Aug 192021
 

Introduction

Lists are great. I love good lists. I’m a complete list junkie. I collect lists. As a blogger and a writer, I find myself not only perusing them, but making them (lists of lists, so to speak) and have several of my own in my personal faves collection, and somewhere in there I have a list of the ten best lists as wellas well as, no surprise, the ten worst. Even when I despise the nonsense in a list, I can’t help but read it right to the bottom.

Lists, however, have to be approached with some caution. From the prevailing comments over some of the “Ten Best…” lists I have seen over the last few years, it’s clear that the misconceptions of what they are, and the understanding of their very real limitations, is not always clearly understood. So today let’s examine the matter in somewhat more detail.

First of all, what kinds of lists are we talking about? For the purpose of this opinion I classify them as follows:

  • Magazine Lists
  • Award Winners’ Lists
  • Bloggers Lists
  • Any other lists

We’ll examine each in their turn to see the issues that they have.


Magazine “Best of…” or “To Try” Lists

These are list pulled together by people who generally have exactly zero standing in the rum community. They do not contribute, do not engage, and are usually unknown (we all know who the real commentators on and contributors to the great discussions of our time are). For the most part they are self-styled, self-annointed and self-appointed “lifestyle” or “food and drink” “ambassadors” who are trying to make a buck, which is fine, but lack much in the way of credibility, which isn’t.

The origin of such lists varies. Some are commissioned. Some arise organically. Few if any can be trusted, as this exchange on FB showed, when asked with a mixture of irritation and pathos, what the ten best rums in the world were. A list recently went up speaking about countries making the world’s best rum. And to show the utter unkillabitility of the idea of lists, in January 2021 Uproxx.com posted an epically useless list with the grandiose title of “10 Bottles of Rum Actually Worth their $90 price tags,” and Delish, not wanting to be left out, produced an almost equally cringe-worthy exhibit of their own, this one, clearly showing that list makers’ moronic tendencies and sloppy research had not only hit rock bottom but was actively questing for shovels (FB denizens took the two lists apart here and here). These lists were equalled only by the Gentleman Journal which produced one called “The Best Bottles of Rum to Challenge your Inner Hemmingway” which a merciful netizen had the sense to only post to the FB Spiced Rum Club which is pretty much where it belonged.

One silly list of “ten best rums” I remember from several years back ended up being the writer talking to a bartender on a cruise and regurgitating it wholesale. Another list was heavy on the South American rumsmany of which I had never heard of beforeand when a deeper check into the background of the author was done, it became clear that he was in fact a resident of those parts, knew little else, but conveniently made no disclaimer or acknowledgement of the list’s limitationsit was just dumped out there. Whether a fest or an institute, a published author or an online blogger or a lifestyle writer, then, the limitations of the list must be included, but rarely are (and this is why one of the few such productions I ever cared for was Tony Sachs’).

The reason such lists are dangerous is because they purport to be educational, but are nothing of the kind. They present their information without context, try to reduce a very complex subject of enormous breadth to clickbait … and thereby pretend to an authority they have not earned. It’s not always clear whether the authors have even tried the rums they hawk, or are merely shills for freely provided marketing copy. But by their very popularity they crowd out better lists that are actually made with some level of thought (like here and here). No wonder rums get no respect, when people masquerading as experts keep churning out trash of this nature….and continue to get read by new entrants to the field who are seeking information and imbibe the misconceptions such lists promote.

The important thing to understand about such lists is that in most of such cases, the currency of the realm is not imparting knowledge, not a presenting a slice of a great sample set, not imparting understanding, but selling clicks: expertise is therefore irrelevant. This is why so many of the ones published month in and month out so reliably retain the rich fecal odour of indifferent if not actually negligent research and just about zero knowledge of the field.

My advice to readers of such lists is to read them, yes (after all, who am I to tell you not to?) but always walk in with your own critical thinking hat on, and come armed with the cynical skepticism of a jaded streetwalker. At best it’s entertainment. At worst it’s a cynical exercise in holding your attention. Just be aware of that.


Award Winner’s Lists

A much better indicator of quality in list-making of rums to try / buy / source / know about is often seen to be lists of medal or award winners. The tradition of such competitions, more than a century old, helps justify purchasing decisions made by consumers, and are plumes in the hats of distilleries that win. Within this band of lists are two variations:

[1] A Winner’s List developed by some kind of institute, society or organization that supposedly represents spirits (or the rum category) as a whole, like the Beverage Tasting Institute, World Rum Awards, ISWC, ISC, ISS or what have you.

On a purely theoretical basis, these things are great. Industry experts are tapped to lend their expertise in aggregate, coming together to rate rums. Then they spend time doing the tastings blind within the categories and medal winners are selected based on the summing up or averaging out the points received from each judge. What’s not to admire?

I don’t mean to pan the exercise, which I do believe is a useful one. What I do want to emphasize, however, is that they have limitations, and we should be cognizant ofand preferably toldwhat they are. Exactly what is being won here? By whom, against what, how many, using what criteria? In other words, if the Caputo 1973 wins the Best-In-Class Double-Gold award (which it has), consider these questions, so rarely asked, so rarely provided:

  • What exactly is the Class? What is the definition?
  • If there is a Double Gold there must be a Single. Who won that? Is there a Triple?
  • What did it win against? What were the other rums in contention? How many? What did they win? Did all, some, or none win?
  • How many rums were in competition in total? What is the entire sample set by company, country and brand?
  • Did the entrants have to pay to get their rums into competition?
  • Which known and famed brands within the classes did not enter?
  • Over what period of time did the judging take place? Where? Under what conditions?
  • Who were the judges?

Clearly, there are gaps in the knowledge of consumers as to what exactly the medal or award or the ranking represents and how it was arrived at. Unfortunately, in a world where memes, sound bites and snappy McNuggets of phrasing are what passes for news, the only thing people see and digest is “XXX won YYY!!! Huzzah!” when a favourite wins and “WTF????!!” when it doesn’t, and they go no furtherand if you doubt that, feel free to observe what happens when Foursquare wins something, or doesn’t.

[2] Secondly, there are medal winner lists put out by a rum festival based on its panel tastings

Here, rum festival organizers compile awards lists which are based on actual ranked scores of rums as put together by a tasting panel working in tandem over several days. The intentions are good, and again, I like them, and feel they are useful for laypeople to make more informed decisions.

As before, however, such tasting awards have their limitations, as the questions on organizationsefforts above make clear. Many of the issues mentioned above are equally applicable here.

For one, I feel strongly that nobody, no matter how good, can taste the 50+ or so rums per day he needs to, in sessions of say six hours per day, over a two- or three-day period, and maintain any kind of objectivity and sensitivity. It’s simply impossible to avoid palate fatigue, something I know from personal experience. Even assuming all one has to do is spend a minute or two on each and then rank them 1,2,3,4…., is that even fair, given how rum, like any other strong spirit, rewards a rather more painstaking, leisurely examination? (I agree this is a personal opinion, but then, that’s what this whole essay is).

Secondly, in rumfest competitions as for institutes, only rums that enter get judged, and in many festivals, they have to pay to get there (this is often a feature of institutes as well). Since most rum companiesespecially the new, small and relatively unknown onesare on a tight budget, they clearly can’t go to all of the competitions in the world (even if a rumfest organizer keeps entry fees low) and so something will obviously get missed. With 10,000+ rums in the world, of which several thousand are current and made by hundreds of producers all over the globe, I leave it to you to wonder at exactly how many brands and producers have their rums in any competition, and what worth the eventual winners have, when so much mustmust! – be excluded.

This leads straight into the associated question applicable to both rumfest competitions and institutes awards, which is: if something wins, then what was the competition? What are the other candidates in the class or category? Clearly if something wins a gold medal in its class, one’s opinion of the win and its importance would vary depending on whether it beat a single other entrant, or ten, or fifty. Yet we are almost never told what the winner beat to rise to the top (let alone how many) – at best, we get the two or three runners-up and also-rans to provide context, which I submit is insufficient.

Lastly, consider that there’s the whole issue of classification and how rums fit into categories. In spite of the Cate Method and the Gargano System and the various other individualized criteria by which rums are judged, it’s never entirely consistent between and among the various organizationsand that means that the medal results from any two competitions will never be entirely comparable and consistent and if you can’t compare them, what good are they? Richard Seale rather caustically remarked of one rum festival competition several years ago, that the way the classifications were set up meant he could enter a single one of his rums in four separate categories, which nicely summarizes the issue.

It certainly points to the need to come up with a globally applicable classification system for rum, but the paradox of the matter (from the perspective of judging, awards and rankings) has always been that the better the system, the more categories there have to beand the fewer entrants for medals there would consequently be in any category. Nobody has ever come up with a way to square that circle.

What this means, then, is that while awards lists have their uses, they operate within certain constraints and ignoring the context of these limitations can skew one’s perception of what the title ofBest In Classor “Platinum” or “Double Gold” actually means.

Perhaps a long term project of the industry and its adherents would be to come up with a single rankings mechanism that all institutes and fests adhere to without exception. Then, not only would all the rankings be equivalent, but so would the categories, and therefore the comparability of all rums which would be rated according to completely consistent criteria. I can dream, I guess (and that’s yet another opinion right there).

Blogger’s Lists

Unsurprisingly perhaps, given that I’m one myself, I much prefer blogger’s lists (and in this broad definition I’m including video blogs and podcasts). These can run the gamut of Best of Year lists such as RumCask solicits every year from the blogosphere, or The Fat Rum Pirate’s annual listing, or stuff that just takes rum knowledge in whole new directions.

What I particularly like is those lists they make which go off on a tangent, or show how the lists should be done. There aren’t too many of these, unfortunately but consider TFRP’s “Worst Ten RumsSo Far” list, or its companion of The Top TenSo Far and the brilliantly edited Top Ten Best Rums In The World, Ever Ever Part 1 and Part 2 which I regularly reread. The Rum Barrel Blog published a nice piece on Top 10 Value For Money Rums and being a barman, also added his own 7 Favourite Daiquiri White Rums. The vlogger Simon Ruszala of the New World Rum Club posted some neat educational lists like a rundown of the Foursquare ECS range and another of the Hampden marques that are less lists than slices of the rum world taken to detail; and that Grand Old Stalwart of the vlogging whisky scene, Ralfy, has a fair bit on his channel as well. And as if that isn’t enough, Rumcast, the relatively new podcast run by Will Hoekenga and John Gulla, intersperses its deep-dive interviews with occasional ruminations of its own such as Six Underrated Rums, Disappointing Rums, 2020 Year In Review, and Nine Recommended Rum Resources.

Clearly there is an equal number of rum or whisky people doing lists as others from less reputable sources, but why do I prefer them, and what makes them, to my mind, better?

Well, for one thing, I know many of them, so that gives them instant credibilitytheir writing or podcasts or videos go back many years and their interactions in the rumisphere are based on real knowledge amassed over long periodsit’s not just some quick google search lacking depth or substance as plagues far too many of the lists discussed in the earlier section. Moreover, money is not the direct motivator for them (as it is for freelance or staff listmakers writing for online magazines), so they are free to not only chose whatever subject they feel like, but to take it in any direction and at any length they please.

Lastly, they tend to be more honest: they provide context, they explain their choices, and if they sometimes leave out their biases, well, I’ve been following most for extended periods and I am aware of the occasional weaknesses in one direction or another, and why they feel the way they do. I have more information to go on and can form a more educated opinion on the credibility and veracity of whatever list they are putting together. There is, in short, a whole lot less to beware of here and that even goes for a much-panned list like the Howler’s Top 100 of 2017 the reaction against which was so virulent that he retired from Facebook (which I thought was unfair since if you followed his work from 2009 you’d know what he was all about and by that standard his list made sensebut I digress).

Other Lists

The lists described above are pretty much 99% of what is produced. There are Top Lists, Slice-of-the-Subject Lists or To-Try lists for the most part, and engender more trust, or less, depending on who is writing.

Few go further than these, although I’ve tried to do so on my own account by putting out some that have little subjective biases but are reasonably factual all the way through and just interested me personally: among others there is Some Rum Trivia, Movers and Shakers of the Rum World, 12 Interesting Bottle Designs and 21 of The Strongest Rums in the World. I looked around other sites for more examples but didn’t find any that weren’t already covered by the other points above (but feel free to correct me and I’ll amend the section).


Other Issues About Lists To Watch Out For

The business about the Rum Howler above relates to a point not often considered, which is the impact these lists havenot on the listmakers, but the list readers, and then the list commentators. I don’t particularly like the partisan politics they engender on social media via the chatterati, and the occasional verbal violence they promote when an award goes to a Good Rum Producer versus a Bad One, or vice versa. This is almost always sparked by the people commenting on those lists, either in support or in dispute, and do the average Joewho just wants a damned recommendation so he doesn’t waste his moneyfew favours.

Take these disparate lists that came out in the last year: one was the nine best rums of the ISWC 2020, which was trumpeted by all the usual acolytes and rum fanciers as being a win for the two distilleries who each had three reps on that list (it got even louder in 2021 when one distillery, Foursquare, won five awards). Do this mental exercisewhat would the reaction have been if Plantation had won Instead of Foursquare?

The complete doe-eyed innocent trust (observe the delicate phrasing) which so many otherwise smart and cynical people display when their favourites are on the line is one of the most disturbing trails of detritus that such lists leave in their wake. You can bet your bottom dollar that any list that has a Bumbu, Zacapa, Don Papa or Plantation rum on it can surely be accused of being in the pocket of the list maker, bought or otherwise compromised, or judged by people who don’t know anything (that last one is always good for a retread).

Yet the same people who make these statements with the such assurance and moral rectitude, cheerfully let their cynicism walk out the door when their favourite distillery is doing the winning. Their boy won, so it’s all good. Let some current pet hate cop a prize, and it’s clearly a deep-state conspiracy by the forces of Mordor using the dark side of the force to sway the gullible to the side of Voldemort. That they themselves are the gullible inhabitants of personal echo chambers where dissent never enters and alternatives are never discussed is a thought too terrible to contemplate, apparently, and the irony floats gently past.

So all this does is create virulent camps of Them and Us in the rum world, which I argue does rum more harm than good. It spreads from producers to bottlers to writers to pundits to commentators to consumers and back again, and nobody is immune. Everyone gets involved either in defense of their favourites or slandering their enemies. When the mud starts flying in this way (for or against a list), the first thing to depart the scene is the understanding that lists by their very nature are subjective or limited (or both): they reflect the tastes of the listmakers or the limited entrants of a competition. I’d much prefer we argue their meritsor lack thereofseriously and courteously and with facts, than just get involved in rancorous discussions that have no end and do no more than poison the well for all who come after.

Conclusion

Lists, then, even as Top Tens, Bottom Tens, Recommendation or Award Winners, demonstrate complete uselessness at revealing either the best of everything or the winners of anything for the imbibing population at large. The world of rum is too enormous to be encapsulated into a small number, and way too complex for convenient summarization. The palates and experiences of the consumers are too varied and individualistic to be nailed down with anything as simplistic as a short list. It is amazing that even having considered all the points above, lists continue to exercise as subversive and compulsive an attraction as they do.

