Fine rum has come a long way in the marketplace, but it still remains under appreciated, especially given its value proposition – the best rums compare very favorably to the best whiskies but tend to cost less, often much less.
In addition, because the growth in the rum market is more recent, there has been more innovation and blenders are still experimenting, so we are seeing quality rums from more different places, more mixes of rums from multiple terroirs, combined ageing in varied woods, and in one especially notable recent development, the introduction of beef into the process! This points to another advantage of rum, as a more food friendly hard liquor option.
So, with National Rum Day a week away (August 16, 2021), I decided to take a different and quirkier approach this year, highlighting some creative twists in the rum industry, less well known or newer products, along with some of my favorite rums period.
But first let’s talk steak.
I’ve written a lot over the years here at Forbes about the growing number of very high-quality gourmet mail order purveyors of specialty meats, specimens you can’t usually ever find at retail, and one of those companies is Meat n’ Bone. This online purveyor is ultra-comprehensive when it comes to specialty meats, offering the best of American, Spanish and South American cuts and products, things that can be almost impossible to find in this country. For instance, Brazil’s beloved Picanha steak is a hard to find cut, but domestic wagyu Picanha and Japanese A5 wagyu Pichanha are things they carry that I have never seen elsewhere. Likewise, one of the best restaurant meals I have ever had revolved around secreto, a “butcher’s cut” of Spanish Iberico pork, and I have also never seen it sold in this country except here. If you like oddball beef cuts – outside skirt, baseball steak, flap, this is the place.
But now Meat n’ Bone has outdone themselves with their newest crazy offering, a 60-Day Dry Aged USDA Prime Bone-In RibEye infused with Diplomatico Rum. That’s a lot of superlatives in one name, given that Prime is the highest domestic beef rating, 60 days is a very long dry age, dry ageing is the best ageing and bone-in rib eye is the gold standard of steak cuts.
Co-Founder Gabriel Llaurado told me that, “After spending time performing dry ageing experiments, we found something really special. Meat N’ Bone’s dry ageing process leverages fine ingredients, starting with Diplomatico’s award winning Reserva Exclusiva, combining the spirit with top-procured sourced steaks. The Ribeyes are placed in a controlled environment, where they are treated with the rum on a daily basis for at least 60 days, during which the beef loses moisture and the flavor concentrates. These are hand-cut and individually packaged in weights between 22 – 26 ounces. The result is a one-of-a-kind mouthwatering steak with rich texture and the delicate aroma of rum.”
I tried it and he is right, this is an excellent steak, and Venezuela’s Diplomatico is an excellent fine rum. Producing these is not a simple process, so the supply is very limited on a monthly basis. But at $77 for a world-class steak that easily feeds two, it is surprisingly reasonably priced in the world of high-end beef. Needless to say, you’ll want to drink some rum with this one!
Ten years ago, when Ron Abuelo Centuria was released to celebrate the 100th birthday of renowned Panamanian distillery Ron Abuelo, I wrote here at Forbes that it was the best rum I had ever tasted. It was supposed to be a special edition, and I hoarded a bottle in anticipation of celebrating my own Centennial someday. But it proved so popular they kept making it, and it is still fantastic – Wine Enthusiast gave it 97 points. Aged 30 years, you can find it at places like TotalWine for around $150, a fraction of what a Scotch this age and quality would cost.
But this year, in keeping with the food theme, I’m suggesting something else: Ron Abuelo XV Años Finish Collection. These exquisite 15-year-old rums are available in three cask finishes, all superb for food pairing and all $75. There’s the Oloroso sherry cask (ideal with raw seafood such as salmon or tuna tartare, or for dessert, dark chocolate with sea salt); the Napoleon Cognac cask (beef carpaccio, foie gras, truffles or anything with dried fruits such as raisin or apricots); and the Tawny Port cask (blue or semi-hard aged cheese such as Comté, wild berries or mature red fruits),
If fine rum and great food with rum sounds good to you, how about a luxury rum vacation? Starting this month, the Four Seasons Nevis – one of my all-time favorite beach resort hotels – is offering the “Ready to Rum” package, a sensory trip through the history of rum in Nevis and the Caribbean. Guests will taste the different flavor notes of regional and global varietals; blend and mix their own cocktails in a class with Master Mixologist Kendie Williams; try a rum and Cuban cigar pairing session; enjoy a rum blending lesson with local Master Rum Blender Mark Theron; and finish with a private rum pairing dinner in their villa or on Pinney’s Beach. It even includes a rum-centric spa treatment for two! Guests booking the package also go home with a nice souvenir, a bottle of the Crowned Monkey Rum created for the resort’s 29th anniversary, distilled in Barbados and cask finished on Nevis. (starting at $900 per adult).
“When you visit the Caribbean, the first thing that comes to mind is having a good, strong rum cocktail to start the vacation off right,” says Loic Ferrie, Director of Food and Beverage. “This rum-soaked package will be the perfect way to end the summer with endless sunshine, palm trees and a taste of rum that will leave you wanting a return trip to this infinite Caribbean paradise.”
Not everyone is ready to jump back into travel, but that’s the beauty of rum – it brings the flavors of exotic places to you wherever you are. Here are some other Rum Day 2021 highlights.
