Joey is a south Florida-based cane spirits enthusiast, collector, blogger and the guy with the coolest name in the Rum XP group. Here’s our interview.
How and when did you become interested in rum?
Growing up in a Cuban household in Miami, I followed in the old man’s footsteps and became a Scotch drinker. Huh?!?! (Dad’s penchant for whiskey notwithstanding, rum was never looked down upon and we always had a bottle or two of aged rum at home, too.) So, while many of my friends in college were drinking the rough equivalent of alcoholic Kool Aid, I was the “snob” at the fraternity party with a glass of Scotch (usually on the rocks or with just a splash of water). When Single Malt Scotches regained popularity a few years ago, I tried to educate myself on the differences and subtleties therein. With that came a lot of self-guided research so I could learn what I could about the distillation, maturing and blending.
A few years ago, I heard about a rum tasting that was occurring near my home and being hosted by Robert Burr, who is a mutual friend and probably familiar to some of your readers. I was amazed at the depth and complexities of several of the rums presented and quickly became a regular fixture at Rob’s rum tastings. This is how I initially became familiar with many of the best rums – and if I liked a rum, I sought out a bottle. I was also turned on to some great rums by following the online writings of other rum enthusiasts from the RumXP group (RumConnection included). When the first Miami Rum Renaissance Festival came around, I gladly attended and had the opportunity to meet some of the greatest people I know… my fellow Rum Enthusiasts. I guess I had developed a pretty good palate by then because I was privileged to participate as a judge in the 2nd and 3rd Rum Renaissance festivals. Several years and several distillery visits later, I am still frequently amazed at the variety of rums out there – all so different yet still good!
How many rums are in your collection?
I hadn’t really thought of myself as a collector until a friend pointed out that as soon as you have more than two of something, you have a collection. To that point, I may be one of the world’s worst rum collectors because none of the rums in my collection is “off limits.” At last count, I have somewhere around 70-80 rums in my collection – but again, all of my rum is meant for drinking and sharing with my friends (although there are some rums for which you’ve got to be a pretty good friend).
What is your favorite rum (or rums) in each category and why?
I hate calling a particular rum a favorite simply because so many other factors can change my perception of a rum (what I’ve eaten, mood, etc.). However, some of the rums I gladly (and frequently) recommend include:
- White Rum: I was a huge fan of the Tommy Bahama White Sand Rum, but that is no longer available and I won’t be able to recommend it much longer. Now, it depends on the drink I’m making but Siesta Key Silver, Montanya Platino, Bacardi Superior, and Diplomatico Blanco are all very good.
- Gold Rum: Flor de Cana 4 Gold and Don Q Gold
- Aged (Spanish-speaking): Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, Zacapa 23 and Atlantico Private Cask
- Aged (English-speaking): El Dorado 15 Year Old, Rum 66 and Appleton Estate Reserve
- Aged (French/Agricole): Barbancourt Reserve du Domaine (not the same as Estate Reserve) and Rhum J.M. VSOP
- Spiced: Chairman’s Reserve Spiced and Foursquare Spiced
Do you have a favorite rum bar?
Despite being in Miami, which you would think should be the US’s Rum Capital, most of the bars in the area tend not to have a huge variety of “top shelf” rums. The bar at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables has a healthy selection of decent rums and lucky for me is near crawling distance from home. The Florida Room at the Delano Hotel in South Beach is another great bar. However, when the opportunities arise, I try to follow some of the best bartenders/mixologists in Miami to wherever they may be pouring. I’m also a big fan of any bar with a “speakeasy” feel serving vintage cocktails.
What is your regular cocktail?
I got turned on to rum-based Sazeracs and I especially like the way El Dorado 5 works for this… now if only I could get more bars to stock the ingredients. But in general, I tend to enjoy both vintage cocktails and tiki drinks when either is done well.
Where is the best place to buy rum in your area?
The big stores can be a sort of Toys-R-Us for a rummie like me but I’ve developed a great relationship with Eddie from Big Game Liquors in Miami – if he doesn’t have it, he does what he can to help me get it! Sunset Corners is another local Miami store with a decent selection.
Which rum would you travel to buy?
Miami is actually pretty good for getting a variety of rums so I try to focus on rums I wouldn’t have been able to get in the US when I’ve traveled. For example, on the Rum Renaissance Cruise, my day in Barbados wasn’t complete without 2 bottles of Rum 66 and one of St. Nicholas Abbey 12 Year. St. Lucia was also a treasure trove of rums yet to be released in the US. Also, I love finding rum bottles at out of the way liquor stores with an inch of dust on them – sometimes means a great old rum is underneath.
When did you launch the The Aging Barrel.com and what is your focus?
I always get asked “what rum do you recommend?” so I decided to put my thoughts into TheAgingBarrel.com in July 2011. It’s a relatively new undertaking (and unfortunately, a couple of colds made it difficult to taste and review rums early on) but I hope it grows and am always open to feedback from readers. Reviews on TheAgingBarrel.com will mainly be rum reviews – but I am a man with two mistresses so whiskeys will occasionally show up too.
What should we watch out for from The Aging Barrel in the coming year?
I hope to increase the number of reviews significantly as I “find my voice.” A couple of things you won’t see on TheAgingBarrel.com: “bad rums” and scores. Regardless of my opinion of a particular rum, someone poured their heart and soul into that bottle – so as Mom used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice…” Please consider any of my reviews to be a recommendation. I personally don’t like to score rums on the site either. Unless my readers and I have the same frame of reference, scores can end up being somewhat arbitrary. Also, I have tried two rums and preferred one over the other during the day only to reverse my preferences after having eaten dinner. Over time, my palate has changed too. So I think, there are just too many other factors that can alter my scoring.
Words of wisdom…
If you’re in Miami and need a good drinking buddy, I’m always willing to make new friends especially the kind that pick up bar tabs!