Kill-Divil, it was called back in the 17th century, or rumbullion or bumbo—a 1651 document even describes it as “a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor.” Harsh words for a spirit distilled from sugar cane by-products. Rum has a long and fascinating history, starting with the opening of the world’s first official rum distillery in Barbados, in 1703. Today, it is produced throughout the Caribbean and South and Central America, as well as Newfoundland and New Zealand. It’s enjoyed in cocktails and, increasingly, on its own as a sophisticated sipper similar to fine whisky or Cognac. Here, we share the lowdown on this swashbuckling spirit’s storied past—and its elevated present. —J.S.
Legend has it the Caribbean became the birthplace of rum after Christopher Columbus brought a sugar cane crop with him on his second voyage. Discover more history at one of these three spots.
Learn about the world’s oldest rum distiller at the Mount Gay Visitor Experience in Barbados. Explore the Legacy Museum, then take a tour to find out more about production techniques and the distillery’s 314-year history. Finish with an extensive rum tasting.
Cayman Spirits Company ages its Seven Fathoms Rum under water at a depth of, yes, seven fathoms (nearly 13 metres). The tour doesn’t venture beneath the waves, but it does take you into the Grand Cayman distillery’s 1,200-gallon still and also includes a spirits tasting.
The House of Angostura in Trinidad is most famous for the aromatic bitters it has produced since 1824, but for the last century it has also produced fine rums. Tours of the complex cover the state-of-the-art distillery, museum and art gallery, and end with a rum tasting. Reservations essential. —J.S.
Premium hand-crafted Bumbu hails from the original rum island, Barbados, and is made from sugar cane sourced from eight countries. Its lush vanilla, caramel and spice flavours make it a sweet sipper. —J.S.
Medium in body, but with a touch of oak character, Mount Gay Eclipse from Barbados is a versatile golden rum that tastes of vanilla and candied ginger with fruity notes of apricot and banana. —J.S.
Bacardi Superior, dating back to 1862 Cuba, is referred to as the original white rum. Aged in oak, then filtered through charcoal to achieve clarity, it has subtle almond and vanilla flavours that make it ideal for Mojitos. —J.S.
For cocktails that require depth, professional bartenders reach for Havana Club 7 Year Old from Cuba. Its rich flavours of cocoa, vanilla and tropical fruits are perfect in a Rum Old Fashioned. —J.S.
Light, crisp and clear, this spirit has a shorter fermentation and is aged in white oak barrels before it’s filtered through charcoal. —R.S.
These rums are full of flavour thanks to pot still distillation that helps them retain fruity flavours and bold spiciness. —R.S.
Trinidad and Tobago
The Kraken Black Spiced Rum hails from Trinidad and Tobago, and is seasoned with 13 secret spices for flavours of molasses, vanilla, chocolate and clove. It’s monstrously good in eggnog. —J.S.
Soft and floral with mild spice, these spirits are a blend of lighter and heavier rums aged in bourbon barrels. —R.S.
Rum-based cocktails to try
Many claim this mix of rum, orange curaçao, orgeat syrup and lime juice was invented in the 1930s by former bootlegger Donn Beach. Try one at Bootlegger Tiki in Palm Springs.
This simple concoction (white rum, lime juice, sugar) is said to have been invented in Cuba around the turn of the 20th century. Ernest Hemingway liked the frozen version at Havana’s Floridita, and you might, too.
Created in Bermuda at the end of the First World War and best enjoyed at the Fairmont Southampton, this sipper consists of Gosling’s Black Seal rum, ginger beer and a lime garnish. —J.S.
Tasting tips from a master blender
Name: Joy Spence
Occupation: Master Blender, Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum
A trained chemist with a fine-tuned palate, Joy Spence has not only been master blender at the multiple-award-winning Appleton Estate since 1997, she also has the distinction of being the first woman to become a master blender at any distillery in the world.
The joys of distilling: “My favourite part of the distilling process is the creation of so many different and complex flavours from our unique copper pot still and the fact that you can create so many different styles, each having their own distinctive sensory profile. This gives me great flexibility in blending and makes the final rums extremely versatile.”
Most rewarding moment: “Receiving a national award (the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer) for my contribution to industry from the Government of Jamaica in 2005.”
Favourite way to drink Appleton Estate: “I really enjoy a good sipping rum such as the Appleton Estate Joy Anniversary Blend. I’ll have it in a snifter with dark-chocolate-covered strawberries, which perfectly complement the taste and aroma profiles of the rum.”
Joy’s Rum Match-Up:
For bourbon drinkers: “I recommend they try the Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year Old in an Old Fashioned. The Rare Blend highlights the beautiful vanilla, coffee, cocoa and orange flavours that bourbon drinkers enjoy.”
For single malt drinkers: “I would recommend the Appleton Estate 21 Year Old. Its exceptional smoothness, warm coffee, oak, vanilla and almond notes makes it a spirit that any single malt drinker can appreciate.”
For vodka drinkers: “I would point them in the direction of a simple but elevated rum cocktail like the Jamaican Mule with Appleton Estate Signature Blend, because vodka drinkers enjoy rum cocktails that are deliciously simple.” —J.S.