As the temperature drops, take your taste buds on a rum-soaked Caribbean cruise. A growing number of premium rums are appearing on the shelves. Some are new (or simply new to U.S. drinkers), while others are revivals of old favorites. Here’s a line-up of stars in the rum firmament you’ll want to try.
Lemon Hart 151 (Guyana, $31): “Very few spirits are indispensible, but this is one of those spirits,” says Giuseppe Gonzalez of New York tiki bar PKNY, who uses it in high-octane drinks like the Zombie and Jet Pilot.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t have a lemony flavor. This Demerara sugar rum (sourced from sugar cane fields in Demerara, a former British colony that is now a part of Guyana), runs toward deep, dark caramel and coffee flavors. Last year, tikiphiles panicked after U.S. distribution of this “navy strength” 151-proof bottling was halted. However, Ed Hamilton of Ministry of Rum (a rum author, ministryofrum.com) recently began importing this spirit back to select markets in the U.S. This overproof rum is too intense for sipping; float it in small quantities on top of cocktails for extra flavor and oomph.
Brugal 1888 (Dominican Republic, $50): This limited-edition and value-priced rum, newly launched in 2011, comes from the Dominican Republic. Finished in Sherry casks, look for a bright copper-penny color, lush aromas of burnt orange and raisin, and a smooth, full-bodied texture. Enjoy the elongated flavors of toffee flavor dusted with Mexican-spiced chocolate while you can.
Ron Abuelo Centuria (Panama, $130): From Panama, this sipping rum was made to celebrate 100 years of family rum-making. To produce this rare spirit, the Varela family opened up its private stocks from their highly-guarded “Reserva de la Familia,” ranging in age from eight up to 30 years, aged in American whiskey barrels. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more complex and beautiful sipping rum, with its powerful, lingering flavors of crème brûlée, coffee bean, caramel, cola and muted gingerbread spices.
Bacardi Oakheart (Puerto Rico, $16): A new spiced rum from Bacardi, this one is great for adding zest to cool-weather toddies. While many spiced rums derive their amber hue from added coloration, here dark rum is aged in charred American white oak barrels (hence the product’s name), then spiced with natural flavors like maple, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey and vanilla.
Prichard’s Fine Aged Rum (USA; Tennessee, $35): Not every rum hails from a Caribbean island. In fact, Prichard’s Distillery—which also makes rye, Bourbon, and of course, Tennessee whiskey—also makes a mighty fine American Rum right here in the continental U.S.
Working out of an old schoolhouse fitted as a distillery, proprietor Phil Prichard uses “table grade” (not industrial) molasses to make rum, aged in charred new oak casks (not barrels previously used to hold Bourbon or Sherry, as is the industry standard). The end result is a vanilla-scented spirit with lush hazelnut and clove tones, ideal for crafting into a sidecar-style cocktail.
Those with a sweet tooth may also enjoy Prichard’s flavored rums, such as Peach Mango and Key Lime. And if Kelso, Tennessee, is on your travel itinerary, stop by the distillery and pick up a bottle of their excellent 12-year-old aged rum, only available on-site.