Equiano: Looking for something truly new and different? Equiano Rum claims to be the world’s first line of African and Caribbean rums, a never-before-seen blend of two cultures via two distilleries on two continents. The brand is named in honor of Nigerian-born writer, entrepreneur, abolitionist and freedom fighter Olaudah Equiano, so the Equiano Rum founders have pledged 5% of global company profits and $2 of every bottle sold through its website to ground level freedom and equality organizations, such their grant recipient for 2021, Anti-Slavery International.
The original Equiano was released just over a year ago, a blend from one of the top emerging distilleries, Gray’s in Mauritius, and well-regarded Foursquare in Barbados. The result is a 100% natural rum, with no spices, colorants, additives or added sugar, aged in-Cognac and ex-Bourbon casks. It quickly won four prestigious international awards, Golds at the International Spirits Challenge, Spirits Selection and San Francisco World Spirits Competition, along with Silver at the International Wine and Spirits Competition ($60). Last month, the brand released its second expression, Equiano Light. More cocktail-focused, this is a refreshing blend of lightly aged molasses rum from the Caribbean and fresh sugar cane juice rum from Africa. “The idea behind the blend was to create a lightly aged rum with a flavor profile of days gone by; the subtle notes of ripe sugarcane, hints of natural vanilla and citrus, that were appreciated in classic rum cocktails such as The Daiquiri, or for the new style of long rum highballs that use various premium tonics and sodas.” ($46)
Plantation Birds of Paradise: Plantation Rum is one of my favorite brands, the one that really moved rum production into its currently creative phase in a big way. Plantation is part of Maison Ferrand, a renowned French cognac and fine spirit house, and their big innovation was the kind of intercontinental ageing now seen in newcomers like Equiano above, and Dos Maderas 5+3, an excellent rum aged in Guyana and Jerez, Spain which I wrote about last year for Forbes. The difference is that Plantation has been doing this for a long time, are very good at it, have a lot of great rums and keep adding more. Most are double-aged, first in their tropical country of origin, then a second time in France. The result for years has been a broad portfolio of award-winning rums.
The latest offering is the Birds of Paradise Vintage collection, a collaboration between Plantation’s owner and master blender and the distilleries he partners with to select perfect barrels from particular vintages, which are then finished in Ferrand cognac casks in Europe. Birds of Paradise Vintages selections from Barbados 2011, Peru 2006, and Trinidad 2009 are all new U.S. releases this year, with another from Australia 2007 coming later in the year. Previous releases in the collection include Fiji 2005 and Jamaica 2003. Each is aged at least a year and as many as 4.5 in France, and total age runs from 9-17 years. All are priced at $80.
Dictador: Pre-pandemic, Cartagena was emerging as a trendy travel hotspot, and once you try these rums you may add it to your vacation list. These award-winning Colombian rums have been made in Cartagena’s tropical climate from high-grade sugar cane for over 100 years, and the ultra-premium portfolio includes the 12-Year-Old ($40), 20-Year-Old ($60), and Dictador XO Perpetual ($95) plus select rare vintages and unique blends running up to two thousand dollars a bottle. I just tried the twelve and at this price it is hard to beat, made from virgin cane and aged in oak, with rum’s signature sweetness more evocative of maple syrup than molasses. The 20-year adds secondary ageing in port casks.
Saint James Rhum Agricole: Many enthusiasts embrace “rhum agricole” as the spirit’s ultimate expression, made from locally grown cane harvested and quickly made into rum, preserving the freshness and grassiness of the terroir. However, the term is confusing because it was created under French law for its overseas territory and like French laws governing wine labels, requires very specific growing and production rules. However, Martinique, most famous for rhum agricole, has its own French AOC (controlled appellation) designation (like Champagne), different from other islands, and is further protected with a distinct European Union PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) the highest form of geographically indicated label status given to foods, wines and spirts made with unique excellence in a particular place – think Prosciutto di Parma. So, Martinique enjoys this distinction among all rum producing places, and Saint James Martinique Rhum Agricole – the third oldest rum producer on earth – has been making it here for over 250 years. Labels available in the U.S. include Blanc, Paille, Royal Ambre and Vieux ($25-$100). I recommend the Vieux (Old) which is dark brown in appearance but tastes softer and lighter than it looks, with a slightly spicy finish, a steal at $32.
Thrasher’s Rum – From Our Nation’s Capital? This is one of my odder finds of the year. Rum is the foundation of tiki culture, and this year Washington DC’s Tiki TNT was named one of the “2021 Best Bars in America” by Esquire Magazine. Owner/barman turned distiller Todd Thrasher also happens to be longtime avid scuba master diver and developed a fascination with rum after many years spent at beach spots throughout the Caribbean, West Indies and South Pacific. Thrasher also owns Potomac Distilling Company, where he produces five different rums in his Smoke Stack Series, Green Spiced, White, Gold, Spiced and Coconut. But it’s the sixth, Relaxed Rum, being released this month, that interests me most. Thrasher has been hard at work developing an aged domestic rum to rival those of the Caribbean. What everyone else calls aging, he describes as a “relaxation period” of 24-months in New American White Oak barrels. He describes the result as a flavor that is similar to bourbon, featuring an essence of vanilla and tobacco with smoky notes. At $48 it is pricy for a domestic rum that is on the younger side and not made from fresh sugarcane, but it is certainly unique, and one of the only options for those who want to shop more locally.