Castries Peanut Rum Creme

This liqueur is a mix of Madagascan vanilla, roasted peanuts, spices, cream and St. Lucian rum. It’s packaged in a very unique bottle and is the first spirit from St. Lucia to become available in the United States. It comes very highly rated – it received a 94 from the Beverage Tasting Institute and 2-time winner of BIT’s Best Cream Liqueur category, received a Gold Medal and 95 points in the 2004 International Review of Spirits.

Rum, peanuts, and a boatful of accolades and awards. I’ve been drooling over this stuff for months now, and I was finally able to obtain a bottle a few days ago. It runs about $29 for a bottle – for a 32-proof spirit – so it’s not quite cheap but still affordable. I hope it lives up to the hype, because I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

Initial Tastes

Although this liqueur, as with any cream liqueur, should probably be served on the rocks, I have to start with it neat to get the full tastes and aromas. I’m sure that I will progress to a glass on the rocks – I may even try one of the cocktails listed on the website – but for now, it’s neat.

The first smells are a very nice balance of cream, peanuts, and slightly fainter rum. While this is to be expected I have to mention that there’s a very nice balance here – no one smell is predominant. The rum smell is a little beneath the surface and I wouldn’t be surprised if a non-rum drinker would not recognize it as rum. A good sip – it’s only 32-proof, remember – continues that balance of flavors I mentioned. This is very nice, though I have to think that it hasn’t opened up yet. A cream liqueur drunk neat is not ideal. Another sip was swished about gently since I wanted to check the mouthfeel. Most cream liqueurs coat the mouth with a cream leftover that I generally find unpleasant since I am not a lover of milk. The Castries also does the same, though it’s a bit cleaner than other creams I’ve had. The swish seems to have brought out the peanuts since they were predominant this time, pleasantly so, but noticeable. The finish here is expectedly mellow, but this is where the small amount of spices make themselves known.

Overall this has a very nice balance of tastes. The rum hides in the background a bit more than in the smell, and the peanuts come up a notch. The spices after the swallow are very pleasant and a nice way to finish.

On The Rocks

I have to stop a moment to talk about ice, the often-forgotten component of cocktails. This is because I grabbed the ice-cube tray in the freezer and it had obviously been there a while since the cubes had shrunk a bit from evaporation. I grabbed a half-dozen and threw them into an old fashioned glass and carried that over to the Castries. Then I sniffed the glass containing the ice cubes and made a face. They definitely picked up a number of smells and flavors from the fridge.

Be nice to your cocktails: Use Fresh Ice! Store-bought packaged stuff is best, since it goes through such a clean environment. But the ice in your freezer is probably a bad thing to add to a cocktail, so throw it out and make some fresh stuff.

I’ll be back in a few hours. Dammit.

On The Rocks – For Real This Time

OK, fresh ice that smells like fresh ice (that is, it doesn’t smell at all), and I’m ready for some Castries on the rocks. Yes, this is definitely the way to go – cold and tempered a bit, the Castries really tastes great. None of the tastes are forceful in any way and the balance is extremely pleasant. I could probably finish this bottle right now.

But I won’t, since I have a habit of sharing rums with friends in order to make them see the light. Most are usually very receptive to my sharing habits, and it’s a good way for me to get more insight into a rum. But hey, I have a full bottle, and that drink went a little too quick, so just one more…

I must have let the last drink sit a bit before I damn-near-guzzled it, because this one is more like it should be. It’s not too cold and not too watery so the aromas and flavors are far more apparent. It’s really surprising me how the peanuts work in this liqueur. That is, I had expected to be assaulted by the tastes and smells, but Castries has done a damn fine job of balancing the flavors. The rum and peanut tastes lag slightly behind the cream until the swallow when the peanuts take the lead role without being overly dominant. It’s really a quick flash of roasted peanuts that go by as it finishes, and then the mild spices let themselves be known. And I have to reiterate that it’s nice to have a relatively clean cream liqueur that doesn’t leave the mouth coated after a drink.

I have to say that I don’t really notice the vanilla – while I think that’s a shame because I love vanilla, I have to expect that the Castries folks are doing the right thing. When I search for the vanilla I can find it, but it’s really just another piece of the fine balance in this liqueur.

