Around the World in Six Rums

I was sitting on the back porch, periodically shifting my position, seeking a spot where I could indulge in the sunshine while avoiding excess heat. A light breeze kicked up, followed by the flash of a solution: The answer wasn't in the shade, but in properly equipping myself with rum cocktail.

Could it be that it's simply the memory of drinks enjoyed on a tropical holiday that heightens rum's cooling effects, or that the lexicon of rum cocktails really has been optimized to defend against the heat and humidity? A good Mai Tai, Daiquiri or even simple rum-and-Coke can make a miserably hot day a little more bearable. And since a great cocktail requires good rum, I set out to sample the latest crop and found that quality cane spirits don't come just from the tropics anymore. Here are a few of my favorite new finds.

Spirits

Rums

Cacao Prieto Rums



Daniel Prieto Preston, an aerospace engineer who comes from a family of sugar cane and cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic, launched Cacao Prieto in 2010, setting up a chocolate factory and distillery in Brooklyn, New York. He blends his white rum (made from organic evaporated cane juice and fermented with wine yeasts) with organic cacao beans and barrel-ages it to create the most exquisitely robust expression of chocolate I've ever enjoyed. Called Don Rafael Cacao Rum, it's redolent of roasted coffee, tobacco and cacao, as intense as drinking dark chocolate. While the Don Rafael has no sugar, the Don Esteban Cacao Liqueur does—just enough to take the edge ofcacao's natural bitterness, but not so much that it gets cloying. These are exceptional rums, especially if you enjoy dark chocolate.
—Lou Bustamante

Cacao Prieto, Brooklyn, NY; White Rum, 45% abv, $45; Don Rafael Cacao Rum, 40% abv, $56; Don Esteban Cacao Liqueur, 40% abv, $18 (reviewed W&S, 08/12)






Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum



When people talk about the key factors that make great rum, they usually focus on either the kind of cane sugar getting fermented (juice or molasses) or the kind of still used (pot or column). With Black Barrel Rum, Mount Gay master blender Allen Smith demonstrates the impact barrel aging and fi nishing can have. He begins by blending pot-stilled aged rums with column-distilled aged rum, then moves them into charred Bourbon casks ("black barrels"). The result tastes as if a rum had a baby with a Bourbon that was one-quarter Scotch. The aroma is laced with salinity and smoke along with the spice, citrus and molasses funk common to Barbados rums; the fl avors run to cherry and vanilla, with colalike characteristics that make it a perfect gateway rum for whiskey drinkers. Use it in a Manhattan for a softer and rounder variation on the classic.
—Lou Bustamante

Imported by Rémy Cointreau USA, NY; 43% abv, $30 (reviewed W&S, 08/12)






Phraya Gold Rum



Thailand, with its tropical heat and fertile soil, has excellent conditions for growing sugar cane, yet Thai rum doesn't get much press outside the country. Sang Som, one of its most popular distilleries, is hoping to gain more renown with Phraya. It's made from sugarcane grown in Nakhon Pathom in southern Thailand, and aged for seven to 12 years in a warehouse situated over a cool lagoon, which tempers the heat so the rum can age slowly, without overly extracting the oak. The result is soft and gentle, with light mineral, citrus and cinnamon scents, and sweet, woodsy notes that flow along with tropical fruit flavors. The price may be on the high end compared to other rums, but it's worth a try.
—Lou Bustamante

Imported by Int'l. Beverage Holdings Ltd. USA, NY; 40% abv, $50 (reviewed W&S, 08/12)






Syntax Spirits Powder White Rum



Colorado-based homebrewers Heather Bean and JeffCopeland turned their attentions to spirits production after touring Portland's craftdistilleries. The couple built a distillery in Greenley and began selling vodka in 2010; now they've begun distilling molasses for their White Powder Rum. It's clean yet still has character, with a toasted marshmallow quality and a fruity note reminiscent of raspberry eau-de-vie. The heat and sensation of sweetness make it a great choice to mix with ginger beer.
—Lou Bustamante

Syntax Spirits, Greeley, CO; 40% abv, $32 (reviewed W&S, 08/12)






Shellback Rums



Humankind can't live on small-batch rums alone, especially in drinks where the rum is more background than foreground, such as in a Piña Colada or rum-and-Coke. In these sorts of drinks, the new Shellback Rums come in handy. Made in Barbados from molasses and distilled in a combination of column and pot stills, both the unaged Silver and the Spiced varieties smell pleasantly clean, with the silver going in a vanilla-heavy direction, and the spiced more redolent of caramel and cola. The spiced rum in particular stands out for its subtlety, a welcome relief in this category.
—Lou Bustamante

Imported by Grand Antilles Cane Spirits, Modesto, CA; Silver & Spiced rums, 40% abv, $17 each (reviewed W&S, 08/12)






Ragged Mountain Rum



In the 17th century, rum was the most important industry in America, until sugar restrictions by the British made its production financially impracticable. In 2007, Chris Weld revived rum distilling in New England, with Berkshire Mountain Distillers' Ragged Mountain Rum. Weld takes his inspiration from Caribbean-style rums—Appleton (Jamaican rum, dark and intensely molasses-flavored) and Rhum Barbancourt (fresher and grassy, based on Haitian sugarcane juice). It balances molasses's funk with sugarcane's tropical fruit notes, with a caramel—sweet corn note that recalls Cracker Jacks.
—Lou Bustamante

Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Great Barrington, MA; 40% abv, $30 (reviewed W&S, 08/12)







Ginger Beer

Ginger and rum are a natural pairing—the bracing zip of the plucky rhizome, dressed with a light squeeze of lime, complements the brown-sugar qualities of aged rum and invigorates the fresh cane fl avors of unaged varieties. And the recent boom in ginger beers—naturally fermented brews of real ginger root and yeast—have made for a far more interesting range of mixing possibilities than the mellow ginger ales of the past.
Bundaberg Ginger Beer



At the most restrained end of the ginger zippiness scale there's the lightly fermented Bundaberg Ginger Beer from Australia, perfect for delicate rums, like Shellback. ($7/4-pack)
—Lou Bustamante









Fentimans



Fentimans Ginger Beer includes other botanicals alongside the ginger, like juniper and yarrow root; with its lemongrass-like aroma and citrus tang it feels right at home with Thailand's Phraya rum. ($8/4-pack)
—Lou Bustamante








Bruce Cost



For more power, check out the lineup from Bruce Cost, bottled in a range of flavors, like passion fruit with turmeric or the pomegranate with hibiscus, which work well with Jamaican rums. ($7/4-pack)
—Lou Bustamante







Fever-Tree



The Fever-Tree Ginger Beer ($7/4-pack) and Light Ginger Beer ($3/500ml) are designed for mixing, with extra carbonation added before bottling for a bubblier drink. The regular bottling is sweetened with cane sugar; the Light gets its sweetness from fructose. Taste-wise, the light version is more intensely gingery (and comes in a larger bottle), making it our favorite of the two; it's gingery enough to stand up to dark and earthy rums.
—Lou Bustamante






Crabbie's



Crabbie's, brewed with a mixture of sugar and ginger and fermented to 4.8 percent alcohol, requires little more than a lime garnish. Intensely gingery, it carries enough bite to radiate a halo of heat around your lips. ($4/16.9 oz.)
—Lou Bustamante