Make It a Boozy Christmas with Secret Spirits’ Advent Calendars

There’s no shortage of booze-centric Christmas gifts out there, but short of giving your loved ones a bottle of Pappy, one of the most exciting presents is an Advent calendar full of miniature bottles. The idea, in case you’re not in the know, is to open one little package on each day leading up to December 25th (typically starting on December 1st), after which you’ve enjoyed a full month of holiday fun. It really lets you enjoy the holiday in full.

Quite a few spirits-oriented Advent calendars are on the market, and the folks at Secret Spirits offers a variety of options, with a heavy focus on whiskey and rum.

The company sent us a sample from its two latest collections. Here’s some information on both:

Secret Spirits Scotch Whisky Advent Calendars ($600) feature 25 Scotch whiskies personally selected and sourced from some of the top independent bottlers in Scotland. The regions of Islay, Highlands, Speyside, Lowlands, Islands and Campbelltown are all represented. With a focus in Single Malt the Advent Calendars also offer a chance to explore the entire range of Scotch Whisky styles including, Blended malts, Single Grain and Blended Scotch. Half the whiskies are generally 18 years and above with day 25 topping 30 years old.

The Rums Revenge 1st edition ($350) showcases 12 premium limited edition rums including Molasses and Agricole styles from Grenada, Canada, USA, Barbados, Trinidad, Martinique, Reunion, Fiji, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, Guyana and Jamaica. The collection is housed in a Rum’s Revenge Pirate chest, along with a skull glass, a wax sealed treasure map which will lead consumers on a hunt for hidden rums using the Rum’s Revenge ship in a bottle.

The packaging (see above) is pretty cool, and while Secret Spirits didn’t send us the whole shebang (so I can’t comment on the overall quality of what’s in the mix), we did get one sample from each of those lineups. Here are some specific thoughts on the two samples.

From the Scotch Whisky Calendar – Day 20 is a fun Samaroli bottling of a Glentauchers 1996 17 Years Old, this is a vibrant and lively whisky that offers a classic SPEYSIDE nose of caramel, vanilla, and spice, with a palate infused with milk chocolate, pipe tobacco, and lingering coconut notes. A lush and fun bottle from one of my favorite indie bottlers of all time. 90 proof. A-

From the Rums Revenge Calendar – Note that this collection comprises just 12 rums, not 25. The Jamaican Rhapsody Rum (day unknown) is also a Samaroli bottling, and it’s a young spirit that drinks with the funk of a pot still and the vibrancy of youth, but is tempered by enough time in the barrel to give it some vanilla-dusted gravity. This is a surprisingly fun and lively rum which I wouldn’t have pegged based on its relatively light color. 90 proof. A- 

secretspirits.com

Review: Mad River Maple Cask Rum and PX Rum

Mad River Distillers is based in Warren, Vermont, where it was founded in 2011 by John Egan, Brett Little, and Maura Connolly to produce high-quality, handcrafted spirits using locally-sourced, non-GMO ingredients and local spring water. The company now has four rums, three whiskeys, and a brandy in its lineup — and more stuff is on the way.

Our first encounter with Mad River looks at two of its rums. Let’s dig in.

Mad River Maple Cask Rum – This is a rum made from demerara sugar, aged in charred oak barrels then finished in spirit barrels that previously held maple syrup. Initially quite rustic, this rum eventually sheds some of its aromas of burlap, raw wood, and mushroom to reveal more layered aromas of licorice, raisin, and Eastern spices. There’s nothing much in the realm of maple syrup here, as the palate is on the raw side, pungent with greener vegetal notes and oily petrol, but here the rum also opens up given some time to reveal a reprise of sweet licorice plus bitter amaro, juicy prune, and a touch of ginger on the finish. Interesting — but ultimately rough — stuff. 92 proof. B / $36

Mad River PX Rum Limited Edition – Same deal as Maple Cask, only the finishing barrel is a Pedro Ximenez sherry barrel, quite unusual for rum. Rich and nutty, this is the opposite of Maple Cask in that the sherry is evident right from the start, with a nutty, wine-scented aroma that overlays a funky interior. The palate is in keeping with the nose, a pungent and forceful collection of flavors that coalesce into notes of raisin, fig, and sharp tobacco notes, with a finish that exudes cloves, nutmeg, and well-torched sugar. This is again an intense rum with tons of flavor, but here the balance is better, and the overall character is so unique that it’s hard to put down. 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $42

madriverdistillers.com

Review: Don Papa Rum

The Philippines isn’t exactly known for rum, but why not? It’s hot, they’ve got sugar, and now they’ve got their own rum finally making it to the U.S. — Don Papa.

