By Steve Szczeblowski -
Whether 2014 stands to be the year that quality, premium rum finally breaks into the US market as bourbon and rye recently have is anyone’s guess; it’s become a bit like the decades-long prediction that Soccer would soon rise to the prominence of a national sport (close but no cigar).
Regardless, there’s no reason why one can’t get out from behind the “party” rum aisle at the liquor store and grab some of the real stuff. Remember, it was rum that Paul Revere downed at a stop along his Midnight Ride; it’s the original Spirit of ’76 (and we’d still have had the dozens of distilleries that once dotted the American East Coast if not for the damned Redcoats cutting us off from our molasses supply and forcing us to switch to using wheat and rye to make our skullpop).
Rum did eventually rally during Prohibition, when alcohol-based tourism sent scores of thirsty travelers to the Caribbean, and the Daiquiri and Planter’s Punch entered the American cocktail lexicon. Unfortunately, sterile modern distilling methods and a popularity race to match vodka as a potent but bland mixer has largely robbed rum of a reputation as a serious quaff.
If you’re game to try a spirit that matches the strength of a bottled-in-bond bourbon and spiciness of a good rye along with a rich complexity of pot-distilled molasses-based funk, then try the Jamaica-by-way-of-London Smith & Cross Rum. Bottled at 114 proof “Navy Strength” variety, this is not your prom date’s Bacardi, but something closer to what sailors, pirates and patriots knocked back, back in the day. Thanks to efforts of spirit experts such as Esquire’s David Wondrich, Smith & Cross has resumed production after laying dormant for years, re-introducing what’s known as a “London docks” rum, historically a product of a blending pot-distilled Jamaican rums that were sent to London to age under dry docks along the Thames River (most sadly destroyed during World War Two).
Smith & Cross is a blend from Jamaica’s Wedderburn & Plummer plantations, aged in Oak barrels, using a combination of the molasses, skimmings, cane juice, and syrup bottoms used in sugar production. What results is a much heavier-bodied rum, than today’s modern column-distilled spirits, with an other-worldly aroma of bananas, and burnt sugar that alone is worth the price. While you might try sipping it over a mist of finely crushed ice, I’d recommend Smith & Cross in a classic Daiquiri: 2 oz rum, juice of half a good sized lime (real lime juice, that is) and a teaspoon full of sugar, shaken and strained. Try it, in time you’d think of spiking the punch with nothing else.
Average cost: $29