If I were to describe an aged spirit made across a large geographical area featuring an eclectic and compelling array of styles whose versatility allows it to be served in cocktails or savored neat, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was speaking of whiskey. At a time when the demand for whiskey is outrageous, when Cognac has become a global brand, when tequila and mezcal, formerly Rum’s partners in the basement of public opinion, has gained world-wide recognition, rum continues to languish. The reason is fairly simple. Rum has never had its Patron. It has never had a brand which breaks the barrier of public perception and elevates the entire category. Twenty years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find someone willing to pay good money for a Tequila. Patron changed that. Rum has never had its Patron.
Which is both a shame and a blessing. A shame because it is without question a category which deserves elevation, but a blessing because the value to those of us in the know is astounding. The common misconception of rum is that the cheap stuff (you know the names) represents all rum is or can be. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Rum is produced all over the Caribbean and Central America in a dizzying array of styles and flavor profiles. From the chewy sweetness of Guyana to the rich elegance of Barbados to the raw power of Jamaica to the ethereal complexity of French Martinique, rum comes in all shapes and colors. It can be made from molasses or pure sugar cane. It can be sweet as syrup or dry as Cognac. It can be fresh and vibrant when young or come to possess stunning complexity with years in the barrel. Coming full circle, the only spirits region with similar diversity would be Single Malt Scotch but I would argue Rum outpaces even Scotland for sense of place and variation of spirit.
The quality is there. The value is there. A profound universe of Rum already exists. It is simply waiting for the barriers to fall and the world to notice. To do my part, I’m suggesting 3 exceptional Rums, each representing a different style and region, any one of which will completely change your conception of what Rum can be.
Ministry of Rum Collection Saint Lucia Pot Still 5 Year $40.00
Geeky Distilling Information-The molasses used at St Lucia Distillers was sourced from Guyana and contained 65% dissolved sugar, one of the highest sugar contents of any molasses found in the Caribbean. The high sugar content is attributed to the age of the Guyanese sugar mill. There are three stills at St Lucia Distillers Ltd. A continuous column still, the Vendome still and another smaller pot still. The distillate is condensed at about 82% ABV. After distillation, the distillate is collected in large tanks where several batches of distillate are blended. From these tanks, second-use American oak barrels are filled with fresh rum at about 70% ABV.
JT’s Take-Where to start on Ed Hamilton and the Ministry of Rum? Ed is the English speaking world’s foremost authority on Rum. Period. End of Story. He runs an AMAZING website called Ministry of Rum. He travels around the world educating people about the wonders of rum. He is also an importer. This is a direct barrel selection from Ed Hamilton, the Minister of Rum, himself. It totals around 123 cases. It is one of the more profound molasses based rums you’re likely to come across. As opposed to the rest of the Rums on this list, this Santa Lucia will be closer to the sweet, powerful flavor profile you’re likely to associate with rum.
Tasting Note–“The aroma of this full-flavored, pot still rum explodes when the bottle is opened. Hints of pear, green apple and papaya in the initial taste give way to a spicy blend of cinnamon, tropical fruit and smoky oak. The finish is long, as you would expect in a 100% pot still rum, with baking spice tones on top of a slightly smoky foundation.” Ed Hamilton, The Ministry of Rum
Neisson Aged Rum Reserve Speciale $70.00
Geeky Distilling Information– The Neisson distillery, built on Martinique’s northwest coast, benefits from some of the richest soil on the islands. The family-owned distillery operates a single-colum, copper, continuous still and produces about 400,000 liters of rhum agricole annually. All of the Neisson rhums are distilled, aged, and bottled only at the Martinique distillery.
JT’s Take-The important thing to know about Rhum Agricole, aka Rum from French Martinique, is these were historically made to take the place of Cognac. Many who follow wine know about the Phylloxera outbreak in the late 19th century, which decimated the vineyards of Europe. What many don’t think about is how that also destroyed the production capacity of Cognac. Cognac being a brandy distilled from grapes, the French called on their colonies to make a distilled spirit which could serve as a substitute until the vineyards came back online. French Martinique answered the call. Made from pure sugar cane, rather than molasses, Neisson is one of the most elegant spirits I’ve ever come across. Imagine the jubilance of Island rum with the ethereal beauty of Cognac and you’re close to the mark. This is a world-class spirit, no question.
Tasting Note– “Neisson Rhum Agricole Reserva Speciale is characterized by a rich aroma of dark fruit and roasted nuts leading to a hearty body of fruit, nuts, smoky oak and vanilla, followed by hints of spice in the warm, lingering finish.” 5 Stars, Highest Recommendation, F. Paul Pacault’s Spirits Journal
Capovilla PMG Liberation Rhum $137.00
Geeky Distilling Information-It’s hard to explain why this is such an exceptional bottle without getting EXTREMELY geeky. So we’ll just have to dive in. This is the work of Vittorio Capovilla, one of the two best producers of Eau de Vie in the world, made from the stills of the Bielle distillery located on Marie-Galante, a small very rural island just off the coast of Guadaloupe. So here’s the geeky part…the sugar cane (and this is all sugar cane, no molassess) is considered to be one of the greatest, rarest forms of sugar cane (Canne rouge B47.259) in existence. The sugar cane is fermented for five days (unheard of in typical rum production) then distilled in alembic pot stills designed specifically for Mr. Capovilla before being aged for 10 years in First Fill Chateau D’Yquem barrels.
JT’s Take-In distilling circles, Capovilla is as close to a god as it gets. Based out of Italy, he makes some of the purest, more arresting Eau de Vie on the planet. He goes neck and neck with Reisetbauer, with Hans once saying to me the only Eau de Vie producer in his same class being Capovilla. I can’t help but agree. There is tremendous complexity here. One of the hallmarks of Capovilla is his ability to capture the fresh essence of his base material then magnify it out into surprising variations. Never heavy or ponderous, his Libreration hovers so far above the traditional conception of rum, it might as well be a different spirit.
Tasting Note–“Fresh oak that speaks first while blood oranges, mocha and touches of tamarind come a little later and make it fresh. There are also hints of camphor and fern that are very ‘rhum agricole’ as well as pineapple liqueur and touches of coconut. Beautiful freshness. Fruity and nervous, very different from most other young rhums. It’s almost a fruit salad and it’s much less ‘tropical’ than expected. Absolutely no ‘coconut and banana’ effect, rather baskets of butter pears, apples, yellow plums and very ripe gooseberries. Absolutely no thick and cloying aged rum. Medium long, clean, with touches of rose jelly, Turkish delights and even gewürztraminer. High-end apple juice. An unusual rum, more elegant and complex than many. Certainly not for mixing!” Serge Valentin