Aug 222017
 


So the other day a guy on reddit wrote that he was was due for surgery and bored out of his mind and could us redditors perhaps post some facts about rum which he didn’t know?  Well, now, that was a challenge, and while I may have missed the US National Rum Day, the idea took hold of me and after jotting down maybe ten or fifteen points of my own, I sent off a blast to all my rum chums, asking them for small anecdotes and trivia and facts they might know of,  which are not all that well known

In the interests of full disclosure, it must be confessed that I’m a nut for inconsequential information-nuggets – many of them, throwaway or useless factoids though they may be, are often the first threads that lead right down the rabbit hole into the labyrinth where great gnarled old stories are to be found, like abstract minotaurs who prey upon my free time and interests and happily consume both.

So here’s a list – our list – of a whole raft of such trivial pursuit winners, which won’t be unknown to rabid cognoscenti but which are interesting nevertheless; compiled for the benefit of  MaxwellHouse5, and I’m hoping his surgery went well, and my huge thanks and hat tips to all those rum lovers out there who added to it.

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  • The country with the most distilleries in it is Haiti, with over 500 (I’ve heard it may be much higher).  Most of these are backyard, backhouse, Mom-and-Pop operations and sell to the local market.
  • The strongest commercially available rum is made in Suriname (90% ABV)
  • Sugar cane originated in South-East Asia, not the Caribbean
  • Although rum is made from sugar cane (juice, syrup (“vesou”), molasses), the distilled spirit is sugar free.
  • A Muslim from Persia (now Iran) named Muhammad ibn Zakaria Razi invented the first pot still, called an alembic, in the 9th Century AD.  He was the first to write, draw and describe it, and it should be noted that it lacked a cooling ‘coil’ for a condenser and used a tube instead; moreover, it was not used for distillation of alcohol. The principle of distillation was, mind you, known for centuries before that.
  • The slang word for rum – “grog” – was named after a coat worn by a British Admiral.  The same Admiral was who George Washington’s estate was named after.
  • In Germany, cheap supermarket hooch that isn’t very good (except for a headache)  is referred to as “fusel”, which comes from the word “fuselstoff” (for fusel oils).
  • The first website devoted to rum was created (as far as I can tell) in 1995.
  • Luca Gargano, the famed boss of Velier, does not wear a wristwatch, own a cellphone or drive a car. He can…but choses not to.  As a further aside, Tatu Kaarlas, the Finn who runs the Australian rum wesbite Refined Vices, doesn’t wear a watch either.
  • The Coffey (or columnar) still in its original form was not invented by Aeneas Coffey, but by Robert Stein, whose 1828 still was in turn channelling Sir Anthony Perrier’s patented 1822 whiskey still. Aeneas perfected the design of both.
  • The Zacapa 23 is not 23 years old, and the Opthimus 25 ain’t 25.
  • The only successful armed takeover of an Australian Government was called the Rum Rebellion (though whether it really had anything to do with rum has been questioned) and overthrew William Bligh…yes, that William Bligh.
  • Rum used to be distilled (illegally) in small boats off the coast, in Australia
  • One of the reasons copper stills are so popular among rum makers is because they effectively remove sulphur compounds from the wash
  • Although copper stills are very common, stainless steel stills are also used.  However, there are two stills in Guyana which are made out of wood, and they are the only ones in the world.
  • Almost all boilers on the estates in Martinique run on bagasse, the residue of cane crushing. The eco-champ might well be Rivers Royale in Grenada, which uses a water wheel for crushing cane.
  • The French call their sugar cane juice rhums agricoles (or agriculturals) and rather disdainfully refer to molasses based rums as Industrielles. Every rum maker who uses molasses, in turn, calls their rums “the best.”
  • The revamped Barik Distillery in Haiti was built from scrap metal which included washing machines and car doors.
  • Due to its inland location, St Lucia Distillers receives its molasses deliveries from tankers that anchor in Roseau Bay via a 2km long pipeline that follows the Roseau River. These molasses are from Guyana, and the story goes that when one such shipment was held up some years ago, causing a shortage of rum, riots nearly broke out.
  • In Barbados each still is given a Registration number. Even if removed from use, the still number is never re-assigned to a different still…which would sure as hell interest the guys who obsess over which still produced Velier’s famed Demeraras.
  • Barbados has four Rum Distilleries, but only St. Nicholas Abbey uses fresh pressed sugar cane juice for their rums; they do, however, reduce it to syrup first.
  • The initial rums of St. Nichloas Abbey were sourced from FourSquare, until their own stocks matured.  They are primarily in the original 10, 12, 15 and 18 year old rums.
  • The most expensive commercially available rum in the world is the Appleton Estate 50 year old (retails for around US$5000 when it can be found). Honourable mention goes to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary bottling (which is not 50 years old) at around $3,500. The “commercial” criterion excludes the single bottle of a 1940s J. Wray & Nephew (US$54,000), the 20-bottle Angostura Legacy (US$25,000), the ~US$6,000 St James 1885 or the 1780 Barbados rums found at Harewood.  It also excludes the secondary market values of rums like the Velier Skeldon 1973, or the 1-bottle outturn of the Caputo 1973 which may well be priceless.
