Historical liquor made from molasses, sugar | The Triangle
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Historical liquor made from molasses, sugar

Rum has lately become a staple of college parties, but many people do not appreciate its long and varied history. First, though, it’s helpful to understand a little bit about what rum is, and how it is made. Rum is defined as liquor made by fermenting and distilling sugarcane juice or, more commonly, the tailings from sugar production, such as molasses. The distillation process is generally done in a column still to provide a cleaner, more consistent product; however, a number of distillers still utilize pot stills for small batches. After distillation, rum is aged in oak barrels for a period of time. Rum is classified by its color as light, gold or dark, with darker rum having more flavor or spice based upon other additives.

The particular rum in question is Cruzan Rum’s Cruzan Black Strap. This rum is part of a subset of dark rum called Naval Rum. Cruzan Rum was founded in 1760 on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ownership of the distillery has passed through a number of corporations over the years, currently residing with Beam Global Spirits Inc., but distillery operations have been managed by the Nelthropp family for eight generations. Naval Rum is the darkest of the rums, ranging from dark amber to opaque black in color. The color comes from the retention of a larger percentage of the molasses components, which results in a far, far stronger flavor than in any other type of rum. Cruzan Black Strap rum is intended as a slightly smoother version of Naval Rum, especially low in hot fusel alcohols, providing an accessible version of the style to the general public.

The rum pours a jet black, but reveals a beautiful deep ruby red color with golden red highlights right at the edge of the glass. When served in a snifter, a surprising amount of spicy alcohol character is present, which almost covered the sweet vanilla and molasses notes. The taste is very sweet for liquor, far sweeter than even most bourbons, but not cloying. The taste is of very smooth and sweet molasses, or perhaps even a very dark brown sugar with hints of caramel. The rums have a very smooth, warming nature to them without giving the impression of being spiced at all. The best description I’ve heard of this rum is that it’s “dessert in a bottle,” and I have used it that way on several occasions.

Though I love to drink this rum straight, I also find that it provides a wonderful, caramel molasses character to mixed drinks. I decided to mix up three cocktails, although all three are debatably highballs, which is a name for the category of drinks made by cutting a portion of liquor with a larger portion of mixer.

The first is the reliable standby of the college house party, the rum and coke. This particular drink was vastly improved by the substitution of the Black Strap. My main objection to the usual rum and coke is that the soda overshadows the rum; however, there is not a chance of this happening if a reasonable portion of Black Strap is used. The vanilla character of the rum really penetrates, reminding me of Vanilla Coke, and the molasses flavor provides a nice, sweet caramel depth. This drink is improved even more by a twist of lemon, and I found myself enjoying it far more than I thought I would.

For my second drink I mixed the Rum Swizzle. Shake two ounces of rum, a half ounce each of triple sec and lemon juice, then strain into a tall, ice-filled glass. Top off with ginger ale and a lemon wheel. This drink was much sweeter than the base rum, thanks to the triple sec, and the lemon provided a very bright citrus highlight. The sweetness really brought out the molasses character in this rum, and the ginger ale provided a nice contrast of spice. Overall, this drink was very, very smooth and went down quite easily.

The third drink I mixed was the Dark and Stormy; this drink is the big, bad cousin to the Rum Swizzle that I mixed. The key to this drink is the ginger beer; I would stay away from Goya ginger beer if possible, as it contains capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. I personally used Barrett’s, which is made in Bermuda, but Reed’s is another good brand. To make this drink, pour two ounces of dark rum into a tall glass filled with ice. Add a slice or two of fresh ginger and half a tablespoon of sugar, top off the glass with ginger beer, and then squeeze and drop in two lime wedges. This drink had the nice smoothness of the sugar combined with the depth of the rum to produce a complex base. On top of this, the lime and the bite from both the ginger and the ginger beer produced an interesting flavor combination that few people I’ve given it to have been able to resist.

I highly recommend this rum as it is cheap, clean and absolutely delicious. It can easily be substituted into any recipe that calls for dark rum, increasing the flavor of the drinks, or sipped straight after dinner.

Distiller: Cruzan Rum

Label: Cruzan Black Strap

Type: Naval Rum

Proof: 80

Price: $12.99