Once the drink of sailors and pirates, rum is now one of world’s most diverse and exciting spirits. By Peter Ranscombe
Few spirits offer drinkers as much variety as rum. It can be clear or dark, neutral or spiced, light or heavy. Bartenders love to use it in cocktails, and connoisseurs hold the spirit in the same high esteem as whiskies or brandies.
Rum’s diversity begins in the distillery, where it can be made from any sugar cane product, be it the juice, molasses or syrup left over when making sugar. It can be formed in pot stills like Scotch whisky or in the tall continuously-running column stills used to produce vodka and the base for other spirits.
The Caribbean: rum’s spiritual home
Once the spirit has been distilled, producers then decide whether they want to blend the distillates or “marks” together to create a complex rum, and for how long they want to age their drink. Although rum can be made all over the world, the islands of the Caribbean are the drink’s spiritual home, with some rums ageing quickly in wooden barrels under the tropical heat while others are shipped overseas to places such as Europe to age at a slower pace, more akin to whisky’s lengthy maturation.
The best way to navigate a shelf of rums is to start with the colours – white, golden or amber, dark, and flavoured – and then begin exploring producers and countries within each style. White rums, generally lighter in style and character, are more approachable, while golden and darker rums have more intensity and flavour.
Those flavours come from ageing the different rums in oak barrels before blending them to produce the final mixture. Dark rums will develop more tropical fruit characters if left to age for longer.
Single cask bottlings
While most rums are blends, keep an eye open for single cask bottlings, which may have been aged in specific sherry barrels. While Mount Gay, founded in 1703, lays claim to be the world’s oldest rum maker, the world’s oldest rum was purportedly made in Barbados in 1780 and kept in the cellar of Harewood House in the UK until it was rediscovered in 2011.
Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron
Bacardi’s Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron is the big sister of the globally-popular carta blanca. The judges at the 2016 IWSC awarded it a silver outstanding prize and praising its silky texture, creamy flow and “hints of oak and vanilla in the background”. £27
Brugal Especial Extra Dry
From the Dominican Republic. Colourless. Penetrating nose with light aromatic notes of rum. Fresh and vibrant in the mouth with light brown sugar notes. Smooth and well balanced with lively texture. Some spicy notes towards the finish. Crisp, clean finish. Tasted at the IWSC 2016. £21
Havana Club Añejo 7 Años
Very inviting nose with honey, dark sugar and spice. Some honeysuckle in the background along with vanilla. Smooth entry into the mouth and equally smooth passage across the palate. Intense and full bodied yet gently and firm. All backed by complexity of maturity. Decidedly dry finish with some aromatic notes right at the end. Tasted at the 2016 IWSC. £22
Best-known for producing its eponymous bitters, Angostrua is also a major force in rum. Its 1919 has some lusciously sweet notes of caramel, honey and vanilla on the nose, with those sweeter elements lasting onto the palate, accompanied by fresher banana and pear flavours. It has a refreshingly light mouthfeel, which works well over ice on a sunny day. £32
Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 YO
This Caribbean golden rum has a very attractive complex nose with sweet spice, brown sugar, hint of caramel and vanilla. Great entry and deep full flavours. Everything the nose promised with addition of honey and some ginger notes. Hints of citrus in the background. Elegant and well balanced. Great mature characters. Long and very satisfying finish. Tasted at the 2016 IWSC. £35
Amrut Two Indies Rum
An Indian rum with a bright golden colour. Interesting nose with toffee, vanilla and ripe tropical fruits. Full and big entry into well rounded mouth where all the nose promised is on full show with addition of some chocolate and brown sugar. Complexity develops with time. Good balance and lively texture. Long, dry finish where fruity tones come to their best. Tasted at the IWSC 2016. €33
Bundaberg Rum Master Distillers’ Collection Small Batch
A rum made in Australia. Bright gold. Nose is driven by oak with a fruity backing. Prunes, figs and vanilla feature strongly. Some spice fills in the background. Clean entry into the mouth where all the nose promised comes out on show with more notes of treacle and brown sugar. Complexity builds going into big finish. Tasted at the 2016 IWSC. AU$64.99
Chairman’s Reserve: The Forgotten Casks
A dark rum from St Lucia Distillers, blended from casks that were forgotten about following a fire at the distillery in 2007. Judges at the 2016 IWSC were impressed by its big, complex nose with toffee, vanilla and oak all playing a part. They noted its “lovely smooth flow and fairly delicate texture yet still pretty lively”, as well as its “refined flavours show some mature notes yet the finish is crisp and clean”. £33
West Indies Rum & Cane Merchants Panama XO Single Cask
As well as the Caribbean, rum is widely produced in central and South America. On the nose, this bottle is full of caramel and honey aromas, along with dried fruit smells the conjure images of Christmas cake. On the palate, it’s has a waxy mouthfeel, with the Christmas cake flavours being joined by milk chocolate and orange peel. £75
SPICED AND UNUSUAL RUMS
Maison La Mauny Le Nouveau Monde
“Agricole” rums or rhums are made using sugar cane juice in France’s overseas “departments”, and on Madeira. At the IWSC in 2016, the judges liked this rum’s “hints of coconut and vanilla on the nose with some floral notes in the background”, its “light flavours of barley sugar and treacle” and the way it “spreads well across the palate with good texture and balance”. £148
Dark Matter Spiced Rum
Scotland may be best known for its whisky, but some of its new wave of craft distillers have turned their attention to rum. Dark Matter, based at Banchory in Aberdeenshire, is the first and has created a rum with pronounced aromas of orange peel, spun sugar and Christmas spices like cinnamon and cloves. Those spices follow through onto the palate and are joined by a burst of fresh ginger beer. £36
Chic Choc Spiced Rum
“An excellent balance between the base rum, spice flavours and sweetness,” was how the judges at the 2016 IWSC described this spiced rum, made with flavourings from Quebec. They also noted its “bold and warming but with a woody dryness” and its “brown sugar notes, tasting slightly caramelised on the finish”. CAN$29
All rums available through Amazon, Master of Malt, Waitrose, 31dover.com, Whisky Exchange, Maison du Whisky, Bundabergrum.com.au, Drink Supermarket, Crucial Drinks, Excellence Rhum, Majestic Wine, LCBO