2012 is drawing to a close, and many sites are beginning their top-however-many lists. The Hippie has drawn up a list of his favourite drams of the year on ATW, the Rum Howler has got his lists of top rums and whiskies he’s tried, film critics will put out their top ten lists as usual, and here I’ll join in and review how the year went from Liquorature’s perspective, including – of course! – my own discoveries of the year and my own take as a reviewer of rums.
Liquorature, sadly, lost two of its original members, the erstwhile and aged “Mr. A-is-A” and the incisive and polemic Clint, who both took stock of their lives and made the tough call that they simply weren’t able to contribute or involve themselves as much as they would have liked, and withdrew. Coming at a time when the Benevolent-Dictator-for-Life-cum-Hippie was beginning to get antsy about the relaxed attitude of the crew becoming too prevalent, we made some organizational changes and issued Golden Tickets to two new members – Lorenzo “Il Magnifico” Lecce who had so impressed us with his solo contribution to the “1Q84” discussion (as well as his never-to-be-forgotten late-evening intoxicated kip on the washing machine), and Stuart Hunter, the curmudgeonly, avuncular elder statesman of music who has the aged-rock-god-turned-to-seed demeanour (I mean that in a a good way) which we felt would add an interesting perspective to our literary perambulations.
The Club continues to evolve. Guests remained a regular, if not consistent, fixture, with my friend Tolik, Maltmonster and Il Magnifico being pleasant additions to the mix. This year we settled down and issued formal ukases on the timing, food and drinks each person was, at a minimum, obligated to provide for the cash donated: for drinks, no cheap crap, one unopened rum and one unopened whisky (plus whatever heels the host deems appropriate), and no big splash on the food over and beyond making sure everyone has something to nibble on that doesn’t run out. To some extent, I was given a pass because in my case there’s always a full dinner spread and always more rums than whiskies (take that, maltsters)…though I’ll be the first to concede the sheer originality of others like the Ginger Buddha and Clint, who always have a theme to the evening that is unique and fun to deal with, like the Zombie Shootout for “Cell” and the Godfather restaurant recreation scene we had had before.
Curt continues to do the write ups on the Liquorature get togethers – perhaps because, as of this writing, he’s the only one to actually have attended all of them – as well as pursuing his misguided love of whiskies both here and on ATW, our more focussed sister site. With some exceptions, and quite a bit of backlog, I’ve taken on the not-so-onerous task of writing all the book reviews and, of course, spoken to the rums at some length. To my surprise, the three most hit upon pages on Liquorature are the old Glenfiddich 12 review, the Tanduay 12, and … Tintin in Tibet, a loving and nostalgic review I put up in a passing moment.
The selection of our literature picks this year was impressive and illustrates some of the breadth of what we have managed to dissect. Granted, not all of them are world beaters – we do, however, believe that pulp fiction and fruity best-sellers can absolutely mix it up with the Booker prize contenders. I haven’t written all the book summaries and reviews yet (more shame to me), but eventually they’ll all be on the site.
For what it’s worth (and fellow members, feel free to weigh in) my own overwhelming favourite this year was Pat’s October selection of “Mercy Among the Children”, a deep, dark, rich, atmospheric tale of family, hypocrisy, revenge, misunderstanding, love and loss that moved me as few books ever have. A close second was, without a doubt, “1Q84”, surely one of the most peculiar books I’ve ever read, one that I should have put down in a heartbeat…and yet could not.
“Ways of Sunlight” was our first collection of short stories and one of the sparser-than-usual attendances, but a good night for all that….I seem to recall we tried some fourteen rums that night. “Cell” marked a return of Stephen King to the lineup, and I was really happy to see “Pillars” make an appearance, since (all false modesty aside), I introduced Curt to this years ago, he to all his friends, and it has become a favourite ever since.
Classics look ready to make a strong showing in the new year, with “Moby Dick” and “Huckleberry Finn” already in the pipeline, so 2013 seems set to be a fascinating year from the perspective of literature. It’s hard to comprehend that we’ve been at this for nearly fifty cycles already, and we remain committed and interested and seek to outdo each previous evening with a better one (how we will ever top the Godfather Easter egg is beyond me).
The primus inter pares of all my varied interests. During 2012 I gamely struggled to hold my own in the face of the irredeemably stubborn obstinacy of my fellow Liquorites who insist on giving pride of place to the obscure Scottish drink. Added to that was my day job, my family, photography and other priorities, which led to 2012 seeing less than fifty new rum reviews. Aside from the division of my available time, part of the problem is undoubtedly my writing style, which tends to the lengthy and relates to my desire to tell as complete a story about each rum as I can, adding to that whatever ruminations (no pun intended) cross my mind as I write, and making each more an essay than a review…hopefully a unique one. This is a style that takes real effort and thought and time, and works for me both as a writer and a reviewer; but is, alas, too long for some (most, I would gather), with all the attendant disinterest it creates in people who prefer a McNugget-level synopsis as they stand, i-phone in hand, at a liquor store somewhere wondering what to buy. The important thing is that I enjoy it and it holds my interest – a more abbreviated style would be easier, I could churn out more reviews…but not nearly as much fun.
