Book Review: Rum Curious by Fred Minnick

Minnick puts down the whiskey to explore the history and culture of rum production

Rum-Curious-Cover-381x590In the spirits industry there has been a recent trend of Whiskey enthusiasts exploring the possibilities that Rum has to offer. With Rum Curious -The Indispensable Tasting Guide to the World’s Spirit, award winning whiskey author Fred Minnick takes the role of guide and shares his exploration of the world of rum. I was a bit apprehensive about how a whiskey author would approach the subject and indeed intrigued to see what he had to say and contribute to the continuing story of rum. His book is divided into two parts; 1) About Rum details history, production, rules and regulations and 2)Tasting provides tasting notes and cocktail recipes.

As the About Rum portion of the book dives into the history of rum it is easy to get caught up in Minnick’s narration as he details known and debatable information about the spirit’s origins.  He delves into the historical and modern politics that shaped rum’s rise, decline and return over the past centuries with interesting trivia asides such as the recipe for Lafayette Gingerbread or the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée on the island of Martinique.  I thought this section was a good primer for anyone not familiar with rum’s history – and solidly established the rhythm that would carry the reader through the rest of the book.

As the book transitions into rum production, this is where I really felt the author’s personality came through the strongest.   Where other authors have shied away or barely discussed controversies involved with rum production, Mr. Minnick takes them head on and fearlessly calls out rum producers for their obfuscation of the facts related to their products, the use of sugar and other additives and the fallacies allowed on labels by government regulators. His words are backed up and clarified by modern leaders and pioneers in the world of rum production such as Alexandre Gabriel of Pierre Ferrand who creates Plantation rums, Joy Spence, Master Blender for Appleton Estate  and Master Distiller Richard Seale, owner of Foursquare Distillery, to just name a few.  Their statements and contributions to the book leave unique finger prints that display the influence each person had on the author while writing this book.

These influences continue into the Rules and Regulations portion of the book where he shares the basic facts related to rules governing rum producing countries, sugar usage and the ongoing conversation about the current and future state of rum classifications.  It was this chapter where I felt the book stumbled and missed an opportunity to dig a little deeper in the subject matter.  As a primer on the topic it was sufficient, but I was left wanting more as I felt the author had a lot more to say on the subject.

Part two of the book: Tasting begins with a respectful acknowledgement that tasting is subjective and for the purpose of the book we are reading the notes that Minnick’s nose and palate discovered. I liked that he detailed the importance of a rum’s aroma but wished that he would have provided the reader a bit more guidance with nosing and tasting methods. As an introductory guide it felt like another missed opportunity.

For the tasting notes he broke the section down into four chapters: Unaged, Aged, Flavored and Other Cane Spirits.  While good as a reference point this section was more an opportunity for the reader to compare their own experiences with the author’s. After the tasting notes there isa 26 page cocktail section that is divided into two parts. The first section is easy to make basic rum cocktail recipes. Then the second is pro-level recipes by Max Solano that had one of the most unique Shrunken Head cocktail recipes I have ever seen. In closing I thought the Appendixes had some quality reference material for an introductory guide, providing just enough information to give those inspired to dig deeper a place to start.

As I finished the book, I thought if I were ever going to teach a seminar series that was an introduction to rum this would be the text book.  For someone coming in fresh to the world of rum, I believe Rum Curious is a good starting point.  The book is easy to read and I personally enjoyed the take no prisoner elements of Fred’s narrative.  It’s an excellent introduction for anyone who wishes to explore the world of rum.

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