A Tutorial on Tasting Rum While Traveling in Puerto Rico
The ins and outs of developing your rum palate
Sunny skies and lush rainforests aren’t the only inviting aspects of a trip to Puerto Rico, which, even though you don't need a passport to travel there from the mainland U.S., feels like another world. Certainly the beachside resorts and brightly painted buildings of Old San Juan are an appealing reason for heading to this beautifully diverse island, a commonwealth of the United States, but fortunately for visitors, there is an abundance of activities on the island that aren’t limited to sunbathing.
For example, rum lovers have the privilege of taking a taxi ride or short ferry ride from Old San Juan and visiting Casa Bacardi, home to the most popular rum in the world. Visiting the distillery is free, and even includes a couple of free cocktails in the visitor’s center. A brief tour will fill in the blanks on how Bacardi uses their time-trusted revolutionary techniques to make rum, leading to a newfound appreciation for this popular spirit.
Attending wine tastings is a common practice throughout the world, so the fundamentals of tasting wine are more readily known than those for tasting other spirits. And although there are some common elements among all spirit tasting techniques, it is useful to note the differences. Here, we focus on rum.
The Daily Meal recently visited Casa Bacardi in Cataño, Puerto Rico, and was able to take part in an exclusive tasting of five Bacardi rums: Bacardi Superior, Bacardi Gold, Bacardi Select, Bacardi 8, and Bacardi Reserva Limitada. For this tasting, small glass lids were used to cover the samples to preserve the essence of the rums until they were ready to taste.
When tasting rum, as when tasting wine, the glasses are first gently swirled at chin level, allowing some of the aromas to escape and be inhaled. At this point, "legs" and "tears" form on the interior of the glass. The rate at which they drip back down the sides is determined by many factors, but it's mainly due to the age and body of the rum; the more mature rums take longer, of course.
The glass should then be lifted beneath one nostril and smelled with short inhalations; this presents the nose with some of the more muted aromas in the rum. Smelling the rum with your eyes closed can actually help improve the experience as well, because the body allocates the brain waves used for vision into other senses, in this case the sense of smell.
If the odor is too saturated, take a break and smell your own skin. This will act as a reset button in your brain and allow you to start over without muddling your senses.
At this point the rum can be sipped. After a first taste of the rum, noting the mouthfeel and pronounced flavors, many types of rum can actually be watered down slightly before being tasted again. In the case of Bacardi Superior, mixing it with an equal amount of water will dilute the rum to 20 percent alcohol and bring out some of the subtler nuances that may not stand out immediately. Some of the other rums may require less diluting for this optional step.
Although there are many parallels between tasting wine and other spirits, these are some very useful steps from the master tasters at Bacardi. By tasting rum on its own without mixers, one can achieve a greater appreciation of the subtle nuances that differentiate each variety.
Puerto Rico is certainly known for its rum, thanks to Bacardi. A trip to the distillery is not to be missed, especially with upcoming renovations and expansions that will include more to explore. Even if a trip to Puerto Rico isn’t in the cards, sampling different rums and taking a trip with your taste buds is easier than you think.