Review: Afrohead Original Rum

Afrohead Original - Front

You wouldn’t put out a rum called Afrohead and not put a line art drawing of a woman with a huge, stylized afro on the bottle, would you? Of course not. After years of hand bottling rum in an unnamed bottle featuring only the Afrohead logo, Joe Farrell and Toby Tyler are bringing this Bahamanian rum to the U.S. market officially.

Two expressions are being released, the “Original” reviewed here, which is 7 years old, plus an XO expression, bottled in an opaque decanter, which is 15 years old. Both expressions are crafted from only sugarcane molasses sourced from various farms in the West Indies, using a proprietary Trinidad yeast, and made with neither added coloring nor raw sugar added to the distillate. The rum is aged in used bourbon barrels in the Bahamas and is bottled in Barbados.

Afrohead Original is a well-crafted rum with a somewhat rustic style. The nose is heavily molasses-focused, with ample but not overblown sweetness. Hints of sweet sherry add some nuance, along with notes of marzipan. On the palate, the rum offers a bit of chalkiness on the body, with a rush of sugar right up front. As it fades, the rum gets a bit tougher and shows off more of its skin. As the finish builds, watch for burnt caramel and sooty notes, Cracker Jack, brown butter, and scorched peanuts. These more brooding flavors add layers of complexity, but they also dial back the sweetness a bit. There’s also a bit of a winey aftertaste that lingers on the back of the palate for quite a while.

All told, this is a fine rum with an interesting and compelling character that’s worth sampling.

Available in the Bahamas, Tennessee, and South Florida for now.

80 proof.

B+ / $35 / afroheadrums.com

Review: Don Pancho Origenes Rum 8 Years Old, 18 Years Old, and 30 Years Old

DP30yrs_white_USAhighres

First off, Don Pancho is a real dude. He’s Cuban, his real name is Francisco Fernandez, and he’s been in the rum business for 50 years, only he has been making it for other people. Don Pancho is the first brand he’s ever made for himself, so it better be good, huh? Produced in Panama, the rum is crafted by blending barrels of Fernandez’s own stock, with the top expression bearing a whopping 30 year old age statement on it — which is almost unheard of for rum.

We tried all three of the launch expressions from Don Pancho, which are being imported into the U.S. by Terlato. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Don Pancho Origines Rum 8 Years Old – Bold and pushy, this is a funky, vegetally-driven rum that starts off with notes of root beer, dried figs, leather, and sea salt on the nose. The body punches this up with licorice and cloves before releasing the sweetness — dense molasses, brown sugar, vanilla, and toffee, with a cola-driven bite on the back end. This yin-yang between the funk and the sweet release grows on you, making it a solid sipper and a character-filled mixer. A- / $40

Don Pancho Origines Rum 18 Years Old – No stopover at 12 or 15 years like regular distillers would do. Don Pancho jumps straight to 18 years old for its “mid-level” expression. The nose is similar to the 8 year old. The aromas of sea salt are hard to miss amidst all the dense, dried fruit and leathery character. On the tongue, such sweet nirvana. Here the denser, earthier character is very short-lived, and the fruitier elements take hold much more quickly. Cola comes in earlier, along with more dried and fresh fruits — raisins and figs — before seguing into notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and chocolate syrup. The finish is a bit winey, almost Port-like with a rum raisin character that lingers in the throat. I find this back end overstays its welcome just a tad. Overall, stellar stuff, though. A- / $90

Don Pancho Origenes Rare Rum 30 Years Old – Thirty years, whoa. It’s hard to believe that rum can mature effectively this far out, but Don Pancho knows his stuff. This is rum nirvana as near as I can tell. The nose tempers some of the hogo character of the “younger” Don Pancho expressions, offering a purer brown sugar and molasses character flecked with cinnamon and cloves. The body is drinking just perfectly, almost Christmassy with notes of toffee and vanilla layered over ginger cake and sugar cookies. There’s just a touch of that coffee and root beer character on the finish, which adds a layer of nuance to a rum that already smacks of perfection even without that little afterthought. Gorgeous. A+ / $425

terlatowines.com

Review: Bully Boy Distillers Hub Punch

Bully Boy Hub Punch Bottle

Bully Boy is a Boston-based craft distiller that makes vodka, rum, and white whiskey… and which also makes this oddity: The Hub Punch. What’s Hub Punch? Bully Boy explains:

