2006_06_food_rum.jpgWe know the scene so well. Friends sitting around, looking bored, perhaps stranded in some dark train station, and then Barcardi (rum) shows up. The group is almost instantaneously transported to a tropical paradise, clad with buxom blondes in bikinis and a steel drum band. The party has begun. We’ve seen the commercial too many times and maybe even threw a bash or two, making Captain Morgan our guest of honor. There is no question that rum has earned somewhat of a reputation as the party animal of liquors – the bottle behind the bar with the lampshade on its head. But what if we were to tell you there is another side to rum – a serious, complex and even deep side? Would you believe that while it can be a central component to a fun, flirty cocktail – rum could also be a rich, intense spirit? There is a whole other side to rum that most of us never see. But with just a little shift in perspective, it’s clear that rum can be business up front AND party in the back. Maybe even the mullet of liquors.

The Caribbean is the spiritual home of rum (a.k.a, Rhum or Ron). The light rums of Puerto Rico or the heavier rums of Martinique hint at the broad spectrum of flavor and body that this spirit can exhibit. Made by fermenting and distilling sugar cane, sugar cane syrup or molasses - it can be bottled young, aged in cask for years or blended in a solera system (a method of blending older spirits with younger spirits, made famous by the production of sherry). Unfortunately for us, our experience with rum had just barely scratched the surface of styles out there. We mixed it in our Mai Tai or blended it in our jungle punch (don’t judge – you know we all have found memories of chasing keg stands with cups of punch). But this week, ready to push our horizons and test our livers we set out to explore the dark side…

All the rums we tried below were served neat. This helped us to get a better understanding of the spirit and many will argue, that with any great spirit it’s the only way to drink it. There is no question that these rums shined solo and needed nothing else to bring out the best in them – but sometimes you just need a cocktail, and these rums can be just the way to make your favorite drink shine. What it comes down to is drink them neat or have them mixed, but don’t take these rums too seriously. You’ll anger the locals.

Ron del Barrilito, Puerto Rico, around $25
This amber rum made from molasses has notes of butterscotch and a smooth mellow texture. The perfect sipper for beginners like us.

Rhum Barbancourt, Reserve Special, Haiti, around $35
Maybe it was the fat kid in us that loved this one so much, but after a moment or two in the glass this rum revealed aromas of vanilla frosting and cake batter. We went back for seconds. This pot-stilled, aged in oak rum is made from distilled rain-water in small batches – giving character that shows in the glass.

Santa Teresa, Ron Antigua de Solera, Venezuela, around $30
If the other rum was the cake, then this one’s the candy bar. Notes of rich, creamy caramel were perfectly complimented by a nutty flavor and a hint of fried plantains. This rum was smooth, silky and indulgent.

Saint James, Extra Old, AOC, Martinique, around $30
This rum had depth and several layers of flavors to keep us occupied. Notes of orange, spice and chocolate were fairly intense and lingered long after we swallowed.

Getting to know the more serious side of this fun, festive spirit gave many more reasons to love rum. Buy a bottle and keep it handy for whatever mood your in. Sometimes you might want a complex, intense spirit but sometimes you just may want to let that long hair (in the back) down.

Tasting conducted at the Brandy Library, located 25 North Moore Street, b/w Hudson and Varrick