While undoubtedly delicious, rum can be one of the world’s most confusing spirits, if only because it’s made in so many different places and in so many different ways (white, aged, agricole, black strap, spiced, etc). Jesse Vida, the former head bartender at what was New York City’s Cuban-themed bar with solid rum cred, BlackTail, offers his guidance.
Sure, we all love our Mai Tais, not to mention the mini Frozen Daiquiris BlackTail serves as a welcome drink. But, Vida says, there’s a vast world to rum that people should explore. “It’s a mistake to think rum is only good for Mojitos or Frozen Daiquiris,” says Vida. “Rum has so much more to offer. Don't be afraid to get outside of the box a little bit.”
The optimal way to do that? Find a knowledgeable barkeep to be your guide, says Vida. “There are many different styles and subgenres of rum aside from simply light and dark rum. By going to a bar where the bartenders know their stuff, you can have an engaging conversation about that.”
“People should know that rum is not inherently sweet,” says Vida. “It’s a spirit distilled from molasses a, byproduct of making sugar as we know it from the sugar cane plant. Anything that gets distilled is not sweet.”
However, if you’ve sipped rum and detected sweetness, you’re not imagining things. Many producers add sugar after distillation. “This isn't necessarily a bad thing if the juice tastes good,” says Vida, adding that “many brands pretend they don't add sugar.”
Most spirits are distilled to 40 percent alcohol by volume, or 80 proof, but many rums are bottled at higher proofs. For those stiffer rums, “adding ice or a splash of water will mellow it out so the alcohol vapors don't overpower the subtle flavors,” says Vida. His rule of thumb: “I'd say 45 percent [ABV] or lower you should drink it neat, but anything above that you may enjoy more with dilution.”
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“A great way to start mixing rum into cocktails is just subbing it in for any simple classic at home,” says Vida. “A dark rum works great as a sub for whiskey in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. The ideal go-to at home or at the bar is just a simple fresh Daiquiri—rum, lime and sugar shaken with ice and strained into a glass. Can't beat it.”