Mar 272018
 


Both of my eagle-eyed Constant Readers probably observed that I skipped the 400th review essay last year: I brought the 60+ Rumaniacs reviews into the numbering and so jumped right past it, but in any case, 500 seemed like a better number to be going on with.  Am I happy to reach this milestone? Oh yes. But that I have done so is a testament less to my own efforts, than those of readers, commentators and friends who continually provide encouragement and advice (and lots of corrections and criticisms). Even Mrs. Caner graces my work with an occasional nod of distant approbation in a “don’t let this get to your head, buddy” kind of way (which from her is a raving declaration of love) while suggesting I pass the glass so she can try the latest juice as well. And the 13-going-on-30, far-too-clever, hyper-intelligent Little Caner is now beginning to get curious about the whole thing himself, and tags along where he can, lending his nose if allowed. So that’s kind of cool too.

Still, if I had to do a pitch as to why I started and continue to run a free site, which costs me a lot in terms of both time and money, I’d be hard pressed to give you an answer that isn’t seen as either specious or self-serving bullsh*t. Certainly it provides no income, and I’ve taken a fair bit of flak in social media for some of my opinions, so what’s keeping things going?

Part of it is habit.  It’s a pleasant routine that I’ve fallen into, and I enjoy the writing, the tasting, the constant surprises and informational rabbit holes that any deep interest constantly reveals.  I like the people (on all sides of the divide), the honest curiosity of new entrants to the field. I like the fact that even such a niche interest makes me think and consider my opinions carefully, and enriches my store of knowledge. I like the whole forward-looking nature of the enterprise…it’s like I never get to the bottom of the rum glass, there’s always something new and different and obscure to research or find out or enjoy.

Any plans for the future, over and beyond what’s already being done?  Nothing grandiose. Cachacas are getting a bigger slice of my attention (still quite a few to write about), and I want to spend some time researching and writing about rums from Africa and Asia.  Expanding the Makers lineup continues to be a work in progress, and for sure I intend to acquire and re-taste a number of rums in my mental list of the Key Rums of the World (the effort is not stalled, by the way, just requires samples which are not with me right now).  Some general non-fiction essays are in my mind, informational reference pieces of the sort Matt Pietrek and Josh Miller do better and more often than I do. All this keeps me interested and motivated and eager to go over the next hill and see that odd new distillery on the other side.  Which I’ll continue to do as long as the purse holds out and Mrs. Caner concurs.

Over the years, a few of my friends interested in getting into the writing game told me that when the sheer bulk of work is considered, the established “names” out there who get the lion’s share of the attention, the long term nature of it…well, they’re a little intimidated and it reduces their motivation.  And that’s a fair comment – when I started posting in January 2010 after months of personal writing, the blogging and review landscape was quite small, so the carving out of a personal niche was somewhat easier to do. But I tell them all to not worry about it — just begin. It’s for you, right? You’ve been on FB for four-plus years already, haven’t you? Think what could have been accomplished had you started then. All it needs is one small review at a time, month in and month out, never stop, do it because you like it, be as unkillable as a cockroach and just keep plugging away.  That’s what I did, and still do now, and here we are. At 500.

 


As always, some observations on the state of the rum world…

The Additives Issue

If we think the whole business of additives is going away, we should think again.  Oh sure, it’s been written to death and I think the public awareness is there now, in a way it was not five years back. But any time some new rum aficionado starts talking on FB about how she or he liked the Kraken, Pyrat’s, Don Papa et al, there is no shortage of vociferous responses that take umbrage and it starts all up again.  Personally, I don’t and never will believe undisclosed additives are a good thing (and I’ll say that until they plant me), but I also feel that too often the so-called “dude, let me tell you what you’re *really* drinking” conversation degenerates into a sort of genteel elitist superciliousness that puts the blame in the wrong corner – that of the consumer, not the producers; and ignores the fact that many people (even those who know their rums) sometimes simply prefer a sweet mishmash of sugar laden crap.  

On the other hand, from the producers side, two small label changes give me hope – Pyrat’s stopped calling itself a rum and the Kraken now clearly says it has sugar and is a spiced rum.  Maybe the fierce debates on Facebook have created this awareness on the part of those who make rums, but even with this light through the clouds, Wes’s and Richard’s observations remain on point – it’s not enough, the matter should never be dropped, and people should always be asking the hard questions, whenever they buy and at all the festivals. Producers in particular should have the honesty to declare additives in their rums and Governments should make that a requirement through regulatory enforcement; and if consumers have any responsibility at all, it’s to educate themselves on the matter and vote with their wallets if they feel strongly enough one way or the other.

Websites

Several new sites I now visit on a fairly regular basis popped up over the last couple of years (on top of the old stalwarts). One of the best of these may be Single Cask Rum out of Germany (writing in English), which doesn’t do scoring but tastes flights almost every time to offer comparisons and insights. Another now-not-so-new reviewer I like a lot (he appeared up just after I posted the 300th review update) is RumShopBoy from the UK, and if you have not already gone over to Simon’s site to check out his work, trust me, it’s worth it (I particularly recommend his series on the St. Lucia 1931 rums, the El Dorado 15 YO “fancy finish” rums, and the more recent SMWS bottlings). Other sites that attract my attention are Quebec Rhum and  A la Découverte du Rhum and Le Blog a Roger (all in French), Rumtastic from the UK (he doesn’t assign scores), Rumlocker from the USA (some interesting commentaries and essays) and several other magazine format sites, all of which I‘ve linked to. I’ve also been twigged to a Japanese-language site called Sarichiiii, which somehow managed to compile a tasting roster of over 350 rums without making a ripple and I think it’s worth a look, though Google translate does make reading a chore, and navigation is tedious because of the large photos.

A corresponding (and somewhat depressing) trend over the last couple of years is the drying up of review sites particular to the North American scene (though the absence or slow decline of sites from other parts of the world is just as bad).  In its place I’ve noticed that micro reviews are now springing up, primarily on Facebook and Reddit, and this for me personally, is an incremental contribution to the field, but not one with which I’m particularly happy. Facebook posts get buried in a day unless there are comments and constant likes, Reddit isn’t far behind, and neither really create a body of reference work which sites like those of Wes, Steve, Marco, Matt, Josh, Paul, Laurent, Cyril, Henrik, Dave and others, represent. There’s no background info on these micro-posts, no really well deliberated and expressed opinions (except by fleeting here-today-gone-tomorrow commentary by others), no understanding or sense of the evolution over time in the mind of the poster.  Just tasting notes, a score and that’s more or less it. Serge Valentin can get away with that kind of brevity, but not many others can. Few of these posts hold my attention, and none are ones I care to return to, the way I do for any of the websites run by the people noted above — because those writers provide information, not just data. So if a person can write a bunch of such mini-reviews, why not start a website? – it’s cheap and sometimes even free to do.

Lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that aside from Tiare (who doesn’t do rum reviews very often, to our detriment) and the Rum Wench out of Australia (now silent since May 2016), there are no female writers in our small club of whom I’m aware (I would like to be corrected on this if someone knows better), and really wish there were. And also, I live in hope that writers located in Africa and Asia begin to contribute to the body of knowledge we all share, since they’re the ones who know what’s going on in their backyard in a way western writers can’t match and don’t often try to.

