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A Brief History of Rum for National Rum Day

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Celebrate National Rum Day (August 16) with a little history.

Let’s talk about rum—but first we need to discuss garbage. Caribbean sugar farmers of the 17th century had a serious industrial waste problem. As Wayne Curtis recounts in his enjoyable history And a Bottle of Rum, these planters produced sugar by crushing sugar cane, boiling the resulting juices, and then leaving the boiled syrup to cure in clay pots. A viscous liquid would seep out of the pots, and sugar would be left behind.

That liquid was molasses. Today we know molasses as a delicious enabler of gingerbread and shoofly pies, but as Curtis notes, in the 17th century, planters couldn’t give away the cloying liquid. Slaves and livestock ate some of the molasses, but for the most part, it was an annoying bit of industrial waste. Production of two pounds of sugar yielded a pound of molasses, so colonial planters were swimming in the sticky trash. With no export market or practical use for it at home, planters resorted to dumping unwanted molasses into the ocean.

Luckily for the planters, someone eventually figured out a use for this molasses. By mixing it with the liquid skimmed off of cane juice during its initial boiling and fermenting it, one created a serviceable starting point for distillation. And although the exact etymology is still murky, the liquor this process yielded became known as rum.

The rum picture is obviously a little rosier today. Molasses is no longer unwanted industrial waste, and rum sales in the U.S. alone are north of $2 billion a year. Still, when I raised the idea of doing a piece on rum in the mental_floss office, the response was less than enthusiastic. Noses turned up. Eyes glazed over. The editorial team flashed back to throwing down too much rotgut rum and Coke during college.

Aged rums can be beautiful things, though. The best examples are as delightful to sip neat or over an ice cube as any whiskey. And compared to whiskey, they’re for the most part blessedly inexpensive; you can pick up quite a few world-class options for under $40. Eventually, the rest of the staff relented and agreed to taste some rums.

As we sampled more and more brands, the rest of the team seemed to slowly come around on my “Rum is delicious!” stance. Or maybe they just got tired of me yelling “Rum is delicious!” and decided to nod politely. Either way, after extensive taste testing, we narrowed in on 11 brands that would be a great addition to any summer hootenanny.

El Dorado Special Reserve 15 year old

This gem hails from Guyana, and at just $40 or so a bottle, it may be the best bargain in your liquor store. The thick body coats your mouth with strong flavors of raisin, caramel, and the hard top layer of crème brulee that’s really all anyone wants from crème brulee.

Gosling’s Old Rum

At around $65, this wax-dipped Bermuda bottle isn’t cheap. But it’s worth a splurge. It’s incredibly viscous and rich, with a ton of molasses flavor and spice. The flavor is so deep and complex that we talked about what we were tasting—Leather? Lemon? Allspice? Cheeseburger? Not cheeseburger—for a solid 10 minutes.

Ron Vizcaya VXOP

If you’re not used to drinking neat spirits, this one could be a great starting point. Very balanced and smooth enough to not overpower, there’s a nice mild sweetness backed by a pleasant lingering bit of orange.

Sugar Island Spiced Rum

If mermaids had to pick a rum of choice, it would probably be this one. Caramely sweetness is cut with natural spices and nuttiness, giving the drinker the feeling that they're enjoying a liquid slice of pecan pie. 

Brugal 1888 Gran Reserva

Dominican stalwart Brugal recently introduced this gem, which has spent part of its life aging in Spanish sherry casks. The sweet sherry influence comes through on the nose and the flavor without overpowering the cinnamon and vanilla notes. Despite the sherry aging, this one really reminds us of bourbon. If you’re a bourbon drinker looking to branch out into rum, start here.

Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 year old

If you doubt a rum can pack a lot of chocolate flavor, grab a bottle of this Guatemalan. The nose almost smells like hot cocoa mix, and the chocolate comes through in the flavor with a little maraschino cherry in the finish.

Pyrat XO

The problems with those gummy candied orange slices are that a) they don’t contain any booze and b) you can’t drink them. This squat bottle comes close to solving both issues. Strong, sweet orange flavors could almost trick you into thinking this one’s a liqueur and make it all too easy to throw back.

