“Inspired by Ernest Hemingway,” the new Papa’s Pilar Rum brand is a blend of rums from, well, just about everywhere. Casks are sourced from the Caribbean, Central America, and the U.S.A., blended up solera style in Bourbon and Port casks, then finished in Spanish sherry casks. The rum is available in “dark” and “blonde” varieties, which we’ll discuss in detail in a moment.
As for the name: “Papa’s Pilar is meant to rekindle a sense of adventure in us all and replace the Hawaiian shirts and umbrella drinks with which rum has become associated. ‘Papa’ as Ernest Hemingway was known, was possibly the world’s greatest adventurer. Papa’s Pilar was crafted to be near that same adventure, accompanying rum enthusiasts as they sink their teeth into life. Named for his muse and one true constant, Pilar is the vessel that allowed America’s literary giant to reach beyond the shoreline, feast on life and remind us to never be a spectator.”
Thoughts on both expressions follow.
Now available in Northern California.
Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum – A blend of column-distilled rums aged 3 to 7 years old. Blonde is a good descriptor of the color — it’s just vaguely off-white. There’s instant butterscotch on the nose, with cotton candy backing it up. The body features more of the same, plus some coconut and a little bit of funk. The finish brings out those coffee-like sherry notes quite clearly along with a husky, dusky finish. Lots going on here, but I’m not in love with the balance. 84 proof. B / $30
Papa’s Pilar Dark Rum – A blend of pot- and column-distilled rums up to 24 years old. Quite a different animal, with cola and root beer notes that provide a much different experience than the typical dark rum. These soft drink notes come across as well in the body, along with coffee, chocolate, and some amaro character. Cola’s the biggie, though, and it comes through from start to finish, hanging around for ages as it fades away. Again, a really weird, weird rum. Dare I suggest mixing it… with Coke? 86 proof. B / $40
Portland’s Eastside Distilling, which makes the awesome Double Barrel Bourbon, recently launched a line of four naturally-flavored rums. We got a look at one of them — intriguingly spiked with ginger.
Lightly gold colored, the rum has a mild ginger nose, with a bit of soapy quality atop it. Notes of green pepper and olive are in the mix if you go hunting, olfactorily speaking, anyway.
The body is initially innocuous. First it’s just a mildly sweet, slightly apple-tinged rum. Not much to report. Then the ginger hits. Hard, actually. That big bite comes on strong after a few seconds, really gripping the back of your throat and settling in for a good 20 seconds. Finally this fades, leaving behind a bit more of that green pepper character, a counterpoint to the otherwise mild sweetness that is present throughout this experience. Then, take another sip and start all over. Wheeee!
Definitely a mixer.
B / $20 / eastsidedistilling.com
Wait a second? Finished rum? Finished, spiced rum? This bizarre and wholly unexpected product from, of all places, Captain Morgan, borrows from the whiskey industry by taking good old Cappy and finishing it in sherry wine casks. There’s not a lot of information about how long it spends in these casks, but the results are clear: This is a sweeter, more citrusy, and surprisingly intriguing rendition of Captain Morgan.
Up front, a familiar cinnamon character pervades the nose, with curious notes of golden raisins and almonds. The body is bolder. Quite sweet, here you get the citrus notes driven by the sherry, along with bright, light fruit, marshmallows, and a long finish that recalls maraschino cherries.
There’s lots going on here, and it’s more complex than standard Cap’n Morgan… but what will people use it for? The nuance of the rum will largely get lost in a glass full of Coke, and I’ve yet to see anyone consume Captain Morgan straight in the real world. That said, as spiced rum goes, this is unusual and unique, and certainly worth a look of this kind of thing is in your wheelhouse. Give it a try while you can; it’s unclear how long it will be on the market.
A- / $20 / captainmorgan.com
Rum is undergoing a bit of a revival at present, and even mega-sized bottlers are doing their part to release higher-end, limited-release products.
One of those is Mount Gay Black Barrel. Double-distilled and aged first in regular Bourbon barrels then finished in extra-charred “black” ex-Bourbon barrels, this new rum (no age statement) aims to provide drinkers with a deeper, more enveloping rum experience.
