Review: Rational Spirits Santeria Rum

santeriaRemember Lost Spirits, the guys making 20 year old rum in 8 days? Well, after my Wired article hit, the company got venture capital funding, commercialized its reactor, and made deals with pretty much every distillery you’ve ever heard of — either to make commercial products or to provide experimental services.

Now the first third-party rum to come from a Lost Spirits accelerated aging reactor is hitting the market: Santeria Rum. Bryan Davis, Lost Spirits’ head honcho, made Santeria batch #1 on behalf of Rational before turning the reactor over to them for the second go. The Charleston-based Rational provided new-make, unaged rum to Davis, who ran it through the system and turned out this inky, molasses-hued monster, which was bottled at “cask strength” — quotes, because there is no cask, really.

I tried both the new-make and the finished product. Santeria starts with a quite fruity (very ripe banana-heavy) spirit with overtones of almonds, hospital antiseptic, and the sticky-sweet dunder character of young, Jamaica-style rum. After processing, it’s dark as night and the profile comes across as you might expect: Intense coffee grounds, dark chocolate, walnuts, cloves, and ample molasses on the nose. On the tongue, there’s more of the same, plus that sweet banana from the new-make and plenty of rummy funk on the back end. The finish is long and bitter-savory, with some lightly smoky elements to it.

Ultimately this is an interesting comparison and companion to Lost Spirits Colonial Rum, which underwent the same process but has a different base spirit as an input. Colonial is more brooding, pungent, and smokier, broader in heft and more muscular on the finish. Santeria is a bit more accessible today but, as with Colonial, drinks like some really, really, old and funky stuff. Rum nuts need to try it.

115 proof.

A- / $NA / rationalspirits.com

Review: Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva

diplomatica reserva exc

If you see a cocktail on a menu with Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva in the ingredient list, buy it. Doesn’t much matter what else is in it. I guarantee you’re going to have a hell of a good drink.

Exclusiva is the top of Diplomatico’s “tradition” line — though there’s a pair of “prestige” rums above this, but those are crazy expensive. This Venezuela-born rum spends up to 12 years in oak casks. That’s not insanely old in the rum world, but the dense chocolate brown color of the rum sure makes it seem like it’s been in cask for considerably longer than that.

Exclusiva features heavy notes of coffee, licorice, and dark brown sugar — both on the nose and much more intensely in on the palate. Dark chocolate is heavy on the finish, with a touch of maple bar. The rum is extremely gentle and pleasant, no burn or bite at all — to the point of dangerousness. It’s simply far too easy to sip on glass after glass of this stuff without realizing quite how much you’re drinking.

Ultimately, there’s nothing much surprising about Exclusiva, but it hits all the right notes you want in a nicely aged rum — and the bottle looks like something Jack Sparrow would drink out of. Epic win.

80 proof.

A / $40 / rondiplomatico.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Cruzan Blueberry Lemonade Rum

I’m not gonna lie. It’s over 90 degrees outside as I write this, and nothing sounds better than a glass of cold blueberry lemonade. Cruzan’s latest flavor unfortunately won’t get you there — even with a ton of ice, it’s too sweet and saccharine to recreate a boozy lemonade on its own.

At a mere 42 proof, this concoction isn’t much stronger than a bottle of wine. The nose is indistinct with citrus notes, the body pushy with liquid sugar more than anything else. Both of the label-promised elements come to play in due time: First the blueberry, which has a candied/syrupy character like you might find in a box of breakfast cereal. Then the lemony notes on the finish. Lemonade? More like Lemonheads candy.

As a mixer (with real lemonade) this might be fun… but once you get to that level, well, what’s the point?

C / $12 / cruzanrum.com

Review: Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 18 Years Old and 23 Years Old

kirk-and-sweeney-bottleshot-23

Kirk and Sweeney 12 Years Old, imported by Sonoma’s 35 Maple Street, is one of the best artisan rums on the market. And that’s just a babe at a mere 12 years old.

Today we’re looking at the older line extensions of Kirk and Sweeney, including the 18 year old and 23 year old expressions. All three are bottled in similar, urn-inspired decanters, so look for the digits etched onto the glass in order to help keep them straight.

Both are 80 proof.

Thoughts follow.

Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 18 Years Old – Traditional, well-aged rum notes on the nose — brown sugar, vanilla, and some chocolate/coffee overtones. The body starts things off in that direction, then takes an interesting side street toward some curious red wine notes. The coffee character builds as the finish grows, along with some leather notes and a bit of dense sweetness, almost Port-like as it mingles with that wine-like character. Austere and worthwhile. A- / $40

Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 23 Years Old – At 23 years old, this rum is fully matured and ready for sipping on the beach, shoes off. Here you’ll find deep caramel, flecked with barrel char, toffee, intense vanilla, and a touch of baking spice — particularly cloves. They’re all here, from the nose, to the palate, to the rich, silky finish. This isn’t a particularly complicated rum, but it’s got a laser focus on the elements that make rum great. It’s one of the best rums on the market and, at just 50 bucks, quite a bargain. What’s a 23 year old bourbon going to cost you, eh? A / $50  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