Filipino rum is a bit of a different animal, however, than you might be used to. I didn’t read up on this before tasting, but here’s the back story:

Don Papa Rum carries the long-standing traditions of Filipino rum making as a first-rate, expressive liquid that has amassed a cult-like following with spirits enthusiasts and industry insiders – a testament to its ability to transcend the rum category. The complex and delicious tasting rum offers a new taste that rum drinkers, brown spirit aficionados and newcomers to the spirit category can all enjoy.

The field to bottle process required to perfect “The Don” is no simple task. Don Papa Rum is handcrafted on the ethereal Philippine island of Negros, also known as “Sugarlandia,” where the lush, fertile land allows the sugarcane to flourish. The ancient sugar mills of Negros grind the Noble Cane, the original variety of sugar cane in Southeast Asia dating back thousands of years ago. This variant is much sweeter than others and transforms into the special “black gold” molasses used in Don Papa. These ingredients are then distilled and aged up to seven years in an ultra-humid climate, intensifying the interaction between the rum and the American oak barrels, drawing out the vanilla notes from the wood.

The key in all of that is that this Filipino sugar cane is sweeter than other strains. Tuck into Don Papa and you’ll soon see that’s no exaggeration. (The rum has no formal age statement but, as noted above, it’s “up to seven years” old.)

It starts right from the nose. Unlike most Caribbean rums, which are driven by vanilla notes, Don Papa is overwhelmingly fruity, featuring tons of orange, some coconut notes, banana, and a tropical hint. You can smell how powerful the sugar is — it exudes sweetness with a distinct candylike character.

The palate arrives much as expected. That candy-coated fruit character endures, here folding in some mint, more toasted coconut, and a bit of strawberry into that orange-dominated body. The finish eventually sees a bit of astringency (that classic petrol note so common with rum) that the sugar can’t quite cover up, though frankly, given the overwhelming rush of sweetness that comes before, this rustic character is almost a relief.

Tread with caution lest you go into diabetic shock.

80 proof.

B- / $36 / donpaparum.com

Review: Arome True Rum 28 Years Old

When you’re sipping on a 7 year old rum, you’re feeling pretty good. 14 years? 21? Fuggedaboudit.

Now comes Arome: A limited edition rum that’s 28 years old, just 500 unique bottles produced by yacht broker cum spirits maven Andrew Troyer.

How about some details about Arome:

The ARÔME 28 Founder’s Reserve is a limited production, 28 year aged sipping rum.  ARÔME 28 was created in the traditional Cuban orthodox style of rum making by a rum mastero with over 50 years of experience producing, studying, and perfecting rum. ARÔME 28 is a Panamanian produced rum which has been aged for no less than 28 years in white oak casks formerly used to age Kentucky bourbon.   ARÔME 28 is produced from estate grown sugar cane, where the rum is distilled at the source, barreled, aged, blended, and bottled.

This rum is as a well-aged and austere as you would expect from a spirit a whopping 28 years old. On the nose, notes of coffee hit first, then leather, cloves, tobacco leaf, and salted caramel. The vanilla comes across more as pure extract than, say, cake frosting — almost as savory in its intensity as it is sweet.

The palate is milder than expected, surprisingly light caramel, butterscotch, and milk chocolate notes leading the way to a flood of more intense vanilla, some orange peel, and, as the finish develops, more of those lighter chocolate notes. For a rum this old, it’s surprisingly light on its feet, with tons of butterscotch and gingerbread on the finish, along with a bit of coffee and some Madeira notes. Sure, 28 years of aging time may sound like overkill for any rum, but Arome is definitively far from “over-aged” — in fact, it’s hard to imagine a rum of any age drinking more spot-on than this.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001, bottle #183 of 500 produced.

A / $600 / rumarome.com

Review: Baron Samedi Spiced Rum

There’s a great story behind Baron Samedi then man — he’s the legendary master of the dead in Haiti, “the ever-cool and confident guide to a world shrouded in shadows and riddled with enigma.” (He’s also the henchman to the big bad in Live and Let Die, if you’re a Bond fan.)

Baron Samedi the rum is a different animal, a highly-sweetened spiced rum made from a mixed base. Some deets:

The Baron Samedi Spiced Rum is a carefully crafted, supernatural spirit. Made with high-quality rums from the Caribbean, the Baron Samedi includes a small amount of Jamaican pot still rum for depth of flavor. All natural spices — cocoa, cinnamon, and clove — are steeped into the rum, which is then blended with vanilla and an exotic spice from the Baron’s native Haiti.

An exotic spice, eh? Well, let’s give Baron Samedi a sampling.

