Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day! To celebrate we’ve got a special interview with author and “Cocktail Whisperer” Warren Bobrow all about rum!
1. How did you get involved with the world of cocktails and spirits?
Originally I trained to be a chef- This was back in the mid-1980’S- before recorded time really. I owned and founded a fresh pasta biz down In Charleston, SC- I lost it in Hurricane Hugo in 1989. I had bartended a few times while working as a cook- And it seemed like a good job for someone like myself who has the ‘Gift of Gab’… Fast forward past a 20-year career in banking- Back to my 50th birthday- when I went over to the Ryland Inn, located in NJ- and asked for a job as a bartender. Chris James, the Bar Manager told me he didn’t need a bartender, but he did need a bar back (not a glamorous job) and I was hired. But I had been writing about spirits, wine and food for a couple years- but I really had no idea just how hard it was! Physical Labor! Long Hours! Not Pretty! I held on for a year- and built my chops. How many cocktail writers do you know who worked as a bartender? Very few- and fewer still started at the bottom and worked their way up.
2. What is rum? How is it different from other spirits?
Rum is a fermented spirit not unlike whiskey or beer. the base ingredient, however is not grain. It is made from either sugar cane or molasses, or a combination of many sugar based ingredients- sometimes with the addition of caramel coloring and other synthetic ingredients. This is manipulated rum- unfortunately the backbone of the rum industry are industrially produced rums with profit as the motivating factor over quality. Raw rum or natural rum is much harder to find- and therefore these rums command higher prices.
Agricultural- or Agricole is made with freshly crushed or pressed sugar cane juice- is vastly different than industrially produced, molasses based rum.
3. Sometimes rum is spelled “rum” and other times “rhum”, is there a difference?
There is a massive difference. rhum- can be Agricole (Agricultural) or Industrial (Industrial). Agricole is made with freshly crushed sugar cane. The law (AOC, Appellation original Controlee) in the French islands reads that rhum agricole must be made with unfermented, freshly pressed cane juice. Industrial Rum on the other hand can be made pretty much any way possible, because it is treated as an industrial product. there isn’t a whole lot of oversight as to what is permissible in rum. With artificial coloring, added sugar and glycerin in the batch- there are very few correlations between Industrial and agricultural. Other than the base ingredient- which is, of course sugar cane! Small amounts of rum are also made from sorgum or sugar beets, but this stuff just sucks. I cannot stand the taste of this industrial spirit. Ick!
4. Do you know why we always associate rum with pirates?
Rum was an inexpensive product made with ingredients that just happened to grow incredibly well in poor soil and anemic water conditions that existed in the Caribbean Islands. Sugar cane propagates almost anywhere in both poor and rich soil. The juice is very easy to boil into a syrup that is treated to an industrial bread yeast- then, it is fermented and distilled in crudely built, copper pot stills. The result, a foul- ill-tempered spirit was just the liquid for an unwashed and stinking bunch of murderous thugs who would slaughter your crippled grandmother as easily as lighting a pipe filled with the local wacky weed. It wasn’t tobacco in their pipes you know! It was cannabis!
Wine spoiled quickly in the high heat and humidity of the Caribbean Islands, beer would sour in the high heat and whiskey wasn’t invented yet and vodka was not available in this part of the world. Gin was popular- but not as a commodity, it was a medicinal.
Sugar was a luxury item-coveted by the wealthy. Rum was easily made with the dregs left over from making sugar and is extremely durable stuff. In a barrel, it only gets better in the motion of the sea and the heat of the sun. Like the highly expensive, Madeira- (Truly enduring stuff that goes around the world on the deck of a ship to age), Rum is potent and healing and cheap!
To a pirate, it was an easy high and made weeks or months in the doldrums (the place without wind) easier to take. Being a pirate was not always attractive work. Rum made it a bit easier to chew off your foes ear or shoot all his horses before having one’s way with their women and then the children. Rum was liquid courage in the face of a wall of water in a storm, or against cannon fire at close range. Rum is refreshment after a voyage or as inner calm during a battle.
Against seasickness, rum works well as it settles the head and soothes the belly, for medicinal purposes only of course!
5. What’s your favorite way to drink rum?
Preferably in a clean glass, with a bit of coconut water ice (for anyone who has gotten stomach poisoning from bad ice) and a slice of caribbean lime plus a splash of cane sugar syrup. A Ti-Punch is what this wonderfully tasty drink is named.
6. If you were serving rum to a salty sailor, how would you serve it?
Being a salty sailor myself- I learned about rum from the stern of my Family’s Little Harbor Sailboat, so I prefer it two ways- One way it (the Ti-Punch) is made with a squeeze of lime, cane sugar syrup and rhum Agricole from Martinique. The other is a concoction named the Painkiller, liberally shaken until frosty with crushed coconut water ice, cream of coconut, fresh pineapple juice and plenty of bourbon barrel aged rum. (Naturally colored-no caramel added- maybe something from Long Pond or Monymusk- or one of the fine rums from Foursquare)
Quite refreshing after a tough sail with the sun and sweat burning your eyes and skin.
7. In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, what is your favorite pirate-y phrase?
8. You’ve authored several books at this point, any chance of one coming out will be about rum?
That’s a very good question. I have not now pitched one to my publishers- but you never know.
9. What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently writing for Forbes.com and other work for the American Distilling Institute, Barrell Bourbon, Total Food Service and DrinkUpNY, along with many publications on the cannabis side of this medicinal (Folk Healing) business.
10. Parting shot! Ask us at the Magical Buffet any one question.
Do you prefer heavy, sweet rums to naturally made, unsweetened rums crafted from a dunder- Read: Wild Yeast/Authentic…?
I prefer unsweetened rums, but I do enjoy the heavy, sweet ones too.
About Warren Bobrow:
Warren Bobrow, the Cocktail Whisperer, is the author of “Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks from Yesterday and Today”, “Whiskey Cocktails: Rediscovered Classics and Contemporary Craft Drinks”, “Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails: Restorative Vintage Cocktails, Mocktails & Elixirs”, “Cannabis Cocktails, Mocktails & Tonics: The Art of Spirited Drinks & Buzz-Worthy Libations”. His most recent book is named: “The Craft Cocktail Compendium, Contemporary Interpretations and inspired twists on time honored classics”.
Bobrow has written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, The American Distilling Institute, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and many other national and global periodicals.
He has written for SoFAB Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly. He has also contributed to the Sage Encyclopedia of Food Issues and the Oxford Encyclopedia edition: Savoring Gotham: A Food Lover’s Companion to New York City. Warren recently traveled to Asheville, NC to participate in their Cocktail Week. Warren attends Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and was nominated for a Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award in 2013. Warren was in the Saveur Magazine “100” in 2010 and was a Ministry of Rum Judge in 2010. He most recently appeared in High Times Magazine and contributes to The Fresh Toast in Seattle.