#rumfamily : Favourite Rum Writers-Steven James

Continuing the #rumfamily series we turn our attention to the Rum writers and first up is Steven James. Steven was one of the first #rumfamily we met having spent time with him in the Agricole room at the London Rumfest several years ago. Steven is knowledgable and generous in sharing that knowledge as well as being humble and an an all round good guy.

How long have you been blogging?
The first ‘article’ was posted to the site on the 22nd July 2012. Looking back at the content…..it’s come a long way.

What got you started/what is your background?
The site was started out of a need for me to do something non-work related. I found myself working long hours during and after the last recession and I needed a distraction and another focus. I have no background in alcohol as by trade I’m a Senior Architectural Technologist….essentially I prepare drawn information to a high level of construction detail to allow buildings in many sectors to be priced and constructed…..I also enjoy drinking….which helps.

What was your first memorable rum?
The one that stood out for me and really changed my mind, or at least took me in another direction was R.L Seale’s Finest Barbados Rum. Prior to that I had run through the list of standard bottles that other sites I read at the time were telling me that I should buy and love…..Zacapa, El Dorado 12 and 15, Ron Barcelo, Plantation XO and the like. Let’s just say that the R.L Seale’s opened my eyes.

How has the rum industry changed since you have been blogging?
As far as the amateur enthusiast is concerned, the biggest change in the Rum industry is increased availability of independent information. There is so much more information readily available directly from source.  Interaction with and connection to producers has also opened up the industry. Those with sites that have appeared in the past few years have so much more resource to draw upon as a result. Some things don’t change though. I know that I was fairly late to the writing scene in 2012 but then, as there still is today, there was so much denial of additives and so much misinformation. I lapped it up…after all, why would anyone lie to me about their products?!? I hate being made a fool of, so finding out about the independent testing of these Rums and having my dreams shattered was a big thing for me….instead of taking the denial approach taken by many in the online community, I used that information to pursue a different path.

What is the most challenging thing about blogging?
For me the most challenging thing is finding the time coupled with trying to pick the right balance of readily available Rums and also harder to obtain bottles……entry level priced and more expensive bottlings. Keeping content varied as what interests me massively may not interest other readers. Of course, the other challenging thing is the financial outlay…..especially when you come across an expensive dud. But isn’t that what the site is for? To enable people to make informed choices and to help them avoid making the same mistakes as me?

What is the most rewarding thing?
The most rewarding thing is hearing that someone has made a purchase after reading one of your reviews or engaging with you, and then being told that they enjoyed their purchase. To find people that believe in you and your palate enough to request and take on board your recommendations demonstrates a huge level of trust, and that trust should be rewarded by continuing to put out honest content. The site gives me nothing financially, its only reward is maintaining integrity and gaining a few new friends, and that’s reward enough.

Who has helped you/who do you respect in the industry?
Help wise it’s probably a collection of earlier forerunners in the UK scene such as Peter Holland at TFRS and Ian Burrell alongside other writers such as Lance Surujbally over at The Lone Caner. These guys have always been open to chats and in certain instances have afforded me access to bottles that I might never have had the opportunity to try.

I’ve arrived at the point where I have respect for those that take the time to speak to me, not talk down to me as has happened in the past. I also respect those that choose to educate and engage. If you know me you’ll be more than aware of my affection for the teams at Worthy Park, Foursquare, Hampden Estate and St Lucia Distillers….I don’t need to name names. I also respect the myriad of other writers who are doing it for the love of the spirit and the community, and not for the glory and free stuff because it takes effort, dedication and money to write and maintain a site. A few of us have a pretty close bond as likeminded individuals and along with the support that this brings comes a group that keep you grounded, and in my case, focussed.

