Ah, behold the connoisseur, in his favourite smoking jacket and seated on a vintage leather couch as he waits for his evening spirits. Will he choose to sip a woodsy whiskey as he enjoys a cigar? Or will he favour the cognac tonight? As the amber liquid is poured out from decanter to snifter, he waits with bated breath for that heady aroma and the first indulgent sip of the rich and woodsy… wait a minute… Is that rum?
Yes, my friend, aficionados (smoking-jacket-wearers and others) around the world are making space for fine, aged rums right next to their bottles of single malt scotch and extra old cognacs.
A sophisticated sipping rum has more in common with a woodsy whiskey or potent brandy than you realise. Just like those aged spirits, a good sipping rum needs to be aged for the full flavour profile to play out on the palate. On the other hand, rum does not need to be aged for as long as whiskey or brandy. That’s because the tropical climate of rum-producing nations leads to a faster maturation time in comparison to a whiskey aged in the northern climes. In fact, a 5-years-aged rum has a similar flavour and age profile as a 20-years-aged whiskey.
Rum-makers age fine rum in oak barrels, extracting colour and flavour from the wood to create a profile that matches some of the best whiskeys in terms of woodsy and vanilla notes. In fact, master-blenders age their rum in barrels that were first used to age whiskey, so it’s no wonder that the sipping rum you love reminds you of a favourite whiskey as well. Some of them even use barrels used to age sherry and brandy, making for some really nuanced sipping spirits.
But that’s where the differences end. Unlike spirits like whiskey and cognac that are strictly regulated so that every bottle tastes pleasantly similar with very specific tasting notes, a masterfully aged and blended rum is a symphony that can surprise even the seasoned palate. And the surprises never end, for each bottle of fine, matured rum is a testament to the prowess of the distiller and the master blender, as well as to the bounty of the sugarcane crop and the unique weather and waters of the region. That definitely makes it the spirit of choice for the discerning yet adventurous palate.
If you’d like to develop a taste for the finer side of rum, instead of mixing it with the ever favourite Coke or Ting (ever the favorite in Jamaica), or enjoying it in a Mai Tai or a Planter’s Punch (again, a signature drink in Jamaica), sip the potent, refined and gloriously aged stuff neat, or with a splash of water.
Of course, as any connoisseur will tell you, there are certain tasting tips that will give you the best out of your sipping rum. First of all, serve sipping rum at room temperature so that the aromas and flavours of the rum is released. Pour the sipping rum into a good brandy snifter, cognac glass or grappa glass that stops the aroma from escaping. You can cup the bowl to warm the rum slightly. Take in the aroma slowly, letting the fragrance take over before taking a tiny sip and letting the beautiful spirit roll over your tongue. Exhale, then breathe in the flavours dancing over your palate.
And there you have it, the taste of refined adventure that makes the smoking jacket, cigar and leather couch almost superfluous. Savour it and sip on!