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Eatymology: Plantation Rum

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Eatymology: Plantation Rum
Written by Emily Storrow | Photos by Andrew Cebulka

Plantation Rum

[plan-tā-shən rəm]

n: A label that honors the diverse heritage of rum, bottle by bottle

Chef Digby Stridiron mixes Plantation 3 Star Rum with a tea made from dried sorrel––also known as hibiscus.

The South and rum go way back. Colonists, ever distrusting of water, were big fans. And much like Southern food, rum is a byproduct of the tangling of native, European, and West African cultures in the New World. Its beginnings are a bit murky; while often credited to English colonists on the island of Barbados around 1645, it’s recently been discovered that cane distillation was recorded in Martinique in 1640. Cocktail historian David Wondrich has even made the case that rum’s roots could be traced back to India some thousand years prior. But one thing’s for certain: There’s never been a better time to imbibe.

After decades of rum meaning Bacardi to mass-market consumers, shelves are now filled with sprits grounded in place. One label in particular is leading the way, showcasing the diversity of rum styles across the West Indies and Latin America: Plantation Rum. It’s helmed by an unlikely figure, Frenchman Alexandre Gabriel of famed cognac house Maison Ferrand. Gabriel was introduced to the nuanced world of rum when he began selling used cognac barrels to producers in the Caribbean and Latin America. He became so fascinated with the spirit, in particular the stories it tells through terroir, that he built a business around it. From the beginning Gabriel has sought to do more than simply bottle rum; he forges relationships with—and has begun acquiring—historic distilleries and honors their rum-making traditions. In Barbados, that’s the hallmark use of two types of stills (column and pots) that produces a smooth, balanced drink; in Guyana, distilling a robust, near liqueur-like Demerara rum. All told, Plantation tells the story of the spirit’s many identities across the region.

This approach has earned Plantation praise from enthusiasts, among them Digby Stridiron, a St. Croix chef whose restaurants, Braata and AMA at Cane Bay, are paeans to his island home. “[Plantation] pays homage to the local roots of each spirit, crediting the area it’s from—and not calling it something else.” He shares a favorite drink here, spiced sorrel tea that mixes well with Plantation 3 Stars, a blended silver rum.

Spiced Sorrel Tea