends to switch their allegiance….’cause you know, that ain’t ever gonna happen.

1. They are cheaper. Oh come on, is this even in doubt? I can pick up ten-, twelve-, twenty-year old rums for a few hundred each (maximum), while an upscale tequila-taster or single-malt-loving schlub who wants to have his collection dandified will drop five hundred a pop easy on some of the better ones. Poor Hippie, who did a Moonlight Graham on the G4, mournfully had to concede that while his palate was up to scratch, his wallet sure wasn’t. Come to the dark side, Hippie.

2. More sites with rums escape the censors’ net. Okay, I’m a little biased that way. ATW, Liquorature, various whiskey fora and all the online shops, are blocked not only in the sere desert where I work (tell me again what the hell am I doing here?), but from far too many company servers these days. But The Lone Caner? The Howler, duRhum, Inu a Kena, Ministry of Rum? They’re all up and sparkling and easily accessible in a way too many other likker based sites specializing in other drinks, are not.

3. They display all the hallmarks of great drinks in any of the other categories. Insanely aged, single barrel expressions. Port finished, wine finished, whisky finished, double aged, soleras. Terroire specific, national or regional styles. Sweet or dry or salty, briny or rubber-laden, floral, fruity, and just spanning the gamut of any palate whatsoever. You got a peculiar taste of any kind, there’s guaranteed to be a rum for you out there.

4. Yes, they also have long defunct distilleries producing rums off the scale. So please stop weeping about Port Ellen and shed a tear for Caroni instead. You’ll feel better and may even have some success in re-opening it.

5. Are produced around the world, and always have been. Whiskies are now in Japan, and Bangalore and a few other places, but rums? Friggin’ everywhere. The variety this introduces is simply astounding. I won’t go so far as to say all varieties are great or even pleasing, but the fact that there are as many kinds as there are is reason to cheer. Nobody has a lock on rum, and nobody gets to set the tone.

6. Nobody looks at you as if you were a moron (or should be guillotined), were you to add a rum to a cocktail. In fact, I posit that soft drinks were invented to add to rum cocktails. Rums can be had neat or mixed or dandified, all depending on palate preference and peculiarity. The only other spirit to which this can really apply is vodka.

7. No rules (bit of a double edged sword, this one) and therefore easier to make. Sugar, yeast, maybe molasses, wooden barrels and off you go. And it’ll even be legal!!! And you can call it a rum!!. Try doin’ that with a tequila or a scotch whisky and the claymores will be out in Caledonia before you can say “Maltmonster likes rum.”

8. Few excellent, lovely, massively aged rums ever got poured into a mixing vat to make “just another blend” (an accusation often hurled at conglomerates who make, oh, Johnny Walker). Hippie once grumbled that far too much excellent tipple of his preference got made into cheap blends rather than being issued on its own…I feel for you buddy.

9. You’ll always be at home in any tropical clime, and maybe all the cold ones, and have loads of new friends, the moment you crack a bottle, yours or his. It won’t even be the best, but maybe some high wine or white lightning made in the man’s backyard. He’ll offer you his sister and be your friend for life. Plus, you’ll get hammered. I simply can’t praise this attitude enough.

10. If you’re a writer on alcohol like me, you won’t have to compete with ten thousand other websites dedicated to your passion, but merely a few ten or so. Instant recognition! You’ll be well known, faster! Girls will like you, wives will leave you. Against that, you have gimlet eyed lawyers making sure you don’t infringe some obscure cocktail’s trademark, or idjits who always think they know more than you taking pot shots, but whoever said public websites were problem-free?

I’m aware I’ll never swing lovers of other drinks to the side of the good stuff. I mean, like, ever. Gents who have their favourite tipples are as fanatic about their drinks of choice as fundamentalists biting the heads off snakes while speaking in tongues. I’m more likely to find the English Harbour 25 year old selling for twenty five bucks (though there was this one time…). I expect my fellow Liquorites and their malty friends (who may also be my friends) to take up arms here and post long winded, sarcastic diatribes about how I’ve lost my mind, my senses and maybe even my friends if I continue to spew such twaddle. Sorry guys. I miss my drinks over here. I’d even drink a Glen Muddy 1957 if I could ever find one, I’m that down about the whole situation (this may be punishment enough for the sedition and heresy I’m peddling, so spare a sad thought for me when not thinking about the Caroni).

Did I mention my last point?

