Until recently, rum and I have had a difficult relationship, but that was probably my own fault. When I first came to drinking, the wide and subtly graded spectrum of rum seemed split into two factions. First—and most respectable—there were the black and treacly Caribbean rums represented by esteemed makers like Myer’s and Gosling’s. While I confess a weakness for a Dark and Stormy cocktail, I crave one only on very hot days, maybe once or twice a year. In this classic-Bermudian cooler, Gosling’s chewy, molasses-scented rum is countered by fresh lime and the hot sparkle of Barritt’s Ginger Beer. Sadly, I reach for my bottles of Myer’s and Gosling’s rums so infrequently that sometimes I need to wipe a grimy sort of dust from their shoulders between pours.
Of course, on the other side of the rum spectrum are the bland white rums—Bacardi et al—originally designed for tropical drinks like Daiquiris. Currently, these sweet, clear liquors go into any number of fruity “girl drinks” that taste, to me, like a rain check for a headache. In England, in the mid-aughts, Bacardi was a leading voice in the “alcopop” market; these were pre-bottled alcoholic drinks sold in candy-sweet flavors. Critics complained these rivals to bottled beer were targeted to underage drinkers. I complained only that they were disgusting: next-wave Zimas.
Happily, rum is spreading its wings beyond the rigid black and white, and beyond the desperate need for mixers to tame sugar or amp up flavor. At RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen in Tarrytown, I sipped a glass of the caramel-colored Zacapa rum from Guatemala, distilled—unlike Myer’s and Gosling’s (which are distilled from molasses, a byproduct from sugar-making)—from the first press of cane juice. The rum is aged in oak casks at 7,544 feet above sea level in the remarkable House Above the Clouds in the mountains of Guatemala. Zacapa credits this magical place’s cool temperatures and thin air for the rum’s subtle flavor. At such high altitudes, the thin air causes greater evaporation within the barrels; a greater angels’ share leads to a concentrated flavor. What results in the glass is a subtle and sippable rum, the non-cloying elegance of which speaks of old leather and wood. Look for Zacapa rum at RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen and Restaurant North in Armonk.