As I’ve noted in previous posts, my spirits journey started with Bourbon. At 18 I was enjoying Wild Turkey 12 year, drinking it neat or mixing it with coke. It was plentiful and cheap back in the early 80’s.
Fast forward (quite a bit forward) and today my spirits
pursuit includes Rum. What I knew about rum
over the years was limited to sugary shelf offerings like Bacardi or
Pyrat. The nuances of rum were a mystery
until I started to pay attention and dig a little deeper into this wonderful
spirit. This is a story of my own quick education
of rum and the impact it has had on my drinking rotation.
First, lets start from the beginning, the origin of rum
itself. Rum as most anyone knows, comes
from sugarcane. The three styles of base
product are either cane juice (Agricole), cane syrup or molasses. Sugarcane itself is grown the world over but
go back a quite a few thousand years and Sugarcane was indigenous to New Guinea. While there are several strains of Sugarcane,
one in particular, Saccharum officinarum is the stain most widely used among
cane producing countries.
When we think of rum, the Caribbean immediately comes to
mind but cane as a commodity has traveled the world over throughout history;
India, Japan, Persia, Portugal to name just a few. Sugarcane found on the Island inhabited by Dominican
Republic and Haiti (formerly Hispaniola) was introduced by Columbus during his
second voyage to the America’s.
The first introduction of rum in history is up for debate (much
like bourbon) but British and French rums were noted around the 17th
century. Rum has a deep and storied
history, too much to articulate in this short post so I will advance the story
to the beginnings of my own understanding of rum. It’s also been noted that the first distilled
spirit in American was rum.
At the time I was mixing bourbon and coke, I was also mixing
rum and coke and typically some off the shelf Bacardi offering of the
time. Once I grew out of the overly sweet
cocktails and began to focus more on the quality of the drink and eventually
enjoying spirits neat, rum fell by the wayside and ignored for a few decades
except for the occasional rummy drink on a cruise.
Unbeknownst to me, rum is pretty unregulated, unlike say
bourbon or scotch. Rum producers or NDP
that purchase sourced rum, can pretty much do what they want when it comes to
adulteration. In fact, Richard Seale
from Foursquare has been quite vocal over the years promoting full
transparency among producers. Additives such as sugar,
caramel coloring, or flavor packets are used post distillation. As
an example, and I’ll pick on Bacardi again, their 8-year offering contains 20
grams of sugar per liter or about 1.6 Tbsp of sugar. I’ll pick on another one, Diplomatico
Exclusiva, which has 44 grams per liter.
Every wonder why rum at times is so sugary sweet? Well, now you know. On top of that, to make the rum cosmetically
appealing, producers may add caramel coloring to give it that extra aged look. Let me caveat by saying, if this is what you
like, then you'll get no judgement from me as I advocate to drink what you like and the way you like it.
For me, I don’t care for rum that is overly sweet. My first rum epiphany came about 6 or 7 years
ago when I was introduced to a Demerara Distillers Diamond SVW 15 year
Velier. I can only say, I was blown away
by this rum. It was viscous, balanced
and very un-rum like. Blind I think some
would assume it was a sweeter bourbon.
That Diamond SVW triggered the thought process of rum exploration. What else was out there that was as good as
that or at least offered a drinking experience that did not include a follow up
visit to the dentist? This also
triggered my curiosity of rum in general.
Rhum Agricole: base product is cane juice. The name comes from the French which loosely translate
to “farm rum”. The cane is pressed through
mills to extract the juice. This style of rum typically produces an earthier
profile, maybe grassy and less sweet.
This style is also less efficient in distillation than the other two.
Cane Syrup: Simply, it’s cane juice reduced down to a
thicker concentration of syrup.
Molasses: The byproduct of sugar extraction. This sticky gooey brown stuff is what is left
over and is used my most rum distilleries.
