Gerard Heidgerken is the rum-loving President of Bilgemunky Enterprises, an outfit that focuses on the research and appreciation of pirate culture.
Gerard’s website, Bilgemunky.com is known as one of the webs top pirate sites and includes a healthy dose of information about cane spirits. He sat down with us recently to talk business, pirates and RUM. Here’s what he had to say.
How and when did you become interested in rum?
I suppose I didn’t really think about rum much – indeed, I wasn’t much of a drinker at all – until 1998 or so, right after I got out of the Navy. I started playing a pirate video game called Seadogs during my evenings, and had a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Private Stock that I’d come across. I tried drinking it by itself, and found it rather tasty- it seemed like a fine thing to drink while playing a videogame that involved sailing, plundering, and pillaging. It wasn’t long before I was ready to remove the “training wheels” of spiced rum and explore other, finer choices.
How and when did you become interested in pirate culture?
All my life. Hanging on the wall of my office, tucked away amongst maps, flags, and an obscene number of pirate hats, is a wooden cutlass which I’ve had as long as I can remember. My grandpa – a carpenter – made one each for my brother and myself, and as such we grew up yelling “arrrr” and smacking the tar out of each other with these things. Of course, this is only one
part of a larger equation – growing up on the sea, frequent trips to Disney World and Disneyland (always with multiple trips through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride), a love of any movie or book involving pirates… all these things added up to where pirates were just a part of the American dream, right there with cowboys and astronauts.
When did you launch the website and what is its focus?
Bilgemunky.com launched in November of 2003. From the beginning it was
intended to delve into the pop-cultural aspects of piracy, meaning movies,
books, videogames, and yes, rum. Historians of course point out the many
flaws in our modern interpretation of pirates as being some sort of
swashbuckling heroes. But I think that the inspiration that fictional and
quasi-fictional pirates have provided us has value in itself, and it’s this
that Bilgemunky.com focuses on.
What other ventures are involved in Bilgemunky Enterprises?
Bilgemunky.com itself focuses on news, reviews, and commentary on a wide
range of pirate subjects. On Monday nights I host Bilgemunky Radio, a three
hour online program that features pirate-themed music from nearly every
genre you can imagine (yes, there are pirate metal bands, pirate punk,
pirate rap, pirate rock, and so on.) Over the past year I’ve also been
engaging in more “real world” efforts, including live pirate DJing, managing
hired pirate performers for various events, and assisting with rum events
(particularly when they overlap with a pirate theme.)
What is your favorite rum (or rums) in each category and why?
I’m going to be a pain in the ass on this one and forgo the categories -
it’s not that they aren’t appropriate, but rather my enjoyment of rum is a
bit more particular. I know that many people who love rum make a point of
enjoying ALL rum, but rum has become so diverse that I don’t feel at all bad
about having a strong preference for rums that taste like, well, like rum.
Meaning oaky, molassesy, dark and none-too-gentle – these are all qualities
that for me are as much a necessary part of the rum experience as is that it
comes from the sugarcane plant. There’s nothing wrong with white, gold, or
flavored rums – some are indeed very, very good. But they make for a
distinctly different experience, and aren’t what I stock my shelves with.
Sea Wynde I adore for its sharp, peppery kick. Mt. Gay Extra old is another
favorite when I’m looking for something a little gentler. As to what rum I
couldn’t go without, that’s hands down Goslings Black Seal, which I believe
dollar-for-dollar is the best rum in existence – a true, “core” rum that’s
not too fancy, not too gentle, tastes great by its lonesome, and costs only
a fraction of most of my other favorites.
What is your favorite cocktail?
I’m partial to Dark&Stormy’s – taste great and it’s easy to remember all the
ingredients. I’ve never been bit by the Mojito bug, as I have an aversion to
Do you have a favorite rum bar?
Being in Milwaukee, rum bars are preciously far away. I did have the
opportunity to visit Rum Jungle in Las Vegas and enjoyed it considerably, as
I did Rum Barrel in Key West. That said, I’ve begun to hear rumors that one
of the strip clubs in Milwaukee also boasts a considerable top-shelf rum
collection, although I’ve yet to find it. If any of your readers know the
truth of the matter, perhaps they’d be willing to share.
Do you have a favorite spirits shop for buying rum?
Ray’s on North Avenue in Wauwatosa has a fantastic selection of rum. If you
know where to look, many Wisconsin stores actually have surprisingly good
What is a rum that you’d travel outside of the US for?
I honestly don’t know, as every rum I’ve ever tasted can be bought somewhere
in the States (with one exception, which may or may not involve a trade
embargo.) I would love the opportunity to try some of my favorites in their
native lands, though – I’ve heard that they’re often quite different from
what you can get in the US. As such, visiting Bermuda, Barbados, and Jamaica
would be at the top of my list.
What do you think about rum’s increase in popularity?
I think we all know that rum has been enjoying a new moment in the sun of late,
and this is certainly a good thing. It’s resulted in something of a re-branding to
make rum appear hip, crisp, and modern – and rum can be all of these things. But
as you most likely have figured out by now, my strongest love for rum is in its native
form – dark and aged, and looking straight from an oak cask. Rum at its best
should be in a corked bottle with old and peeling labels, and able to be enjoyed
free of mixers from a wooden mug or cast tankard as easily as any fine crystal. This
is the side of rum that I adore, and it’s this side that I hope isn’t overly buried and
forgotten as rum finds its way more and more into fashionable nightclubs and
Who was the most ass-kicking pirate of all time?
There are several worthy contenders for best pirate, and many others for
most successful – great minds may disagree as to the champions. But I think
any and all would have to admit that for the title of “most ass-kicking
pirate”, Blackbeard is the hands-down victor. With his manner of dress and
behavior – to say nothing of the lighted fuses braided into his hair – the
man turned intimidation into an art form. By holding the entire town of
Charleston under siege simply to acquire some medicine (presumably to treat
his crew’s vd acquired in a tropical port), he showed he had stones. And in
that it took 5 bullets, 20 stab wounds, AND a decapitation to bring him down
in battle, well, if that’s not kick ass, I don’t know what is.