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The Rum Ministry Farce

I love rum groups on Facebook. That’s quite the statement to start with! Let me add a little nuance. I love quite a few rum groups, most of the time.


The variety in the rum category is enormous and so is the variety of rum discussion groups. There are ones where people only talk about spiced rum, there is one where you aren’t supposed to talk about spiced rum, and everything in between. When I started getting more serious about rum (10-13 years ago or so) and wanted more in depth information, rum FB groups were a blessing. Some of them were massive, with tons of experienced, passionate people who were very willing to share their knowledge. I loved it and started soaking up all this information at rapid pace. Production methods, history, distillery locations, rum types etc. Plus, I found out about the lack of transparency in the rum world. This intrigued and irritated me at the same time. I realized I had made some very questionable rum purchase decisions up to that point, clearly misled by certain producers.


One of the FB groups I was most interested in was Ministry of Rum, owned by American independent bottler Ed Hamilton. It stood out as one of the largest English language rum groups. I loved spending time at MOR those days, even though the atmosphere was far from cooperative at times. For those who weren’t there around then, most of the experienced MOR members were in love with rums like Zacapa and Diplomatico. That love went so far that they’d defend these brands with passion, ridicule and anger. Defend against anyone who would make a comment that could be labeled as “negative”. For example, mentioning undisclosed additives and debatable age statements usually got you in hot water with a large part of the group. They were all lies, according to them. The group’s motto seemed to be “Rum Is Fun!” and anyone who’s looking for transparency isn’t fun and should be bullied out of the community. A lot of these rum is fun advocates were industry people with financial ties to the rum business. Keeping transparency far away was important to them for various reasons. If people are kept in the dark about what they are really drinking and paying for, they’ll keep on buying. The inspiration for the term “rum is dumb” comes from this situation.


On the other side was a group of people who were advocating for more transparency. This was a tiny minority of mostly rum enthusiasts. However, they were tenacious and increasing in numbers. That movement really got a boost when hydrometer and lab test results started being published, which showed a lot of these premium rums had undisclosed additives. This definitely helped in shaping the group towards being a lot more consumer focused than brand focused.


Fast forward a bit in time to a few years ago. The group had just gone through a massive meltdown and needed to be changed. A new moderator team of industry and non industry people stepped in, changed some of the rules and became a little more strict on several important issues. Not everyone agreed with this new approach. Hey, even I didn’t agree with a couple of the changed rules. But, it did stabilize the group. Not a lot of fighting, not a lot of promotion by industry people and it was very clear that various opinions would be accepted. It’s a discussion forum after all. One of the new admins was Seth Kamil. He is a rum enthusiast from New York who earned a lot of respect for what he did for the rum community during the difficult Covid times. He set up a rum Zoom chat once a week. Friday after Friday, a ton of rum people checked in and were able to get away from Covid stress by virtually socializing with people who shared the same passion for rum. A wonderful initiative that’s still happening every Friday. Partly thanks to this, it was no surprise that a lot of people supported the idea of Seth taking up the role as a new admin for Ministry of rum.


This didn’t last very long though.To the surprise of many, this moderator team was dismissed recently. Or, Seth was dismissed and some of the others went in support of him. I’m not sure. Lots of members asked questions to the remaining Admins. Why was this action taken? No answer. A new team of admins and mods was installed. They received the same questions. No answer. Well, almost no answer. New admin Federico Hernandez likes to use the phrase Pura Vida a lot. This was the only answer people received to their questions here and there. Rumour goes that Federico’s keyboard looks like this:



A clever approach? Maybe. Staying silent does work sometimes. People tend to forget and give up about certain issues if they don’t get addressed for a long enough time. It doesn’t show any respect and appreciation towards the members of your group though.


Federico Hernandez is mostly known for being the man behind The Rum Lab, Zavvy and organizing several rum festivals in the US. I’ve met him a couple of times and he seems to be a very energetic and positive minded entrepreneur. That certainly sounds like someone who can re-energize the group, which I think was needed. So far, so good. However, the other side of the coin is that he has a ton of potentially conflicting interests. If you want to be successful in running rum festivals, you got to make sure you attract a lot of brands. No brands = no visitors = no money. Which means he has to be nice and positive to all of them. At first glance this doesn’t have to be an issue in a role as admin of a rum group. In this case it is though. There are several reasons for that. First of all because it’s not just any rum group. It’s the Ministry of rum. A community that has grown incredibly from a knowledge standpoint. One where brand transparency has become a staple. Where misleading brand nonsense is no longer accepted and the focus is on the consumer. This growth process has taken years. It’s pretty unique compared to many other groups in that sense and something to be proud of.


