Rum Blogging – A Blogger’s Perspective

Rum Blogging - A Blogger's Perspective Article by the fat rum pirateRum Blogging – A Blogger’s Perspective. Starting this blog was one of the most challenging, yet rewarding things I have done in my adult life. The first thing which became immediately apparent to me was that my general grammar and ability to actually write something, had slipped considerably. I had after all left Full Time Education some18 years prior. It is still far from perfect!

Computers or rather computer software such as Word and Excel has left us lazy and overly reliant on things like spellcheck and formulae. These correct and calculate things as we go. For all of my adult life, I have worked as a Civil Servant. Which has involved sending out pre-written forms and letters. For good reason, most communications to the great British public are carefully vetted and approved before being allowed to be used.

So, I have in many ways been able to get through adult life without really having to sit down and write anything of even a fair to medium level of complexity or length.

I am aware of incorrect apostrophes, spelling mistakes, mis-used words and completely made up ones appearing on this blog. Likely in this article.

Although, I may not be the biggest fan of the term, I am very much a Blogger rather than a writer. For me a writer would be someone qualified in some way, so they can use such a term. Whether that be through formal qualifications, such as being a journalist or maybe because they had something published and paid for doing so.

If you look up the term “Blog” the following definition applies

“a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

My site is very definitely updated regularly and my style, warts and all, including all the things already mentioned is very informal! I also hope it has a conversational flow. One of my favourite bloggers is actually a vlogger called Ralfy Mitchell, who runs the very popular Whisky (and other quality spirits) review Youtube site

Ralfy is very knowledgeable and, by his own admission a whisky anorak. However, despite being very serious about his whisky he is entertaining, engaging, amusing and occasionally a bit ranty. He keeps you thoroughly engrossed throughout his videos.

I have tried to keep the tone of my blog serious but not overtly so. I still try and keep a little bit of me in each review, much like Ralfy does. If this blog comes anywhere near being as influential as Ralfy’s I will consider myself to have done a job well done. I don’t think it is going to happen but I can still keep on trying.

All this being said, I am not the best writer in the Rum World. There are numerous others who can but things far more eloquently than myself. People with a much better understanding and usage of the English language. I arguably could write a little better. I certainly could cut out some of the mistakes. The thing is it is not in my nature, unlike other reviewers to write notes in advance. Nor do I have numerous “sessions” with a rum trying to identify and verify all the tastes and sensations they have experienced.

When I come to write a review it is very often done in one sitting. I usually take around an hour to go from a blank page to a review, complete with background research, photos (the one thing which is done in advance by my very supportive wife) and the nosing/tasting notes of the chosen rum. I have a quick scan through, bear in mind I’ve likely had a few glasses of said rum, to make sure it reads okay. It will then either be published immediately or a draft saved for a later date. I do usually re-read a draft prior to publishing it. Sometimes……

I’m the type of person who spends quite a lot of time thinking about things, so when I come to write I usually have a pretty good idea already sketched out in my mind. I’m also impatient and like to get things “done”. I can’t stand people that piss about procrastinating over things. Nothing iriritates my more people who cannot make a decision and hum and ha and dilly dally.

At the end of the day if one of my reviews is a bit shit, I’m sure people will be quick to tell me!

Now as well as establishing that I am not the greatest writer in the world, I will also advise all potential bloggers on the other major pitfall in starting a blog. WordPress. Now WordPress is a great tool for self-publishing on the Internet. I am not sure how easy other blogging platforms such as Wix and Blogger are but WordPress has a pretty difficult learning curve.

It is a lot more difficult to get a web site looking and behaving as you would like than you might imagine. You can lose days searching for the light “plug in” to send emails to your followers or hours upon hours trying to get a menu or table to go where you want it to go and behave as you wish. I can’t do any computer coding or anything like that. I see computers as functional tools designed to make my life easier. They can program themselves as far as I’m concerned. There is good reason why a lot of blogs do not change their layout or add much by way of new features during their life cycle. We aren’t all techies.

Another thing about blogging, especially if you take like I have the earlier definition seriously is, you have to be constantly working on it. If you are looking to set up a blog because you think it will be great to receive free rum and free entry to Rum Events etc then be prepared to play the long game. In fact you are better off just forgetting about this as you should be focusing on writing a good blog and gaining a sizeable following. The rest will come if you put the work in.

