It’s not as hard as you think.
Dare to reveal to a whisky connoisseur that you prefer rum. And observe their reaction. Can you see it, the irony sparking in their pupil ? And the mockery raising one corner of the mouth, the anxiety of frowning nostrils? Notice the sudden recoil reflex, the body painfully contorting, if you offer them to taste one of your flasks : you might as well try to feed a cat the water fleas on a gold fish’s diet.
Between single malt fans and rum enthusiasts there exists a gap as wide as the Atlantic Ocean. A chasm. An abyss. A long-standing misunderstanding tinged, let’s face it, with a touch of snobbery. For sure, the cane spirit is timidly beginning to siphon whisky buffs put off by steep prices increasing the high cost of their painful passion and by the disappearance of age statements on labels. So, the smartest, most curious (or most knowledgeable) ones among them have already embarked upon a hunt for treasures hidden in the Caribbean. But most whisky lovers are still reluctant to dip their lips into a glass of “kill devil”, hanging on to stereoptypes, however outdated they may be. Here’s but a few.
Rum is not chic: hard stuff suitable for slaves, pirates and sailors, the plebs’ rotgut—evidence of this is the fact that rum is the only eau de vie that has thrived based on waste, that is, molasses, a residue left from the crystallisation process when producing sugar, judiciously recycled during distillation. And rum is too sweet for that matter: at a pinch you could use it to flavour desserts. Lack of complexity—woody notes, vanilla, toffee, end of story. Something to discharge in cocktail form, only good for rehydrating the mint leaves of a mojito or being drowned in Coke. Most of the consumption focuses on white rums, which haven’t been aged and will never receive the patina made by time and oak barrels : the complete opposite of a spirit worthy of a tasting, isn’t it? The list goes on and on—pinch me.
However, beyond these preconceptions, many links bridge the gap between these two worlds. And, if you go about it methodically, you should be able to demonstrate fairly easily that any whisky enthusiast is also a rum fan without knowing it, a lost soul that hasn’t met yet with the right bottle, the one that will make him stagger.
You should know first that, if “whisky” covers a wide range of realities and aromas, this is even more true of “rum”. A French agricultural rum, a ron latino from Central America, a light Cuban or Puerto Rican rum and an “English” style rum imported from Jamaica or Barbados share about as many commonalities as a carp, a rabbit and a hybrid of a star-nosed mole and a cockchafer. Nothing. In. Common.
In order to lure whisky connoisseurs, you need first to dismiss sweet rums from Latin America (Diplomatico, Zacapa, most flasks from the Dominican Republic…), which, regardless of their intrinsic quality, will caramelise his or her glottis. While you’re at it, forget about entry-level products among light industrial rums (Bacardi, Havana Club, Brugal…): accustomed to complex aromas, malt connoisseurs will be under the impression that they’re downing vodka.
Direct them first towards aged rums as dry as whisky [Breaking news! Not all rums are sweet, far from it]: French agricultural rums (made from freshly squeezed sugar cane juice rather than molasses), beverages from Jamaica, Saint Lucia or Barbados, flasks produced by independent bottlers who don’t “soften” the flavour (Velier, Mezan, Bristol, Fair, Chantal Comte, Rum & Cane, the vast majority of Compagnie des Indes’ bottlings …).
The dry stiffness of aged agricultural rums is your best ally in this evangelisation campaign. Take a look at brands such as Depaz (XO), HSE, J.Bally (7 and 12-year-old), J.M. (XO and vintages), La Favorite, Neisson, Saint James (7, 12 and 15-year-old), Karukera, Reimonenq…
Among molasses rums, vote in favour of English style rums (those from former British dominions, if you can make sense of the colonial mess), as they are quite heavy, most of the time dry (or reasonably softened)—mainly Jamaica, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Guyana, Trinidad, Belize. Most of the time, the first four regions make rums that are pot distilled (like Scottish single malts) and column distilled, and this detail will resonate loud and clear with malt connoisseurs.
If you can, don’t hesitate to choose full proof versions bottled straight from the barrel, which haven’t been watered down and the alcohol levels of which will napalm the future convert’s trachea: a whisky nerd has a masochistic streak and will thank you for this kick.
To endoctrinate peated whisky fans (a real sect, this lot), your best bet is shameless trickery. Make them taste a rum that’s been refined in casks that once held an Islay single malt: HSE (Islay Finish), Ferroni (the new Boucan d’Enfer), Compagnie des Indes (the much-vaunted Boulet de Canon series). Or give them a Caroni, the Port Ellen of rum, a former distillery in Trinidad, the beverages of which often have notes of tar and sometimes give you the impression that you’re sipping a shot of petrol served on a burnt tyre.
This is a shoddy trick but, just between you and me, a spirits connoisseur who kneels in only one chapel, even one dedicated to the whisky god, and has no curiosity for anything else, does not deserve to be treated with subtlety. Even if it’s for their own good.