Have you laid in the mind-altering substances for the weekend? We are having a million and a half people round. "We" being the citizens of west London. I live in Shepherd's Bush, where our usual recreational preferences are London Pride and Guinness. The big party tomorrow, in Notting Hill, is right next door.
The alcoholic anthropology of west London is complex. Many local Guinness drinkers favour replica Celtic soccer strips and pubs that show Irish sports on outsize televisions. Others have been known to illegally import the much stronger tropical version of Guinness, or to prefer Jamaica's Dragon Stout, the robust big brother of Red Stripe lager ... The stouts are often made into a punch, with rum, condensed milk and sometimes an egg.
The stouts are more interesting than the lagers, but surely rum is the drink of the Caribbean. Countries too hot to grow barley or hops rarely have a beer culture. What they have are light, refreshing "beach beers".
Red Stripe will be the beer most evident at the Notting Hill Carnival. It is produced for the British market by the established Bedfordshire brewery Charles Wells. Last year, this remarkably versatile, inventive brewery created Banana Bread Beer, a creamy, nutty potion that would be my choice for the Carnival.
Despite the similarity of beach beers, each has its own devoted supporters. The Notting Hill Carnival is described as being of Trinidadian origin. I have always found Trinidad's Carib lager slightly drier than most. Unfortunately, the importer is currently out of stock. Nor does the fruitier Banks beer, from Barbados, seem to be in evidence.
At street level, beer is the drink of the Carnival, but the floats are fuelled by rum. Which rum will again depend upon the masqueraders' island of origin.
In The Bush, many of my neighbours are of Grenadine descent. My Carnival consultant Roy McEwan will be leading 500 Grenadans at the event, and swears that they will all be drinking illicitly imported Grenadan Ole Grog, over cracked ice, with a slice of lemon. How will they manage to obtain such an arrangement while dancing on a float? They will drink it out of a baby's bottle, he assures me. Won't they feel a bit silly, sucking on a nipple? He seems baffled at my suggestion that anyone would feel silly sucking on a nipple that was disgorging rum.
"Are there other ways of drinking rum at a Carnival?" I ask, nervously. "With Coca-Cola," he responds, "or with mauby." The latter turns out to be a home-made bitters, produced from the bark of a Caribbean tree. Where on earth do the revellers find the tree bark? "They bring it home from Grenada," he sighs. Of course.
Bitters? If the Carnival really were Trinidadian, they would be using Angostura bitters. It is somehow difficult to take such products seriously, but the drinks industry was obliged to take note recently, when Angostura acquired three Scotch whisky distilleries. Scottish writer Dave Broom, hitherto dedicated to the distillates of his own country, has responded by producing a book on rum.
Dave's choice for Carnival is Wray and Nephew's Overproof (62.8 per cent alcohol by volume) with cranberry juice. "Whatever fruit juice or mixer you throw at it, you can still taste the rum," he marvels. "It's the world's forgotten spirit."
'Rum' by Dave Broom is published by Mitchell Beazley in October, priced £25.Reuse content