Rohan Massie on why rum is about culture, people and history

Rohan Massie

Rohan Massie is Venue Manager at Rude Boy, a Hobart bar home to more than 200 rums, and we spoke to Rohan about what he loves about the spirit, his 2019 win at the Oceania House of Angosutura cocktail competition, and yes we also talked COVID.

Rude Boy is a rum and food bar in Hobart, slinging cocktails and fried chicken with those 200 rums making for a stunning backdrop, so what is it about rum that lights Rohan’s fire?

“For me it’s not just about the Caribbean,” he told Bars and Clubs. “For me the one thing that I’ve always loved about rum, and I’ve many heated discussions with whisky enthusiasts about this, is the diversity of rum.

“Because the base product you can make it with varies so much, it’s not just about a different strain of barley, or just about terroir, it’s about culture and about how these people have made it in their history and why that came about. Because it’s got such a long global history there are so many of those stories that I just find amazing.

“But also there is a lot of kick-up at the moment about being able to add sugar and different thigs to the rum, but I think there’s a part of rum that this adds to, it adds to the diversity of rum.

“While we do have to be clear about what’s in the bottles, I think it’s important to keep some of those cornerstones of what makes rum, rum. So you can add sugar and you can have sweet rums, you can have dry rums, you can have rums that are made out of cane juice or molasses and everything in between. That’s what I find really exciting about rum, that it’s just so varied.”

That point about being clear how the rum is made and what is in the bottle, is something that Rohan says is helping to elevate the category and help rum improve itself.

“As people are being more transparent about what’s in the bottle and as there seems to be a trend towards putting less sugar in and rums becoming drier, the heated discussions are changing.

“I feel like in history there’s been a lot more column-still, Spanish style rums and people either know rums like Bundaberg, or they know Bacardi. Now as they discover the rums between those two and particularly whisky enthusiasts; by the time I get them on rum agricole which has a dry tobacco flavour, or even some of the lighter Jamaican rums, that’s when they going ‘oh, OK maybe this stuff is worth looking at’.”

But he also made an interesting point about why there may always be some whisky fans who won’t be converted over to the rum side.

“We had one of the distillers from 7K Whisky in Tassie in the bar the other day and we were trying some different stuff and he came up with an interesting point, that particularly in some of those Jamaican rums that are using wider cuts and longer ferments. A lot of those esters that rum fans tend to love, he picks up on those as faults. That’s probably a true thing, but again that’s the diversity of what rum is, if you’re after purely clean spirit then you look at something along the Bajan lines and then just next door from Jamaica you have those funky high ester, tyre fire rums.”

It was back in September 2019 that Rohan won Oceania final of the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge. He then made it out to Trinidad in February 2020 for the competition’s global final, taking home second place. Rohan also won the best Amaro di Angostura cocktail for his drink “Hidden Perfection”.

He told Bars and Clubs: “I became the Oceania Ambassador for Angostura, so I started doing a bit more travel and planning pop-ups, talking to the press more, but then came back from the globals and COVID hit and all the momentum that built up through going to Trinidad and doing masterclasses fell away.

“But still it was a huge moment for me, and something that I had been wanting to do pretty much all of my career, so it was certainly great to tick that one off bucket list.”

So how much of a hit was COVID on the bar? Rohan explained that fortunately about six months prior to COVID hitting the Rude Boy team had started looking into its online presence and had signed up with a number of delivery services.

“We were well on the way to having everything set up and if anything the shutdown saw people engage more with the food side of the venue, because we’d always been looked at as more of drinks venue, and obviously fried chicken is just a great take home food, it probably expanded our market.

“In November, December or drinks revenues came back to about what they were before COVID, but our food has remained pretty much double what we were doing before COVID.”

With that food growth the team are looking to open a ‘Rude Boy express’ venture to keep up with that demand and so the bar looks well set to continue to grow its reputation and stay strong despite the COVID challenges.

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