An Interview with Dave Broom – Author of Rum

Interview with Dave Broom the fat rum pirateIn the Rum world Dave Broom is famous for his coffee table opus “Rum” which is a staple publication for most rum enthusiasts.  I myself have been influenced in particular by the reviews contained in the book.

In addition to his responsibilities as contributing editor of Whisky Magazine and editor in chief of its Japanese sister title, Broom is a columnist and taster for US publication Whisky Advocate, as well as writing for German’s Mixology, China’s Drink! and French magazines Fine Spirits and Ginger.

Alongside “Rum” he has also published The World Atlas of Whisky and The World Atlas of Wine.

As a professional writer I expected Dave to have more than a working knowledge of Rum but as his focus is mainly Whisky I perhaps didn’t expect him to know so much about Rum.  This really was a very interesting exchange.

I understand you are working on another rum related title. Is this an update of your classic “Rum” or is it something entirely new?

The book will be the third member of the ‘Manual’ family. I’ve previously looked at whisky and gin, now it’s rum’s turn. The idea with the series is to give the reader, whether they are consumer or bartender, aficionado or newcomer, an idea of how the spirit has been drunk over the years, where its flavours come from, and then how (in this case) 110 rums taste on their own and mixed. There’s then a section on cocktails classic and new.

There will also be a Rum Flavour Map which will plot brands by style. It’s a one-stop shop for the rum lover.So, there will be some of the information gleaned for the old book but all brought up to date with a greater focus on flavour an d how to maximise your enjoyment.It’s been a somewhat frustrating and long period trying to get a new rum book off the ground, so I’m delighted to be able to work on this.

I must have read your reviews in “Rum” a thousand times now and even adopted your scoring system for the site. Do you plan on updating or expanding the Rum Review section as they are extremely useful as reference points?

It’s all new. I’ve now got a houseful of rums of all styles to get through. All 110 rums will be tasted neat and then with a selection of simple mixers [ginger beer, coconut water, cola and fruit juice] and then depending on style, one or two classic cocktails. Scores? I hate scores! Each mix is given a mark out of 5, but if a mix gets, say 2 it doesn’t mean the rum is bad it simply means the mix doesn’t work.

When you originally wrote “Rum” back in 2003 the “added sugar” debate had not gathered the pace it has now. Are you surprised at just how much “Rum” in comparison to Whisky is altered and adulterated? Would you be surprised to learn that despite EU regulations forbidding additives in Rum the UK Government does nothing to police such things?

I’m not surprised, but I am certainly concerned about the sweetening up which is happening with some rums. Some are close to liqueurs! Sweetening has long been a tradition for some rum styles and that’s fine. I do think however that it needs to be declared on the label. Producers need to be honest about what goes into their rum. They need to tell us… they need to tell their brand ambassadors!I also feel it’s unfair on the producers who don’t add sugar, either because they are not allowed to or never would never countenance it. Maybe they should start saying “No Sugar Added” on the label just as various whisky bottlers/producers declare that they don’t add spirit caramel or used chill filtering.

As for additives. If you want vanilla, then use first fill casks not extract; and if you want to flavour-up a rum, then call it spiced. Don’t lieMy concern isn’t sugar per se, but the way in which over-dosing rums is the start of a homogenisation process. Sugar blurs character, makes rums become no more than sweet drinks. The subtle but distinct differences between raw material, process, terroir, tradition etc. becomes blurred to the point of invisibility. That this is happening just as the wider world is waking up to rum’s variety is kinda ironic..

DIAMONDANDPMVELIER3Proposals are currently being “floated” around a new classification system for Rum by Luca Gargano of Velier and Richard Seale from Foursquare Distillery. They outline system very similar to Scotch Whisky using Pot Still as the equivalent of Single Malts. Do you think this would be good for the spirit and do you think it will be adopted across the board?

Is it good for the category? Yes! I co-hosted a couple of classes with Luca in Paris where he revealed his new classification system and it is one I’m considering using for the book.Will it be adopted? Unlikely. Scotch whisky is tightly regulated and while there are occasional spats about these regulations [see below] they do work and have helped to create a stable framework within which distillers can be creative. I wonder if that would ever be possible for rum given the number of countries producing it, the wide variety of production methods, etc. I would hope that there could be some movement towards an agreement around age statements and the use of additives, and I will certainly lobby for it, but I suspect politics will get in the way of any progress.

Departing slightly from Rum for a moment but still on the subject of classification What did you think about the recent decision by the Scotch Whisky Assocation regarding Compass Box giving too much information? From someone in the Rum World it seemed very, very strange….

The SWA was doing its job in enforcing the law which its members passed. Should firms have the option to declare the makeup of one of their products, if not on the label then in supporting material? Of course! It’s up to the member firms of the SWA to lobby for change. The ball is in their court.Is it strange when looked at from a rum perspective? Given the secrecy over sugar addition, additives, wood chips, caramel etc I’d think rum lovers would see this as eerily familiar …

A few Whisky bottlers and distillers also bottle rums from the Caribbean – WM Cadenhead and Duncan Taylor to mention but two. Do you think Rum offers an alternative to the Whisky drinker? Do you think people should embrace different spirits rather than stick too just one? Can you learn and improve your palate from trying different spirits?

