The perfect summer spirit also offers some of the highest quality for the money.By Daniel Gritzer; Photographs by Roxana Marroquin
Say “rum” and most people think of party drinks involving tropical fruit juices and the occasional slush machine. That’s perfectly fine for a cooling beverage at a backyard barbecue, but it’s not exactly the kind of thing that earns alcohol a distinguished rep. Even today, despite barkeeping’s second golden age and rum’s historical significance—it was the hard stuff of choice in Colonial America and a driving force behind both the slave trade and the American Revolution—the sugarcane distillate is more often associated with Coca-Cola than cognac. “One of the problems with rum as a category is it’s been synonymous with Bacardi or Captain Morgan, neither of which is really a premium rum,” says Ian Williams, author of Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776.
Cocktail menus dedicated to brown liquors like bourbon, rye, Scotch and even tequila are increasingly common, but aged rum has yet to take the spotlight. In addition to making great summer cocktails, premium rums make for excellent sipping spirits, and offer one of the best values around. “When people taste premium aged rums, they’re stunned by the quality, and that’s before you start mentioning the prices,” explains Williams, adding, “a 15-year-old rum is going to cost a third of a 15-year-old Macallan.” Produced in Caribbean and Latin American countries where costs are low, and made from the abundant sugarcane crop, rum can spend years aging in oak barrels without a significant increase in price. The result is a diverse array of sipping spirits that have complex flavors including wood, spice, smoke and molasses, yet are still inexpensive enough—often under $30 per bottle—that you won’t feel guilty mixing them into cocktails. Fun, flexible, cheap and sophisticated? Sounds like our kind of drink.