Category Archives: Rum

Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and Grappa

van brunt stillhouse whiskey 96x300 Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and GrappaVan 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]

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Review: Maison Leblon Reserva Especial

leblon reserva 75x300 Review: Maison Leblon Reserva EspecialAged 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.

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Review: Thomas Tew Pot-Still Rum

thomas tew rum 127x300 Review: Thomas Tew Pot Still RumPot-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 /

Review: South Sea Rum

South Sea Rum 227x300 Review: South Sea RumRum 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.


Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

You’re full of meat and pie and perhaps meat pie. Now it’s time to think of your loved ones. Were they naughty? Nice? Do they deserve a fancy tipple when the giving season arrives?

For your most favored loved ones, Drinkhacker offers this collection of our favorite spirits from 2012, just a small sampling of the most worthy products on the market. Dig through the category of your choice for other ideas, and please chime in with your own gift ideas!

Also check out our 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Want our gift guide in glorious, full-color, printable-magazine style, complete with the original reviews for all of these products? YOU GOT IT!

four roses 2012 small batch limited edeition 192x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Four Roses Small Batch 2012 ($90) – This bad boy’s been topping “best of” lists all season, and for good reason. Perhaps the best Small Batch from 4R since the distillery re-entered the U.S. market, it’s a huge crowd pleaser. Can’t find it (don’t be surprised…), try Elijah Craig Single Barrel 20 Years Old ($130), Woodford Reserve’s unique Four Wood ($100), or Smooth Ambler Yearling ($62), straight outta West Virginia.

Scotch – The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 Year Old ($130) – I’d love to pick Glenfiddich 1974 or Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3 here, but both are long gone from the market and were absurdly expensive, to boot. You’ll have better luck with the new, older DoubleWood — which, by the way, is replacing the highly-beloved Balvenie Peated Cask on the market — which is in wide distribution now. More ideas? I love Arran Malt’s The Devil’s Punch Bowl ($130) and Ardbeg Galileo ($95). But my real connoisseur’s pick is a stealthy one: Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood Cote Rotie Finish 1991 ($80). Yes, it’s available, and yes, this is pretty much the only thing I want for Christmas.

greenhook gin 200x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasGinGreenhook Gin ($33) – No knockouts this year, unlike 2011. Greenhook’s elderflower kick makes it a lot of fun. Cardinal ($29) is also a creamy, delicious gin. Update: And due to a tragic oversight, I failed to note the quality of The Botanist ($33).

VodkaSquare One Vodka ($33) – Rock solid, though hardly new to the market. Other excellent choices: Belvedere Intense Unfiltered ($40) or Bully Boy Vodka ($28).

Rum – Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole 1997 ($130) – My pick for the most exciting rum of 2012 isn’t sold in the country, but this vintage agricole from Rhum J.M. makes an exquisite gift, too. Lots of great options out there for lower budgets, too, including Blackwell ($30), Ron Fortuna ($22), and Plantation 3 Stars ($24).

Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO 214x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBrandy – Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO Imperial ($130) – There’s never much new brandy coming out in any given year, and the good stuff costs a pretty penny. At the top of the list for 2012 is this Armagnac, with Camus’ Extra Elegance ($395) close behind. For more affordable selections, check out Camus’ Ile de Re series.

Tequila – t1 Tequila Blanco Ultra-Fino ($40) – In a year of top tequila and absurdly expensive bottlings, these two affordable blancos stood out. t1 looks a little snazzier, if you’re giving a gift. The amazingly balanced Z Tequila Blanco ($30) will save you 10 bucks. Many excellent choices out there this year, as usual.

Liqueur – Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao Ancienne Method ($25) - Turn the Grand Marnier fan in your household on to this, the best orange liqueur on the market and a pittance at just $25 a bottle. For a different fruit effect, check out Germain-Robin Pear de Pear ($24, 375ml), a spirit that will quickly make you forget about lackluster Poire Williams.

