Rum is not the new whiskey. Rum is rum, and it is delicious — or at least it can be. Made from sugar cane and most often mixed with molasses, rum naturally has some sweetness to it. Some critics may characterize it as too sweet, but what often gives rum its cloying sweetness is actually a chaser, or the insistence of the mass production brands to focus more on the rum's mixability and potency rather than flavor. Rum can be refreshing in cocktail form — there's nothing wrong with a mai tai or mojito as simple pleasures. But if you really want to experience rum, consider having it neat, on the rocks or with a splash of water.
Here are seven rums that can and should be enjoyed by themselves, no tropical umbrellas necessary. Prices will vary slightly by location.
Angostura 1919, $34.99
Hailing from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, the Angostura company is well known for its bitters, but it also produces aged rums that are worth a try. Angostura 1919 is a good introduction to rum for those who appreciate the spirit's sweetness but want to try something more refined. It's a blend of aged rums that has a strong vanilla-caramel smell that, at first sip, melts straight into the flavor of a Werther's Original candy. www.angostura.com.
Appleton Estate Extra 12, $33.99
The Appleton Estate had the rum industry's first female Master Blender, Joy Spence, in 1997. The Estate is located in Cockpit Country, near Maroon country in Jamaica. The distillery has been crafting rums for over 265 years and the soil in this area provides ideal sugar cane growing conditions. The rum is delicate with oak and molasses and finishes bittersweet. www.appletonestate.com.
Clément V.S.O.P. Rhum Agricole Vieux, $32.99
To be able to call itself a Martinique "Rhum Agricole Vieux" rum, the spirit has to, among other technical requirements, have at least 40% alcohol (the typical level for all rums), be aged for at least three uninterrupted years, and be made purely from fresh sugar cane juice, no syrup or molasses added. This pure base is then fermented, distilled and aged, in the case of Clément V.S.O.P. in virgin Limousin barriques (French oak) and re-charred bourbon casks. This results in a rum that has a meaty fruit taste, with hints of fig, grape and pear, surrounded by more herbal peppery notes. www.rhumclementusa.com.
El Dorado 15, $49.99
Coming in rich and strong, this rum is produced by large producer Demerara Distillers in South America, but no quality is lost in the scale of this operation. Now Guyana, in South America, Demerara was the name of the former Dutch colony and home to the large-grained raw sugar of the same name. And don't be fooled by the green glass bottle — beneath it is a deep mahogany rum, a result of the the fermented molasses. Its color hints at the rum's even deeper taste that leaves a bourbon-like spice mix with zero burn. www.theeldoradorum.com.
1998 Faultline 17-Year-Old “K&L Exclusive” Caribbean Rum, $59.99
K&L Wines creates exclusive spirits through its Faultline brand, whose most recent rum offering is a 17-year-old Caribbean blend. It has the full body taste of a Jamaican rum, with a hint of allspice. This complex taste could be too heavy, but in this 17-year-old's case it's not, as it combines with a lighter, Spanish style. Because of its age and open fermentation process, the rum has a fabulous funk to it, especially at the end of a sip. Its nose: bananas followed by an aged cheese flavor. And it packs a punch at 100 proof. www.klwines.com
FourSquare Port Cask, $34.99
K&L spirit buyer David Othenin-Girard lauds FourSquare as one of the best rum distilleries in a general sense, in part because of its commitment to not use additives or flavorings. These standards are maintained by Richard Seale, who has over nine decades of rum blending in his blood. Mr. Seale and his family, who have been trading and distilling rum since 1926, re-opened FourSquare in Barbados in the 90s. Any of the exceptional cask-range rums are worth trying, but the Port Cask Finish is especially distinctive. It is a blend that passes through a double maturation process, aging three years in ex-bourbon barrels, followed by six years in ex-ruby port barrels. The taste of port is discernible but does not overpower the rum's bittersweet dark chocolate and black pepper-forward herb bouquet.
Santa Teresa 1796 Ron Antiguo, $39.99
Well-rounded may sound like a euphemism for boring, but in the case of Santa Teresa, this description is not only accurate but also exciting. Not many rums are as balanced as this one, made by a German family in Venezuela. It is hard to pick out distinct scents, but orange and lime rise to the top. Aged in American and French barrels for more than 25 years using the Solera system — a process of aging and mixing different ages of rums (young with old), the balanced taste ends in a light wood flavor. This is a rum to fall in love with. ronsantateresa.com.
Where to buy rum in Los Angeles:
Cap N' Cork Junior Market, 1674 Hillhurst Ave. Los Angeles, (323) 665-7880, www.capncork.com.
K&L Wine Merchants, 1400 Vine St. Hollywood, (323) 464-WINE, www.klwines.com.
Vendome Wine & Spirits, multiple locations throughout Los Angeles, www.vendometolucalake.com.