Mar 312014
 

Poor rums. They always get a bad rap. That piratical background, the snootiness of the whisky world (and my friends, who cast me the pitying glances reserved for congenital defectives, every time I trot out a new and favoured libation). The classiness perceived of all things British. The purported complexity of the Scottish brew, the Russian tipple, or the Mexican hooch. We who sing of the pleasures of the cane just don’t get no respect. Sometimes I feel like a go-player in a chess world.

But you know, for a long time whiskies, tequilas, vodkas et al, took back seat to rums, and were merely regional and not global favourites. Rums were for a long time more popular than whiskies (but that may be because whiskies were all crap at the time, or cheap blends for the proles before they woke up and realized everyone was speaking Jamaican or Guyanese patois, and this had to stop). Washington supposedly rolled in a keg or two for his first inauguration. Rums were among the most smuggled and traded goods in the West Indian trade. Hemmingway immortalized them, trumpeting his favourite cocktails.

And then the Scots started to make standardization and rigid rules the name of the game, upped their ante a jillion-fold, appealed to the nouveau riches and freshly affluent middle classes, and suddenly it became chic, genteel, well bred – even culturedto be into whisky, specifically the single malts. Or, for yuppies these days, craft vodkas, at which I kind of scratch my head and say okay, whatever. Like a strumpet past her prime, rum was relegated to a dismissive back corner with a dunce cap on its head. Even Larry Olmstead, when he wrote for Forbes some years ago, made it sound like rum was undergoing a resurgence, as if they had ever been away. It’s gotten so bad that when I can convince a dedicated and committed Scotch guy like the Hippie to even try an aged and powerful expression of the cane, I consider this a major victory in my undending battle against the forces of Mordor (where, as we all know, the orcs swill tequila, and the Nazgul are really into Scotch).

But whatever the case, rums have always been glorious creations, avatars of mankind’s seemingly inexhaustible desire to get hammered in new and inventive ways.

And therefore I present my favourite reasons why I think rums are a preferably drink to all the others. This of course comes to you courtesy of a famously impartial judge who would never dream of introducing bias of any kind. Or, for that matter, of convincing my friends to switch their allegiance….’cause you know, that ain’t ever gonna happen.

1. They are cheaper. Oh come on, is this even in doubt? I can pick up ten-, twelve-, twenty-year old rums for a few hundred each (maximum), while an upscale tequila-taster or single-malt-loving schlub who wants to have his collection dandified will drop five hundred a pop easy on some of the better ones. Poor Hippie, who did a Moonlight Graham on the G4, mournfully had to concede that while his palate was up to scratch, his wallet sure wasn’t. Come to the dark side, Hippie.

2. More sites with rums escape the censorsnet. Okay, I’m a little biased that way. ATW, Liquorature, various whiskey fora and all the online shops, are blocked not only in the sere desert where I work (tell me again what the hell am I doing here?), but from far too many company servers these days. But The Lone Caner? The Howler, duRhum, Inu a Kena, Ministry of Rum? They’re all up and sparkling and easily accessible in a way too many other likker based sites specializing in other drinks, are not.

3. They display all the hallmarks of great drinks in any of the other categories. Insanely aged, single barrel expressions. Port finished, wine finished, whisky finished, double aged, soleras. Terroire specific, national or regional styles. Sweet or dry or salty, briny or rubber-laden, floral, fruity, and just spanning the gamut of any palate whatsoever. You got a peculiar taste of any kind, there’s guaranteed to be a rum for you out there.

4. Yes, they also have long defunct distilleries producing rums off the scale. So please stop weeping about Port Ellen and shed a tear for Caroni instead. You’ll feel better and may even have some success in re-opening it.

5. Are produced around the world, and always have been. Whiskies are now in Japan, and Bangalore and a few other places, but rums? Friggin’ everywhere. The variety this introduces is simply astounding. I won’t go so far as to say all varieties are great or even pleasing, but the fact that there are as many kinds as there are is reason to cheer. Nobody has a lock on rum, and nobody gets to set the tone.

6. Nobody looks at you as if you were a moron (or should be guillotined), were you to add a rum to a cocktail. In fact, I posit that soft drinks were invented to add to rum cocktails. Rums can be had neat or mixed or dandified, all depending on palate preference and peculiarity. The only other spirit to which this can really apply is vodka.

7. No rules (bit of a double edged sword, this one) and therefore easier to make. Sugar, yeast, maybe molasses, wooden barrels and off you go. And it’ll even be legal!!! And you can call it a rum!!. Try doin’ that with a tequila or a scotch whisky and the claymores will be out in Caledonia before you can sayMaltmonster likes rum.

