Rum Rising

Distillers all over the world are raising the bar and making rum comparable to fine whiskies and cognacs. Mia Chenyze traces the spirit’s ascent.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Distillers all over the world are raising the bar and making rum comparable to fine whiskies and cognacs. Mia Chenyze traces the spirit’s ascent. 

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Rum – the stuff of house pours and slosh for mojitos and pina coladas – has never been the spirit you give much thought.

But things are changing: you could say that the rum renaissance is here.

The Rasa Fiesta Singapura – Singapore’s first big-scale festival dedicated to the spirit – is proof of this. Rum enthusiasts bar-hopped to try special cocktails throughout the week-long event in July.

Rum is typically a blended spirit made in the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America, and usually aged no more than one to three years. Now, distillers worldwide are taking tricks out of whisky’s playbook. They’re barrel-ageing rum – for as long as 21 years – with sherry casks, bourbon casks, and cognac casks to develop complex flavours in the spirit. They’re stamping bottles with serial numbers and even releasing single cask rums.

Big rum companies like Puerto Rico’s Bacardi, Cuba’s Havana Club and Venezuela’s Diplomatico have also been hosting international cocktail tournaments to pique bartenders’ interest in the spirit.

That’s trickled down to Singapore and other parts of South-east Asia, where rum is now the hottest growing spirits category, says David Cordoba, portfolio director of Proof & Company which, alongside spirits distribution and retail, does F&B consultancy.

In Singapore, the Jigger & Pony group first staked its claim in 2014 with rum-and-grill bar Sugarhall. Since then, others have cottoned on to rum’s potential. At Vasco – a Latin American restaurant and bar that opened in 2015 – aged rums are offered as alternatives to whiskies. And last year, Caribbean restaurant Lime House upped the ante with rum lounge Bago, which, at 164 expressions, houses the biggest collection of rums here. This includes the premium Black Tot Last Consignment – a rare taste of the last rum rations issued by the British Royal Navy.

Over at The Other Room at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel – a speakeasy known for cask-finishing its spirits in-house – rums are now so popular that sales of its rum flights are on par with whisky flights. And you can taste the difference. For example, the same Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva rum can have markedly different tastes even when comparing between sherry casks. An amontillado cask yields a rum with woody and spicy notes, while a Pedro Ximenez cask means a rum with an intense, raisin-like sweetness. 

Industry insiders say you should drink aged rums now, as the spirit is still fairly underpriced. Its growing popularity is likely to push prices well into the triple digits.

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