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Times of the Islands Magazine

A Rum of One’s Own: Beyond the piña colada

Jan 24, 2021 01:18PM ● By GINA BIRCH

Considering the balmy weather found most of the year in Southwest Florida, it’s easy to think of rum solely in its role as the anchor of fruity, sweet, tropical cocktails. During the cooler winter months, however, rum can be just as warming and complex as a single-malt scotch, small-batch bourbon or sophisticated cognac. 

Rum can be made anywhere, although the Caribbean is considered the mothership, where it’s anything but a one-size-fits-all spirit. It’s also commonly spelled rhum in this part of the world.

A majority of rums are made from molasses—these are the standard Bacardi’s and Myers’s. In another category altogether is rhum agricole, which is distilled directly from pressed cane sugar rather than cane byproducts such as molasses. It’s made to certain standards that include how and where the sugarcane is grown, distillation and aging. It tends to taste cleaner than many other rums. Rhum agricole originated in the French Caribbean islands, where it is still made in places like Martinique, St. Lucia and Haiti.

Rum has not been always been given its due respect in the American market, and that’s something Ben Jones is trying to remedy. Jones is managing director of Spiribam, a distribution company focusing on premium rums, most notably rhum agricole, from the French West Indies.

“We don’t just import rum, but culture too,” he says. Jones’s great uncle, Homère Clément, was the founder of Rhum Clement, a rum producer on Martinique. He is considered to be the father of rhum agricole, which grew out of the sugarcane crisis in the late 1800s when South America began exporting sugar that was cheaper, causing many farmers in the islands to go bankrupt. 

Rhum Clement has quite a lineup, beginning with an affordable ($33) blanc that is great for cocktails. Clement 15 Year ($200) is on the other end of the spectrum. It has delightful flavors of orange peel, cinnamon and spice, with a slight savory note to linger over.

When it comes to tasting 15-year-old, $200 bottles of rum, Spiribam’s Kiowa Bryan gives these tips:

  • Glassware: Use a small stemmed glass so your hands won’t warm the liquid.

  • Prime your mouth: Put a drop of rum in your mouth to warm it up first. You will better taste all of the flavors in the next sip.

  • Inhale: Stick your nose in the glass and breathe through the mouth. This way you don’t just smell the alcohol but also the real aromas, experiencing the full spectrum of the flavor profile.

The rums that Jones distributes in the U.S. are mostly small production, well crafted, with history and good stories behind them. Admiral Rodney is one example; it is named after an infamous naval strategist best known for safeguarding British control of the Caribbean in the Battle of the Saintes in 1782. 

Royal Oak ($80) is the brand’s flagship. Aged 7 to 12 years, it has flavors of vanilla and honey; it is a bit toasty and deliciously easy. Admiral Rodney Formidable ($130) spends 9-12 years in oak, which provides more of a cedar finish; it is oily, complex and fun to discover as it sits in the glass.

Chairman’s is the definition of a craft rum and considered the gold standard for St. Lucian rum. Jones says native yeasts are used along with both molasses and sugarcane juice. Distillation occurs in a combination of pot and column stills; aging is in wine and bourbon casks from all over the world, all contributing to the complexity of flavors found in these rums.

Chairman’s Reserve 1931 ($100) is remarkable with flavors of gingerbread and butter. You might just want to cuddle with it. Chairman’s Spiced ($28) is another treat. Local fruits and spices are macerated separately, then blended to create a wow factor. It’s like a spice cake with nutmeg, cinnamon, apples and raisins.

Within the rum category, those that are spiced often get a bad rap. It may be because many aren’t really rums at all, but distilled liquor mixed with what amounts to flavor packs.

They certainly don’t represent the true heritage of the spiced spirit as found in Martinique and St. Lucia, where it was originally made for medicinal purposes. The islands are awash in rum shacks, the pride of mom-and-pop distillers. “There are spiced rums for morning to get you going, rums for siesta, for before the club and definitely after,” Jones laughs. Some are said to have aphrodisiac qualities.

Next time you’re selecting an after-dinner cocktail, consider a premium rum, or rhum. Cheers.

Chairman’s Spiced Cider

  1. 1 part cranberry juice
  2. 1 part Chairman’s Spiced
  3. 2 parts apple cider
  4. Cinnamon sticks

In a saucepan, warm the juice and one cinnamon stick per two servings until bubbling. Add rum and serve with one cinnamon stick per cup

 Old Fashioned de Martinique

  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3-4 dashes of bitters
  • 2 ounces Clement Select Barrel

Grate nutmeg and cinnamon on top. Garnish with orange peel

Gina Birch is a regular contributor. A lover of good food, good drinks and a fun time, she is also a well-known media personality in Southwest Florida.