Greater appreciation of white full proof rums

Remember that post about the 21 Great Whites?  Originally I had intended to stop at ten and thought this would be enough, but the list grew and grew and finally the brakes simply had to be applied before I hit fifty and lost my audience entirely.  But what that list and the response to it showed was that the release of the blanc rhums and clairins are no mere flash in the pan. Leaving aside filtered white mixing rums of no particular interest to me (I’m not a bartender or a cocktail guru, to whom such rums are almost like bread and butter staples), these rip snorting high-test white rums are young and often unaged, powerful tasty and of a quality out of all proportion to their age. Habitation Velier had quite a few of these, the clairins are still coming on strong, the French Islanders always had them, and perhaps now they are simply becoming better known and more appreciated than before.  I look forward to many more in the future.

The longform essay

As a lover of doorstopping histories, multi-kilo books, series in multiplicate and all forms of well-researched knowledge, how could I ignore the more frequent postings of long pieces exploring single topics? I’ve done a few of my own, Wes Burgin opined quite frequently, but for sheer consistency, Matt Pietrek of the Cocktail Wonk is the gold standard (he’s the opposite of WhiskyFun in his own way), together with Paul Senft of RumJourney, Cyril of DuRhum, and of course Josh Miller of Inu-a-Kena, who still doesn’t write enough and whose essay on the history of agricoles was one of my favourites of 2017.  Pieces I particularly liked since #300 are:

Flipping

Perhaps the most acknowledged and admired story in the last couple of years has been the emergence of Foursquare as a rum powerhouse, easily eclipsing Mount Gay, WIRD, El Dorado, Appleton and St Lucia Distilleries as the source of really good fullproof rum, turning what could have been a major impediment to growth (the strictures of Barbadian law regarding purity and additives) into a major selling point.  Intellectually partnering with Luca Gargano didn’t hurt either, of course.

But an unanticipated side effect of this success has been the explosion of flippers — speculators who buy as much of a new release as they can and then turn around and sell it on secondary markets (which are now a real feature on Facebook as well as eBay).  We first noted this when all of the 2006 10 Year Old disappeared from online shelves five minutes after becoming available and then turning up on eBay a day later at highly inflated prices.  So bad did this become that Richard Seale, in an impressive and direct effort at damage control, arranged for personal couriers all over the world to deliver bottles at standard prices to those who were fortunate enough to get one. To say I was astounded at a major primary producer taking on what must have been incredible personal inconvenience, would be to understate the matter.

The whole business of flippers strikes rum lovers as distasteful, since they do not regard rums as an investment but as something to treasure and enjoy, a social lubricant, a matter for scoring brownie points with friends when measuring their collections — and most buy rums for the sheer love of the spirit (believe me, they share generously too).  So to have them disappear and require sourcing at twice the price is seen as extortionate. This however obscures the fact that flippers have existed for years – I bought the Skeldon 1973 from one of them – and they will remain a fixture of the landscape, so unless marketing and sales distribution rules change, we may just have to suck it up if we can’t get the juice through regular channels.  That’s capitalism for you.

A further unanticipated – and perhaps more welcome – development following right along, is what I call micro flipping – the sale of samples online (so far I’ve only seen this on Facebook).  I believe this will likely become a major source of samples for curious people who are interested in checking out new rums, but not entirely willing to part with major money for all rums bottled for an entire line.  So certainly I see this as a better  situation than whole-bottle flipping, like that post about some joker buying six Principias the other day which had Steve James go practically nuclear. But perhaps it’s too early to see if this is a temporary thing, or something that will cause online and other stores to reconsider their marketing strategy.

Minor Statistics

Here are some stats for those who, like me, are into their numbers:

  • This site represents over five thousand man-hours utilized in buying, sourcing, talking, tasting, noting, writing, thinking, attending rumfests and other tastings, as well as paying attention to the larger rumworld on FB and website postings by others, responding to comments and emails. For a comparison, note that a working year (52 weeks of five 8-hour days and no vacation) is about 2000 hours annually.
  • An expense bill that’s long past five figures. That includes not only rum purchases, but books, postage, travel time and entrance fees. Because Mrs. Caner is probably reading this, you’ll forgive me if I don’t give you the precise number.
  • Almost half a million words when all essays, musings and meanderings are added to the reviews themselves.  For a numerical (but not literary quality) comparison, War and Peace has around 600,000, Gone with the Wind has a shade over 410,000
  • Post with the lifetime highest hits: the Velier biography beat out the previous #1, the Bacardi 151 (which slipped to #4) probably due to an updated reposting last year; #2 and #3 remain equally consistent and surprising – the Stroh 80 from Austria (not really a rum)  and the Cuban La Occidental Guayabita del Pinar (also a somewhat debatable spirit). The least read rum review ever remains the Canadian Momento, a mere handful of views after many years of being available. I have honestly given up wondering what drives a review to be popular.  Is it a hot-snot new bottle review, is it quality of language, rarity, age, style, FB caches not reporting visitors? Who knows? Maybe it’s just dumb luck.
  • Fastest climbing post ever was the divisive and somewhat controversial selection of the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva as one of the key rums of the world, followed by 9 Bajans and 21 Great whites and a biography of Renegade Rums. If nothing else, it shows that the interest in the diversity of rum and its background is in no danger of diminishing.

My list of rum discoveries and appreciated rums in between #300 and #500.  So as to keep this short I’ve just linked to the reviews and provided a small blurb for each. Not all are high scoring rums, but my appreciation for what they tried to do and accomplished remains undiminished, and the remain in my memory long after I wrote the review and moved on (which may be the perfect criterion to determine a good rum). In no order:

  • Rum Nation Small Batch Port Mourant 1995 21 Year Old
    • Yes, I like Port Mourant.  They’re all so rich, fruity, pungent, dark and all-round delicious. This one takes it up a level or two and is a worthy successor to the various twenty something year old Demeraras Rum Nation used to issue and which I also liked back in the day. This one is better, and not just because of its cask strength.
  • Foursquare (Velier) 2006 10 Year Old Barbados Rum
    • A simply amazing rum from Barbados. Absolutely gorgeous. I haven’t tasted the Principia or the newer Exceptionals, but they’ve got to be really damned good to beat what this rum does so casually, as if it was no bodderation at all.

 

  • L’Esprit Guadeloupe 1998 12 Year Old Rhum
    • L’Esprit is the little engine that could and may be one of the future collectors’ grails, if they continue this way.  This rhum from Bellevue operates on several levels at once, just about all of them firm and tasty.

 

  • Savanna HERR Millésime 2006 10 Year Old Rum
    • Brutal, sharp, ripe with bags of fruits and esters and happy to show every single one of them off at the same time. It takes some time to come to grips with it and identify all the stuff going on under the hood.

 

  • Savanna Lontan Grand Arôme Vieux 2004 12 Year Old
    • The HERR was a smorgasbord of everything Savanna could throw into a rhum: this one was softer, more muted, but no less complex. And I argue it’s even better because it just wants to showcase a proportion of its potential really well, rather than everything at once and dilute your focus

 

  • Bristol Spirits Jamaica 1974 30 Year Old Rum
    • Not as much funkiness as one might expect from a Jamaican.  It’s just dark, deep and rich, thick with mouth watering flavours, in spite of what at first sight might seem like a doubtful 43% ABV. A wonderful rum from Ago.

 

  • Velier Courcelles 1972 31 Year Old Rhum Vieux
    • The original Courcelles was magnificent, and this one is just as good.  Flavours come and go, and the complexity and overall balance were as good as what I remembered. Hard to get a hold of, of course – most of the older Veliers are, nowadays – but if you can, absolutely worth it.

