Proof Positive: Rum For All Reasons

Proof Positive: Rum For All Reasons

in 1789, Captain William Bligh and 18 sailors from the good ship Bounty were set adrift on the high seas by a mutinous crew. They sailed for over six weeks before landing on the island of Timor, near Java, where Bligh reportedly cited rum as being one of the few things that kept up the crew’s spirits as they sought landfall. “The little rum we had was a great service but our nights were particularly distressing. I generally served a teaspoon or two to each person and it was joyful tidings when they heard my intentions,” he said.

Rum has always been associated with the sea, and not without good reason, for it wasn’t until sugarcane was planted on Caribbean islands by Christopher Columbus himself that rum, as we know it, became known to the world. Of course, rum and its base ingredients—sugar and/or molasses—comprised the main cargo of ships sailing from these exotic locations to Europe and the newly formed colonies in what would become the United States. Rum was so popular in early colonial America that, by 1752, Rhode Island alone boasted 30 legitimate distilleries that made rum from the sugar imported from the islands. The demise of American rum started in 1807 when an embargo restricted the importation of molasses from British ports, and shortly thereafter when the importation of slaves became illegal, the rum trade became even less profitable, thus paving the way for whiskey (made from home-grown grain) to become the major spirit of the U.S.A.

But for sailors of the ocean blue, rum remained the tipple of choice for centuries to come. After Admiral Vernon Gordon, an 18th-century British naval officer, deemed that the drink served as a restorative for the sailors under his command, the British Navy issued daily rations of Grog (rum and water) to all sailors. (Gordon’s nickname was “Old Grog,” due to his clothes being made from a coarse cloth known as grogram.) Unfortunately for the Jack Tars, the rations eventually were taken away—on July 31, 1970, a day known as Black Tot Day.

These days, rum-based drinks are still the favored quaffs at many yacht clubs and sailing events, both at home and abroad. At the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, for instance, one of the favorite drinks of the sailing set is the Dark and Stormy, a spicy mixture of the local Gosling’s Black Seal rum and ginger beer, which is served as a highball. At the American Yacht Club in Rye, New York, the Planter’s Punch that soothes the sailors’ throats dried by the salty sea air is a highly guarded recipe. (Though Planter’s Punch can be made to a multitude of different recipes, the essential ingredient, aside from a good tot of hardy rum, of course, is Angostura bitters. Mix the rum and bitters with some fruit juices—grapefruit, orange, pineapple, and cranberry can all be employed in various proportions depending on your taste—and sprinkle a little freshly grated nutmeg on top of the drink for good measure.) And rum and tonic seems to be ordered more in yacht club bars than anywhere else on earth.

Rum also has a serious side that has plenty of appeal for landlubbers. A number of these rich amber spirits have been fashioned for postprandial sipping and also make happy marriages with fruit-laden desserts. Those of you who are fans of well-aged single malt Scotches or Cognacs might be tempted to thumb your nose at some of the age statements printed on bottles of rum: In comparison with the 18-year-old Speyside malt you’re accustomed to sipping, some top-notch rums have spent no more than six to eight years in the wood. What’s the story?

The story is one of climate. It’s a proven fact that spirits aging in wood mature at a far faster rate when they are basking in the Caribbean sun than when they are sitting in a damp wooded glen or by the thrashing seashore in bonny Scotland. There are rums that are matured for as long as 15 years, but due to the prevailing temperatures of their home distilleries, many high-end, very recommendable bottlings require much less aging time than this to develop into sophisticated, complex spirits.

And don’t be tempted to think of sipping rums as sweet. Yes, rum is made from molasses or cane juice, but the fermentation and distillation processes remove all traces of sugar. Calories in distilled spirits are actually governed by their proof, so a bottle of, say, Scotch, at 40 percent alcohol by volume, contains exactly the same number of calories as a bottle of rum at the same proof. Some of the best after-dinner rums can be as dry and as complex as a fine Cognac. If you happen to be a cigar smoker, try dipping the mouth end in a fine rum as you smoke it—it’s a trick we learned from a Venezuelan rum producer. Otherwise, aged sipping rums should be consumed neat—they seldom require awakening with spring water.

