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).

 

 

 

 

 Posted by on March 31, 2014 at 9:23 pm
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”

 

 Posted by on August 12, 2013 at 10:43 am
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]
___

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
 Posted by on April 1, 2013 at 8:11 pm
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.

 Posted by on April 1, 2013 at 8:01 pm
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.

 Posted by on April 1, 2013 at 3:07 am
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.

 Posted by on April 1, 2013 at 3:01 am
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

 Posted by on April 1, 2013 at 2:30 am
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.

 Posted by on March 13, 2013 at 8:17 pm
Mar 132013
 

The El Dorado Problem is that pitiful state of affairs reached when a truly superior product comes on the shelf for you to buy….and you don’t have the cash because it’s just outside (or way outside) your price range. It comes from yours truly, who realized he had such a problem when attempting to buy the El Dorado 25 year old.

Most of us in the club are at that stage where young families are the phase of life – children still in the single digits, a wife whose ring still has some sparkle and shine, and who might even still love you a little (instead of treating you with the sort of  gentle condescension reserved for congenital defectives).  First houses or starter homes (or rentals).  Pennies are watched, and we are slowly climbing over the bodies of our contemporaries in the quest to attain that dubious distinction of clerkdom —  the corner cubicle.

It is generally at this time in our lives that we cast around for time-wasters and hobbies to take our minds off the daily drag: for me, the club is something like that.  Pat has his photography, Bauer his hats (I think he wants to be the Imelda Marcos of headwear, but with less expense and taste), Curt his mountaineering, whisky and the club. Clint and the Ginger Buddha play their cards too close to the chest for me to know what they do in non-work related free time. As for Bob, well, he does have grandkids, a country home to maintain and a position in society to uphold in keeping with his dignified geriatricity. Ka-ching.

The thing is, these hobbies of ours involve – especially at the inception – a fair amount of expenditure. A camera body of the kind Pat and I like, is probably close to a thousand bucks or more, lenses maybe the same, and flashes not too far away. Having seen Curt’s whisky cabinet, I estimate he’s got maybe two or three grand in there.  I myself have occasionally been overtaken by bouts of insanity and blown a few hundred on some choice (and not so choice) rums that caught my eye.

Our spouses mostly consider us as half-tamed hobos who, by dint of firm discipline, a smack or two and occasional love, can be tamed and house-broken from the vagabondage of our bachelor years (fifteen years with my significant other has not cured her of this delusion, which I am at pains to foster).  And nowhere is this more clearly shown than in the beady-eyed, cold glare with which they double check everything we buy. And given how carefully they monitor our expenditure, it’s a real chore to pass off our toys not  as wannabes or spur of the moment expenses we can casually shrug off, but as necessities.

However, my experience and anecdotal evidence suggests a few avenues we can explore to pretend we are doing mankind a service by buying the things we do. And this is the core of my essay that suggests how we poor shlobs could possible address the El Dorado Problem

1. First and foremost, we can have a separate bank account.  This is frowned upon in more polite circles (my geriatric sire is aghast that my wife and I have our own accounts), but I find it invaluable. Stops long-nosed wives from checking up in things.  If you have internet banking with online statements, you can actually have an entirely private transaction record.  Spouses being who they are, they will inevitably be curious, but so long as you don’t have to borrow from her (definitely a no-no), all will be fine

2. If discovered, say the purchased object was on sale.  And not just any sale, but a sale to end all sales.  Make gargantuan (and hopefully unverifiable) claims like “the rum was 50% off, how could I resist, a deal like that will never come up again!”

3. Hint at gift-giving time that you would like a new velvet smoking jacket (or whatever).  And be creative about this – don’t limit yourself to standard birthdays and Christmas, but father’s day, valentine’s day, anniversary time, Halloween (“I need the thousand-buck lens to take a picture of Junior at Halloween in the dark, hon,” you can just hear Pat saying plaintively) and whatever else you can think of.

4. Just shrug and refuse to answer niggling questions on why you  had to buy that $500 one-of-a-kind rum (or gold-plated classic Canon F1 film camera you know you’ll never use, but you had to have it because that bugger went to space, man), but if you don’t want your bed to turn as cold as my new freezer, I’d recommend against this practice, which is usually only good for new arrivals whose wives haven’t cottoned on to local divorce laws yet.

5. Hide receipts, hide the evidence, and trot your hideously overpriced rum out casually months later with an “Oh this old thing? Always had it, dear…since last December I think.” I actually did this with the English Harbour 25, once. Can’t be tried too often, however…wives get suspicious and no matter what you think, they aren’t stupid.

6. For the wussies out there, run home crying and throw yourself at her mercy and beg forgiveness, saying “I don’t know what made me do it, honey.” Promise never to do it again (until next time). Incompatible with point number 3 or 4 .

