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.
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.