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We knew that Newport Was it an urban

nerves and warm the cockles of even the blackest heart. Unlike single malts that are shameless self-promoters of stark taste and merciless perfume, aged, "añejo" rum is a hearty hug from a good friend who comes from as far as Venezuela, as close as Cuba and everywhere in between. Rum is the New World's drink, reflecting mankind by its many shades, tastes and pleasurable effects. To find the history of Newport's rumsopped days, by hunting down the rums that are still served neat, is no small challenge. Avoiding the unavoidable trio of Malibu, Captain Morgan and Bacardi and their sundry accompaniments is a much harder proposition. Ye olde rum capital has passed into a cosmopolitan age, and I don't mean pink with a slice of lime in an up-glass. Boutique French and Dutchodkas, candy flavored rums ­ try Bacardi "Razz" ­ as well as gins distilled to the point of rubbing alcohol have sunk the rum casks of the city's 22 distilleries from the mid- to late-1700s. By 1842, the last of these, the Whitehorne Distillery, had shut down. Hopefully, the spirit lives on and is more than the ghost of Christmas past. At the Candy Store, the Clarke Cooke House's grand ground level bar, sits a lovely Matusalem 10-year-old that augments the bar's reputation as the watering hole of renowned sailors and other swabs. In front of the framed pictures of boats riding the oceans majestic, sits the maker's "classico" original Cuban formula. The bartender asks, "Rocks? Coke? Soda???" At this point, a serious rum drinker might order a flintlock pistol with which to shoot the blaggard for his crude ambivalence. Failing that, "straight up" should suffice. Rum is the alcoholic distillate or mixture of distillates from the fermented juice of sugarcane, sugarcane molasses, or other sugarcane by-products. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak and other barrels for a minimum of two years and, in some cases, for as long as 25

and rum had a connection.

legend, or was it real?

especially strong concoction, `drove out most of the West Indian rum, as well as European gin, brandy and liquor.' Rum was prized more than Dutch cloth or English iron and guns." It is why it got its name "Rumbullion." Enjoying the Matusalem today, not overly sweet or thick tasting, my introduction was through neither love nor loss. As the patrons began crowding the bar, my colleagues and my conversation followed the spirit's celebratory effect. I am introduced to Reggie Charles, a DJ and waiter at the Cooke House. I detected an accent and asked Reggie where he was from. "Haiti," he replied. I asked if his family were all well. He smiled ... then nodded. Then it came to me. Why I started drinking rum wasn't the point. What I drank, when I finally let fly the cap on my first bottle, is Rhum Barbancourt made in Haiti since 1862. In rum's heaving arena of contenders and pretenders, Barbancourt is a standout. Its adherence to a smooth taste without the syrupy flavor and smell that are inherent in many aged rums, especially Venezuelan ones, make it a champ. I order another Matusalem. The bartender tells me he's out and that the bottle was only a distributor's sample. Hmmm. Estimates of rum consumption in the American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War had every man, woman and child drinking an average of three and a half gallons of rum each year. Finding Newport history in rum might be harder than previously thought. Entering Café Zelda I quickly scan the shelves. Not much doing. I ask the bartender for his selection of rums. He zips through the dross of Malibu, Bacardi and others, and then as an afterthought says, "we've got this Clement V.S.O.P from Martinique?" Normally, you don't kiss your bartender. After tasting his recommendation, I've changed this opinion. Café Zelda is another sailing haunt as its décor and the



By Michael Persson

years. For most premium rum, 10 years is standard. Light rum is clear, while medium rum is a touch darker from aging or the addition of caramel. Dark rum is matured for an even longer period, or has even more caramel added, creating a heavier, more aromatic spirit. Then, there is the 151-proof, rum whose alcoholic content is 75.5 percent compared to the usual 35 to 40 percent. This concoction is perfect for flammable cocktails (see the B-52), scorched earth policy and bringing down any of Africa's Big Five. So, with two colleagues ­ both sailing types ­ we stand in the Candy Store and open up to the warm sun, sipping our iterations of the Caribbean Sea's signature contribution to the world's bar. One colleague had hers on the rocks, the other with coke. Where rum was first made is still a bragging right contested between Barbados and Puerto Rico, or, for you aficionados, Mount Gay vs. Captain Morgan. In prerevolutionary times, Newport imported its molasses and sugar from the British West Indian and Bahaman colonies and with it made the ominous-sounding "Guinea Rum." As author Rockwell Stensrud points out in his book, Newport: A Lively Experiment 1639-1969, this drink, "an




SallyAnne Santos

I N N E W P O RT, RU M I S H I S T O RY. Rum is the boozy plot line to the city's centuries-long story of mercantilism, race, opulence and mad sailing fervor. Through the 17th century, Newport drank, distilled and exported rum 24/7, and, for a brief time, was the rum capital of the world; the trading epicenter in a commodity whose origins were the gift of exploration, the sin of slave-trafficking and the currency of buccaneers and scoundrels. Rum: by God it tastes good. Despite its warm-weather billing and its starring role in Mai Tais, the fruit juice salad of the cocktail bar; mint-adorned Caipirinhas; and every underdeveloped palate's favorite, the Piña Colada, rum is a tot fit for the season's tippling. Allow a dark, smooth, caramel liquor to caress the mouth, soothe the


