I developed newfound respect for rum after a 2019 visit to Rhumerie de Chamarel in Mauritius. This rum distillery is in a scenic valley in the south-west of Mauritius, close to Seven Coloured Earths, a natural geological formation and a tourist attraction. It is one of the rare distilleries that cultivates its own sugar cane to brew rum. Within four hours of harvest, the first pressed sugar-cane juice is set for alcoholic fermentation to produce rum.
Expert tour guides led us through the process of fermentation, distillation and ageing, followed by a rum tasting session. The rums we tasted had the complexity and depth of a fine single malt, no less. We ended up buying a few bottles of their finest rum to take back.
Closer home, Old Monk is synonymous with rum with a devout fan following. A market presence since 1954, a strong flavour that suits the Indian palate and richly spiced Indian food, easy on the pocket, delivering a kick of 42.8% alcohol by volume—these are some of the reasons for its almost near-domination of the Indian rum market.
I have never been a fan of dark rum, its taste always reminding me of cough syrup. Its singular use for me was adding it liberally to Christmas plum cakes. Over the last few years, Two Indies rum, brewed by the house of Amrut Single Malt in Karnataka, has managed to change my mind about this spirit. Quite a few home-grown artisanal rum brands are gaining momentum in India. Manufactured in small batches, their beautiful packaging and unique tasting notes make them a good addition to your bar cabinet or even for gifting—they cost as much as a decent bottle of wine.
Rum has light and dark variants, both so different in appearance and taste that they make me wonder how they belong to the same category of spirits. White rum or light rum originates from Spanish-speaking countries such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia. This is aged in stainless steel barrels to retain a neutral colour through the ageing process. It is filtered further after ageing to keep the colour clear.
Dark rum is produced mainly in the Caribbean. Charred oak barrels are used to age dark rum, which has a longer ageing period. Caramel is often added to aged dark rum to give it the golden brown colour. Dark rum is fuller bodied, with a stronger flavour than white rum. While dark rum can be had as is or used in cooking, baking and desserts, white rum is used in cocktails that are usually dressed with umbrellas and flowers, such as mai tai, piña colada, daiquiri and mojito, promising you an exotic vacation mood.
Be it in a punch, hot toddy or dessert, dark rum is my spirit of choice during the festive season. I am sharing two favourite recipes that instantly put the merry in Merry Christmas!
Rum Spiked Salted Caramel Sauce
Makes over one cup
This addictive sauce can be used over vanilla ice cream, brownies, vanilla sponge cakes, or to make holiday breakfasts like waffles and pancakes more decadent. Bottles of this sauce make delicious gourmet gifts.
1 cup sugar (regular white)
5 tbsp salted butter (75g)
Half cup cream (at room temperature)
Half tsp salt
Half tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp dark rum
Keep all the ingredients on hand while making the salted caramel. Take sugar in a heavy bottomed pan. Add two-three tablespoons of water. Allow the sugar to melt on medium heat. Do not stir. Once the sugar melts, reduce the flame and let it simmer until the colour changes to a dark amber. Add the butter cubes into the caramel and stir well to combine. Be careful at this stage as the mixture will bubble and sputter. Stand away from the pan and use a spatula with a long handle (not a spoon) to stir the contents.
Once the butter is fully incorporated, stand back and gently add in the cream and salt. The sauce will bubble vigorously once again. Stir well and let it simmer for a minute. Remove the pan from heat. After five minutes or so, stir in the vanilla extract and rum. The sauce will thicken further as it cools. Transfer to a clean glass jar and refrigerate.
The sauce will solidify in the refrigerator. To use on desserts, take out the required quantity into a glass bowl with a clean dry spoon and microwave for 10-20 seconds. It stays for three-four months when refrigerated.
Notes: Do not use a dark-coloured non-stick pan as it is tough to note the colour change of caramel.
Hot Buttered Rum
Makes 1 serving (scale up as needed)
An easy, warming cocktail redolent of spices; teetotaller version included.
2 tsp soft salted butter
1-2 tsp brown sugar
A few drops of vanilla extract
A pinch of ground cinnamon
A pinch of grated nutmeg
A pinch of ground cloves
30ml or 60ml dark rum
150ml hot water
Cinnamon stick and star anise for garnish
In a glass mug, combine the butter, sugar, vanilla and spices using a wooden spoon. Top with dark rum and hot water. Stir well. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and serve hot.
Notes: Use a quarter teaspoon of chai masala or pumpkin spice mix instead of using the three spices separately.
Use one-two shots of dark rum depending on how strong you prefer the drink.
A larger batch of the base mix can be prepared to serve at a party, adding hot water and rum just before serving.
For a teetotaller version, replace the rum and hot water with 200ml of brewed Earl Grey tea or heated apple juice.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is Everyday Superfoods. @saffrontrail