We had the opportunity to interview Finnish native, Tatu Kaarlas - the man behind Refined Vices (refinedvices.com), a website that reviews all things rum (as well as other vices.).
Tatu has many rum-based accolades and has travelled the world in pursuit of his love of photographing and writing about rum. In addition to reviewing, he is part of the International Rum Expert Panel, participates as a judge in various tasting competitions around the world, and commercially photographs some of the world's finest spirits.
What rum are you drinking at home at the moment? And how/with what?
I've been sampling some Trinidad rums from the mothballed Caroni distillery recently but currently I'm drinking rums from Foursquare Distillery, particularly Doorly's XO and the new Port Cask Finish rums. I think they are great and offer fantastic value for the quality you are getting. They are not too expensive for mixing either, not that I would mix these ones personally... Well, maybe a fancy Corn 'n Oil made with the XO and Daiquiris with the white rum. I really try not to restrict myself to specific rums on any given day so I generally drink whatever strikes my mood at the time. If I'm drinking cocktails it's usually a Mai-Tai made with either Appleton Reserve and Clément Rhum Vieux or Appleton VX and Long Pond 17 Year Old Jamaican rum for that extra funk, amazing!
Do you see some emerging trends in the production of rum? What should we be looking out for in the next few years in terms of styles or flavour profiles?
Agricole rum made of pure cane juice is one trend that is currently taking over Australia and I think it is fantastic to see these small new distilleries producing truly artisanally crafted rums with a point of difference. Other distilleries like St. Nicholas Abbey on Barbados have also started producing their own cane juice rums.
One of the current global trends, I believe, is the increased demand for authentic Pure Single rums, that is 100% pot still rum from a single distillery. People are shying away from the overly sweetened rums and going towards a drier, more complex and authentic flavour profile. Super funky, high ester and congener Jamaican rums with big flavours from Hampden distillery are also in high demand. It's all about the flavour and intensity.
Oh, and I hear there is a great Pineapple Rum making a lot of noise in the rum industry at the moment!
How does one become part of a rum panel? What do you have to know?
Constant networking and getting to know people and generally promoting the category of rum to the best of your abilities is what you need to do to get noticed. It helps to have a broad product knowledge and knowing the different production methods and their effects on the liquid. There is no minimum number of rums you have to have tasted but generally the more variety you try the more developed your palate (or brain) will be, which will be beneficial during the tasting competitions when evaluating and picking out potential flaws in the distillate.
I'd say you definitely need a lot of passion for the industry more than anything, the rest will follow naturally.
What are the first 3 rums you had to have in your new home collection, after moving to Australia?
I still have a lot of rums left in Finland as you can only bring so much in one go, 2.25 litres per person to be exact, which isn't much. In my suitcase I had a bottle of Old Grog, Mount Gay 1703 and St. Nicholas Abbey 12 Year Old to get my "library" started. It was a tough choice to choose only three so I chose quality and overall enjoyability. I find it is a lot easier and faster to grow my collection in Australia as the industry is quicker to change here and there are a lot more events and opportunities for rum nerds like me.
How would you suggest someone choose a rum for their collection?
If you're new to rum, pick what you know you'll like as your first few rums, but don't overspend. The last thing you want to end up is with a bottle of rum you don't really appreciate. Then buy some different ones and you'll begin to see the ones you really value. Reading reviews and visiting rum bars can also point you in the right direction.
If you've already tried all the usual suspects and majority of the main stream products then my advice would be to start investing in independent bottlers and really doing your homework about how the rums are produced and what their origins are. That is to say, find out where the real intrinsic value is and disregard marketing altogether.
Where can we see you doing your thing?
If I'm not at a RumFest or knee deep in molasses, I can usually be found chewing the fat with the fellas over at Grandma's bar in Sydney. Other than that you can catch up with my writings on Refined Vices (refinedvices.com) and social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.