Did anyone see Michael Phelps own the 200 meter butterfly In the Olympics last week? Makes me proud to be an American. Speaking of American, today is National Rum Day. American as an adjective for rum? Maybe when you think of rum you picture the Caribbean and Latin America, vacation, and tropical cocktails. But it’s a great time to talk about the emerging presence of rum in distilleries in America.
Typically bourbon is thought of as the all-American spirit, created in America, steeped in our history, and something that legally must be made in the States. But there are no actual legal geographical restrictions such as found with other spirits like Cognac, Tequila, and bourbon. Since rum is created by the fermentation and distillation of sugarcane byproducts, like molasses or sugarcane juice, it is just usually made in tropical, hot, and sunny locations that are good for growing sugarcane. If a place is ideal for sugarcane, it’s probably ideal for my next vacation.
It was in the early 17th century that slaves on sugarcane plantations discovered that fermented molasses was pretty tasty. And then eventually, distillation to remove impurities and concentrate the alcohol created rum. The spirit became a part of the Atlantic triangular slave trade, the trade route that brought molasses from the Caribbean to New England, where it was made into rum, then shipped to Africa where it was bartered for slaves, who were then brought back to the Caribbean and South America to work on sugarcane plantations. So even before early Americans began producing bourbon from what we grew best (corn and other grains), rum was the drink of choice among early settlers. America’s first distillery was set up by British colonies in 1664 in present day New York, and was built to produce rum.
To find the best American rums, start with finding where we produce the most sugarcane. Louisiana and Hawaii are two of the main sources of sugarcane production in the U.S., and also happen to be home to two fantastic rum distilleries.
Louisiana Bayou Rum Distillery has been using a traditional cooper pot still and sweet Louisiana home-grown sugarcane. The Michael Phelps of rum, Louisiana Bayou Rum is “America’s most decorated rum,” meaning that they’ve won a ton of awards in tasting competitions. Impressive, since they’ve only been producing since 2013. Their Bayou Select Rum is an excellent dark rum, with cherry and oaky notes, and a touch of licorice. They also produce a silver rum, a spiced rum, and a Satsuma rum liqueur (delicious in cocktails as an orange liqueur).
Over on the Hawaiian island of sunny Kaua’i, the Kōloa Plantation and Mill has been around since 1835, growing “tall cane” sugarcane in the rich, volcanic soil. Kōloa Rum Company has only been around since 2009, but of course locals have been using the tall cane to make rum since the plantation opened. Currently the distillery is producing a white, gold, dark, spice, and coconut rum that are all as delicious as you’d expect a Hawaiian rum to taste. My personal favorite is the Kaua’i dark rum, that has notes of coffee and brown sugar, and perfect with a single cube of ice in a Clink Barware Oasis Rocks Glass. The Kōloa Rum Company has won quite a few gold medals for their taste as well, though not quite as many as Bayou Rum. I’d like to compare Kōloa to Ryan Lochte, not as decorated as Phelps, but a little more attractive to me.
On a side note, in that 200 meter butterfly Phelps wiped the floor with Chad le Clos, his South African rival. South Africa was the only sugarcane producing country that did not have its own rum until pretty recently with the launching of Zulu Rum. Although I’ve heard it’s excellent quality, I’m planning to be sipping on our American rums while I watch the rest of the Olympics.
I’m leaving you with a recipe for the Corn and Oil cocktail, one of my favorite late-summer libations. The recipe typically uses a blackstrap molasses rum, but try it with either of the American dark rums mentioned. The falernum is an almond, ginger, clove, and lime syrup that may be made or purchased. Don’t forget that the package makes the cocktail: the glass it comes in is as important as the ingredients, and I always like my home bar glasses monogramed. Cheers!
Corn and Oil Recipe
2 oz. Kōloa Dark Rum or Bayou Dark Rum
.5 oz. falernum
2-3 dashes angostura bitters
2 lime wedges
Build directly into a rocks glass, such as Clink Barware’s well-designed KPG Rocks Glass, and give it a stir. Squeeze one lime into the cocktail, use the second lime as garnish.