By Alex Turner
Is rum the next big thing? I recall having this conversation pretty much every year for the last fifteen years or so and then something comes along and takes its place. I don’t think many people expected gin to be the new vodka when rum was so well positioned to take its place and although rye and mescal have a way to go they are causing more interest than most people could have imagined.
So, where is it going awry for rum?
There is no question that it is popular; the mojito is the most ordered cocktail in the UK (CGA mixed drinks report 2015) and nearly every bartender I speak to loves rum. However, most of them currently drink gin or bourbon as their first spirit of choice and rum as their second and let’s face it how often are you only left with your second choice when you’re in the drinks industry?
Conjecture isn’t the aim of our newsletter so let’s look at where rum has come from and what we can do with it.
Rum is made from sugar cane (either from the juice or from the by-product of sugar production called molasses) and originates in South East Asia. We believe it came to Europe when one of Alexander the great’s generals discovered a grass ‘that brought forth honey without the need for bees’. Prior to sugar cane if you wanted to sweeten things in Europe you used honey which occasionally resulted in some painful bee stings, which is why we embraced sugar cane, although it wasn’t really cultivated until the emergence of the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.
As we all know ‘in 1492 Columbus sailed the oceans blue’ and discovered the islands of the Caribbean. A year later he returned with more ships, men and holds full of livestock and flora including sugarcane having identified the climate and soil as suitable for the growing of cane. He also took botanists with him to ensure the cane was grown in the right areas to ensure it grew well and indeed it did. The islands grew rich from the processing of the cane into sugar and Spain grew into one of the most important nations in the world as it had the majority of the industry. Back in Europe having sugar on your table was a symbol of wealth, as was having blackened teeth!
The discovery of sugar alcohol was probably a happy accident; to process sugar, the cane is harvested, chopped and then pressed to remove the juice, after that the cane juice is boiled and spun to separate the water from the pure sugar crystals (this happens around four or five times). Each step of the process creates a thick sticky residue called molasses (from the Spanish mela meaning honey) and as it is a by-product it was discarded by the sugar mills. Very often it was tipped into the sea or dumped into pits, the molasses that were dumped into pits would be diluted by the rain and the yeast present from the cane would ferment creating a low alcohol wine. This ‘wine’ as it was known was widely consumed by the workers in the cane fields as it gave them some respite from the harsh conditions they were forced to work in.
The Spanish we believe were the first to distil the wine into a spirit but it was first catalogued by visitors to the island of Barbados who described it as a ‘hot hellish liquor that would kill the devil inside you’ hence the nickname ‘kill devil’. The actual name rum has a number of derivations; saccurum (the Latin for sugar cane), rummer (a Dutch drinking vessel) or rumbustion (meaning an uproar).
So not only did the islands get rich from sugar, they got even richer from selling the by-product of sugar production!!!
Rum Throughout History
Over the last four hundred years or so rum has been in the catalyst of many of the great moments in history from the Royal Navy’s rum ration, the Americans nicknaming the British ‘Limeys’, Lord Nelson’s body supposedly being transported home from Trafalgar in a barrel of rum (it was most likely brandy), helping spark the American Revolution, keeping American thirsts quenched during prohibition, making the pineapple a symbol of frivolity and being responsible for drinks such as the Killer Zombie, Missionary’s Downfall and Painkiller.
The majority of rum is produced in countries that grow sugar cane, this is a lot of different places but the islands of the Caribbean and South and Central America produce the most well-known brands. It is worth pointing out that Brazil also produce a sugar cane distillate although this is not rum but actually cachaça which is not the same.
The production of rum is pretty similar in most countries/islands but the style of rum being made will vary from place to place and distiller to distiller. As a general guideline rums produced in the English speaking Caribbean will make slightly different rums to ones produced in countries where they speak Spanish and both will differ from rums produced on the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe (and a few others).
