Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the rum: Whiskey and gin have a major advantage over the dark spirit from molasses: they’re made locally. Even vodka can have a “made in Ireland” label, but rum’s raw material prevents it from becoming a viable liquid to distill in latitudes unsuitable for sugar cane plantations. This doesn’t mean there’s not a there are no rums for whiskey drinkers out there.
There in fact are many fine rums that share several of the traits that we know and love in uisce beatha: smooth, golden, butterscotchy and nutty… they might come from very different islands, but passionate distillers bottle wonders both sides of the Atlantic.
A (very) Brief History of Rum’s Rollercoaster of a Reputation
Rum traveled everywhere the British Navy went to during the empire’s golden age and it was one of the most popular spirits, along with Dutch genever and French brandy, across the British Empire.
The same advancements in distilling that benefited whiskey in the 19th century, helped improve rum’s quality and at times in which grain had to be saved for food, whiskey volumes suffered (Irish whiskey was hit specially hard).
This situation was worsened by prohibition in the US, one of whiskey’s most important markets. By the time Americans were allowed to drink again, (blurry) memories of flash holidays in Cuba had given rum a double-edged sword: its image was a party by the beach, the distilled equivalent of a cheerful Carmen Miranda dancing with a fruit hat in between world wars.
This image of rum in the States resonated in Ireland and the rest of the world, but on this side of the Atlantic there wasn’t much thirst for exotic beverages; in fact, the variety of local offers was also very meagre. The eighties and nineties saw rum coming back, this time disguised under copious amounts of pineapple juice, coconut cream and a little umbrella.
Nowadays, Ireland’s craft drinks movement has transformed the way we drink, it has multiplied the existence of proper gin and whiskey menus and it has given Poitín luxury packaging. Rum arrived late to the premiumisation party and until now, it had sat quietly in a corner, slowly flirting with Irish bartenders in the hopes that they will set the trend.
Rum, the Bartender’s Gold
Rum’s ups and downs never stopped Irish bartenders from loving it, and the alcoholic ambassador of the Caribbean is in fact one of the most popular choices across cocktail menus in the best bars in the country. Lemuel’s’ talented Alan Moore expressed his hopes of seeing “rum coming back” at a recent interview with TheTaste, and The Exchequer’s star mixer Conor Myers works his magic with Bacardi both at Electric Picnic and at his bar. “Rum is life”, he says, and he’s not short in compliments to what he calls “the most versatile, delicious spirit in the world.”
VCC’s Gareth Lambe loves to mix it with other spirits to create punches and cocktails of great depth and flavour, and at trendy Zozimus, Ireland’s Diplomatico Rum World Tournament finalist Pat Thomas is keen to combine it into enticing classics with a modern twist. Pat points out that they “carry a decent selection, on the back-bar, of a good cross-section of global rums” including the house’s pour, Plantation, a “real rum drinker’s rum”, as well as bottles ranging from the go-to punch spikers to serious aged Caribbean gold.
Rum is a drink that reminds people of their holidays, especially now moving into the summer. G&T’s are all well and good, but great rum cocktails scream vacation time and friends having fun until the wee small hours.”
Even Irish speakeasy pioneer and cocktail purist Paul Lambert, from The Blind Pig, is partial to this amber treasure and pointed out how he believes Tiki cocktails (inspired by Polynesian culture, imagery and tropical landscapes) are a trend that we might see more of in Ireland very soon.
However, uisce beatha is still what the drink connoisseurs fancy neat, and as the world’s thirst for Irish whiskey grows, many consumers in Ireland have renewed their appreciation for bottles old and new as well as for good Bourbon, Scotch and other world whiskeys. Enjoying the nuances of serious, authentic rum is a reasonable progression for a person who loves to savour well crafted spirits. Rums for whiskey drinkers to enjoy are usually deep, aged for longer and intense compared to their peers.
The more palates discover, the more their owners want to continue tasting different flavours. It’s similar to what goes on with food: people travel, explore and bring home memories of remote culinary traditions, expanding their horizons and opening their pantries to what was once deemed as exotic.
Why stop at the kitchen? Here are seven rums for whiskey drinkers, try them neat or with a couple of ice cubes.
Bacardi 8 Year Old Rum
40% ABV – Puerto Rico
Rum giant Bacardi has an ace up its sleeve. While we’ve come to know the brand for its clear and versatile white rum, this honeyed aged bottle is not one you want to mix into a Mojito.
The youngest spirit in the blend is 8 years old and it has been aged in ex-Bourbon barrels. Thick and creamy in texture and with flavours of honeycomb, ripe peaches and nutmeg. If you enjoy American whiskeys, give this rum a chance.
Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old
43% ABV – Jamaica
Appleton Estate is one of the oldest and most successful distilleries whose history has helped shape that of Jamaican rum. A dozen years might seem ordinary in whiskey standards, but in the heat of the Caribbean, this means it has aged substantially.
Mature, with notes of cocoa, caramelised plantain, roasted coffee and praline. Distilled in copper pot stills, it’s one that lovers of smooth and spicy single pot still Irish whiskey might find pleasantly familiar.
Flor de Cana 12 Year Old Centenario
40% ABV – Nicaragua
€39.99 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop
This ultra-premium rum is not only superb value, it’s a product of love, made by the fifth generation of a family that sources molasses from their own plantations, an unusual example of a single estate product in the rumsphere.
No additives go into this sustainably produced, award-winning peppery rum with a herbal presence and flavours of citrus peel and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Love pungent rye whiskey? Then, salud!
Luscious and opulent, its sweet and intense character regales you with dark chocolate, burnt caramel, Christmas cake, clove, dates and dried apricots. Complex and generous, it packs a big punch in a small package.
Old Fashioned aficionados will be blown away by how indulgent and mellow their favourite cocktail can become when made with this rum. Alternatively, it is just perfect on a hot chocolate or poured over creamy vanilla ice cream.
Elements Eight Gold Rum
40% ABV – St. Lucia
€49.99 – Available at Celtic Whiskey Shop
This is made from a blend of 10 different rums from molasses, distilled in a combination of column, hybrid and pot stills and aged in lightly charred ex-Bourbon casks. The result is light golden rum with a light palate. Tangerines, orange blossom, passion fruit, vanilla and toasted almonds are some of its wonders.
If you like Bourbon or youthful Irish whiskey, this bright and silky rum is worth tasting.
Gosling’s Black Seal Bermuda Black Rum
40% ABV – Bermuda
This deep coloured rum has a thick and viscous texture and an intense palate that evokes the taste of dark chocolate, burnt sugar, treacle and blackberry pie.
Nutty, rich and with a sweet attack, it’s one to try if you enjoy Jameson with lime and ginger. Mix it with ginger beer and lime for a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, the tropical version of the popular mixed drink.
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum
40% ABV – Venezuela
This multi-award winning rum is distilled in copper pot-still and aged for 12 years in ex-bourbon casks. Molasses are combined with sugar cane honey, so the result has a mellow, sweet finish of maple syrup, vanilla pods and marmalade.
Lovers of well-rounded, smooth, aged blended Irish whiskey will find a pleasant reminiscence.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.