The nose starts off hot, black and red pepper atop caramel notes. Take a sip and things really catch fire: An immediate rush of vanilla quickly fades as the heavy wood character takes over. “Black barrel” is right. I haven’t had this much oak in a spirit since tasting some extra-old Bourbons, which can be heavy, even hoary, with charred wood character. Black Barrel is smoky, chunky, and almost tastes like it’s burned. In the context of rum, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think heavily burnt sugar and caramel, crystallized to the point where it’s re-solidified. Black Barrel invokes that kind of experience while putting in the context of rum. Keep sipping and you get banana and coconut notes, reminders of Mount Gay’s tropical provenance.
This is a unique and unusual rum, interesting to sip on, but showier in cocktails. Not overly fruit-friendly like most rum, it instead shows its greatest promise when used as a substitute to whiskey in cocktails where the spirit shows more clearly. Try it in a Manhattan. Report back.
A- / $30 / mountgayrum.com
Cruzan actually makes some credible flavored rums, but things are starting to change. Most notably: With its new flavors, the sugar level is clearly going up and the alcohol level is demonstrably going down. What was once a low 55 proof has now fallen even further to just 42 proof. These two new expressions don’t really come across like rum as all but rather as liquified candy. Is this what consumers are really looking for?
Cruzan Key Lime Rum – Quite a strong lime kick on the nose, but very restrained body, pumped up with sugar. It’s hard to tell this is rum at all, it tastes more akin to Rose’s Lime Juice. A long, sugary, sticky finish reminds you you’re in candyland. C
Cruzan Passion Fruit Rum – Better. Not nearly as sweet, but not as fruity, either. Passion fruit is one of the great, undersung flavoring agents in cocktails, spirits, and juices, and here it makes a less than powerful appearance. And as with the Key Lime, it’s over-sweetened but slightly more tolerable. C+
each $15 / cruzanrum.com
The budget alternative to Captain Morgan (to which it is 2nd in spiced rum market share), Admiral Nelson’s Rum is also named after a real person. In this case it’s a good guy instead of a pirate, the famous British Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Until 2011, Admiral Nelson’s Spiced Rum was produced by Luxco, a smaller company that owns a few random spirits brands. It was then sold to Heaven Hill, or pals in Kentucky, which has its eye on number one. Refreshed packaging has just been introduced — although the eyepatch-wearing, grog-swilling, beard-sporting, tight-pants-donning Nelson still smiles out at you front and center.
How does Nelson’s measure up against Morgan? Not badly, actually. On the nose, light cinnamon and gingerbread notes, backed with vanilla. Not at all boozy, the body is pleasant, quite sweet, and not overly spiced. Gentle and easy, it’s a spiced rum for those who like just a little kick of apple pie in their cola, yet is easy enough to sip straight, not the normal M.O. for a spiced rum. Don’t come looking for complexity — the finish is short, straight, and simple — but few shoppers in the $10 to $12 range have ever made such a request, anyway.
B / $11 (though more typically bought in the 1.75 liter bottle) / admiralnelsonsrum.com
Barcelo is a solid but largely unknown Dominican rum producer which we’ve written about in the past. While we’re familiar with the rack versions of its rums, we didn’t know about the special barrels that Miguel Barcelo was setting aside. Well, he’s been doing that for the last 30 years, and now he’s blending them up into a mega-rum called Premium Blend 30 Aniversario.
I’ll let the company explain the method to the madness.
Each year since Miguel Barceló first created Ron Barceló Imperial in 1980, private reserves of this prestigious ten-year-old blended rum were set aside for two years of additional aging. Aged in barrels made from selected cuts of white oak, these reserves, some from the prestigious Bordeaux house of Château d’Yquem, each with different grades of toasting, were blended to create the limited edition Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario in 2011.
And we got one.
