The drink that nearly knocked me out with one sniff
There's a legendary rum in Jamaica that's so strong it has been dubbed "Rude to Your Parents". When Nick Davis heard about it, he decided to track it down and find out how it got its unusual name.
It was late, I was tired and should really have headed to bed, but I switched TV channels one more time and stumbled on a mystery. There was a low-budget, dated programme with a British accented voiceover on air, and they were talking about reggae. My channel surfing stopped short. I was now fully awake.
The programme traced how the music had come out of Jamaica's inner city communities and what early reggae parties were like. They interviewed Prince Buster, one of the most influential singer-songwriters and producers of the time, who spoke about a home-made rum called "Rude to Your Parents". He claimed that "when water was added as a chaser the brew was so potent, smoke would rise out of the glass".
I'm quite fond of rum and a good mystery. So the search was on - I would have to find this drink.
The clues were sparse. It turns out that Prince Buster is now living in Florida and recovering from a stroke. He'd be hard to get hold of.
So I took a trip down to Orange Street which, way back when, was Jamaica's version of Tin Pan Alley - where record shops and studios created hit after hit after hit. I spoke to the few remaining shop owners, but got no new facts. "It was a kind of strong rum," said one man. "But I don't know what was in it."
Further down the road, at the heart of downtown Kingston, I talked to another old-timer in another of Jamaica's former hit factories, Randy's Records. "It was a white rum - hard, strong liquor," he told me. "Back then people used to distil at home - it was cheaper than the other brands."
So, I've established this stuff was strong - not surprising in a country where the most popular rum is 126 proof - yes, 126! But why was it called Rude to Your Parents? Any Jamaican child who did dare to be rude to their parents could expect some harsh punishment. In a country where parental authority is taken so seriously, even the name is a scandal.
My hunt continued. I was introduced to another living legend in dancehall music, Dillinger. Aptly enough I met him in a little bar, where he was caught up in friendly musical battle on the mic with another veteran DJ, Professor Nuts.
Between musical riddims played over a huge sound system, rum was being drunk and ganja smoked in equal measure.
In-between lyrical barbs, Dillinger took time out to tell me more but his answer was a bit closer to the mark than I expected. "That stuff was lethal. You know what? If you drink too much, a boy might want to fight his father and sleep with his mother!" Eventually another contact pulled out a more plausible explanation.
I drove down a cul-de-sac towards a modest looking house in a middle-class neighbourhood - not what I really expected from the home of one of the surviving pioneers of Jamaican popular music. After shouting at the gate for what seemed like hours, I was let in to meet Bunny "Striker" Lee, an eminent record producer.
He sat me down and explained. Back then, there was serious competition between the different party promoters, and they soon realised that if they got crowds in early, people would move on to other parties later on. To beat the competition they served very strong liquor, to ensure that the people who went on to later shows would be so drunk, they'd be wild enough to be rude to their parents.
It was a way of mashing up the dance, as they say in Jamaica - to make it flop and fail.
But what did it taste like? "Like someone set fire to your mouth," says Striker. I wasn't deterred - I still wanted to find some.
"Head to the country," he told me. "People would bring it from the country, taken straight from the still - make sure you ask for 'Jimmy Jango', or 'John Crow Batty'" - two more names for the same product. John Crow is the name given by Jamaicans to the turkey vulture. And Batty means one's posterior. Vulture's Bum then!
A few days later, I'm on the other side of the island, perched on a rickety chair by a seaside bar. I've been told this, finally, is the place.
I'm brought some clear liquid that could probably also be used as paint stripper.
As I sniff the heady brew, I almost pass out. There's an overpowering sickly, sweet smell as if fruit had been embalmed. As I sip, I immediately know that if you did have too much - yes, you might well end up being rude to your parents.
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