Review: Sammy’s Beach Bar Red Head Macadamia Nut Flavored Rum

sammys beach bar redhead

You gotta love a first. For his first line extension from Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum, the “Red Rocker” Sammy Hagar has added a Macadamia Nut-flavored expression to this Hawaii-born product.

What the heck is this stuff?

Distilled from Maui sugar cane, it is steeped with Macadamia nuts and colored blood red (fruit and vegetable juice color is added). Right off the bat, it’s an assault to the senses — the color of wine, but with the nose of crushed nuts. At first the aroma is hard to place — closer to hazelnut than macadamia — with light sweetness underneath.

The body reveals more nuance. Again, the nut notes are the most prominent component here, far overpowering any of the sweet rum elements present. The overall effect is uncannily like a gentler, slightly sweeter version of Frangelico, with a slightly winey, strawberry finish (likely driven by the intense coloring  involved). Rum? It’s difficult to get even a hint of it, particularly the heavy funkiness of Sammy’s, but I trust him that it really is there as a base spirit. I can’t specifically peg macadamia nut here, either, for that matter.

Nonetheless, it’s a well-crafted and quite unique spirit. My recommendation: Use it in lieu of nut liqueurs, not necessarily rum.

70 proof.

A- / $20 / sammysbeachbarrum.com

Review: Avua Cachaca – Prata and Amburana

AvuaCachaca_AmburanaPrataIs the world ready for single-estate cachaca? Avua, made from single-estate sugarcane grown near Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, is now available in two expressions, an unaged prata version, and an aged amburana cachaca matured for up to two years in casks made of local Amburana wood. While cachaca has a long (and largely deserved) reputation as a difficult spirit that’s often made on the cheap and for the cheap, Avua is trying to raise the bar. How well does it succeed? Thoughts, as always, follow.

Avua Cachaca Prata – Rested for six months in stainless steel tanks, but otherwise unaged. Classic cachaca character of rubber and fuel notes are tempered here. The nose is more vegetal than most cachacas, with a yeasty character that the company’s tasting notes describe, dead on, as “bready.” The body is also fairly characteristic of the spirit, with notes of lemongrass and lime zest balancing a lightly earthy, rubbery body. 84 proof. B+ / $35

Avua Cachaca Amburana  – Two years in cask have given this cachaca just the lightest touch of yellow gold color — and a brighter nose that offers some tropical pineapple character and clearer lemon notes. The body is considerably different, taking on a spicy creaminess that creates a kind of horchata character, complete with a cinnamon/clove dusting on top. The balance is a little off, winding into notes of licorice and flinty earth toward the back end, which is somewhat at odds with the earlier character. 80 proof. B+ / $50

avuacachaca.com.br

Review: Stolen “Coffee & Cigarettes” Spiced Rum

stolen coffee and cigarettesThe name alone gives one pause. Does one want to drink cigarettes? If they’re stolen, do they taste better? To clarify things a bit, look to the quotation marks. “Stolen” is the name of the brand. “Coffee & Cigarettes” is the flavor applied. Underneath, it’s spiced rum, making this the first flavored and spiced rum we’ve reviewed.

Now this isn’t our first run-in with tobacco flavoring agents, although Stolen is careful to note its flavorings are coffee and cigarettes, not tobacco. Important distinction? Let’s find out by sipping on this Caribbean-sourced, Florida-bottled, New Zealand-owned oddity.

I’m happy to report that the primary note on the nose is coffee. It’s a little dark and husky, but this comes across more as dark roast espresso with a touch of spice than, as feared, the flavor of old coffee with cigarette butts floating in it. The body is a touch less forgiving. The smokiness builds here, driving the character forward. At first, the spirit offers more of a light brandy character than a rum-like one, though the sweetness (particularly molasses-heavy) grows with time. The smoke flavor component is far more successful than in Ivanabitch’s vodka version, presumably because the coffee and spice elements balance things out a bit. The finish manages to pull all of this together better than you’d think.