11. Yeah…they do taste better

(NB: The author wishes to state categorically that he does indeed drink all the other spirits mentioned here, and has no special beef for or against any of them, except in so far that rums are the best).

 

 

 

 

Aug 122013
 

Those who know me personally (both of you, ha ha) are aware that I’m upping anchor to another part of the world. After living and/or working on five continents, I’m relocating to the Middle East as of August 2013. This implies not only a total readjustment of my family life, but a consideration of the impact it will have on the updates I can make to this site.

In fine, I will have to cease writing rum reviews on a consistent basis for the foreseeable future, as sourcing alcohol of any kind will be next to impossible (and I don’t review unlabelled, home-brewed moonshine). This is not to say I will stop forever, but at least for a while this site will have to be somewhat moribund, with updates few and in between, usually when I’m out on holiday somewhere, I guess.

It pains me to have so much effort relegated to standing still for a long period (especially as I was approaching my 200th review slowly and steadily)…but them’s the breaks. I’m working on solving the El Dorado problem, you see.

I hope that one day, for those who will pass by to check in, another post will be up, another rum will be reviewed, and you’ll know that the Lone Caner is back in business. Until then, thanks to all of you for reading and looking at these reviews, and, now and in the future, I hope you had and have as much fun with them as I did when I wrote them.

Goodbye for a while…but not farewell.

Ruminsky, “The Lone Caner”

 

Apr 012013
 

I complain and moan a lot about the lack of choice in Alberta’s shelves when it comes to rum, but truth to tell, we get quite a bit more than other provinces around this country, except maybe BC.

Most provinces’ liquor sales in Canada are still under Government control. This is the legacy of the well-meaning, though utterly unrealistic, efforts of elected officials to implement Prohibition – yes, Canada had Prohibition – in 1918 and even before. Unlike the US, Canada came to its senses faster (you migh say they sobered up, ha ha), and most of the legislation across the country was repealed within six years.  However, in the ’20s and ’30’s very powerful provincial liquor control boards were set up across the country, and liquor sales were, and remain for the most part, tightly regulated. This developed over time into a crazy situation whereby the provincial governments ran most of the liquor shops, and the irony of a body responsible for regulation and enforcement running a for-profit business it is supposed to monitor requires no further elaboration.

Alberta, under its powerful premier Ralph Klein, did away with this in 1993, and privatized liquor sales. In practice, there is still some Government control: the Federal Excise tax and sales taxes add to prices, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission approves all wholesale imports of liquors (into privately held warehouses) and then collects on subsequent sales to retailers: taxes, bottle fees plus a flat markup (thereby getting revenue from all points of the value chain).  But in the main, the objective of introducing competition (however imperfect) to the Alberta market has worked.

But how well?

Before we go there, spare a moment to consider what the act of privatization actually meant in practical terms in 1993. To research this, I spoke to a number of native Calgarians (yes, there are still a few around, but they are on the endangered species list), and they all concur on the basics: there was always and only a limited selection of spirits, and particularly wines; opening hours were limited, and God forbid that any opened on a Sunday; prices were the same province-wide, no matter where one went.  There were 208 ALCB stores in the entire province, with another 65 private retailers; and the purchasing process for any kind of bulk (say, for a wedding), was a torturous process requiring the usual forms in multiplicate. Simply stated, it was all limited and a pain, and Hobson’s choice from start to finish.

Fast forward 17 years.  According to the AGLC (the successor agency to the ALCB), there are now 1220 retail liquor stores in the province (up from the 208+65 noted earlier); another 488 off-sales establishments, like hotels, manufacturers or others, down from 530 hotel-only off sales places before, and 94 general merchandise liquor stores now where none had previously existed. Sales of spirits are up 48%, Beer by 52%, Wines by 109% coolers and ciders by 319%.  Revenue to the Government (unspecified but presumed by me to be on direct taxes and levies plus the revenue from the flat markup) climbed from $404.8 million to $716 million.  In 1993 there were 2,200 varying products available…there are 16,328 in 2010.

[prohibitioncanada.jpg]
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I wouldn’t sound the hosannahs and encomiums too loudly, however.  The figures sound rosy, but they really aren’t that great from a Government perspective.Consider: the revenue numbers climbed 76.8%, but this disregards inflation; if inflation adjusted numbers are considered, the revenue increase has actually climbed a much more modest 29.9%  And this, while the population of Alberta increased from 2,574,890 to 3,786,398…a jump of nearly 50%.  So direct revenue per unit of population has actually decreased. On the other hand, all those newly established liquor stores pay taxes (sales and corporate), and this in all likelihood makes up for the difference, if not actually a bit more: and they provide employment (a climb from 1300 to 4000), and so fuelled an additional purchasing pool.  The flip side is that wages have decreased as jobs went non-union and capitalism went to work. It sounds a bit like the Red Queen’s Race, doesn’t it?

