By Robert Marshall
With the chilly winter months truly behind us there is no better way to enjoy the long, lion days of summer than with a glass of rum, but where to start? Rum is the most diverse category of all the spirits encompassing a range of styles from easily accessible and affordable commercial Cuban white rums, to aromatic rich, spiced infused rums and, for those who wish to sip and savour, refined matured rums that rival the complexity and price of the finest Scotch single-malt whiskies.
Ian Barbour – The sugar cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa
The genesis of rum has far from illustrious origins. In the 17th century sugar cane was the driving force behind the wealth of the large imperialist nations. Almost 1.5 million African slaves were transported to the British West Indies from 1672 -1775 to work on the sugar plantations. The first proto-rums were rough, course spirits distilled from molasses, a byproduct of refining sugar. However the potential of this seductive, sweet elixir was noted by the sugar barons and slave owners and, by the 18th century, industrial production methods had been introduced and rum had become an important trading commodity between the seafaring nations.
Rum is produced throughout the world, from Australia to Venezuela, and, when aged in oak barrels, matures at a much faster rate in hot climatic conditions. White rums are almost always un-aged, although they can be aged and have the colour filtered out, and remain firm favourites in simple cocktails like Cuba Libra (rum and coke). Spiced rums are, as the name suggests, flavoured with spices and work well in cocktails when balanced with the right ingredients. Finally, aged rums are matured in casks which allow the spirit to interact with the wood and air to create smooth and rich rums that are best sipped with a single block of ice or neat.
Dark ‘n’ Stormy
This nautically named summer drink is an easy cocktail to start with. You will need a decent dark rum (the stronger the better), a good ginger beer (the fierier the better), plenty of ice, a lime wedge and a Collins glass. Pour the ginger beer over ice and add a good few slugs of dark rum and watch the clouds form at the top of the glass and slowly fuse to create a perfect storm of rich treacle, spicy, sweet ginger with a lime citrus kick. For the best results use Navy strength rum of 54.5% ABV- a specific alcohol level that historically refers to the spirit’s ‘proof’. On the long sea voyages, and during naval battles, it was quite common for the rum casks to break, spill their contents and mix with the gunpowder. Therefore rum was barrelled at Navy Strength, so if upsets occurred the gunpowder could still ignite, whilst the rum remained a daily dose of pleasure for the crew – an interesting fact to contemplate as you leisurely make yourself a second Dark ‘n’ Stormy.
A true classic and a must if you want to explore the cannon of cocktails. The Daiquri family is large and elements can be adapted and replaced but rum always remains the core ingredient, balanced, most frequently, with a citrus juice (usually lime) and a sweetener (usually sugar syrup). The cocktails exact origins are debatable; it may take its name from a Cuban beach named Daiquiri. What is certain is that it became a hit in the New York nightclubs of the early 20th century and by the 40s was firmly established. Ernest Hemingway loved Daiquiris so much he created his own version called the papa doble.
Daiquiris pack a punch as big as Hemingway’s ego; you will need a good sized shaker and plenty of ice. Commercial white rum will suffice (9 parts), combined with freshly squeezed lime juice (5 parts) and sugar syrup (3 parts). Shake and double strain into a chilled Martini glass.
Tiki Culture exploded onto the American hospitality scene in the 1930s and with it a colourful array of exotic cocktails with the Mai Tai being, perhaps, the most famous and enduring. A chap named Trader Vic (real name Victor J. Bergeron) is credited with inventing the drink, and ‘Mai Tai’! roughly translates as ‘good’ in Tahitian.
Whilst other kitschy cocktails have fallen out of favour, the Mai Tai has remained a staple on cocktail menus throughout the world. Combine fresh lime juice, sugar syrup, orgeat almond syrup (most supermarkets will stock this, with Monin being the most popular brand), Cointreau and make sure to use a quality premium aged rum (e.g. 12 yrs) to add complexity. Shake with ice and serve into a chilled tumbler glass and garnish with lime peel and a fresh sprig of mint.
Robert Marshall is a Wine and Spirits consultant living and working in Romania since 2007.