For Single Malt Fans
Bruichladdich Renegade Rum
From Scotland (by way of Guyana): Bruichladdich’s Master Distiller Jim McEwan struck a tricky balance with this bottle, a rum distilled in the agricole style — that is, from sugar cane juice rather than molasses — and aged in French oak barrels on the Scottish isle of Islay. The intuitive combination of pot still distillation (later supplanted by column distillation, this was the method by which rum was originally produced) and agricole style (through which the terroir of the cane bears significant influence over the final product) suggests a coming rum renaissance — a return to, and a refinement of, the foundational method of rum distillation, through which all of the spirit’s varied forms can finally be recognized. This is both cause for celebration amongst rum lovers, and an interesting avenue for fans of single malts.
Tasting Notes: The nose exudes earth and grass, lightly underlined by more typical notes of ripe and fecund fruit. But the taste is anything but typical: the first blush is an overwhelming gust of sea air, salt, brine and kelp, undoubtedly drawn into the barrel from the winds of Islay. A surprisingly light finish reminds you that this is an agricole-style rum, as does a slow-blooming layer of caramel and prune, uniting the spirit’s homeland with its adopted guardians.
Black Tot Last Consignment British Rum
From Britain (by way of the greater Caribbean): From 1655 to 1970, sailors in the British Royal Navy received a ration of rum. Known as “tot”, the black strap rum was born of the sparest of distillation methods — meaning the liquid was every bit as pernicious in taste as the day it was invented. The Black Tot line is as rare as rums come — it’s the very last reserve of that consignment rum (the rum ration was cut in 1970). Bottles go for near $1,000, and they’ll surely creep over that horizon as those bottles vanish.
Tasting Notes: Everything you’d expect from the high seas — an extremely hot and peppery rum, abrasively at first, that coats the tongue with deeply bitter molasses and a prevailing sense of burnt leather that grows more distinct with each sip. Once that initial sting softens, dried prunes and apricots settle in, at odds with a bitterness not unlike Malta. Is that lime in the finish, or just the ghostly memory of a mug of grogg?
Samaroli Demerara 1988
From Scotland (by way of Guyana): A legendary Italian whisky bottler, Silvano Samaroli is one of the forerunners of the deindustrialization of Scotch, championing small batches and world-traveling barrel aging. Having “reached a limit” for whiskies, Samaroli turned his attention to rum, focusing largely on demerara styles (made from sugar cane grown in Guyana). Each rum is aged in a single cask in Scotland starting from the year on the bottle — 1988 in this case. Scotland’s lighter climate slows down the aging process, which occurs much more quickly in the Caribbean, for a distinct profile all its own.
Tasting Notes: The demerara style distinguishes itself in an immediately more watery mouthfeel, in contrast with the often silky, syrupy texture of other rums. This makes the rummy dark fruit flavors more contained and less intense, though no less expressive: figs and honey play on the entire tongue rather than just the rear of it, colored just slightly by allspice — and an impressive, barely there hint of bitter mamey. Leather and cinnamon assert themselves in a pronounced-yet-refined finish.
Samaroli Caribbean 2003
From Scotland (by way of Cuba): Samaroli’s other sought-after bottle of rum goes by the name “Caribbean” only in the US. Elsewhere? It’s called “Cuba.” Same bottle — same label, even, save for the one word. But what’s in a name? As with the Demerara, the rum was distilled in the country noted by the title — so we’ll say “the Caribbean”, for Signori Samaroli’s sake — and aged for 7 years in casks in Scotland.
Tasting Note: Not unlike the Samaroli Demerara, the Caribbean is lighter, with a less overpowering mouthfeel than most, with a pleasing and paradoxically light earthiness balancing out sweet, subtle notes of banana and vanilla. All this, and just a touch of spice.
Rum’s Estranged Parent
Privateer Amber Rum
From Ipswich, MA: But if you’d prefer to keep it in the homeland, look no further than Privateer International. Based just outside of Boston in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Privateer seeks to restore and renew Colonial rum aesthetics. The “True American” aged rum is made from grade A American molasses and boiled brown sugar, double distilled, aged in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels and finished in Bourbon, brandy and sherry casks. Learn more about their methods here.
Tasting Notes: This is the rum for reluctant converts, its first sip bearing oaky, leathery notes more common to single malts. Gradually the molasses comes forward, the leather and oak slowly relegating to the finish rather than the fore. Then, caramel, cola and hazelnut join in, easing the drinker from refined simplicity to the versatility and variety of flavor that makes rum special.
Owney’s NYC Rum
From Brooklyn, NY: Distilled from grade A, non-GMO molasses in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Owney’s Rum harkens back to the prohibition era, when rum distillation was not uncommon in New York City. The Noble Experiment NYC, founded by Bridgit Firtle, is currently the only rum distillery in Brooklyn. (We’ll see how long they can say that.)
Tasting Notes: A fine argument for the simplicity of clear, un-aged rum, this will put your memories of Bacardi Silver far behind you. More pleasant memories of carnival popcorn and fresh vanilla ice cream play on the nose like a blissful summer. What you see — or smell — is what you get: lightly buttered popcorn and vanilla, nary a hint of paint-thinner harshness to be found. Dangerously easy to sip.