So many unique spirits are produced far from the shark filled, reef bound seas of the Oceanic South Pacific. It seems like I’m constantly reading about a new candyfloss vodka in New York, Mezcal slipping over the border into SoCal or tiny batch production of frozen vacuum gin.
The candyfloss vodka I can do without, but the other stuff just pisses me off. It’s with a smug look, then, that I write about Man O’War Gunpowder Rum.
A one man operation in Wellington, blending rums, infusing with chili, tobacco and real old timey muzzle loading musket powder. Man O’War has a two week maturation before the dregs are removed and the product wrapped and readied for sale. (Early brews were delivering a heavy blow to any foolish enough to take the last of the bottle, an extreme laxative effect had the poor souls “running the Spanish Main”. Ben Simpson, of Motel Bar in Wellington is behind the brand, and while his cottage methods mean standards vary, (each bottle is described ‘unique’) the Gunpowder Rum has developed a fast following around the seven seas.
Gunpowder Rum harks back to a time when the naval ration was ‘proved’ by the men of the line, to check that the officers had not bought cheap or badly distilled product or worse, watered the spirit down. High proofs with methanol present would flame and flare, revealing their danger. Rum with too much water would hold no flame at all and well made rum would hold a flame that burned true.
While gunpowder varied wildly and means that the test would be open to wide interpretation, it makes for a colourful and engaging legend. As I’ve said before, if you have to choose between truth and the legend, choose the legend.
Certainly it doesn’t require much imagination to think of other ways Gunpowder and Rum might have come to taken together. Either through smuggling both as contraband or use as antiseptic and preservative on the long sea passage, or maybe like the soldiers of Sierra Leone, they mixed narcotic intoxicant with the black powder simply because between those two things was life, and altogether not much else.
The rum itself is strongly flavoured and adds the ‘funk’ that many old books cite as the epiphany Jamaican Rum brought to drinks, tiki styled or else. If like me you like a tale, it adds much more than taste. Making Grog with gunpowder really feels all the more authentic.
Ben has not stopped at a single product line. In 2012, the first bottles of Powder Keg will be available, after a three year maturation on a bed of soil taken from a cemetery and used in a bloody voodoo ritual. Methinks it does not pay to be a fowl of Ben Simpson.
If a bottle you must have, the Man O’War facebook page is probably your best bet to arrange safe passage. Usually a complex system of barter is required.
I’ll post a couple of the signature cocktails Ben has come up with here in the next couple of days too.