~ by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits ~
In the historic days of the great whaling industry on Nantucket, young men would leave island on sea voyages that could last up to three years. Large stores of all kinds had to be kept aboard in order to accommodate these long adventures, including libations for the captain and crew. Among these rations was, of course, rum. Dark, heavy rum, often referred to as Grog, was for the crew, while lighter finer rums from the West Indies were reserved for the Captain. Whaling captains would have personal liquor lockers stowed in their quarters that were often refilled as needed when in their port of call.
Rum is no stranger to sailors and visitors of the Caribbean waters as this is where the majority of the world’s rum production takes place. Rum is considered a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made from sugarcane, or sugarcane products such as molasses, through a process of fermentation and distillation. The name Rum is suggested to come from the last syllable of the Latin word for sugar, saccharum. The distillate is clear in color and is categorized into different grades based on its finishing production. A silver or white rum, also known as a light rum, is usually not aged at all in oak barrels. Golden or dark rum is typically aged for some short duration in oak barrels. Premium rums are aged for an extended period of time, and blended rums from different locales are also available.
Depending on the grade of rum determines how it is consumed. Lighter rums are used more for mixing in cocktails, often with several ingredients in the recipe. Flavored rums serve mostly in tropical themed drinks, where spiced rums, made through the addition of ingredients such as cinnamon, vanilla, aniseed, or pepper, can be more versatile. Dark rums can be seen as one of two ingredients in many cocktails, with the other ingredients being non-alcoholic in order to showcase the essence of the rum without taking away its character (such as dark rum and tonic with a lime wedge). Overproof rums are those higher than 40% abv (80 proof) and over more punch in a mixed drink. Premium rums are akin to Scotch or Cognac in that you can slightly dilute it to your preferred potency by adding water or ice. You need to carefully approach Rum of this stature, having patience as you allow the beverage to open up and breathe as you ease your way into the libation.
You need not travel far once you arrive on the Grey Lady in order to see the influence of rum drinks here on the island.
First stop is Rose & Crown and their lively bar for the GOOMBAY SMASH, a classic cocktail offering and their signature drink. This beverage originated in the Bahamas. While their exact recipe remains a secret, it is believed to contain a blend of rums. Two of these are probably more than enough for the average night on the town, so keep it simple as we continue our Rum tour around the island.
Down on Straight Wharf, you find the BERMUDA RUM SWIZZLE at The Tavern. This cocktail is often referred to as ‘Bermuda’s National Drink.’ Their recipe includes: Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, Gosling’s Gold Rum, fruit juices and a twist of Nantucket served on the rocks. The traditional recipe calls for lime, orange and pineapple juices, and then flavored with a touch of either Falernum (a sweet almond, ginger or clove flavored syrup) or Grenadine (a pomegranate based sweetener). It is to be ‘swizzled’ with a three to five forked branch from a tropical allspice bush, hence the name of the cocktail. Punches made for three or four people mixed in a pitcher then poured over ice, this is a perfect drink for sharing and irresistible to locals and tourists.
Making your way inland and off the cool, breezy waterfront, you can rub elbows with visitors or locals alike while enjoying the outdoor bar or at the inside bar at The Lobster Trap. Here you will take part in their world famous ELBOW BENDER signature drink. Legend has it that the owners of The Trap (as it is affectionately known here on island) discovered this drink in the early 1980s while sailing through the Abaco Islands in the northern part of the Bahamas. It is a combination of fruit juices, rum, Cherry Herring (a sweet Danish cherry liqueur) and their secret ingredient. It has bent the elbow of many a fine patron – this much is true.
Your island rum tour would not be complete without one last stop and finishing the afternoon at the Triple Eight Distillery. Swagger on over to the Nantucket Visitor’s Center to catch the daily daytime shuttle that runs about every thirty minutes from town to the distillery and back. While the ride is complimentary, gratuities are appreciated by your designated driver. Upon arrival, be sure to show your ID and get ready to taste Nantucket’s own HURRICANE RUM. Named for the storms that cause much trouble for those on the Atlantic seaboard (and beyond sometimes), this is an overproof, dark rum made to match the name of the strength of the storms it was named for. It is aged in used bourbon casks that impart its sweetness, yet the rum has a strong lingering flavor. This is a great keepsake to take home with you and slowly sip your way through the bottle over the winter, reminiscing about your summer here on the island.
No matter where you are on island or which style of rum that you happen to fancy, this is just a brief introduction to the styles of rum produced and the cocktails they can make. In order to further your education, your rum research should continue while catching the glorious sunset in Madaket and sipping on a Madaket Mystery. What exactly is in this drink? No one really knows, but you can be sure of one thing: Rum.