Rum—historically guzzled by Hemingway, happy islanders, and frat bros spring-breaking in Fort Lauderdale—is having a renaissance. But forget the blended slushies, Flaming Zombies, and tiki bars. Modern rums are as smooth and drinkable as fine cognac—and considerably less expensive.
In Jamaica, the heart of rum culture, the spirit is becoming tastier than ever. The oldest distillery in the land, Appleton Estate, has been making rum since the mid 1700’s. Their Appleton Estate Reserve, readily available in the US, is a balanced rum that mixes well and, at $35 a bottle, hardly a budget-buster.
Brugal Rum is another Carribean rum that carries the (tiki) torch for the islands. The only 100% Dominican rum on the market, Brugal is truly a local operation to this day, with family members not only as owners in the company, but supervising the technical details of every batch. Deep texture of cinnamon and nutmeg, Brugal 1888 Gran Reserva ($55) is an expression of chocolate, honey, and brown sugar, with a finish of mulled wine and apple spice. And yes, it’s as amazing as it sounds.
While few consider rum an American-sourced product, Jim Meehan (of PDT fame in New York City) has helped create a solid blend from five islands around the world. Banks 5 Island ($29) sources rums from 6 distilleries in Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, Barbados, and Java, to make a delicious, clean, and more mixable drink.
If you are going for pure class, and a sultry, sippable rum, Diplomatico ($37) is worth the hunt. Sometimes tough to find in the U.S., Ron Diplomatico is one of the most award-winning rums in the world. Hailing from Venezuela, this fine spirit is aged for at least 12 years, and features the raisin, cinnamon, banana, and vanilla flavors that your palate dreams of when swashbuckling through your weekend.
Still want to relive a bit of that Hemingway style? Check out Papa’s Pilar, from Hemingway Rum Company. Winner of the “Double Gold” at the 2013 World Spirits Competition in San Francisco, this fine sipper comes in Dark ($40) and Blonde ($30). The former is a well-aged (up to 24 years) blend with a long, velvety finish, while the Blonde is part of a growing class of rums that forego the aging process to showcase the “pure” taste of the ingredients.
We’re not gonna fault you if you want to mix one of these into a mojito, or pour into a flaming Zombie at your favorite tiki bar. But try them alone on the rocks if you really want to know why this under appreciated spirit is making a bold comeback.
Sinjin Eberle is director of American Rivers, and a licensed spirits sommelier.