 

 

 

  • Rum Nation Small Batch Jamaica 1986 30 Year Old
    • It’s probably been dosed, but this is one of those cases where the results still rise above that: this is one lovely Jamaican, bottled at a warm 48.7%, three special years’ rums from Longpond.

 

 

 

 

  • Toucan No. 4 Rum
    • A new rhum from French Guiana.  Simple, straightforward, mild at 40%, really well put together.  Does itself proud by not trying to be too much, or all things to all people.

 

  • Rum Fire “Velevet” Jamaican White Rum
    • Fierce, uncompromising, full-proof white rum bursting with esters and power from every pore. Flavourful and searing, and may be best for mixing, but trying it on its own is also quite an experience

 

  • Whisper Antigua Gold Rum
    • Just a sweet, humble little rumlet.  Doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, and is a nice starter spirit that does everything right in a low-key, unassuming manner. In fact, it’s grown in my estimation and tasting memories since I first tried it

 

Honourable mention has to go to the following who could just as easily have made this list

 


So, there we have it, a roundup of the rumworld and one reviewer’s place in it as best as I can summarize the situation. Most likely there’ll be another one at #750, if I last that long.  Probably, since I don’t see the exercise ceasing any time soon.  After all, it’s still fun, right?

In passing this personal milestone, I’d like to thank all the rum-loving people who come by here and read, whether agreeing with my assessments, writing style, opinions, verbosity, or not.  Gratitude also goes out to the many correspondents and commentators who engage in thoughtful, heated and passionate discourse on the many Big Questions, or even just one small one. And, of course, a big hat tip the producers – primary or independent – who keep upping the ante in terms of what they make and the way in which they make it, and provide a rich lode of material for us writers to mine and discuss with like-minded folks. It takes all of us together to make up the rumiverse.

All the best

The Lone Caner

Mar 062015
 

Part 5

Part 5 – Keeping things going

So let’s sum up the preceding four parts.[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4]

  1. Understand what you’re getting into, and why you’re doing it
  2. Go with a comfortable writing style that suits you
  3. Design a nice look to your site
  4. Know how to taste, score, note and write (and practice a lot)
  5. Know your rums and the larger world around them
  6. Sample around extensively (safely!!! I am not advocating rampant boozing)
  7. Be courteous
  8. Be consistent

If you’ve made it to fifty or more reviews, passed a year of writing, then it’s reasonable to assume this is no longer a mere hobby, but something a shade more serious.  Still, as time and rums pass by, interest flags and it’s perhaps no longer as much fun as it used to be…more like work. God, do I have to do another one of these? Been dere, dun dat.

The most common comments I hear from other bloggers, and often experienced myself, are these:

(a)    Site hits are too few and too fickle, showing massive variations

The more you write and the more you are active online, the more hits come your way.  Of course, this presupposes some level of quality in your work, and a network of contacts who recommend your site and people who share taste, and your way of expressing it. The CocktailWonk suggested finding one’s niche in an increasingly crowded writers’ market, which is a good idea – writing in a way, and about subjects, which no-one else is.

However, never underestimate the power of online “boosting” either. Now, if your perspective is one of “If I build it they will come” and you’re writing to speak of your experiences, your journey, without reference to how many others see what you’ve done…then letting your site sit there, idling gently, building word of mouth, is just as good as any other.

Online promotion is for people who can’t wait, are impatient to get visibility, and understand the hits multiplier that social networks enable. When you put something up, distribute and share on twitter, G+, post on the Rum forum on reddit, use Facebook to like and share, post to StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, Tumblr…these things can – in the short term at least – double and triple your site hits. The flip side is some people will inevitably see it as crass, whatever that means given the reputation of the drink we’re discussing.

(b)   Comments are few and far apart

Really, this is irrelevant. People comment when they feel like. You can certainly try to be controversial, write opinion pieces seeking engagement, create a forum for comments like the Ministry of Rum or the RumProject, be active on the FB fora, but here again, it simply takes time to get the volume.

(c)    The damn thing is too expensive

Good point.  It is pricey.  Go cheaper and build “review volume”, and remember this – you will never be able to taste them all, and there will always be an old monster you really wanted that will never be yours. At the forefront, keep in mind why you are here – if your goals have changed and this is not worth the cash, shutter the house and walk away. As a balm, I also refer you to my rather humorous take on affording your favourite tipple, which I name the “El Dorado Problem”, here.

(d)   It takes too much of my time

It can be done if you ration your time appropriately. And of course, if your commitment and persistence is there. Just for the record: I have a full time job in a foreign country; a family that has demands on my time; other interests and hobbies; a social life (such as it is); I’m studying for a professional accreditation; I’m learning another language.  I balance all this with my writing. If a lazy sod like me can do all this, there should be no reason why you can’t.

(e)   Bottles or samples acquisition sucks.  I’ve cleaned out all locals shops and bars

Create a sample-exchange network if you can (this suggests you have something someone wants and local postage laws permit it); interface with distilleries or brand reps; buy abroad and ship to yourself. Aggressive industry solicitation (“I’d like to review your products on my site…”) will work, and for sure, good relations with store owners is enormously useful – they often allow you to try heels for nothing, (like Dirk Becker’s store in Berlin, and Andrew Ferguson in Calgary always did for me, bless ‘em.)

(f)     People cannot be made to have an interest in rum no matter the effort

This is your job to fix. Consider yourself a rum ambassador.  Spread the gospel.  Those that don’t like rums are sadly misguided lambs in need of a shepherd to lead them to the cool green grass of the True Faith.

But all that aside, there are many ways to keep your interest from fading, and some of the things you can do at various times are:

1. Attend as many tastings or festivals as you can, and then write about them. Hell, run your own. At the very least you will meet people and get tasting notes for expensive rums you might not otherwise be able to afford or find.

2. Read the blogs from around the world; European ones often speak to rare and very old craft rums about which we can only dream.  Google translate does a decent job for those who are not multi-lingual, which is most of us.

3. Comment on others’ blogs (but really, do this if you have something to say, not just because you want to generate hits for yourself), join the Facebook page, start your own…make friends, even if only online.

4. Send and/or share samples on your own cognizance, of rums which you have that others might not. I’ve given away more than half of the Skeldon 1973, for example, and my PM 1980 is long gone down the gullets of the Liquorature Collective, including (to my utter delight) the Rum-despising Maltmonster and his Hippie acolyte.

5. Start a rum club of your own with like minded souls.

I’ve been doing this since 2009, and my interest is maintained by new rums, new friends, correspondents, festivals, and being part of something I feel is of worth.  I find that staying in touch generates reciprocal goodwill and increases my engagement with the larger community. And the writing, of course, keeps me busy too.  At the end, it comes down to you and what you are prepared  to do, and how seriously, or long term, you view the activity. Like any long term endeavour, you should love what you do, know what you’re about, take pride in it, and be professional.  Have a sense of humour about it all, and keep the wheels turning.   It can, with some effort, be a pastime or vocation that stretches into decades.

Hopefully these comments will give a sense of what it takes to remain that way.

