Mount Gay – Cornerstone of Caribbean Rum

Telling the story of Barbados rum–and of rum itself–is impossible without referencing Mount Gay. The distillery operations at its Barbados site are arguably the oldest and longest running in existence. Spanning nearly four centuries, Mount Gay has something to say about every era of rum’s existence.

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The Gargano Files

In September of 2018, I sat down with Luca Gargano in London immediately prior to the Rum Tasting of the Century, celebrating the launch of Hampden Estate’s aged rum.

We had a wide-ranging interview that covered many topics, resulting in far too much material for a single interview piece. In my Bevvy Ruminations column, I excerpted two portions that cover topics of broad interest to the rum audience. Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2.

However, there was plenty of material left over that’s manna to the more hardcore rum wonks. Topics that are a bit more esoteric and inside baseball. A lengthy bonus reel, so to speak.  I’ve polished it a bit but haven’t added a ton of explanatory comments to the numerous references Luca makes. In short, this is raw, very lightly filtered Luca–and he has plenty to say.

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Is Rum Made From Sugar or Not?

A recently published “Rum 101” article caught my attention because it asserted rum can be made from sugar beets, as well as from sugar cane. This is simply not the case. While you can certainly make a distilled spirit using sugar beets, the end product is not a rum–just as a distilled spirit made from malted barley can’t be a rum, no matter how hard someone might wish it to be.

While sugar plays part of rum production (and actually, part of all spirits production), the real story is a tad more complicated than most people realize. So, let’s get just a bit geeky and clear up some misconceptions about rum and sugar.

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Run for the (Four) Roses – A distillery visit

CocktailWonk Rating: 6/10 ($5)

Following an epic expedition through eight Kentucky and Tennessee whiskey distilleries in October 2014, Mrs. Wonk and I returned a year later, visiting six more major players and completing our regional Tour de Bourbon. While every distillery is unique and interesting in its own way, there are certain common elements such as fermentation tanks and rick houses that you’ll see on just about any tour. In a prior post, I described these common elements in detail, allowing me to focus this post on my observations about the Four Roses distillery. If you’re not familiar with the whiskey-making process, I’d suggest starting with that post.

Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, is a town with much to tell about whiskey redemption and renewal. Situated a thirty-minute drive west of Lexington, the town is bordered by the Kentucky and Salt Rivers, both supplying precious water to two iconic American bourbon brands. Wild Turkey went through a few decades where its namesake bourbon was associated with rough living lowlifes and considered bottom shelf. But that story pales compared to the rise, fall, and rebirth of Four Roses.

Four Roses
Four Roses

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Down the Drain: Rum community in turmoil as thousands of deaths linked to sugar cane production

The images on social media grab your attention –empty bottles, neck down in a sink. The contents? Flor de Caña rum. A recent article in Vice magazine details the fates of Nicaraguan sugar cane harvesters, who are dying at an alarming rate from Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Influential bar owners and rum experts, such as Martin Cate, Ed Hamilton, Bobby Heugel, Andrew Friedman, Nicholas Feris, and Jim Romdall have posted their own empty-bottle photos or links to the Vice article (as well as a previous link in The Guardian that tread similar territory, without the groundswell) on Facebook and Instagram with thoughtful commentary. If you have access to those posts, I urge you to read them.

The crux of the Vice investigation is that in the Chichigalpa region of Nicaragua, in the years between 2002 and 2012, a syndrome called Mesoamerican nephropathy caused 75 percent of the deaths of men aged 35 to 55, numbering in the thousands. The primary employer in Chichigalpa region is Ingenio San Antonio, which harvests the sugar cane used to distill Flor de Caña rum. Sugar cane workers are paid by the harvested ton, rather than an hourly wage, thus many work extremely long days to make enough money to survive. The common term for Mesoamerican nephropathy is Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD); symptoms include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and associated problems, leading to kidney failure. The Vice article suggests two primary causes of CKD: First, insufficient hydration and rest for sugar cane harvesters, who often work in extreme heat in a subtropical climate, leading to kidneys being overloaded. Second, pesticides used for the cane harvest may also contribute to the condition.

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