Summary

One thing I have to mention is that this liqueur may surprise you. A rum-based cream liqueur? A peanut-based cream liqueur? Rum and peanuts? Forget all that unless you’re allergic to peanuts, because this liqueur is not what you think if you’re asking those questions. It is an exquisite liqueur, with an outstanding balance of tastes.

This is a damned fine liqueur, for sure, and one that easily goes onto my Highly Recommended list. The flavors work very well together, and the balance is superb. This is going to be one that I love to share but I’ll hate to see it go.

http://www.castriescreme.com/

Cockspur 5-Star Fine Rum

Cockspur rums, and their Rum Punch, are made by Hanschell Inniss, Ltd. Hanschell does not make their own rum – they buy it from the West India Rum Refinery who age it for Hanschell in old Kentucky bourbon barrels that have been scraped clean of the charred oak inside. Hanschell blends and bottles the rums and has numerous bottling facilities in several countries, including the USA.

Initial Tastes
As a note, this is yet another bottle of rum with a plastic cork. Strange that I’d run into so many within a few days, yet I’ve never seen (or noticed) a plastic cork in the past. I’m getting to like them – they’re very unlikely to fall apart, and they fit very tightly yet can be remove somewhat easily. Better than a natural cork, and certainly a lot better than a screw cap!

This rum is medium-gold in color, with somewhat thin but very clingy legs. The smell is a little on the sweet side, with some noticeable vanilla and spice. A small sip shows a very clean, crisp taste – somewhat sweet and some molasses well-balanced with some underlying tastes that are quite faint. The finish is medium-long and spicey, though not (from memory) as spicey as the Mount Gay Eclipse or Plantation Grande Reserve.

As it’s been sitting a bit the smells of vanilla come out more, and some underlying fruitiness makes itself known. This smells like a simple but very nice rum, except that the vanilla tones bring it up quite a bit. A larger sip shows more of the same as above, but this large sip really shows how clean this is. The mouthfeel is very clean, not oily or thick or thin – just clean. This allows one to enjoy the finish without interference, and the finish is a touch spicy but otherwise very pleasant with a hint of barrel. The spice tingling becomes gentle quite quickly, and my mouth is left with the barest touches of rum with a bit of fruit and vanilla.

I left a few drips lingering in the glass as I browsed the web, and the smell of this glass is wonderful. It does not smell like a $17 bottle of rum, but is much richer than I’d expect and the vanilla and fruit now apparent are wonderful.

Second Round
For the second round I added a couple small drops of water and let it sit for several minutes. The smell is much sweeter, and the vanilla has become more apparent though a bit mellower and not as sharp. There’s a bit more fruit apparent, but it’s a muddled smell and I can’t detect any particular fruits other than feeling that they’re tropical and light. (And that could mean mangoes and the like.)

A sip shows that the rumminess is much more apparent, and this has opened up beyond the simpleness of the initial tastes. There’s a bit more going on now, with more fruit and molasses and some spice apparent in the tastes before the finish. The finish comes quicker and is a little shorter. Overall the water and waiting has certainly done this rum some good.

Summary
I’m extremely pleased with this rum. It’s not quite a sipper, though a glass on the rocks would definitely be worthwhile. The spiciness that I’ve been finding lately in these younger golds is not so forceful as some of the others, though it’s certainly still apparent and over somewhat quickly. The flavors are not very complex, but definitely not simple, and are extremely well balanced. This is a very, very nice mixing rum and I definitely recommend it.

Since it comes from Barbados I’m reminded of the Mount Gay Eclipse and I’d definitely choose the Cockspur 5-Star for mixing any day. The Plantation Grande Reserve comes close, but my memory and notes find the Cockspur to be better balanced and without the odd spiciness that was too blatant in the Grande Reserve. Again, my choice would be the Cockspur.

Thinking back to another great mixing gold, the Appleton Special Gold, I find the Cockspur to be a bit stronger and rummier and more refined. The Appleton, though, is close but has its own specialties and is a touch more complex. I think the two are different enough to warrant having both on hand at all times, and I would chose one over the other only when the cocktail calls for a decision. I’d keep the Appleton for the lighter drinks when a milder rum taste is appropriate, whereas the Cockspur would be used for the drinks where a strong presence of rum is more desirable, or when mixing a drink where a lighter rum might get lost.

