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.”

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Plantation Grande Reserve

Plantation Grande ReserveThe Plantation rums are an interesting bunch. They are an ever-changing selection of rums from many islands, and from many years. They all come in bottles with a signature wrap of straw, and the bottles clearly list the island of origin, the year of bottling, and many list the age. These rums are produced by Cognac Ferrand, the makers of Pierre Ferrand cognac (I love their Ambre cognac), a company that was founded in 1989 in order to make and market high quality spirits. They certainly have done so with their cognacs, and most – if not all – of their Plantation rums, too.

The very first bottle of good rum I ever purchased – 4 or 5 years ago – was one of the Plantation rums, though I’ll be damned if I can remember which one. It was aged perhaps 12 years, but that was many years ago and I could easily be wrong. But it was a damned fine rum, complex and spicy, though a bit too woody for me at the time. Even still, I enjoyed the hell out of that bottle and shortly after it was finished I went out to find it again. Alas, the first store that had Plantation rums had 5 or 6 different kinds, and I was quite baffled since I didn’t have the mind or knowledge to note which one I had drank. I just figured that there was only one straw-wrapped Plantation rum, but when I found a slew of them I walked out and hit the Internet to do some research to find another good rum. If I remember correctly, the next rum I got was the Pampero Anniversario in its great leather bag. Even though I didn’t find that particular Plantation rum again – ever – I was quite happy with the Pampero.

Now a little smarter and somewhat knowledgable, I make note of which rums I get and which are good. I’m sitting on 3 Plantation rums right now – Trinidad `91, Trinidad `93, and Venezuela `93. When I taste them I’ll be sure to make some notes, and if any are great then I’ll be sure to grab an extra bottle since that vintage might not last forever. As I said, the Plantation rums change a bit. The Plantation web site no longer lists either the Trinidad `91 or the Venezuela `93.

Back to this specific rum, the Plantation Grande Reserve from Barbados. This was recently reviewed by Angelsword on the Ministry Of Rum’s forums. In the review Angelsword compared it to Sea Wynde, and the Plantation got his vote. His tasting notes convinced me that I should stay away from the Sea Wynde, and I immediately put the Plantation Grande Reserve on my list. When I saw it listed at RumBa last week I knew that I had to try it.

Initial Tastes
When tasting this rum I immediately noticed it’s thick legs clinging to the glass, and a slight green tinge around the edge. It’s a dark golden color, and the smell is sweet and slightly spicy. It has some earthy undertones mixed with a fruity touch, all nicely balanced.

The taste is much like the smell – somewhat sweet and fruity, with bits of woodiness and some nice fruit and spice. The complexity is quite nice, with no single taste really overpowering the others – a great balance. It’s also got a great mouthfeel with its smooth texture. This is a rich-tasting rum, though I was mildly saddened by its quick finish. But the spice lingers a bit more with a mild burn.

Summary
This is an excellent rum, nicely sweet but not overly so, decently complex and decently smooth with only a mild burn. To me, this is a winning combination. Because I got a shot at a bar I don’t know the price, but from what I can find on the web it’s priced around $20 – I’ve seen it cheaper and I’ve certainly seen it more expensive, but it should be in the low 20s. At this price, and with this quality, it makes for a good sipping rum or an excellent mixing rum. It’s a bit of a toss-up as to whether this belongs in my “Highly Recommended” category, but for now I have to put it at the top of my “Recommended” category. Perhaps when I get my own bottle – and I most certainly will – I’ll make another comparison and shuffle its placement.