Yo ho ho and sip a bottle of old rum

Posted: September 14, 2012

B UZZ: Hey, Marnie. I was in a bar last week and the guy next to me ordered some fancy rum that came in a snifter. What's up with that? I thought those were just for cognac and brandy.

Marnie: There are cheap rums out there, Buzz, that are great for mixing into cocktails. But there are great rums for slow sipping, too. If it was served in a snifter, chances are that was a premium aged rum from the Caribbean or South America.

Buzz: Aged rum, huh? They couldn't sell it fresh?

Marnie: Spirits are harshest when they're young, and only premium rums get aged, as a rule. Low-grade stuff doesn't improve over time, but the good stuff does. Slow maturation in oak barrels allows the top bottling to mellow and concentrate. It's an expensive procedure, since much volume is lost to evaporation, but the results are delicious.

Buzz: I wish I could be left alone to concentrate - preferably on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights now that football season has kicked off.

Marnie: Well, aged spirits are great for that kind of contemplation, Buzz. Oak barrels are porous and allow the rum inside to pick up caramelized spice flavors from the wood and deepen in color. Although their forceful aromatics can add complexity to mixed drinks, these so-called sipping rums are better suited to drinking neat or on the rocks, so you can savor each drop.

Buzz: I don't know. Treating rum like a good whiskey seems like ordering scotch and Coke.

Marnie: Well, think of sipping rums as a poor man's cognac, then. Cognac is made from grapes and rum from sugar cane, but the two have some strong similarities when they're aged long-term in barrels. The heat of the tropics speeds evaporation, so spirits pick up aged qualities faster than they do in France. At the end of the day, this means you can drink very well for the dollar among aged rums. Expect them to cost about half what you'd spend for a cognac of similar quality.

Buzz: Half-price? Now you're speaking my language.

Marnie Old is Philadelphia's highest-profile sommelier. She has designed wine lists for restaurants like Parc and Bar Ferdinand. Her latest book, "Wine Secrets," is a collection of wine advice shared by top wine professionals. Marnie consults for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and is an adviser to the beverage trade. Check out her blog at sauceblog.marnieold.com. Buzz'smusings are interpreted by Daily News City Editor Gar Joseph.

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