Rum goes top shelf

Rum is no longer just poured in a mixed, tropical drink.

Once the stuff of drunken pirates and British sailors, rum is now finding a place on fine-restaurant ‘Digestive’ menus next to Cognac, Grappa and countless liqueurs. These aren’t the rums of grog or even Cuba Libres, but premium and super-premium barrel-aged rums that

are meant to be sipped straight or maybe on the rocks.

Slightly sweet and silky smooth, premium rums are being paired with food instead of wine for dinners and with cigars after dinner.

As the premium rum craze gathers momentum, producers are coming out with new and longer-aged rums, many of which are available on Grand Cayman.

Findlay Wilson, sales manager (beer & spirits) with the Jacques Scott Group, says that rum in general is a hot seller.

“It’s the fastest growing dark spirit market in the world at the moment,” he says, adding that the financial downturn meant that the bulk of rum sales are still of the less expensive kinds.

However, affluent residents are increasingly buying premium and super premiums rums.

Wilson says more men drink the spirit than women and theorises that it’s because of the tradition of men going to sea and drinking rum.

One of Jacques Scott’s major brands is the Jamaica-made Appleton Estate. Jacques Scott accounts for 2 per cent of all Appleton sales worldwide, selling 12,000 cases per year across all labels, which include Special, White, VX and Reserve. The company also produces 12-, 21- and 30-year-old rums, as well as Master Blender’s Legacy, a blend of aged rums. Unlike aged rums from many other places, if an age is cited on an Appleton bottle, all of the rum in the bottle is of that age. Other companies will put the age of the oldest rum in a blend, even if there is only a small quantity of that age in the bottle. For this reason, Appleton aged rums tend to cost more than many other rums with similar age claims on the label.

Appleton Master Blender Joy Spence’s approach to rum-making is similar to wine or cognac making in that nuances of aroma and taste become all important. It is not surprising, then, to see that in its promotional materials, Appleton includes tasting notes about its rums that include notes about appearance, nose, palate and finish.

Another premium brand carried by Jacques Scott is Ron Zacapa Centenario, a much-awarded Guatemalan brand that sells the premium brands Zacapa 15 (rums aged five to 15 years) and Zacapa 23 (rums aged six to 23 years), as well as the super premium Zacapa XO (rums aged six to 25 years).

Instead of being distilled from molasses like most rums, Zacapa is distilled from sugar cane juice. Zacapa also uses a system called Sistema Solera to blend its rums in order to produce rums with complex but predictable flavours. The Solera system blends rums of different ages that have been in oak barrels that previously contained other wines or spirits. Since none of the barrels is completely drained in the blending process, rum from previous batches is always present, giving newer blends elements of rums bottled in previous years.

Jacques Scott also carries the Havana Club brand, which includes a 15-year-old premium rum and a super premium rum called Maximo, which retails in Cayman at more than $2,000 for a half-litre bottle. The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman sells Maximo for $500 per shot. As with Cuban cigars, Wilson says some of Havana Club’s appeal with American tourists comes from the “taboo” of consuming products banned in the US by the Cuban trade embargo.

Tortuga Rum Company President and Managing Director Robert Hamaty said the five- and 12-year-old aged rum sold under the Tortuga label is actually made in Guyana. All of the company’s rums are made elsewhere, but it wasn’t easy for Hamaty to get older rums.

“It’s very difficult to get aged stock of rum,” Hamaty says. “Those that have it in stock don’t want to get rid of it.”

The aged Tortuga is a Demarara rum, known for its smoothness and smoky flavour. The Tortuga 12-year-old is priced lower than most other aged rums, making it popular with Cayman residents as well as with tourists.

“Quite a bit goes to hotels for those who want a sipping rum,” Hamaty says.

Another high-end rum made in Guyana is a brand called El Dorado, which features 12-, 15-, 21- and 25-year-old blended Demarara rums. All of the constituent rums in the El Dorado rums are at least the age on the label.

The best-selling rum brand in the world is Bacardi, with the company’s light rum leading the way. But even Bacardi has recognised the rise of premium rums.

“Trends are shifting,” says Cayman Distributors Ltd. sales representative Mark Haring. “People are getting more sophisticated.”

In addition to Bacardi 8, which not surprisingly is an eight-year-old rum, Bacardi now offers Reserva Limitada, a blend of 10- to 16-year-old rums. Launched in 2003, Reserva Limitada only became available in the United States last year and sells there for $110.

Rum in Central America has had a long history, with Guatemala, Nicaragua – where the popular brand Flor de Caña is made – and Panama all producing quality rums. Recently, Ron Abuelo from Panama entered Cayman’s rum scene through Cayman Distributors. At $27 for the seven-year and $35 for the 12-year, Abuelo hopes to capture the demand for the aged sipping rums at a lower price point.

But even at that price, Haring says the Abuelo 12-year is meant for sipping neat or on the rocks, and not with mixers like Coca-Cola.

“With the flavour it has on its own, it would be a shame to see it lost with more sugar,” he says.

At Blue by Eric Ripert at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, head sommelier Kristian Netis serves premium rums often. Rather than serving these rums in a snifter, as they are usually served in other bars and restaurants on Grand Cayman, Netis likes to serve neat rum in a sherry glass. By using this type of glass, which requires a drinker to tilt his or her head back more, Netis says it concentrates the rum on the middle of the tongue, making the alcohol taste less harsh in the rest of the mouth.

Because of the natural sweetness of rum, Netis says it goes well with many desserts.

Netis says people shouldn’t swirl rum in the glass as they would with wine because it just enhances the aroma of alcohol.

Rum also has bouquet that can be enjoyed, similar to fine wine. However, Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Director of Food and Beverage Guntram Merl says that if you’re smelling a lot of rums – like at a rum tasting – it’s easy to have your nose desensitised from the alcohol after smelling just a few rums.

He says that a tip he picked up is to open your mouth slightly when smelling rum, which creates a flow of air between the nose and mouth, allowing for a smell/taste sensation without burning the nose.

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Bacardi has the best-selling light rum in the world, but even it has jumped on the bandwagon for premium sipping rums.

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