When most people think of Hawaii during the first half of the 20th century, they think about Pearl Harbor and a post-war vacation paradise. You don't hear a lot of details about life there during WWII, and that's mainly because it's difficult to do so in polite company.
Sailor Jerry was a cantankerous yet highly skilled tattoo artist who spent most of his life in Hawaii, settling there after a Depression-era stint in the Navy. After Pearl Harbor, the islands became hugely important to the Pacific war campaign, and thousands and thousands of young men passed through with plenty of free time and cash burning a hole in their pockets. The islands delivered with loads of bars, whorehouses, and tattoo parlors all clustered together for easy, drunken access.
There's a great documentary called Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry that details the man's life as well as this curious but unspoken chapter in American history, complete with photos of the tattoos both beautiful and obscene. When Jerry was tattooing "twin screws" on a sailor's rear end, he wanted to make sure that the ship's propellers were drawn accurately and with technical details. He studied the long history of Japanese tattoo art, refined his craft over time, and even invented his own inks and tools to produce better and more vivid work. I don't have any tattoos (I've always felt freckles make for a bad canvas), but I've designed many over the years for other people and find the art form fascinating.
Jerry died in 1973, but his designs remained popular and continue to be inked and marketed today. The rum bearing his art and name was introduced in 1999 by Ed Hardy and Mike Malone, two of his proteges. While rum is made in Hawaii, this one comes from the United States Virgin Islands. It's a territory of our great nation by way of a treaty with Denmark in 1917--just in time for Prohibition to halt 300 years of profitable distillation. Rum production and sale were outlawed, though it was still available from the nearby British Virgin Islands. Imagine a tourist in the 1920s. "Welcome to beautiful St. Croix! Would you like a Pepsi? We'll put an umbrella and a piece of pineapple in it so you think you're having fun!"
Sailor Jerry Rum
$25/1.75L bottle, 46% abv.
Unlike many spiced rums (I'm looking at you Captain Morgan), this isn't sweet, but rather subtly flavored with a proprietary blend of spices. I get some cinnamon, cloves, and allspice, with maybe a little pepper. It's a gentle application, whereas the brew I made last year was pretty potent. The Sailor Jerry is buttery and delicious, dry and smooth with just a little kick of black pepper on the finish. You can use it in cocktails if you want, but frankly it's great over ice and goes beautifully with a cigar. Despite the higher alcohol content it's not hot or astringent, but pace yourself.
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You can purchase the DVD of Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry or you can watch it online for $3 via Amazon.com.