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Raising a glass to rum

The Baltimore Sun

The world is full of rum makers. They start with molasses or sugar cane, and then make rum in a variety of styles.

Barbados declares itself to be the source of the world's first rum, Mount Gay, a beverage that supposedly caught George Washington's fancy during his visit there. Bacardi has a "cathedral of rum" at its San Juan, Puerto Rico, headquarters and asserts that its light rum makes the best mojitos, a popular cocktail. Martinique maintains, however, that because its "plantation rum" is made from the pure juice of sugar cane, not molasses, it is the finest elixir.

Faced with these conflicting claims of international superiority, I drank at home. I sampled American rums, made in small batches by Delaware's Dogfish Head distillery and Oregon's Rogue distillery. Both these rum makers began as craft-beer brewers and expanded to spirits.

Rogue founder Jack Joyce has said he began making rum in 2003, in part because he discovered that the world does not need another brewpub.

Sam Calagione of the ever-experimenting Dogfish operation began making rum in 2002 and describes it as a logical extension of his quest to make small amounts of full-flavored beverages.

Unlike large rum houses that use automated continuous column stills, these small-batch operations use copper-pot stills. The makers say the stills give them the chance to add more flavor notes to their rums. Rogue uses cane sugar, adds a fast-acting yeast, then ages the rum in Jack Daniel's whiskey barrels. John Coucho, a Rogue distiller, told me the dark rum is aged for as long as six months, while the white rum spends seven to 14 days in barrels. Dogfish uses molasses and a turbo-yeast and ages in stainless-steel tanks.

Best Sip

Wit Spiced Rhum

Dogfish Head Inc., Rehoboth Beach, Del. $26

Distributed in Maryland by F.P. Winner Ltd.

This rum is aged in stainless-steel tanks, with oranges and coriander. The aroma is spicy, and the citrus flavors are smooth. The alcohol in this triple-distilled 40 percent-alcohol-by-volume rum is not noticeable.

Also Tasted

Brown Honey Rum

Dogfish Head Inc., Rehoboth Beach, Del. $26

Distributed in Maryland by F.P. Winner Ltd.

Wildflower honey goes into this rum, giving it a distinctive aroma and sweetness. Aged for three months in stainless-steel tanks with American oak chips, it has woody and vanilla notes that are similar to those found in bourbon. A tad sweet, this could be a good after-dinner digestif, on the rocks. It's 40 percent alcohol by volume.

Rogue Dark Rum

Rogue Ales, Portland, Ore. $34

Distributed in Maryland by Dops Inc.

With its dark-golden color and silky texture, it is hard to link this rum with a rogue like Blackbeard. But the likeness of Edward Teach, perhaps at 6 feet 5 inches the tallest of all pirates, adorns bottles of this mild-mannered rum. Mellow over ice (the rum, not the pirate).

Rogue White Rum

Rogue Ales, Portland, Ore., $34

Distributed in Maryland by Dops Inc.

This white rum, which could serve as the base for many cocktails, had clean notes and unpretentious sweetness. An image of Jean Lafitte, a pirate who saved America's bacon during the battle of New Orleans, adorns this bottle. Mix a shot from Jean Lafitte's bottle, a dose of tonic and a slice of lime, and your world is at peace.

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