Rum isn’t a spirit that likes to be rushed, but it has experienced rapid change in the past decade – it is now made in more than 50 countries from Cuba and Japan to Guatemala and Scotland, in multiple different ways. It is evolving outwards and it’s heading upwards, too – the “premium and above” category grew 26 per cent by volume between 2020 and 2021 (IWSR). The easy-come, easy-go party drink is now increasingly being recognised as a serious sipping spirit.

Much of the drive upmarket has come from its heartland, the Caribbean, where distillers are doing more to highlight rum-making technique and regional variation. Foursquare Rum in Barbados has been a trailblazer, campaigning for tighter regulations and appellation systems. The pinnacle of its range is the Exceptional Cask Selection, a collection of limited-edition aged rums that speak a language more like whisky. Undiluted, single cask, non-chill-filtered, unsweetened and sometimes vintage, they are rum at its most cerebral. The latest release, Foursquare Touchstone (£90), is a 14-year-old blend of rums aged in American oak and finished cognac casks; a harmonious marriage of classic Bajan spiciness and French refinement.

Appleton Estate 15yo Black River Cask, £66.94,
Appleton Estate 15yo Black River Cask, £66.94, © Campari Group/Appleton Estate/Scarfes Bar, London

Jamaica’s oldest rum producer, Appleton Estate, has some of the most extensive rum archives in the Caribbean – archives it has been plundering to create some delicious sipping spirits. The indulgent Appleton Estate 15yo Black River Cask (£66.94, wraps the distillery’s signature orange-zest notes in silky layers of tiramisu, chocolate and prune. The deeper mahogany Appleton Estate 21yo (£150, sees that citrus character mature into thick-cut marmalade; the finish reveals sweet coffee, soft leather, spices and almond cake.

Appleton Estate 21yo, £150,
Appleton Estate 21yo, £150, © Campari Group/Appleton Estate

On the north coast of Jamaica, amid sugar-cane fields and banana trees, lies Hampden, a 200-year-old estate famous for using some of the country’s most traditional rum-making techniques. Chief among these is the use of “muck” and “dunder” – preparations of fermented organic matter and spent yeast – which are added to the fermentation to give their rums a signature tropical funk and pungency. The results can be an acquired taste – think papaya, sour apple, black banana, fermented pineapple and blue cheese – but they’re prized among connoisseurs for their character and authenticity (from £69.25,

Cane fields at Grenada’s Renegade distiller
Cane fields at Grenada’s Renegade distiller

Rum can reflect regional tradition. But can it actually taste of a place? This is the question being probed by the young Grenadian distillery Renegade. Founded by whisky entrepreneur Mark Reynier (formerly of Islay’s Bruichladdich and also founder of Waterford distillery in Ireland), Renegade draws inspiration from Scotch whisky and winemaking. It grows several varieties of sugar cane on different plots around the island, and distils each plot individually to create a library of terroir-driven, single- variety, vintage distillates. The rums are distilled from fresh sugar-cane juice, rather than molasses, to preserve varietal transparency. And every release is labelled with a code that allows you to dial up a forensic level of detail. From the loamy clay of Mango Lan’ to the parched slopes of Goat Hill, each rum has a strong identity. “They’re so aromatic,” says Renegade’s environmental and marketing manager Jane Nurse. “They just sing.”

Clairin Vaval 2020, £54.45,
Clairin Vaval 2020, £54.45,

The Mai Tai

The Mai Tai has become a totem of Tiki kitsch – a cocktail jacked up on tropical juices, day-glo syrups and tacky garnishes. But the original sour, created by Trader Vic in 1944, was actually quite a simple drink; it was meant to showcase the rum and it was all the better for it. Trader Vic famously made it with Wray and Nephew 17yo, which he described as a “great rum…golden in colour, medium bodied, but with the rich, pungent flavour particular to the Jamaican blends”.

The rum was discontinued in 1981, but it has been recreated by Appleton Estate (which is part of Wray & Nephew) for a limited run of 1,500 bottles ($500, Appleton’s master blender Joy Spence describes the project as “one of the most challenging of my career. With the finish of delicately smooth, warm oak, it has a profile that stands apart from many of our other rums.”

The only question, with a rum this rare, is: do you dare to mix it? 


50ml Appleton Estate 17-Year-Old Legend

15ml lime juice

15ml orange curaçao

15ml orgeat (almond syrup)

Glass: rocks.

Garnish: mint sprig and lime wedge or hull.

Method: shake with ice and strain over ice.

The first pair of lightly aged rums, Études, was recently released. Études: Pearls is made from Yellow Lady cane grown between mangrove and water meadows – it has fresh cane notes and an appetising salinity. Its counterpart New Bacolet, from the sun-baked hills, shows more dried fruit and sweet spice (both £59.95, If you enjoy a bit of speculation, you can now also buy Renegade rum by the cask and lay it down to age as part of the distillery’s new en primeur programme (from £4,950,

Another secret handshake among fans is the Haitian label Clairin, which bottles artisan sugar-cane-juice spirits from some of the country’s 500-plus micro-distilleries. Made from native sugar-cane varieties and sold unaged and undiluted, these spirits have the fire and purity of eaux-de-vie, with flavour profiles that range from more rustic and spicy through to delicately citrussy and grassy. Try the herbal Clairin Vaval 2020 (£54.45,

Prices for even very top rums remain relatively restrained (at least compared to whisky) – but according to Dawn Davies, head buyer at The Whisky Exchange, the investors are circling: “There is a growing appetite for investible rums, and we see many of these rums selling instantly upon release. At the moment this is limited to a few distilleries but the number of investment-grade rums is growing daily.” If you haven’t started exploring the Caribbean’s sipping rums yet, you’ve got no time to waste. 


Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article