A rum affair
Why should a whisky drinker delve into the world of rum? Unfiltered asked SMWS member and rum aficionado Lance Surujbally to count the ways. And with National Rum Day approaching on Monday, 16 August, we have the perfect excuse to explore a sometimes misunderstood and underappreciated spirit
PICTURED: IAN BURREL AND EUAN CAMPBELL
“Rum is the Next Big Thing” is the common refrain heard in the spirits world, to which wags often add “...and always will be”.
But it is the considered opinion of many that rum has arrived, it is already ‘A Big Thing’, and nobody has to wait until tomorrow to experience it. But why should anyone, even a whisky drinker, care about what’s often dismissed as a low-quality pirate’s grog?
Well, for one thing, if one discards popular ad-driven misconceptions, or the memories of bad encounters with cheap rum at some event in one’s youth, and examines the modern rum scene with real interest, one might find rather a lot purring away under the hood.
For example, there’s the sheer variety out there. Rum is a truly global spirit, spanning the gamut of cane-to-cork terroir-driven bottlings made in the tropics, to long-aged single cask bottlings from nimble independent bottlers in Europe, to new environmentally friendly Asian micro-distilleries making additive-free pure rums from local materials, with a quality impossible to dismiss.
Many well-known whisky outfits have at some point used their expertise to dabble in rums and release expressions of their own.
SMWS member and rum fanatic Lance Surujbally
Rum can be made on a pot still or a creole still or a multi-column still; from fresh sugar cane juice, cane syrup or molasses. It can have fermentation periods ranging from a couple of days to a month.
It is made all over the world, from Asia to Africa to the Americas, each region with its recipes, traditions and often its own local regulations. It can be aged or unaged, with some white straight-off-the-still juice out there that would blow your socks off.
It can have tastes as widely divergent as fruit, brine, pastries, olives, lumber, even fresh tar being laid down on a hot day, and that’s just the beginning. Rum can be released at any strength north of 37.5% abv, be matured in all sorts of barrels and woods, and, like a Bollywood movie, there is, quite literally, something for everyone.
There are also parallels to the whisky world. Noted spirits writer Fred Minnick famously called Barbados’s Foursquare rum ‘The Pappy van Winkle of rum’ and remarked on its similarity to bourbons. Luca Gargano showed at a Whisky Live blind tasting some years ago that rum could hold its own against the best Scotch single malts. It has often been said that the tarry, dark and oft-times medicinal tastes of rums from the closed distillery of Caroni in Trinidad resemble the peated profiles of Islay whiskies.
Highland and Campbeltown notes can be sensed in the wooden-still derived rums of Guyana, while those who like something lighter and clearer can shop in the agricole islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Madeira or Réunion.
Prefer something fruitier, funk laden, pot-still made, perhaps a touch of the oddball? Look no further than the high-ester flavour bombs of Hampden Estate and Worthy Park from Jamaica or Savanna from Réunion. Soft blends? South and Central America are there.
If none of that convinces – although it should at least give one pause – consider that for the equivalent age, rum is also cheaper. The hype and popularity of rum is not yet so great that a rum lover needs to shell out five figures for some favoured elixir, except perhaps for some uber-rare example where only a few bottles exist (like the Harewood House 1780 from Barbados or the infamous Caputo 1973).
In the main, the cost for a rum aged 12 years in the tropics – which equates to something three or four times as old when matured in a continental climate – is insanely affordable when compared with a whisky of that age that slept in Europe. Even a 25 or 30-year-old rum is remarkably inexpensive when set alongside its competition in other spirits categories.
In short, rum has a large footprint, can be found everywhere, is enormously approachable and has something for every taste, every price point and every social occasion. It can be drunk in a snifter in a CEO’s boardroom or from a plastic tumbler in a backyard in Jamaica’s Trenchtown. While it may lack the cultivated cachet of whisky (for now), I see it as a drink second to none, urbane with a hint of bad boy, a hood in Hugo Boss, and its time is now. And, in closing, as a loyal rum drinker, I also have to say that rum tastes utterly fantastic. Yes...it really does.
Lance Surujbally probably has more SMWS rums than anyone else in the rum world, and writes with passion and intelligence about all things rum related at thelonecaner.com