Of all the spirits in the world, rum is arguably the wildest of the Wild West. Aside from the primary criteria that it must be made from a sugar product, there are no universally acknowledged guidelines as to what constitutes rum.
“Rum enjoys unique status in the world of spirits,” says bartender Shannon Mustipher in her new book, “Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails.” “Adding to its mystery, the flavor and texture of the finished rum often has more to do with its production and any aging or blending than where the sugar cane was grown.” The end result: a group of spirits that are “both deliciously diverse and tricky to classify,” according to Mustipher.
That’s a perfect way to describe the latest crop of new rums, including Jamaican bottlings that firmly embrace funky flavors, a breezy flavored rum and rum blends designed to mix into tropical drinks. Increasingly, many have special terroir-leaning touches, ranging from an American-made rum that utilizes imported Caribbean yeast to a single-estate Martinique agricole made from cane sprouting in seawater.
How to decide which rum is for you? One particular cocktail may hold the key. “Behind the bar, we have what we call the ‘Daiquiri test,’” says Mustipher. “If a rum tastes good in a Daiquiri, it will almost always be enjoyable neat or on the rocks, as well as a solid base for a range of cocktails.”
Bacardí Lime ($13)
The latest flavored rum from Bacardí will remind many of flavored vodka, from the clear hue to the pleasant lime-lollipop aroma to the light flavor that reads both as sweet and citrusy-tart. It wouldn’t be out of place in a long drink with bubbles. The producer suggests mixing up a riff on a Mojito with club soda and fresh mint. But a pour of ginger beer would also be an acceptably breezy highball option.
Cruzan Hurricane Proof ($20)
This bottling was launched in November 2018 to help raise funds after a Category 5 hurricane damaged St. Croix, the island where Cruzan is made. The overproof gold rum is bottled at a whopping 137 proof, in acknowledgement of the massive wind speeds during the hurricane. It’s ideal as a float to add extra punch to a drink.
Hard Truth Aged ($40)
Though it’s produced in Indiana, this single-barrel rum was made by fermenting the molasses and cane sugar base with a Caribbean yeast strain. It’s an interesting concept, intended to add subtle fruitiness. Look for a honey hue and a mild aroma that suggests allspice and oak. The first sips lead with drying oak but finish with mellower caramel, brown sugar and spice, plus a toasty hint of pecan.
Dos Ron 16 Year ($50)
Although made in the Dominican Republic, this rum is based on a recipe brought over from Cuba, where the Colina family began distilling in the mid-1800s. Today, the rum is made by Don Colina and his son Carlos Morfa. Think molasses and spice drizzled with dark PX-sherry-like notes. An eight-year-old bottling was released at the same time. Both are made in the solera style, so it’s hard to guess the exact age of the component rums in either bottle.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
Hidden Harbor White ($35)
Made by Pittsburgh craft distillery Maggie’s Farm for Pittsburgh Tiki bar Hidden Harbor, this white rum is “specifically formulated for use in Daiquiris and other tropical cocktails," according to the distiller. The base of the rum is made by Maggie’s (80%), with the remaining 20% a mix of rums from Baja, Guyana, Jamaica, Martinique and Trinidad, then blended and bottled in Pittsburgh, at 100 proof. That higher octane also means this spirit is surprisingly robust for a white rum, with plenty of oomph to stand up to fruit and other bold flavors.
The Funk Jamaican ($28)
The name of this rum does not lie. It’s a huge, funky, muscular white rum. There’s nothing subtle about it, and that’s just fine. This unaged pot-stilled Jamaican rum is bottled at 100 proof, yielding bright pineapple and overripe banana, finishing with a spicy zap of alcohol heat.
Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry ($25)
From cognac maker Pierre Ferrand, this 100% pot-stilled Jamaican rum is first aged in Jamaica. It’s then brought to France to be finished in ex-cognac casks at the Ferrand estate. The end result melds light funkiness with caramelized fruit notes, like cooked pineapple and toasted orange peel, finishing with warming spice. It’s just right for Tiki drinks.
Trois Rivières Cuvée de L’Océan ($35)
New to the United States, the flagship bottling of Trois Rivières’ lineup of Martinique rhums is a blanc agricole, specifically made from cane grown in shallow sea water on a single plot of land, which the producer says results in “a true sense of terroir.” Martinique’s oldest plantation, founded in 1660, takes its name from the three rivers (the Bois d'Inde, Oman and St. Pierre) that border the land where the sugar cane grows. Some claim to detect a slight saline finish layered atop agricole’s typical grassy flavor.