Tasting Rum

In this thread over at the Ministry Of Rum forum, Ed Hamilton describes how he goes through the process of tasting a rum. It’s an interesting quick read, as the process definitely differs from tasting wine, cognac, or whiskeys.

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St. James Royal Ambre vs. St. James Hors D’Age

stjames_ambre_horsdage.jpgI’ve recently taken an interest in both Cachaca and Agricole, started by the thread I mentioned in my last post. Since I have only one cachaca I eyed my collection of agricoles.

I went looking through my rums for a couple to review, and came across two bottles of St. James – the Hors D’Age and the Royal Ambre. The labels on both contain the word Agricole in their descriptions and both contain the phrase “Appelation d’origine Controlée” on the label.

I have two other Martinique rums, the Kaniche and the Clement VSOP. The Kaniche says nothing about Agricole or Appelation d’origine Controlée. The Clement says both “V.S.O.P Rum” and “Rhum Clement V.S.O.P” – not an agricole by the looks of it. However, the back label says something perhaps a bit misleading: “The heirs of the H. Clement Estate…offer a wide variety of white rums all certified with the Appelation d’origine Controlée Martinique…” This seems to imply that it’s an agricole, but does not specifically say so. Nor can I find any info on the Web that says it’s an agricole or not, so I have to assume it’s not.

Update: According to Ed Hamilton, the Clement is an agricole:

Actually the Clement Estate bottles only AOC rhum agricole. And I should mention that Depaz Blue Cane Amber Rhum is also AOC rhum agricole, distilled at the Depaz distillery in Martinique and bottled on the island. In Martinique, the Depaz bottles carry the AOC mark and the words rhum agricole on the label, but the label for the US import market doesn’t have the AOC mark on the label. I am confident that it will be changed shortly.

I also noticed that both Saint James rums are products of Martinique, while the Kaniche and Clement are products of France. Does the rum have to be a product of Martinique or Guadeloupe to be an agricole? I’ll have to find out.

The Bottles
The label on the Royal Ambre states “Unique for it’s fruitiness, and rounded by two years of aging, Saint James Royal Ambre can be sipped by itself, but is the special secret of a true Planters’ Punch: 1/3 Saint James Amber, 1/3 orange juice, 1/3 pineapple juice, a dash of grenadine.”

The label on the Hors D’Age states: “A blend of very old rums matured in small oak casks. Each rum lends it’s own particular character to the blend, achieving the rich complexity, characteristic of fine spirits.”

The Ambre is 90 proof and a dark gold, while the Hors D’Age is 86 proof and even darker. The Amber smells sweet and of dark fruits, a wonderful smell which hints of strong tastes to come. The Hors D’Age is a bit sweeter smell, richer, and the fruitiness is stronger yet less complex, with one smell more dominating. Less alcohol comes through the Amber, while more oak comes through the Hors D’Age.

Royal Ambre
The Ambre’s taste covers the tongue with a taste of strong, dark fruits with hints of oak. A burn hits the back roof of the mouth, noticeable but not unpleasant, and the finish is very long and slow. More tastes and smells hit the mouth after the swallow.

This rum is not very sweet at all, though it’s smell implies that it will be. It’s decently complex with a few smells and tastes coming along the way. Not quite a sipping rum in my opinion, but I’d bet that a touch of water would do a world of good for this rum. The flavor is good – better if one likes bold tastes since this is not a subtle rum. There’s no doubt that the makers took care while making this rum, and the quality is clearly there.

This is a strong rum, in it’s alchol and most definitely in it’s flavors. It reminds me of a cognac in ways – actually more like a simpler, less sophisticated armagnac – with it’s approach to taste and smell.

For the $19 that I paid I’d certainly have to say that I got my money’s worth. It may take some work to figure out what to do with it’s bold tastes since it’s not quite a sipper, but I’m sure that I’ll be happy with the results.

Hors D’Age
This rum is not quite as complex, or as bold, in it’s taste compared to the Ambre. It’s flavors are certainly making themselves known, but not in the bold way the Ambre does. It’s simpler, and the tastes are more refined. Perhaps there are more tastes here but they’re being too subtle for me right now. It’s a bit smoother than the Ambre, with a finish about as long but with less flavors coming out after the swallow.

