Rum rooms have become a bit of a thing in the Caribbean recently. Not to be confused with rum shops – those ubiquitous tiny local bars cum gathering spots that are found throughout the islands (Barbados, alone, has more than 1,500 of them) – rum rooms are very much visitor-focused. Rum rooms are dedicated to celebrating, and providing education on, the diversity and variety of (generally high-end) rums that are produced across the Caribbean. And that diversity is impressive, as is the complexity and taste of a fine rum.
Unheard of until relatively recently, rum rooms are now a feature of upscale resorts and restaurants on a variety of islands, from Jamaica to the BVI. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the first of these appeared on the small island of Anguilla. The Rhum Room, at the stylish Zemi Beach House on Shoal Bay East (often voted the best beach in the Caribbean) is, in many ways, a pioneer. It is also, in my opinion, one of the premier examples of a rum room to be found. And I have visited more than a few.
There are a couple of things that make the Rhum Room stand out. Sure, they have an excellent, regionally diverse, hand-picked selection of quality rums, but so do most of the others. But where they stand out is in the sheer love, respect and passion that they show for this complex spirit. And on my most recent visit, I was lucky enough to experience another of their unique fortes – something that I’ll call the ‘Princess Factor’.
These two features are closely interwoven, with one complementing the other. The love and respect for rum is obvious in the Rhum Room’s sublime design, with its ultra modern take on an old-world private gentlemen’s club, highlighting tan and teal leather furniture in a spacious, comfortable layout. That clubby feel is enhanced by the fact that you can enjoy a cigar with your rum.
The passion is personified by Rhum Room’s in-house rum sommelier (or ‘rummelier’), Earline Anthony, or Princess, as she is better known. Princess is something of a phenomenon herself. A longtime Zemi Beach staffer, she admits she knew nothing about rum when she was approached to work in the Rhum Room. “All I knew was the stereotypes of rum drinkers,” she smiles. “I had a mental picture of either heavy drinkers, or snobs. I’d never been exposed to the complexities and nuances of rum itself.”
In spite of that, Princess was intrigued. She accepted the job, but with one condition; she told management that that if she was expected to talk knowledgeably about rum, she would need to taste every rum in the Rhum Room’s (extensive) collection. Management accepted, and her love affair with rum was born. Over the next little while she immersed herself in rum lore, arranging (sometimes at her own expense) tours of distilleries around the islands, including her native St. Lucia and the world’s oldest rum producer, Mt. Gay in Barbados.
Today, Princess can talk masterfully on all types of rum, from the molasses-based style from former British territories like Jamaica and Barbados, to the Demerara products originating in Guyana, to the smoother Spanish-style spirits from Cuba and Venezuela to the distinct sugar cane rhum Agricole from the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.
You can taste all styles at the Rhum Room, either individually or by the flight. Flights can highlight a region, like the French Invasion or Spanish Conquistadors flights. Or Princess can customize a flight for you. “Don’t worry,” she laughs. “The first question I’ll ask you is, ‘what’s your budget?’. We have some excellent, very reasonably priced runs from all regions. But we also have our super premium and very rare products.” When we were there, the most expensive item on offer was an Appleton Jamaica Independence 50-year-old bottling at $650US a serving. These premium products come and go, and Princess is always talking to distributors and distilleries looking for rare bottles or what’s new and exciting in the world of rum.
We were fortunate to arrange a private tasting, including people with a moderate knowledge of rum (me) and a couple of neophytes. One thing soon become obvious, Princess is just as enthusiastic introducing rum to newcomers (“I usually start them off with a Spanish-style, as they are smoother and sweeter,” she says) as she is discussing nuances and finish with those who know their way around a rum bottle (“It’s important to get to know their preferences and get a feel for their palate,” she explains).
Regardless of your knowledge level, you are guaranteed to leave the Rhum Room with a greater appreciation of this marvellous spirit. And you are almost certain a pickup at least a bit of rum passion from the ‘Princess Factor’.
More information on the Rhum Room at Zemi Beach Beach House can be found here.
Photo One: Rummelier Princess hosts a bespoke rum tasting at the Rhum Room at Zemi Beach House, Anguilla.
Photo Two: The Rhum Room’s design is an ultra-modern take on an old-world private club.
Photo Three: You can taste all styles of rum, including super-rare bottlings like the Appleton Jamaica Independence 50-year-old.