When it comes to misleading rum brands, a large percentage of them originate from Central and South America. It’s not a surprise that they didn’t come up in conversation at MOR much anymore the past years. The group moved on, was still willing to discuss them, but not willing to accept nonsense. Which might have made it a bit of a shock to people to see the new admin mostly starting out with posts about these types of rums. Perhaps they are his favourite rums or maybe he wanted to bring more balance to the rum discussion. Both is perfectly fine of course. However, he has to understand that there will be some push back from the group towards these brands. People might mention not liking the taste profile, or the additives, debatable age statements etc. These are opinions, mixed with facts. Things to discuss. It’s a group for discussion after all, at least…that’s what we all thought. Until members started to get banned. Banned because these comments apparently aren’t “cordial and respectful” according to the new admin team.


By now, the list of banned people is getting long. This includes many very passionate and experienced rum people. I was also banned. The way I found out was that I couldn’t find the Ministry of rum group anymore. I asked a couple of MOR mods, who I’m FB friends with, why this happened. They had no clue. Which means one mod acted on his own in banning me. They don’t have any sort of discussion within their team. One guy can decide on his own to ban someone. His reason for banning me, and these are his actual words:“THE GUY IS ALL NEGATIVE. ALWAYS POKING”. The caps aren’t my choice. I guess he was so angry that he had to use caps. I do poke some people from time to time. Especially non transparent industry people. I’m also quite sarcastic, which is a pretty common human trait, but perhaps hard to understand online. "All negative" is clearly not how I live my life, quite the opposite. It’s obvious he didn’t look into the amount of people I’ve helped with their rum journey in the past 10 years. He also mentioned that if I was let back in, he would quit as a moderator. Not very nice to put your fellow mods under pressure like that. To be clear, I have never interacted with this guy and thus don’t know him. Turns out, many others in the community don’t know him either. Which makes sense after looking into his history at MOR. He’s been around just over 6 months and managed to share one post in that time. One! What a contribution! (This is sarcasm). Two other mods in the team have been around for one whole month. A rookie team that has the power to throw out people who have been contributing to the group for many years. Thrown out simply because they have an opinion that doesn’t agree with the admin team’s agenda. Sounds like Russia to me.



What is this agenda? Apparently, Ed Hamilton, the “owner” of MOR, wants to monetize the group. Federico shared some of the ideas they’ve been discussing:

a) Limited editions in partnership with a brand.

b) Onsite seminars presented by MoR and a Brand at an Off or On Premise location.

c) Events like a cocktail presented by MoR and a Rum Brand at a Rum Bar.

d) Distillery visits organized by MoR and the distillery.


This is probably what’s behind eliminating critical voices from the group. If you want brands to be associated with your group and get financially involved, you want to make sure it is full of cheerleaders. If a brand feels there is a high risk they’ll be criticized in a certain environment, they will stay away. It’s that simple. For my Rum Revelations work I get approached by brands sometimes, asking me if I can review a bottle for them. I have no problem with this, but I always tell them that I will give an honest opinion. It can be good or bad. Many then decide not to send me that bottle. They only expect positive press. When going through my website, it’s clear that I look at rum with a critical eye/palate. If I didn’t and I was just cheering, I’d get a lot more brand offers. That’s similar to the situation at MOR. What Ed Hamilton is failing to see, or doesn’t see the value in, is that a lot of the rum voices that are being axed from the group would be massive supporters of some of his commercial MOR endeavours. Certainly when it comes to special bottlings and distillery visits. Luca Gargano, owner of Velier and experienced marketeer, once said that he loved rum enthusiasts and bloggers, as they provide him with free marketing. I guess Ed sees it differently.


