The Rum Experience

When I first started getting into rum a few years ago, the first book I bought was The Rum Experience by Luis K. Ayala. I desperately needed some information about rum, particularly some reviews, tasting notes, hints of flavors to expect, a list of the best rums… Anything, really, to ensure that I did not start spending too much money on the wrong rums. My biggest fear was of buying 3 bottles of rum that all sucked, and going back to drinking vodka.

I did what research I could on the Internet, of course, but I have a certain love of books so I hunted and finally found The Rum Experience by Luis K. Ayala.

I actually purchased the softcover edition, not the hardcover Collector’s Edition that’s shown. Judging from the info on the RumShop website, there’s no difference between the two. I went cheap I guess.

Nit-Picking The Printing
My very first impressions of this book were fairly terrible. The photos in the book were far too black – an image of the Gosling’s Black Seal label is barely visible, being a black logo on a very dark gray background. Much of the detail in the photos is not very visible because of this. The layout of the book is not very good at all, IMHO. A single font is used, at 3 different sizes – and two bold. It makes it difficult to tell were the headers are for each section. Overall, it’s not very pleasant to read.

This nit-picking is what I get for spending years working on high-end printers, doing desktop publishing, and doing digital photography as a hobby. I get very picky about such things – and in a book about rum what is more important – the info, or the printing?

The Info, Of Course.
The book starts off with a brief, but very good introduction to rum. It starts with the origin of rum, and the word “rum.” It goes into some detail about the process of making rum – from sugarcane to distillation methods to aging. It describes different categories of rum (white, gold, premium, etc.) and has some very good information on tasting rums and taking notes. This is followed by some history – a timeline, a section on rum and the British Navy, followed by information on rum during the prohibition. This information and history section covers over 50 pages, and is very nicely done.

Rums By Country Of Origin
The next 70 pages contain a number of rums (492 according to the book info) listed in order of their country of origin. Generally, there’s a paragraph or two about the country. In most cases some information is listed about certain distilleries found in that country, though in many cases this distillery info is not to be found. I can imagine that it would be extremely tough to find some info about every distillery, so I don’t feel that this is a bad thing at all. Instead, I relish the info that does exist about the distilleries.

Rum Descriptions
Following all of this are short lists of various rums made by each distillery listed. For many of the rums some info is listed, but a good many basically list the name of the rum only. I really don’t see much sense in this, other than to list that the book contains info about 492 rums. A quick flip through the book shows that maybe half of the rums listed actually have any information specific to that rum. When it exists, the info is usually quite brief – lightly describing the rum, its basic tastes perhaps, or perhaps mention of an award it’s won.

While I had expected (more likely I hoped, so therefore expected) reviews of all these rums, these are more like the most basic of descriptions. Here’s one, as an example, picked because I reviewed it last night:

Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Jamaican Rum (86-proof)

A smooth sipping rum that will please the palate of even the most discerning liquor connoisseur. A careful blend of different rum, all aged for a minimum of 21 years produces a powerful yet delicate rum with remarkable finesse and aromatic complexity. Enjoyed neat, one the rocks, or with a splash of water.

Well he certainly hit the nail on the head, summing up this rum very well in 3 sentences. But I am left wanting for more info, more description, perhaps an opinion… But I have to quickly admit that my hopes and subsequent expectations are what let me down. The author did what he did, and certainly didn’t set my expectations so falsely – I did that to myself.

However, I’m still a little let down by the description that this book “…covers: 492 rums…” since it really doesn’t cover many beyond the name of the rum.

Invaluable Information
I’m sure that my comments above make it sound like this book doesn’t contain much information about the rums. This is far from the case! The information that is here is quite valuable, a hell of a lot more valuable than buying blind. At least there’s some information to be had about hundreds of rums, and can give someone a bit of a clue about a potential purchase. I scoured this book when I got it, and read every single rum description carefully, adding many to my list of rums to buy and try. It was one of my bibles when it came to buying rum.

Caribbean Week
Following the rum descriptions and information is a chapter about Caribbean Week and its Rum Tasting Contest. It has a little bit of info about the contest, and then lists 11 years’ worth of winners. In ways, due to my overwhelming lack of patience, was extremely valuable information. I checked the Gold Medal winners, found more information about each rum and distillery, and made a list of rums to buy and try. This chapter was responsible for my purchases of Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-year-old and Ron Pampero Anniversario, as well as my lust for Santa Teresa 1796. Well done!

Drink and Food Recipes
The next 2 chapters contain over 50 pages of food and drink recipes – centered around rum, of course. I can’t say that I have ever really perused these sections, since I have mostly been interested in sipping rums.

Company Listings
The next section contains contact information on about 60 or more distilleries. I still use this when trying to find some websites for distilleries.

As a lover of books and a career in computers I have developed a high regard for a good Index. They are generally one of the first things I check when considering a book full of information such as this. The Index here is pretty darn good.

When one looks past the printing quality and layout, this book has a wealth of information. It’s easy to recommend since it contains so much information about rum. Sure, the rum descriptions may be a little light, but it’s hard to find so many packed into one location like this. It was the first rum book I ever purchased, and I still refer to it – constantly. Definitely recommended.

This book, and a couple more from the Ayalas, can be purchased from their web site The Rum Shop. Since I had a bit of a hard time finding the exact purchase page, it’s here. The softcover is $29.99, while the Collector’s Edition hardcover is $49.99.

The Rum Shop
Luis Ayala’s website, The Rum Shop, is worth a visit for any rum lover. Be sure to check out his “Got Rum?” articles as well as The Rum University for a free course in Rum Appreciation, in downloadable PDFs.