Rum from the English speaking islands (Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad etc) will often be distilled in a pot still and a column still to make a fuller bodied style of rum whereas Spanish or Latin American rum will be distilled in a column still and be a lighter more mixable rum ideal for cocktails such as the Daiquiri, Mojito and Cuba Libre. English rums will often be aged for longer (using ex-bourbon barrels) than their Spanish counterparts. All rums (with very few exceptions) will be blended before being bottled and in the case of Spanish white rums, they are charcoal filtered to smooth out the flavour. It is worth pointing out that many English style rums will be light, short aged and filtered before bottling and many Spanish rums will be fuller bodied and older but the general guideline still helps when selecting rums for your drinks list.
Rum is a diverse spirit with many islands and countries making their own unique styles. Jamaica is well known for producing high ester rums that derive their full flavour by using the acidic residue from the previous distillation in the ferment in a similar way to bourbon using sour mash. Guyana uses a number of different stills to produce lots of different spirits which are then blended to produce different brands, in fact DDL employ both wooden column and pot stills!!! And Bacardi were the first rum distillers to use cultured yeast and charcoal filtration.
French rum is very different, this is mainly due to the use of sugar cane juice instead of molasses. In the mid 1800’s the French discovered a way of extracting sugar from beet which grows throughout France and Europe and removing the need to rely on the sugar being imported from the Caribbean. This left the distillers with no molasses as there was no sugar industry left to produce them so they started to distil the rum from the fresh cane juice or the cane syrup (once it had been boiled and filtered). This means French rums (known as Rhum Agricole) have a distinct flavour different from molasses based rums. It is well worth considering stocking at least one brand of French rhum when creating a range to give your guests a broader choice. The rhum from Martinique is an AOC product so has to follow strict guidelines on production and of course country of origin.
Developing Your List
As rum is such as vital ingredient in many cocktails it is worth considering which rums to use when developing your rum list.
A good cross section of light Latin American rums for your lighter styles of cocktails such as the daiquiri and the mojito and the heavier styles of rums for punches and a combination of both for Tiki style drinks. Spiced rums also make good cocktails, mixing well with heavier flavours such as ginger beer, pineapple juice and colas. Rums versatility means you can have a good range of cocktails from the light refreshing Daisy de Santiago to the richer Treacle as well as the mind blowing concoctions of Tiki like the Scorpion and the Fog Cutter.
Sipping rums are worth considering especially if you want to evolve your digestive offering as aged rums are an excellent alternative to cognacs and whiskies. Longer aged rums from the English islands have tropical fruit, spice and sweet aromas and flavours, whereas longer aged Latin American often have flavours of apricots, dried fruits and honey all of which make great sipping rums
Example Rum Range
2 Brands of Latin American white rum (Cuban, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan)
2 Brands of 3-5 year old Latin American rum (as above)
2 Brands of 5 year + Latin American rum (as above and Guatemalan or Colombian)
1 Brand of English style white rum (Jamaican, Trinidad, Guyanese)
2 Brands of aged English style rum (as above)
2 Brands of very aged English style rums (as above)
1 Brand of white rhum agricole
1 Brand of aged rhum agricole
1 or 2 Spiced rums
Enotria & Coe have in the region of 170 rum brands in the portfolio all of which can be selected to create the perfect range for your bar. Equally, they all make great cocktails too…
Daisy de Santiago
40ml White Cuban or Puerto Rican Rum
10m Yellow Chartreuse
20ml Lime Juice
2 Bar Spoons of Caster Sugar,
Shake well over cracked ice (mix of cubed and crushed) and strain into a tall wine glass filled with crushed ice, layer the Yellow Chartreuse over the top and garnish with a mint sprig and seasonal fruits
40ml White Rum
10ml Peach Schnapps
100ml Pineapple Juice
Juice ½ Lime
8 Mint Leaves
1 Bar Spoon Caster Sugar
Shake over cubed ice and fine strain into an ice filled highball glass. Garnish with a mint sprig and a lime wheel.
50ml Dark Jamaican Rum
1 Bar Spoon Demerara Sugar
Dash Angostura Bitters
25ml Fresh Pressed Apple Juice
Build over cubed ice in an old fashioned glass and garnish with a lime twist.
40ml White Rum
10ml Cognac VSOP
50ml Orange Juice
15ml Lemon Juice
Dash Orgeat Syrup
Dash Dry Sherry
Shake over cubed ice and strain into an ice filled highball glass and garnish with a lemon twist and mint sprigs. Float sherry on the top.