Northern California – A Compulsive Rum Club’s Aficionado
1) Who is Brian McDonald a.k.a Chiwito?
A newly retired longshore worker who now has more time to spend either going to places that are south, warm, and on the water, or pursuing hobbies that fake such an environment, such as tiki bars, waterfront restaurants, cruises, parrot head events, Rum, more Rum, and decades ago Beach Boys fandom.
I don’t actually drink. What I do is attend lots of rum tasting events and compulsively finish rum lists at bars that have them. I drag other rum enthusiasts to rum events, and get drinking companions competitively involved in finishing the lists. At Forbidden Island, the first of the bars where I methodically repeat the tasting lists, doing more than one list was not a thing until I made it so. Four people had finished it twice, but under special circumstances, and it wasn’t going to happen again. Now, more than a dozen of us are doing multiple lists regularly, to the benefit of the bottom line at three local rums bars and all the supply chain. Not much of a huge achievement, but I don’t claim to be more than a humble consumer. I have sparked a few rum drinkers by bringing them to WIRSPA events and the like, as well as by organizing tastings and a couple of distiller events in my home bar.
3) What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?
I fell into love of rum backwards. I got into all the other aspects of “south, warm, and water” life listed above. All the time I spent in tiki bars and on islands and the like led me to be surrounded by rum cocktails and by people who appreciated them. I got hooked. That in turn led me to be equally surrounded by fine craft rums and people who appreciated them as well. Once I started tasting, I got hooked.
4) What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry?
Great opportunities to learn about the spirit and the people and techniques involved in making it. In addition, it gives me a good excuse to book trips to more tropical islands.
5) Favorite Rum Drink + Recipe?Favorite drink is definitely the coquito. It is a Puerto Rico traditional Christmas season drink, equivalent to eggnog. There are dozens of classic recipes. Some use egg yolks; most have no egg. They use varying proportions of coconut cream (or occasionally coconut milk), evaporated or condensed milk or both, vanilla, cinnamon, sometimes nutmeg and/or cloves. I’ve tried the whole range and love them all.
6) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?
The industry today seems to be struggling to hold on to its market share, even as new and interesting products keep arriving. Best first guess is that the same trend continues, perhaps with some upswing as more people try some of the wide range of craft rums. One major wild card is the artificial aging technology developed by Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits/Rational Spirits. If it works as well as it seems to, and if it can be well marketed, it could make a huge difference. New startup distilleries and those developing new products can bring exciting rums, with all the character of well aged juice, to market almost immediately. Existing producers can duplicate the taste of their aged products with far less investment of time and space, as well as far less loss to angels share.
I don’t know if I have learned enough or accomplished enough to have had mentors, but I certainly discovered a lot about rums from Brody Culpepper and am trying to learn from Josh Miller. I’ve tried to learn all I can from Bryan Davis about his technology and about the styles of rum, and whiskey, he has replicated.Most importantly of all, my first time through the rum list at Forbidden Island I was guided and taught by their master bartender Susan Eggett. Besides teaching me so much about rums, she also was the person who first introduced me to the coquito.
8) What 3-5 things do you have in your bucket list for the next 12 months?
Given that I so compulsively finish lists, my short term goal is to get a black plaque at Smugglers Cove (for tasting 500 fine rums). I also have more to learn and more new rums available at Forbidden Island and Longitude, and at events such as the California the other two bars where I taste rums and work lists. Longer term, I definitely have to get to St. Lucia and visit the distillery that makes Chairman’s Reserve. The also make Marigot Bay flavored rums, and I have been told by Dave “Rum Advocate” Russell that my collection of 70 different coconut rums is not comprehensive until I have tried that one.
9) Any last words?
Given the fact that I am not much of a noticer, my last words will probably be something like “huh; what truck?”.
I am on facebook as Brian R. McDonald, but people may not learn much unless they are in need of political snark and derivative humor.