I grew up in NYC/Brooklyn, and then the northern NYC suburbs; and was always into good food and drink from a very young age. My parents, both European immigrants, enjoyed great wines, liqueurs, and cocktails; and always offered me a taste, or glass, from around 5+ years old. But great spirits weren’t seen in the house, only id-shelf for cocktails, and no rum products, at all. I drank mostly crap rum throughout the late 70’s through the 80’s. I was young (age 14-early 20’s), rum available in the USA was limited, and of the lower quality levels. Bacardi was the best of a bad lot, although if I was doing the buying I always chose Myers Dark, the best rum available at the time in typical liquor stores, to make rum drinks at home. Mostly I only had rum in Pina Coladas from places like El Torito and other chains. But I also went at least once a week to one of the two local places that served excellent Tiki drinks. I have no idea what they were using, but the drinks were fantastic. Tart and tangy, boozy, complex as all hell, never overly sweet.
I worked in the retail liquor industry in the early 80’s for several years, making my way after a year in each store, from fine wine sales to asst. manager, then manager of a huge discounter. I then went on to other types of work, and careers. I even quit drinking altogether in the late 80’s and early 90’s when I eventually went to college in my late 20’s/early 30’s.
Around '92-93 I got into home brewing and micro-brews, and worked for an award winning brew pub in Seattle during grad school. Then owned a micro/nano brewery in Georgia for a year during another grad program. I started stepping up my game and when I moved back to NYC I did some guest brewing at one of the whole bunch of new brew pubs that were opening all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. I also hung out at a new bar that opened in the East Village in '94 called dba. I met and hung out many times with Garret Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery while at dba, met many brew and booze aficionados, and started trying to work my way through dba’s extensive selection of whiskey, and started really studying spirits, mostly whiskey, brandy and gin. But no rum. I spent most of the year living and working in the wilderness as an outdoor educator and adventure psychotherapist. (no good food or drink, unless I could put something good from my hidden stash of spices. Then when I was back in town I dove into food and drink to excess. Still no rum.
In 2002 I studied at the French Culinary Institute and started to change my career from psychology and outdoor education to food/beverages, working on farms baking bread and making cheese, and consulting to various farms and small food businesses. It wasn’t until 2004, in my early 40’s that I had my first really great experience with rum, and which led to my present love for the stuff. I was working for a study abroad program called Semester at Sea. The program was on a new cruise ship, and went around the world each semester, three times a year. I was the mental health counselor and also presented seminars on global food/culture to the students, faculty, and staff. I tried very type of food and booze I could as we went form country to country, continent to continent. We were in Venezuela, offshore on the Los Roques archipelago, and one night the owner of the posada we were staying at offered me a glass of Santa Teresa Anniversario ron. It was love at first taste. I felt ashamed I hadn’t had any good rum before, and excited about exploring the field. I was mildly hung over the next day, and couldn’t wait to have more that afternoon. When my contract finally ended with SAS I spent a week or so in the Florida Keys unwinding, and drinking rum. Oh, the glorious hangovers from drinking all night, and a camp ground on Bahia Honda, sipping a bottle of the Santa Teresa Ron I found in a local store, and with hardly any water for a chaser since there were issues with potable water. World’s second worst hangover the next day, which I treated with another glass or two. My friend and I joked around about the revenge of Evil Ron.
Over the next few years I fully changed careers and started focusing on spirits and cocktails. I met Benjamin Jones of Clement rhum in 2006 and had my first experiences with rhum agricole. I moved to mid-coastal Maine to work full time as a F&B writer and consultant, and would often hit up the NH state liquor stores with their huge selections of imbibables. I always picked up a new rum to try. I partnered with a winery in Maine, we opened a brewery, and then a distillery, where I focused on making various brandies and rums. I moved back to NYC in 2009 and became immersed in the spirits and cocktail scene, with rum as a big player. I quit writing full time and had another dalliance as a distiller for a few years. But since 2004 rum has been one of my favorite spirits to sip, or mix with, and also one of my favvs to make.
I probably have invested in more expensive rums than any other type of spirit, and worked my way through them, always on the lookout for more. I have visited rum distilleries all over the Carribean, and became friends with some of the distillers, and quite a few of the rum experts, such as Ed Hamilton, Robert Burr, Ian Burrel, Paul Pacult, Ted Haigh, Dave Wondrich, Alexandre Gabriel of Ferrand/Plantation, etc. constantly learning more, and enjoying fine rum.
Today, of the most easily available rum I really enjoy what Richard Seale of Four Square is doing, Ed Hamiltons line, and what Plantation is producing in their exotic and aged products and have watched the line grow year after year. Of which I especially enjoy for every day use Plantation Stiggin’s Fancy and O.F.T.D.
I once used to have a huge collection of spirits, almost two full pallets of bottles were in the basement of the winery, with only an ounce or two drunk from them. But when I moved back to NY I gave away huge amounts, and drunk the best of the rest. Now I tend to drink what I buy, enjoy them, and move on. I used to take exhaustive notes, but the past few years I just focus more on what I am sipping, and the hell with notes.
Just writing this I may have to drive from the 'burbs, down to Astor Wines and Spirits in NYC to pick up a handful of new rums to try.