On May 19th 2004, 25 members of the Tasters Guild International New York Chapter gathered to sample and evaluate 20 premium rums and several other rum based products. To add to the validity of the tasting, I invited 10 bartenders and rum aficionados to a private tasting the following week. While I have listed all the rums sampled, due to the large number, I have limited my remarks to the top finishers.
History- Sugar cane was introduced to the Americas by Columbus in 1493 during his second voyage and the first sugar cane spirits were produced on Barbados circa 1640. On July 8th 1661 the Governor General of Jamaica mentioned the word rum in an official document. Rum quickly made its way back to England and then to “New England” where it was used as a form of currency. Rum was a staple of the British Navy where it was thought to be a panacea to cure most ailments and was dispensed on a daily basis. Some believe then word “rum” comes from “rumbullion” old English words meaning rumpus or fracas, perhaps from over use of the beverage.
Production- Rum is a spirit made by fermenting and distilling some form of sugar cane, usually molasses, and is produced everywhere sugar cane is grown (18 different islands or countries supplied products for this event). Sugar cane takes 12 to 18 months to mature and is generally harvested between February and June. The juice is squeezed from the cane fibers and heated to produce sugar crystals. As it boils it creates thick black syrup known as molasses. It is then mixed with pure local water in large oak vats and yeast is added. Slowly the molasses and water ferment to create a low alcohol (7%) sugary base that is the base production for distillation in column or pot stills.
Ageing- Because of the delicate nature of rum it is not exposed to new oak so as not to produce an overly woody product. My sampling was almost exclusively dark rums aged in oak barrels, whether American bourbon, French Limousin, sherry, cognac or wine. I have identified the type used as well as the proof. Most dark rums, like young cognac, will be colored with caramel. Rums carrying an age statement may be blended with older rums but the stated age may only be the age of the youngest rum. I have noted those that appear on the bottle or on information supplied to me by the companies.
Mike Shaw, director of the Shaw Agency, an importer of spirits, led the tasting and several of his rums were entered. Prices given are full mark-up and many stores sell them for less.
Winners- Rhum Barbancourt 15 year old- 86 proof- $35- Haiti- Made from 100% sugar cane juice, not molasses, and aged in Limousin French oak casks. Complex and long finish with tones of caramel and honey. Plantation 1992- 10 year old- 90 proof- $36- Venezuela- Bourbon and sherry casks used. Soft, sweet, complex with intense fruit flavors, raisins and coconuts and a long finish.
Runner ups- Flor de Cana Centenario 12 year old- 80 proof- $32-Nicaragua- 100% aged in small used bourbon barrels. Centenario refers to the 100th anniversary of the distillery, begun in 1890. Mellow, balanced, dried fruit, honey, and Kosher certified.
Plantation 1991- 11 year old- 90 proof- $26- Barbados- Clean and rich on the palate with a slightly alcoholic finish, semi-sweet and spicy. A blend of cognac and sherry casks used for ageing.
Closely followed by- Bacardi 8- 8 year old- 80 proof- $22- Puerto Rico- Created the aged rum category as we know it today. Slightly sweet, complex and well-balanced with nuances of vanilla, toffee and honey. Plantation Grande Reserve- 4 to 7 years old- 80 proof- $18- Barbados- Bottled straight from the cask using sherry casks for ageing. Flavors of baked bananas, coconuts and dried fruits.
Other rums tasted- In no order of finish- Pusser’s British Navy- 95.5 proof- $26- British Virgin Islands, Trinidad & Guyana. Plantation 1993- 10 year old- 90 proof- $23- Trinidad. Brugal Anejo- 2 to 6 year old- 80 proof- $18- Dominican Republic. Cruzan Single Barrel- 4 to 12 year old- 80 proof- $30- St. Croix. Mount Gay Extra Old- 12 to 17 year old- 86 proof- $30. Doorly’s XO- 6 to 12 year old- 80 proof- $29. Appleton Estate VX- 5 to 10 year old- 80 proof- $20- Jamaica. Plantation 8 year old- 90 proof- $24- Jamaica. Ron Viejo de Caldas- 3 year old- 80 proof- $18- Colombia. Lemon Hart Demerara- 80 proof- $20- Guyana. Gosling’s Black Seal- 80 proof- $22- Bermuda. Inner Circle Green Dot- 115 proof- $30- Australia. Stroh 80- 160 proof- $30- Austria.
Unusual products- Havana Club Blanco- 80 proof- Cuba- Only light rum in the tasting. Purchased by Ron Kapon and not available in the US. Cachaca Fazenda Mae de Ouro- 80 proof- $26(liter)- Brazil- Made from freshly pressed cane juice and aged for 1 to 2 years in 30 year old scotch whisky casks. Available in New Jersey in August. Kuya Fusion- 70 proof- $18- Guatemala & Mexico- Spiced rum. Sailor Jerry Navy- 92 proof- $20- Virgin Island- Spiced rum. Malibu Pineapple & Malibu Coconut rum liqueurs- 42 proof- $18- Canada.