From A (Angostura) to Z (Zacapa): Toeing the line in a new kind of Rum Diary

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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“Happy,” I muttered, trying to pin the word down. But it is one of those words, like Love, that I have never quite understood. Most people who deal in words don’t have much faith in them and I am no exception – especially the big ones like Happy and Love and Honest and Strong. They are too elusive and far too relative when you compare them to sharp, mean little words like Punk and Cheap and Phony. I feel at home with these, because they’re scrawny and easy to pin, but the big ones are tough and it takes either a priest or a fool to use them with any confidence.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary

Even in the wildest of my younger days, I never quite mirrored the rambunctious lifestyle of Paul Kemp, the journalist narrator of Hunter S. Thompson’s outrageous, booze-filled comedic romp The Rum Diary but I do share his profession and I am drawn to the same famous Caribbean spirit.

And while managing to avoid the uproarious carnage that Kemp (played by Johnny Depp in the 2011 film of his friend Thompson’s book) inflicts upon himself, my pursuit of good rum has occasionally landed me in rather deeper water than that within the goldfish bowl from which a rottenly hungover Kemp hilariously attempts to rehydrate himself after an excess of rum-soaked, drug-ridden revelry.

With most of my liquor stocks still back in the UK in the safe keeping of my older son (as in a baby lamb being safe after being let into a lion’s den), I decided last week that it was time to top up my dark rum stocks. The options at my local Fusion supermarket and even at my trusty Watson’s Wine store were disappointing, so I headed into a relatively new addition to the local Discovery Bay shopping line-up, Havana Cigars & Fine Spirits. With a Cuban-themed name like that, it wouldn’t disappoint, I figured.

The friendly assistant duly directed me to a small corner dedicated to premium dark rums. On the near top shelf was a Brugal 1888 from Dominican Republic (HK$988 or about US$126), and the same house’s beautifully packaged Siglo de Oro (HK$1,300/US$166), the latter alongside an Angostura 1787 15 Years-Old at HK$1,200/US$155).

All likely to be good choices, I thought, but given the lofty price-points I decided to check them out back at home on the excellent website. I duly took this photo of the 1888…

and then I took this one…

Now it might look like an image of a well-aged rum swirling around a glass but it isn’t. It is the blur snapped at the precise moment I dropped my phone. Like Christian Ronaldo, goal poacher extraordinaire, I stretched out my foot to stop the phone crashing onto the hard wooden floor. Mistake. A painful one. The floor was spared, my phone saved. My hallux, otherwise known as my big toe, and protected by a pitifully thin Nike runners covering, was not.

Stopping only to pick up my phone and this time get a proper shot of the Siglo de Oro and Agnostura 1787, I limped my way painfully out of the store, eventually learning my fate after two nights of excruciating pain.

The upshot, confirmed via x-ray, was that my digitus pedis primus (big toe), more well-aged than any dark rum you will ever find, had developed a large crack that was as neat as a Havana Club poured straight. Not quite Grand Canyon-esque but alarming nonetheless, the crack had appeared in the all-important distal phalange, one of 14 phalanges (a posh word for bone, as in ‘I’ve got a phalange to pick with you’ or ‘My favourite red wine is Côte de Phalange’).

“It was a maddening image and the only way to whip it was to hang on until dusk and banish the ghosts with rum” – Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary

And while my doctor prescribed a nightly dose of Ultracet (tramadol and acetaminophen), chased down by the rather lighter Celebrex during the daytime to deal with the pain, I asked myself, what would Paul Kemp do in my circumstances?

Well, yes, given his partiality for hallucinogens, he might actually be drawn by the description of Ultracet – ‘tramadol is a pain medicine similar to an opioid (sometimes called, a narcotic). Acetaminophen is a less potent pain reliever that increases the effects of tramadol’ – but more than likely he would turn first to rum.

And so, maintaining Kemp’s (and Thompson’s) fearless tradition of investigative journalism, and now firmly grounded at Moodie Davitt Asia HQ, I went online to the excellent website and discovered a great range of rums that would certainly prove just what the Doctor (if he was played by Hunter S. Thompson) ordered.

I settled for an old favourite, Ron Zacapa Centenario Sistema Solera 23 from Guatemala (produced by Industrias Licoreras de Guatemala and distributed and marketed by Diageo), a tad sweet for many rum critics but to me a great sipping rum (HK$830/US$106), and Diplomatico Riserva Exclusiva, an outstanding rich, textured and creamy rum from Venezuela (and at HK$380/US$49 an absolute steal).

And you know what? I feel better already. So much so that I have set a personal goal of being back on my running machine before both bottles have been emptied. Heck, with all this new-found medical expertise allied to my current condition I’m even pondering the launch of a niche B2B title called Big Toe Weakly. But recovery might not be as straightforward as I hope. As Hunter S. Thompson might have said, if he was writing about toes rather than words, I feel at home with these, because they’re scrawny and easy to pin, but the big ones are tough and it takes either a priest or a fool to use them with any confidence.”

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