But admittedly, when done right and well, lists of any stripe amuse and educate in equal measure. They point to avenues that may have been overlooked, or highlight an issue not considered. They are bellwethers and indicators of others’ points of view, and with the ever-increasing homogeneity of social media groups where only agreed to points of view prevail, it’s nice to have a contrary data point pop up now and then. Good lists can inform purchasing decisions, alert one to new choices. The best ones list a selection of a very tiny slice of the rumworld (like, say, the ten worst lists, ten blackest rums or a mashup of ten rums from a particular country or company) and run with it.

So all the preceding taken into account, just use lists with cautionbearing in mind all the preceding remarks on their limitations. Certainly they provide a sense of the world, and act as general guide or signpost, but none should be taken as gospel; and a clear-eyed understanding of what they are, what they represent andjust as vitalwhat they exclude, is, to me, the sine qua non of appreciating them best. And that leads to a more informed and critically-aware, thinking readership, whose own experiences and judgement should in the final analysis determine what to buy, or what to put one’s commentary behind.


 

Feb 172021
 

This is a completely theoretical “what-if?” about the implications for the rum world if the technological process of superfast ageing were ever to be perfected.

Ever since ageing of spirits became a thing, people have been trying to make it faster in a sort of half-assed time-travel wish-fulfilment. They’ve tried the adding of wood chips, smaller barrels, keeping the barrels in motion, dosage, temperature control, music, ultrasound, etc etcall in an effort to have the taste of a 20 year old rum stuffed inside a spirit made the day before yesterday.

Take Rational Spirits’ Cuban Inspired rum I wrote about recently, and the NYT article on research into the field. That rum was itself based on technology Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits had developed years earlier (he is mentioned in the NYT piece) where he was trying to do exactly thataccelerate the change in taste profile of selected spirits, to mimic that created by many years of ageing.

I’ve never stopped thinking about what such a technology might actually implyparticularly the outcomes. Because I think that the state of modern chemical and physical technology is such that even with all the thousands or millionsor billionsof disparate variables that interact in such complex ways to create the taste of a seriously aged rum, it may possible, just possiblenot now, but somedayto get close to a 1975 Port Mourantand do it in a few days. And what that implies for the industry should be considered.

Here, I won’t go into the methods and processes various companies have developed: what interests me is what the success of such a process might mean, the impacts it would haveif it were a reality. For the purpose of this what-if article, I am taking “the process” to mean not just being able to produce an ersatz aged product in a very short timebut any profile at will (it is part of the same idea, after all, so one inevitably follows the other).

And thinking of that leads down some interesting paths.

Obviously, first and foremost is money. All input costs gathered post-distillation get reduced with a process that can do “ageing on demand”most especially the warehousing charges of storing barrels for years or decades. Moreover, if one can produce an aged profile in days, oak barrels would be an unnecessary expense since storage could be in larger, inert vats made of steel or even (heaven forbid) plasticthe profile is already “set” so why bother going further with real barrels? Warehousing overheads would be reduced both for the physical infrastructure and its utilities, and the staffing.

Too, if any superfast ageing process can happen, then clearly the angel’s share would shrink to nothing, which would leave more available to be sold. Inevitably, this would have a knock-on negative effect on prices. One of the reasons legends like the the Skeldon 1973 is so expensive is because it was issued at an incredible age which probably left less than 5% of the initial volume available for bottlingcan you imagine five thousand bottles of this stuff being available instead of five hundred, and not having to wait 32 years to get it? The four figure prices it commands now would take a nose-dive.

In point of fact, such a process, since it could theoretically be done just about anywhere and replicate any rum’s profile, would instantly render the distinction between tropical and continental ageing nearly irrelevant. The ripple effects of what “pure” rum would mean under such circumstances are huge even beyond thatbecause if you could not tell the difference between an aged Foursquare produced in situ and a fake that someone else can produce by just dialling in some coordinates on a reactor, the entire business model of premiumization premised on GIs, terroire and island specific profiles is going to be disembowelled. Why pay a hundred bucks for a Hampden Great House when you can get the same thing (or an indistinguishable thing) made down the street for ten?

Tony Sachs, who touched on this topic back in 2015, suggested that it would primarily affect the smaller producers, who would be able to produce a better rum for less money, instead of having capital tied up in ageing inventory and having to sell sub-par young juice to make cash flow. But he also remarked that larger producers could make better “bottom-shelf” booze as well, and experimentation, being made simpler and faster with this tech, would allow profiles to be tested and produced on a much faster cycle than now. Nobody would be immune from this if they wanted to stay in the running. A lot of the same points were made in two FB conversations around the same time, in the Global Rum Club and La Confrerie du Rhumand to this date, none of these issues have gone away (or been discussed beyond the superficialities).

Unsurprisingly, the industry commentators so far remain sanguine, relying on brand awareness, their names, the reputation built over decades, even centuries, the skill of their master distillers, blenders and cellar masters. “Old fashioned craft rum,” said one producer when commenting on superfast ageing several years ago, “Will always be there.” He’s probably right but at what level of production, I wonder, when faced with such a disruptor? The impacts I’ve described (or others I haven’t thought of) may not come to pass, but have not really been considered, largely because nobody takes this technology seriously: and with good reason, since so far it has not been shown to work. Nor, in spite of its application to some rums like Lost Spirits,’ has it succeeded in producing a rum the hype leads us to expect. In other words, the process is not making rums to upend the industry.

A successful technology would, however, force traditional mid-sized rum producers to adapt to a major change in their pricing models and sales strategies. Faced with a technology that would provide real price competition and render their carefully blended aged products less desirable (because a similar product could now be had for less), they would have to up their game by making new and different and (hopefully) even better rums, and to make them in such a way as to hobble any attempts at mimicry by such a process. This would cost them money.

It’s clear why labelling redesign and better disclosure are going to be required….

They would have to advertise differently, focus on their own premium-ness, the genuine nature of their products as opposed to the ersatz lab rats that are coming on the market. You can see this happening with mid sized “country-level” producers now, as they combat cheap US, Indian or Asian rums on the world market, or mass produced rums made by huge multi-column operations like Florida Distillers or those in Panama and elsewhere.

Distinctions between a “manufactured” rum made by a process of this kind, and a traditionally made one, would take on much greater importance, and that would logically lead to the courts. It is very likely that lawsor at least regulations by industry bodieswould be passed regarding advertising and restricting the labelling of such manufactured rums; they would not be able to pass themselves off as the genuine article. GIs would be amended to exclude fake-aged, or processed rums. Social media personages and little online armies would be mobilized by at-risk producers to wage a war of opinion and words against such upstarts (we have seen this already in other areas of the rum world).

The word “ageing” itself would have to be more rigorously defined and enshrined in legislation. If I set up my equipment in Bridgetown, buy unaged bulk rum from any of the distilleries and then run it through the process at half the cost, you’d better believe I can call it a NAS Barbados rum under the current rules, and that means post-distillation processes have to be re-specified and redrafted to stop me from undercutting their prices for what they make and taking away their market share. Moreover, some way of trademarking or patenting the taste profile of a rum from one specific still, distillery or country is going to have to be found and distinguished, because the technology would instantly make counterfeiting and copying known brands a huge issue.

Multinational spirits conglomerates are likely to jump on board with this as well. Since they go after bulk sales of cheap one-for-everyone commercial products whose margins are thinner, anything that reduces costs, or increases quality for the same price, will be looked at and developed. They might even buy the technology from some small tech startup like Mr. Davis and scale it up to industrial proportions, at which point market dominance is a very real possibility and small producers would hit the wall.

Of course, the high end connoisseurship and chatterati would absolutely continue prefer and promote the true-made rum as opposed to any ersatz lab concoction (we see that already with dosed rums). But the painful truth is that such buyers, influencers, self-styled ambassadors and social media pundits, for all their noise, don’t actually account for much in the way of sales (otherwise Plantation and Flor de Cana would have gone belly-up years ago). The mid range and bottom shelf is where the vast majority of sales to the public liethere is no significant, high-end premium market in existence (as there is, for example, in mechanical Swiss watches), just a marginal one.

What this means is that it won’t matter if famed famed distilleries and notables of the industry throw their weight behind artisanal rumsif the cost is low and the quality is good enough, the majority of rum drinkers (who know little and care less about the rum wars others fight on their behalf) will continue to not just go for Bacardi but a low end ersatz Bacardi copy at an even lower price. We won’t even go into the inevitable scourge of counterfeiting that is sure to start if any profile can be replicated at will.

This leads, then, to the possibility that the industry might for the first time require a global controlling body to set proper standards for production and labelling, national and international enforcement with teeth, and to find room for such a manufactured product that can separate it out and classify it in a way that makes its nature pellucidly clear. The dog eat dog nature of spirits production, so tied up in national pride and economics, has so far resisted this kind of move, but I submit that under the pressure of a potentially mould-breaking force, it may become inevitable.

Admittedly, I paint a blue-sky picture of massive disruption here, based on a technology that is far from proven and does not currently exist in the form I posit. So far, none of it has happened, and the earth keeps on spinning as it always has. And as others have pointed out, should such a process or the technology be perfected, it would make the bottom shelf better and the top end cheaper.

In any case, as has been constantly and comfortingly stated, people also do love the genuine article. I have heard no end of statements that people will always prefer the depth and rounded flavour and complexity of a natural, true-aged rum. And that’s completely truefor rums they can get, and afford. But what happens to rums that are out of production but desperately sought after? Rums made in limited quantities? That are too expensive? The Saint James 1885 comes to mind, and we won’t even talk about the Harewood House rum from 1780.

The technology’s research and the articles written about it, is currently and mostly aimed at two aspects of the spirits world: one, to provide an aged profile without actually ageing anything (for costs reduction), and two, to recreate old marks that can be sold for high prices (for revenue enhancement).

Rational Spirits with its Cuban Inspired rum, and Lost Spirits before them with their Navy, Polynesian and Colonial rums, went the route of re-creation. But that created a third additional issue not often articulated, which most commentators (who only focus on the first thing, ageing) never address. And that’s who to sell the recreated dead marks to.

It’s a reasonable question because consider: so few such “dead” rums remain and so few people exist who could actually describe the taste accurately (let alone write about it or have the nostalgia to get one), that you could just as easily do any old thing and say it was a faithful replica, call it “inspired” and who would gainsay you? At best such a duplicated re-creation owes its sales to marketing, curiosity or nostalgia. It’s not really geared or guaranteed to provide a long term market or massive sales. A duplicate does not become a sought-after classic. No aged replica could ever have serious street credbuyers would be unable to say it was genuine and pricing would be a problem. This thing such companies have, that they want to recreate halo-marks of yesteryear, lost or dead, therefore, strikes me as no more than a marketing game and ultimately a dead end.

***

What this all in some way leads up to, then is my belief that the real potential of such a process is not in the duplication of past profiles, or even the faux-ageing that nobody will ever take seriously, can’t be proven and can’t be labelled as such. Today’s drinking class don’t give a good goddamn about some Farrell’s Montserrat rum from the 1950s, Trader Vic’s Appleton 17 YO, or even a Caputo 1973 recreation.

What buyers want is the new Chairman’s Reserve at cask strength for five dollars. They’re after a Velier-Hampden Great House or HV Port Mourant White for ten bucks, and even more, would like to buy entire Foursquare ECS range available for only a Benjamin. That’s the third, ignored side of what such as-yet unproven technology would really entail, and all these companies doing research on different ways to flash age, re-create, re-do or re-invent are promoting the wrong aspect of their work. They keep trying to recreate something that doesn’t actually exist any more and bottle their results as an “Inspired” version.

The true, unspoken, unseen, undiscussed killer-app of any process of spirits alteration is in the recreation of what’s popular now. The proof of the pudding is whether they can recreate current marks which people can buy in the store and know really well, and do it so well that almost no-oneconsumer, taster or expertcan tell the differenceand accepts the made product as indistinguishable from the real one. If the companies hustling to develop such techniques were ever to succeed at that, then they’d have my (and everyone else’s) serious attentionand upend the industry overnight.

However, so far that has not seemed to compute, so it’s replication and fast ageing that gets all the attentionand the real market disruptions I once thought Lost Spirits and all the other companies might herald, remain unrealized. For now, anyway.

And, as an old fashioned kind of rum guy who prefers the genuine article myself, I kind of hope it stays that way.

Jan 212021
 

Flipping at is most basic is simply reselling, and mostly seen as akin to scalping tickets. A seller has a bottle of a rum which is sold out of the stores that a buyer wants , and a bargain is struck usually at a markup. It’s a sale. Its specificity arises because of the practice of buying a (usually newly released) rum alight with a buzz and hype: not to enjoy, but to resell at a profitin other words, introducing yet another intermediary with sticky finger between the distillery of origin and the consumer.

Unsurprisingly, flippers have become a sort of personal pet hate of just about every rum aficionado who wants a bottle of the latest Appleton, Velier, Foursquare, Hot-Sh*t New Distillery or Awesome Estate, and can’t get any because it’s been sold out….only for it to turn up on an auction site or a private sales a week later at a massively inflated price. I remember the rage about the the Tryptich release a few years ago, and the way it disappeared from online stores minutes after being listed; bottles then appeared for sale on nascent auction sites and even on FB within just a few daysnot for extortionate prices, precisely, but certainly higher than retail (Foursquare and Velier have been fighting this practice ever since, with varying degrees of success).

The practice continues unabated to this day, and is equally excoriated, as a recent angry FB post and its comments showedand the general consensus is simply this: to see desired new bottlings turn up for sale on secondary markets and know this resale is why they were bought, instead of for drinking, is outrageous, defeats the efforts of all true rum lovers to get real rums and promote them, and frikkin’ annoying to boot.

I completely understand the disappointed anger of those who missed out and now have to pay more. But really, I do wish people would just calm down about stuff like this. Folks are getting all bent out of shape for a producta commodity, as one friend drily refers to itthat provides no benefit one can’t get elsewhere, that isn’t needed for survival, that is essentially a form of luxury item for which there are loads of substitutes, the sale and trade of which represents the foundation stone of capitalist world in which they liveand this causes a meltdown?

Let’s consider some other points and break the matter down for a second.

The prices are actually not always unreasonable when related to retail and whether they rise in price now or later, the fact is that most of the bottles that are most highly sought after are from favoured distilleries or companies which are always in limited supply; and so, once the initial hoopla and distribution and sales are over, the prices would have inevitably risen, whether through auctions, flipping or resale in some other fashion. Flippers just accelerate the process, though sometimes “sampling out” happens as well (I exclude this latter phenomenon for reasons explained in “Other Notes” below).

Moreover, not every single extra bottle is bought with a view for instant resale at a markup (though of course, it’s a big reason). Many people who collect always buy two or three bottles, one to open and share, the others to keep safe. Such storing (some call it hoarding) takes retail stocks off the market and that’s no more to your benefit than flipping isbecause now, instead of their being at least some at a higher price there are none at any price. Then again, people resell bottles rapidly sometimes, because they just ain’t that good. I can think of a number of more recent rums from one indie or another that people bought with high hopes, then turned right around and sold again because they sure didn’t match the hypeand those prices were not high.

Fans and FOMO are also part of the issue herethey create the noise that enables the hype that stokes the legend that elevates the pricesdeservedly or not. It’s a cruel irony (ignored and unacknowledged by most) that those doing the complaining are sometimes the same ones doing the pre-release hyping, and the complaints themselves serve to make the bottle(s) more desirable. It’s a no-win situation for everyone..

