So if Gin is your friend at the party who is dancing on the tables, and Vodka just wants to go home to read her book, Rum is the friend you can bring anywhere and know she’ll be totally comfortable. She’s fun, yet incredibly versatile, with surprising depth. She’s able to talk about Dancing With the Stars in one moment and Don DeLillo’s latest novel in the next. Rum is a spirit that at its simplest will mix with lime juice, club soda, and mint to produce something like the light and refreshing Mojito, and at its deepest can combine with classic ingredients to produce a seriously smooth Rum Old-fashioned, or be sipped alone like a complex brandy. Before we get into classifying rums from lightest to heaviest, and looking at the differences between those categories, let’s talk for a minute about how rum is made.
All rum comes with the juice that is extracted from crushing and milling the sugarcane plant. Most of the rums that we are familiar with are made from molasses, which is a by-product of sugarcane juice being filtered, purified, and heated. This process crystallizes the sugar and leaves behind molasses. The two exceptions here are rhum agricole (made in the French-speaking islands of Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique), and cachaça (pronounced “”ka-SHAH-suh”) which comes from Brazil. Both rhum agricole and cachaça smell more like tequila than rum and have a grassier, funkier kind of flavor. I’ve seen Old-fashioned recipes that call for aged rhum agricole, chocolate bitters, and a flamed orange peel that sound outrageous, and cachaça is the main spirit in the Caipirinha (“kai-pur-EEN-ya”), the main cocktail of Brazil. Both are worth seeking out if you want to try something different, either at the liquor store or on a cocktail menu.
The various rums that are made from molasses are difficult to categorize because production is not regulated according to any type of universal standards like we had for gin. The easiest way for us to think about classifying rum then is according to grade (a combination of color and aging):
White or silver rums have spent less than 1 year aging in stainless steel barrels. They are filtered before bottling, have a very subtle, almost sweet taste, and are used mostly in cocktails like the mojito. Think along the lines of Bacardi Light here.
Gold or amber rums have spent some time in oak barrels, giving them more richness and smoothness in both flavor and fragrance. Producers that are readily available are Mount Gay Black Barrel, Appleton, and Bacardi 8. I used Mount Gay in the 7 Island Iced Tea that I made for my son in my Friday Musings post from September 30th.
Dark rums are well-aged in oak barrels that generally have a heavy char on them (meaning that they have literally been flamed on the inside). This imparts hints of spice, and strong molasses or caramel overtones. They have a heavier body to them and can be sipped or used in cocktails such as the Dark and Stormy. Some names to look for here are Myers, Goslings, and Bacardi Black.
Brandy style sipping rums are in a category all their own and are usually made by smaller, boutique style producers such as Angostura 1824 or Barbancourt 15. They have significant age and are meant to be sipped in much the same way as a cognac or whiskey.
Flavored rums have had flavors added in like coconut, pineapple, mango, and lime, and are used in tropical drinks that have the same flavor profile. Spiced rums have been infused with additional spices such as cinnamon, pepper, rosemary, or anise. Sometimes additional caramel is added back in.
Finally, overproof rums like Goslings 151 can have an alcohol content of 75% which can be very dangerous in a mixed drink. Proceed with caution!
Our first recipe that we’ll look at this week is is for a Mojito which uses light rum and conjures up images of relaxing on a porch somewhere beautiful and warm. It originally hails from Havana, Cuba where they often add Angostura or aromatic bitters to the drink, and is said to be Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drink.
The Mojito (from The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart)
In the bottom half of a cocktail shaker, muddle the 2 mint sprigs, the simple syrup, and the lime juice. Use very little pressure; just turn gently. Add the rum and your 1 large cube and 2 small. If you don’t have the large format cubes on hand, fill the shaker 2/3 full with ice and shake 15 seconds or until very cold. Strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Top with the club soda and garnish with the third mint sprig. Enjoy!
*I used Petty’s Island Rum made locally in Camden NJ.
**Simple syrup is made with 1 part water and 1 part sugar boiled until the liquid turns clear. You can then store it in the fridge for about a month.
Stop back tomorrow for a Dark and Stormy, one of my favorites!