What frustrates you about the industry?
That I have to wait so long for the new Foursquare Exceptional Cask Releases and the latest Worthy Park bottlings is not valid I suppose? I’m frustrated when people don’t take Rum seriously enough….and then you start to realise why as another bottling full of additives and spices gets released without any mention of the word ‘spiced’ and without any of these additions being noted on the label. Can you blame the consumer for not taking it seriously? This then leads to another frustration, which is when people announce that they dislike Rum because it’s so sweet. You then try and explain to them that even though they’re reeling off a list of things that they’ve sampled or purchased, they may not have actually tried Rum.

What is your best bit of advice to someone new to rum?
Try as many Rums as possible…and that includes revisiting bottles that didn’t enthuse you immediately. Don’t think that high price equates to a better product….that is not always the case. Find websites that you trust and listen to the information given. It could save you a lot of money and also uncover your favourite Rum. It is genuinely not possible to read too much on the subject of Rum both from websites and books. If you get the chance, visit as many distilleries as possible. Things just fall into place when you see these locations and the sights and aromas are sublime. Most importantly, ask lots of questions and don’t eat the bullshit.

Any unicorn/bucket list rums you haven’t tried yet?
I was so fortunate to be invited to Luca’s Rum Tasting of the Century in London last September. We got to try the Harewood 1780 Rum from Barbados….distilled 238 years ago. We also tasted a Saint James from 1885, a Bally from 1924 and the Skeldon 1978. That is pretty much bucket list for a lot of people…..including me. But I do have a list of other Rums that I’d love to try….some obvious, some not so obvious. Appleton when it was 100% pot still. Rhum Clement 1952. Saint James 250th Anniversary. Barbados 1985. Enmore 1995. Albion 1983. Blairmont 1991. La Bonne Intention 1998 and of course, Wray and Nephew 17. I’d also like to try Bacardi from the era when I’m being told that it was a flavourful proposition.

What is your proudest achievement so far?
100% it has to be winning the Golden Rum Barrel Award for the website last year. 2018 was a very bad year for me on a personal level and receiving the award was quite humbling. The most memorable moment of the evening was celebrating in the hotel lobby with my wife and a bunch of friends from all over the world. Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry, his wife Annene, Ian Burrell, Christelle Harris, Paul Yellin, a whole host of the guys from the Rum Geek Barbados Takeover, the UK Rum crowd and my two closest cohorts Wes and Ivar. The number of people hanging around the hotel lobby sofas grew as the night wore on and there were a few soreheads the next day.

If you can, what would be your top three rums ever?
My favourite Rums aren’t necessarily expensive or easily available and I have a tendency to tie a lot of things to memories. So if I had to choose a few then I suppose one of my all-time favourites is the basic, available everywhere on the island for an obscenely low price Old Brigand from Foursquare. It’s not posh, it’s not flashy but to get my first taste of it alongside the sights and sounds of our first holiday in Barbados is a memory that I just can’t shift. I only wish that I could obtain it here.

Number two would be Foursquare 2006. On the same trip to Barbados I got to enjoy a bottle of this with friends at a restaurant on the South Coast. Amazing views, conversations and memories.

Number three would perhaps be the S.B.S Hampden 2000. On the Rum Geek Takeover in 2018 we enjoyed a bottle share evening at Marco Polo with the entire group. In excess of 30 bottles were shared between us accompanying amazing food, excellent chat and a handful of cigars and it was this bottle that Morten had brought over from Denmark with him that stood out for me. So much so that thanks to Morten, I now own a bottle.

What would be your top three easily obtainable rums to have now?
Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve, Doorly’s XO and Appleton 12.

What is your drink of choice at the moment?
I’ve been drinking a lot of Corn N Oils recently.

Do you have any Predictions for the future of rum?
It’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. Hopefully the GI for Barbados will move to completion in a format that similar to the Jamaica GI does not permit sweetening. The hope is that these GI’s will be acknowledged and recognised as bringing value and protection to the diversity of the Rums produced in the two most respected and oldest Rum producing islands and that most importantly these standards of identity will be recognised and applied in the same way as they are for Whisky produced in Scotland.