Britain has fallen in love with rum – and we’re even making our own. Read our columnist's tips on how to pair this alcohol with food, plus which rums are best for cocktail making.
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of sweet and smoky Ron Zacapa Centenario Sistema Solera 23 from Guatemala, aged in bourbon and sherry casks and a cool £53 per award-winning bottle. Talk of a rum boom has been going on for two decades, but now it’s actually happening. UK rum sales broke the £1 billion mark for the first time last year, just 12 months after gin passed the same milestone. And we’re drinking more of the good stuff: rum sales have risen by 18% in volume in the last five years, but by 38% in value.
The most popular style is white rum – the clear spirit that nineties bartenders used in a squillion minty mojitos – but it’s dark, golden and spiced or flavoured rums that are driving the growth, according to figures released by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.
Flavoured rum isn’t new: in the Caribbean, ‘islanders have been adding spices, and things that range from common fruit to fish, insects and even raw meat to fresh rum for centuries,’ writes Edward Hamilton on his Ministry of Rum site.
Funnily enough, none of the big rum distillers have tried to market rum with raw meat – but there are plenty of spiced rums around (the recipes are usually proprietary, but think clove, cinnamon and vanilla), as well as flavours such as ginger (as in Jamaica Cove’s Black Ginger Rum) and pineapple (the best is Plantation Pineapple Stiggins' Fancy, around £35 from specialist spirits retailers).
With its hints of molasses, vanilla and sunshine, I tend to think of rum as a summer drink – but if you’re pouring a rum that’s been aged in oak until it’s golden or dark, why not sip it by a roaring fire as a digestif, as you would a fine brandy or whisky? Try Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva (£41.50, Waitrose & Partners) or El Dorado 12 Year Old (£36.50, Ocado).
Then, of course, there are cocktails. I recently read that bartender and tiki expert Jeff ‘Beachbum’ Berry spent a year working on his daiquiri. A year! That’s how long some people spend on their doctoral thesis. Anyway, his conclusion was that the best daiquiri rum is dry, white and above 80-proof (above 40% alcohol content by volume). I recommend Plantation Three Stars (£25, Marks & Spencer). However (sorry, Jeff), when the nights get longer, I like a daiquiri made with a richer rum for a cosier feel – try Havana Club Añejo 7 Años (£26, Sainsbury’s).
Nowadays you can even find British-made rums on the market. Try the varieties made by Essex-based distillery English Spirit, whose founder, John Walters, imports molasses as a key ingredient. Walters drinks his rum neat but, for a more autumnal feel, recommends mixing rum and fresh apple juice with a lot of cracked ice – ‘it makes a lush aperitivo’.
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Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her most recent book is the The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta).