4 Dark Rums

I’ve recently been trying to find the formula for my ultimate Mai Tai, and some early experimentation based on Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s $100 Mai Tai left me wanting for a darker, heavier version. I decided to try some dark rums, rustled four bottles out of storage boxes, and was left unpleasantly surprised that I could find only four. I actually found more dark rums, when I was thinking in terms of color, but only four when I was thinking in terms of rum. That got me to thinking, “What makes a dark rum a dark rum?”

A Wikipedia entry about Meyers’s Rum says, “Dark rum differs from gold in that some residual molasses is retained in the final product, in order to slightly sweeten the flavor.” I can go with that. It’s not exactly what I consider a dark rum, but then again I have some odd habits in the way that I categorize things, mainly because I don’t like to categorize so I keep things simple. As it turned out, the four dark rums that I found all fit that description, so I’ll keep it.

Gosling’s Black Seal
I’ve always enjoyed the story of Black Seal rum: In 1806, James Gosling boarded a ship bound for America. The winds did not cooperate, and the ship landed in the port of St. George’s, Bermuda. He decided to stay in Bermuda, and opened a retail shop. Some 50 years later, he and his brother blended rums and sold the finished product in barrels only. After the First World War, they began to bottle this rum in used champagne bottles sealed with black wax. The product became quite popular, and people kept asking for “that black seal rum.” Eventually, the Black Seal balancing a rum barrel on its nose was added to the label. Good story.

The rum itself smells a bit sweet with hints of molasses, and the smell of wood. Mild spices and vanilla linger in the background. There’s nothing remarkable in the smell, except that there’s a nice balance between all the dominant smells, which means that the molasses isn’t too dominant. The taste is heavy – rich and full – and fits the “dark rum” description well. Simply put, it tastes like slightly burnt, woody molasses – though the taste is actually quite better than that description! The balance of all the tastes is quite nice, and some subtle tastes round it out and give it some depth. The finish has a bit of a burn, and some spices come out.

Overall, this is quite good; a solid rum tastes with wood and molasses dominating. It is sweet and decently smooth, though not quite a sipper. I had expected the molasses to linger in a cloying way, but the rum finishes cleanly.

Myers’s Original Dark
The smell is much lighter and sweeter-smelling than the Gosling’s, with some spice and earthy tones typical to Jamaican rums. There are some floral hints that are quite subtle. It has a decent molasses taste, not overpowering at all, and a bit of wood. Some butter or toffee tastes are in here too. This is less “burnt” and less woody than the Gosling’s – more along the lines of a lightly charred wood, rather than the more distinctive burnt oak of the Gosling’s. It’s sweeter and more complex than the Gosling’s, and a lot of this complexity comes from the spice. It’s certainly more distinct than the Gosling’s, with more pronounced tastes, and not quite as well balanced as the Gosling’s. The finish is quick, and mildly spicy, but the smoothest of them all. This is quite good – better than I expected – but distinct enough to save for the cocktails that call for it.

Maui Dark Rum
This is a very dark-colored rum, and the smell of molasses is quite strong with coffee odors not too far in the background, and mild hints of roasted nuts. It smells a bit sweet, but not like the first two above. This has some floral smells, which are quite subtle yet remind me of “heavier” flowers – not the light flowery smells sometimes found in white rums or agricoles. The molasses taste in this rum is quite strong, though not by leaps or bounds above the others. The molasses tastes like it was cooked a bit, almost to burning but not quite. There are distinct coffee tastes, and very mild tastes of roasted nuts. The finish is long and smooth, and a little bit spicy (but nothing like the Myers), leaving a bit of a “charred” taste that lingers.

Cruzan Blackstrap
This rum is almost as dark as the Maui, but just a bit lighter. Molasses and sweetness are the two predominant smells here, and it’s a very nice molasses smell. Whereas the Gosling’s molasses smell charred, and the Maui’s burnt, the Cruzan has a very clean and sweet molasses smell. A bit of a buttery smell comes out, and some charred wood, but both are very far beneath the molasses and sugar smells. It seriously reminds me of pancake syrup – not the maple smell of pancake syrup, but rather the overall smells and butteriness. The molasses is very strong when tasting, and the sweetness lingers afterwards – almost, but not quite, cloying. The butter comes out a bit, and the wood comes forward with a lightly charred taste. The burn is slight, but long and lingering, to the point of where it felt like it was numbing my tongue. The molasses is the strongest of the four rums tasted, and the finish is the longest.