It will come as no surprise anyone following the rum news that Velier (including Hampden, Habitation Velier and the classic Caronis and Demeraras), Foursquare (especially the Private Casks and ECS series), Worthy Park, Rom Deluxe, Rum Artesenal, and any special edition series or collectible series (e.g. the Hamden “yellow box” and “Birds,” or Saint Lucia Distillery’s “Ships”) or three-deacade old Jamaican or uber-old Demerara rums by any independent, create loads of buzzand much higher subsequent demand than any old rum made by some new company out there. And it’s not just limited to companies, but sometimes whole countriesReunion, Jamaica, Grenada, Haiti and Barbados are current favourites. I can only imagine what the New Renegade rums are going to do when they start turning up. And that demand hikes prices on the secondary market.

What flippers are doing is acting as speculators who see the divergence between hype and knowledge, and real value, and jump into the breach. When Luca Gargano, in his book “Nomad Among the Barrels”, referred to the Veliermania and Caronimania in the pre 2012 days, he correctly noted that his initial bottlings sold very slowly because nobody knew what they wereand the initial round of collectors in Italy and France and then Europe became the first rum flippers (I bought the Skeldon 1973 from one of them). The point is, fan-love and online promotion helps drive some of this and one of the reasons it continues is because every one of those fans who buys a couple bottles of the latest new creation and crows about it is helping increase its secondary market value. They would do better to be more cautious with their automatic praises when a Name releases anything, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Maybe we need to step back and rethink what we buy, and use less emotion to steer our purchases. The bubble of enthusiasm about favoured bottles and their makers is fine, but I do believe it excessive at timesand it enables flippers’ margins, not our own satisfaction. In any case, why not spread the rum purchasing wings a little? The world is not made up of the four or five brands most commonly complained aboutthere’s tons more out there. New stuff, old stuff, dependable stuff, cheaper stuff, that just doesn’t have the eldritch lustre and glow of a Magic Name.

Too often we buy unthinkinglyto be “in”, to round out the collection, to have the latest, the newest, the best (they’ve been selling us phones, cars and computers on that basis for decades). But rum junkies and rum lovers could (and should) check out other brands and countries and worry less about what other fans think of them, or how cool they look with the latest Appleton Hearts bottles on the table hogging the Instagram feed or driving hits to the First Review. Because that just leads to a sort of “me first” and “look what I got that you don’t” that is the reason behind far too many of these proud poststhey’re left for you to admire but not taste, and so what really is the point of getting the bottle aside from bragging rights? The only people really profiting is those who exploit the margins this attitude creates, the resellers.

I completely get and accept that flippers are an element of the commercial rum ecosystem, not substantially different from those people who stockpiled masks and other medical or consumer supplies in the USA (and probably elsewhere) and then coldly resold at appalling markups in a time of pandemic. I despise them all for their lack of empathy for those poor souls who weren’t as quick off the block, who didn’t have their resources, and who such buyers basically shaft in their desire to make a buck for themselves. But all this wailing and gnashing of teeth won’t help anything, and it certainly won’t stop anything. No method of restriction of rum sales can stop people from buying multiple bottles, and then reselling them. Not direct distillery-selling to individuals, not single-bottle sales, not selling by lottery, not knowing everyone’s first name, marking bottles, numbering bottles, sealing bottles, nothing. It’s a fact of life. We have to get used to it.

In any case, people can and will and should be able to buy what they can and want if they can afford it, and resell if that’s their desire (in that sense we’re all Flippers-In-Waiting and points to the complexity of the issuewe don’t like Flippers when it’s other people, but we’re okay when it’s us). That you and I don’t like the practice is completely irrelevant. The only value on resale such a product possesses is the value we ourselves place on it by choosing to bid and buy. So, we can occasionally choose to walk away and not buy, and remember that it’s not a life-ending decision and our existence is not predicated on, nor the worth of our lives judged by, somehow missing out on this elixir. All it means is we can’t boast about having it and our social media won’t show it and no, we won’t be able to show it off to our rum club. What we will have, is more money to spend on other things, maybe even the Next Thing, and come on, tell me honestly, is any of that really so bad?


Other Notes: “Sampling Out

Originally I had a section on the practice of “sampling out”buying a bottle to subdivide and sell 3cl or 5cl samples to othersI had thought that the prices when all samples’ prices summed up and averaged, are statistically higher per cl than an auction-flipped bottle and so represented another form of flipping. But I needed proof, as a “feeling” was not enough.

I contacted some acquaintances of mine who indulged in this practice (as either buyers or sellers or both), and this and other online research showed the assumption to be inconsistent at best. Checking around for prices of samples on FB versus retail on European sites showed that it was as likely to be higher as lower and in fact, of late the trend has been one of negligible markups.

This was not entirely a surprise. People sample out for several reasons: to recoup the price of an expensive bottle; to share but not incur yet more costs; to make space in the cabinet; to reduce a bunch of heels taking up space or to which the SO objects (these are real reasons!); to get cash for the next halo bottle they really want; to get rid of a bottle that has some valuesay, because it’s very oldbut which they themselves don’t like or which isn’t real famous. Such sellers tend to be more altruistic and sell at small margins or at cost plus postage. So not really a flipping scenario at all.

Then there are those who get a hot bottle and sell samples at a hefty markup. It’s better for those with slim purses who’ll never get the whole thing and could not afford it anyway and the small size of the bottle and its relatively more affordable cost makes it attractive. It’s flipping in all but name, though.


Some good back and forth on the subject took place on the Scandinavian Rum Academy on FB for those who are interested in otherspoints of view.


 

Dec 212020
 


When non-knowledgeable list-makers who pepper the pages of equally clueless online magazines with their silly compendia ask for advice and help, I can tolerate it, but not from this guy, who I read quite a lot of and respect a whole lot more. He should not be asking, in such vague terms, to get for free what he’s paid to write.


On December 8th 2020, spirits writer Tony Sachs posed this question on the Ministry of Rum Forum on FB: “Hey all, picking your collective brain for an article I’m writing about the 21 best rums of the 21st century (so far). Quite a daunting task! I’m trying to go for a balance of delicious and historically significant. Any suggestions are welcome — they don’t have to be currently available, they just have to be great…..As you can tell, I’m just beginning the research! Of course rhums agricole and clairins are acceptable, sodon’t be shy.” In five hours this thing picked up some 77 responses, few of which were surprising (there were 94 less than two weeks later).

At the risk of sounding like a whining puke who enjoys raining on others’ parades and taking down seemingly innocuous and innocent inquiries just because I can, I think for a famed, widely published and widely read spirits writer to ask this question suggests a problematic lack of knowledge about the very spirit he seeks to be discussing and the language used to request ideas. There’s just so much wrong with with the question, and the whole mindset behind it.

Consider the following points and walk with me here:

One: the question is poorly phrased and defined in such vague terms as to lead to any amount of answers. For example: distilled in 21st century, or released for sale in the 21st century? (this has now been addressed). What does “great” mean? Who defines that? Does the statement “Agricoles and clairins are acceptable” mean that they are not to be taken seriously but can get a sympathy entry? Do spiced rums count? What about sweetened ones? And that word “delicious”I mean, seriously? … that opens the door up to such a level of subjectivity as to make the exercise completely pointless, because the amount of candidates will simply overwhelm the number asked for. I expect more from a professional spirits writer with years of experience under his belt.

Two: The 21st century is ⅕ of the way through so it’s unclear what good such a list actually serves when we’re only 20% in (thanks, please hold your messages, I saw the escape clause of “so far”) – perhaps it’s a conflation of “coming of age” at 21 with next year and chosing that number of rums, I don’t know. But further to that, let me point out that the real increase in both rum knowledge and rum choice has happened in the last ten years, not the last twenty. This was enabled by the internet and social media (especially Facebook) coupled with the rise and proliferation of bloggers after around 2010 — and what it really means is that very few people have any idea of or about any “historically significant” rum released before that point (let alone a delicious one), unless it’s Velier.

Three: Leaving aside the inherent uselessness of “delicious” given its subjectivity, I doubt very many will know what a truly historically significant rum is, or, for that matter, why it is considered to be so (or should be). In other words, without the context and the statement of why, does any response to this aspect of the question have any meaning, really? Is a rum significant because it is a long time “workhorse” of the bar industry, as Jesse Torres commented? Because it is popular? Has loads of people saying it is? Made by a favoured distiller? Again, criteria are lacking.

Four: the current social media atmosphere favours some brands above others and they get the lion’s share of the press. I hardly need mention that these are Velier, Foursquare, Worthy Park, Hampden for the chatterati, and Appleton, St Lucia Distillers and an occasional agricole or rum from east of Greenwich for the balance. (The 77 comments mentioned above make the point: three quarters of all suggestions are from those outfits). This blinkered mindset relegates far too many rums of actual importance and great taste to the margins, unacknowledged, unknown, uncountedand again points to the weakness of the “ask the crowd for suggestions” mentality. You either know your own subject or you don’tif you do you shouldn’t be asking, and if you don’t you shouldn’t be writing.

You might think this is a mean-spirited hit piece against a spirits writer against whom I have a personal beef. But that’s reading too closely and far from the truth: this opinion is about far more than just one man’s modus operandi. I’m railing against the entire culture of indolence that seems to have permeated the online world, where, rather than do any kind of work to research a matter for themselves, so very many peoplefrom professionals to amateurs to simple fansprefer to simply toss out questions for others to answer, and accept those answers from people whose knowledge in the field they have no way of assessing. I have nothing but contempt for ivory tower pontificators who condescendingly offer up dismissals of many bloggersselfless, self-funded and enormously dedicated work with remarks likeA great deal of what passes forRum Historyis the product of, at best, amateurs using google…”1 while producing nothing of value on the subject themselves, but it’s equally poor form to not even check the resources that are available before posing a query of this kind.

At end, from a narrow rum perspective, what this question really is, is a variation of that endearingly innocent “What should I start with?” which abounds in the reddit rum feed. From a beginner, I can accept it. From a pro? …well, not so much. Speaking as a writer myself, I don’t know what good crowdsourcing such a question serves, especially for an article one is likely being paid to write in a field where one holds oneself out as knowledgeable. Is it to get free help? Ideas? Thoughts I couldn’t come up with myself to add to those I can? Save some snooping-around time for work I should be doing, sourcing rum candidates which I, as a spirit writer, couldn’t find the time to research on my own? Sorry, snark or no snark, but I disapprove of this. It smacks of laziness.

And without even looking too hard, I can tell you pretty much what’s going to come out at the other end: Velier, Foursquare, clairins (which is Velier again), the New Jamaicans (Velier repped yet again, with Hampden), Smith & Cross, Rum Fire, maybe Appleton and Savanna, Privateer based on current comments, and a grudging few nods to one or two others. I’d be surprised if anything out of Asia, Australia, Africa or even South America makes the cut. So in the end, it’s pointless. Too much will be excluded no matter what you do and attention will be focused on trends of the day, with not enough light being shone on real long term stars that have stood the test of time over the last twenty years.

Summing up, here’s what I think: you want to write an article like that, create a catchy listicle like that, it’s at best an opinion, so you base it on serious and rigorously defined criteria; on your knowledge and your observation of the field, and your own tastings. You don’t casually farm it out to the crowd. Because posting that question to the MoR is like wandering into a stadium of Rolling Stones fans and asking “Uhhhwho else should I be listening to?” Completely useless. Mr. Sachs would do better to do the fieldwork himself, solo. Then at least the result would be his own honest take, not a crowdsourced smorgasbord based on either the opinions of trend-followers, or the generous input of others who really care about the subject. A subject he should, in any event, know enough about already.


Update February 2021

Some days after I published this editorial, Mr. Sachs contacted me. He took no offense at what I had written, was a complete gent about the whole thing, and we discussed his article and the potential candidates and pitfalls for several days.

The list he finally made is, I think, one of the best of its kind to have come out in recent yearsnot because of the rums he chose, exactly (though those are pretty good given the work he had to do to narrow down the field) but because of the narrative accompanying each one, a combination of trivia, facts and background detail, plus some thoughtful commentary. I had no input into what he finally chose, but he was kind enough to give me a hat tip when he shared the post on FB.

Was my post an exercise in snark? Maybe. Would I take it down? No. Not just because I stand by what I write and take the hit for when I’m wrong, but because the points that were made are relevant and retain a greater applicability than merely to Mr. Sachs. It’s to his credit that he did such a bang up job in spite of my initial fears.

Jan 282020
 

Photo courtesy of romhatten.dk

The El Dorado Rare Collection made its debut in early 2016 and almost immediately raised howls of protest from rum fans who felt not only that Velier had been hosed by being evicted from their state of privileged access to DDL’s store of aged barrels, but that the prices in comparison to Luca’s wares (many which had just started their inexorable climb to four figures) were out to lunch at best and extortionate at worst.

The price issue was annoyingat the time, DDL had no track record with full proof still-specific rums, or possessed anything near the kind of good will for such rums as Velier had built up over the years 2002-2014 in what I called the Age of Velier’s Demeraras; worse yet, given the disclosures about DDL’s practice of additives, to release such rums as pure without addressing the issue of dosage, and at such a high cost, simply entrenched the opinion that DDL was stealing a march on Velier and hustling to make some bucks off the full-proof, stills-as-the-killer-app trend pioneered by Luca Gargano.

It is for all those reasons that the initial rums of Release Ithe PM, EHP and VSG marques, corresponding to the 12, 15 and 21 year old blends El Dorado had made famouswere received tepidly at best, though I felt they weren’t failures myself, but very decent products that just lacked Luca’s sure touch. Henrik of Rum Corner didn’t much care for the Port Mourant and discovered 14g/L of additives in the Versailles, the Fat Rum Pirate dismissed the Versailles himself while middling on the PM and loving the Enmore, and Romhatten out of Denmark, the first to review them (here, here, and here), provided an ecstatic shower of points and encomiums. Others were more muted in their praise (or condemnation), perhaps waiting to see the consensus of developing critical opinion before committing themselves.

Release II in 2017 consisted of a further Enmore and a Port Mourant, with the additional of a special Velier 70th Anniversary PM+Diamond blend. By this time most people had grudgingly resigned themselves to the reality that the Age was over and were at least happy that such Demerara rums were still being issuedand even if they did not bear the imprimatur of the Master, it was self evident that Release II corrected some of the defects of the initial bottlings, got rid of the polarizing Versailles (which takes real skill to bring to its full potential, in my opinion), and the Enmore they made that year turned out to be a spectacular rum, clocking in at 90 points in my estimation. That said, R1 and R2 didn’t really sell that well, if one judges by their continuing availability online as late as 2019.

Release III was something else again. Although once more issued without fanfare or advertising (one wonders what DDL’s international brand ambassadors and marketing departments are up to, honestly), the word about R3 spread almost as swiftly as the initial news of the first bottles in 2016. This time there were four bottlesand although almost nothing has been written about the Diamond “twins” except, once again, by Romhatten (here and here), the other two elicited much more positive responses: an Albion (AN), and a Skeldon (SWR). Neither estate (I’ve been to both) has a distillery onsite any longer, since they were long dismantled and/or destroyedbut the marques are famous in their own right, especially the Skeldon, whose 1973 and 1978 Velier editions remain Grail quests for many.

