“There's a rum out there for everyone. It's just a matter of finding it.” This is an idea Ed Rudisell would happily share with anyone.
Rudisell is the co-owner of many restaurants in the city including Rook
and Black Market. He also owns Siam Square
in Fountain Square.
Rudisell also loves rum, which is why Black Market has without a doubt the best rum list in the city.
Well, that is kind of why.
“We set out to [have a great rum list] five years ago because we saw an opportunity to do something that no one else was doing. Everyone was going crazy over bourbon, which had sent bourbon prices through the roof, and caused availability problems. So we decided on rum. At the time, we didn't know a damn thing about rum,” he wrote to NUVO in an email.
From that point on Rudisell and the Black Market team have done everything in their power to get to know rum and one conversation with him will prove he has become a human encyclopedia on the subject.
On September 26, as a celebration of Rudisell's favorite style of rum, Black Market
is hosting a Rhum Clément Dinner and competition
. The evening will consist of a four-course meal, inspired by the cuisine of Martinique, prepared by Black Market’s Chef Micah and Rhum Clément cocktail pairings.
Three local bartenders — Harry Webler from North End BBQ
, Patrick Ruby from The Coterie
(in Kokomo) and Ryan Ehrlichman at Plat 99
— will be competing throughout the evening for a trip to Martinique, the audience will be placing votes on the cocktails they craft and Benjamin Mélin-Jones of Rhum Clément
will be there sharing his knowledge of rhum agricole.
When we reached out to Rudisell to have him share some of his vast knowledge of rum and the importance of the spirit, he jumped at the chance to share his affinity for the beverage, saying, “Sure, I can write a damn book on rum.”
When we look at any food or drink item, in order to truly appreciate it we must first look at its history.
A quick dive into rum's past shows just how imperative it was as a commodity in the primordial years of our country, especially in leading to our fight for freedom from Britain.
While we’re confined by length restraints, anyone interested in history and drinks should look into a book Rudisell recommends, And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails
While that book goes much deeper into the history of rum, Rudisell says, “My favorite story to point out is how important rum was in the American Revolution. We all hear about the Stamp Act helping to lead into revolution, but what we don't often hear about is the Molasses Act of 1733, and the Sugar Act of 1764 (look at those dates). The Sugar Act effectively was a crackdown on importers bringing molasses into the colonies through Boston.
“At the time there were over 200 rum distilleries operating in the city. The problem was that molasses was cheaper from the French and Dutch colonies. The English taxed it much heavier in order to force the colonists into buying it from English colonies (i.e. Barbados, Jamaica).
“This didn't go over so well with the colonists. In fact, one could speculate that those early rebel meetings in taverns were conducted over rum drinks.”
Molasses, in case you didn’t know, is the key to many rums, so by doing this the British were taking away colonists bottles of rum. You can't take the rum away. It was just one more piece in the slew of issues that led to the Revolution.
While rum may have helped lead to the founding of our Nation, if you’re anything like me, your early experiences with rum mostly consisted of whatever you could afford for a weekend of partying in college. This led to an early conception in my mind of rum as a cloying and sharp alcohol, best when mixed with Coke and a squeeze of lime. Or, when my worst ideas came into play it was the even sweeter Malibu pineapple, mixed with the only thing available in my dorm room, water and Crystal Light packets. (Never have I ever thrown up more than that night.)
According to Rudisell my early experiences seem to be common.
“There are two main misconceptions about rum. One is that all rum tastes like the rum that you tried out of plastic jugs in college. The horrible college hangovers from all those Rum & Cokes don't help. Memories stick around a long time.
“The other one that we constantly hear is, 'rum is too sweet for me.' Neither rum, nor any distilled spirit is inherently sweet. Sugar doesn't make it through the distillation process. If it's sweet, it's because sugar has been added. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If the producer or blender is shooting for a sweeter style, it is fine.”
These misconceptions lead to a skewed view of what is actually an incredible spirit that has a major historical importance and one that has nearly endless iterations of styles and flavor.
“Rum is unique in that it can only be made from sugar cane. Whiskey can be wheat, rye, corn, etc. Vodka can be made from nearly anything. Rum must
be made from sugar cane. Having said that, what makes rum so exciting for me is that there are dozens of countries, each with their own traditions and sometimes regulations, making this spirit. This lack of a single governing body allows for a wide variety of rums to be produced,” says Rudisell.
When looking at this in comparison to a spirit like bourbon, which has a very strict set of regulations, it's easy to see why there is a proliferation of subpar rums. Not to say all bourbon is great, but when you buy a bottle you have a good idea of what you are getting.
Rudisell says of this, “This lack of universal regulation is a double-edged sword, as it also allows unethical producers and marketing teams to obscure exactly how they're making their rum, and if they're adding flavor enhancers or adulterants. Transparency is a big topic of conversation in the rum world today.”
Transparency is a big conversation in all spirit circles, for example with bourbon it is becoming more widely known that the niche, small-batch distilleries aren’t really distilling much at all
and just simply aging and re-selling the products of bigger mass-producing companies.
But, with rum this lack of transparency from many companies can make it hard to find the quality rums out there. The fact is though, with a little bit of research and tasting, it becomes quite easy to find the a rum you’ll love.
“There are some incredible rums out there right now, perhaps more than we've had access to in a very long time,” says Rudisell. “Brands like Plantation have been in large part responsible for bringing rum back into cocktail bars that would have traditionally only carried one or two Puerto Rican-style rums. The hardest thing to do when buying any spirit is to ignore the marketing. If they have to tell you it's good, it's probably not. Let the rums speak for themselves.”