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

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

Review: Kahlua Midnight Liqueur

After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out… and we’re gonna drink this new liqueur from the increasingly huge portfolio of products from Kahlua: Kahlua Midnight.

Midnight is a major departure for Kahlua, which has to date been happy to create new versions of its signature coffee liqueur by adding additional flavorings like you’d find in a coffee shop (various incarnations now include cinnamon, vanilla, hazelnut, mocha, and peppermint versions). Midnight is something different: A 70 proof monster mix of the classic coffee liqueur with rum.

In truth, even the standard 40-proof version of Kahlua has rum in it (it’s touted on the label), but it’s watered down and sugared up so those Desperate Housewives can sip it all day. At 70-proof, Kahlua Midnight is nearly full-strength booze, more rum than Kahlua — though it’s still just as black as before (caramel color is added). In case you’re unclear, the bottle is completely different than the standard tiki-friendly Kahlua one.

In all honesty, Kahlua Midnight — in taste — is not a great departure from its mother, standard-grade Kahlua. The coffee is clear on the nose and the palate. Rum, as with regular Kahlua, is really just hinted at, indistinctly and more on the undercarriage of the nose than in the body, where the strong coffee character is simply overpowering to anything underneath it. It’s got more of a boozy kick in the middle, but the finish is mild, dominated by a clear, fresh-ground coffee character.

What’s the point of Midnight? It’s primarily meant for consumption straight, on the rocks. God help the hacker that uses this stuff in lieu of standard Kahlua and doesn’t realize what he’s getting into.

A- / $24 /

kahlua midnight Review: Kahlua Midnight Liqueur

Review: Shellback Silver Rum and Spiced Rum

This new rum brand — named after a term used to describe a savvy sailor — is produced in Barbados, with its eyes set on the premium segment of the market. Both of these initial expressions are 80 proof.

Shellback Silver Rum – Aged 12 months in Bourbon barrels and filtered to white. Huge vanilla on the nose, with some petrol undertones. Very sweet — I called it “cotton candy” during my first encounter — with a long, sugary finish. It does echo back that edge of bitterness in the finish, but as the rum aerates it takes on a more complex cookie dough character — chocolate chips included. B+

Shellback Spiced Rum – Per the company, “Shellback Spiced has no added sugar and features a combination of all natural spices from around the world including: cinnamon bark oil from Sri Lanka and Ceylon; ginger oil from China and Africa; clove oil from Madagascar and India; nutmeg from Indonesia; cassia from Vietnam and China; vanilla from Madagascar and allspice from the Caribbean.” Rougher than I had hoped, with the spiciness coming across dry and dusty, like when you touch ground cinnamon directly to your tongue. This is clearly intentional — the absence of sugar is a badge of honor for Shellback in this spirit — but it doesn’t do the spirit any favors, finishing things off not with refreshing spiciness but rather a bit of astringency. B-

each $17 /

Shellback rum silver and spiced Review: Shellback Silver Rum and Spiced Rum

Review: Plantation 3 Stars White Rum

Plantation is known for its double-aged, high-end rums from all over the Caribbean. So it comes as a surprise to find the company producing its first ever white rum.

Called three stars because the blend is mixed from rums from Barbados, Trinidad, and Jamaica. And rest assured, this isn’t straight off the still. Unaged rum from Barbados and Jamaica is blended with three-year-old Trinidad rum and 12-year-old Jamaica rum (yes, 12 years!), before being filtered back to white. It’s commonplace to age rum a year or two, then filter it, before releasing it as white rum, but having 12-year-old spirit in the mix is unheard of.

This rum is extremely sugar-forward, a monstrously sweet rum that leaves delicacy behind. Big tropical notes — mango and especially banana — hit you after the raw sugar cane fades, and that old Jamaican rum, pot-distilled for sure, brings a touch of hoary funk to the finish. Some citrus notes laced throughout. Smooth but with a kick, this is a premium white rum with lots of cocktail versatility.

