I’ve been planning to do a review of gold rums for quite some time, but didn’t manage to find time for such a large undertaking lately. And the last few weeks have been extremely busy for me, which explains the lack of posts. I finally managed to dedicate a weekend to rum, and sampled quite a bit – 19 or 20 rums. Yeah, that’s quite a bit of sampling, but it’s due to the nature of my quest. I want to learn more about rum, the different types, the differences between the islands, the similarities, etc. I do not feel that I was doing this when only high-end tasting sipping rums, so I grabbed a bunch of white ones and tasted them all together, one after another. I’m doing the same thing now with 8 gold rums.
I should mention that these are what I consider to be “mixing rums” chosen for their moderate prices. I have plenty of sipping rums that are gold, and plenty more gold rums that might be considered too expensive to use for general mixing. (Well, some folks might consider them too expensive – I’m one that believes in using the most appropriate rum for the cocktail being made, regardless of price.) But for this comparison I’m keying on moderately-priced gold rums.
Without further ado, 8 Gold Mixing Rums.
Appleton V/X – Jamaica – $17
In 1893 there were 148 distilleries on the island of Jamaica. By 1948 there were only 25, and now there are only 5 left. Appleton’s rum distillery dates back to 1749, though its history of sugar cane production dates back to 1655. It is is the oldest distillery on the island and the world’s second oldest rum producer.
Appleton’s V/X rum is a blend of rums aged between 5 and 10 years. After blending they are placed in large oaks vats for several months, a process which allows the rums to “marry” or fuse together.
The rum smells a little sweet with a good amount of oak and molasses. The molasses almost smells a little bitter, though this may be because of the char of the oak. There’s some nuttiness coming through, along with a touch of citrus. An initial sip shows a sharp bit of spiciness, and the oak taste isn’t as strong as the smell. It’s full of flavor, fairly well-balanced, and not too sweet. The nut tastes come out a bit, and it finishes dry with spiciness in the back of the throat along with a mild burn, and a somewhat long finish.
This is a good rum, though not really one for sipping neat. It’s full flavor lends it to cocktails that have enough taste to balance the rum. The oak smell and spiciness will certainly come through a simple cocktail.
Appleton Special Gold – Jamaica – $12
This rum is a blend of pot- and column-column distilled rums, aged separately and the hand-blended. This should result in a richer, fuller flavor that rums that just meet the column distiller. Apparently this rum was formulated during World War II as a substitute for whiskey, which was difficult to find at that time. Jeff Berry, the Beachbum, recommends this rum in a simple but effective way: “For your gold Jamaican, stock Appleton Special Gold.”
Though the Palo Viejo has the lightest color of these rums, the Appleton Special is a close second. The smell of this is fantastic – sweet, with some honey and apple smells backed by some molasses. It’s delectable, and very inviting – I want to sip it immediately. The smell isn’t strong – I can stick my nose inside the glass and it’s not getting burnt out – but nicely balanced and lively. An initial sip gives a fair amount of burn, but the taste of sweet apples and mild molasses is very nice. There is a bit of an alcohol hit to this rum, but it’s not bad just noticeable. The finish is a bit quick, with a touch of wood, and leaves the mouth feeling clean.
Though I’ve got to give the other rums a chance, I’m already inclined to keep this one stocked at all times for a wide variety of drinks. The flavors are milder than the V/X, with less wood and more sweetness. This is definitely a very good choice for mild or light cocktails calling for a gold rum. Very nice.
Gosling’s Gold – Bermuda – $12
Gosling’s began it’s rum history in 1857 in Bermuda, when the Gosling Brothers store received its first barrels of rum. After 3 years of trials, the famous Gosling’s Black Seal Rum was offered for sale. It wasn’t until 2004 that its Gold Rum was introduced. This rum is a blend of pot- and column-distilled rums, with the majority being aged 5 years.
