Drinking Diaries: There's more to rum than vacation drinks

Cocktail of the month

If you do opt for the fruity rum drinks over the good stuff on the rocks, here’s a suggestion from bartender Chris Lee, of the Sand Bar at the Ritz Carlton Beach Resort.

Tropical Mist

1 shot Bacardi Silver

1 shot Malibu Coconut Rum

1 shot Blue Curacao

Pineapple Juice to taste

Fresh squeeze of lemon and lime

Mix together and serve over ice, with a pineapple wedge and umbrella to garnish.

It’s not a real beach vacation until you’ve got a rum drink in hand.

Berry-red rum runners, fresh-minted mojitos and classic frothy pina coladas do as much to set the mood as turquoise waters and sugar-sand beaches.

That taste is irrevocably rum — the Caribbean’s noble spirit — mixed with any fruit that conjures the sweet flavors of a tropical getaway.

Still, rum isn’t married to pineapple and coconut. Its tropical associations have to do with its origins and clever ad campaigns. But rum deserves a little more respect.

Whether you’re already on vacation from the snow up North or just need an afternoon away from work, try the spirit once favored by Caribbean pirates and rogue sailors.

Large rum producers like Bacardi and Captain Morgan make a good base for a mixed drink, but many lesser-known premium labels need a snifter. That’s right, rums can drink like a fine Cognac or Scotch.

Records of the first distilled rum date back to the 17th century on the island of Barbados, when plantation slaves discovered that molasses can ferment into alcohol. By 1703, the world’s oldest known rum distillery, Mount Gay Rum, was consistently producing the spirit enjoyed by islanders. In 1789, George Washington insisted on a barrel of Barbados rum at his inauguration. Rum production begins with sugarcane. Cut sugarcane is crushed to make cane sugar juice. To make rum from there, the cane juice either gets fermented and distilled right away, cooks down to syrup or processes into molasses. Most rum producers distill from the fermented molasses by-product.

Favorite Naples vacation spots like the Ritz Carlton Beach Resort’s Sand Bar and the Dock at Crayton Cove offer a long list for purists. Labels like Depaz Rhum Agricole from Martinique, Rhum Barbancourt Reserve Speciale from Haiti and Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva from the Dominican Republic.

Expect flavors of vanilla, honey, caramel and oak. Even tobacco, almond and orange peel on some more rested rums.

The subtle flavor profiles that emerge from a glass of fine rum set them apart from mass-produced products. It makes them sipping rums instead of mixing rums, and sets the great stuff apart from the rest.

Chris Lee, bartender at the Ritz’s Sand Bar and mixologist for the hotel, knows how to drink premium rums. He doesn’t like to mix the high-end products from their rum shelf. He says the best thing you can do with a great rum is to drink it straight, either neat or on the rocks.

Coca-Cola or fruit juices mask the natural vanilla and subtle smoke that jumps from a glass of Trinidadian Zaya Gran Reserva, Lee’s favorite and most popular on their sipping shelf.

Many distillers tout the age statement as a symbol of quality, and indeed aging freshly distilled rum mellows the flavor and brings out the deeper flavor profiles like vanilla and honey. Distillers also typically blend their aged rums from a variety of barrels of different ages to achieve subtleties often missing from mass-consumed rums.

Try the Cockspur 12 from Barbados at the Dock to discover hints of orange marmalade, brown sugar and just a whiff of spice. The Dock offers a premium rum shelf, something owner Vin DePasquale considers an essential part of the restaurant’s tropical feel.

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