It’s been suggested that increased availability of alcohol in the province would fuel more alcohol related crimes and societal costs, but I came across an examination of this issue (it was done in the late ’90s when a white paper examined the possibility of privatizing Ontario’s system) that implies a rather smaller impact: in the years after privatization, Edmonton experienced a 24% rise in liquor offenses (many having to do with minors possessing alcohol) but a 42% decrease in traffic offenses (you can’t be more surprised than I). And the Calgary police noted that the increase in liquor store related crimes between 1993 and 1995 was offset by the larger number of retail stores opening, so that the risk per store actually decreased, especially when population growth in those years was factored in.  As for increased availability leading to increased consumption, some stats imply the reverse, and there are too few studies linking such availability with increased health burdens on the province. That said, a January 2011 article arguing against the matter in New Brunswick stated that based on a recent University of Victoria study,  there was a 27.5% increase in alcohol related deaths per 1000 population, for every new liquor store opened in BC. And another study comparing the Ontario LCBO and the prices in BC said flat out that not only were the prices comparable, but private stores had a larger price bump over the last five years than the (cheek-by-jowl) Government operated retail stores.

Speaking for Alberta, it seems that the increase in the amount of retail stores roughly parallels the population jump, as do the sales of spirits and beer; I could make a case that the relative affluence of the province has fueled the rise in purchases of wine which greater choice and stocks, as well as better marketing by the stores, have assisted.  I am curious how ciders and coolers have gone up by 319%, though, given that no other category went down in compensation, which suggests it’s carved out a niche all its own…maybe among the young who lack the palates for wine or the cash for good spirits. Looking at the above numbers, on balance I’d have to say that the effects have been largely positive: overall, I have not been able to locate any studies or statistics that say categorically that there have been increased societal costs or social burdens in Alberta (I apologize in advance to families or individuals who have been deleteriously affected by the impacts of alcohol, who of course would not share this sentiment) and alcohol-related crime seems to be on par with the levels before privatization on a per capita basis.  The amount of problem drinkers as a proportion of the population is about the same. The increased taxes and employment and knock on effects of people with jobs spending money and paying taxes is positive.

But statistics can be made to say many things, and at end the debate won’t be solved in this essay.  As the New Brunswick discussion makes clear, it’s a societal issue, dominated by high passions on both sides, and it is as much a philosophical matter as social one. I’m not entirely convinced, but it may be a zero sum game when all factors are taken into account.

I’ll close with this comment.  In the last two years I’ve travelled through The Yukon, NWT, Alberta (hey, I live here), BC, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, by road (it’s a relaxation and photo-hobby thing for me).  In no other province have I seen the breadth and variety of products as I have in my home turf.  Alberta is the cheapest of them all in terms of pricing (Appleton 30 year old costs $300 and rubs shoulders with over seventy other rums in the various stores around here, while in Ontario it costs $550 and rather shamefacedly sits with three other “premium” rums – Zaya 12 was one – and another fifteen bottom tier standards like Lamb’s and Bacardo and Captain Morgan). The Yukon is a bit like Ontario, and the other prairie provinces are in between.

And, Alberta boasts liquor stores of nationwide reputation: it’s a running gag on Liquorature that I don’t like whisky, but even I must concede that Willow Park and Kensington Wine Market (Chip, jump in any time with your Edmonton nominations) are famous and maybe the best in Western Canada, stock unbelievably fine products and ranges of whiskies to make a maritimer and an occasional lonesome Scot weep with envy; and the wide selections have permitted myself and two others in this province to begin a labour of love in reviewing spirits.  In no other province has this been the case, to this extent.

Numbers, dollars, stats and revenue may be debated to the end of time, fierce battles will be fought with teetotallers, religious figures, liberals, conservatives and madmen, and maybe nothing will ever be resolved or proven one way or the other. But in terms of intangibles, I’d have to say that privatization with sufficient regulation is a pretty good thing and works for me in Calgary. Usually, it’s unbridled, unchecked, reckless capitalism and over-intrusive Government intervention that’s the problem. Here in Alberta, we may have found a happy median.

