When was the last time that you had overproof rum? Most likely, it was either during an ill-advised bender or while lounging on a Caribbean beach. (Or, if you’re me, it was during the first phase of the pandemic when hand sanitiser was as rare as single-origin saffron.) For so long, overproof rum has been the libidinous mistress of the distilled booze world. Its thump is what makes it popular — in Jamaica, we say that it “puts hair on your chest” — but this complex spirit has more to offer than its high ABV.
Luckily, overproof rum has been gaining wider acceptance over the past few years. Both professional and at-home mixologists have been embracing it, and there’s a lot to appreciate. According to the founder of The Rum Collective, Dr. Nicholas Feris, overproof rum “has not really grown in popularity, but the understanding of it has grown, or rather properly matured, and this growth is significantly influencing how these rums are being used in the U.S. today.”
“More and more consumers and industry folks are interested in the aromas and flavours in a rum they choose, regardless of proof,” said Feris. “Jamaican rums have so much to offer, from the lighter-bodied, blended rum, such as J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum all the way up to the full-bodied tropical bouquet found in a single malt style of rum like Hampden Estate’s Rum Fire.”
What is overproof rum?
Overproof rum has an ABV (alcohol by volume) of at least 57.5%. Caribbean overproof rums, such as J. Wray and Nephew, Bacardi, and Cruzan, are also known as “151 rums” and have an even higher ABV of 75.5%. (This is where the name comes from — if you multiply the ABV by two, you get the proof, which is 151 in this case.) To put this into context, tequila and mezcal typically have an ABV of around 40%.
Overproof rum got its name on the high seas when Royal Navy officers would test the quality and strength of rum with gunpowder. Gunpowder was wet with rum and then lit. If it burnt with a flame, it was “proof” that it was quality rum. If it went bang when ignited, it was said to be “overproof.”
Jeanie Grant is the Bar Manager of the Palmetto Restaurant and Bar in Oakland, CA. She’s also the 2018 Iron TikiTender champion, winning the title using overproof rum (specifically, Rum Fire). I asked Grant why she chose overproof rum for the competition. “I chose overproof rum for my cocktail because the flavours and complexities are much more present in a spirit that has not been diluted,” she said. She’s a fan of Rum Fire’s “deep tropical notes and almost savoury aromas” that stood up to the other intense flavours in her winning cocktail.
How to use overproof rum
As we stare down the tunnel towards a Roaring Twenties summer, I’m here to spread the gospel of overproof rum and explain how to use it. I use overproof rum a lot in my own kitchen — cocktails, bread pudding, other baked treats, and barbecue sauces are all improved by its presence. Compared to spiced rums, overproof is a bit more subtle, with enough throat-tingling, lip-smacking notes to keep things interesting. Some of the alcohol evaporates away during cooking, but what remains is a flavour that is pronounced and delicious, but not overwhelming. These are a few of my family’s favourite overproof rum-based recipes that will take you from before-dinner drinks all the way to dessert.
How to make Rum Punch
This classic cocktail is best when it is not fussed with. Serve it at a party to spread the love around.
- 1½ cups overproof rum
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (it’s worth the effort)
- ½ cup grenadine
- ½ cup brown sugar (the molasses notes adds oomph to the punch)
- ¼ cup Angostura bitters
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Combine all the ingredients in a pitcher and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Serve over ice.
How to make Jerk-Barbecue Rum Sauce
The base of this recipe is a jerk marinade that has been my father’s pride and joy for over 50 years. Yes, there are lots of ingredients, but the recipe is easy to execute. Whether you’re cooking chicken, ribs, lamb, tofu, or salmon, you’ll want to slather this sauce over everything.
- ½ cup overproof rum
- 2 cups tomato sauce (the thicker, the better)
- 6 medium-sized Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers (No, you cannot use jalapeños. I have spoken.)
- 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic
- ½ cup chopped spring onions
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ⅛ cup white vinegar
- ⅛ cup fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons chopped ginger
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon pimento berries (or 1½ teaspoons allspice)
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
Place all the ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and bring to a boil, then immediately turn to low heat and simmer for 15 minutes (just so all the flavours marry).
How to make Rum Salt
Great for sprinkling over grilled meats or on the rim of your margarita glass.
- 1¼ cups coarse salt
- 1 cup table salt
- ½ cup overproof rum
Pulse salts in a food processor until the combination resembles rough sand. Place in a bowl, add rum and stir. Thinly spread the mixture on parchment paper and place in a dry (not humid) area overnight (or for a couple days) until the moisture has evaporated. You can also dry it in an oven set to 135 C to speed things up. Flake and place in jars. When properly stored, it will last for years.
How to make Rum Caramel Sauce
Drizzle over ice cream, or eat an entire jar if you’re feeling heartbroken.
- ⅓ cup overproof rum
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup warm heavy cream
- ¼ cup cold butter, cubed
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla
Place sugar in a saucepan and add enough water until it resembles wet sand (usually between ⅓ and ¼ cup). Place on low heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Ensure that the mixture doesn’t bubble during this process.
Once the sugar is fully dissolved, turn up to medium heat and let simmer (do not stir) until the sugar mixture is syrupy and amber in colour. This takes approximately 15 minutes.
Next, slowly whisk in the cold butter followed by the warm cream. Once the dairy is fully incorporated, stir in the rum, and simmer until the sauce returns to the consistency of thick caramel.
How to make Rum & Ting
So refreshing, this rum and grapefruit soda concoction fuels balmy dance parties in Jamaica.
- 2 ounces overproof rum
- 180 mL Ting (a Jamaican grapefruit soda that can be found in the Caribbean or Latin American grocery aisle)
- Wedge of Lime
Fill a Collins glass with ice, and squeeze the wedge of lime on top. Add rum and top with fizzy Ting. Stir and enjoy.