The smell of this rum is very mild, with only hints of wood and molasses coming out. A few more smells make me a little leery – the smell seriously gives me the feeling that this rum will have a bit of a bite. An initial sip shows that it does not, though it doesn’t show much more than a bit of spice. A larger sip certainly has more flavor – of wood and molasses and spices. There’s almost no burn, really, which is a surprise after the second smell. But there’s not really much happening with this rum – it’s doesn’t have many tastes, just some spice at the end. It’s a touch dry, not enough molasses taste for my liking, and the predominant tastes are of wood and spice.
This is not a bad rum, and its smoothness is a pleasant surprise, but there’s just not enough of the right things going on here. If you like a sharp, spicy finish – or have a cocktail that needs a little extra edge – then this would be a good choice. It’s good enough to ensure that I won’t waste it, but I don’t foresee the purchases of another bottle.
Mount Gay Eclipse – Barbados – $17
Mount Gay of Barbados is the world’s oldest rum producer, according to a deed that dates back to 1703. Although some people believe that rum was being produced in Barbados as early as 1663, the deed of 1703 is the only legal evidence listing rum distillation equipment on the island – and the world.
This rum smells of a rich molasses and some sweetness. I have to dig deep into this rum to get some more smells, and I can detect bare hints of banana and toffee or caramel. The taste is light – not very strong at all. But there’s a good amount of spice in here, mainly a peppery burn that’s not overwhelming but you certainly know it’s there. The finish is long, but it doesn’t really finish like much.
This seems to be most like the Gosling’s so far, and I’d choose the Gosling’s which has other tastes that one expects in a rum. The Eclipse certainly isn’t a bad rum, but I’d have to say that it’s not very worthwhile because of it near-lack of taste.
And I have to admit that this tasting has changed my opinion of the Eclipse, a rum that was regularly one of my go-to rums for almost anything. I stand corrected now, and the tastes of the two Appletons above will pretty much ensure that I don’t buy the Eclipse again. Alas, many tiki cocktails do call for a Barbados Gold, so I’ll have to find some Cockspur.
Cruzan Estate Dark - St. Croix – $12
Cruzan Rum Distillery was founded on St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, in 1760. At one time the island used to grow sugar cane, but this is no longer true and Cruzan now imports all of its molasses for its rums. All of its rum is distilled in a process involving 3 column stills and distilled rainwater, resulting in a very clean taste in the final product. This rum is labeled as a “dark” rum it’s really a mildly dark gold – it’s the darkest of these 8 rums, but not by very much. Cruzan Estate Dark is aged a minimum of 2 years in charred casks of American oak.
The Cruzan has a fairly strong smell of alcohol backed by somewhat sweet molasses. It took me several sniffs to get past the alcohol, but I could finally detect some fruitiness and a touch of spice. The initial taste on the tongue is the spice, and the alcohol gives it a bit of a burn mixed with a peppery spice. After the tasting with the Cruzan white some time ago I am quite surprised by the showing of their gold. Kicking in with some bravado, I’ll take a few more sips hoping to find some tastes behind the spice, but it’s hard. It’s got a fair amount of taste, and I must be used to the alcohol because it’s no longer bothering me. But the peppery spice is predominant, overshadowing the bits of molasses and hints of fruit. I had much greater hopes for this rum, but they’ve been shattered by the pepper and not much else.
DonQ Gold – Puerto Rico – $12
The Serralles Distillery, which now produces over 60% of the rum sold in Puerto Rico, got its start in 1865 near the city of Ponce on the southern coast. In 1985 they acquired Puerto Rico Distillers, makers of Palo Viejo. This company Ronrico and the rum used to make Captain Morgan’s line of rums. This rum is named after Don Quixote, the famous character from La Mancha. This rum is aged between 1 and 5 year.
It takes a few initial sniffs to get past the mild alcohol of this rum. Not that the alcohol is strong, it’s just the smells behind it are very light. It finally has some molasses coming through, a bit of sweetness and some dark fruits. It’s not too bad at all, which surprises me after the miserable DonQ white that I had last week. A small sip has some sweetness, some molasses, and a touch of fruit. The finish is a touch spicy and interesting, and it’s moderately long which gives this rum a nice little touch after the swallow. There is a hint of something odd in this rum, almost like they used a wood other than the American oak that I’m used to. I can’t really place it, but it does add a nice little bit of something unusual and interesting.
