SPIRITS RUN HIGH
WE ARE SPOILED FOR CHOICE WHEN IT COMES TO SHOPPING AROUND FOR WHISKIES, GIN AND VODKA. BUT WHEN ALL WE WANT TO DO IS SIT BACK, RELAX AND SOAK UP LIFE IN THE TROPICS, THERE’S NOTHING QUITE LIKE RUM
Australia has been going through a massive spirits revolution over the last few years.
Our distillers have been knocking out multiple award-winning whiskies and high-end gin, artisan rums and vodkas, along with the multitude of imports you see on the shelves of your local.
I find in our long hot summers, it’s all about the rum.
If you’re only familiar with the brands best consumed with soft drink, or hidden under layers of fruit juice in cocktails, you might think rum is pretty onedimensional.
The truth is, rum is one of the most interesting and complex spirits, worthy of far more attention than simply mixing. In fact, it’s one of the champion spirits when you look at that sipping liquor category, with a vast range of styles and flavours, with some brands tasting so delicious when sipped solo they can often rival great Scotch, Brandy or Cognac – and they don’t need to be cooled or have water added to them to open the spirit.
The majority of rum made in Australia is created by distilling fermented molasses. A technique called Industrial Rum or Traditional Rum, it was predominantly made in areas with British or Spanish influences. The process is a standard procedure and guarantees a standardised product.
The differences in the spirit come about from the quality and the origin of the molasses, and how many times it’s distilled, how long it’s aged etc.
Molasses itself is the thick, sticky and bitter leftover by-product of boiling the cane sugar juice, to produce crystalised sugar. The sugar forms together in crystals as the juice is boiled and the crystals are scooped out; the longer you boil the juice the more sugar you harvest – but it also means it’s a lower quality of molasses left behind.
Surprisingly, you can taste that quality of molasses too, for example Substation 41 or Beenleigh Rum, has used quite highgrade molasses, one that hasn’t been boiled for ages and still has a lot of the natural “freshness” and grassy notes – not surprising seeing sugarcane is a grass.
But you don’t find those lighter notes in a rum that has been made from lowergrade molasses; generally they are darker and thicker-feeling rums.
My preference is for rums created on either the higher-grade molasses or from the first press of sugarcane.
These are created by taking a blend of sugarcane honey (the first juice of the first press of the sugarcane) or that highgrade molasses, water and yeast, which ferments and then is distilled to produce “ron fresco” or fresh rum.
Like fresh whisky, fresh rum can be consumed immediately but is better when it takes on some aged or oak notes from time in barrels.
Some distilleries use a blend of molasses and sugarcane honey, which produces a wider variety of aromas and flavours than a traditional molasses rum.
It also means you can taste the difference between growing areas, different distilleries and different vintages from the same distillery, where they do a vintaged product, like the Plantation range for example.
Some of the best-tasting rums have been through a blending process, using older aged stocks to blend with younger barrels to produce a mix that’s more complex than either of the original two; all this time and effort give a rewarding rum, one that is superbly rich and flavoursome.
It’s very much like the old saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
RON ZACAPA 23
Hailing from Guatemala, this exceptional quality rum is not going to be an everyday drop, but makes a great sipper for when you want to just relax or have a quiet night of cards. It’s a blend of rums ageing from six years old to 23. Sweet aromas of slated caramels, vanilla and butterscotch, toffee banana notes and some woody nutty notes. It’s complex and has a sweet thick feel on the tongue – raisins, dried apricots and sultanas, leather, nutmeg with the faintest touches of ginger. It has one of the most complex and long, enjoyable finishes I’ve seen in a spirit. Great stuff. About $80
PLANTATION RUM 20TH ANNIVERSARY XO
The Plantation range is unique in that they are made and aged in various countries in the Caribbean and Central America, and then have a final ageing in France in excognac barrels, which adds an extra depth to them, with the range covering blended, vintage and special release rums, all hailing from different countries. This 20th Anniversary drop is a pretty spectacular blend of Barbados rums ageing from 12 to 20 years old. It’s got vanilla, coca and dark chocolate, and powdery dark coca notes, along with toffee, orange and tobacco notes, a buttery coconut-iness to it too. About $130
DIPLOMATICO RESERVA EXCLUSIVA
A blended rum out of Venezuela that is probably the sweetest of the bunch, owing to the larger amount of sugarcane honey used. It gives a rum that shows fruitcake with baked bananas and chocolate, touches of dried dates. It’s a little lighter on the wood notes, so it doesn’t have those lashings of cedar or tobacco you find in come of the others, but it’s definitely still delicious. About $90