Appreciating the value of fine aged rum

SIPS

High-end products good alone or in mixed drinks

Sips

January 28, 2004|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If too many rum-and-Coke parties soured you on rum, rest assured that ultra-premium aged rums can easily win back your affection.

High-end products are gaining ground in all varieties of alcoholic beverages. When it comes to rum, the interest in quality is showing up in the growing market for fine aged rums, usually from the Caribbean or Central America.

Fans of aged rums say the liquor can provide all the complexity and sipping pleasure of a good single-malt Scotch whisky. But rum distillers have an advantage over those single-malt masters. Because rum ages in a warmer, more humid climate, it ages more quickly, developing its prized complexity much faster than, say, a single-malt Scotch.

Hence, an 8-year rum like Rhum Barbancourt from Haiti can provide a lot of "bang for the buck," says beverage consultant Robert Plotkin, adding that the product, at about $25 a bottle, is one of the better values on the market.

The 15-year Rhum Barbancourt, sometimes called the "cognac of rum," is considered among the best rums anywhere - with prices upward of $40 a bottle. A shot of that rum, served on the rocks with a wedge of lime, was all it took to convince this previously rum-averse sipper that fine rum was a category worth investigating.

Ron Zacapa Centenario, a fine aged rum from Guatemala, ranks with the 15-year Barbancourt as a memorable sip - with prices to match. But if you prefer quality to quantity, these rums could easily be worth the cost.

A new entry in the American market is positioned to compete with these two rums. Santa Teresa, Venezuela's oldest and best-selling rum, has recently brought its finest product to this country: 1796 Antiguo de Solera, with a suggested retail price of around $38.

Charles Henagan of Santa Teresa USA, the company importing the rum, says fine aged rums, sometimes called "sipping rums," make up a small part of the U.S. rum market, perhaps only 200,000 cases a year. But it's a lucrative market, with knowledgeable drinkers interested in learning about new, quality products.

Santa Teresa is available at several Maryland restaurants and liquor stores, primarily in Baltimore and Annapolis. Henagan says that although rums such as Santa Teresa are intended to be sipped alone or on the rocks, they also can be used to elevate any mixed drink to a higher level.

His own drink of choice at the moment is a shot of Santa Teresa over ice in a Tom Collins glass. Fill the glass with tonic and garnish it with a lime. I tried it, and he's right. It brings rum and tonic to a higher plateau.

Along with its aged rum, Santa Teresa introduced Rhum Orange Liqueur, a dark rum with macerated Valencia oranges, ideal for mixed drinks or even for cooking.

A bit less expensive option is Montecristo, an aged Guatemalan rum that is somewhat lighter than Santa Teresa's almost aggressive flavor. Montecristo, which was named best rum of 2002 by Wine & Spirits magazine and was given a "superb" rating by Wine Enthusiast magazine, sells for around $30.

While fine rums usually hail from the Caribbean and Central America, rum has played a role in U.S. history as well. The spirit is often given credit for Paul Revere's wake-up call to the colonists. In his Encyclopedia of Wine and Spirits, Alexis Lichine cites an "apparently authentic" story that Revere set out on his famous ride in "morose silence, and did not begin to shout that the English were coming until he had stopped at the home of a rum distiller."

Rum, of course, also played a less-than-admirable role in the slave trade, but it was the spirit of choice among American colonists, with some 12 million gallons a year consumed in the colonies prior to 1775.

With that quantity, we can assume the colonists were quaffing the cheap rums, not the fine aged drink getting new attention in today's high-end spirits market.

Santa Teresa Rumtini

Makes 1 drink

2 ounces 1796 Antiguo de Solera rum

1/2 ounce sweet vermouth

3 sour cherries, marinated in sweet vermouth overnight

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, mix rum and vermouth. Pour into martini glass. Garnish with sour cherries.

-- Santa Teresa USA

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