(First posted on Liquorature, February 2010)
Are we all a bunch of elitist wannabe snobs?
I occasionally think we are. We can be as snooty as a veteran somelier at the Ritz watching a Hawaiian-shirted redneck walk in, and I say that because it ocurred to me the other day that while we — I!! — pay lip service to the “lesser rums” whose age is measured in single digits (or none at all, as if the maker were too ashamed to say how young the product is), the truth is that we all have a predilection for the older stuff. I confess that sometimes merely the price will get me to take a second look. Just look at the reviews that are up: 12 year, 18 year, 21 year, 25 year. Of the eleven rum reviews that are up right now, only three are of rums less than ten years old, and the Bruichladdich is a marginal call, since it is a limited edition of a very good rum indeed (and its price reflected that).
And yet, that’s unfair. The masses of the unwashed riff-raff and the hordes of the illiterate peasantry such as I, for many years drank nothing but the low-end stuff (and if you doubt me, just look at my nostalgic review of the XM5). We probably know the older stuff is so good precisely because we drank so much backwoods moonshine and low-class hooch in our disreputable and best-forgotten pasts, and therefore appreciate the good rums more by way of simple comparison.
But I don’t mind admitting this: in my pantry reposes, unashamed, a bottle — actually, a massive friggin’ jug — of the regular Appleton 5 year old (at least, I assume it’s a five…I’m not precisely sure) and when I drink on my own or with The Bear, I don’t bring out the velvet smoking jacket, light the candles and call for my hound while the faithful wife lights the fire and brings the slippers; neither do I trot out the expensive vintage, the cigars, mineral water and fancy glasses to taste the good stuff. I just sit my tail down in a pair of mouldy shorts that have seen better days, have a bowl of ice nearby (a bowl’ice in the vernacular) to take a handful from now and then, scratch my behind, and have a damned drink. If the Bear is boozing along, then we simply have a drink together, and not having the pressure to review something top of the line frees us up to actually talk.
My point being that these rums of unstellar vintage and uncertain provenance, are often the ones we turn to when we’re not being overly snooty and revert back to our more proletarian roots, or when we have forty people descending on our houses to imbibe (and we lock up the silverware next to the rarer vintages to prevent pilferage). And more, on occasion these unprepossessing rums surprise, delight and wow us with their quality – the English Harbour 5-year immediately springs to mind.
I think I’ll therefore make it a point to go lowball and make a concerted effort to write reviews of the rums that crowd the shelves of Sobey’s and the backgrounds of us cheapos — and indeed, may even be better known than the high-falutin’ exclusive multi-decade and multi-dollar ambrosias which fill so many of the rum pages on the web. This has nothing to do with economics – this post is being written, after all, by a moron who blew two hundred bucks on a single bottle of rum once – but because I truly believe that not only is it interesting to see how the various blends and ages get more rarefied up the scale, but we develop a better palate for the good stuff when we drink more crap.
Being who I am, I must also confess that it’s a hell of a lot more fun to write about something bad than it is to be effusive about something good. To write about a superlative piece of craft requires no particular talent – everyone knows it’s good and you can’t add much to that. But to vent one’s spleen on a liquid turd that you swear you’ll never touch again, and explain it in flowery prose…well now, that takes skill.