Once the favourite tipple of pirates, buccaneers, and the British Navy, the image of rum has been gentrified, and now Asian drinkers are finally giving rum the respect it deserves.
Ask people if they’d like a tequila and chances are most of them will get a bit squeamish. Tequila, among drinkers yet to harness the spirit’s true complexity and diversity, is a potent, sometimes vile liquid more accustomed to frat parties and buck’s nights than sipping in an elegant cocktail bar.
Until recently, rum had a similar reputation; it was ok to put in cocktails, diluted with coconut milk and exotic fruit juices, but by itself? Not likely. However, a rum revolution is taking place, one that’s placing this mellow and complex spirit within the grasp of the masses.
“In spite of these perception problems, rum is experiencing a worldwide renaissance,” says rum connoisseur Ed Hamilton, whose website the Ministry of Rum covers just about every aspect of the bottled spirit. “The selection and quality of rums has never been higher.”
In fact, the Marco Polo Hong Kong was recently awarded a place in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most commercial available rums.
White rums still play an important role in the global mixology scene – anyone that’s tried a Hemmingway Daquari or a well-made mojito can testify that rum cocktails are some of the best conceived – but it’s the darker, aged rums that are growing in popularity.
Rich, golden aged rums like Bielle Rhum Vieux, from the tiny Caribbean island of Marie-Galante, Matusalem from the Dominican Republic, and Ron Zacapa Centenario from Guatemala, are now being drunk like cognac, complete with sniffers and reverence, proving that the tipple has come a long way since notorious pirate Blackbeard spiked his rum with gun powder, which was lit before being consumed.
Take Ron Zacapa for example. One of the recent super premium rum brands to launch in Asia, Ron Zacapa is made in Guatemala with virgin sugar cane honey. It’s aged from 6-23 years, using a very unique traditional Solera system.
When it comes to aged rum, forget what you think you know about aged spirits, says Ed Hamilton. “Age matters in a lot of things, but don’t get hung up on the age of your rum. Much more important than age is maturity. The truth of the matter is that many very good rums are aged only a fraction of that time.” He adds that warm climates and the lack of offensive congeners mean rum reaches maturity quicker.
“In most parts of the Asia Pacific Region, traditional popular brown spirits such as whisky and cognac have been in decline over the years,” says Joe Milner, Asia-Pacific brand ambassador for Ron Zacapa. “This has opened the door to new international spirit categories such as rum.”
Milner says Asian drinkers are changing their perceptions and are now willing to try something new. “The new affluent and discerning Asian consumer, with their higher disposable incomes, are more open to tasting new categories of spirits.
Outside the rum producing countries in the region, the rum category and in particular, the Super Premium rum segment, is very small, but we have seen some healthy growth over the years. Everyone who samples the Ron Zacapa, loves, and shares the spiritual uniqueness of the brand.”
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