References:
Population stats
Prohibition
The statistics issued by AGLC
Consumer Price Index (alcohol)
Crime, the debate on privatization and other stats
http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/rss/article/1371123 “The Alberta Experience” NB argument for
Apr 012013
 

No non-fictionThat was the 2nd Rule of Liquorature.  I waffled on this one when Curt first brought up the matter of our unwritten constitution, because, being a lover of history, politics and contemporary affairs, it seemed like we were shortening ourselves by instituting arbitrary limits on our reading.  Then there are books like Jostein Gaarder’s “Sophie’s World” which is a non-fiction book dressed up as a children’s novel – how do you classify something like that, discuss it, analyze it?  Given the size of the door-stopping paperweights I have in my library at home though (“India at a Glance” in 2000 pages, e.g.), I have conceded the Hippie’s point.  There’s enough richness in the fictionalized universe for us not to get into the inevitable whiff of “homework” that taking apart a factual tome would entail. It’s still something I wish we could get past, however.

Opening this site has allowed me to sidle around the restriction, and post up for consideration many of the great books I have read in the last decades.

The thing is, literature allows us to discover the inner mind of man.  Whether it is the spare prose of Hemmingway or the more descriptive victorian novels of Dickens or the pastoralists, or even First Works like “Beowulf”, “Moll Flanders,” “The Illiad,” “The Ramayana” and “The Tale of Genji”, all fiction to some extent delves into the human condition. Non fiction is the diametrical opposite, for, while Fiction discusses the state of man, Non-fiction analyzes the actual Doings of Man (or a man, in the case of a bio). And that in its own way is a fascinating matter not least because for the most part, non-fiction rests on recorded fact plus some interpretation and bias of the author (non-fiction can therefore be as mercilessly debated for its interpretation as our current literary works are).

Too, I believe that in our modern, fast-moving, always-connected world of mass entertainment, news and information flow, we are losing sight of the past, or not appreciating trends until they are upon or past us, and we see them only in hindsight. Good non-fiction can illustrate and throw into relief matters current and past and future in a way a novel cannot always accomplish. If reading lots of books (as Stephen King advocates in his excellent book “On Writing”) improves your appreciation of books and your own writing, then should not the same apply to one’s appreciation of the world we actually live in and the events that have shaped it?

For example: the ascent of computers, the rise of the social networks, Google, cloud computing, convergence of hardware, have all ben discussed in various non-fiction works in my library and shed light onto modern technological culture and our place within it.Yergin’s “The Prize” remains the book to read about oil and Hydrocarbon Man. Nial Ferguson’s works on empire and money speak to both past and present both on an economic and political front. Robert Fisk’s magisterial magnum opus “The Great War for Civilization” tackles thorny issues of coexistence and hate. And how often does one read books as fascinating and enthralling as Kissinger’s “Diplomacy” or Halberstam’s “The Fifties”?

It is to those of us who have an interest in reading books both large and small, about past and present, based on fact or conjecture, that the reviews of non-fiction titles in this section are aimed.

Apr 012013
 

(An abridged form of the Liquorature wrap up, posted January 2013)

2012 is drawing to a close, and many sites are beginning their top-however-many lists. The Hippie has drawn up a list of his favourite drams of the year on ATW, the Rum Howler has got his lists of top rums and whiskies he’s tried, film critics will put out their top ten lists as usual, and here I’ll join in and review how the year went from Liquorature’s perspective, including – of course! – my own discoveries of the year and my own take as a reviewer of rums.

The primus inter pares of all my varied interests. During 2012 I gamely struggled to hold my own in the face of the irredeemably stubborn obstinacy of my fellow Liquorites who insist on giving pride of place to the obscure Scottish drink. Added to that was my day job, my family, photography and other priorities, which led to 2012 seeing less than fifty new rum reviews. Aside from the division of my available time, part of the problem is undoubtedly my writing style, which tends to the lengthy and relates to my desire to tell as complete a story about each rum as I can, adding to that whatever ruminations (no pun intended) cross my mind as I write, and making each more an essay than a review…hopefully a unique one. This is a style that takes real effort and thought and time, and works for me both as a writer and a reviewer; but is, alas, too long for some (most, I would gather), with all the attendant disinterest it creates in people who prefer a McNugget-level synopsis as they stand, i-phone in hand, at a liquor store somewhere wondering what to buy. The important thing is that I enjoy it and it holds my interest – a more abbreviated style would be easier, I could churn out more reviews…but not nearly as much fun.

