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The Rumpire Strikes Back: A Dozen Sipping Rums To Challenge Your Preconceptions

Posted: 04/27/2012 5:28 pm

Rum seems to be the alcoholic equivalent of soccer -- always poised to become the next big thing, but never quite getting there. In-the-know rum mavens are well aware that a quality aged rum can be as complex, refined, and just plain tasty as the finest whiskeys or brandies. But for far too many imbibers, rum is something that comes in a bottle with a pirate on it, and should be followed by the words "and Coke." It breaks my heart, it really does.

I wrote a piece about " some of my favorite sipping rums -- the dark, aged stuff as opposed to the lighter brands meant for mixing -- a while back for HuffPo. And I'd like to think that I helped convert a drinker or two. Or, failing that, I hope I gave rum lovers some new brands to try. But having seen one too many rum commercials in which pirates are seen cavorting to White Stripes songs, I'm back, like an overzealous missionary looking to drum my message into the heads of the poor saps I missed the first time around.

Listen up, o bereft of spirits! For here, my flock, are a cool dozen primo examples of just how magical rum can be. They don't need crushed ice, fruit juices, Coca-Cola, grenadine or anything else besides a glass and an open mind (and perhaps a few drops of water or an ice cube, but really, that's it). They range in age from four years to 20-plus. They're sweet, dry, smooth, spicy, rich, earthy... you name it. They come from all over the Caribbean and Latin America. And if you like good spirits, there's no way you won't dig at least a couple of these, no matter your personal taste.

One important thing to remember: aging rum is not the same as aging, say, bourbon or Scotch. Rums are made in tropical climates, and the constant heat ages them a lot quicker than the more temperate weather of, say, Kentucky or Islay, to name just two. Think of aging rum the way you'd think of aging whiskey -- but in dog years. A 12 or 18 or 21-year-old Scotch whisky is pretty standard high-end fare nowadays, but aging a rum for that long without having the whole thing evaporate or taste like a piece of wood is pretty amazing. And believe me, these are amazing rums.

While they probably deserve a write-up of their own, I also included a couple of rhums agricole among my dozen. If you know rhum agricole, you know that it's quite different from traditionally made rum. If you don't know it, scroll down and find out. And then, more importantly, go out and taste some.

There are far more than a dozen rums worth trying. I wrote about some of them in my last piece. I may have left out others as a matter of personal taste. And I'm sure there are plenty I've never heard of. So if your favorite rum was left out, feel free to mention it in the Comments section.

Caribbean: English Harbour Reserve 10 Year Old
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ENGLISH HARBOUR RESERVE 10 YEAR OLD (Antigua; aged 10-25 years, 40% ABV, $94). Made by the Antigua Distillery since 1932, English Harbour isn't well known beyond serious rum aficionados. And that's a shame. Both on the nose and the palate, the 10-year-old just keeps unfolding, revealing layer after delicious layer of flavors. It starts off with a burst of vanilla, segueing nicely into caramel, cinnamon, a little dried citrus fruit, oak... and finally finishing off with just a little peppery burn. A lot of rum boosters who try to convert whiskey fans will use drier rums for comparison. I'd use English Harbour, not because it's dry --in fact, it's a little on the sweet side -- but for its complexity, which rivals anything the whiskey world has to offer. Cheap it ain't, but if you love rum it's worth the price. (I'm looking forward to trying English Harbour's 5-year-old, which is said to be an excellent mixer, and their legendary 1981 bottling, which is tough to find and wildly expensive.)
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