What we have here is a quite an engaging and exciting rum. The nose is surprisingly lively and light, but with lots going on. The nose is nutty and at times almost herbal, with gingerbread and toffee notes often playing along. There’s just a hint of alcohol to give a little burn on the back end. On the palate, lots more where that came from. Think chocolate pudding, butterscotch, and vanilla, topped with a sort of dusting of black cherry and cola. None of this is heavy, daunting, or astringent (a complaint I’ve leveled at Barcelo in the past), but rather it’s a delicious and incredibly drinkable concoction that has drained itself much too quickly under my care. Rum lovers of the world in search of something very special and old, yet still light on the tongue, should seek this bottling out pronto.
9000 bottles produced, 600 allocated to U.S. 86 proof.
A / $120 / ron-barcelo.com
Old Sugar Distillery in Wisconsin is home to a number of spirits (including this rum), but none is more unusual than Queen Jennie, a whiskey made of 100% Wisconsin sorghum.
Sorghum isn’t made into whiskey the same way corn or rye might be. Rather, the grassy sorghum (most typically used as animal feed) is squeezed much like sugar cane into a syrup. This syrup, when fermented, serves the basis for a “whiskey” much in the way that molasses is turned into rum. (In fact, labeling Queen Jennie a whiskey instead of something else is now a matter of some debate.) It is finished in small Minnesota oak barrels, but no age statement is offered.
Rum is a spirit imbued with exoticism. It comes from places in tour guides like Barbados. Panama. Martinique.
Pink Pigeon puts all of that to shame. It is born in Mauritius, which I guarantee you will never find on a map. It’s here: A speck of an island over 1000 miles off the southeast coast of Africa — out there beyond Madagascar.
Sammy Hagar conquered rock music. Then he conquered tequila. Then Mexican food. Now: Rum.
The liquor mogul is expanding into the rum business courtesy of this tropics-friendly bottling, a white rum made from first-press Hawaiian sugar cane that is pot-distilled in small batches. It’s aged for two years, then filtered to remove color.
This bottle was given to me as a gift, brought back directly from St. Lucia. Bottled by St. Lucia Distillers, it is named after Admiral Georges Rodney, a British seaman who fought against the French in the 18th century.
This rum is continuous column distilled, then aged for an average of 12 years in American oak casks used at Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Buffalo Trace.
There’s not much pomp and circumstance attached to a product called “Old Rum,” so at $70 a bottle, you better hope Gosling’s has saved its investment for what’s inside the bottle.
There’s no hint at how old Old Rum actually is. Bermuda-based Gosling’s produces this by taking the standard Black Seal and aging it in barrels for, well, for even longer, until it’s ready, I suppose.
35 Maple Street — the California-based folks behind Uncle Val’s gin and Masterson’s rye whiskey — has turned its sights on yet another spirit: rum. Maple isn’t messing around with Kirk and Sweeney (the name refers to a rum-running schooner that worked the Caribbean in the Prohibition era), an intense Dominican rum with 12 years of barrel age on it.
This is classic, extra-old Dominican rum. Huge caramel on the nose, with lots of vanilla, too. The body is silky smooth and supple, a sugary wash that, while it doesn’t exactly load on the complexities, is exactly what you want from an aged rum: Dessert in a glass, but not overly syrupy, and with a little bite at the end. The finish offers just a hint of pepper and cinnamon, a perfect complement to a virtually flawless bottle of rum.
Mind your spills when trying to pour from the grenade-like bottle.
A / $40 / togwines.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Another entry into America’s great and belated return to rum-making, Privateer hails from Massachusetts. I’ll spare you the lengthy backstory which includes a discovery of a colonial era flotilla of ships and a distillery owned by the ancestor of the distillery’s current proprietor. The bottom line: They’re making rum in New England again, people.
It’s unclear where the sugar cane for Privateer comes from, but it is distilled and bottled in New Essex, Mass. Thoughts on the distillery’s two expressions follow. Both are 80 proof.
Cachaca, the national spirit of Brazil, tends not to be the most nuanced of liquors, but Soul, made in Cruz do Espirito Santo, is one of the better renditions I’ve encountered of late.
Cachaca’s iconic aroma is typically that of gasoline, and while Soul’s got it too, it’s milder here than you usually encounter. It’s well balanced with strong lime and even a little chocolatey undertone, curious for an unaged cachaca.
