7 Quality Rums to Try for National Rum Day
Today, August 16, is National Rum Day, and while you might be tempted to partake in a little Captain and Coke or Malibu and pineapple to celebrate, don't reach for that bottle of Bacardi so fast. Rum is actually a complex, incredibly tasty spirit with as many varieties as there are islands in the Caribbean.
Flickr user Shankar S. Fields of sugarcane, where all rum begins.
A few years ago, I was listening to a lecture with rum experts Wayne Curtis and Jeff "Beachbum" Berry when Beachbum said something along the lines of this:
"You know why people take whiskey seriously and not rum? Because there's no such thing as coconut-flavored whiskey."
In the time since, we have, of course, gotten things like Tennessee Honey and Fireball Whiskey, but the sentiment remains. So below, I am trying to do my part to "class up" the image of rum. The seven bottles below are all rums of a high enough quality and complexity that they can (and should) be savored neat. Stick a paper umbrella in the glass if you must, just don't mix the rum with Coke. They're also readily available in Houston.
Banks 5 Island White Rum
The only white rum on the list, Banks is a blend of rums aged at least three years from, you guessed it, five different islands, including Jamaica and Java, and finished with Batavia Arrack. It runs about the same price as Bacardi white but is vastly superior for cocktails and mixed drinks, and even for sipping over some ice.
My tastes in rum tend toward the super-sweet. One of my favorite rums tastes like boozy molasses (more on that one in a minute). A nip of Zacapa tastes like dessert -- dark, chocolatey without being cloying. The rum is produced in Guatemala with first-pressed cane juice, basically the sugar cane equivalent of extra virgin olive oil, and is then aged using the solera process, which provides a smoother aged flavor in less time than traditional aging normally takes.
Zaya Gran Reserva
Zaya is a private label rum, meaning it is composed of three to five other rums purchased from other distilleries and then blended together. It is then aged at least 12 years in oak barrels. The result is somewhat vanilla-y with notes of caramel and, of course, that nose of oak and bourbon from the aging process. Zaya also looks gorgeous in the glass -- it's a dark amber with a velvety mouth-feel.
Lemon Hart 151
Oh Lemon Hart, love of my life. If you're looking for an over-proof rum, the only sane option is Lemon Hart. Made in Guyana, one of the few Caribbean countries that is not an island, Lemon Hart falls under the category of demeraras, my all-time favorite types of rum. The name comes from the region, but it also refers to the type of cane sugar used in the distilling process. Normal-proof Lemon Hart is currently not available in Houston, but if you ever find a bottle, scoop it up quickly. Prices are less than $20 a bottle, and I promise you it won't disappoint. In the meantime, Lemon Hart 151 can soothe you with its flavor of slightly-toasted molasses and banana. Makes my mouth water just writing about it.