Review: Ron Diplomatico Planas and Mantuano

Our friends at Ron Diplomatico are releasing two new expressions, part of the company’s brand new “Tradition Range” and both a little lower down the price totem than the flagship Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva, and each with a different purpose. These Venezuelan rums couldn’t be more different from one another… so read on for some reviews.

Ron Diplomatico Planas – This is a white rum (with a slight shade of yellow to it) that is aged up to six years, then charcoal filtered to strip the color out. As delicate and delightful a white rum as you’re likely to find, the rum starts off with a heady amount of alcohol, masking sweet notes of coconut and a hint of lemon. The palate is on the sweet side (but not overly so), dosed with coconut, pineapple, and a kick of licorice on the back end. This gives the otherwise fairly straightforward rum a bit of a spicy kick, with just a hint of lime peel lingering on the back end. A worthy choice as your new house white rum for making daiquiris and mojitos. 94 proof. A- / $29

Ron Diplomatico Mantuano – This is a dark rum (and a fairly dusky one at that) with a more burly profile than Exclusiva. Aged up to eight years, it’s got some coffee, cinnamon, and cloves on the nose — along with some raisin notes. Quite savory on the tongue — those bitching about Exclusiva being too sweet can check this out — the coffee notes filter down to dusky charcoal, barrel char, some raisin, and a bit of dark chocolate. Sugar is almost an afterthought here. If you like your rum chewy and filtered through the dank haze of wood, this is your jam. For me though, it’s a bit one-note. 80 proof. B / $24

rondiplomatico.com

Review: Havana Club Tributo 2017

The second rum in Cuba-based Havana Club‘s Tributo Collection has hit shelves, but not many of them: Just 2500 bottles of this expression will be released globally.

We missed out on Tributo 2016 but were excited to land a sample of the new release. The company explains a bit about why it’s so special.

Havana Club Tributo 2017 has been crafted by Asbel Morales, Havana Club Maestro del Ron Cubano, from a new blend of hand-selected base rums and a decades-old ‘aguardiente’ – or spirit base. The ‘aguardiente’ is at the heart of this rum, and has been enhanced by maturation in barrels that are over 80 years old. The result is an exceptional rum with a distinctive dry note and an intriguing array of flavours, highlighting and paying homage to the finest Cuban sugar cane. The 2017 edition is bottled at 40% abv, with an amber glow and flavours of chocolate, tobacco and coffee.

This unique blend of Havana Club’s exceptional rum reserves honours the passion and knowledge of the Maestros del Ron Cubano, a role that has recently been declared a Cultural Patrimony of the Cuban nation by the Culture Ministry in Cuba. As such, each bottle of Havana Club Tributo is individually numbered and adorned with the signature of Havana Club Maestro del Ron Cubano, Asbel Morales. The outer packaging will entice rum connoisseurs and spirits drinkers alike with luxury green gold cues evoking the sugar cane lands used for generations in the production of authentic Cuban rum.

A sultry experience from the start, this rum offers an impressively deep aroma that mingles Madeira wine with coffee, tobacco, and toffee. This is the barrel doing nearly all the talking, intense and well-integrated wood notes doing the heavy lifting for that fortified wine character that only comes with many years of mellowing in cask. The palate is just as complex and rarefied, loading up immediately with flavors that run from coffee bean and dark chocolate to dried raspberry and green banana. The overwhelming flavor element throughout all of this is a slightly smoky blend of vanilla and caramel, not too sweet as it laces in notes of coconut en route to a finish that echoes more dark (very dark) chocolate. It all comes together quite beautifully, lingering on the tongue for ages and demanding significant thought and analysis.

All told, this is an enchanting and beguiling rum that can go toe to toe in terms of the complexity with some of the world’s most enigmatic spirits, including well-aged Cognac and Scotch whisky. If you happen to encounter a bottle in your travels, strongly consider picking it up (despite the hefty price tag).

80 proof.

A / $390 / havana-club.com

Review: Cooper River Petty’s Island Rums and Cooper & Vine Brandy

Cooper River Distillers is the first legal distillery in Camden, NJ — ever! This outfit produced its first product, a rum, in 2014, and since then it’s been adding more rum expressions, brandy, and whiskey. We received a variety pack from the company — three rums and its brandy — and put them all to the test in the writeups that follow.

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum – Pot-distilled white rum (unaged) made from a “custom blend of molasses.” Funky and pungent, but with a distinct sweetness underneath the initial notes of leather and burlap. It’s not the usual tropical fruit character but rather a floral-driven note that evokes notes of hibiscus, grapefruit peel, and cinnamon-scented tapioca. Lots going on, with a somewhat muddy direction. 90 proof. B- / $25

Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum – Take the Petty’s Island white rum base, “then we age it on toasted applewood for a month, add all-natural cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger, coffee, and allspice before finally sweetening Driftwood Dream just a tad with the same molasses we use as the base for all of our rums.” Incredibly dark color, and the molasses added comes through immediately. This, and some ginger notes, overwhelm all the other flavors, though a hint of coffee on the finish is both fun and quite unique spiced rum. Gingersnap in a bottle — that’s the gist — with a boozy edge. The more I sip on this, the more I fall in love with it. 80 proof. A / $32