Mount Gay Black Barrel

The newest product from Barbados’ Mount Gay is another great introduction to rum. It’s well balanced and could easily slot into a cocktail without overpowering it. Nice little bit of mint in the finish.

Don Q Gran Anejo

If you’re looking to buy American, look no further than this treat from Puerto Rico. It’s lighter in body and more delicate than most of this list, but packs in a lot of tropical fruit flavor, a solid punch of vanilla, and a lightly smoky flavor.

Cruzan Estate Single Barrel

Another bargain at just $25, Cruzan’s single barrel is on the drier end of the spectrum, but it’s got a lot of nutmeg, clove, and spice with just a bit of raisin in the flavor.

Bacardi Anejo

Not as thick or sweet as most of this list, Bacardi’s anejo finds a nice middle ground between the familiar light rums and the richer, heavier rums. Lots of banana flavor in this one. Nice enough to sip neat, but it really shines in cocktails.

What did we miss? Tell us what other rums we should be trying in the comments. I’ll start: it’s unconscionable that I couldn’t wrangle a bottle of Appleton Estate 12 year to share.

This post originally appeared last year.

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11 Common Misconceptions About Beer
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If beer only conjures up images of frat boys pounding cans of the cheap stuff or doughy sports fans reveling in the alcoholic refreshment before, during, and after a big game, think again. Beer has come a long way, baby, and many of the preconceived notions about the beverage are decidedly unfair, as evidenced by the following 11 fabrications.

1. BEER SHOULD BE SERVED ICE COLD.

All of those neon ice cold beer signs are actually bad news for beer drinkers. To properly enjoy their beer, it should be served at 44 degrees Fahrenheit (with a little leeway depending on the type of beer you’re drinking—a barrel-aged Stout, for example, should be served only lightly chilled). The reason is that taste buds become dead to the taste of the drink when it is served any colder, which means you’re not really tasting anything or getting the most enjoyment out of your beer.

2. FROSTED BEER MUGS KEEP IT CLASSY.

Piggybacking on the falsehood that beer should be guzzled cold, it also shouldn’t be served in a frosted beer mug. Would you serve wine in a frosted glass? No. An intensely cold beer mug will also numb your senses to the taste of the beer.

3. ALL DARK BEERS ARE HEAVY.

If you’ve been avoiding dark beers because you fear their intensity, you’ve been sorely misguided. “People naturally assume they are heavier,” says Hallie Beaune, a rep for Allagash Brewing Company and author of The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer. “I think it’s that connection to Guinness, which promotes itself as creamy and almost like a meal, that’s the feeling they give in their commercials. For a lot of people that’s the first dark beer they’ve had so they assume they’re all similar when, really, dark beers are just dark because of the roast level of the malt that’s used in the beer.”

4. GUINNESS IS INHERENTLY FROTHY.

Sure, Guinness is served all creamy and delicious-looking, but Beaune explains it has less to do with the beer itself and everything to do with the tap most stouts use, which has more nitrogen than the standard tap (generally a mix of nitrogen and CO2). To deliver all that frothiness, a stout faucet, which has a long, narrow spout, is used.

5. DRINKING BEER FROM THE BOTTLE IS THE BEST WAY TO ENJOY IT.

Sure, a bottle may look more refined than a can, but it’s still not the appropriate vessel. “Drinking beer from the bottle is another no-no, mostly because what you taste comes from your olfactory senses from your nose, so if you take a sip of something from that kind of bottle your nose isn’t participating at all,” says Beaune. “It’s too small for you to get a whiff of the beer. Just like if you were drinking red wine out of a wine bottle, you wouldn’t really be able to evaluate that wine.”

6. YOU CAN STORE BEER ANYWHERE.

Think again! All beer should be stored in a refrigerator. It responds best to cold, dark storage.

7. "SKUNKY" IS JUST A CUTE WORD FOR BEER GONE BAD.

