Rum is Fun but it isn’t Dumb….not anymore

Rum is FunRum is Fun so the mantra goes.  I once asked Dave Broom if rum needed to lose its “fun” tag to improve its image.  Dave’s overwhelming response was a very definite no.  He has even mentioned me posing the question in his latest rum book The Manual.

Dave believes that rum should keep its “fun” tag as it makes people smile when they think of it.  He also felt that when Scotch Whisky forgot about “fun” the industry entered two decades of decline.

But when people say “Rum is Fun” what do they really mean? Why has it become a tagline for some and a point of annoyance for others?

For me the “Rum is Fun” tagline is sadly often misused to try to stifle and diffuse serious comment and discussion.  People complain that you are “killing their buzz”. Others refer to you as the “Taliban” or an “animal” if you question the validity of the latest Super Premium.  Many in the rum world are terrified that someone might want to share an opinion which differs to theirs.  Even worse they might have something to say which isn’t 100% flattering to the Industry.  The fact is some people really don’t want the truth to come out.

When I first began blogging over three years ago, most Rum Reviewers/Writers/Bloggers all seemed to rub along nicely with each other.  Rarely disagreeing or having anything critical to say about anything. Which is nice and makes for an inclusive and welcoming platform.  However is it healthy for people to be passionate and enthusiastic about a subject, yet seemingly unwilling to express an opinion?  Fence sitting seemed the norm.  Still it is sadly with many.  Even worse so many lean towards the industry but more about that later….

On the flipside of this of course was a small band of people who were more than happy to express their opinions on Social Media. Often in long monotonous monologues and with no interest in listening to any view other than their own.  Yes, these people were proven right about additives but they did very little to engage and communicate information.  If anything they probably made people drinking “adultered” rum dig their heels in even further.  Making them continue their right to drink whatever they damn well like!  There are still people like this around now.  Whilst I may agree with their key points I do not agree with their idea of “educating”. A term I’m not massively keen on – we aren’t school children.  We are consumers and fellow rum drinkers.Hydrometer Tests by the fat rum pirate

So what has changed over the past few years?  I would say the most important development in the Rum World came from Scandinavia.

ALKO in Finland and Sweden’s Systembolaget who control and regulate alcohol sales in the two countries began performing Laboratory Tests on rum.  The results showed high levels of additives such as sugar, glycerol, vanillen etc. When the results began to turn up on Rum Discussion boards such as Refined Vices – things quickly escalated.

Some of those involved in the promotional side of the Industry began back tracking.  No longer were they saying these products did not have any additives. They knew all along that these producers were using “traditional” or “artisanal” methods.  Talk of secret family recipes began and other fairy tales.  If anything the bullshit levels got higher.  We were past denial and into story telling.

Some producers even to this day still lie to their Brand Ambassadors and tell them nothing has been added to the rum.  As much as the ALKO and Systembolaget tests exposed the deceit prevalent in the industry, they did not cover a great deal of rums.

Once again we have to look to Scandinavia.  And a Danish guy and his Hydrometer.

On the 24th May 2014 Johnny Drejer first published his Hydrometer method.  A simple test requiring less than £20 worth of kit that would quickly and efficiently show when additives are present in your rum.  In my eyes the man is a hero and one of, if not the most deserving “Guardian of Rum”.

Of course the industry was quick to try and debunk the method.  It’s credibility is still often criticised.  Especially by those with their heads firmly in the additive laden trough. “It’s not as accurate as a lab test”  Maybe not, but it does the one simple thing it is intended to do very well.  Highlights the presence of additives.  If it is a g/L or two out that is not really the point.  Besides which, people such as Johnny, Marcus Stock and Foursquare’s Richard Seale all now use expensive Anton Paar Snap 50 Alchometers. These measure the rum even more accurately.  Having said that my results are still very similar to those Johnny publishes.

Ron Zacapa XO Rum Review by the fat rum pirateFor the first time people could actually look up the rum they were drinking online and determine whether the sweetness and smoothness stemmed from artful distillation or undisclosed manipulation.  So when someone next posted about how silky and luxurious their latest Super Premium bottling was others could point out the cold, hard facts of how the rum had achieved its profile.

Unfortunately some people seem dead against this.  Accusations of bullying and lack of participation in previously popular forums have surfaced.  It seems hypocritical to me that a couple of years ago I could be shouted down by a number of people because I hadn’t visited Rum Distilleries.  Yet those same self appointed experts are terrified of someone posting a link to some cold hard facts.  Many perhaps unsurprisingly have disappeared from the forums.

There also seems to be an odd little faction of rum drinkers who even know what they are drinking is laden with additives. Yet they are strangely more concerned about those rums rights to be labelled as “rum” not Spiced or Flavoured.  It’s almost as if they are playing at drinking real rum and don’t want anyone to know their secret.  Flat out bizarre if you ask me.

It seems some people don’t like disclosure.  When you are busy trying to promote the latest over priced, Central American Vintage Reserva – complete with deliberately misleading solera age statement, facts can be very troublesome. Someone with a hydrometer can be a real pain.

There are now a number of lists of Hydrometer tests being published by a number of Rum Enthusiasts and Bloggers.  Which is why I made reference in the title to rum no longer being dumb.  Information is out there and is easy to find.  It is much easier now to know what you are drinking. Spreading the word about those rums which are laden with additives is simple.

