Forget The Frozen Daiquiris: 7 Aged Rums To Sip And SavorEdit Post
Contributed by on Nov 19, 2018
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Rum is finally becoming respectable. Not that the best of it hasn't always been worthy of respect, of course. But for long as the most decrepit boozehound can remember, rum has gotten the short shrift in the spirits world. It's the stuff you put in frozen daiquiris, the stuff that has a monochromatic vanilla flavor, the stuff that's too sweet and goopy to be taken seriously. And there's still plenty of that kind of rum out there. But as happened with American whiskey over the last 10-15 years, the hardcore fans, the connoisseurs, the geeks, are coming out of the woodwork and into the blogosphere and chat rooms and social media. They're the ones who are, more and more, dictating the conversation about rum. And they're steering us away from the more unsavory brands and towards the good stuff.
These seven aged rums are, in my opinion, the good stuff. For those who came of age thinking, as I did, that syrupy sugar-added brands like Angostura or Diplomatico were the best of the best, the flavor of some of these may come as a bit of a shock — something like a Johnnie Walker Red fan trying an Islay single malt for the first time. But they're all terrific, each in its own distinctive way. They run the gamut, taste-wise, from smooth and approachable to the potable equivalent of riding a bucking bronco, with lots of interesting stops in between. They're made all over the map, from the Caribbean to the Alleghenies. And they all point away from Captain Morgan and the like, towards the future of the rum category. At least I hope so. (N.b.: I've listed the rums in ascending order of price. The only downside to rum gaining whiskey-like levels of appreciation and respect is that it's getting more expensive, too. But compared to single malts or high-end bourbons, these bottles are still a relatively good deal.)
Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry Rum (Jamaica; 43% ABV, $25). Plantation is known for sourcing rums from all over the Caribbean and then bringing them to France to age in ex-cognac barrels — which makes sense, since Alexandre Gabriel, the owner of Plantation, also owns Pierre-Ferrand cognac. Plantation is also known for adding sugar to its rums after distillation. As far as I'm concerned, this is only a big deal for rum producers who lie about it or don't cop to it, and Plantation has always been above-board about adding a "dosage," as the term is used for Champagnes with added sugar. But in the exciting new world of sipping rums, added sugar is frowned on in favor of more "authentic," funkier, pot-distilled rums with "hogo," which I can best describe as overripe banana crossed with a kind of gaminess. If you haven't had a rum with hogo, trust me, it's a hell of a lot better than it sounds. Xaymaca Special Dry, sourced from multiple distilleries in Jamaica, is Plantation's response to the naysayers, without the added sugar and with, the bottle promises, plenty of hogo. It's definitely drier and less viscous than your standard Plantation offering, and the cognac influence from the barrels is more present than normal. As for hogo... I don't really taste it. But while Xaymaca isn't funky, it's light and smooth and refined, with banana and coconut on the palate and a gently lingering finish. For sipping rum novices, this is a lovely entry-level rum, and at only $25 the price is right, too.
Maggie's Farm Queen's Share Rum (Sher- Rye Finish) (55% ABV, $65). Made in Pennsylvania, Maggie's Farm is an oddball even for rum, which is perhaps the most oddball of booze categories. Their rums are distilled not from cane juice or molasses, but from raw turbinado sugar. And their "Queen's Share" rum is so called because it uses the "tails" —the last part of each run of liquid through the still — from multiple runs, which are then combined and redistilled. In other words, it's the hearts of the tails. The tails have a lot of flavor, but they've also got a lot of congeners, or the stuff that gives you a hangover. This combo of rye barrel-finished and sherry cask-finished rum is aged for about two years before blending; The rum's natural sweetness, matched with the spiciness of the rye influence and the dry nuttiness of the sherry, is fascinating. It's definitely a young'un — a wee bit hot and unbridled — but I kept going back to it in hopes of getting a handle on it... or maybe I just wanted to keep drinking the stuff, I'm not sure. Oh, and no hangover resulted, in case you're wondering. Maggie's Farm makes plenty of other products, including a fantastic rum-based coffee liqueur and a falernum. I'm looking forward to checking out the lot.
Richland Rum Chateau Elan Port Cask Exchange (Georgia; 43% ABV, $79). Based in Georgia, Richland is the only single-estate rum distillery in America, meaning that every step of the rum-making process is done on-premises, including growing the sugarcane. The result is some beautiful agricole-style rums (meaning they're distilled from pressed cane juice rather than molasses). Their latest limited edition expression is called a port cask "exchange" rather than a "finish" because... well, hear me out. After the rum had been aged for three years, the barrels were sent to Chateau Elan, a local winery, where they were used to age its port. The port-laced barrels were then sent back to Richland and used to age the rum for another year. It's a boozy version of "You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!" The grassiness of the rum tones down the round fruity notes of the port — it actually reminds me a little of a sherry cask finish, with caramel, dried apricot and peach notes to go along with the more pronounced berry flavors. It's a delicious introduction to an unjustly overlooked brand. Richland is hard to find outside of Georgia; check out Seelbach's to get your mitts on a bottle (and other fine American craft spirits as well).
