Review: Bacardi Tangerine Rum

Bacardi_TangerinI’ve never had a tangerine that tasted anything like this, but Bacardi Sunny Delight Rum probably would’ve gotten the company into hot water.

What we have here is an indistinctly orangish-citrus, petrol-laden rum that is simultaneously super-sweet and incredibly artificial in the way it comes across. (As always, “natural flavors” are promised, per the label.) The finish is lengthy and enduring and reminiscent of a children’s cough syrup.

Pass on this one.

70 proof.

D+ / $11 / bacardi.com

Review: Monkey Spiced Rum

monkey rum spicedIt must happen to all of us. Zane Lamprey got so tired of drinking spirits that he figured he should just make his own. The result of that ennui with the drinking world is Monkey Rum (named for Lamprey’s stuffed monkey that is omnipresent on his televised boozing adventures), which is available in both Spiced and Coconut expressions.

We got the Spiced. The Coconut broke during shipping to Drinkhacker HQ.

Monkey gets its rum from Angostura in Trinidad, aged two to three years. It is then blended with cinnamon, vanilla, a hint of coconut, and “buttery caramelized flavors,” which I would take to mean caramel except that Monkey says that no caramel color is added to the product.

That said, Lamprey sure doesn’t lie about that buttery tasting note — right from the start, this is oily, gooey, unctuous buttered popcorn, injected with the essence of pure vanilla. Cinnamon is almost nonexistent, as the essence of melted caramels blended with pure, softened butter really takes center stage. That toasted coconut does make itself known on the finish, but otherwise stays hidden in the background.

Fans of deeply cinnamon- and clove-flavored spiced rums will find Monkey to be quite far afield. In fact, it’s a lot closer to a standard gold or aged rum than it is to Captain Morgan. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you elect to drink spiced rum because of the spice, Monkey is a letdown. If you elect to drink it because of the rum, you might just be enchanted by this oddball novelty.

70 proof. No monkeys added.

B+ / $22 / monkeyrum.com

Review: Flor de Cana Rum – 7, 12, 18, and 25

Flor De Cana C18 700ml Front

Nicaragua’s best-known rum is Flor de Cana, which has grown in popularity and is available in nearly a dozen expressions now. Today we look at a full four of the distillery’s offerings, spanning the range from youngish to very old.

Update: Originally I referred to these rums as “7 Years Old” and so on instead of just “7,” and several readers commented and emailed to let me know that Flor de Cana does not actually say “years old” on the label. The bottles just show a number. I asked Flor de Cana to explain and this was the response:

Each bottle of Flor de Caña contains a unique blend of aged rums. Younger, more robust rums and older, more delicate rums, are blended to achieve a complex taste profile representative of the average age of the blend. Flor de Caña labels all of their rums with the average age of the blend.

Hopefully that clarifies the age situation (though perhaps imperfectly).

All are 80 proof.

Flor de Cana Gran Reserva 7 – This is the oldest of Flor de Cana’s “slow-aged” line, its standard lineup of seven various rums. Dense with caramel and vanilla, it’s a classic and well-aged rum, offering secondary notes of burnt butter and coffee grounds, though it’s still showing some petrol overtones held over from its youth. Woody and brambly at times, it offers some Madeira notes on the finish that offer a curious counter to the rum’s more traditional elements. B / $19

Flor de Cana Centenario 12 – This is the beginning of the “Centenarios” family, Flor de Cana’s highest-end bottlings. Centenario 12 takes things in a somewhat different direction than the Gran Reserva 7, with a punchy attack that leads to a heavy fruit character that the 7 doesn’t provide. Over-ripe banana, coconut, and a mix of cherry and apricot notes give this a kind of fruit cocktail character that sometimes finds itself at odds with the vague coffee notes that emerge over time. The finish is pulled in both directions, with some success, but also with some confusion to the palate. B+ / $30

Flor de Cana Centenario 18 – Lots of barrel influence here (I called it “smoke” in a relatively naive, early review, when this rum had a slightly different name), with more of that over-ripened fruit quickly coming up behind. Lots of tropical influence here — especially ripe, almost fermented pineapple — plus some coconut syrup notes (think Malibu). As with the 12, it doesn’t quite come together for me as it should, again showing some coffee (and perhaps black tea) character that feels at odds with all that fruit. Remarkable family resemblance to the 12 here. B+ / $40

Flor de Cana Centenario 25 – The top of the Flor de Cana line, here we see those fruit and barrel char notes giving the rum a bit of an oxidized Madeira note, a touch winey, but loaded up with caramel and some emerging chocolate notes and more of a raisiny note in lieu of some of the fresh tropical fruit notes described above. The finish loses the plot a bit, though, with a somewhat saccharine note (combined with more coffee bean character) that dulls the vibrancy that is initially so thrilling to the palate. That said, it’s definitively the expression of Flor de Cana to beat — although it may just beat your wallet into submission along the way. A- / $150

flordecana.com

Blend Your Own Rum with Rum Blender

rum blender

Remember Whisky Blender? Which lets you whip up your own bespoke vatted malt?