There is actually a reason why seemingly rancid beer is termed "skunky." “Light can hurt beer—they call it lightstruck,” says Beaune. “The light interacts with the hops in beer (the four ingredients in beer are malt, water, hops and yeast), and it can actually have this chemical reaction that creates a smell that’s the same as a skunk gives off, which is why you hear about skunky beer.”

8. ALL BEER BOTTLES ARE CREATED EQUAL.

Darker bottles are important. Clear or green bottles may be pretty, but they’re not doing much to protect your beer from light. Dark beer bottles work best to help retain its intended flavor.

9. CANNED BEER MEANS CHEAP BEER.

Cans are actually a great way to protect beer, but in the old days they would often give the beverage an aluminum taste. “Most of the cans the craft breweries are using nowadays have a water-based liner so the beer isn’t actually touching the aluminum,” says Beaune. “It can be really good for beer. Cans heat up and cool down very quickly, too, so you obviously want to keep them cold.”

10. BEER IS MUCH SIMPLER THAN WINE.

You’ve got your four ingredients—malt, yeast, water and hops—what could be more basic than that? Manipulating those ingredients in various ways will give you different varieties, but breweries are doing some really cool stuff by adding flavors you’d never dream would work so well in beer. “A lot of the flavor in beer comes from the malt or the hops or yeast, but then there’s all of this freedom in beer,” says Beaune. “We did a beer at Allagash called Farm to Face, which is a pretty tart and sour beer. We added fresh peaches to it from a local farm. You can’t do that with wine—you can’t add peaches. People add everything you can imagine to beer like pineapple, coconut, every fruit—there are no rules. That’s one of the fun things about beer, it’s a lot like cooking, you can add rosemary, you can add whatever you want. Everybody experiments. It keeps the beer world really interesting.”

11. BEER WILL GIVE YOU A BEER BELLY, BUT COCKTAILS WON'T.

Sure, anything in excess will contribute to weight gain, but beer is hardly the most calorie-laden drink you’ll find in a bar. Much of the flack beer gets (i.e. the “beer belly”) goes back to the fallacy that beer is particularly heavy. “Most glasses of wine are pretty high in alcohol and a lot of cocktails are way higher in calories,” says Beaune. “If you drink a margarita that’s one of the highest calorie things you can drink.”

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Spain's Famous Blue Wine Is Coming to America
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Last year, a Spanish startup caused a stir when it introduced its electric-blue wine to markets in Europe. Now, after receiving preorders for more than 30,000 bottles from American customers, the eye-catching beverage is finally ready to make its way to the U.S., Eater reports.

The bright blue drink, dubbed Gïk, is the creation of six young entrepreneurs with no previous experience in the winemaking industry. They collaborated with University of the Basque Country and the food research department of the Basque Government to make the product.

Gïk is made from a blend of red and white grapes with a non-calorie sweetener added in. Though the color resembles something you'd find in the cleaning supplies aisle, the ingredients that create the effect are all natural. A pigment found in grape skin and indigo from the Isatis tinctoria plant (commonly known as woad) are responsible for the wine's alarming hue.

The shade—which according to co-founder Aritz López represents "movement, innovation, fluidity, change, and infinity"—is intended to appeal to Millennial buyers. With an alcohol content percentage of 11.5, Gïk is comparable to a white zinfandel or prosecco, and a pack of three bottles retails for $48.

The Basque region of Spain is traditionally known for its sparkling, acidic wine, but Gïk was designed to stand out from the current options. In 2016, López told Eater that his team felt the Spanish wine scene was "missing a little revolution," so they set out to create something innovative. But it turned out to be a little too innovative for the company's own good: According to Spanish law, only red or white wine can be sold in local markets, and Gïk was fined €3000 (about $3600) for violating the rule. Following the controversy, they were forced to drop the "wine" label and start branding the concoction as "99% wine and 1% grape must."

Standards are less strict in the U.S., and when bottles reach markets stateside they will be flying under the wine banner once again. Gïk will make its U.S. debut in stores in Miami, Boston, and Texas before hopefully expanding to retailers in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Washington, California, and Nevada. And while they may have the blue wine market cornered, there's at least one blue-hued beer brand out there Gïk will be competing with.

[h/t Eater]

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