Now the argument is that such discussions suck the “Fun” out of rum.  People are no longer quite as willing to post in Rum Forums.  Now first of all there are a lot of Rum Forums out there.  Some are made up of enthusiasts with a penchant for double digit Cask Strength Pot Still Jamaican bruisers, Single Cask Ultra Rare and admittedly expensive Independent bottlings.  Others are made up of more casual Rum Drinkers. Who are happy sipping Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva or mixing Capn and Coke.Captain Morgan Jack O Blast Spiced Rum Review by the fat rum pirate

For me when contributing in online discussion groups it is about knowing and understanding your audience and fellow participants.  In most discussion groups the general direction of the group is determined by those who contribute most frequently.  They will draw in people of a similar mindset.  A discussion group can start with one particular “direction” in mind but it can quickly move and develop into something quite different.

If you look at the direction many Rum Groups have taken, is it because those citing things such as Hydrometer tests and questioning the provenance of things are the ones with the most interesting things to say?  “Look at this rum I just bought Isn’t it awesome?” – over and over again just isn’t engaging for a lot of people.  Having said that people banging on too much about additives can also become a pain.  Especially when they do little else.

So does all this serious discussion make Rum less fun? Are Rum Enthusiasts enjoying their Velier rarities or Appleton 21 Year Old’s less? Would we be happier drinking Oliver & Oliver, Papa’s Pilar or Zaya?  Should we be embracing such fun products as Captain Morgan’s Cannonball Spiced Rum or the party in a bottle which is Malibu?  I would suggest not.

The whole idea that critical thinking and opinion should not exist on discussion forums is an utter nonsense.  Its the very essence of such things.  Its what they are there for.  If you think differently find like minded people and move on.  Go have your Malibu Cocktail party if thats what you like and enjoy.  Go have fun.  No one is stopping you.

As well as the Hydrometer Tests a number of newer blogs have sprung up over the past couple of years. Some of these blogs lean towards Single Cask and Pure rum reviews.  Existing blogs such as Matt Pietrik over at Cocktail Wonk are more confident and comfortable publishing more edgy and critical articles.  Matt is particularly good at unravelling the bollocks ridden shit lists of the worlds supposed greatest rums.  Lance over at The Lone Caner is also happy to share his opinions from an enthusiasts point of view and Steve over at Rum Diaries Blog has produced a number of informative and interesting articles, which make the average rum consumer think about what they are drinking.  Newer bloggers such as Marius at Single Cask Rum, the anonymous Rumtastic and Henrik at Rum Corner are more than happy to publish their disdain and distrust of additive heavy rums.  For the French speaking crowd Cyril over at durhum certainly always has plenty to say!

But its really not all about additives and Hydrometer tests.  The more reviews I publish the more information the average consumer is wanting.  I’m constantly seeking out information beyond what is on the bottle or available on the net. Increasingly people want to know exactly how the rum has been distilled and aged.  The more information people get the more interested they become. Thus the more questions they ask.

People no longer are all that interested in the “Fun” Pirate stories or the tales of rum being aged in the clouds.  They want the facts about what is in the bottle.

A lot of rum drinkers no longer seek out the industry for all the answers.  Many know they may be deceived or just flat out lied to.  It seems to me that more and more consumers are seeking out honest, independent opinions. With no links to the Industry.

Overall I must say I don’t think things have changed massively with the more casual rum community.  However, I doubt many rum enthusiasts would now consider Zacapa and Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva to be the best rum has to offer.  Information is slowly filtering through.  A few years ago these rums were seen as the baseline for all other rums to be judged.  Not anymore.

The kind of Premium and Super Premium offerings from the likes of Bacardi, Havana Club and Diplomatico look nice on the shelf. Enthusiasts though are increasingly suspicious of the liquid inside.  Limited releases from Appleton and Foursquare are selling out double quick.  Alongside a rise in independent bottlings from a whole host of European bottlers.

In many way it is embarrassing that whisky reviewers such as Ralfy and Serge Valentin over at Whisky Fun are more valued than most dedicated Rum Bloggers.An Interview with Serge Valentin rum by the fat rum pirate

Bloggers in it for the freebies giving all rums a free ride and respectable score are not “Fun” for me.  They are an utter disgrace.  They should be hounded out and taken offline.  Zero interest in informing and helping consumers buy better rum.  They couldn’t careless beyond getting their free alcohol fix.

Likewise consumers are also suspicious of self appointed rum experts.  People giving themselves fancy titles such as “Rum Expert”, “King of Rum” and “Rum Consultant”.  If other people give you titles – fair enough but please don’t give yourself a title as the “Rum Guru”.  It just makes you look a prat.

So what else has changed over the past few years?

Well consumers are becoming more and more interested in Cask Strength “straight from the barrel” style rums.  More often than not such rums come from Independent bottlers who have next to no marketing budget.  As a result rather than invest in advertising and issuing freebies they put the product out with minimal frills but maximum information disclosed.  As many of these are Single Cask rums they often only run into the low hundreds of bottles.

The industry overall has done little to elevate rums such as Samaroli and Velier into the stratosphere.  Again this has been done mainly be word of mouth amongst enthusiasts and the occasional respected review.  Sure these rums aren’t selling by the pallet load but they are becoming increasingly popular and more widespread.  A new European Indie bottler seems to pop up just about every week.

“Rum is Fun” is a great tagline for rum.  It gives it an identity and I’m sure we can all appreciate that rum can and should be used in cocktails and mixed drinks as much as it should be sipped.  I would personally hate anyone to get the impression that I only sip Cask Strength, expensive Independent bottlings.  I really don’t all the rums I have reviewed on this site I have drank (just about).

Rum is Fun and rum has a great future but please don’t bemoan people wanting more information.  Don’t be surprised either if they want that information to come from Independent people with no vested interests or commercial interests in the rums they are “reviewing” or discussing.

 

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