Now the company behind that operation is doing the same thing with another big spirit category: Rum.

Same idea as before: Rum Blender has seven rums to choose from. You select the proportion of each that you want, in 10ml increments, until your 700ml bottle is full. Give your rum a name and wait for it to arrive via the mail. Voila! You now have a unique rum that no one else can lay claim to.

The challenge here is the same as with Whisky Blender: Picking rums based solely on one-sentence descriptions isn’t easy. How much Buttered Strumpet do you want? How much Candy Cane? Blending is tough when you have the base spirits right in front of you, and sight unseen, well, it’s near impossible. Rum Blender doesn’t reveal much about either age or even country of origin, which is a bit frustrating. (Business idea: Let folks buy a set of mini bottles to play with at home so they can tinker before they buy!)

I mixed up my own rum — Ron de Nada, get it!? — and the results are about as I thought they would be. The rum is palatable and a good mixer, but it’s a bit workmanlike and isn’t my favorite straight sipper. It’s got nice chocolate and vanilla notes, but the petrol overtones make it come across as relatively immature — although I have no actual way of knowing how old it is. Stylistically, it’s mostly reminiscent of younger Jamaican stock.

A typical blend will likely run you $70 and up, with shipping on top of that. That’s a huge amount to pay for rum, where $30 will get you an amazing top shelf bottle. But then again, those won’t have your name on them.

In other words: Come for the rum, but stay for the experience and fun of blending.

rumblender.nl

Drinkhacker’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

We at Drinkhacker have been busier than ever this year, and yet it seems impossible that it’s time for our eighth annual edition of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards.” As always, the list comprises some of the best-rated products we looked at over the last 12 months but is also focused on products that are 1) actually available, 2) worthwhile as gifts, and 3) not entirely out of the realm of affordability.

This year, by popular demand, we’re adding wine to the gift guide. It’s one of the busiest categories on the site, one of the most popular gift items on the market, and something we’ve overlooked for too many years.

As always, the offerings below are only a tiny selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, and we welcome both your suggestions for alternatives and questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting. Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Rhetoric 21-Year-Old_Hi-Res Bottle ShotBourbon – Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric 21 Years Old ($100) – So many amazing bourbons hit this year, and so many are already impossible to find. While Diageo took some early drubbing for its curious Orphan Barrel project, this year it really hit its stride. Rhetoric 21 is the best of the lot to date — and part of an ongoing project that will see older and older expressions of Rhetoric shipping every year. It’s still widely available at its original selling price, as is its near equal in the Orphan Barrel project, Forged Oak 15 Years Old ($75). I loved Col. E.H. Taylor Cured Oak ($75 on release), but you’ll be lucky to find it for $500 today. That makes the over-the-top (but delightful) Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century ($400/1 liter) seem like a downright bargain.

Scotch – The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old ($140) – I’m not going to break the bank this year with my malt whisky pick and rather send you hunting for the 17 year old Ben Nevis from The Exclusive Malts, an indie bottler that has been absolutely on fire with a string of amazing releases. The exotic fruit, sweetness, and cereal notes combine in an inimitable and very compelling way. A big hand is due to Diageo again in this list for its 2014 limited editions (which hit the U.S.) in March this year. If you have the cash, check out Rosebank 21 Years Old ($500), Strathmill 25 Years Old ($475), or Brora 35 Years Old ($1,250), all three from that series. Finally, peat fanatics should head directly for whatever Laphroaig 15 Years Old ($70) they can still find.

journeyman ThreeOaks_750Other Whiskey – Journeyman Distillery Three Oaks Single Malt ($47) – Craft whiskey in the U.S. is finally, finally, arriving, and this year it’s landing a top spot on our best of the year list. Michigan-based Journeyman is showcasing how single malt should be made in America with this young but exuberant spirit that any whiskey fan owes it to himself to try. For another top craft pick, consider Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskey ($75), a young wheat whiskey that is the best of this series so far. The Irish Yellow Spot ($95) maintains a special place in my heart next to its Green sibling — and don’t forget that rye is making leaps and bounds. One of the best is Woodford Reserve Rye ($38) — where it is actually made instead of trucked in from another state.

