The first time we try something might completely challenge our preconceived notion of what said tried item is. I had an “awakening” when I first tried an aged “sipping rum” which caused a major shift in my rum paradigm. It was a bottle of Venezuela’s finest, Anniversario Pampero. I remember my friend bringing out this squat, roundish bottle from a small leather pouch, asking me if I ever had a “sipping rum.” I made some offhand remark like “Yeah, I sip rum all the time… with Coke.” To which he responded, “You will NOT be having this with Coca-Cola.” He poured each of us a dram of this amber-colored elixir, which smelled like rum, yet smelled like more than rum too. I was astonished.
I was already somewhat of a Scotch drinker, so complex flavors in my liquor were right up my alley. I’d had Cognac, which I liked, especially the less sweet versions. I’d had bourbon though this was twenty years ago before the proliferation of single barrel bourbons we now have, but rum was just a mixing liquor like vodka and gin, to me. I did not expect the complexity that I sniffed in my small brandy glass.
The magic was in the wood and the aging. Sipping rums spend years in wood barrels, like great Scotches or great bourbons, and that reaction between the liquor and the oak grain transforms a basic rum into something transcendent, something you linger over and sip rather than mix with Coke. Now there are many sipping rums on the market from different locales in and around the Caribbean, but also from other locations like the Philippines, South America, and even the continental United States.
Just last month we featured an exceptional “sipping rum” from El Dorado, their 12-year-aged Demerara Rum from Guyana. The aging process is more pronounced in Guyana because of the high humidity and steady temperature, resulting in an aged rum that seems much more mature than the label represents. They also use an age classification system for their blended vintage rums more similar to Scotch whisky, where the youngest age is listed, while most rums use more of a Solera system listing the oldest in the blend. I get smoked caramel on the nose with a hint of a piney resinous scent that becomes sweeter after tasting. Fire-roasted marshmallows combine with an elegant woodiness coupled with golden delicious raisins on the finish. That sweet finish makes this a very popular and accessible aged rum. Pampero is a little less sweet and has a more woody heat on the finish.
Some other sipping rums that might also be fun to try if you want to host your own sipping party are Zaya Rum from Trinidad & Tobago, which is also a 12-year-aged rum, but has more of a molasses base so is darker in color and sweeter in flavor. Ron Zacapa Centenario Gran Reserva from Guatemala uses fermented sugar cane syrup, rather than molasses and has blended aged rums from 6 to 23 years. Pyrat, 1623 from Anguilla is a sweeter style “sipping rum” that appeals to people who like it a little softer on the palate. To contrast, there is the new Vizcaya Cask #21 that is a Cuban-formula rum produced in the United States, which is less sweet and has more of the wood tones we associate with the whiskey barrels used. The key is to look for aging on the label. When you see a year like 8, 12, 15, or 20, you know that that is a “sipping rum.” Select a few from different locales that are produced in different styles and you will be shocked at the differences in these rums, and how much you like them, even if you are not a “normal” rum drinker. These are rums for cognac, bourbon and scotch drinkers, and they will change your rum paradigm, for sure. Pair with some fun foods like a selection of fruit, fresh and dried, tropical and non-tropical. Think about snacks that might include these complex flavors like crystallized ginger scones or a range of dark chocolates and nuts or even caramel coated popcorn. Just don’t mix these rums with Coca-Cola, they deserve more.
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine and spirits supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE