I recently read the whole of David Wondrich's new book, Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl, and reread quite a bit of it to boot. As a consequence I have been serving punch at some of my poker games. I can't provide a succinct summary of the book, which includes colorful history, recipes, personal anecdotes, tips, jokes, and ingenious wordplay galore; suffice it to say that it evokes a bygone era and instructs us in how to bring it closer to the present day. Food and drink should be prepared and enjoyed with a consciousness of its history, and this book does for the history of distilled alcoholic beverages what Ned Sublette's Cuba and Its Music did for the history of the drum--makes it come alive by focusing on a specific and rather wild instance of its use. Nobody can evoke the taste of liquor like Dave (I use his first name because he's an old friend). Here's his evocation of how rum used to taste:
"Hogo" was a term of art in the rum trade since at least the beginning of the eighteenth century, when John Oldmixon used it in his history of the Americas. Deriving from the term for the "high taste" of rotting meat, it could certainly be used pejoratively. But just as one cultivated the haut goût in pheasants and other game birds by hanging them for days before cooking them, so the hogo in rum came to be appreciated and even, to a degree, encouraged.
Rarely, though, by modern rum-makers. There are exceptions: Brazilian cachaça and the rhum agricoles of Martinique display its characteristic sulfurous "twang" in spades (as does, for that matter, Batavia arrack). But most rum-makers from Britain's former Caribbean colonies have learned to suppress it. That's a shame, since their rums grew up with Punch and were formerly precisely the kind Punch demands. Something that can heave itself up to its feet; shake off all those layers of citrus, spice, and the "element"; and say in a strong, firm voice, "Damn right, I am somebody." Rum.