Now, some bloggers the aforementioned Ralfy is one such blogger who steadfastly refuse samples. Some do this to remain independent and impartial, such as Ralfy. Others feel that the 2,3 and 5cl samples routinely dished out by the “bigger” producers are not sufficient to base an opinion on. In the main though such bloggers are a rarity because it can get very tempting to take up offers of free rum.

I did start off with a view to not accepting samples. This is quite an easy thing to do early on. Especially if like me for the first 9 months you “fly under the radar” and remain anonymous.

Now, in and ideal world the best websites by the best bloggers/writers etc would be the most viewed and most popular. Unfortunately, as with nearly every form of the arts the “best” do not always rise to the top.

Another thing to consider if you are thinking of becoming a blogger is how do you get your site viewed? I’ve learned a few things about how search engines work and how you can increase your ranking with search engines so more people visit your site. However, you have to use whatever means necessary to get views on your site for all this to kick in. Search Engine Optimisation is a great way to ensure your website gets viewed. In basic terms Search Engine Optimisation is a way of “making” the likes of Google rank your website “higher” in its page ranking than other sites based on keywords and phrases.

In addition to this you can also use Google Analytics to help with the ranking. This enables google to check how popular your website is and this can also help with the page ranking. Basically if you can get your site on the first page of a google search under popular keywords and phrases you are onto a winner.

Advertising is obviously a quick way to get hits depending on your budget. To try and get a starter blog up to say 10,000 views per month I would imagine it costs a pretty penny.

Thing is there is plenty of scope for “free advertising”. As well as setting up your online blog you will also need Social Media accounts. Believe me my traffic increased dramatically when I went public on Social Media in particular Facebook.

There are a lot of Rum Groups on Facebook. I joined pretty much everyone I could find. At the time not many bloggers were doing what I did. Basically I shared a link to every new review I wrote. This clearly wasn’t to everyones “tastes” and a few of the older guard of Rum Bloggers (most of whoms blogs were at the time largely inactive or only very fleetingly updated) weren’t overly impressed with this “spamming” of the Rum Forums. Fuck em.

However, only one or two of the group owners approached me requesting I remove my links or post less regularly. I noted this all down. Around a year later one of these group owners kindly informed me he had re-considered his decision and I could post some links to his group. My response was quite a way from being a yes.

Without Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest I probably would have abandoned the blog as it simply would never have got enough hits to sustain my interest. As a blogger I spend around 5 to 6 hours per week on the site. Which may not sound a lot, but it is when you have a young family. It’s not really worth it if only 12 people are seeing a review..

Some bloggers will tell you they aren’t bothered about the amount of hits they receive. I honestly don’t understand or see any logic in this. I don’t spend all this time writing my blog for no-one to read it!

Anyway, back to receiving samples. Now most of the very popular Spirits Review sites are helped by paid for advertising and as well as receiving samples from producers. They actually also get paid to feature beer, wines and spirits. These websites get visitor numbers, which any blogger is very unlikely to come close to achieving. You simply won’t get offered all the goodies they get.

Until a blog starts to get visitors it will not get offered freebies. Some bloggers in particular those that use Instagram (rather than having a “proper” website for a blog), seem far more comfortable going out and asking for freebies. Now, unless you’ve already got links in the industry it is unlikely that any reputable or famous producers will be sending you any samples, even if you approach them.

Initially, you are more likely to receive offers from smaller less established brands. It’s quite flattering at first and you’ll likely find it quite exciting especially your first “freebie”.

Now I’ve never “disclosed” on the website if I have been sent anything by the producer, distributor or brand ambassador. A number of review websites have disclaimers which disclose that they will always reveal when they have received free samples. The disclaimer always includes the fact that the review will not be influenced by the sample.

Which as far as I am concerned the very fact you feel the need to reveal this suggests to me it already has been. You doth protest too much methinks.

If anyone thinks this is an unfair assessment always look for a bloggers lowest score. Contrast this with their scoring scale. A lot of bloggers use the 50-100 scale. Yet most might as well be using 75-100. Now whilst a score of 75 on this scale is pretty much “average” it really doesn’t look as bad at 5/10. You’ll find that most rums scored around this mark are often noted as being good mixers. Even when they are clearly priced above this and trying to position themselves as “Premium”.

Now bloggers have a lot of reasons why they don’t use the full breadth of their scoring system. The most popular one is that they do not review “inferior” (in their eyes) or budget rum. My blog wasn’t set up to give other Rum Geeks a hard on or to make others green with envy over my latest sample of some 25 year old Caroni that was sold out over 10 years ago.