35maplestreet.com

Review: Appleton Estate Signature Blend, Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, and Appleton Rare Blend 12 Years Old Rum (2015)

appleton2

It’s been six years since we last reviewed Appleton‘s Jamaican-born rums, and the company has recently done some label and nomenclature updates across the line. The distillery tells us that the recipes and the juice inside (nor the Rubenesque bottle design) haven’t changed, so let’s take a fresh look at one of the icons of the rum business and see how things are shaping up in 2015.

appleton1Appleton Estate Signature Blend – Formerly Appleton V/X. A blend of 15 rums, average age 4 years old. No age statement. The entry level Appleton is a bit rustic and punchy, with some sharp medicinal character to it. Clearly designed as a mixer, this nicely golden rum offers big molasses backed by barrel char notes and some burnt marshmallow. A touch of banana on the back end. It’s got more than a bit of a weedy finish due to its significant youth, but it does give this rum some funky character that’s fun to play with in a cocktail. 80 proof. B / $18

appleton3Appleton Estate Reserve Blend – Formerly Appleton Estate Reserve. A blend of 20 rums, average age 6 years old. No age statement. Quite a bit more refined than the Signature, with its rough edges filed down a bit. The Estate Reserve Blend offers a sherried note up front, full of citrus and cloves, that winds its way slowly into bold vanilla and Christmas spice character. Deftly balanced between the sharp attack and the festive finish, it manages to keep a foot in both the rustic and refined worlds. Great on its own or in cocktails. 80 proof. A- / $26

Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Years Old – Replaces Appleton Extra 12 Years Old. The youngest of Appleton’s age statement rums, this one (obviously) 12 years old. No blending information offered. This is top notch rum here, and easily the best of the bunch. Refined tropical notes — banana, coconut, brown sugar, vanilla-fueled barrel char — it’s all there, right on the nose. The body takes on a fruitier character, with chocolate lacing and more of a flame-kissed/charred fruit note, giving the rum a distinctly sweet, dessert-friendly character, yet it offers a little extra oomph thanks to the slightly higher proof. This one’s hard to put down — and so beautiful it’s a perfect candidate for straight sipping. 86 proof. A / $32

appletonestate.com

Recipes for National Rum Day, 2015

Of all of the marketing-designated holidays which have come and gone over the years, few have had the staying power National Rum Day (August 16) has managed to muster. Aside from a few other special days (the Super Bowl and St. Patty’s come to mind), our inbox rarely gets this full of suggestions from PR firms. Here are a few we’ve tested and give our stamp of approval.

SIHSugar Island Hurricane
2 parts Sugar Island Coconut Rum
2 parts Sugar Island Spiced Rum
2 parts passion fruit juice
1 part orange juice
Juice of half a lime
½ part Crown Medium Amber Maple Syrup
½ part grenadine
Orange slice and cherry for garnish

Combine all ingredients garnish with orange slice and cherry.

Old Cuban
(now featured at Eleven Madison Park, NYC)
1 1/2 oz Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
6 mint leaves
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Top with champagne

Add all ingredients, except Champagne, to a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain in to glass, top with Champagne.

fdvFlor de Violette
1 1/2 oz Bacardi Gran Reserva Maestro de Ron
3/4 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz St. Germain
1 dash Crème de Violette
1 dash simple syrup

Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

hdHemingway Daiquiri
2 oz Caliche Rum
1/2 oz maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
3/4 oz lime juice

Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into a rocks glass.

Knuckle Dragger
1 oz. Shellback Silver Rum
1 oz. American whiskey
2 oz. pineapple juice
2 oz. ginger ale
Lime wedge (for garnish)

Build in a lowball glass, stir, add ice. The recipe didn’t specify which American whiskey to use, so we went with some Corsair Triple Smoke to add some heft to the drink.

Summer Rum Punch
1 bottle Afrohead Aged Dark Rum
1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup simple syrup
1/2 cup Aperol
1 cup soda water

Add thin slices of orange, grapefruit, lemons, and some fresh tarragon for punch garnish.

Review: Squeal Go Pig Spiced Black Rum

squeal go pig rum

If nothing else: Points for a creative name.

Squeal Go Pig is a Colorado-produced spiced rum (it is produced by a private label distiller on behalf of the SGP folks), but apparently the “Go Pig” is optional. Just call it Squeal and you’ll be fine. It’s spiced, very dark rum — they call it black rum — though it’s unlikely this rum has significant age on it. No doubt, there is significant caramel color here.

The nose is surprisingly fresh — more brown sugar than deep molasses — with a slightly raisiny note that lends it a bit of a Port aroma (not a bad thing). On the palate it’s sweet but not overwhelming. Fruit jam hits the palate first — plums and cooked peaches — plus more raisin and prune character. The spice component is relatively underplayed, with the predominant notes of cloves and anise giving the rum a bit of the essence of sweet licorice candy.

It adds up to a dangerous combination — and one which doesn’t drink like an overproof spirit but rather a more easygoing one. Whoa, 90 proof? Better watch yourself or you really will “go pig or go home.” Oink!

90 proof.

A- / $29 / squealrum.com