So far in this tasting, I haven’t had much reason to go back and compare two rums like I usually do. As luck would have it the rums that made sense to compare were already back-to-back, but this rum makes me feel like I finally have something to compare to the Appleton Special. The Appleton is sweeter with less alcohol, and more fruit. It also has a lot more smell than the DonQ. And the tastes hold true to this sniff comparison – the Appleton beats the DonQ handily, showing more of everything good and less of anything less-than-good.
Bacardi Gold - Puerto Rico – $12
Once again I feel that I have to take one for the team and compare the mass-marketed rums of Bacardi to the others in the line-up. Luckily Bacardi is always available in small bottles, so I only have to waste a couple bucks at a time. Regardless, I don’t think that I’d be doing the world any favors if I skipped over Bacardi, so here I go…
The smell is reminiscent of the DonQ – light, some alcohol, and molasses and a touch of fruitiness hiding in the background. The first part of the taste isn’t bad, and I found myself arching my eyebrows in surprise. But it was short-lived as the alcohol wafted through my mouth and a touch of…
OK, I’m going a little too hard here. The Bacardi Gold isn’t that bad, though it does have an unpleasant hit of pungent alcohol. The finish is a touch spicy and fairly long and not unpleasant like the taste. A comparison to the DonQ show that the Bacardi is almost as good, but the DonQ has a nicer taste of molasses and is a touch sweeter. But I can see the Bacardi Gold doing a decent job in a general cocktail – certainly better than the Bacardi Superior would fair.
Palo Viejo Gold - Puerto Rico – $8-10
The Palo Viejo is the lightest gold of this bunch, and I have some hopes for it after tasting the white last week. Though not great, the white was a surprise because it was so good for the price, and I’m hoping that the Gold is the same.
A sniff shows some alcohol and some sweetness. The alcohol isn’t a pure ethanol smell, though, but has a touch of a medicinal quality that’s a bit more objectionable than ethanol. The taste is decent though, with some sweetness and molasses along with a touch of spice. There is a slight burn, but less than one would expect with an $8 rum. So I’d certainly say that this rum is a winner for the price.
But it needs some comparison, and it’s obvious to me that the most likely candidate is the DonQ. Though the DonQ has a better molasses smell, it also shows more alcohol in the smell, too. The DonQ is a touch sweeter, and a bit more refined. I’d have to say that the DonQ wins this little pair-off, but at 2/3 the price the Palo Viejo should not be ignored. Like it’s white sibling, the Palo Viejo Gold would make a good well rum.
I’m kinda bummed by this round. Out of 8 gold rums, I only found 2 that I can really say that I like – the Appletons. I’ll have to admit that I would buy the Palo Viejo or DonQ again if in need of a decent Puerto Rican gold for a cocktail.
I was surprised, and depressed, by the Mount Gay Eclipse and the Cruzan Estate Dark. I had really expected more out of both, but simply found that I would not buy them again. The Eclipse’s overall lack of taste was a surprise, like a lost rum which didn’t know what it wanted to taste like. It had a number of nice tastes, but they were quite light and this basically meant that nothing came forward. The Cruzan was similar, but at least it had a reason – that peppery spiciness which hid every other taste.
Although initially saddened by the Gosling’s Gold, it may actually get used before the Eclipse or Cruzan. At least its tastes were a bit more noticeable.
The 3 Puerto Rican rums all did decently, though nothing to write home about. But they are Puerto Rican rums – light, and useful when a drinks needs a boost of 80-proof rum that tastes like something. The Bacardi Gold was a bit of a surprise because it wasn’t as bad as the Bacardi Superior white.
I’m off to pour myself a dram of the Ron Zacapa 23…