  • The rum which has been aged the longest remains the Gordon & MacPhail 1941 Longpond, at 58 years, bottled in 1999.  For the deep-pocketed, it sells for around two thousand euros these days.
  • According to the Spirits Business, Bacardi remains the top selling rum brand, with Tanduay (Phillipines) and McDowell (India) in 2nd and 3rd.  Both of the latter sell primarily to their local markets and Asia.  There’s a story that Tanduay buys pot still rum from DDL to mix in small quantities into its rums,  but this is unconfirmed.
  • In Jamaica, Captain Morgan is made by J. Wray & Newphew (i.e., Appleton).  In the USA, if one strictly adheres to the TTB rules, Captain Morgan is not a rum at all.
  • The last distillery on the small island of Montserrat closed in the 1950s.  It was called Farrell’s Estate.
  • Social media, engagement and festival speakers have pushed the matter of additives and adulteration to become perhaps the single most-discussed issue in the rum world.  However, adulteration of rum has been around at least since the 18th century and is nothing new.  (It’s good that we’re not letting tradition get in the way of reforming the practice).
  • Pusser’s rum is named after the purser, that gent who was in charge of giving sailors their daily tot in the British Royal Navy
  • The daily rum ration (the ‘tot’) began in the British Navy because of the inability to source brandy from France, which was often at war with Britain. Beer took up too much space.  Lemon or lime juice was often added to rum to combat scurvy, which is why Brits were sometimes called ‘Limeys’.  The German navy used sauerkraut (”sour herbs”, mostly pickled cabbage) for the same purpose, hence the pejorative “kraut.”
  • Guyana, which was called British Guiana prior to independence in 1966, and home of the famous El Dorado brand, was once a Dutch colony.  As was New York.
  • Epris, one of the larger distilleries in Brazil, is now distilling primarily fermented rice for vinegar and sake…in Brazil!
  • With respect to the 2-, 3- and 4-letter codings on Cadenhead’s rums, nobody – including Cadenhead – actually knows what they all mean.  One online wit supposed the Trinidadian rum moniker TMAH stood for “Too much alcohol here,”
  • Black Tot Day is generally taken to be July 31st every year, and commemorates (mourns?) the date in 1970 when rum rations were discontinued in the British Royal Navy.  However, the US abolished it far earlier in 1862 (!!).  And the Canadian Navy only stopped the practise in 1972 (March 30th), and the New Zealanders (bless their hearts for holding out as long as they did) finally bowed to the inevitable and ceased the ration in 1990 (28th February, but couldn’t they have waited until April 1st?)
  • The progenitor of all rums is supposedly arrack, made in Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) with yeast strains mixed in with fermented red rice
  • Batavia Arrack is used in the spirits market to this day, but also as a flavour/aroma enhancer in the confectionary, tobacco and perfume industries.
  • Jim Beam (the whiskey maker out of the US, whose parent company is Beam Suntory) owns and bottles Cruzan rum
  • There are very few rum producers who have an actual Solera system like the one used in sherry production (this is where the solera method comes from). Santa Teresa in Venezuela and Cartavio in Peru are some of the only producers who uses a Solera to produce some of their rums. Almost all other producers who claim to be making soleras, are in fact just blending rums.
  • Although the term “Angel’s Share” is commonly used in rum to denote the losses due to evaporation during the ageing process, this is actually ported over from the whisky world.  Some parts of the Caribbean use the term “Duppy’s share” – a duppy being a sort of malevolent spirit who drink’s honest people’s rum (among other assorted evils); the word is of Bantu origin.
  • On Game of Thrones, whisky is never mentioned…but rum often is.  Mr. Clegane is not a fan.
  • In spite of the amusingly named Rumdoodle Peak – which is, alas, not named after rum of any kind – Antarctica remains the one continent where rum is not made commercially…though I’m sure someone has a bathtub over there and is brewing some.
  • The fastest selling rum in Compagnie des Indes entire stable of expressions is the Boulet de Canon No. 2, which is a blend.
  • In Jamaica, it is mandatory for distilleries to buy molasses from the government, which in turn buys it on the global commodities exchanges. This led to the following bizarre situations: in 2016, Jamaican distilleries had to distill molasses from Fiji that the government sold them, as it was cheaper…and the government sold the homegrown Jamaican molasses to other countries. And, Worthy Park had to sell its own molasses to the government…and then buy it back for distillation.
  • The Swedish Government initially refused to sell and distribute Compagnie des Indes Caraibes rum, as they felt the picture on the label promoted slavery.  The situation was resolved when it was proven that the picture hearkened back to a period after slavery had been abolished
  • 1% of Alcohol duties collected on any rum imported to the United States is returned to every American distiller producing rum (a big part therefore going to Baccardi). Which means that every bottle of rum coming from around the world and sold in the USA effectively subsidizes and helps the American rum producers to grow against imported rums.
  • “Virgin sugar cane juice” (or honey) is a marketing term for reduced – boiled down – sugar cane juice. It’s nothing special, except in so far that it allows the honey to stay fresh longer without spoiling, as pure juice would.

So there you have it.  Feel free to add a few of your own, or send me a PM to include it.  It’s a lighthearted break from the seriousness of our world and I sure hope MaxwellHouse5 liked it.

