Rum is far and away the most diverse spirit category, placing it simultaneously among the most exciting arenas in the modern drink world and the hardest to parse. Because it’s produced across the globe, one of the most useful ways to categorize the vast output is by country of origin—Martinique, Puerto Rico, Japan to name a few—but even then, there is plenty of room for variation based on everything from raw material (sugar cane vs. molasses, for example) and distillation type (pot still vs. column still) to finishing barrel and age.
Jamaican rum is no exception, offering refined expressions, typically comprising blended column- and pot-stilled distillates, as well as those that boast a funkier profile, called “hogo,” which is characterized by an aroma of overripe banana. It’s this latter note that has become the calling card of the category and is found across both aged and unaged expressions. Here, get to know the rum responsible for bringing that characteristic “rum” flavor to just about any cocktail.
Bottles to Try
Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum
A blend of rums produced at distilleries across the island, Smith & Cross is a funky, pot-stilled Jamaican rum that showcases the archetypal flavors of the category—baking spices and caramelized banana—in a bottling that is the keystone to countless rum cocktails, including the modern classic Kingston Negroni.
Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve
There’s a softer side of Jamaican rum, and few bottles capture it with the deftness of Worthy Park’s flagship offering. Though produced on a pot still (rather than by a blend of column- and pot-stilled liquid), the single-estate rum is more delicate than Smith & Cross, thanks to the absence of dunder (i.e. the yeast-laden leftovers after a run on the still often reincorporated to create that trademark funk) in the distillation process. The result has all the character you’d expect from a pot-stilled product aged between six and 10 years, without an overwhelming hogo aroma.
Wray & Nephew Overproof Rum
Commonly known simply as Wray & Nephew, this blend of column- and pot-stilled rum is bottled at a staggering 126 proof. But its inherent kick is part of the appeal that has made Wray & Nephew the most consumed rum in its native Jamaica. Stateside, it’s likewise the most common expression of the unaged, overproof style and, along with its close sibling Rum Fire, has found a devoted following for its powerful punch.
A Jamaican-born grapefruit soda, Ting is one half of Jamaica’s most iconic cocktail, known alternately as Rum & Ting or Ting With a Sting. As the name suggests, the mixture is a simple highball consisting of rum (typically unaged and overproof) topped with Ting, but despite its simplicity—or precisely because of it—the drink has become the unofficial cocktail of Jamaica.
Swizzle Stick and Swizzle Cup
The king of Caribbean cocktails, the swizzle is, at its core, a simple mixture of rum, crushed ice, bitters and citrus that makes for an ideal showcase of Jamaica’s full-bodied, aromatic rums. This dedicated swizzle cup and requisite swizzle stick (known as a bois lele after the tree from which it’s derived) ensure a fast, uniform chill without disturbing the layers of the mixture. You’ll know it’s ready when a frosty layer forms on the exterior of the cup. Use it to make a Queen’s Park Swizzle or a Green Swizzle.
Around 2009, right as the Negroni was becoming an industry darling, Joaquín Simó, then a bartender at Death & Co. in New York, popped the recently introduced Smith & Cross Jamaican rum into the familiar aperitivo blueprint. “It strikes me as strange that the first thought I had when smelling and tasting this funky, estery, hogo-reeking, grilled banana bread, smoking allspice, brute of an overproof Jamaican rum was, ‘How do I work this into a stirred aperitivo?’” recalls Simó. But the Kingston Negroni has gone on to become a veritable modern classic and a worthy showcase for the funky side of Jamaican rum.
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