Admin Federico thinks these developments are very positive of course. He said:”It is also great to see people who left the group (at one point because of all the negativity) joining back again, as the group is becoming more inclusive and has a positive vibe”. We’ve discussed the positive vibe element, also described as “cheerleaders only, otherwise you’re out”. How about “more inclusive”? More inclusive to who?! Seemingly to very agreeable members and industry people with their conflicts of interest. I’ve recently seen a post about Rummelier magazine and the owner of this debatable organization being invited to MOR. I’ve seen Matt Pietrek’s post count go up a lot since the new admin team has been installed. What used to be a couple of posts a month to promote his book has now turned into several a week. No doubt more brand people will follow. It will be similar to being at a popular beach destination where you get bothered by a beach vendor every 45 seconds.


On a side note, you might be wondering why I keep mentioning conflicts of interest. I do this because I find transparency and honesty very important as a consumer. It’s often times hard to find in the rum industry, although it’s definitely improved. Brand people tend to be very sensitive when you ask them questions in this regard. I once had one screaming in front of me about this. I did respect the fact that he did it in person instead of behind a keyboard. He shouted at me that it was none of my business how someone was running their career and what they were making. What he failed to understand is that I don’t care at all what someone is making. I care what kind of value I should give to your opinion, your article, your book. If I read an article about Jamaica in a random newspaper and it states they have the best beaches in the world, most delicious food and the tastiest rum….I’d almost start booking a trip to Jamaica. But then I look at the small print where it says “paid for by the tourist board of Jamaica”. Now I know how to rate this article that’s basically an ad.


Why is all of this important to me? Why write this article? I’ve spent about a decade in that group as one of the more prolific contributors. Pushing for transparency while trying to help as many rum enthusiasts as possible by sharing my rum knowledge with them. I must have answered hundreds of questions in regards to which bottles to buy, which to avoid, about rum styles, all the different distilleries, where to look for what…..and everything in between. I enjoy it. It’s a really good feeling when people private message me to say they love the rums they got through my recommendations. It’s great to see people grow in their rum journey, knowing that’s partly because of the advise I’ve given them. I run my own small FB group called Rum Club Canada. There are a ton of people in there who have thanked the group for taking them through a wonderfully diverse rum journey over the years. It’s great to watch. I will miss that part of MOR, but I’ll try and find it somewhere else.


What’s next? I believe MOR will remain a very large rum FB group. If it continues on this path, it will likely never be as consumer focused anymore, nor will the level of knowledge sharing be the same. It’s heading towards being a community with only cheerleaders. One that’s wonderful for brand people and their conflicts of interest. Expect a lot more posts from brands and the Rummeliers and Pietreks of this world.


To close this out I felt it would be good to let Seth Kamil give us some details about his appointment and dismissal as MOR admin.


When were you asked to become a member of the MOR moderation team and how did this process go?


I was asked to Moderate MoR in 2019 by Gina. We had met, in person, one time prior to her asking me. Was at a social thing, not MoR related. There were no other moderators at the time and, after a number of months being the sole public Moderator I requested that I be named Admin. This was early in Covid. I had never interacted with Ed Hamilton and the Admin, Gina, had always taken a silent, behind the scenes, role. To be honest, I felt that as the only public name & voice I deserved to be an Admin. I was also very vocal about needing help. Over time a fantastic team was put in place. Gina invited Chockie, Jen & Gergo to be Mods. I did not know them at all. I suggested Meredith and Jamaal.


Why were you eventually dismissed from the team?


Why I was dismissed remains a bit of a mystery to me. I woke up in the middle of the night one day to an IM from Gina telling me I was no longer Admin but could remain as a Moderator. The removal had already taken place. I was returned to group member and placed on Admin approval for any posts.


I was given a series of inconsistent reasons for my removal. Lets see...I was removed for "writing a book" and there are "certain policies regarding other authors". There is no book. There is a Columbia University History PhD Thesis that is not about rum at all. There is also no written policy about writers or about conflicts of interest.


I was told I had agreed to be an Admin only for the duration of the pandemic. That was untrue. Unilateral decisions that I supposedly made endangered the group on Facebook, which I had been told about. There is no evidence of any endangerment nor me being told about any issues. Frankly, the more I, and some of the Moderators asked questions, the more outlandish the accusations became.