The Cruzan had the most molasses taste of the bunch, and the longest finish. The Myers’s was the spiciest – it’s Jamaican heritage – and was the most distinct, though the strong molasses taste of the Cruzan makes it a close second. The Maui came close in distinctness, due to its burnt molasses and coffee tastes. The Gosling’s had the best balance, and seemed to be the most versatile for cocktails. None were quite sipping rums, though the Maui comes the closest in this regard, for both smoothness and taste characteristics.

Overall, I’d have to choose the Gosling’s as the winner of this taste test, though I didn’t really mean this to be a contest but just a comparison. I guess that if I had just one dark rum in my cabinet it would be the Black Seal, thanks to its versatility.


Maui Gold And Dark Rums

I got interested in Maui Rums when I saw a post on Tiki Central that managed them. As I had never heard of them I was curious, especially since they’re made in Hawaii from Hawaiian sugar cane. Alas, I could not find them anywhere around and it seemed that they were not available anywhere in New England. Come to find out they are only available in Hawaii, or through their Internet store.

Well, I managed to obtain 3 – the Gold, the Dark and something called “Braddah Kimo’s Da Bomb Extreme Rum” which most certainly caught my attention. It’s 155-proof – yes 155-proof – which won a Gold Medal from the American Distilling Institute in the category of Over-Proof Rum. Nice. And scary at 155-proof. Since I always try the rums neat, I think this one is going to have to wait for another night since I just finished tasting the first two.

Haleakala Distilleries
Haleakala Distillers was apparently founded in 2003 when Braddah Kimo, the distiller, built the entire distillery himself. Braddah Kimo, a man of mystery, has 33 years experience as a distiller, starting as an Apprentice Distiller at E&J Gallo making brandies in 1974. In 1977 he spent 3 years making rum at Port Morant Distillery in Guyana, and by 2002 he was a Master Distiller making scotch at Glenlivet. In 2003 he moved to Maui and built the distillery now making Maui Rums.

The rum is made in a tiny distillery using molasses made from Maui cane sugar and Maui rainwater. After being double-distilled in copper stills the rum is aged in used Jim Beam bourbon casks. The entire process is done 2000 feet above sea level, adjacent to the Haleakala Ranch, a 30,000-acre cattle ranch which borders the Haleakala National Park.

The distillery is a small family-owned business dedicated to making fine rums and contributions to Maui and its non-profit organizations. They’re very environmentally-conscious, as proven by their delivery van and sales vehicles which run on bio-diesel. The fuel is made from recycled cooking oil from around the island, and their delivery van gets 26 miles per gallon from the stuff while their modified VW Jetta gets 40mpg. Way to go guys!

Maui Gold Rum
This is a very plain bottle with a very plain label. The bottles look like they were sealed by hand using the PVC shrink-wrap one would use for home bottling. The web site says that this is because they care more about what’s inside the bottle, not the bottle itself. Though I do find the bottle to be rather boring, it’s not really that important, and I certainly do like the implications. This was done by hand, not by a massive bottling machine, and I like that kind of attention. Each bottle comes with a small, very colorful lei around the neck, and I like that quite a bit. Maybe it’s the Tiki in me, but I love the significance of that lei and its symbolism of Hawaii.

The rum itself is a medium-gold color, a little on the light side. I could smell the rum as soon as I started to pour it. It wasn’t overpowering, just strong and it carried to my nose. When I brought the glass closer I could smell the molasses, though it leaned more toward a dark sugar, like demerara, rather than straight molasses. It smells rather sweet, and some hints of vanilla and a little bit of fruit come out, too. Strangely, though pleasantly, I could detect some hints of spice. Since I’ve been drinking a lot of spicy gold rums lately this was quite apparent once I got past the sugar and vanilla aromas.

A tiny sip finds this rum to be extremely smooth, fairly sweet with sugary overtones, with a touch of spice on the finish. But otherwise this rum seems somewhat simple and doesn’t have complexity like I always desire. But this was a small sip, and none of those things should be judged from such a small amount, so I dove in for a larger sip. This sip shows less sweetness than the smell, a bit of fruit comes out, and it finishes with some spice but not too much. I have to say that I am fairly amazed at how smooth this rum is. Braddah Kimo has done a very nice job of producing a very smooth rum, especially considering that this could not have been aged too long.

