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Inu Ā Kena: Six Years On

November 16, 2017

Seriously, where does the time go?

6 year anniversary badge

 On Blogging

If were a child, it would be a first grader. It really puts time in perspective when I think of it that way. Continuing the analogy, it would be fair (and sad) to say most rum blogs die in infancy. It’s hard to toil in obscurity while you build an audience—especially with all the pressure of a day job, family, etc. I found this out early on, and fortunately was encouraged by other writers to stick it out (and I’m still grateful).

Nowadays, new spirit and cocktail writers are essentially “blogging” on other platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Those are great, but I hope that’s not the only future. I don’t want to read an article-length piece on Instagram—sorry, the text is just too small, and I want to be able to stop in the middle and come back to it later. Nice photos, though!

The great thing about web sites is that they are evergreen. Some of the articles I wrote years ago still get boatloads of traffic. People find these and interact with them as if they are new, which provides a continual stream of joy for me.

You have likely noticed I don’t write nearly as often as I used to, but I like to think the few articles I write are of interest to other rummies. The long-form stuff like my piece on the history of French Caribbean rum is way more fun and interesting to work on than another review of a dodgy rum, but it’s much harder to come up with those ideas than it is to take a sample from a PR firm or buy something at the store. That said, I’ll still be reviewing new rums and cane spirits that are of interest to me and my readers. (Distillery visits are still my favorite things to write about, however, such as this summer’s visit to Manulele Distillers.)

On Rum

So what about the state of rum? I would say it hasn’t been this strong in decades. You may read that rum case volumes are dropping, but that’s not a bad thing from where I sit, as the losses are all at the bottom end of the market. The biggest growth is happening in the “super premium” category, and many of them are actually deserving of the title.

Why super premium? There are three main drivers:

  1. Growing familiarity with and appreciation of brown spirits
    • What Sex and the City did for Cosmos, Mad Men did for brown liquor in a glass. Rum is a brown liquor that many find more palatable than whisk(e)y, Bob’s your uncle.
  2. Tiki 2.0
    • Tiki is huge right now, and where there is no tiki bar, there is at least a tiki night at a non-tiki bar. Nothing drives rum depletions like tiki drinks, so that is a big deal. (All of these folks should be sending royalty checks to Jeff Berry, BTW).
  3. The lack of fun in American whiskey
    • Fantastic deals on long-aged, high quality Bourbon and rye were once omnipresent, but those days are gone, and now your everyday dram has probably become unobtanium (for me it was Weller 12). This bummer of a market condition has pushed some Bourbon folks more into Scotch whisky, but it has also pushed many into the tippy top end of the rum market.

So what’s next for rum in the US? In short: more.

  1. More indie bottles and blends
    • Independent bottlings of cask-strength Caribbean rum are generating the most excitement right now. Expect to see more of these, as well as more “full strength” releases direct from the distilleries. The number of blended products from Amsterdam will also continue to rise, but will they differentiate themselves enough to prove successful over the long term?
    • With Velier setting up shop in New York City, we should finally be seeing some of the goodies the Europeans have been enjoying for years. Having bought more than a few bottles online from England and France, I am personally very stoked about this.
  2. More cane juice rums
    • Cane juice rums from the United States are catching on, and I for one am excited about it. Beginning with St. George here in California and KoHana on Oahu, we are now seeing new cane juice rums from the American Southeast and Louisiana.
    • Cane juice rums from Mexico are hitting the states now, beginning with Puerto Angel, and continuing with Paranubes (from the folks who brought you Mezcal Vago). The scarcity of agave will continue to drive the agua de caña business forward.
    • Velier’s entry into the American market also means we get Clairin! Look for this category to open up as people discover the wonders of Haiti’s spirits beyond the venerable Barbancourt.
  3. More flavorful white rums
    • The burgeoning success of Hampden Estate’s Rum Fire proves some people actually like congeners in their white rums. Expect to see more flavorful white rums from small mainland distilleries (Roulaison comes to mind) as well as blends from Amsterdam and elsewhere.
  4. More transparency
    • The days of decrying anti-additive crusaders as sticks in the mud (or worse) are over. People want to know what’s in the rum they drink, and producers are slowly responding in kind. Transparency is one of the key reasons independent rum bottlers and brutally honest rum makers like Richard Seale of Foursquare are doing so well, thus proving there is tangible value in transparency.