Speaking for myself, I’d have to say that with the Third Release, DDL has put to rest any doubts as to the legitimacy of the Rare Collection being excellent rums in their own right. They’re damned fine rums, the ones I’ve tried, up to the level of the RII Enmore 1996. I can’t tell whether the R1 series will ever become collector’s prized pieces or sought-after grail quests the way the original Veliers have becomebut they’re good and worth finding. Note that they remain, not just in my opinion, overpriced and this may account for their continuing availability.

It’s almost a movie trope that horror movies first exist as true horror that scare the crap out of everyone, devolve into lesser boo-fests, and end up in sad comedies and unworthy money-grab rip-offs as the franchise passes its sell-by date. I don’t think the Rares will end up this way, because DDL has made it known that they will no longer export bulk rum from the wooden stills, instead holding on to them for their own special releases and blendsso, clearly they are betting on still-specific rum into the futurethough perhaps not always at cask strength. The 15 year old wine finished series and its companion 12 year old set, the new Master Distiller’s collection at standard strength which showcase the stills, all point in this direction.

And this is a good thing, as the stills DDL is so fortunate to possess are unique and they make fantastic rums when used right, and with skill. One can only hope the pricing starts to be more reasonable in the years to come, because right now it’s too early to call them must-haves, and with the cost of them, they might not get the audience that would make them so. They are certainly better than the vastly overpriced 15YO and 12 YO wine-finished rums at standard strength.

Epilogue

Will the Rares survive? In late 2019, four colour-coded bottles which were specifically not Rare Collection items, began to gather some attention online:

  • PM/Uitvlugt/Diamond 2010 9YO at 49.6% (violet),
  • Port Mourant/Uitvlugt 2010 9YO at 51% (orange),
  • Uitvlugt/Enmore 2008 11YO 47.4% (blue)
  • Diamond/Port Mourant 2010 9YO at 49.1% (teal).

None of these were specific to a still, and each was priced at €179 in the single online shop in online where they are to be found. All were blends (aged as such in the barrel, not mixed post-ageing), and all sported some reasonable tropical years. It is unclear whether they are meant to supplement the single-still ethos of the super-specific Rares, or supplant them. As of this writing I have yet to taste them myself (the order is in, ha ha).

Whatever the case, DDL certainly has taken the indie movement seriously and seen the potential of what the Age demonstratedone can just hope their pricing system starts to show more tolerance for the skinny purses of most of us, otherwise they’ll be shared among aficionados rather than bought for their own sake. And there they’ll remain, on the dusty shelves of small stores, looked at and admired, perhaps, but not often purchased.


The Rare Collection Rums

I have been fortunate enough to buy and review many of the Collection so far, and for those who wish to get into the specifics, the reviews are linked here:

In January 2021, the UK based NW Rum Club did a complete review of the entire Rare Collection (releases I, II and III), and it’s worth a look, very informative, talking about the releases, and the stills.

Aug 032018
 

Photo pilfered with permission (c) Simon Johnson, RumShopBoy.com

Over the years, there has developed a sort of clear understanding of what the El Dorado 15 YO is, deriving from the wooden stills that make up its core profilethat tastes are well known, consistently made and the rum is famed for that specific reason. Therefore, the reasoning for expanding the range in 2016 to include a series of finished versions of the 15YO remains unclear. DDL may have felt they might capitalize on the fashion to have multiple finishes of beloved rums, or dipping their toes into the waters already colonized by others with double or multiple maturations. On the other hand, maybe they just had a bunch of Portuguese wine barrels kicking around gathering dust and wanted to use them for something more than decorations and carved chairs.

Few peopleincluding us scrivenerswill ever have the opportunity or desire to try the entire Finished line of rums together, unless they are those who attend DDL’s marketing seminars, go to Diamond in Guyana, belong to a rum collective, have deep pockets or see these things at a rum festival. The price point makes buying them simply unfeasible, and indeed, only two writers have ever taken them apart in toto the boys in Quebec, and the Rum Shop Boy (their words are an excellent supplement to what I’ve done here).

Here are the results in brief (somewhat more detail is in the linked reviews):

El Dorado 15 YO Red Wine Finish – 78 points

Lightly sweet with licorice, toffee and fruity notes on the nose. Cherries, plums, raisins and watermelon on the palate, all staying quiet and being rather dominated by salt caramel and molasses.

El Dorado 15 YO Ruby Port Finish – 80 points

Opens with acetones and light medicinal aromas, then develops into a dry nose redolent of peanut butter, salt caramel, fruits, raisins, breakfast spices and some brine. The taste was rather waterypears, watermelons, caramel, toffee, anise and cognac filled chocolates.

El Dorado 15 YO White Port Finish – 76 points

Very mild, light brown sugar nose, some caramel, brine, sweet soya. Taste was similarly quiescent, presenting mostly citrus, coffee, chocolate, bananas, and of course, molasses and caramel toffee.

El Dorado 15 YO Dry Madeira Finish – 80 points

Nice: soft attack of sawdust and dark fruit: plums, pears, raisins, black grapes. Leavened with ripe orange peel, peaches and olives before muskier aromas of toffee and chocolate take over. Citrus disappears on the palate, replaced by salted butter and caramel drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Also bananas, kiwi fruit, oranges gone off, cinnamon and cloves. Nice, but weak.

El Dorado 15 YO Sweet Madeira Finish – 81 points

Marginally my favourite overall: noses relatively darker and richer and fruitier than just about all the others except the “Dry”delicate nose of peaches, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, caramel, peanut butter, cherries in syrup, candied oranges, bitter chocolate. Soft palate, quite dry, oak is more forward here, plus raisins, cloves and cinnamon carrying on from the nose, and the fruitiness of peaches in syrup, cherries, plus toffee, salt caramel.

El Dorado 15 YO Sauternes Finish – 78 points

Subtly different from the others. Nose of aromatic tobacco, white almond-stuffed chocolate and nail polish, then retreats to salty caramel, molasses, vanilla, cherries, raisins, lemon peel and oak, quite a bit of oak, all rather sere. Palate retains the tobacco, then vanilla, chocolate, coffee, molasses and quite a bit more dried dark fruit notes of raisins, plums, dates, and a quick hint of anise. The oak is quite noticeable, and the rum as a whole is quite dry.


Unsurprisingly, there are variations among those who’ve looked at them, and everyone will have favourites and less-liked ones among these rumsI liked the Sweet Madeira the best, while one Facebook commentator loved the Ruby Port, Simon much preferred the White Port Finish and Les Quebecois put their money on the Dry Madeira. This variation makes it a success, I’d say, because there’s something to please most palates.

The Finished range of rums also make a pleasing counterpoint to the “Basic” El Dorado 15 Year Oldsomething for everyone. But taken as a whole, I wondermy overall impression is that the woodsy, musky, dark profile of the Port Mourant double wooden pot still, which is the dominant element of the ED 15, is affectedbut not entirely enhancedby the addition of sprightly, light wine finishes: the two are disparate enough to make the marriage an uneasy one. That it works at all is a testament to the master blender’s skill, and some judicious and gentler-than-usual additions to smoothen things outthe Standard ED-15 clocks in at around 20 g/L of additives (caramel or sugar), but these are substantially less. Which is a good thingit proves, as if it ever needed to be proved at all, that DDL can forego sweetening or caramel additions after the fact, with no concomitant loss of quality or custom (why do I have the feeling they’re watching Foursquare’s double matured Exceptional Cask series like a hawk?).

What the series does make clear is that DDL is both courageous enough to try something new (the finishing concept), while at the same time remaining conservative (or nervous?) enough to maintain the continuing (if minimal) addition of adulterants. DDL of course never told anyone how popular the Finished Series are, or how the sales went, or even if the principle will remain in force for many years. Perhaps it was successful enough for them, in early 2018, to issue the 12 year old rum with a similar series of finishes.

All the preceding remarks sum up my own appreciation for and problems with the range. None of them eclipse the 15 year old standard model (to methat is entirely a personal opinion); they coexist, but uneasily. There are too many of them, which confusesit’s hard to put your money on any one of them when there are six to chose from (“the paradox of choice”, it’s called). Their exclusivity is not a given since the outturn is unknown. The unnecessary dosage, however minimal, remains. And that price! In what universe do rums that don’t differ that much from their better known brother, and are merely labelled but not proved to be “Limited,” have an asking of price of more than twice as much? That alone makes them a tough sell. (Notethe 12 year old Finished editions which emerged in 2018 without any real fanfare, also had prices that were simply unconscionable for what they were). The people who buy rums at that kind of price know their countries, estates and stills and don’t muck around with cheap plonk or standard proofed rums. They may have money to burnbut with that comes experience because wasteage of cash on substandard rums is not part of their programme. They are unlikely to buy these. The people who will fork out for the Finished series (one or all) are those who want a once-in-a-while special purchasebut that doesn’t exactly guarantee a rabid fanbase of Foursquare-level we’ll-buy-them-blind crazies, now, does it?

My personal opinion is that what El Dorado should have done is issue them as a truly limited series of numbered bottles, stated as 16-17 years old instead of the standard 15, and a few proof points higher. Had they done that, these things might have become true collector’s items, the way the 1997 single still editions have become. In linking the rums to the core 15 year old while making them no stronger, not explosively more special, and at that price, they may have diluted the 15YO brand to no great effect and even limited their sales. But at least the rums themselves aren’t crash-and-burn failures, and are pretty good in their own way. We have to give them points for that.

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 enterpriseit’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 itwell, they’re a little intimidated and it reduces their motivation. And that’s a fair commentwhen 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 itjust 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 cornerthat 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 hopePyrat’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 pointit’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 satusfied. 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, or are ones I care to return to, the way I do for any of the websites run by the people noted abovebecause 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), and Yuuka Sasaki, the lady who runs the Japanese site remarked on above, 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 flippersspeculators 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 collectionsand 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 yearsI bought the Skeldon 1973 from one of themand 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 unanticipatedand perhaps more welcomedevelopment following right along, is what I call micro flippingthe 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 surprisingthe 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 collectorsgrails, 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 coursemost of the older Veliers are, nowadaysbut 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 yearsrums 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 FireVelevetJamaican 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 producersprimary or independentwho 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

Nov 012017
 

*

All apologies to those who like the Bacardi Superior, Lamb’s White and other filtered, smooth, bland (dare I say boring?) 40% white rums in their cocktails, or who just like to get hammered on whatever is cheap to get and easily availablebut you can do better. For anyone who likes a massive white rum reeking of esters and funk and God only knows what else, one of the great emergent trends in the last decade has surely been the new selection and quality of white rums from around the world. Almost all are unaged, some are pot still and some are column, they’re usually issued at north of 45%, they exude badass and take no prisoners, and in my opinion deserve more than just a passing mention.

Now, because aged rums get all the press and are admittedly somewhat better tasting experiences, white (or ‘clear’ or ‘blanc’) rums aren’t usually accorded the same respect, and that’s fairI’d never deny their raw and oft-uncouth power, which can be a startling change from softer or older juice. They aren’t always sipping quality rums, and some are out and out illogical and should never see the light of day. Yet we should never ignore them entirely. They are pungent and flavourful beyond belief, with zesty, joyful profiles and off-the-reservation craziness worthy of attention, and many compare very favourably to rums costing twice or three times as much.

So let me just provide the curious (the daring?) a list of some white rums I’ve tried over the last years. It’s by no means exhaustive, so apologies if I’ve left off a personal favouriteI can only list what I myself have tried. And admittedly, not all will find favour and not all will appealbut for sheer originality and gasp-inducing wtf-moments, you’re going to look far to beat these guys. And who knows? You might even like a few, and at least they’re worth a shot. Maybe several.

(Note: I’ve linked to written reviews where available. For those where the full review hasn’t been published yet, some brief tasting notes. Scores are excluded, since I’m trying to show them off, not rank them, and in any case they’re in no particular order).


[1] Clairin SajousHaiti

If creole still haitian white rums not made by Barbancourt had a genesis in the wider world’s perceptions, it might have been this one and its cousins. In my more poetic moments I like to say the Sajous didn’t get introduced, it got detonated, and the reverbrations are still felt today. There were always white unaged popskulls aroundthis one and the Vaval and Casimir gave them respectability.

[2] J. Bally Blanc AgricoleMartinique

What a lovely rum this is indeed. J. Bally has been around for ages, and they sure know what they’re doing. This one is aged for three months and filtered to white, yet somehow it still shows off some impressive chops. The 50% helps for sure. Apples, watermelon, some salt and olives and tobacco on the nose, while the palate is softer than the strength might suggest, sweet, with fanta, citrus, thyme carrying the show. Yummy.

[3] St. Aubin Agricole Rhum BlancMauritius

New Grove, Gold of Mauritius and Lazy Dodo might be better known right now, but Chamarel and St Aubin are snapping at their heels. St. Aubin made this phenomenal pot still 50% brutus and I can’t say enough good things about it. It has a 1960’s-style Batman style salad bar of Pow! Biff! Smash! Brine, grass, herbs, salt beef and gherkins combine in a sweaty, hairy drink that is amazingly controlled white rhum reminiscent of both a clairin and a Jamaican.

[4] DDL Superior High WineGuyana

Nope, it’s not a wine, and it sure isn’t superior. I’m actually unsure whether it’s still made any longerand if it is, whether it’s made on the same still as before. Whatever the case, Guyanese swear by it, I got one of my first drunks on it back in University days, and the small bottle I got was pungent, fierce and just about dissolved my glass. At 69% it presents as grassy, fruity, and spicy, with real depth to the palate, and if it’s a raw scrape of testosterone-fuelled sandpaper on the glottis, well, I’ve warned you twice now.

[5] Novo Fogo Silver CachacaBrazil

Fair enough, there are thousands of cachacas in Brazil, and at best I’ve tried a couple of handfuls. Of the few that crossed my path, whether aged or not, this one was a standout for smooth, sweet, aromatic flavours that delicately mixed up sweet and salt and a nice mouthfeeleven at 40% it presented well. Josh Miller scored it as his favourite with which to make a caipirinha some time back when he was doing his 14-rum cachaca challenge. Since it isn’t all that bombastic or adversarial, it may be one of the more approachable rums of its kind that isbest of allquite widely available.

[6] Neisson L’Espirit 70° BlancMartinique

Breathe deep and easy on this one, and sip with care. Then look at the glass again, because if your experience parallels mine, you’ll be amazed that this is a 140-proof falling brick of oomphit sure doesn’t feel that way. In fact there’s a kind of creaminess mixed up with nuts and citrus that is extremely enjoyable, and when I tried (twice), I really did marvel that so much taste could be stuffed into an unaged spirit and contained so well.

[7] Rum Fire VelvetJamaica

Whew! Major tongue scraper. Massive taste, funk and dunder squirt in all directions. Where these whites are concerned, my tastes tend to vacillate between clairins and Jamaicans, and here the family resemblance is clear. Tasting notes like beeswax, rotten fruit and burnt sausages being fried on a stinky kero flame should not dissuade you from giving this one a shot at least once, though advisories are in order, it being 63% and all.

