Botanical Rum: Discover This Up-And-Coming CategoryBy Jake Emen
The spirits world, spurred on by craft distilling and its many thousands of entrants, has increasingly embraced cross-category products. For example, look no further than barrel-aged gin. That gin style brings together the world of gin and whiskey by blending the former’s botanicals with the latter’s barrel maturation. A newer and less-explored category is that of botanical rum — a hybrid spirit made from a sugarcane base. Spiked with a botanical punch, it offers imbibers flavors from the gin world, and perhaps a more grownup rendition of spiced rum, at the same time.
There’s no legal definition for botanical rum as a category, and neither are there producer-led standardized best practices just yet. Consider them a blank botanical canvas, then. The idea — sugarcane plus botanicals — is evolving as more producers continue to get involved. Additionally, the flavors you find will vary from one to another — think zesty herbs, citrus peels, barks and green spices, for starters.
Juniper Need Not Apply
While a lot of botanical rum flavors certainly cross into the realm of gin, that doesn’t mean you’re getting a full gin experience. Most botanical rums, at this time, do not actually include the use of juniper. It’s those other herbs, spices, flowers, seeds and fruits that step in to do the job. “Botanical rum leans heavily on flavor imparted from botanical, floral, or spice infusion but unlike gin it doesn’t require the presence of juniper or any single botanical in particular,” says Devon Trevathan, the co-founder of Liba Spirits, producers of Lafcadio Botanical Rum.
Rum botanicals /Photo Credit: Liba Spirits
As far as the spiced rum comparison goes, most drinkers associate them with heavily adulterated products which have been sweetened and dosed with loads vanilla and hearty baking spices. While certain flavor notes could overlap, Trevathan believes that one key point of difference is a conscious decision to embrace the base rum spirit, rather than mask it.
“We use a small bill of botanicals to accentuate the character of the rum that we created with Louisiana molasses,” Trevathan says. “So, our botanical rum isn’t a neutral spirit to start, it’s very much rum with additional flavor imparted through the infusion of botanicals, and I hope that will become a distinguishing characteristic of botanical rum moving forward.”
New Spirit, New Possibilities
The result is a spirituous chimera with an exciting assortment of cocktail possibilities. Maybe you want your rum cocktail to have the zest and spice of botanicals. Or perhaps you’d like your gin-based cocktail to drift into the sugarcane space. “One of the beautiful things I’ve found playing around with our botanical rum is its incredible versatility,” Trevathan says. “The complexity of the botanical rum really bumps up the profile of cocktails that typically call for rum, and stands up to the demands made by a cocktail that usually requires gin while lending it a different character overall that’s still in sync with the rest of the ingredients.”
The experimentation behind your home bar is part of the appeal as much as it is for those who are producing the spirit. “We’re kind of in uncharted waters here but that’s the fun of it,” Trevathan says.
Botanical Rum to Try
“Our whole philosophy is tying our spirits to a place,” Trevathan says. “We knew we were already going to use a Louisiana molasses, but we realized we could connect Lafcadio more distinctly to New Orleans through the inclusion of botanicals inspired by the city’s culinary culture. We looked through a lot of traditional Creole recipes and we found bay leaf and peppercorn were pretty universal. So we included both of those as well as orange peel, cardamom, and cherry bark to the rum through maceration and redistillation.”
Thrasher’s Green Spiced Rum was released in 2019 by the Potomac Distilling Company helmed by longtime D.C.-area bartender Todd Thrasher. This was the first entrant into the category I came across. It’s designed to be deployed in refreshing cocktails — think rum and tonic or mojito. Additionally, the brand makes use of herbs grown on its distillery’s rooftop including: lemon verbena, lemongrass, lemon balm and mint.
Callisto is California-centric, sourcing its botanicals locally, though the rums originate from Trinidad and Nicaragua. The selection of botanicals is designed to be evocative of The Golden State, including rosemary, lavender, and cherry bark.
Trevathan counts Boukman Rhum, technically a Haitian clairin, as a product which helped spur on the creation of her own. “It’s made in Haiti and distilled from fresh sugarcane juice then infused with native woods and bark, spices like clove, allspice, cinnamon and orange peel,” she says. “It’s definitely a botanical rum that leans more toward traditional spiced rum in its character, but it has a lovely dry finish and maintains a lot of character from the rhum base.”
Spirited Union, based in Amsterdam, may be the world’s first distillery devoted fully to the concept of botanical rum. That would be the “spirited union” they’re referencing, after all. They make a wide range of different botanical rums, such as the Spice & Sea Salt, with cardamom, vanilla, sea salt, cacao, and cloves. Also on offer is Pink Grapefruit & Rose, combining those flavors with blood orange and elderflower.
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