The spirits (#3)

Many people have scary rum stories. That is because all too often rum is used to make overly sweet (fru-fru) tropical drinks or is drunk in shots by rowdy coeds. (Neither are a good idea.)

Despite your prior experience, there are some complex rums that even sophisticated palates like yours will appreciate. (Not a single little pink umbrella in sight.)

Rum is made by fermenting either sugar cane juice or molasses.  Molasses is the sweet, sticky residue that remains after sugar cane juice is boiled and the crystallized sugar is extracted. It is over 50% sugar, but also contains significant amounts of minerals and other trace elements.

The result of the sugar cane/molasses fermentation process is a wine-like liquid, called “fire water,” which is then distilled. (If you need a refresher on distilling, check out the vodka post. The chemical process is the same regardless of the liquor.)

The history of rum is really the history of sugar. As the European demand for sugar increased, the Caribbean islands began to bloom with the sugar cane it was ideally suited to grow. It was not long before the locals noticed that molasses mixed with water would quickly ferment under the hot island sun. By the 1650s, this former waste product was being produced into a spirit called Kill Devil or rumbullion, meaning “uproar.” (I know that you think that this is where the word rum comes from and it is one theory. The other popular ones are sacchrum, Latin for “sugar”; or rummer a type of Dutch drinking glass.)

Today there are several types of rum:  Silver – (Light or White Rum) – Sometimes filtered after aging to remove color; Brazilian Cachaca is generally this type; Amber – (Gold or Aged Rum) – Medium-bodied, generally aged. Dark color comes from aging in wooden barrels (often charred white oak barrels that are a byproduct of the production of whiskey); Spiced – (Caramel Rum) – Spices added to an amber rum based. (Cheaper rums are made from silver rum and are darkened with caramel coloring); Dark Rum - (Brown, Black or Red Rum) – A grade darker than gold rum; Generally aged longer and in heavily charred barrels; Flavored Rum - Rum infused with flavors (most often fruits); generally lower in alcohol; and Overproof Rum – Higher proof rum (most rum is 40% abv) – ranging from 60% to 80% abv

(I have only included Silver and Amber Rums in my post (you gotta set limits!) but many of the distillers below (listed alphabetically) also make other types of rum, so be sure to read the Other Products line in the description.)

Once again, if you are old enough and so inclined, please support these great American distilleries! (Responsibly, of course.) And do not forget that several of companies featured in the vodka and gin posts also make rum! Feel free to re-read those posts. Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve forgotten. (There is not going to be a test.) Just be embarrassed if you are drinking an import!

(Please note: The tasting notes below are not mine. They belong to American Craft Spirits (ACS),  DrinkSpirits (DS), GotRum? (GR), RumConnection (RC), Spirits Review (SR), Tastings (TC), and the distillery itself (D). If you agree, thank them, if you don’t . . . well you get the idea.)

85 Lashes Rum – Made in St. Louis, Missouri

You Ought to Know: To ensure quality, the distiller hand signs each bottle of 85 Lashes after it is labeled, hand numbered and wax dipped. But what about the name?  (I know you are dying to know.) 85 refers to the proof. Lashes refers to the whip the very attractive (and slightly intimidating) pirate-lady is wielding on the bottle. Giving lashes was the preferred form of punishment among pillaging marauders.

Ingredients: 100% pure cane sugar and molasses

Type: Amber Rum

Process: Fermented 3 weeks, distilled 2 times in pot-stills and then aged in “toasted” French Oak

Tasting Notes: It hosts aromas of caramel, light vanilla, cinnamon, bourbon and has an earthy quality to it. It’s a bit on the dry side and has a surprising amount of oak up front followed by hints of allspice, butter and bourbon.  The finish is warm, smooth and notes of whiskey and oak resonate and eventually fade. (RC)

Distillery: Amalgamated Distilling Company

Price: $30/750 ml

Other Products: Vita Di St Louis, Calhoun Peach Brandy, Amalgamated Gin

Cane & Abe Freshwater Rum – Made in Madison, Wisconsin

You Ought to Know: Cane & Abe Freshwater Rum is named for Old Abe, the legendary bald eagle, who served as the mascot for Wisconsin’s 8th Infantry during the Civil War. Why Cane? For the sugar cane used in its production presumably. (Sounds almost biblical, don’t you think?)