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A lot of patient, funny, knowledgeable people helped put this together, or I’ve sourced the points from their published / posted work, or their notes to me.  In no order, thanks to Josh Miller, Marco Freyr, Alex Van Der Veer, Tatu Kaarlas, Cyril Weglarz, Steve James, Paul Senft, Robin Wynne, Gaetan Dumoulin, Laurent Cuvier, Steve Leukanech, Rob Burr, Matt Pietrek, John Gibbons, John Go, Johnny Drejer, Florent Beuchet, Luca Gargano, Fabio Rossi, Marcus Stock, and if I’ve left anyone out, really sorry, send me a note and I’ll add you to the Roll of Honour.

Jul 292017
 

In July 2017 the French rum wesbsite Coeur de Chauffe, as part of the Agricole 2017 world tour, issued a two part post where members of the rum and blogging community were invited to submit some brief words regarding their experiences with the French Island agricoles.  Well, most people wrote a couple of generally positive sentences, waved goodbye and moved on, but I felt that perhaps more could be said — and wrote, as is my wont, a complete essay where I tried to summarize my feelings about and experiences with this fascinating subset of the rumworld.

The French language Agricole Tour 2017 Part 1 can be found here, and the essays by myself and Sascha Junket in Part 2, is here.  The paragraphs below represent the original English language version of my section.


Sooner or later, every rum lover comes to agricoles the way every film fan eventually arrives at Ozu. Although better known and always appreciated by the French due to their originating on the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, these quietly amazing rums have only started to become more widely available, and more praised, in the last ten years or so.

Partly this situation arose because of the domination of molasses based rums over the centuries.  Those rums were and are made more easily and more cheaply, have a quality of their own, and have commanded the attention of the rumiverse up until now.  Agricoles are made different, taste different and are priced different…but are also among the best rums currently being made, and can take their place at the forefront of any top-end lineup, not just because of their intriguing and tasty flavours, but because they have escaped the opprobrium of misleading labels, convenient number statements and adulteration which is the stain on far too many traditional rums.  They have always been pure, unmessed-with, traditionally-made rums and are appreciated for precisely that reason.

Others have written in greater depth about these unique rums – the Cocktail Wonk’s deep dive is a case in  point – so I won’t go into the details here beyond some basic facts.  Agricole rums – or rhums, as they are termed – are made from freshly pressed cane juice which goes to the still within 48 hours of harvesting the cane.  They are made in column stills and have a light, herbal, almost grassy flavour that often comes as a shock to those more used to, and comfortable with, the relatively darker, fruitier profiles of the Jamaicans, Bajans, Guyanese and other English-speaking islands; and they are clearer and crisper than the light and floral Spanish rons like those from Cuba or Latin America. 

Agricoles are commonly associated with the French islands in the Caribbean, but what the name describes is more a method of production than a geographical point of origin, and by that standard, no discussion of the type can be complete without noting the Brazilian cachacas, which are a subset of the genre, distinguished by their being aged in local woods (e.g. Balsamo, Jequitiba or Umburana), which give them a distinct (and occasionally off-putting) taste profile that many non-Brazilians have difficulty coming to grips with. One should also note that makers from around the world are increasingly making rums from freshly pressed cane juice – Laodi from Vietnam is a case in point, and there is also Ron Aldea from the Canary islands, and several US micro distillers, among others.

Like traditional rums made from molasses, agricoles are aged, in various kinds of barrels – white oak, ex-bourbon, Limousin oak, cognac casks, the Brazilians as noted and so on – but unlike most of the molasses brigade, they have a very high quality even when made as “white”.  Such colourless rhums are, however, not usually filtered – as is the case with various bland mixing agents like the Bacardi Superior or the Prichard’s Crystal – and mostly unaged and issued directly off the still.  Haiti is the poster boy for such rhums, which are called clairins there and they are pungent, fierce and joyously off the reservation.  Lovers of softer fare shy away from such rhums, but connoisseurs have been snapping them up in increasing volumes for years now, ever since Velier came out with the three clairins from Sajous, Vaval and Casimir back in 2014.

My own experience with agricoles began in 2010 when one of the first rums I bought was the Clement Tres Vieux from Martinique, just about the top of their line;  I wasn’t entirely sold on it, yet it had an aroma and taste that was surprisingly evocative, even if I did not feel it dethroned the other rums I liked more to that point in my education. Over time I managed to try two Barbancourts from Haiti, a couple of Karukeras from Guadeloupe, and a Rum Nation and Renegade independent production.  My opinion began to change.  I appreciated their flavours more, enjoyed the lightness and complexity of the assembly, saw that they pointed to a different style of rhum to what I had been used to, one that was off the main road, yes, but with treasures heretofore unimagined.

