Spirit aficionados have endowed scotch, Cognac, and even tequila with an unwavering degree of importance. Rum, however, has largely been denied that privilege. Derived from sugar cane, it’s a lighter, sweeter liquor that can’t seem to shake its association with Cancun ragers and fruity, frilly cocktails (not that we can’t sometimes get down with the latter). But just because something is fun doesn’t mean it can’t be meaningful. A new dawn of rum is upon us, in which the stuff is crafted with pride and unexpectedly deep. Rum is all grown up.
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Rum’s vitality in the Americas reaches back to the colonial era, when the drink was used as international currency. Savory and robust, these barrel-aged liquors were a far cry from the sunscreen-scented tipples of today. Tapping into this storied past is Papa’s Pilar, a Key West–based distillery owned, in part, by the descendants of legendary local Ernest Hemingway.
Papa’s rums are a product of the solera system, meaning they are fractionally blended with the flavors of sherry and port and aged in French oak to achieve a lengthy, cinnamon-laced finish. Fashioned after a World War II canteen, the bottle sits stoically on any shelf and is widely available across the mainland in both blonde and dark varieties.
If you wish to navigate into even deeper waters, consider Plantation Rum your sea legs. Alexandre Gabriel, the charismatic Cognac-maker behind the brand, is so devoted to the legacy of Caribbean booze-making, he purchased his own distillery in Barbados. He exports that spirit, along with casks filled with Jamaican rum, across the Atlantic to the south of France, where it’s eventually blended into bottles bearing incomparable complexity.
“The rum is making love inside the barrel, night and day, on a three-month journey over the ocean,” he says.
Yes, it’s as sexy as it sounds, especially his universally appealing pineapple rum (Stiggins’ Fancy), which should be a fixture of any burgeoning home bar. Macerated with the flesh of the fruit, it exudes those same aromas and tickles the tongue with ginger spice.
As curious as these rums are on their own, they’re also sturdy and versatile enough to command attention in a cocktail, from a spruced-up daiquiri to a modified Manhattan. A serious rum is a spirit for all seasons.Cartoon pirates need not apply.
Il Padrino (The Godfather cocktail, Key West-style)
"Papa's Pilar is dynamic but still gentle on the palate," says Mark Christopher Straiton, a bartender at Key West's Hemingway Rum Company, which produces the label. It's that flexibility that allows the spirit to shine, even as strong modifiers such as bitters and sweet almond liqueur are layered on top of it. Adds Straiton, "A dark rum emboldens the experience by influencing the cocktail with the flavors found deep within the wood of the barrels." His go-to dark rum cocktail is the Il Padrino, which tastes a lot deeper and more complex than its simple recipe suggests.
2 oz. Papa's Pilar Dark Rum
1 oz. Amaretto
Dash of Angostura bitters
Stir with ice, strain, and serve in a rocks glass over ice (or ice rocks). Garnish with a lemon peel.