82.4 proof. Launches this month.

A / $24 (one liter bottle) / plantationrum

Plantation 3 Stars rum Review: Plantation 3 Stars White Rum


Review: Cruzan Single Barrel Rum

Cruzan is probably best known for its flavored rums, but it also dabbles in high-end products like this aged Single Barrel Rum.

As the name suggests, this is a genuine single barrel rum, aged up to 12 years in St. Croix (part of the U.S. Virgin Islands) and bottled at 80 proof. Sounds good, but it’s not my favorite. The nose is quite mild, molasses with a good amount of wood to back it up. But the body isn’t altogether there for this. Surprisingly tannic, with lots of green pepper, thick tobacco leaf, and powerful wood notes. The finish heads into a touch of cinnamon and bitter orange peel, with a rougher way out than I was hoping for, leaving behind not a sweet touch of candy but almost a drying sensation.

Barrel #87510 reviewed.

B- / $27 /

cruzan single barrel rum Review: Cruzan Single Barrel Rum

Review: Brugal Especial Extra Dry Rum

Our friends at Brugal weren’t happy with one white rum. Now they have two.

Brugal’s Especial Extra Dry looks frighteningly similar to last year’s white rum release, Blanco Especial, but they differ in a key way. The new Especial Extra Dry is aged for one more year (for a total of three years) before it is filtered and bottled as a white rum.

You’d think an extra year of aging would only improve things, but trying these side by side I found I prefered the sweetness and vanilla flavors in the younger Especial over the new Extra Dry. Here, some tannin creeps into the rum, giving it a very slight bitterness, some lightly vegetal notes that battle with the intense, vanilla-infused sweetness of this Dominican standby. Hence the Extra Day name, perhaps.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a very good rum, just one that is slightly eclipsed by its baby brother.

UPDATE: Brugal emailed to let us known the older Brugal Especial expression will be going off the market in March or April of 2013. Drink it while you can!

B+ / $20 /

Brugal Extra Dry Review: Brugal Especial Extra Dry Rum


Review: Ron Fortuna Reserva Exclusiva Anejo 8 Anos Rum

This new rum just now hitting the market hails from Nicaragua, where a single expression — 8 years old on the label — is currently being offered. Column-distilled from molasses five times and aged in American oak (ex-Bourbon barrels, I presume), it spends a minimum of 8 years in cask and a maximum of 10 before being bottled. Thoughts follow.

The nose is fragrant and fresh, with a very lively, floral character and lots of fresh citrus fruit. Light and spry, it almost comes across as lightly sherried. Lemon and honey notes are strong on the palate, with a long and sweet finish that recalls shortbread and — notably — sugar cookies. There’s barely a hint of wood in this rum, and the finish is so smooth you might not feel you’re drinking alcohol at all.

Dangerous stuff, and quite delicious.

80 proof.

A / $22 /

fortuna rum 8 years old Review: Ron Fortuna Reserva Exclusiva Anejo 8 Anos Rum

Review: Old Sugar Distillery Cane & Abe Freshwater Rum

Is there saltwater rum? I guess, sort-of, all Caribbean rum is saltwater, isn’t it… even though it’s made from freshwater.

This rum hails from Madison, Wisconsin, about as far from the sea as you can get. Made from American sugar cane (grown in Louisiana and Hawaii) and aged in both new and used American oak barrels, this light amber rum smells strongly of fuel-like agricole, but offers more complexity on the tongue.

Here we find a blend of rubber, charred wood, and distinct butterscotch character. Quite rough on the finish — despite the color this is fairly clearly a young rum (younger than most white rums, at that) — but not without some brooding charms… a lot like rhum agricole. If you like earthier, more smoldering rums, this one’s for you.

80 proof.


