The Rum File
By Jonathan Runge
Rum is to the Caribbean as corn is to Iowa or chile is to New Mexico. More than 300 years before tourism became the region's major industry, rum was big business. Even now, every island that still grows sugar cane produces its own blend; more than 25 brands of rum are produced throughout the Caribbean.
The major producers, like Barbados, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, create well known brands--Mt. Gay, Appleton, and Bacardi; they also produce equally good but lesser known brands like Cockspur, Wray & Nephew, and Don Q. You'll find boutique rums like the BVI's Pusser's and Wild Sint Maarten Guavaberry as well as cheaper alternatives like Cruzan from St. Croix, the "poor man's Mt. Gay." Cuba's classic Havana Club is harder to find, but worth the effort. Some rums are still made in traditional distilleries such as Tortola's Cane Garden Bay, where the tiny Caldwell operation produces one of the darkest rums this side of Haiti, and the River Antoine distillery in Grenada, with its bat-seasoned vintage. While on Grenada, try the wicked, gut-burning Jack Iron.
To sample the best rum punch, the Caribbean's signature quaff, head to Betty Mascoll's Morne Fendue Plantation House in Grenada, where Betty personally prepares the concoction that gives new meaning to the word "punch." Honorable mentions go to the version served at Strawberry Hill outside Kingston, Jamaica; Foxy's "painkiller," served in plastic cups on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands; and Cuthbert's secret blend of rum, fresh lime juice, and spices, served at the Papillote Wilderness Retreat on Dominica.