The afternoon I visited the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, the atmosphere was electric, and the air was perfumed with the sweet aroma of the spirit that thousands of people flocked to celebrate -- rum.
Pirates, tiki enthusiasts, and plain old rum lovers filled the main hall of the Miami Airport Convention Center in search of their favorite rum or cocktail. The only problem: How could they possibly choose from the 200 available rums for the sipping?
I took one for the team, tasting light coconut rums and dark, complex aged spirits until I came up with a list of the ten rums to look out for. Here they are.
10. Gosling's Dark and Stormy in a Can
This classic Bermuda cocktail is now available in a handy pool-perfect can. A blend of Gosling's Black Seal Bermuda rum and ginger beer might be this summer's biggest hit. Available at most liquor stores for about $10 for a four-pack.
9. Mount Gay 1703
Although founded in 1703, the Mount Gay distillery might actually go back farther than that. As it is, it's the oldest known rum brand in existence. The company's 1703 premium selection is blended from the distillery's private reserves, with each rum aged ten to 30 years. The result is a spirit with deep tobacco, oak, and spicy notes. It's smooth but intense at the same time and retails for about $112.
8. Bayou Rum in a Bag
This Louisiana spirit is available in spiced and silver blends. It's a great mixer, but what's so genius is the new portable container that resembles a juice pouch. But it's pure spirit. Boaters, this one's for you. Soon to launch in South Florida.
7. Owney's New York Rum
Rum made in Brooklyn? With New York tap water? Sounds like a gimmick, but the result is a crisp spirit with strong anise and herbal notes. Available online at astorwines.com ($34.99).
6. Koloa Coconut
Distilled in Hawaii and made with the finest sugar cane, this coconut rum leaves all others in the dust by actually tasting like coconut (and not suntan lotion). Mix it with fresh pineapple juice or add it to a mojito for a great-tasting, refreshing drink ($34.99).
5. Pusser's Nelson's Blood Rum
When Admiral Nelson was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar, his body was transported home in a cask of Pusser's rum to preserve it for the long voyage back to England. Of course, the good men on the ship drilled a hole and proceeded to drain the cask of its precious liquid cargo little by little. They called it "Nelson's blood." This is the original recipe (sans Nelson, of course) (around $80 in a special flask).
4. Selvarey Cacao Rum
This Panamanian rum is relatively new to the market (Bruno Mars is a partner), but don't think this spirit is a flash in the pan. The cacao variety has rich cocoa and hazelnut tones, making it a perfect after-dinner drink or nightcap. It's also a great addition to classic tiki recipes. Selvarey, which means "King of the Jungle" (hence the primate on the label), is just starting its U.S. roll-out.
3. Papa's Pilar Blonde
The first spirit licensed by the Hemingway family, Papa's Pilar was released about a year ago. While the dark gets its lion's share of attention, don't bypass the blonde. Fuller-bodied than a clear or "silver," this wheat-colored rum has honey and citrus notes and makes a superior addition to your Papa Doble ($29.99).
2. Origines 30-Year
Francisco "Don Pancho" Fernandez, one of the foremost experts in Cuban rum-making for 45 years, has finally put his name on a bottle. The master is releasing three expressions -- eight-, 18-, and 30-year-olds. All are worthy additions to your bar, but the 30-year-old is an investment you should make. It's currently online at a little more than $200 overseas and will be launched in Miami shortly.
1. Ron Barcelo Imperial Premium Blend
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Beautifully displayed in a decanter reminiscent of Louis XIII, this premium blend actually resembles a fine cognac with its aroma of dried fruits, vanilla, and caramel. Collectible, drinkable, and -- around $120 a bottle -- worth a prominent place at your home bar.