My tastes have gradually changed (I hesitate to say “improved”) to appreciate higher proof rums — I’m coming to the stated opinion that 40% is a really pronounced limiting factor for top quality rums of any kind. The Panamonte XXV, the Plantation XO 20th Anniversary and many others, would have benefited greatly from having the extra oomph of a few additional proof points.  Of course, the two rums that took this to ridiculous extremes were the beefcake SMWS Longpond 81.2% and the Stroh 80 both of which I sneakily kinda enjoyed in spite of their rage.

Another point of development for me is that I have quietly dispensed with three almost unconsciously held assumptions I realized I was harbouring: (a) that older rums are always better than younger ones (they often are, but not every time); (b) younger rums or cheap blends are only for mixing (often true, but certainly not every time) and (c) expensive is equivalent to quality (it often is, but, nope, not always). As I taste more and more rums and go back and forth between the earlier rums and the later ones and cross taste them in my spare time, I appreciate the subtleties that in many cases I missed the first time around, and learn to admire the artistry some makers bring to even their youngest creation. In order to chart my development, I leave my scores the way they were when I wrote them, but  I’m thinking of doing a”revisit reviews” of the older ones from 2009/10 which were shorter and not as intense as later work. As a point of interest, I review every rum neat – whether it makes a good cocktail or not is not part of my review process, though I usually mix myself one to test stuff I don’t like, on the assumption that it might fail as a sipping spirit, but not necessarily as a cocktail.

I’m also learning to appreciate the lighter bodies and complex profiles of agricoles and French-island rums more than when I started, and my discovery this year was undoubtedly the Courcelles 1972 58% which the co-manager of the Rum Depot in Berlin trotted out from his private stash and allowed me to share. I still hate the scoring mechanism, which for me results in rums scoring mostly between fifty and seventy, and I dread coming up with something new and having to go back over a hundred rums and recalibrating. However, at least it’s consistent. But readers should always be warned that it’s the words that tell the tale, not the score.  Oh yeah, I dropped the chart of the rum profiles…it was useful for a while, but didn’t see it adding any real value so I just shrugged and did away with it.

Kensington Wine Market in Calgary continues to hold two Rum tastings a year, which I faithfully attend and write about in a probably futile effort to raise the profile of the spirit in my obstinately whisky-loving area. A high point for me this year was undoubtedly the cracking of the 58 Year Old Longpond, which snarkily showed the Appleton 50 the door (the latter will be on show for the February 8th 2013 Tasting at KWM). Andrew, the co-owner, maintains his generous habit of alerting me to new and interesting rums coming through the door, even if I can’t afford them all. And though I am aware that in his eyes rum simply doesn’t class with whisky (hence his online moniker which I continually gripe about), he treats me with the courtesy due any autistic, rum-loving mutt who may growl at any moment.

The rums tasted that stood out this year (equivalent to ATW’s “Drams of the Year” post)

  • Appleton Estate 50 year old: I see that Co-op in Calgary has a bottle for $4500.  Too rich.  But what a great rum it was, correcting as it did many deficiencies of the 30 year old.
  • Courcelles 1972 58%:  Renewed my interest in agricoles…lovely and rich and tasty.  I have the 47% variation to review.
  • Rum Nation Demerara 1989-2012 23 year old 45% Anyone wants to know why I’m a Rum Nation fanboy, this is it.
  • Plantation Barbados XO 20th Anniversary: Lovely, coconut-kissed breath of Bajan sunshine from Cognac Ferrand
  • Rum Nation Panama 21 year old. Best of the Panamanians. This may be considered heresy, but I believe it outclasses the Panamonte XXV by a whisker.
  • G&M Longpond 1941 58 year old: Grandpappy of all rums I’ve ever tasted, and excellent too. Held on to this for two years before reverently opening it…
  • Secret Treasures Enmore 1989 14 year old: Secret is right – never even heard about Fassbind until I went to Berlin. But what a lovely rum this was. Finished it neat in two nights with my mother at her dacha in north Germany by a fireside under the stars.

