There's something undeniably enthralling about the world of spirits and libations, particularly the ones that have weathered time inside wooden casks, accruing depth, complexity, and a color that can only be described as liquid sunset. The spirit we're talking about today is rum, not just any rum, but aged rum.
Rum has been weaving its magic for centuries, but aged rum takes the experience to a whole new level. It's not just about the intoxicating aroma, the luscious flavor, or the warm, lingering aftertaste – it's about the journey this spirit has taken to reach your glass. Let's delve into this captivating world and understand what makes aged rum so special, why it's aged, more about aging process, and how to best enjoy it.
What is Aged Rum?
Aged rum is exactly what it sounds like: rum that has been left to mature in barrels over a certain period of time. The aging process allows the spirit to develop complex flavors and a rich, amber color, setting it apart from its younger counterparts. Much like whisky or cognac, aged rum can be appreciated for its depth and complexity, and the best examples showcase an extraordinary balance of flavors.
Best Aged Rum Brands
There are countless brands producing aged rum, each with their own unique styles and flavors. Here are a few standout brands worth exploring:
Cruzan: A brand from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Cruzan produces a range of rums aged up to 12 years. They use column distillation, resulting in what they call the „world's ‚cleanest‘ rum“. The Single Barrel Estate Diamond is a light rum that's a blend of aged rums further aged in a new oak barrel for additional six to nine months.
Bacardí: A world-renowned brand based in Puerto Rico, Bacardí offers premium expressions with age statements, like the eight-year-old Reserva Ocho. This gold rum exhibits notes of oak, spice, and dates, with a hint of smokiness from nearly a decade inside a barrel.
Best Aged Rum Bottles
In the realm of aged rum, the quality of a bottle often comes down to the skill of the blender and the quality of the casks used for aging. Here are some top picks for bottles of aged rum:
The Real McCoy Single Blended: Aged for 12 years, this Barbadian rum is a delightful blend of flavors, including brown sugar, vanilla, black cherry, and mild smoky notes.
Holmes Cay Barbados 2005: This is a single cask rum aged for 14 years, with exciting flavors of spice, fruit, and vanilla. It's a robust rum that is bottled at a cask strength of close to 64 percent ABV.
Appleton Estate 21: If you're willing to splurge, this Jamaican rum aged for a minimum of 21 years is a great choice. Expect a big body with tons of stewed fruits and rich molasses.
Best Light Aged Rums
Light aged rums are typically aged for a shorter period of time and are lighter in color and flavor. Here are a couple of excellent light aged rums:
Brugal Añejo Superior: Aged between two and five years, this Dominican rum picks up notes of vanilla, spice, and wood. It sips like a rum way beyond its years and works great as a whiskey substitute in cocktails.
Cruzan Single Barrel Estate Diamond: This light rum is a blend of aged rums that are then further aged in a new oak barrel for additional six to nine months. The result is a multiple award-winning rum that's fairly affordable.
Best Dark Aged Rums
When it comes to aged rum, the „darker“ the better is often the mantra. The deep, rich colors signal years spent in casks, absorbing the flavors of the wood and the ambient environment. Here are some top-tier dark aged rums that you should definitely consider for your home bar:
Appleton Estate 21 Year Old: This Jamaican rum, aged for a minimum of 21 years, is a true masterpiece. It offers a complex blend of nutty, vanilla, and spicy flavors, with a hint of citrusy sweetness.
Ron Zacapa Centenario XO: Aged in the highlands of Guatemala, this exceptional rum is a blend of spirits aged from 6 to 25 years. It's a symphony of sweet fruit, rich chocolate, and a touch of spicy oak.
El Dorado 15 Year Old Special Reserve: From the shores of Guyana, this rum is a blend of spirits aged for at least 15 years. It has a full-bodied profile with notes of tropical fruits, spice, and a hint of tobacco.
Mount Gay XO: Hailing from Barbados, the birthplace of rum, this extra old blend is a favorite amongst rum enthusiasts. It strikes a perfect balance between caramel sweetness, spicy oak, and a hint of banana.
Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva: A Venezuelan marvel, this rum is distilled from molasses and aged up to 12 years. It's rich with flavors of toffee, fruitcake, and a dash of licorice.
How Long is Rum Typically Aged?
Now that we've whetted your appetite for dark aged rums, you may be curious about the typical aging process. Unlike whiskey or cognac, there's no universal standard for aging rum. The aging period can vary dramatically from one rum to the next, depending on the producer and the country of origin.
That said, most quality rums are aged for at least two to three years, while premium aged rums often boast of a decade or more in the cask. Some exceptional rums, like the Appleton Estate 21 Year Old we mentioned earlier, are aged for over two decades!
It's also worth noting that aging rum is a faster process compared to other spirits, thanks to the tropical climates where most rum is produced. The high heat and humidity accelerate the interaction between the spirit and the cask, leading to a faster maturation process.
Why is Rum Aged?
So, why go through the trouble of aging rum? The answer lies in the transformative magic that happens inside the cask. Freshly distilled rum is a clear, harsh spirit, devoid of the depth and richness we associate with a good rum. It's the aging process that imparts these characteristics, fundamentally changing the rum's flavor, aroma, color, and texture.
When rum is aged in a wooden cask, it undergoes a series of chemical reactions. The spirit absorbs compounds from the wood, like lignin and tannins, which add color, flavor, and smoothness. At the same time, the spirit also loses some of its harshness through evaporation, a phenomenon known as the „angel's share.“
Moreover, the aging process also allows for the blending of different rums. Master blenders meticulously mix rums of different ages and profiles to create a final product that's greater than the sum of its parts. The result is a layered, complex spirit that's a true pleasure to sip and savor.
How to Drink Aged Rum
When it comes to enjoying aged rum, you have a few options:
Neat: This is the simplest and arguably the best way to truly appreciate a fine aged rum. Just pour a small amount into a glass and savor it slowly, allowing the flavors to develop as you drink.
On the Rocks: If you prefer your spirits a little cooler, try your aged rum over a single large ice cube. The slow melting of the ice will slightly dilute the rum, which can help to open up more of its flavors.
Cocktails: Aged rum can also be used in cocktails, and there are plenty of classic and modern recipes to explore. Some popular rum cocktails include the Mojito, Piña Colada, Dark and Stormy, Bermuda Rum Swizzle, and Hot Buttered Rum. If you're feeling adventurous, you could also try out some less common recipes, such as the Holy Water Cocktail, Backyard Tea, Watermelon Mojito, or Navy Grog Cocktail.
With a Splash of Water: Adding a small amount of water to your rum can also help to reveal more of its flavors, especially if it's a high-proof rum.
No matter how you choose to enjoy your aged rum, the most important thing is to take your time and appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into producing it. After all, aged rum is a testament to the power of time, patience, and expertise – and it deserves to be savored.