Say the word rum, and the image that will pop into most people's heads -- well, the ones who don't instantly conjure up a pirate going "arrrrgghhh" -- is a mojito, mai tai, or some similar sweet, summery cocktail. Rum isn't something you drink. It's something you put into a drink. You know, Bacardi and Diet Coke. Captain Morgan and, um, whatever those guys are swilling it with while they're cavorting in those frat-boyish commercials.
Rum doesn't always get a fair shake nowadays. And that's a shame, because at its best, it's a sophisticated spirit that's as complex and delicious as the whiskeys and cognacs beloved by so many spirits snobs. Labor Day may be the time to put away those umbrella-laden tiki drinks (although, hell, a Zombie is great year 'round), but autumn is the perfect season to break out the snifters and drink some dark sipping rums.
Just in case you don't know, rum is made from fermenting the juice of sugar cane or its derivatives, usually molasses. Once it's distilled, it's aged in wooden barrels -- both new barrels and used ones that have contained everything from sherry to bourbon -- which affects the color and flavor of the finished product. Clear or light rums are aged for about a year, and then are filtered to get rid of any color; they're generally used as mixers. The rums discussed here, however, are aged much longer, up to 40 years in some cases. Their colors range across the spectrum from honeyed gold to deep amber to almost black in certain cases, and they can taste vastly different as well.
What follows is a list, with tasting notes, of more than a dozen rums that don't need blenders or straws or fruit juices or grenadine or any of the things you may normally associate with rum. I'm sure they'd all make a nifty mai tai, but doing that would be like slathering ketchup on a porterhouse steak. No, all you need to enjoy these sophisticated spirits is a glass and perhaps an ice cube or two. The list is by no means complete (feel free to add your favorite by clicking the 'Add a Slide' button), but you should be able to find at least one here to enjoy regardless of your taste in rum or the size of your wallet.
I know, I know, I didn't include your favorite rum. I haven't had a real rum until I've tried (insert name of rum I didn't mention here). That's why I want your feedback. Don't be shy -- chime in below or click the 'Add a Slide' button above!