Overall, I would put the Cockspur 5-Star into the Highly Recommended category, directly above the Appleton Special Gold. It’s a damned fine rum.

4 Plantation Rums

I’ll always have a fond memory of Plantation Rums, since one of them was the very first “great” bottles of rum that I ever had. Damned if I can remember what it was, but I wanted more when it was gone. Back then I didn’t know jack about rum, and I figured that I’d just grab “that” bottle called Plantation. Alas, the first store I visited had 5 or 6 different Plantation rums, all lined up and looking identical in their straw-wrapped bottles. Among all of the Plantation bottles on that shelf, the only things that were not identical were the important things – the island, the year, and the price. At this point I was betting that the stuff inside the bottles wasn’t very identical either, and I left the store, confused. And sad.

I never did remember which Plantation Rum I had. I’m a whole lot smarter now, though, and I’ve learned to write things down and take tasting notes. Which doesn’t do me much good with the Plantations, because they are almost all vintage years, thus they change and become unavailable. I’ve had most of these for some time, even though only one has been opened (and fairly well drained). I don’t know if any of these are still on any shelves, anywhere.

It may be obvious to you by now that I’m going to write a review which quite possibly won’t do you a damned bit of good. Ever.

What da ya want for nothing? A rubber biscuit?

Plantation Rums

Plantation Rums are made by Cognac Ferrand, makers of Pierre Ferrand cognac, Gabriel & Andreu cognac, Mathilde Liqueurs, Citadelle Vodka, and a few other high-quality spirits. They currently market 6 different rums from various islands – 2 of which I’ll be reviewing. Let’s hope the other two aren’t as good… or, even better, that they’re fantastic and still available. (Hey, I can dream…)

One irritating thing about their marketing is that their web site briefly mentions that their rums are aged in barrels previously used for bourbon, cognac, or sherry. OK, that’s kinda cool, but the irritating part is that they don’t say which ones! Their web site is silent about the specifics, and the bottles say even less. Oh well.

So maybe these were aged in cognac or sherry casks, but I’ll bet money that used bourbon barrels are more likely. You’ve got to love the law that states that bourbon must be aged in new barrels, thus making all those old barrels available for rum producers. But I’d love to see more rums aged, or at least finished, in other casks. Doorly’s XO, which is finished in used sherry casks, is the only rum that I know about that switches to such a barrel. Oh, I’ll bet there are more, but I just don’t know which ones. Yet.

Trinidad 1991 – Price Unknown

I figure that I’ll start with the oldest. Well, the oldest rum, not necessarily the one that’s aged the longest. These Plantation rums don’t mention the aging time, except for their Jamaican which is aged 8 years. So I have no idea how long this rum was aged. I really wish companies gave out a little more information about their rums. I’d love to know how old it is and whether it was really aged, or finished, in cognac or sherry casks. I have seen reports on the web that it was aged for 9 or 10 years – a couple mentions for each age, so take that as a rumor.

I guess the thing that matters is the taste, eh? So let’s get to it.

This is a very light rum – the lightest of the 4 I have. It still manages to be a golden color, like a light tea. The smell is pretty intense – a lot of sweet fruitiness – mostly sweet – and a bit of molasses followed by a decent amount of barrel, but it rather light and pleasant barrel, not like heavily charred oak. It’s all very nicely balanced, and almost comes across as a single, delicious smell.

A little sip shows a lot of sweetness, quickly followed by a spiciness around most of the mouth. A larger sip finds a good amount of barrel, somewhat smooth, and a long, slow, spicy finish. The spiciness indicates to me that an ice cube would probably tame this rum quite a bit, but I have none handy so I’ll brave it neat. (By the way, this is 90-proof. They all are, except the Barbados Grande Reserve) Another sip, and I’m a little bored with the flavor. It’s so balanced that it’s almost flat – well, that’s a bit strong, but it isn’t as complex as the smells led me to believe. I’m wondering where all those smells went if they didn’t go into the flavor.