Finally, Gina who lives in Japan and with whom I had had no direct communication with in two years, cited "phone issues" with her inability to reach me for apparently four months. I was warned to not "flame" the issue publicly and was reminded that my time as an Admin was given as a favor to me as Covid had closed my business.


I will say that I think a large part of my removal was that Gina felt her feelings were hurt. During Covid she was insanely busy with work and wonderfully (really) was able to get married and move to Japan. She essentially abandoned the group, as she had abandoned me before becoming an Admin, but then resurfaced. Realized we were keeping the ship afloat, and took it all personally. I was reminded the Mod team was not "your team" - her words. But that was buried in all the accusations.


Gina seemed to mistakenly think the MoR team literally got together. We never did. We had Zoom meetings to which she was invited but never attended. Gina mistook my having a drink with Gergo in our front yard; Chockie needing a place to crash during BCB; and seeing Meredith - the only Mod who lives "near" me (5 hour drive) - as "getting together". All while Gina was LIVING IN JAPAN.


It was all quite bizarre. And fully avoidable. I still don't know what to make of it all.


Any final thoughts?


Our mod team was fantastically diverse. A broadly opinionated group of moderators who worked together. Nobody made unilateral decisions. All we tried to do was to support the broad category of rum. We did our best to set aside personal opinions and make it a good group for learning and conversation. All that has been destroyed in the past few weeks.


Seth Kamil

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(To view the 2 new trademarks for yourself, simply visit USPTO.gov, perform a Basic Word Mark Search, type in the string, “Ministry of Rum,” and…tah-dah!)


USPTO Link: https://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=tess&state=4802:ow3648.1.1

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I just read your article, and it made me curious about whether MOR is trademarked.


Guess what? It is!


BUT it was not trademarked until this very month! On July 12, 2023, trademarks were applied for for “Ministry of Rum Collection” and for “Hamilton Ministry of Rum Collection.”

Since trademarks MUST be used in commerce (or you can lose them)…your hunch about the MOR site’s new purpose (to generate a money stream for Hamilton) is likely correct.


(To view the 2 new trademarks for yourself, simply go to USPTO.gov, perform a Basic Word Mark Search, type in the string, “Ministry of Rum”, and…tah-dah!)


USPTO Link: https://tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=tess&state=4802:ow3648.1.1

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Antwort an

Interesting! I wonder why he didn't do it before. He's sold bottles under that name for many years already.

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Jonathan Parker
Jonathan Parker
29. Juli 2023

If it wasn't for people like you, I'm not sure my true rum journey would have ever happened. I was the rum & diet coke guy who thought Zaya and Zacapa were tasty premium brands, and could never imagine spending over $75 for a bottle of rum. When I first joined MOR, I was "attacked", and I say that in a gentle way. People like yourself were just trying to break through and educate me. Well, it worked. I was given the tools to understand the industry, understand have many brands worked, and really understood the value of transparency and truth in labeling. I still drink Zaya and Zacapa with diet coke because it's a tasty and refreshing drink. If I…


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Antwort an

Thanks Jonathan. I'm glad you've been able to get some good info in the group. Your rum journey has been one I found interesting to watch. Rum is such a fascinating and diverse spirit, you never know in which tasting direction someone will go.

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Seamus Harris
Seamus Harris
28. Juli 2023

Welcome to the club of people banned from rum forums. The Ministry of Rum admin/moderation team that included Gergo, Chockie, Seth, Meredith and others banned me while refusing to tell me what I had done. The ban happened immediately after the new team came on board, so my transgression must have been urgent and serious. Over at Global Rum Club, Ian Burrell not only banned me but organized a libel campaign that saw me simultaneously banned from several other rum forums - all without warning or explanation. The episode remains puzzling, but seems somehow related to the death of George Floyd.

I've seen numerous others subjected to capricious bans and vindictive cyberbullying. I try not to ignore this stuff. It is…

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I am a rum distiller on the Oregon Coast. I used to visit the rum forums to see what was being looked for, cocktails, etc. I think most of the people in these groups take themselves way to seriously. Also, the majority have a very narrow view of the spirit, so, I went on my way to do my own thing. We have a great following and increasing distribution. Of course, it could be faster, but then I would have to work harder, so all in all, I am happy enough with our growth. We do bring new people to rum because we expand on what rum can be. Good luck with your journey!

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