The original pirates of the Caribbean were liars, cheats and thieves. But they could be trusted to pour a glass of rum the right way. Unlike many modern imbibers who debase the sugarcane-based spirit with Coke, coconut cream or fruit juice the bloodthirsty seafarers enjoyed their hooch neat. (Edward "Blackbeard" Teach was the exception; he took his grog with a pinch of gunpowder.) Now artisan rum producers from Antigua to Venezuela are persuading sophisticated sippers to dump the mixers and drink like Captain Kidd once more. These master distillers specialize in dark, aged rums that are big on nose and character, and far removed from the clear, bland liquor normally found in cocktails. Caribbean connoisseurs recommend sampling élite rums at room temperature, like a single malt or cognac. Adding an ice cube or splash of water to the glass is also acceptable. The holiday season gives you the perfect excuse to experiment, of course. If you're glugging the good stuff, a smooth, warm sensation should race around your mouth soon after the first taste. But lay off the gunpowder these rums are already exploding with flavor.
RON ZACAPA: CENTENARIO 23
This Guatemalan delight is a blend of 6- to 23-year-old rums, which are distilled from the honey-like first press of the sugarcane. (Many other producers use molasses, the tarry end product of the sugarmaking process.) Take a sip and your taste buds will be swaddled in rich caramel, fig and tobacco notes. Visit ronesdeguatemala.com for more information.
CLEMENT: RHUM CANNE BLEUE
Not all white rums are tasteless tipples. By using a single sugarcane variety blue cane Martinique's Clément created a super smooth liquor loaded with citrus, almond and floral flavors. See details at rhum-clement.com.
RON BARCELO: IMPERIAL
Put away the brandy: Imperial is a superlative after-dinner treat. After aging for up to 10 years in old bourbon barrels, this Dominican Republic rum emerges full-bodied and tasting of toffee, spice and vanilla. More at ron-barcelo.com.
DIPLOMATICO: RESERVA EXCLUSIVA
Sweet, creamy with hints of ginger, cinnamon and clove, this seductive Venezuelan snifter is best savored between bites of dark chocolate. Visit dusa.com.ve.