Dark rum revolution

dark rum
From left: Matugga distillery founders Jacine and Paul Rutasikwa with their team.

The world of rum is an exciting place to be at the moment, particularly when it comes to dark and spiced rums. A host of innovative players are developing new products, and there are a number of brand-new, craft producers opening up in unlikely, distinctly ‘un-rummy’ locations.

It’s easy to see why. According to data from market analyst NielsenIQ, the rum category surpassed £1 billion in sales in the UK in the 12 months to July 2022, actually putting it ahead of whisky for the first time. This achievement is said to be driven by increased interest from younger drinkers (aged 18-34) and also by the perception of freedom that comes with rum for both producers and consumers: a spirit with limitless serves and flavour potential.

A colourful conundrum

‘Dark rum’ is a fascinating descriptor in itself, as the colour of the spirit really is in the eye of the beholder – and often the creativity of the producer. The wider rum category was once seen as a ‘wild west’ when it came to regulations, but there are now more stringent rules in some of the main producing regions, such as Cuba, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. These cover which additives can and can’t be mixed with rum, especially with regard to its colour and sweetness. A number of producers don’t add anything by way of additional flavour or colour.

When choosing a rum, it makes sense to consider the raw ingredients and techniques used, both of which have a huge impact on the flavour. For instance, heavier pot-distilled, molasses-based spirits will be full of heady esters and robust flavour, while in contrast, column-distilled cane juice rums tend to be (though aren’t limited to being) more fruity, aromatic and fresh-tasting.

The cask connection

The Plantation Rum team, with Maison Ferrand owner Alexandre Gabriel, back right. Credit: Alwyn Kirk

You can also look at the type of cask in which the rum has been matured, and at where that cask has been aged, to give you clues about its additional flavour profile. ‘Barrel ageing is quite a complex process, even though it may seem simple enough,’ points out Cristhel Molina, marketing and product development manager for Don Papa Rum from the Philippines. Don Papa has experimented with a number of interesting new cask finishes, including Port, peppery American rye whiskey and smoky Scotch whisky.

‘There are so many factors that contribute to how the rum extracts the flavours in these different barrels,’ Molina continues. ‘The climatic conditions are also integral to the ageing process. In hot, humid climates, the conditions are more favourable for optimal flavour extraction. You then have to consider whether the cask is a first-fill [being used for rum for the first time], second- or third-fill – and this is where the balance and consistency becomes even trickier. You need a really good master blender and barrel cooper to maintain the consistency of the rum.’

‘Tropical ageing is a rum fundament: ex-bourbon casks and tropical climates are the true essence of a great rum,’ says Paul McFadyen, brand ambassador for Plantation Rum, which has specialised in introducing the world to ‘terroir-based’ expressions. These range from stalwart, heavier ‘English-style’ locations such as Barbados and Jamaica – the latter particularly famous for its more funky, pungent, high-ester spirit – to traditional and often lighter ‘Spanish-style’ locations such as Trinidad and Panama. Not to mention some lesser-known locations including Fiji, Australia and Peru.

Plantation also explores the concept of unusual cask and wood types, such as stout (beer), wine (Malbec, Chardonnay and Co?te-Ro?tie Syrah), chestnut, wild cherry and acacia. Alongside these it also operates a ‘double-ageing’ programme, which involves additionally maturing its rums in French oak from the Cognac region, where the company is based as part of Cognac house…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/magazine/dark-rum-revolution-495887/

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