Cocktail Wonk Top Ten Stories of 2020

My annual end-of-year tradition at Cocktail Wonk is a bit of introspection about my writing directions over the prior twelve months and a round-up of my stories I’m most proud of.

To my surprise, I shared 45 stories in 2020 (including this one), more than I expected given my recent rate of posting. During the first half of 2020 I posted frequently, reaching a near frenzy as the 50th anniversary of Black Tot day approached. From August onward my output here slowed substantially due to other projects taking precedence. From August onward my stories were generally shorter, information packed posts rather than long-form epics. I expect to return to prior form sometime in 2021, however.

My writing themes leaned heavily towards correcting misperceptions about rum, recording recent rum history, and elevating the rum category. As Lance over at The Lone Caner wrote:

Without question, freelance writer Matt Pietrek is the guy with the widest span of essays and longform pieces on technical and general aspects of the subject of rum, in the world. In his articles he has covered distillery visits and histories, technical production details, in-depth breakdowns and translations of governing regulations like GIs and the AOC, interviews and much more.

Thus, if you’re looking for updates on the hottest new rum releases, this site isn’t the place for it – Check out the Cocktail Wonk Facebook page instead. Nor is this site chock-a-block full of reviews and listicles (“Seven Smooth Rums You Need Now—Ranked!”). The are plenty of other sites for those topics.

On the lighter side, I few tiki-related stories appeared here, no surprise given the continued warm reception to our Minimalist Tiki book.

In the ongoing battle to use my time most effectively, many small things I might have previously shared via this site now go to my more targeted channels:

Personal Top Ten Stories of 2020

It’s the nature of writers to bemoan that their best work is not what garners the most attention. But we write what needs to be written (page views be damned) because we believe our words will expand people’s understanding and add to “the literature”.

My continued obsession with learning rum’s vast history via original sources enormously influenced what I wrote. An important realization I had was that huge amounts of more recent rum history haven’t been recorded as well as it could be. Remedying that is an ongoing effort.

With that context, below are my personal favorites 2020 stories.

Remembering Michael Fogg – Conservator of Rum’s Legacy

In my quest to learn late-era Royal Navy rum history, nobody was more important than Michael Fogg. We became friends and pen pals on opposite sides of the Atlantic. When Michael passed in mid-2020, it was only fitting to record some of his legacy and contributions to preserving rum history.

Moving Beyond Rum Categories – A Modest Proposal

As rum enthusiasts labor to elevate rum’s perception, misbegotten categorizations like “white rum” are a frequent stumbling block. Newer categorizations present their own challenges. Here, I stepped back, pondered what information categories convey, what information enthusiasts want, and propose a new approach for the latter.

Demerara Distillers Ltd – Part Two

An in-depth look at the technical side of rum making at the Diamond distillery in Guyana, home of some of the legendary Port Mourant, Versailles and Enmore stills. Among the cornucopia of details is background on all eleven of DDL’s stills and the marques they make.

Pusser’s Rum Charles Tobias: On the Record (Part One)

An in-depth two-part interview with Charles Tobias, the founder of Pusser’s Rum. Part one is how he convinced the Royal Navy to let him make Pusser’s rum, the distilleries and marques involved, and how he blended the initial batches of Pusser’s in 1979. Names are named, including Tommy Smothers.

A (Non-)History of Jamaica in British Navy Rum

A persistent belief of navy rum enthusiasts that that Jamaican rum was a core component of the Royal Navy’s blend. Numerous historic documents from the twentieth century suggest this was not the case. In this story we look at original sources to glean more about when Jamaican rum was, and was not, part of the blend.

Bourbon vs Rum: Technical Head to Head

Many converts to rum come from the bourbon world. As Cocktail Wonk embraces technical geek outs whenever possible, I crafted a side-by-side comparison of bourbon production versus rum production. This was my most popular post of 2020 by far.

Renegade Rum Ascends

While rum enthusiasts primarily focus on the latest collectible, limited-edition releases from their favorite distilleries, Grenada’s Renegade Rum has quietly built an ultra-modern, environmentally friendly distillery which is laser focused on cane juice rum terroir. The distillery began distilling at the end of 2020 and promises a steady stream of limited edition, single cane field rums that will grab enthusiast’s attention.

An Open Letter to Authors Writing About Rum

As the mainstream press latches on to rum’s rising popularity, many of their stories are embarrassingly inaccurate and spread misconceptions that enthusiasts and brands work hard to stamp out. This story is a quick, easy-to-digest plea to stop using outdated tropes about rum, especially writers!

The British Navy’s Rum Vatting System: An inside look

While the mythical Royal Navy blend is often speculated and pontificated about, very little current literature describes where and how the navy rum blenders worked. This story brings essential details to light, including the enormous vatting system that bore some resemblance to a solera—sans age statement, of course.

Jamaican Rum on Acid: How Vinegar Brings the Funk

Jamaican rum geeks (rightfully) obsess over funk and hogo. Not so long ago, stories about Jamaican rum attributed those wonderful aromas to the use of dunder. More recently, muck entered the lexicon alongside dunder. However, there’s a third “secret sauce” which some distilleries use to funkify their ferment: Cane acid.

Top 2020 Posts by Views

For the statistically inclined, here are the top stories I posted in 2020, ranked by page views. Stories from pre-2020 continued to get lots of views but are not included.

  1. Bourbon vs Rum: Technical Head to Head
  2. Quarantine Order: The Tiki Drink We Need Right Now
  3. Jamaican Rum on Acid: How Vinegar Brings the Funk
  4. Demerara Distillers Ltd – Part One
  5. An Open Letter to Authors Writing About Rum
  6. Rum Label Transparency: Quantifying Enthusiast’s Desires
  7. Untangling All the Modern Navy Rums
  8. Analog Fassionola Recipe
  9. Exciting News in Minimalist Tiki Land!
  10. The Colonial Rum Classification – A Primer

What’s Next

I fully expect a few tiki-related stories marinating in my brain will finally see the light of day.

With international travel being severely curtailed by COVID-19, my distillery visit reports had dried up by mid-2020. My fervent hope is that sometime in 2021 I’ll return to the Caribbean and add to my ever-growing list of rum distillery reports.

With everybody becoming more comfortable with video chats replacing in-person visits, I hope to share several more interviews with important people in the rum industry, past and present.

Finally, and most importantly, a huge thank you to everyone who’s found their way here to Cocktail Wonk and enjoyed the content. The many notes I receive from readers are very much appreciated.

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