After three days of sipping rum with experts, mixologists, collectors and people who enjoy a good cocktail at the Rum Renaissance Festival, it’s clear that rum is more than just a drink — it’s a lifestyle.
What exactly makes a rum right for your lifestyle? That of course depends on your taste. As UK Rum Ambassador Ian Burrell said during the festival, the best rum is what’s in your glass. Or in your next glass.
Whether you prefer rum with soda or on the rocks, there’s a rum for you.
Rum is made from fresh sugar cane juice, sugar cane syrup or molasses. Beyond the raw materials, the taste and quality of rum is affected by the methods of fermentation and distillation, the aging process and in some cases, the blending used to create the final product.
White, silver, clear or crystal rums are aged for a brief time and are often filtered to remove color. With these rums the taste of alcohol dominates the flavor, making them more suitable for mixing in cocktails. If you’re looking for this type of rum try Flor de Caña Extra Dry 4 from Nicaragua or 10 Cane from Trinidad.
Gold or pale rums are aged in barrels for several years, which adds color and flavor. These rums are used in cocktails in which a stronger flavor is desired, or they can be sipped on their own. Try Botran 12 from Guatemala or Brugal Añejo from the Dominican Republic.
Dark or black rums go through a longer aging process and are more flavorful than gold rums. Like gold rums they are often used in cocktails and can also be enjoyed on their own. Try Gosling’s Black Seal from Bermuda or Cruzan Black Strap from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Premium aged rums are what I find the most interesting to drink. With these rums the unique flavors of the liquor and the skill of the master blender really shine. Premium aged rums are meant to be sipped, like a cognac or scotch. Serve them neat or on the rocks.
When looking for an aged rum, keep in mind the number on the label may be misleading. The number could be the age of the youngest rum in the blend or the oldest, or it could be the average age of the blend.
If you’re new to drinking aged rums, a great place to start is with Atlantico Private Cask from the Dominican Republic. A blend of 15 to 25 year old artisanal aged rums are aged again in private casks which give the rum added complexity and flavor. I found this rum very easy to drink. It has mellow flavors of tropical fruit and caramel without the fiery finish that other rums have. Atlantico Private Cask tastes great with fresh lime juice or in cocktails. At around $35 a bottle it’s more affordable than cognac, but not so expensive that you won’t want to use it in mixed drinks.
Another great tasting aged rum is Zacapa Solera 23 from Guatemala. Zacapa makes their rum with juice from the first pressing of sugar cane. After distillation, the rum is aged at facilities that are 7,500 feet above sea level. The cool mountain air reduces the evaporation that occurs during the aging process. The rum gets additional flavors from being stored in casks that previously held bourbon, sherry or Pedro Ximenez.
Zacapa Solera 23 is a blend of rum aged from 6 to 23 years. It’s sweet and smooth, with flavors of vanilla and spice. My husband who is a cognac fan was converted into a rum enthusiast after a few sips. A bottle costs around $35. One step up is the elegant and refined Zacapa Centenario XO, a blend of rums that are at least 25 years old. A bottle costs around $100.
For a slightly more full-bodied rum try Zaya Gran Reserva from Trinidad. The rum is distilled five times and hand blended with three to five rums, then aged in oak barrels for at least 12 years. Well-balanced with flavors of dried fruits, the rum has a long and smooth finish with a hint of spice. A bottle of Zaya Gran Reserva costs around $30.
Sure rum tastes great in mojitos and tropical drinks. But try an aged rum on its own and you’ll be impressed with its unique and complex flavors.
For more information on rum check out Robert Burr’s Gifted Rums Guide.