Think rum is only made in the Caribbean? Think again. Rum is still the main spirit of Barbados, Jamaica and its neighbouring islands, but today you’ll find it distilled all over the world, from as far afield as Australia and Thailand to the cooler climes of northern Europe, including Germany and the UK.
Wherever it’s made, sugar cane remains the key base ingredient, be that in the form of molasses or sugar-cane juice. Molasses can be made into almost all styles of rum, from white to golden, dark and spiced, while sugar-cane juice is best suited for making grassy, agricole-style rums, and is also used to make Brazil’s cachaça, one of the most popular spirits in the world.
For a spirit that’s so complex and diverse, it’s a shame that rum’s image tends to focus on pirates and parties. The best rums are more than a match for the best single malt whiskies, and it’s a spirit with history and a huge sense of place – hop around some Caribbean islands and you’ll notice a big difference in each rum you’ll find.
In Jamaica, overproof rums are hugely popular – Rum-Bar from Worthy Park Estate is a classic example – strong and full-flavoured, with big, warming aromas of tropical fruit. Barbados offers more of an all-round style – expect plenty of winter spices, dried fruit and coffee notes from the likes of Mount Gay. And in French-speaking islands such as Martinique and Guadeloupe, the style of rum changes to fresh, aromatic and zingy.
Christopher Columbus introduced sugar cane to South America and the Caribbean in the late 15th century, with the first evidence of rum distillation being traced to Barbados in the mid-1600s. The rest of the world has taken its time to follow suit, but the quality of rums from non-traditional countries has never been better.
Ninefold Distillery is one of the leading lights of the rum revolution in Scotland – the country used to be a hub of rum production in the 17th century and now has several distilleries producing a variety of styles. Asia is no stranger to rum, either – nor should it be, given that it is the original home of sugar cane – and you’ll find distilleries across India, Japan, Thailand and Nepal.
The beauty of rum is its diversity. The best examples are designed for slow sipping, but the growth of artisan cocktails has pushed rum into the spotlight, too, whether it’s a clean, refreshing Mojito or Daiquiri, or something spicier such as a Dark ‘n’ Stormy. Whatever your preference, these 10 award-winning rums from the 2020 IWSC are all worth discovering.