Gin – Oppidan American Botanical Gin ($30) – Our top gin pick this year comes from a Chicago microdistillery where a bounty of botanicals is used to spice up a London Dry style gin, giving it a delicate, floral character that should not be missed. Other great options include Tanqueray Bloomsbury ($33), Anchor Distilling Old Tom ($30), and the exotic Painted Stave South River Red Gin ($22/375ml), which really is red.

Vodka  Square One Bergamot Vodka ($35) – If you must give vodka this year, try this unusual, citrus-flavored vodka from Square One. Other good (and unflavored) options include Vodka Mariette ($30) and Tigre Blanc Vodka ($90), proceeds of which go in part to support large cats in the wild.

DP30yrs_white_USAhighresRum – Don Pancho Origenes Rare Rum 30 Years Old ($425) – New rum brands don’t pop up every day, and when they do rarely do they have a legend in the business attached. Don Pancho (aka Francisco Fernandez) is putting his name on a finished product for the first time, and it’s a doozy not to be missed. For less ritzy outlays, consider the well-aged offerings in the form of Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 23 Years Old ($50) or Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva ($40).

Brandy – Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne Tres Rare ($179) – A tough call from among these three stellar Cognacs, and really you can’t go wrong with any of them. My slight preference ultimately goes to Giraud and this well-priced rarity. Close runners-up: Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO ($110) and Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2005 Cognac ($100).

dulce vida extra anejoTequila – Dulce Vida Extra Anejo ($160) – Another solid year for tequila, with a flood of excellent extra anejos really showing their stuff in 2015. My favorite of the bunch is from Dulce Vida, aged 5 1/2 years in used wine barrels. Great tequila with a great story behind it, too. Also worthwhile are Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia 2015 Rolling Stones Tour Pick ($150, also available for less sans the Stones imagery), El Mayor Reposado ($30, amazing bargain!), and the luxe Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos ($299).

Liqueur – Spirit Works Sloe Gin ($40) – It’s a light year for quality liqueurs, but I have to give the nod to my hometown heroes Spirit Works and their killer sloe gin. Other top picks include Maraska Maraschino ($27) and Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao ($31), both of which should be home bar staples.

Wine As promised, this year we’re adding a smattering of ideas for some of the best wines we’ve seen this year that would be appropriate for gift-giving. It’s hard to pick a single “winner” (and probably not fair because availability will vary widely) but here are my top seven wines of the year, in no particular order:

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Review: Mezan Extra Old Rum XO Jamaica

rum_mez4

If you’re familiar with Plantation Rum, which offers a wide range of expressions sourced from throughout the Caribbean and beyond, you’ll get the idea of Mezan, a line of rums that similarly has no specific home but rather sources product, most of it vintage dated. These are all limited-edition releases, so if you see one that strikes your fancy, best to snap it up quickly.

Reviewed here is Mezan’s XO bottling from Jamaica. It carries no vintage date, and the rum was produced by several Jamaican distilleries — then re-barreled for marrying and further aging before release. Let’s give it a taste.

“Extra Old” or no, Mezan XO sure seems youthful. The nose is rustic and a bit tough, studded with hospital overtones, petrol notes, and notes of fresh rubber tires. The body acquits itself more amiably, with softer vanillas and caramels, some coconut husk and banana notes, and a significant level of hogo funk on the finish — classic, but young, Jamaican rum. This is a rum that comes on strong, then sticks with you for the long haul. Nothing wrong with that, but I’d probably be more enchanted if it had some more age on it.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #008146. 5000 bottles produced.

B / $34 / mezanrum.com

Review: Captain Morgan Cannon Blast

captain morgan cannon blastCaptain Morgan already has a vast command of bars around the world. Now the company is getting into the shot game with the launch of Captain Morgan Cannon Blast, “an intensely delicious shot” that comes in the cleverest packaging I’ve seen in years.

What’s Cannon Blast? “Caribbean rum with spice and natural flavors.” Isn’t that the same thing as Captain Morgan anyway? Turns out, no.

Cannon Blast’s nose is quite sweet, offering distinct notes of orange candies, a touch of cinnamon, and a bit of cherry — nothing particularly rum-like at all, actually. The body is extremely sweet — far beyond anything in a straight rum — with more of than orange candy note pervading the experience. Some mixed fruit elements come into play before the finish kicks in — pure cinnamon, and lots of it, adding a Fireball-like bite that comes on strong and lingers for at least a minute. This washes away most of the fruitier elements and leaves the drinker with quite a smoldering burn to contend with — for better or for worse. It’s not bad, but you’re definitively in “shot” territory — as intended — with all the ham-fistedness that comes with it.

