It’s always tough to compile a ranked rum list. Let’s face it, in this day and age, we’re spoiled for choice in a way that makes the options available to us a mere decade ago seem like the epitome of miserly alternatives to make Henry Ford or Thomas Hobson gnash their teeth and rend their robes.*
But in a tradition now in its third year, I described to the generous folks at RumCask my experiences with those rums I felt were a cut above the ordinary. Opinions may differ, and some may have been issued earlier than in 2019, but that was the year I tried them and if you think they can be limited to just three, well, sorry, but by now you should know me better.
The Lone Caner Social Media:
In summarizing the 2018 rums a year ago, I remarked that my attention was drawn towards the whites as becoming class acts in their own right. 2019 showed they didn’t slow down in the slightest, and they keep going from strength to strength as one of the great subsets of rum. Then, I relegated them to my sixth entry in the year’s recap – this year, they’re at the top.
I mean, just look at the variety on display. South Africa’s Mhoba made a white that was delectable, and another new African entrant from Liberia called Sangar was really impressive for a first try. The Far East’s new representatives – Laodi, Sampan and Mia – all made white agricole-style rums that were delicious and different and worth checking out. L’Esprit out of Brittany made two massive overproofs that blew my socks off, the Fiji and the Diamond, while at the other, softer, gentler end of the scale, the grogues of Cabo Verde – Velier’s Barbosa, M&G Rhum du Cap-Vert Natural and the Vulcão – redefined the perception of the wild and woolly island taste profiles pioneered by the Haitian clairins, showing that soft and delicate whites could drop the jaw and raise the eyebrow just as well. Not to leave the Caribbean behind, I tried the Saint James Pot Still White rum and loved it to pieces.
And the top white rum of 2019, for me? Even with the impressive taste-chops and crisp clarity of the Saint James, I must give the place of honour to the Habitation Velier Savanna HERR, which boasts impressive pecs and washboard 8-pack abs, clocking in at 62.5% and simply an awesome drink for anyone, neat or mixed.
Rums from Savanna on Reunion
Velier’s Savanna 12 YO (Indian Ocean Stills series), Rum Nation Réunion Traditionelle “Cask Strength” 2011 7 YO Rum was a lovely spirit and Habitation Velier’s own HERR White Rum are among the best rums I tried all year, handily beating out many other contenders, but hard to rank among themselves – though of course my love has been given to the HV HERR for now. That high-ester still they have over there must be sprinkled with fairy dust or something because whatever they make with it just sparkles and for this reason I wanted to give all three some special mention.
The Third Spot
I can’t easily rank these rums because they all had aspects I cared for deeply when sampling and drinking and buying in 2019…and so I won’t. Consider any one as equally worth any of the others without favour.
- 1423 SBS Mauritius 2008 10YO because of where and how I tried it and because it’s just a really good rum (along with their 2018 Jamaican DOK). It remains a favourite long form review of mine, written with great love for Mrs. Caner and the entire 1423 crew.
- Velier continues to dominate the rum world when it comes to really good rums — and if the mastodons of the Caronis and Demeraras are now receding into fond memories and becoming expensive historical artifacts, they are being replaced by smaller, more tightly focussed releases. The HV line remains among the best of these, and while I’ve mentioned the HERR twice now, its brothers from Jamaica — the Long Pond TECA 2005 62% and Monymusk EMB 2010 62% — were astoundingly good island rums bursting with flavour and excellence that few outside the estates themselves have thus far managed to duplicate
- Nine Leaves Encrypted II was an excellent rum, showing even a minimal 2 years of ageing could do something special, but the 58% Encrypted III I tried in Paris was perhaps the best rum they’ve made to date. What an amazing rum Yoshi created here.
- Privateer Navy Yard Rum is not a world class beat-all-comers spirit – Maggie Campbell has others that are trying harder. What the Navy Yard is, is a signal that the USA is finally getting rum right, and making more than the same old boring blended blah, or bathtub rotgut costing a buck a bottle. Out of the 400+ distilleries in the USA, many small outfits are beginning to release some really good juice – Montoya is one such outfit, this is another, and there are many others who will challenge the Caribbean big hitters in the years to come.
- 1985 Distilled Old Barbados Rum (Alleyne Arthur / Foursquare). Many will cede pride of place to Foursquare’s more visible releases in 2019 — the 2007, Empery, Sagacity, Hereditas, Patrimonio — all of which were damned fine, no question, and indeed you’ll find one or more of them on everyone’s top-of-the-year lists so an omission here won’t be unduly missed. But after you’ve tried enough blends from one company you rather selfishly start to look for something slightly different, and for me, this was it, even if it had in fact been released some time earlier. It’s too bad the recipe is gone, because I’d gladly have bought more had they made it.
- Mhoba “Strand 101°” South African Rum. Mhoba made both one of the most memorable whites and one of the best rums I tried in 2019. Working with home made stills and lots of experimentation they produced three rums that took my nose and palate by storm and I can’t wait to see what else they’ll be coming up with in the future.
- My love for Guyanese rums got a boost with the Third Release of the equally admired and vilified El Dorado Rare Collection. These tropically aged full-proofs created quite a stir in late 2018 because they were limited to two – one with the Skeldon marque (subliminally channelling the ultra-rare unicorn of the Skeldon 1973) and the other from Albion. For my money, the Albion 2004 18 YO was slightly better than the Skeldon and one of the very best rums in the entire Rare collection to date, full of woody, cedar-like notes, fruity, perfumed, caramel tastes, plus complexity up to wazoo and a finish that just didn’t want to quit. With this rum, DDL proved they were worthy inheritors of the Demerara rum mantle and that the sublime Enmore 1996 from Release 2 had been no accident.
If I had to be honest, 2019 was not quite as stellar as either of the two years preceding it. This is not to say that fine rums weren’t being made, just that the quantity of utterly fantabulistic 90-points-or-greater rums dropped, while the number of way-better-than-average rums surged. This leaves me in the curious situation of having more real cool new rums to tell you about…but fewer unicorns to top a best-of list.
That’s neither here nor there, though. The journey remains a fascinating one, the rums are getting better and more varied all the time, and the opening up of the world to other regions of rum production (Africa, Far East, Australia etc) shows that the Golden Age of Rum is upon us, and we should enjoy every sip and dram we can. Here’s looking forward to the discoveries of 2020.
(*For the non-historically minded: Henry Ford is famous for having said “They can have any colour they want, as long as it’s black”; and Hobson’s Choice is proverbial for being limited to just one).