by Comrade Hunter
Why do we call this class Rebellious Rums? Are rums rebellious? I don’t think so. If anything, rum is silky, soft, sweet, caressing, easy, fun … ho, what have we here? 69% Alcohol? What is the meaning of this? That isn’t rum, that’s pirate’s grog! Where is the sweetness, the caressing touch of my Zaya, my Zacapa
There won’t be any of that here. Time for a change, a mutiny, a rebellion of sorts. It is the time for REBELLIOUS RUMS!
This silly vignette aside, rum has stumbled upon this ridiculous portrayal in the last years. Why? Perhaps to cultivate a mass consumer appeal for the spirit, for a long while considered by some a struggling market. Where does rum fit in the spirits world? Is it a high-falutin brown spirit for only the most distinguished of palates, or is it a back bar spirit for cheap highballs and tiki drinks? Why can’t it be both? Rum can be extremely varied in style, and is, but the market has a preconceived notion of what rum is supposed to be: a sweet, syrupy drink that gives you terrible hangovers. Yes, it is made out of sugar, but no, it is not inherently sweet. Much of what distillers produce is quite the contrary; dry, savoury, oddball spirits that are so unique one couldn’t find a similar experience in anything else in the world. But as demand is for the more stereotypical rum, most mainstream producers shy away from such styles.
This tasting was intended to shed light on the other, darker, unvisited side of rum; the place which dwellers of the high seas only whisper about in the corners of dark, dank bars. Here is what we tried for Rebellious Rums, or, What Rum Ought To Be according to Hunter.
Plantation Nicaragua 2001
Starting off low and slow, this bottle is the Trojan Horse of the night. Get comfortable, this is what we all remember from our previous rum experiences. Nothing fancy, just an easy going, silky, deceptive dessert to get warmed up with. The beauty of rum is you start with dessert and move on to the main course following. Procured from an anonymous Nicaraguan distiller, likely Flor de Cana given the size of their operation, this rum is column distilled spirit adding to its overall sweetness. What makes plantation stand out as a whole is their practice of putting single origin rums in cognac barrels for the last part of maturation, adding wine and wood spice tones to the spirit. Imagine a banana flambee with layers of fruit sauce layered on top. Baked apple and the general assortment of spices, delicate cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and brown sugar. The most popular release of the night, and a generally favoured pick for the standard rum crowd. The sweetness of this product makes it easy for anyone to enjoy. $75
Plantation Over-poof 69%
A marriage of rums from Barbados, Jamaica and Guyana, this molasses-based over-proof was made with the intentions of emulating the old-school, traditional dark over-proof rums found in the exotic locales of the Caribbean and South America. Big, rich, intense, an excellent concoction of robust flavours balanced out by the high alcohol content of the spirit, this is the kind of spirit that excels in expressing both sweet and balanced tones. What really makes this spirit of note is the wonderfully integrated Jamaican and Guyana influence, the latter being this sweet pouch tobacco character, thick with molasses, alongside the former bearing notes of soft Jamaican funk, reminiscing of old fruit skins sitting on the beach getting “ripe.” The notes of funk are vague at first, but make a remarkable appearance on the finish that leave one’s palate feeling just a poof of smoky funk. It perfectly cleans up the sweetness of the Guyanese and Barbadian influence, drying up the finish to perfection. Expertly crafted, and if it weren’t for the remarkable nature of the following rums this would have been in my top picks. Also, the price on this bottle is too good to be true. $51
Cadenhead Panama 9 Year
From our beloved independent bottler Cadenhead comes a plethora of limited release rums, all whacky, varied releases with tons of character. This first bottling, a Panamanian, amber coloured spirit comes packed with lots of life and glowing personality. I can’t tell you where this comes from, and given there isn’t any information on the bottle it would be a total shot in the dark to guess at the producer. The first thing one can expect from this bottle is a bright and nostalgic scent of freezies after being left out of the freezer for too long and liquifying. In their liquid form they are wonderfully pungent with fruit extract tones, the tangy orange and blue freezies coming to mind. My colleague Bryan from the wine side of the store told me that this bottling has loads of volatile acid in it, of which follow suit with that tangy, tingly, high toned near acetic nature of freezie juice. The candied nature of this Panamanian rum comes out second, developing as ginger in crystallized sugar, Turkish delight, ending on that tangy, near overripe mandarin orange character once more. I found this bottle quite interesting, and it really captures the less weird side of these Cadenhead rums. That said, I gun more for those weirdo releases and thus this bottling will remain a crowd favourite but does not necessarily earn a highly coveted Red Star. $125
Cadenhead Jamaica 14 Year
Once more, a misnomer for origin, but based on the distinct funky personality of this spirit it is likely be from the Hampden distillery (just a guess though). The funky character is developed from the introduction of the fermented liquid leftovers from distilling. These leftovers are full of life and character, imbuing the spirit with a ton of esters and character that can, I would assert, really only ever be found in Jamaican rum of this sort. The microclimate being of the most extreme importance, each of unfermented mash being spontaneously fermented by the ambient yeast and bacteria cultures. How cool is that? If it is not cool, you are not welcome here, see the exit at the top right corner of your screen. For smell, once more with vaguely overripe tropical fruit skins, pineapple slightly smoked by a diesel fed fire, well worn leather boots, insoles included, ah what the heck throw those in the fire too. The combination of petrol and organic tones is what in part makes this spirit so tantalizing. For those reading who know my passion for mezcal, you will understand the peculiarity of my appreciation for these funky, “hogo” driven spirits. This is not a try before you buy bottle; instead it is something everyone ought to force themselves into if they don’t immediately appreciate the glory that is funky Jamaican rum. For analogy, I didn’t find myself loving peated whisky the first time I tried it, but, over the period of a month the unique character of peated spirit grew on me. It is so unique that simply saying “its like sticking your head in campfire smoke” one misses out on a truly special experience. The same can be said for Jamaican rum. No life should be go without the wonder that is the Jamaican experience.
