Kellie Hwang, The Republic | azcentral.com

Original article here.

At a cozy, dimly lit bar in downtown Phoenix, the back wall is filled with bottles liquor stretching all the way to the ceiling.

But this bar is different, because it features just one type of spirit: rum.

There are a staggering 150 types of rum from around the world at the Breadfruit & Rum Bar, owned by Dwayne Allen. The restaurant/bar is an ode to his native Jamaica. 

"When we first opened in 2010, we were quickly aware that perhaps we are delusional serving 36 rums," Allen said. "What you see on the shelf is what is available."

With National Rum Day approaching on Aug. 16, it shines a spotlight on the bar, as well as on Toro Latin Restaurant and Rum Bar in north Scottsdale, which also boasts an impressive 150 rums. 

Rum for many people in the U.S. is well-known brands such as Captain Morgan and Bacardi. Experiences with rum are often tied to college days drinking cheap varieties mixed with Coke, or sipping an overly sweet tropical concoction on an island vacation.

The surge in recent years of craft-cocktail culture and the revival of tiki drinks has brought rum back to the forefront, and proved that rum is much more complex and versatile than people realize. There are many types, some unaged, others aged for 20 years. Rums come from all over the world, each with its own unique nuances.

"It's so flavorful, so robust," said Ross Simon, owner of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour in downtown Phoenix. "A great benchmark is to walk into a bar and ask the bartender to make a daiquiri, which is easy to mess up. If they use a great rum, it blows you away." 

A background of rum in the U.S.

Rum, made from molasses or sugarcane juice, is America's original spirit. According to "Rum: The Manual" by Dave Broom, molasses was first distilled in 1650 in Staten Island, New York. By 1750, there were more than 60 distilleries throughout the American colonies. 

Production in the 17th and 18th centuries was fueled by the infamous triangular slave trade: rum made in New England was shipped to Africa and traded for slaves. The slaves were brought to the Caribbean and traded for sugar and molasses, which were brought back to the colonies to produce more rum. 

The Dark and Stormy is a classic rum cocktail. (Photo: OJTrey)

Through the Molasses Act of 1733 and Sugar Act of 1764, Britain taxed imported molasses at a time when more than 140 distilleries were producing nearly 5 million gallons of rum, according to Broom. In 1790, U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton imposed a tax on British Caribbean exports and molasses. With prices rising, whiskey made in America with American ingredients became the new focus. 

During Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933, Americans started flocking to Cuba to enjoy rum, particularly Bacardi. Other Caribbean countries hurried to catch up with rum production after Prohibition and, by 1943, Puerto Rico was exporting more rum to the U.S. than Cuba, according to Broom. 

Tiki culture rose in 1934 when Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt opened Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles. Eventually legally changing his name to Donn Beach, he attracted attention for combining Jamaican rums to craft exotic drinks. The trend spread and in 1938 Vic Bergeron opened the first Trader Vic's, modeled after the Beachcomber. The tiki craze cemented the perception in the U.S. that rum was an exotic spirit used in strong, fruity libations. 

A 2016 Daily Beast article "The Birth, Death and Rebirth of Tiki" notes that the love for tiki mostly disappeared in the 1970s, and it wasn't until craft-cocktail culture started to rise that tiki bars began popping up again, notably in Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco, which opened in 2009. 

Deep passion for rum

The Breadfruit & Rum Bar originally opened just as a restaurant in 2008. Allen wanted to open the rum bar to teach people why the spirit is so versatile. He makes it a mission to satisfy customers' tastes. 

"My favorite people are the ones who come in and say they don't drink rum," he said. "It's an opportunity to educate people."

There are four rum flights and a cocktail menu divided into four sections: light and citrusy, full-flavored, the classics revisited and spirited sipping. Allen has fond memories of rum growing up, even before he was old enough to drink it. 

"When I was young, the only spirit on the island was rum," he said. "We refer to bars there as the 'rum bar,' even though bars there now serve other spirits. I would ask my grandma, 'Where's grandpa?' And she would say, 'He's at the rum bar.' "

Allen carries only estate rums that have a long lineage of distillation, and patrons will never see spiced rum on the menu. Unlike spirits such as tequila or scotch, which are heavily regulated, rum is not. It's what Allen calls "a renegade spirit."

"Anyone can produce rum if you have access to sugar or molasses," he said. 

Two of the bar's rarest rums are perched on the top shelf. One is Black Tot British Royal Navy rum. (Toro recently sold out of its bottle.) In the 17th century, English sailors where given a daily rum ration. When that practice was abolished on July 31, 1970, it was declared Black Tot Day. The remaining rum was sealed and mostly undisturbed for 40 years, and now has been bottled. A 1.5-ounce pour at Rum Bar costs $250. Allen said he just acquired the bottle in May and several people have ordered some.

The other rare rum, Appleton Estate Jamaica Independence, is the only rum kept in a wooden box, which Allen got when it was released in 2012. It goes for an astounding $2,500 for a 1.5-ounce pour. It's a blend of rums, and while the bottle is labeled aged 50 years, the oldest rum was aged 62 years. The law requires that only the youngest rum be represented on the label, Allen said. He owns bottle No. 323 of the 800 available, and has sold a number of servings.  

