Jon’s latest article for Cornwall Today extols the delights of this maritime favourite….
Ask and sensible person what the most seafaring drink they can think of is and they will surely say rum. It is a drink so closely linked with life afloat that, for many, the mere mention of its name brings out the inner pirate. “Rum!” they shout and off they go shivering their timbers and raising the mains’l yard.
Rum comes in different styles; white, golden and dark. A few years back, the white, Bacardi like, sort was hugely popular and was often what you would drink in a club when you couldn’t face any more lager. Back then, only a few old men drank the darker style, probably Lambs and sometimes even with an alcoholic, herbal, cordial known as Shrub. The golden style was more or less reserved for Havana Club.
Nowadays, it is a very different picture and golden rules the roost with a myriad of brands and flavours. But, before I suggest some drinks to try lets have a look at a few facts.
Rum is made from either sugar cane juice, or from molasses. Molasses is a by product of sugar manufacture and so it is found in those hot, tropical places that grow sugar. Places like South America, including Chile, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama. Here they speak Spanish and so call it Ron. For the UK, most of the rum we see comes from the Caribbean. Either the English speaking islands such as; Barbados, Bermuda, Guyana and Jamaica, or the French speaking Guadeloupe or Martinique. Here they add an “h” and call it Rhum.
In general the French style is to use sugar cane juice, giving a raw, pungent and lighter style. The English speaking style is from Molasses and this brings a sweet richness to the finished product.
It is worth pointing out that all spirits start life colourless as they emerge from the still. Usually, all of the colour and perhaps 50% of the flavour in your bottle comes from the time the spirit ages in a wooden barrel. So, white rum is simply rum that is young and un-aged. The golden and dark styles will have spent time ageing in wooden barrels. The choice of barrel, and the time the rum spends in it has a huge affect on flavour.
What is unusual for rum is that there are absolutely no rules governing its production. For most other spirits there is some sort of governing council that does this. For example, the Scotch Whisky Association decrees that, among other things, for a product to call itself Scotch Whisky it must have been aged in a barrel for five years. With rum you can make it how you like, age it how you like and label it any way that helps you sell it. That does mean lots of new styles, but it also means some low grade products to avoid.
The seafaring connection is based partly on the places it comes from. It would have been the standard drink in the Carribbean, which was a key trading area for the UK. But, the real clincher is that for years the Royal Navy served a daily ration of rum to its sailors. This was originally served neat, but was later mixed 50:50 with water to make what was known as grog. The ration was pretty large by current standards at around half a pint of spirit per man per day. This custom only ceased in 1971. Perhaps the arrival of Trident missiles on board made this seem prudent.
For me, the joy of rum is sampling its myriad styles and flavours. It is great in cocktails, even something as simple as a drop of fresh lime and some dark sugar can be superb. But if you fancy something to drink neat, a current favourite of mine is Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva. This is from Venezuela and is a rich, intense and full flavoured style with lots of ripe tropical fruit flavour. Expect to pay around £40 for one.