This is not a rum that I’d consider sweet at all, and most would probably consider this to be quite dry. There are less bold flavors here than the Amber, and a few more subtle ones – overall it’s somewhat complex. It’s quite smooth, and I’d have no problems sipping this one for a while. The flavor is good, though somewhat heavy on the oak. Though I usually don’t care for rums that have dominant oak tastes this one is well balanced with it’s heavy fruit. Again there’s no doubt that the makers took care with this rum – Saint James certainly seems to be a company that cares about high quality and it shows through.

I paid $33 for this rum, and I’m not so sure that I’d do it again. I think I can find better rums for this amount of cash. However I did buy this with the sole intent of using it in Mai Tais, so my idea of the value may change. If it makes an excellent Mai Tai it may very well be well worth the price tag.

Water
Both of these rums seemed like they might benefit from some water. They are both slightly higher than 80 proof at 90 proof for the Ambre and 86 proof for the Hors D’Age. The water would smooth that out a bit, and hopefully bring out some more flavors. So I added a bit of water to bring both to a 1/4 or 1/5 water, and waited a few minutes.

While it did smooth the Ambre somewhat, it didn’t help the taste much. It’s flatter, a bit less complex. Actually I could say that the Amber is less enjoyable with the water. This may be a rum that gets an ice cube when I drink it.

It certainly smoothed out the Hors D’Age, but definitely brought it near a point of boredom. Well, not that bad but it had a greater effect on dulling the flavors. The finish is still great, with a very mild burn. The mouth still tingles after the swallow, but more from some lingering spice than from overall flavors.

Summary
If one ignores the price difference it’s a tough call between the two. The Hors D’Age is smoother, more refined, and more of a sipper. But I liked the bold tastes of the Ambre, the extra fruitiness, and the fact that it was slightly sweeter – or slightly less dry, really.

But when one considers the price there is a clear winner here: the Royal Ambre.

I still have hopes that the Hors D’Age will make a great Mai Tai. But that will be investigated another day.

I had started the night hoping to explore a couple agricoles, and I ended up comparing a couple aged rums. I have a tendency to purchase aged rums, since I started my rum research looking for sipping rums. I really must remember to get some unaged, white, not-quite-sipping-rums when I shop.

Hopefully I will soon find a couple quality white agricoles to compare. I’m still looking, but I haven’t been able to track any down within a reasonable driving distance. I’ll still keep looking, and if I don’t find any soon I may be making a very long drive for a couple bottles of agricole.

Cachaca vs Agricole

I just stumbled onto an intersting thread, Cachaça vs. Rhum Agricole, over on Drinkboy’s forums. This is a great discussion about the differences between Cachaca and Agricole. I found it to be quite interesting. On the surface they sound the same – both are made from fresh sugar cane juice – but the rest of the story gets to be quite different.

It also made me realize that I need to get my hands on some more Cachacas and Agricoles, in order to compare them to each other and also amongst themselves. I only have 1 Cachaca (Leblon) and the 3 or 4 Agricoles (Clement, St. James, Kaniche) that I have are all aged (at least a little). Not a correct comparison. So I need another young Cachaca, a couple aged ones, and a couple young Argicoles.

My curiousity may have to wait a bit, as my wallet is cringing from the thought of springing for 5 more rums.

Prichard’s Fine Rum

I just finished tasting and reviewing Prichard’s Crystal Rum and my surprise quickly made me want to try the Fine Rum. Would the very high quality be present in the Fine Rum? Would have tastes more reminiscent of rum? Would the small-barrel aging bring out the flavors? I had to know, and I had to know now.

Prichard’s Distillery
Prichard’s Fine Rum is distilled in classic copper pot stills, and is aged in new 15-gallon charred white oak barrels. The smaller size of the barrel gives more rum-to-oak contact and is supposed to pass on the qualities quicker. It’s made from “the best premium, table grade molasses” – is that any different from the Crystal’s “finest, Louisiana, grade A fancy molasses” in any way? In any case both molasses sound good so maybe it’s just marketing. I guess it doesn’t matter if the final product is good.

This rum won a gold medal at the 2006 International Sugar Cane Spirits Festival and Tasting Competition, and another gold medal at the 2007 Cane Spirits Competition. It gets some very good reviews, and I’ve been looking to try it after having tried the high quality of the Crystal rum. I am just hoping this has more flavor.

The Bottle
From the bottle:
Using age old pot still techniques and premium molasses, this fine Tennessee Rum is a unique recreation of the original American spirit. The smooth, flavorful taste of Prichard’s Fine Rum is excellent for just sipping.

The word “flavorful” has my hopes up. But I thought applejack was the original American spirit? I could be wrong.

