Part Deux of our Fall Fest of Booze Buys is the Rums…and I will confess that my tastes in Rum are far more picky and irrational than any other category. My FaceBook pal, Jamaican-based British Rum authority, Bob Davies, “The Rumelier“, would probably hang his head and cry hearing my preferences in his beloved cane-based nectars but his goals and mine are a bit different. Bob focuses on nothing but Rum and is actively involved in moving the evolution of it forward while preserving the great traditions of the style. Mine are…that I like to drink Rum. Bob contributes to the world’s knowledge base. I empty glasses, so if you want to learn about Rum, follow any link to Bob. If you just want a good, inexpensive thing to sip or mix, read on.
What arrived in the Rums was a mixed bag, including one fruit-infused bottle that was waaaay too sweet for me but is included, anyway, just because it turns out to be a killer addition to all sorts of cocktails. Rum was, by far, the smallest category of spirits I received and I hope to make this a lot more informative next year.
Here then, are the Rum Bargains for Fall 2014…
THE RUMS, from the Caribbean and Beyond
EASTSIDE DISTILLING “BELOW DECK” COFFEE RUM
Style: American About $20 Rating: “Exceptional“
Eastside was reviewed here just about a week ago but this stuff demanded inclusion into this Round-Up for the sheer, world-class quality of it. Follow the link to read the whole review but here’s the gist: “… “Below Deck” Coffee Rum is the best of its style I have ever tasted. By a country mile. It makes industry-standard Kahlua taste like weak Sanka and sports a richness, aggressive coffee presence, and texture like pure velvet that is nothing less than eye-popping. I took me about one half of one sip to actually emit that, “Wow!“, mentioned above and the Gorgeous DP, a White Russian fan from way back, got there only a microsecond later. I admit to having never heard of Portland Roasters, the outfit that provided the coffee, but I am damned sure going to find them the next time I’m in PDX.“
SOUTH BAY SMALL BATCH No. 18
Style: Solera About $28 Rating: “Best Booze Buy“
Rum from other countries around the Caribbean is sometimes called “Ron”, the Spanish spelling of the term, which also helps distinguish it from the Rums produced in the Caribbean, by far the most prominent Rum-producing region. But all these countries, especially The Dominican Republic, birthplace of South Bay, have fine Rum traditions and some of the stuff is nothing short of revelatory. South Bay’s Small Batch No. 18 is what I have always hoped Rum would taste like. I’ve now “tasted” it about ten times and it just keeps on pushing all my buttons. It’s shockingly smooth, drenched with lovely caramel, toasted coconut, pear butter, cinnamon, treacle, and spice notes, and sports a LONG finish that fades gracefully and slowly. Made by a Cuban Rum Master who fled the island after Castro’s take-over, Ron Master Pedro Ramon Lopez Oliver, this is, in my book, one of the best inexpensive bottles of anything I’ve found in years. It will probably make a really dazzling cocktail but I’ll never know. I can’t stop just sipping it neat.
CAÑA BRAVA PANAMANIAN RUM
Style: Silver About $28 Rating: “Best Booze Buy“
Made by the same outfit that produced our amazing Ford’s Gin, profiled in yesterday’s reviews, Caña Brava hails from the Ron traditions of Panama and another emigre from castro’s Cuba, Francisco “Don Pancho” J. Fernandez. This is a Silver – or “Carta Blanca”, as it’s called in Central America – that’s made from cane and molasses and has a richness not usually found in other young Rums. This is a three year-old Blanco that’s mouth-coating and irresistibly smooth and balanced. The molasses provides some chewy, almost buttery texture and deep notes of white chocolate and vanilla cream and spices, all played against hints of citrus and nuts. This is a really fat Silver and shows amazing skill and judgment and wild potential as a mixer.
CRUZAN “ESTATE DIAMOND” LIGHT RUM
Style: Light Rum About $20 Rating: “Highly Recommended“
Cruzan (pronounced “CRU-shun”) is one of the oldest and most respected Rum producers in the Caribbean, opened in the early 1800s as an adjunct to the Nelthropp Family’s sugar cane plantation. The Cruzans are made from a molasses base and this Light testifies to it in a big way. The upfront freshness and vivid spices lead to a subtle intimation of tree fruits and slight tropical notes of coconut and banana. As a mixer, this is about as good as you’ll find in the Light Rum category, adding that earthy molasses grip without imposing its will on the drink. It’s light and lively on the palate and a Light that could easily be mistaken for a Golden in a blind tasting. This is substantial and sumptuous for just sipping or for fleshing out any of your fruit-based Rum drinks.
SUGAR ISLAND COCONUT RUM
Style: American Fruit Rum About $19 Rating: “Highly Recommended“
Full disclosure: this sweet, very smooth concoction that announces itself as “Caribbean Rum with Natural Coconut Flavors” is actually made from Caribbean sugar cane that’s shipped to California and manufactured at the Mira Loma facility of Trinchero Estates, a large CA wine conglomerate. DON’T take that little bit o’ fessin’ up as a criticism. Sugar Island is a great bottle of mixing wizardry that’s a little too frankly sweet for me to just sip – although nowhere near as sweet and cloying as Malibu – but gives a gorgeous shot of coconutty flair to just about any cocktail you add it to. I invented one the first night after this bottle arrived; a combination of the William Wolf Pecan Bourbon (reviewed here recently) fresh cream, Vodka, bitters, and just a splash of Sugar Island. It was like a Mounds bar in liquid form and not as sweet as I had feared. This is like a very smooth and soulful coconut extract and it takes maybe a half-ounce to inject its charms into any mixed drink. Those with a real sweet tooth may very well sip it neat and it’ll work just fine that way, too. My oft-stated aversion to sweet and/or infused booze once in a while runs headlong into something Undeniable and this Sugar Island is just that.
CRUZAN “ESTATE DIAMOND” DARK RUM
Style: Dark About $21 Rating: “Highly Recommended“
Cruzan Dark is made from 5 twelve year-old lots of Dark Rums aged in American oak barrels and blended just before bottling. It’s possibly THE workhorse Dark of the Virgin Island, where it’s produced and a very cost-effective way of adding great, deep Dark Rum flavor to cocktails without scorching your pocket-dwelling plastics. It’s roughly the color of a well-traveled penny; a rich, burnished copper and the color leads into a wonderful, chewy quality that starts with a jazzy blast of dark caramel and cafe au lait and builds quickly into toasted bread, burnt sugar, brickle, and baking spices. This is an immensely solid and flavorful Dark that wildly over-delivers on its price.
CRUZAN SINGLE BARREL EXTRA AGED RUM
Style:Aged Rum About $29 Rating: “Best Booze Buy“
This is, quite simply, just about the best bottle of rum I’ve ever tasted for under $30. Along with the aforementioned South Bay, Cruzan Single Barrel is like my Rum Fantasy come true. I’ve tasted several semi-legendary $50+ bottles that didn’t come close to the pure, hedonistic allure of this stuff. Made from selected lots, aged from 5 to 12 years in used oak barrels, it’s then blended and aged an additional year in all new American oak. The wood presence is remarkable and the vanillins in the new oak add a lush vanilla cast to the finished Rum. Distilled from molasses, this rich, creamy stuff hits the palate with a regal smoothness and tones of melted Kraft caramels, creme brulee, grilled pineapple, sweet milk, and nutmeg. While it gives a lovely impression of sweetness, it finishes dry and lingers like a struck gong, gradually leaving just a hint of melted ice cream. This is a really beautiful rum and one that any of us mere American mortals, if not the estimable Brother Davies, can pour with every confidence that people will say, “Mmmm...”