Absolutely. My lightbulb moment when it came to rum came in the late 80s when I tried a Cadenhead bottling. I think any single malt drinker would appreciate great rum. Not only are there similar flavour cues but it’s one hell of a lot cheaper and there’s a lot of malt nuts who feel they are being priced out of the category.

Of course people should have open minds to all spirits – and that goes for within rum. I still meet people who won’t try agricole for example. The more you taste and the wider you taste, the better your palate will become. You gain understanding of complexity, balance and character – what makes a rum different from a whisky for example, or what makes either of them different from Cognac. What are the quality reference points in each of these categories, what are the commonalties, and the differences? Life’s too short to only drink one thing.

imageAs mentioned in the previous question many Whisky producers bottle rum imported from the Caribbean at a relatively young age. As a result it is aged in a less than tropical climate. Do you think this produces a much different product than those aged for a similar period in the Caribbean? We are aware that the heat accelerates ageing but are their subtle differences as well?

Absolutely. It’s fascinating to compare the rums from say Bristol Spirits or European-aged rums from Velier with their equivalents from the Caribbean. It all depends on how active the cask is of course, but in Europe you will have a more protracted maturation cycle with greater levels of oxidation taking place, especially when refill casks are used.

The same mechanisms happen in the cask – aggressive elements are taken away, flavour and colour are taken from the wood and then all these elements work together with oxygen – but the rate at which that happens will also have an impact. It’s not just that rum ‘ages quicker’ in the Caribbean than in Europe. The flavours created are different. It’s a fascinating area that is really only now being fully explored.

As primarily a Whisky critic/writer have you sought out many of the more expensive Independent rum bottlings such as Velier and Samaroli?

Yes! Love them both and seeing how there is a real difference between Luca’s style and that of Antonio Bleve at Samaroli. I also love Alexandre Gabriel’s approach to elevage for Plantation and the ‘Early Landed’ style as typified by the restrained and elegant Bristol Spirits selection.

As I said above, they might be high priced in rum terms but they represent great value compared to whisky – and also when you consider they’re limited editions, they are finite in supply. When you compare a 20 year old Port Morant to a Champagne I know what’s better value! I might be better known as a whisky critic but I’m also a rum drinker

Do you feel that attitudes in the UK particularly towards Rum are changing. Do you find it pleasing to see Supermarkets such as Sainsburys stocking the likes of Chairman’s Reserve and Appleton V/X? Do you think rum needs to take itself more seriously if it is to become more respected. Should the “rum is fun” tag be dropped?

Never forget the fun element. When Scotch whisky did that it entered two generations worth of decline. Rum’s great advantage is that people smile when they think about it. What we need to do is retain that element while widening rum’s remit to the connoisseur level. It’s not one or the other. The more available rum become the better it should be for the category as long as compromises on quality are not made in order to get listngs.

DaveBroom4When researching all you have wrote about rum (and reading a few Whisky articles) I came across this on the internet (You need to scroll down to number 8. Bad books on rum. Had you seen this before? And what do you think?

Hey, it’s one person’s opinion and if there are only two points of disagreement in what is a large book, then I don’t think it’s that serious a criticism. I won’t be losing any sleep over it, put it that way.

The good thing is that so many of the primary sources are now available, allowing what is a high complex and contentious history to be explored more fully. I’m reading them at the moment for the Manual and will use them to support my argument. Will everyone agree with my conclusions? Possibly not, but that’s history for you!

On a lighter note, how many rums have you sampled over the years? (Even a ball park figure would be good) If you had to pick a favourite could you? Maybe a top five?

Well, there’s 120 sitting next door at the moment. I really don’t know but it’s in the high hundreds. I couldn’t ever name a Top 5 as it changes all the time. As far as major rums in my education goes:

El Dorado, Doorly’s, Appleton, Havana Club, Barbancourt, J.M, Clairin Sajous.. and that Cadenhead bottling that started it all off.

Any “rums” that you have really no time for or feel really run the category down?

There are some over-sugared and over flavoured ‘rums’ out there. You know who they are

Finally do you have any rum drink that you enjoy the most?

Make me a Daiquiri or a Mulata and I’ll be happy… or a rum Old Fashioned… or a Presidente

So there you go some very interesting answers and points to ponder.  I was really encouraged by Dave’s enthusiasm for Rum and looking forward to the new book.  For those who haven’t read Rum I urge you to try and pick up a copy – it’s fascinating!

Rum – The Manual will be out in the UK on 22 September 2016 (you can pre-order from Amazon here) and in the US in Spring 2017.




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2 comments on “An Interview with Dave Broom – Author of Rum

  1. Do you recommend any other books on rum apart from Dave’s ? There’s a few available on Amazon but it’s hard to tell which ones are worth reading.

    • And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis is also a good read

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