[8] Charley’s JB Overproof (same as J. Wray 63%) – Jamaica

A big-’n’-bad Jamaican made only for country lads for the longest while, before townies started screaming that the boys in the backdam shouldn’t have all the fun and it got issued more widely on the island. Very similar to the J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof with which it should share the spotlight, because they’re twins in all but name..

[9] Nine Leaves Clear 2015 – Japan

If Yoshiharu Takeuchi of the Japanese concern Nine Leaves wasn’t well known before he released the Encrypted for Velier’s 70th Anniversary, he should be. He’s a Japanese rum renaissance samurai, a one-man distillery operation, marketing manager, cook and candlestick makerand his 50% unaged whites are excellent. This one from 2015 melded a toned down kind of profile, redolent of soap, cinnamon, nutmeg, apples and other light fruits, and is somewhat better behaved than its Caribbean cousinsand a damned decent rum, a velvet sleeve within which lurks a well made glittering wakizashi. (the 2017 ain’t bad either).

[10] Cavalier Rum Puncheon White 65% – Antigua

Same as the 151 but with little a few less rabbits in its jock. Since the Antigua Distiller’s 1981 25 year old was review #001 and I liked it tremendously (before moving on) I have a soft spot for the companywhich shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying this raging beast, because in it you can spot some of those delicate notes of blackberries and other fruit which I so enjoyed in their older offerings. Strong yes, a tad thin, and well worth a try.

[11] Rum Nation Pot Still White 57% – Jamaica

One of the first Independents to go the whole hog with a defiantly unaged white. It’s fierce, it’s smelly, it’s flavourful, and an absolute party animal. I call mine Bluto. It’s won prizes up and down the festival circuit (including 2017 Berlin where I tried it again) and with good reasonit’s great, attacking with thick, pot still funk and yet harnessing some delicacy and quieter flavours too.

[12] Kleren Nasyonal Traditionnal 22 Rhum BlancHaiti

Moscoso Distillers is the little engine that couldI suspect that if Velier had paused by their place back when Luca was sourcing Haitian clairins to promote, we’d have a fifth candidate to go alongside Sajous,Vaval, Casimir and La Rocher. Like most creole columnar still products made in Haiti, it takes some palate-adjustment to dial in its fierce, uncompromising nature properly. And it is somewhat rough, this one, perhaps even jagged. But the tastes are so joyously, unapologetically there, that I enjoyed it just as much as other, perhaps more genteel products elsewhere on this list.

[13] Toucan 50% Rhum Blanc AgricoleFrench Guiana

This new white only emerged in the last year or two, and for a rum as new as this to make the list should tell you something. I tried it at the 2017 Berlin rumfest and liked it quite a bit, because it skated the line between brine, olives, furniture polish and something sweeter and lighter (much like the Novo Fogo does, but with more emphasis)…and at 50% it has the cojones to back up its braggadocio. It’s a really good white rhum.

[14] Rum Nation Ilha de Madeira Agricole 2017

Lovely 50% white, with an outstanding flavour profile. Not enough research available yet for me to talk about its antecedents aside from it being of Madeira origin and “natural” (which I take to mean unaged for the moment). But just taste the thinga great combo of soda pop and more serious flavours of brine, gherkins, grass, vanilla, white chocolate. There’s edge to it and sweet and sour and salt and it comes together reallly well. One of those rums that will likely gain wide acceptance because of being toned down some. Reminds me of both the Novo Fogo and the St. Aubin whites, with some pot still Jamaican thrown in for kick.

[15] A1710 La Perle

A1710 is a new kid on the block out of Martinique, operating out of Habitation Simon. This white they issued at 54.5% is one of the best ones I’ve tried. Nose of phenols, swank, acetones, freshly sawn lumber, bolted onto a nearly indecently tasty palate of wax, licorice, sugar water, sweet bonbons and lemongrass. It’s almost cachaca-likejust better.

This list was supposed to be ten but then it grew legs and fangs, so what the hell, here are a few more Honourable Mentions for the rabid among you…

[16] Marienburg 90% – Suriname

This is Blanc Vader. With two light sabers. Admittedly, I only included it to showcase the full power of the blanc side. It’s not really that good. However, if you have it (or scored a sample off me) then you’ve not only gotten two standard proofed bottles for the price of one but also the dubious distinction of possessing full bragging rights at any “I had the strongest rum ever” competition. Right now, I’m one of the few of those.

[17] Sunset Very Strong Overproof 84.5%)

The runner up in the strength sweepstakes. Even at that strength, it has a certain creamy delicacy to it which elevates it above the Marienburg. Overall, it’s not really suited for anything beyond a mix and more bragging rightsbecause the hellishly ferocious palate destroys everything in its path. It’s a Great White, surelike Jaws.

[18] St. Nicholas Abbey Unaged WhiteBarbados

This is another very approachable white rum, unaged, a “mere” 40% which blew the Real McCoy 3 year old white away like a fart in a high wind. Part of it is its pot still antecedents. It’s salty sweet (more sweet than salt) with a juicy smorgasbord of pretty flavours dancing lightly around without assaulting you at the same time. A great combo of smoothness and quiet strength and flavour all at once, very approachable, and much more restrained (ok, it’s weaker) than others on this list.

[19] Vientain LoatanLaos

Probably the least of all these rhums in spite of being bottled at 56%, and the hardest to find due to it hardly being exported, and mostly sold in Asia. On the positive side is the strength and the tastes, very similar to agricoles. On the negative some of those tastes are bitter and don’t play well together, the balance is off and overall it’s a sharp and raw rhum akin to uncured vinegar, in spite of some sweet and citrus. Hard to recommend, but hard to ignore too. May be worth a few tries to come to grips with it.

[20] Mana’o Rhum Agricole BlancTahiti

Not so unique, not so fierce, not so pungent as other 50% rums on this list, but tasty nevertheless. Again, like Rum Nation’s Ilha de Madeira, it’s quite easily appreciated because the 50% ABV doesn’t corner you in an alley, grab you by the glottis and shake you down for your spare cash, and is somehow tamed into a more well-behaved sort of beast, with just a bit of feral still lurking behind it all.

[21] La Confrérie du Rhum 2014 Cuvée Speciale Rhum BlancGuadeloupe

A hot, unaged, spicy 50% blanc, with an estery nose, firm body and all round excellent series of tastes that do the Longueteau operation proud. It’s lighter than one might expect for something at this strength, and overall is a solid, tasty and well-put-together white rhum. La Confrerie is a quasi-independent operation run by Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany and they do single cask bottlings from time to timetheir focus is agricoles, and all that knowledge and promotion sure isn’t going to waste.


So there you have it, a whole bunch of modern white rums spanning the globe for you to take a look at (as noted above, I’ve missed some, but then, I haven’t tried them all).

I used to think that whites were offhand efforts tossed indifferently into the rum lineup by producers who focused on “more serious work” and gave them scant attention, as if they were the bastard offspring of glints in the milkman’s eye. No longer.

Nowadays they are not only made seriously but taken seriously, and I know several bartenders who salivate at the mere prospect of getting a few of these torqued up high-tension hooches to play with as they craft their latest cocktail. I drink ‘em neat, others mix ‘em up, but whatever the case, it is my firm belief you should try some of the rums on this list at least once, just to see what the hell the ‘Caner is ranting on about. I almost guarantee you won’t be entirely disappointed.

And bored? No chance.


Other notes

Consider this a companion piece to Josh Miller’s excellent rundown of 12 agricoles, taken from his perspective of how they fare in a Ti Punch.

Two years after publishing this list I found others, and so published a list of 21 More White Rums.

Jul 292017
 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Jun 202017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thirdly, there’s the matter of comparability. When there is a large data set of products about which nothing but good things are written, then there is no balance. People have to know what is disliked (and why) so they can evaluate the stuff a writer does appreciate (and why). In other words, an understanding by the reader of the writer’s preferences – it’s not enough to ignore or leave out the stuff one don’t like and expecting the reader to understand why, and where else will one gain that comprehension except by reading a negative review? This is not to say that I think anyone who disagrees with me is a fool (as Sir Scrotimus evidently does about anyone who disses his pet favourites) – I’m just pointing out that agreements and disagreements over any writer’s opinions exist, and given the wide and varying spread of preferences in the rumworld, one should take encomiums, even my own, with a pinch of salt, with the criticisms as a useful counterweight. Far too many buyers do no boots-on-the-ground, rum-in-the-glass research of their own and simply go with somebody else’s opinion1…and if that’s the case, that opinion had better be one that has at least a modicum of credibility.

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

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

The argument was made to me some years back that I should not embarrass or shoot down small producers who are now starting out, who need good word of mouth and positive feedback in order to grow and improve over time. They are, after all, employing people, paying taxes and “doing their best, while you, buddy, what the hell are you doing? (A 2019 article on The Ringer referenced a similar point) We should support them by buying their rums and providing cash flow which they will use to create better products over time. This line of reasoning is fallacious on several levels. One, it’s my damned money, sweated for, hard earned; purchasing and then giving a pass mark to a substandard product is encouraging the maker to continue making the same product, since it’s clear nothing is wrong with itso where exactly is the incentive to change coming from? Second, it’s a straightforward conflict of interest, because then I would be supporting not the consumer (on whose behalf I write, given I’m one myself), but the producer with what amounts to free and fake advertising. Thirdly, people aren’t fools and never more so than now where social media allows them to communicate dissatisfaction faster than ever beforemy credibility would be shot to hell were I to say, for example, that Don Papa is one of the best rums ever made. Lastly, I think every producer has an obligation of their own not to rest on their laurels or produce low level crap that passes muster among the less-knowledgeable, but to go for the brass ring: if they tart up a neutral spirit with additives up to the rafters and try to sell it as a premium product for a high price, why on earth would I want to be a party to that? Or if they are really a small outfit and are making a poor-quality rum, why would I want to be less than honest and tell them where they are failing, when that’s the very impetus that might make them try harder, do better, push the envelope?

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

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


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


 

Sep 082016
 

300

***

I feel like a literary flea next to someone like Serge Valentin on Whisky Fun, who just published his 12,000th whisky tasting note. But you know, given the slender reach of my purse, the way I write and the time available to do it all, I’m not displeased with reaching this little milestone.

“About two or three years,” the Last Hippie (who now runs the site AllThingsWhisky) and I remarked to each other many moons ago, when we were discussing longevity. “Maybe a hundred or so rums.” That’s how long it was thought I’d be able to write for our origin site Liquorature. I had counted all the rums available in our local stores, and never seriously imagined it could get beyond that. I started writing in mid-2009, began posting in early 2010, and with one break, have kept on ever since. The hundred rums passed by the wayside, and now, if you can believe it, reviews are into their seventh year, the ‘Caner is passing the three hundredth essay (more if you count the Rumaniacs) and the whole exercise has thrown off branches in all kinds of directions unforeseen at the inception.

Wow. 300 reviews. I still stand back in astonishment every now and then when I see a number like that. Such a miniscule output will never impress Serge (640+ rums and counting) or Dave Russell (~380), or whisky sites which boast hundreds, if not thousands of reviews. Yet I can’t help but thump my scrawny mosquito-physique chest a little, because even though I’m small-fry compared to those guys, I still recall that time when I thought a hundred would be cool to doand the idea of this many seemed beyond comprehension.

What accounts for it? Well, all kinds of thingsa genuine love and interest in the subject, of course. It’s not a job, really, or anything remotely resembling the drudgery of work. I don’t have a boss (always nice). Unlike employment, I actually get (mostly) positive feedback that shows others share this interest, this passion. People communicate. And it’s not just enthusiasts, but producers, other writers, bartendersI’m not a very sociable individual, but I now have more friends, in more countries around the world, then I ever imagined possible, and most are unstinting with advice, samples, corrections, assistance, background materials, commentary, photographs, or just plain old conversation. It was no accident that Henrik of Rum Corner, Cornelius of Barrel Proof, Gregers and I, were able to talk for six straight hours without repeating ourselves back in 2015, while damaging the hell out of some rums that for their age and price were utterly unobtainable for me back in 2009. Engagement with the broader community is alternately exasperating or educating. Most of the time it’s simply fun.

I always have this vision of some guy on a cold winter night, looking at a rum on a shelf, breaking out his phone to scan for a review, reading about it here, sighing at my long-windedness, but then maybe doing a double take, perhaps laughing, and then mumbling to himself, “This s.o.b. ain’t bad.” (Well, okayI can dream, right?)

So a big thank you for all of you who have taken the time to read along, and who touch base from time to time. It’s not only because of you all, but for you all, that this site keeps running.

***

2015 Germany spread

***

Everything below is a review of what’s been happening on the site, some thoughts of my own, and some statistics for those who are curious:

1. Most viewed reviews

The Bacardi 151, which I still think is the funniest, followed by the Velier biography, the latter of which remains the fastest climbing post, everit hit a thousand views in under an hour the day I put it up. The other two highly viewed articles which always surprise me are the Austrian Stroh 80 and the Cuban Guayabita del Pinar, neither of which are sterling standouts or on anyone’s must-have list, yet they keep chugging along, day after day. Quite astonishing for such niche products.

 

2. Least read article ever

The Jamel cachaca review (quite recent, so no surprise) and also the Canadian Momento Amber rum, which few would ever have found, let alone boughtit really wasn’t that good, more a backyard rotgut in my opinion. The Renegade Jamaica 2008 is also on the list (and that’s been around for ages), which kinda confirms my opinion that they were ahead of the curve all those years ago, and should have stuck with their special edition rum lines. With the rise of indie bottlers in the last years, they could have maybe been not only one of the pioneers, but in the lead.

 

3. My favourite rums of these 100, and new discoveries.

Leaving aside all the Velier rums (we all know they’re good, so let’s give somebody else a moment in the sun), here’s what I liked or which enthused me:

D3S_3789Norse Cask Demerara 1975

An expensive purchase but worth every penny. Over thirty years of ageing of a Demerara rum, leading to a magnificently rich and pungent dark behemoth. I now wish I had bought the full bottle instead of the smaller (but cheaper) version. If it had been no more than a raving taste monster dive bombing the palate, that would have been good enough, but when tried in conjunction with the Cadenhead from the same year (at <41%), it became clear why full proofs should be made more often.

 

D3S_3715Rhum Rhum Liberation 2012 Integrale

If there is ever a choice between the standard strength 2012 and the Integrale 2012, get the Integrale. This thing is an amazing agricole, so good that even regular rummies will have little too complain about. It may be among the best, if not the best, five year old rhum that I’ve been fortunate enough to sample, and proves once again that age is no indicator of quality.

 

 

Clairins

Like my father, I mix erudition and peasantry in my character in equal and cheerful doses. The clairins unabashedly appeal to the lizard brain of the latter. They’re big, brutish, nasty taste hammers, unrefined and uncouth, yet, once we get past all that acetone and paint thinner, we remember something quite remarkable coiling around underneath. Some call that a “unique flavour profile”I call it pretty damned good, and yes, I know I’m in a minority on this one.

 

Chnatal 1980 2Chantal Comte 1980

Without a doubt, the best sub-ten year old rhum I’ve ever tried. Ever. At nine hundred euros, it was priceyokay, it was more than pricey, it was near-divorce-level-pricey (the conversation started “I gave up a Prada purse for this s**t?” at overproof decibel levels, and went rapidly downhill from there). But man, that combination of sumptuousness and complexity was amazingly tasty, and showcased all the reasons why agricoles are great products we should never ignore just ’cause we never found one we liked.