“I think that rum can be intimidating because there are so many different kinds. The best way to start learning about it is to read some books, and visit a local bar with a knowledgeable bartender," Rudisell points out.
If you’ve ever found yourself getting into anything, from wine or beer to animé or comics, or even a new band or genre of music, it can be hard. The best way is to rely on those who have come before. If you’re interested in rum and what it offers, might I suggest a trip or two to Black Market? Or if you think you want to get into the popular Tiki craze, a quick trip up to Lost Lake in Chicago is an easy jumping-off point.
If breaking the bank trying to find the rum you like is a deterrent, Rudisell says that stems from rum not having the popularity of bourbon,
“For people that don't want to sip on an expensive rum, but would rather have an affordable rum that is well-made, I recommend the daiquiri test. It's very easy to make a daiquiri and, once your palate knows what to expect from the sugar and lime juice in the drink, your mind will be able to deduce what the rum brought to the table.”
By the way, he isn’t talking about the frozen, machine made monstrosities that your mom drinks in a comically large 64-ounce glass and then once she’s feeling tipsy and slightly sick to her stomach from all the sugar, begins joking, “I’ve only had one drink.” Those are adult slushies. He is referencing the classic daiquiri which is simply rum, lime juice and a little simple syrup shaken with ice and served up. They come Hemingway approved and are the perfect cocktail for you to find the rum you enjoy.
Rudisell follows up with some sage advice, “I probably wouldn't do that with a bottle that cost me $200, but if you've got a $25 bottle of rum — make a daiquiri, see what you think. Another great drink to make when trying a rum is a Rum Old-Fashioned.”
For many drinkers the main deterrent from many rums is their sweetness. Even though it isn’t inherently sweet, I’ve found in my rum-ventures that oftentimes the rums I try are sweet. But, that doesn’t mean all rums are sweet.
Rudisell recommends: “To address the sweetness issue, there are a lot of rums available out there that do not add anything back into the distillate before bottling. Foursquare Distillery in Barbados is a great example. They also produce the rum for The Real McCoy (which, as a side note, I recommend anyone reading this to look into the importance of Bill McCoy and his rum running during prohibition. And how “Real McCoy” came into our lexicon). … There are SO MANY dry rums out there. Unfortunately, some of the big producers that add a lot sugar in to the final product are the ones that are easiest to find at the corner store.”
This can be problematic, as many people don’t have any idea where to start. If it isn’t Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry, Don Q or Bacardi there is a good chance you’ll have to go out of your way to find it. Not too far out of your way, mind you, but at least to a liquor store with a decent selection.
If you look into some of the rum being made by smaller independent bottlers, “these people are buying up stock from distilleries all over the world, aging and bottling elsewhere. Mezan, Cadenhead, Samaroli, and Duncan Taylor are some examples that come to mind. What's great about these rums, is that they're not mass produced. In fact, they can become rare. I have some fun and rare bottlings at home (just don't tell my wife how much they cost).” (Don’t worry Ed — we won’t.)
Rum certainly is becoming more and more popular amongst bartenders and drinkers alike. According to Rudisell: “In just the last five years we've seen a large number of brands coming into Indiana that weren't here before. It's a very versatile spirit. You can make Cuban Manhattans, rum negronis, daiquiris are popular again (thank God!) and, of course, there is the tiki revival. It's not just rum & Coke and mojitos anymore.” And while this popularity is something to be excited about, there is a fine line to walk with being popular.
I ask if rum is the next bourbon; Rudisell answers: “I hope not. The bourbon craze is out of control. People are fetishizing certain bottlings and brands and I think it's become overblown.
“Conversely, though, I would love for rum to get its due. Rum ages at approximately three times the rate as Scotch or bourbon due to the Caribbean climate. They lose a lot of rum to evaporation. Realistically, they should be able to charge much more for those bottles. Unfortunately, it's a market economy, and people just aren't ready to pay the premium yet. Don't get me wrong, I love getting the deals. But, I now know many distillers in the Caribbean, and the workers there deserve increased pay and better working conditions. It's hot, humid and unforgiving work. I'd gladly pay a few extra dollars to make sure they're taken care of.”
One of those distillers Rudisell has grown to know over the years is Benjamin Melin-Jones of Rhum Clément who will be at the event on the 26th. According to Rudisell “Ben is the Agricole evangelist. He's a 4th generation family member of the Clément family of Martinique. He was born in the U.S., but now splits his time between the USA and Martinique.
“The company now operates under the umbrella of House of Agricole, which includes other rhums such as Rhum J.M., Damoiseau (in Guadeloupe), and St. Lucia Distillers. He's become a friend of the restaurant over the years.”
If you’re wondering what rhum agricole is, Rudisell explains, “Most rum is made from molasses, which is the sticky syrup left after the sugar crystals have been removed for sugar production. One of my favorite styles is rhum agricole from Martinique, which never refines the sugar, but rather uses fresh pressed juice to ferment and distill. You can really taste the cane and where it was grown in a well-made agricole.”
If you're interested in the Rhum Clément Dinner on 9/26, RSVP by calling 317-822-6757.
The menu for the night includes:
A reception with
WE RHUM THE WORLD PUNCH
BIG CITY FARMS CHARD & SWEET PEPPER ACCRA
w/ sauce chien
w/ mashed avocado / green papaya~mango slaw
VIKING LAMB NECK & SHOULDER COLOMBO
w/ fried plantains / red beans & rice
LIME-SPICED BLANC MANGER
w/ roasted coconut / carmelized pineapple