Seattle-based Matt Pietrek once made a proper 1944 Mai Tai and his life changed. That moment lead to his obsession with rum and Tiki, and eventually turned him one of the world’s leading spirits writers.
Penning works for online magazines like PUNCH, Rumporter and Bevvy, as well as his renowned Cocktail Wonk blog, Pietrek was a finalist for the 2018 Spirited Awards’ World Best Cocktail & Spirits Writer, as well as Saveur Magazine’s Best Drinks Blog. In 2018 he was one of Imbibe Magazine’s “Imbibe 75” – The people who are changing the drinks industry. Award winning spirits author Fred Minnick has dubbed Pietrek “America’s foremost rum writer.”
Despite his rum love, he also drinks a lot of bourbon, and he’s the vintage bourbon columnist for Bourbon Plus magazine. Check him out on Instagram and Twitter and at CocktailWonk.com, where you can find many of this rum writings organized in one convenient spot.
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Picking my top three releases this year is challenging because any list depends on the criteria. There’s many interesting, oddball and highly limited releases which few people will see. (Hampden DOK, anyone?) Then there’s the producers like Foursquare and Plantation who continue to pump out great release well-tuned their respective target audiences, myself included.
Thus, my list focuses on rums that particularly surprised me, without asserting they’re necessarily “The best”. Instead, they’re the rums I found myself telling other rummies about most often.
Bacardi Gran Reserva Diez (Ten Year)
This might surprise people, especially those who hate on Bacardi for their silver rum and flavored expressions. The Bacardi Diez first surprised me because of its age statement, something Bacardi normally doesn’t trade in. But more importantly, it drinks quite well for a “Spanish style” rum and is reasonably priced. Yes, it has a bit of sugar in it, but not enough to tilt it into the obviously sweetened category. I find myself pouring this for myself more often than I expected.
Clairin Le Rocher (Velier)
This Haitian clairin is full on WEIRD, in the best possible way. It’s got funk in a way I’ve never experienced before. The flavor constantly evolves and leave even a hard-core rummy flummoxed. It’s made from sugar cane syrup and pot stilled, but what makes it especially interesting is that the fermentation uses a similar technique to Jamaican muck and dunder that supercharge ester creation. I personally pick up notes of paprika, aka BBQ potato chips.
Hampden Estate Jamaican Rum (46% ABV)
The first official release of a tropical aged Hampden Estate rum was big news for Jamaican rum lovers like me. It’s an excellently executed blend of three Hampden marques selected by Luca Gargano. While the 60% ABV version naturally gets most of the attention, I found the 46% ABV version also very compelling. It provides Hampden’s signature flavor without bowling you over and rendering your taste buds useless after the first dram. I could easily spend the evening enjoy the more civilian strength 46% ABV version. (I have both, of course!)