Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
I found myself on the horns of a vicious dilemma recently, when I tried to figure out whether I preferred rum punch to a rum and tonic, or vice versa. Some people might say, “Well! You, sir, are one to be bothered by trivial problems,” and in fact they might be right, but given that National Rum Day is today, I feel that if ever there were a time to be puzzled by matters concerning rum, this is it.
But though I might offend my in-laws by saying so (they’re the rum-and-tonic crowd), I’m going to have to go for rum punch. It’s an excellent drink in that, aside from the fact that it tastes good, it gives you the feeling that you are sitting in a hammock on an island in the Caribbean, rather than, for instance, sweltering in a shoebox-size apartment in New York.
Personally, I’d suggest trying a combo of pineapple juice, orange juice and grenadine for the sweet proportion, and using a good white rum for the strong, then floating a layer of dark rum on top (if you’re making a single drink, that is; it’s hard to float a layer of dark rum over an entire punchbowl).
In terms of what rum to use, there are similarly endless possibilities. One good choice for a white rum, though, is the Flor de Caña Extra Dry 4 Year-Old ($15 or so), which has more personality than many white rums; the lightly tangy Ron Matusalem Platino (around $17) is also an excellent option. If you’re willing to search a little (and pay a premium price), the Banks 5 Island Rum ($28) is a blend from five rum-producing regions (Guyana, one of them, isn’t an island - no idea why the Banks folks seem to think it is). Because the blend includes several aged rums, it’s got an impressive depth of flavor and complexity, with a distinctive sugarcane-spirit aroma.
Finally, for that dark rum float - though given the price, you may just want to sip it - there’s the Brugal 1888 ($50), which is aged first in ex-bourbon casks and then in ex-sherry casks. (The latter is unusual for rum, but not uncommon for Scotch; no coincidence that the majority owners of Brugal also own The Macallan.) The Brugal is impressive stuff. A blend of rums aged between five and 14 years, it has distinct toffee-oak notes, a hint of espresso toastiness and a finish that isn’t too sweet, which is sometimes a failing of expensive aged rums.
Here's one nifty rum punch recipe, courtesy of Wayne Collins:
Sugar Hill Punch
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