Dave Wondrich gets his Hogo Working

ugust 27, 2010, 12:15 PM

The Way Rum Used to Taste

Which is to say, pretty funky. But in a delicious way.

By David Wondrich

Best New Caribbean Rums

F. Martin Ramin/Studio D

Rum has come a long way since 1724, when Ned Ward, a London writer-turned-bar-owner — so not a dumb man, our Mr. Ward — labeled it “damn’d Devil’s piss.” These days if you pick up a bottle of, say, Angostura 1919 or Appleton Estate 12 Year Old and pour some in a glass, you’ll have a hard time finding even a hint of, uh, “piss.” Smooth, rich, clean, and tasty, it’s about as pleasant a spirit as you can hope to find. But back when it was young, rum was possessed of a certain “hogo.”

Derived from the French phrase for the “high taste” game meats develop when they’re hung up to mature before cooking — and by “mature,” we mean “rot” — hogo used to be a term of art in the rum trade to describe the sulfurous, funky tang that raw-sugarcane spirits throw off. For 300 years, rum distillers have sought ways first to tame and then to eliminate it: high-proof distillation (more alcohol equals less hogo), filtering, tweaking the fermentation, long aging in barrels — all very effective, particularly when used in combination. Perhaps too effective.

There’s always been another way of taming that hogo, and it begins with limes and sugar. While they’re not miracle workers, in all but the most extreme cases — the bottle of raw Haitian busthead we once purchased in deepest Brooklyn comes to mind — they have an amazing ability to turn that funk around, to make ugly sexy. They’re like beer goggles for rum. In fact, mixed with sugar and lime juice, a rough, funky rum is often better than a smooth, pleasant one. Mixed up in the traditional way, suave, hogoless sipping rums can be distinctly underwhelming, and some rum drinkers are beginning to recognize that, as the new popularity in cocktail circles of rhum agricole from Martinique and cachaça from Brazil, both traditionally hogo-rich styles, attests.

Until recently, the distillers in the English-speaking parts of the Caribbean were moving in the other direction, toward smooth sipping, not spicy mixing. But that’s starting to change. Here are four new rums from the region that don’t fight the funk, in order of hogosity. (If that wasn’t a word before, it is now.) We didn’t worry about tasting them straight, although the first two are more than sippable, but went straight to the daiquiri test, in which we shook them up with lime juice, sugar, and ice. (See below.)

1. El Dorado 15 Year Old (Guyana), $40.

The Demerara River region of Guyana has a long history of making big, pungent rums. Even after 15 years in the wood, this one retains a dry tang that peeks through the layers of vanilla and brown sugar that cushion it, making for a daiquiri that’s like liquid gingerbread and a dynamite old-fashioned.

2. Plantation Grande Reserve (Barbados), $20.

The funk here is subtle, just enough to add a little depth and spice to a drink. The most balanced of the daiquiris, clean and soft.

3. Banks 5 Island (a blend of rums from Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Guyana, and Indonesia), $28.

Plenty of hogo, and a daiquiri that’s crisp, bright, and juicy. Dark chocolate, smoke, habanero pepper. Wild.

4. Smith & Cross (Jamaica), $29.

An attempt to bring back the huge, intense rums for which Jamaica was once famous, this one clocks in at a stiff 114 proof, the traditional strength for Navy rum. A daiquiri mixed with this — well, it starts off almost too intense, just plain wrong. But then you find yourself taking another sip, and another, and another.


Give any rum-loving bartender a new bottle to play with and the first thing it’s subjected to is the daiquiri test. Because the daiquiri doesn’t lie: Three ingredients, each of them essential, combine to form a perfect synergy. If a rum can’t hold up its end, there’s little point in giving it further play. If it comes through, you’ve got something that you can work with. Here’s how:

Put 0.5 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Stir in ½ tsp superfine sugar, or a little more if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Add 2 oz rum. Fill the shaker with ice, cover, shake hard, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Evaluate.

Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/drinking/best-new-caribbean-rums-0910#ixzz0xuq2X5Dj

On the Whole, I’m glad I was in Philadelphia.