So whether you sail the high seas or not this year, spare a thought for rum, one of the world’s most versatile spirits. Next time you’re looking for something a little different, be it in a snifter or a hollowed-out pineapple shell, pour in some of the sailing set’s favorite quaff and try toasting with a hearty “Yo Ho Ho!”

Planter’s Punch
Adapted from a recipe used at the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club, Manhasset, New York.

2 ounces Bacardi Select dark rum
1 ounce Cruzan light rum
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons simple syrup
2 dashes grenadine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 maraschino cherry, for garnish

Pour all of the ingredients into a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Garnish with the cherry.

The Monsanto
Adapted from a recipe used at the Larchmont Yacht Club, Larchmont, New York.

1 ounce Mount Gay rum
1 ounce Myers’s rum
1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
Club soda

Pour all of the ingredients except the club soda into a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass. Top with the club soda, and stir briefly.

The Blacktop
Adapted from a recipe used at the Indian Harbor Yacht Club, Greenwich, Connecticut. Note: It’s important to sip this drink straight from the glass, not through a straw, in order to get the full effect.

2 ounces Mount Gay rum
1 ounce Myers’s rum
1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 maraschino cherry, for garnish
1 orange slice, for garnish

Pour the Mount Gay rum, lemon juice, and simple syrup into a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice cubes. Shake well. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass, and carefully pour the Myers’s rum over the back of a teaspoon so that it floats on top of the drink. Garnish with the cherry and the orange slice.

The Dark and Stormy
Adapted from a recipe used at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, Hamilton, Bermuda. Note: You’ll notice that this version of the Dark and Stormy calls for no garnish. Feel free to add the traditional lime wedge if desired.

1 1/2 ounces Goslings Black Seal rum
Bermuda Stone
Ginger Beer (any other brand will suffice, but don’t use ginger ale)

Pour the rum into a Highball glass. Top with the ginger beer, and stir briefly.


Although we recommend that the following rums be sipped neat, all of them also work well in cocktails and mixed drinks.

Angostura 1824 (Trinidad): A 12-year-old rum with an intricate weave of spices, fruits, a strong dash of vanilla, and some interesting herbal notes.

Appleton Estate Extra 12-year-old (Jamaica): This bottling is dry and richly sweet at the same time; very sherry-like, with a distinct hint of green apples and butter.

J. Bally 1982 (Martinique): A rich rum showing honey, crisp apples, dark berries, dry sherry, and a touch of tobacco.

Barbancourt Estate Réserve (Haiti): The 15-year-old bottling is dry and spicy, with notes of honey, vanilla and butter.

Brugal Añejo (Dominican Republic): A blend of 2- to 6-year-old rums, Brugal Añejo is rich and full of buttery sweetness, yet dry in overall character.

Del Barrilito Three-Star (Puerto Rico): At 6 to 10 years old, this rum displays a rich array of warm spices and fruits—cherries, pears, raisins, cinnamon, allspice, and more.

Gran Blasón Añejo Especial (Costa Rica): This bottling bears a palate full of fruitcake flavors—raisins, cinnamon, allspice, candied citrus peel.

Kaniche Guadeloupe: This 10-year-old rum bears a rich nutty palate and a very interesting mouth-coating oiliness.

Kaniche Martinique: A wonderfully idiosyncratic 12- year-old rum with a hint of herbs and flowers, and a mellow spiciness.

Mount Gay Extra Old (Barbados): A lush rum with notes of dates and raisins intermingled with rich spices, leather, oak, vanilla, and a suggestion of ripe oranges.

Myers’s Legend 10-year-old Jamaican Rum: This bottling is initially sweet with a molasses character, but it quickly shows some floral characteristics and becomes very dry.

Pampero Añejo Aniversario (Venezuela): A blend of 6- to 8-year-old rums, this one is rich with hints of warm spices, vanilla and butterscotch.

Published on May 1, 2000
Topics: Rum, Spirits

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