Like many of you, I’m incredibly passionate about rum, and I still hope to make it my living one day. I mean hey, if you know of any opportunities, send them my way…

Until then, you can find me here occasionally and on social media frequently. If you don’t follow @inuakena on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, please do! You’ll be kept up-to-date on all things rum and have all the crummy content filtered out before it hits your screen.

Thanks again for reading, and for your sustaining support. You rule.







New Article on the History of French Colonial Rum Production

September 30, 2017

Hey folks,

Have you ever wondered why French Caribbean producers make rum from cane juice rather than molasses? Me too. I mean I’d heard and read various accounts of the motivations for the switch, but the more I dug into it, the more clear it became that the answer was far more multifaceted than I’d been led to believe.

So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve dug into my rum resource books and scoured the Web for information and compiled it all for myself. First in this massive 400 year timeline of events that shaped the French Caribbean rum industry, and today in a 2,100 word article. It’s a big departure form my normal writing, but I hope you enjoy it. Read the article here.


400 year timeline of events that shaped the French Caribbean rum industry

Visiting Manulele Distillers, makers of KōHana Hawaiian Agricole Rum

August 8, 2017


Today we’re back from summer break with another distillery visit recap. On our recent family vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii, we had occasion to pop over to Oahu for the day , so I made sure to visit Manulele Distillers, makers of the delicious Kohana rum–an agricole style rum made from the fresh juice of several different Hawaiian heirloom cane varieties. The whole family came along which was great fun, and the aloha from Manulele was boundless.

Click here to read the article and see how Kohana rum goes from glass to glass!



Ode to the Rum & Tonic

June 22, 2017

Mount Gay XO rum and fever tree tonic

Rum and tonic.
   Gin you say?
     No, my dear. Not today.
       Barbados rum and tonic, please.
         Aged some years, ~80 degrees.
           Over ice in a highball glass.
             A nice dry tonic adds some class.
               Some lime as well, but just a squeeze.
                 Keep them coming and hold my keys.

Like my father and grandfather, I grew up around boats. You didn’t have to be rich to have access to one—they were just a way of life in New England. I used to teach kids how to sail at the local club and crewed for some of the racers there. Some skippers were really serious and some were quite casual, but after the races, one thing they all enjoyed was a good drink.

I was in high school at the time, so I couldn’t fully participate in the post-race celebrations, but I did notice their predilections. One curious beverage some of these sailors enjoyed stood out in a world dominated by the macro beers of the 1980s, and that was the rum and tonic.

The coolest among these sailors had red baseball caps from Mount Gay Rum. I later learned the only way to get one (at least back then) was to sail in the Round Barbados Race, a 70 mile circumnavigation of the island replete with tricky currents, shifting winds and some pretty big waves.

After a race like that, you need a drink to calm your nerves, and when Banks beer won’t cut it, many sailors in Barbados reach for a refreshing highball of rum and tonic. Mount Gay has long sponsored the race, so their Eclipse aged rum was often the most popular choice.

As it turns out, rum and tonic is indeed quite good for mental soothing. But it also manages to be extremely refreshing while demonstrating a depth and breadth of flavor not typically found in simple highballs.

Whereas gin cuts through tonic with a sharp juniper kick, a blended aged rum contributes loads of flavor while still managing to be nuanced. The tonic adds brightness, bitterness, and a bit of spice, so you could easily stop there and be quite satisfied. But depending on the tonic water you employ, a little additional citrus can provide much needed balance.