The nose of this rum is exceedingly sweet but also almost overwhelming with its chocolate, cinnamon, and clove notes — all three present and accounted for as promised — with plenty of vanilla backing that up. The palate is, as expected, quite sweet — almost unbearably so on first blush — the vanilla melding with brown sugar and some nutmeg to create an almost Christmas-like character on the tongue. The finish recalls hot buttered rum — the 90 proof base giving it more of an oily character than you typically get in a spiced rum — with ample nutmeg dusting the top. Of course, all of that is mere prologue to the main event: Sugar, and lots of it, lingering like melted caramels and well-packed, light brown sugar, both of which just undulate over the palate for what seems like days.

If this wasn’t so sweet, Baron Samedi might stand as an excellent example of how flavorful spiced rum can be. Unfortunately, the sugar doctor has been so generous with the Baron that ultimately that’s all one can really grab onto here.

90 proof.

B- / $15 / baronsamedi.com

Review: Twisted Path Vodka, Gins, and Rums

Twisted Path Distillery can be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it’s been making organic spirits “entirely from scratch” since 2014. The company is churning out a growing line of products from what appears to be a hybrid pot still — again, all certified organic.

We tasted five. Thoughts follow.

Twisted Path Vodka – Grainy on the nose, more akin to a white whiskey than a vodka (though Twisted Path is rather proud of its residual character). Aromatic overtones of burlap and hazelnut shells lead to a palate that is largely in line with what’s come before, though a sweetness emerges in time to give the whole affair a finish that isn’t unlike that of peanut butter. Strange, to be sure. 80 proof. Batch #23. B / $35

Twisted Path Gin – Twisted Path’s vodka, at 100 proof, is infused with “11 organic botanicals including honeybush, cinnamon, and vapor-infused hops.” And yet, all of that doesn’t do much to push the character of the underlying vodka base out of the picture — rustic grains and more of those nut husk notes, which percolate through some lighter secondary notes of pink peppercorns, hints of rosemary, a bit of baking spice, and a final punch that hints at coffee bean. Not a traditional gin by any stretch — with, again, more in common with white whiskey than anything else. 92 proof. Batch #19. B / $35

Twisted Path White Rum – This “slow distilled” rum is a curiosity that steps away from Caribbean styles, folding together that classic white rum funk with some subtler and more refined notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel — none of which you typically see in a rum that hasn’t seen any barrel time. At the same time, its rustic underpinnings are tough to ignore. The finish sees ample petrol notes pushing through and lingering on the tongue. 90 proof. Batch #9. B / $35

Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin – Batch #1 of Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin was rested in a once-used, 53-gallon charred American Oak Barrel that previously housed TP’s Dark Rum (see below). Says the company: “This barrel was originally intended for a batch of whiskey but every once in a while we will utilize a raw cask for rum aging. That batch of rum sat for a little over a year and once removed, we filled it with our 11 botanical gin at around 112 proof.  We entered the barrel at slightly lower proof to prevent the rum cask from becoming too dominant.  The gin sat for almost 8 months before bottling.” It’s got a light amber color to it that proves it spent a decent amount of time in oak. That said, there’s no getting away from that grainy, white whiskey-like nose, though the palate finds the botanical bill filtered through caramel into a curious blend of licorice, molasses, and cloves. This is a more interesting spirit than the unaged gin, with a lot going on in it, featuring a sultry finish that is surprising and unique in this space. 92 proof. Batch #1. B+ / $NA

Twisted Path Dark Rum – Here the white rum is aged in whiskey barrels, for an indeterminate time. Designed as a sipping rum, this is the most successful spirit in the lineup. The whiskey barrel aging gives the rum a rounded character not present in the white rum, infusing notes of coffee bean, sweet licorice, nutmeg, and a hint of gunpowder. It’s that licorice that endures the longest — a sweet but unique candy character that hangs on to the finish seemingly forever. I find it enchanting. 90 proof. Batch #19. A- / $38

twistedpathdistillery.com

Review: Don Q Rum Signature Release Single Barrel 2007

2016 saw the release of Don Q’s 2005 vintage rum, its first in a new line of single-barrel releases, and as promised, a 2007 vintage rum is now hitting the shelves.

Like the 2005 vintage release, this is Puerto Rico-born rum, though this release has spent 9 years in barrel (the 2005 spent 10 years aging). And though it’s younger, the rum is clearly darker in color than the 2005 when they’re placed side by side.

It’s quite a different experience, too.

Unlike the gentle 2005, the 2007 is a scorcher on the nose, redolent with notes of petrol, overripe banana, pure vanilla extract, match-heads, and burnt-black wood. The palate is more engaging, a bit burly at first with notes of greenery and banana, then pushing into traditional brown sugar, burnt caramel, and vanilla notes. The finish is rustic, heavy with oak, with a dusting of clove that lingers as said finish fades.

This is a better sipper than the 2005 release, but well worth sampling side by side to experience how different aged rums with otherwise similar provenance can be.

80 proof.

A- / $36 / donq.com

-->