WHEN 6,500 PEOPLE DESCEND ON ANTIGUA April 30 to May 6 for Sailing Week, the Caribbean's biggest regatta, some will go sailing. More will drink rum. Lots of rum. No longer scorned by connoisseurs, the sugar industry's other yield smolders with the subtle complexities of aged single-malts. And with more than 50 distilleries throughout the Caribbean, the easiest way to find the goods is also the most fun: under sail. "You've got rums here across the flavor spectrum," says Dave Broom, author of the coffee-table guide Rum (Abbeville Press). "Each island and each distillery has its own style." Here are four of the region's best, with Broom's picks from each.
Four curious facts from Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776 (Nation Books), by Ian Williams: (1) Rum taxes were as much of a spark for the Revolutionary War as the tea tax. (2) The British navy gave sailors rum in the belief that it would make them fight harder. (3) Captain Henry Morgan (yes, that Captain Morgan) was both a buccaneer and governor of Jamaica in the 1670s. He drank himself to death. (4) It takes 29 pounds of sugarcane to make a bottle of rum.
Antigua» The island's sole rum manufacturer, Antigua Distillery, hosts the tony Lord Nelson's Ball at the close of Sailing Week. Toast the victors with English Harbour Extra Old (available only in the islands). "Slightly dry and spicy, with oak and notes of coconut overlaying a banana-fruit richness." 750ml, $25; www.antiguadistillery.com Barbados» Rum was invented in Barbados, and the island's most celebrated distillery, 300-year-old Mount Gay, still makes some of the best stuff on the planet. "The Extra Old balances richness and delicacy. It's got weight and subtlety. I would never mix it." 750ml, $32; www.mountgay.com St. Croix» Cruise out to 176-acre Buck Island for snorkeling over the coral that surrounds the island, then lift your mood even higher with a mug of Cruzan Single Barrel. "Everything about it is delicacymore floral, more aromatic, and not overwhelmed with the big oaky notes." 750ml, $30; www.cruzanrum.com Tortola» The original 1655 Royal Navy rum, Pusser's is the active ingredient in a Painkiller, the signature drink of the Soggy Dollar Bar, located four miles off Tortola on Jost Van Dyke island. Stuck stateside? Mix four parts pineapple juice, one part cream of coconut, one part orange juice, and Pusser's till you please. "God bless the British navy. This is really an old style of rumdarker, with caramel influence and a dry fruit and pruniness." 750ml, $28; www.pussers.com