A trial rum?
Set to overtake gin as our spirit of choice, there’s nothing like a rum cocktail – or even a straight rum – to put a smile on your face, says Jonathan Ray. Why not give it a try?
So, there I was with Finn, Lily and Jonno, three gorgeous godchildren, each one of whom was carrying a terrific thirst, as indeed was I. By great good luck we met for a night on the town on what turned out to be National Rum Day (16 August, since you ask; for goodness sake bung it in the diary for next year) and so where better to head than the Diplomático Palm Terrace at the Bloomsbury Club Bar in London?
The DPT is a glorious spot and is without doubt my – nay, our – new favourite watering hole. The bar is in the lower ground floor of the achingly swish Bloomsbury Hotel and it’s as if we’d been whisked straight into a Graham Greene or Somerset Maugham movie. Fairy lights, bare brick walls, can- dles on tables, whirring fans, potted palms, shuttered windows, it had it all. I swear I saw Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre shuffle behind a pillar as we entered. I could hear cicadas outside and felt the sticky heat of the Caribbean. I should have been wearing a white linen suit, Panama hat and carrying a cane. The Diplomático Palm Terrace is nothing if not atmospheric.
It’s more than a little welcoming, too, for as we sat in a snug booth perusing the cocktail list a modest complimentary iced daiquiri was placed in front of each of us, just to get us in the mood. Which it did in spades, so tasty was it. Indeed, by the time we’d moved on to the Ron y Cola, the Mango Botucal, Roraima’s Peak (my favourite, made from Diplomático Mantuano Rum, orgeat,
pineapple, pressed lime, cane sugar and campari infused with camomile and passion fruit) and the Reversal of Fortune, we were all well away and there was no chance of stopping our careering horse and carriage. We were happy as larks, though, beaming from ear to ear.
But then rum does that to you. I can think of no spirit other than cachaça from Brazil (which is a rum, too, really) that lifts you up and cheers you so successfully. Vodka, I find, drags you down to gloomy, Dostoevsky-like depths; whisky makes you introspective and serious; cognac is a fine post-prandial but not much use earlier in proceedings. Rum brings a smile to your face, a glint to your eye and a spring to your step. No wonder the Caribbeans and South Americans are such a jolly lot.
Technically, rum is any spirit made from sugar cane and its derivatives using either a pot still or a column still; it’s produced all along the equator and wherever sugarcane is grown. The rum made in and around the Caribbean, however, is the best and most prized. Rum made in ‘French’ territories – known as rhum agricole – is distilled from fermented sugarcane juice; rum made in ‘British’ territories (what we call rum and the French sometimes call rhum industriel) is distilled from molasses, a by-product of sugar production. Rum of either type can be utterly, overwhelmingly, seductively delicious and, having visited the Caribbean several times, I’m completely in its thrall.
And so, it seems, is everyone else. I’m told that worldwide sales will hit £1bn next year and by 2020 it’s predicted that rum will be outselling gin.
Longstanding favourites of mine include the mighty Mount Gay from Barbados (the oldest rum distillery in the world, founded in 1703). Mount Gay Eclipse is its celebrated entry-level rum, beloved of mixologists and rum-lovers everywhere, while at the other end of the scale is the magnificent Mount Gay Xo.
There’s River Antoine (pronounced: anntwine) from Grenada, which still uses its original 250-year-old equipment to produce rums so combustible that at 75%vol they’re not permitted to be carried on aeroplanes, no, not even those of the local airline, LIAT, the Leeward Islands Air Transport (aka Leave Island Any Time).
There are Chairman’s Reserve and the fabulous Admiral Rodney, both heralding from St Lucia; Santa Teresa from Venezuela and, of course, the indispensable Havana Club from Cuba.
The current trend is to treat the finest rums as you would first-rate cognacs, armagnacs and single malt whiskies, and to sip them neat. And if you haven’t yet indulged in a large post-dinner glass of, say, Appleton Estate 21 Year old rum from Jamaica, then you have one heck of a treat in store.
You might want to rustle up a daiquiri first, however. In which case, simply shake 60ml light rum (ideally Havana Club Añejo Especial), 30ml fresh lime juice and 20ml sugar syrup over ice and then strain into a frozen martini glass. Add some mint leaves and top the glass up with soda water and you have a mojito. Either way, all will be well with your world.
It produces rums so combustible that they are not permitted to be carried on aeroplanes