7. Give your purchase to her as a present – the trick here is to actually give her something she might want but which you want more. I have given my wife bottles of wine I particularly like (rum would be a dead giveaway and way too obvious), a GPS I get to use, a small digital camera I take along when I don’t feel like schlepping a massive pro model and lens around, and TVs I assured her we absolutely needed for our bedroom. (I like to think I’m fooling her, but truth is, I think she sees through me like I was Saran wrap). This point is a case in plausible deniability – “It was all for you, hon.” And you smile winningly.

8. Make her give it to you.  This takes some skill, to be honest, because it is not only a matter of hinting around the edges of “oh I could really use a new Mount Gay rum”, but making her say “Oh, you know, I think you really need a new bottle,” as if it was entirely her idea.  For a real touch of subtlety – artistry, really – you can protest a little at the expense and modestly claim you don’t deserve it. (Well, strictly speaking you don’t, but you must take one for the team once in a while and sacrifice your finer feelings for the good of the wife’s happiness).  And to add a touch of extravagance, make sure all your relatives with money are in on this so they can all chip in for you and upgrade.

9. Keep her informed.  And I really mean that – tell her as far as possible in advance that if Bottle X of Brand Y ever comes on the market, it’s one of those seminal moments in your drinker’s life, and you have to have it.  Not only does this dovetail neatly with point 8, but when you do, at some stage, walk into your home cradling this beauty like your newborn child, she may shed a happy tear for you.

These are the best ones, but the ones below are also pretty decent, if pedestrian: I mean, if you actually have to work at getting money together, it sort of defeats the purpose of having it handed to you, right?  But in a pinch, these are tried and true, so I have to be fair and list them

— My favourite method is to siphon off a little cash now and then from leftovers. Since I pay all bills online, I can also set up a small savings account  without paperwork and transfer a fifty or so every two weeks or so into it. After a few months, I have enough to afford a new lens, a two hundred dollar rum, or any other kind of frippery.  “Frippery” is a rather elastic term and fluctuates in quality.  Currently, it stands for Nissan 370Z. Note that since my bank does not pay me to advertise for them, I won’t tell you which one it is.

 Cut out the crap! It really is amazing how seemingly insignificant steps can net you bucks that turn big in a hurry. Don’t buy coffee at Starbucks but bring a Thermos with your own vintage, don’t buy lunch but make one at home. That can save you maybe ten to fifteen dollars a day. Twice a week, and conservatively, you could ring up over a hundred a month…that’s one of the hippie’s bottles right there. Turn off lights you don’t use, don’t leave the sprinkler running, sell stuff you don’t need or use (Kijiji is great for this), pay off all credit cards on time, don’t have large lines of credit balances….I estimate that on average, I make maybe $350 per quarter or more on insignificant steps which result in no negative cash flow, and then I just siphon it off.

If you can, bank your overtime instead of getting paid for it immediately. It’s a nice nest egg.

If you’re single, move back in with your parents.  I’m sure they’d be glad to have you.  Offer rent below that which you currently pay and throw in some chores for free.  The difference is free money. Not really recommended, but it does work.

Now keep one thing in mind: do not spend money you don’t have, no matter how good the deal or the steal.  If a cask strength top-of-the-line 25-year-old rum comes up for sale at a price not commonly seen, but you don’t have the money and you know your credit card can just barely be paid off with next week’s paycheque – resist! Don’t do it!  You survived for 30+ years without this ambrosia….I know you won’t believe me, but you will and can live without it on your shelf.  It’s the fish that got away.  On the other hand, if you are like the Arctic Wolf and get samples and maintain relations with people, then maybe they’ll lay it away for you…good luck with that.

There’s very little I can’t get if I save enough, and if I can’t save or don’t have it on hand, then I won’t buy it – it really is that simple.  My wife thinks I’m an absolute ass with money (when I absently mumble “I bought what last week? For how much? Oh. Okay.” it drives her bugsh*t), but the truth is, I actually have a really good idea of how much I need from one month to the next, and more importantly, where it’s going.  I have zero compunction about spending a few hundred dollars on three bottles of rum (or even more on just one)…but only as long as the needs of my family are met and nothing else is competing for my attention.

Granted, I may not be buying really expensive rums just now…but that’s just because I’m in full saving mode at this point (there’s that Gordon & MacPheill Jamaica 1941 I’m looking at…).  After all, I can always buy the low-class crap, and review it as part of my commitment to the Single Digit Rums.  But I’ll tell you this – the day you see me pulling up to a Liquorature meeting in my spanking new mid-life crisis on Potenza tyres, well me boyos, that’s the day you’ll know I’ve solved the El Dorado Problem.

