First of all though we are going to look at another similarity between rum and single malt - the growth of independent bottlers. It's easy to think of them as being a recent phenomenon,though as we will see many have as long a history of bottling rum as they do single malt. Rum and whisky are linked. Accept it and revel in it.
Independent whisky bottlers' interest in rum is not a new development. In some cases it predates their interest in whisky and starts in the 18th century,when rum was by far the more popular spirit in Britain. Things were easy for the rum lover then. Rum punch was the drink of choice, the mojito of its day. (Funny how things come full circle.) Ale houses became punch taverns, just as pubs become bars today, rum was elevated to being the tipple of the literary classes, the elite. If the masses drank gin or ale, then their betters supped at the rum punch bowl. Neither was this solely an English phenomenon.Glasgow, it was reckoned, made the best punch in the country.
Why this national passion? Rum was fashionable, rum was sexy, rum spoke of the success of the Empire, of sugar colonies, of fabulous wealth. It was being unloaded in Bristol, Liverpool and London, at Jamaica Quay in Glasgow.
From the late 18th century on, wine and spirit merchants were tapping into the demand for this exotic liquor. Some began to specialise: E D & F Man (who had the monopoly on Navy rum), E&A Scheer in Amsterdam, Lemon Hart and George Morton of Dundee. Morton's Old Vatted Demerara and Old Vatted Jamaica rums were among the first commercial blended spirits in Britain, predating blended Scotch by over two decades. Others added rum to their portfolio.
"Berry Bros. & Rudd has been supplying rum since the early 19th century,"says Edward Bates at the firm."I believe that we were either supplying the Royal Household or close to it around the time of Trafalgar. Remember,we could sell rum legally at a time when it was difficult to get Scotch whisky and when rum was more popular." Foremost among them was Wm.Cadenhead, while Gordon & MacPhail, Silver Seal, Samaroli and many more 'whisky bottlers' have had rum on their books for almost as long as they have been trading, demonstrating the synergy which exists between the two spirits.
"The focus had shifted in recent years however,"says Bates."and 20 years ago I'm not sure how much rum we were bottling, but when Doug McIvor arrived in 2001 and the whisky range was revitalised, so the same happened to rum."
If there was a catalyst for IB rums in recent times, it was the emergence of the Bristol Spirits Classic Rum selection. A highly respected Cognac shipper, in 1993 John Barrett branched out into rum."We started in rum as a natural follow on to early landed Cognac, widening our field of special bottlings of individual spirits,"he says."It was Bill Thompson at Cadenhead who was instrumental in us developing the range. Going into rum allowed us to enter a new field."
Following Bristol Spirits lead we now have ranges from Plantation, Murray McDavid and Rum Nation the rum division of Italian whisky bottler Wilson & Morgan."We started in rum in 1999,"says Fabio Rossi at Rum Nation,"seven years after our whisky business started.It was an easy step to take as the demand for rum in Italy has grown hugely."
All the bottlers point to a natural cross-over between single malt whisky drinkers and rum.
"They are interested spirit drinkers,"says John Barrett."We are dealing with individuals who appreciate single malt, but also Cognac, Armagnac,bourbon and rum."
Like single malt, the possibilities for exploration within rum are huge: agricole, Latino, Jamaica, Demerara etc, single still, single estate, finishes and while most rum bottlers will source and release casks which they find interesting, Rum Nation is beginning to specialise in Latino styles.
"Single malt whisky drinkers in Italy like more the rhum agricole style (we call it French style) and the complexity of old Jamaican rums, average consumers like more the Latino sweet style,we have followed that,"says Rossi.
"The Latino style could be the future in the UK,"agrees Barrett."Traditionally this market has preferred heavier rums, but we are seeing our bottlings from Nicaragua, Panama etc., proving very popular, they are lighter, softer and easier whereas something like Port Morant [a heavy pot still Guyanese rum] is not everyone's cup of tea. Lighter has more commercial appeal.
"Rum's time has come,"he adds."In terms of category development, it is about 20 years behind single malt and is growing not just across Europe but the Nordics, Japan and North America and it will continue to develop." Italy may provide the template for the future.
"Today, Italy is more a rum market than a whisky market,"says Rossi."The mixable brands have the biggest share, but the niche market is quite big, approximately half million bottles spread across different brands."
As whisky drinkers widen their interests, rum seems set to benefit."The rum renaissance is simply down to market forces," says Bates.
"We sell a good range because the customers ask for a good range. In the same way we can't sell indifferent whisky,we can't sell indifferent rum."
A SELECTION OF THE BEST FROM FOUR BOTTLERS' RANGES BRISTOL SPIRITS
From Trinidad's other (now silent) distiller comes this high-strength aged rum with a nose that's reminiscent of bourbon with added muscovado sugar, chocolate and a touch of oiled saddles. The palate is sweet and chewy with good structure and hints of banana. A great starter.
Guyana single still Versailles 1995,46%
Coming from a single (wooden) pot, this Guyanese rum has a classic concentrated nose: black banana, old shoe leather/suede, brazil nut, dried mulberry. The palate is slightly smoky with some pecan, plantain and with a pure sweet syrup centre.
Guyana single still Port Morant,46% 1990
The double wooden pots of Port Morant offer up this generous and rich rum, all furniture polish, violet and ginger. The layered, complex palate is subtle, balanced with almond black cherry pie filling and brambles. If you love el Dorado 15 you'll love this.
BERRY BROS & RUDD
The light Latino style perfectly on show here: clean and crisp with tangerine and guava with a sweet and smooth palate featuring lots of vanilla ice cream and a citric touch. One for fans of grain.
Back to Guyana for this funky yet sweet bottling that mixes molasses, burnt sugar, flambéed banana that mellows down to old paper and wax. The palate is singed with thick black/tropical fruits. BBR's Islay cask Guyana rum is also recommended for those who like to walk on the weird side.
Latin style once more. Sweet and honeyed with a melting butter, waxy floral character. Very clean in mouth with nutmeg. A dessert rum.
Jamaica 8 Years Old,45%
Jamaica is noted for the pungency of many of its rums but this offers a gentle introduction to the island, all green and leafy with beeswax/pollen, lime, thyme and golden syrup. Lots of spice on the palate.
Ron Milionario Solera 15
Very sound example of Rum Nation's speciality area, all red cherry, light tar, fruit syrups, treacle, wet leaves. The palate is thick and sweet mixing barley sugar, mint and chocolate. Very sweet.
Jamaica Supreme Lord IV
The polar opposite, but classic Jamaican: all vegetal notes, tinned pineapple, nuts and fleshy tropical fruits. Intense and with good length.
Martinique 12 Years Old
Our only agricole (cane juice) in this selection. Light scented with white pepper, saffron, violet then dark chocolate and vanilla pod. The finish is rose-like. Their Hors d'Age is equally impressive with notes of clove,geranium and rosewater.