Ultimately the spirit is far more of a success than I had feared, but for most it will likely remain a curiosity that generates more questions based on its avant garde label and unique recipe than interest in actually imbibing it.

84 proof.

B / $15 / stolenrum.com

Review: Sugar Island Spiced Rum and Coconut Rum

Sugar island spiced Rum label 009Made from Caribbean cane sugar and bottled in California, Sugar Island is a new kid on the flavored and spiced rum block. (The company is not making an unflavored or aged variety.) Here’s how these new offerings measure up against the competition.

Sugar Island Spiced Rum – Very strong and pungent on the nose. The character is indistinct, with somewhat harsh, rubbery notes. On the palate, heavy burnt sugar notes overwhelm with unclear, clove-and-cinnamon character backing it up. A lengthy finish brings out not more sweetness but more of that rubbery, industrial character. Caramel added. 92 proof. C-

Sugar Island Coconut Rum – Tons of sweetness on the nose. Coconut is a secondary characteristic, overpowered by simple syrup. The body is heavy, full of gravity, with a powerfully sweet finish that offers a touch of mango character to it. Not at all difficult, but it’s a sugar bomb with few parallels in this category. 42 proof. B-

each $19 / sugarislandrum.com

Review: Taildragger Rums

taildragger rums

American rum is on the rise, and the latest expressions include this trio from Tailwinds Distilling in Plainfield, Illinois. Tailwind makes Taildragger from pricey first-boil molasses from Louisiana (rather than cheap 5th-boil blackstrap), which is distilled in a 100 gallon pot still with a six-plate column.

Taildragger is not carbon filtered nor chill filtered, which is why it retains a lot of its raw cane character. It’s a rum, as distiller Toby Beall puts it, which is “a truly American hand-crafted rum just like you would have found in our early colonies.”

Thoughts follow.

Taildragger Rum White – (Not “White Rum” mind you, but Rum White!) Unaged and “meant to stand out,” it is as promised a fairly agricole-style rum on the nose, with notes of oily tar and some light coconut character behind it. The body brings out more charm. Here, stronger vanilla notes play with some tropical character, although the rustic, fuel-like tones remain evident, just more in the back seat. A solid example of this style, though fans of more traditionally filtered and aged rums may find its more savory characteristics too overpowering. 80 proof. B / $30

Taildragger Rum Amber – Aged in ex-American rye barrels for one year. Banana and light vanilla notes temper the agricole base, but it’s still there, off in the distance. Despite the light gold color, the oak has done quite a number on the palate here, giving this rum more intense vanilla and caramel notes, with ripe banana and whipped cream coming through on the finish. The body feels creamier too, but maybe that’s just my brain messing with me. 80 proof. B+ / $35

Taildragger Coffee-Flavored Rum – Huge, bittersweet coffee character on the nose, it really overpowers almost any sense of rum here. Over time, this develops in the glass, giving the spirit’s coffee-ground core a slightly tropical, fruity back-end. There is a somewhat brooding, almost smoky quality to it, which doesn’t quite mesh perfectly well with the fruity notes. Coffee lovers will rejoice. 60 proof. B / $ 29

tailwindsdistilling.com

Review: Lost Spirits Distillery Navy Style Rum

lost spirits rum

We thought it had been unusually quiet from our friends at Lost Spirits in Monterey for a little too long. Turns out we had cause for alarm. Best known for their ultra-peated American single malt craft whiskey, Leviathan, Lost Spirits suffered a catastrophe that ended with the bulldozing of its unique wooden stills and, essentially, starting from scratch with copper (see pics below).

“$10,000 a solder” later, the new copper still is up and running again… and making… rum, not malt whiskey, which has been the hallmark of the Little Distillery That Could since its inception.