***

Thanks and a big hat tip for helping me out with parts of, and background to, this essay go to:

  • Henrik Kristoffersen of RumCorner for massive investment of time and effort to comment and make this better. I stole some of his remarks.
  • TheFatRumPirate for portions of his starter-rum list
  • Josh Miller of Inuakena for a read through and encouragement.
  • All the online rum writers who over the years have candidly discussed their experiences with running a blog.
  • The Little ‘Caner, nine-year-old scion of Clan ‘Caner, who helped me with the cartoons, lent me his pencils (“Colour inside the lines, Dad!”); and the beautiful, long-suffering  Mrs. Caner, who loves me still, even if I spend too many evenings writing stuff like this.

 

 

 

Mar 052015
 

 

Part 4

 

Part 4 – Which rums to start with

In conceptual and generalized terms, this series has so far covered the startup philosophy, the website and postings, and added pointers on sampling and reviewing.  Today I move into more familiar territory.

I have a feeling quite a few people were waiting for this post.  Alas, no, this isn’t entirely what you thought it would be, because making such a list is a tricky, even controversial, subject to opinions varying as widely as the Pacific.

I’d suggest that you begin with what’s available to you easily and at a relatively low cost – those that open a new site not unnaturally tend to begin with what’s already in the cabinet, for example, and it seems that one really great rum is usually what kickstarts the inspiration process.  Now yes, this will relegate you to reviewing the old standby rums everyone knows about and which have been written on by many before you…but it also provides you with a solid base from which to start, good writing experience, and a sense of the their relative characteristics, one to the other. More, if you begin from the low end then you’ll appreciate better, older rums more as and when they cross your path – you have a good basis for comparison.  And you can calibrate better – by seeing what others have written on the same rum, you see what you may have missed (or what they have), and gain additional perspective and confidence. It helps even more with rare or limited editions that have no precedent: try finding reviews of the SMWS rum bottlings, for example…what on earth can they reasonably be compared to, if you have ‘em right off the bat?

What this is about then, is getting a firm grounding in the core rums of the world and what they taste like, and how they differ: El Dorado, Flor de Cana, Appleton, Mount Gay, FourSquare, Havana Club, Bacardi (yes, Bacardi), Clemente, Abuelo, Goslings, Diplomatico, Barbancourt, St. James, as well as standard mixers like Lamb’s, Meyer’s, Trader Vic’s, and so on (this listing is merely illustrative).  It also introduces you to the various styles upon which some place enormous emphasis – Demerara, Jamaican, Latin/Spanish/Cuban, Bajan, Agricoles and what have you (the FatRumPirate has a good section on his website devoted to this kind of stratification). If the subject and the act of reviewing is at all important to you, you kinda have to know this stuff. Rum 101, folks. You cannot be a reviewer with street cred, demanding respect, if you don’t have the basics down.

I thought long and hard before deciding against providing  detailed list of rums one could begin with because no matter how extensive, I’ll either leave something out, or include one that others disagree with; and have compromised by providing a list of companies making rums that are well known, mostly available, reasonably well-regarded (at least they’re not hated) and fairly representative.  It’s up to you to decide what your palate and your wallet can stand, and which ones in the value chain to get.

So, the rums made by the companies below are not a listing of rums with which to start your reviewing life, or a rum bar – although you could do worse –  simply ones that gives a reasonably broad base of styles and makes.  They therefore comprise a key component of a reviewer’s mental arsenal for evaluating rums. (Note I am deliberately leaving out specific rums from the eastern hemisphere, and independent bottlers. This is not to imply that they are somehow less, however.)

  • Bacardi (no matter what you think of them, they make decent rums)
  • Angostura (Trinidad)
  • El Dorado (Guyana)
  • Appleton (Jamaica)
  • Flor de Caña (Nicaragua)
  • Mount Gay (Barbados)
  • R.L.Seale / 4-Square (Barbados)
  • Havana Club (Cuba)
  • Matusalem (Dominican Republic)
  • Diplomatico (Venezuela)
  • Brugal, Barcelo and Bermudez (Dominican Republic)
  • Travellers (Belize)
  • Goslings (Bermuda)
  • Cockspur (Barbados)
  • Pusser’s (BVI)
  • Abuelo (Panama)
  • Agricoles – Barbancourt, St James, Neisson, HSE, Karukera, J. Bally, Clemente, Karukera, are examples…there are many others
  • Soleras like Zafra, Dictador, Zacapa, Santa Teresa
  • Spiced Rums like Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry’s, Kraken and so on
  • Overpoofs like the various 151 rums made by Appleton, Bacardi, Lemon Hart et al
  • Non Caribbean rums from anywhere (Australia, Thailand, India, Phillipines, Fiji, etc), even if they may not strictly be rums according to general accepted convention. The constant arguments of what constitutes a “true” rum is unlikely to be solved anytime soon, so you should also understand why the Phillipine Tanduay, Czech Tuzemak or Thai Mekhong raise the blood pressure of the puritans.

I tell all people asking me about what to begin with, to start the journey with one or two fantastic examples to show what rum can be, but then concentrate on writing initially about the low end of the market and work up. And I would strongly advise the prospective reviewer against going for, and writing about, the top end, oldest, most prestigious and/or most expensive rums right away, or those from independent bottlers who make rums that are often off the scale.  Even if you can afford them or your friends press them upon you, put them away for analysis and review later.  I know this sounds totally bat-bleep-crazy, but until you get your basics down and understand the rank and file of commercially available commonality, know your own tastes and how good sub-ten-year-olds can be, you will not be able to properly rate, appreciate or score a premium (or conversely, you may score it too enthusiastically).

Worse, it will colour all your perceptions of the good and commonly available rums forever, and this will be reflected in your writing. Buying top-end aged rums from their makers, or sourcing quality hooch from outfits like Rum Nation, Cadenhead, AD Rattray, Samaroli, Silver Seal or Velier and skipping entry-level grog altogether, is something of a one-way bridge; in comparison, more affordable and younger offerings will seem less, when in fact they really aren’t, just different, and are often good markers of their styles. From my own experience, I can freely admit that I should never have bought the Appleton 30 so quickly; or, much as I have always loved it, the English Harbour 1981.

Tomorrow – Keeping things going, and a wrap up

 

Mar 052015
 

Part 3

 

Part 3 – Sampling, and the review itself

In the first part of this series I discussed figuring out how to get your head around what to write, and followed that up in Part 2 with some general remarks on how to deal with your actual website postings. Today I continue in a similar vein about tasting, scoring and the conceptuals of a review.

***

When I taste I scribble my initial notes immediately; then I have to retaste, usually with other rums in play as controls or comparators, then score.  Then I have to turn the whole thing into a coherent essay, including research, background and photographs. The re-edits can sometimes take days. Then, and only then, do I post on this site.

Some pointers that work for me and which I’d recommend – the list is not entirely for more casual bloggers, but who’s to say what’s useful and what’s not? As always, find your own method with which you’re comfortable.

1. I’m not going to go in depth on how to nose and taste, hold the glass, dip your beak, etc.  The subject has been covered by many others before, and you’ll find a way that works for you. However, a good glass, not a tumbler, is recommended.  I used to needle my friend Curt of ATW about pinching his daughter’s Barbie glass collection, but there’s no question that a good tasting glass is part of a reviewer’s arsenal for really getting into a rum’s profile.  Sure you can use a whisky glass, plastic cup or tumbler, but remember: you’re a reviewer, not a backyard boozer gunnin’ ‘em down over the grill. It almost presupposes a slightly more structured approach to assessing a spirit.

