Friday, March 13, 2009

Things to Read, Drinks to Drink: Kevin A. González's Cultural Studies, Rum, and the Kill-Divil


Kevin A. González's Cultural Studies, Rum, and the Kill-Divil

YSC friend and all-around excellent human being Kevin A. González happens to be a hell of a writer (and, as luck would have it, a hell of a drinker). His first book, Cultural Studies, is just out from Carnegie Mellon University Press, and it's an incredibly smart and beautiful collection of poems. González's observations are serious and frequently hilarious without ever being overstuffed or maudlin. He's a writer capable of both incredible lyricism and insight, and—as in his fiction—the poems in Cultural Studies make you laugh before they punch you in the gut.

The book!


It would be very difficult to discuss González's work without also discussing imperialism and the odd and controversial political status of González's home, Puerto Rico. And while I'm woefully unqualified to discuss the historical and political ramifications of European colonization and cultural hegemony in the Caribbean, I'm vaguely more qualified to discuss one of the island's most famous exports, rum.

The author (and his drink)!


As any spring breaker could tell you, Rum is traditionally a well-spiced liquor with a sweet nose and a strong, sharp finish that's characteristic of liquors with high alcohol contents. What most of those drunken morons won't know is that the sweetness comes from the sugar cane byproducts from which the liquor is made (essentially fermented and distilled molasses and sugarcane juice). Early versions of sugarcane-based hail from as far off as China and India, and have been made for centuries. Fast-forward from the 14th to the 17th century, and the various rum-like liquors that had been developed in the Caribbean had become quite popular in the colonies and Britain. Kill-Divil, an early variant, was supposedly a harsh, unfiltered, grainy liquor that sucked to sip on.

The production of rum required a significant imports of sugarcane and slave labor, and the drink's popularity is evidenced by early distilleries on what is now Staten Island and in Boston. This more refined version of the liquor was so popular, in fact, that George Washington reportedly had a cask of Barbados rum at his inauguration.

And then came wheat and the American whiskey industry. Because wheat (as opposed to sugarcane) grew well in the colonies, it became cheaper and more efficacious to produce wheat-based liquors than sugarcane based liquors and by the early 19th century, whiskey had taken a serious crap on the rum industry. That incredible shift left a major opportunity, however, for Caribbean producers to capitalize on what demand was left for rum. Spain, sensing an opportunity to build a solid export industry from their colonies, offered a prize for the improvement of the rum-making process. Enter Don Facundo Bacardi Masso, who founded his company in 1862. Improved methods of distillation, filtration and cask aging revolutionized the industry in the Caribbean and led to the high-quality rums we know today.

The booze! (Some awesome, vintage bottles of 19th century Jamaican rum.)


Cuba, Barbados, Martinique, Jamaica and Puerto Rico became famous for their rums, but Puerto Rico has come to the head of the pack of Caribbean rum producers. Currently, Puerto Rico is the largest exporter of Rum, and is home to the largest Bacardi distillery in the world. It's also home to Barrilito and Don Q., and is particularly known for the production of silver rums.

We leave you with a cocktail that bears the name of that gross, grainy granddaddy of rum, the Kill-Divil Cocktail (from That's the Spirit):

The drink!



The Kill-Divil

Ingredients:
* 4-5 pinches freshly-grated ginger
* 1/2 oz. honey (or to taste)
* 1 1/2 oz. Don Q. silver rum
* 1 oz. brandy

Mixing instructions:
In an Old Fashioned glass, stir all ingredients with a little water until honey is dissolved, add cracked ice, invert into shaker and give the mixture a few hard shakes. Serve in the Old Fashioned glass with a twist of lemon.

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