Why Rum Is The Spirit Of The Moment
So why is it such an exciting time for rum right now?
“We’re in the middle of a global rum revolution! Rum is a versatile spirit, which can be used to make your favourite cocktail or turned into premium blends by maturing it in casks to produce smooth sippers to savour. Brands are expanding their portfolios to now offer premium options such as higher age statements, cask strengths, special cask finishes and other limited releases. What was once an underestimated spirit is finally being recognised for its quality, diversity of styles and complexity.” – Schemel Patrick, brand manager at El Dorado Rum
“It’s that’s simple: there’s a growing movement towards rum becoming more premium, and more premium rums are being sold than ever before. This is drawing in a younger crowd whose youthful energy is shaking up the category.” – Lewis Hayes, founder of DropWorks
“The rise of flavoured and spiced rums is also making the drink more popular. The gin trend paved the way here. By showcasing a huge number of botanicals over the last few years, gin producers have got consumers more intrigued by what makes each brand and bottle stand out. From there, drinkers are tapping into the history and heritage, opening their eyes and palates to a whole host of tradition, which encourages brands to invest more in quality, transparency and persuading even the casual rum drinker to expand their horizons.” – Dave Marsland, brand ambassador at St Lucia Distillers
Tell us a bit more about the different types of rum…
“There’s white rum, which is un-aged and usually used in cocktails like a mojito. Then there are gold rums and dark rums – both are aged, the latter usually for longer. The longer a rum ages, the more complex the flavour profile. Both gold and dark rums can be sipped neat or used in cocktails. There’s also spiced rum which is often infused with classic spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. This is usually found in cocktails and is a popular choice for a rum and coke. Lastly, you can also buy over-proof or navy-strength rums which are 57% ABV or stronger.” – Ed Wood, founder of Belgrove Rum
“In addition to all of that, there’s also agricole rum, typically made in the French Caribbean islands such as Martinique and Guadeloupe. It’s made from sugar cane, not molasses. You’ll usually find it cocktails like a planter’s punch or mai tai.” – Jack Orr-Ewing, CEO of The Duppy Share
What’s a sipping rum then?
“Sipping rums are aged for considerable periods in casks. This matures them into smooth and mellow products with complex flavour profiles that can be enjoyed undiluted or on ice, whether sipping as an after-dinner drink or just relaxing with friends. Consumers’ palates are becoming more and more sophisticated, and they are demanding delicious, robust, complex flavours to sip, savour and enjoy, rather than just mixing rum in a cocktail or with chaser.” – Schemel
“They’re designed to be sipped neat, like you would a fine whisky. Their flavour characteristics are optimal when undiluted; you could mix a sipping rum into a cocktail, but you’d likely lose the nuanced flavours. For a cocktail rum, you want something that can stand up for itself and shine through even when mixed.” – Ed
How can you tell if a rum’s any good?
“A great quality rum is smooth, rounded and flavourful, so you can enjoy it neat and detect complex layers of flavours and aromas. Usually, rums matured in a cask for a prolonged period develop this smooth, mellow profile with enhanced flavours ideal for sipping.” – Schemel
“Flavour is subjective, but quality is not. It’s about quality of spirit, so I look for something that hasn’t needed additives to trick my palate – no added glycerol or sugar or vanilla, for example. I’m looking for something that is soft on the palate, with long and complex flavours.” – Lewis
Any tips for tasting it properly?
“Pour your favourite rum in a snifter glass. Swirl the glass in a slow circular motion to bring the volatile aromas to the top, then sniff to enjoy the layers. This will tease your taste buds, preparing them for the flavours to come. Finally, take a sip of the rum, and savour the layers on your palate as the rum moves gently across your mouth.” – Schemel
“If you want to take the professional approach, start by looking at the liquid's colour, clarity, and viscosity. Swirl the liquid around the glass to see how it moves and how it sticks to the sides of the glass. Inhale deeply to capture the aroma, take note of the first impression and then try to identify specific scents like fruit, vanilla, spice or earthy notes. Consider the texture in your mouth including any sweetness, bitterness, saltiness or acidity. When you swallow, how long do the flavours linger in your mouth. Does the flavour change or fade over time? Is there any finishing burn?” – Jack
Who are the classic makers to know?
“Some of the best in and around the Caribbean include Mount Gay (the oldest distillery in the world) and Foursquare in Barbados, Havana Club in Cuba, and Hampden, Worthy Park and Appleton in Jamaica.” – Ed
How about a couple of smaller names to keep an eye on?
“Two Drifters Rum is a unique distillery in Devon. Using ethically sourced ingredients, green processes and eco-friendly packaging, it’s won numerous awards for its premium quality rums.” – Jack
“Grays in northern Mauritius is producing some fantastic and diverse rums from an island that’s well known for its sugarcane production. Arcane and Beach House are great examples of this.” – Dave
And what are your own favourite brands?
“I love learning about the people behind the brands as well as the rum itself which is why I love Burning Barn – lovely people and delicious rums.” – Ed
“My preferred rums come from St Lucia Distillers: Chairman's Reserve is my go-to; Bounty is a great choice for rum punches; and Admiral Rodney gives me an option for that special occasion.” – Dave
“Zacapa 23 initially got me into rum, before its evolution. I also love Doorly’s 12 as a great value rum, and anything by Samaroli or Velier always hits the spot.” – Lewis
“I love Doorly’s XO, Diplomatico, Plantation Pineapple and the older Appleton rums.” – Jack
If you want to spend a bit more on a bottle, how do you approach that?
“Go up the ageing range of some well-known brands you like. Appleton, Doorly’s, Mount Gay, Don Papa and Diplomatico have entry-level products – and if you like the brand and the liquid, you can work your way up the range, trusting the quality will increase. Note that expensive rums from some smaller brands are probably expensive because of poor economy of scale and expensive packaging, not because there are great liquids within.” – Jack
“Try before you buy. Master of Malt has just such a service, offering the chance to purchase a ‘tot’ of something special without committing to a full bottle. It's a great opportunity to give insight to a bottle you may not know too much about. Rum festivals also help with this by having many producers available with usually a good selection of higher-value bottles.” – Dave
And if you’re heading out in London, where would you go for rum?
“Burlock Rum Room and Trailer Happiness are both staples on the London rum scene and will be able to give you some very knowledgeable advice on what to try. If you want something a little different to your traditional tiki bar, head to Gymkhana to see how rum pairs perfectly with Indian flavours, or visit newcomer Lucy Wong to sample rum cocktails with Asian bites.” – Schemel
“Black Parrot and Merchant House in the City have some of the best rum collections you will find and the bar teams know their stuff. I would also recommend Trailer Happiness, a long-standing favourite of many in the industry. The owner Sly has done an incredible job not just keeping it relevant but placing it front and centre on the rum scene.” – Lewis
“Fish Wings & Tings down in Brixton is ace.” – Jack
What about elsewhere around the world?
“I'm partial to enjoying a rum at Cane Rum Society in Stockholm, plus Dirty Dick in Paris and the Cane Bar at Sugar Beach in St Lucia.” – Dave
“Go to the distilleries. People need to get on the road a bit more and go see first-hand how the liquid is made. There are about 35 distilleries in the UK making rum from scratch, so you no longer need to spend thousands of pounds getting to the Caribbean.” – Lewis
“My favourite rum drink ever was at the floating rum shack in Antigua’s Dickenson Bay – epic fun, you just need to hail a little dinghy to get there and back.” – Jack
Keen to try some rum? Here are 16 bottles we rate…
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