Rum Is the Answer, What Was the Question?

You'd think if you owned a bar exclusively dedicated to rum, you'd be happy to hear that the world's oldest spirit was suddenly très-trendy. Well, not so much if you're Dwayne Allen, co-owner of the Rum Bar in downtown Phoenix. In fact, this generally-genial Jamaican native was downright perturbed at the suggestion that this sugar cane-based spirit is being called trendy.

"Rum is in our blood, my friend," Allen tells me when I phone. "It's been around long before other such alcohols and spirits and is synonymous with the island lifestyle. There's nothing trendy about what we are doing at the Rum Bar," he says in his distinctly friendly-yet-deadly-serious tone. "You'd better get down here and let me show you what rum's all about."

So let's set sail to this rum-soaked tropical paradise in the heart of the urban jungle. Just be sure to leave behind your images of hangovers past, fueled by popsicle-colored daiquiris and cheap dark or spiced rums, which are often made from lower quality Grade C molasses and have "terrible flavor," according to Allen. (We're looking at you, Captain Morgan.)

Stepping inside the Rum Bar feels a little like Dorothy being dropped into Oz for the first time. One minute you're in Phoenix, and the next you're transported to the sultry, salt-tinged Caribbean, starting with the formally-dressed barstaff, which will be immediately familiar to anyone who's traveled to Jamaica or the British Virgin Islands, with its unique blend of casual island vibe and the English love of pomp and circumstance.

Sidle up to the bar and watch as the aforementioned staff hand-mashes whole pineapples into fresh juice, or simply stand in awe as you soak in shelf after shelf lined with every rum under the sun--111 hand-picked varieties at last count.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, start with something classic like the traditional Dark & Stormy, made with Gosling's Black Seal rum and D&G Jamaican ginger beer. Or get a little funky with the Spicy Rumtini, a lip-smackingly bold, fiery blend of Wray & Nephew Overproof rum, vermouth, lime juice, basil and Scotch Bonnet pepper.

That said, to really experience the art of rum-making, you need to try it in the raw. Served in a low-slung sifter to better warm the spirit in your hands and also open up its delicate aromas, Rum Bar offers a variety of sipping rums so fine you will be scolded if you ask to put it in a mixed drink. Seriously.

We're talking fine aged rums such as English Harbour 1981, which will set you back a stunning $150 per taste. Or Appleton Estate 30-year-old rum, which is the only bottle in the state and one of only 1,400 bottles sold worldwide ($120 per glass).

Fortunately, Rum Bar also offers dozens of more affordable, if still quite refined, sipping rums, as well as an ever-changing selection of rum flights. Starting at $10, these three-drink flights might highlight a particular rum-producing nation such as Panama (home of the 100-year-old Ron Abuelo distillery), or the wide variety of rum-making techniques: molasses-based rums versus those distilled from sugar cane syrup or even virgin sugar cane (aka rhum agricole).

Feeling overwhelmed by all the overproofs and other rum varieties. Check in next week as Dwayne Allen takes us on a tasting tour of four of his favorite rums, rhums and cachacas. Plus, a roundup of the Valley's best rum drinks.

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Dawson Fearnow
Contact: Dawson Fearnow