by Tetsuhiko Endo
One of my many fond memories of drinking excessive amounts of rum finds me in front of an old Scottish castle, on banks of Loch Lomond chasing sheep through a field while wearing a Men’s Warehouse bespoke suit. I learned an indispensable life lesson that night: never underestimate ungulates. A crook was what I needed, but I was, instead, holding a bottle of Pusser’s Rum which is the same stuff that kept the British navy staggering around the poop deck for over three hundred years. All things considered, it worked out great for them. Less so for me. I assuaged my disappointment as not catching any sheep by jumping into the loch, which, let me tell you was some pretty raw business, but not really important to us right now.
The point is rum — one of the few spirits that actually tastes better when swigged straight from the bottle. To do so with Vodka brings back long blocked-out memories of teenage excess. A pull off a bottle of Scotch or Bourbon in anywhere but the secrecy of your own home will be expensive and inevitably draw the sideways glances of America’s new breed of liquor snobs (or “drinkies” as they have no doubt named themselves on their ironic Facebook pages and blogs,) and then you will be forced to waist your hard won tipple by pouring it on them in disdain. Straight gin is about as nice as embalming fluid, liqueurs are too sweet, rye is too fiery, brandy too esoteric, and cognac completely acceptable if you are at least a baron within the dwindling circle of French nobility. Tequila is the only other drink you can swig with any swagger but in the English-speaking world, it lacks rum’s historical cachet, so we’ll leave it for another day.
Rum, according to historian Wayne Curtis, is the only alcohol made from an industrial waste product, i.e.: molasses. Also called “treacle,” in Britain, it’s a byproduct of the sugar making process and is delicious on cornbread and in cookies. Certain versions contain minerals and trace vitamins, if you are into that sort of thing. Fermenting and distilling molasses originated in the colonies of the Caribbean as a way to get rid of vast quantities of the sludge that were just being thrown into the sea or used to make mortar – apparently, the colonial Caribbean was like Candy Land with slaves. The Spanish called it “ron” the ever contrarian French, who made it from cane juice instead of molasses called it “rhum.” The etymology of the word is still debated but I prefer the theory that it came from the archaic term “rumbullion” which meant “tumult” “uproar” or “ruckus.” How much would the classic Wu Tang Clan song have benefited had it been called “Bring the Rumbullion”? Form the Caribbean, rum spread across the world on English boats. In fact, the British navy didn’t officially abolish its daily rum ration until July 31st, 1970, also known as “Black Tot Day”
DISCLAIMER: Korduroy.tv has no affiliation with Bacardi Rum, we just thought the video was cool. Oh, and if you’re under 21 in the USA or under 18 in other countries, close your eyes, rum is bad and you shouldn’t drink it.
The purpose of alcohol is not to get drunk; it’s to make you feel a certain way. Case in point: the Martini. Here is a drink in a ridiculous spindly glass made of pure gin with a dash of fortified wine (vermouth) and of all things, an olive thrown in. When was the last time you voluntarily drank anything in which “olive” was an ingredient? And yet, it’s wonderful – you know why? Because James Bond drinks Martinis. So did Humphrey Bogart and Winston Churchill. Jack London drank them in between writing about dogs in Alaska and surfing in Hawai’i, Hemingway drank them by the pitcher, FDR drank them and won WWII…and when you drink one, you join this illustrious club and get to bask in all their wonderful connotations (albeit in a shallow and fleeting way) for as long as it takes you to regally sip the nasty stuff. What a cheap and wonderful escape from life’s daily exigencies.
The pedigree of rum drinkers skews decidedly more working class, but that’s the point. You can’t drink a martini while crossing the Cook Straight on a rough day, or while sitting in the bed of a fruit truck on your way across the boarder between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. But a bottle of rum is the ideal companion for such pursuits. George Washington was a rum drinker (Barbadian rum being his favorite) and so was Paul Revere. Hunter S. Thompson loved the stuff, although you really want to pick and choose how much you emulate a guy who shot himself in the face with a shotgun.
Rum is the drink of the rough and the ready: Sailors, smugglers, soldiers, pirates and all other miscreants who thumb their nose at polite society to dance on the edge of something a little more wild. Maybe not the type of person you want to be every day, but a fine legacy to borrow for a bottle or two – at the beach, around a campfire, on a long journey or a lonely sail. Or you can just take a swig wherever you are and be reminded of past adventures – your own, and those of others — in one fiery swallow.
Tetsuhiko Endo has lived on four of the seven continents. He enjoys straight liquor, but can’t play pool or gamble to save his life. He has never tried a cigarette but will do almost anything if he thinks it will impress a pretty woman. Before he started writing, he worked at an office in Downtown Manhattan and taught break dancing to street children in Uruguay, though not at the same time. He’s a competent singer but atrocious at subtraction. He finds women’s magazines fascinating.