Welcome back dear Rum Aficionados! Today I am very happy to introduce you to the Rum Aficionado, Johannes Breit, who will get his very own little section on book reviews on this blog. Personally, I do not know a single person who has read more on rum than Johannes so I am honored that he will enhance this blog with his broad knowledge on the topic. I’ll add my opinion as well whenever I can, but that might turn out to be rather difficult given his literacy…
I think all “Rum-Aficionados” can agree with me that you start to educate yourself on everything related to rum once you’re getting “serious” with this wonderful spirit. Your first source of information are probably some lively Facebook groups dedicated to rum or great blogs on rum such as the Cocktail Wonk, The Lone Caner or this blog (I humbly believe that some other sites should have deserved being mentioned here instead -SCR), just to name a few. Some great books have been written on the topic as well. However it seems, with a few exceptions, that not many books on rum are well-known. So my aim is to publish brief reviews on “rum-books” here on this blog from time to time. I will start my first review with this very recently published book:
Spirit of the cane – The Story of Cuban Rum
It was written by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller who apparently have written more than 30 books, mainly on cocktails. The book was published in 2017 with 207 pages and it costs around 22€. It has 5 chapters and each chapter is well illustrated with pictures which I will briefly introduce to you, to give you an overview on what to expect:
Chapter 1: The new world
Chapter one introduces us to the discovery of Cuba by the Spanish, the starting Spanish colonization and the introduction of sugar cane to the new world in 1501 through Pedro di Atienza. It’s a rather short chapter and scratches only on the surface of the topic.
Chapter 2: Water of life
With European settlements, the distillation equipment inevitably started to arrive in the new world. According to this book, in 1598 Cubans started to distill rum from molasses but no further reference is given on the source of this claim. Generally, this chapter focuses on the spread of rum production in the new world and the subsequent pursuit to outlaw it in order to protect European brandy and wine production. The chapter concludes with a lengthy and informative part on the industrial revolution and its impact on the rum production, e.g. how steam engines were gradually introduced by the sugar mills and the introduction of continuous stills. Apparently high volume and fast output stills were standard by the 1850 in most Cuban distilleries. It is not certain if they really mean column stills though, e.g. Bacardi used a pot still until 1911 if I remember correctly.
Chapter 3: A living tradition
The whole chapter is dedicated to the production of rum. It all started with the Zafra, the sugarcane harvest in November through April, and ends with an overview on authentic Cuban rum brands. An interesting side note describes that Cuban molasses has apparently a relatively low acidity and high sucrose content (>55%) which means that it does not retain the “rotten egg aroma” during fermentation. I am no expert on molasses fermentation but it would be interesting to hear if this claim holds true and how Cuban molasses influences the taste of its distillate.
Chapter 4: Classic Cuban bars and bartenders
Chapter four discusses the history of classic Cuban bars and bartenders, starting with the “El Floridita” in Havana. Furthermore it introduces us to the “golden age” of Cuban bartending during the Prohibition and afterwards.
Chapter 5: Cuban classics
Chapter five focuses solely on Cuban classic cocktails. It’s well researched with lovely anecdotes, background information and recipes. However, some of the recipes are in its “original” version with measurements like “½ a lemon”.
I found it very informative and some chapters are very well researched. Particularly, I enjoyed the chapter on Cuban classic cocktails. The only shortcoming of this book is that it is essentially a book on the history of Cuban bars and cocktails (i.e. 1/3 of the book is solely on classic Cuban cocktails). The rum geek in me would have expected a bit more on the history of the different distilleries and their stills in use etc.
So do you need this book? Well, do you love classic Cuban cocktails?