When traveling around the Caribbean on a sailing vacation, sampling the local foods and and drinks can be a great way to relax and enjoy the location. Targeting specific beverages such as Caribbean rums is one example of really getting into the vacation mood. Here is a little insight into the options and history associate with our favorite drink.
The History of Caribbean Rum
Back in the day, pirates and the sailors of the British Royal Navy didn’t just use rum for recreation while on long trips. To keep the crew hydrated, ships typically stored three types of liquid on board: water, beer, and Caribbean rum. First, they’d drink the water. But because the clear stuff was the most rapid to go rancid, they could only rely on it for so long before turning to the beer—which has a longer shelf life. When the brews were all tapped out, they’d move on to the Caribbean rum, which could sit in the ship’s bowels for the longest period of time without going bad. The trouble with the rum was it tended to cause intoxication.
Caribbean Rum even has some cool nicknames, like Kill-Devil, Nelson’s blood, demon water, pirate’s drink, navy neaters, and Barbados water. Oh, and if you were issued a second rum ration by the British Navy, the order was called “splicing the mainbrace”.
Drinking Caribbean Rum
Around the world, Caribbean rum is also mostly misused and misunderstood. Most Americans think of it as liquor that should be mixed with coke or bad pina colada mixes. But not down here! Down here we drink great rum. Made from sugar cane or molasses, aged for 30 years or not at all, in stainless steel or French oak, the rums of the Caribbean are as diverse as the islands they call home. Many are better than fine cognac – with flavors so rich, that expert’s descriptions of the best rums sound more like fine wine than liquor.
I, of course, have my favorites…. too many really. But after much sampling, here are my top four Caribbean rums for 2014
The island of Martinique produces rhum agricoles. Caribbean rum expert and importer Ed Hamilton is passionate about these rhums in particular, as he thinks they exemplify true artisanship in rum production. In Martinique, sugarcane is harvested near the distilleries, and almost immediately the fermentation and distilling process begins. “Rum is so much about locality,” he says. “It is the most diverse of distilled spirits. Authenticity and transparency are the marks of a great distiller.” My favorite Martinique rhum, by far, is Rhum Clement’s Cuvée Homère. Hamilton says “It rivals the finest Cognac but is still very much a rum, with a luxuriantly rich, toasty, browned-butter essence.” I always keep a bottle on our crewed charter catamaran, Bella Vita.
Puerto Rican Rums
The Caribbean rums of Puerto Rico are, for the most part, distilled to meet the tastes of locals, but the rum style has also been heavily influenced by the American market, which is largely dominated by Puerto Rican rums like Bacardi. Molasses-based, Puerto Rican rums tend to be light-bodied, though in recent years there has been a shift toward more complex, flavorful, aged rums. By far the best of these is Don Q Anejo. This rum is aged in American oak barrels for between three and five years. It’s smooth and lightly sweet with notes of vanilla and molasses, and it has a nice dry finish.
Only one distillery operates in Guyana, but it’s a good one. Demerara Distillers. They are responsible for a variety of Caribbean rums, all of them generally heavier and richer in style than other Caribbean rums, all made from molasses. They also own and operate the last remaining wooden stills in the Caribbean, the use of which gives Guyanese rums a truly distinctive character.
The best of these, again, by far, is El Dorado. The 25 year old variety is truly a gold standard. El Dorado is available in the BVI and should be a staple in every charter boat’s liquor cabinet.
Rums of the Virgin Islands
Finally, from right here in the BVI, Sebastian’s spiced rum rounds out my list. Sebastian’s is really more of a dessert than rum. It is remarkably sweet and smooth.
My favorite two ways to enjoy a Sebastian’s, both after a great day of sailing, are over ice cream and on the rocks with a twist of lemon. Next time you come sailing on a crewed yacht charter, insist that your captain take you by their wonderful restaurant for a sampling!