I became a true agricolista in 2012, when an amazing 37 year old rhum from Guadeloupe was presented to me for a sampling in Berlin’s famed Rum Depot.  The Courcelles 1972 was a rhum simply off the scale (and even if there were reasons to believe it was not a true agricole, I persist in thinking of it as one), and it led to other discoveries in the years that followed – the clairins from Haiti, the Liberation series from Capovilla (the 2012 Integrale might be among the very best five year old rums ever made, by anyone, anywhere). Getting more impressed – or should that be obsessed? — with each new rhum I tried, I began actively seeking rhums from those distilleries from Martinique and Guadeloupe which have become more widely known and appreciated in the last years – J.M., HSE, Trois Rivieres, St. James, Depaz, Dillon, Bellevue, Damoiseau, J. Bally, Longueteau, Neisson are a few, the independent bottlers are gearing up big time, and I’m just getting started.

In short, from a sort of passing interest, agricoles have now taken their place — and not just in my estimation — among the best rums in the world.  There is variety and failure here, sure, just as they are in traditional (or industrial) rums, and perhaps it is not surprising that my journey mirrored that of the fans worldwide as well.  Nothing shows this more clearly than the popularity of the agricoles in the various European and other rum festivals, where they are commanding increasing attention and appreciation by the public.  It is no accident that the agricole world tour organized by Jerry Gitany and Benoit Bail – a sort of combination of masterclasses and grand exposition of many agricoles which toured the festival circuit in 2016 and now in 2017 – drew large crowds and many positive comments from the online community.

Agricoles are not a fashionable current trend, nor are they only now emerging from the shadows of obscurity: they have always been there, quietly and exactingly made.  What has changed is that over the last decade the explosion of social media and committed bloggers have brought them to a new, wider audience.  For the foreseeable future traditional molasses-based rums will continue to command the heights (and the wallets of the global purchasing public) – based on price and availability and all-round quality that’s unavoidable.  But just as any list of the classics of the film world would never be complete without Besson, Ozu, or Bergman (to name just three), no serious connoisseur or simple lover of rum would ever consider their journey to be complete without, at some point, sampling, appreciating and understanding the variety which agricoles add to the sum total of the universe of rum.

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Jun 202017
 

Two comments I came across in my reading last week stuck in my mind and dovetailed into conversations I’ve had with others over many years.  The first was from a reviewing website which stated (paraphrased) that they don’t review what they have nothing good to say about.  The other, from a high-end watch-review site called Hodinkee, quoted a journalism professor as saying “If you’re going to write about something bad, it needs to be bad in an important way. Just being bad isn’t enough.”

Which got me thinking.  Why write negative reviews at all?  They’re often depressing experiences, however easily the words flow, and I always wonder how some companies who claim to love the juice can make such bad swill at all.

Now, some sites I visit regularly rarely write serious (let alone scathing) criticisms of poor quality rums.  A few adhere to the above policy of if there’s nothing good to say, then not saying anything at all.  Serge Valentin, who scored one rum I liked 20 points wasn’t particularly negative in his review, just mentioned he didn’t like it (probably because he’s a true gentleman in such cases, and I’m not).  Others use temperate language that skates over any kind of negativity, and their disdain is muted.  Against such easy-going writers, others write clearly and angrily why they don’t like a particular rum (or aspects of it), as The Rum Howler did with the Appleton 30, for example, or Henrik of RumCorner did with the Don Papa rums, and for sure Wes of the Fat Rum Pirate has done the language of snark proud on many an occasion and caused me to nod in appreciation more than once, because his reasoning and preferences were clearly laid out (even if I disagreed).

Looking through all the reviews of rums I’ve written in the last seven-plus years, I note that I’ve published a few very savage critiques of rums that I felt were sub-par, many in the first few years. These days I pick more carefully and dogs rarely piss in my glass, so that may be part of why there are now less negative reviews than formerly. Still, while age has mellowed me, it’s not been by that much, and I still think the opinions expressed back then, and the ones I write now for stuff I don’t like, are relevant.  And there are many reasons for that, and why I wrote, and continued to write, as I did, and why I feel it’s necessary, even important, that we do so.

Firstly, it must be stated that I disagree with the quoted professor as applied to the subject of rums, because this is money being spent by me.  I’m not saying I’m a Ralph Nader style consumer advocate, but I do write for consumers, not for producers.  Having written a few hundred reviews, my concept of the site has tilted slightly away from merely writing a blog about rums I tried and enjoyed – though this aspect remains and always will — to writing about every rum I can lay hands on, as part of a desire to share the experience with those who share my passion. There are actually people who read these meandering essays, and importantly, some base buying decisions on the opinions I express. It implies an obligation on my part to write well and clearly where disappointments occur. Too, since this is my time and my money being expended (a lot of both, trust me), then if I find something that wastes either, I’m going to say so. The language may be tempered or furious, and I basically do it so you don’t have to.

Secondly, I believe that by not writing about mediocre or badly made products – and thereby assuming or hoping somebody else will – I’m essentially giving substandard table-tipple a free pass.  That’s a cop-out, and I am firmly opposed to this philosophy. We are bombarded every day with hysterically positive targeted mass-marketing, meant to entice us to buy the latest new “premium” juice, and without a skeptical and jaded eye, it all fades into a dronish mass of boring sameness, without anyone trusted enough to pay attention to writing a dissent.  Ignoring bad stuff is therefore not the solution. It has to be confronted, whether it is bad in a big or small way, and not just in commented Facebook posts that disappear in a week.  This is especially important when new rum drinkers are entering the fold and are casting around for more than the Diplomaticos, Bacardis, Don Papas or Krakens to which they are accustomed. As writers and opinion shapers, there is a duty of care upon knowledeable bloggers to say when a product doesn’t come up to snuff, and why. Our websites are not facebook pages, but repositories of information and opinion going back many years and are consulted regularly – so why shouldn’t we call out crap when it exists? It detracts from our street cred if we don’t, is what I’m thinking.

