The next rum book!

January 2nd, 2010

I’m not much for New Year’s Resolutions but here’s one I’m going to try my best to live up to. It ’s been more than ten years since I published my last book and I only regret I didn’t have more books to sell from the last printing.

When my boat sunk off Antigua in 2001, I lost about 600 books. By the time I got to Chicago a year later, I discovered that the publisher of The Complete Guide to Rum had sold about 400 books off as remainders and the asking price for those books has gone through the roof.

The Ministry of Rum website has taken a lot of time, but the bulk of that coding work is behind me. Oh, there will be more new features but I’m getting better at writing the code and there is more, and better, error documentation online. Just getting this blog formatted is something that would have taken several weeks to code only a few years ago, but was accomplished while a few football bowl games keep me company.

A lot has happened in the world of sugar cane spirits in the last few years and I’ve been busy collecting more information, discerning more facts and dispelling more lies about my favorite spirit. So without wasting any more time I’m starting the process of writing the next book. The next book won’t have information on every rum in the world, but it will be an attempt to give you as much credible information as I can compile about these spirits and the people who spend their lives making them.

So without wasting any more time, I’m off to compiling the next book. I don’t have a publish date yet but hope to have this completed in the next few months and to keep you updated on the progress here.

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Looking forward to the next decade

December 29th, 2009

The appreciation of sugar cane spirits has grown significantly over the last ten years, but my favorite spirit is just beginning to be noticed on a larger scale. More producers are exporting more sugar cane spirits to more countries and consumers are taking notice of better offerings.

In the middle of the last century, advances in fermentation technology and improvements in distillation fueled a change in the way rum was made in the Caribbean. Today almost every distillery uses stainless steel fermentation tanks and only a few distillers don’t have instruments to monitor the temperature and pressure in their distillation columns or pot stills. Once it was understood that cleaning fermentation tanks after each batch could improve production quality the practice was adopted at nearly every distillery. Today gas chromatography is a standard tool at all of the larger distilleries.

At the end of the last century rum distillers prepared to expand their production to meet the growing demand for their spirits. The price of used whisky and bourbon barrels has soared over the last fifteen years as distillers are putting more fresh spirits in barrels to age and replacing older barrels that were once considered ‘good enough’ to age the rum. Today the standards for aged rum are much higher than they were in the 90s.

Today almost every distiller is either reclaiming their spent yeast and capturing the methane to burn in their boilers or planning to reduce their polluting effluent in the next two years. Waste recovery is no longer considered too expensive, but rather an integral part of sustainable spirits production.

The interest in sugar cane spirits will certainly attract some less than scrupulous entries into the market just as the financial boom attracted more than a few operators who preyed on the less knowledgeable and experienced. As we enter a new decade, the way sugar cane spirits are marketed will see some of the biggest changes in an industry that dates back nearly 400 years in the western hemisphere.

As finances are stretched consumers are keener than ever to learn as much as they can about what they consume before they lay their money down next to the cash register, or, click the ACCEPT button on the electronic payment portal. The internet has changed the way we learn about new products and the way companies get their products noticed. Services like Twitter and Facebook are proving to be invaluable tools to connect with others of similar interest and to learn from others before we spend our hard earned money, which is becoming harder to earn. Electronic media is changing the way we get our news, newspapers are falling faster than politicians moral barometers, but those same electrons are enabling us to learn more about everything from the name of the latest celebrity to fall from grace to a trusted review of the bottle of spirits on the shelf in front of us, all from what we used to call a phone. Not our telephone, we haven’t used them since the last century.

In the next decade we will be able to learn even more about the products we consume, including the sugar cane spirits in our glass, before we click the ACCEPT button. In addition to competitive prices in our purchasing region, which may be a few miles to entire political areas like the EU, we’ll also be able to get real information about things like the carbon footprint of the container and its contents. Reviews by trusted colleagues, many of whom we only know by their screen names but who will become even more influential in the coming years, will be as accessible as the ingredient panels on the food packages we buy.

