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Añejo Rum!

Añejo rums are smooth and luxurious. These aged rums have more in common with Cognac and Sherry than they do with their light rum, un-aged counterparts. They are elegant, sophisticated spirits best appreciated in a brandy snifter. “Not everyone can jaunt off to the Caribbean, but sipping a fine old rum may be the next best thing,” says Tom Valdes, president of Cruzan Rum, Ltd. “There is a cachet surrounding rum[s], [which] . . . are made in exotic places and imbued with rich aromas and captivating flavors. And that’s exactly how they should be marketed—as a romantic adventure in a glass.”

 

Coming of Age
“Rum is the number-two spirit in the world, but it’s closing in on number one [vodka] in the minds of consumers,” suggests Luis Ayala, rum consultant and publisher of the Got Rum? newsletter. “Aged rums in snifters are a common sight now in bars and restaurants. That’s when you know the category has ascended to the next level. People are enjoying premium rums straight—no mixers, no ice. The category has come of age.”
And this trend is not limited to a few markets. “We’re seeing a change in drinking patterns in our hotel outlets nationwide. Sipping añejo rums has clicked in a big way,” observes Al Ferrone, director of food and beverage for Hilton Hotels. “There has been an influx of absolutely intriguing rums in the past year or so. They’re packaged beautifully, inviting people to drink them straight. Connoisseur consumerism has definitely found a new preoccupation.”


One marketing advantage aged rum enjoys over other spirits, such as brandy and single-malt Scotch, is that it is a relative bargain. For example, Appleton Estate Extra, which is aged in wood for 12 years, wholesales for about $20 per 750 ml bottle—an exceptional value compared to most 12-year-old brown spirits. 

 

Aging Magic

One key to cashing in on this añejo rum bonanza is understanding how the spirit is made and appreciating what makes it so special. For one thing, rum takes well to aging in wood. When you take the fiery rum spirit straight from the still and age it in wood for a decade, magical things happen. Barrel aging affects every dimension of the finished rum; over time, the rum begins to soften and mellow and gather color. Rums produced in pot stills are invariably aged in wood, a process that allows their constituent elements to marry, while the wood works to smooth out any rough edges.


While length of aging is a principal point of distinction, the type of wood in which a rum is aged is significant. Rum is often aged in used bourbon barrels; however, a wide variety of different wood barrels, including used Spanish-oak oloroso Sherry casks, are used to age Caribbean rum. Both the type of wood and what was in the cask previously play a role in creating the finished rum. Temperature and humidity are the two primary aging variables that affect an aged rum’s aroma and flavor profile on both a macro and micro level. Barrel houses located in different areas of the Caribbean experience different climatic conditions. Just as a malt matured in the Scottish Highlands will express very different characteristics from one matured on Islay, so will an aged Jamaican rum differ from a rum aged in Guatemala. And microclimatic differences occur within each warehouse; barrels in certain warehouse locations will age better than others in less favorable sites.


Mixing with Añejos
Viewing añejo rums as narrow-use products would do them a tremendous disservice. With consumers craving increasingly more flavor in their cocktails, aged rums are an operator’s panacea. They are vivacious spirits with full, satiny bodies and wafting bouquets, and their brilliant range of flavors makes them outstanding performers behind the bar. It is no wonder that growing numbers of establishments are making these dark rums a staple of their beverage programs.

 

An outstanding example is Cuba Libre Restaurant and Bar in Philadelphia and its sister venue located within the newly refurbished Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Their backbars sport more than 70 different rums, 18 of which are añejos. Not surprisingly, Cuba Libre’s drink menu abounds with Cuban-inspired specialty drinks, such as the Cubano (dark rum, fresh lime, and pineapple juice) and the Caballito, a Latin variation of the Man- hattan made with dark rum, fresh sugarcane juice, mint, and sweet Vermouth. “We also offer specialty drinks that feature different rums with Cuban coffee and steamed coconut milk,” Owner Barry Gutin remarks. “People enjoy experiencing new and sensational drinks, and our specialties are just that.”


Cuba Libre has also built a loyal following of añejo rum devotees. “We promote our aged rums the same way that some restaurants market their desserts,” states Gutin. “For example, we promote Cruzan Rum Cream, Ron Matusalem, Sea Wynde, Pyrat XO Reserve, and Zaya right on our menu. Many of our guests appreciate ending a great meal with a snifter of marvelous añejo rum.”


There are scores of creative ways to utilize these aged marvels in mixed drinks. They marry beautifully with ice cream, coffee, hot chocolate, and almost every type of juice imaginable. Aged rum is also popularly featured in margaritas and kamikazes. Other innovative uses include: Cuban Standards. Añejo rum is substituted for light rum in ojitos and classically prepared daiquiris. Both cocktails are enhanced by the enriched flavors of the dark rum. Consider also featuring dark rums in a frozen strawberry, banana, or raspberry daiquiri. The añejos add a delightful caramel essence to the drink.

 

Floats. Drizzled on top of blended specialties, aged rums add com- plex but complementary flavors and greatly enhance the drinks’ presentation. Floats are especially effective on light-colored, light- flavored drinks, such as piña coladas and adult milkshakes.


Contemporary Cocktails. Dark-rum cocktails are sophisticated and elegant, and they excel at showcasing the spirit. An excel- lent example is the Havana Sidecar, which is built similarly to a conventional sidecar, substituting aged rum for the brandy. The Larchmont, made with añejo rum, Grand Marnier, and lime juice, is also worth sampling. The martini is an ideal vehicle for promoting aged rums—for example, the Pyrat Martini (Pyrat XO Reserve and a healthy splash of Godiva Chocolate Liqueur) or the Havana Club Martini (Bacardi 8 Reserva and a dose of tawny Port).


An overnight sensation 400 years in the making, well-crafted añejo rums are ready to be discovered by restaurant bar patrons looking for “a romantic adventure in a glass.” A few sips of one of these Caribbean beauties should send them on their way.

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