Happy Hour: No longer the bottom of the barrel

Yo ho ho, would ye pay $100 or more for rum? Canadian drinkers may have noticed expensive brands in pretty bottles popping up at their liquor stores in the last couple of years. As with tequila and other spirits, rum producers are shifting attention away from the customers who drink their product to get drunk, and toward connoisseurs willing to pay top dollar.

Expensive rum tends to be the dark kind, or dark-ish. The difference between light and dark rum is simple: Both are made from molasses, but dark rums are aged in oak barrels and often have caramel added for colour and flavour. Light rums are relatively dry and clean-tasting and work well in cocktails. Dark rums are sweeter, more flavourful all-around. Typically more expensive, they’re often worth it.

Below are four top-shelf rums that have become available in Canada within the last couple of years. All of these rums are available in at least two provinces (but alas, God help the rum lover who lives in Quebec), and could be found at duty-free shops. How to drink them? Pour your rum neat or with one big piece of ice.

Around $450-$500
Appleton Estate Aged 30 Years
Thirty years is a long time to age rum, hence a mere 1,440 bottles produced. All those years sitting in oak barrels made Appleton 30 a dry and woody rum, with an almost acrid burn. You could call its flavour profile sophisticated — haughty, even. It’s enjoyable, but not trying too hard to be liked. I did find a blog post by one rum lover who felt burned by paying so much for it.

Around $125
Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask
At this price, you’re still looking for a sipping rum. Mount Gay 1703 fits the bill. It’s smooth, and the first flavours you may notice are caramel and toasted nuts. Delicate scents like vanilla find equilibrium with a rougher edge of tar and leather. More of that funk might have been tasty, but I guess people expect smoothness at this price. A strong candidate for best rum available in Canada.

Around $80
Ron Zacapa 23
Many drinkers have a special love for this rum made in the mountains of Guatemala. A big whiff is no big whoop, but keep going. This dark, sweet rum has a striking combination of caramel, raisin/dried fruit and pineapple flavours. Unique and quite addictive.

Around $60
Havana Club Selección de Maestros
Give me a sham trial and jail me in a subtropical gulag if I’m wrong, but I could swear this is Havana Club’s old Cuban Barrel Proof, just tarted up with a new name and packaging as of August. Either way, it’s a superb rum: dry on the palate, with tobacco and woodsmoke flavours, finishing with a silky texture and a taste of demarara sugar. Excellent in cocktails.