Rum Is Not Just The New Gin—It's Better
Move over gin and whisky. No longer viewed as just cheap and cheerful plonk, rum is increasingly being seen as a sophisticated tipple, what with rum brands and spirit houses unveiling more premium products to win over discerning drinkers.
Produced in over 80 countries worldwide, rum is basically an alcohol beverage distilled from sugar cane byproducts—its raw juice (vesou), cane syrup, or most commonly, its refined molasses. After distillation, the rum is either bottled immediately or aged in barrels to create a darker more complexed spirit.
“There are multitudes of different rums made all over the world, many with their own unique styles and qualities,” shares Mitch Wilson, Asia-Pacific brand ambassador for Maison Ferrand, a producer of spirits that carries Plantation Rum in its portfolio.
From a historical point of view, rum is also loosely categorised into regional styles influenced by the colonisation of the Caribbean and Latin/Central America. English-style rums produced in countries like Jamaica are traditionally darker rums made from molasses and blended for bolder and spicier aromas. From nations like Venezuela and Panama come Spanish-style rums, also produced from molasses but carry a smoother, lighter and fruitier profile. French agricole rums, with its distinct grassy, floral and earthy style, is distilled exclusively from sugar cane juice in countries like Haiti and Mauritius.
Still, these boundaries are getting heavily blurred as more variety of rums enter the market. Head of operations and creative at Idlewild, Andy Griffiths explains, “Nowadays, there’s a lot of experimentation and blending; not all rums produced in Spanish-speaking countries are necessarily Spanish-style rum, some of them are verging on British-style.”
RUM AND REASON
Regardless, rum is getting much more traction and popularity now, similar to what mezcal went through a couple of years ago, shares Peter Chua, head bartender at pocket bar Junior, who attributes the spirit’s resurgence here to its approachability—and the fact that a lot of Asian ingredients suit tiki cocktails, the majority of which are made with rum. That gave birth to the latest concept at Junior, dubbed Pacifica, which pays homage to authentic tiki traditions and unrivalled tropical escapism.
Tiki drinks play to the rum’s ability to take on complexed layers of flavours. In fact, some bartenders belief that “What one rum can’t do, three rums can”, words famously uttered by the grandfather of tiki culture, Don the Beachcomber.
At Pacifica, for instance, The Zombie, is a potent mix of aged demerara, rich Venezuela, and overproof rums, offering up a multitude of fruity, toffee and chocolate notes.
For Griffiths, it is rum’s versatility that he loves. He too, prescribes to blending his rums to achieve various taste. At Idlewild, they make their own white rum blend for Daiquiris, while the heady Passage to Havana cocktail features a rum blend that comprises Cuban rum for richness, Panamanian rum for complexity, Jamaican rum for ester notes, and Venezuelan rum for mouthfeel and sweetness.
When looking for quality rums, consumers no longer need to limit their search to spirits coming out of the Caribbean and Latin America. While some forms of local mass-produced rum have always been produced within the region, it is only in the last few years that a new wave of boutique producers and artisanal distilleries have sprung up, making full use of sugar cane’s abundance here to make quality hand-crafted rum.
From the Philippines, Don Papa Rum is a premium, small-batch rum distilled from Negros sugar cane and aged in American oak barrels for over seven years before being blended. In Phnom Penh, Samai combines the spirit of Venezuela (thanks to its co-founder) and Cambodia into its rum made from molasses. Their signature Kampot Pepper Rum infuses locally grown red peppers for a spice kick and crisp sweetness.
Over in Thailand, Issan Rum, located in the north of the country, produces a French-style agricole rum that makes lovely Daiquiris. Down south, Chalong Bay distillery showcases the terroir of Phuket with its fresh native sugar cane that is savoury, grassy and carries distinctive olive notes.
For Vijay Mudaliar, founder of Native bar, working with these interesting regional rums comes naturally as their flavours are familiar to his and the local consumers’ tastes. To boot, many can also be appreciated neat, on its own or on the rocks.
Another reason for rum’s renaissance can be attributed to the rise of a new rum category called Pure Single Rums. “Until four or five years ago, rums were mostly sold as blends. But there has since been an arrival of rums from single distilleries, which are made only in pot stills, very much like single malt whiskies,” explains Mathieu Musnier, general manager of La Maison Du Whisky. “We see this category as the true expression of terroir and local style, as these rums are much more intense and complex.”
La Maison Du Whisky is particularly passionate about pure single rums— best enjoyed neat or on the rocks—from the Habitation Velier, which is the first line of rum in the world to offer this pure expression of rums from legendary distilleries such as Foursquare and Hampden.
Other premium rums La Maison Du Whisky brings in include those from the Transcontinental Rum line; high quality white rums, such as Clairin, the traditional white rum from Haiti; Le Rum Bio par Neisson, the first and only certified organic rum in the world; and Veritas, an unfiltered rum by the legendary Richard Seale from Foursquare.