A Whisky Drinker’s Introduction to Rhum

A glencairn of whisky sitting by the sea

A Whisky Drinker’s Introduction to Rhum

Drinks for a Summer’s Day

A slow day of working at the kitchen table, a slow summer sun meandering across the sky and, at the end of the day, a nice slow drink? We have all had a little more time on our hands of late, and there has been opportunity for some of us to get to know our tipples a bit better – by taking things a little slower. It has been a perfect time to get into your whisky.

But considering the intermittent heat and respecting the current season… does your heart perhaps long for a more summery drink? Do you secretly hope there will be a piña colada at the end of your government sanctioned walk in the rain?

Yellow flowering gorse, Scotland
Summery Scottish Gorse

A Drink for Every Occasion 

We whisky fans are often, perhaps more often than we realise, interested in the whole spectrum of alcoholic beverages. I know a certain whisky scientist who covets a G and T. I have seen with my own eyes Cask 88’s own Sam Laing actively enjoy a glass of cabernet sauvignon. When you develop your palate for whisky, you prepare your palate for all fine liquids.

And what drink is more perfect for a summer’s day than rum? The sweet but complex flavours, its open invitation to ice, the liquid lightly crashing against the side of the glass like a carribean wave crashes against those white sands.

What is There to Know About Rum for a Whisky Drinker?

Well first of all, there are two standard ingredients with which you can make rum:

Rum, with familiar spelling, is the one you are most likely to have found at your local pub, probably in a clinking glass filled with cola. Molasses are its key raw ingredient, a byproduct of sugar refining, and it encompasses the categories of dark rum, golden rum and white rum.

Rhum, note that extra ‘h’, is made of a more premium raw material: fresh sugar-cane juice. As such, it is much harder to find. Being a slightly fancier drink, rhum also has its own full, proper name: Rhum Agricole. French is of course the fanciest of languages. Martinique is currently the only country who produces rhum to be guided by regulation; they categorise by age with the youngest rhum being matured for 3 months and the oldest, Rhum Agricole Vieux, at least 3 years in an oak cask. Sound familiar?

Similiar Processes, Different Flavours

In fact, there are a few similarities between rhum and whisky. First of all maturation: both Martinique Rhum Vieux and Scotch Whisky must be matured for at least 3 years in an oak cask before they can be sold as such. Although not a law, oak maturation is also commonly practised with other rhums such as those from Guyana and Nicaragua. Both whisky and rhum develop colour and flavour from this process, getting darker and more golden in tone and picking up richer and spicier flavours. This level of care in the creation of whisky and rhum does encourage the conscientious drinker to enjoy them neat and slowly, taking time to roll the golden liquid around your tongue and gently note the flavours. Here, though, a difference arises

Their flavours are subtly different: a sip of rhum will often give you fruity notes that are fresh, tropical and ripe. A whisky of similar age may also be fruity but instead with apple, pear or even a citrus note. That essential ingredient in whisky, barley, creates a malty, biscuity foundation whereas the sugar-cane in rhum will give a more fresh, vegetal base note. Yet with longer maturation both may typically gain that rich, oaky  sweetness. You could say they were foster brothers with the same upbringing: their paths may take similar routes but their essential characters are always going to be different.

Sugarcane
Sugar Cane – Shutterstock

Brothers of the Spirits World

And yet these two brothers of the alcohol world, one living amongst the warm palm trees and the other among the wind-swept bracken, show themselves of the same stock again when you look at the technicalities of how they are made. Both are distilled, with the rhum producers using a variation of the Coffey still used to make Scotch . Both have expert craftsmen who carefully monitor this process and will tell you if you ask, with a serious look in their eye, that an essential part of the flavour depends on their distillation. Their processes create an excess of energy that can and have been given back to the grid, with both rhum and whisky occasionally giving back to their national electricity boards – on opposite sides of the world.

Both Industries Boast Extremely Passionate People

Some of you may have seen our Lock-In episode where Sam and Guyanese Rhum expert Yonnick David sample the same rums, together, from opposite sides of the world. They were tasting the new Cask 88 rhum and when it is released you can find it here. During Sam’s tasting with Yonnick, another similarity became clear: both industries boast extremely passionate people. Yonnick exhibits the same detailed knowledge of his spirit, from the science to the history, that we are familiar with as whisky geeks. That geekiness is matched by epicurean senses; at one point during the tasting both Sam and Yonnick pause, blown away by flavour, right after their first sip of rhum. And earlier this year, before it all, Yonnick created and held Guyana’s first ever rum festival in an act of enthusiasm and zeal so familiar to those of us who have seen the Scotch Whisky community bloom over the last few years.

Two men excited to sample some rums. One holds a whisky glass in the air - it is full of rhum. They are having a Zoom tasting.
Yonnick and Sam, a whisky fan, trying our new rhums

While we can’t all meet together quite yet, we can explore different and new liquids at home, such as rhum. I think now is the time to hone our craft in other directions and dabble in new things. So that we will be filled with even more to share when we finally do meet again.

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