Rum, if properly managed, is the brown spirit of the future.
The whiskey bubble, in addition to fostering alternative universes of stupidity, has also inspired significantly more people to sharply focus on whiskey’s history and craftsmanship. Fred Minnick has emerged as a central educational figure, publishing essential books like Bourbon Curious and Bourbon: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of an American Whiskey.
He is constantly tasting, engaging the community and writing. Minnick thinks the next spirits category to take off could very well be rum and, whether he’s correct or not, you’ll be glad you read this book.
Fred’s books have a signature style: Lots of history, gorgeous pictures and maps, recipes, and several pages of reviews. Rum has a fascinating history, one that I presume most people know very little about. Many are familiar with the Pirates of the Caribbean in the 1600’s, but Minnick dives deeper, tracing the flow of sugar refining from the Arab countries toward the islands and the Americas. For two centuries, sugar drove the world economy, and its molasses byproduct drove the world’s favorite spirit. Slavery also played a significant (and despicable) role as well.
Rum has had a storied history in the United States dating back to our founding fathers. In fact, the early taxation of imported molasses ultimately led to whiskey’s rise in popularity. We often think of whiskey when we hear about the Temperance Movement and Prohibition, but rum was a targeted evil as well. Bootleggers such as Al Capone and Rumrunners like Bill McCoy all participated in the illegal flow of rum during this period. If you got your rum from Bill, then you got “The Real McCoy.”
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You will not read about the high-profile fight over Havana Club. I asked Fred if this was an oversight, but of course, it was carefully considered. As he explained, “I made an early decision to not make the book too much about Cuba, as that’s its own story and the single page I could give it wouldn’t be enough. The book also would be old as soon as the situation was settled. Cuba is complicated, and I wanted Rum Curious to be about rum and not a singular country.” In other words, look for a new book at some point about this fascinating battle.
One of the misconceptions about rum is that it is an unregulated category fraught with abuses. As we learn here, there are some standards and regulations. The problem Minnick addresses throughout the book is they often vary by region, and are not yet strictly enforced by everyone. Also, common practices vary from what whiskey drinkers have come to rely on. The age on the rum bottle does not necessarily refer to the absolute youngest spirit in the bottle. Whiskey drinkers know immediately what “Single Barrel” means, but it is purely a marketing term in rum and is widely abused. And forget about the Angel’s Share – it is common practice for producers to top off rum barrels as they evaporate.
Minnick’s popularity among whiskey drinkers can have a serious impact on the rum industry as well. This book shines a bright light on an industry where rum producers are not properly regulated, and labels are misleading. He is proposing we begin organizing rum into four distinct categories: Unaged, Aged, Flavored and Other Cane Spirits. True to his nature, he openly calls out brands like Stoneyard Colorado rum for using sugar beets instead of the U.S. required sugar cane. Armed with the kind of knowledge in this book, a new crop of rum hunters, collectors, and even the insufferable know-it-alls could join forces in elevating rum to the next “it” spirit.
Even if you’re just “Rum Curious,” this quick read will significantly improve your rum IQ, prevent purchasing mistakes, and give you some new cocktail ideas. It also makes a great gift and a solid addition to your bar or coffee table.