Review: Ron Zacapa 23 (2016)

zacapa 23

It’s been eight years since we formally reviewed Ron Zacapa’s “23” expression, a Guatemala-born rum made from the first pressing of sugar cane juice (not the more typical molasses) and aged in solera style. (Zacapa 23 is not 23 years old but is rather blended from various rums aged 6 years old and up.)

Recently the company put Zacapa 23 through some minor bottle changes, and, given the amount of time that has passed, we felt a fresh look was called for. Let’s look at Zacapa 23 as it stands as of 2016.

A beautiful shade of toffee in color, the rum presents itself as amply aged, and the nose bears that out. Notes of old wine, coffee, roasted nuts, and milk chocolate all make an appearance, giving this rum a beautiful complexion before you ever take that first sip. The body shines just as brightly, though, offering a mix of fruity sherry notes driven by some of the barrel aging, deeply roasted and spiced nuts, all backed up with the essence of a solid cafe mocha. The body is unctuous but not gooey, the finish lengthy and complex but not overwhelming. Everything there is to like about rum can be found in Zacapa 23. Or should I see, everything there is to like about rum can still be found here.

All told, it remains an essential bottling.

80 proof.


Review: Havana Club Anejo Classico Puerto Rican Rum (Bacardi)

havana club (bacardi)

Havana Club is one of Cuba’s most noteworthy and famous rums. So how exactly does this bottle come from Puerto Rico?

Allow me to explain the best I can…

Like many things today, Havana Club isn’t a rum per se but a brand. The vast majority of the world knows Havana Club as a rum brand now produced in Cuba by Pernod Ricard. But the U.S. rights to the Havana Club brand name are owned by Bacardi, which a while back slapped it on one of its Puerto Rican products — though it is said to be produced using a recipe given to Bacardi by the original familial creators of Havana Club. (This split occurred about 20 years ago, and the history behind it is, like all things, quite complicated.)

For decades this has not really mattered, since Havana Club (Cuban) could not be sold in the U.S. anyway. Both Pernod Ricard and Bacardi have lived uneasily with the detente… the way the U.S. and Cuba have lived with one another in similarly uneasy peace.

Then comes Obama, who starts relaxing trade restrictions with Cuba. While you still can’t buy Cuban rum in the U.S., it’s starting to look like, maybe, you soon might be able to. In fact, the U.S. government recently granted the trademark back to Cuba… but Bacardi isn’t letting it go without a fight. Hence a big push of late for Bacardi’s Havana Club — primarily seen only in Florida but now aiming to head nationally in order to bolster its trademark claims.

Today there are two expressions of Bacardi’s Havana Club: a white rum and an anejo offering, the latter of which we review here.

Bacardi’s anejo rendition of Havana Club is just 1 to 3 years old, which makes it a rather young rum, and not anything I’d describe as “anejo.” I tasted it against Cuban Havana Club 3 Years Old, which is filtered to a near-white color but which should, in theory, retain the bulk of the flavor profile of a rum left without filtering. The Cuban 3 year old is clearly a richer and more fulfilling spirit, loaded with citrus and tropical notes, coconut, and banana.

The Puerto Rican/Bacardi Havana Club is thinner, with notes of vanilla and brown sugar backed up by vaguely Indian spices (think chai), barrel char, and some grainy notes on the finish. The fruitiness of the Cuban version is lacking here, with mild petrol notes picking up the slack where those herbal/granary-focused elements leave off. (It should go without saying that it’s nothing like the Cuban Havana Club 7 Year Old expression, which I also retasted for this, although it is at least similar in color.)

What then to do with Bacardi’s rendition of Havana Club? It’s worthwhile as a mixer — those odd chai notes are oddly engaging — but it simply doesn’t have enough power or depth to make you forget the real deal. Let’s call it Bacardi Club and open the doors for the Cuban stuff, already.

80 proof.

B / $28 /

Review: Cana Brava Reserva Aneja Rum 7 Years Old

cana brava rum 7yo_3230

Cana Brava was released by New York-based importers The 86 Co. in 2014, a Panama-sourced rum with three years of age. Now it’s back with an aged expression, bottled at seven years old after a lifetime of ex-bourbon barrel aging. (Note that 750ml bottles are easier to come by now; this is a one-time release.)