8. Few excellent, lovely, massively aged rums ever got poured into a mixing vat to makejust another blend (an accusation often hurled at conglomerates who make, oh, Johnny Walker). Hippie once grumbled that far too much excellent tipple of his preference got made into cheap blends rather than being issued on its own…I feel for you buddy.

9. You’ll always be at home in any tropical clime, and maybe all the cold ones, and have loads of new friends, the moment you crack a bottle, yours or his. It won’t even be the best, but maybe some high wine or white lightning made in the man’s backyard. He’ll offer you his sister and be your friend for life. Plus, you’ll get hammered. I simply can’t praise this attitude enough.

10. If you’re a writer on alcohol like me, you won’t have to compete with ten thousand other websites dedicated to your passion, but merely a few ten or so. Instant recognition! You’ll be well known, faster! Girls will like you, wives will leave you. Against that, you have gimlet eyed lawyers making sure you don’t infringe some obscure cocktail’s trademark, or idjits who always think they know more than you taking pot shots, but whoever said public websites were problem-free?

I’m aware I’ll never swing lovers of other drinks to the side of the good stuff. I mean, like, ever. Gents who have their favourite tipples are as fanatic about their drinks of choice as fundamentalists biting the heads off snakes while speaking in tongues. I’m more likely to find the English Harbour 25 year old selling for twenty five bucks (though there was this one time…). I expect my fellow Liquorites and their malty friends (who may also be my friends) to take up arms here and post long winded, sarcastic diatribes about how I’ve lost my mind, my senses and maybe even my friends if I continue to spew such twaddle. Sorry guys. I miss my drinks over here. I’d even drink a Glen Muddy 1957 if I could ever find one, I’m that down about the whole situation (this may be punishment enough for the sedition and heresy I’m peddling, so spare a sad thought for me when not thinking about the Caroni).

Did I mention my last point?

11. Yeahthey do taste better

(NB: The author wishes to state categorically that he does indeed drink all the other spirits mentioned here, and has no special beef for or against any of them, except in so far that rums are the best).

 

 

 

 

Apr 012013
 

May 5th 1992. A release date that will live for…well, a heckuva long time.

Because, before Assassin’s Creed, before Metal Gear Solid, Socomm or Call of Duty, before Quake and Duke Nukem (long may he reign as King of Vaporware), there was the ur-game of them all, the ancient DNA of all first person shooters, and it was released that day. Nope, not Doom, but its startlingly original, blood spattered, laughingly and irreverently pixellated daddy, Wolfenstein 3d.

While I fully acknowledge the origin of the game in Muse software’s 1984 incarnation, it was id Software’s 1992 revisit of the game that broke all barriers and ushered in the era of the true first person shooter, where the environment was realistic looking 3d and scrolling and perspective were from that of the player. But what really made it a breakout success and runaway hit was the stroke of genius Id/Apogee had, of giving away the first episode for free, and then charging for the remaining five. Shareware was well on the way to changing business models for the entire software industry.

Wolfenstein 3d sold like a gazillion copies. Office managers routinely cursed its name. Parents were constantly kicked off their own computers (when they had them) by their kids, who played all night sessions, and then got hooked themselves after watching it for a while. Until its even better successor Doom came along (with its equally original and innovative network deathmatch play), it was quoted as one of the greatest contributors to loss of office productivity between 1992 and 1994.

One of the reasons for its perennial attraction for just about anyone of any age, was its ease of use. Left and right arrow keys, space to shoot, and maybe two other keys to throw a grenade or push a wall for secrets. Compare that to today’s games, which use what seems like every key on my board, plus a few I never heard of. My son kicks my ass at the Wii and playstation games, but I moider da bum on keys…so long as I can use just a few and I don’t have to think in 3d. Wolfenstein’s game engine made all that possible.

Wolfenstein 3d ushered in the first glimpse of a true FPS, much as Jordan Mechener’s original Prince of Persia almost redefined how graphics should look in an adventure game (both have now merged into fully rendered 3d worlds, but at the time their innovations were stunning and revolutionary to people who had only ever seen side-scolling images that did not move like real objects)

Seen today, we smile at the archaic graphics and clumsy bitmaps and poorly rendered images. Relative to today’s sleek gaming worlds, of course they are. At the time though, we had never seen anything quite like it. And me and my friends, we stayed late at our offices, played all the levels (plus more freebies), did speed runs and became masters and boasted of our achievements when we met for beers.

