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People Profile: Tatu Kaarlas

Tatu Kaarlas, our drinkin’ buddy and the brain behind Refined, sits down with us to talk rum and good times.  Check out the full interview right here.

How and when did you become interested in rum?

Many years ago at my brother’s bachelor party when smoking indoors was still acceptable.

His friends and I had booked him a “cigar school” at a local cigar bar called Little Havana and this basic but educational session consisted of a cigar, three good port wines and a dram of 12 year old rum from Trinidad, Angostura 1824 as I recall.

Back then I was already a whiskey drinker but I had little experience with decent rums and even less knowledge about them. I had bad memories about Captain Morgan and I had read something about the world’s best rum being wrapped in royal palm leaves, but that was about it.

Having gone through the port wines it was time to have a sip of the 12 year old rum and to my amazement it was actually really good and not the horrific blasphemy I had wrongly assumed it would be.

Listening to the man talk about cigars and rum as we were smoking our Cuban cigars, I was convinced to find more good rum.

Eventually I made a decision to buy a bottle of Havana Club 7 for my brother’s wedding party as recommended by the man in Little Havana.

Since then I have been on a constant quest for finding new rums and rums I have never even heard about from the internet and from dusty old liquor shops in Europe and more recently, Australasia.

How many rums are in your collection?

It’s a sad story actually. When I left Finland I had to leave behind my entire rum and whiskey collection I had amassed over the years. Of course it is all safe and stashed in a dark corner, somewhere out of the reach of sunlight and sticky fingers.

I’ve started a new collection here in Australia, which now only consists of about 20 bottles. I am slowly acquiring more but alcohol here is expensive, even more so than it was in Finland so I can’t buy large quantities at once.

Doing what I do I also get the occasional bottle in mail, which helps in fighting off ‘the drys’ so to speak.

What is your favourite rum (or rums) in each category and why?

I’ve got a favourite rum for every mood and occasion and even then its usually not the same one.

Usually for my Mojitos I prefer Havana Club Añejo Blanco, for other cocktails that require a little more flavour I might use Mount Gay Eclipse, Appleton Estate V/X or gold rums from Havana Club.

On a hot evening and if I prefer a slight smack in the mouth I might go for Plantation Rum Jamaica 8 Year Old. Cruzan Single Barrel if I’m feeling for something simple but pleasant.

I’ve also got a bit of a thing for rums from Venezuela like Santa Teresa 1796, Cacique 500, Cacique Antiguo and Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva.

I have a love affair for Demerara rums such as El Dorado 15 and some of the Silver Seal Demerara rums. One of my newly discovered favourites is definitely the Black Tot Last Consignment.

I could go on but there are really too many rums to name!

Do you have a favourite rum bar?

My favourite rum bar of the extremely limited bars that do serve rum in Finland is Little Havana, a nice little place with Cuban atmospherics, though the place has suffered since the new smoking law.

In London we always gather up at Cotton’s in Camden, it has got a huge selection of rums, fantastic Jamaican style food and excellent cocktails. Trailer Happiness, Mahiki and Portobello Star are of course always on the books when in London.

In Australia one of my favourites is 1806, which has a nice selection of rums and some of the best cocktails I’ve had. I’ve been to Sydney once and there were some excellent bars and I would name them, but that trip was a bit of a blur if you know what I mean!

Australia has a lot more to offer in terms of rum, but I haven’t got around to visiting all the bars that I want yet.

What is your regular cocktail?

Mojito and Daiquiri are my benchmark cocktails whenever I go to a new bar and I always give a hard time to the bartenders about what goes into my Rum Old Fashioned.

At other times it can be Cuba Libre, Mai Tai or Zombie if I’m feeling adventurous. I stick to the classics and it’s usually rum based, though depending on the mood I might go for whiskey cocktails or a nice jug of sangria or something flammable like the Black Blazer in 1806.

Where is the best place to buy rum in your area?

Coincidentally when I first came to Australia I found a great place called Nick’s Wine Merchants on the same street I was living at and only a stone throw away. They stock a great amount of rum as well as whiskey and wine as the name suggests.

There is another one in St. Kilda called Acland Cellars if I remember correctly. They stock a lot of imported beer and have a nice selection of rum and occasionally stock some slightly rarer stuff that most places won’t have.

Which rum would you travel to buy?

If I could afford it, it would have to be a bottle of Black Tot Last Consignment or a bottle of Appleton Estate 30 year old and Appleton Estate Exclusive in Jamaica.

Perhaps some of the rare Caroni single barrel bottlings available only in the Italian rum market.

There are plenty of indie bottlings around that I would love to get my hands on and if I could find somewhere that stocks Blackbeard’s Reserve 24 Year Old, I’d be there in a flash.

If I were to go to these places it would be for the whole experience, not just for the rum.

When did you launch Refined and what is your focus?

I started planning Refined Vices soon after my brother’s bachelor party when I had decided I needed to find more good rums. I was asking about them and looking for them on the internet, but a lot of the time I couldn’t find adequate information or pictures.

How would I know what type of bottle I’m looking for if I don’t know what it looks like?

That is when I got frustrated and decided there needed to be a solid source where you can find in depth information and good pictures of rum.

This is also the time when I started experimenting with product photography, which has now evolved to be somewhat of a hobby and the occasional source of money.

When I’m not drinking rum I’m hunting people who have ripped off my photos for their own commercial and non commercial websites.

In 2006 I had the basic concept ready and the website was already up, but officially I launched Refined Vices in August 2007.

Since then, Refined Vices has served as a source for people like us, consumers, bartenders and restaurants looking for new rums to try as well as being my own personal rum library and hobby.

Recently I’ve found myself doing a lot of consulting for different companies.

What should we watch out for from Refined Vices in the coming year?

I’ve got many plans and ideas for Refined Vices but for now I’m just going to keep you informed with upcoming events and publish more rum and whiskey reviews, interviews and articles with a few aces up the sleeve.

You should also expect to read more about Australian rum and whiskey, bars and events in Australia and hopefully about Australian distilleries.

Words of wisdom……

Let it never be said that one has an expensive or inexpensive taste, he merely knows the true worth of his satisfaction.


Check out more from Tatu at Refined Vices.