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For something different, try premium rums
2013-08-01
By John H. Isacs

I’M a wine guy through and through, but once in a while something different can be fun. A few days ago on a hot Sunday afternoon, I kicked back with a pal and a couple glasses of rum on the rocks.

The elegant sweetness of the rum wonderfully dissipated the oppressive heat and made our afternoon ever so more lovely. Few beverages combine the rich history and pure fun of rum.

Made from sugarcane or sugarcane by-products, rum is one of the world’s most varied and intriguing liquors. Lesser rums have long been used to make cocktails but there’s a growing appreciation of premium rums.

Since the brand and style of one’s rum is becoming a lifestyle statement to the ever more discerning palates of young people in Shanghai, in this week’s column I’ll introduce some background on this tempting nectar and also make suggestions on how to best enjoy premium rums.

Sugarcane was first cultivated in parts of Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia about 10,000 years ago, but the first fermented sugar cane drinks beverages were made in India about 4,000 years ago.

Art of premium

In Malaysia, a fermented sugar cane drink called brum became popular almost 3,000 years ago. The Moors brought sugarcane and its fermented juice to the Mediterranean as early as Ancient Greek times and they were also the first culture to refine the art of distillation. However, they used distillation to create perfumes and medicines — not for alcoholic beverages — and there is no evidence that they distilled sugar cane. The first distillation of rum happened in the 17th century in the Caribbean and the quality and popularity of the liquor has grown exponentially since then.

All rums are not created equal. Depending on the ingredients used, method of fermentation, distillation, aging and other factors, some rums are better than others. The most basic style is white rum, which has limited aging and is mostly used to fortify cocktails.

Premium rums are darker toned, not that dissimilar in color to a fine cognac or whisky. There are even darker rums that can be almost black, but the most complex and elegant rums usually have a golden color that comes from long aging in oak casks. Two fine examples of premium golden rums that you can easily find in Shanghai are Ron Zacapa 23 and Havana Club.

The Ron Zacapa 23 is superb light mahogany colored rum that’s a blend of rums aged between six and 23 years in a Solera system that originated in Jerez, Spain to make sherries.

The aging takes place at 2,330 meters above sea level in the Guatemalan Highlands. The high altitude helps slow maturation, resulting in greater complexity and elegance. While no one will arrest you for using this rum in a cocktail, I suggest serving this rum as you would the finest single malt scotch, with a big block of slowly melting ice.

A lighter, even more versatile rum that I also enjoy is the golden-colored Havana Club Anejo Especial from Cuba. This intense rum is a blend of different rums that are aged up to five years and can be enjoyed by itself or in classic cold cocktails like mai tai, zombie and pina colada. This rum is also the perfect choice for classic hot cocktails like rum toddy and hot buttered rum.

Other slightly harder to find premium rums that are well worth trying are DonQ Anejo Rum, Angostura 7 Year Old Rum and Cruzan Single Barrel Rum.

Food friendly

I’ve experienced success serving high-quality rums at the end of wine dinners with desserts. After the eight to 16 different wines I commonly serve at a wine dinner, many guests are ready for something different. The affinity rum has for sweets makes it the perfect choice.

Some ideal desserts for rum include cakes, puddings and creams that all benefit from the natural sweetness of aged rums, especially premium golden and dark rums.

Recently I served a banana crepe with Ron Zacapa 23 and the sweet and textured combination of banana with the richly flavored and textured rum was truly a Central American delight. The classic Italian dessert tiramisu served with Havana Club Anejo Especial is also delightful as the clean honey and vanilla flavors in the rum help distinguish the flavors of the cake while also facilitating digestion of the cream.

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