Guyana is in South America. It’s watered by the Demerara River, whose banks have long been cultivated, notably for sugar. There were once some 200 sugar plantations near the Demerara. The distilleries eventually consolidated into Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL). DDL is now the sole rum producer in Guyana, boasting the Caribbean’s last wooden still.
Guyana/Demerara rum—full bodied, smoky and bittersweet—was the base of Britain’s Royal Navy rum. British sailors received a daily ration (“tot”) of rum, the exact amount of which depends on who you read—anywhere from two to eight (!) ounces. Occasionally it was mixed with water, sugar and lime juice, a primitive daiquiri known as grog. That British tradition officially ended July 31, 1970.
For this article, I sampled seven Guyana rums, neat and mixed. All but one are available locally.
Diamond Reserve White Rum -- $12.99, 80 Proof. A white rum, clear and colorless, virtually no scent. The taste is mild. With time in the glass there’s a slight green-fruity (underripe pear or apple), faint powdered sugar taste. Daiquiri—two oz. rum, 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice, 1/2 oz. simple syrup. Combine, shake and strain into a chilled glass. This is the old-school daiquiri, simple, not too sweet. The syrup gives it a solid base and texture.
Lemon Hart 1804 -- $24.99, 80 Proof. Mr. Lemon Hart was reportedly the “first official purveyor of rum to the Royal Navy.” Funky, musty scent, dry smoke, burnt wood, leather, pipe tobacco, caramelized ribs, fig or date. Taste is dry on the palate, more smoke, short, toasted-bread finish. Not too heavy-bodied. Ginger ale or cola adds a sweet balance.
El Dorado 8 Year Old -- $22.99, 80 Proof. Buttered caramel aroma, toasted marshmallow, vanilla waffle and syrup. Medium-bodied. Not sweet, but the finish has hint of dark honey, marmalade, and candied orange peel. Old Fashioned—two ounces rum, one tsp. simple syrup, dash of bitters, muddled orange zest, ice, stir. It’s sweet, and needs tartness for balance. A Luxardo cherry added a kick of fruitiness to counter the sugar.
El Dorado 12 Year Old -- $24.99, 80 Proof. Sweet black coffee and cocoa nose. Roasted Brazil nuts, almond. Cola. Hot fudge and vanilla. Taste— dried black fig, chewy and concentrated. Coffee and prune finish. With unsweetened coconut water—two ounces rum over ice, four ounces chilled coconut water, stir. Buttery, slightly oily, touch of brine, unsweet coconut chocolate bar. It’s an easygoing sipping drink, zero burn, slides down. Coconut water on its own tastes like a sports drink, but the rum balances out that good-for-you quality.
El Dorado 21 Year Old -- $111.99, 80 Proof. Scent is dry, leathery, sea air, spiced pear preserves and mincemeat. Taste—dryish, slightly briny, like Islay scotch. Tangy finish, burnt orange peel and molasses. Does not appear to be sweetened, though other El Dorado rums are rumored to have added sugar. That’s legal, but controversial under the new “authentic” rum ethic. This is a dry sipping rum.
Hamilton Guyana Rum -- $24.99, 86 Proof. Scent of smoke, caramelized sugar, spice (though it is not spiced nor is sugar added). Medium body. Taste of ground black peppercorn, more smoke, char, pipe tobacco; like a slightly ashy toasted marshmallow. Bitter molasses and black licorice finish. It remains resolutely dry. Tasted on ice with Fever Tree ginger ale (and a squeeze of fresh lime juice). The Fever Tree is also dry, making this the driest rum and ginger ale you might ever try, at least the driest made with Guyana rum. The dry smokiness cuts through the ginger ale. There’s no syrupy quality, but more of a spiced pear taste.
Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof (Guyana and Trinidad Rum Blend) -- $34.99, 109 Proof. Following the abolition of the rum ration, Charles Tobias persuaded the British Admiralty to give him the recipe and rights to produce traditional Navy rum. The result was Pusser’s—Navy slang for the purser, the guy who supervised the daily tot. The scent starts fumey, smooths out. Funky, then molasses and syrup. Taste is sweet, caramel, dark honey, molasses and black licorice aftertaste. Cuba Libre—two ounces rum, 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice, stir over ice, fill with Coca-Cola (not diet, that’s a different thing entirely) stir briefly. Lime is essential to balance out the sweetness of the soda. This blend brings out the rum’s smoky, bitter molasses tang. This American History classic has roots in the Spanish-American War and World War II.