Ingredients: Dark brown sugar cane grown in Hawaii and Louisiana

Type: Amber Rum

Process: Fermented in-house, distilled and then aged in small charred oak barrels for 4-12 months

Tasting Notes: Fresh cut wood over creamy vanilla pudding. The nose has a pungent, straight off the still aroma. The small barrel program asserts its flavors on the palate, with fresh char coating the fruitier distillate, both fighting for dominance. (ACS)

Distillery: Old Sugar Distillery

Price: $30/750 ml

Other Products: Honey Liqueur, Americanaki Ouzo, Queen Jennie Sorghum Whiskey,

Deco Distilling Silver Rum – Made in Portland, Oregon

You Ought to Know: Lenny Gotter and Bill Adams, the guys behind Deco Distilling, started making rum after an inspiring trip to Belize in 2006. Once they had perfected their spirit, they needed a name. So why Deco? The founders’ wanted to stay clear of pirate-themed names (probably not a lot of pirates in Portland these days) and honor their own love for Art Deco. (A sensibility I can whole-heartedly support!) The result is an elegant design and a great conversation opener.

Ingredients: Molasses

Type: Silver Rum

Tasting Notes: A clean and slightly sweet nose. A very uniformly sweet taste with a little fire in the back that quickly dissipates to a sweet finish. A nicely rounded sweet taste that has edges of molasses in it with brighter sugarcane-like notes. (DS)

Distillery: Deco Distilling

Price: $20/750 ml

Other Products: Deco Ginger Rum, Deco Coffee Rum, Holiday Spiced Liqueur

DID YOU KNOW? The original recipe for the Daiquiri is 2 oz of rum, 1 oz of lime juice, and a teaspoon of sugar (No blender or silly umbrella necessary!) Same goes for the Mai Tai whose recipe is 2 oz rum, half-ounce of almond syrup, and a quarter-ounce of orange liqueur with lime juice and a sprig of mint. Not so girly after all, huh?

Downslope White Rum – Made in Centennial, Colorado

You Ought to Know: The brainchild of long-time friends and now spirit-gurus, Mitch Abate, Matt Causey and Andy Causey, Downslope Distilling is the first craft distillery to be established in the city of Centennial. Their still is custom designed, their wash production is more artisanal than state of the art and their space is limited, but they are living their dream. (Or they will be once you buy a bottle!)

Ingredients: Dried Maui cane juice that has not yet been processed into sugar (none of the molasses has been removed)

Type: Silver Rum

Process: Cane juice is fermented in 300 gallon tanks and distilled twice in 220 gallon batches

Tasting Notes: Slightly heavy, sweetish, nice grassy/cane notes along with stones/minerals, vanilla, tropical fruits, and a slight touch of char and tobacco. Allspice, cane, cardamom, orris, and nutmeg. Nice background char, vanilla and tobacco notes. Nice spicy finish. (SR)

DistilleryDownslope Distilling

Price: $30/750 ml

Other Products: Downslope Cane Vodka, Downslope Grain Vodka, Downslope Pepper Vodka, Downslope White Rum, Downslope Gold Rum, Downslope Vanilla Rum, Downslope Wine Barrel Aged Rum, Downslope Double-Diamond Whiskey

Folly Cove Rum – Gloucester, Massachusetts

You Ought to Know: Folly Cove Rum gets its name from an area where many a smuggler came in search of safety, only to find that they were dangerously off course. As a result, Folly Cove is rich with shipwrecks (and lore). Today the cove, on Cape Ann’s coast, is a favorite among scuba divers and lobstermen – each in search of their own kind of treasure. Folly Cove Rum is the newest treasure the area has to offer. (Fortunately, you don’t even have to wear a wetsuit to try it!)

