When it comes to sensory experiences, no spirit evokes a sense of place or conjures an attitude quite like rum. Tropical cocktails like the mai tai and the piña colada are ingrained in our drinking lexicon.

But in recent years, an elite cadre of artisan rum distillers have exalted the spirit by using the highest quality ingredients, distilling the elixir in customized stills, and aging it in barrels for extended periods of time. The processes turn a tasty mixer into a sophisticated sipper, tailor-made for late-night imbibing.

In the Living Room at The Little Nell, at Jimmy’s bar, and around the corner in Justice Snow‚s, as well as other Aspen hot spots, mixologists are crafting cocktails with aged rums or serving them neat in snifters.

Mount Gay bestows the ‚Extra Old‚ name upon one of its premium rums, and the brand certainly knows old. The “original” rum, Mount Gay, has roots in the sugar cane fields of Barbados that reach back to 1703. Mount Gay is, in fact, the oldest distillery in the hemisphere and the world’s oldest rum producer.

Mount Gay Extra Old rum, born of sugar cane molasses, spends its adolescence in lightly charred Kentucky white-oak bourbon barrels. Some of the rums used in the blend spend up to 15 years in oak before Mount Gay’s legendary master blender Allen Smith unites them. Notes of ripe banana, almond, and mocha merge with island vanilla and evoke the tropics in every sip.

While age may define Mount Gay, it’s altitude that gives Zacapa XO its attitude. The Guatemalan manufacturer barrel-ages the rum at an altitude of 7,500 feet, nearly as high as Aspen. The cool temperatures and thin air on the volcanic mountainsides provide a perfect climate for the aging process. Although one could be happy indeed employing the Zacapa XO as a base in a tropical cocktail, it misses the point. This is a rum best sipped and savored in a Riedel Cognac glass.

And while Bacardi is the world’s largest rum distiller and privately held spirits company, it has not neglected the craft of fine rum production. In 2003 Luis Planas, Barcardi’s maestro of rum, produced Bacardi Reserva Limitada, the company’s finest expression of aged rum, which until 2010, could only be purchased in Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and Aruba. But this year the Reserva Limitada has been released in extremely limited quantities, and there’s no better way to celebrate the 151st anniversary of Bacardi than by imbibing a glass of the golden amber oak-aged rum.

Justice Snow’s Red Rum
Inspired by The Shining, this concoction by cocktail mechanic Joshua-Peter Smith packs a wicked punch.

2 oz. English Harbour five-year rum
½ oz. The Bitter Truth sloe gin
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
½ oz. vanilla bean syrup
1 Tbs. red currant preserves

Shake hard and double strain. Serve straight up. justicesnows.com

Pacifica Restaurant & Oyster Bar’s Jet-Setter Toddy
“This is our basic toddy,” says GM Nate Harnish. “It’s great around the holidays.”

1 oz. Smith and Cross Navy Strength rum
1 oz. Hennessy VS Cognac
¾ oz. lemon juice
1 oz. Holiday Falernum
2 oz. hot water
Cinnamon stick for garnish

In mixing glass, add all ingredients and stir. Pour into heated mug. Garnish. pacificaaspen.com

Like what you're reading? Get it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now for our newsletters >>