An overlooked spirit comes into its own, and it’s cause for celebration
While traditional luxury libations like Scotch and cognac have long held prized positions on the shelves of spirits enthusiasts, the fascination with high-end tequila, vodka, gin and whisky from around the globe has skyrocketed in recent years. This obsession with “premiumization” inexplicably bypassed rum, however; the versatile spirit seemed relegated to a dark corner as a drink best suited to sailors, gentleman rogues, and other salty ne’er-do-wells.
But not any more: in 2018 alone, volume of super-premium rums skyrocketed 27%—the biggest leap in any super-premium spirits category—underscoring the burgeoning global appreciation of this fine spirit distilled from sugarcane byproducts. And at this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition an astounding number of premium rum entries qualified, with Ron Zacapa Centenario Sistema Solera 23 from Guatemala claiming a gold medal.
“I like to think that anything you can do, rum can do better,” explains Brian Miller, partner (as well as Beverage Director and bartender) at New York City’s esteemed tiki joint The Polynesian. While Miller suggests playing with your favorite recipes by substituting white rums for gin, tequila, and vodka, and darker rums for whiskeys, in cocktails like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Sazerac, there are many rums so smooth and amusingly complex that they can (and some would argue should) be sipped neat or with a couple of rocks. Here are our favorites:
MOUNT GAY 1703 MASTER SELECT
With a deed dating back to 1703, Mount Gay lays claim to being the world’s oldest premium rum brand. To celebrate its 300-plus years of heritage, the Barbados-based label created 1703 Master Select, a cherrypicked blend of the legendary distillery’s finest single and double pot- and column-still rums from its oldest reserves. The barrels were carefully monitored, all resting between 10 and 30 years, then expertly blended for what is Mount Gay’s rarest and oldest expression. The long sleep lends 1703 Master Select, which was overseen by the brand’s new Master Blender, Trudiann Branker, an oaky nose, with hints of caramel and a superb round mouthfeel.
RON ZACAPA CENTENARIO XO
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