Barrows’ Grand Reserve

A local liquor store has a number of “clearance” rums from time to time, and I spotted a single bottle of Barrows’ Grand Reserve on their shelves one day. The regular price was listed at $49.99, which I took with a grain of salt, but after subtracting a multi-bottle discount from the selling price it was down to $16. Any rum priced at $50 should be darned good, and for one-third the price it had to be worth it. At least that’s what I told myself when I purchased it.

Besides, all the marketing propaganda on the side of the box had me hooked – “A rich amber, firm-tasting 86 Proof rum, with a mellow palate.” I like mellow palates. “Quality and consistency were the ultimate goals.” I like quality. “Captain Thomas Barrows was actively involved as a pirate…” That’s the line that got me. Pirates. And Rum. Who could resist?

I lifted the rum out of the box, and many things struck me about the bottle. The first was that it was sealed with wax surrounding the cork. Always a good sign (again, remember that I was actively trying to convince myself to buy this on a whim). Next, a label on the side had a serial number. Always a good sign… (I’ve got bottle 005309 of Series 11A, if you care.) The label also mentioned that this was a “Cigar Blend Rum” which set off some alarms and implications of a dark, smoky, heavy rum – which is generally my type of rum. But the rum is a medium-dark golden color, not dark and smoky-looking, so the alarm didn’t ring loud enough. Finally I noticed the punt.

A huge punt, which was almost as tall as the bottle. And it was sealed with wax at the bottom.

A punt on a rum bottle.

I plopped my $16 down and ran that baby out of the store.

I have to admit that this is probably my second or third bottle of rum purchased on a whim. A rum purchase of any kind generally involves a good deal of research, checking the Internet and scouring my books for any indications of the tastes to expect. But for one-third the original price, it just had to be good, right?

I finally got around to researching this rum, and found that the average price seems to be about $45-$50, sometimes higher. I also found out that the punt used to contain a cigar chosen to match the rum. (Barrows also puts out an Hors D’Age with, I presume, a different kind of cigar.) My bottle did not contain a cigar, and the wax seal was not a wax seal but rather a huge rubber stopper that was cunningly colored the exact same as that wax seal around the cork. So either Barrows’ stopped putting cigars inside, or someone at that liquor store had a nice smoke. No matter, really, since I’m not much of a cigar smoker.

A few wine sellers on the Internet mention that it’s an 8 Year Old.

As for reviews, I found two mentions that contained anything resembling a review. One was in Robert Plotkin’s article Añejo Rum – New Darling Of The Snifter Set. His comments about the Grand Reserve just swelled with praise about this rum. Which did not make me feel very good – I’ve got Plotkin’s book Caribe Rum and in it he says that every rum is (basically) fantastic. I’m in an anti-Plotkin mood after that book, but I have to admit that his article Sizzle In The Caribbean – The 12 Most Romantic Rums was one of my early guides to rum. Between these two articles he lists 24 rums, of which I’ve tried 17, and thoroughly enjoyed 15 of them and despised 2. I guess that I shouldn’t be so anti-Plotkin since he’s almost never steered me wrong. Sorry Robert, I take it all back.

The only other review that I found was on, and it was actually on the Barrows’ Hors D’Age which did not fair well – a combined score of 4 out of a possible 20. Andy said “After trying it, it is absolutely DISGUSTING.”

Oh boy, did I waste my $16?

Get On With It Already!
Obviously I’m putting off trying this rum. Maybe I can re-gift it? Nah, too cheesy, so I’ll crack it and pour a dram.

Initial smell is light, very mellow, with a good amount of vanilla and just a little sweet. Very mellow indeed, considering that its 86 proof. I damn near have to stuff my nose into the glass, which isn’t good for my olfactory senses so I have to back off and pause for a bit.

The first sip is a little smoky and I immediately think of cigars – but that’s probably because of the marketing propaganda on the box. Burn is slight, finish is a little long and mellow. Another sip and I’m struggling to figure out the tastes I’m experiencing. It’s not bad at all, but it’s a little different – there’s something a little weird going on. Tobacco? Or is that the marketing fluff again? Oak, for sure, somewhere between oak and smoky. No, I would not call this smoky anymore, not even char, so it must be oak.

I took the last sip from that measure with a swoosh and some open-mouth nose-breathing… It’s got more burn than I like in a sipping rum, but it’s far from unpleasant. It’s not bad at all, but not in a league that I’d call “tasty.” Mellow is a better word for the taste. I want a cigar, but the only one I have is 3 years old labeled with the dubious brand of “It’s A Girl.”

I’m going to go pace the Internet and come back to this in a few minutes.

A Pause, And Then A Pour, And Another Pause
For some reason I had planned on adding a little water to this rum, but after waiting I decided that such an act would probably be a waste on a rum with such a mellow taste. Instead, I poured another measure and waited for it to breathe. I’m not so sure this will do anything either, really…

So I waited, browsed the blogs I commonly browse, and sipped. The breathing did it a little good, bringing out more smells and possibly even toning down the harshness. A bit. But it really does smell much better – probably since I love vanilla.
This stuff is pretty good, but I can’t really recommend it as there are much better rums out there. However, if you’re a cigar smoker you might really appreciate this rum – every sip reminds me of a cigar, and I no longer think that’s the marketing talking.

A decent rum that smells better than it tastes, since the taste is very mellow. A little bit of a burn for a sipping rum, but far from unpleasant. I’m not complaining about this rum since I paid only $16, but there’s no way in hell I’d pay $45 for this rum.

Unless I had a proper cigar. Maybe.