Smooth Sailing Rums

by Advanced Sommelier Jenny Benzie

Salt air breezes, toes in the sand, and sunshine on your face are all synonymous with island living on Nantucket, and no other spirit can make a cocktail that emulates life on an island quite like rum. Rum, made from sugarcane or a molasses product, is the host ingredient to many of the classic tiki-bar cocktails. Think of a thirst quenching Lime Daiquiri, a fresh from your garden Mint Mojito, or a Nantucket Island favorite: Dark and Stormy. Advanced Sommelier Jenny Benzie of Épernay Wine & Spirits gives us a brief history and tasty tour of rums you should be sipping with easy cocktail recipes for your next island themed gathering.

Many of the rum brands we are familiar with today hail from the Caribbean and date back centuries. An abundance of sugar cane in the 17th century helped to make this spirit an international success. Sailing vessels carried exotic trades from the colonies and introduced Caribbean flavors to Europe and the Americas. Rum was used as part of currency for trade with other goods in these travels. At the same time, Boston Harbor was home to a significant amount of rum distilleries that also used molasses brought from the Caribbean to sweeten their baked beans and brown bread. Though none of those original New England companies are around today, thanks to a new generation of distillers we are seeing a resurgence in small-batch artisanal rum production in the region, and they are using better quality products and differentiation in the maturation process of the final product.

BLACK GOLD FROM BARBADOS…Established in 1703 with a legal deed that confirmed the existence of a “Pot Still House” on a sugar cane estate in Barbados, Mount Gay is the world’s oldest rum producer. The name is in homage to the pioneer Sir John Gay who was the manager of the company upon its inception and laid the groundwork it’s international success. A barrel of Barbadian rum had become proof of a sailor’s successful voyage to the Caribbean and began the connection between seafaring and rum. Back in that day, Barbadian molasses was called “Black Gold” due to the additional revenue it had been providing for the island.

In 1910, the twin phenomena of a total solar eclipse and the passage of Halley’s Comet inspired the creation of MOUNT GAY ECLIPSE. The water source for this rum comes from natural groundwater deep beneath the island that is naturally filtered by a pure, porous coral-limestone. After fermentation, the rum is matured in toasted Kentucky oak barrels that impart a subtle smokiness. Eclipse is a blend of aged rums and has a brilliant golden amber color offering aromas of apricot and banana, with hints of vanilla. Perfectly balanced and medium weight on the palate, this rum epitomizes Mount Gay’s signature style of crafting and blending pot still rums.

For those of you on Nantucket during Memorial Day weekend, you may have spotted a Mount Gay Rum red cap on many people passing by. This is a symbol of accomplishment in the sailing community and can only be worn by sailors who have raced in a Mount Gay sponsored regatta where, upon completion of the course (such as the Figawi boat race), they are awarded the cap.

Rum + Tonic Light: Fill glass with ice. Add 2 ounces rum, top with Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic and garnish with a lime wheel.

BOSTON’S RUM SOAKED HISTORY…New England has a long and storied history of rum production that dates back to the 1700s. At its peak, roughly sixty distilleries operated in the Bay State alone. Revitalizing this history are the Willis Brothers, Will and Dave, owners of the craft distillery Bully Boy Distillers. BOSTON BULLY BOSTON RUM grew out of the brothers’ desire to resurrect the city of Boston’s previous distillation days of yore. This bold flavored rum is made with a mixture of blackstrap molasses which imparts vanilla notes and sweet molasses. It has a cleaner, fruitier flavor of banana and pineapple. It is then aged in bourbon barrels which not only mellow the rum, but also add layers of complexity: think chocolate, vanilla, and oak. The final product has a fruity complexity and a bit of sweetness. Each label on the bottle is hand written telling the batch number and the bottle number of that batch.

Petite Planter’s Punch: Stir 3 oz Boston Rum, 1.5 oz Tres Agave Agave Nectar, and squeeze juice from fresh lemon and lime. Add crushed ice and 4 dashes of Angostura bitters. Garnish with a mint sprig.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS…Andrew Cabot was a Boston merchant and rum distiller who became one of the most successful American Privateers. When Boston was still part of Her Majesty’s territory and a tax was levied on the Colonists’ new favorite spirit of the time, Cabot was known to smuggling molasses past British patrols. He was considered a True American when our nation was just beginning.

Six generations later, another Andrew Cabot inspired the launch of Privateer Rum. PRIVATEER TRUE AMERICAN RUM “NAVY STRENGTH” is a barrel-proof rum made in Ipswich, MA. It is fermented from 100% Grade A Fancy Molasses at a lower temperature than normal for a more concentrated color and flavor. Double distillation, first through a pot still, then through a column still, makes the final product 110% proof. The seaside aging of this maritime rum in new American oak barrels creates pungent flavors and aromas infused with the spirit of the North Atlantic Ocean. The natural color and flavor in the bottle is a product of spirit, water, oak, and time. “Best ingredients, best practices, never sweetened, and never filtered” is the motto of this luxury rum.

Classic Daiquiri: Combine 2 oz. Privateer Rum, 1 oz. fresh lime juice, 1 oz. Tres Agave Agave Nectar in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake hard until properly diluted and chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass.

HURRICANE STORM WARNING FLAGS…Traditionally, when the Coast Guard flies hurricane flags, it’s a good idea to stay in port. Hurricane rum, as this spirit is called during a woeful time such as a storm, is said to be rationed to local watering holes during these types of storms. The rum is intended to brace one against the force of any upcoming storm. Luckily, we don’t need inclement weather in order to enjoy TRIPLE EIGHT HURRICANE RUM.

This unique rum is produced by sourcing rums from different distilleries around the world, including Central America, the Caribbean and Florida. The rums are brought to Nantucket in order to blend and mature here like any good “washashore.” During this maturation process, Nantucket’s ocean air plays an integral roll in the final product with influence from the polar air mass the nearby Gulf Stream. The rum is matured in different types of barrels with the rum program concentrating on the art of blending for its final product. The cask strength rum is diluted with pure Nantucket water from the island’s clean sole source aquifer to 88.8 proof (44.4% alcohol by volume). Notes of caramel and baking spices, followed by a butterscotch toffee flavor and a rich sherry finish.

D’ACK and Stormy: Pour 2 ounces Hurricane Rum over ice in a tall glass, add 4 ounces of Barritt’s Ginger Beer. Gently stir. Squeeze in a lime wedge.

Differing sources, varied uses of barrels for aging, and local environmental influences of maturation all have an integral role in process of rum production. One can only hope that Hemingway, an avid rum connoisseur himself, would have been proud of the current state of rum in the United States. Cheers to that!