A final sip, and I’ll have to say that this isn’t bad at all, but it’s not great since it’s a little boring, and too spicy. It hits quick with some sweetness, startles the mouth with spice, and finishes long and slow and spicy. It reminds me of the Mount Gay Eclipse or Gosling’s Gold, but sweeter and slightly better than either. I really think this rum deserves a couple drops of water and 5 or 10 minutes of sitting, but I have no patience tonight. I’ll have to try it again some other night.

Trinidad 1993 – $25

This rum has won a couple awards, including Food & Wine’s Best Rum Of The Year for 2003. The Beverage Tasting Institute rated this a 93, which is very respectable from a source I trust. Supposedly this has been aged for 11 years, and even though I’ve seen a few mentions of that I can’t confirm it, so your guess is as good as mine. Other than these tidbits, I can’t find much about this rum. The 30 words on the website closely match the 20 words on the bottle.

This rum is quite a bit darker than its older brother, and comes with the first plastic cork I’ve ever seen. Yeah, a plastic cork with one of those black plastic tops on it. I’m kinda bummed, since I’m so used to the Plantations being topped with sealing wax. Of the 3 unopened rums here – the Trinidad 1991 was opened quite a long time ago – only the Venezuela 1992 has the sealing wax. Oh well, it doesn’t make much difference to the rum but it was a nice feature.

This rum is sweet, like the previous, but the smell is a bit darker and richer – more molasses, more barrel. The smell is very rich and inviting, making me want to sip and swallow, but I must sniff some more. (I guess.) There’s some fruit hiding in the aromas – bananas maybe, a tiny hint of orange. And the sweetness keeps its presence very well known.

A tiny sip is actually a bit dry, with some spiciness and a bit of a burn. Dark fruits peek out, and the barrel makes itself known but not obnoxiously so. A larger sip provides more of the same, and a long slow spicy/peppery finish. It’s quite potent, full of dark flavors but not a lot of complexity. Again this seems like a rum that would benefit from some water and a few minutes of waiting, but I still have no patience. There’s no doubt that this rum could stand up to some ice though. It’s full of flavor. I want a cigar.

Venezuela 1992 – $29

Once again I can’t find much about this rum, though a couple blurbs say it’s been aged for 10 years, and one specifies bourbon and sherry casks. At least this one has the sealing wax, and since I’m bored with looking for info I’ll just dive into this one.

This one is the darkest of the bunch, a couple shades darker than the last. Once again the first thing that hits is sweetness, molasses, and a bit of barrel. It’s not as sweet at the Trinidad 93, and the smells are a bit heavier, but mostly of molasses. A small sip is intriguing as all hell. At first I cocked my head sideways like I was about to gasp but never made it because some other very nice tastes jumped up and did a quick pirate shanty on my taste buds. Hold on, lads, I’m going in again… Yeah, there’s a bit of dark barrel in here, but some heavy dark fruits – almost like figs or dates – some out, followed by a bit of sweetness. This rum is playing games with me, taunting me, and teasing me.

And just for that I’m going to play hard-to-get, and let it sit for a moment or two.

Tap, tap, tap – no patience. Yep, dark fruits of some sort, barrel, sweetness follows and then a medium-length finish with a bit of spice. It’s certainly very interesting, though I don’t yet know if this is a sipper. It could easily hold an ice cube – so far they all could, but this one would hold it well. For some reason I don’t think that a waiting period would do much for this rum – it seems like it gives it all up in a quick four-step staccato of tastes.

And the tastes – I would not call them “balanced” by any means. They just hit you one at a time.

Oh, I was so wrong about waiting. Just a few minutes has mellowed this rum a bit, and what were punches of flavors are now tomboyish slaps of affection – yeah, she likes you, but you know she’s holding back. Do you dare? Come on – Do you want to live forever? I’m going back in…

OK, I teased her back, since I poured and I’m going to let her wait a few moments. Older, wiser, sure.

Well I managed to stuff 10 minutes of impatience into a 5-minute period. The smell is milder, and with a different sweetness, almost like a vanilla sweetness. Some more fruit has come up, but it’s still the darker fruits letting themselves be known. A sip now is much mellower, though without so many flavors either. Its quick – finish and all – and much nicer. Again the barrel comes out, with a few more of its flavor like vanilla and a mellow spice.

