Pete Holland, fine spirits blogger and half of the creative team at The Floating Rum Shack, sits down with us to talk about cane spirits. Check it out.
How and when did you become interested in rum?
Rum came up on my radar when I first started dating my future wife to be: Pauline. This was back in early 1993. At the time Pauline was going through a Southern Comfort / Gin & Tonic / Alcopop stage (we were both students) and she’ll be embarrassed by me telling everyone this little fact, but it was her rebellious phase, due to being constantly surrounded by rum. But I guess the first real rum feature was when I went around for my first meal at Pauline’s mum and dad’s house. I consumed an absolute mountain of West Indian themed Christmas dinner, which was followed by an offer of a glass of rum. I don’t recall if it was Mount Gay or Cockspur, Pauline say’s it was the former. I can say that I think at that time I stuck with the beer as I didn’t want to risk making a fool of myself. But it really was only then a matter of time.
Soon we were regularly getting bottles of whatever was available locally (which wasn’t much in High Wycombe at the time) and generally mixing it with coke and yes, I know that will have the purists tutting, but some rums are made for mixing coke. Pauline is part English, part Bajan (Barbados) and part Vincention (St. Vincent) as her parents originally came from different islands in the Caribbean. At that time, St. Vincent rum was only available to those who knew someone prepared to stick a bottle or two in their suitcase on the journey home. Bajan rum was far more accessible and so I guess I have a soft spot there as it was my first love.
Over the next few years, our holidays in the Caribbean made me realise that rum is no small thing to the average West Indian, but I really had no idea that the scope of the spirit category was so wide. The summer of 2008 changed all that. Pauline and I felt like we wanted to start a project – something to take us away from the hum-drum of normal life and we settled on rum. The idea was to find out what we could and then record our sugar cane spirit journey on our newly registered website: www.TheFloatingRumShack.com – not a lot happened initially, but by a complete fluke, lucky break if you will, a few months later we happened to be in London on the same weekend as RumFest and the rest as they say was history!
Our journey so far seems to have been blessed by the Rum Gods – we’ve got lucky so many times – meeting so many interesting people, that I can’t help but be a little amazed at our good fortune. RumFest made me realise that the world of rum is vast and mostly located in hot and sunny locations which is of course a bonus. I’m genuinely interested in all aspects of the drinks industry – I’m as happy being told about particular aspects of distillation as I am about how to best mix it in a cocktail.
How many rums are in your collection?
We have about 90 different rum expressions at the moment. Our collection is not one for simply looking at, its one for enjoying. The flipside to the fun is that the bottles tend to run empty quite quickly… I’d say we have a lot of half empty or half full depending upon your point of view, bottles right now, but as there are not many that are irreplaceable, I don’t feel I have to be overly sensible.
We have a bottle of Appleton Exclusive Estate Edition rum – that tends to be stored away from the main stash if only because it cost us a lot of money. Friends and family are free to have a sip or two, but I’d rather it didn’t end up in a Mai-Tai or accidentally mixed long with coke at one of our house parties. Actually – scratch that – if one of my mixologist friends was to make me a Mai-Tai with it – I think that would be ace! Just the one mind you – can’t go too mad.
If I end up picking up something rare – I may have to think hard before pouring a measure – but I bet I’ll still pour it anyway.
What is your favorite rum (or rums) in each category and why?
That’s a tough one to answer. The thing is that whilst I have found a few rums I don’t like – it’s not so easy to identify a rum that I could class as a ‘go to’ in all situations. I’m particularly interested in Central and South American rums at the moment and I’ve already said that I have a soft spot for Bajan rum – Mount Gay specifically – but genuinely and seriously – I just couldn’t put one above another. Anything that comes out of Foursquare or St Lucia Distillers is likely to be fab – but then Diplomatico and Santa Teresa make some special rums and don’t get me started on Zacapa and Appleton and Havana Club and Flor De Cana and El Dorado and Atlántico and so on…
Looking at it the other way, I guess I’m training myself to appreciate cachaça and agricole rums more these days. The aged expressions are no problem, but the younger ones carry flavour notes that at times are too much for me.
Do you have a favorite rum bar?
Several favourites I’m afraid – once again I can’t be drawn on just one.
Best because it’s furthest from home: Speakeasy Inn and Rum Bar, Key West. I love the thought of sittin’ in there with a glass of rum in front of me – simply because it’s such a great place, but also because we’d be thousands of miles from home at that point. With the lousy English weather we have right now, I’d happily teleport myself to 1117 Duval Street if I could. I so miss the warm of sunshine on my skin right now…
Best because it’s luxurious and you get treated so well: Artesian Bar at the Langham Hotel, London.
