There’s an incredible galaxy of gastronomical delights we Americans never access. Whether it’s that we get stuck in our ways, can’t travel as much due to global health concerns, or there’s simply limited distribution doesn’t really matter. What’s more alarming is that we miss out on some truly great stuff.
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Yet, when something really blows up, it tends to find its way here. In terms of great Japanese drinks exports, we first saw that with sake and, most recently, we’re seeing it with whisky. It’s been reported that the value of Japanese whisky imports has jumped from a mere $1 million in 2010 to almost $86 million in 2019. What’s on the horizon? If we were putting money on it, we’d place a decent wager on rum.
The timing and location just seem right. Japan is enjoying some fame right now, especially with regards to a world-class Japanese whisky program. It’s a program that continues to push from grains and expertise sources elsewhere to the entire process happening within Japan’s borders (not to mention, a touch of homegrown creativity and craftsmanship). With rum, it makes sense not only because imbibers of the world love that particular spirit right now, but because Japan has a history of growing its own sugarcane that’s four centuries old, at least in the warmer, southern parts of the nation. In short, the formula is all there.
Presently, there are only a few brands that make it stateside and we’ve touched on them below. That, however, will almost surely change in the not-too-distant future, especially when we get out of this supply chain hiccup. The rum drinkers of the world aren’t chatting nonstop about the stuff yet, but there are murmurs, especially where it’s already being distributed, like other parts of Asia and certain corners of Europe. If Japan can put its own unique and delicious stamp on things like whisky, gin, craft beer, and more, why not rum? It’s coming.
Here’s mostly what’s out there now. For the more intrepid enthusiasts willing to shell out on import fees, check out websites like Dekantā.
The biggest takeaway from this rum out of Okinawa is the nose, a highly aromatic affair. It’s made from local molasses and, despite being un-aged, offers a nice smoothness. It offers some tropical fruit and even a bit of toast. Overall, there’s a cleanness to the rum, making it enjoyable on its own but just as good in a drink like a Mojito cocktail.
Pot-distilled and aged in American oak, this rum is made from native sugarcane and distilled in Okinawa. It’s the work of a brand that’s been at it since 1961, usually aging the stuff for a few years in barrel before release. The result is a honey-hued spirit with coconut, tea, and pastry notes. This one is plenty elegant all on its own in the glass.
Also from Okinawa, this rum is made from sugarcane harvested in smaller, nearby volcanic islands. The result is something like a rhum agricole, with some grassier, nutty notes and even some minerality present. A couple of versions are available from this brand now and there will likely be more down the line. Good news, as it’s an expensive import currently.
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