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For Jackie Summers, a New York-based spirits industry expert (and many others in the field), 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,” says the author, public speaker, entrepreneur and educator. “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,” Summer notes. With that in mind, along with the inherent obligation to keep yourself and those around you as safe as possible in these times, here are some ways experts recommend you celebrate National Rum Day.
Make sure you can have your rum of choice delivered in time for your fête. Arrange a socially distanced drink with someone you can imagine sitting on a beach with.
Jackie Summers, Spirits Industry Expert
If you’ve traveled to Puerto Rico, chances are you know that Don Q is one of its 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 told NBC News Shopping. “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.” For anyone building a home rum collection or looking to try something new for National Rum Day, Don Q is an excellent place to look. And if you plan on making cocktails with it, try a round or two of Nieves del Rio’s family tradition: mojitos.
This year, Summers has been turning to a heavy pot still Jamaican rum and hasn’t looked back. “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 says. “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 adds. “Make sure you can have your rum of choice delivered in time for your fête. Arrange a socially distanced drink with someone you can imagine sitting on a beach with, and 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,” explains Tom, who also serves as New York City brand ambassador for Ming River Baijiu.
“Recently, while we moved our format online, 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.” 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 explains.
On the heels of Summers’s pick, Derrick Walker, a bar manager and 40-year bar veteran of Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, recommends 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.
If you’re looking for something expressive-yet-versatile in terms of Jamaican rums, UK brand ambassador for Worthy Park Estate Gergő Murath (who also serves as the bar manager of Trailer Happiness in London) says, “[Worthy Park Single Estate] is my desert island rum. It is a pure pot still rum with no additives or flavorings whatsoever, aged for six to 10 years — due to the climate, that's a lot more than it sounds.” He adds that “it's essentially liquid, alcoholic banana bread. Truly delicious, either sipped by itself, or mixed into a variety of cocktails.” 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 celebrate 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.
5. Equiano Rum
Embarking on a journey (of flavor) from the Caribbean to Africa in these times isn’t so out of reach, thanks to Equiano. According to global rum ambassador Ian Burrell, who co-founded Equiano with the intention of not only creating a great rum but bringing a conversation around equity past and present, this blend of African and Caribbean rums is the first of its kind. The story that inspired it is likewise captivating.
“[Equiano is] inspired by Olaudah Equiano, an entrepreneur, writer and abolitionist from the mid-18th century who was enslaved in Africa and brought to the Caribbean before being sold and sent to the UK,” Burrell explains. “He bought his own freedom by selling rums while his autobiography, which went through nine editions through his lifetime, helped gain passage of the British Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade [in the UK].” Burrell’s favorite memories of drinking rum include sipping 126-proof Jamaican rum on his parents’ native island. Equiano is aged for a minimum of eight years (no small feat for tropical climates) and is married and blended in both Cognac and ex-Bourbon casks before being bottled at Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados. The sale of each bottle also supports various charitable entities and equitable projects through the Equiano Foundation.
“This Guatemalan spirit is at the top of its game,” says Lauren Paylor, a bartender and writer in Washington, D.C. “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.”
7. Don Papa Rum
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 ForbesLife 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. If you live in New York City or the Hamptons, keep an eye out for The Don’s Traveling Rum Shack, serving up frozen cocktails at various stops on its tour. Not in the area? Try their signature frozen cocktail, the Jane Fonda, at home:
- 1.5oz Don Papa Rum
- 1oz orange juice
- 1oz pineapple juice
- .5oz 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.
“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),” says Murath of the blended rum, which is aged for 14 years. “It's also very close to my heart because it was a wedding gift from a close friend,” he adds. 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.
Trinidad and Tobago native Marc Farrell, a Harvard, MIT and University of Cambridge grad who made waves after becoming Starbucks’ youngest vice president at 36, found himself returning to his roots after his impressive career segued to a different kind of storytelling within the consumer space. Ten to One is Farrell’s ode to the Caribbean, bringing together rums from the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados in two different core expressions: Ten to One White Rum and Ten to One Dark Rum.
- The White rum, an unaged blend of Dominican column still rum and Jamaican high ester pot still rum, is the ideal go-to cocktail rum with its strong florality, white pepper notes and clean finish.
- The Dark rum (an eight-year blend of rums from all four countries) is Farrell’s favorite for summer sipping.
"You’ll most often find me drinking [it] with a splash of soda water; it’s delicious, refreshing (especially in hot summer months), and carries the flavor of the rum really well,” he explained. In the mood for something more multilayered? Use the dark rum in a rum-centric old fashioned or a spicy daiquiri, both of which are also in Farrell’s summer rotation.
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