Mount Gay 1703 Bar at The House, a boutique hotel in Barbados, is well-known for its famous House Mai Tai, along with other specialty cocktails. // © 2016 The House Barbados
Feature image (above): Direct rum-loving clients to destinations in the Caribbean. // © 2016 iStock
"There's naught, no doubt, so much the spirit calms as rum." — Lord Byron.
Why is rum so delicious? Perhaps because it always seems to evoke the feeling of being on vacation. Whether enjoyed neat or mixed in a cocktail, each sip of the fiery liquid carries layers of caramel flavor as it slides down your throat. Rum is also synonymous with the Caribbean and was instrumental in the development of the West Indies; the rum industry changed the face of those islands, and now tourists reap the benefits.
In my opinion, the best rum on earth comes from the Caribbean. Follow me on this boozy trail to find the destination’s signature rum drinks and the perfect places to savor them.
Admiral Rodney, St. Lucia
Admiral Rodney has his name immortalized on rum bottles for defeating the French in 1782, although the French took back the island the very next year. St. Lucia's past is a wild tug-of-war between the French and the English, and its history is as exciting as its rum. St. Lucia is also known for the majestic Pitons — and what better way to savor a view of the volcanic spires than with a rum concoction.
Check into Ladera, a romantic boutique hotel with stunning views, and go straight to the hotel bar at Dasheene for a Rum Sour Sundowner. The Coal Pot in nearby Castries is a charming place for dinner, but don't forget to order the St. Lucian Rum Punch. For art collectors who also value a once-in-a-lifetime libation, book an appointment at Llewellyn Xavier's art studio. His art is world-renowned, and his rum punch — made with Chairman's Reserve spiced rum and fresh grated nutmeg — is the best I've ever tasted.
Havana Club, Cuba
Cuba has a proud rum tradition, and Havana Club is the forbidden fruit, much like Cuban cigars. Americans have been enjoying Havana Club for years abroad, and now they can drink it in its city of origin. All the higher-end Havana Club rums are outstanding. They’re produced by the government in partnership with French Pernod Ricard.
The classic Anejo 7 Anos has sweet molasses notes up front and a long, smooth finish, perfect for drinking neat or on the rocks on a hot Cuban afternoon. The lighter Anejo 3 Anos is delicious mixed into a tangy mojito or a rich daiquiri. Legend has it that both cocktails were invented in Havana, at two bars just a few blocks apart — the frozen daiquiri at Floridita, off Avenida Belgica, and the mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio on Empedrado street. Try one of each, and then meander to Hotel Nacional de Cuba to sip rum neat outdoors at Bar Galeria.
Mount Gay Rum, Barbados
Rumor has it that Barbados is the birthplace of rum, and today it holds as many rum shops as it does churches. The importance of rum in Barbados cannot be overstated. Take the famous lyrics by calypso artist Omar Sobers, aka Gorg: "Me woman lef me ... but I got my rum."
It seems impossible to visit all the rum shops in one trip, so I took the Tamtastic Rum Shop Crawl at Tamarind hotel and learned to "lime" like the locals. The afternoon started with a trip to the famous Mount Gay Rum distillery to taste five different aged rums. We followed it with a visit to the white-sand beaches of Carlisle Bay, where beach bars abound. The tour finished with a trip to Mount Gay 1703 Bar at The House, a chic, boutique hotel. Order the specialty cocktail, the House Mai Tai, and enjoy the ultimate, relaxing beach house experience. Make a toast to Lord Byron as the sun sets on another wonderful Caribbean day — then order another.
Ron Barcelo Imperial, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Santo Domingo is the oldest city in the New World, and its colonial quarter lures history lovers with its vibrant charm. The preserved 16th-century colonial homes are now hotels, restaurants and art galleries. Book a room at Casas Del XVI, a boutique hotel made up of these historic homes. Rum tastings are held in the beautifully decorated library, where an expert leads guests' palates through top Dominican rums. Unhiq XO is an unusual treat, made from malt and hard to find outside the Dominican Republic, but my preference is Ron Barcelo Imperial.
After this tasting teaser, head to Lulu, a chic eatery and bar nearby. Order a rum cocktail with pineapple and mint, then dance with the locals. Shopaholics and rum lovers alike should not miss La Alpargateria, a handcrafted-shoe store with a cafe in the back. Order the lemon-ginger margarita with white rum.
Sebastian's Rum, Tortola, British Virgin Islands
My love of Sebastian's Rum is heavily influenced by the experience of going to Sebastian’s on the Beach, a hotel, restaurant and distillery in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. The rum is somewhat of a quest for Caribbean spirit aficionados, as it is only available in Tortola. Every bottle is repurposed from a different distillery, and a glued-on "Sebastian's Rum" sticker is added.
Getting to Sebastian’s is half the fun. Our boat dropped anchor in Little Apple Bay, and we swam to shore for fresh fish at the restaurant and washed the meal down with rum. Since this liquor is truly only found on this island, I recommend bringing as much back as possible. Friends and family will be forever grateful.