2. Train yourself to know how to identify what you are tasting and smelling. (Practice in the kitchen, on the spouse’s spices, in open air markets, anywhere there’s a plethora of aromas to tease out of the air).  Pay attention to your nose, because that’s where most of the taste comes from.

3. Sample blind if you can, and in conjunction with other rums that are your personal baselines for the type.  In other words, have three or four glasses in front of you, but with different rums in them, including the current subject, and sample them together  without knowing which is which. The point is to be as democratic and unbiased as possible. I usually ensure that the comparators – all previously reviewed and scored – are of similar styles, or ages. Because the first time you try a really top-tier highly-aged rum costing upwards of two hundred bucks, your enthusiasm can really cloud your judgement, and you may be tempted to give it a free pass just because it is what it is, if no controls are in place to temper your exuberance.

4. Do the occasional vertical tasting of an entire distillery’s line, if you can get them (and afford them); or try horizontally, as with taking five ten year olds and run them past each other.  You don’t necessarily have to write about it – it does increase your experience and relative understanding, though, and there’s nothing at all bad about that.

5. Have or develop a taste memory for rums of similar types and your scoring for them, so you can assess the current sample against such previous reviews.  (Henrik from Denmark told me that he has a mental map of a control group of rums which he knows extremely well, and he uses those as reference points to do his scoring).

6. Learn and practice how to write quick notes (this works well in a public environment like shops or festivals, or perhaps your friends’ pads), and how to score on the fly, even if a little potted (be comforted, it gets easier).

7. Every review should have, at a minimum, a description of the rum (name, type, age if known, country of origin, producing outfit, and proofage); words relating to colour, possibly viscosity (“legs”); nose, taste (with and without water added) and finish.  Anything after that is an optional extra – stuff such as if it has been added to, filtered, how it makes a cocktail, company bio, what other rums it reminded you of; comparisons, price, source (pot still, column still, cane juice, molasses) and so on.

8. As noted before, whether you write in clipped sentences, brief notes, stream-of-consciousness or lengthy prose is up to you.

9. Have a score sheet. This would list the things you feel need to be evaluated: nose, taste and finish are the three most common.  Some add (and score) presentation, balance and/or overall enjoyment.  (My sheet has additional space for comments and the notes on the actuality of what I’m sampling…as well as what I’m thinking while I do it. Every now and then I go back through my old notes, but I’m odd that way).

10.   Score appropriately and consistently. Scoring is always an issue – many use a system which starts at fifty and goes to a hundred; others use a four star, or five-bottle or ten point system.  Mind, I started with the naive idea I could avoid scoring altogether and let the narrative speak for the product.  Yeah…but no. It’s really not a good idea to leave scores out. Sometimes that’s all people come to a review to see.

11. Jot down key words that occur as you try the latest subject.  Try and isolate specific aromas and tastes, the way it feels on the tongue, or when you slug it down.  How it changes as it sits for a while, after you add water, or an ice cube. Feel free to be as metaphoric as you wish – language should be pushed around a bit. Good writing in reviews is, I think, an undervalued art form, no matter how some people complain about excessive verbiage. (It’s also a personal belief of mine, unshared by many, that a review should say something about the author and his/her perspective on life, even express a philosophy, which is why I write the way I do).

The easiest reviews to write, the ones that just flow without seeming effort, are the ones you are most enthused about, whether for superlative rums or really bad ones.  This is because both your emotions and intellect are engaged and this makes for a better writing experience.  I’ve always found the hardest reviews to be the ones that relate a rum that is mid range…nothing special.  Only practice can take you beyond that hump, because most rums will indeed fall into this section of the bell-curve.

12. Do not be afraid to call a dog when you find one. Tasting is a subjective thing, true. You tend to get a sense for the good or great rums, and as time goes on your personal palate will likely bend you to one profile more than others, something which should also be noted up front (I have a thing for Demeraras and higher-proofed rums, for example, and the RumProject has made no secret of its utter conviction that un-messed-with rums that are in the mid-age sweet-spot range are the only ones anyone should be drinking). But you will find bad ones too.  We all do.

When you’re reviewing something from a new outfit you really want to succeed, tasting a rum about which everyone else in the blogosphere spouts ecstatic hosannas and encomiums; when you’re writing about some aged and rare and expensive dream-rum, even a so-called “exemplar of the style” — then if you disagree and dislike it, it absolutely does not means that you have to go with the flow, or even waffle around with weasel-words.

If you can take the time to describe why you love a rum, then the opposite holds true as well; you show respect to both the consumers and the makers when you can clearly explain why you think some well-advertised, supposedly well-made product, isn’t what it claims to be. Do not do the humble, self-deprecating cop-out of stating a dislike for a rum with the short comment about this being nothing more than an opinion, and “I’m-an-amateur-and-I-write-for-amateurs” – as if this somehow says all there needs to be said; if you have an opinion for good or ill, you must be able to argue your case.  An uninformed opinion is worthless, and people who do more than just look at scores do actually want to know why you feel this way).

Last note:

For four different styles of writing, compare the brutally minimalist ethic of Serge Valentin on WhiskyFun; the informative memoranda of Dave Russell on RumGallery; the utterly consistent verbiage and brevity of the RumHowler; and Barrel Aged Mind’s Deep Field of research. There’s a niche for everyone, depending on style. No one way will ever be correct, or please everyone.

Tomorrow: Which rums to start with

Mar 042015
 

Part 2

Part 2 – The Website, writing and your postings

Yesterday I wrote about getting the mental philosophy of what you’re doing straight, sort of like getting your battle preparations right. In this part, I speak to your website, your writing and the attitude towards interacting with the world.

In no particular order of importance, then:

1. Hardly needs to be said, but design your website for the long term, and organize your space neatly.  This is one of those elementary things that is often and surprisingly overlooked. Maximize useful space at the left and right with widgets, links, categories or what have you. Trust me, it’s hard to do this when you have a hundred posts or pages that need to be reorganized. And think about it – as a reader, don’t you want to easily locate the information you’re after?

2. Modern media influences content: I write for large screens, not ipods. If you think your target audience is the latter, shorter, crisper reviews are more likely your thing. My friend Henrik remarked to me “Consider using a platform that supplies smartphone or tablet apps for better mobile experiences.  That is the sole reason I chose Blogspot, which has an app that reformats the writing for mobile screens.”

3. Font should be large enough to be readable immediately, and pleasing to the eye (at the very least your own, since it’s yours). The same goes for color schemes, graphics overlays, backgrounds, and so on. Try not to put yourself in a situation where your site layout becomes a nuisance. That will just piss off or scare off readers, or, worse, makes your site seem unserious. On the other hand, be reasonable about it too, since you cannot possibly please everyone (this site was once impatiently accused of being “too busy”, for example).

4. If you must have ads on your site, keep them low-key and discreet. Speaking purely for myself, I don’t often visit “noisy” sites that have pop ups, graphics, gifs all over the place. They dilute my focus and detract from what I want to know, which is the rum itself..

5. Have more than just two or three reviews to start with.  A site populated with many reviews will be more interesting than  just a few.  I had twenty to start, and added three a week for the first few months through a blizzard of writing. Even this, in my rearview-mirror opinion, was too little. However, if you are just doing this to chronicle a personal journey and add notes and reviews and remarks as you experience them, then of course a more meandering path with less quantity is perfectly okay. Alternatively, go live with what you have but don’t advertise it, and get feedback from trusted sources, correct your inconsistencies and adjust as required.