I’ll review anything that has “rum” on it. The only way to stop people buying rubbish is to tell them what is rubbish and why. Some people are on tight budgets. They may only have £20 to spend on a bottle of rum. Now at this price point they can certainly buy more bad rum than good. If they aren’t told otherwise. There are plenty of good rums available at every price point.

A lot of bloggers don’t use the lower end of the scoring system because they do not want to risk their flow of samples ending. So you will see quite a few reviews were relationships and often friendships are revealed. Sooner or later this relationship will be tested by a not so good quality product. It can be interesting how creative some reviews can be of fairly poor spirits. Is it really a Premium Mixer or is it not really just a terrible sip?

Of course no blogger will ever admit to an “enhanced” review. I’ve never written anything other than the truth in a review. I would say were this ever to  be challenged I could present a more credible amount of evidence than many other bloggers. Some bloggers have went from blogging to working in the industry. Good luck but once you have crossed that line your impartiality and independence will always be questioned. You can’t really remain as a truly independent rum blogger, certainly not a reviewer if you have financial interests in certain brands or producers.

For the record I do receive samples from producers. I do review them. I get them fairly regularly. However, I keep most of my interactions with producers and third parties (such as The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt) at arms length. There is certainly no guarantee of a favourable review. Not a chance. No sample review is submitted to them prior to publication.

I do have a policy for samples though and I no longer accept anything I have experience of being poor quality or questionable rum.

Captain Morgan Jack O Blast Spiced Rum Review by the fat rum pirateA good few years back an advertising agency approached me wanting to send me a sample of Captain Morgan Pumpkin Blast in time for Halloween. As the agency was based in California, I didn’t expect them to send the sample. I gave my name and address and forgot all about it.

Around a week later, a package arrived inside was a70cl bottle of Captain Morgan Pumpkin Blast. This was accompanied by an email suggesting ways I could promote the “rum” on Social Media. I received two further emails over the next few days outlining signature serves and some hashtags etc to use in my Social Media posts.

I decided to get in touch with the agency. I explained to them about the site and how I hadn’t expected the sample and I would write a review but it might not be very favourable.

To my surprise I got an email back around half an hour later. The agency apologised for not reading more of my site. They did however say I was fine to publish a review even if I hated the rum as it was all good publicity. I never got offered any more samples.

Now, of course a review is just one mans opinion or in some instances the concensus of a couple of writers on a writing team. The biggest get out clause whenever a Blogger or a Rum Enthusiast has his opinion of a rum questioned is “Taste is subjective”. Now as far as your average non-blogger is concerned, I can live with this. However, I do not buy into the idea that someone who has set themselves up as Rum Blogger should use such a lame excuse.

Now, I am not saying that as a Rum Blogger I am in anyway an Expert on Rum. I always laugh when bloggers add such monikers in their About Information or make claims to be anything other than a humble blogger. I’ve never felt the need to big myself up and I would prefer others to give me any such acclaim. Though I suspect most of the names I will be called might not fall into this category.

However, if you set up a blog and start reviewing rum you are suggesting to me that you have some basic understanding of rum. To me you have gone beyond the “I like the taste” level of critique. I’m not expecting an expert opinion or viewpoint. Just something a bit beyond “Kraken is really sweet and smooth I love it – the best rum in the world”Kraken Rum

Now I am 100% not saying that how much you enjoy a rum shouldn’t influence your review. It should be a big part of your review.  Of course it should no dispute there.

BUT I personally think when you are reviewing a spirit as diverse as rum your own very personal tastes have to be offset slightly against a number of factors.

Early on in my rum drinking “career” I tried a couple of Rhum Agricole’s. A La Mauny VO and Saint James Royal Ambre. I remember reading about Rhum Agricole but I didn’t really believe that it would be quite as different from molasses based “Industrial” rum as it was.

I thought it was some kind of repulsive joke when I tried the La Mauny VO for the first time. In fact I thought my bottle had gone bad, been corked or something. It was completely foul. Although I didn’t review the La Mauny VO (I could barely stomach it, even with cola) I did try another cheaper agricole Saint James Rhum Ambre, which I did review.

The review is still on the site – I am currently in the process of reviewing the 40% and 45% ABV versions, and will replace the current review. The review is a display of utter ignorance and arrogance. The ramblings of a fool. It’s awful.

