Rum connoisseur interview of the week:
JEFF “BEACHBUM” BERRY
Author, Tiki Expert, Historian and
Owner of Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29
1) Who is Jeff “BEACHBUM” Berry?
Beginning in 1994, I published a series of books about the long-lost recipes of the American tiki drink’s golden age, which lasted from the Depression to the Disco era. Many of these recipes were closely guarded trade secrets that had never before been published. After tracking these recipes down, I often had to “decode” them, as they were written in a number code to stop rival tiki bartenders from stealing them.
These books — and eventually my iPhone drink app “Total Tiki,” co-created with Martin Doudoroff — revealed the “lost” secret recipes that are now served in neo-Tiki bars around the world, including the Jet Pilot, Saturn, Three Dots & A Dash, and the original 1934 Zombie. Along the way, David Wondrich in Esquire magazine dubbed me “one of the instigators of the cocktail revolution,” Food & Wine called me “one of the world’s leading rum experts,” and the New York Times said I was “the Indiana Jones of Tiki drinks.”
As the 21st century Tiki Revival grew, it became time to stop writing about drinks and start serving them. So my wife Annene Kaye and I opened Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in late 2014, in the heart of the French Quarter of New Orleans.
I’ve also co-created a line of Tiki barware with Cocktail Kingdom and co-created a retail line of falernum and orgeat syrups with Adam Kolesar of Orgeat Works.
2) What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?
My first taste of Demerara rum, in the early 1990s, opened up a whole new “spirit world” to me.
3) The biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplished for the rum industry.
Bringing Tiki back — specifically, the “lost” recipes of Tiki’s 1930s-70s Golden Age that are the ultimate example of rum’s pride of place and amazing versatility in mixed drinks.
4) What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry?
Well, for one thing, I have no other marketable skills.
5) Favorite Drink + Recipe
I’m a huge fan of Plantation OFTD rum — and not just because my picture is on the bottle. These days my favorite drink is a Rum Swizzle using OFTD:
2 ounces Plantation OFTD rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce Latitude 29 Formula Falernum
Swizzle all of the above with crushed ice in a Cocktail Kingdom metal Swizzle Cup. Top up with more crushed ice, and grate nutmeg on finished drink.
6) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?
Today it’s on the cusp of a return to greatness for the rum category, due not only to the global Tiki revival but to the efforts of small rum producers jousting at the windmills of multinational liquor conglomerates. If they can prevail over the corporate marketeers currently peddling “doped,” inauthentic product, then in five years we might all be drinking better.
7) Share some of your mentors and how they have influenced you.
Watching the way Ian Burrell promotes the rum category, and the way he runs his UK Rum Fest has given me lots of life lessons.
Watching the joy and energy with which Alexandre Gabriel runs Maison Ferrand has also taught me a lot about how to approach life and work.
And I know a lot of what I know about rum because of Richard Seale and Ed Hamilton and Ben Jones, who are dedicated to bringing “honest,” unadulterated, true rum to the spirits world.
8) What 3-5 things do you have on your bucket list for the next 12 month?
The only thing on my bucket list now — aside from not actually kicking the bucket — is to finish putting together the Tenth Anniversary Expanded Edition of my book “Sippin’ Safari.” This edition will feature a new afterward taking readers through the ten years 2007-17, after “Sippin’” first appeared: the explosive tiki cocktail revolution that no-one saw coming in 2007, which was aided and abetted by the craft cocktail renaissance that grew on parallel tracks, ending with the opening of amazing new tiki cocktail bars. It also features a new preface talking about what led up to the writing of “Sippin,” covering the years 1964 to 2006. I’ve also added footnotes to the main text, and a bunch of additional recipes, both old and unpublished, and new ones from the tiki revival.
9) Any final thoughts?