As for the aforementioned packaging, Cannon Blast comes in a simulacrum of a cannonball and is etched with paint that fluoresces under black light. Shine one on the Captain and he turns into a creepy skeleton. That may not be a big deal at home, but up in da club it’s bound to help sell more than a few test tubes full of the stuff, at least in the hands of the right wench.

70 proof.

B / $16 / us.captainmorgan.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015

It was another unforgettable year at 2015’s WhiskyFest, with some of whiskydom’s most cherished icons on tap for tasting, and plenty of old friends to mingle and catch up with.

Of course, many of those old friends come in liquid form, and I had ample opportunity to revisit plenty of classic whiskies while spending time with a number of newer drams. Here’s a brief look at everything I tasted at the San Francisco installment of this essential spirits show.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2015

Scotch

Tullibardine 20 Years Old / A- / showing beautifully, a nice balance of vanilla and cereal notes (bourbon barrel aged)
Tullibardine 25 Years Old / A / a much different experience, with gorgeous nougat and honey notes (sherry barrel aged)
Balvenie 50 Years Old Cask 4567 / A+ / snuck out from behind a curtain, this is Balvenie shining at its brightest; not old and hoary but light on its feet and ready to dance; explosive, with dried berries, dense toffee, baking spices, and florals on the finish; 2 casks produced, the other cask is said to be very different
Balvenie 15 Years Old Single Barrel Sherry Cask / A- / very caramel heavy, racy but dense, with lots of brown sugar notes
William Grant Rare Cask Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21 Years Old / A- / blended whiskey from three silent stills; restrained with toffee, nuts, and some kippered notes; comes out next year
Glengoyne 18 Years Old / A- / big body, notes of grain and fruitcake
Glengoyne 21 Years Old / B+ / traditional malt, with cocoa hints
Aberlour Scapa Skiren / B / lots of sweetness, with a malty backbone – plus melon, sweet mandarins
Highland Park Odin / B+ / dense and handsome, sherry with some smoky charcoal notes; not in love with this today
Dewar’s Scratched Cask / B+ / Dewar’s White with a little “scratched cask” aging; not readily distinguishable from the entry level blend, though quite powerful
Aultmore 12 Years Old / B+ / heavy vanilla and chocolate, dense with shortbread notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1964 / A- / heavy wood notes play with raisins and spice; this has seen wood for too long, though
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1984 / A / right where it’s at; vibrant and exotic, with tropical notes, plum pudding, and hints of grain; absolutely gorgeous
Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend / B+ / well-balanced, malty with some smoky notes
Compass Box Hedonism 15 Years Old Anniversary Bottling / A- / a blend of single grains, all 20 years old or more; fun toffee and fruit trifle notes
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition / A- / rich, smoky, with a gentler fruit core
Compass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky / B / a blend of single malts and grain whisky, 19 to 40 years of age; Compass Box got into trouble over this one (more on that later); I got a little mustiness and mushroom notes here, with creosote bubbling up; not feeling it tonight

American

McKenzie Pure Potstill Whiskey / B- / American pure pot still? wacky! this one is very young, but that hint of classic Irish sweetness hits hard on the finish
Sonoma County Distilling Company Truffle Whiskey / B+ / 100% rye, with shaved truffles added to the barrel; not what you’re expecting, but with forest floor notes a-plenty
Stranahan’s Snowflake (Dec. 2014) / A- / easily my favorite Snowflake bottling to date, beautiful balance of sweet and spice, very pretty
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak / A- / lush and big with dried fruits, spices, and gentle granary notes; another winner from Colorado
Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Years Old / A- / a classically structured bourbon, dense and stylish, with a spicy finish
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A+ / there’s a reason this whiskey is the most expensive bourbon made in America — it’s the best thing anyone is making in the country; dense raisin, cinnamon, vanilla, toffee… it just goes on and on with layer after layer of goodness
High West A Midwinter’s Night Dram Act 3 / A / my favorite AMND yet; cherry and herbs in balance (not blown out), with a licorice kick
High West Bourye Batch 15B03 / A / still gorgous; syrupy and fruity, unctuous at times
High West Single Malt 1 Month Old / NR / a work in progress, surprisingly gentle for single malt but a fun look at something coming down the pipeline… give it another 5 years at least

Canadian

Forty Creek Confederation Oak / A / beautiful vanilla and maple notes, but dense and balanced
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve / A- / very enjoyable, candy corn and chocolate raisins at play
Forty Creek Evolution / A- / again, quite candylike and very sweet; 9000 bottles made
WhistlePig Straight Rye Old World Sauternes Finish 12 Years Old / A- / a very strong and sweet whisky (just one of the components of the new Old World bottling), with lemon curd notes

Other

Diplomatico Blanco Rum 6 Years Old / B / solid, uninspired as a sipper though
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Vintage 2000 / A / vintage Diplomatico; gorgeous, sherry-finished rum, balanced perfectly

Review: Grander Panama Rum 8 Years Old

grander rum

Grander (awkward name, admittedly) is a new brand column-distilled in Panama and bottled at 8 years old. Quite light in color, it may initially trick you into thinking this is an undercooked rum. Not so.