Cane Abe Freshwater Rum Review: Old Sugar Distillery Cane & Abe Freshwater Rum

Cocktails for National Rum Day

National Rum Day — that’s today! And yes, we make rum in the U.S. Recipes and photos courtesy Flor de Cana.

5169758507 1883c01b0b o 200x300 Cocktails for National Rum DayChichigalpa Old Fashioned
2 oz Flor de Caña 18 year old rum
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
1 dash Fee’s barrel aged bitters

Stir & strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon & orange twist.

Mogamabo Daiquiri
1.5 oz Flor de Caña 4 year white rum
.5 oz Flor de Caña 7 year old rum
1 barspoon tamarind syrup
.75 oz lime juice
.5oz simple syrup

Pour Flor de Caña into a shaker, add rum, syrups and lime. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

This variation on the Daiquiri takes Tamarind, a popular fruit in both Indian and Hispanic cultures, and creates a deep rich Daiquiri.

5913601940 954fe8de3e o 192x300 Cocktails for National Rum DayRum Sazerac
2 oz. Flor de Caña 7 Year Old Rum
.5 oz. Simple Syrup
3 Dashes Peychaud Bitters
Dash Lucid Absinthe

Add Flor de Caña, simple syrup, Peychaud bitters, and Lucid Abinthe to shaker with ice. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with red grapes

7 Year Smash – Recipe by Jon Gasparini, Rye on the Road
2 oz. Flor de Caña 7 Year Old Rum
3 Muddled Kumquats
.5 oz House Falernum (lime/clove liqueur), or Velvet Falernum
3 dashes Angostra Bitters
1.5 oz. Prosecco
Lime zest garnish

In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle kumquats with Falernum. Add Rum, bitters and ice. Top with Prosecco. Lime garnish

Criollo Cocktail
2 oz Flor de Caña 7 Year Old Rum
1 oz Key Lime Juice
3 slices of fresh Mango or Mango Puree
1 oz Agave Syrup
Sprig of fresh Cilantro
Dash of Cayenne Pepper

Muddle cilantro, cayenne pepper and mango with ice in a collins glass. Add Flor de Caña and key lime juice. Half fill the glass with crushed ice; stir. Fill to the brim with more crushed ice and stir again. Garnish with a lime wedge and cilantro sprig, or slice of mango.

14 Rums Reviewed with Paul Pacult and “Rum For All”

rum for all 300x224 14 Rums Reviewed with Paul Pacult and Rum For Allis no name in the spirits reviewing business more prominent than F. Paul Pacult. His Spirits Journal is the gospel of the booze industry, the way Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate makes or breaks companies in the wine business.

Pacult, along with cohort Sean Ludford, is branching out from neutral critic into industry advocacy. His new group, Rum For All, is meant to bring awareness to the public regarding rum as a serious, high-quality spirit. Rum For All is sponsored by a wide range of rum producers — 14 of which Pacult had on hand for sampling during a recent road show event for trade and media, for comparing side by side by side. (Incidentally, you can always tell you’re at a rum event by the large number of Panama hats and Hawaiian shirts in the crowd.)

But first, some history. Rum is made from sugarcane, as you surely know, and 97% of it is born from molasses. (The other 3% from unprocessed cane juice.) While rum is associated mostly with the Caribbean, sugarcane wasn’t around here until it was brought over by Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the New World. The cane thrived in the wet heat, and the rum business was born.

Rum’s first production in the New World came not in the islands but rather in Staten Island, and in the 1600s and 1700s, New England was the epicenter of the world’s rum production. A triangle of world trade began, with sugarcane shipped to New England, the resultant rum shipped to Europe, and, sadly, slaves shipped from Africa to the Caribbean for use in harvesting the cane. (Pacult is very apologetic on this point, noting that today the vast majority of sugarcane is machine harvested.)