Thirdly, there’s the matter of comparability.  When there is a large data set of products about which nothing but good things are written, then there is no balance.  People have to know what is disliked (and why) so they can evaluate the stuff a writer does appreciate (and why).  In other words, an understanding by the reader of the writer’s preferences – it’s not enough to ignore or leave out the stuff one don’t like and expecting the reader to understand why, and where else will one gain that comprehension except by reading a negative review?  This is not to say that I think anyone who disagrees with me is a fool (as Sir Scrotimus evidently does about anyone who disses his pet favourites) – I’m just pointing out that agreements and disagreements over any writer’s opinions exist, and given the wide and varying spread of preferences in the rumworld, one should take encomiums, even my own, with a pinch of salt, with the criticisms as a useful counterweight.  Far too many buyers do no boots-on-the-ground, rum-in-the-glass research of their own and simply go with somebody else’s opinion…and if that’s the case, that opinion had better be one that has at least a modicum of credibility.

Does a negative review have to be “bad in an important way”?  Not at all.  A bad rum is a bad rum, people pay money for it, whether five bucks or five hundred, and if we as writers don’t say so, the consumer is left with marketing hoopla, vague word of mouth, brief social media comments, and the click bait of ill-informed online journalists who know little about the subject they are writing about. One good example was the Downslope Distilling’s wine aged rum, where, when I did my research, I was appalled to find writers rhapsodizing about how it compared so well with top end Martinique rhums. I can only wonder how many bought the rum on that basis, and how many switched off rums immediately afterwards. Robert Parker, in his essay on “The Role of a Wine critic” stated that as far as he was concerned, good wines should be singled out for praise, and bad ones made to account for their mediocrity.  I feel the same way about rums, whether made by old and proud houses which have been in existence for centuries, or by new outfits who’re trying to break into the business with small batch production. That’s why I wrote a negative about Doorley’s XO and a positive about the FourSquare 2006, and can stand by each.

Also, who defines what “bad in a big way” is?  What is important and big to me is less important and much smaller to Joe Harilall down the street, or even a different reviewer.  Is it taste, additives, design, mouthfeel, price, availability, overinflated marketing? For instance, some love the Millonario XO for the very same sweetness others so passionately hate, so what one considers a catastrophe may to others (or me), be inconsequential.  To attempt to stratify negativity into stuff that matters and stuff that doesn’t is to attempt to rate what’s important to the larger public; and I lack that kind of omniscience, or arrogance.  Better to lay it all out in the open, present the facts, justify the opinion, express the annoyance, and let the inquiring reader or buyer or taster make up their own minds.  To me, that goes as much for a cheap ten dollar spiced rum as it does to a thirty year old rum costing two hundred.

The argument was made to me some years back that I should not embarrass or shoot down small producers who are now starting out, who need good word of mouth and positive feedback in order to grow and improve over time.  They are, after all, employing people, paying taxes and “doing their best, while you, buddy, what the hell are you doing?” We should support them by buying their rums and providing cash flow which they will use to create better products over time. This line of reasoning is fallacious on several levels.  One, it’s my damned money, sweated for, hard earned; purchasing and then giving a pass mark to a substandard product is encouraging the maker to continue making the same product, since it’s clear nothing is wrong with it – so where exactly is the incentive to change coming from? Second, it’s a straightforward conflict of interest, because then I would be supporting not the consumer (on whose behalf I write, given I’m one myself), but the producer with what amounts to free and fake advertising. Thirdly, people aren’t fools and never more so than now where social media allows them to communicate dissatisfaction faster than ever before – my credibility would be shot to hell were I to say, for example, that Don Papa is one of the best rums ever made. Lastly, I think every producer has an obligation of their own not to rest on their laurels or produce low level crap that passes muster among the less-knowledgeable, but to go for the brass ring: if they tart up a neutral spirit with additives up to the rafters and try to sell it as a premium product for a high price, why on earth would I want to be a party to that? Or if they are really a small outfit and are making a poor-quality rum, why would I want to be less than honest and tell them where they are failing, when that’s the very impetus that might make them try harder, do better, push the envelope?

So, for laser-focused sites concentrating on a very small portion of their market like Hodinkee does, their editorial policy of writing only about good stuff can perhaps be justified.  From mine, where all rums in the world are the reviewing base (though they’ll never all be tried, alas), it’s simply untenable because I do my best to try everything that crosses my path.  I write about any and all of them.  And that means taking the good with the bad, the high end and the low end — in fact, I actively search out the younger and cheaper stuff (which is not always the same thing as “bad”) just to ensure I don’t get too caught up with the old and pricey stuff (which is not always the same thing as “good”).

