Dave Russell is a well-known rum reviewer who spends much of his time sailing the Caribbean in search of fine spirits and good times. Here’s our interview.
How and when did you become interested in rum?
During my first sailing trip in the Caribbean in 1991 I discovered wonderfully refreshing cocktails made with aged and overproof rums. It wasn’t long after that I acquired my preference for aged sipping rums. Like so many young people, my first experience with rum ended badly from drinking too much crappy rum and cola at a party. I’m glad those early days passed and I developed a more refined palate.
How many rums are in your collection?
Never enough – but the stash grows every week! At this moment my collection is approaching 200 rums. Honestly, I remember years ago counting 16 bottles on my shelf and it felt “Like money in the bank” as I say. I have friends with over 700 bottles, so the number isn’t relevant. Somebody will always have a bigger collection. What’s important is that you enjoy every rum that you own.
What is your favorite rum (or rums) in each category and why?
I’ve made a lifestyle out of searching the planet discovering great rum. Why would I want to settle for just one? I don’t. I want to appreciate rum for all of its diversity; its styles, flavors, distilling and aging techniques, local varieties, and especially, exploring the culture expressed in each one. Hopefully, the adventures continue.
Do you have a favorite rum bar?
I have a few. Hanging out at almost any shack on a beach in the Caribbean suits me best, but Papa Zouk’s on Antigua has an especially eclectic collection of rums from the world over. Gentleman Bob Davies’ “da Conch Shack” in the Turks and Caicos islands offers a wealth of rums. On Grenada, the Aquarium is a must, as is Vastra Banken. In the BVI, I enjoy Myett’s resort at Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, which is just down the road from the ancient Callwood Distillery. While everyone goes to “Foxy’s” on Jost Van Dyke, I vastly prefer the more washed-up scene at his son Sedi’s place called “One Love” over on White Bay. For sheer natural beauty, you can’t top Hotel Libertador on Lake Titicaca in Peru. Although they’re pricey, Fire Grill in Gros Islet on St. Lucia has a nice selection of rum and agricole rhum, while Hotel Tiara Park Atlantic Lisboa in Lisbon, Portugal has several exquisite Cuban rons. In the States, I visit rum bars to drink cocktails that I cannot make myself. Martin Cate’s iconic “Smugglers’ Cove” in San Francisco is my local rum bar – it’s clearly the best in the West. Adam Kanter’s “Rum Bar” in Philadelphia is the place to go on the East Coast.
What is your regular cocktail?
Sipping an aged rum neat is my favorite way to enjoy rum at home. On a hot day I particularly enjoy a traditional Martinique-style ‘Ti Punch over ice before dinner. When sailing, a Rum Punch with fruit juices and bitters is refreshing. So is a Painkiller. Substituting cachaça in a limey Margarita is showing great potential.
Where is the best place to buy rum in your area?
I buy most of my rum when traveling in the Caribbean. The duty free shops in the smaller Caribbean airports are usually a treasure trove. Apparently, their inventory doesn’t move quickly, so you often find wonderful discontinued collectible rums. I’ve stumbled onto rare rums and homemade concoctions in tiny, out-of-the-way markets too. Quinn Farara’s duty-free liquor store in Heritage Quay on Antigua has a wide selection that changes daily. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Beltramo’s and K&L have a good selection of rum, as does Liquid Experience in Haight-Ashbury. For online purchases I turn to Forrest Cokely at Hi-Time Wine in Southern California.
Which rum would you travel to buy?
I’ve sailed throughout most of the Caribbean, and motorcycled through most of the Continents searching for rum, but the place I want to go more than anywhere else is Cuba. Legally, of course, so I can bring the rum home. I want to see Cuba as the frozen-in-time political phenomenon that it has been for over half a century, while its culture is still intact, before the Castro regime collapses and big resorts and cruise ships turn it into another Las Vegas. I want to feel the music, soak up the rum, and immerse myself in the local vibe before it’s gone.
When did you launch RnD Rum Reviews and what is your focus?
Roger and I were sipping some nice rum with our wives on the deck of a tall sailing ship in the Caribbean over five year ago. We didn’t have any reference or expectation for the rum we were exploring, and lamented that there weren’t any really good websites about rum. On impulse we said: ”Let’s start one!” The name RnD Rum Reviews came easy, since we were both employed in high-tech at the time. We combined our initials with a compass logo pointing North, consistent with our mission of being “Your Guide to Great Rum.”
What should we watch out for from RnD in the coming year?
We have a pretty cool update in store for our 5th Anniversary Edition of RnD Rum Reviews in June. We’ll feature great rums that represent the many styles and rum producing regions – we’ve been working on that list for awhile. We’re also working on making the site easier to navigate as it grows. But I have no idea where this will ultimately go. If you told me five years ago I would be having this much fun searching for rum and writing about it, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’ve got a feeling we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The next five years will be a blast.
Words of wisdom….
Do what you love, and life will reward you. It’s the only way you’ll be sufficiently motivated over the long haul. Even if you don’t get rich, you’ll be happy, and that’s all that matters.