6. Take decent pictures of the products you review.  Seriously, poor photography palls my overall enjoyment of a review (though crap writing irritates me more).  Take pride in what you do. No, you do not come off as One of the Lads by taking low-res, poorly composed, off-kilter, badly-lit photographs.  Because you’re not one of the lads: you’re holding yourself out to be something of an expert, someone whose opinion is worth reading – a poor picture does you no favours. It’s all about perception. Happily, it’s not really difficult to do.

7. Copyright everything.  You might think this is trivial, it’s free publicity when someone cribs your stuff — it’s really not. Without such protection, anyone can use the product of your mind and pass it off as his own without you being able to say or do anything about it. If you don’t care, then this is a moot point.

8. Do not let naysayers get you down.  There are always people who utterly disagree, pretend their opinions are the Lord’s Own Gospel, want to take you down a peg, leave a negative comment, or show off how much more than you they know.  They exist, they like doing it, so you must accept that and move on.  You’re in the public domain, and therefore fair game. Myself, I moderate comments on my site (my friend Curt on ATW does not).  My attitude is, if you don’t like, or disagree with, something that’s been written, comment courteously, without condescension and snarkiness, and don’t be patronizing…or don’t comment at all. Alternatively, you can use your own site to rebut and insult me (as one person already does, but in his defense, he despises everyone who doesn’t see the world his way, equally).

9. So, keep it civil, and refrain from constant negativity – in your responses, but also in your actual writing.  There are some bloggers in other liquor spheres that relish taking the low road, are big, brutish, oafish and in your face (one whisky blogger used so much profanity and was so abusive, it utterly appalled me, and I never went there again). I don’t see much percentage in this myself.  It’s shock therapy, it’s off-putting, and it alienates more thoughtful readers. And it’s those readers that engage with you, comment articulately and keep your interest from flagging.

10.  Know your field. Write about everything on the subject that catches your fancy.  Distilleries, wish lists, yuck-lists, thoughts on controversial topics, how-tos, tips&tricks…have a sense of the larger world around your passion. I have no particular interest in amarii, but Josh Miller’s excellent four-part series on the subject was fascinating and I was glad that he, a rum reviewer, took the time to take a left turn. The same goes for Steve James’s series on St. Lucia Rums and the ur-text of Marco’s work on Guyanese distilleries.

11. If you take a picture from the web, or a quote, attribute it properly.  Ask first if you can, it’s a simple courtesy – I’ve gotten caught out with this a few times, which is why I take my own photos, and put website links to quotes used.

12. Take the long view. Do not get upset by a lack of site visits.  It takes time to build an audience, even more for rums, which have nowhere near the extensive and rabid fanbase of whiskies (though it does have one self-annointed, self-appointed High Priest). Again, this goes to commercialism inherent or absent from your site, and your constant, occasional or indifferent promotion through social media. (See also Part 5, keeping things going)

Tomorrow – Sampling and the review itself

 

Mar 032015
 

Introduction

There are a lot of people who write engagingly and have an interest in rum, and some of them, not unnaturally, want to start their own website regarding matters of the cane. Some want to review rums; others want to blog about cocktails; in other cases the new bloggers address themselves to spirits in general.  After a while, hits go up, production goes up, and the site takes off.  And then, in some cases, it slides into a moribund state of somnolescence.

It’s because I wish we had more rummies out there that I decided to put together some thoughts on what it actually means to set up and contribute to a review site.  Because fair is fair, it’s always great to have new blood constantly providing their input – but I would like to have longevity as well.

See, it’s hard to stay the course for more than a few years. It’s easy to get sidetracked, and life has a way of getting in your way: it just…happens. So the interest is sometimes just lost, the new baby is born, the job gets more intense, the attacks too depressing, the expenditure too high, the site-hits too few. But you can always recognize the consistent long timers and know their websites, because not only do they turn up on every search you have, but they frequently blogroll each other.  Somehow they’ve achieved balance and harmony…zen you might say.

Anyway, the points here strike me as reasonable recommendations for those who are thinking of starting their own rum reviewing site.  It’s long, so I’ve broken it out into five parts. Feel free to comment on your own ideas, from your own experiences.

 

Part 1

***

1. Have a sense of how you want to write – clearly, concisely, briefly, starkly…or perhaps something more lengthy.  The briefer you are, the more frequently you will almost be expected to write.  Also, what do you want to write?  Just tasting notes, or something more? Opinion, price, star rating, distillery info…get this straight in your head first.

2. Understand why you are starting the journey.  Do you do this for love, to share your journey, for money, for freebies and the personal back bar, for street cred, to educate fellow rum lovers, to get a job, to round out a profession, to enhance your bartending skills…or simply because you enjoy writing and rum equally?  I know examples of all of these types. Be honest with yourself about why you started, because that impacts on both your writing style and your longevity. And your personal life, surprising as this may sound.

3. Be clear in your writing about your intentions, and, by extension, be honest when you write.  Your remarks will be valuable to others seeking assistance and clarity, but they will also want to know when you’re stating a fact, or expressing an opinion.

4. All impressions to the contrary, this is not a cheap hobby or pastime (and it’s my personal belief this eventually sinks a lot of potential bloggers who begin with such great hopes and intentions).  In spite of what you may think, store owners and distributors will not immediately rush in joyous exuberance to your house in order to ply you with samples, and your friends and family usually won’t provide you with the really top tier stuff. So it will cost you money.  If you are coming at this from the perspective that you’ll get free bottles to amend your purse and expand your home bar, that you will be invited on junkets to tour distilleries and attend tastings on someone else’s coin, well, you could be…eventually (or if you actively and aggressively engage with industry).  But you won’t get as many as you think unless you really write a lot and well.  So if you’re committed, you’ll be spending quite a bit of your own money at the inception in order to populate your site with reviews that hopefully others will find irresistible. My own recommendation would be to start small and see if you can keep it up (and to see if the spouse objects). Don’t go spending hundreds of dollars or Euros or whatever, on top-tier rums just because you can (see also part 4, regarding where to start).

5. Following from that, establish your personal policy towards free commercial samples early on and stick to it. This is always and only a matter of objectivity and perceived conflict of interest.  It’s human nature to distrust of positive reviews written about a company-supplied sample. At end, it comes down to whether you, in all honesty, feel you can write objectively about a rum – especially something that sucks – when presented to you for nothing by an industry rep (I do not speak of friends or family). Some of my friends see this as a way of defraying the inevitable expenses, others adamantly defend their objectivity, and this is fine – it’s their writing, not mine. I simply feel that if you do accept an industry sample (or the guy who runs your local liquor shop), then just be honest and state it in your review.

6. And you really should have a scoring system from the beginning (whether you publish the score or not).  There are quite a few different methods out there.  Pick one that you think you can work with for a long time, and start from your very first review (though I would also suggest sampling ten or twenty rums, then scoring them against each other first, just to see how the system works). This is more important than you think, because people really pay attention to scores and will ask questions; also, you can band your reviews together in ranges, as the body of work grows. (See also Part 3 where I go into scoring a bit more).

7. Don’t stop.  Build a rhythm and stick to it.  I’m not entirely sold on today’s blogworld where if nothing gets posted for three days, the site dies…on the other hand I do believe in regular updates.  The RumHowler can do three a week, the FatRumPirate is going great guns, and I try to do one a week, but no matter what, just keep ‘em coming.  And after you pass fifty, then a hundred, then even more, don’t get bored or discouraged, just keep on doing it (if you must take a break, as many of us do, put up a note saying ‘Out of Office’ for the faithful readers).  This has implications for the development of your personal style, your persistence, and your longevity – if you can’t keep up the programme you’ve set for yourself (whatever that might be), then maybe how you write has to be adjusted.