It’s a personal belief of mine that the past decade of amazing, thoughtful writing by so many bloggers has engendered a relationship between the Writers and the Readers based on some level of trust. Therefore I contend that writing a negative review of a rum on which I spend my money, and one day, you might spend yours, is not lazy journalism or a fun way to let off some steam and bile with witty and eviscerating language, but an important aspect of the overall business of critical thinking and writing abut rums — and maintaining that trust.  My own feeling about duty of care towards the audience for which I write may be in a minority, but that feeling is rooted in a desire to provide the best information and opinion possible to an increasingly educated and curious public.  As such, I honestly don’t think that a negative review, in any form, if supported by the weight of evidence and clearly-expressed thought, should ever be considered as something to avoid.


Note: In this opinion piece I am merely expressing my reasoning in support of the thesis that published takedowns of poor quality product serve a useful purpose.  No negative connotation towards any of my fellow rum bloggers is meant or implied.


 

Oct 102016
 

zz-back-soon

October 10th, 2016

Last post before bailing tomorrow morning. Direct flight to Frankfurt and then ICE train to Berlin.  Yes, I could fly but, like Sheldon Cooper, I love trains.  More space, bigger windows, better view, less common, no airport hassles.  I’ve been moving through international airports since I was a kid in the early 1970s and the changes are not all for the better – they’ve become impersonal and overcrowded zoos without a decent bar in sight.  Nothing to do with rums, just thought I’d mention it.

Grandma Caner has all in readiness. Sample bottles check, tasting glasses check, Fest tickets, check, transport cards are a roger.  Pens, notebook, backpack, laptop, cameras, maps, addresses, everything from that perspective is a go.  She has no internet access in her place, so I’m sorry to report that updates will cease until I can find both the sobriety and a wired cafe somewhere, to let you know how things went.

Not sure I mentioned this but the ‘Caner AfterParty will have around eighty rums in it. About half of those are from last year which the boys did not get a chance to sample or share.  The other half are all new, ordered online or passed on by friends who wanted to share, didn’t like them, or just wanted to apprise me of something unusual and hopefully original.  A few are samples, some are purchases, and there’s a couple that are outright thefts.  Did I mention the Caputo 1973 from the Heisenberg distillery? No?  Better not, then. Forget I brought it up.

You’ll forgive me for being so childishly enthusiastic about all this, but if you’re stuck in DryLand for months at a stretch and can’t regularly taste the Liquid Candy of the Lord, well, I think you’d be pretty peppy yourself at the thought of meeting friends, tasting the hooch and wandering around with the beautiful Mrs. Caner next to you, not a respectful three steps behind. And (gasp!) being able to hold her hand, look into her eyes, and maybe steal a kiss in public.

See you all soon, and wish me a good trip and a great experience.

Oct 072016
 

Part 4October 7th 2016

Got sidetracked last time.  So…who’s exhibiting this time around?  Velier is still a miss (I think they lack a distributor in Germany or something).  JM…J. Bally…Real McCoy…RumFire….By the Dutch and their arrack; there’s an amusingly named new one from Mauritius called Lazy Dodo, along with Gold of Mauritius; I think all the old stalwarts are likely to be there, including Mount Gay and Rum Nation and the Compagnie. Plus the Dominican Republic and the Panamanians. I really have to take a look at the Origines series. I intend to see what the fuss about Don Papa is about.

It’s hard to make a list of the booths I want to visit, when the website shows so few of them…so far.  A day or two later more exhibitors will likely show up than are listed…Rum Nation and the Compagnie both just wrote to tell me they’ll be there, as will Nine Leaves and some others I know from past visits.

I’m specifically looking for the obscure this time around.  Small distilleries, small companies, new independent bottlers.  Delicana and Severin Simon made no great splash in the world since I first ran into them in 2014, yet it was good to go off the beaten track a bit, away from more common fare (even if no-one reads the reviews).  And cachacas, always need more of those.  They’re a niche market of a niche market, one might say, yet, like with Tanduay and Old Monk, in their own part of the world they are well nigh unbeatable on sales (not necessarily quality), so why aren’t more people trying to write about them?

FInalized the AfterParty attendance, Grandma Caner is arranging glasses, itinerary is set, and Mrs. Caner has started sleuthing out sales and mapping shopping areas with potential. Little Caner is dreaming of a week off school. I’m dreaming of rums and hoping I can taste ‘em all.

Oct 052016
 
spirits-business

graphic (c) thespiritsbusiness.com

October 4th, 2016

Was tempted to apply to be one of the judges, then changed my mind.  Last year I spoke to one of them after he came tottering out of the tasting room, listing sharply to port like a sailor doing a hornpipe, crossed eyes dull and glazed (well…I exaggerate a little), and he remarked rather incoherently that perhaps tasting 60 or more rums in two days was a tad excessive.

Matt Pietrek wrote about his judging experiences in Miami and what that was like, and re-reading his article makes me say to myself, “Better skip the idea.”  I can’t taste that fast, I don’t want to taste that fast, and the pleasant ritual of leisurely going through ten rums (max) a day, cross checking, cross tasting, bringing up a reference rhum from the stash to compare, doing it all over many hours with no hurry, is much more my style. I usually complain and whine about my mother’s place not having internet access (or a TV), but there’s no question that the lack of distraction does focus the mind on the task at hand quite handsomely.

