By Alison Bailin Batz
Believe it or not, while they certainly popularized it, pirates did not, in fact, invent rum. It was actually 17th-century sugar farmers in the Caribbean with far too much residual molasses on their hands after harvesting sugar who developed the first process to distill rum.
Today, rum sales in the U.S. are north of $2 billion per year alone. So, before your next afternoon poolside, brush up on your rum lore about three brands that helped the spirit succeed and make it a warm-weather favorite.
Among the most popular brands is, of course, Captain Morgan. Originally developed and distributed out of the Caribbean island of Jamaica and named in honor of 17th-century pirate lord Captain Henry Morgan – one of the most notable pirates of all time – Captain Morgan has grown to be the second largest spirit brand in the U.S.
The brand’s taste is achieved through a proprietary recipe, which is blended into the rum mixture at the final stages of production, making use of spices indigenous to the Caribbean.
In recent months, the brand has expanded its portfolio, launching its newest product, Captain Morgan Loconut ($14.99), which blends real coconut liqueur with rum and spices, perfect as a spring mixer of beach-infused flavor.
Like Caribbean islanders, Puerto Rican farmers also saw the benefit of recycling molasses into rum. Don Q, the region’s most popular brand, started with Don Juan Serrallés, who transformed his family’s small sugar cane business into rum more than 150 years ago. Using a pot still he imported from France, he produced the first casks of rum sold under the Serrallés name, laying the foundation for the Don Q legacy and also for Puerto Rico to become a world leader in rum production.
Today, sixth-generation Serrallés distiller Roberto continues his family’s legacy with a variety of sustainably produced expressions, including the Gran Anejo ($59.99), a luxury rum that contains a blend of rums aged between nine and 12 years and Solera rums aged up to 50 years. The result is a balanced rum with a smooth finish, showcasing hints of vanilla, honey and caramel. This rum is perfect for sipping neat or using in a classic Old-Fashioned cocktail.
The town of Zacapa was founded in 1876 as a bustling railroad stop in Guatemala. Zacapa’s first formal rum product was initially developed in 1976 as a centennial-themed spirit distilled from the first pressing of sugar cane, which is called the “virgin honey,” and is cultivated in the fertile, volcanic soil of the Guatemalan coast. Over the past 40 years, Zacapa’s premium rum products have won awards across the globe and run the gamut of flavors, from butterscotch to oaky. Among their most impressive varietals is the Zacapa XO Rum ($99.99), which has notes of dark cherry chocolate, dried fruits and sweet oak spices. In fact, it is often called the “cognac of rums” and is almost always only taken neat, so as not to cloud the intense flavor.