A consistent pleasure of the Caribbean over the years has been the discovery of local rums. This was certainly the case on our most recent trip, where the biggest surprise was on Antigua. I had not thought of it as a rum island, but in fact, it has a robust industry and a couple of fine products.
The most common bottling is the brand Cavalier, and while I found it to be fine for mixing — say for a rum and tonic — the same distillery makes a more refined product. Called English Harbour, this comes in two age variations: five and 10 years old.
Aging in spirits always provokes a lively debate and this is true with English Harbour. Sitting at the bar one evening, I had two bartenders take different positions: one for the sweetness, of the five, the other for the duskier palate of the 10. The only point of agreement was that English Harbour should be savored after a good meal, much like a digestif.
I tried both, and my personal opinion is that because of its sweetness, the five actually makes a nice sipping rum before dinner, much like a stronger Sherry, say an Amontillado. The 10 is definitely for a quiet moment after a meal, and it has intimations of lighter Highland single malts such as Glenkinchie. We had been assured that we would be able to find English Harbour at the airport before we left, but alas, that was not the case. Another reason to return to Antigua!
I had been told that rum is finally being made on St. Barths, something I had long wondered about, as there is a strong tradition of rum production in the French West Indies. Upon investigation, it turned out to be a rum made elsewhere, but with St. Barths packaging.
But there is no shortage of intriguing rums to try from the other French islands. Their specialties are the so-called rhums agricoles, a designation that carries with it the weight of a French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, which is just as strict as the governmental regulations governing the mother country’s wines and other agricultural products of renown. Unlike the majority of the rums produced in the Caribbean, these are distilled from sugar cane juice rather than molasses, which gives them a sprightlier, more vegetal character like, say, tequila.
I have tried and tasted several over the years, and one producer has consistently stood out. Clément is a distiller on the island of Martinique, and I have enjoyed several of its iterations. But if I had to choose one, it would be the V.S.O.P. A pleasing gold color, it has lovely elements of spice and a complex depth of flavor.
Because of its great marketing success, Bacardi is the rum most usually associated with Puerto Rico. Natives will tell you that the real rum of the island is DonQ, Bacardi being an upstart that relocated from Cuba after Castro’s revolution. If you find the conversation lulling in a bar on the island, just raise the subject — there will be opinions aplenty. I frankly prefer DonQ. Bacardi has always seemed a little harsh and unrefined. I find the DonQ Gold to be good for mixed drinks.
My favorite rum on the island is made by a small producer called Ron del Barrilito. (Alas, it is not in wide distribution in the United States). Produced in small batches, this aged rum comes in two versions, the older of which is made from a blend of rums six to 12 years old. The three-star is a smooth, complex spirit with rich caramel undertones, appealing smokiness and spicy high notes that make for a very pleasant, relaxing drink after a meal.
Free of advertising since its inception in June 1979, Hideaway Report is a private monthly publication for sophisticated travelers. The selection of hotels, resorts and restaurants for inclusion in this publication is made on a completely independent basis, with Andrew Harper, LLC paying full rate for all meals, lodging and related travel expenses. Andrew Harper and his editors travel incognito to write candid and unbiased travel reviews for a subscription service, which provides personalized travel-planning assistance, bespoke tours and valuable travel privileges to its subscribers. For questions regarding this article please contact email@example.com.