Keeping an open mind

In Scottsdale, Toro showcases its rum collection in the central island bar. The restaurant employs a rum expert, Dre Fountain, who is known as the "Rum Princesa."

"I tell people the history of what they are drinking and about exactly what they are tasting," Fountain said. "The nice thing about rum is every bottle has its own unique story." 

Both Allen and Fountain ask customers what they typically enjoy drinking, and select a rum to suit their palates. One section on the Toro drink menu is "Princesa Recommendations," which offers rum choices based on customers' preferred spirits.

Toro Latin Restaurant & Rum Bar features rum lockers. (Photo: Chris Eden)

  • Vodka: Fountain recommends Montanya Platino (Crested Butte, Colo.), which has a "clean, sweet flavor." Allen recommends Flor de Cana (Nicaragua) extra-dry white rum because the extra distillation leaves a "clean and crisp taste." 
  • Tequila: Fountain and Allen suggest cachaça, a Brazilian spirit made from fresh cane juice. (There is debate about whether cachaça is considered rum.) Fountain also recommends Desert Diamond Distillery's Gold Miner Agave Rum (Kingman). 
  • Whiskey: Allen recommends Prichard's Fine Rum (Kelso, Tenn.), which "takes on the bourbon experience," he said. Fountain recommends Ron Zacapa 23 (Guatemala), which she calls "smoky and smooth" and aged in bourbon barrels. 
  • Gin: Fountain suggests Rhum St Barth Cool (St. Barts) and points to its "floral notes" like those found in gin.  

Toro offers six rum flights, including one called "Around the World" that features four ultra-premium rums selected by Fountain, costing $92. The restaurant even has 30 rum lockers, and about 20 of them are filled. 

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"Customers who buy a bottle of rum can store it for free in the lockers, so when they go back to Toro they can get their rum and have their own nice personal rum collection," Fountain said. 

Tiki revival

Intrepid diners check out the new Undertow Tiki Bar in Phoenix on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. (Photo: Jeremiah Toller/Special for azcentral.com)

The tiki revival has taken the country by storm. Some cocktail-centric spots in the Valley, such as Clever Koi, the Ostrich and Bitter & Twisted, have tiki sections on menus or even special tiki days.

Hula's Modern Tiki opened its Phoenix location in 2009, ahead of the trend and serving rum favorites such as the Painkiller and Tropical Itch. In May, the restaurant and bar, which also has a location in Scottsdale, released a new premium tiki menu with six new cocktails and its first rum-flights menu. 

Jason Asher, owner of Phoenix tiki bar Undertow, has a well-rounded stock of rums made from molasses as well as rhum agricole, which is rum made from cane juice and originally distilled in the French Caribbean islands.

"The tiki movement has helped to bridge the gap for the consumer," he said. "Rum education has not really been at the forefront and hasn't caught up yet. The tiki community is definitely helping the movement, and exposing rum and the greatness rum."

The Ship Load of Rum at Bitter & Twisted. (Photo: Carl Schultz)

Asher said a common misconception is that rum is sweet because it's made from sugar. Some producers do add sugar to the rum before bottling, but others don't or aren't allowed to. Rum generally has about the same number of calories as whiskey, gin and vodka.

Allen hopes that interest in rum continues to spread and people expand their horizons more. 

"Rum is part of the heart and soul of this country. Rum made this country. It's a part of how we all got to be here. Rum is as much American as apple pie."

National Rum Day Events

The Breadfruit & Rum Bar: Rich Heider from Appleton will lead a tasting of five Appleton Estate rums, including an amuse-bouche and dessert. $45 plus tax and tip. 5-9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16. 108 E. Pierce St., Phoenix. 602-267-1266, thebreadfruit.com

Hula's Modern Tiki in Phoenix and Scottsdale will offer drink and rum flight specials for National Rum Day. (Photo: Courtesy of Hula's Modern Tiki)

Toro Latin Restaurant & Rum Bar: The restaurant will feature the Latin Passion Cocktail made with Brugal añejo rum from the Dominican Republic for $12 (normally $14). A specialty flight of the Rum Princesa's favorite rums will be featured for $35. It will include Phraya gold rum from Thailand, Dos Maderas 5+3 aged rum from Barbados and Spain and Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva aged rum from Venezuela. TPC Scottsdale, 7575 E. Princess Drive. 480-585-4848, fairmont.com/scottsdale/dining/toro-latin-restaurant-rum-bar

Hula's Modern Tiki: Both locations celebrate with $5 tiki cocktails and half off all rum flights. 4700 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. 602-265-8454. Also, 7213 E. First Ave., Scottsdale. 480-970-4852, hulasmoderntiki.com

Rum at home

Allen said anyone with a home bar should have three types of rum. Here are his favorites.

  • White rum: Allen loves Flor de Cana from Nicaragua, served with soda and a squeeze of lime. 
  • Gold rum: Allen's pick is Appleton Estate Signature Blend from Jamaica, made with 15 aged rums. He said the citrus notes make it approachable and easily mixed. 
  • Luxurious aged rum: Dos Maderas 5+5 is a blend of rums from Barbados and Guyana. It is aged 5 years in the Caribbean, then goes through a two-step aging process for another 5 years in Spain. It's one of Allen's favorite rums.