Frequently Asked Questions
About Edward Hamilton
- How did you get started researching rum?
- Actually, I was at a full-moon party in Culebra and the conversation turned to the drink in our glasses. Among the more pressing questions was, Are the rums from different distilleries really very different? Also, Why does rum in St. Thomas cost only a fraction of what it costs in other places? I decided to find some answers, and that's how it all began
- Where is the Ministry of Rum located?
- Most of the research takes place at the distilleries where the spirits are born, but I also do a lot of sampling and thinking on board my sloop Triton. In 1995 I went online and use telephone facilities throughout the islands to communicate with numerous distilleries, importers and rum lovers around the world. I also maintain a PO Box and office in Culebra, Puerto Rico.
- Who pays you to do this?
- Nobody. I've authored four books on rum, and although that doesn't pay much it does help keep my head above water. In order to remain objective I don't accept money from the distilleries, though I do accept rum, but only for the purpose of continuing the research. The Ministry of Rum giftshop also helps defray some of the costs of this site.
- How long have you lived aboard your sailboat?
- It's been fifteen years since I bought Tafia (which was shipwrecked in 2001 and replaced with Triton. I've cruised continuously through most of those years, with only a few months ashore now and again to do things like publishing a book or two. Gathering data on rum history and manufacturers and publishing books about them is a slow process. You don't have much credibility looking for a publisher for a book on rum when you're sailing in the Caribbean drinking the best rums you can find in the name of research. Most people just didn't take me seriously that there was even a need for a book on rum. It took quite a while to get things rolling.
- How many of these rums have you actually tried?
- Over the last fifteen years of research I've had the opportunity to drink hundreds of different rums. I've tasted another couple of hundred. The difference between those two terms is important. I try to buy a bottle of each rum and consume it over a period of time, and compare it to other rums that I have on board. That's the meaning I have in mind for the term, 'to drink a rum.' It's amazing how many times I've tasted a rum at 11:00 o'clock in the morning and thought, This is one of the best rums that has ever touched my tongue. But often when I compare that same rum to others later in the day, my opinion changes. Additionally, what we've eaten just prior to drinking rum always affects our sense of taste. And of course, when you've been on a long tour through an aging-warehouse with a thousand barrels of old rum, you're certainly primed and ready for some of that same rum, which you know is about to be served, at the end of the tour.
- How do you drink rum?
- It depends on the rum or rhum. I love a 'ti punch as the first drink of the day. After dinner I usually switch to an aged rum that I drink with a little water or sometimes a cube of ice, if I have one. I find that most rums benefit by the addition of a little water. If I add ice, I let it melt a little before I drink the rum. But I rarely drink the same rum three days in a row. Variety is the spice of life.
- What's your favorite rum?
- There are rums that I like better than others, but no single rum that I'd like to drink to the exclusion of all others. Now that I think about it, I do have a short list of rums that I keep on board Tafia. I'm still trying to cut this list down to something that will fit into this space. If you think I haven't answered your question, stay tuned and I'll list twenty of my favorites as soon as I can tell you where to buy them. Fair enough?
- How can I find out where to go in the islands to find the best rums?
- The book Rums of the Eastern Caribbean is the only guide to the distilleries of the Eastern Caribbean from Puerto Rico to Trinidad. In fact, during the research I found that most of the tourism offices in the islands didn't have reliable information, so that was another reason to publish the first book. Incidentally, the second edition of that book is out of print and I'm working on the next book now.
- I would like to do a rum tasting with my friends. Anything to look for or avoid?
- Variety is the most important ingredient. When I do rum tastings in the islands I ask people to bring a bottle of whatever, and we meet on board a boat with a lot of room, usually a catamaran. I like to divide the rums by the islands of origin and group the rhum from the French islands on one side of the table and the rums from the other islands on the other side of the table. Try to find rums that are of different ages, and look for the effects of aging. Because a rum is the oldest or most expensive from a distillery, it may not be the one that you find most agreeable.
- I only drink rum and Coke. What's the best rum for me?
- Whatever you like, but remember that Coke will dominate the flavor of most rums. I've seen people drinking ten year old rum with Coca-Cola, and heard the bartender apologize for his patron. Personally I think this a waste of good rum, but to each his own.
- I'm interested in getting into the rum business, what's the best way to start?
- There is no magic wand that I can wave over you to guarantee your success in the rum industry. If there was, I'd be making a lot more money waving my magic wand. I suggest taking a cue from some of the most successful business people I know. Learn the business from the bottom up. Get a part-time job in a liquor store, bar or restaurant and learn how the spirits business works in your country. There are vast differences between the spirits business and the cosmetics, clothing or automobile businesses. In most countries, the laws, rules and regulations are complex and take some time to learn. From your first job, look to move up the chain by working with one of your suppliers. Once you've gotten some experience you'll know if this is really something you want to pursue. And, I have no doubt, your perspective will be much clearer after you spend some time working in the industry.
Last updated Mar 29, 2011