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Sip & Savor: Spiced Rum Cocktails

Nov 16, 2011 10:54PM ● By Anonymous

It wasn’t just any pirate ship, though—this particular vessel was helmed by the actual Captain Morgan, now better known as cartoonish character with a large red hat and a flying brown cape, his foot consistently lifted in the air and sometimes resting on a barrel of rum.

You might think the connection between pirates and spiced rum stems from extensive and successful marketing campaigns of popular brands such as Captain Morgan. Even now, the majority of spiced rums are debuted with a nautical or pirate-related name, including Admiral Nelson, Sailor Jerry, and The Kraken, named for a mythical sea beast not unlike an octopus.

However, marketing has little to do with it—throughout history, pirates and spiced rum have been very closely linked.

Sir Henry Morgan—the captain—was a bonafide pirate who plundered the Caribbean islands in the late 1600s. However, as a captain of the ships, perhaps he wasn’t so successful—he lost all five of his vessels to stormy seas in 1671, and there they have remained until now. In the hopes of finding bottles of rum that actually belonged to the legendary pirate, Captain Morgan (the rum company) assisted the archaeologists financially in raising a group of unopened cargo boxes and chests that are crusted with coral. As of press time, the cargo boxes had yet to opened, but the discovery couldn’t have come at a better time, as spiced rum plunders its way to never-before-seen popularity in the upscale spirits market. The Captain once dominated the market, with just a handful of other brands trailing behind. These days, more than 70 brands of spiced rums are on the shelf, and the newer varieties are more flavorful, smoother, and have a higher alcohol content.

But back to those pirates for a moment—Esteban Ordoñez, the corporate mixologist for DonQ rum, which produces Blackbeard spiced rum, gave us a little bit of background. “Merchant marines and pirates, back in the day, would travel from port to port in the Caribbean,” he says. “The abundance of rum made it easy to procure the spirit, versus brandy or gin, which were European spirits.”

However, the barrels of rum were generally overproofed (meaning it had a very high alcohol content), making the taste harsh and unappealing. But Caribbean spices such as cinnamon and allspice were also readily available, so they would add them to the rum to make it more palatable.

In modern times, most spiced rums are still overproofed, checking in at more than 40 percent alcohol by volume, with some rums even reaching 60 percent or higher ABV. Ironically, Captain Morgan is the one type of rum that’s actually underproofed at 35 percent ABV. Each company takes pride in the blend of spices that gives rum its flavor. Cruzan 9, for example, is named after the nine spices that make up its blend, which include ginger, juniper, and pepper. Brinley Gold Shipwrecked begins its rum with natural Madagascar vanilla, says co-owner Zach Brinley. “I’ve always loved nutmeg, so we have Caribbean nutmeg, cloves, a little bit of citrus—and a couple of secret exotic spices that I can’t tell you,” he says.

The explosion of spiced rums has created a market for upscale, sippable blends. In the past, the Captain had such a stronghold on the market, there was no way that a small, family-owned company such as Brinley Gold could emerge onto the scene. “Sailor Jerry did a great job of opening up the market,” Brinley says. “It proved you don’t have to be an inexpensive alternative.” The company offers plenty of recipes using their spiced rum, but encourages trying it straight first. “‘Shipwreck on the Rocks’ has such as a great sound to it,” Brinley says. “It’s been a lot of fun trying to steal those Captain drinkers.”

Spiced Rum Cocktails

Dark and Stormy
2 ounces spiced rum
3 ounces ginger beer
1/2 ounce lime juice

Combine the rum, ginger beer (not ginger ale), and optional lime juice in a highball glass filled with ice.

The Skipper’s Brew
* Recipe courtesy of Brinley Gold Shipwreck Spiced Rum
Makes a pitcher
8 ounces spiced rum
4 ounces Cointreau
16 ounces freshly brewed iced tea
8 ounces lemon juice
4 ounces agave nectar

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher and garnish with sliced lemon wheels and sprig of mint.