Rum: the original spirit; the spirit of pirates, bootleggers, gangsters, rum runners and Captain Jack Sparrow. It was the liquor of choice for guys like Owney Madden who ran the west side of Manhattan, Captain Bill McCoy, a Prohibition-era rum runner, Hemingway and, let’s be honest, every cat in New York at its birth over two hundred years ago. The Dutch settlers packaged the spirit to use as currency in trade negotiations. It is coursing through the historic veins of this great city like an original life-force! This sweet nectar starts with the sweet juices that are extracted from the sugarcane plant by crushing, mashing or cutting. Some rums are even made from fresh crushed sugar cane leaves. These extracted sugars are then boiled and turned into molasses. Black strap rums like Cruzan and Gosling’s only use the darkest molasses produced. Water and yeast are added to start the fermentation process. The resulting product is then distilled and aged in casks or tanks. The aging vessel plays a major part in the resulting color of the product. Light rums or white rum are usually aged in stainless steel tanks for up to a year keeping the rum clear and clean. Gold or Amber rums get their color from the oak casks in which they’re aged and from the addition of caramel or congeners (a substance produced during the fermentation process). Dark rum is aged in charred oak barrels (casks), generally bourbon barrels. There are no laws for age statements as far as rum is concerned, so a producer could bottle it straight from the still, but aging allows for more complex flavors. Time, elevation, barrel types and certain practices like the Solera method will have an impact on color and maturation.
Rum plays well with all kinds of cocktails! A good quality light rum complements a classic mojito or Daiquiri every time. Use gold or amber in your Piña Colada or cable car, and dark rums for sipping, floats, and let’s not forget the Dark and Stormy, practically the national drink of Bermuda! Rum is an all around well balanced spirit that’s fun to make cocktails with. Remember, during the height of Tiki bars, rum was THE craze in the 50s and 60s, and while it never really went away there seems to be renewed passion for this delicious spirit. Perhaps it’s because Rum evokes beach imagery – fun in the sun with surf and sand – tropical paradises like the Caribbean where the majority of it is produced. Outside of the islands, many countries are playing around with their own versions since there are no laws about where it has to be made, so you can find really interesting products coming out of Australia, the Philippines, Brazil and Canada. We can trace rum back 300 years to the British Royal Navy and its tradition of rationing it to the sailors with a lime to prevent scurvy. This practice ended on July 31st, 1970, the day forever known as Black Tot day, but you can still find Black Tot rum, the last of the rationed Royal Navy rum stocks …(psssst, you can taste this historic rum at The Rum House, NYC, but hopefully you won’t be drinking it to prevent scurvy!)
Here are three of my favorite rums right now:
- Ron Zacapa 23: rich and luxurious, for sipping
- Brugal Especial Extra Dry: fantastic for cocktails such as Daiquiris and Piña Coladas and the always famous Cuba Libre
- Santa Teresa 1796: makes a fabulous Old Fashioned
Folks, obviously these are suitable to my palate, but get out there and try some rums – sip, taste, enjoy and please indulge responsibly or you’ll be walkin’ the plank…AAAARRRGG!!