What is evident from this brief listing is that I’m deliberately moving away from the “one size fits all” commercial rums that we can find almost anywhere, towards costlier, rarer, more unique rums that are edging me to an average price of close to a hundred bucks per bottle (yes, with very rare exceptions and to the horror of my wife, I buy everything I review – the exceptions are my friends’ samples which *they* buy). My choices are becoming more finicky, and I seek out older and obscure offerings for the same reason I write the way I do…because it’s more interesting that way, and because there are enough reviews of the commonly available rums out there (does anyone really need me to put up a tenth review of the Mount Gay XO except as a site-hits driver?). This is not to say I don’t look at, say, a Myer’s Planter’s Punch…I just don’t do it as often (though I always will), or as assiduously – it would undoubtedly be cheaper, though, wouldn’t it? To my mind, a person who likes Old Sam’s won’t care in the slightest what I write about it (if he even looks for a review), but anyone seeking to check out the Rum Nation Jamaica 25 Year old probably will, before he drops close to two hundred bucks on it.

***

Summing up, it’s been a slower than expected year for reviews, but both the Hippie with his 2013 Islay tour and myself with the trip to Germany, made discoveries beyond price. The Liquorature meetings are fixtures and high points of our gentlemanly social lives, and look to continue far into the future. And as we bring 2012 to a close, I must say that 2013 promises to be a year full of new books, new spirits, new friends and more rambunctious get-togethers than ever before.

All the very best to all of you who have had the patience to read this far, and have a great New Year.

Apr 012013
 

(First posted on Liquorature, Feb 2012)

With the write up on the Barbancourt  15 Year Old I have reached a sort of personal milestone. I’ve written a hundred rum reviews and that’s not as easy as it may sound, since I put a lot of effort and energy into crafting each one, chosing the verbiage and doing the research, all the while juggling my photographic hobby, reading, as well as domestic and professional duties which permit me my alcoholic habit. At this rate, if there really are around fifteen hundred rums in production in the world, I’ll be a candidate for a gerontological institute somewhere before I get to finish.

Looking back, it seems quite amazing that two years have already passed since I began writing, three if you count the origins of Liquorature in 2009. In that time, Liquorature has grown from seven members to nine, the much more successful allthingswhisky site has gone up (and it passed a hundred reviews itself no more than a week or two back, so kudos are in order there as well), and a hundred-plus rums have crossed my path…more if you count those on my shelf I haven’t written about or those friends have trotted out. Through the writing of these reviews I have been in contact with makers and distributors, readers and reviewers, forged friendships and had a really good laugh from time to time (the Bacardi 151 review is a case in point)…and, I’m sure, pissed off a person or three.

There’s really no direction in my reviews: I’m not thinking of adding cocktails to my lineup; news from the rum world will never become part of the site; much as I’d like to, I lack the financial and temporal resources to do distillery tours and write ups; and no, I’m not trying to build any kind of collection or collate the ultimate rum list. The two major changes to my thinking in the last two years involved [1] adding a score to the reviews so I could do rankings and see if I preserved a bell curve (I do, and its median seems to be around fifty-ish, which satisfies me); and [2] a conscious decision to eschew deliberately solicited freebies – I found it influenced my reviews too much…others may be able to dissociate their personal feelings at getting a free sample from their reviews, but I can’t.

At end, two things stand out. I like to write, and write well, amuse, entertain and maybe make a point or two about my experience with a given liquor, what I felt and thought and tasted. Some say I overwrite, but come on, guys, there are all sorts of McNugget-sized capsule reviews out there…what on earth do you need another one for? I don’t need to do sound bites. I want to write something that’s more than just the bare bones, something that is part review, part joke, part serious, part history, part philosophical rumination. Surely that’s worth more than a sentence? (For the ADD among you, you’ll note the micro-opinion in italics at the top of each review for the last few months as a nod in your direction).

And secondly, I enjoy knowing that what is written becomes part of a corpus of knowledge people can use to find out more about a rum when they see one on the shelf. A hundred reviews is nowhere near enough to get a sense of what rums are out there – Africa and Asia remain as skimpily represented as a bikini at Cannes, and every time I turn around some European maker comes out with another artsy little offering – but those who bother to read each review as it gets posted will not only get a sense of my evolution in taste, but understand why I felt the way I did about each product I wrote about.

And, of course, perhaps laugh a little. That’s alone might be worth all 100 reviews put together

Here’s raising a glass to the next 100.

Apr 012013
 

May 5th 1992.  A release date that will live for…well, a heckuva long time.

Because, before Assassin’s Creed, before Metal Gear Solid, Socomm or Call of Duty, before Quake and Duke Nukem (long may he reign as King of Vaporware), there was the ur-game of them all, the ancient DNA of all first person shooters, and it was released that day.  Nope, not Doom, but its startlingly original, blood spattered, laughingly and irreverently pixellated daddy, Wolfenstein 3d.

