Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Filtering by Tag: California Rum Festival

What's Going on with Rum?

Designed by Annabel Emery

Rum is an interesting class of spirits.  Rum is a distilled spirit made from any sugar cane byproduct (fresh cane juice, molasses or refined sugar) and it can be made anywhere in  the world. For a number of years now, rum has been the third largest selling class of distilled spirits in the US (12% market share in 2014) behind Vodka (34%) and Whiskey (24%) yet I almost never hear regular people talk about it. Many of the of the social media accounts and drinks writers I follow hardly ever post about rum. In terms of its overall market share, rum shrank 1% since 2012. So it begs the question, what's going on with rum?

While it is certain that the craft cocktail movement has largely been stoked by a renewed interest in whiskey and gin; rum is an incredibly important base for cocktails and it has a very rich history. During the US Colonial era, huge amounts of rum were produced in New England and consumed throughout the colonies. And while most domestic whiskey production was outlawed during National Prohibition, rum from the caribbean became very popular and inspired a number of phrases such as "rum runner" and "the real McCoy." Lastly, the Tiki movement which began at the end of Prohibition, created a number of complex and delicious cocktails that centered around rum. 

Two years ago I edited a book called the Distiller's Guide to Rum, and ever since then small US rum distillers that I've talked to want to know, when is rum going to have its moment? When will be the Summer of Rum? Whiskey gets a huge amount of press and gin has an incredibly passionate fan base, but rum rarely gets mentioned outside discussions of Tiki drinks. 

It is possible that rum's lower profile might be in part due to the fact that 80% of the rum market in the United States is dominated by 10 brands with the two largest being Bacardi and Captain Morgan (Beverage Information Group Handbook Advance 2013). The remaining 20% of the rum market is filled with hundreds of brands from around the world, many of which have amazing aromas and flavors you just can't get in whiskey. At a recent industry event a retail spirit buyer made the comment that in his experience Bacardi drinkers are often not rum drinkers. He explained that for these people if Bacardi isn't available they are more likely to turn to vodka as their next choice rather than another brand of rum. While this statement was purely anecdotal it rings true in my experience. In contrast, if a bourbon drinker's favorite brand isn't at the bar I think there's a better chance they will try another bourbon rather than get something completely different.

However, there are a couple of encouraging signs for rum. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago The Rum Lab which put on the California Rum Festival also sponsors a couple of other rum festivals around the country. Both the California and the Midwest festivals are only in their second year but like many festivals, if the quality stays high, the number of attendees will likely continue to grow and increase the number of people who become more familiar with the vastness that rum has to offer. Similarly to whisk(e)y in the mid-90s there is some incredible value in the market as long as drinkers aren't obsessed with extra aged rums like they seem to be with whiskey. The second encouraging sign was the publication of Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki written by Martin & Rebecca Cate. This fantastic book has helped to spread the deep love and passion for rum and tiki culture outside the confines of the country's few tiki bars. While I want to see rum move beyond the overly sweet and kitschy drinks that mask the beauty of the spirit, for many people this is their entry point and bars like Smuggler's Cove and False Idol know how to move people from zero to a deeper appreciation of rum.

The rum market like others spirits is veering towards premiumization. While some aspects of this trend are misguided (more expensive does not always mean higher quality), there  is an incredibly strong demand for quality and transparency. Hopefully rum producers will embrace this trend which I hope will be be a boon for the entire industry. All in all, while rum took a slight dip in market share I am hopeful about its future. And, in the end as the hula girl above suggests, keep calm and drink rum. Because the time for rum has arrived and is yet to come.


What I Learned from the California Rum Festival

Image from TheRumLab.com

The other weekend I attended the 2nd Annual California Rum Festival hosted at the SOMArts Center in San Francisco. I found out about this event last year just after its inaugural festival came to a close. Now I really like rum and rum cocktails so I made sure to sign up for their newsletter because I didn't want to miss it again.

