Unless you’ve had your head under the duvet for the last month or two (not that I’d blame you), you’ll be aware that sea shanties have become a bit of A Thing during lockdown 3, especially on TikTok, where they’ve spawned the hashtag #shantytok. The beneficiaries may not be just postal workers who have been suddenly shoved into the limelight, but rum producers themselves, whose moment may have finally come after years of being touted as the new gin.
Rum certainly seems to be increasingly popular among the UK’s 560-plus distillers, several of whom have added one to their ranges. I can’t say I’m crazy about the idea of Jaffa Cake Rum, which you can now buy on Amazon and elsewhere online, should you be so minded, or “botanical” rums such as Mad City that are made to taste like gin. I’m sure I’m not the target audience for either of those, but even some in the industry have reservations: “Spice and flavoured rums are a danger to the rum market in the same way that flavoured gins are to gin,” says Dawn Davies of The Whisky Exchange, which has seen rum sales soar by 71% in the past year. “There are too many now, and the quality is low, which is what happened to gin.”
Interestingly, Davies’ company has decided to move away from the traditional classification of rums as gold and dark, on the basis that consumers don’t understand what the terms mean. Well, her firm should know, but personally I think colour helps – lighter rums are better for drinks such as daiquiris and mojitos, while darker, spicier ones are more suited to sipping. As with gin and whisky, prices are creeping up, too. While the Blackwell rum in today’s recommendations is still reasonably priced, many others are inching towards the high £30s and early £40s, according to Davies, with top-end releases such as Bacardi’s Facundo range hitting up to £250.
If you’re a serious rum buff, however, the bottle I suspect you’re most likely to get excited about is the beautifully packaged Eminente (41.3%) from big-hitters Moët Hennessy. Although it’s only seven years old, 70% of the blend is based on aged aguardientes, or sugarcane spirits, which apparently harks back to the richer, more complex style of rum made in the 19th century. (It’s one of the few Cuban rums to be awarded Denominación de Origen Protegida status, too.) At a whisker off £44, it’s certainly not cheap, but chances are the shantytok stars are currently doing so well, they at least won’t bat an eyelid.
Five rums to sing a shanty to
Daymark Sailors Golden Rum £28.50 Daymark Rum, £29.95 The Whisky Exchange, 40%. Daymark describes this as a “session rum”, which sounds dangerous, but it is indeed a soft, sweet, demerara-sugary rum that would make a delicious punch. Which is maybe what they drink on the Scilly Isles, where it’s made.
Jack Ratt Lugger Spiced Rum £33.44 Master of Malt, £38.50 Waitrose, 40%. A rich plum pudding of a rum, aged in bourbon barrels by Lyme Bay winery and spiced with nutmeg, orange peel, vanilla and cloves. Named after a notorious smuggler, it would be the perfect tot for a shanty session.
Burning Barn Honey & Rum £24.90 Master of Malt, 29%. A tad sweet, but on closer inspection this is a rum liqueur rather than a rum. Think of it as the rum world’s equivalent of Drambuie or a rather boozy mead. Insidiously moreish.
Blackwell Black Gold Rum 1625 £21.95 Master of Malt, 40%. A more classic style of Caribbean rum created by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, and distilled in Jamaica by Wray & Nephew. Deep, woody, satisfying.
Eminente Ron de Cuba Seven-Year-Old £43.95 The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt, 41.3%. A real stunner of a rum: almost cognac-like, and definitely more for sipping than slamming. Beautiful bottle, too.
• For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com