Most people have close connections to spirits when they grew up around them or close to where they are made. Or they’ve traveled to said place and formed their own special bond with the local spirit, whatever that may be. But is it possible for someone to have neither grown up in nor traveled to the Caribbean to fall head over heels for rum? Absolutely. I am that someone.
I grew up thirty minutes away from Franklin County, Virginia, a place that some of you may know as the “Moonshine Capital of the World.” It is the opposite of a tropical paradise. There, locals most likely equate rum with “spiced,” or a certain white-bottled, coconut-flavored liqueur brand. With the ever-growing popularity of craft cocktails, many small American towns that didn’t have bars with fresh juices or esoteric spirits are starting to see changes, but save for a few businesses that have started to spread the good word of sugarcane, rum does not have a large presence in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yet.
So how did my journey with rum begin?
Fast forward a few years and I find myself living in New Orleans, what many locals lovingly call “The Northernmost Caribbean City.” Enter stage right: Cane & Table. This is where it all began for me. While slinging rum drinks behind this bar I was able to form a family of lifelong friends (including my soon-to-be-husband), expand my knowledge of everything sugarcane, meet fellow rum nerds from all over the world, and, of course, develop a deep affection for rum.
But I can’t give Cane & Table all the credit, especially in a city like New Orleans, which has had a long love affair and history with rum. Places like Manolito and Latitude 29 have given New Orleans access to not only multiple styles of rum, but different takes on what one can do with it. Do you want a classic Cuban take on rum cocktails, or do you want to explore the whimsical world of tiki? (The correct answer, of course, is both.)
This is what makes rum so special: It has many different forms and characteristics. Rum represents so many places across the globe, each with its own special take on what rum is and how it should be made. I have met people that are put off by the sheer quantity of rums that are being produced or the multiple styles that exist. I say, “You’re boring! I revel in it. Give me more!”
Rum is by the people, for the people. Rum doesn’t care where you come from, how much money you make, where you live, or who you know. It’s for everyone from all walks of life. When customers or friends tell me they don’t like rum, I let them know they just haven’t found the one for them. There is a style of rum out there for everyone, you just have to find what you like.
To me, rum is the drink of hospitality. It is the ultimate ice-breaker, the life of the party, the blending of cultures. It is history in a glass and, man, does it taste good.
Side note: I will one day make my pilgrimage to the Caribbean and Mexico, where some of my favorite rums are made. Until then, I have New Orleans.