Rum, according to the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association, is simple to define: it’s a spirit distilled from fermented sugar cane. Not grains, not potatoes, not malts—sugar cane. There, easy. And the rum producers of the West Indies certainly know their business. Much like pirates, they’re authorities on the subject. Yet, earlier this year, at the BC Distilled trade show, where the province’s craft producers display their wares for the media and curious consumers, I saw no end of exceptions to the rule.
De Vine Spirits, on Vancouver Island outside Victoria, also makes a rum from honey wine. In fact, it makes three of them: Honey Shine, a second distillation called Honey Shine Silver, and a third, Black Bear, which is a spiced rum. Finally, Wayward Distillation House, further up the island in Courtenay, was serving tastes of its Drunken Hive Rum, crafted from caramelized honey.
Adhering to the rule of sugar cane are Grand Forks’ True North Distilleries with Hulda Rum and Hecate Spice Rum, and Sidney Spiced from Victoria Distillers—though the latter doesn’t bear the distinction on its label. Referred to instead as an “aromatic spirit”, this rum can’t officially be labelled as such (according to federal law) unless it’s been aged for at least a year.
De Vine Spirits, on Vancouver Island outside Victoria, makes a rum from honey wine.
All this led to an interesting question: does B.C. “rum” taste like rum? To answer that, and for the excuse of hosting a night of “Yar hars” and “Shiver me timbers,” I invited over my usual tasting panel of friends to work through three of the B.C. spirits in question, plus a control sample of basic Bacardi Gold, to remind ourselves what rum is supposed to taste like.
Bacardi Gold firmly on the palate, we turned our attention to de Vine Silver, Wayward Drunken Hive, and Sidney Spiced. Honey was alive in both of the first two (perhaps by suggestion more than chemistry, but the association was powerful nonetheless). The Silver, which won Gold at the 2018 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition, is aged a year, which lent the spirit a nice buttery quality, more in keeping with a gently spicy rye whiskey than spiced rum. Once we’d sampled that a few more times, we mixed up Dark and Stormies with Phillips Ginger Beer—a piquant combination.
The Sidney Spiced showed great balance between the sweetness of the spirit and the spice of the botanicals. Vanilla, liquorice, and orris root added enough complexity that we polished that off neat. Finally, the Wayward (Silver at the Artisans) had terrific body, the result, perhaps, of its production. The “rum” is made from molasses, as tradition dictates, but molasses built from honey, then aged in bourbon casks. There was a suggestion, we thought, of smoked honeycomb and a delicious undercurrent of burnt sugar and pecans—again, a welcome if non-traditional, spin on the spirit. It had been a long tasting; the natural pairing was pouring over ice cream. And with that, we all walked the plank off into the night.
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