Why rum is for life, not just for summer

The arrival of warmer weather has Joel Harrison popping his shorts on and pouring the rum. It's an annual ritual that reminds him of the spirit's unrivalled versatility, a quality that means it can be consumed even when the sun is nowhere to be seen

Words by Joel Harrison

Rum in glasses and bottle, white background with hard light, shadows and sun glare, copy space stock photo
Whatever the weather, there's a rum for the occasion

It felt like winter lasted forever, here in the UK. The chill winds kept blowing, even as the evenings were lengthening, and the light seemed to be battling the dark rather than gently replacing it. Summer is now, finally, arriving and there is a sense of better late than never.  

Great British optimism means folk have already been seen in t-shirts and shorts in recent weeks, even if it’s only been warm enough to switch from jackets and jeans in the last few days. Maybe those making the transition early were dressing for the weather they wanted, rather than the weather we were having.

The first bottle I’m reaching for now, as the weather hots up, is the excellent Signature Blend #1 from That Boutique-y Rum Company. It is an elegant white rum that carries enough flavour to be an excellent base for a great Daiquiri without overpowering a cocktail that is deceptively simple but unusually hard to balance. This blended rum marries unaged rum from Martinique and flavoursome aged rum from Jamaica. As far as I’m concerned, this is very much ‘job done’ when it comes to a base blended rum for summery refreshments. It’s as essential in the summer months as a good pair of linen shorts.

Locals and tourists buying drinks at a local restaurant and bar. Havana is famous for its high quality of alcohol and beverages.
For Cuban rum, aged aguardiente is blended with a higher proof spirit to create base rums, aged again, then bottled

My wardrobe, however, contains certain clothes that are for all seasons; year-round staples that work as well in the snow as the sunshine. Rare as these items are, they do exist: a cotton jacket; a light twill shirt; a cashmere sweater; even sunglasses are as useful on the slopes as they are on sand dunes.

When it comes to a drink for all seasons, rum sits brilliantly as the leader; it must surely be the most versatile spirit. It’s a drink that spans the rich and complex aged examples from Barbados, through to the classic funky notes of Jamaican varieties, all the while veering into earthy rhum agricole styles, as well as easy-to-mix, clear white types. It’s undoubtedly great when the sun is shining but in truth, whatever the weather, there is a rum or a rum-based drink that’s perfect for the occasion.

In my drinks cabinet, one of the best examples of this versatility is Cuban rum. In 2017, the exclusive agreement between drinks giant Pernod Ricard and the Cuban government came to an end. Until that moment, the only Cuban-made rums available globally were made by Havana Club, and its range was a permanent fixture in my collection. It errs towards the lighter style of spirit, built on a foundation of particular regulations; Cuban rum is a melody of ‘aguardiente’ (a lower proof spirit) that is aged and blended with a higher proof spirit to create base rums. These foundation rums are then aged again, and will eventually be bottled as younger, lighter styles or something darker and older.

This Cuban technique results in a complex flavour profile and a flexible rum. One of the newer brands to bring Cuban rum to the masses is Eminente. Part-owned by LVMH in collaboration with the Cuban government, their seven-year-old rum is as enjoyable in a Mai Tai as it is in a nosing glass.

equiano rum cocktail with bottle
Equiano brings together aged molasses rum from the Caribbean and fresh cane juice rum from Africa

Because of rum’s diverse styles, blended rum has emerged for me as another great way to find a product that is highly versatile. Equiano is a great example, bringing together aged molasses rum from the Caribbean and rum made from fresh sugar cane juice in Africa. Here, it’s about the balance of two distinct parts, and the result is a rum that not only shows off its flavour when simply served on the rocks but also in a classic cocktail, such as a Dark n’ Stormy.

My current go-to rum is a completely new label. Idle Assembly, launched this year, is a blend of rums from across the Caribbean. Co-founder David Flint Wood has lived on a small island in the archipelago for almost three decades and he and his co-founders have worked with some top rum producers to craft a liquid that includes spirits from distilleries in Trinidad, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Panama. The rums in the blend have been aged in bourbon barrels for between five and 20 years.

The result is a dance between the younger spirits for light, fruity notes, and the older aged rum for texture, body and spice. Here we have the cashmere sweater of rum. It isn’t cheap but it’s stylish, versatile, and works both in a sundrenched garden as the sun starts to set and when the chill of winter bites. It boasts that rare quality I find in ginger beer of being both refreshing and warming. Dare I say that this is the one item that never gets packed away for another season.

Rum must surely be the most versatile spirit

I’m often asked what my desert island dram would be in relation to whisky. My answer is never simple: a peated Scotch for some occasions; a Highland malt for others. Rye works well for spicy notes too, as do the delights of delicate Irish whiskey. Let’s not forget a blended Scotch and of course a straight bourbon. And there you have it: I would need a mixed case of the stuff.

But for one bottle and one bottle only? It has to be a well-made rum. The only drink you’ll need to ensure you’re fashionable all year round.

This Month Joel Has Been Drinking…

  • I’m a big Royal Salute fan (their blends all start at 21-years of age and are incredible value for money) and their new Jodhpur Polo Edition, with malts finished in virgin oak casks for extra spice is one of their best releases yet. It is complex, rich and utterly yummy and shows off just how good blended Scotch whisky can be. If you can get your hands on a bottle, make sure you crack it open with some friends; this is seriously well-aged Scotch designed to be shared.
  • My gin choice this month has been one that almost feels like a classic, despite it being born this century. Warner’s Rhubarb Gin is still an absolute cracker, and I’ve been using it in a twist on the (very complicated) Ramos Gin Fizz. The Ramos, as it is known, is a New Orleans classic that brings together gin, citrus juice, cream, and sparking water with orange blossom essence into a soufflé-like drink. Switch out your normal gin for this rhubarb number and you’re left with something that tastes a bit like rhubarb fool. Who doesn’t want that? Just make sure you leave enough time to make it the proper way. It involves a lot of shaking!
  • Finally, I must mention one of the best single malt Scotch whiskies I’ve had in a very long time. Released to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III, the release from small family-owned Elgin-based business Gordon & MacPhail absolutely blew my socks off. Whisky from the Glen Grant distillery in Speyside, distilled in the year of the new king’s birth (1948), is 74 years old. With the most complex flavours of peach melba, summer fruit compote and blackcurrant jam, even at £25,000 for a decanter, it would be worth every single penny. A rare 100-point score from me, this is whisky that sets a new benchmark in Scotch. Bravo!
Joel Harrison
By Joel Harrison

Joel Harrison is an award-winning spirits writer, and spirits consultant for Club Oenologique.