As I approached Adam Kanter’s Rum Bar and saw my name in lights (well chalk, actually) under “40 Years since Black Tot Day,” Sergeant Pepper began to run through my head.

“It was 40 years ago today

The Navy took the rum away.

But it’s never gone out of Style

Black Tot’s been around a while.”

A reverent group of aficionados including Robert Burr and Mike Streeter, the survivors of Adam’s excellent Rum on the River fest, gathered from round the country at the bar, and were so eager to sample the bottle of Black Tot, that they were prepared to listen to my disquisition on how Britannia had lost all pretence of ruling the waves once the Grog had stopped.

And then, carefully we stripped the wax from the bottle top and took out the cork, worried as one is at a mishap with a bottle costing close to a $1,000. Speciality Drinks had obligingly provided a more conventional stopper to replace the one designed to keep the rum for posterity.

This was genuine Navy rum, guaranteed to be at least forty years old. It had been matured and blended in wooden casks, to a formula chosen by an Admiralty committee, (membership of which was one of the most hotly contested postings in the Royal Navy). And then it was decanted into the large stone flagons intended to preserve its flavour before being dispensed daily at Spirits Up on ships around the globe. Speciality Drinks bought the lot at auction and bottled it, packaging it memorably and stylishly.

However, I have always defied conventional wisdom, that bottling spirits “freezes” the process. Those long chain molecules slowly break down and recombine in the bottle or flask, smoothing out the sharper edges of the spirit, bringing new complexities and subtleties, in this case to a strong rum whose flavour and aroma was designed to last dilution by 100 to 200% addition of water.

There was a touch of irony: W. C. Fields (Of British parentage) came from Philly and one of his catch phrases was “on the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” but he famously eschewed water because, he alleged, fish did unspeakable things in it.

But nonetheless, we added water, and as it was suspected, so it came to pass. Sniffing the bottle produced blissful smiles all around, as did judicious sipping by the assembled worshippers at the altar of Great God Grog.The molasses was there, but restrained, a faint hint of licorice, and then all the good things we associate with rum. In keeping with tradition, we tried it mixed with water, and, “Lo! A miracle!” It was like turning water into rum. The flavour and nose were enhanced if anything.

As a follow-up Adam dispensed a tot of Pussers to all participants in the ceremony, and even a miniature commemorative takeaway flask of Pussers. I wonder what it will taste like in forty years? Unless I’m pickled in the stuff, I suspect I will not be around for the experiment.

Havana Club – Master’s Choice

I hope their tasters are better than their translators. Whatever happened to their 15 year old, which even in Havana was ridiculously priced? – Rum Pundit.

New Brand of Havana Club Rum to Hit the Market Soon

HAVANA, Cuba, Aug 26 (acn) Havana Club International S.A. will soon launch a new brand of this world famous Cuban rum created in 1878.

Cuban News Agency

“Seleccion de Maestros” (Masters’ Choice) is the name of this new rum of 43 degrees of alcohol in whose preparation participated all rum masters who chose the best barrels for its production.

Sergio Valdes, director of the Exports Division of the rum company, told ACN that, because of the high quality of the product, its price will almost double that of the Havana Club 7 Years.

He added that the company is currently working on improving the image of their products with new bottles and labels with the history of Havana
Club Rum.

Havana Club currently sales more than 3.2 million boxes of rum bottles in more than 140 countries, with revenues of over $122 million.

The Cap’n hits the USVI

Construction of Diageo USVI’s Captain Morgan Rum Barrel Warehouse and Ageing Facility is Complete

Facility is First LEED Project in the US Virgin Islands

ST. CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands, Aug. 19 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Diageo USVI, the Virgin Islands’ newest rum distiller, today announced the completion of its rum barrel warehouses, where it will age the rum that will be used to produce Captain Morgan products for the United States beginning in 2012. Consisting of two 100,000 square foot warehouses and located in the Estate Diamond area of St. Croix, approximately four miles from the new Captain Morgan distillery, the facility is capable of storing up to 200,000 barrels of rum, or the equivalent of 100 million 750ml bottles.

