Running with rum

(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Luke O'Neil
Globe Correspondent / June 5, 2009

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Without rum, none of us would be here. The history of the rum trade is a complicated one, and pivotal. In Colonial times, rum played a crucial role in the development of both America's and the world's economies, ushering in an era of globalized trade.

One of the earliest rum distilleries was, in fact, built in Boston in the late 17th century. And given the historical importance of this complicated distilled beverage, we headed to RumBa, the bar in the Intercontinental Hotel, to try a few of theirs. You know, for research.

With 100 rums to choose from, RumBa has the geographic spectrum covered. Our first stop was in Venezuela, for Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Platinum ($11), a smoky and tropical fruit-forward rum that was the smoothest and easiest drinking we found all evening. Big notes of banana and vanilla, and a syrupy consistency, make it well-suited to any number of uses.

"It's the most versatile," said bartender Jay Lombardo. "It drinks easy or on the rocks, and mixing it with Coke isn't really a sin."

Another favorite was Gosling's Family Reserve Old Rum ($18). A Bermudan rum that drinks like a cognac, it smelled and looked like heavy, dark molasses. But try Gosling's Black Seal ($8) in a Dark and Stormy ($10). The vanilla and caramel go well with the spice of the Bermudan ginger beer Barritt's.

One rum you wouldn't want to mix in a cocktail is the British Royal Navy Imperial Rum ($120). This Jamaican rum, said Lombardo, "is supposed to be the best rum in the world." We took a tiny taste and found big oak and a mossy nose. It brightened into a floral and inviting bouquet the longer we let it sit.

Barbados-made Mount Gay Tricentennial ($75) was another rare treat. "You can't buy this anywhere," said Lombardo. An amber rum, it had a burnt wooden nose and a spicy heat on the back of the throat. It's like a Scotch or a cognac, bartender Wember Castillo explained of the aging process.

"You can age rum as long as you want," he said. Lighter rums, or less mature rums, he said, are better served for mixing, while darker, aged rums are best for sipping on their own. Although that didn't stop him from mixing us a Between the Sheets (cognac, Ron Zacapa Centario 23 Anos Guatemalan rum, fresh lemon, $14), a cold mix of spices and citrus.

"Dark rum is good for wintertime, like red wine. In summer, you switch to white wine, or a clear rum," said Castillo, who brought us toward the middle of that spectrum with the next two selections. The Pyrat XO Reserve ($9) from Anguilla was a medium amber with heat up front but a smooth finish that wafted into the nose like spiced, warm smoke and honey. A bit clearer than that was the subtle vanilla bean and hint of pine and cinnamon in the Ragged Mountain Rum ($13). A hand-crafted rum made locally in the Berkshires, it is the 100th on RumBa's list. You might call that historic.

RumBa, at the Intercontinental Boston, 510 Atlantic Ave., Boston. 617-217-5152.