FEAST Rum has had a rough and tumble history. It was the Royal Navy's spirit of choice, and on a grim note, benefited from association with the slave trade. Consider the story of Admiral Horatio Nelson, whose body was preserved in a cask of rum after his death in the Battle of Trafalgar en route back to England. Upon arrival, the cask was empty of liquid, the rumor being his crew drank it in hopes of ingesting Nelson's courageous spirit. From this comes one of rum's many nicknames, "Nelson's blood." The act of imbibing it is often dubbed "tapping the admiral."
Despite its dark days, rum thrives as the spirit of the Caribbean where, along with Latin America, the majority of the world's supply is produced. The liquor is associated with island breezes, relaxation, the good life. From airy white rum to the sweet, spiced variety, there's more complex rum variances than one might initially suspect.
Though no hard and fast rules apply to all rum, here's a quick rundown of categories:
Light/silver/white rums are often smooth, sometimes sweet, mixable rums ideal for cocktails, made from both sugarcane and molasses. Typically aged briefly, they maintain a colorless look from being aged in stainless steel or neutral oak, or from having their color filtered out.
Gold/amber rums are typically medium-bodied, generally aged in wood barrels. They are the halfway point between light and dark rums.
Dark rums are molasses-based, aged in charred barrels. They are at times quite sweet and silky, at other times complex, best for mixing or sipping.
And there is a wealth of other categories. Spiced rums have, yes, spices and even caramel added. Flavored rums are infused with a wide range of tastes. Overproof rums are high proof spirits that exceed the standard 40 percent ABV. Premium rums are essentially a more refined category of sipping rums. Cachaça is, more or less, a Brazilian rum made solely from sugarcane juice.
In addition to styles, regions determine rum characteristics. The Spanish-speaking Caribbean (namely Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico) and South and Central America are most highly regarded for their smooth añejo style. English-speaking islands (like Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Saint Kitts, Trinidad) are best known for full, dark rums, including demerara rums made from natural, unrefined demerara sugar. French-speaking Caribbean islands (including Haiti, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Martinique) are famed for agricultural rums (rhum agricole), produced solely from sugar cane juice, which are refined, complex, even grassy and funky.
Where to find good rum in the Bay Area? One of the greatest selections available anywhere, the standard-setting menu at Smuggler's Cove offers over 200 rums, with flights and pours grouped by style and region. The bar even has a Rumbustion Society encouraging (and rewarding) exploration. Smuggler's honors the roots of tiki (Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's paraphernalia abound) in its intimate, three-level layout. The cocktail menu is extensive, with sections on Cuban cocktail favorites from Havana's glory days to modern interpretations of tiki drinks.
650 Gough, SF. (415) 869-1900, www.smugglerscovesf.com