This is a very interesting rum, though I might not recommend it for everyone. Again, I want a cigar, and I don’t consider it quite a sipping rum. An ice cube and a few minutes of patience will certainly do a lot, but it’s quite intriguing straight from the bottle.

Barbados Grande Reserve – $16

I ran into this rum at Rumba, the fancy rum bar at the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston. I was quite pleased with it, and grabbed a bottle when I could. This one is a little unusual in the Plantation line since it’s the only one that is not a vintage. And it’s quite decent in its price at $16 (give or take) – though none of the Plantations are too expensive in my opinion. So far they’re worth every penny.

This rum is a touch darker than the Trinidad 1993, but a couple shades lighter than the Venezuelan. The smell is the mellowest so far, though it still hints at sweetness and a bit of molasses. It is definitely much lighter with barrel smells though they still exist. The taste is also the mildest, and damn it’s also quite interesting with some vanilla that unusually prominent long before the finish. There is a bit of odd spiciness at the end, with a lingering finish. It’s dryer than I expected, though not as dry as the Trinidad`93.

Of the bunch, this is the most sippable, except for that odd spiciness – not quite peppery but still leaves a tingle. Not that the spice is bad, it’s just a little odd, and I can’t quite place it. It’s not quite sweet enough for me, though it’s far from being called a dry rum. All in all, it’s very good, though not quite prominent at anything it does. (Dang, that sounds a lot like my description on the Mount Gay Eclipse.) Again, not quite a sipper, and this one couldn’t stand up to ice as well as its siblings above. But it is very good, and a good price. I’ll have to go back and compare this against the Mount Gay and/or make a cocktail or two.

Summary

All of the Plantation rums mentioned are very good, and very well done in the craft of rum-making. But none are quite sippers, and the prominent barrel may make most difficult to use for cocktails. (The Barbados Grande Reserve has a good chance, though.) The Venezuelan was certainly quite interesting, that’s for sure, but the one I’m least likely to recommend since it is a bit odd in its display of tastes.

I’m somewhat on the edge about all of these – you can’t go wrong buying one, but you’re not going to find a new favorite rum in this bunch. But after tasting these 4, I’m somewhat reserved about buying another Plantation Rum, since I have to wonder if I’m going to find the same sweet smell, molasses, and a good amount of barrel. Even though they’re all quite different there’s no doubt that the same folks are making these. Same barrels and blending methods…

Now there’s an interesting thought. All four say that they are products of their respective countries, but the Trinidad 1993 says “Bottled By C. Ferrand, 16130 ARS – France.” Judging from the similar tastes and habits of these rums I’d venture a guess that they are bottled in France – but please note that this is just a guess, and I really don’t know for sure. It just seems a little odd for 4 distillers and blenders on 3 different islands would produce similar tastes between the products.

Again, that’s just a guess. But I’ll have to check into it.

Since I digressed a bit about the similarities, I’ll have to repeat a sentence as a final summary: “…you can’t go wrong buying one, but you’re not going to find a new favorite rum in this bunch.”

Identifying Rums While Blindfolded

Yesterday I was subjected to a blindfolded test of rum identification as part of.. Well, let’s just say it was a test. My friend Bargoyle officiated and picked 10 rums out of the 30 that were available. I have to admit that I knew the 30 – some of them were mine that I brought for the occasion – and had tasted all but one. But I didn’t know which rums Bargoyle would pick, nor the order in which I would sample them. While I was blindfolded, he picked 5 rums and prepared small shots, between 1/4 and 1/2 ounce each. I was given all the time I wanted to sniff and taste and even request more if necessary. By the end, I had sampled 10 rums and did my best to identify each one.

Let me tell you, this shit ain’t easy.

I did manage to nail the first one – Cruzan White. (Yeah, I’m proud of that success.) The next 4 I bombed on, not even identifying the Mount Gay Special Reserve with its distinct odor of bananas, nor the Ron Matusalem Platino, the only Cuban-style rum in the house. I also failed to identify the Gosling’s Gold, which doesn’t bother me as much as the first two. And for some reason I can’t remember the last one, though I think it was Appleton White.