 Posted by on March 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm
Mar 132013
 

(First posted on Liquorature, February 2010.  Edited December 2014)

In my wasted youth, those with more discerning palates often confused my rather simple mind with their scientific analyses of their spirits, making sober statements about bouquet, oiliness, finish, colour, nose, mouthfeel, texture, blah blah blah. I was always confuddled. Smoke? Peaty taste? Waddat?

So here I’ll take the time to talk a bit about what distinguishes the rums from each other. Note that this is not a tasting test runthrough. It’s simply a way to distinguish different rums, and gain some insight as to the properties that make them what they are.  Not surprisingly, my own experience factors in there as well, since I’ve been drinking the stuff for a very long time. Full disclosure: wines are not part of the discussion, since no true rummie will admit to tasting the wussy drink, which in any case requires a more finely tuned, subtle palate than most Real Men possess (which is why they are rummies and not winos).

***

Perhaps a result of its association with the Caribbean, seafaring, slavery and piracy, there has always been that vaguely odious cachet of disrepute hanging over rums, which in my opinion, is undeserved. The schnozz of a rum taster must be every bit as attuned to subtle hints of flavour and texture as the snoot of a whisky lover or the trumpet of a somelier. Rums, after all, in spite of their less lofty reputations, display all the variety, colours and methods of distillation as their unfairly favoured Scottish bretheren or French cousins.

Several differing methods of distinguishing rums exist. Country, colour, strength, additives and , of course, age.  My research suggests that many categories overlap each other, which adds nothing to the clarity of the rankings.

Originally, all rums were dark and fairly unrefined (there’s a reason the Bajans referred to it as “Kill-Divil”). However, a contest held by the Spanish to improve refining methods in the 1800s led to the creation of a process that produced a better quality, more golden rum (the winner went on to found Bacardi). The colour of rum – clear (white), gold (light brown) or dark is not entirely a function of the length of distillation (as some would like to infer), but more of the distillation process and ingredients added, and their ratios to each other.

Rum is traditionally made from cane juice or molasses (which itself is a by-product of boiled cane juice), yeast and water: the shorter the fermentation period, the lighter the rum (referring in this case to colour), the longer, the darker. After the distillation process is complete, rum is aged in barrels made of various materials – like oak – which impact the flavour of the final product – I’m unclear at what point further additives like fruit are brought into the mix. While rum may be clear before going into the aging process, colour is added by both the barrel itself, and the inclusion of caramel – white rum is an exception, since no caramel is brought in, and any colour added by the barrel is removed by straining. I should also mention  “aguardiente de cana” (“burning water”) which is a kind of coarse South American cane-hooch infused with anise.

Based purely on the criteria of colour, rums can be categorized as follows

— Dark Rums – one of the major divisions of rum, with long ageing time and strong flavour. Aged in charred barrels, hence the colouring (plus more molasses and caramel involved). Commonly used in cooking. Much of the molasses flavour is retained.  Often made in a pot-still or simpler columnar distillation unit, like cognac or some scotch.

— Gold Rum – intermediate, and aged to a particular colour, but this does not tell you anything about the age or flavour.  Aged in wooden barrels, and are more complex in flavour than light rums. Usually aged a few months or years

— Light Rum – clearer in colour, and a less ‘heavy’ flavour.  Subdivided into ‘silver’ and ‘light’  taste, though only a matter of dregree except to the delicately long-snooted. Little or no ageing.

On the other hand, other designations exist:

— Overproof rums are often referred to as having a strength greater than around 45%. There’s an overlap with Premium rums here, since many premiums are also overproofs. These days, the term is pretty flexible, since the original meaning meant anything over 100 proof, which was (at that time) 57.1% ABV. See article on proofs here if you’re interested.

For what it’s worth I have, after some years’ experience with rums that are made for sipping yet bottled at around 55-60% (and which cannot be classed as overpfoofs), decided to make some personal changes to how strength is denominate

  • Standard strength for me is 40-46%
  • Full Proof is a strength of 47% to 70%
  • Overproof is anything over 70%
  • I kind of stay away from rums under 40% which can be termed Underproofs

— Flavoured rums, which have deliberate inclusions to add the taste of citrus or mango or anything else. Juan Santos makes a coffee infused rum which isn’t bad.

— Spiced Rums, which normally bring up the caramel or nutmeg to the level where it overpowers any subtlety gained from the barrel or from ageing. Labels usually indicate this is the case.

— Premium Rums are those which for one reason or another are supposedly above average: in age, in taste, in distillation methodology, or in exclusivity and availability (therefore mostly age, since any fool can make a rum in 24 hours, while it takes slightly more expertise to fashion something for 25 years…and age develops the complexity of flavour, making it deeper and more intense).

— Ultra-premiums are are not just above average, but marketed as being the cream of the crop – presentation, age and price are all usually very good (or at least sold to us as being that way).

