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Handle The Proof: A Rum Ruckus

Perhaps only gin has a more dubious reputation than rum--although to earn it, gin had to beat out rum's association with slavery, pirates and the rough drink known as "kill devil" preferred by islanders of previous centuries.

Hell, even the name comes from "rumbullion," an archaic British slang term for the kind of wild ruckus that generally occurred after the second or third bottle of the spirit distilled from molasses or other cane by-products.

At least, that's one version of rum's etymology.

The amber or dark aged rums found in liquor stores these days are, like scotch, more reflective, sipping spirits than the demons of the past. Many mature in barrels for eight or more years, developing refined and complex flavors. For comparison purposes...yeah, that sounds plausible, comparison purposes...I picked up bottles of Zaya Gran Reserva and Pyrat XO.

Although the latter is a product of the Patron tequila family, it has a solid reputation amongst rum connoisseurs. But I've never been hooked on the brand for some reason. The blend of Caribbean rums aged as much as 15 years draws a rich medium amber hue from the barrels. And certainly the flavors are interesting. Pyrat XO wraps a range of floral and spicy notes--fennel, lavender, cinnamon and pepper--inside a swirl of hard candy sweetness. On the nose, however, it can run toward the harsh side, with musty oak, dried fruit and something like sugary isopropyl alcohol.

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There have been questions about Zaya. After getting the boot from its Guatemalan distillery, the Infinum brand ended up on Trinidad, presumably with enough of their stock in hand to continue selling at the 12 year stage.

Zaya had always prided itself on minimal disruption of the charred oak barrels. The new Trinidad version seems a little softer than before--though the perception is based on vague memory more than anything else. It's fragrant, at least, with a strong waft of vanilla hiding hints of melon, clover and honey. The taste conjures thoughts of cola and burnished wood, balanced by field flowers and honey in the middle and a lingering, faintly medicinal finish.

Pyrat is harder to know, but will eventually reveal a lot of character. Zaya shows a more gentle nature--pleasing and approachable, without yielding snob appeal. Both match well with a spicy cigar...if you happen to be in Addison or some other place that still allows civilized smoking.

I'll probably go through the Zaya much faster than the Pyrat.

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