Rum was the It liquor until Revolutionary War and the 1800s, when the new U.S.A. banned trade with French and British territories, which dried up the source of sugarcane. By the time the 1900s arrived, rum was all but forgotten as a major spirit in the United States. This didn’t change until the 1950s, when rum made a revival nearly 200 years in the making. Brought on by the Tiki craze (in part driven by Hawaii’s new statehood), rum became hot once again… and on until today.

Now rum is made largely where the cane is produced, all over the Caribbean and Central America, and Pacult warns us that the heat makes for special conditions for this spirit. While Scotch whisky barrels may lose 2% of their volume in a year to the “angel’s share,” with rum this number can hit up to 12% thanks to the aging conditions. Pacult shared many tales of rum-makers opening 7-year-old barrels only to find them bone dry. Because of the heat, rum ages fast. A good trick, says Ludford, is to think about rum ages in “dog years.” (Though they tell you this in Kentucky, too.)

After an hour of talking about rum, we finally got to the hard task of tasting the stuff. As noted, 14 rums were on tap, all from different distillers, sampled side by side. I’ve reviewed nearly all of these rums separately in the past, so these ratings and comments shouldn’t be taken as formal reviews. However, it was nonetheless a great opportunity to taste all of these rums comparatively, even in small quantities, so the differences among them could be more readily sussed out, which is hard to do in a standalone review. Tasted from light to dark (and remember, most “white” rums are aged in wood then filtered back to clear, or nearly clear), thoughts and gut reactions follow.

Shellback Silver – A new brand from Barbados, this is a gorgeous white rum, very rich with coconut, molasses, cotton candy, and vanilla character. Looking forward to sampling again after its official release. A-

Brugal Especial Extra Dry – Very light (this should have gone out first), I’m getting some medicinal notes in the body of this aged white. A little greener, with a tighter finish, than I was expecting from Brugal. B

Denizen Aged White – A blend of various white rums, including pot still rum. Sharp nose with vegetal notes, dried spices and herbs. A bit of a menthol/cough drop character. B

10 Cane – Recently reformulated away from its agricole (10 Cane used to be fully made with sugarcane juice) roots, this light yellow rum features lots of flavor — vanilla, cinnamon, baking spices, and bright vanilla. Very sweet, a real knockout with its new recipe. A

Banks Five Island – A blend of rums from all over the Caribbean plus Indonesia. Again a funkier style of rum, it’s rustic, sharp, and full of lots of vegetal and earth flavors. Huge, long finish. B

Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole – Immediate agricole nose, but not too rough on the palate. Heavily vegetal; some people in the room declared one of the bottles to be “corked,” though I was skeptical of that one. B-

Don Q Gran Anejo – We’re moving into a totally different world here, one of well-aged, quite dark rums. Big oaky nose, with raisins, cinnamon, and lots of vanilla, all of which evolves in the glass. Bit alcoholic on the finish. A-

Bacardi 8 – Oaky upfront, with fruitcake notes. Vaguely vegetal on the finish, it’s got a good body, but the balance isn’t perfect. Still, it grows on you. B+

Ron Abuelo 7 – Sweeter, hits the front of the palate. Big vanilla and raisin character, with chocolate notes showing up in the finish. Great balance with good intensity without being overpowering. A

Appleton Estate Reserve – Surprisingly a bit boozy on the nose. This classic rum (including pot still rum) offers cookies, graham crackers, and a spicy, aromatic nose. Pacult praised this rum for its “whiskey” character, which makes for some very interesting comparisons. A-

Diplomatica Reserva Exclusiva – Whiskey on the nose again, with molasses, candied nuts, and raisins. Very, very sweet, with cinnamon and chewy honey character. A-

Flor de Cana 18 – Very woody, a little rough, and rustic. Good, but a touch bitter, and not as exciting as you’d think given its 18 year heritage. B+

Mount Gay Extra Old – Lovely raisins, molasses, and oranges, with tons of complex allspice and cinnamon notes. Just beautiful A

Ron Zacapa 23 – So much chocolate on the finish here. Remarkably smooth and sweet for a 100% sugarcane-juice based rum. Quite sweet but balanced with cinnamon and raisin character in the mix. A-

Review: Stroh Jagertee Liqueur

The “Jager” might tip you off that this is an herbal liqueur, but don’t let the name fool you: Stroh Jagertee (“hunter’s tea”), hailing from Austria, is a curious blend of “spiced rum” — the “rum” itself is actually not sugar-based but rather an ethanol-based spirit, also made in Austria — and black tea, bottled at a full 80 proof.

