Originally starting with wine tastings almost 2 decades ago and shifting to a rather deep dive in to the world of craft beer, I was introduced to the wonderful world of rum around 2014/2015. Starting off with El Dorado 12, I knew I loved something about it, but definitely had a very limited understanding of the spirit. Within my first few months of drinking rum I had managed to taste the likes of some of the rarer Demeraras, ultra funky Jamaicans and petrol-bomb Caronis. I was hooked.
Since then, I moved from Malmö to Amsterdam, where I started Rum Symposium Amsterdam, focusing on spreading knowledge about rum throughout the Netherlands (a country that despite having an insane amount of involvement in the rum world, seemed to have very little happening on the rum front). To achieve this, I have worked in collaboration with multiple brands and distributors to put together courses, tastings and events that showcase the widest variety of rums available on the market, while trying to provide impartial information about what is in the glass. In addition to these arranged events, I also try to give my two cents on the rums I have been sipping on through reviews on Rum Symposium Amsterdam.
2020…this is a year where I felt like it was a constant struggle to keep up with the crazy number of great rums bombarding the market. A steady flow of distillery bottlings such as the Foursquare ECSs and an endless supply of Chairmans Reserve Masters Selections…as well as what seems like a wave of some really spectacular IB releases such as the always explosive SBSs and Holmes Cays. Last year when I was asked to provide my top 3 to Rum Cask, I wrote that it was a difficult task…well this year it’s even harder. While it make’s the choosing harder, I truly hope that this is just a sign of the direction that the rum world is going.
So my top 3 in no specific order, as I think they all deserve to be at the top of any list:
I mean, with the number of ECSs released this year, it is no surprise that one of my top 3 spots would be taken by one of these elegant rums. I have always been a fan of the vintage releases, the 2004, 2005, 2007, and then the 2008. I seem to really like the pure bourbon cask Foursquare releases, which come across a little spicier, dryer and with a few more splinters than the other ECS releases. So the Nobiliary being a wee bit older and a wee bit higher proof, I was very excited to try it. I won’t go deep in to tasting notes in this write up, as I don’t think it is really the point here, and I can post the details in a separate review later, but let’s just say that Nobiliary for me is the perfect balance of bourbon-y vanilla and oak, baking spices and fresh cracked black pepper, with a heat from the high abv. that comes across as an inviting warm hug rather than an intimidating burn. I believe this is my favourite Foursquare to date. (Although Redoubtable just landed on my shelf and it may give this one a run for it’s money in 2021).
Tamosi Kanaima (Versailles 2004) & Karaya (Port Mourant 1998).
Yes these are 2 different rums, but from the same Netherlands-based IB, released at the exact same time, and equally delicious in their own right, so I chose to put them together in my “top 3”. I think these are both just beautiful examples of the two different wooden pot stills housed at DDL. The Versailles single wooden pot still provides deep, rich, slightly dirty and oily notes, while also giving hints of green mint and eucalyptus. Add to this the fact that this release is an example of a barrel that has been aged for it’s full life with caramel in the barrel, leading to an extremely heavy, molasses and liquorice-forward rum that just screams Demerara. And then there is the 22 year old Port Mourant (double wooden pot still). Elegance in a glass. Pungent, tropical fruit bomb with a hefty splash of varnish. Very different to the Versailles. Cleaner and more vibrant, with no sign of the molasses-heavy addition. If you like Port Mourant, find this rum and make your life better.
Black Tot 50th Anniversary
This rum deserves this spot for multiple reasons, firstly being that it is EFFING DELICIOUS. The balance that is achieved through the number of components in this rum is simply remarkable. Just have a look at the back of the label if you haven’t already done so (a label which the detail on its own earns the bottle a spot on this list). There is A LOT going on here. Let’s start with an already beautiful blend of relatively standard bulk rums from Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana, but then why not throw in some Caroni, some high-ester Hampden, some 40+ year Port Mourant, oh and just for the heck of it, some original navy flagon rum? Yes please. This rum is both young and old, rich and vibrant, dark and green. It’s a mind trip that keeps you wanting more. And as if this wasn’t already enough, it turns out that (due to some rather amusing – or not so amusing for the lads at TWE – Corona mishaps) this 50th anniversary release will serve as the base for next year’s release…which will then serve as the base for the year after that…and so on. This is the new and true “Navy Style Rum”. It will continue to evolve, and we can taste it as it does so – and that’s pretty damn cool.
Aside from these top rums, there were a couple others that I feel deserve honourable mentions, as had it been any other year they likely would have made it in to my top 3:
Plantation Single Cask Fiji Islands 9 year Line Aquavit Cask. This rum shocked me. 100% Fiji pot still, 7 years in Bourbon, 18 months in Cognac and then 6 months in Aquavit. Firstly, this rum tastes like Fiji! Play-doh and rotten banana bomb! It’s oily and surprisingly warm and punchy for its 48.6%. I also find that the Aquavit finish doesn’t come across as Aquavit, but instead seems to just boost the Fijian funk with a slight addition of caraway spice that I absolutely love. I have found that there have been quite a few IB releases from Fiji this year that I have had high hopes for, but they have all been either heavy on or entirely composed of column still rum, which for me is a bit of a let down. Don’t get me wrong, they are still fantastic rums, just not what I am after when it comes to what Fiji has to offer. This specific bottle of Plantation 9yr does have 4g of sugar added to it, however it doesn’t come across much at all on the palate. If it wasn’t on the label I am not sure how much I would have noticed it to be honest. All in all, for a Fijian pot still rum with this amount of flavour and priced below €50, I think this was very close to making my top 3, and it is a prime example of what I love about rum from this part of the world.
Inner Circle Cask Strength. This 5 year old Australian rum from the trendy Beenleigh distillery comes in at a punchy 75.9% abv. (To be honest, I think I should just put all 2020 Beenleigh rums here in the honourable mention, as they all have a similar profile that is something new and quite unique in my mind). This Cask Strength is very full of pure rum character, which is not the case for a lot of rums at this abv. I find they can often be overly boozy, or too heavy on molasses in some cases if we’re are talking about certain 151s, but this rum is plain and simple just a banging high proof rum! Rich caramel, raisins, slight charred wood with a hint of smoke…and then incredibly vibrant and lively green notes. Mint and Eucalyptus. Green peppercorns. Bay leaf. These green notes on top of this heavy rum raisin foundation is what I think of when I taste Beenleigh. I love that we have a “new” rum (although Beenleigh has been around for ages) that is giving a thumbprint for what Australian can (and should) be.