While I fully acknowledge the origin of the game in Muse software’s 1984 incarnation, it was id Software’s 1992 revisit of the game that broke all barriers and ushered in the era of the true first person shooter, where the environment was realistic looking 3d and scrolling and perspective were from that of the player.  But what really made it a breakout success and runaway hit was the stroke of genius Id/Apogee had, of giving away the first episode for free, and then charging for the remaining five. Shareware was well on the way to changing business models for the entire software industry.

Wolfenstein 3d sold like a gazillion copies.  Office managers routinely cursed its name. Parents were constantly kicked off their own computers (when they had them) by their kids, who played all night sessions, and then got hooked themselves after watching it for a while. Until its even better successor Doom came along (with its equally original and innovative network deathmatch play), it was quoted as one of the greatest contributors to loss of office productivity between 1992 and 1994.

One of the reasons for its perennial attraction for just about anyone of any age, was its ease of use.  Left and right arrow keys, space to shoot, and maybe two other keys to throw a grenade or push a wall for secrets.  Compare that to today’s games, which use what seems like every key on my board, plus a few I never heard of.   My son kicks my ass at the Wii and playstation games, but I moider da bum on keys…so long as I can use just a few and I don’t have to think in 3d.  Wolfenstein’s game engine made all that possible.

Wolfenstein 3d ushered in the first glimpse of a true FPS, much as Jordan Mechener’s original Prince of Persia almost redefined how graphics should look in an adventure game (both have now merged into fully rendered 3d worlds, but at the time their innovations were stunning and revolutionary to people who had only ever seen side-scolling images that did not move like real objects)

Seen today, we smile at the archaic graphics and clumsy bitmaps and poorly rendered images.  Relative to today’s sleek gaming worlds, of course they are.  At the time though, we had never seen anything quite like it.  And me and my friends, we stayed late at our offices, played all the levels (plus more freebies), did speed runs and became masters and boasted of our achievements when we met for beers.

I’m sure today’s twelve-fingered, thick-thumbed and iron-wristed Xbox and PlayStation ur-swamis are as bad, as addicted and as dedicated as we once were. But I can almost guarantee that they never had quite as much fun as we did in those days when the technology was so new it had literally never been seen before.  That technologically-inspired sense of wonder and fun, plus ten beers and a pack of smokes would keep us going in our offices until long past midnight, surrounded by tinny speakers, glowing big-ass monitor and other crazies doing exactly the same thing.

Beat that, newbs

Mar 132013
 

Later this year (2010), a milestone in photographic history will be reached: the last produced roll of kodachrome print film and ektachrome slide film – Kodak’s famous workhorse of pro-photographers for three-quarters of a century – will be developed in the last lab still to process its demanding Ex chemistry (for those who are interested, it’s Dwayne’s Photo Service, in Parsons, Kansas).  Appropriately enough, that last roll will be shot by veteran National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, who made that famous “Afghan Girl” photo.

Some herald it as a final nail in digital’s ascendancy over film.  As an enthusiastic amateur, it started me thinking: when indulging one’s predilection for photography, which is better, film or digital?  (I love these ridiculous what-ifs..they are so uselessly entertaining).

Let’s run through the pros and cons, and I’ll give my opinions at the end.

Pro Digital:

– Can anything beat the instant feedback of reviewing what you thought you shot after taking it?  No more messing arounbd with notes on shutter spped, aperture, filters or special film after the fact.  No missing the moment.  You shoot, you look (“chimping your shot” – isn’t that a great phrase?) you correct, shoot again.  There’s a reason amateurs are getting better – they can make corrections on the fly.

— Practically zero running costs once you buy your camera.  No more film or development costs.  These days, you can even dispense with the computer and edit your work in camera before you output directly to the printer.

— No loss due to accidentally opening the back or not rewinding your film properly.  I’m not saying I ever had that happen to em, but once film did stick in my camera and I had an interesting time trying to get it out without losing it.  No such issues afflict digital shooters

— No more investment in darkroom equipment or being at the mercy of the dropout Walmart technician who is using a big-ass automatic developer without a clue as to what it does or how it affects the final print.  If you know what you are doing with Gimp, Photoshop, Elements or Picasa, you can duplicate real pro effects with very little effort.

— Archive, storage and metadata. We use computers for all digital media, and we can get all our EXIF metadata stored alongside with our pictures in a way that makes retrieval a breeze. Workflow management is quite simply, easier. Add that to the fact you can still print your work for archiving, or simply upload it, burn it or store it, and you should have access as long as our techological age lasts. And instead of being limited to 36 exposures, my current card takes 1300+ 12mp JPEG pictures (about a quarter of that if I add RAW).