 

Black Tot 1The Black Tot

I appreciate this rum not because of its intrinsic qualitythough that wasn’t half badbut because of its history and heritage. Sometimes you just get a rum because you want it, and I wanted this one for a long time.

 

 

 

Epris 1L’Espirit Epris Bourbon finished Brazilian Rum

For a small outfit that is practically unknown outside of France, they certainly make some good hooch, these guys. This one might not have been a true cachaca, yet it exhibited markers of taste and style that was a cut above the ordinary. Purely on my appreciation of this one rum (provided to me gratis by Cyril of duRhum), I contacted the company to get more, just to see if they were as good as I thought they were.

 

 

Compagnie des Indes: Indonesia and Guadeloupe

Undoubtedly my new maker of choice for this one hundred reviews is CDI. I looked at Prichard’s, Nine Leaves, a raft of agricoles, and rums from around the world, and somehow the Indonesia stood out in my memory; and the Guadeloupe, issued at 43% was an excellent and affordable 16 year old rhum. While I may never get all of CDI’s products, I’m sure glad I managed to try these two.

***

4. Other bloggers’ articles

Like any serious interest, writing about rums requires keeping up with the news and issues of the day. More and more we are seeing bloggers put out informative and thought-provoking essays which enrich our understanding of the subculture. Here are some of the best articles I read while putting out my own hundred reviews. The quality of the thinking behind each heightens my appreciation for the writers who take the time to go beyond mere tasting notes and into informative corners of the rumworld which amuse, inform and educate:.

The Cocktail Wonk’s article on E&A Scheer

Matt Pietrek’s essays on the Jamaican distilleries were exercises in depth and detail, and I enjoyed them a lot, not least for the information they provided, but it was the one about E&A Scheer I found the most enlightening. All of us hear about independent bottlers buying casks from “brokers” without ever going further. Matt pulled back the curtain on what that actually meant, and how a very old company still provides stock for many of the small companies whose rums we appreciate. An enormously informative and entertaining read.

The Fat Rum Pirate: The World of Independent Bottlings

Wes Burgin from the UK has put out quite a few essays regarding sugar, quality in rums and other issues of the day. I don’t always agree with his arguments, yet that doesn’t invalidate the points he makes, and they always engender valuable discussions. This one was more factual than opiniated and pulled together many strands of the available information on who and what independent bottlers are.

Josh Miller at Inu A Kena: Plugging into the Rum World” and the “Cachaca Challenge

Josh and I are in contact off an on through social media, and I usually give him a good-natured ribbing about how he doesn’t write enough. That’s because I like what he writes, and what he does write is always worth a read. Two pieces he put out over the last year and a bit are worthy of mention (again): the summary of online websites dedicated to rums and cocktail culture, and the one where he pulled together fourteen cachacas at once to see how they stacked up in a caipirinha. I wrote to him after he published the latter and bemoaned my inability to get that many Brazilian rums at all, at which he laughed and told me his bar is always open to my tasting glass, if I ever get over to San Francisco.

5. Site focus in the next hundred

1. Continuing emphasis on agricoles

Moving into the French-style rumworld opened up huge vistas of enjoyment for me. Like many who started with the usual stuff, I disdained the clear, grassy profiles of agricoles, yet I plugged away and found that they grew on me. I found more quality rums here than I suspected. Of course, since I’m closer to Europe than to North America, it’s also easier to find them, and practically the entire French blogging communitymany of whom I’m happy to know on a personal basisis happy to chip in and point me to samples, overlooked gems and provide information.

2. Leaving the West Indies Behind

Naahjust kidding. The Caribbean will always remain the bastion of the spiritmore rums come from there than anywhere else. Yet it was and remains intriguing how many local rums there are from other parts of the world. I enjoyed CDI’s Indonesia, didn’t care for the Fijians, and I know there’s stuff from Africa, Australia and Polynesia that many of us have never even heard about. Everyone’s heard of Mount Gay or El Dorado….but it’s the weird ones from, oh, Mozambique, that I want to write about. So for the next few years I’ll be casting a much wider net than before, to see what I can come up with that some might have an interest in.

3. More cachacas

Just as with agricoles, I felt it was time to see what was going on in Brazil. I’ll likely not have the facility to pick up very many, but I’m trying to buy more than usual, and they will remain a focus of mine for the next few years. Also, as initially with agricoles, I currently don’t care for them much, so the only way to see whether I’m full of Kraken is to try as many as possible. Maybe I’ll find the gold nuggets in the mud which I’m absolutely convinced lurk in the backdam, awaiting only a persevering nose to ferret out.

4. More Essays

Maybe. This is a time issue more than anything else. Good essays have to express a cogently argued point of view and require a depth of research which takes a lot of time. But I’ll keep at it. The Makers section, if nothing else, needs to have more.

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6. Trends in the rum world I continue to follow

Sugar/Additives

This is an issue that just won’t subside, and never should. It engenders enormous passions on all sides of the divide. I dislike the hysterical adamance of the purists who sneer at and denounce anyone who likes a sweetened rum, but I’m equally at war with those producers who refuse to disclose additives of any kind under the guise of it being legal. Legal or not, the consuming class is a far cry from the sheeple who accepted everything as little as five years ago, and it’s vocal proponents of disclosure who are making raising awareness a problem that new entrants to the field cannot afford to ignore. I can hope, I guess. Sugar will never go awayit’s too tightly interwoven with the culture of rumbut maybe we can look forward to a day when people get a full brief on what they’re pouring into their glass. People are welcome to like whatever they like, and if we have our way, at least they’ll know why.

Classification

The old standard of grading or classing rums by colour is more or less dead, yet the influential “styles” of Mr. Broome is proving a tougher nut to crack. As with many things, it’s the adaptation to exceptions that show how good the rules are. Here, not so much. More and more we are seeing agricoles issued in other places than the French islands; blends of rums from multiple regions make their appearances more often than before; additives are nowhere to be found; and the difference between pot still and column still rums continue to confound many. Luca Gargano’s system is a step in the right direction, though I still think it does not address outliers satisfactorily, and by ignoring the immediate source of the distillatemolasses, sugar cane juice or “other”an opportunity may have been lost to win wider acceptance. Still, no matter how it ends up, the issue is definitely getting the attention it deserves.

New Entrants

It’s an old joke that “rum is the next big thing … and always will be”. Yet nothing suggests the acceptance of the spirit as a class act in its own right as the explosion of smaller micro-producers, especially in the US and Canada, and the surge of independent bottlers in Europe. People are getting fed up with the high price of scotch, maybe, and constant blogging has made everyone aware that rum takes second place to no spirit at the top end. Rum Nation, Plantation, Samaroli, Velier, Moon Imports, Berry Bros., Fassbindthese are decades-old companies who are finding their place in the sun courtesy of a new crop of writers and bloggers who champion their work, but others are muscling into the market as well: L’Espirit, Ekte, Compagne des Indes. The sheer variety is astonishing and there’s something for every taste, from brute force mastodons at 60% to milder palate pleasers at 40%.

Cask Strength

Nothing pleases me more than the move at the top end to move past 40-43%. The indies mentioned above were always issuing such rums, of course, in a bottle here and there, and Renegade, who perhaps were ahead of the curve but then dropped out, created one of the first “lines” of rums that took this to 46% in their limited editions. But perhaps it is Velier we should thank for kicking off the trend, because not only are the majority of independent bottlers now issuing rums at strengths between 50-65% but the big guns like FourSquare, Mount Gay, and DDL are catching on and doing the same. I look forward to the day when all standard strength rums made by big companies are issued alongside their premium beefcake brothers so consumers can pick one or the other depending on taste.

Truth in Advertising and Disclosure

Too many makers are stuck in the pre-social-media world. It seems to escape many of them that there is a vocal and knowledgeable community out there that disseminate information faster that was ever possible before. Agreed, most people who like rum simply want an opinion they can rely on (hence the rise of bloggers and online reviewers, since only a fool trusts a company website touting its own quality), but what annoys the Twitterati and Facebook Faithful more than anything else is (a) the lack of disclosure on labels or online materials as to what is actually in the rum, i.e. additives and (b) what the rum is made of, and how, what still, from what raw stock, aged for how long. Like it or not, people want to know this stuff, which is why Arome (which I have not tried) got an online faceful for being not only evasive but outright condescending. This of course traces its genesis to the sugar imbroglio from above.

***

And so there you have it. One person’s ramblings about rum, the rum universe and our place within it. I realize with every passing year that not only will I never taste them all, but can only ever scratch the surface of the sometimes bewildering variety available to us fortunate souls (at a still reasonable cost compared to that obscure Scottish drink). If I were to give a single piece of advice to anyone regarding rumespecially those now getting interestedit’s to never stop with just one, but try many, just to understand how wide an area the rumiverse actually covers. I learn something new every week, make new discoveries and it remains a remarkable experience.

So, walk a little further down the rum road with me. There’s more coming. There’s always more coming.

Thanks to all of you who have read not only this far in this essay, but overall. Your comments and visits are valued, and welcome, and appreciated.

All the very best

 

The Lone Caner

Jan 272016
 
LUCA-900x411

Photo (c) 2013 congresodelron.com

Luca sounds tired. The boss of Velier has just returned from Cape Verde off the coast of Senegal, where he was investigating small rum producers like in Haiti, has been caught up in the online discussions of the “Rare” issues, gave an interview to DuRhum (in French), and is now on his way to Morocco to attend some business and help shoot a documentary, before heading off to Cape Verde again. I catch him in the back of a taxi, but he’s willing to talk a little. Truthfully, when it comes to rums, the man is always ready to talk, and it’s never just a little. Maybe that’s one reason he and I get along.

We discuss his interview with Cyril, but my own interest is much more focused, and gradually we get to what I want to talk aboutDDL’s new Velier replacements, called the “Rare Collection” and I had opined that premature news of their introduction could have been handled better. Commercial considerations had prevented Luca from going on record before this, but apparently DDL have now given him their blessing, and he knows I want facts rather than speculations.

“I honestly wanted to tell you back in December, when your “Wasted Potential” article came out,” he says. “But we (DDL and myself) had agreed nothing would be said about the Rare Collection until the time for official press releases and introductions came around. So I had to be quiet.”

“It happens,” I shrug, stifling my rush of petty irritation, since, like most people, I hate being wrong. “Why don’t you step me through the sequence of events regarding the issue?

He settles into what I call his ‘presentationvoice and talks nonstop for several minutes. Much to my surprise, the conception of these three rums goes back to January 2015, a full year ago. Following the retirement of Yesu Persaud, the new CEO of DDL (Komal Samaroo) met with Luca and told him they were going to make ‘Gargano-stylerums themselves following the full-proof, single-still, limited-edition principles, and as such the ability of Velier to bottle from DDL’s stocks would cease. “But I have to be clear,” Luca said. “Aside from the Skeldon, I never ever just walked into the warehouse and sampled at random and said I wanted this barrel or that barrel – I always and only got shown a limited selection by DDL and chose from them. And the vintages were getting younger all the time – I was hardly ever seeing stuff younger than the early 2000s any more.”

He’s admitted it before, and confirmed that initially the situation made him sad – it was something like seeing your own child grow up and move out of the house – but proud as well. It showed that there was real potential by a major distiller to go in this direction, and that the full-proof concept was a viable commercial proposition. And it made sense for DDL to fold these rums into the larger el Dorado brand.

“Which would in any case always be associated with you,” I cut in. “For the foreseeable future, DDL’s full proofs will live in your shadow.”

“That’s not important,” he says earnestly. “It’s not about ego for me. It’s about rum: authentic, honest, tropical aged, full proof rum. If DDL makes them, the rumworld is just as well served, because good rums are being made and sold.”

“One could argue that DDL let you take the risk and open the market and then moved in to capitalize on your success,” I point out. I’m not on anyone’s side on this matter and I know business is business (it’s not personal, right?). DDL didn’t get to be what it was without some very sharp people at the top, and while I am surprised it took this long for them to get in on the action, they are finally doing something.

I can almost see him shaking his head. “No. Because it’s their rum. I always insisted that DDL was mentioned on our labels – because I never felt it was ‘mine’…the name of Velier was only ever in the fine print at the back. I found a few diamonds, sure, but never pretended to own the mine, you know? And I did the same for the Clairins.” I think he’s being just a bit disingenuous here, personally, because one does not become a successful businessman without at least a little talent, aggro and braggadocio, and I suspect he knows perfectly well how synonymous his name has become with full proof rums in general, and Demeraras in particular. But I let it pass, and he continues.

rare-mads-1

Photo (c) Mads Heitmann, Romhatten

“So by November of 2015 a lot of the work was done – the selection of the vintages, the label mockups. Some samples went out to Europe –“

“Hang on,” I interrupt. “Exactly how much were you involved in all this?

“Not at all.”

“Seriously?

“No. I did not select the barrels, I did not choose the vintages, I had nothing to do with advertising or label design. All I knew was that there would be an Enmore, a PM and a Versailles. By the time I received samples in December, it was all complete, and my only involvement was as the distributor for Italy.”

“Why are they only being sold only Europe?

He hesitates a moment and I can sense him choosing his words with some care. “DDL is a Guyanese company,” he says at last. “And I think their information gathering and knowledge relate and are geared more to the North American market than the European one. In North America it’s always been difficult to introduce new spirits into their states-segmented markets; and there has never been a really strong movement or tradition or knowledge of craft full-proofs. It was only latelywith Samaroli and a few others becoming available, with online media like Facebook, with the reviews of English language rum bloggersthat the profile of such rums has increased and the potential more fully understood. But in Europe full-proofs have always sold well and been widely appreciated – indeed that has always been my primary market. So it made sense to start there.”

“With the potential to cross the Atlantic in the future?

He shrugs. “That’s for DDL to decide. I hope so.”

“So we’re in December now. My own article on the missed opportunities of DDL came out around that time.”

“Yes, and a lot of people read it. And I wanted to contact you to advise you that there were indeed new single-still rums coming out. But my arrangement with DDL forbade that, so…”

I’m still a little miffed about the matter, but it’s water under the bridge and there’s nothing I can do except admit I got it wrong and move on.

“Why do you think DDL never responded to my article, or contacted me?

“I have no idea.”

“Because it strikes me as strange that a major new bottling is being issued to the market, and there was no advance knowledge, no teasers or sly hints or even massive advertising to stimulate interest.”

“Well, they did send some samples to one of the Rumfests late in the year – I believe to Belgium – “

“And it received almost no publicity at all.”

“It was just for evaluation purposes, I think, not an advertising campaign to kick off the release. That was supposed to come in this year.”

Well, DDL is run by some smart people, and I suppose they have reasons for what they do and how they do it. However, I also believe they are underestimating the force-multiplying power of social media in a big way and maybe my mind just works differently since I’m a consumer as well as a writer, not a company marketing guru.

It occurs to me that with respect to communication, the premature release of information on the Rares must have caught everyone off guard. “So now we come to 2016,” I say, following that thought. “Your company somehow issued a webpage link to show these rums as becoming available, on January 13th. Then it disappeared. What happened?