Ingredients: Finest quality molasses

Type: Amber Rum

Process: Fermented, then distilled in an alembic copper pot still, rested for around 15 months in charred oak barrels (formerly used to age Jack Daniel’s whiskey)

Tasting Notes: Distinct butterscotch aroma (D)

Distillery: Ryan & Wood, Inc. Distilleries

Price: $28/750 ml

Other Products: Beauport Vodka, Knockabout Gin

Freshwater Superior Single Barrel Rum – Made in Holland, Michigan

You Ought to Know: New Holland Brewery just hired a veteran. The old No. 7 — an 80-year-old, 800-gallon copper still built in the waning days of Prohibition (circa 1932) – was recently purchased, restored and added to the spirits production line. This piece of history will help New Holland increase and expand its production. (I think it also amps up their cool factor, don’t you?)

Ingredients: Molasses

Type: Amber Rum

Process: Distilled from a wash of fermented cane-sugar molasses, then barrel-aged – Each bottling is from a single “honey-barrel” and bottled at cask strength (105 proof)

Tasting Notes: Rich copper color. Deep aromas of molasses, coconut, spices. Warming entry of caramel lead to toasted nut flavors. Finishing with a spicy oak fade, very reminiscent of whiskey. A sipping rum to accompany a fine cigar perhaps (D)

Distillery: New Holland Brewing Company

Price: $39/750 ml

Other Products: Michigan Amber Rum, Huron White Rum, Knickerbocker Gin, Dutchess Vodka, Dutchess Citrus Vodka, Walleye Rye, Malthouse, Double Down Barley, Bill’s Single Barrel Wheat, Zeppelin Blend

DID YOU KNOW? Christopher Columbus first brought sugar cane across the Atlantic on his 2nd voyage to Hispaniola (modern day Haiti/Dominican Republic). By the 16th century, the Spanish were growing sugar cane on a large scale in Hispaniola, Cuba and Puerto Rico. All of these countries are still large rum producing countries today.

Kaua`i White Rum – Made in Kaua`i, Hawaii

You Ought to Know: Kaua`i White Rum maker, Kōloa Rum Company, is the first and only distillery on the Island of Kaua`i. However, the Island has been involved in the production of sugarcane for since the 1830’s.

Ingredients: “Tall cane” grown in rich volcanic soil

Type: Silver Rum

Process: Distilled 2 times in a 1210 gallon copper pot still

Tasting Notes: This rum has a sweet aroma with hints of pineapple and citrus oils. Once in the mouth, the initial taste is that of sweetness, followed by toasted hazelnuts and concluding with a slightly bitter and dry note. (GR)

DistilleryKōloa Rum Company

Price: $30/750 ml

Other ProductsKaua`i Gold RumKaua`i Dark RumKaua`i Spice Rum

Montanya Platino Light Rum - Made in Crested Butte, Colorado

You Ought to Know: Founded by rum lovers, Karen and Brice Hoskin, Montanya Distillers takes advantage of Colorado’s clean water, high altitudes (actually beneficial to rum production!) and easy access to American oak casks to produce their light and dark rums.

Ingredients: High molasses content pure sugar cane

Type: Silver Rum

Process: Aged in Stranahan’s Whiskey Barrels which have also aged Montanya Oro (dark rum) one time. The barrel color is then removed using a coconut-husk charcoal plate filtering process which leaves the spirit clear.

Tasting Notes: Very mild aromas of marshmallow, refined molasses, and coconut husk with a silky dry medium body and an earthy, peppery, wet balsa, dried papaya mossy limestone and powdered sugar accented finish. (TC)

Distillery: Montanya Distillers

Price: $30/750 ml

Other ProductsMontanya Oro Dark Rum

Old New Orleans Amber Rum – New Orleans, Louisiana

You Ought to Know: Old New Orleans Rums were conceived by a group of artists and musicians who had a wealth of experience tasting rum, but not much in distilling it. Nonetheless, James Michalopoulos, a well-known Louisiana artist, took the helm and after 2 years of experiment and study, they were ready to go. They even constructed their own combination pot and column still which now produces 4 rums. (It would be a crime to keep creativity like this bottled up!)

