Traditionally, spicy rum is more than just a taste. It’s a piece of Caribbean culture.
Every island, or rather almost every Caribbean family, has its own recipe for seasoning rum, says Ed Hamilton, a rum importer for the Ministry of Rome, who is often credited with playing an important role in promoting that spirit in the United States.
Hamilton travelled through the Caribbean in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1997 it published the comprehensive guide on the Roma: An authoritative guide to the world’s rum, (Triumph Books, 1997) at a time when American liquor stores generally contain only a small selection of spirits.
Stephen Ferreira, a Dominican bartender at the Pouring Ribbons Hotel in New York City, says that the local spiced rum, Mamahuana, comes from the Taino people.
They brewed tea from their preferences, roots, herbs, honey and a turtle penis, which would have come directly from Aiti [Haitian Creole name for Haiti], Ferreira said. In many cases it was used for the treatment of diseases or for sexual activity.
Mamajuana is made as grandmother’s soup, a recipe for every household is unique according to Ferreira. The only permanent ingredients, he says, are honey and either rum or red wine or both.
The origins of rum in the Caribbean date back to the early 17th century. The spicy rum was probably born around the same time. Just as juniper berries and other early botanicals added similar spirits to wines and vodkas to mask their raw taste, legend has it that rum was flavored for the same reasons.
You will find a spirit of inestimable value in the Caribbean today. In St. Lucia and on many Caribbean islands the locals call it spicy rum. On the French-Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, as well as on Mauritius and the island of Reunion, which are located worldwide in the Indian Ocean, the inhabitants call their rum arrangements.
What they all have in common is the spices, even if it’s different. The most commonly used herbs are cinnamon and ginger, vanilla bean, lime slices, bay leaf, raisins, nutmeg, etc. In St. Martin, Hamilton said, he visited a rum shop in St. Martin that sells all sorts of spices, aromas of rum from Guadeloupe, similar to arrangements of rum, with sugar, spices and local fruit.
One of my favorite herbs was a mixture of two-year-old Trinidad rum with mangos, cinnamon and a little raw sugar, Hamilton said. A barrel of rum fell from a cargo ship on the island and sailed to the anchorage, so I took it with me to my boat. With 160 test prints, the rum was a little hot out of the barrel. But when it was seasoned with herbs, it was a favorite on my boat for years.
In St. Lucia, the secret ingredient used in much of the island’s flavored rum is the bark of the baa gang, which means aphrodisiac of a tight tree.
Today older people in Saint Lucia remember that herbs and rum were illegal when they were growing up, says Sergene John Baptiste, marketing manager of Saint Lucia distilleries. It produces the Reserve Spiced Chairman rum, which is considered by many to be one of the best spiced rum on the market.
The forbidden drink was codenamed Enba Contvere [under the counter] and was served in small glasses because of its great power and restorative effect, explains John Baptiste.
Until the 1770s, sugar cane was cultivated on a large scale throughout the Roseau area, which now houses the St. Lucia distilleries. And from this plant, which was cooked by the slaves, rum was made, and these recipes survived the emancipation. However, the authorities began banning these recipes because the use of the base rum and some of the ingredients used was considered dangerous.
But in the 1980s, these spicy rums took off again, with vendors selling their culinary products throughout the island to locals and tourists, as the rich tradition of local infusions spread throughout society, says Baptist.
Today these spicy rums are sold as souvenirs to tourists. But they also serve as physical and emotional tools. They can be an important part of festive events. A striking example is the spicy rum, sold at the famous Friday evening parties in the jumping gym in St. Petersburg.
Whether you want to experiment with a family recipe or taste your first spirit, spicy homemade rum is a great way to toast the Caribbean tradition. Spicy rum combines with the different cultures of all the islands, which is one of the best aspects of the drinking spirit.
Ingredients for back herbs / Photo Catherine Bjork
How to make spicy rum
It is important to note that alcohol is a solvent. Not all ingredients are safe or legal for infusion. Before you start making your own flavored rum, contact Cocktailsafe.org to make sure all the herbs and spices you use are safe to consume.
Moreover, spicy rum is not an exact science. It’s more of a taste study, so start a creative process and trust your taste.
The recipe below is just an example, so feel free to prepare it yourself. Here are some steps and tips to get you started.
- Start with white rum at 45-50% vol. alcohol (abv). A three year old door sign or a white President’s Label is a good choice because no sugar has been added yet.
- A good cane sugar/alcohol ratio is 15 to 25 g of sugar per litre of rum or 1.5 to 2.5% of the liquid volume of the rum. For a bottle of rum (750 ml), for example, add 15 grams of sugar, which corresponds to a little less than 4 teaspoons.
- Start with a small portion of rum if you don’t like the herb mix. A good place to start is with a cup. In 1 or 2 days you will have a good idea of the quality of the perfume. Another possibility is to make a few one-component infusions, such as cinnamon or rum with pineapple, and then mix them together to determine exactly the flavour you want. It may take more time, but it’s worth it to get rid of unwanted tastes.
- When you have obtained the desired taste, you can stretch the rum in a separate bottle or add herbs.
Ingredients of hot rum
- 1 bottle (750 ml) white rum (replaces white rum)
- Half a pineapple chop, diced…
- ½ Banana peel
- 2 cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
- 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
- 3 whole cloves
- ½ star anise
- ¼ teaspoon freshly boiled nutmeg
- 3 small pieces of freshly cut ginger
- 3 strips of orange peel
- 15 grams (or a little less for tablespoons) of cane sugar.
Photo : Catherine Bjork
Place all ingredients in the non-reactive packaging (preferably Cambro).
Mix it to dissolve most of the sugar.
Photo : Catherine Bjork
Leave for 2 days, check and rudder. Check daily until it has the desired taste. Deform the bottles and keep them. You can keep some of the herbs in the bottle to make it more visually appealing.
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