His embarrassment is palpable over the long distance telephone line. “That was a mistake,” he says ruefully. “My graphics people worked so fast that the mockup and catalogue update were all done ahead of time. They didn’t bother to check with me before posting it up, because they didn’t see anything special about a new item on the cataloguewe do, after all, add stuff constantly. I was in Cape Verde then, away from communications, and as soon as I came out and realized what had happened, I pulled the link immediately. By then the news was all over the place.

rare-mads-2

Photo (c) Mads Heitmann, Romhatten.

“And then?

He lets out a deep breath. “The story went viral in the online rum community. You know this, you followed it.”

Indeed I had. The story flashed around the world in less than a day. Wes at the FatRumPirate pushed out an article on the three rums on the 15th; a Danish blogger, Mads Heitmann, was able to get a complete set of the three bottles and reviewed the PM 1999 ln the 19th. And on top of that, he posted prices on his site and on Facebook, which went viral as fast as the original post from Velier’s site, and changed the entire direction of the story. The news was well and truly out there and could not be called back, which demonstrates what I mean about the power of Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and all the rest.

“But none of it had any more to do with me,” Luca argues. “I made my sincere apologies to DDL, explained to them that the initial, unpriced, posting was an error I tried to correct and not a leak of any kind. I was waiting for a green light from them to make a public announcement and start publicizing.”

I suppose I can accept that, since all my notes and private discussions support it. “The story now started to get bigger than just you, because aside from the annoyance of the rum community about the releases just popping out of nowhere, which is a minor matter, they now had to contend with the pricing. And that was no small thing – it was deemed exorbitant.”

“Your article didn’t help,” he says, half laughing, half accusing, referring to the essay I then wrote on January 20th, where I both complained about the introduction and expressed my hopes for their quality.

The conversation seems to have come around to the point where I’m the one answering questions instead of him; still, the point is valid. “I wasn’t trying to. At the time I was pretty put out. DDL should have read the tea leaves and done damage control immediately, gotten ahead of this story. Back then, I solicited their input without response. Okay, I’m small fry, a small blogger in a wide world of them, and it was an opinion piece, and yet I don’t think I was wrong; and this was now an issue affecting consumers all over the map – somebody should have stood up, posted online, gotten involved, calmed the waters.”

“I can’t speak to that,” he responds, with a note of finality.

The cost per bottle is of interest to us as consumers, so I persist. “What can you tell me about the price, on the record?

PM 1999 Romhatten

Picture crop (c) Romhatten.dk

“I think the Danish numbers are high,” he admits. Privately, I had thought so too, and the KR6500+ (~€870) initially quoted on January 19th for all three bottles together has in fact been reduced in some online shops in Denmark. Factor in the very high alcohol taxes in that country, and the base shop prices (before markups) to consumers are probably closer to expectations. Still high, but relatively more affordable.

“The price in Italy will likely be around the level of equivalent Veliers, plus maybe 10-15%. But I can’t say that for sure across Europe, because I sell only in Italy, to shops, not to individuals, and taxes and markups vary. But they are not as expensive as you made out to be.”

Since I’ve argued that price is a function of brand awareness and exclusivity as well as production costs, I ask the question that’s been bugging me all this time. “What’s the outturn of the range?

“About 3,000 bottles for each expression is my guess. I’m not entirely sure of the exact numbers”

“And future issues?

“I can’t say: I’m hearing that maybe an annual release of two bottlings, with about the same quantity as these.” Which gives us all hope, I think. Two is not as good as four or five, yet I don’t know that many full-proof rum lovers who would complain too much. At least they’re getting something.

The answers are getting shorter, and I sense we may be coming to the end of this conversation. I only have one more. “You’re distributing the rums in Italy, and have had a long association with DDL. You’re hardly a disinterested party. But as a simple lover of rum, putting aside any bias as much as you can, what do you think of the Rare Collection?

There’s a smile in his voice as he notes the care of my phrasing. Or maybe he’s just thinking of these rums, his now-grown children, with fondness, and delights at an opportunity to speak of them. “I received samples in December 2015, and Daniele (Biondi) and I tried them together with five or six other Enmores, Port Mourants and Versailles rums we had from previous years. And I am telling you, these are every bit as good. They lost nothing, and preserve everything in my principles – tropically aged, no additives, single-still, cask strength. The taste is amazingly good, and I think they are great additions to the full proof Demerara lineup. It may be too early to tell, but if they continue to issue such rums in the future, these first editions may one day be worth quite a bit, the same way my first bottlings appreciated on the secondary markets.”

His tone has that evangelical fervor, the ring of utter personal conviction, that always characterizes his public presentations, and I gotta admit, the enthusiasm is infectious. He may or not be right, and others may disagree with his assessment in the months and years to come – but there’s no doubt he really believes they’re that good. I’ve heard him speak that way about his other rums and rhums as well, and we know Velier’s track record, so perhaps we should just take it at face value. Until shops actually start selling them and we start seeing reviews out there, not much more to be said. I think we’re just about done here.

I scratch my head, look at my notes and questions, and realize an hour has gone by. Luca is now buying organic apples for his pretty wife through the taxi window, waiting to see if there’s anything else, but he’s covered it all for me, filled in most of the blanks. What little information I have from DDL confirms most of this. So I give him my regards and thanks, we exchange notes on our movements around the world in 2016 and agree to see if we can meet up somewhere, have a relaxed session and maybe drink a sample or ten. And, of course, as always, to talk rums.

***

Other notes

This was not a formal interview. It was a discussion between the two of us, which is why I wrote it the way I did. From his perspective, it was to some extent also publicity, even damage control. It’s no coincidence that this and Cyril’s more formal interview came out so close together. Had I not written the two other essays about DDL already, I would not have bothered, but this wraps things up and substitutes such opinions and guesses as I have expressed, with more factual information.

The formal release of these rums for sale with all the marketing blitz, brass bands and bunting is supposed to be the end of January / early February 2016.

 

 

Jan 202016
 

Rare Collection

“I hope for them that the rums are good,” muttered Cyril darkly, as a bunch of us exchanged comments on the newest DDL offerings. We should have been happy, but we weren’t, not really. Few of us rum watchers were.

Back in December 2015, I read the tea leaves spectacularly wrong and suggested that DDL would not be issuing single-still Velier-style full proofs any time soon. A month later they did: an Enmore 1993, Versailles 2002 and PM 1999. I’m actually kinda surprised nobody ragged my tail about my utter inability to forecast what might even have been a foregone conclusion after the age of Velier’s Demeraras abruptly ended. So yeah, I munching a big crow sandwich right now.

Still: if you’re not deep into rums, perhaps the way the blogosphere erupted at the news of DDL’s full-proofRare Collectionmight have taken you aback. A link to an article on Velier’s site went viral almost immediately on the FB pages of la Confrere, Global Rum Club, Ministry of Rum; even some blogs made mention of it. People who loved Velier’s Demeraras, and who snapped up indie bottlings of Guyanese rums for ages, were happy as a Caner who fell into the vat, that DDL had finally started to “tek front.”

But as time went on, it became clear that there were several issues with the three bottlings named above, and all of them pointed to what I maintain are deficiencies in DDL’s strategic (or marketing) arm. They misread the public sentiment and displayed no real current knowledge of what drives purchases of upscale “super-premium” rums. They came at the wrong time, at the wrong price, with too little information and with the wrong fanfare.

Consider:

There was absolutely no forewarning at all (see footnote 1). The picture and a brief notation in Italian went up on the Velier website (it has now disappeared) and that was it. And not even in time to make the Christmas season, where traditionally liquor sales peak. As of this writing (January 20th) they are still not represented on El Dorado’s own website (although the deceased Mr. Robinson remains as a valued member of the team). DDL’s Facebook page has nothing, and questions I raised in private messages to them went unanswered. Wow. Who on earth is in charge of getting the message out over there?

Along with the lack of warning, there was no mention of three key points that anyone selling a rum about which there is great anticipation should reasonably consider:

    1. Where were these to be distributed/sold?
    2. What would the price be?
    3. How many bottles were issued?

So essentially, until the Danes at Romhatten got their hands on a set and started writing about them (the PM received a 96 rating), few people knew where they could be had. Most online stores still don’t carry them. It was later established they would not be sold in North America. And when it was understood that they averaged out at €290 a bottle in Denmark and Germany, whereas most independent bottlings of the same ages cost between a €100-200 on the primary market, the grumbles got louder.

Leaving out production costs and taxes, two things drive a bottle’s price way upage (to some extent, though I have paid an arm and a leg for a seven year old from 1980), and more than that, rarity. The two together create monsters like the Appleton 50 year old ($4500/bottle) for example. One of the reasons a Velier Skeldon 1978 pushes prices past the thousand euro mark on the secondary market, is because there are so few out there.

However, DDL has not marketed the rums with indie-bottler-level pricing to titillate the market and grab initial market share and establish their own reputation for great full proof rums, separate from that of Velier; they gave no hint of how many bottles were issued; they advertised not at all, and to add insult to injury, are staying mum on the fora where they can engage their fans and the general public. All of this suggests that we are being asked to pay very high prices for an unproven product of uncertain commonality. If a hundred bottles had been issued that would be one thing….ten thousand would be quite another matter.

Consider this key point alsoLuca was the recipient of a decade of goodwill for his full proof lines, aided and abetted by issuing rums that were very very good. The man had an enviable track record, made almost no dogs, and had no dishonour or disrepute attached to his product (like DDL got when hydrometer tests began to show the inclusion of unreported sugar to their standard aged rums), and as a result, people were willing to buy his products blind, almost at any price, knowing they would get something that had a good chance of being an excellent drink and a worthwhile investment. And to his credit, Luca provided all the info up front, and never priced his rums to the point where this kind of essay became necessary.

DDL maybe felt that “if we issue it they will come.” Given the explosion of interest in the new line, they were certainly correct there, and they themselves have many decades of goodwill of their own to tap into, deriving from the El Dorado line of rums (if not the Single Barrel expressions). So I’m not saying DDL makes bad rums (quite the opposite in fact). And believe me, I’m not pissy because I read the future wrong. In fact, I have already bitten the bullet, put my money where my mouth is, and bought all three of these releases at those crazy prices. I look forwardkeenlyto reviewing them.

What I am is annoyed with the stumbles of a company for which I have great regard, and which should know better. You don’t issue expensive rums after the holiday season, when purses are scrawny and credit card bills are due. The pricing and the lack of information are sure to piss off more serious rum lovers (and writers) who make purchasing decisions carefully. One spends twenty bucks on a whimnot three hundred. And think about this also: when bloggers to whose opinions people attend say they will not buy these rums because they are too pricey or difficult to get (as several have already told me), their audience gets turned off too, and sales will inevitably diminish. If this happens and DDL believes there’s no market for full proofs, well, then, what do you think they will do? Cancel the entire line, maybe?

So yeah, I’m a little miffed with DDL’s new rums, much as I applaud the fact that they’re issued at all. Only time will tell whether the price they’ve set is justified. In the meantime, they’d better start providing us consumers with more information, not less. And those rums had better be damned good.


Notes

  1. Inadvertently, I’m sure, the Guyanese daily Stabroek News actually mentioned these three rumsback in November 4th, 2015. It is clearly stated in that article that they would only be sold in Europe.
  2. In January 2019, I wrote a recap of my opinions on the the Rares to that point, Releases I, II and III.
Dec 152015
 

Single_Barrels

Introduction

In 2015 it became widely known that DDL was severing its relationship with Velier, and Luca Gargano would no longer have access to their warehouses. With that simple statement, the Age of Velier’s Demerara Rums appeared to have come to an end. In October of that same year, I reviewed the three single barrel expressions DDL issued back in 2007, and the notes in that write up were so voluminous that I split them apart to form the basis of this essay.

My thinking went like this: when you think of all the advantages DDL enjoys in the international marketplacebrand visibility and recognition, market penetration, and the great stills like PM and EHP, to name just threeyou begin to realize just how curious those three rums actually are. And how much they say about the ethos and thrust of the company’s rum strategy (or lack thereof).

Velier showed that there was a real market for such full proof, limited edition rums. You’d think that with the Scots and the Italians’ decades-long love affair with issuing PMs and Enmores and what have you, that this largely untapped market would be aggressively exploited by the company supplying the actual rum, but no, DDL has let Moon Imports, Samaroli, Velier, Rum Nation, Secret Treasures, Silver Seal, Duncan Taylor, and many others, garner the accolades and the money while they concentrate on the core El Dorado range.

Background

The ICBU, EHP and PM expressions remain the only still-specific rums DDL have ever created since the el Dorado line burst on the scene in 1992. DDL, as you would recall, have a number of pot and columnar stills – some of wood, some very old, all producing interesting variations of taste; the El Dorado line blends various proportions of output from these stills. Craft bottlers who have bought barrels made from the stills have long issued limited expressions like PM, EHP, ICBU, LBI, Blairmont, Versailles, Skeldon (Velier remains the acknowledged champion in this regard), and the speed at which they sell and the high prices they command on the secondary market demonstrates the enormous cachet they have.

Yet DDL has, as of this writing (December 2015), refused to go further with developing this gaping omission in its lineup. They told me a few months ago that I should wait for great things coming out later in 2015, and then issued the “new” 15 year old rums with various finishes. An evolutionary stopgap, I thought (then and now) — not a radical departure, not a revolution, not great, and not particularly new. They still don’t have millesimes or annual releases or special stills’ rums of any consequence. The three amigos referenced above are also not marketed worth a damn to exhibit their singular nature, or to take advantage of their remarkable provenance or their accessible proof point. They are priced quite high for rums that don’t have an age statement – together, they cost me north of US$300, and not many people are going to buy such relatively pricey rums unless they are really into the subculture. So here are some initial problems DDL created for themselves: the age, the year, the outturn, none of this is on the label. Why is the year of distillation and age and bottle count not shouted from the rooftops? Age confers cachet in any spirit; single stills’, single years’ output even more so. What’s the holdup with DDL providing such elementary information? Actually, what’s the holdup in creating an entire line of such remarkable rums?

Independent bottlers are the leaders in this field, and there’s enormous interest for these expressions. That single post of mine about the three rums clocked a reach of 400 on FB, and 20 likes on the site, in less than an hour (trust me, that’s fast and furious going for a niche audience such as we writers have). So knowing that limited release rums sell fast to the cognoscenti, knowing the power of social media, and using my experience as a sort of quasi baseline, I ask againwhat’s stopping DDL?

Problems

The very specificity of these rums may be their undoing in the wider rum world, because it is connoisseurs and avid fans and rabid collectors who are most likely to buy them, appreciate them, and understand the divergent/unusual taste profiles, which are quite different from the more commonly available (and best-selling) El Dorados like the 5, 8, 12, 15, 21 and 25 year old. To illustrate further, how many casual rum drinkers even know there are multiple stills at Diamond, and can can name more than the PM or EHP? One could taste the three single barrel rums, and immediately realize that they certainly aren’t standard sippers or the usual cocktail fodderwhich is something of double edged sword for rum makers, who like to be different….but not too different.

Too, it’s possible that seeing the niche interest these expressions developed over the years which Velier then expanded into a worldwide phenomenon, that the boys on the Top Floor were scared dickless and shut that sucker down fast, lest it bite into profits of more dependable rums….rather than seeing it as an opportunity. I have a feeling relative margins of various products were and are involved here.