A decidedly unique spirit, it does indeed taste like its constituent components. The tea is strong and fresh, the “rum” spiced within an inch of its life, with cinnamon, raisins, and lots of fruit character — orange peel, dried mango, dried pineapple. The effect is super-sweet, like a heavily-spiced pineapple upside-down cake that is drenched with tea. I’m not sure this is something I could drink on a daily basis, but it’s intriguing as a sweet after-dinner sipper in lieu of a bitter amaro.

B / $25 /

stroh Jagertee Review: Stroh Jagertee Liqueur


Review: Bully Boy Vodka, White Rum, and White Whiskey

Boston’s first craft distiller was founded in 2010 by two brothers, Will and Dave Willis. Massachusetts natives, this deadly duo got into distilling thanks to the inspiration of their grandfather, who built an informal speakeasy on his farm, serving locally-produced hooch to friends and family.

“Bully,” incidentally, is not meant to evoke violence but rather “superb or wonderful,” an homage to a favorite term of the college roommate of the Willis’s great-grandfather, Teddy Roosevelt.

All spirits reviewed are 80 proof.

Bully Boy Vodka – Distilled from organic winter red wheat. This is a lovely vodka. A brisk sharpness on the nose reveals the lightest touch of sweetness on the palate. Touches of fruit, very light. In the way that a good tequila sets you up for a knockout when you sniff it, then lets you down with a silky-smooth experience as you drink it, Bully Boy Vodka is Beauty and the Beast all rolled up into one innocuous-looking bottle. Reviewed: Batch #31, bottle #292. A

Bully Boy White Rum – Distilled from blackstrap molasses, Bully Boy reminds us that Boston was once a center of rum production in the U.S., as any student of the 1919 Boston Molasses Disastercould tell you. Intense aroma, very much in keeping with unaged rum. Strongly green and vegetal, the nose moves into smooth, sugary sweetness, with a lasting finish that recalls tea and, to some extent, rubber. Reviewed: Batch #16, bottle #117. B

Bully Boy White Whiskey – Distilled entirely from organic American wheat, this unaged whiskey is milder than many entries into this growing category. Rustic and funky on the nose, the body offers more nuance, with a mild sweetness, flavors of fresh bread, and some citrus notes. The finish isn’t bad, but it makes one long for a simple oak barrel to put this in for a few years to see what happens. Reviewed: Batch #24, bottle #259. B-

each $28 /

Tasting Zacapa 23 Rum, Step by Step

Recently I received a delightful little kit put together by the folks who make one of the best rums on the market, Zacapa 23. The idea: To taste what this complicated spirit is like at each step of its long production.

Zacapa is made using a solera process, a complex system where a spirit is bottled from the last barrels in a long line of casks, then topped up with rum from younger barrels. Those barrels are in turn filled from even younger barrels, and so on down the line, the effect being a neverending cascade of rum flowing from one barrel to the next. In Zacapa’s case, it’s even more complicated than that, as four different types of barrels are used, and those are all topped up with older rums, at each stage of the process. It ain’t easy to understand: The chart below may help to make some sense of it.

The tasting kit sent by Zacapa includes the rum at four stages — and years pass between each stage (23 years in all) — all at 7500 feet above sea level, in the mountains of Guatemala. I’ll outline them as we go, along with tasting notes.

