Can You Feel the Heat?
“Stir it up; little darlin’, stir it up. Come on, baby.
Come on and stir it up: little darlin’, stir it up. O-oh!”
Oh, I feel it. Let’s crank it up.
“It’s been a long, long time, yeah!
(Stir it, stir it, stir it together.)
Since I got you on my mind. (Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.) Oh-oh!
Now you are here (stir it, stir it, stir it together), I said.”
It’s that Bob Marley and The Wailers song that gets me every time. The pure sound of Jamaica, mon: the sultry nights, the sun beating down on a white, sandy beach, the relentless and endless Caribbean heat.
And rum. Lots and lots of rum.
“Stir it up; little darlin’, stir it up.”
Good rum has the power to add fire, heat and sizzle to a frigid winter’s night. If you can’t actually be in the Caribbean or anywhere else that’s hot and sunny, there’s nothing stopping you from dreaming about hot sand and warm ocean breezes.
And with today’s variety of quality rums you can certainly lift your spirits, whether mixed with pure and pulpy fruit juices or enjoyed neat when the rum is barrel aged for 15 years or more.
It is a spirit with a romantic past. Swashbuckling pirates such as Blackbeard and Captain Kidd ruled the high seas with bellies full of rum, and many a ship was dispatched to the bottom of ocean just for its precious cargo of Caribbean rum.
Still today, it’s the Caribbean that makes what are arguably the finest rums in the world — with historic and new distilleries alike cranking out the spirit on nearly every island nation. Appleton Estate is made in Jamaica, Cruzan in St. Croix, Bacardi in Puerto Rico, Mount Gay and Pyrat in Anguilla, Barbancourt in Haiti, El Dorado in Guyana, St. Nicholas Abbey and Mount Gilboa in Barbados, and Atlantico in the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean doesn’t own rum exclusively, as the popular and unique Stroh 54 is made in Austria (and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that very Canadian rum, Newfoundland Screech), but it’s fair to say the finest rums are distilled, aged and produced in the Caribbean from native sugar cane and sometimes molasses.
It’s a simple procedure; cane juice (or molasses) is fermented with yeast, then distilled and aged, primarily in used oak barrels. The rich flavours are derived from the amount of time in oak and the kind of oak barrels that are used. Very seldom is anything added to the rums unless it is a spiced or flavoured rum, such as those made by Cruzan, Bacardi and others.
But true connoisseurs are looking for complexity and natural flavours in today’s rums, which are mixed moderately with inventive (or naturally simple) ingredients, or in the case of higher-end rums, enjoyed neat.
There is no question that the rums made today are not the rums of our parents who, nearly exclusively, drank them smothered in Coke or orange juice.
The most expensive rum I have ever tasted was crafted by Joy Spence, the master blender at Appleton Estate in Jamaica, who brought a 46-year-old “Legacy” rum to Toronto for a tasting. The bottle for this historic spirit was presented in a one-of-a-kind decanter crafted to emulate an Appleton Estate rum bottle, and was made from mouth-blown, hand-cut crystal from Nova Scotia. The rum, decanter and six crystal snifters carried a hefty price tag of $60,000, making it just slightly out of reach from most us. But, wow, what an elixir!
It had such intense aromas of vanilla, nuts, toffee and dried fruits. All that is amplified a million times as you swirl the amber nectar and bring the crystal snifter to your nose. Such extraordinary tastes — roasted coffee bean, liquorice, caramel and dried apricots all drenched in woodsy vanilla and spice. I would never have imagined rum could taste that good, even eclipsing a very fine, very old Cognac.
At another tasting this past summer, in an open-air gazebo on a pond at Niagara’s Rosewood Estates, we gathered some rummy friends to share our collections of rums and recipes. It was a friendly competition to see who could create the best rum recipe.
The winner was crowned King of the Rumba (or something like that). We loosely structured our rum “throwdown” to include a judge who assessed each concoction we created and ultimately declared the winners.