8. My personal taste is for adding information on the maker as part of the overall review.  Obviously this makes for a longer essay and gets redundant when you’ve reviewed several products by the same outfit.  If you are a master of the short form, then this method won’t fly. For myself, it adds to my knowledge and, I feel, that of the reader.  If you decide to go this way, ensure you state outright where your info is sketchy (especially when several sources are contradictory, as often happens)

Tomorrow – Part 2

Feb 052015
 

200

 

***

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

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

Two developments on the 1st One Hundred which I noted at the time and which continue were the adding of scores and the cessation of accepting, let alone soliciting, industry samples, a policy which I have followed with exactly two exceptions ever since.  I don’t pretend this makes me better than anyone, it simply speaks to my fear of undue influence in the latter case, and (in the former) my desire for calibration and rankings in a collection that is now quite extensive.  Much to my chagrin, I found that descriptions alone didn’t tell the tale of any given rum, and developed a scoring system that worked for me, and which I use to this day. In the coming year, I know I will discard the 0-100 rating with 50 as a median, and move towards a relatively more standardized system whereby 90+ is top end, and an average score will fall around 70-80…I just have to recalculate and recalibrate two hundred reviews to do it, and that’s no small task. (Update March 2015 – I have now rescored and recalibrated all reviews to fall in line with the more accepted 50-100 system)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 292015
 
Photo copyright morealtitude.wordpress.com

Photo copyright morealtitude.wordpress.com

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Seale – 3rd generation rum-maker; owner and manager of 4-Square distillery in Barbados, and therefore the maker of rums like Doorly’s and 4-Square brands, as well as providing barrels for many craft makers in Europe.  He provided the initial distillate for St Nicholas Abbey, as they waited for their own stocks to mature. Has become a global rum icon both as a result of championing pure rums and decrying adulteration, and his collaborations with Velier.

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

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

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

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

Edward Hamilton and the Ministry of Rum webpage (combined entry) – founder of the Ministry of Rum website where many rum noobs (myself among them) got their start in networking with other rum lovers. Still a very good resource to start researching producers and distillers and rums in general. Ed is also the author of “Rums of the Eastern Caribbean,” and has recently issued the Hamilton line of rums.  Holds tastings and seminars all over the place and began his own line of rums in 2014. As a guy who started to pull Rummies together into an online whole, his influence cannot be underestimated – almost all rum bloggers in some way derive from what he started. These days his website is moribund, as the FB page eclipsed it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandre Gabriel – the force behind Cognac-Ferrand’s magnificent Plantation double-aged line of rums.  Not all of them are top end, but many are, and they have been instrumental, along with other European craft bottlers, in raising the bar for rums in general. Mr. Gabriel defends his process of dosing Plantation rums with small amounts of sugar or additives to attain the desired taste profile, which has caused some flak in the current climate regarding sugar, of “disclose or dispose.” Bought WIRD in Barbados in 2017 and in doing so gained a stake in Longpond Distillery in Jamaica.

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

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

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

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

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

Silvano Samaroli – Silvano, an Italian craft bottler who started with whisky in 1968, makes this list because he may have been the first bottler to source rum, age it and issue it under his on label as a craft product in its own right.  To this day I have tasted few Samaroli rums (many of my correspondents wonder what my malfunction is), but what little I’ve tried says the man’s work is superb.  He died in 2017, and Fabio Rossi and Luca Gargano are his intellectual heirs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Barrett – Managing Director of Bristol Spirits.  They may not be THE name in craft spirits, but that doesn’t stop ’em from trying to grab the brass ring.  Their excellent series of classic and limited edition rums are characterized by bright, eye-catching labels, great enclosures, and a quality not to be sneezed at. Their PM 1980 remains one of my favourites.

Charles Tobias – Founder of Pusser’s  in the BVI in 1979 after he bought the rights and blending information for Navy Rum from the Admiralty, with the first sales beginning in 1980. They have trademarked the “Painkiller” cocktail to be made with only their rum. Mr. Tobias has always ensured that a portion of the sale of every bottle goes to charity.

Cadenhead’s – Possibly Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, founded in 1842 and a family owned and managed concern until 1972, when they were taken over by J.A.Mitchell, proprietors of Springbank distillery.  While they are more staid whisky boys than rabid rummies, their unadulterated, unfiltered rums are excellent and date back to the successor of founder W.Cadenhead (Mr. Robert Duthie) who took over in 1904, and added Demerara rums to the stable. Because of bad business decisions made in the years following the death of Mr. Duthie in 1931, Christie’s auctioned off the entire stock of whisky and rum in 1972 (the same year the fixed assets and goodwill went to Springbank)…so any Cadenhead rums from this era may well be priceless.

Tony Hart – Brit rum enthusiast, rum expert, trainer of barmen, lecturer, taster, who has worked for Tia Maria and Lemon Hart, and all over the globe.  Conducts tastings, workshops and seminars and spreads the gospel

4finespirits – online German rumshop which also has a pretty interesting blog. Not sure what it’s doing in this list since it’s a recently established site (2015).  Somebody must sure like them. Recently started a video blog on YouTube.

Andres Brugal – full name Andrés Brugal Montaner, a Spaniard who migrated from Catalonia in Spain to Cuba (where he learned the fundamentals of how to make rum), and thence to the Dominican Republic, where he established Brugal and produced his first dark rum in 1888.  The first warehouses for ageing there were built in 1920, and the company exists, making good rums, to this day.  However, it is no longer owned by the Brugals, but the Edrington Group out of Scotland, who bought a majority shareholding in 2008.

Bryan Davis – This man may change the rum world, or be conning it.  Opinions are fiercely divided on what the man behind Lost Spirits Distillery has accomplished.  Short form is that by using chemistry and molecular analysis to build a molecular reactor, he can supposedly churn out rum which shows the profile of a 20 year old spirit…in six days.  I’ve heard his rums are pretty good, but never tried any. A good article on Wired is here.

Got Rum? – online rum magazine run by Luis and Margaret Ayala

Samuel Morewood – British etymologist who wrote an essay in 1824 on the origins of the word “rum” in  An essay on the Inventions and Customs of both Ancients and Moderns in the use of Inebriating Liquors.  It’s actually quite a fascinating read, even now.

Cédric Brément – French maker of flavoured rums, and owner of the company Les Rhums de Ced.

Frank Ward – Chairman of the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association and Managing Director of Mount Gay in Barbados.  This gentleman has his work cut out for him. First to try to save the smaller Caribbean producers from the massive subsidies the big guns get, and secondly to impose some order on the crazy patchwork of rum via trying to get agreement on standards.  Part of the solution is to create the Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque.  An interview with Got Rum? magazine is here.

Enrique Shueg – Brother in law of Emilio, Facundo and Jose Bacardi, the three sons of the founder. Born the same year as the company was founded (1862), he steered the company almost single-handedly into the modern area, and was the key link between the small family firm and the global behemoth it eventually became. He played a leading role in the company for fifty years, expanding the reach of Bacardi to jet set visitors, tourists and even gangsters, and making Cuba the home of rum before moving operations to Puerto Rico.