— DSLRs are so good nowadays that the quality of lenses in the limiting factor in determining picture quality, not the sensor or the camera itself. Point and shoots are also getting good real fast, and while I don’t use them, I fully appreciate their utility.

— No problems running through airport x-ray scanners and having your film fogged

Pro-film

— Dynamic range of film is better.  Just take a look at this kodachrome shot of Picadilly circus done in the late forties (taken from Wikipedia).

File:London , Kodachrome by Chalmers Butterfield edit.jpg

— Older (film) cameras are entirely independent of power sources, and if you doubt me, feel free to review Nikon’s earlier F-series, all of which are brutally hewn blocks of metal with which you could brain an elephant, and entirely manual.

Nikon F2AS with MB1 motor drive. A big, ugly, heavy brick of a camera – mine still performs flawlessly

 

Your experience and judgement count when using mastodons such as these, so what you gain in independence you lose in gratification of instant feedback. DSLRs have battery packs that make you feel you just added half a kilo to your camera bag, and you cannot function without them, but they are not required on film bodies, where for a generation they were screw-on optional attachments.

— Noise in film is prettier and more artisitc than digital noise. It’s better called grittiness, and is worlds removed from the rainbow speckled hues of digital crap that messes up long exposures or high-ISO pictures. I’ve heard that there are actually programs around that will alter a digital image to add the grain back in.

— Here’s the thing.  Film cameras are film cameras until the end of time.  I have a Nikon F2, F3, F4 and F5 (you can pick them up for a song nowadays and may even be good investments long term quite aside from the enjoyment of using them) and they work like swiss watches.  Their all metal construction and titanium shutters defy today’s use ‘em and toss ‘em mentality.  I’m an unabashed Nikon fan sure, but I started with a Canon A-1 and I tell you, that thing cranked film through for two decades without a single problem. Today’s crop of digital camera will not only be obsolete inside of a decade, but are actually decreasing in value…I bought a Nikon D40x the other day for under a hundred bucks, while my F2 from 1972 may actually be going *up* in value.

— You can scan film negatives or transparencies, and always have the maximum resolution of the scanner – in other words, your digital picture shot at 12mp will remain that way forever, but your 35mm negative can always be scanned at the maximum resolutuion of the technology today. Strictly speaking, 35mm film grain is about the same resolution as a 24mp JPEG, so all along film has been at resolutions which digital cameras areonly now approaching….and for a fraction of the cost.

— Film cameras were finger driven, not menu driven (the F5 excepted).  Instead of poking around with ten different menus and submenus and options, you just had to fiddle with two, maybe three knobs, all while peeking through the viewfinder.  And let me tell you, full frame film camera viewfinders are huge and bright in comparison to the smaller ones on today’s digitals rather tepid offerings.  I won’t even discuss point-and-shoots.

***

If I had a choice, I’d like to use film but have the instant feedback of digital.  I like the feeling of a precision mechanical instrument that does what it is supposed to do with no fuss, no bother and no friggin’ around. The D2x I use most often fits well in my hands, but for tactile delight and a sense that the camer is doing what it is engineered (superbly) to do, the F5 and F3 remain my favourites (and my god, the AF on the F5 is staggeringly fast). For any kind of indoor work, I’d say digital is probably better for assessing flash work, but then, I’m not very good at it, so maybe that’s just me.

In the end, it all boils down to your feeling as an artist if you are even remotely serious about photography. Do you do better work with digital in “post” or are you simply a perfectionist of the film world (there may be a generational divide here which I am not addressing – it’s my opinion that younger people are happier with digital because they are more comfortable around the core digital technology). I love film, but concede that digital does offer more flexibility, consistently better-exposed work, and, often, faster on-the-fly shooting. I do in fact do some post-processing work to punch up colours and contrast – mostly in Picasa or GIMP, since my demands are slight and the programs are free –  but I stand in awe of what people achieve with true pro-level digital image manipulation.

Be that as it may, there’s no “right” answer. What is a fact is that your equipment does not matter, and neither does your megapixel count.  At the end of the day, the best camera in the world is the one that you have on you, and nothing beats your imagination and skill when it comes to making a truly stunning picture.  All your camera and technology do is enable what your mind has already decided.

Very much like how a cheap piece of crap rum can enable the best conversation of your life. Or the best…well, you know what I mean.