A brief background with Tasting Notes and Cigar Pairings
By John Dade
Warm breezes rolling off clear aqua marine blue waters, softly nudging a swaying hammock nestled between two gently dancing palms. Nothing says “Caribbean” like a fine rum. We are experiencing one of our most hot, humid and tropical years ever. Fortunately, these conditions lend themselves wonderfully to the rum experience. Whether enjoyed neat in a snifter or in any number of cool blended tropical concoctions, it’s a spirit that can chill and refresh body and mind after a tropical island downpour on a balmy afternoon. Rum is a spirit that has existed in contrasting formulations for centuries, with a history as rich in lore as the best aged offerings, yet speckled with cutting bites as crude as its earlier wicked ancestral brews. Rum is an elixir with as varied a reputation as the geographies of its origins. Once considered the drink of poor rummies, enslaved peoples or pirates, its stature eventually rose to the point where it was once considered the “gold standard” in trade.
A Brief History and Background
The modern lineage of rum is believed to spring from Caribbean islands such as Barbados, where the distillation of the fermented molasses concoction produced a clear, more concentrated liquor, free from most impurities. Though one way to get a buzz in the 1600s, this probably isn’t the type of rum you’d want to sip with a cigar. In fact, you most definitely would not want to.
That brings us to the accidental discovery of aging rum. As mentioned earlier, the predecessor spirits of our modern-day rum were crude, clear and shockingly horrible liquors. Not fit for human consumption, the molasses mass that was a by-product of sugar production was used to feed livestock. In the tropical heat, it would ferment during storage and was discovered to produce an alcoholic beverage that became popular among the people living on plantations. As the English began to colonize the islands of the Caribbean, they brought their distillation knowledge, and were soon producing a more concentrated liquor for export.
Enter the English navy and cargo ships. Thanks to the navy’s adoption of rum as the drink of the day for its sailors and the transport of early rum spirits around the known world, today’s modern rum is with us in all its aged glory. It was discovered that the longer at sea, the better the rum, as it was shipped in oak barrels and ended up less harsh, more flavorful and more enjoyable. It was surmised that the time spent on the rolling seas in oak barrels was responsible for this miracle, and the art of aging rum was launched.
In terms of distillation methods, labeling, specified regions of production and other regulations, the making of modern-day rum is much less regulated in general than other spirits such as scotch, cognac and tequila, which are all regulated by the governments where they’re produced. However, it can be said that many of the top rum producers have taken it upon themselves to proudly produce their own rum to the highest standards of quality and craftsmanship. If by now you’re thinking that you want to try some rum, below are some of my favorites along with cigar pairings that will make the experience all the more “spirited.”
Rum Tasting and Cigar Pairings
Mount Gay X.O.: Around $39. Hailing from the island of Barbados and considered a “dark” rum, one can detect a burnt sugar with vanilla on the palate, with a nose of banana and tropical fruit. This pairs great with a Diamond Crown No. 6 for a satisfying, relaxing evening on the patio.
Ron Zacapa Centario 15 year: About $30. This Guatemalan treasure is dark amber in color, with hints of coffee and sweet banana along with coconut on the nose. The palate is filled with dark chocolate and roasted nuts—great for a cool evening paired with an Esteban Carreras Habano Natural, which brings out a sweet caramel finish.
Appleton Estate Reserve: Around $24. This is a sophisticated pour with a luscious mahogany color and the essence of oak and leather on the nose. Flavors explode with scents of vanilla and orange blossom, which give way to a long caramel finish. A wonderful complement to a Rocky Patel 15th Anniversary.
Bacardi Reserve Limitada: Around $90. Once only to be had at the distillery in Puerto Rico, this excellent rum has been available in the States for some time and is not to be confused with the more basic Bacardi offerings. This is a fine rum with a deep golden hue and reddish tones. It offers rich vanilla and dried fruit, with a hint of oak on the palate, and a finish that leaves you begging for more. Enjoyed with a La Palina El Diario Robusto, you are transported straight to the islands.
As you explore the world of rum, you will find plenty of good options out there. This list will get you off to a great start for some specifics to try and pairings that will work well. You may soon find that pairing rum with a cigar is one of the best and most natural cigar and spirits combinations. The general sweetness and spiciness of rum pairs fantastically with an array of different cigar types. So go off on your own voyage, and explore the new world of this fine spirit if you haven’t done so already!