My tastes have gradually changed (I hesitate to say “improved”) to appreciate higher proof rums — I’m coming to the stated opinion that 40% is a really pronounced limiting factor for top quality rums of any kind. The Panamonte XXV, the Plantation XO 20th Anniversary and many others, would have benefited greatly from having the extra oomph of a few additional proof points. Of course, the two rums that took this to ridiculous extremes were the beefcake SMWS Longpond 81.2% and the Stroh 80 both of which I sneakily kinda enjoyed in spite of their rage.
Another point of development for me is that I have quietly dispensed with three almost unconsciously held assumptions I realized I was harbouring: (a) that older rums are always better than younger ones (they often are, but not every time); (b) younger rums or cheap blends are only for mixing (often true, but certainly not every time) and (c) expensive is equivalent to quality (it often is, but, nope, not always). As I taste more and more rums and go back and forth between the earlier rums and the later ones and cross taste them in my spare time, I appreciate the subtleties that in many cases I missed the first time around, and learn to admire the artistry some makers bring to even their youngest creation. In order to chart my development, I leave my scores the way they were when I wrote them, but I’m thinking of doing a”revisit reviews” of the older ones from 2009/10 which were shorter and not as intense as later work. As a point of interest, I review every rum neat – whether it makes a good cocktail or not is not part of my review process, though I usually mix myself one to test stuff I don’t like, on the assumption that it might fail as a sipping spirit, but not necessarily as a cocktail.
I’m also learning to appreciate the lighter bodies and complex profiles of agricoles and French-island rums more than when I started, and my discovery this year was undoubtedly the Courcelles 1972 58% which the co-manager of the Rum Depot in Berlin trotted out from his private stash and allowed me to share. I still hate the scoring mechanism, which for me results in rums scoring mostly between fifty and seventy, and I dread coming up with something new and having to go back over a hundred rums and recalibrating. However, at least it’s consistent. But readers should always be warned that it’s the words that tell the tale, not the score. Oh yeah, I dropped the chart of the rum profiles…it was useful for a while, but didn’t see it adding any real value so I just shrugged and did away with it.
Kensington Wine Market in Calgary continues to hold two Rum tastings a year, which I faithfully attend and write about in a probably futile effort to raise the profile of the spirit in my obstinately whisky-loving area. A high point for me this year was undoubtedly the cracking of the 58 Year Old Longpond, which snarkily showed the Appleton 50 the door (the latter will be on show for the February 8th 2013 Tasting at KWM). Andrew, the co-owner, maintains his generous habit of alerting me to new and interesting rums coming through the door, even if I can’t afford them all. And though I am aware that in his eyes rum simply doesn’t class with whisky (hence his online moniker which I continually gripe about), he treats me with the courtesy due any autistic, rum-loving mutt who may growl at any moment.
The rums tasted that stood out this year (equivalent to ATW’s “Drams of the Year” post)
What is evident from this brief listing is that I’m deliberately moving away from the “one size fits all” commercial rums that we can find almost anywhere, towards costlier, rarer, more unique rums that are edging me to an average price of close to a hundred bucks per bottle (yes, with very rare exceptions and to the horror of my wife, I buy everything I review – the exceptions are my friends’ samples which *they* buy). My choices are becoming more finicky, and I seek out older and obscure offerings for the same reason I write the way I do…because it’s more interesting that way, and because there are enough reviews of the commonly available rums out there (does anyone really need me to put up a tenth review of the Mount Gay XO except as a site-hits driver?). This is not to say I don’t look at, say, a Myer’s Planter’s Punch…I just don’t do it as often (though I always will), or as assiduously – it would undoubtedly be cheaper, though, wouldn’t it? To my mind, a person who likes Old Sam’s won’t care in the slightest what I write about it (if he even looks for a review), but anyone seeking to check out the Rum Nation Jamaica 25 Year old probably will, before he drops close to two hundred bucks on it.
Summing up, it’s been a slower than expected year for reviews, but both the Hippie with his 2013 Islay tour and myself with the trip to Germany, made discoveries beyond price. The Liquorature meetings are fixtures and high points of our gentlemanly social lives, and look to continue far into the future. And as we bring 2012 to a close, I must say that 2013 promises to be a year full of new books, new spirits, new friends and more rambunctious get-togethers than ever before.
All the very best to all of you who have had the patience to read this far, and have a great New Year.