Tales of the Cocktail, and the friends I made there, brought me a whole new appreciation for rum. I always liked the stuff, but I usually would reach for brandies, whiskeys or gins. I found myself hanging out one night in New Orleans with the Burrs, a father-son team of rum experts, and down the rabbit hole I went. I drank tons of rum. Rob Burr (the younger) is a rum instigator with a generous spirit, and under his influence I found myself loaded down with rum. In the months since Tales, I drank many different varieties, and the whole time I didn’t think I was learning anything. I drank bottles from Haiti to Guatemala and tasted Demerara, Solera and Agricole and I fell in love over and over again. The rums of the world are so different and wonderful. I kept drinking, sampling and loving every drop.
I still didn’t think I was learning anything .
Once I saw Robert Burr (the elder) name the year and brand of a rum from a blind taste. Now I’ll warrant that he may be crafty and maybe he saw where the rum came from, but maybe not, and it was pretty impressive at the time. Reflecting back on it now it makes me think of terroir. Terroir is a concept mostly associated with wine that implies that a sense of place is derived from the geology of the soil and environment in which the grapes are grown.
As far as I know, the sugar cane most rums are made with can come from almost anywhere but I think that rums still offer a real sense of place. I am thinking that the terroir of rum in a way is much like scotch. The barley that scotch is made from has less influence on its sense of place than from the way the scotch is made. From the peat to the temperature to the elevation or the still one common ingredient can make a whole pantheon of different experiences. Call me a romantic if you like, but I like to believe that the heart and soul of the people who make the stuff has something to do with it too.
As I pickled myself in rum I finally realized that I was beginning to see trends. First I noticed that the three or four different rums I had tried from Barbados all seemed to have some similar characteristics. Then I remembered that the three different Diplomatico rums I had tried had all seemed to share a bunch of flavors. That is when the bundle of bricks hit me. I was starting see all of the rums I had tried in different categories or groups. I think I am a long way off from identifying a rum just by the taste but I see how he does it now. Each rum falls into overlapping groups; identify the type, the origin and maybe the wood and then take a guess at the age and there you have it. Combine this with Mr. Burr’s decades of experience trying hundreds if not thousands of rums, and you can see how simple it must be for him. I’m not there yet, but oh, how I am looking forward to the journey.