Over the years, it seems that rum has gotten a bad rap. Maybe some of us drank way too much of the flavored stuff in high school, but whatever the reason, people rarely come into a bar seeking a delightful rum to sip on. So my question is: What isn’t there to like about rum? Its diversity is astounding, ranging from crystal-clear spirits that are great for mixing and dark, aged versions that stand up just as well at the end of a meal as a bourbon or cognac.
All of that being said, I think that people don’t automatically move toward rum because there is a lot of uncertainty about the product. So let’s break it down to the basics. Rum is a distillate of sugar. More often than not, molasses, but when you move to premium rums, you’re looking at the product of pure, raw sugarcane.
Like most alcoholic beverages, rum began as a happy accident. Molasses or sugar water was left out for a few days and had fermented when rediscovered. At that point in time, distilleries were not around to refine the product, so our first instances of rum are far from the sweet, smooth nectar we know today. The earliest instances of rum are thought to have been found in India or China, and we know its existence as early as the 14th century, when Marco Polo recorded that he had been offered a “very good wine of sugar” during his travels.
Rum found its home where most of us would expect to find it, in the Caribbean. By the 17th century, there were distilleries established on sugarcane plantations. At that time, refined sugar was such a luxury good that no one would dare turn it into rum; however, it was then that it was discovered that the byproduct of sugar refining—molasses—could be fermented into rum instead.
What appeals to me so much about rum (other than the fact that it is delicious!) is that there is such a rich history behind it. I still know next to nothing in the grand scheme of rum, but for that I will leave you in the very capable hands of Ed Hamilton, author of the Ministry of Rum website. On one of those serendipitous nights in New Orleans that I am so fond of, I surprisingly found myself off the beaten path of usual parties, sitting at the Gumbo Shop with a group of friends and this guy. To this day, he is one of the most interesting characters that I have met in the business and so well-versed in rum and its history that I don’t think I could ever retain even half of what he knows.
So now that we know what it is, what do we do with it?
The best thing about rum cocktails is that they are ridiculously simple to make at home and require only a few ingredients. It you keep good rum, a supply of limes, simple syrup and mint at home, you’ve already set yourself up to make three of the most popular rum cocktails: the Cuba Libre, daiquiri and mojito.
Laura Kelton is a recent graduate of UTC and currently runs the bar program at Easy Bistro & Bar. Feel free to reach out to her by email with any questions, comments or requests. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.