Saturday, May 26, 2012

Smoke & Oakum’s Gunpowder Rum

Been loitering 'round the Perth food and wine Twitter group water cooler of late? Odds are you've overheard some scuttlebutt concerning Smoke & Oakum’s Gunpowder Rum, a small-batch rum from Wellington that’s recently become available in Perth care of Leederville's International Beer Shop.

While on assignment in the New Zealand capital for Australian Gourmet Traveller, I lucked out and got to try the rum thanks to the city's highly with-it tourism body that plies visiting journos with - among other things - small bottles of the stuff. Tasty, tasty stuff, it is, all rich, sweet'n'spicy and warm with both Scoville and high-proof heat (as you'd expect from a 51% ABV spirit).

Like any shrewd seafarer, I’ve been rationing my stash since, partially because it’s a neat souvenir of a great trip, but also because I figured my chances of getting more were close to nil. Demand far outweighed supply, even in the rum’s home town: not least because (at least circa July 2011) bottles were only obtainable by bartering with creator Ben Simpson, former manager of Wellington’s truly excellent Motel cocktail bar.

According to Simpson, Smoke & Oakum’s Gunpowder Rum – something that started as just another in-house booze experiment during his six-year tenure at Motel – is a blend of rums ranging in age from two to 15 years sourced from not-New Zealand (“Sugar cane doesn't grow well here,” he says. “Also, the climate isn’t terribly conducive to proper ageing”). As the blend’s composition changes with each batch, there's no age designation. Interestingly, this practice of blended rum is – like a lot of current bar trends – a throwback to the old school when bartenders would assemble “house” rums. Something for West Australian bars to consider, maybe, especially with Ord River Rum doing its thing in Kununurra?

As the name suggests, there’s gunpowder in the mix along with chilli and other flavouring agents. To pre-empt the question that's likely on most people’s lips (it certainly was on mine): no, the gunpowder isn't dangerous. Or so Simpson tells me. The stuff he uses is black gunpowder, a combination of potassium nitrate, sulphur and charcoal that bares no relation to the (poisonous) smokeless varieties used in modern munitions. Not that the addition of gunpowder is a mere parlour trick. As well as the voodoo connection (Simpson: “…a reference to the voodoo ritual of drinking rum, gunpowder, soil from a freshly dug grave and human blood to seal a pledge. In my blend drinkers will have to provide their own blood.”) mixing gunpowder and alcohol and setting it alight was an old-fashioned way of testing a spirit’s proof.

If you’re curious but not quite ready to drop the 150-ish doubloons for a full bottle at IBS, a few bars – The Classroom and Ezra Pound – carry it, or should once stock lands on Perth shores. If you're just outright curious, there’s more reading here (the material for this post comes from email exchanges with Simpson while researching my piece last year) plus you can get at the salty dogs via Twitter and their website, too.