Initial Tastes
The rum is a light golden one, and hey, it smells like rum! Yay! Yes, is has a nice, hearty rum smell, with some molasses and heavy fruit smells. A touch of vanilla, too. Very pleasant.

The first sip is instantly sweet, and extremely tasty. Quite smooth, with a quick slight burn at the end, and a finish that lingers. A second larger sip smacks the mouth with tastes that are strong and pleasing. Definitely on the sweet side, but with enough balance to keep that from being a bad thing. The sweetness hits first and is replaced by some fruity tastes and some stronger, slightly bitter tastes. My mouth tingles a bit after swallowing, the tastes linger, and the burn is far from objectionable.

Well I let the last sip sit for some time while I perused the Web and caught up on some forums. The final sip… Hmmm, smells a bit sweeter, more fruit and less molasses. Very nice. I can’t say that any more tastes came out, but it sure was tasty.

Summary
In the end, I think this is a very fine rum. A little sweet but balanced, nicely fruity and more than smooth enough to sip neat. I see no need to put this over ice, but that certainly couldn’t hurt either. It seems like it would be a bit of a waste in most cocktails, though simpler ones that let rum stand out would be fine. Ginger ale and a touch of lime would be wonderful.

But at $36 this is on the edge of being worth it. Any cheaper and I’d grab it if I were you. Or grab it if you simply like good rums. Even at $36 you won’t be wasting your money if you buy a bottle of Prichard’s Fine Rum, but it probably won’t be the first bottle you want to grab when you sit down for a neat rum.

Prichard’s Distillery: http://www.prichardsdistillery.com/

Prichard’s Crystal Rum

An unaged white rum? Big deal.
Distilled 5 times? Quite possibly a big deal.

Prichard’s Distillery
Prichard’s Crystal Rum is distilled in Tennessee, USA, by Phil Prichard using Grade A Louisiana fancy molasses. It’s distilled 5 times in pot stills, leaving a very clean, very clear rum. It just recently won a Gold Medal at the 2007 Cane Spirits Competition, and also won Best Of Category for white rums at the same event. It was one of Edward Hamilton’s Rums Of The Month on his Ministry of Rum website. It got a very good review over at the Spirits Review web site.

I kept running into folks mentioning this rum all over the Internet, and I had to wonder if a white rum could be that good. I had to find out, so I found a bottle and brought it home and will finally crack it tonight.

The Bottle
From the bottle:
A crisp, clean rum to be enjoyed chilled, straight up, or on the rocks. The blackstrap bitterness often associated with many rums is totally absent, making Prichard’s Crystal Rum the perfect mixer for your favorite rum cocktails.

Initial Tastes
The rum is certainly crystal clear, and swirling reveals some legs that surprise me for a white rum. The initial smell is heavy on alcohol and something mildly fruity and much more pleasant, but something I could not place exactly. A sip neat, at room-temperature, is a pure taste, quite smooth, with a very mild burn that lasts a short time. A second sip brings more mild tastes around. It’s not too sweet, and very smooth – very very smooth for a white, unaged rum. Yes, the smoothness is rather astounding, but I’m waiting for some tastes that I can identify. They’re so mild they just hint at fruits of some kind.

I rinsed my mouth with some spring water, and gave it a couple minutes just sitting in the glass. The final sip definitely has more taste, is a bit sweeter, and simply tastes like a very good rum. And certainly smooth.

Icey Cubes
Time for some on the rocks…

OK, this doesn’t taste like much at all. It’s almost like drinking vodka – well, very very good vodka, that’s smooth and sweet and has some fruit in the background. So I guess it’s not much like vodka in those respects, but the mild tastes do remind me of vodka’s (usual) lack of taste.

Have I been drinking too many aged sipping rums for me to appreciate this? Well I certainly appreciate the smoothness and lack of burn. I’ve had many older rums that weren’t this smooth. I’m almost through the glass on the rocks and I’m starting to wonder if the rum has evaporated and the ice cubes are melting faster than usual. Really, the Crystal has almost completely disappeared and it seems like I’m drinking water.

Ginger & Lime
Time for some lime and ginger ale. I wonder if I’m going to know that this simple cocktail has any liquor in it? One minute, please…

Two cubes, almost an ounce of Prichard’s Crystal, a spritz of fresh lime, two ounces of Schweppes and… it’s gone. Disappeared. I’m drinking ginger ale with a touch of lime. Seriously, I do not taste any rum, no alcohol, just ginger ale and lime.

