Cocktail Wonk Top Ten Stories of 2019

It’s time once again for my year-end roundup of the most important Cocktail Wonk stories of the year – 2019 Edition!

Despite my lest frequent posting in 2019, it was an extremely busy year, and my first full year focusing entirely on writing, education, and research. No pesky software job to keep me away from my Wonky work.

The first four months of 2019 saw Mrs. Wonk and I scrambling to get Minimalist Tiki, our first book, to the printer. When the books finally arrived in July, it was a full-time effort shipping pre-orders shipped.

During those same four months, we also dug deep into the history of British rum, i.e. the story of Caribbean rum after it arrived in the U.K. Think London Dock rum and British Navy rum. This work appears in a book that should appear in 2020, with a section on the the effects of dynamic aging at sea.

In May I took on an additional role as the Community Envoy for the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producer’s Association, better known as WIRSPA.

The festival season hit hard in June and I spent three weeks on the road, promoting Minimalist Tiki and the British Rum history research at The Hukilau, New York Rumfest, and Tiki by the Sea.

October also had me on the road, with two major trips to Europe to present at the U.K. Rumfest and Bar Convent Berlin.

Other rum related trips had me visit distilleries in Puerto Rico, Guyana, and Trinidad. Stay tuned for those trip reports!

In short, there’s been slightly fewer posts here because so many other related activities kept me away from my keyboard!


My ranking of the Top Ten Stories is entirely subjective, rather than on which posts received the most traffic. What follows is ordered by the story’s importance in a big-picture perspective. Rather than covering the hot new rum release, or festival summaries, in2019 I focused my efforts towards topics of long-term interest to rum enthusiasts and professionals working in the rum space.

The Top Ten Stories of 2019

1) Can the U.S. Recognize Rum Regulations?

A common refrain among rum enthusiasts is that the U.S. government won’t recognize rum regulations. However, this sentiment is misplaced. There is a path to U.S. recognition, but to date, only one cane-spirit producing country is known to have taken the steps to get a U.S. “Standard of Identity”.  You won’t get recognized if you don’t ask. This story is a deep dive into spirit regulations from the U.S. government perspective, and how rum Geographical Indications would fit into them.

2) Geographic Indication Fast Facts

Geographical Indications (GIs) are a hot topic in the rum world these days. You could call them the “rum rules”, but it’s more complicated than that. What GIs are, and what they enforce is the subject of this entry level introduction.

3) Setting the Record Straight on British Navy Rum

The daily tot that the British Navy served to sailors is arguably the most mythologized rum ever. Numerous brands selling “navy style” rums make claim to its tradition, history, and recipe. But how accurate are these claims? Historical records tell a different story. Deep history ahead!

4) Unraveling Plummer and Wedderburn Rums

Plummer and Wedderburn are names synonymous with Jamaican rum and are today used as “marques” to differentiate different flavor intensities. But this wasn’t always the case. A detailed look where those names came from and what they originally meant. More deep history!

5) How the Financial Crisis of 2007 Reshaped the Rum World

Before the 2007 Global Financial crisis hit, one company bought up Appleton Estate, Angostura, Caroni, St. Lucia Distillers, E&A Scheer and whiskey giant Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI), among many other companies. How did this come to pass, what happened during the financial crisis, and who these companies were sold to is the focus of this surprising tale.

6) WIRSPA Chairman Komal Samaroo: On the Record

The West Indies Rum and Spirits Producer’s Association (WIRSPA) plays a very large role in Caribbean rum. However, most of its efforts on behalf of CARIFORUM rum (including Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad) receive little attention from the public eye. In this exclusive and in-depth interview, Komal Samaroo, WIRSPA Chairman and also Chairman of Demerara Distillers Ltd. holds forth on WIRSPA’s past successes, current efforts, and what’s to come.

7) The Gargano Files

Luca Gargano, head of Italy’s Velier, is one of the most well-known and influential people in the rum world, having worked in it for over forty-five years. In this exclusive, in-depth interview, he holds forth on all sorts of geeky rum topics, including Velier, Geographical Indications, and much more.

8) Mount Gay – Cornerstone of Caribbean Rum

Mount Gay lays claim as the oldest operating Caribbean rum distillery. In this detailed look at the Barbadian distillery’s history and operations, you’ll learn what makes it so special.

9) Still Life: Saint Lucia Distillers

Since its purchase by Spiribam, St. Lucia Distillers has been substantially revamped and is now releasing some of the widely acclaimed rum today. In this story, you’ll learn about the distillery’s history and operations, and how it constructs so many unique blends from its four stills.

10) The Cocktail Wonk Comprehensive Caribbean Rum Tour: Bottles $45 or Less

If you’re looking for the one bottle that most encapsulates the ethos of each Caribbean country, but without emptying your wallet, this list is for you.

11) The Six Essential Tiki Rum Categories

OK, I lied. Like last year, I had a hard time limiting the list to just ten stories. Some tiki recipes are quite specific about which rum to use. But what if you don’t have that rum on hand? Other recipes are incredibly vague – what’s an appropriate “gold rum” in that situation? For beginning Tiki bartenders, it’s challenging to grok what the essential rums are; the ones they’ll use over and over.  In this rigorous analysis of classic recipes, you’ll learn the six styles of rum that should be in your Tiki backbar, along with concrete examples of each style.


What’s Next

Early next year, I plan to go behind the scenes at yet more canonical rum distilleries. Look for writeups on Serrallés, Demerara Distillers Limited, Angostura, and more! More deep history posts might be in the making. And away from this site, I’ll be kicking off another enormous writing project.

My public appearance dance card is already filling up. Look for me at Miami Rum Congress in February, Arizona Tiki Oasis in March, the Hukilau in June, and many more to be announced!

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