Sales of rum are soaring – so here’s our pick of the luxury bottles to try in 2021.
It’s hard to remember now, but not too long ago, people just didn’t get excited about gin. Sure, you’d be able to find a bottle of Beefeater behind the bar of every pub in Britain – but until 2009, when Sipsmith opened its first distillery in London, the juniper-based spirit was widely perceived as rather fusty and old-fashioned.
We all know what happened next, of course. Over the last 12 years, gin has exploded in popularity in the UK, creating an entire industry that simply didn’t exist at the turn of the millennium. By 2018, there were more than double the number of distilleries in Britain than there had been five years earlier. And in 2020, as we were collectively shut out of our favourite bars and pubs, gin sales in shops, supermarkets and online topped £1 billion for the first time.
Despite this, it wasn’t gin that was dubbed the “drink of lockdown” by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WTSA). That honour was bestowed on rum. Between April and June 2020, the equivalent of 1.3 million extra bottles of rum were sold in the UK, with the sugarcane-based liquor enjoying the biggest boom in sales of all spirits.
Our love for rum hasn’t abated as the pandemic has dragged on, either. Drinks retailer The Whisky Exchange has seen rum sales spike by almost three-quarters (71%) over the past year – and it’s now tipped to be one of the biggest drinks of 2021.
“The fact that rum as a category is very versatile and many consumers are ‘ginned out’ means their willingness to experiment with rum has increased,” Donna Waite, co-founder of monthly subscription box Craft Rum Club, tells Stylist.
“Rum also offers excellent value for money when compared to other dark spirits such as whiskey or bourbon, in terms of quality production, tropical ageing – up to three times faster in tropical climates as opposed to continental climates – [and] modern, appealing branding.”
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Rum’s resurgence didn’t come out of the blue. Market researchers Euromonitor predicted that luxury rum sales would increase by almost $230m between 2015 and 2020, and the number of rum brands on the UK market was rising steeply long before the pandemic hit. In Cornwall – where rum has deep roots, thanks to the region’s Poldark-famous history of seafaring and smuggling – there are now plans for a new £10m carbon-neutral rum distillery and visitor centre, based in an Eden Project-style biome and powered entirely by geothermal energy. All the signs suggest that we’ll soon be as into craft rum as we are discerning about gin.
The question is: how should we be drinking rum now? Lighter varieties might make you think of synthetic coconut-scented alcopops and cheap mixed drinks – but the new breed of high-end pale blends will make you forget all about that time you drank too many £2.50 rum and cokes at a student club night. Light-coloured rums are best used in summer-ready cocktails such as daiquiris and mojitos. Taj Sanghera, founder of new British-Indian rum brand Five Rivers, recommends shaking two measures of the clear liquor with ice, lime juice, sugar syrup, a dash of egg white and orgeat syrup or amaretto for a cross between a daiquiri and an amaretto sour.
At the other end of the colour spectrum are dark rums, which tend to be spicier, richer and more complex in flavour. These can be sipped slowly on their own, just like you’d take your time over a measure of Mexican mescal or Italian amaro. And somewhere in the middle are golden or amber rums, sales of which have been rising steadily in the UK in recent years. These have a mellower, fruitier taste than white rums and a crisper, more refreshing feel than dark varieties, and are equally at home drunk neat as they are in a cocktail.
Ready to invest in a bottle of seriously good rum? Find Stylist’s picks below.
London-based sisters Laura, Briget, Noella, Caroline and Kareen drew on their Cameroonian heritage when creating this golden spiced rum, which is inspired by flavours commonly found in in West Africa. Citrusy notes of orange peel and fever grass (aka lemongrass) are blended with the warming spice of cassia and ginger and the gentle sweetness of vanilla.
Five Rivers Indian Spiced Rum
Simply put, this is summer in a bottle. A dry white rum distilled with five Punjabi spices – namely coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and clove – it has a similar citrusy aroma and fresh-yet-complex flavour to a really good gin. Serve with Indian tonic water, ice and a slice of lime or use as the basis for all manner of minty, gingery, pineapple-y summer cocktails – the most important thing is to drink it in sunshine.
Diablesse Caribbean Golden Rum
Named after an ancient mythical temptress of Caribbean folklore, Diablesse is an independent, female-owned brand based in Manchester. This light golden rum – a spicy, complex spirit made by blending rums from three of the oldest distilleries in the Caribbean – is tropically aged in oak barrels for a rich depth of flavour, with delicious hints of pineapple, pepper and banana bread.
Equiano Original Rum
If you love dark rum, look no further than Equiano. The world’s first African and Caribbean rum is a warm, deep and buttery blend of spirits from two respected distilleries in Barbados and Mauritius, that’s as delicious sipped neat as it is swirled into a dark and stormy. We’re also excited about the forthcoming Equiano Light Rum, launching 12 April.
Better yet, the brand – which is named after Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian-born writer who helped abolish slavery in Britain in the 18th century – donates £2 for every bottle sold to Anti-Slavery International, supporting its work fighting modern slavery.
Don Papa Small Batch Rum
This single-island rum is made in Negros in the Philippines, a region renowned for the high quality of its sugar cane (to the extent it’s known locally as Sugarlandia). Fruity, sweet and mellow, it’s matured in oak barrels for seven years before being bottled, and is perfect for using as the key ingredient in cocktails.