Caribbean Rums are Positioning Themselves as Sippers

Everybody thinks of whiskey as enjoyable straight up in a glass. But why not rum? Why do many consumers consider this spirit more suitable for shots, punch or vacation-time cocktails?

Anyone who’s ever drank premium rum knows to the contrary. This spirit has a range of flavors: sweet, funky, vegetal, fruity, spicy and more. Enjoy it in a tasting glass as you would a scotch or bourbon.

How can rum be thought of more broadly as a sipper? The people behind the Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) marquee believe the answer is education.

This group is teaching American bartenders about Caribbean rum’s variety and quality. The ACR marque represents spirits from 15 countries. It was developed by the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association in 2002.

“We’re trying to demonstrate that rum deserves its place at the top table,” explained ACR Global Ambassador Neil Morris, during a media tasting Monday at Drexler’s in NYC. “We’re trying to establish the ACR marque as the symbol of true premium rum.”

To qualify for the marque, rums must be made from a sugar-cane origin, and come from one of the 13 represented countries. ACR rums must be distilled below 96% ABV, with no added flavoring or coloring. The final proof cannot dip below 40, while age statements must reflect the youngest drop in a bottle.

Spreading this and other info, the ACR team held six education sessions this past year with about 150 total leading bartenders. Participants in each class tasted 18-19 rums. We media members experienced an abridged version at Drexler’s: four rums, indicative of the category’s diversity.

The Caribbean rum tasting included these four bottles.

Up first was Ron Barceló Imperial. Although made in the Dominican Republic, it is not a Latin-style rum made from molasses. Rather, Ron Barceló Imperial is distilled from pure cane juice. This gives the rum vegetal and green-grass flavors. Four-to-ten years of aging in American ex-bourbon casks add oak, toffee and vanilla notes.

Distilled in a column still, Ron Barceló Imperial is light and clean upon the palate, with a long, light, spice finish.

Next was English Harbor 5 Year Old. An English style rum made from molasses, this tasted of burnt sugar — very sweetly so, like salted caramel. A little bit of funk owed to the rum’s open fermentation, though its column still distillation kept this spirit on the neat-and-clean side.

ACR Global Ambassador Neil Morris.

Third was the Monymusk Special Reserve. A big, bold Jamaican rum made English style, it tasted of overripe fruits (especially banana) with a white-pepper finish. This rum was distilled in both pot and column stills, and was an elegant balance between power and pungency.

Last was Admiral Rodney, top of the line from St. Lucia Distillers. Unavailable stateside, Admiral Rodney is 100% column still, and a blend of juices aged on average for 12-15 years — unusually high for rum. Aging occurs in ex-bourbon casks from Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Buffalo Trace.

Bold up front with flavors of fruit, raison and honey, Admiral Rodney becomes buttery upon the palate before a dry finish. It sported some of the thickest legs I’ve ever seen on a spirit. A trip to St. Lucia should include a tasting.

All four rums exhibited the distinction and complexity of flavor that you would expect from a nice bottle of whiskey. These aren’t for punch or cocktails. They’re for sipping and savoring.

After the tasting, Morris was asked why some Caribbean distilleries add sugar to their rums. “It’s a region with a sweet tooth,” he explained.

This has earned criticism from some whiskey drinkers. But it’s not all to the point of pleasing these connoisseurs. Responded Morris, “Too many people are trying to impose whiskey regulations on us. But we’re not whiskey. We’re rum.”

Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of StateWays Magazine. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter @kswartzz


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