October 24th, 2007

And a bottle of rum

A bottle of rumWayne Curtis could be the best drinks/history/travel writer working today. You probably already know this if you have read And a bottle of rum: A history of the New World in ten cocktails. I picked up an autographed copy at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans this summer after prancing like a schoolgirl up to Curtis’ table at an authors’ reception and introducing myself as a fan.

He gets that drinking is both a sublime and shiftless pursuit, and he chronicles the history of rum with an appropriate mixture of fondness and cheek. He traces the spirit’s ups and downs, from its origins in the pirate-riddled trade routes between the Caribbean and the Colonies to Medford, Massachusetts’ once-bustling rum distilleries to the long-lived tiki drink craze to today’s cocktail-of-the-moment, the Mojito.

The narrative is engaging and solidly researched. It contains a lot of nuggets surprising even to those who know a thing or two about spirits — like that the daiquiri caught on in Cuba in the early twentieth century because of an ingredient that had only just become widely available: ice. Also, even though I knew the Andrews Sisters song “Rum and Coca Cola,” I had no idea how big that drink was during and after WWII. It marked the early phase of a trend toward bland and sweet drinks that continues to this day with our myriad vodka-based alco-pops. Luckily, the back of the book has several good rum cocktail recipes that serve as an antidote to that silliness.

Incidentally, one of the people Curtis acknowledges in the back of the book is Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, historian and resurrector of tiki drinks and the culture that surrounded them. He talks about his latest book, Sippin’ Safari, and the legitimacy of the original versions of drinks like the Zombie and the Mai Tai, in this recent Salon article. Give it a read while you’re waiting for And a bottle of rum to arrive in the mail.

Permalink | Filed under Books & resources, Rum |

5 Responses to “And a bottle of rum”

  1. Br. Cleve

    A fabulous book, indeed. Some eye openers about the history of the Americas, and how intertwined the rum and slave trades were. I loved the fact that early Americans would plop on their horses and head off to some faraway tavern, just because they were known to have the tastiest Grogs. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

    And speaking of Beach Bum Berry — mark Sunday Nov 18 on your calendars, as we present the Bum himself doing a presentation on famed Boston tiki bars, along with mixing up their concoctions for you (well, I’m going to help him.) All set to a Polynesian soundtrack performed live by Waitiki! At Pho Republique in Boston’s South End. Go to http://www.waitiki.com for tickets!

  2. Stephen

    pearl divers punch?

  3. Beach Bum Betty

    Have just purchased the book- thanks for the tip- was very much interested in the Pho Republique event, but $75/ ticket? yikes!

  4. ljclark

    It does seem a bit steep, Betty. I can only hope that something substantial is meant by “other surprises may follow.”

  5. Scottes

    Fantastic books, both of them! And the event at The Pho should be a worthwhile time, in the end. So far from what I’ve heard we’ll be getting our money’s worth for sure.

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