Dean Martin – drinker of rum, singer and film star and member of the 1950s era Rat Pack.

Reviewers – there are so very few reviewers out there for rum (versus the hundreds who blog about whiskies).  Those that enter the field have their work cut out for them, not least because of the paucity of selections which they can review on the budget they have. They serve a useful purpose in that they raise rum awareness as much as any brand ambassador or festival/competition organizer and provide useful (if free) advertising for many small outfits who might otherwise never be heard about outside their state, province, canton or country.

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

Oh, and one other influence on rums…

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

Apr 012013
 

One of the pleasures of watching BBC TVs 2010/2012 show “Sherlock” is the sly, tongue in cheek references it makes to the canon of Sherlock Holmes; another is the sheer length of each episode…ninety minutes per; and a third is the precise casting of the eponymous lead and the Doctor. About the only thing I grumble about in this well-written, well-acted TV series is the fact that the Brits don’t seem to understand that a season should not be three episodes a year – even Life on Mars and its follow up had more.  And for someone as iconic as the Baker Street ‘tec, with multitudinous adventures both direct or merely alluded-to…well, there’s no shortage of material here.

But move beyond these issues, watch the show, and tell me that if you have even the slightest interest in Holmesia, that this is not a brilliant recapturing of the spirit of the famous consulting detective and his faithful sidekick. Updated for the modern world, complete with smartphones and texting instead of hand-delivered notes, or London cabs instead of hansoms, delivering sly winks at the iconography at every turn, it’s a treat for anyone who has worked his way through the literary Conan-Doyle canon. I adore this kind of clever construction.

The series opener is a good example of what I mean, down to the title itself: “A Study in Pink.” Watson, recently discharged from the army after being wounded in Afghanistan (the show nudges the ribs in having Watson limp, yet stating his wound was actually in the shoulder – the wound alternated in Doyle’s stories too) is looking for digs, and is introduced to Holmes by an old friend.  It’s in the first meeting and the subsequent conversations that you see the impact that a modern sensibility has on the show: Holmes’s rapid fire delivery, the decision to show his deductions as little texts on screen, his lanky uncoordinated movements and his barely concealed disdain for the lesser mortals who are not quite as sharp as he is. Benedict Cumberbatch, now better known in 2013 as Khan from the second Star Trek reboot (good acting and a workmanlike effort, but one soon to be forgotten…Montalban has a lock on the character, sorry), to my mind made his bones here as an actor to watch even after his work on “Atonement” – observe the body language, the well-modulated voice, the expressions: they’re all perfect for the persona that, over hundreds of films and shows, has taken residence in our collective imaginations.

The writers seem to have a lot of fun upending expectations. The choice of taking the pill from the “A Study in Scarlet” novella, one deadly one harmless, is somewhat reversed here, having a different motivation; the word “Rache” opined by Lestrade in the book as being “Rachel” and dismissed by Holmes as being German for revenge, is here actually referring to a Rachel. Holmes hates the deerstalker hat made iconic in Sidney Paget’s Strand illustrations. Even Moriarty’s plot to discredit Holmes by pretending innocence and that it’s all Holmes’s imagination to create an uber-villain, has echoes of Nicolas Meyer’s “Seven Percent Solution” novel and film (the phrase is referenced several times).  That’s what I mean about the show being clever: it’s got clues and references cheerfully scattered all around it. The blog Watson keeps has playful takes on Holmes’s canonical adventures….I particularly liked “The Speckled Blonde” and “The Six Thatchers”, and the reference to the five pips and to Spock (who may be a relative, if you believe Star Trek VI)

The relative quality of various episodes has a hard time keeping up.  I thought “A Scandal in Belgravia” was well put together – the cat and mouse game Holmes and Irene Adler play with modern technology, as well as their overt and covert relationship were wonderful to watch (although the last five minutes is not actually necessary).  In others: Mycroft is well cast, with delicious dialogue of his own; the ongoing effort of Watson to enter into a romantic relationship is one of the show’s low key humourous delights, as is the running gag of Watson trying to tell everyone he and Holmes are not gay.  And I was intrigued with – how could I not mention the arch-enemy? – the take on Moriarty, who is seen as an evil genius, yes, but less of the old school, genteel, Brit steel, and more of an American warped-genius psycho mentality.  Maybe it was necessary to take the good doctor in a different direction, but perhaps for a character as well known as this one, veering off course might not have been the best way to go (he is neither referred to, nor really gives the impression, of being the “Napoleon of crime”).  However, that’s minor…you kind of have to enjoy the spectacle of clever people facing off against each other in a battle of wits each hoping to be a step ahead of the other.

I’ve long believed that Spock, Sheldon Cooper and House MD (the last probably more clearly than any) are incarnations of the concept of the driven genius so well exemplified by Holmes.  All shy away from, if not actually despise, interpersonal relationships; all are genius-level professionals lacking external interests outside their area of focus; they are always the smartest people in the room, running rings around the merely average intellects surrounding them.  I could mention Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Whimsey, Adam Dalgleish, or even the many other smart detectives shown on American television (CSI springs to mind), but it’s the coldness and haughty, sneering demeanours covering a certain well-concealed, rarely-revealed (and even more rarely acknowledged) humanity that sets the detective, the Vulcan, the physicist and the doctor apart.

At end, though it’s all about Holmes’s genius and Watson’s everyman persona, and their relationship.  I’ll be the first to accept that the season two closer handles their friendship awkwardly at best (in contrast, the conclusion of A Study in Pink was written just perfectly).  I enjoyed Martin Freeman’s Watson expressing his ongoing exasperation with Holmes’s superiority complex (I was reminded of the way Leonard and the boys always groan “Nooo” whenever Penny asks Sheldon a question they know will result in a long winded and confusing answer), and attention should be paid to the interaction between Holmes and the shy pathologist Molly, to say nothing of his relationship with Mrs. Hudson (“Unthinkable. If she leaves, England will fall”) and even Lestrade, who grudgingly respects him.  Speaking for myself, the various conversations between and with the doctor and the detective remain the heart and soul of the show, as they were in the books and all the other films.  The cases are just convenient backdrop and set decoration for that.

These matters showcase something I’ve always felt: a show’s writing is the key, and it must be about more than just explosions, chases, murders and everything tied up in a bow at the end.  To take up residence in our imaginations, a film or a show must have heart, must involve us in the characters, their inner lives and turmoils, make us feel for them, care for them, cheer for them. Sherlock may be uneven at times, but it’s overall quality of writing, direction, dialogue, music, production design and characterization is a cut above the ordinary, and I look forward to see what the Brits come up with for the world’s foremost consulting detective in the next three episodes. After all, as even Conan-Doyle found out, you just can’t keep the good detective dead forever.

Apr 012013
 

First published in 2011 on Liqorature

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

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

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

But how well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update, November 2017

CTV News posted an article relating to a court case in Quebec which mentioned a poll that overwhelmingly favoured an abolition of provincial alcohol monopolies and briefly covered some of the concepts addressed here.  I disagreed fundamentally with the simplistic idea that Quebec would suddenly lose billions in revenue, because it ignored the ancillary businesses, employment, payroll and tax revenue that would be generated. I’ll be following this issue with interest in 2018

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
Some additional reading subsequent to the original article’s publishing in 2011, related to the debate on Quebec’s SAQ and its potential privatization:
Montreal Gazette – anti privatization opinion 2015
Montreal Gazette – pro-privatization opinion 2015