This won’t be a one way information street. As consumers, we will be able to challenge claims made by the hucksters and marketing companies that today claim no responsibility for their actions and are shielded from consumers by corporate lawyers. Consumers will be given more access to the people who are responsible for manufacturing and marketing the products we consume.

Of course not every producer, marketer or retailer is going to participate in the new age of product transparency. That will be limited to those who want to succeed on the merits of their products.

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White Rums aren't really white

November 16th, 2009

After reading about a white rum that was supposed to be aged 10 years it struck me that white rums aren’t white at all. No one I know would want to go near a white opaque rum. Clear rum should be called what it is, clear or transparent rum. Some, like Cruzan’s Light Rum is called light because it has a chardonnay hue. It also has a light character from the way it is made.
In Barbados E.S.A.Fields clear rum is called see-through. And if you can’t see through it, either you’ve been drinking too much rum. Or there is something else in the bottle.

All alcohol should be crystal clear when it comes out of the still. If it’s opaque, it’s a sure sign that there are fusel oils in the bottle and you shouldn’t be drinking it. When a friend in Grenada distills her rum, called hogo, she looks for the tell-tale grey hue on top of the jug and changes in viscosity to tell her when she’s not getting pure rum and is getting some fusel oils in her rum. At that point, it’s time to go home.

Most, but not all, of the clear rums we drink have been aged before being carbon-filtered to remove the color gained from the oak barrels while the rum was aging. Not all I say because some clear rums are bottled straight from the still, but even some of those are filtered prior to bottling to remove some of the sharp flavors that detract from what the distiller wants to put in the bottle. How can you tell whether the clear rum you’re drinking has been aged or not isn’t always simple though here are some indicators.

If the rum is clear and has an age statement on the label, it has been aged and then carbon-filtered. If the rum is imported from Puerto Rico, Venezuela or a few other countries, it has been aged and then filtered prior to bottling. If the rum is from the French islands, it hasn’t been carbon-filtered. They don’t carbon-filter any of their rum, though maybe they should think about it.

The color of one’s spirit is entirely a matter of personal preference and prejudice. Barbados is one of the few Caribbean islands where a significant percentage of the rum consumed by the local population isn’t clear. In the US and Europe many rum drinkers equate clear rum with a cheap quality spirit, but let me tell you that you owe it to yourself to try some of the aged clear rums that are being imported. You might even find your new favorite rum isn’t as dark in color as you thought it was.

The most common age for these clear spirits is one to two years, though some like Santa Teresa Claro and Cruzan’s Light Rum aren’t completely clear and retain a bit of color. The oldest aged clear rum that I’m aware of is Flor de CaƱa’s 4-year-old rum. I’ve read recently about some clear rums being aged up to 6 and as much as 10 years but the numbers just don’t add up.

When a distiller ages rum in a barrel in the tropics, he looses from 5-12% of the contents of that barrel each year. As Gary Nelthropp, master distiller at Cruzan Rum told me last week, after 12 years he’s got about 5 gallons left in a 45 gallon barrel. If you’re aging your rum more than 4 years, you can’t afford to sell it for less than your more expensive rums. And, in order to remove all of the color from that rum, you’ve had to carbon-filter it several times and that costs money as well as flavor. Contrary to what more than a few distiller has told me, carbon-filtering removes more than the color from the rum.

So what’s the point in aging a rum, say 5 years, and then carbon-filtering everything out of it. I’ve yet to taste a clear rum that has the smoky oak, vanilla and roasted nut flavors found in an old aged spirit, when I do I’ll change my mind. I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t tasted every clear rum in the world, but I’m looking forward to continuing the research.

Here are what the Ministry of Rum Forum members have to say about White, or Clear Rums.

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The holidays are coming and rum makes a great gift.

November 3rd, 2009

Growing up I never knew what to get my older sister and her husband. Many years they got a bottle of rum. They weren’t surprised but it was something they enjoyed. Daylight savings time and the world series are sure signs that the holidays will be upon me again this year before I know it.

What I’ll give for gifts this year will undoubtedly include rum. Or, if you’re like me you’re hoping someone close to you will make a bottle of rum part of their gift to you this holiday season. What better way to give a little hint than to leave your computer browser open to the Ministry of Rum website where someone else can see what you’re thinking about for the holidays.

