Cask Curriculum: Rethinking Rum
This Friday is National Rum Day. For spirits lovers such as you and I, these sorts of holidays are always good fun. For some of us, it gives us a reason to embrace something we have always loved. For others, holidays such as National Rum Day present a much-needed excuse to explore something entirely new.
Since joining The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, it should come as no surprise that my knowledge and understanding of whisky has grown exponentially. What’s interesting is that when I look back on my experience as a member and attempt to pinpoint which moments had the most significant impact on my own learning, it is not simply the exposure to the very best single cask whiskies from around the world but the exploration of other spirits beyond whisky that have helped give me greater perspective and enjoyment of all.
In time, not only have other spirits enhanced my appreciation for whisky, I’ve begun to fall in love with them completely! Of all the spirits out there to enjoy, Rum is, in my opinion, both underrated and misunderstood. Prior to venturing into the single cask rums offered by The Society, my experience had been rather ordinary. Between the late night spiced rum shots back in college and the tropical vacation go-to of a frozen piña colada, I consumed rum as most do: a party drink. The truth is, my understanding of rum was completely one sided. In reality, there is a whole world of high-quality rum just waiting to be discovered. In fact, most of it tastes nothing like the rum all “grew up with”.
Just as different styles of Scotch whisky can be attributed to different regions of the country, rum-producing countries are also known to embrace a style of their own. Today let’s have a look at two unique countries producing rum very different from what you may be familiar with. In many respects, these two countries represent the pinnacle of exceptional rum in the modern era. If you’re feeling adventurous and interested in trying single cask rum yourself, I’ll also break down a few of The Society’s latest casks to help you choose the best place to start.
The first Nicaraguan rum distillery was opened in 1890, a time when sugar cane represented a significant part of the nation’s economy. Unlike its Caribbean counterparts (Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados to name a few), the climate of Central America is more temperate, which means that maturation takes longer. The resulting style of Nicaraguan rum is lighter in character, very aromatic, earthy and wooded. For whisky lovers, Nicaraguan rum represents a comfortable first step into the world of rum. The dry and woody profile embodies much of what whisky drinkers tend to enjoy most. Cask R8.2 ‘The Hunt Master’ sums this all up perfectly. Notes of dark liquorice, tobacco leaf and cedar wood make for a rich and heavy profile that will likely change your perception of rum entirely. Cask R8.3 ‘Fruit and nut case’ hails from the same distillery but it offers a fresher, more vibrant take on Nicaraguan rum. This one delivers a beautiful wave of dried fruit, chocolate and crisped rice. Though not as powerful and earthy, there’s a wonderful balance between the dried fruits and a light woodsmoke. A well-rounded, sophisticated rum that can be enjoyed throughout all seasons of the year.
Moving out of Central America and east to the Caribbean, the island of Trinidad represents the epicenter of exceptional rum. Trinidad is to rum is what France is to wine, what Italy is to fashion and what America is to, well, freedom. There is, of course, just one caveat – of the more than 50 rum distilleries that once operated on this small island, only one remains today. The demise of the local sugar cane industry has forced nearly every distillery to shut its doors. This has been quite the blow to rum enthusiasts who embrace the old, complex Trinidadian rums of yesteryear. Combining the exceptional quality and allure of Trinidadian rum with its extreme rarity, the opportunity to actually enjoy the spirit is simply drying up.
Cask R10.1 ‘Carnivale concerto’ hails from the last remaining distillery on the island and a benchmark in the very best of Caribbean rum. It’s an overly bold and meaty spirit with lingering notes of dampened wood, dried vanilla pods, toasted butter and a hint of strawberry cream. Let’s be frank here, this is not a rum for an afternoon at the beach but for a cool summer evening, potentially paired with a full-bodied cigar! Cask R13.1 ‘Deep, Rich and Brooding’ hails from a demolished, highly sought-after distillery that has reached a “cult” status among connoisseurs. Big and bold, delightfully complex on the palate with notes of fine pork ribs, garlic clove, Demerara sugar and dark chocolate among many others. The ultimate of the ultimate, a rum to make you rethink the very notion of what rum should be. The only problem? It’s just about gone.
If you’re ready to explore rum yourself, I invite you to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether you are motivated by the idea of trying entirely new flavours or prefer to find a rum that falls more in line with the style of whisky you enjoy, the most exciting step is often the first one.