Rum's time to shine

22 August, 2018

Who would have thought it? After decades of dabbling on the margins of the fashionable bar trade, rum is enjoying its most successful spell in the limelight since the early ’90s, when spiced rums swept all before them.

If rum were a person it would be a frivolous and fun-loving seductress, whispering: “I can be anything you want me to be, darling,” in your ear.

No other spirit has as many facets. Rum can be light and frothy, spicy and flirtatious, golden and stylish, or dark and mysterious. It can be a young party animal happy to be mixed with cola or blackcurrant and not ashamed to wear an umbrella. But it’s just as happy reaching a grand old age and being sipped by connoisseurs in wood-panelled members’ clubs. It has various connotations, from swashbuckling pirates on the high seas, to trendy youths frolicking on the decks of luxury yachts, to Brazilian and Bajan beach parties, and to the tall ships of Nelson’s navy.

It is an all things to all people sort of spirit, and quite possibly that has worked against it in a world where marketing and an emphasis on heritage and provenance are so important. After all, it comes from the Caribbean, right? So where does all that British historical naval stuff fit in?

Actually there’s a simple link to all of the above, and it all makes perfect sense when you acknowledge the two elephants in the room: the slave and sugar trade, and the commissioning of legal pirates – buccaneers – to plunder loot from the ships of rival countries.

But I digress. Rum has come in from the cold and is enjoying renewed popularity. The tipping point for this writer was when a local pub held a rum night and it sold out within a day. Now it boasts a monthly rum club with more than 50 members.

Why has this happened?

There are several reasons. It may well be little more than the fact that it was rum’s turn for a bit of love and attention. But its chameleon-like qualities may well be working in its favour at the moment, too. On the one hand it offers a more robust and way less fussy antidote to the plethora of gins and their increasingly ridiculous recipes of obscure botanicals, and a shelf’s worth of different flavoured tonics (really?).

And at the other end of the scale, complex, dark rums aged in oak are providing a much cheaper but arguably as satisfying alternative to the over-priced single malt whisky market. Many drinkers are feeling at best unhappy at the cost of unaged entry-level malts and, at worst, disgusted at how quality whisky has all but priced itself out of the reach of the regular bar dweller.

In between the two extremes are the rums that can be mixed into long drinks and cocktails without fuss and with no hint of superiority or snobbery.

Perhaps, though, rum is becoming popular for no other reason than that it’s happy juice. It is to spirits what Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is to movies; a harmless, easy to love slice of fun, designed to help us escape from an increasingly grim and depressing world.

Whatever the reason for its success, the trend is a welcome one. Yo ho, and verily, ho.

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