Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Smells Like... Victory - Man O' War Gunpowder Rum

I'll be the first to admit that I gathered considerable booty this Christmas, but I'm sure I wasn't the only soul on the Seven Seas to decide a little self gifting was in order too. It was fortunate that the trade winds brought me back to my homeland of New Zealand - a land that in its infancy was haven for scofflaws, scoundrels, and all sorts of rum toting reprobates. Fortunately, a few of these decrepit fellows still remain.

Merry Christmas to me - Man O'War Gunpowder Rum

Ben Simpson, bartender extraordinaire at Wellington's Motel, is the creator of a liquor curio that I obtained on my recent visit. Labelled Man O'War Gunpowder Rum  it's based on the sort of stuff whalers, pirates and rogues may have been drinking when Captain Cook first circumnavigated New Zealand. It's a proprietary blend of Caribbean and American rums, tobacco, chillies and black gun powder - the sort of stuff you would have used to charge your blunderbuss - made to an 18th Century recipe.

The rum has recently received international attention in the UK's CLASS magazine and The Atlantic - aye it's fine stuff and well past time I got hold of a bottle or two to be sure. Unfortunately it ain't easy to get hold of - you need to barter for product should you wish to get your hands on it. It's not for sale... yet.

Despite the near toxic sounding ingredients this wee dram makes for an intriguing drink. It ain't for everyone, it's true, but it's beverage that will make you 'argh' with the most scurvy ridden of pirates. I kind of like to think of it as the 'Brown Brown' of the liquor world.

The nose starts off sweet - almost maple syrup like before you're hit with sulphurous notes - the smell of discarded fireworks after a grand Guy Fawkes celebration. The palate too has a sweet-soft entry belying the building heat which soon develops from the chilli content. It doesn't explode, however, but gives way to more complex savoury, powder keg, prickly and metallic flavours. The finish is dry and lingering with chewy cigar-like tones and the tingling of an imminent fire-fight.      

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  1. Just been challenged on the name by Man'O'War wines. Name change imminent.

  2. This stuff is awesome.. Have a few bottles in my house at all times!

  3. That's right the new name is Smoke & Oakum's Gunpowder Rum.

  4. The notion of adding sulfur (via "gunpowder" contradicts over a hundred years of copper distillation (primarily to remove it) is questionable (I won't address the notion of drinking sulfur and carcinogenic charcoal).

    What's much worse is the tobacco that is also infused into the rum. There has been much published about this harmful practice. The basis of these many articles includes these:

    1. Smoking tobacco is far less harmful, as the many carcinogens and nicotine go up as smoke and are most exhaled.

    2. Infusing tobacco into spirits is much worse, as most of the carcinogens are not exhaled, but are absorbed into the spirit, consumed and spend a considerable time in the blood stream before finally being processed by the liver.

    3. Estimates vary but indicate that the delivery of carcinogens of tobacco into the body may vary from 100 to 300 times more than smoking.

    4. Thus a shot of such infused spirits might be the equivalent of smoking say two cigarettes. An infused rum carries increased risks of contracting cancer throughout the mouth, digestive system and throughout the body.

    If the tobacco used is cigar tobacco, the problem is even worse due to the fermentation of this tobacco which produces even more harmful carcinogens (as if cigarette tobacco was not bad enough).

    Not good. The individual who has created this product has not stated the amount of sulfur, charcoal, carcinogens and nicotine contained in the product.

    Apparently it is not yet tested, but is being sold nonetheless. It is my firm recommendation that you avoid being the test vehicle...

  5. Hi Cap'n Jimbo,

    I might take the liberty of answering some of your concerns on behalf of the folks at Smoke & Oakum. Though I'm certain if you contact them directly they would be willing to discus any of this with you.

    I see that this a concern for you on a number of online forums and appreciate your to dedication to this cause! I'm hardly an advocate of smoking though I admit that I do enjoy the odd cigar myself. I do believe people should be able to make informed choices about what they put into their body and would rather have individuals make this decision as opposed to legislators deciding for us. But I'm getting side tracked...

    If you'd ever tried Smoke & Oakum's gunpowder rum, apart from possibly having to acknowledge that it's delicious, you'd realise that you'd rarely ever consume more than an ounce or two in one sitting. I doubt from the flavour profile that even as much as half a cigar's worth of tobacco is used in each batch (I believe it's pipe tobacco too?). With 23 ounces in the bottle... well you get my point. Moderation is the key and I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone to consume a bottle of this in one sitting!

    It is designed as an authentic throwback to a traditional (though most likely not healthier) pirate rum. It's an oddity, a curio, and will certainly never be mainstream - nor do I believe does it aim to be.

    Regardless of what side of this debate you sit on tobacco infused rums are at best a trivial concern for public health. In an era where science can prove that every breath you take will shorten your life, and that starting your car will hasten the onset of global warming and the decay of civilisation as we know it we should be able to take pleasure from such creative indulgences as this imaginative rum.

  6. @Cap'n Jimbo's Rum Project:

    Further to Mr McGoram's humanist response I would also like to add a couple of thoughts.

    Cpt. Jimbo begins "The notion of adding sulfur (via "gunpowder" contradicts over a hundred years of copper distillation (primarily to remove it) is questionable (I won't address the notion of drinking sulfur and carcinogenic charcoal)."

    The mysterious Cpt. Jimbo should perhaps do a little more work on basic chemistry and distillation.

    Distillation has never been about removing sulfur/sulphur - it has always been about making alcohol (and for a little longer than a mere hundred years).
    Sulphur derivatives are a common component in many alcoholic beverages (primarily as a preservative, for instance in liqueurs derived from fresh fruit, and also in wine). Far from being bad for you, elemental sulphur is a necessary component of natural human functions such as the formation of proteins and enzymes, and the maintenance of healthy hair and skin.
    An egg has more sulphur in it than an entire bottle of Gunpowder Rum - as can be easily apprehended by the lack of a 'rotten egg' smell with regard to the rum (which humans can detect at the low concentration of 100pts/million) - the same can not be said for some commercially available fruit syrups.

    Charcoal/carbon (from wood) - is the opposite of carcinogenic - it is one of the most stable elements hence its use in 'carbon-dating' - not forgetting that living things are carbon-based. Charcoal is also regularly used in rather large doses when people have ingested poisons. A strong solution of charcoal and water is regularly used in A & E rooms to save people's lives due to its ability to absorb toxins and acids.

    The lack of knowledge Capt. Jimbo exhibits regarding these basic facts of chemistry call into doubt the accuracy of the rest of his post.