Bars, cocktails, favorite bottles, and the facts you need to be an educated sipper
In downtown Berkeley, Comal's Black Daiquiri is a refreshingly unique expression, mixing Pampero Aniversario rum, Averna, lime, sugar, and Chiapan coffee tincture for a tart, bitter, sweet, and robust imbibement. Coffee notes don't dominate, but add a hint of earth and body.
2020 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 926-6300, www.comalberkeley.com
One of my all-around favorite rums is Brugal 1888 ($54.99), from five generations of family distillers in the Dominican Republic. First aged in American white oak barrels, then finished in Spanish oak, it's a blend of rums aged five to 14 years that hits the nose with spice, coffee, dried fruits. Tasting it yields notes of bourbon-like caramel, wood, spice, a hint of earth, a complex finish. An affordable sipping rum is Appleton Estate Reserve 12 year ($34.99) from Jamaica, blended by female master blender Joy Spence. It's bright and bold, but also nutty and buttery. If you can get your hands on Appleton 21 year, it's a beauty. Fascinating grassy notes, nuts, orange blossom, molasses.
Ron Zacapa 23 year ($37) is a Guatemalan classic, smooth with toffee and spice and crafted by a female master blender Lorena Vasquez. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva ($35) is lushly sweet with caramelized brown sugar, a spice-redolent Venezuelan dark rum. Botran Solera 1893 Gran Reserva ($24), a Guatemalan añejo rum, is an affordable, different side of the sweet coin. A blend of five to 14 year old rums, is balanced, not cloying. It tastes of caramelized banana and coconut.
Shellback is a new release of two affordable ($17 per bottle) Barbados-blended rums, ideal for cocktails. The silver is clean, with vanilla smoothness and whispers of tropical fruit, while the spiced is medium-bodied with cinnamon bark, ginger and clove oils, nutmeg, cassia.
Possibly my top white rum, Banks Five Island ($25.99) is rife with character, funk, and elegance — a blend of rums from five islands (hence the name), it's reminiscent of the Asian-Indonesian sugarcane spirit Batavia Arrack. Banks recently released Banks 7 Golden Age Blend ($30), 23 rums sourced from seven places. It's a complex as that would imply, dry, nutty, tropical, and rich.
Rhum agricole is my favorite style of rum — it's often funky, grassy, complex, elegant. I adore the floral, fresh spirit of Clement Martinique Rhum Blanc ($30) and its VSOP ($35), which exhibits spice, coconut, apple, earth. I'm already a fan of the brand's elegant rhum agricoles from Martinique, and they just released a fresh, smoky six year old ($56), not to mention a cinnamon, wood, and vanilla-inflected 10 year ($73). For a splurge, I adore the unique, cask strength (though still reasonably under 100 proof) 10 year Rhum J.M. Millesime 1997 ($130), which unfolds with toasted nut, lemon, sage, cinnamon.
Started by rum expert and all-around great guy Ed Hamilton, Ministry of Rum is a key resource for all things rum. Find reviews and discussions on just about every rum in existence, plus glossaries, rum basics, and rum events worldwide, including the annual Ministry of Rum tasting held in the Bay Area.
Rum For All is a project started by F. Paul Pacult (publisher-editor of Spirits Journal) and industry expert Sean Ludford. Their website is an online resource of rum primers, select producer profiles, and cocktail recipes. I recently went to their touring seminar when it was in SF, which offered an impressive range of rums to sample side-by-side — which is, of course, the best way to get educated.