Stage 1 – Here the rum (made not from molasses but rather first-press sugar cane juice) has gone through two initial stages, actually, spending time in ex-American whiskey barrels and then a second ex-whiskey barrel which has been re-charred. As you might expect, at this point the rum takes on a whiskey-like character, with a nose so filled with wood you would think, nosing it blind, it was actually Bourbon. The body reveals the sweetness of sugarcane, though, and while it’s tempered with wood, there’s a pleasant sugary character at the core.

Stage 2 – But the rum is clearly not ready for release, so, after blending with older rum stocks, it goes into ex-Oloroso sherry barrels for further aging. The rum takes on a much bigger citrus tone here. In fact, the sherry is almost overpowering with the citrus notes it imbues into the rum at this point. The nose is spot-on, but at this stage it’s just too sweet to go down easy.

Stage 3 – Again, old stock is added after this stage. Then, Pedro Ximenez (another sherry, intended for dessert and made in its own solera style) barrels are last on the list. Here, the rum has taken a turn for the dark, exhibiting deep chocolate character, plus raisins, dried figs, and some coffee notes. Spicy cinnamon and cloves play on the nose here, giving this stage of the rum a nearly-complete, and awfully complex, character.

Stage 4 – After a final addition of old stock, the rum is complete. This is actually the finished Zacapa 23 product, and here the sweetness has been dialed back up. The color, a gorgeous mahogany, secrets away all the flavors that have come before. Sherry is still big, with raisins, chocolate, figs, coffee, and cinnamon coming on after. Complex but delightful, there’s so much going on here that you’d think you’d be lost. But like a good dessert, it all comes together in perfect balance, a beautiful rum that shows what 23 years can do to sugar cane juice straight off the press. [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]


Ice Cream Sandwich Recipes with Flor de Cana Rum and Frangelico

Now you can have your rum and eat it too! Recipes courtesy chef Eddy Van Damme, in honor of July being National Ice Cream Month.

Flor de cana ice cream sandwich 300x199 Ice Cream Sandwich Recipes with Flor de Cana Rum and FrangelicoFlor de Caña Rum Soaked Raisin Ice Cream Sandwich

½ cup Flor de Caña 7 Year Grand Reserve rum
¾ cup raisins
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup + 2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoon Flor de Caña 7 Year Grand Reserve rum

1. In a saucepan heat first-listed Flor de Caña until hot but not boiling. Pour onto raisins and ensure raisins are well covered. Seal with plastic food wrap and allow raisins to absorb Flor de Caña overnight at room temperature. Toss the mixture occasionally to ensure that raisins absorb all Rum.

2. Bring milk, cream and sugar to a full boil and remove from heat. Add vanilla extract and second listed Flor de Caña and cover with plastic food wrap. Place in refrigerator overnight.

3. If using an ice cream machine that uses a bowl which needs to be frozen place in freezer and set freezer on lowest setting.

4. Following day: Drain raisins and add any non absorbed Rum to ice cream mixture. Place raisins in freezer.

5. Churn ice cream mixture, when ice cream becomes thick and is nearly done add frozen raisins. Place ice cream in freezer.

6. Sandwich ice cream between your favorite two cookies.

*For best results soak raisins and prepare ice cream a day ahead of churning.

Frangelico ice cream sandwiches 1 300x199 Ice Cream Sandwich Recipes with Flor de Cana Rum and FrangelicoFrangelico Ice Cream Sandwich

1 ¾ cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup + 2 tablespoon light brown sugar
Pinch salt
½ cup + 2 tablespoon Frangelico Hazelnut Liqueur

1. In saucepan whisk milk, cream, sugar and salt to a full boil and remove from heat. Place saucepan into bowl filled with ice to chill ice cream mixture.

2. Once cold add Frangelico and add a cup or more additional salt to ice bowl (salt in ice will make the ice cream mixture super cold and make churning more effective).

