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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Rum on the East Coast

    I am in St. John's, Newfoundland for a conference but have some time to walk around. Nice older port town, mostly late-Victorian (rebuilt after a fire in 1892) despite its roots going back to the 1500's. Reminiscent too of certain New England towns, British provincial coastal cities such as Brighton or Portsmouth and certain Caribbean towns. Some of the old-style grocers and restaurants remind me of similar places in Britain or the Caribbean, e.g. the general store with its long-planked floor and variety of goods on sale and adjacent "common room". Locals speak an Irish-flavored English, apparently from the large Irish immigration here in the 1800's although I'm told Newfoundland has a number of regional accents. Some are influenced by a particular area having been settled by, say, the English (these English came mostly from Devon and Cornwall).

    The main drinks are rum and beer. The liquor stores are well-stocked but there is little bourbon (just Wild Turkey, Jim Beam White Label, and Jack of course). Newfoundland is in fact rum central. They sell rum here which is marked 100 proof 57.1% abv. I.e., they are using the old British Sykes system (in U.S. proof this is 114, as a version of Old Grandad is). This is a remnant of Empire, of old British practices that still hang on in places like this. Charming old regional town, with more bars per square foot than I have seen anywhere else. Apparently in the bars at night there is old Celtic/British music and it is party party party. A lass in a liquor store told me the locals favor Lamb's rum, which comes in different shades, and rum from Jamaica (including Appelton) but there is rum here from many Caribbean and other countries. She said "professors and people like that" buy the expensive aged rums (read a smilicon here) and people who want the most bang for their buck buy the high proof rums, implying (politely) many of these are what we call in Canada rubbies. I hadn't made my selection yet but later chose two high proof rums so I could have tangible evidence that the old British Sykes proof system is alive and well in a part of remote Canada anyway. I don't (I think) look like a rubby but she saw me walk out with my choice and must have wondered why in heck I'd buy that.

    Gary

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Rum on the East Coast

    Postscript: a favorite amongst the rums in St. John's is Screech. Despite the odd name, this rum, imported by Newfoundland Liquor Corporation in bulk from Jamaica and bottled here under this moniker, is a rich medium-dark rum of depth and quality. I found it much better than the others and also oddly familiar somehow but couldn't figure out why until I happened to nose the glass sometime after it was emptied. It smelled very much like a glass that had held bourbon. I can't prove it but am almost sure this Screech is aged in ex-bourbon barrels. I know that many rums from the Caribbean are aged in barrels formerly used to hold bourbon or Tennessee whiskies, and Screech must be one of them. At first I thought Screech was the name given by locals to alcohol swished out of barrels that used to hold rum and somehow the name got applied to this commercial bottled Caribbean rum but apparently that is not so, the name was bestowed on the rum in the 1940's when American servicemen based here were said to let out a yowl after drinking what is now called Screech straight. At the time, there was no particular care given to ascertaining the proof of the imported rum - it was bottled and sold as is, so some of it was Sykes strength or even higher and for those not used to it, it made an impression. I am not sure this story is any more true than the one about barrel swish having been called Screech but there you go, this like many naming issues is one of those things that can't be pinned down for sure. Anyway a bottle of the smooth rich bourbon-influenced (I think) Screech may end up on the next Gazebo table, as a genuine Canadian product (one that has become such by long importation and the distinctive name) and it will make a nice change of pace from the whiskey.

    Gary

  3. #3
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    Re: Rum on the East Coast

    This made for an interesting read Gary, thanks for sharing! My brother-in-law is going to school in Atigonish, Nova Scotia, which sounds like it has a similar celtic-influenced culture, although I'm not sure about the Carribbean part. I may be driving him up to school in the fall, and if so, I'll be sure to check out the rum selection.

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Rum on the East Coast

    Hi, thank you. Yes, the traditions in Nova Scotia are very similar to those in Newfoundland. Certainly rum is popular in Nova Scotia, too, and is equally an inheritance of the old Colonial trade with the Caribbean. Halifax has a number of restaurants and bars near the water where the old atmosphere subsists. One difference from Newfoundland is Nova Scotia is more "American" in that it attracted many settlers from the U.S. who were the Loyalists, i.e., those who chose not to join the fight for independence and were rewarded by Britain with land and opportunities in Canada. The Loyalists did not penetrate to Newfoundland, or very little. You will enjoy your stay. All the Maritimes (as we call them) are lovely places.

    Gary

 

 

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