Drink: A rum do

Get into the sunshine spirit

My local has given house room to an oddly exotic newcomer: a spiced rum. I have sighted two manifestations of this phenomenon, one from Morgan's, the other by Bacardi. Both taste of, well, rum. The Bacardi one seems marginally more spicy, with suggestions of brown sugar, cinnamon and chili. A sign that rum might be served with the spicy foods of the Americas? Perhaps, but most devotees of spiced rums apparently enjoy them in long refreshers, with soft drinks or fruit juices.

Why spiced, then? "To appeal to women," my resident, cynical bartender tells me. I would have thought that regular Bacardi already did that. I remember the days when my friend, Ms Timidity Thinlady, used to order Bacardi and Coke without even realising that her spirit of choice was a brand of white rum. I think she thought it was a designer drink created by a fellow called Ron Bacardi.

Bacardi is made in Puerto Rico, Trinidad and the Bahamas, but had its origins in pre-revolutionary Cuba. A bottle of today's Cuban rum, Havana Club, plays host to two or three vanilla pods at a bar called La Perla, in Covent Garden, London. This home-made infusion is the basis for La Perla's special version of the daiquiri, the famous Cuban cocktail of rum and fresh lime juice.

La Perla's daiquiri is refreshing and strong with a huge bonus that it tastes of jelly and custard. Was this really the drink of Hemingway at the Floridita bar and the tough guys of Cuba's Daiquiri copper mine? "Ah, that was without the vanilla pods - the classic daiquiri, one of the world's great aperitifs," I was assured by La Perla's star bartender Shane O'Neill.

My appetite thus aroused, I had dinner with a Havana 55 (rum and lemon juice, sweetened with sugar syrup and topped with sparkling wine). No, I certainly can't remember what I ate.

After dinner, Shane offered me his own post-prandial rum creation, Y Nada Mas ("Nothing more"), frothy and green, with almondy Amaretto and creme de menthe. In a cocktail competition, this won him a trip to Cuba. Surely this is a variation on the brandy Alexander, so why use rum? "Sorry if this sounds corny," regretted Shane, "but rum is a happy taste. It always has a little sunshine." And why Cuban? "Because it is revolutionary, dangerous..."

There is also that pirate image. Columbus had already introduced sugar cane (originally from Asia) to the Caribbean when each European nation started jostling for possessions among the islands and coasts. It was probably saccharum that gave us rhum, rum and ron, depending upon your choice of language, though some argue that the name came from the West Country maritime expression rumbullion, meaning uproar.

There are several variations on the drink itself. One is made from the fermented juice of crushed cane. Or the sugar can first be extracted and the rum made from the molasses that remain. A more pungent rum can be produced from the addition of dunder - residue from a previous distillation. Call me a dunderhead: I like this style.

The lighter-bodied rums are made in column-shaped continuous stills, the fuller, more complex ones in kettle-like "pot" stills similar to those used for Scottish malt whisky or Cognac. The latter are used in several countries, but especially in French territories.

Light-bodied rums would be overwhelmed by long aging in oak, but some of the bigger styles are matured in this way, picking up colour and flavour from the wood. The lighter rums are fine with Coca-Cola, if you want to work for the Yanqui Dollar, but the most complex are worth sipping straight, from a snifter.

Like most spirits, many rums are reduced with water, to be bottled at 40 or 42 per cent, but there are heftier examples like the peppery, explosive Wray and Nephew Overproof, at 62.8, from Jamaica. I much prefer the same company's Appleton Estate 12-year-old, with a golden-amber colour and a long, firm, almost liquorice-like, after dinner, palate. "After ice- cream," I was corrected, by the hedonistic Derek Romany, at Cottons Rhum Bar, in Camden, London.

Among Jamaica rums, the amber-brown Myers's is notable for its clumsy spelling, its soft middle and its grippy finish. Myers's shows how rum can give real flavour and dimension to cocktails. Having a sweet tooth, I love it in that Jamaican classic the Guinness Punch, with stout, a tablespoon of condensed milk and an egg; like a milk-shake with a left hook.

Barbados' best-known rum is the soft, buttery, golden Mount Gay, while Trinidad has the sweetish Vat 19. In the "Navy" style, the golden-brown Pusser's, from the British Virgin Islands, is buttery, with a crisp finish.

The similar Wood's Old Navy Rum, from Guyana, has a distinctively reddish colour, toffeeish palate and big finish. From the same country are Adnams' Ship Rum, rich and sweetish, and OVD's almost murky, oaky Demerara. Never mind the sunshine; these make me wish for damp, winter nights.

I have especially enjoyed two other Guyana "sipping" rums, for opposite reasons: Banks' XM 10-year-old for its beautifully-rounded flavours and El Dorado 15 for its assertive spiciness. These are relative rarities, like the perfumy, tobacco-ish La Mauny five-year-old from the great rum island of Martinique; and the drier, oaky, Flor de Cana, from Nicaragua. In the lighter, drier, Brazilian style known as cachaca, the perfumy Pit is a good example.

Cotton's employs this in the caipirinha, the Brazilian version of a rum and lime juice cocktail, in which the fruit's shells are thoroughly pounded to release the zest. They are then also used as a garnish. It's an exercise programme and a source of vitamin C.

Daiquiri

Short and dryish. Many variations. Basically, one to two measures of Cuban white rum, the juice of half a fresh lime, and a teaspoon of sugar, shaken very thoroughly with ice and strained into a cocktail glass. Or it can be mixed with the ice in a blender and served with a straw. Lime and rum should be the dominant tastes, but some people add other juices or a dash of fruit liqueur. A version with sprigs of fresh mint is called a Mojito (a rummy Julep).

Planter's Punch

Long and sweetish. Again, many recipes. The basics are a measure of dark Jamaica rum, often accompanied by a measure of white (Wray and Nephew Overproof is recommended). Half a measure, or more, of lemon juice. Some people use a generous dash of grenadine or lime cordial, and of Angostura bitters. The ingredients can be poured into a Collins glass (tall tumbler), topped up with orange juice and left unmixed, for a layering of colours. Or top up with soda for a fizzy effect. Garnish with a slice of orange or pineapple. A version that also includes golden rum is the basic Zombie, though there are endless elaborations.

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