Renowned Rum Writer & Columnist
1) Who is Wayne Curtis?
Wayne Curtis writes about spirits and cocktails, which he began doing in earnest about a decade ago. Not coincidentally, this was when his book, “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails” was released by Crown Publishing. He was attracted to the topic because of a simple question — why did rum keep cropping up in early American history? — and subsequently became fascinated by rum’s later history and role in cocktail culture.
From 2008 to 2014 he wrote the “Drinks” column for The Atlantic magazine, and is currently a columnist with Imbibe magazine. He also has written for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes Life, Punch, Sunset, Bon Appetit, and Travel & Leisure online. He lives in New Orleans.
2) Biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplish for the rum industry.
Bringing back the loggerhead. In researching early rum, I read about a colonial-era drink called flip made with rum, beer, molasses and stirred with a red-hot piece of iron, called a loggerhead. I had one made by an ironmonger, and set about experimenting, and taught how to use it a couple of times at Tales of the Cocktail. Then just a few months ago, I walked into a bar in Louisville on a snowy night and was offered a flip made with a piece of iron heated on a catering stove. That was somehow gratifying.
3) What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?
When I started researching the book 12-13 years ago, I sampled a bit of rum here and there, and wasn’t all that impressed by what I was tasting. Then I brought back a bottle of Havana Club Reserva from Canada, and thought, wow, that’s actually really good. And I expanded my search, which hasn’t stopped since.
4) What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry? ?
It’s a wide open category — lots of options for flavor profiles and approaches. That keeps it interesting. Lately, I’ve been impressed by US craft distilleries and their approaches to rum. I think rum is way ahead of whiskey when it comes to new producers — some have put out bottles with a quality matches up and sometimes exceeds with the best of the traditional distilleries on the islands and the Spanish Main. That’s pretty exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with it.
5) Favorite Rum Drink + Recipe?
I’m a classics guy, and like classic cocktail variations made with a full-bodied rum, like Appleton or a craft rum like Privateer. I have a couple of go-to drinks: when it’s cool, the rum old fashioned (2 oz rum, 1/4 simple syrup, a few dashes of bitters, big orange twist), and in summer the ‘ti punch (2 oz 100 proof white agricole rum; dash of simple syrup, penny-sized lime twist, one large ice cube.)
6) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?
As mentioned, upstart craft distilleries are coming on strong. The traditional distillers are paying a bit more attention to aging and quality, as the super premium market is expanding while value brands decline. So we’ll see more high-end niche products, both from craft and the major producers, like special barrel-finished rums, and more high-ester variations.
7) Share some (2-3) of your mentors and how they have help you.
Early on, Michael Delevante (a Canadian consultant) sat me down and explained how distilling worked — that was invaluable in getting me started, and I’ve always been thankful for his time. Ed Hamilton (the minister of rum) remains an invaluable source of information — always opinionated, but his opinions are invariably well-informed. Luis Ayala has been helpful in guiding me through some of the more technical aspects of rum production. And Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (author and New Orleans restaurateur) and Martin Cate (from Smuggler’s Cove in SF) have great palates and know what works in classic tiki drinks. I’ve learned a lot from them.
7) What 3-5 things do you have in your bucket list for the next 12 months?
I just got back last week from touring distilleries in Jamaica, so that’s been crossed off my list. I’d still like to get to Haiti to see the distillery at Barbancourt. And I’d love to return to Cuba to see how rum and cocktail culture has evolved in the 12 years since I visited.
9) Any last words?
Rum is about to become the next big thing! Actually, I’ve said that repeatedly, as have many others, for the past decade. The less exciting news is that rum already is the next big thing, although it’s done it more stealthily and quietly than anyone anticipated.