I’m sure today’s twelve-fingered, thick-thumbed and iron-wristed Xbox and PlayStation ur-swamis are as bad, as addicted and as dedicated as we once were. But I can almost guarantee that they never had quite as much fun as we did in those days when the technology was so new it had literally never been seen before. That technologically-inspired sense of wonder and fun, plus ten beers and a pack of smokes would keep us going in our offices until long past midnight, surrounded by tinny speakers, glowing big-ass monitor and other crazies doing exactly the same thing.

Beat that, newbs

Jul 232012
 

Inspired by the amazingly refreshing (and original) website andabattleofrum which has a world cup of rumswell worth a look for sheer inventiveness and styleI decided to implement an idea that both that site and the ongoing whisky range tastings on allthingswhisky.com have done so well.

Having sampled the Flor de Cana 5 and the Juan Santos 5 at the same time, I resolved to make a go of two other five year olds in the larder, and run all four through their paces to see how they stacked up against each other: after all, trying them individually was one thing, but if I rated them all at the same time, would the scores change? Now there was a challenge to the scoring system. And anyone who has associated with me and my rum work for any length of time knows the despite in which I hold the whole business of scores to begin with, so perhaps I should try and see whether it was as consistent as I claimed it was.

Flor de Cana 5 year old

Nose: Faint rubbery notes coil among the darker flavours of caramel and burnt sugar and fleshy fruit. Spicy, yet not overpoweringly so.
Palate: Heavy bodied (competes manfully with the El Dorado), dark sugar notes with pineapple and peaches. Quite dry and medium sweet. A shade harsh
Finish: Medium, heated finish with some softer billowing caramel and nutty flavours.
Assessment: Overall, it failed somehow. On its own I ranked it at 76 pointshere I didn’t think it did all that well.

El Dorado 5 year old

Nose: Dark, rich brown sugar. White flower notes, caramel, slight molasses. Became almost creamy as it opened up.
Palate: Yummy. Heated, a shade sharp. Arrived with burnt sugar and caramel nuttiness, just enough sweet. Deep, dark, unashamedly rough bushman of a rum, yet quite excellent for all that.
Finish: Long and lasting, with faint closing notes of almonds.
Assessment: The epitome of younger Demerara style rums, and a credit to DDL. This is like the rambunctious first born in your family, an A-type for sure.

Angostura 5 year old

Nose: Grapes, fleshy fruits, peaches. Strong heated nose redolent of burning canefields
Palate: A medium bodied melange of vanilla, burnt brown sugar, caramel. Thick and almost chewy, yet spicy and containing a certain grace as well.
Finish: long and lasting with a closing aroma of caramel
Assessment: Aggressive, forceful and straightforward, yet lacking some of the uncouth brawny cheeriness of the El Dorado.

Juan Santos 5 year old

Nose: Light and delicate, yet heated spirits tickle your nose. Fruit and vanilla notes so well balanced it’s almost impossible to pick apart.
Palate: Gently assertive, extremely mildbarely passes the “is this a rum?” test at all, since none of the notes one would expect out of an entry-level rumthe molasses, brown sugar, toffee etcare present.
Finish: long, a shade brny, and quite dry, with almost no flavours poushing past to provide closure.
Assessment: passive aggressive problem child who prefers never to speak up in class


General conclusions

Having gone through this exercise and gotten quite high doing it, what were the results and how did they stack up against my posted scores?

Well, not too bad. Side to side rankings came up with this result:

Last was was the Juan Santos,third came the Flor, second the Angostura, and first (somewhat to my surprise) came the El Dorado 5. Scores in my reviews bore this out: in order, 74, 76, 77 and 78, and all variations came in nose, the palate and finish, with little difference in the intangibles. So all in all, I see this as an initial vindication of the system, if you could call it that and however miserly it might be. Other rankings of this nature will inevitably follow because I feel (as others do) that tasting single rums in isolation can be a sterile exercise, and gives no reference baseline which a multiple sampling would enhance.

Just as a side note, I really am impressed with Angostura’s product. It has real character and a certain elemental brutality about it that I liked a lottwo point separation or not, it is in many respects on par with the El Dorado, which perhaps supercedes it in just that slight smidgen of smoothness and depth that pulled it ahead.

Anyway, please note that (of course) these scores reflect my tastes, not necessarily yours. You will undoubtedly have your favourites, as I have mine, and concordance is unlikely. And this is without even considering how many five year old rums out there, of which this is a miniscule sampling at best. That said, have fun trying them out anyway. I know I did.