And I love the touch of spice at the end. This isn’t an overpowering assault of spice like Gosling’s Gold or the Mount Gay Eclipse. This is just a touch, and it’s quite pleasant. The finish is somewhat quick, which is not a surprise since this is a young rum and the spiciness doesn’t linger like some others. The mouthfeel is just a touch on the thick side, but it finishes very clean and leaves the palate quickly.

Alas, I still find the overall rum taste to lack complexity, and the molasses doesn’t come across as much as I’d like. Even after letting it sit for a bit, the taste is more like a dark cane sugar than a molasses. This has a very good flavor, even though it’s somewhat simple, though with a unique twist that makes it interesting. But I’d love to find more flavors underneath the basic rum, but there’s not much there. As a result, I don’t find this to be a sipping rum, though the smoothness and hint of spice would imply. This is quite sippable thanks to the fine crafting by Braddah Kimo, but the lack of complexity lends it towards some fine mixing. And it should excel at mixing, and I’d recommend its use in lighter cocktail when one doesn’t need a blatant rum taste.

Overall, this rum is very good and extremely smooth for a young gold. I like it quite a bit, and I look forward to an bottle of this that has been left in the cask for a few more years.

Maui Dark Rum
The bottle is similarly simple, but with a black label and black shrink-wrap at the top. After tasting the Gold this means nothing, as it’s apparent that they do put good stuff inside a simple bottle. This rum is very dark – espresso dark – in the bottle. But holding it up to the light shows some brown tinged with red, and it’s more of a very dark mahogany color. Still, even with only a half-inch of rum in the glass I could not see through it.

The smell isn’t as strong as I had expected, though it’s certainly no weakling! It smells primarily like a burnt dark sugar mixed with dark-roasted coffee beans, though there’s some molasses and a touch of alcohol, along with some faint aromas of over-roasted nuts. This stuff smells thick and heavy, that’s for sure.

The taste is all about coffee, almost like an espresso sweetened with brown sugar. But it’s not really a direct taste of coffee, more like my mind smells coffee and expects it to taste like coffee, even though there’s more going on. It took me a bit to get through that expectation, and I can detect the molasses (or burnt sugar?) easily, and roasted nuts take a bit of concentration. Like the Gold, it lacks complexity, but it’s certainly not boring since it’s bold with the coffee and burnt sugar tastes. At the same time, though, it’s not an overpowering taste – just bold. The finish is almost as smooth as the Gold, and almost as clean, but lasts a bit longer with a bit more spice. Again, hat’s off to Braddah Kimo for making such a smooth, clean rum.

Another larger sip has more of the same, though my brain is easing off the coffee expectations and letting more come out. Alas, what comes out is more of the same – burnt sugar, roasted nuts, and nothing much more than that. It is extremely well-crafted, but just not exciting as I always hope when trying a new rum.

I have to admit that this rum is not meant to be a sipping rum, but I always like to taste them neat to make sure that I experience the rum itself. I will have to go back to this one and do a comparison against some other darks, like Myers’s and Black Seal and the Cruzan Blackstrap. A better comparison would be to make a number of Dark & Stormies and see how they compare in their natural environment. Or a Jamaican Coffee – I wonder if the Maui Dark would complement or disappear in a cup of Starbucks?

Overall, I find that the Maui Dark leaves me with the same feelings that I had about the Gold – both rums are extremely well-made and very smooth – especially considering that they’re quite young. I’d love to try either one after a longer aging – perhaps some more time in the cask will produce more complexities. And that is the rub with both – though they posses many characteristics of fine sipping rums they both lack the complexities that I always wish for. But I really don’t think that sipping is the intent of these rums – they are obviously mixing rums, and I’m sure that they’ll be damned fine ones. The Dark requires a bit of exploration to find the correct cocktail, but the Gold is extremely versatile though I’d lean towards lighter drinks. As a general mixer this would do quite fine, but I think it deserves better than general mixing, and I’ll look forward to finding an appropriate cocktail for it.

For now, one can’t get Maui Rums on the mainland, but they can be ordered over the Internet from their store. These are both $20 each.

Haleakala Distillers: http://haleakaladistillers.com/index.html
Their Store: http://haleakaladistillers.com/_wsn/page18.html