The rums included:
Pyrat XO Reserve (a blend of Caribbean rums aged up to 15 years, $40)
El Dorado Five Year Old Rum (Guyana, aged five years, $25)
El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum (Guyana, aged 12 years in previously used Bourbon barrels, made from finest molasses, $35)
Cruzan Spiced Rum #9 (a unique blend of nine all natural spices that hails from the island of St. Croix, $25)
Stroh 54 (Austria, $54)
St. Nicholas Abbey 12 Year Old Limited Reserve Rum (Barbados, sugar-cane based, aged in Bourbon oak barrels, $70)
Mount Gilboa Rum (made at Barbados’ oldest distillery, triple distilled, $45)
Ron Atlantico Private Cask Rum (this is a new Solera system rum from the Dominican Republic produced from fresh cane juice and molasses harvested on a single estate, $30)
Barbancourt Rum Reserve 15 Year Old (each year a limited quantity of this Haiti rum is released and made available to connoisseurs, $40)
They were mixed with ginger beer, pineapple juice, lemons, limes, mango juice, bitters, cloudy apple juice, mead (wine made from honey), orange zest and orange rind.
The judge was served five drinks each for the throwdown, and then served the rums neat in a separate competition.
Here’s what our judge, Mike Di Caro, liked from the mixed drinks:
Werther’s Original, by William Roman. It was made with Stroh 54 rum, and Roman used a creative splash of Rosewood Estates Mead Royale (honey wine) and orange zest. It was smooth and fruity with caramel-honey notes. This should be in a cocktail book. Delicious.
Mango Tango Rumba, made by me, and which is the rum drink I reach for more than any other. It’s a simple 50-50 blend of Pyrat XO Reserve Rum (any good amber rum can substitute) and pulpy, organic mango juice over ice. Something about mango and rum makes this a wonderful year-round drink.
And his favourite rums (all served neat):
Both the Mount Gilboa Rum and the El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum came out on top.
Judge Di Caro said they were “two great rums for two different reasons. Mount Gilboa reminded me of a mild, smoky and peaty scotch. The 12 Year Old was fruity with caramel, which I enjoyed and I felt brought out the different flavour characteristics you can get in good molasses-based sugars.”
Ron Atlantico Private Cask Rum. This was a very different rum, according to my own notes. Molasses, butterscotch, smoke and sweet and juicy fruit notes. A spicy spirit that’s smooth and clean on the palate.
St. Nicholas Abbey 12 Year Old Limited Reserve Rum. A rare treat that shows dried fruit notes, citrus and is extremely smooth with caramel on the finish. A rum that deserves to be enjoyed neat.
So, then. Can you feel it now?
“Stir it up; little darlin’, stir it up.”
Original Rum Cocktail Recipes
From Geoffrey Markle, regional director for The MONARQ Group, who has been living, travelling, eating and drinking the Caribbean for the past 26 years.
1 1/2 oz Appleton Reserve (medium bodied gold rum)
3/4 oz Galliano Liqueur
Splash each of grapefruit, lemon and orange juice.
Shake with ice, serve in a short drink glass, add a dash of Angostura Bitters and serve! Garnish with a lime wedge.
at di beach
1 1/4 oz Mount Gay Eclipse Rum (medium bodied gold rum)
3/4 oz Disaronno Amaretto
Splash of pineapple juice
Shake with ice, strain and serve in a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a triangle wedge of pineapple and cherry. Sunscreen optional!
From William Roman, Operations Manager, Rosewood Estate Winery and Meadery, and a bona fide rum lover.
1 oz of Stroh 54 Dark Austrian Rum
2 oz of Rosewood Estate Mead Royale (honey wine)
Pour into an old fashioned and serve over 4 ice cubes. Add a pinch of orange zest.
1 oz of white rum (your favourite)
1 oz Pyrat XO Reserve Rum
1 oz of cranberry juice (increase to 2 oz if sweeter drinks are preferred), with just a dash of pineapple juice to create a contrast in colour.
Serve over 5 ice cubes.
mango tango rumba
From me, a rum lover, and my drink of choice when wine just won’t cut it.
2 oz of Pyrat XO Reserve Rum (or Appleton Reserve Rum or Eldorado Five Year Old Rum)
An equal amount of pure mango juice, preferably organic and pulpy.
Serve in tumbler with a generous heap of ice cubes. Garnish with slice of orange.
2 oz of your favourite barrel-aged rum
Equal amount of real ginger beer
Serve in tumbler over crushed ice. Garnish with lemon.