Cadenhead Diamond MPM 14 Year
Where to begin with this bold spirit. Starting with the producer, this spirit was created by Diamond Distillers, or, better known as Demerara Distillers Limited. Notable for crafting the El Dorado line of rum, DDL is a darling amongst the sweeter, dessert style “sipping” rums on the market. I say sipping in such a way to denote that to be perfectly frank, all rums are sipping rums if you are brave enough. The mere qualification of sweet, opulent, and hedonistic tones for a “sipping” rum is ludicrous given the extreme amount of variety to be found in the rum world. Shame on whoever qualifies a sipping rum so as to exclude so many interesting expressions of the spirit. The reason I move run into this tirade is due to the expectation that everything DDL produces must be of the ostentatiously sweet variety. Here is an exception to that rule and a wonderful one at that. I believe the MPM designation on the label refers to DDL’s Port Mourant still, a wooden pot still acquired from the days of old when Guyana was a thriving distilling community. Over the years as distillers shut down one by one, DDL acquired the various and unique stills from around the land; one of which being the ever unique, reflux intensive wooden pot still known as the Port Mourant still. The rich oils that are product of the Port Mourant show off musty, rustic, near antique in this bottling. But what does that mean? Imagine this story:
You are young once more, getting ready to go trick-or-treating, but you are without costume thematic treat bag. To find oneself a bag you venture up into the attic, and among the unfinished and ancient wooden rafters you find a burlap sack. The faint smell of hay on the bag, both damp and dusty; this will work fine for bagging candy. The first house on the block, the exciting smell of Autumnal decay, grass and leaves beginning to wilt, sweet earth, and finally, the first candies. What else could they be but those terrible, orange and black wrapped caramels that have existed since time immemorial. A bag full of these caramels, the intoxicating Autumn air, a delicate whiff of burlap, a faint memory of a spirit. $135
Cadenhead TMAH 12 Year
The true beast of the lineup. Though the Plantation overproof is a higher alcohol strength, this Trinidadian rum boasts a more potent punch even at 67.4%. The distiller is unknown to the best of my researching ability, but such information is not terribly interesting given the personality of this spirit. Expect a spirit full of tropical fruit, reminiscent of lychee jellies one can get in bubble tea, the bubble tea being of the sweet taro variety. Granulated demerara sugar encompasses all corners of this spirit, coating mango cubes and papaya alike. A bit of peach juice rounds out the fruit tones, leading into brandy soaked Maduro wrapped cigars. The palate follows a similar act but with the alcohol punching a ragged hole through all the sweetness. I couldn’t detect anything savoury about this spirit, instead the entirety of the experience is riddled with oily richness while being supported by rambunctious alcohol to space out the sweetness. Some staked that this spirit was too potent, to which I would disagree. Without the alcohol this rum would be a flabby mess of opulence; in other words, there needs to be some balancing force in rum to maintain its true beauty. This was one of my favourites of the night, and definitely a worthwhile contender for those stuck on “sipping” rums that want to broaden horizons. $150
Cadenhead TMAH 25 Year
The big mama to the 12 year, the familial resemblance is striking. What makes this stand out though is the remarkable age and strength of this bottling. Standing at 64.3%, this is no mere trifle of a rum. Full proof and at 25 years culminates in something remarkable, being, and I’m cringing in saying this because such different spirits are rarely worth analogizing, much like an similarly old scotch whisky. The oak influence on this bottling is intense, offering huge oak spice, cedar humidor, vanilla bean extract, ginger molasses cookies, treacle and butter tart tones all coming emanating in unison. This spirit is a cacophony of flavours are playing at the same time, the notes picked out on the 12 year sitting in the background, barely hidden by the veil of rich oak. This was the contending taster’s choice of the night, but for many reasons different than that of the Plantation. I found this release infinitely more interesting, with more structure to balance the opulent tones found throughout. If I had to choose I would go for the 12 year myself, but for those rum wary and looking to make their move from the many other fine brown spirits from around the world, this is a crown jewel that hearkens to something not entirely rum. Though I loathe the advertisements for unnamed tequila brand x not so much as asking but imploring you to order a tequila as your next scotch, of which is absolutely silly (online bait quip: Tequila Experts HATE Him!), but in this case I might say why not make your next Macallan 25 a 1 of only 4 to be had Trinidadian 25 year old rum? $355