As expected, two forms of distillation are employed: pot
still and column still. Pot still is the
older practice but that’s not to say that column distillation is “new” because
it’s been around since about 1830. The in-between
of these two approaches is the hybrid which employs a combination of both pot
Rum aging in oak is well known. What started as a practice to store product,
turned in to an aging element. The very
nature of oak as a vessel means air and vapor, or angels share, can move freely
through the barrel which as most know, is part of the aging process. Like scotch, rum is aged primarily in spent
bourbon casks. Other casks are used of
course that previously contained sherry, or brandy (e.g. Cognac or
Armagnac). Because rum is aged in used
cooperage, much of the heavy wood influence has been spent, thus, rum
maturation takes a more nuanced aging trajectory. Like anything, older does not translate to
better, so active management of the barrels is required to ensure a well
balanced produced. Last, aging location is
not just the Caribbean. There is quite a
bit of rum aging in Scotland which provides a totally different environment resulting
in different outcomes.
One style to be aware of is Jamaican which uses Muck and Dunder, Hampden uses this process, Worthy Park does not. If you
have explored rum and had one whose profile exhibited rubber or petrol, welcome
to Muck and Dunder. I won’t say any
more about it but wanted to mention it as it can be as polarizing as a well
My own experience is fairly recent and like bourbon, I
jumped in with both feet. As a group, we
have extended our barrel selections to include rum which I’ll touch on briefly.
Two distilleries we have engaged with are Privateer in
Ipswich MA, and Richland Rum in Richland GA.
Both of these domestic producers follow distillation practices that
pretty much mirrors bourbon distillation, meaning, no funny business to alter
the flavor of the rum. They distill,
barrel and age. That’s it.
Privateer is making some really fantastic domestic rum. They use grade A molasses that to my last
understanding and conversation with Privateer was sourced from a family farm in
Venezuela. Distillation is both Pot and
Column or hybrid depending on the style they want to produce. Many of their rums are aged in New Oak and
some in used casks that can include bourbon, rye and brandy (there may be
others). To date, our group has selected
6 barrels from Privateer and each one has been fantastic. The selections have a range of 2.5 – 4 years
old and while this may seem young, it’s not with rum as you don’t get that new
make off note like you do with a grain-based distillation. The aging trajectory seems to be much
shorter. We also provided a Weller cask
to them late 2019 which they filled with 3 year old rum. We let it ride for 6 months and bottled. The barrels arch of influence is about 3 months
so at 6 months we really liked the fact that the rum had not fully integrated
with the barrel so the profile exhibited a combination rum from new oak but
then that bourbon influence from the wet bourbon cask.
It was a huge success with the group.
Andrew Cabot, Privateers CEO/COO sent me a bottle of rum they aged in a
Cognac cask called L’Alliance. The added
fruit character combined with the rum was very compelling. So much so, I bought 6 more bottles.
Richland Rum in GA is a family run business and is
considered an Estate rum meaning everything that goes into producing that rum
is done on premise. The big distinction being they grow their own cane, harvest
it, and then extract the cane juice which they reduce to a syrup. The syrup is used in the distillation process. They use copper pot stills and age their rum
in new oak. We selected two barrels from
them a couple years back. My opinion is
they are also making really great domestic rum.
Worth a look.
As I noted in a recent post, it’s been about 3.5 years since
my last post but I have not been dormant.
I’ve been plenty busy exploring, buying, drinking and sharing various
spirits and that won’t stop. For me, I
like to keep my consumption eclectic.
Drinking bourbon continuously can get a bit boring (at least to me) so
having rum or even Armagnac (another post for a later date) keeps things
interesting and fresh. If you love
bourbon, maybe explore the world of rum.
I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
As a parting gift, here are a couple suggestions in the event
you want to explore, assuming your retailer carries some of these labels:
Mount Gay Black Barrel
Flor de Cana 7 or 12 year
Appleton Estate 12 year
Cruzan Single Barrel Estate
Privateer Navy Yard or Queens Share
Richland Single Estate Rum
The Real McCoy 5 or 12 year (Foursquare)
Doorly’s 5 or 12 year (also Foursquare but I’ve found these
to be less expensive than McCoy)