Strictly speaking, colour tells me very little about the quality of a rum, since I’ve had some decent gold and dark ones whose colour gave no hint as to how good it was. Whites are for mixing, Flavoured are for cocktails, and I’ll drink Spiced ones like Lamb’s or Captain Morgan, but only with a chaser, since they are not made for sipping. Mixing additives only improves such drinks. Since I was at a penny-grubbing stage in my life for a long time, I logically drank only the cheapest, and since the cheapest also demanded you cut them with something, it’s no surprise that coke or pepsi were (and to some extent remain) my chasers of choice.

We can therefore stratify rums with level of flavour

— Light or silver – under-proof, and/or clear rums

— Medium (or Gold, or Amber) – ths covers most rums I’ve ever tasted

— Full-Bodied – these tend to be darker, but the designation is more a marker of intensity of flavour

— Aromatic – Malibu is a good example of this, but any spiced or flavoured rum qualifies

…see what I mean about confusion? There’s lots of overlap here

Anyway, so does this assist in categorizing rums? Not entirely.

Rums are made in many countries, and not surprisingly, almost all are tropical (I have heard it’s something to do with sugar cane not growing well in winter-prone climates). The best known are, of course, Caribbean, and as a loyal West Indian myself, I sniff disparagingly at the offerings of other parts of the world, even as I happily indulge myself in tasting them. A non-exhaustive list of rum producing states includes Barbados, Anguilla, Antigua, Cuba, Dominica, Trinidad, Jamaica, Guyana, Guatemala, Honduras, Brazil, Fiji, Hawaii, Canada, Finland (Finland??), India, Malaysia, Australia and some European countries. Europe acts mostly as a blender of rums, not as a maker of origin, which would therefore explain what Bruichladdich’s Renegade brand does. Some 1500+ rums are said to be in existence. I honestly believe that to be a low number.

Rums have supposedly notable geographical styles and nuance. If one defines rum as either light in colour, or dark, then they roughly follow divisions introduced by country of origin: Spanish speaking countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico and Latin America, produce primarily light rum; English colonies like Barbados, Guiana or Jamaica, mostly the dark.  This is an extremely broad rule of thumb, so be careful in applying it.

Barbados is known for semi-light rums, with soft, almost smoky flavors. Cuba and Puerto Rico, the largest producer of rum, produce very light, dry, opulent rums. Trinidad and the Virgin Islands tend to produce medium to medium-light mellow rums. From Guyana comes the very dark, medium-bodied but rich tasting Demeraran rum made by adding spices and fruits to the distillation process. Jamaican and Martinique rums, made with molasses, are usually full-bodied, sumptuous and pungently flavored. Java distills a rum called Batavia Arak, an aromatic rum made with molasses and red rice, which is then shipped to The Netherlands for further aging and which I have never yet seen or tasted. Haitian rums, made from cane juice and double distilled in pot stills, are appreciated for their smooth and delicate flavor. Thus far, I’ve not had enough non-Caribbean rums to make a determination whether they are on a class above, below or on-level with my favourites. The Bundie from Autralia was not particularly prepossessing for example, but I have to have a more serious retest to write my review.

The distinctive characteristics that make up a rum’s taste depend on factors such as the sugar cane’s quality and origin and whether it was made from molasses or directly from cane juice. Most rum is made from the former, which contains minerals and other trace elements that contribute to the final flavor. Rums made directly from cane juice, primarily those from Haiti and Martinique, have a smoother aspect. The yeast type and fermentation speed, as well as the kind of still, also tell. Light-bodied rums are produced in sophisticated multi-column distillation units and have a more delicate rum flavor. Heavy-bodied rums are produced on simpler multi-column distillation units or by means of traditional pot stills. Distillation temperature also matters—the higher the temperature, the lighter the body and more neutral the taste.

Finally, perhaps the most important factor determining quality is the length and type of aging. Rum develops more complexity in small charred oak barrels. Aging in casks also adds a tawny color, although some producers mix in caramel tints. Rum aged for a year or less in stainless steel is clear and has little flavour. The best rums I have ever tasted have all been aged for more than 20 years old, and in oak.

Having said all of the above, I cannot in all honesty state that I apply these categories or criteria to every rum I taste. It’s still a very subjective sort of thing. Burn, finish, body, taste and flavour, strength…they all have their place.  I have a sweet tooth, so that counts (if they ever made a white-toblerone-flavoured rum, I do believe I might die a happy alcoholic).  I do, however, like to know about the provenance of the rums I sample, and something about how they are made, and what their colours or tastes denote. It is in an effort to put my reviews on a more consistent base, and to answer questions of the curious like Clint, that I did the background work on this post. Hope you like.

 

 Posted by on March 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm