Did you know how varied and complex rum can be? I had just begun to learn this from a small rum tasting session at The WeatherMark Tavern, 1503 S. Michigan. Mark, the owner there, carries more than 40 types of rums. Now when you visit there you can make your selection from a very nice 4-color pamphlet they’ve printed up that describes some of the amazing flavors you’ll find in various rums.
Then recently I continued my education with some folks from RumForAll. They conducted an educational session at Carmichael’s Chicago Steak House , 1052 W. Monroe, for local bartenders, restaurateurs and press. It’s weird to walk in and see nearly 30 glasses set up for each person!
Who knew that rums are awarded points just like wines. As an aside on that, I was tickled pink to learn that the maker of the jug wines I’ve been drinking off and on for the past 40 years – Almaden – had its boxed Cabernet awarded 91 points at an official tasting a year or so ago. Imagine that 40 years ago when a French couple (aren’t they credited with being wine snobs?) moved into our apartment complex, and when we went to visit them I saw on their kitchen counter the same gallon jug – Almaden burgundy – that graced my own. Vindication! Okay, back to rum.
How to do a rum tasting
I learned that tasting rum is similar to tasting wine but slightly different. First, we were instructed to swirl the rum around and stick our noses into the glass to capture the aromas. The RumforAll people had us guess what we detected – a few folks guessed right some of the time. You’ll be surprised when you read some of my notes below at the range of aromas and flavors in these different distillations.
Next, they said, take a tiny sip and rinse it around in your mouth. This prepares your tongue and palate for the full experience. Then you take another sip and let it flow slowly around your mouth. Notice the flavors when it first hits your tongue and then when it gets further back in your mouth and then after you swallow. Like fine wines, some rums can have a long finish that keeps on giving.
Our next step was to guess the brand and the country of origin. A few of the more experienced bartenders in attendance were miraculously accurate on naming the brands. Then the facilitators revealed the correct information for each brand on the screen.
We were moving along at a fairly quick pace so my notes are brief, and the aromas and flavors get a little jumbled together. But I hope the below is a good start for you to begin appreciating the joys of rum as a mixer, a straight drink, or an after-dinner treat. There are a few tips on serving, too, here and there in the notes.
Standout rums from my tasting:
1. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusive – root beer, brown sugar, honey – dessert in a glass
2. Ron Abuelo 7 year old – light aroma, very complex taste, spices, butter, estate-grown, molasses-based, Panama
3. Appleton Estate Reserve – 95 pts, brown butter, acid finish, black tea, 8 yr blend of both pot and column stills, good for cocktails, swap for cognac in a Sidecar
4. Bacardi 8 – 94 pts, prune, 8 yrs in American oak
5. Don Q Gran Anejo – 93 pts, butterscotch, aged 3-12, bananas foster nose
6. Cruzan Estate Dark – Christmas spices, dark cocoa, woodiness, bourbon oak, highly distilled, Virgin Islands – just coming back to the U.S.
7. Shellback Silver Rum – sweet, vanilla; they also make Spiced Rum
Other interesting rums we tried:
Zacapa Rum 23 Solera – woody, fresh barrels, aged 6-23 in barrels that held bourbon and sherry, Guatemala
10 Cane Rum – mixed production, molasses on back tongue, Trinidad & Tobago
Banks 7 Golden Age – musty, nuts, forest, blend of 23 rums from 7 places
Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole – fruit, spice, vegetal, dates, nutmeg, grassy, salt on back of tongue, serve with one cube and lime or coconut water)
Brugel Especial – extra dry, for mixing or alone with a twist, Dominican Republic