(pronounced “kru-shun”) is made on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The
island was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1493---which implies that it
didn’t actually exist until white people from Europe found it. What was waiting
for Columbus when he landed was an abundant agricultural economy based on the
production of sugar. That sugar, and the molasses derived from it, was already
being turned into rum. Over the centuries the island belonged to Spain,
England, Holland, France and the Knights of Malta, before being sold to the
U.S. by Denmark in 1916.
During the 18th century the Nelthropp family emigrated from Denmark to St. Croix, doubtless lured by stories of unending riches in the New World. They founded Cruzan Rum in 1760. After eight generations, they continue to manage the distillery, although the brand is now owned by Beam Global. The rum today is made in column stills rather than the pot stills of old, cut with virgin rainwater after distillation, and aged in handmade wooden barrels for various intervals before release.
Cruzan claims to have invented the flavored rum category. Depending on your point of view, this may or may not be something to brag about. Flavors currently on the market include Banana, Citrus, Coconut, Guava, Mango, Pineapple, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cream and Vanilla. These spirits proved to be a boon for bartenders, who could make a variety of flavored drinks without the burden of cleaning the blender after each one. In the more conventional realm, their most popular expressions are the Aged Light and Dark Rums. Among spirits geeks, they are best known for their Single Barrel. In terms of price, market niche and quality, Cruzan competes directly with Bacardi, although Bacardi’s marketing tends to be much slicker (and once again, the value of that is in the eye of the beholder).
Cruzan Light Aged Rum ($14) is aged for a minimum of one year in American oak
barrels. It has a light straw color and a spicy nose with scents of cinnamon,
clove and pumpkin. Although slightly sweet on entry, the spice emerges in the
mid palate along with all the flavors promised on the nose. It is graceful and
balanced, with a long and savory finish. Aside from the obvious cocktails
(Daiquiri, Mojito), this would make an unusual and striking Martini, as well as
a variety of interesting long drinks.
The company came late to the spiced rum party, not releasing its Cruzan 9 Spiced Rum ($16) until 2010 (Captain Morgan was formally launched in the U.S. in 1984). Specifically, the nine spices are vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, clove, mace and juniper berry. They intertwine on the nose along with a racy floral character. The rum is sweet on entry, with a complex mid palate combining all the flavors with hints of spring flowers. The finish is particularly long and peppery.
Purists may sniff at the concept of flavored rum, but the Cruzan Strawberry ($14), the latest addition to the line in 2011, is delightful. Pure and concentrated berry aromas highlight the nose. The spirit is sweet yet natural on the palate, with low alcohol (42 proof, or 21%) and a plump finish.
At the other end of the scale is the formidable Black Strap Rum ($17), which has a dark chocolate color and a rich, fragrant nose of cookie dough, cocoa, mint and coffee. Considering the lush, viscous texture and the strong flavor of molasses in the mouth, the rum is surprisingly graceful, but make no mistake---this is intense stuff. The finish is long and bitter, with resonant flavors of licorice and caramelized sugar, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to drink it straight. A float of this rum would be a nice counterpoint to many cream drinks, and would be perfect on top of your Christmas eggnog.
The Single Barrel ($29) has a light brown color and a powerful nose scented with molasses, honey, baking spices and flowers. It has a firm, ripe entry and the hallmark balance of Cruzan, along with a sweet/spicy mid palate and a long finish with echoes of honey and molasses. Drink this flavorful and distinctive rum in a snifter, or enjoy it on the rocks with just a splash of water.