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The triumph of Guatemalan rum (and a disaster for a Guatemalan ambassador)

A drink to make you understand Treasure Island’s pirates — and a tasting with Ranald Macdonald

11 April 2015

9:00 AM

11 April 2015

9:00 AM

For many years, the Central American republic of Guatemala had a grievance against the United Kingdom. It claimed sovereignty over British Honduras, then a colony of ours. Eventually, all that died down. Calling itself Belize, British Honduras became independent and showed no desire to join Guatemala. Opposing colonialism could earn a plaudit from the sillier sort of states at the UN. It was harder to gainsay democracy.

Back in the old days, there was an amusing exchange. In pursuit of his country’s ambitions, the then Guatemalan ambassador pressed for a meeting with the then Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. Bevin is said to have left school at eight. His spoken English was on a par with John Prescott’s. But there was a difference. Ernie’s locution was free of self-pity. It had a gnarled grandeur, a warm humanity and, when necessary, a powerful patriotism. Despite the five years Lord Prescott spent in higher education, his tweets are a declaration of war against English syntax. Bevin knew how to express himself with plosive directness.

After the Foreign Office had procrastinated for as long as it could, the ambassador was ushered into the Foreign Secretary’s presence. Clad in dark blue serge, with an aldermanic watch-chain, Ernie was genial, burly and wheezing. The diplomat was formal, immaculate and tiny. He looked like a two-thirds scale model of an ambassador bought from Asprey’s. Beckoned to an enveloping armchair in which his feet could not touch the ground, he began his well-rehearsed protest.


Ernie listened genially for a couple of minutes, then lent forward and tapped the fellow on the knee. ‘Where did you say you was from, son?’ ‘Hear that lads?’ — to the officials in the room — ‘’E’s from Guatemalia. We was ’aving an argument about Guatemalia just before you come in. You can sort it out.’ The Foreign Secretary then led the ambassador across the room, to a stately globe. ‘You can put us right. Where is Guatemalia?’

The Guatemalans shall not have Belize, but there are compensations. They produce excellent rum. I had some Guatemalan XO the other week, and it was as good a rum of its grade as I have tasted. Fine dark rum helps one to understand the psychology of the pirates in Treasure Island. The riches of the Caribbean are not restricted to gold. Look out for Guatemalan rum. It will not be cheap. It will be good value.

On the subject of pirates, there was a tasting at Boisdale recently hosted by my friend Ranald Macdonald, who would need only a parrot and a wooden leg to make an excellent Long John Silver. Ranald, a scion of the Western Isles, is drawn to the islands off the Spanish Main, and especially to Cuba, in search of cigars. A serious Havana is a fine counterpoint to serious rum.

This time we had a lesser objective. We did not plan to seize the Spanish treasure fleet: merely to identify some affordable Burgundies, from bottles supplied by Justerini and Brooks. Maranges is still a little-known appellation — and a bargain. That is unlikely to last. The Bachelet brothers make a Premier Cru, La Fussière, white and red. They both won plaudits. So did a Viré-Clessé. Crisp, could almost be mistaken for a Chablis, it went well with oysters.

Ranald’s food was equally praised. As he is notorious for beef, game and haggis, I have heard the odd girl express doubts. Will there be anything for her to eat, or is it all boys’ scoff? Reassurance is easy. The ceviche of scallops and the dressed crab are outstanding and Boisdale knows how to cook fish: delicately, so that as the plate is presented, there is almost a final flourish of the fin. The vegetables are a pleasure, and I am not referring to lamb or chicken. Boisdale understands al dente; the greenery is still succulent even amid the blood from well-hung Scotch beef. But the blood is not compulsory: merely delicious.


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