Rum might be the spirit with the most sordid history. First distilled on Caribbean plantations in the 17th century, the molasses-based liquor quickly spread to Colonial North America, where it became sublimely popular. To support demand, additional labor was needed to work the sugarcane fields, and thus an infamous triangular slave trade was established between Africa, the Caribbean, and the colonies. Rum’s popularity during this so-called Age of Sail also made it the de facto drink of Atlantic pirates. However, due to several trade embargoes and the advent of American whiskey, rum fell out of favor in North America by the 19th century.
Rum continued to enjoy a thriving culture in the Caribbean, however. To this day, each island or production area has its own distinct style, with English-speaking areas known for their extra dark (or “black”) rums, French-speaking areas for rhum agricole, and Spanish-speaking areas for golden, smooth varieties. The tiki craze brought rum back to America in the 1950s and ’60s, but once the trend collapsed three decades later, rum couldn’t hold its own. The spirit seemed destined to be simply an ingredient in low-brow mixed drinks—until the craft cocktail revolution hit in the 2010s.
Now rum is relishing yet another moment in the sun. White rums are being show-cased in drinks that let the spirit speak (Hemingway’s daiquiris, mojitos), while dark rums are being sipped neat or on the rocks, with distilleries sharing tasting notes on their labels. Rum is even being produced in America again—today, there are more than 160 producers across 39 different states. And all that variety means endless possibilities to pair with cheese.
Light and bright, silver rum is made for mixing. The malleable spirit takes on the flavor of whatever it’s combined with, so shake up a rum cocktail and let the flavors guide you. Robert Burr, publisher of Rob’s Rum Guide and host of the Rum Renaissance Festival, suggests the classic mai tai: “The bold, bright fruit and nut notes pair well with piquant goat cheeses,” he says. Alternately, zesty daiquiris go gangbusters with salty sheep’s milk cheeses, evoking the salted rim of a margarita.
Aged for long periods of time, dark rum often takes on notes of vanilla, leather, nuts, and more. Creamy bloomy rinds offer a delightful counterpoint to these comforting flavors and cushion the zing of alcohol to boot. Or, amp up the deep burnt sugar flavors of these rums with a complementary pairing of aged gouda.
Beemster X-O + Ron Zacapa XO
Four Fat Fowl St. Stephen + Privateer Amber
Black rum is made with molasses (read more on pairing cheese and molasses!), giving it a darker hue and an extremely bold flavor—think: dried fruit, balsamic reduction, treacle, and coffee. Turn, then, to cheeses that can stand up to these assertive, slightly sweet flavors: fudgy, crumbly, natural-rind blues, and flaky aged wedges with pineapple notes.
TRY: Rum gets the spotlight in tropical tiki-inspired drinks—here, you’ll find recipes for a mai tai, piña colada, a perfect-for-sharing scorpion bowl, and more.
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