When we think of hot days or beaches or swimsuits, rum (or rhum) automatically comes to mind. Maybe not directly, but certainly subliminally. Nobody ever orders a martini at a swim up tropical bar. And drinking Vieux Carré’s by the pool? I think not.
Rum is the drink of summer. It’s good, it’s relatively inexpensive, it mixes with every juice imaginable, and it’s not so geeked out that there are 800 different takes on it. Ironic, since rum traces its beginnings back at least 400 years (and possibly up to 600). It is made on every continent (except Antarctica) has no country of origin, yet still really only comes in a handful of styles.
Rum can be made from either sugar cane juice (rhum) or molasses, or any other sugar cane derived material. There is some argument, and there have been some cases, in the U.S. of “rums” made from sugar beets slipping through the Federal net. And products like Brazilian cachaça and some central American aguardiente are rum in everything but name.
Luckily for us here in Marin County we have several local-ish producers of both rum and rhum. And while we might not be able to agree on where the pirate/privateer Sir Francis Drake (or El Draque- the Dragon- as the Spanish called him) fits into local history, most of us wouldn’t mind sipping on a mojito by the pool, even if Drake’s crew did invent that drink (then called an El Draque) while besieging Havana in 1586. And let’s not even get started with so-called “Tiki” culture or the origins of the name “Cuba Libre.”
Here is a local line up of products all sure to sooth the summer sun as well as fire up vigorous debate.
Barber Lee Spirits, White Rum, Petaluma, $35
A brand new product just released earlier this year, distiller Aaron Lee’s rum is made from piloncillo sugar (or panella), a type of lump, unrefined, whole sugar, native to Central America that is very similar to Indian jaggery. Twice distilled, this rum has a fuller richer flavor than one normally expects in a white rum, and with neutral oak aging all the raw sugar taste comes through. Fun fact: piloncillo is sometimes called “panocha” which is vulgar slang for a certain part of the female anatomy. More info here: Barber Lee Spirits
Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, Puerto Rico/Marin County, $28.99
Marin’s Sammy Hagar has brought in classic rocker/heartthrob Rick Springfield as a partner, moved his production to Puerto Rico and now produces a clean, triple distilled, classic style of molasses based white rum. Light enough to drink chilled up, yet sturdy enough to fortify a classic daiquiri. If you like Puerto Rico’s version of Havana Club, you will love this. Ironically, it is available in every state except Hawaii. SBBR also produces two flavored versions, a “Kola” spiced, and a “Red Head” macadamia nut. Don’t’ ever say these two rockers have “done nothing for you.” More info here: Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum
Batiste Rhum, Silver, Marie Galante/Marin/Napa County, $25.99
Founder and San Quentin resident (the town) Tristan Mermin wants you to know Batiste Rhum is the first “verified” (through Third Partners) carbon neutral spirit in the United States. Rum production is not historically known for its positive environmental (or humanitarian) impact, and Mermin is aiming to change that. Batiste rhum is produced from free run sugar cane juice (not molasses) in the French Caribbean and then finished and proofed in Napa. Batiste has a different, cleaner, fresher, character that is not heavy on the palate while still retaining that wonderful toffeyness one expects. Batiste also produces an aged Gold and a 90 proof Reserve. Delicious and environmentally friendly? Now that is what we call a no argument win-win. More info here: Batiste Rhum.
Alma Tepec, Liquor de Chile Pasilla Mixe, Oaxaca, $35
Oaxaca? Former Marinite and chef (Marintas/Cavallo Point) and now expatriate Joseph Gilbert, has started his own restaurant/distillery called El Destilado (the distillery) in Oaxaca Mexico. There Gilbert produces several high end mezcals and is poised to release into the U.S. market a chili spiced rum based liqueur designed specifically to compete with Ancho Reyes. Smoky, spicy, and almost bittersweet, Alma Tepec is the perfect addition to your spicy margarita or smoked rum punch. Look for it soon! More info here: El Destilado.