Rum may be enjoying a surge in popularity in bars the world over, but in the Caribbean, its historical and spiritual home, it's never been out of style. Fiona Sims samples some of the best
Rum is having a well-deserved renaissance. Not a hip new bar opens without a decent rum list and, in fact, bartenders the world over will tell you their favourite spirit is rum.
But there are as many definitions of what constitutes rum as there are countries that make it. In a nutshell, rum is the spirit distilled from the fermented sugars derived from the fresh juice or molasses extracted from the sugar cane plant.
There are four rum producers on Barbados: the big players, Mount Gay and the West Indies Rum Distillery (home of Malibu and Cockspur), plus boutique distiller St Nicholas Abbey, with it's beautifully renovated house and distillery, and the rum aficionado's favourite, Foursquare (www.foursquarerum.com).
This is the Caribbean's most modern rum plant, run with passion by charismatic owner Richard Seale. He offers self-guided tours which you can take at your own pace and where you can poke your head pretty much anywhere - even into the bottling plant.
Seale is a purist, using different types of wood barrels to create golden aged rum. He even tinkers with the distillation process for his six rum brands, which include Doorly's XO.
At the plant the harvested sugar cane is crushed by rollers to extract the juice, which is then used to make rum or boiled into syrup. After filtration and the removal of the sugar crystals, which form as it cools, a thick, black, gooey gunk, called molasses, is left.
The molasses is diluted with water and wild or cultivated yeast is added to begin fermentation and to add another level of flavour. Once fermentation is finished, it's ready for distillation. This is done using either a pot or aâ¨column still - the former a large copper 'kettle' similar to those used in malt whisky â¨production, the latter are linked cylindrical â¨kettles, producing a constant flow of rum.
To get more flavour and colour, the rum is matured or 'aged', mostly in oak barrels. Here it reacts with the wood, sucking up more â¨flavour and gradually turning from clear to golden and eventually to dark brown. How long it spends in the barrel and how many times the barrel is used both play a part in the final character of the drink.
The climate, too, plays a part. Standing in the humid heat of the barrel room at Foursquare, you can fully appreciate the speedy ageing process - some say that a year of maturation in the Caribbean is equivalent to three years in a cooler climate. Finally, the aged rums may be blended, with some producers combining rums from different stills, distilleries, ages or barrel types, and even countries.
Top five Caribbean rums
Appleton Estate V/X Jamaica Rum
J Wray and Nephew, Jamaica "Brown sugar, light spice, dried fruits and orange peel."
The Appleton Estate is the oldest distillery in Jamaica, located in the stunning Nassau Valley in the parish of St Elizabeth. The V/X is its flagship, a blend of 15 different aged rums.
El Dorado 15 Year Old
Demerara Distillers, Guyana "Dark coffee, candied orange, almonds, dark chocolate and rich vanilla."
Distilled on the East Bank of the Demerara River, this rum uses a wooden Coffey still and wooden pot stills to give a distinctive flavour, before being aged for a minimum of 15 years in small oak barrels. Guyana has a 300-year heritage of sugar and rum production.
English Harbour 5 Year Old
Antigua Distiller, Antigua and Barbuda "Rich apple, coconut and hints of cinnamon."
In the early 20th century a number of rum shops got together to form the Antigua Distillery. English Harbour 5 Year Old is one of a range of premium-aged rums, distilled in copper stills and matured in oak barrels.
Angostura 5 Year Old
Angostura, Trinidad "Chocolate, spice, vanilla and toasted oak flavours."
A blend of rums aged in charred American oak barrels for between five and eight years. The island has been exporting some of the world's finest rums for almost 200 years.
Cockspur Fine Rum
Hanschell Inniss, Barbados
"Sherry and honey nose, with cinnamon spice and a buttery finish."
Produced in Barbados at the West Indies Rum Distillery since 1884, it was founded by a Danish immigrant, Valdemar Hanschell, who ran a ship chandlery in Bridgetown. A smooth rum with a spicy kick - drink it neat, over ice, or with a mixer.
The ultimate rum punch
People flock in their droves to the Cove in Cattlewash, Barbados, for chef owner LaurelAnn Morley's legendary weekend Bajan buffet and her rum punch, the king of rum cocktails. And if you're lucky, she will sing you her favourite rum-themed ditty so you'll never forget the recipe: "One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak."
25ml fresh lime juice
50ml sugar syrup
75ml golden rum
Nutmeg, for grating
Mix the lime juice, sugar syrup, rum and water together and stir until combined. Serve over lots of crushed ice. Add a few drops of Angostura bitters and sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg before serving.