Discover why rum is so hot right now, and the best ways to enjoy it
Words by Nikki Birrell
Rum was first distilled in the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean in the 17th century and, as lore would have it, heavily swilled by pirates and other sea-goers of the time.
Now, discerning drinkers are discovering that rum is a spirit that can be wonderfully refreshing or warming and intense in a cocktail and, at the premium end, as complex and nuanced as an aged whisky when enjoyed neat.
Unlike spirits such as whisky and cognac however, the rules around producing rum are more relaxed, so high quality options are more accessibly priced. With its image being overhauled recently due to increased popularity among bartenders and media, people can now move past old stereotypes and embrace a drink worth rediscovering.
HOW IT'S MADE
Essentially rum is made from the by-products of sugar production – largely molasses. After water and yeast are added for fermentation, the quality of which affect flavour, the rum is then aged. The type of barrel or tank used for ageing and how long it is aged for determine the type of rum produced. The final process is blending, when colour can be filtered or added for the end product.
TYPES OF RUM
White or Light Rum
White or light rum is usually distilled in steel tanks or white or oak barrels and filtered to make it clear. It isn’t aged for long and its flavour is therefore less complex. Because of its straightforward flavour profile it’s at home in all sorts of cocktails – mojitos, daiquiris and pina coladas included. White rum mixes well with tropical fruit juices, cola, citrus and mint flavours. In cooking, it can give a heady kick to a fruit salad.
Golden rum is sometimes known as amber rum. Its colour comes from being aged in wooden casks which also gives it a distinct sweeter, richer flavour than a white rum. Taste will vary depending on the maker but some notes to expect are caramel and toffee, sometimes a hint of toasted almond and banana and, as per its ageing, an oaky finish. Golden rum often fits well where a white rum does in a cocktail but adds its own mark – punches work well with golden rum, and it is the rum of choice for a classic Cuba Libre (rum, coke and lime juice). In the kitchen, try adding a dash to a spicy meat marinade for chicken or pork. The best golden rums can also be enjoyed on the rocks to appreciate the more complex notes.
Dark or black rum gets its flavour and colour from being aged the longest of all the rums. Its ageing in wooden casks produces a deep and smoky sweet, often intense, flavour. The best examples of an aged dark rum can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks to fully appreciate all its complexities. Because of its robust flavour it also can be served in shorter, stronger cocktails, such as a Rum Old Fashioned or a Dark and Stormy. Dark rum can add a dramatic flair to desserts and pairs well with warm spices such as cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Added to hot chocolates or a hot toddy, dark rum is a wonderfully warming winter drink.
Spiced rums are seeing a resurgence in popularity due to a rise in quality. The latest examples of spiced rums – typically aged for the same length of time as black rum – can have wonderfully evocative flavours such as rosemary, sweet caramel, citrus, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and smoke tones. A quality spiced rum is delicious simply sipped over ice or topped up with ginger beer. It can also often replace dark rum in a cocktail for some added zing.