Chillies (or Chili peppers) are an intense flavour additive common to many culinary traditions around the world. Their cultivation in the Americas has been traced back as far as 7500BC, but it was not until after Columbus' second round trip to the new world that Chillies began to be grown elsewhere (often following in the wake of Portugese ships and colonial adventures).
When combined with our rum, chillies give the kind of blast of flavour and heat one would expect - opening the palate to other flavours within the rum, extending the finish, and giving the drinker a jolt. It also gives the rum a distinctive character that shines through in any cocktail concoction.
Chillies' inclusion in distilled spirits is a traditional practice from earlier centuries when the intention was to imply greater alcoholic 'kick' in a spirit. It is in some ways linked to the psychology that 'if it tastes raw then it must be the real deal' - In the time of snake-oil merchants this belief led to the creation of various miracle cures that were made intentionally foul in flavour to imply they were more 'efficacious' than their competitors.
"What's that you say madam? It has a bite like a rattlesnake, your eyes are a-watering, you've come over in a great sweat, and your innards are in turmoil? Ah, well. That just shows that Doctor Elijah Temerity Jones' Patented Longevity Extender (and general household purgative) is taking hold! You will assuredly live longer than your neighbours..."
S & O's Gunpowder Rum makes no such claims for its use of chillies - but we do have a bias towards organically grown chillies from the Far North of New Zealand, which is at least good for the environment.
Blackbeard the Pirate (who's real name was Edward Teach) is the poster-boy for S&O's Gunpowder Rum. He is famed for, amongst other things, his consumption of an entire flagon of rum sprinkled with black gunpowder, consumed just before launching himself into battle.
But the consumption of black gunpowder as an additive in both food and drink has been with us for a long time.
Famous examples include Napoleon's chief medical officer who recommended a broth of horse meat seasoned with gunpowder for invalid soldiers.
It was also common practice during the colonial era and the ages of exploration for individuals to make jerky with gunpowder. These intrepid adventurers would, while 'living off the land', bring down animals with their rifles. Afterwards to preserve any leftover meat they would cut it into strips, rub it with gunpowder, and then hang it from branches to dry and cure. In parts of South Africa and the continental US this tradition survives.
Gunpowder has also been part of the human diet in a more indirect fashion since the Medieval age.
Black gunpowder is comprised of just three ingredients: charcoal (derived from trees for the most part), sulphur, and potassium nitrate.
Alone these ingredients are innocuous, but when combined their explosive force was enough to end the Medieval period and propel humanity into the 'Modern Age'.
(In many ways gunpowder was to be the defining catalyst for world events for over four hundred years until the rise of industrialisation and also the structuring of human knowledge into the so-called 'exact sciences' of chemistry, biology, physics and the like.)
These three ingredients of gunpowder, either together or singly, are to be found in much of the food and drink that we consume.
Potassium Nitrate (also known as saltpeter and sometimes potash) is a mineral salt that has long been used as a means to preserve food - most particularly cured meats such as salami. It has also seen much service as an alternative to table salt - it was once common in earlier centuries to see three shakers on a dinner table : one for pepper, one for regular salt, and one for saltpeter. (potassium nitrate should not be confused with potassium nitrite - these are two related but different mineral salts)
Sulphur, the next ingredient of black gunpowder, is in many food items and forms a small but essential component of the human diet. Stout, for instance, has long been promoted as a beer that is almost a meal in itself, and it has a high sulphur content. Sulphur is also present in vegetables and fruit - strawberries, as another example, are high in sulphur. And then there are eggs... one has only to smell a slightly past it egg to note the presence of sulphur.
please note: for a small portion of the population sulphur and its derivatives are an allergen - these people should observe the same circumspection when partaking of Gunpowder Rum as when consuming wines, syrups, and liqueurs preserved with sulphites -
And finally charcoal...
Charcoal (of the organic variety derived from trees not oil) has long been used in the preparation of beverages as a means of filtration. The chemical and physical properties of this substance makes it ideal for this use being, as it is, neutral in acidity, relatively flavourless, wonderfully porous, and incredibly stable at a molecular level.
Jack Daniel's, of whisky fame, uses great chimneys of the stuff to give their spirit its trademark 'mellowed' flavour,
Recently charcoal (and its concomitant 'ash') has had something of a revival in cutting-edge gastronomical circles with various dishes involving the rolling of an ingredient in charcoal or ash before being presented on the plate.
And if you've ever had the misfortune to wind up in a hospital's 'poisons and chemicals' department to have your stomach pumped, one of the first things they give you is charcoal to absorb part of whatever it is that you should not have ingested.
So you can see that by drinking a pint of Guinness while eating salami, eggs and some burnt BBQ one is unintentionally consuming a small quantity of black gunpowder.
A little bit of Blackbeard the Pirate's 'devil may care' attitude has entered you and you ne'er even realised it.
PLEASE NOTE: the gunpowder used in S.& O.’s Gunpowder Rum is of a very specific and uncommon variety.
Modern ‘fast gunpowder’ (as found in modern weapons and fireworks) is inorganic, toxic, and should never be consumed.
CALUMET or PEACE-PIPE TOBACCO:
Known to the Native American nations of the Americas (both North and South) for untold ages before the coming of the 'white man', tobacco has a long history. But not all tobaccos are the same.
In ages past different tobaccos were smoked on different occasions and to different ends. Not all of these tobaccos contained leaves from the Tobacco plant (any plant of the genus Nicotiana of the Solanaceae or 'nightshade' family).
The 'tobacco' used in Smoke & Oakum's Gunpowder Rum is based upon research into the various mixes used to stuff the ceremonial pipes (or 'calumets') of various nations across North America. These pipes were used when transacting important business with honoured guests or when communing with one's deities or spirits. The origin of the tradition of the 'Peace-Pipe'.
While many of these calumet pipe tobacco mixes contained leaves from the nicotine bearing plant, others did not.
It is this 'nicotine-free' tobacco mix that Smoke & Oakum uses to give the dry, aromatic and herbal character to our rums that one associates with conventional tobacco. In this way we side-step the health concerns associated with the properties of the dreaded nicotiana tabacum plant and its attendant production processes.
As a point of interest it is worth noting that some Native American cures for tobacco addiction advise switching to the tobacco-free smoking mix.
As another historical aside - before the rise and dominance of today's tobacco companies natural tobacco substitutes were fairly common with people living and working far from the nearest 'general store'. Groups such as fur-trappers would pick herbs, bark and leaves as they traveled, mixing and smoking their own tobacco blend as they went.
FLAVOURS OF OLD:
The complex and robust flavour that is the signature of S & O's Gunpowder Rum is arrived at through a hands on process - the secret of which is known by only one person.
But what we can tell you about are the ingredients used to bring this truly unique spirit to life...