Then there’s hard consumer cash: such DDL-made single barrel expressions are by their very nature more expensive and get more so as we climb the age ladder, but there’s another reason they cost so much – DDL never made more, or issued them in great quantity (it’s unknown what the year of the batch is, and I’m not even sure how many were made, let alone whether DDL ever issued more beyond that 2007 year, or ever will again).

Another reason to scratch my head wondering what they’re thinking. Are they ignoring the signs of rums’ expanding popularity and the increasing sophistication of the drinking classes, so evident all around them? Or are they simply oblivious?

General economic musings

Now I know something about how products in a manufacturing environment are priced. There’s all the input costs of raw materials, plus labour charges, storage costs, prep costs and marketing and distribution and shipping (using various bases of allocation for overheads), to come up with a unit production cost (i.e., what it cost to make each individual bottle). Depending on the sophistication of the accounting / costing system and the methodology employed, the profit margin is fixed and the rum is released to the market. The brokers, intermediaries, governments, bulk buyers and stores will add fees and markups and taxes to the base selling price, and the result is the €80 to €100 (give or take) which the consumer pays for a middle aged, single barrel expression with 1000 bottles or so issued by an independent bottler. So perhaps this is a lot easier for an independent operation which buys rums from brokers, than it is for a vertically integrated multinational like DDL which has canefields, sugar factories, distillation apparatus, a huge labour force and a supply chain network that is large and far-flung.

Now, that means the entire revenue stream from such a specific, limited rum is likely to be €100,000 or lessdoes anyone believe that it “only” costs that amount to shepherd a rum for ten years through all its stages for a company that is as vertically integrated from cane to cork, as DDL? Not a chance. Smaller bottlers have it easier since they buy one small set of already-aged barrels at a time, low infrastructure costs, and have a skeleton staff; and this is both their advantage and disadvantage because they lose economies of scale while having a limited output in a barrel that may not succeed after ageing (and lose a lot to the angels in the process), while at the same time being able to pick exactly the barrels they want.

But DDL doesn’t have this issuethey have the infrastructure to age much more than just a few barrels at a time, and there are opportunities for a millesime approach, yearly issues, and yes, single-still aged output from multiple barrels, totalling many thousands of bottles. The economics favour DDL’s daring to go in this direction, I think, especially at higher levels of output of which they are clearly capable. (Even some limited test marketing would make sense, I thinkto the USA, I would suggest, because you wouldn’t believe the volume of wistful emails I get from that country, asking me where I got mine and how can they get some?)

Still, more subjective matters do start to come into play. For new products without a purchasing history behind them and issued in limited quantities, it’s a risk, a big one, to invest a decade or more in ageing, take the hit from the angels and losses on barrels that don’t work after all thatthen bottle perhaps 15% of the original volume, price high and hope sales will follow. Distributors and shops will also not want to give shelf space or prominence to stuff they are unsure will move in volume. Also, new products can cut into the sales of the old dependables upon which all cash flow is based (and which may subsidize loss leaders like the single barrels, which can be uneconomical at first).

But it is my contention that DDL doesn’t need to do this: the path has already been blazed by the independent bottlers; and DDL / El Dorado (and the famed stills) is one of the more recognized, widely sold brands in the rum universe. Velier has shown the model can succeed. We know for a fact that a ten year old Demerara rum from a single still (at any strength between 45-65%) can reasonably sell for €100 / US$120 and maybe even more. And the prices escalate with both age and exclusivity, using existing distribution channels and marketing strategies already in place. DDL has spent decades building up its brand and distribution, so these are sunk costs that work to the advantage of selling more, rather than less, of the single-still expressions, even if issued 40% and not cask strength.

el_dorado_bottlerange

Photo copyright lovedrinks.com

What’s on DDL’s strategic mind?

What this leaves us with is a number (depressing) conjectures about DDL’s short and medium term strategy.

  1. The cash cows of the aged rums which blend the stills’ outputs will continue
  2. Experiments with different cask finishes will gather some steam, concentrating, in my opinion, on the El Dorados 12, 15 and 21 years old (I doubt the 25 year old will be tampered with unless it is to make it stronger).
  3. Yes, spiced rums will continue, maybe even be expanded. They sell briskly, much to the annoyance of many purists.
  4. The single barrel, still-specific rums may be re-started, but most of the wooden-still outputs will continue to be favoured for producing the 8, 12, 15, 21 and 25 year old blends, and not for anything more specialized.
  5. DDL will make no sudden moves into new (rum) product lines. The company simply does not seem to be structured to allow experimental development. That’s why agile little companies like Compagnie des Indies can survive and even make money….using DDL’s rums.

In other words, we can expect the status quo to continue for quite some time. They shut Velier out, but gave us nothing to replace it.

Of course, this is all me being pissy. I know some of the guys over there, spent many years in Guyana, love the place, like their rums. It annoys me no end that they almost never respond to emails, provide little beyond marketing materials when they do, have on their website a man gone to the rumshop in the sky many moons ago, and just continue doing the same old thing year after year: as I said, the new finishes on the 15 year old do not really impress me, though I do want to try them (I’m a reviewer after all).

I think this indifference to smaller market segments is a mistake, however. Because three major trends are gathering a serious head of steam in our world:

  1. Aged scotch is rising in price faster than people can keep up; and as the industry frantically tries to sell NAS whisky to make up for the shortfall of suitably aged reserves, malt-lovers will move more and more to craft rums, especially where profiles are similar. Increasing sales of craft rums and the emergence of more and more small rum-producing companies suggests this trend is well underway, so where is DDL’s response? (Observe the farsightedness of Richard Seale partnering up with Velier in the 2015 release season, a position DDL could have had for the asking given their past association with Luca Gargano)
  2. In about five years, as rum penetrates a critical mass of drinkers who demand unadulterated, cask strength, limited edition, well made products, DDL will likely have revisit the decision to divert its stock to more craft-based offerings and reduce the blends (either that or increase output across the board, and with sugar’s woes in Guyana, that might be problematicor another opportunity) . Whether they have sufficient aged rums available at that point to both satisfy the blended-aged market, and something more exclusive, only they can know. But sooner or later, they will have to start.
  3. The USA cannot keep on subsidizing Bacardi and their ilk forever. Too many US citizens are already squawking all over social media about how the best rums are never to be found in their location and when they are, the price differential is too great between those and the subsidized rums. Once they start agitating for reform of subsidies and tax breaks, other countries take the matter to the WTO, and fairer tax regimens and tariffs are passedand sooner or later this will happenthen craft rums will become more competitive, and the US market will explode. DDL had better be ready to increase its market share there when this happens. If all they have is the same old menu and live off past glories, then they will fall behind other, nimbler, smarter companies with a more diversified (or focussed) portfolio.

Summing up.

The three single barrel expressions of DDL’s impressive stable point to more serious structural deficiencies of their medium term planning with respect to rums. They are too weak, too few, and marketed too poorly in a time of an increasingly educated, knowledgeable drinking class. I’m not saying independent bottlers’ craft expressions are the wave of the futurebut I do contend that they will get a larger and larger slice of the market in the years to come, and it seems that DDL is poorly positioned to take advantage of this. If I was on their team, the first thing I’d do is stop selling bulk rum from the wooden stills to anyone, hoard it all, and start issuing high proof, low volume, carefully selected, suitably aged rums in very limited, exclusive markets.

But nothing I’ve read and heard and seen suggests this is on DDL’s planning horizon. There is a subtle sense of complacency involved here, along the lines of “We have the stills, we have the sugar cane, we have the storage space, and tons of old rums. We can adapt whenever we chose.”

Maybe. It will probably be neither so easy or quite so quick. A small outfit dealing in a few barrels at a time, sure. A monolith like DDL? One can only wonder. And, in the case of me and my rum-chum friends, hope a little.

Update January 2016

This article was overtaken by events, of course. In January 2016, DDL announced that they would indeed issue three cask-strength expressions, an Enmore, a PM and a Versailles. No word on issue volumes. The youngest would be about ten years old and for the moment sold only in Europe. So the timing of my essay, as well as my conclusions, really suckedtoo bad. Still, I’d rather be wrong and get some good rums to buy, rather and be right and get none. I hope this is a forerunner of many aged rums to come from DDL, and that they live up to the high standard Luca set.

Aug 252015
 

Bloggers 1

Bloggers 2

 

“I don’t read a lot of blogs because, well, most of them are written by people who aren’t qualified to piss in the ocean,” remarked Ed Hamilton on his blog The Ministry of Rum on July 7th 2015. To say I was surprised at such a blanket indictment of the majority of the rum blogging community would be an understatement. He’s not the only one to make such a statement in the recent past: when I wrote a five part series on how to start reviewing rums earlier this year, in an effort to provide some advice on new bloggers who often cease operation after a short while, I got a snarling response from another writer, who suggested that there are too many incompetents writing as it is (myself among them) and more should not be encouraged.

I simply don’t understand this attitude. It originates from persons who themselves write a lot, opiniate even more, and have a large body of words on their sites (which obviously pass muster by their own definitions of “qualified”), yet they seem to feel that almost all other websites, discussions, opinions and reviews, are a waste of internet space. I can sort of understand Sir Scrotimus Maximus in Retirement Land, since he despises everyone (and spews a vomitus of condescending and negative opinions just about every day), but Mr. Hamilton, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is a more puzzling enigma. Especially given his well-known dedication to rum, and the oft expressed moan abut rum not having enough visibility and fighting an uphill battle against other more established tipples.

To make my own position clear: I myself have nothing but distaste for short, ignorant, non-knowledgable click-bait written by writers for online spirits magazines (see here, here, here, here and here for some examples). Too often they display an abysmal ignorance of rums in general, and make lists of rums that would be amusing if they weren’t so uninspiring. But I don’t think this is what Sir Scrotimus or Mr. Hamilton were referring to. Nor do I believe that they are talking about news stories. Or cocktail sites and writers for them. No, when they refer to monkey mutterings and blogs, they are talking about reviewers. And since I’m one of them, I think I’ll take up cudgels on behalf of myself and others in my field.

To begin with, who qualifies as a “good” writer? For my money, this would be someone who writes with prose that engages the reader; who has a good understanding of the industry; who crafts decent tasting notes on the rums that are tried; expresses an informed opinion; has a body of rums to refer to, and self-evidently is involved in not only increasing his own knowledge but that of his readers.

Are there truly none of such writers around? Sure there are. Henrik from Denmark keeps getting better all the time and that’s in his second language; Marco Freyr from Barrel Aged Mind in Germany is a historian par excellence with enormously detailed articles on the rums he tries; Josh Miller of Inuakena writes well, tastes well and goes far afield whenever it pleases him; Cyril from duRhum fills in with great reviews of more obscure fare, especially agricoles; Steve James of Rum Diaries writes great reviews in depth; The Fat Rum Pirate writes accessible notes for the common man with lots of opinions and off-hand facts, primarily for the UK crowd, and lovingly tends to the low-end and mid-range. I enjoy Laurent’s work on Les Rhums de l’homme à la Poussette. Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery is a long running stalwart, and while Chip and I happily trade emails back and forth about our differences in opinion, the man does put out a welter of rum reviews that North Americans in particular take seriously.

Why do we need more of such people?

Because, dear reader, there still aren’t enough. Not really. Excluding cocktail blogs which speak to rum as a secondary enterprise, there are less than twenty focused rum reviewing sites in the whole world. I can’t think of many which are run on a commercial basis. And yet we constantly complain about rum taking second place to whisky in the minds of the tippling class, not having exposure, people not “getting” the variety it represents. Well, having more writers who raise the profile would therefore be a good thing, wouldn’t it?

It is online writers like Johnny, Cyril, Dave and Wes who are spearheading the fight against improper labeling, undisclosed sugar and additives and outright deceptive marketing practices. Would less reviewers have the same effect? Not at all. Because then we’d just be left with the polarizing negativisms of Sir Scrotimus.

We also need more writers because they are the ones who call attention to the rums of the world in a time of declining advertising budgets and quality magazine writing about rums. Yes there’s the RumPorter, and yes there’s Got Rum…but there are scores of such publications on whisky or wine, so we’re supposed to be happy with a mere handful on our tipple of choice? Hell no. We need dozens, not just a couple. Reviewers, bloggers and online writers fill this void. You can disagree with what they write, but at least they’re out there providing information. Why would having fewer somehow be seen as better?

Even assuming the statements of these two gentlemen were correct (and I dispute that) they both ignore the obvious question: where are the “qualified writers,” if the ones I mentioned above aren’t representative? No please, educate me. Who are they? For whom do they write? What are their blogs? Are they active and engaged in the rumworld? Are they the few book authors who exist? To toss out generalized comments about the chattering underclass who supposedly don’t know what they’re doing seems grossly unfair to me, without listing them and their opposite numbers who are worth reading. If you are going to use your platform to diss someone, by all means provide a list of those who do fit your personal criteria. More than two, please, and in the same post as your takedown, not elsewhere on your site. Negatives are one thing, but if you have no positives to contribute then your argument lacks substance. More, there’s a puritan ethos of understated censorship wafting through those two comments I find disturbingy’know, Write what I like, or you’re an idiot.

I think that part of the issue is that such qualified reviewers are somehow expected to spring to life overnight like Athena from Zeus’s brow, and wow us with their Kiplingesque prose, incredible depth of knowledge and scintillating wit, right out of the gate. But in a world where nobody (well, almost nobody) gets paid for writing about rum – and to my mind the greater proportion of rum writers write for love, not money – I think it says a lot for the dedication and devotion of rum aficionados who are also reviewers that they do as much as they do for free. This is somehow a bad thing?

So it’s my considered opinion that the two comments above do the writing community a disservice. Yes there is an unmet need for more writers who provide their own perspective and writing style and knowledge. Yes we could use some more professional authors who do more than just blog about cocktails and the tiki culture. We could have more reference materials and other information out there that raises the bar for the expected knowledge of a rum blogger. We need that kind of talent for those who write about rums specifically, not as an afterthought or a sideshow. And the reviewers and bloggers that are so casually dismissed, are the ones that provide, as best they can, this level of commitment and growing expertise. Because nobody else is.

In summary, it’s a shame that opinion makers and commentators like these two, instead of trying to raise the bar with mentorship and good advice for the new blood and existing writers, resort to such unfortunate takedowns. But you know, Mr. Hamilton called it right: he doesn’t read those he doesn’t like. Maybe there’s a word of wisdom for us all in that.

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 writersmarket, which is a good ideawriting 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 costthose 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 youbut 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 pathyou have a good basis for comparison. And you can calibrate betterby 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 examplewhat 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 emphasisDemerara, 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 baralthough you could do worsesimply 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.

TomorrowKeeping 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 recommendthe 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 comparatorsall previously reviewed and scoredare 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 itit 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 friendspads), 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 extrastuff 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 samplingas 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 issuemany 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 wishlanguage 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 rangenothing 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 beingtoo 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 readinga 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 stuffit’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 patronizingor 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&trickshave 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 courtesyI’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)

TomorrowSampling 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 inputbut 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 justhappens. 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 harmonyzen 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 writeclearly, concisely, briefly, starklyor 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 infoget 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 beeventually (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 rumespecially something that suckswhen 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 dieson 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