Inspired by the original Hub Punch recipe popular in the late 1800’s, Bully Boy Hub Punch, our barrel aged rum infused with fruits and botanicals, revives a historic Boston tradition that was a casualty of Prohibition. Originally concocted at the now defunct Hub Hotel, Bostonians typically enjoyed Hub Punch mixed with soda water, ginger ale, or lemonade. Bully Boy consulted a variety of historical accounts of Hub Punch to craft a spirit that pays homage to the traditional recipe and spirit of the pre-prohibition era Boston. Bully Boy Hub Punch is fruit forward with the botanicals providing tea-like undertones ideal for mixing with both dry and sweet mixing agents.

So, it’s essentially a high-proof cocktail in a bottle, rum flavored with citrus, fruit, and botanicals. Think of it as a rum-based sangria and you’re pretty close.

The Hub Punch is a deep garnet spirit, and taken neat it’s pretty overwhelming. Intense fruit overtones push it into the realm of cough syrup, extremely cloying and medicinal, with intense licorice overtones. Ice alone helps temper the spirit, as does some plain water (other mixer ideas are outlined above). Cooling things down helps to bring out The Hub Punch’s more interesting nuances, including chocolate notes, cinnamon, raisin, and plenty of that licorice note. There’s still a whole lot of sweetness here, with the fruit and root beer notes ultimately growing on you the way a bottomless pitcher of sangria does.

Funky.

70 proof.

B / $30 / bullyboydistillers.com

Review: Sugar Skull Rum

sugar skull rum

Here’s a new batch of rums, comprising five flavored expressions. Sugar Skull is made from can sourced throughout the Caribbean and South America and distilled in the Caribbean (the company doesn’t say where) in a column still. The final product is blended and flavored in the U.S. before bottling in dia de los muertes inspired decanters.

Five expressions are being produced, all of which are flavored to some degree (even the silver rum, see below). We checked out three of them for review. Thoughts follow.

Sugar Skull Rum Tribal Silver – Flavored with “a slight essence of cocoa and vanilla.” The flavoring agents mainly serve to soften this rum a bit, giving it a clearer vanilla spin, particularly on the palate. Hints of coconut (more so than chocolate) emerge on the back end. The nose is less distinct and hotter than the above might indicate, with more traditional rum funk throughout. The body seems tailor-made for mixing, however, and would excel with a simple cola or in a tropical concoction. 80 proof. 

Sugar Skull Rum Mystic Vanilla – This rum features “natural vanilla overtones” … but “overtones” is a bit light for the vanilla bomb in store for drinkers of this ultra-punchy spirit. Very sugary on the nose, with marshmallow overtones. These carry through to the palate, which doesn’t so much come across as vanilla as it does liquified rock candy. It ventures way too far into candyland for my palate… but hey, at least it has “sugar” in the name. 80 proof.

Sugar Skull Rum Native Coconut Blend – At first I thought the back label — “infused with a slight aroma of wild blueberries” — was a typo, but this seems to be on point: This coconut rum also has a touch of blueberry in it, too, making for a weirdly unexpected fruit kick atop a base of traditionally sweetened coconut “party rum”. The berries hit the nose more than the palate, which is heavily sugared and clearly designed to be used as something like half of your pina colada. The berry notes make a return appearance on the finish, which they impact in a strangely unctuous and lingering way. 42 proof. 

each $28 / sugarskullrum.com

Review: Far North Spirits Solveig Gin and Alander Spiced Rum

solveig ginYou’re a Minnesota-based craft distiller that names its products after Scandinavian words. For your first two products, what do you release? You nailed it: Gin and spiced rum, just what our friends from the north are known for!

Kidding aside, Far North (technically Får North, which would be pronounced “for north,” but never mind) produces craft spirits in some really beautiful, minimalist, Scanditastic packaging. While the company now boasts five spirits in its stable, here’s a look at the first two out of the gate.