Wood-forward on the nose, the aromas on Cana Brava 7 Years Old head promptly toward dried spices, incense, and tea leaf. On the palate, the rum is again heavy on the wood, with largely savory notes of cloves, ginger, and carrot cake adding character. Dark brown sugar notes emerge in time and fold in sweetness, but less than you’d expect and later in the experience than you get from most aged rums. The finish is very dry and surprisingly short, fading out with some of the cocoa powder notes that you find in the white rum version of Cana Brava.

All told, it’s a perfectly workable rum that mixes well — but at this price level you can find quite a few more engaging bottlings to consider.

90 proof.

B / $45 /

Review: Wicked Dolphin Coconut Rum and Spiced Rum

Wicked Dolphin

Never mind the cringeworthy name: Wicked Dolphin is a quality rum made not in the Caribbean but in Florida (Cape Coral, specifically), where it has been distilled from local sugar cane since 2012.

Wicked Dolphin makes a white rum (not reviewed here), but it’s best known for its spiced version. Below we’ve got a review of both it and Wicked Dolphin’s coconut-flavored rum below. Thoughts follow.

Wicked Dolphin Coconut Rum – Made with real coconut water. The rum offers a fairly standard nose for this style, sweet and authentically coconut, without harsh overtones. The body offers a mild departure from the expected — with the distinctly milky, creamy notes of coconut water vs. the harsher, biting notes of more widely used coconut extracts. This makes for a fairly gentle rum in a world where not a lot of nuance is the norm, fresh on the fiish, with lightly nutty notes lingering as it fades. 60 proof. A- / $23

Wicked Dolphin Florida Spiced Rum – Tastes like Florida? (Gators and tourists?) Actually, the white rum is flavored with honey, oranges, and various spices — plus a bit of aged rum to round things out. Unlike most spiced rums, it is bottled at full proof. The honey notes are clear and striking both on the nose and palate, with a heavy cinnamon and clove character underneath. Initially somewhat bitter with heavy orange peel notes, it opens up over time as the citrus becomes juicier and more floral, lending the rum a somewhat soothing character. The finish offers a touch of sweetness, but it’s held in check by the more savory herbal notes. Definitely worth experimenting with in cocktails. 80 proof. B / $25

Review: Rums of Rhum Clement – Canne Bleue, Select Barrel, 6 Years Old, 10 Years Old, and Coconut Liqueur (2016)


Rhum Clement is perhaps Martinique’s most distinguished producer of sugarcane-based rhum agricole, but it’s been 8 years since we’ve checked in with the distillery in earnest. After some rebranding and shuffling of products, the lineup still looks fairly familiar. While we didn’t get to check out Clement’s very top-end rums this time, this roundup comprises a fairly comprehensive look at the company’s most widely available products.

Thoughts follow on the four rums and one rum-based liqueur tasted.

Rhum Clement Canne Bleue – White rhum agricole made from a single varietal of sugarcane. Intense on the nose with petrol and rubber notes, you could be forgiven for assuming this is cachaca. Overripe fruit and a range of vegetal notes fill the palate, leading to a hot, almost overwhelming finish. This one actually says it’s “intense” on the front label, in all caps and italics, so I guess I have no one to blame here but myself. 100 proof. C / $30

Rhum Clement Rhum Vieux Agricole Select Barrel – This is three year old rum aged in French oak, denoted as such on the back label. Lot of heavy vegetal notes remain on the body here, as yet untamed by the rum’s time in wood. Vague aromas of coffee give way to heavy mushroom and green vegetable notes, the funkier notes lingering on the body before an interesting apple character arises on the finish. It’s nothing extraordinary, but it works as a worthwhile mixer. 80 proof. B / $30  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 6 Years Old – Notes of coffee, tobacco, and baking spice on the nose give this rum the impression of significant age from the get-go. On the tongue, silky brown sugar leads to winey notes, complemented by a touch of smoke. The finish showcases the rum’s more savory side, hinting at both well-tanned leather, charcoal notes, and coconut husks. Balanced, without overblown sugars, it’s an excellent rum that’s still at the beginning of its life. 88 proof. A- / $55

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 10 Years Old – Bolder coffee notes on the nose here than in the 6 year old, but otherwise the aroma is a close cousin to its progenitor. On the palate, there’s quite a bit less sweetness here than on the 6 year, that brown sugar note taking a back seat to a stronger brandy and oxidized wine character, complemented by notes of roasted nuts, more coffee, and Spanish sherry. More brooding and more intense, it’s a provocative rum that showcases austerity over sweetness, making for a more intriguing sipper. 88 proof. A- / $70