After this round was over we paused to relax my mouth and nose, and I sniffed a couple of the bottles. I was assaulted by the banana smell in the Mount Gay. When I sniffed it I even shouted “THERE it is!” – surprised at how I could possibly have missed that distinctive odor during the test.

I did much better on the next 5 rums Bargoyle picked, as they were more distinctive premium rums. The first was Appleton Extra, which I incorrectly identified as the Appleton 21-year-old. Hey, this wasn’t too bad, especially considering that there were 5 Appleton rums in the house. The next one was Lemon Hart demerara, which I incorrectly identified as the El Dorado. Kinda close, though demeraras are quite distinctive so it should have been a 50/50 chance anyway. The next rum blasted me sideways, and I grimaced and correctly identified it as St. James Hors D’Age.

The 4th rum in this premium series also blew me away, and I had no guess. It was delicious and delightful, and I asked for another taste even though I had no hopes of identifying it. It was just so damned good that I wanted more. The rum was the Barbancourt 5-Star, the 8-year-old. Wow. This rum is definitely going on my shelf, and soon. Delicious.

The last rum was kinda easy to identify, but I lingered with it since it too is a fantastic rum. It was the El Dorado 15-year-old, and this rum is simply magnificent in its smoothness, tastes, and complexity. As this was the tenth and final rum I removed my blindfold and sniffed the glass again. A few minutes later I sniffed it again, and new smells came out that were even better than the original ones. Magnificent, simply magnificent.

So, out of 10 rums, I identified 3 cleanly, and got 2 half points (the Appleton and the Lemon Hart). But it really, really bothered me that I had missed a couple others, mostly the Mount Gay Special Reserve and the Ron Matusalem Platino.
It ate at me a bit, and I obsessed about missing the Mount Gay for a good portion of the ride home. I kicked myself for missing it.

And then it hit me… Suddenly I knew why I had missed it.

When Bargoyle had set up that first round he poured all 5 at once and we fussed for a few minutes before starting. I then spent several minutes on each rum, going down the line. By the time I hit the Mount Gay it had been sitting in a glass for 10 minutes or more. This relatively simple rum had spent too much time exposed to the air and had gone flat, nearly tasteless. No wonder I couldn’t smell those bananas!

I was so happy with figuring out why I had failed that it took me most of an hour to remember one small detail – I had asked for more of that rum, and Bargoyle had poured me another dram to taste a second time.

My glee was smashed, left for dead along the roadside, bleeding out somewhere on the Mass Pike.

I had, most certainly, failed to identify that distinctive banana smell of the Mount Gay Special Reserve.

After a short period of moping the real reasons for my failure came to me:

1. This shit ain’t easy.

2. I suck at this.

OK, so maybe I don’t completely suck at identifying rums, but please believe me when I say that I’m no expert on rums. Sure, I most likely know more about rum than the average person, and maybe I know more about rum than many mixologists. But I also know that there are a heck of a lot of real experts out there, too. I stand in awe of people like Ed Hamilton and Jeff Berry and Stephen Remsberg, and respect many of the guys over on Tiki Central and The Ministry Of Rum forums. All I do is taste rums and blog about it, mainly because I don’t think enough people talk about this fine spirit. But I’m no expert. I’m working on it, so come back in a few years (if I’m lucky and stay persistent at this).

Just the same, the next time I get subjected to a blind testing I will make sure the rums are poured fresh, and I will be sure to sniff the bottle to get the full blast.

Until then, well, I’ll keep studying.

Updated info:
Bargoyle video-recorded the entire proceeding and then edited it for time and content and added titles and all that hoopla. He did a fantastic job, and his edits are quite hysterical.

You can view the proceeding, 2 videos edited to about 8 minutes each, on YouTube:
Episode 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7UkV8YwXmU
Episode 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOwo2IL4o9k

8 Gold Mixing Rums

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.