This week we got a first look at the brand-spanking-new Lost Spirits Navy Style Rum — which means it’s going to be an overproof monster, if you’re unfamiliar with either a) Lost Spirits’ house style or b) the implications of “navy proof.”

Made from Grade A molasses (vs. the Grade E blackstrap that most rum is forged from) in pot stills, then aged in Lost Spirits’ patented (literally) high-tech barrels, Lost Spirits Rum comes out dark, brooding, and funky as all get-out. Licorice, coffee bean, and powerful wood oil notes are what strike you at first on the nose. It takes several minutes opening up in the glass before more fruit-forward, tropical characteristics come to the forefront. Over time the rum takes more of a chocolate note, and fruit characteristics come to the forefront. Blood orange, lemons, some pineapple… all with a root beer kicker to punch you in the throat.

At 136 proof, Lost Spirits Rum is a slow burner, but it’s surprisingly easy to manage even without water. You can tell it’s overproof — and imbued with plenty of Lost Spirits’ almost hoary, funkified house style, copper still or not — but it’s far from the gasping-for-air scorcher that you might be expecting. Rum nuts should run, not walk, for a bottle or two while you can still get it.

A- / $45 / lostspirits.net  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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Review: Tanduay Asian Rum

tanduay gold rum

A new rum? Nah. Tanduay’s been being made for 160 years… in that classical bastion of the rum world: The Philippines. Yeah, who knew? (The brand lays claim that it’s “one of Asia’s best-kept secrets,” which seems to be right on the nose.) But Tanduay is very likely new to you (as it is to me), as it’s at long last making its debut on the mainland stage.

Asian or no, the Tanduay production process is fairly typical of modern rum-making. Column-distilled from local, Philippine sugar cane and local water, Tanduay’s new-make spirit then goes into charred barrels for years (see below for details), though all of its rums are blends of barrels of a variety of ages. Both of these spirits are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on each, as always, follow.

Tanduay Silver Asian Rum – Spends up to 5 years in first- and second-fill oak barrels, then filtered to a light gold in color, almost like a young reposado tequila. Pungent on the nose, with an indistinct alcohol character. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet-smelling — a surprise — but rather veering toward a more brooding, burnt sugar character. The body is on the exotic side, starting with brown sugar and evolving with notes of cloves, ripe banana, and marzipan. The finish offers some bitter orange notes, all of which adds up to an unusual and a slightly unbalanced experience. Not at all bad — this is a rum designed for mixing, to be sure — but a little funky for everyday sipping. B+ / $20

Tanduay Gold Asian Rum – Spends up to 7 years in barrel before bottling, not filtered for color. Bold, more distinctive rum-focused nose, with brown sugar and some vanilla. A more exotic character evolves on the palate, including coconut and mango notes, licorice candy, and again with the dense marzipan notes — almost bordering on Amaretto character. More balanced on the whole, and all in all this is a more pleasurable rum than the Silver, offering a denser body with better integrated flavors. Fun for a change, and not a bad price. (Turns out “gold” and “silver” cost the same for once!) As with the above, this would be great in a tropical cocktail. A- / $20

tanduay.com

Review: Penny Blue XO Mauritian Rum

Penny_Blue_750ml_bott_HRImported by Anchor Distilling from that remote African island of Mauritius (where a handful of rums are made), Penny Blue is a limited edition rum from the oldest distillery on the island, built in 1926. The sugarcane is sourced from a single estate, and the rum is then matured for about seven years in a mix of whiskey and Cognac casks. The rum is named after a very rare stamp printed on the island, only 12 of which are known to still be in existence — which is fitting for a rare rum such as this.

The nose is initially overwhelming with old wood, charcoal, and skunky notes. These fade with time, revealing a more classic structure of vanilla and caramel, cut with orangey sherry and toffee notes. On the palate, it’s bigger and burlier than most rums, with a hefty back-end of tannic wood character overlaying dried spices, more toffee, vanilla, and notes of what I might describe as smoky beef jerky.

