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Cocktail Hour: New Players Raise The Bar For Rum

Sagatiba Pura Caipirinha. Credit: Courtesy of Campari America

Sagatiba Pura Caipirinha. Credit: Courtesy of Campari America

Americans have always loved rum, but it tends to be pigeonholed as a party drink, the base for daiquiris and Mai Tais but not serious sipping. That’s changing as better rums come out to compete with the mega-brands we know so well, and rhum agricole and cachaça, two other sugarcane-based spirits, get in on the game.

Caliche Rum

Launched in 2012 by bar/lounge mogul Rande Gerber and Roberto Serrallés of Serrallés Distillery in Puerto Rico, Caliche has taken off in a big way, selling 10,000 cases in its first year. Named for limestone found around the distillery, Caliche is a crystal-clear white rum, smooth and slightly sweet in vanilla and caramel, with hints of spice. Unlike most white rums, it’s aged much like a sherry, with four layers of separately aged rums blended into one. Serrallés recommends that Caliche be sipped over ice with a slice of lime or mixed into classic rum cocktails, its age lending more complexity to even a simple mojito or Cali Libre (rum, Coke, cream and lime wedge).

Penny Blue Mauritian Rum

A single-estate, small-batch rum aged in cognac, bourbon and whisky casks, Penny Blue is a new addition to the lineup from Medine Distillery, which also has produced the popular Pink Pigeon rum since 1926. For Pink Pigeon, Medine distills sugarcane and then infuses it with hand-pollinated, handpicked bourbon vanilla from nearby rainforests, later adding orange peel for freshness. Penny Blue is the aged version, named for the world’s rarest stamp — the 1847 “Penny Blue” from Mauritius, which sold for $1.4 million at auction in 1994.

Phraya Rum

The most amazing thing about Phraya — other than the gorgeous gold adorning the bottle — is that it comes from Thailand, not a place usually associated with rum. Phraya alone may change that. It is an exceptional spirit, based on sugarcane from Nakhon Pathom province, in the center of the country. Aged in fired oak barrels for seven to 12 years, the rum is dark and exotically spicy, like Thai cuisine, rich in vanilla, honey and coconut and just right for sipping all night long.

Sagatiba Cachaça

Often called Brazilian rum, cachaça is made from sugarcane juice rather than molasses, using hand-cut sugarcane that is then fermented and distilled without additives, meaning that it’s usually pretty clear. It’s become a hot ticket in the United States, a smooth drink with the kind of herbal and botanical nuances that entice lovers of gin. It can also be aged, two to three years typically, bringing out the spirit’s darker, butternut squash and plantain notes. Aged cachaças are often enjoyed neat or as a chilled shot; the unaged go better in mixed drinks like the classic caipirinha below.

St. George California Agricole Sugarcane Rum

Made entirely from rare California-grown sugarcane, St. George’s agricole rum is akin to a sugarcane wine or eau-de-vie because of the way it is fermented. With a base of fresh sugarcane juice, it’s grassy, earthy and less sweet than rums made from molasses.

Sagatiba Pura Caipirinha

Courtesy of Campari America

Serves 1


Half a fresh lime, cut into wedges

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

2½ ounces Sagatiba Pura or other cachaça


1. Squeeze and drop lime wedges into a rocks glass.

2. Add sugar and muddle.

3. Add cachaça, fill with ice cubes and stir.


You can get creative and replace lime with any fresh fruit for a unique twist on the classic caipirinha.

Top photo: Sagatiba Pura Caipirinha. Credit: Courtesy of Campari America

Zester Daily contributor Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor, and is a contributing reviewer of California wines for Wine Enthusiast.

  • John 8·16·13

    Cachaca is not rum. It’s not made in the same way as rum and is not classified as a rum. It also doesn’t taste like a rum. It’s quite wonderful, and I would likely enjoy the Sagatiba Pura Caipirinha recipe listed above (without the sugar), but it doesn’t belong in this story.