For Jackie Summers, a New York-based spirits industry expert, there’s no real need for a holiday like National Rum Day to enjoy a pour. “As the grandchild of Caribbean immigrants, rum was an integral part of my upbringing,” said the author, public speaker, educator and founder of Sorel Liqueur.. “It was in the foods we cooked and part of every celebration, no matter how small.”
Having said that, Summers can appreciate the rum-centric occasion as something meaningful. Today, in a landscape overrun with cultural co-opting and appropriation, it’s more important than ever to be educated and intentional about our purchases as consumers of alcohol (and just about everything else). “The rum industry is rooted in colonization; nowadays I want to know how sugarcane or molasses is sourced, who controls the supply chain and whether the Indigenous people have an ownership stake in what's contributing to the final product,” Summers noted. With that in mind, here are some ways experts recommend you enjoy National Rum Day, plus some of their favorite brands and bottles.
If you’ve traveled to Puerto Rico, chances are you know that Don Q is one of the country’s most prized homegrown products, expertly produced by the island’s oldest family-owned company, Destilería Serrallés. Needless to say, it’s a go-to for many locals and bartenders, including Christian Nieves del Rio of the Aloft San Juan.
“Sipping Don Q Gran Añejo is a pleasure — it is every bit as well balanced as the Gold and the Añejo, yet it displays much more flavor and complexity,” he said.“The line taste is clean. Oak, leather and tobacco notes are well developed, plus the warm cinnamon and citric notes lead from dry to sweet, while other spices such as clove, coffee, vanilla, roasted nuts and cherry coat the palate and give a tingle on the tongue. If you want one of the best premium Puerto Rican rums, this is it.” If you plan on making cocktails with your rum, try a round or two of Nieves del Rio’s family tradition: mojitos.
Summers has gravitated toward a heavy Pot Still Jamaican rum and hasn’t looked back since. “Right now, I am loving The FUNK — at 100 proof, it’s not watered down, it’s unaged and doesn’t taste of additives or colorants… Just pure Jamaican funk,” he said. “You can almost taste grassy fields of sugar cane swaying in the salty breeze.” The best way to enjoy it? Neat and in whatever glassware you prefer, according to Summers.
If you prefer cocktails, be sure to plan ahead. “As we are still in a pandemic, a bit of preparation is required,” Summers said. “Make sure you can have your rum of choice delivered in time for your fête,” he suggested. “Decide ahead of time if you’re going to make cocktails; piña coladas and daiquiris require some minimal preparation.” Pro tip: Stock up on Coco Lopez, canned pineapple juice, and fresh limes for beachy cocktails on demand all summer long.
Tiki culture, which is inherently rooted in rum, is a style many drinkers turn to as a form of escapism. However, there’s a long history of cultural insensitivity within the category, something New York-based bar pro and Indigenous advocate Chockie Tom seeks to turn on its head through her own project, Doom Tiki. “Doom Tiki works with members of the Pasifika and Indigenous communities to thoughtfully challenge the problematic issues of tiki, and lead by example,” explained Tom, who also serves as New York City brand ambassador for Ming River Baijiu.
“We've been working with bartenders from a variety of cultural backgrounds to create cocktails based on ingredients and concepts specific to that culture as a way to reclaim tiki and give them an opportunity to showcase it how they want others to see it,” she said. Tom counts this coffee-infused high proof rum by Ron Colón Salvadoreño amongst her favorites. According to her, coffee is often overlooked in the tiki sphere, but this rum is poised to change that. “It only makes sense: Coffee, cigar tobacco and chocolate are notes you find in a lot of fantastic rums, and this has all of them in spades, giving it fantastic compatibility with spicy, warming ingredients like cinnamon syrup or nutmeg,” she explained.
On the heels of Summers’s pick, Derrick Walker, a bar manager and 40-year bar veteran of Jamaica Inn resort in Ocho Rios, recommended another rum from his home country. “As we are steeped in tradition here at the Inn, our favorite rums come from two of the island’s most historic distilleries: Worthy Park Estate and Appleton Estate. They both produce wonderful rums and, based on their processes, pot stills and master blenders, they produce complex rums with wonderful depth of flavor,” he said.
Walker’s go-to rum cocktails for guests and family include strawberry daiquiris, rum Collinses, mojitos, and piña coladas, or simply mixing rum with pineapple juice (his personal favorite). If you want to enjoy the holiday like a true Jamaican, set up a game of dominoes with a round of rum cocktails in hand. According to Walker, this is the island’s favorite pastime.
“This Guatemalan spirit is at the top of its game,” said bartender and writer Lauren Paylor. “It is blended using a solera system and aged in bourbon and sherry casks for maturation. The complexity and layers of aroma and taste are displayed through its vast descriptor: nuttiness, chocolate baking spice and smoke. The packaging is of premium quality — we do drink with our eyes, after all. This rum can be enjoyed neat, on ice or in a cocktail such as a daiquiri.”
If you’ve never tasted a rum from the Philippines, now’s the time to remedy that. Start with Don Papa, a small batch rum produced by the Bleeding Heart Rum Company in the country’s Negros Occidental province, namely its core expression. This rum is made exclusively from molasses derived from a centuries-old variety of top-quality native sugarcane (as is the rest of the range), then aged for seven years in ex-Bourbon and American oak casks.
This producer has long been a favorite of Forbes Life senior contributor Karla Alindahao, and it’s easy to see why — both the flagship bottle and its 10-year counterpart are deeply complex. The former boasts a fruit-forward nose and plenty of baking spice and vanilla on the palate leading into a lasting finish. The latter is its richer, darker and more alluring evolution, thanks to the additional three years of aging and additional barrel char. You can whip up the brand’s signature frozen cocktail, the Jane Fonda, at home:
- 1.5 ounces Don Papa Rum
- 1 ounce orange juice
- 1 ounce pineapple juice
- 0.5 ounce coconut juice
Combine all ingredients in a blender with ice and blend until smooth. Pour into glassware of choice, garnish with a pineapple leaf and enjoy.
Foursquare Rum Distillery Nobiliary (sold out)
“Nobiliary is [an] exceptional rum released under the Foursquare Exceptional Cask label, a series of rums from Barbados' premier distillery, always at a fairly punchy ABV and often aged in a variety of casks (although this one happens to be only ex-bourbon),” said Gergo Murath, bar manager of Trailer Happiness in London.. “It's also very close to my heart because it was a wedding gift from a close friend,” he added. If you’re able to get a hold of a complex rum such as this, Murath recommends sipping it neat so as to pick up on its nuances on both the nose and palate, the former including dried fruits, ginger, spice, and coconut and the latter rife with tropical fruits and vibrant spice.