It’s a curious and unusual rum, intriguing through and through but not entirely balanced. My hunch is this rum is a bit on the old side, and that at about 5 years it’d probably be just about perfect. Ah well, such is life.

88.2 proof. 2500 bottles allocated to U.S.

B / $80 / anchordistilling.com

Review: Cruzan Distiller’s Collection Rum Lineup

Cruzan_Bottles_Distillers Collection_2013

Cruzan, based in St. Croix, is something of an underrated distillery in the world of rum. Now it’s moving ever so slightly upmarket, with the launch of three new premium rums, all part of the new Distiller’s Collection.

All three of these rums start with the same base stock — a blend of rums from barrels that are aged from 5 to 12 years old. They’re then treated in different ways, as we’ll discuss below. Each of these rums is a winner, and all are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Cruzan Distiller’s Collection Estate Diamond Light Rum - This is the base 5-12 year old rum stock, charcoal filtered to white. There’s a massive amount of flavor here for a white rum, with a deep woodiness, and notes of raisins, brown sugar, caramels, and chocolate. There’s still a touch of funk to remind you it’s actually rum, with that big and burly body keeping things on a woody keel. It’s a unique rum with lots of depth; worth exploring. A- / $20

Cruzan Distiller’s Collection Estate Diamond Dark Rum – This is the same stock as the above, bottled as a dark rum without the filtration. Good color here, though not as dark as you’d expect given its age. This is a more well-rounded rum, with more prominent almond notes and a little coffee to even out some of the tannic wood character in the light rum. Plenty sweet, this rum has its edges smoothed out and presents itself as a refined and balanced sipping rum. An utter steal. A / $20

Cruzan Distiller’s Collection Single Barrel Premium Extra Aged Rum – Again, this is from the same stock as the above, so how can a blend of rums spanning a seven year aging period be a “single barrel” rum? Because that rum is aged for a second time in new American oak barrels (for an indeterminate time), and then those barrels are bottled as single barrel rums. (Note that no barrel number is noted on the label.) The rum has an almost sherried, orange-peel character to it, along with ample wood character driven by that second stretch of aging in oak. The body offers a wealth of experiences, including a caramel core laced with cinnamon and cloves, plus brown butter and brown sugar crumble. Touches of coffee develop over time in the glass. The most whiskey-like rum of the bunch, it’s also the most satisfying, a deep and sultry rum with a long and soothing finish. Much to love at this price. A / $30

cruzanrum.com

Review: Plantation Original Dark Rum and Extra Old Rum 20th Anniversary

20130709102147_plantation-20-anniversary-445x381We’ve covered a number of rums from France-based Plantation, and now we have a pair of new releases, both blends of the Caribbean’s best to write about, including one special release bottled in honor of the distillery’s 20th anniversary. Thoughts follow.

Plantation Original Dark Rum 40% – One of Plantation’s standby bottlings, a blend of dark rums with no age statement, finished in Bourbon casks. Very strong on the nose with coffee and raisin notes the most powerful elements, along with a hefty slug of hogo. On the palate, it’s more easygoing, but offers mushroom, more coffee grounds, and a slightly sweaty finish. A winner if you like your rum musky and a little funky. A 73% Overproof variety of this expression is also available. 80 proof.  B / $17

Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary – Casks of already old pot- and column-distilled rum are re-casked and aged for a second time in small French Cognac barrels for another 12 to 18 months. This rum is just one shade of brown darker than the Original Dark, but it’s much more fully developed. The nose offers intense chocolate and coffee notes, with kind of a brown sugar sweetness on top. The body is glorious, a big rum full of dessert notes that run from chocolate pudding to marshmallow cream. Butterscotch and gingerbread notes come along in the finish, all begging in unison for this rum to be served alongside a nice slice of cake. Something with chocolate, methinks. 80 proof. A / $43

plantationrum.com