Getting involved in the rum world is an exciting process. There are so many different varieties to try, from smoky Barbados rum, to elegant Japanese rum, conjuring a wide range of flavours. But with so much variation, it might feel overwhelming for someone who’s new to the spirit. Luckily, Tristan Stephenson is here to lend a hand with The Curious Bartender’s Rum Revolution.
Not just for bartenders, this book is a worthy collection to any rum drinker’s library. Packed full of helpful information and extensive tasting notes, The Curious Bartender’s Rum Revolution will make you want to be a part of the revolution!
Boozy history lessons
“Rum is more than just a quaint artefact of history’s tectonic shifts. On many occasions, rum was there, making history. Rum was the fire in the bellies of armies and navies, and the shackles that bound generations of slaves. It gave cause to revolutions: on plantations and across nations. It helped to establish trade networks, kept the weak in bondage and turned rich men into gods.”
Stephenson utters these passionate words in the introduction, setting the stage for how rum changed the world. And it really did. From humble origins, rum production crossed the globe and Stephenson takes the reader on a journey from the early days to the modern day.
Interesting facts covered include the birth of the Rum Ration for the royal navy, the emergence of tiki culture and how rum left its mark on the Caribbean for better or worse. Stephenson shares the history of the sugarcane spirit with the energy of a punter who’s a few pints deep in the pub and it’s riveting.
Making the magic happen
“The single greatest challenge that rum faces in the 21st century is how it should be labelled…the problem stems from the fact that there are no universal regulations concerning how rum should be labelled.”
“Rum is made across five continents and in as many as 50 countries, many of which have their own regulations and rules regarding how the liquid is produced and how long it is aged for. Getting them all to agree on an overarching labelling policy is simply not going to happen.”
The second section of the book covers rum production, with the author breaking down the different types of rum that can be made with molasses, sugarcane juice and cane honey. Such technical detail might be seen as dry, but Stephenson’s dynamic prose kept me hooked from the sugarcane gathering process all the way through to maturation and blending.
In particular, his classification of rum is worth paying attention to, as it helps to clear up a lot of the confusion about how the drink should be labelled. Stephenson categorises rum based on how long it’s been aged, its base material and how the rum has been distilled or blended. On communicating maturation his system incorporates un-aged, aged white, aged and extra-aged.
A rum voyage across the Caribbean
In the third act, Stephenson goes on a trip around the Caribbean and Central America, giving a history of each place and the distilleries. His attention to detail is so great that he also recommends the best rums to try from each distillery, while managing to rifle up obscure facts and figures. Some of my favourite entries include his tour of Barbados, St Lucia, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Martinique and Panama.
This is bolstered by precise tasting notes and the author pulls no punches about which rums he likes and dislikes. Here are a couple of examples:
Pyrat XO (40% ABV)
Greasy orange oils, peach and tobacco. A second sniff reveals glue and clementine. Sweet and sticky with Grand Marnier, clove and incense on the palate. Overall quite light and bitter through the finish. Not a great rum.
Smith & Cross (57% ABV)
Aged Pot-Still Rum
Wild and irrepressible; it’s difficult to know where to start with this rum; pineapple chunks and sour banana mix with a horse sweat, pine resin and dark spices. The taste is hot and dry, yet somehow deeply satisfying, as canned pineapple comes in waves, tempered by clouded apple juice and Nutella.
The final section of the book is devoted towards rum cocktails and a history of each. Stephenson gives his personal notes on how to make classic mixers like a Mojito and gut punchers like Painkiller, a mixture of Pusser’s rum, pressed pineapple juice, creamed coconut, fresh orange juice and sugar syrup.
Engaging, funny and informative, The Curious Bartender’s Rum Revolution is a book that’s suitable for rum novices and connoisseurs. By the time I’d finished reading the book, I felt myself falling deeper into the rabbit hole and it’ll do the same for you.