Spirits Week: Rum
Last week, we gave a brief overview of the three big categories of liquors, their distinctives, and the part they each play in cocktails. Over the course of this week, we’ll be going into more detail on one of those three categories: the base spirits. These are the highly alcoholic, basic building blocks of the liquor world. Spirits Week will be of most interest to those of you who like your drinks to have a nice burn to them, but as we mentioned last week, a working knowledge of all three categories is pretty helpful to any cocktail drinkers. Even if your drinks favor one category, the other two almost always have a part to play.
Monday, we gave some general thoughts on mixing spirits, and we talked about vodka.
Tuesday, we covered gin.
Wednesday, we discussed whiskey.
Today, we take a look at rum.
Tomorrow, we’ll give tequila and brandy some attention.
We’ve mentioned before that we haven’t always been fans of rum, and I don’t think we’re alone in looking down a little on it. There may be some reason for not giving rum our highest regard. It started out as sailors’ chosen fuel for drunken shore leave (and their way to forget all the tedium on ship), and it’s most recently spent its life dressed up in umbrellas and artificial colors, doused in syrups, and drowned in juices. Most of its career has been rough, down, and out.
Rum had a heyday, though, just after Prohibition was lifted, when the most inventive bartenders of the time combined it with tropical flavors, a beach mentality, and a vaguely Polynesian aesthetic to create the tiki bar. Sure, tiki eventually–and perhaps predictably–evolved into the gaudy excess we’re still dealing with today. But for a time rum played the starring role in some of the best, most thoughtfully designed cocktails around.
Those cocktails are being rediscovered and built on during the current cocktail renaissance. At their best, rum cocktails wonderfully evoke the warmth, and sweetness, and slow pace of the tropics.
Rum got its start in the Caribbean, and has spread to many of the warm, tropical, island regions of the world–and to Massachusetts (definitely none of those things!), which for a time in the colonial era, because of its role in transatlantic trade, was the rum capital of the world).
Rum is made from molasses, or in some cases from the sugar cane from which molasses is derived. Like with whiskey, there are strong regional variations. Jamaica and Cuba/Puerto Rico produce the most dominant styles, but Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Barbados, Martinique and pretty much everywhere that touches the Caribbean have their own claim to rum fame.
Because of the very great variety in rums, you’ll often see a recipe call for a specific rum, or perhaps rum of a specific nationality. If you really want to taste the recipe as it was intended, you should follow those instructions. You can usually substitute any kind of rum for another, and it will work as a cocktail; it just won’t necessarily be the same cocktail. If you at least stay within the major family of the originally prescribed rum, you’ll be tasting something fairly close to the recipe.
These rums are clear, light, and relatively dry (that is, dry for a rum, but still sweet for a spirit). These are young rums, aged for less than a year before bottling, giving them a sharper flavor than the other varieties.
The years they are spent aging before being bottled give these rums a honey or amber color and a mellow sweetness.
Dark rums are also aged, but with added flavors, and in charred oak barrels (thanks, Mittie Hellmich!). This gives them a very dark color, a heavy texture, and a dense and complex flavor. A well-known and often called-for subcategory of dark rum is demerara rum.
This is usually a white rum base (though it could be aged or dark or gold–aged but not enough to be called ‘aged’–too) that has been doctored with extra flavors before bottling. As I think is the case with many people, we started our rum acquaintance with spiced rums. Eventually, we found ourselves moving away from them when we became familiar with the unique qualities of the more pure styles, and when we learned just how easy it is to spice your own when you want.
If you buy just one bottle, there is a rather new trend of blending rums (rather like is done with whiskeys) to create well-balanced mixes that contain elements of all of the things you want from a rum. We’ve loved our Hamilton Ministry of Rum blended rum. Paul Clarke speaks highly of Plantation 3 Star and Banks 5 Island or 7 Golden blends. They’re not even very pricy.
If you find yourself wanting more, having a white (trusty old Bacardi actually does alright), an aged (above), and a dark (We haven’t landed on this one yet. If you have a suggestion, let us know) will give you what you need to do any rum recipe right.
What to Drink with Rum: Royal Bermuda Yacht Club
This drink was created during the height of the tiki era. We found it in Cocktail Chronicles.
- 2 oz aged rum
- .75 oz lime juice
- 1 tsp orange liqueur (Cointreau if you have it)
- .25 oz falernum
- lime wheel (for garnish)
- shake with ice
- strain and garnish