Summary

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…

7 White Rums

Well it’s about time I did some rum tasting… A whole month without a real post! Luckily it wasn’t a month without rum…

This past weekend I decided to tackle some more white rums, going back to the raw stuff in order to get the best idea of how some of these brands and styles compare. I don’t feel that high-quality sipping rum really gives me a good idea of a particular style. I figure the low-end whites should give me the best idea of a style without interference from extended aging or blending. Well, that’s what I’m hoping anyway.

I should stress that these are what I call “general mixing rums” chosen for their moderate prices. Any rums over $20 I start to consider “good mixing rums” but you can call them what you like. Personally I believe in using the most appropriate rum for the cocktail at hand, regardless of price. Sometimes a better or more expensive rum is not an appropriate rum for some cocktails. I suggest finding the best rum for the drink, if possible.

Mount Gay Special Reserve – Barbados – $20
This is the most expensive of these rums reviewed today, but I couldn’t find any other white from Barbados, so I grabbed it. At $20 it’s at the very high end of what I consider to be general mixing rums. This is not a clear rum – it’s actually a very light tan, or straw-colored. Even though it is filtered for some reason they don’t filter it to extreme clarity. This rum is aged for a minimum of 2 years.

The smell is sweet, predominantly of banana with molasses in the background. An initial taste is sweet, and the banana is odd – almost like it’s over-ripe. This is a rich rum, full of flavor, and it fills with the mouth with other hints behind the banana. The finish has a slight burn, with some spiciness and a lot of flavors coming through.

This is a very good rum, with a lot of flavor, though the banana makes it a bit odd and I’m sure that some will not like this. This would be an excellent rum for a fruity drink where the banana would not be so noticeable and would lend an extra bit of depth. It is sippable, more so than any of the others, but I would not call it a sipping rum.

Appleton White – Jamaica – $14
I’ve always loved Appleton Estate rums, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried the white. The rum is aged for 2 years and charcoal-filtered to remove color and impurities. The smell is pretty mellow, with a touch of sweetness and fruitiness, but nothing really dominates. It’s a simple, well-rounded smell. An initial sip shows that it has surprisingly little burn, some sweetness and fruitiness. Nothing to speak of, really. But the finish has some ethanol coming out, and this isn’t a very pleasant of a way to finish. The taste is a bit rustic, for lack of a better word. Certainly not refined but definitely not rough. Overall it’s nothing remarkable, just a simple rum, and not all that great.

Myers’s Platinum White – Jamaica – $14
The smell is a bit more potent that the Appleton, with some more fruit and sweetness but again nothing spectacular. It smells like a decent rum, but a bit plain. An initial sip shows a fair burn, rather boring flatness, and not really any sweetness whatsoever. There’s really nothing very good about this rum at all. It’s boring, flat and dull. And to add to that, it’s not sweet, and has a burn. This could be a vodka. And this might even be worse than Bacardi Silver. Ouch.

Palo Viejo White – Puerto Rico – $8-10
I found half pints of this rum, white and gold, in a local store and figured that I had to try them for less than $2 each. I really can’t find much information about this rum, and I was starting to worry that I had wasted $4. But what the hell – I’ll take one for the team.

The smell is actually quite strong, a touch of sweetness and fruit, and a good smell of molasses. Overall it has a very good smell. An initial sip shows more sweetness than the smell might imply, and it’s surprisingly smooth. It has a decent taste and good sweetness, with a very good amount of molasses for a white rum. It does have a burn though, a long slow one. But beyond the molasses there’s not much going on, but I do like that molasses smell. I like this rum quite a bit, and I’m amazed by the price. I did a quick comparison back to the Appleton, and the Appleton has more ethanol, less taste, and is less refined. The Palo beats it easily.

As a note, I ran to that liquor store tonight to grab some more. They were out, and I am bummed. I’m going to do my best to find a full bottle of this rum – it’s a very good basic mixer which will lend a nice rum taste to drinks.

DonQ Cristal – Puerto Rico – $12
The smell is quite bland, and light, and definitely boring. There’s not much going on in this rum at all. Even when I shoved my nose into the cup – something that’s not recommended with 80-proof liquors – I still can’t smell anything. Even after giving my nose a rest, just in case I burnt it out, there’s nothing here but a little ethanol. A small taste is predominantly bland, though a touch of molasses hangs below the surface. It’s got a bit of a burn and some ethanol, and I just don’t like this stuff very much – though it’s not as bad as the Myers’s Platinum.

