"Funky" Rum

Personally, I'm a dark rum guy. There-is-rum-in-my-veins is a distinct feeling, simultaneous with ordinary intoxication but quite different from it - almost as if rum and alcohol were separate drugs entirely. It is a reset for the mind, a brief detachment from the body followed by a hurtling-back-into-it that heightens your sense of everything around you; a glimpse, perhaps, of the sublime.

People who drink at a certain level often acquire these kinds of tastes. Most of my friends who are anything-people are whiskey-people, some are gin-people, and all of them are surprised to find out that I'm a rum-person. There aren't a lot of rum-people, at least not around here, and finding one is always a bit like meeting another Red Sox fan in New York City: you're friends right away, regardless of everything else about you.

If you're into dark rums, at some point you've probably heard the siren song of so-called "funkiness," a trait associated with Jamaican rums in particular. I'll be honest, I kind of like this description. For me, a funky rum is one with a bunch of unexpected and hard-to-place notes: floral maybe, or fruity, but not perfectly either of those; still somehow clearly organic. It's at once fun to play the what-is-this game, and liberating to know you'll never have all the answers. Like going to a conceptual party at an artistic stranger's house. Funky.

There is, however, a more technically-appropriate word available for this trait, "hogo," which I've just learned today. Paul, of The Cocktail Chronicles (and founder of Mixology Monday before handing it off to our local friend Fred Yarm), has an old post about it that I happened to stumble upon.

And what a post! With a call-out to Boston's own contemporary classic, the Periodista; an old recipe from Eastern Standard that uses four of my favorite ingredients; and a (fond) description of the rum I keep for sipping purposes, Smith and Cross Jamaican, as "cane-spirit fetish porn where hogo is concerned." Honestly, this post is mostly an excuse to reprint that line - I started writing it before I'd even finished reading Paul's.

So what is hogo, really? Apparently, it's a corruption of "haut goût," an old French cooking term for the distinctive flavor of a game meat that has been slightly and deliberately decomposed. (This, by the way, is me citing Paul citing David Wondrich's Punch, in which he quotes a West Indian planter character from a nineteenth-century novel by Grant Allen. So if you repeat this information, y'know, be sure to cite your sources.)

Why would we want our rum to taste like rotting meat, then? Well, we wouldn't, exactly. At least, I assume we wouldn't - I've never had any sort of haut goût meat, to the best of my knowledge, and I can't say for sure what it tastes like. But human beings have gotten pretty good at massaging the decomposition process to produce desirable results. That is literally what fermentation is, and we wouldn't have yogurt, vinegar, leavened bread, or any kind of alcohol without it.

In other words, "hogo" seems to be that set of flavor notes best described as the taste of fermentation itself, rather than the notes we'd pick out by association as banana or violet. In practice, the yeast is responsible for all of these, but it's those flavors most unapologetically its own - the "gamey, squirrelly, glandular musk," to borrow one more phrase from Paul - that come through as the hogo or funky notes.

Why on earth have I been looking into all this today, in particular? Because I'm gearing up for a special Patriots' Day lesson on Boston cocktails, including the Periodista, and boning up on my rum facts. If you'd like to hear more rum facts, whiskey facts, or Boston facts, come to the lesson!