Ko Hana Koa Cask Strength Rum (Hawaii; 55% ABV, $75/375ml bottle). You'd think Hawaii is rum country, given that it's one of the most wonderful places to drink rum on the planet. But there's never been much rum of great importance made on the islands. Ko Hana looks to change that situation, in a big way. The folks at Manulele Distillers, which makes Ko Hana, not only use native Hawaiian sugarcane for their agricole-style rums, they use fifty different varieties of the stuff. And what's even better, they do single-varietal bottlings, so you can drink your way through a primer on Hawaiian cane juice. My favorite thus far is the Cask Strength, also known as Koa, which uses, for my bottle at least, the Lahi strain of sugarcane. The cane is harvested by hand, distilled in a hybrid pot/column still, and aged in American oak before being finished for three months in ex-Madeira casks. The finished product is one of the least grassy agricole rums I've come across — which doesn't mean it isn't delicious. Rich cocoa, dark fruit and burnt caramel dominate the proceedings, with some earthiness on the back of the tongue. It's not what a fan of traditional French Caribbean rhums agricole might expect, but as a primer on the excellence of Hawaiian rum, it's well worth a try.
Goslings Papa Seal Single Barrel Bermuda Rum (Caribbean; 41.5% ABV, $199). Gosling's flagship Black Seal expression occupies a weird space between party drink and respected spirit. Best known as the key ingredient in the Dark N' Stormy (the brand has actually trademarked the name), Goslings is blended and partly aged in Bermuda, but the sugarcane is sourced and the rum distilled elsewhere. But what it lacks in provenance it makes up in heritage, going back more than 200 years to the forefathers of the family that still owns it today. Its opaque dark color and burnt molasses flavor aren't exactly refined, but Black Seal is distinctive and, to my taste buds, delicious. Gosling's is making noises about distilling in Bermuda, and over the last few years they've released some top-notch limited edition bottlings. The latest, Papa Seal, comes from a batch of 12 of Goslings' finest barrels, each one aged for more than 15 years. Bermuda isn't quite as tropical as rum-producing countries like Jamaica or Barbados — the temperature gets down into the 50s and 60s during the winter — which probably explains why the finished product isn't more tannic and syrupy. And since Goslings high-end Old Rum expression adds sugar after distillation, I assume it helps keep things smooth here as well. The notes of dark chocolate and leather are similar to Old Rum, but with more mocha and oak, and a smoother mouthfeel. The finish is long, dry, and absolutely lovely; it would pair beautifully with a cigar. If you've ever been a Gosling's naysayer, this may change your tune.
Caroni 2000 High Proof Trinidad Rum (Trinidad; 55% ABV, $200). It's a not-so-well-known fact that the vast majority of the rum you'll find at your local liquor emporium was blended and, quite often, aged in the decidedly non-tropical locales of Amsterdam and Liverpool, England. Not that there's anything wrong with that — a lot of terrific, well-respected rum comes through those ports-of-call. But finding rum that never left the island on which it was made before it was bottled is a pretty big deal. Especially when that island is Trinidad and the distillery is Caroni. Caroni is a "ghost distillery," the rum equivalent of Port Ellen or Brora in Scotland. It hasn't been in operation since 2003, but we continue to see "new" Caroni releases from La Maison & Velier, the company that bought the remaining supply of aging Caroni stocks. The latest, taken from 7 barrels which produced a mere 2,700 bottles, was aged for 17 years in Trinidad. The hot climate resulted in massive evaporation (they claim about an 80% angels' share) and a powerful, high-octane flavor big on oak and leather, with overripe banana and dried apricot lending a fruity funk to the proceedings. Tropical aging, while beloved by purists, can create a tannic, challenging rum. Caroni 2000 is challenging for sure, but in the best possible way. Fans of overproof whiskeys should give this a try. Every rum lover should give it a try, really, but... you know what I mean.
Appleton 30 Year Old Rum (Jamaica; 45% ABV, $495). Along with Mount Gay, Appleton has long been a trademark of quality for fine rum. Buy a bottle of their juice and you know you won't get added sugar, chemicals, age-related fibs, or other assorted flim-flam so prevalent in the industry. And oh yeah, it tastes delicious, too, thanks in no small part to Master Blender Joy Spence, one of the few females to have such a position of authority in the rum industry. Age a rum for 30 years in tropical climate and odds are you'll wind up with an evaporated barrel or an undrinkable rum that tastes like a wood stave. Spence manages to avoid these pitfalls by taking barrels that have lost a lot of "angels' share" and combining them with other barrels of the same age that are then refilled to the brim. It slows down evaporation without affecting the aging process. Keep in mind that 30 is the youngest age of the rums in this blend — some barrels used are 50 years and up. Appleton 30 is much less tannic than its age might lead you to believe. Instead, it's round and fruity, with notes of candied orange peel, chocolate and coffee leading up to a long, dry, and bliss-inducing finish. The 30 Year Old hasn't been made for a decade, and only 4,000 bottles of the new batch have been released worldwide. It's a lot of coin to spend on a bottle of booze, but if you love rum, you won't regret it.