Roast three habanero peppers. Place in a small jar and cover with rum. Let steep for a day. The mixture will keep. Pour one teaspoon of habanero rum into a single serving mug, mix with three ounces of plain or medium rum (no spiced rum). Add the juice of half a lemon or lime and a tablespoon of honey. Pour boiling water over the ingredients and stir until the honey is dissolved.



t a s t e

conversations of its patrons attest. Served in a snifter, this terrific, medium colored rum is along the French style of manufacture, when producers in the French Caribbean colonies applied the same techniques to rum making that were used for cognac and eau de vie in the Motherland. The result is a winter warmer par excellence. Soon, the sailors will be gone from here ... cast off and bound for the islands where sugar cane sways in the sun and rum is still king. The Clement confirms the idea that a drink's potency is equal to the speed at which it is sipped. This one packs a wallop ... could be its 40 percent alcohol content ... could be that I'm a liver-lilied land lubber. In my pursuit, Leopold Bloom and his hallucinatory wanderings of Dublin spark a thought. I suspect that there is good rum out there. And yet, I have no way of knowing until the odyssey is over. I know the fellas at Newport Distilling Company produce



a fine version that might be the taste of them olden days. A tot of their Thomas Tew rum might yield the equivalent of Bloom's encounter with Circe's magic wine. One sip and perhaps the ghosts of pirates, prosthelytizers and patriots would visit. Well, perhaps more than just one sip. Thomas Tew was a pirate. In Newport, in the late 17th century, Tew was a rock star. This son of a prominent Newport family, Tew had zero appetite for conventional life and a thirst for swords at dawn. Returning to Newport with his £12,000 cut of the booty, Tew was lorded by the rich and the talk of the town from the wharves to the taverns. His men spent freely on women, rum and more rum. During Prohibition, a pirate of a different cut was supposedly running supplies of Caribbean hooch through these parts. In 1928, Al Capone used speedy motorboats to blow past the Coast Guard

Left to right: SallyAnne Santos, Michael Persson

and deliver to waterside warehouses on Lower Thames Street. Rhode Island grudgingly followed the 18th Amendment. However, the State's attorney general challenged the law's validity, which he did for a decade. During this time, Danny Walsh, a one-time Pawtucket hardware store clerk, became Rhode Island's bootlegging sensation. Walsh's bootlegging ring used every inch of Rhode Island's 400 miles of unpatrolled coastline to amass his fortune. In Newport, lawyers and politicians socialized at a speakeasy on West Broadway called "The Mission." And in 1924, Newporter Billy Goode became the first Rhode Islander to be arrested for operating a speakeasy. Back then, a shot of rum in Goode's establishment cost 50 cents. Brent Ryan, President of Newport Distilling Company, the makers of Thomas Tew rum, says that the company's idea to

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make rum began back in 2007. "We knew that Newport and rum had a connection. Was it an urban legend, or was it real? We asked around town, went to the historical society and pieced it together." The company makes its rum the way it was once made: black strap molasses, brewer's yeast and pot stills for distillation. "We're resurrecting a small piece of history," says Ryan. "In their heyday, rums went by the name of their makers. In Newport, Whitehorne rums and Malbone rums were everywhere. To be honest, what I didn't like about Thomas Tew was that he was a pirate. I didn't want to go the way of Captain Morgan, or be associated with pirates off the coast of Somalia." Rum fell by the wayside once the British Parliament passed the Molasses Act of 1733. Taxing molasses meant rum went underground. Once American independence was won, whiskey became the country's drink of choice and rum retreated back to the Caribbean. A sip of Thomas Tew has a taste unlike many of the rums in the city's repertoire. Black strap molasses comes at the end of the sugar making process, its sugar content is far less and therefore yields more flavor. Newport Distilling Company offers public tours not just to sample their beers, but their rum. "People don't know too much about spirits. It explains the rise of premium vodkas," laughs Ryan. And, no doubt, the malediction of adding coke to rum. "I can't think of a better masking agent than coke," he adds. "If you want to enjoy rum in a mixed drink, mojitos are the way to go." Tew rum is full-flavored. Not sugary. Its depth is probably similar to the drams sold all over this once rum-riddled town. For rum to return it must grab people's interest and then their palates. Hopefully in Newport, given its history, that isn't a stretch. And with its ability to bring more cheer than a "blottoed" Santa in a sleigh full of Grand Marnier, my guess is that rum shouldn't just become the season's tipple, it should be embraced as Newport's old friend returned from a long spell in the islands and enjoyed naked ... I mean, straight up.





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