Put simply I hadn’t put the time in with Rhum Agricole to understand it. It is very important when reviewing any rum to try and get an understanding of what the producer is trying to achieve. If you review a White Unaged Overproof from Jamaica, don’t review it expecting it to be a elegant sipping experience best paired with a cigar. Don’t rate a cheap white rum based solely on it’s sippability. It’s not been released for that. You wouldn’t rate your Nissan Micra on it’s ability around Brands Hatch but as a functional short distance run around, it serves a perfectly good purpose.

If you don’t “like” certain styles of rum then take this into account. If you are reviewing rum across the whole diverse spectrum of rum producing nations – you will encounter styles you prefer. Approach a rum review with an understanding of what the rum is likely to taste like rather than what you might want from rum.

Rhum Agricole still isn’t my preferred style of rum but I can now recognise when I have a good example, of such a rum in my glass. I’ve read up on it, asked Agricole lovers and producers to get a better understanding. We are all always learning no matter how knowledgable we think we are.

I’ll make a little caveat at this stage, whilst I am open to all styles of rum/rhum I do not consider additive laden rum to be a category in it’s own right. I do not accept the likes of Plantation’s view that the double ageing and use of sugar syrup is a “house style” as some have suggested. I still judge their rums on those against others from the nation of origin. So Plantation Xaymaca is judged against other Jamaican rums.

In general when it comes to sweetened rums I take a dim view of the practice. As more often than not they are up to other deceptive practices. They usually offer little by way of tangible information on their products. There are no minimum age statements or any guarantee of quality. I don’t really afford them any leeway the additives usually just kill the “rum”.

I think it’s also important to try and get some decent information on how a rum is produced. We don’t need as much information as some might advocate. Method of distillation, age of the rum(s), barrels aged in and where aged are all important factors. Along with this I would also say price has to be factored in to any overall score. It is a very significant factor. More so than many might suggest.

Saint James Royal Ambre 45% Rum Review by the fat rum pirateNow I know some people will be a little aghast that I am even daring to suggest that your review shouldn’t relate totally to how much you enjoy the spirit. I strongly believe it should but I think a more basic understanding of what is in front of you is merited, if you are going to review as a blogger. If the rest of the world thinks Rhum JM XO is a great example of Rhum Agricole but you think it’s pish because you “don’t like Agricole”.

Probably best parking that review. You run the risk of looking (like I did) like an uninformed prat.

Anyway should your blog “take off” you’ll likely receive a few invites to Rum Events and Rum Festivals. Most of these take place in London. So whilst I am unable to attend many of these events, I also avoid the obligation in many cases. There are plenty bloggers and industry hangers on who will gladly attend the opening of a crisp packet. You then just have to await the gushing praise for the brand over the coming days accompanied by various soundbites parroting the Brand Ambassador. All very tedious.

When I attend Rum Festivals I go as a grateful participant. I always make a point of thanking the organisers for any free entry they may have granted. For the last few Rum Festivals I haven’t worn any “identifying” clothing. It can however be difficult to try and pretend to be a punter when people know or recognise me.

I try not to tell people I’m a blogger when I visit a stand. A lot of people from most etablished brands know me but if I go unrecognised I do not mention being a blogger. I will chat and try the producers rum. If I like them and what they are doing I will hand them a card. Especially if they are a small producer doing something interesting. Unfortunately, you don’t tend to hear back very often from these brands. With so many rums out there I often lose track or forget who I have met.

As a blogger Rum Festivals are a good way of getting a better perspective of the market. It is easy for a Rum Enthusiast to think the “Rum World” are all drinking Foursquare Exceptional Cask Series, Hampden DOK or Independent Demerara Rum bottlings. Even at London Rum Festival, where a considerable number of people with Caribbean heritage attend, there are still a lot of casual Kraken and Coke drinkers and people thinking “smooth” sweetened junk like Don Papa is great rum.Hydrometer Tests by the fat rum pirate

As far as the rum blogging scene is concerned it has changed dramatically. A number of more established Rum Blogs have fallen by the wayside or are simply hardly ever updated. New blogs have sprouted up with huge dedication and enthusiasm….for a few months. Before being mothballed or going on a break.

It is perhaps more fragmented than before, with very different views and perspectives. Which is a reflection very much of how the Rum Scene in general has “split” since additives were exposed.

The next few years will be very interesting.




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