By Dave Broom

Here we go again

Dave looks at the links between rum and whisky – the two hottest premium brown spirits around
A quick scan of the Whisky Mag forum pages reveals that there has been some debate over the wisdom (or otherwise) of writing about rum in the previous issue. There’s two camps: the fundamentalists who argue that this is a whisky magazine and should therefore only be about whisky; and the radicals, who see a need to expand the remit of the title. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I’m on the side of the latter, but since this has produced such well-considered debate, it’s worthwhile dwelling on my rationale behind the inclusion of rum within these pages.First stop (once more) is Royal Mile’s Whisky Fringe. Da Rum Chapel has now been part of this whisky event for three years. The first year it was an interesting sideshow as people cautiously expressed interest in the spirit. By year two even more were coming to the stand and saying: “I drink whisky, but know nothing about rum.please tell me about it.” Now, it’s as busy as any other stand with whisky lovers seeing it as a logical part of the event. None of them are stopping drinking single malts, they are simply including rum in their lives. The same process has taken place at Whisky Live, Paris where two rum stands are now part of whisky life.Writing about rum was also the result of talking with collectors, those passionate whisky lovers who now (rightly) feel that they have been excluded from the very brands they helped build.As prices have moved into the realms of the ridiculous they are beginning to turn to rum.Go to any great whisky bar in Japan and look at how rum is beginning to take up more shelfspace.Talk to retailers there, in the UK and France and the same story is repeated.Then cast your minds back to whisky history.Think back to Scotland in the early 19th century.Which spirit was being blended and branded decades before Messrs Walker, Chivas and Dewar thought of doing the same with Scotch?Which drink was the most popular middle class spirit in Scotland at that time? Which spirit’s casks were widely used for maturation on those early days? Rum is inextricably linked with whisky production, whisky history and whisky drinkers’ palates.Rum should be included because it reflects what the whisky drinker is interested in, but I agree with the fundamentalists that we should never forget that this is Whisky Magazine. How we deal with this is a matter of nuance. Is a whisky magazine (and by extension whisky writing) about distillery foci and discussion of minutiae? Yes. Is it also about examining the wider world and seeing how whisky impinges, often subtly, on our lives? Yes.Scotch’s failure in the late 1970s was down to it being isolationist, elitist. “Don’t worry son, they’ll come round,” How often was that said to me by marketing directors as we discussed why younger drinkers of that time were not behaving as they should. They were meant to come to whisky eventually. The fact they didn’t resulted in a slump which the industry has only recently recovered from. Now, whisky firms realise that they are part of the world, not separate from it. Writing has to do the same.So, my fundamentalist friends I take your points and can reassure you that this is not becoming Rum Magazine, but equally I defend strongly the need to write outside the box, to talk of the wider world, to write of the 93 per cent of Scotch that we rarely discuss (that’s blends) or bourbon, Indian, Japanese, Breton and when appropriate and relevant, other spirits.That means there has to be a balance struck.Widening the remit is an opportunity to reach new drinkers and new readers. It refocuses on the simplest and most important fact of all: this is all about flavour, it’s also about people, landscape, food, smokes, “whisky life” if you like.If that means writing of extreme blending, or walking, or of the oblique relationship between whisky and a Japanese spa then so be it. We are part of the world. Let’s celebrate it.