This has nothing to do with me judging, but I feel that until every single festival in the world adheres to the same classification criteria for rums that vie for an award, the medals are valueless because they are not comparable.  Since the same rums are never in competition in all festivals, what good is it to say a 4 year old agricole wins its spot in Festival A (under “Agricoles less than five years old” category), when it can only be entered in Festival B in the category of “agricoles between four and eight years”? (I’m stretching the point for effect, but you see the problem).  

I started an essay on the subject last year but it’s still a work in progress since I have no better solutions of my own to offer aside from standardizing, and look how well that’s gone over with classifying rum to begin with. And then the Cocktail Wonk goes this morning and does a better job. His essay on classification is really worth a read.

Oct 032016
 
exhibitors

All logos taken from RumFest-Berlin.com

***

October 3rd 2016

Spending some time perusing the Berlin Rum Fest website for distributors in 2016. I never get to see them all, and the last two years I’ve passed over Havana Club and Mount Gay and Pancho’s Panamanian stuff (it’s always too crowded around there).  The Jamaicans – Worthy Park and Hampden – are coming on strong and gaining a lot of street cred. Maybe I should try those.  Benoit is doing an agricole session, that looks to be something I could do.  There are two “rarities” sessions for an extra €90 (each) on both Saturday and Sunday, but looking at the sample set, I don’t think it’s worth it for me – tried too may already over the years. I’m a damned snob sometimes, sorry. I’d recommend it to others, though, without hesitation, if you want to know how rums from Ago taste like and have the cash.

I want to say hello to colleagues in the rumworld from the Producer’s side…Yoshi from Nine Leaves, Bert Ostermann from Delicana (wonder what Brazilian craziness he has this year?), Florent from CDI (think he might bring the Danish series of fullprooofs with him?…we can hope), perhaps Simon Warren from St. Nick’s – if he has the 18 year old around this year, try keeping me away from that.  Maybe I’ll make some new acquaintances…I hope Daniel from Ekte will be there, heard good things about his juice.  Same with Christian Nagel of Our Rum and Spirits. It’s always a fluid set of people at these things, old ones not coming and new ones popping up. Oh, and I should say hello and introduce myself to Dirk Becker, the owner of the Rum Depot, which has put up this fest for the sixth year in a row. Maybe not – I don’t do much self-promotion which is why I’ll be poor all my life. It’s a personal opinion of mine that if you have to announce “I am this-or-that High Muckety Muck King Turd of Stink Hill” in order to gain respect, you’ve already lost. It’s like being the mouse that roared, y’know?

Mrs. Caner and I (or just me) usually walk around by ourselves and I’m more or less unrecognizable in my low-class tatty peasant attire, and I’ve never done the grand “I’m the Caner” spiel, as if that means something.  Two years and a hundred rums ago, Rob Burr didn’t give me a second look, which was great.

Still, I’m not sure how long my “I’m jes’ plain ole folks” act will work before my face is known and anonymity is a thing of the past. When that happens, I can just see the distributors scatter in horror for the exits — “Hide the shite rum! The friggin’ Caner just walked in!” Or (and I like this one more) — “Oh my God, is that Mrs. Caner?! Quick, polish the bottles, clean the booth, make space for the lady.  Pour a shot of the good stuff. And somebody get her a sandwich!

Sep 302016
 
2015-selection

The selection from last year….

September 30th, 2016

Having settled the masterclasses and being in a lull right now, it’s time to start making serious arrangements for the so-called Caner AfterParty.  This is just a get-together of a few rum chums, people I correspond with and am happy to call friends – though admittedly, friends or not, they would stampede through a wall and over my spine if they knew I had a Velier Caputo 1973 in stock, and ensure they got their sample before I even cracked the only bottle in existence.

The list of friends has to remain small, because the place is quite tiny, and my experience with the Liquorature crew suggests that any group of more than seven people harbours the danger of side conversations derailing our discussions (and tastings).  So far I know that the Danish contingent will come for sure; the agricole boyos are a maybe; one Italian might make it and there’s a German or three in the offing; too bad none of the Brits are coming but they have their own party a week later so that’s understandable.  The Fair Lady of Sweden has to be checked with (later she tells me that alas, she can’t make Berlin this year). Others have already said no for timing reasons. I love modern social media.  There is no way I could get in touch with these people all at once back in the day, short of writing a telegram. Now it’s a matter of minutes.

Reviewing the list of rums (not samples, but real bottles) is daunting.  Have I really bought this much?  I cast a guilty look around, but Mrs. Caner is busy looking around the Louis Vuitton website for (you guessed it) more purses.  But it’s a great selection (rums, not purses) — it’s from all over the world, from unaged bathtub white lightning to 1970s era cask strength mastodons (and I have no idea what the Chums are bringing).  Martinique, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Japan….Nothing quite as impressive as last year when I had the Black Tot and Chantal Comte rums, plus Trois Rivieres, Veliers, Bristol Spirits and so many others, but I’m not complaining this year either – even among all the good stuff, I have something special waiting for them.  I just shudder at the effort that will be required to schlepp them all out of the basement, and up four flights of stairs.  And glassware, need to get that organized too. I’ll get Oma Caner cracking on that, she helped out big time last year (and was generous with her sampling too which is why some of my bottles are suspiciously low right now).

