Global phenomenon

Global phenomenon

Travelling around the rum world, Dave introduces us to the various styles.

Production 08 Sep 2008 | Interviews | By Dave Broom

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Distillers, as well we know, use what grows around them and rum is no exception to that rule. So,wherever you find cane growing you’ll be pretty sure to find a rum close by.Its heartland however lies in the Caribbean islands and Central and Latin America. It’s this spiritual home which we’ll concentrate on here and see how distillers in each of these countries have taken the basic recipe of a distilled molasses/cane juice ‘beer’and put their own spin on things.Although there will be similarities: notes of vanilla, banana, tropical fruits being the most common,there are wider stylistic differences than most people imagine.Barbados was one of the first, if not the first,Caribbean island to start producing rum in what could be called a commercial fashion. In 1647 a wide-eyed traveler,Richard Ligon unwittingly became the first person to write about the spirit as he described its production.Rum was soon to change its nature from a second-rate distillate:“a hott hellish and terrble liquor”as one account has it, into a premium spirit.By the 18th century rum punches were a highclass beverage,by the 19th century wine and spirit importers were blending different rums to make their own brands, years before it would happen with Scotch.As far as Barbados is concerned, today there are three distilleries: West Indies Rum Distillery (home to Cockspur and provider of base spirit for Malibu),Mount Gay (producer of the eponymous brand and a new triple distilled pot still rum Mount Gilboa) and Foursquare, run by the most innovative distiller in the Caribbean,Richard Seale,and home to brands such as Doorly’s Fields, R.L.Seale as well as contract rums Tommy Bahama,Rum Sixty Six and Mahiki.The key to the rums from this placid island is balance.Bajan rums are the quiet diplomats of the rum world; they balance the depth of pot still and the delicacy of column still, they have a subtle soft depth but are never overly oaky. Similar styles of rum are also made at the enterprising St Lucia distillery [Chairman’s Reserve,Admiral Rodney, Elements Eight] and on Antigua [English Harbour] and Grenada [Clarke’s Court].If Barbados is calm in style, Jamaica is the opposite.The main producer is Wray & Nephew whose Overproof White is an iconic brand, and whose Appleton Estate personifies the complexities of the Jamaican style.They are based on pot-still distillates each with its own peculiarities.The key character here is a perfumed intensity.To rum blenders they are the equivalent of a smoky Islay, giving extra character.The third main style is from Guyana, home to one of the world’s greatest distilleries, Diamond. At one point each sugar plantation in Guyana had its own distillery,making its own unique ‘mark’, often from a very specific type of still.As the sugar industry consolidated so these distilleries closed down, but these stills were saved, eventually all ending up at Diamond.Here are wooden pot stills, the oldest operating (wooden) Coffey still in the world and a column still which alone makes nine very different marks.The style is rich, mellow, darkfruited and sweet.The main brand is el Dorado whose range is a cross-section of each of those amazing stills and Banks.Sweetness is also a key to Latin American rums, though here the base spirit is most commonly a light column still rum.The style was first made (by Bacardi) in Cuba in the late 19th century. It was the arrival of these light rums which world rum kick-started rum’s second age.Up until then rum had been quite heavy in character, rich and deep, now with the arrival of column stills it was more amenable and mixable.No surprise then that when Havana became the crucible of cocktails in the 1930s the greatest were based on light rum.When you make a simple drink with vodka (say vodka & cola) it becomes an alcoholic cola.When you use rum it becomes rum + cola = new flavours.That ability to add flavour and character to a drink is one of rum’s greatest assets.Today Havana Club is the best of the Cuban brands.Producers of this light, slightly spicy style include the daddy of them all,Bacardi, as well as Brugal and Barcelo [Dominican Republic], Flor de Cana [Nicaragua] and Zacapa [Guatemala] as well as a quartet of rums from Venezuela, some of which have a pot still element in the blend:Pampero, Diplomatico,Cacique and Santa Teresa.Note that many Latin rums use the solera aging system,which can cause some confusion when age statements are being declared.Trinidad & Tobago (home to Angostura) also makes rums in this lighter style.Up until now all these rums have been made from molasses. In French departements however it is more common to use fermented sugar cane juice.This gives rhum agricole its vegetal/grassy character.Aging takes place in ex- Cognac barrels (though some ex- Bourbon barrels are now being used) which adds a fine tannic grip and spiciness to the mature rhum.Precise, nutty and elegant, the best examples come from Martinique and Guadeloupe and a range of producers such as JM,Clement, St Eteinne,Trois Rivieres and Bielle.A similar style is made in Haiti at Barbancourt and there are agricoles from the Indian Ocean as well. If the term rhum industriel is used that means the spirit is molasses based.Let’s not forget spiced rum, produced since the spirit first appeared.Spices, a way to cover up some pretty hott and hellish liquor, can be divided into two camps: the traditionalists, which tend to be dry (Foursquare,Kweyol,Montecristo) and the commercial brands which tend to be simpler and more vanilla-based (Captain Morgan Original Spiced, Sailor Jerry).The final style is Navy rum,given to all Royal Navy sailors from 1656 to August 1, 1970.The style lives on in brands such as Lamb’s,Black Heart,Trawler,Captain Morgan, Woods, etc.Heavily caramelised, bitter sweet and treacle-like they also have their part to play in this widely diverse spirit.
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