Going back to compare against the Myers’s, the DonQ has a lot less smell and less taste. It seems that the DonQ has taken the bottom place in this little test, but it’s close. But to be sure, I gave my mouth and nose a rest and came back to it for one more try to see if I was missing anything. Nope. Ethanol and nothing much more than that. This stuff is not that frickin’ good at all.

Brugal White Label – Dominican Republic – $10
This has a decent smell, with some molasses, a touch of fruit and some sweetness. The fruit smells seems a little odd because they’re not the typical sweet fruit smells I’m used to – they’re more floral. An initial sip shows some molasses, a dryness, and a floral alcohol smell. A larger sip shows a lot of taste, a full flavor, but a lot of alcohol with a touch of molasses. This rum possibly has the worst burn of the bunch. But there’s something going on, and the tastes are sufficient to add some depth to a cocktail if it were used as a secondary rum in a Tiki drink. I don’t like it straight, but it has potential in a Tiki drink.

I compared with this with the Palo Viejo, and the comparison definitely leans towards the Palo Viejo. The Brugal has a larger flavor, and the Palo would get lost in a cocktail sooner, but the Palo tastes better with its molasses showing a good rum flavor and less alcohol. But for a extra kick of bold taste the Brugal might be the choice for a secondary rum, but it’s not a sipper.

Flor de Caña Extra Dry 4-year-old – Nicaragua – $14
Once again Flor de Caña makes me chuckle with their marketing – this rum is “Slow-Aged” whatever that means. Anyway, you may also find this rum listed as “Extra Lite” but Ed Hamilton says that they’re one and the same. This rum is aged in small white oak barrels which have been used only once.

The smell of this rum is pleasant with a bit of sweetness and a decent amount of molasses, along with some dry fruit. It also has a touch of alcohol, though. An initial sip was good at first, but then the alcohol tastes hit the back and roof of the mouth. The molasses does come through, along with a touch of sweetness but this is really a dry rum. A larger sip shows a larger taste of alcohol, but this really packs a lot of proper tastes, is quite smooth, and really it isn’t bad at all. It’s much better than the initial sip would have one believe, but there’s no doubt that this is a mixing rum and not a sipper. As a base in a cocktail it would be very good, since it has a lot of flavor and its dryness makes it quite versatile.

I broke out the Palo Viejo again, since I really like the flavor of it, and compared it to the Flor de Caña. Both have almost the same amount of alcohol taste, but the Palo Viejo beats the Flor. As to taste, the Palo beats the Flor by quite a bit with its pleasant molasses tastes.

Another Round
While going through all of the rums above I sometimes grabbed another for a quick comparison, and that should be obvious when I did. After I was done with all of them I took a break for a while, and did another quick round sipping them all and making more notes and clarifying existing ones. All told, I spent about 2 hours comparing them, with at least 3 or more full sips and another 4 or more tiny sips. After all of that, I rested, had a coffee, and rested some more.

I do not recommend doing a session like this, with such rums, if you can help it.

Summary
This comparison hit me with two big surprises: how bad the Appleton was, and how good that $8 bottle of Palo Viejo was. I think that I’m going to start a campaign to get all my local bars to switch their well rum to Palo Viejo. Well, to be fair I’d need to compare it against the local well favorites, Castillo and RonRico. I’m not looking forward to that tasting.

I was quite pleased with the Mount Gay Special Reserve, but I fear that its price tag of $20 really puts it into a different category than the rest. Some folks might not like that odd banana taste, but I’m quite sure that I’ll find a nice use for the extra bit of depth in a tiki cocktail.

The Flor De Caña and Brugal will find use as secondary rums in tiki cocktails, but I don’t think that I’ll be buying more when they’re gone. Instead I’ll stick to the Cruzan White.

The poor showing of the Myers didn’t surprise me as much as my disillusionment with the Appleton, but I had been hoping for more. Anything that is worse than Bacardi Silver… Well, what’s really frightening is that the DonQ was even worse. Really Bad Rum. Yuck.