Best because it’s got a massive selection: (a tough call between) Cotton’s Caribbean Restaurant and Rhum Shack & Trailer Happiness, both in London. Both have different vibes though – so best to go to both.
What is your regular cocktail?
I default to a daiquiri. I find it the simplest and quickest to make, that still allows all the character of the rum to come though. I make them when reviewing a rum unless it’s a definite sipping rum. Fairly recently we tried a rum that was manufactured to be so pure and smooth that to be honest, there wasn’t a lot of flavour left. In this case all I could taste was sugar and lime – the rum was completely lost.
A Rum Old Fashioned with something like El Dorado 12 is great. A properly made Mai Tai is fab as are so many other tiki cocktails. But I’m equally happy with a mojito. I guess I’m just an easily pleased fella when it comes to cocktails that are well made. It’s going to sound a little daft – but a cocktail has to be made properly otherwise I’ll just take my rum neat. There are a lot of bars out there who employ people who simply aren’t trained. I’m happy to send back a bad cocktail – life is too short for lousy drinks!
I’ve got a Mount Gay Eclipse daiquiri on the go right now – the proper Bajan version of the rum, not the poor man’s version we get here in the UK. Made along the lines of 2.5oz Mount Gay Eclipse, the juice of a whole lime, which is pretty much 1 oz anyway. Add to this 1 oz of 2:1 sugar syrup – all shaken very hard over lots of ice and strained into a martini glass. I prefer mine a little sourer, but as I was making one for Pauline as well I kept it on the sweeter side.
Where is the best place to buy rum in your area?
The off-licences around here are very poor, the supermarkets sort of OK for mainstream brands – but I guess if you want proper choice, then you have to go to London – either Gerry’s or The Vintage House in Soho, or The Whisky Exchange which is not far from London Bridge. Nine times out of ten I’ll buy online via The Whisky Exchange or TheDrinkshop.com. The convenience of delivery to my door goes a long way in my book!
Which rum would you travel to buy?
I guess it would now have to be Lemon Hart 151 as we can’t get it here in the UK – it’s an important part of a number of tiki cocktails. I guess I’m lucky that here in the UK, it’s easy enough to get all manner of spirits and for the most part I’m sitting back, waiting for them to turn up. Because I’ve not been on the rum scene for so very long – there is still a whole load of readily available ones for me to chase just now. Ask me again in a couple of years.
When did you launch The Floating Rum Shack.com and what is your focus?
31st January 2009 was when the site went properly live. Just in time for our first trip to Rum Club at Trailer Happiness. Couldn’t turn up there claiming to be a rum blogger, not without actually having a rum blog! We set ourselves a mission statement which was to use the site to record our learning’s on our rum journey and to look to raise UK consumer awareness. So many people don’t know what they are missing in this spirit category – all the complexities and nuances of Whisky, but contained in a drink that will surely raise a smile and make you think of sunshine and good times. Here’s a test for you: try saying “rum” without ending up smiling. Not so easy eh?
What should we watch out for from The Floating Rum Shack in the coming year?
Mostly more of the same… In that I’m going to continue to look for and help promote events that will allow the consumer to get involved with this spirit category. We will soon be travelling to Miami for the Rum Renaissance Festival – our aim this year is to write this up in ever increasing detail and make people absolutely gutted that they haven’t found the time to come along.
We will definitely be carrying on our Rum of the Month competition as the reaction has been just fantastic. We have a number of brands pledging their support in the coming months. Appleton and El Dorado to name but two…
I’m continuing to learn how to express myself when I taste a rum. So many flavour experiences happen on your tongue when you take a sip that without the right words I find myself defaulting to ‘it’s lovely’ far too often. This is an area that I’m personally keen to develop and I’m sure will come through on the website.
Words of wisdom……
Be prepared to try something new. The world of rum is far too varied to say “I don’t like rum”, I just couldn’t let anyone get away with that. I’m straight away asking, well what do you drink and trying to tease out a starting point in the rum world albeit a spiced, aged, white or golden rum. The variety of flavours is so wide that to be honest, if you tried to draw up a specification of the spirit category you’d fail because of all the rule bending going on.
Anyone reading this of course is likely to be a rum fan anyway – so to the reader I say: why not look to convert one of your ‘vodka and cranberry’ friends to rum in the next few months. If we all spread the good word, bit by bit we’ll raise the awareness and profile of this fantastic spirit.
If you’re on Facebook, stop by our page by searching for TheFloatingRumShack.com and say ‘hi’ – we are always on the lookout for more rum buddies!
Check out more from Pete at The Floating Rum Shack.com