The body is heavy on the citrus character, with very tart lime notes taking over where the nose leaves off. The texture is moderate — again, that acid keeps it from being too rounded — with a grassy character to it. The finish is quite acidic and mouth-puckering, which mutes and dampens the spirit’s funkier characteristics considerably. There’s rarely a whole lot to cachaca, but this is on the whole a quality product and a definite contender for a go-to spirit for a caipirinha.
B+ / $23 (one liter) / thecachaca.com
This white rum is produced in the traditional Puerto Rican style — aged (at least a year, by law), then filtered back to white before bottling. Caliche is quite old even for a Puerto Rican style white rum, a blend of 3-, 4-, and 5-year old rums, plus a portion of solera-aged rum which has been hanging around for who knows how long. The rum is 5 times distilled from Caribbean molasses and charcoal filtered. The slightest hint of yellow color remains in the body.
Van Brunt Stillhouse is a craft distillery based in Brooklyn — arguably the epicenter of microdistillery activity in America, if not the world. (The company is named after Cornelius Van Brunt, one of the founding fathers of Brooklyn.)
The distillery produces whiskey, rum, and — unusually — grappa. We tasted all three spirits. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.
Van Brunt Stillhouse American Whiskey – Made from New York grains, “made primarily from malted barley and wheat, with a little bit of corn and a touch of rye.” No age statement, but it spends just five months in American oak barrels. Incredibly young on the nose, it’s loaded with grain, funky and skunky. The palate doesn’t really alter course. Here the grain has a more malty character, but the finish is lengthy with grain husks, bean sprouts, and lumberyard remnants. Not my bag, though the mashbill sounds intriguing. C- / $36 (375ml) [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Aged cachaca is a surprisingly rare thing, but mainstream producers are finally getting in on the game. Leblon, which makes the ubiquitous and eponymous silver cachaca, makes this fancy version by taking its pot-distilled cachaca and aging the spirit for up to two years in new Limousin oak casks. Formerly available only in Brazil, it’s now on sale in the U.S. in limited quantities.
I compared Maison Leblon to the only other aged cachaca I had on hand, Ypioca Ouro. There’s a lot of similarity here, though Leblon is considerably darker in color (the new oak will do that), a nutty brown next to the golden/lightly green Ypioca.
Pot-distilled rum isn’t exactly commonplace these days, and pot-still rum from Rhode Island, well, that’s an entirely new one for me.
Rum has a great history in New England, but for the last century or so it’s been primarily a Caribbean endeavor. Now Newport Distilling Co. is bringing back the area’s rich tradition — by 1769, the company says there were 22 distilleries in the city of Newport, the “rum capital of the world.” By 1842, there were none.
Now, as of 2007, there’s one. Rhode Island’s first distillery in 135 years, Thomas Tew, is named after a pirate that was based in Newport in the late 1600s. It’s the kind of rum he probably would have appreciated, intense and a little funky, loaded with all kinds of earth tones — asphalt, coal, burnt wood — that play intriguingly with the deep vanilla-inflected molasses notes.
Made from blackstrap molasses 105 gallons at a time, it’s got a huge body that lasts for ages — lightly bittersweet but with plenty of sugar to keep things appropriately balanced. Fans of big, classically-styled rums — that don’t go quite as far as agricole — will dig this one, big time. Pricey, though…
84 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #86.
A- / $40 / newportstorm.com
Rum from Australia? Why not? It’s plenty hot and there’s even Aussie sugar. South Sea rum, lauched earlier this year, is made from first-press Queensland sugar cane which is twice-distilled, once in a pot still and once in a column. It’s finished in a mix of new and used American oak barrels for a minimum of two years before bottling, unfiltered.
Solid amber in color (the photo is considerably too yellow), it’s a big rum, reminiscent of agricole-style rum without so much of the funk. Great balance here: Lots of sweet vanilla and caramel, touched with light smoke and vague earth and spice elements.
Overall, I’d never be able to peg this as a non-Caribbean rum. It’s closest in style to Jamaica, with a bit more smoothness to it. An easy winner with a unique story behind it.
80 proof. Available now in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.
A- / $30 / wadistilling.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]