Rhum Clement Mahina Coco Coconut Liqueur – Made from white rhum and chunks of macerated coconut. Slightly tropical, with clear and powerful coconut notes, it’s a richer and more engaging version of Malibu, with notes of banana and, especially, pineapple emerging on the finish. Keep this on hand for upscale pina coladas. 36 proof. A- / $24

Review: South Hollow Spirits Twenty Boat Cape Cod Spiced Rum

View More:

Massachusetts-based craft producer South Hollow Spirits has a heavy focus on rum, one of the traditional spirits of New England in the pre-Prohibition era. The Twenty Boat brand comprises both an amber and a spiced rum, the latter of which we review below.

Made from organic molasses and sugar cane juice sourced from Florida and Louisiana, the rum is double-distilled and steeped for three weeks with a mixture of locally sourced spices: cardamom, vanilla bean, cinnamon, rose hip, anise, lemon peel, orange peel, allspice, nutmeg and chai,

That’s a lot of botanicals, and it makes things curious from the get-go, starting with the color. Twenty Boat Spiced Rum is an engaging shade of dark amber, with a rosy pink hue. On the nose, the rum comes across as youthful, with some raw alcohol character and a bit of astringency dulling notes of molasses, flamed orange peel, cloves, and that unique, cardamom-scented chai. Give this rum some time in glass, and those youthful notes eventually give way to the spicier elements.

On the flipside, the palate is a bit winey and Port-like, heavier with juicy orange notes than the nose would indicate, with hefty cloves, almond, licorice, and allspice notes hitting hard soon after. The finish is sweet and almost candylike, with cinnamon-heavy notes of Red Hots swirled into a somewhat saccharine, syrupy base.

All told this is a highly credible spiced rum — particularly if the higher alcohol content is to your liking — but it feels a bit busy at times. Give it plenty of air to let things marry a bit and for its initially raw characteristics to blow off — never have I encountered a spirit that improved so much from having a full glass left open to the air overnight.

95 proof.

A- / $42 /

Review: Rums of Rhum J.M. (2016)

rhum jm.png

When we last left Rhum J.M., Martinique’s celebrated rhum agricole brand, it was 2012. Since that time, J.M. has done a little rebranding, relabeling, and in some cases renaming of its products. In honor of this, we’re giving Rhum J.M. a fresh look — or at least, four of its more widely available products.

Fresh thoughts on these four agricole-style rhums (reminder: made from free-run sugarcane juice, not molasses like regular “no H” rum) follow.

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Blanc White Rum 50% – Note that an 80 proof version also exists, so check the fine print. Intense but unsurprising, this is raw agricole rhum at its purest. The nose has the funky intensity of a white agricole blanc, backed up by tropical banana, coconut, and papaya notes. The finish recalls notes of cherry pits and more ripe banana, with a petrol sheen to it. 100 proof. B+ / $30

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Elevé Sous Bois Gold Rum – Aged in oak for 12 months. Lots of exotic character here, with a nose that runs to lemon, ginger, and some floral elements. On the palate, that petrol funk gives way to moderate vanilla notes plus gingerbread, with some camphor and mothball notes adding a medicinal edge to the finish — which detracts a bit from the experience. (This character is far more pronounced in the Gold than in the White Rum, actually, which is quite a surprise.) 100 proof. B / $34

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.O – Not a typo: There is no period after the O here, at least not on the official label. Aged in a combination of new American oak and re-charred bourbon barrels for three years. Notes of cola and Madeira kick things off on the nose, with an undercurrent of vanilla and brown sugar. The palate is particularly winey, offering up red berries after a time, followed by smoldering, ashy molasses, which linger for a time on the raisin-sweet but drying finish. 86 proof. A- / $40

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.S.O.P. – A slight spin on the VO, the VSOP is aged for 3 years in re-charred bourbon barrels and finished for an additional year in lightly toasted new American oak. A shade darker and a bit richer, but otherwise many of the same notes from the VO remain, including a distinct wine character. Here that’s pumped up with clearer notes of cinnamon and gingerbread, particularly on the racier, spicier finish that offers echoes of Cognac. This makes for a different experience that’s more focused on the spice element, though not necessarily a “better” one than the more fruit-centric VO. 86 proof. (Was 90 proof.) A- / $50