Dark rums for dark days
Dark rum is having its moment in the sun. But as the days darken, here are our rum picks to keep you company on the cold days ahead.
If the 2010s were all about gin, the 2020s are, in the spirits world, increasingly the preserve of rum. The sugar-cane-derived distillation has, since the pandemic, established itself as the darling of restless bartenders keen to find a canvas for their creative skills. And two new premium dark rums are perfectly pitched to provide just that – and to showcase rum’s long overlooked versatility and quality.
Almost as soon as the gin market started showing signs of finally becoming saturated after a decade or more of artisan distilleries seemingly popping up on a weekly basis, rum was touted as its natural successor. Tellingly, though, rum is being reborn as a luxury sipping spirit, rather than in its traditional role as a cheap mixer. Such an evolution was all but confirmed when Moët Hennessy launched a premium rum in 2020 to join the likes of Belvedere and Glenmorangie in its vaunted spirits portfolio. And while the drinks giant had little heritage in rum production (a previous incarnation, 10 Cane, was short-lived), that’s not a problem when you have friends in high places.
Instead of starting from scratch, Moët Hennessy teamed up with the Cuban government, and state-owned Ron Cuba, which has a long history of laying down rum to mature, thereby providing ready-made stocks of ‘aguardientes’ – the most age-worthy and complex molasses-based eaux-de-vie – to draw upon. By blending these liquids with its own traditional, light Cuban rum, the premium brand Eminente was born, aimed, we were told, at ‘spirits lovers rather than rum nerds.’
As with whisky, a huge proportion of a rum’s character comes from the barrel in which it is aged. Because Cuban producers are not allowed to import products from the US, bourbon barrels were out for Eminente, so it turned instead to casks that previously housed Scotch and Irish whisky. For its latest release, however, the brand’s creator, César Marti, has ‘finished’ the rum in French oak for three months. The result – the Gran Reserva Edition No1 – yields distinctly floral, spicy, sandalwood tones on a rich, intense, coffee-and-hazelnut core.
If barrel-ageing is key to the ultimate style of a rum, it is another age factor that is providing a competitive edge within the industry. Distilleries set great stall by the prowess of their Maestro Ronero – the rum master behind each brand – and Eminente claims to boast the youngest such Cuban incumbent, Marti having been 33 when he took on the role.
From a distance, it’s a somewhat moot title to verify, since the title of Maestro Ronero is not an official qualification. Instead, like a gin’s master distiller, it is conferred solely by the distillery whose rums he or she oversees. Nonetheless, the venerable, Dominican-Republic-based Brugal has gone a step further, saying it has the youngest ever incumbent across the entire industry, in the form of its fifth-generation distiller Jassil Villanueva Quintana, who was 24 when she graduated to the role.
What is not in dispute is that Brugal has crafted a rum that bears a worthy comparison to Eminente’s new rendering. And again, it is the barrel-ageing that is key to its character. In what the distillery claims is a world-first, Villanueva Quintan toasted previously unused European oak casks with an infusion harnessed from cacao beans, also harvested from the Dominican Republic, to mature the rum.
Maybe it’s the power of suggestion, but the rum – the first of a four-part Colección Visionaria series – does seem to marry hints of chocolate and vanilla with its rich, nutty, fruity body. As such, like Eminente’s new release, it’s perfect for the longer, darker nights. Expect many more innovative, characterful creations in the years to come, as rum finally takes its place at the bar world’s top table.
Eminente Gran Reserva Edition No1
Brugal Colección Visionaria Edición 01
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