3. Churn ice cream according to ice cream machine manufacturer’s directions. Once churned, place ice cream in a very cold bowl and freeze.

4. Sandwich ice cream between your favorite two cookies.

Review: Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum

Spiced rum continues its move upmarket courtesy of that most massive of standbys: Captain Morgan.

The Captain saw a line expansion with a 100 proof version in 2008, and now comes the even bigger gun: Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum. This is actually an American rebranding of a product called Captain Morgan Black which the company has sold internationally since late 2011. The rum is a blend from Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados (though the label notes only “the Caribbean”), spiced with cloves and cassia bark (we call it cinnamon!), and aged indeterminately in “double charred blackened oak” (whatever that means).

Ultra-dark and loaded with aromas — you can smell the vanilla when you crack open the bottle — it’s a clear competitor (and a worthy one) to the recent flood of high-end spiced rums, including Kraken and The Lash.

The emphasis here remains clearly on the sweet stuff. Vanilla and molasses, plus semi-sweet chocolate on the finish, it’s loaded with these dessert notes. Clove and cinnamon are present almost as afterthoughts, but you’ll catch them once your sweet tooth wears out. Finally, there’s a long, and surprisingly pleasant, finish, one which inspires one to consider girly-type cocktails but which begs to be consumed solo.

Captain Morgan has quite a winning spirit on its hands here, one which comes across at considerably lower proof than it is (and which can be awfully dangerous) and which elevates the Captain to the upper echelon of spiced rum makers. Well done.

94.6 proof.

A- / $22 /

Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum Bottle Shot Review: Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum

Review: Rums of Rhum J.M.

Along with Rhum Clement, Rhum J.M. (a sister distillery) is one of the biggest names in Martinique’s rhum agricole industry. Distilled from sugar cane juice instead of molasses, agricole has a distinctly different character than most rums you’re probably familiar with. Intense with fuel-like flavors when they’re young, agricoles often develop into remarkably complex, world-class spirits when they’ve been aged for a spell.

We finally got hold of four of J.M.’s rhums to review. Comments follow. (And be advised: While the prices below reflect 750ml bottles, you are more likely to find J.M. in one-liter bottles, with accordingly higher prices.)

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Blanc  - J.M.’s white rum looks innocuous, and an idle sniff will reveal cachaca-like tones and petrol character. Take a sip, though, and you’ll find it’s bursting with tropical character: Bananas, pineapple, coconut, and a long vanilla finish. Hot as hell (in part because it’s bottled at 100 proof), but the complexity and balance in the fruit, dessert, and subtle spice flavors make it a real knockout among normally difficult white agricoles. A- / $30

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Elevé Sous Bois – This is J.M.’s “gold rum,” (aka “Paille”), and the color is a perfect representation of that metal. The body is a lot like the blanc, with more vanilla brought to the forefront due to spending a full year in wood. The finish is a bit drying, though, which whisks away some of the natural fruit character you’ll find in the blanc. Most of the same components are still there, but here they take a bit of a back seat to the wood, which hasn’t come all the way to fruition yet. 100 proof. B+ / $36

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole VSOP – Spends four years in wood, and bottled at a slightly lower 90 proof. Now that agricole funk is seriously dialed back, as this VSOP takes on some of the more traditional notes you find with aged rums made from molasses. Big caramel and vanilla, lots of heavy wood especially in the finish, along with a curious black cherry/chocolate note. I like this a lot, seems bottled at just the right time. A- / $55

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole 1997 – Not to be confused with the above, this vintage rum spends a minimum of 10 years in oak before being bottled. That’s crazy in a world where a rum that’s been in oak for three years is considered ancient, and J.M. shows how incredibly wise and delicious that decision can be. Intense caramel, chocolate, and vanilla on this, with barely a hint of tropical fruit and banana on the finish. A real knockout of a rum, with a long and smooth finish, silky body, and a price to match. Gorgeous stuff. 96 proof. A / $130