Rum connoisseur interview of the week:
RENE VAN HOVEN
An internationally recognized judge, advocate, and lover of Rum.
1) Who is Rene van Hoven?
Rene was Born in the Netherlands and studied Food & Beverage at the Technical University of Amsterdam. He is a trained chef and waiter with an education in wine and spirits. In this field, he is also qualified as a teacher.
Initially, when I started to develop an interest in Rum, there wasn’t much info about it. Therefore I contacted the 2 writers that were active in those days: Edward Hamilton and Luis Ayala. After some correspondence, Luis asked me to join him in Barbados at the Rum festival in 2000 to be a judge. Since then I have seen 5 continents as a judge for Rum, Spirits, and Wine. I also visited several distilleries and even produced my own Rum when I stayed in the USA for a while.
My knowledge is now used at festivals where I sell old bottlings of Rum by the shot to visitors. This is done under the name “Rarities”. People can buy and taste Rhum the way it was made and bottled long ago that is no longer for sale. The oldest Rum even goes back to the late 1800’s; you are really tasting history then. This year several countries in Europe will welcome me with this concept, and it has already been imitated in other parts of the world.
2) What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?
My interest for Rum started when I was a teenager. I didn’t like beer (too bitter), so one day I ordered a Rum and Coke in the bar and this was the start of my Rum career. Soon the Coke was left out and I started to drink the better qualities pure. Since I often had to be in London and Paris, I bought Rhum over there that was not available in the Netherlands. This is how my and collection and knowledge grew.
3) The biggest achievement you personally feel you have accomplished for the rum industry.
My visit to Zacapa in Guatemala resulted in a Rum book: “Journey to above the clouds” and a friendship with their Master Blender Lorena. Everything about that trip and the resulting book was a dream come true. At this moment I am friends with several distillers that know I know my stuff. Perhaps I will do more specialized books like that, because almost all books these days are only the basics, and usually not fully complete.
4) What is that thing that makes you want to continue in the rum industry?
Rum is diverse and it is never dull. Today I drink a Jamaican Rum and tomorrow it is Demerara Rum maybe followed by Venezuela or Panama. People who think they know Rum because they have 10 bottles, unfortunately, know even less than the tip of the iceberg. With “Rarities” I hope to educate people and help make them a nerd like me as well. The Rum scene needs them!
5) Favorite Drink + Recipe
In Cottons Bar/Restaurant in London (used to be owned by good friend Ian Burrel) the bartender created a cocktail especially for me. It was dry, slightly herbal with some nice wood and bitter tones as well (my taste has developed also in time). It was named “Rene sans”. Alas, the bartender left and so did the recipe. Perhaps somebody can create a new one for me???
When we talk about pure Rum, I like aged Rhum from Demerara and Martinique the most, followed by Jamaica. But I am always looking for a surprise from other areas as well. A good Rum lover doesn’t have 1 favorite brand, he has several that can change from day to day, depending on his mood.
6) Where do you see the rum industry today and in the next 5 years?
I know how Rum was in the previous century and it simply was a stupid pirate drink that was nice with coke. But now Rum is seriously growing up and it is becoming more and more a competitor to Whisky. Alas, the Rum law is not following that line, since that is still on the pirate level. Many important people come up with ideas about how Rum can become the next Whisky, but they don’t know how to create that law. Their attempts are nice, but nothing more than that (yes, I also disagree with that Barbados/Italy idea).
In the future, Rum will be more and more like Whisky, but foremost because of its price. Already we see Special Rum being made for the moneyed people while by law it will stay far behind. As long as labels are not totally honest about what’s in that bottle, that pirate atmosphere will always remain. Think more like a whisky person, make it a global thing, and Rum will be the biggest in the world. But, unfortunately, I think that will take more than 5 years since the producers are not on the same line.
7) Share some (2-3) of your mentors and how they have helped you.
I didn’t have Rum mentors actually. My old boss Rob Klaase (of Cave Rokin in Amsterdam) inspired me to do more with my wine and spirits knowledge. He showed me that all products can be beautiful or terrible. You just have to try them all and pick the best for yourself.
From there I educated myself through research, tastings, trips and study. Nobody can tell me what the best Rum is since that is a personal thing.
8) What 3-5 things do you have on your bucket list for the next 12 month?
I want to travel Europe with my “Rarities” and educate people about Rum in general also. Not the easy brand ambassador stories that only talk about how great their brand is. No!!! Also some politics and different views. Things that make you think about the product.
9) Any final thoughts?
People need to work more on their personal views without simply following the big names. Think for yourself why things are as they are. Question things and educate yourself!
10) How can people learn more about you? Website? Social Media Page?
At this moment people can only find me on Facebook under my own name and with “Rarities”. Of course, they might see me at a festival here or there. People can always come to me to ask questions or do something simple like offering me a glass of Rum that they really like.