Awhile back, a friend of mine tried to open a bar focusing exclusively on local spirits. As the opening day loomed, he realized that finding local rum was more of a challenge than he expected, even if it seemed that you couldn't walk down the street without running into an artisanal gin distillery.
I wish I'd known about this rum then: St. George Spirits' California Agricole Rum (previously released as Agua Libre). It's made from fresh sugarcane grown in the Imperial Valley of Southern California, chosen for its small diameter, which apparently offers particularly grassy flavors. The 2013 sugarcane harvest happened in January, and the distillery received three truckloads—150,000 pounds—of fresh cane stalks and immediately started running the stalks by hand through a sugarcane press to get at the juice. The uncooked cane juice was then distilled in their 500-liter copper pot still.
I was warned by Ellie Winters of St. George that the rum "has serious hogo"—an old term that cocktail historian David Wondrich brought to light describing what he calls "the sulfurous, funky tang that raw-sugarcane spirits throw off." Ellie was right on the money: this stuff is earthy smelling, gingery and truffle-y, evoking roasted onions and caramelized bananas all at once. Sipped straight, the flavor is bright but there are savory layers in between grassy herbs. Some folks will find it weird, others will rush to figure out how to best embrace the funk.
Here's how: this rum makes one of the best Cuba Libres I've ever tried. The savory, earthy layer in the rum makes regular ol' Coke seem much more complex: spicier, deeper, peppery and grassy, even a little smoky (though maybe we're talking about non-tobacco smoke here.) I wonder how it would work with some kind of funky small-batch cola, though maybe you need the simple sweetness of Coke for this stuff to work its mysterious magic.
St. George California Agricole Rum will be available nationally in July for around $50 / 750 mL.