If you’d like to suggest a rum to be added to the list, take a look at the Rum Lovers forums to see how you can add your suggestions to the list.

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Rum 101 on the Today Show

May 2nd, 2007

Thursday, May 3rd the Today Show will broadcast a short RUM 101 segment which I recorded at the Forbidden Island bar in Alameda, CA a few weeks ago, in the last half hour of the show. There will also be a live studio tasting of several rums. If you miss the live broadcast, this segment will be archived on

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Edward Hamilton

March 26th, 2007

As the author of the Ministry of Rum website and several books on my favorite spirit, I’ve been researching the rums of the Caribbean for more than 15 years. After working around the world building yachts, sailing and working on Southeastern Asian oil rigs, I set sail for the Caribbean from Florida in the mid 80s without a firm itinerary but like thousands of others before me I set sail with an eye to adventure and discovery.

It was a full moon party in the small island of Culebra in 1993 when my destiny was cast. As I raised my glass of rum to the full moon rising on the horizon to the east I was blinded by the moon’s light reflected by the prism in the bottom of my glass. As I lowered the glass from my lips I realized that although I loved the rum I was drinking I knew little about how it was made or what made the myriad of rums that I had been enjoying so enjoyable.

A few days later I set sail to head south through the islands toward Trinidad where I would spend the approaching hurricane season. Over the course of the next two years I compiled the text of Rums of the Eastern Caribbean. That was followed two years later by another edition of that book and a contract with a Chicago publisher for The Complete Guide to Rum which was later translated to German.

It was about that time that the internet became more than science fiction for most people who didn’t live on boats. The Ministry of Rum was first published on the internet in 1995 as a simple list of islands and their rums. The next website generation was designed by a friend who added a database so visitors could search for their favorites.

In 2005, I began the daunting task of learning PHP and mysql to build the website that has become the most credible source of information about sugar cane spirits on the internet.

Today I’m working hard as a sugar cane spirits importer and consultant to the industry I love. In addition to several sugar cane spirits festivals held around the country, I also work with a number of importers training their brand ambassadors on the intricacies of sugar cane production and the process of taking this tall grass and making it into the bottled spirits we enjoy.

If you have more questions, feel free to send me an email using the link at the bottom of this page.

All the best,

Edward Hamilton

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Rum 101 at the Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge

January 28th, 2007

Wednesday, Feb 7th, I’ll be sharing my insights into what it takes to make good rum. Among the topics covered will be the basics of rum production from growing the sugar cane through fermentation, distillation, aging and bottling what have become some of the best spirits in the world.

Join me at The Forbidden Island for an evening of rum appreciation.

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2007 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition

January 28th, 2007

The 2007 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition will be held in New Orleans concurrent with the fifth anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail on Wednesday and Thursday July 18 and 19 from 11am to 1 pm and 3 to 5 pm at Arnaud’s Restaurant.

New Orleans is the perfect city to celebrate food and drink. If you would like to apply to be a judge at this event or produce sugar cane spirits and would like to expose your product to a panel of industry professionals send me an email and I’ll send you more information.

See you in the big easy.

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Back from the islands

January 16th, 2007

I returned to a chilly Chicago last night from the sunny island of Culebra, Puerto Rico. A month in the islands is never enough. In the coming days I’ll post more about that trip. One of the highlights was passing within about 4 miles of Montserrat on Jan 8 as a small eruption was in progress. Montserrat Jan 8, 2007

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2007 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition

December 16th, 2006

I am pleased to announce that the 2007 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition will be held in New Orleans concurrent with the fifth anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail. New Orleans is the setting for this celebration of gastronomy and libations and will be the most spirited event of the summer. Seminars led by industry leaders, fine dining and the opportunity to meet scores of writers, and industry movers and shakers combine to make this a memorable event and 2007 is proving to be the even more fun than previous years. To have your name added to the mailing list for Tales of the Cocktail and the Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition visit the Ministry of Rum website.

The Tales of the Cocktail website will be updated after Jan 1.

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