In the America spirit market, gin’s artisanal turn has been the talk of the town for several years, and the category’s clear winner for the last few years. According to the latest data, though, it seems the tipple is in danger of being toppled from the top spot as rum earns itself a place in the American public’s affection. Figures from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association indicate sales of golden and spiced varieties are soaring – up 23 percent last year – precipitating the launch of a raft of new, independent brands hoping to hook a fresh generation of drinkers with a preference for quality over quantity.
It wasn’t always so, of course. Compared to gin and whisky, rum had trouble attracting a sophisticated crowd until lately, and, by the mid-2000s, the spirit had gone the way of the alcopop. But unlike gin – which, these days, is almost invariably enjoyed with tonic – rum’s strength is its versatility: it can be sipped neat, mixed with Coke or ginger, or meddled into a lengthy list of long and short cocktails. Diversity in the category, too, can’t hurt. Though rum is, at its most rudimentary, a distillate of fermented sugarcane or molasses, numerous ageing and flavouring techniques mean there’s more experimentation than ever. After all, rum is not a one-size-fits-all sort of drink. To that end, we’ve singled out six exciting craft bottles to suit every palate.
Merser & Co.
For the newcomer
“Rum is part of our national heritage,” Merser & Co.’s Mr James Hayman tells us. “It has played as great a role in our shared social history as English gin or Scotch whisky.” The brainchild of the gin-making Hayman family, the blending house is the first of its type to open in London in more than 100 years and aims to revive the lost tradition and art of marrying rums from across the globe. As well as its quaffable double-barrel blend – a crowd-pleasing toffee-toned, tropical-tasting rum made from a mixture of aged Caribbean rums – the brand offers guided appointments, tastings and tours at its cosy Strand outpost. Best savoured neat, keep an eye on your drinking companions: this stuff won’t last long in the bottle.
Drum and Black
For the sophisticate
Forget what you think you know about spiced rum. One of few rums distilled in England, Drum & Black is doing a top job of shifting the liquor’s unsavoury reputation. “Until now, spiced rums have been associated with lower-quality mixing spirits,” explains co-founder Mr Dan Buckland, who adds that our increasingly adventurous palates have driven innovation in the category. The brand’s own recipe is an indulgent blend of seven natural botanicals, including Indian cinnamon, English honey and Spanish oranges, which give it a well-rounded, easy-drinking profile that’s more than suitable for sipping.
For the mixologist
Call it the Bacardi Breezer effect, but white rum isn’t enjoying quite the boom that dark, amber and spiced varieties have. In fact, sales have been waning. But a new breed of brands, such as Copalli, a single-estate rum sustainably and organically produced in Belize, is hoping to shift snobbish attitudes to the clear stuff with a clean approach. “You only have to look at the rise in popularity of flavourful tequilas, mezcal and creative gins to see that consumers are opting for complex, layered flavour in the spirits they’re buying,” says co-founder Ms Anya Fernald. “Craft rum made from sugarcane juice has a full-bodied natural flavour that marries this demand perfectly.”
For adventurous types
Bottled in a moonshine-style growler jug, one might assume Burning Barn’s rum range (which includes spiced and honeyed variations) hails from across the pond, but it was born in the UK. The smoked iteration is a national first and was inspired, like the brand’s moniker, by a fire at the label’s facility. Sourced from the Diamond Distillery outside of Georgetown, Guyana, the amber liquid is cold smoked over homemade apple wood, giving it an intense nose and flavour reminiscent of black treacle. Though excellent as is, it’ll add an unusual depth and dimension to a dark and stormy.
For the spice lover
Crafted in Aberdeenshire, Scotland – at what’s thought to be the country’s first rum distillery – and the second spicy preparation on this list, Dark Matter is billed as “the taste equivalent of warping into a liquid black hole, but without every atom in your body being crushed to an infinitely small point.” And if by that they mean that the rich mahogany liquor packs a punch, then we’re in firm agreement. Without a hint of the saccharine sweetness typically associated with spiced rum, this is a complex concoction with zingy pepper, ginger and a lingering suggestion of cloves and nutmeg. For the full impact, sip it solo with a spritz of lime.
For the aficionado
Recently nominated by Stormzy as one of his favourite tipples, Afro-Caribbean rum Equiano is named in honour of abolitionist Mr Olaudah Equiano and is sourced from two of the world’s best producers: Foursquare in Barbados and Gray’s Distillery in Mauritius. 100 per cent natural and aged for at least eight years, it’s finished in bourbon casks to impart a warming flavour ripe with raisins, toffee and butterscotch. “It is a unique and versatile rum, a world’s first in marrying rum from two continents [and] two different rum cultures,” says global rum ambassador Mr Ian Burrell, who co-founded the brand. “I enjoy mine neat with a twist of orange peel.”