Consistent with Diageo’s commitment to the environment and the construction of the most environmentally friendly rum distillery in the world, the buildings feature natural lighting and ventilation and were constructed with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification principles. Diageo’s USVI Captain Morgan Distillery is the first such project to be constructed in the Virgin Islands consistent with those principles. In addition, the facility was designed to be able to withstand category four hurricanes and seismic zone four earthquakes.

“The completion of this modern, environmentally-sound rum barrel warehouse facility brings us one step closer to becoming fully operational by January, 2011 at which time we will be producing and aging rum in St. Croix,” said Dan Kirby, Vice President, Operations, Diageo USVI.  “Just as we have done throughout the construction of the distillery, we built the barrel warehouse with its environmental impact top of mind.”

Construction on the warehouse project was performed by locally-owned J. Benton Construction, LLC, whose owner and president James Benton was reared on St. Croix. J. Benton Construction, LLC utilized 33 local subcontractors and vendors on the project, with more than 230 Virgin Islanders having worked to plan, design and build the barrel warehouse facility.  The construction company is also building multiple structures at the Diageo USVI rum distillery site.

Reflecting on the project, James Benton said: “Over the past eleven months, more than 230 Virgin Islanders have worked hard to plan, design and build this important piece of the Government of the Virgin Islands/Diageo Public-Private Initiative.  The construction community of the Virgin Islands is glad that these types of major projects can be brought to our islands.  The fast paced and safe construction of the Barrel Warehouse project proves that with talented Virgin Islands workers, professional and competent management teams, and Government cooperation, it can be done on St. Croix.”

In addition to the barrel warehouse, Diageo USVI is constructing a distillery on St. Croix capable of producing approximately 13 million 9 Liter cases of Captain Morgan rum. Construction of the distillery began in August 2009 and is nearing an on-schedule completion date and will become operational by January 2011. The distillery is expected to generate an estimated $130 million in new annual tax revenue for the US Virgin Islands government and at least 80 percent of full-time distillery employees will come from the US Virgin Islands.

Images of the rum barrel warehouse and distillery site are available upon request.


In June 2008, Governor John P. deJongh, Jr. and Diageo USVI jointly announced a public-private initiative for the construction and operation of a high capacity rum distillery on St. Croix, USVI. This 30-year commitment will provide a major economic stimulus for the entire Territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Once in operation the distillery will have the capacity to distill up to 20 million proof gallons of Captain Morgan rum per year and is expected to generate an estimated $130 million in new tax revenue for the Virgin Islands Government. Construction of the facility, located on Melvin Evans Highway, began in August 2009.

Beginning in 2012, the distillery will supply all rum used to make Captain Morgan branded products for the United States. Captain Morgan is a global leader among premium spirits and is the second leading rum in the world.

For our global resource that promotes responsible drinking through the sharing of best practice tools, information and initiatives, visit DRINKiQ.com.

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Black Tot Day, continued…

Well, we raised a toast to Black Tot Day here in the Catskills, with a White Ensign flying from the porch, and heard news of others who did the same – any excuse to drink rum I suppose!

Charles Tobias of Pussers passed on the following message which originally had a very nice photo, but the technology for uploading photos defeated me!

The 40th anniversary of Black Tot day was celebrated/commiserated this Saturday and to mark the occasion  there was a Pusser’s Rum ceremony outside HMS Victory in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard at Navy Days.

The Exmouth Shanty Men and a re-enactment crew s a ng songs and recreate d  the drawing of the last tot.  There were big crowds and lots of press so your accounts may have picked up on it.

Here’s a link to short video of the event  to  Portsmouth TV and also, an interview I gave to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on BBC Portsmouth .
TV Clip – http://www.portsmouthnews.tv/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1850:40th-anniversary-of-rns-black-tot-day&catid=34:front-page-news

Radio Interview 17min 30sec- http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/p0090186

Ben Pick
Marketing Manager
M: 07919 214 408