Ingredients: Louisiana grown sugar cane molasses

Type: Amber Rum

Process: A blend of 3 rums aged over 3 years in charred barrels

Tasting Notes: Aromas of floral honey, spiced pear and peaches, and buttery caramelized nuts follow through on a smooth, silky entry to a dryish medium body with very good depth, balance, and creamy smoothness. Finishes with a deft touch of banana peel, toffee, molasses, and peppery spice. Excellent vibrancy and character. (TC)

Distillery: Celebration Distillation

Price: $22/750 ml

Other Products: Old New Orleans 10 Year Special Edition Rum, Old New Orleans Cajun Spice Rum, Old New Orleans Crystal Rum

DID YOU KNOW? Not all molasses are the same. Ever heard of blackstrap molasses? Well, “blackstrap” is actually a grade of molasses. Molasses are graded from A to E. (Grade E is better known as “blackstrap.”) As a general rule, the higher the grade of molasses, the better the rum.

Prichard’s Fine Rum – Made in Kelso, Tennessee

You Ought to Know: Prichard’s Distillery may be less than 15 years old but the methods it uses are steeped in history. All of its spirits are handcrafted accurate recreations of America’s first distilled beverages. The rums are made from sweet Louisiana plantation molasses and are distilled in traditional copper pot stills.

Ingredients: Premium table grade molasses and finest Tennessee water

Type: Amber Rum

Process: Aged 3-5 years in handmade charred white oak casks

Tasting Notes: Limestone, pepper and char – warm, dark, spice; peat, vanilla and a whiff of something like bananas – a really atypical but wonderful bouquet. Almost like a Islay single malt whisky, without as much peat or iodine but with a touch of molasses sweetness at the end (and what a long and delicious one at that). Lemongrass and a little mace (no NOT that kind, I mean the nut type) on warming, notes of Chinese fennel perhaps, traces of honey, ghee (Indian clarified butter) – dry and sweet at the same time, perhaps even a hint of cardamon. (SR)

Distillery: Prichard’s Distillery

Price: $35/750 ml

Other Products: Prichard’s Crystal Rum, Prichard’s Private Stock RumPrichard’s Key Lime Rum, Prichard’s Peach Mango Rum, Prichard’s Cranberry Rum, Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskey, Prichard’s Single Malt Whiskey, Prichard’s Double Barreled Bourbon, Prichard’s Lincoln County Lighting, Benjamin Prichard’s Sweet Lucy Bourbon Liqueur

Ragged Mountain Rum – Made in Great Barrington, Massachusetts

You Ought to Know: Ragged Mountain Rum is handcrafted in small batches at the Berkshires first legal distillery since prohibition. The farm and distillery are home to historic spring waters that flow from deep within a protected granite mountain bordering the Appalachian Trail and are used in the production of their spirits.

Ingredients: Molasses

Type: Amber Rum

Process: Crafted in pot still, then the over proof raw spirit is aged in oak barrels

Tasting Notes: Aromas of dried bananas, cocoa dusted pecans, rubber sap, and burnt sugar follow through on a supple entry to a dryish medium body with layers of clay, copper ore, cigar box, and spice. Finishes with a long, roasted nut, toffee and toasted puffed rice fade. Different and intriguing pot-still-like character. (TC)

Distillery: Berkshire Mountain Distillers

Price: $35/750 ml

Other Products: Greylock Gin, Ethereal GinIce Glen Vodka, Berkshire Bourbon, New England Corn Whiskey

Rogue Spirits White Rum – Made in Newport, Oregon

You Ought to Know: Rogue started experimenting with spirits in their Portland Flanders St. Pub in 2003. (In case you have been in a hole, this is where Rogue brews its much acclaimed beer.) Since that time, Rogue has won over 100 awards for their spirits. (49 of these awards were for their rums!) In 2006, Rogue opened House of Spirits, one of the first American distillery pubs, in Newport, Oregon where its wide range of libations can be sampled daily. (Oh, and apparently there are nice views, too!)

Ingredients: 100% Pure Hawaiian Cane sugar, Champagne yeast & Free Range Coastal Water

Type: Silver Rum

Process: Distilling 101

Tasting Notes: Aromas of cane stalk, meringue, coconut cream, and nutmeg. A soft entry leads to a dryish, fairly neutral medium body of coconut water, minerals, and cherry-vanilla soufflé flavors. Finishes with a sweet peppery spice fade. (TC)

Distillery: Rogue Spirits

Price: $29/750 ml

Other Products: Rogue Dark Rum, Hazelnut Spice Rum, Dead Guy Whiskey, Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, Spruce Gin, Pink Gin, Rogue Beers

DID YOU KNOW? Rum’s popularity spread from the Caribbean to then British Colonies (now New England). In fact, the first rum distillery was opened in 1664 on what is now Staten Island. The manufacture of rum became early Colonial New England’s largest and most prosperous industry.

