While the number of rumheads is growing, nerdom around rum has not yet reached the heights of a spirit like whiskey. To riff on a Billy Joel classic, many people limit their rum consumption to a bottle of dark, a bottle of light. But the world of the sugar cane spirit is much more diverse and nuanced than that. We chatted with Kenneth McCoy, founding partner of New York’s Ward III and the Rum House, which boasts a rum list nearly 100 bottles long, about what people miss when they buy rum, whether they’re at the liquor store or the bar.
The next time you’re in the market for rum, don’t make these mistakes:
Sticking Only with the Bottles You Know
“For years,” says McCoy, “people went into a store and when they thought about rum they thought, ‘There’s a pirate guy and there’s a palm tree.’” Whether it was because of market domination (just three brands account for 60 percent of American rum sales) or perhaps just a lack of curiosity, many drinkers stuck to buying a small number of rums. But McCoy emphasizes that there’s a lot going on in rum now, so take an extra couple minutes to peruse the aisle. He points to Rhum J.M. from Martinique as one that is probably quite different than some of the most commonly purchased rums. “It’s got all these grassy notes … and it’s a rum that really gives you terroir.”
Only Buying Rum That Comes From an Island
When you think rum, you may think pirate, and when you think pirate, you think boat, and eventually your game of word association leads you to the Caribbean islands. But, as McCoy points out, “You can make rum anywhere.” He points to Venezuela and Guyana in South America as rum regions that are worth your time. But you should try experimenting with bottles from all over Central America and the northern part of South America.
Never Getting a Rum to Sip on Its Own
Whiskey shouldn’t be the only thing you drink neat. McCoy goes out of his way to say he’d never tell you how you have to drink any particular bottle of rum, but he does think that there are a lot of rums out there better served on their own instead of in a Daiquiri or a Painkiller. Go out and get something old—a 12-year-old rum may be the best bargain you’ll find for an aged spirit.
Never Buying an Expensive Bottle of Rum
When held up against spirits like whiskey, tequila or mezcal, rum is a steal. “You can get a decent bottle for 23, 24 bucks,” says McCoy. But just because you can get totally usable rum for bottom shelf prices doesn’t mean you always should. There are small batch and rare rums with prices closer to that of a mid-priced whiskey that may well be over twice what you normally pay for a bottle of rum. McCoy is particularly fond of Foursquare, a Barbadian rum brand with some releases of fewer than 2,000 bottles. Right now prices can push $100 for a bottle at the liquor store, but they’re increasingly getting scooped up by collectors and rumheads—so don’t wait. If you’re willing to splurge once in a while, you can get something truly memorable.