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ontap rum caribbean-map

Illustrations by Molly Henty


Island Fever

A rum drinker’s guide to the Caribbean.


Made from sugar cane or molasses, aged for 30 years or not at all, in stainless steel or French oak, the rums of the Caribbean are as diverse as the sun-soaked islands they call home. In our July/Aug 2013 issue, Paul Clarke explores the rhum agricoles of Martinique, but beyond the borders of that island nation, Caribbean rums as a whole are beloved the world over, and we asked some of the worlds’ most rum-obsessed people to name their favorites. Here’s what they had to say.



ontap rum cuba
Cuba’s history has long been intertwined with rum, with Christopher Columbus bringing the first sugar cane to the island in 1493. The first Cuban rums were rough spirits. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that more refined, lighter rums emerged. Like many Caribbean rums, this somewhat lighter Cuban rum style was born out of the preferences of locals, and the rums of Havana Club are an excellent example of that style. 
Expert Pick: Havana Club Selección de Maestros
This is one of Havana Club’s most refined offerings, offering a sophisticated, balanced blend with just the right amount of heat. Tiki historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry loves that “it goes down like a top-shelf Armagnac.”


ontap rum jamaica

Jamaica’s rum history is closely woven with the history of naval rum, or the rum rations given to the British Royal Navy, a practice that lasted until the late 1960s. Jamaican rums are distilled from sugarcane molasses and are often noted for their hogo-rich bouquet (meaning they still display some of the funk of fermented sugarcane juice in its raw state). Appleton is the big name in Jamaican rum, and it has been distilling rum there for over 260 years. 
Expert Pick: Appleton Estate Reserve
Distilled in copper stills and aged in oak barrels, this bottle is probably familiar to most. Blair Reynolds of Hale Pele in Portland, Ore., calls it an example of “hogo-rich rums.” This hogo is easily tamed into a pleasant tang with the addition of a bit of lime juice and sugar in the form of a Daiquiri or the even simpler Ti’ Punch.
ontap rum haiti
A former French colony, Haitian rhums are, like those of Martinique, distilled from sugarcane, but are not protected by an AOC. Some are aged in French oak and some in stainless steel vats, and often, distillers begin with pot-stilled rum and then run it though a column still. Much of the sugarcane from which Haitian rhums are distilled is now imported due to heavy deforestation on the island. The island has quite a few small distilleries, but the most reliably good rhum—and reliably available in the U.S.—comes from Barbancourt.
Expert Pick:  Barbancourt Réserve du Domaine
Made from sugar cane rather than molasses, the rums of Haiti’s Barbancourt distillery are reliably good. Jeff Berry prefers this bottling because of its unique character, a true star among aged rums. “Many aged rums hit the same vanilla notes, but this 15-year rum has a full-bodied, yet delicate character of its own,” he says.
Expert Pick:  Barbancourt 5 Star
Aged for eight years, this pale gold rum is powerful and sweet with hints of pepper and cooked citrus on the finish. Martin Cate, owner of Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, finds it to be truly “unique in style” as well as flavor. Good for sipping or for mixing.
ontap rum puerto-rico
Puerto Rico
The rums of Puerto Rico are, to some extent, distilled to meet the tastes of locals, but the rum style has also been heavily influenced by the American market, which is largely dominated by Puerto Rican rums like Bacardi. Molasses-based, Puerto Rican rums tend to be light-bodied, though in recent years there has been a shift toward more complex, flavorful, aged rums.
Expert Pick: Don Q Añejo
This rum is aged in American oak barrels for between three and five years. It’s smooth and lightly sweet with notes of vanilla and molasses, and it has a nice dry finish. Martin Cate says it’s perfect for mixing in delicate cocktails.

ontap rum martinique

The only island in the Caribbean to hold an AOC from the French government, the sugarcane-based rhums of Martinique are artful and refined. Rum expert and importer Ed Hamilton is passionate about these rhums in particular, as he thinks they exemplify true artisanship in rum production. In Martinique, sugarcane is harvested near the distilleries, and almost immediately the fermentation and distilling process begins. “Rum is so much about locality,” he says. “It is the most diverse of distilled spirits. Authenticity and transparency are the marks of a great distiller.” Read more about Martinique rhums in our July/August 2013 issue.
Expert Pick: Rhum Clément Cuvée Homère
In his July/Aug feature on Martinique, Imbibe contributor Paul Clarke calls this one of the best rhums of Martinique, and Jeff Berry agrees, listing it as a standout on an island of great rums. “It rivals the finest Cognac but is still very much a rum, with a luxuriantly rich, toasty, browned-butter essence.”


ontap rum barbados

Bajan rums tend to have a higher sucrose content that results in a caramel richness. These flavors are often compounded in the aged rums of Barbados by time spent in American whiskey barrels. The island is home to some well-regarded rum (such as Cockspur and Foursquare), but, “We drink the best and export the rest” is a popular phrase among locals, and according to Ed Hamilton, that’s no exaggeration. Fortunately for those of us who don’t live on the island, even ”the rest” is pretty darn good.
Expert Pick: Doorly’s XO
Family-owned and made with care, this Bajan rum was mentioned by everyone we talked with. Jeff Berry describes it as “smooth, silky, but also brawny, with a heady aroma and a flavor that lives up to it.” An excellent sipper.


ontap rum trinidad
Trinidadian rum, much of which comes from the House of Angostura—maker of the ubiquitous bitters—tends to be some of the lightest to be found in the Caribbean and has become more popular in the U.S. in the past decade. The most marked characteristic of these rums is a strong vanilla flavor, making them very approachable in the glass. 10 Cane also distills on Trinidad, so called because they say it takes 10 canes stalks to make one bottle of their rum.
Expert Pick: Angostura Distillery 1919
An across-the-board favorite, Angostura Distillers’ 1919 is approachable, widely available, reasonably priced, and with dominant-yet-elegant vanilla and butterscotch tones, it’s a great entry-level sipper as well as a terrific mixing rum.
Expert Pick: Fernandes Black Label (Angostura Distillery)
This is Blair Reynolds’ current favorite rum for sipping, and he says he especially appreciates its sense of place. “It has that classic Trinidad perfume on the nose with lovely floral character and vanilla notes on the palate.”


ontap rum guyana
Only one distillery operates in Guyana, but it’s a good one. Demerara Distillers is responsible for a variety of rums, all of them generally heavier and richer in style than other Caribbean rums, all made from molasses. They also own and operate the last remaining wooden stills in the Caribbean, the use of which gives Guyanese rums a truly distinctive character.
Expert Pick: El Dorado (Demerara Distillers)
Truly a gold standard, this line of rums comes from Guyana’s one and only distillery, Demerara, which has been operating steadily for nearly 300 years and continues to make rum in the original wooden stills, the last of their kind in the Caribbean. Ed Hamilton calls out the traceability of these rums and the transparency of the process, meaning everything is juiced, fermented, distilled and bottled right at the distillery. Meanwhile, Blair Reynolds values the unique smokiness yielded by the use of wooden stills, as well as their somewhat Scotch-like blend of “salty coastal flavors and island fruit.”
Expert Pick: Lemon Hart 151
Also from Demerara Distillers, this is the must-have, overproof rum for tiki enthusiasts. Bold, black and fiery, Jeff Berry describes it as “The pirate's choice, redolent of gunpowder, ocean spray, ship’s wood and pitch. A mutiny in a bottle.” 



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