When the day of the event arrived I was excited to check out a couple of the breakout sessions though overall, I didn't know what to expect from the event. While the first speaker was setting up I decided to walk the floor and create a game plan for tasting. The event was hosted in a long open gallery space and as I walked the hall there were a couple of rum brands that I recognized but many of them I hadn't heard of. Going into the festival I knew that I generally like Jamaican rums (I'm a big fans of Appleton and Rum Fire) and that I'm not a fan of overly sweet rums. 

After scoping out the floor, I popped into a great seminar lead Forrest Cokley on Panamanian Rums.  Forrest presented Ron Abuelo 7 Year Old Rum, Panama-Pacific 9 Year Old Rum, and Ron DurĂ¡n 12 Year Old Rum. Each of them were made on column stills and aged in ex-whiskey barrels and both Ron Abuelo and Ron Duran had some amount of sugar added post distillation so they were a little sweeter and a little easier on the palate. All three were nice rums  and while my favorite of the three was Ron Abuelo, I wasn't super excited by any of therm. However, I think they would really appeal to people who love Ron Zacapa or Flor de Cana.

After the session I returned to the floor and began tasting a lot of rums. I tried rums from Puerto Rico, Panama, Antigua, Jamaica, Guyana, Kauai, South Carolina and even the Philippines. And as I tasted them, I began to discern a pattern of what rums spoke to me. I noticed that I like rums that taste like rum. Not rum that tastes like oak, or rum trying to be whiskey, or rum so adulterated that it tastes more like vanilla extract. I got excited for unaged or lightly aged rums, high ester rums, rum made on pot stills and rum agricole. Now this doesn't mean I don't like any sweetness, oak, or spice in rum but rather that I those flavors in proportion so that the base distillate can show its character. Here were my favorites...

The Rum Society No. 40: The Rum Society is a company that buys single origin pot distilled rum and blends them together. No. 40 is an unaged rum distilled in Guyana on a wooden pot still. This rum comes from the same distillery that produces El Dorado. The rum is chalk full of beautiful fruity and floral esters and it is incredibly smooth. Drinking this rum was an ecstatic revelation.

Rhum JM Agricole Blanc 50%: Rhum JM is a historic producer of rum agricole, i.e. rum made from fresh pressed sugar cane, on the French island of Martinique. Like other rum agricole, the blanc has a wonderful bouquet of grassy and floral notes. And even at 50%ABV it wasn't overly hot or harsh.

Rhum JM VO: This rum takes the raw distillate from above and matures it in new American oak barrels and re-charred bourbon barrels. This short stint wood adds a layer of complexity however, the base rum still shines through. In my opinion the V.O. demonstrates how rum can be complemented by its time in oak without being overpowered.

Damoiseau Pure Cane Rum 110 Proof: Damoiseau is another rum agricole however, this one is distilled on the French island of Guadalupe. The rum has a wonderful earthy character complemented by an array tropical fruit notes. And at 110 proof this unaged rum is designed for cocktails.

Pusser's Rum Gunpowder Proof: Pusser's is a blend of five rums from Guyana and Trinidad aged for a minimum of 3 years. This blend was used for over 300 years by the British Royal Navy as a daily ration to its sailors. The original blend was stored at 54.5% ABV which saved space and was strong enough that gunpowder soaked in the rum would still ignite. Pusser's is a very rich and dense rum with lots of molasses, honey, and spice. For my taste the Gunpowder proof was the sweet spot. The lower proof Blue Label (42%) did not have the same intensity of flavor, and the overproof  (75%) was super hot and clearly meant to be used sparingly in cocktails.

Koloa Rum Company Kaua'i Coffee Liqueur: This Liqueur is made through a collaboration between the Kauai Coffee Company and Koloa Rum Company. Koloa takes their white rum which is twice distilled from raw sugar up to 90% ABV before being  proofed down.  A brewed coffee of Kauai grown aribica and robusto beans is added to the rum with a little sugar and vanilla. The combined flavors of rum and coffee is a fantastic combo and the vanilla, molasses, and dark chocolate flavors make this a tasty after dinner treat.


If you have a chance to attend an event like this I highly recommend it. When only one spirit is served, whether it is rum, gin, or whiskey, I think it presents a great opportunity to discover new brands and better understand your own personal preferences.