Sep 292016
 

masterclass-002September 23rd, 2016

The Berlin Rumfest list of master classes is out.  Looks like they listened to some of the complaints from last and prior years. Previously, attendance to masterclasses could only be registered (for free) on the day of the fest itself. This created a long lineup every year, right by the entrance, and – not unnaturally – a lot of people who sauntered in late were s.o.l. because the early birds got all the seats.  I doubt that the issue will ever go away entirely because certain presenters will always be sought after (like Richard Seale, for example; and if Luca was to ever show up, prepare for a rock-star level riot in the aisles) and therefore there will sometimes be more interest than available places.

However, on this occasion 50% of the seats will be sold online for €5 each, while the other 50% will still be available at the door for nothing.  Since I’m a firm believer that one of the purposes of money (if and when you have it) is to buy back one’s time (which otherwise would be wastefully spent standing too damned long in a line waiting for a freebie or a sale, or squeezing into a cheap airline seat at risk to both blood pressure and patience), I decide to take the hit and shrug it off as the price of my peace of mind. And given the legendary bad tempers of the Caner Clan (or so the sweet and demure Mrs. Caner says) that’s probably a wise investment on my part.

The question is, which ones? Here’s the list in no order: the full listing by day can be found on the ‘Fest website

  • The two “Rarities” tastings which I’ve already decided (not without some regrets) to skip
  • Nine Leaves with Yoshiharu Tkeuchi
  • The Real McCoy with Bailey Pryor
  • Santa Teresa & Soleras with master ronero Nestor Ortega
  • “How to taste like a professional” and “Rum Versus Whisky” run by Bernhard Schäfer
  • Don Q with Roberto Serrallés
  • Tres Hombres with Andres Lackner
  • Rhum Agricole “The Other Style” with Benoît Baile
  • Rums of Venezuela
  • Ron Origines with Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez
  • Ron Botucal with Gilberto Briceno
  • The Art of Artisan Rum production in Europe with Santi Bronchales
  • Ron Brugal with Tanja Bempreiksz
  • Rum’s Place in the spirit’s World with Richard Seale
  • Five “rum and cigars” pairing sessions over the two days

Well, there’s no question but that I have to go to Seale’s session, and with my current interest in agricoles, missing Benoît’s makes no sense. I have detailed notes and unpublished essays on Aldea rums, so Bronchales’s class tickles my fancy. I’ve written a bio on Nine Leaves and always say hello to Yoshi-san whenever I see him, and will be content with that. Rums of Venezuela and the Origines and Botucal classes are tougher to decide on.  I’ll think about those. Actually, I’ll buy the ones I want and make up my mind about the others when I walk in — and that includes the Rarities, which I cannot entirely dismiss; and that, my friends, is how I get snookered into buying some very expensive rums indeed, from time to time.

Sep 272016
 

minionSeptember 19th, 2016

Damn but I’m busy.  People keep quitting at my office and their work comes to me.  And I have to plan my Berlin visit in somewhat more detail. Where do I find the time?

Bottle pictures are often an overlooked aspect of the review, and I take all my own. My cameras are strewn over the floor as I decide which lenses to take with which camera body.  Finally settle on my small and trusty D7000, ‘cause it has its own flash and the D3S is too heavy. 50mm 1.4 lens. I’m looking with longing at the 105mm 2.0 Defocus Control lens which provides amazingly creamy soft bokeh, then regretfully put it aside.  Charger. Memory cards.  Little Caner is right next to me, he’s taking his rig as well, because he wants to take some night shots in the city. “No, you can’t come to the RumFest and take bottle shots” I tell him, but he’s cool with that since he prefers street photography himself, and thinks my hobby is utterly stupid. (“Why would you enjoy something where the object of your interest disappears over time?” is his not-illogical question. Can’t fool that boy.)

Mrs. Caner wanders over. She could care less what I bring, since I’m going to have to carry it, not her, and she has other self-imposed duties at the Fest.  She’s the self-annointed, self-appointed Producer, you see.  She directs me to each booth in turn — “You haven’t tried any of those yet, dolt,” she’s fond of saying to me, and gives sharp and crisp orders to exhibitors when I talk to them and do the sampling, notes and photos. “Move aside, you’re in the frame!” “No not that bottle, a full one.” “You there, please give the man some space!” “Why are your bottles dusty? Why is this place such a mess?” “Your tie is crooked, here, let me fix it.” “I want to try that rum too, please, why is he the only one who gets any?” There’s some Guyanese in that woman somewhere, honestly. Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation, who’s met her twice now, always treats her with wide-eyed nervousness, trembles a little, and makes sure she gets some chocolates as soon as we appear.

Being a Somebody now cuts me exactly zero slack, mind you…I’m not exempt in the slightest: “You speak German, take me to the sandwich counter and get me two. Quickly now, there’s more rums to try.”  She’s gentle like that.  Somehow I’m absolutely convinced a Prada purse is her price for helping me out, since I bought a Chantal Comte rum last year with funds she had privately earmarked for it.  She maintains a studied indifference to my press credentials, just to ensure I don’t get too full of myself.

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