Sergeant Classick Gold Hawaiian Rum – Made in San Francisco, California

You Ought to Know: Sergeant Classick Gold Hawaiian Rum is named for Dave ‘Sgt.’ Classick. A highly decorated Vietnam veteran, Classick returned from combat and fell in love with the Hawaiian islands, making and drinking fine rums. Still wondering how a rum can be Hawaiian if it is made in California? It is made from 100% Hawaiian molasses that are shipped to San Francisco for distilling.

Ingredients: 100% Hawaiian molasses and Hetchhechi water

Type: Amber Rum

Process: Hand-distilled in alambic copper pot stills

Tasting Notes: Robust aromas of fresh tobacco leaf, cocoa, dried cherry, raw sugar, and new suede follow through on a rich entry to an oily, very dry light-to-medium body with creme brulee crust, oiled leather, and dark roasted spice nut notes. Finishes with a long cigar box, saddle leather, singed cane stalk, and peppery spice fade. Outstanding rich, dry, and rustic-yet-elegant character that will bode well for sipping or crafty cocktails. (TC)

DistilleryEssential Spirits Alambic Distilleries

Price: $18/750 ml

Other Products: Sergeant Classick Silver Hawaiian Rum

Three Crow Rum – Made in Union, Maine

You Ought to Know: Three Crow Rum is made by a family-owned company, Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery, that is picturesquely situated in the Medomak river valley. Deeply rooted in the community (pun intended), Sweetgrass Farm supports local sustainable agriculture and donates 10% of profits to organizations that support families, children, and rural life.

Ingredients: Molasses

Type: Amber Rum

Process:  copper alembic still

Tasting Notes: Rich nutty nose full of round pot-still aromas, vanilla and oak present but powdery soft, almost wet. The palate follows up with more vanilla, lots of butterscotch, some sour apple, and the faintest hint of cocoa, culminating in a rustic, yet smooth finish. Perfect on a Maine winter’s night (ACS)

Distillery: Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery

Other Products: Back River Gin, Cranberry Flavored Gin, Apple Brandy, Cranberry Smash, Peach Smash, Blueberry Smash, Vermouth, Bluejolais, Blueberry Wine, Cranberry Apple Wine, Apple Wine, Peach Wine, Maple Smash, Pure Vanilla Extract, Aromatic Cocktail Bitters – Bitter BlueberryAromatic Cocktail Bitters – Bitter Cranberry

Treaty Oak Platinum Rum – Made in Austin, Texas

You Ought to Know: Treaty Oak Platinum Rum takes its name from a 500 year old live oak tree located in downtown Austin. The Treaty Oak gets its name (legend has it) from the boundary treaty signed beneath its boughs by Stephen F. Austin with Native Americans. The tree has become a symbol of strength, longevity and pride for all Texans and the standard for the quality of Treaty Oak Platinum Rum.

Ingredients: Molasses (from the last operating sugar mill in Texas) and Hill Country water

Type: Silver Rum

Process:  Distilled using reflux column stills, blended with water and then double filtered through activated carbon

Tasting Notes: Aromas of fibrous coconut husk, baked banana, and roasted nuts follow through on a round, supple entry to a glycerous dry medium body with nice depth, balance and smoothness. Finishes with a touch of sweet cream, sugar cookies, minerals, and delicate peppery spices. (TC)

Distillery: Graham Barnes Distilling

Price: $20/750 ml

Other Products: Treaty Oak Aged RumGraham’s Texas Tea Vodka, Underground Herbal Spirit


Hope you enjoy this list of sugary spirits!

Please feel free to share your review of any of these or suggest other US brands.

The next post will highlight great American mixers. Suggestions?

Thanks for reading!

(Don’t forget to join fifty on Facebook, twitter or by subscription.)

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