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

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9 Responses to “Identifying Rums While Blindfolded”

  1. Blair, aka TraderTiki Says:

    That is a brilliant idea!

    Honestly, I mix too much to think i could identify most things straight up, but… well, Myers, Coruba, Pyrat XO, Appleton anything, Lemon Hart, those I’m fairly sure I could hit on the nose.

    Fantastic, I’ve got to see how I tally sometime this week.

  2. Rick Says:

    I must reiterate how much I love your blog, Scott. Not to mention how you so subtly lure us all into doing blindfolded rum tastings of our own.

  3. Scottes Says:

    Thanks Rick.

    As to a blind testing, what I’d like to do next time is pick 2 or 3 similar rums – whites, mellow golds, 3 Appletons, whatever – and try to identify all 3. Picking them completely blind is kinda difficult.

    Of course, I have an inventory of similar rums… 🙂

  4. Troy Says:

    Great post Scott. lol

    I haven’t done a blind tasting on rums. I need to give it a shot. I used to do blind wine tastings many years ago when several friends were into wines. It usually ended up embarrassing a few of the self proclaimed experts!

    I just need to get some more friends that are as into rum as I am. 🙂

  5. erik_flannestad Says:

    Oh yes, that Barbancourt 5 star is fantastic stuff!

    Definitely in my top 5 rums.

    Anyway, wow, I think you did great!

    I could maybe do that well with Rye or Gin, if I practised. There’s no way I could come close with Rum.

  6. Scottes Says:

    Blair – you’ve quite a nice collection of rums from what I can see on your blog. I hope to see a report Sunday!

    Troy – ah, you laugh, you laugh. Give it a shot! And check out the Tiki Central forums – there are tons of tiki-philes down your way, and most will appreciate rum.

    Erik – Yes, I have to agree about the Barbancourt. I’ll be grabbing a bottle this weekend. And thanks for the words of encouragement. Some of the others around here just like to laugh at my misery. 🙂

  7. Arek Says:

    I happened upon your cite recently and, I must say, this particular analyses of rums is fantastic. I’ve tried most of the rums you have suggested, and I agree, Ron Zacapa and Zaya both are fantastic and equally difficult to pit against each other…delicious. Tonight I tasted Ron Botran Solera 1893 and Santa Teresa: Ron Anterguo de solera. I’d recommend both, they’re fantastic; I still prefer Zaya, Ron Zacapa, and Pryat XO before them (I tend to prefer a slightly smoother and sweeter rum) but these are worth tasting. I can honestly say, however, Santa Teresa has the best smell and I’d like to pit it against one of my bottles of Ron Zacapa in the future.

    Anyway, I’d like to hear your comparison of these two rums (el-dorado 15 years and 8-year old Barbancourt 5-Star) to the tried and true Ron Zacapa and Zaya. I’ve never tasted either.

    Finally, as rums go, my favorite mixing rum is STROH ’80’ which is not made with sugar, but rather sugar beets. I say mixing because the ’80’ refers to percent and not proof, however, STROH ’60’ and STROH ’40’ exist, but I haven’t found them for sale within the US. The rum is produced in Austria and makes coke tast like Christmass… If your are fortunate enough to land your hands on a bottle of STROH ’40’ please inform the rest of us if it’s wonderful and, if so, how you obtained it…

    I think it’s time to taste a few more……… it’s always time. ;]

  8. erik_flannestad Says:

    The Barbancourt rums are agricultural rums from Haiti. This means they are made from fermented sugar cane juice rather than molasses or cane syrup.

    This gives them a very different character from the heavy Zacapa and Zaya rums.

    Lighter, drier, and a bit Cognac-like in flavor.

    Anyway, Scott’s much better at this tasting note stuff than I am. I can’t wait to read his notes.

  9. Adam Says:

    Scott,

    You didn’t do too bad with your tasting. I did a similar test at my bay bar. One our bartenders poured a rum and I was then allowed to try it (un-blindfolded, so I COULD see the color). This didn’t matter, as I got 2 out of 10 correct. Ill also say Im not a pro.

    It was fun though, one rum poured for me was the flor de cana 7 year which i previously didnt like. I can now say that I am somewhat a fan of it. I enjoyed it better than the 21, but no comparison to the 18 year.


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