Summary
In the end, this stuff is unbelievable in ways, and not worth the time in other ways. It’s very smooth, unbelievably smooth for a unaged white rum. It’s sippable straight up – an unaged white! On the rocks it almost disappears and seems like water. The work and skill that went into making this stuff that smooth is incredible.

But there’s simply not enough taste. I guess that I want to taste the rum when I drink rum.

So I can’t say that it’s worth the $26 that I paid for it, but it’s not going to go down the drain either. I will put this bottle to very good use. I will astound friends with the smoothness. I will make drinks for people who don’t like alcohol. (And it will be much better than vodka at this task.) I will make drinks for people who don’t like rum. I may even pull a high school trick of spiking the punch – and nobody will ever know.

Overall it’s an extremely high quality rum, but simply does not have the taste to make it worthwhile to me. I’m kinda bummed about that.

Prichard’s Distillery: http://www.prichardsdistillery.com/

Doorly’s XO

Recently I stopped in at a local liquor store hoping to find some Curacao for my Orange Liquor Throwdown comparison and found a couple of half-priced rums. One, Barrow’s Grand Reserve, was a rum that I’d never heard about but seemed interesting. After a discount it cost me $11 for what appears to be a $40 rum. Not bad. The other rum that I found has been on “My List” for some time – Doorly’s XO, a Barbados rum from R. L. Seale. The price was right – I paid $17, almost half the original price and much less than I had expected to pay. For these prices I could hardly pass them up.

Great Article
When I first started researching rums to try I ran across an article by Robert Plotkin called “Sizzle In The Caribbean – The 12 Most Romantic Rums.” (It can be found online in the July 2003 edition of Got Rum? from The Rum Shop.) This article has not steered me wrong yet – I’ve tried about half the rums mentioned and have enjoyed them all. Doorly’s XO was on this list, but in years of searching liquor stores I had yet to find it. I had all but forgotten about it until I read Dave’s Broom’s book Rum where it got an intriguing 5-star review. Doorly’s was fresh on my mind, and when I saw it I got it.

As mentioned, Doorly’s XO is made in Barbados, home to Mount Gay Distilleries and several other rum makers. Doorly’s is blended and bottled by R. L. Seale and Company, who make a number of rums with the Doorly name, as well as Coyopa Rum and John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum. They have recently begun making the rum for Tommy Bahama, too.

The Bottle
From the Doorly’s XO label:
From the house of Martin Doorly, has emerged a rum without equal. To produce the unique character of Doorly’s X.O., some of the oldest rums are carefully selected for a special second maturation. The second Maturation is carried out with the oak already seasoned in the aging of the Spanish Oloroso Sherry. The result is a delicate fusing of complex flavours giving rise to a rum of unparalleled excellence.

Initial Tastes
The rum is a beautiful golden brown, and swirling shows some long legs. The initial smell is sweet, with banana tones and some vanilla, and quite wonderful. The first sip definitely shows the sherry and cask, some nuttiness, and not too sweet at all. The taste doesn’t match the smell too much, as the smell gave me expectations of sweetness and fruit. It’s smooth, though with a bit of a bite that fades quickly. The finish is short on ay bold tastes, with a long mild burn that is far from unpleasant. A mild taste, hinting of the sherry and oak, lingers lightly in the mouth for some time.

My initial thoughts are that this is a very good rum. It would probably go very well with a mild cigar, or a spicy beef dish.

Breathe
I also think there are more tastes hiding in this bottle, some subtleties that I can’t discern at this time. These tastes might some out with a bit of water or some time to breathe. I’ll do both – just a touch of water, about 1/5 the amount of rum, and I’ll give it 5 minutes to breathe. Be right back.

5 minutes later…

The water and breathing time has brought the smell’s sweetness down a bit, and heightened the nuttiness. A sip now is very smooth, with a greatly reduced burn and a much longer finish with a bit of sweetness near the end. It is much more sippable, and though it has lost a bit of the flavors it is still very good. I still have to wonder if I’m missing some subtle flavors, so I will have to try this at another time.

Summary
Overall I find Doorly’s XO to be a very good sipping rum, and worth the normal price of about $33. The smell is wonderful, the taste is good, the burn acceptable, and I do like the way the taste lingers in the mouth long after the swallow. It does deserve something – a proper cigar or proper food – to go with it, and it will handle these other tastes well.

Doorly’s Rum: http://www.doorlysrum.com/