Far North Spirits Solveig Gin – Pronounced soul-vai. Distilled from Minnesota rye and flavored with juniper, grapefruit, thyme, and other undisclosed botanicals. This is an update on our original review, which we removed when Far North said we received a bad batch of its gin tainted by problems from a bad water purifier. With round two, I’m not noticing any of the funky, methane-and-rubber characteristics I got in the bad batch. Rather, this bottle of Solveig is surprisingly light and almost tart on the nose — with notes of lemongrass, grapefruit, mixed florals, and white pepper coming to the fore. Some earthier elements emerge on the nose with time in glass. The juniper is dialed way back from start to finish, though; some gin drinkers may find this pushed too far into the citrus world, and some lavender notes, particularly strong on the body, are not going to be for everyone. But the fruitier elements are engaging and refreshing, just dusted a bit with perfume to take things to a clean and enchanting finish. 87 proof. B+ / $30

Far North Spirits Alander Spiced Rum – (oh-lander) Louisiana sugar cane spiced with vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves — plus a hint of espresso(!). This is a much more capable spirit, but it’s incredibly exotic for this category. Things start out with gentle sweetness before diving into some exceptionally sultry, savory spice notes. That espresso hits you immediately — more cocoa nib than ground coffee — while the cloves and allspice play a strong supporting role. The body is far more bitter than you might expect from a spiced rum, almost to the point of astringency at times. It takes some doing, but the finish manages to dial it back a bit. Here, gentle notes of sweetness finally re-emerge, the way a bite of too much cinnamon can initially be overwhelming but eventually settle down into something nostalgic and soothing. 86 proof. B / $30

farnorthspirits.com

Tasting with Branded Spirts: Hana Gin, Motu Rum, HM Blended Scotch, and Majeste Cognac

Majeste_XO_White Background

Treasure Island, California-based Branded Spirits recently sent us its Arctic Fox Vodka for review… then they stopped by with more — everything the company is currently producing, in fact. Originally a major exporter to China — where it once held the license to sell Heineken beer — it’s now making a bigger, broader push for the U.S. as well.

We tasted through four additional products from Branded, including a gin, rum, Scotch, and Cognac. The company promises more goodies to come, including a single malt and some vintage Cognacs, to boot.

All spirits are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Hana Gin – Triple distilled (presumably from corn, like Arctic Fox Vodka), this gin is infused with just four botanicals: Albanian juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, and lavender. The lavender note is quite fragrant up front, leading to a floral-driven nose. Juniper is big on the finish, but modest medicinal notes creep in as the finish fades. B / $20

Motu Rum – Distilled from Polynesian molasses, then rested in used French oak barrels for two months. A hint of hogo up front, with some agricole character at first. The rum sweetens out as the body builds, offering tropical and coconut notes. Quite chewy, with a lasting, slightly fruity finish. Quite unique and sophisticated for this price level. Some proceeds go to support Tongan conservation charities. A- / $20

HM The King Blended Scotch Whisky – A Highland style blend which includes some peated malt along with other Highland malts mingled with Lowland grain whisky. Leather saddle notes start off what develops into a rustic nose, with a slight smokiness and plenty of earth. The body offers honey and toffee, plus some floral elements, making for a spirit with two faces — brooding and leathery on the nose, but sweeter and gentler on the palate. Curious. B+ / $25

Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO – A 10-plus year old Cognac sourced from Dupuy Bache-Gabrielsen in Cognac. Delightfully minty on the nose, followed by the expected raisin notes, plus hints of cloves. The body builds to a sultry, leathery note, studded with tobacco character but balanced with fruit, lots of sweetness — a bit of vanilla, with some burnt marshmallow — and a perfectly crafted finish that pushes out gingerbread, baking spice, and a bounty of those sultry raisins. Great stuff. A / $110

brandedspirits.com

Review: Cachaca 51

Cachaca-51Cachaca 51 is the best-selling brand of cachaca in Brazil, the home of this unique sugarcane-based spirit. That may not sound like a big deal, but according to the producer, they sell 240 million liters of the stuff annually, which makes it the second-biggest-selling spirits brand in the world. (Independent research does not seem to bear this out, but that’s largely irrelevant to our cause here — which is how it actually tastes.)

Cachaca 51 has the traditional fuel-like pungency of cachaca up front, but it’s folded in with some interesting notes of lime zest and lemongrass, tempering the petrol overtones considerably. The body is a bit sweeter than most cachacas, offering notes of light brown sugar, spearmint, and more citrus fruits — lime, especially — on the back end.

The palate is on the thin side and the finish is a bit saccharine, but mixed into a caipirinha or, well, anything else, that might actually work to its advantage.

80 proof.

B+ / $17 (1 liter) / geminispiritswine.com