The nose is quite peppery, offering ample vanilla but backed up by lots of spice — both baking spices and racier black and red pepper notes. On the palate, the rum is more gentle than the nose would have you believe, with sweet butterscotch, chocolate, and lots of vanilla, all with some citrus overtones. The finish — this is slightly overproof rum — adds some alcoholic heat, but nothing you won’t be able to handle even if you’re sipping it straight. I catch some lemongrass notes from time to time here, but the overall denouement is one of flamed orange oil and a hint of bittersweet amaro.

Versatile, easygoing, and fun, this is a solid and well-rounded rum for just about any occasion.

90 proof.

A- / $37 / granderrum.com

Review: Plantation Rum Lineup (2015) – 3 Stars White, Original Dark, Barbados 5 Years Old, Extra Old 20th Anniversary, Old Reserve 2001, and Pineapple

Plantation 20 Anniv XO NEW - LOPlantation Rum is actually part of the French company Cognac Ferrand, and it produces over a dozen rums that are sourced from plantations all over the Caribbean and beyond. Some of these rums we’ve reviewed before, but today we’re taking a deep dive into six of the company’s offerings, including its first foray into a flavored product.

Let’s dive in!

Plantation 3 Stars White Rum (2015) – Made from a blend of various rums, filtered to clear. A clean white rum, it’s free of most of the petrol overtones that are endemic with so many whites. Here notes of banana and some coconut give this rum a lot of fruit and ample depth — which makes sense because some of the rum that makes up this expression is up to 12 years old. Very easygoing and highly mixable. 82.4 proof. A- / $17 (1 liter)

Plantation Original Dark Rum (2015) – Aged Trinidad stock. Funky on the nose — overly so — with bizarre hogo notes of green olives and feta cheese. A nutty, coffee-focused character emerges as the rum opens up on the palate, but it’s constrained by those herbal, bitter, funky flavors that really start to interfere with the big picture over time. 80 proof. B- / $17

Plantation Grande Reserve Rum Barbados 5 Years Old – Self-explanatory provenance here, in a rum that is light in color but long on character. A restrained nose offers hints of brown sugar, banana, and fresh apple, but keeps it in check. On the palate, huge coconut notes emerge, plus more banana and some pineapple notes. Fruit from start to finish: If you want the perfect rum for a pina colada, this is your guy. A huge bargain. 80 proof. A- / $16

Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary (2015) – The “XO” bottling of Plantation comprises old stock finished in ex-Cognac barrels. A brooding sophisticate next to the fruitier style of many of Plantation’s offerings, the XO features dense leather, tobacco, dark chocolate, and coffee notes before giving way to darker fruit notes — prune, plum, and blackberry. Some tropical emerge with time, but they struggle to get through the brooding, almost fireside character. That’s not a bad thing. This is complex, old, and quite enchanting rum at its finest. 80 proof. A / $43  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Plantation Rum Old Reserve 2001 Jamaica – An update on the 2000 line, this single-vintage rum is pushy and funky, a cousin of the Original Dark above, writ small. It’s intense and funky, but light on its feet, folding fruit into a base that offers a heavily vegetal and pungent character. Slightly smoky, with hospital notes, it’s certainly not a rum for beginners, though one can see how it might find a home in a less fruit-forward cocktail like a Zombie or even a powerful update to a Hemingway Daiquiri. 84 proof. B / $40

Plantation Artisinal Infusion Original Dark Pineapple Rum – A pineapple-infused version of the Original Dark above. You’ll smell it right away from the second the bottle is cracked open — big, sugary pineapple notes that absolutely take over the whole affair. There’s an argument that perhaps the nose should do that — but for my money I’d rather take the more nuanced Barbados 5 Year Old (at half the price, mind you) and use that as the base for any fruity cocktails I was making. All in all, here we see juicy pineapple meet a dusting of brown sugar — and that’s really the end of the story. 80 proof. B / $43  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

plantationrum.com