Rums Done Agricole-Style

Agricole-style rums hop off the islands

All rum is not created equal.

Most of the stuff that's mixed into Mai Tais is derived from molasses, a byproduct of the sugar industry. But some parts of the rum world do things a little differently: Sugarcane is crushed fresh from the field, and the juice is fermented and distilled. The result? A rum that's grassy, vegetal, and a little gamey at first–like the natural wine of hard liquor.

The French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe are the ancestral homes to this style, called rhum agricole, or "agricultural rum," as opposed to the familiar rhum industriel. These days, agricole-style rums are moving beyond the French West Indies. Australia-based South Sea Rum, introduced Stateside in December, is distilled from cane grown in Queensland. Pacific Rum, released from Oregon's Bull Run Distilling Co. last summer, is double-distilled from cane juice and aged in bourbon barrels.

California's St. George Spirits blazed the trail with the release of its Agua Libre cane-based rum in 2010. The distillery is currently producing a fresh batch: Look for an unaged version by spring (rum from a previous batch is still available online), with aged batches, currently resting in French oak, to follow.

At Rumba, an impressive new rum-centric bar in Seattle, Connor O'Brien matches the grassiness of the rum with the richness of pineapple in A Unique Bird (see the recipe).