Gin has a rags to riches story in the spirit world, a mere six years ago it was the dusty bottle at the back of the alcohol cabinet, only used in cocktails or when an older relative came to stay. Now it is the tipple of choice for sophisticated millennials or origin-concerned hipsters, and with more than 250 gin distilleries in the UK, the market is flooded with every flavour and botanical combination imaginable.
However, though gin’s popularity has boomed, those who are not a big fan of mother’s ruin are looking for the same craft credentials in another spirit, and the up and comer of choice is rum. There is no spirit that better encapsulates the flavour of summer or takes you to hot sandy beaches and warm summer nights. It has long been a staple in some of our favourite cocktails like mojitos and daiquiris, but recently people have been elevating it beyond mixology fodder and promoting it to a standalone drink that allows you to appreciate the complexity of its flavour.
Why is rum gaining popularity?
While gin conjures images of Victorian Britain, rum’s chequered history nods towards pirates and imperialism. Unfortunately, for years the most widely available rums were low cost big brands that have been industrially distilled. These have then been hidden in cocktails or diluted with soft drinks and have never fully expressed the flavour profile the spirit has to offer.
As craft rums are coming to the fore and are being treated like a fine whiskey, consumers are opting for the naturally sweeter spirit that lacks the confronting flavours in gin like juniper and wormwood. That is not to say rum is a one-trick pony, the world of rum is not regulated by a strict classification system that is imposed on beverages like whisky, which means there is enormous diversity within the beverage. This not only guarantees there will be a rum to suit every palate, but also you can continue to explore the exciting variety rum has to offer.
What challenges do distilleries face?
Part of gin’s national success is the speed at which it can be distilled and the fact that many ingredients can be locally sourced or do not have to come from too far afield. Right from the off, rum requires sugar cane which is indigenous to South Asia but now is grown in lots of different tropical climates, including the USA. However this does mean that the sugar cane has to be imported and is a greater initial expense than gin.
Rum can be aged and this is often something that rum connoisseurs look for. Though it can be sold without being aged, to command a higher price tag, you have to commit to being patient. This has also made rum distilling a less appealing task than gin, however people have not been put off and there are now some rums produced in the UK.
Where can you find the best British rum?
Often you can have a nose around various gin distilleries, see what botanicals go into their specific brand and find out the perfect garnish and tonic pairing. The same is now true for rum and whether you are looking for a day out learning about your new favourite spirit, or just want some guidance on brands to look out for, I have picked some of my home-grown favourites.
Old Salt Rum
The English Spirit Distillery produces Old Salt Rum (as well as a spiced rum and white rum) that was one of the first British rums and has racked up the awards since it was first released. It is triple distilled and potent at 42%. It is smooth and according to The Fat Rum Pirate:
“There is quite a rich taste to the rum it reminds me a little of fruit soaked in punch. It’s very intense and quite bitter. There is sweetness but with a huge hit of booze and esthers running through the mix.”
The first rum distillery in Scotland, Dark Matter are passionate about their spiced rum. Dark Matter has received countless awards since their first batch was produced in 2015, though the idea was floated way back in 2011. The Fat Rum Pirate also reviewed the Dark Matter Spiced Rum and describes it as:
“The spicing is authentic and smells very real not at all artificial. To me it’s been infused as much as it has been spiced. So on with a tasting. The rum is very spicy. Despite the added sugar it isn’t a cloying drink when served neat. It is hot and spicy with warming notes of ginger and black pepper.”
Dead Man’s Fingers
Despite the slightly sinister name, this Cornish twist on Caribbean rum takes you away from cream teas and into the darker side of Cornish history- piracy. The small batch spiced rum Dead Man’s Fingers is based in St Ives but readily available online and all over the South west. One Review on The Whisky Exchange heaps the rum with praise:
“An excellent small batch rum that puts the mass produced spiced rums to shame. Rich flavour with hints of a very rich Christmas cake with ripe fruit and nut lingering on the tongue. Whist general rule of thumb for the World Rum Awards would be aged rums, this rum would be worthy of the Best In Spiced Category. I would make the comparison between this and a former World Champion Captain Bligh only Dead Man’s Fingers is somewhat cheaper.”
So though rum may not be as immediately appealing to craft distillers, the public are increasingly becoming aware of its attributes. This means that though it is not currently a contender to gin as the UK’s tipple of choice, it is definitely an up and comer for the summer season.