Lately, we've noticed a trend: Cocktails in which the bartender could have used gin or vodka but opted instead for white rum. It's an interesting choice, so we wanted to know, are these clear spirits really interchangeable? And if so, does white rum that can be enjoyed neat actually exist? After all, some people enjoy drinking vodka straight, so logic would follow that there must also be some people that enjoy minimally-aged white and silver rums straight, too.
And yes, clear spirits spirits do have their merit outside of just being used in cocktails. Good vodka, having gone through several filtrations, can be expressive of high-quality grain or spud and can complement a meal without numbing the palate. Some vodkas are even billed as having bouquets of vanilla and melon, and others can taste like buttered toast and finish with pepper or almond — or so the tasting notes promise.
Rum, which can be produced several different ways across a handful of Caribbean islands, seems like a prime spirit candidate for similarly expressive flavor profiles.
For answers, we turned to Dwayne Allen, co-owner of The Breadfruit and Rum Bar in downtown Phoenix and local authority on all things rum-related. There isn't a better selection of rum in the Valley than at The Breadfruit and Rum Bar, or a better place to wage bets on finding a good, white sipping rum if the Appleton Estate 12-year just isn't your speed.
At first, the answer didn't seem promising.
"We really look at the rum in categories, and each category of rum has its purpose," Allen said over the phone. "White rums really are meant for cocktails, and these producers typically are looking at their own product as a cocktail rum, almost never considered as something they’d put in a snifter, and that’s because at its youngest stage, it really hasn’t had the opportunity to develop much character."
As an example, Allen pointed to a mojito or a daiquiri, two basic cocktails that lean on the lighter side of the rum color spectrum.
"A daiquiri, for instance, is not about the rum," Allen says. "It’s about what happens with lime and sugar, and the spirit which gives it a lift."
But just because white rums are usually intended for sipping, doesn't mean that some interesting — maybe even sip-worthy — white and silver rums don't exist — right? We headed down to the bar to ask again, in person. And after a little prodding Allen produced a few white rums he considered worth enjoying alone.
For these, Allen had to reach of clear spirits near the top of the Rum Bar's shelf.
The first was the St. Barth rhum agricole, a French island rum made from sugar cane (which lends to a clean profile, an aroma of tropical fruit, and profile best described as green) as opposed to molasses. Despite lacking some depth and spice, by design, the heat is mild and the profile enjoyable. Allen says in the French Caribbean island of Martinique, rhum agricole is at least served straight, but it is up to the drinker how much sugar or lime is added. He demonstrates just how little lime one might add by cutting off the rounded end of a key lime, showing us that the flesh is not much larger than a fingernail, and then squeezing out the juice — just a few drops.
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Next is the Banks, which seems to break tiptoe around categorization entirely. It blends light-aged rums (starting at around three years) from five different islands, before being filtered to remove the rum's color. You get the peppery spice of a Jamaican rum and the profile-rounding benefit of blending across regions, but stripped of aged body. The tropical scent is much more present than you'd come to expect from a clear spirit.
Lastly, the most refined and sweetest of the three, would be the Oronoco, a Brazilian rum. The bouquet is predominantly vanilla, while the palate, creamy in body, lingers with floral notes.
"Lavender, perhaps," Allen says.