Aged rum and tonic might not sound great to you, but you’re just gonna have to trust me and the guys in the red caps on this one. As my old sailing buddy Alex said a few years ago, “It turns out those sailors were onto something”.

Rum and Tonic Recipe


  • 2 oz blended Barbadian rum (Mt. Gay Eclipse or Doorly’s 5-year are good choices. Try Mt. Gay XO or Doorly’s 12 if you really want to class it up.)
  • 4 oz tonic water (Fever Tree or other high quality, not-too-sweet variety)
  • Lime wedge (optional)


  1. Fill a highball glass with cracked or cubed ice
  2. Pour rum over ice
  3. Add tonic water
  4. Squeeze lime wedge into glass and discard
  5. Gently stir to combine and top with additional ice as needed to fill the glass
  6. Enjoy!

Editor’s Notes:
1. After this article was published, a friend informed me that some Bajans refer to this drink as a “Slap in the Face”, as Chesterfield Browne described to a young Camper English back in 2009.
2. The original version of this article referred to rum from Barbados as “Bajan”. I have subsequently been reminded that the term “Bajan” is reserved for reference to the people of Barbados, while the term “Barbadian” is used for all other items.

Like rum from Barbados? Check out where it comes from! Read my distillery visit recaps here:

Foursquare Rum Distillery
Mount Gay Rum Distillery
Saint Nicholas Abbey Rum Distillery
West Indies Rum Distillery

For ten more easy rum drinks you can make at home, check out this article.

Two Laser dinghy racers in 1986

My buddy Alex (left) and me (right) racing Lasers in 1986 or so. (Starboard!)


Sustainability in Spirits Production

May 10, 2017

In a recent Facebook thread, sustainability in the spirits industry was the subject of a vigorous discussion. There were a lot of opinions about the “greenwashing” of the booze industry, and a general consensus that many brands and their ambassadors were promoting their products as sustainable, green, and eco-friendly, even in cases where that was not true.

The question of sustainability is a complicated one, and in order to truly know if a particular product is sustainable, you need to ask a ton of questions. We are essentially talking about a product that starts out as a plant and ends up in a cocktail, often thousands of miles away from where it was produced, so to say it’s complicated would be a massive understatement.

In the two images below, I’ve attempted to capture the relevant production steps where decisions are made that affect the environment. I have likely missed a few things in my haste, so please add your comments below, and I will release an edited version at a later date. Despite any omissions, the flow sheets should nevertheless help folks visualize the steps in the process of getting booze from the field to the barstool, and provide some food for thought.

Oh, and the next time you’re being pitched on a product’s environmental credentials, ask them about CO2 capture, anaerobic digestion, or how they process their spent wash or something. Their heads may very well explode!


(tap/click the images to enlarge)



PDF Version here (suitable for printing)

New Article: Almonds & Oranges: the Mai Tai’s Unsung Heroes

April 28, 2017

Aloha kakou!

Today I finally got around to publishing an article that’s been kicking around in my head for a long time. As you can probably tell from the title, it’s an exploration of the impact of orange Curaçao and orgeat on the classic 1944 Trader Vic’s Mai Tai. I know plenty of people who have strong opinions on the rum(s) they use in the drink, but far fewer are as passionate about the orange liqueur or almond syrup they use.

As for me, I’ve tried a lot of different combinations through the years, but I never did it methodically until now. So please join me as we try fifteen different Mai Tai permutations and see what really makes the drink sing.



New Rum Review: Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend

March 28, 2017

Howdy folks!

Sometimes a special bottle comes along and you wonder if the juice can live up to the price. I found myself asking that question of Appleton’s latest exclusive release, but I nevertheless took my first opportunity to procure a bottle. Joy Spence really knows how to make delicious rums, so an anniversary blend celebrating her two decades as Appleton Estate’s Master Blender would have to be amazing, right?

You can probably see where this is going, but if you’re after some unbiased tasting notes, read them here.



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