The strikingly-bottled Starr African Rum hails from Mauritius, home to Penny Blue and Pink Pigeon, the only other African rums I’m familiar with.
At first blush, this is a fairly typical white rum. The nose is lightly woody, with notes of coconut, black tea, and caramel. Slightly unusual, but nothing insane. The body really punches things up. Here a more fruity, tangerine-heavy character takes hold, along with a big herbal component. Think anise, cloves, and cardamom. Lots of depth, and it gets more intriguing as it opens up in the glass, the finish folding everything together nicely into an almost punch-like package.
I like it better and better, the more I sip on it.
80 proof. Fair trade certified.
A- / $30 / africanrum.com
Here’s a fresh look at Guatemala’s Botran rum and its Reserva bottling, which we last considered in 2010.
This solera-aged rum goes through a range of barrel types — American whiskey, sherry, and Port — and is composed of rums aged 5 to 14 years old. That makes for lots of complexity, with the nose exuding coffee, dark chocolate, and vanilla notes. The body offers coconut, rich coffee, tobacco leaf, and a charred, almost burnt sugar finish. There’s lots of depth here, and the full package is quite rich and brooding. Good stuff.
A- / $24 / ronesdeguatemala.com
If there’s anything I hate, it’s putting numbers into words in place of letters. It’s called “7 Sirens,” but it’s written “S7rens” on the bottle. Ugh. Ssevenrens? I’m ill.
What I do like, however, is good rum, and 7 Sirens is solid stuff.
This new brand is made in Trinidad. It’s two years old, filtered to white. Classic design for a white, really.
The nose is sharp, with a mix of hospital notes and vegetal tones. Hints of sweetness, but more like raw sugar cane. The body is more complex than the nose would indicate, a blend of sugar syrup, vanilla, caramels, and bitter root notes, particularly on the finish. It’s a relatively burly, almost smoky, rum that brings on plenty of body and complexity. Not the best choice for sipping straight, but it adds something to cocktails than many rums lack.
B+ / $29 / 7sirens.com
OK, on one hand, Captain Morgan has no business making a white rum. What, someone’s going to go to a bar and ask for a “Captain Morgan White and Coke”? Come on.
On the other hand, why not? Captain Morgan is one of the biggest rum brands on the planet, so why not have the biggest building block of the rum world as part of the stable?
Whether it’s a good idea or not I’ll leave to the market to decide. Here’s how it stands on its own.
Five-times distilled (or so they say) in St. Croix, Captain Morgan White is a perfectly well-made white rum, if a bit short of spectacular. The nose is harmless, with notes of lemon and chili pepper and with touches of rubber and fuel, both typical of younger white rums. The body features classic vanilla caramel notes along with brown sugar, and the finish is quite lemony, ending with a bit more of those fuel notes.
Again, nothing shocking here, but it’s perfectly respectable as a mixer… just like the regular Captain Morgan, for that matter.
B+ / $16 / captainmorganusa.com
Most cachaca is barely palatable if you don’t dump a ton of lime and sugar into it to make a caipirinha, but Novo Fogo is clearly focused on quality. Using organic ingredients, the distillery produces both a silver and a barrel-aged version of its spirits (the latter is really the best way to experience this unique sugar-based spirit from Brazil). There’s even an extra-aged version called Barrel 105 (not reviewed here), the likes of which I’ve never seen from cachaca.
Thoughts on the two main releases — and a nifty cocktail kit — follow.
Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca – Rested for one year in stainless steel before bottling. Tropical notes overlay the traditional fuel-focused cachaca nose, heavy on the pineapple, with a bit of lemon underneath. The body is more traditional, but balanced, with some lemon/lime fruit notes, mushroom, cedar box, and a finish of young alcohol notes. Nothing you’re likely to sip on straight, but totally worth pouring into a caipirinha. 80 proof. B+ / $33 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Novo Fogo Barrel-Aged Cachaca – Aged two years in ex-bourbon barrels before bottling. Banana and citrus are evident on the nose, which melds the fuel notes into something more approximating the aroma of coal. The body is quite a different animal, bringing toffee and peanut butter notes to play alongside milder orange character. The finish hints at those heavier alcoholic overtones, but some chocolate touches at the end. Much like a younger, agricole-style rum. 80 proof. A- / $37
Novo Fogo Antiquado Cocktail Kit – This tiny box includes a mini of Novo Fogo’s aged cachaca, a packet of Sue Bee Clover Honey, and a tiny vial of Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters. Mix ’em all up and add ice and you’re done (sans the fancy garnishes on the picture). This is a great little cocktail (and one you can easily make sans the kit), the chocolate playing off the cachaca well, and the honey adding a much-needed sweetness, but of a different type. Can’t find it for sale, alas. It’d make a great stocking stuffer. A- / $NA
The Tiki drink revival may not have really taken off the way that rum nuts had hoped, but fanatics intent on making fruity, high-proof drinks in the comfort of their own homes and hula skirts can find solace in Liquid Vacation, a large-size recipe book from P Moss, who runs Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas (reportedly the world’s only 24/7 Tiki bar).
While there are about a dozen Tiki classics to be found here — Mai Tai, Fog Cutter, Scorpion — you can find those schematics anywhere. Rather, it’s the 77 original concoctions, all from Frankie’s bartenders — that are the bigger draw.
There’s a science to mixing rum, sugar, and fruit juice, and Moss will get you to your destination in style, if a bit addled in the brains. Be warned: None of these drinks will be simple to make, and the ingredients list will challenge even the best home stocked bar… unless you keep Tuaca, jasmine liqueur, falernum, POG juice, guava nectar, and papaya nectar handy. Well, perhaps now you have a reason to stock up.
Bonus: Every drink gets a glorious full-page photo, and a handy “skulls” rating system clues you in to how potent each cocktail is: “More skulls equals more fun.” I don’t think there are any drinks in the book that clock in at fewer than three skulls.
A- / $28 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]
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.
A- / $20 / sammysbeachbarrum.com
Is 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
The 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.
B / $15 / stolenrum.com
Made 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