These days, when you think of rum, your mind may jump to the swashbuckling heroes of the film franchise Pirates of the Caribbean, and Johnny Depp’s famous, desperate inquiry about the demise of his stashed spirits. But cheer up, Southerners: you no longer need to ask “why is all the rum gone?” because the sweetest of libations is back in style, and the best part is that you don’t have to wait until your next beach vacation to order up.
Rum has a long history in the South, but its popularity had generally declined since the 1700s, when British taxation on sugar and molasses imports exiled production of the spirit back to the Caribbean from which it was originally introduced. The abundance of corn, wheat, and barley grown on American soil contributed to the rise of Whiskey, and in the South particularly, Bourbon whiskey replaced rum as a go-to spirit for those with a penchant for smokier, heavier, and more flavorful liquors.
In the past fifteen years, a sort of rum revival has begun in the South, with small-batch spirits distillers adding rum to their repertoire and bars placing more of an emphasis on rum cocktails. So-called “tiki drinks” are especially in vogue, and as we cruise into summer you can expect to see more rum concoctions than ever on bar menus, from rum-of-the-mill classics like piña coladas and cola mixtures to cool twists on a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. In addition, artisan distilleries specializing in rum have opened in almost every Southern state. From an old repurposed textile mill in North Carolina, to a newly-built, Hemingway-inspired distillery in Florida, here are some of the rummiest productions from our favorite Southern artisan distillers.
Rock Town Distillery
Little Rock, Arkansas
WHY WE LOVE IT. Produced by the first legal spirits distillery to open in Arkansas since Prohibition, this small-batch rum is so good it should maybe still be outlawed. The amazing flavor comes from the liquor being distilled from pure cane dark brown sugar and aged in used whiskey casks. Website
NOTES. Smooth finish. Enjoy straight up, on the rocks, or in a decadent Dark and Stormy.
New Orleans, Louisiana
WHY WE LOVE IT. Bayou Rum uses locally-sourced sugar cane and Satsumas, which are a favored, seedless citrus similar to mandarins and grown in the Gulf states. This rum is fermented, distilled, matured, and bottled at the largest privately-owned distillery in the U.S. Website
NOTES. Smooth and refreshing citrus flavor.
High Wire Distilling
Charleston, South Carolina
WHY WE LOVE IT. The traditional vision and careful research of husband-and-wife owners Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall is what makes their rum unique. Developed in the style of the French West Indies, this small-batch rum is made from hand-pressed sugarcane juice sourced from local farmers and transported to the fermenter within twenty-four hours. The rum is then barrel rested for twelve months. We really love the antique-looking special release labels, which are hand-written to notate the bottle number, the date of distilling, and the name of the source farm. Website
NOTES. Complex, earthy flavors with a long, sweet finish.
Key West, Florida
WHY WE LOVE IT. Blended from molasses-based rums sourced from Florida, Central America, and the Caribbean, this bold dark spirit is aged in discarded bourbon oak barrels and port-wine casks, and then finished in Spanish sherry casks. We think it’s pretty cool that the brand is named for Ernest Hemingway’s boat, and the smoothness of the rum is perfect for sailing on. Website
NOTES. Vegetal tones with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, almonds, apricots, and bourbon. Robust and full-bodied with a long velvety finish. Serve neat.
Muddy River Distillery
Charlotte, North Carolina
WHY WE LOVE IT. We love the repurposing and preservation of historic buildings, so the fact that this rum is produced in an old Belmont textile mill makes us even more keen on Queen Charlotte’s Reserve. This rum is aged for twelve months in virgin American white oak barrels in order to achieve its smooth amber color. No flavoring or coloring is added, so we know that this rum is the real deal. Website
NOTES. Well-balanced with a smooth, oaky finish.
San Leon, Texas
WHY WE LOVE IT. Distilled in copper pots in order to produce an ultra-pure spirit, this certified American spiced rum is made by the first woman-owned distillery to open in the male-dominated craft distilling industry. Railean Spiced Rum is aged in virgin, double-charred American oak barrels. Website
NOTES. Sweet and spicy with a medium smooth finish and hints of vanilla, toffee, honey, and nutmeg.
Silver Fox Distillery
WHY WE LOVE IT. This clear, white rum is made at The Great Dismal Distillery, which houses the SilverFox brand. The recipe comes from owner Zachary Combs’s grandmother, who used to ferment grain to power her husband’s tractor and then turned the leftovers into liquor that’s perfect for sipping on the rocks or mixing into cocktails. Website
NOTES. Light bodied and smooth with hints of citrus and vanilla beans.