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum Rye Oak Reserve – Here’s the white rum aged for 13 to 16 months in charred, white oak barrels previously used for Cooper’s rye whiskey. Though amber in color, it’s still quite brash. Butterscotch notes hit the nose, along with hints of coconut and plenty of ethanol heat. On the palate, the raw alcohol notes tend to dominate, incompletely covering up the funky underpinnings of the white rum, thick with raw forest floor notes, pungent tobacco, and just a hint of spice — the only real indication of the rye whiskey barrel. 90 proof. B- / $39

Cooper River Cooper & Vine Garden State Brandy – Lastly, this is a brandy (made from New Jersey-sourced pinot grigio wine) that is aged for about 18 months in 15 gallon barrels — some new oak, some previously used for Cooper’s rum and rye — all blended together in the end. This is a rustic, very young brandy that is loaded with simplistic granary notes, raw alcohol, and blunt fruit notes, the finish offering heat and plenty of vegetal overtones. Nothing much to see at this young age. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. C- / $37

cooperriverdistillers.com

Review: Spytail Black Ginger Rum

Rum from France? Who knew? Biggar & Leith is an independent spirits merchant that brings us this unique product, a Caribbean rum that is aged with fresh ginger root and spices in the barrel. Based on a 19th century French recipe, the aging, spicing, and blending all takes place at a small family distillery in the Cognac region. Caramel color is added (and it’s a dark spirit), per the label.

What’s a Spytail? Says the company, “Spytail is named after a legendary submarine — plans for which were discovered by our distillers. The first mechanical submarines in the world were invented in France — and tested on the Charente River which flows nearby our distillery. These were the submarines which Jules Vernes used as the inspiration for his famous novel — 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”

As for the rum, they ain’t lying about the ginger. This is powerful, loaded with fresh ginger notes, starting with a powerful punch of the stuff on the nose. Secondary notes of vanilla and cloves can’t hold a candle to the bold ginger character, which creates a headily aromatic attack from the get-go. You almost have to recover to really dig into the palate, which — you guessed it — is filled with ginger character as well. Here the pungency from the ginger melts into notes of chocolate, caramel, coconut, and some raisin character… all very lush and exotic, but tempered by the ginger spice, which lingers for ages as the finish develops.

This is fun stuff, miles away from your Captain Morgan, and something anyone who professes to be a spiced rum fan needs to pick up, pronto.

84 proof.

A / $20 / biggarandleith.com

Review: Humboldt Distillery Spiced Rum

Humboldt Distillery is best known (to me, anyway) for its hemp flavored vodka. But Humboldt also makes a rum, organic and well spiced. The rum is double distilled; once in a column still, once in a pot still. There’s no information on aging or the spices used in the flavoring process.

The golden/amber rum is relatively light in color, but it presents a very rich and powerful nose. Aromas include notes of butter cookies, molasses, cloves, and a pungent note of chewing tobacco. The palate has some roughness around the edges — clearly this is a younger rum — but is nonetheless full of flavor. Ample vanilla, brown butter, lots of cinnamon and cloves — this is the classic stuff of spiced rum, but with the sweetness dialed back a bit and the toasty/bready notes given an upgrade.

The finish finds a return to the rum’s rustic roots, alongside some notes of green banana, coconut, and smoldering spice. If you’re looking for a spiced rum that goes beyond mere flavors of cinnamon-flecked brown sugar, this is one to check out.

B+ / $26 / humboldtdistillery.com

Review: Warship Rum

Warship Rum is a sourced spirit that originally hails from Paraguay, where it is made from fair-trade, organic blackstrap molasses. That rum is shipped at 189.5 proof in drums to Portland, Oregon, where proprietor (and Canadian native) Olivier Beaulieu-Grise brings it down to 80 proof and filters it, then hand-bottles the finished product. The rum is otherwise bottled as is, without aging, and without any added sugar (but with a fancy paper wrapper).

As you might expect, the nose on this uncolored rum has the funk of an unaged white rum, heavy with notes of decaying vegetation, overripe fruit, and white vinegar notes. It’s a youthful slap to the face, but the body offers much more finesse: cutting the hogo with the silky sweetness of spun sugar, tropical fruit, coconut-studded chocolate bars, and even a bit of raspberry jam. The finish is a banana bomb, with hints of burlap-like coconut husk.

For an unaged white rum, Warship shows a surprising depth and versatility that merits some exploration.

80 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #2.

B+ / $22 / warshiprum.com

Life in a Post-Bourbon World: Predicting the Next Big Thing in Booze

It’s no secret that bourbon has been the It Spirit for a good few years now. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is how pretty much no one saw it coming. One needs to only look at the vast amount of supply shortages today to see just how unprepared most of the market was. Here’s a fun exercise. Go into your local store and ask them if they have any Weller, Eagle Rare, or even Very Old Barton. Their thousand yard stare, coupled with the nervous tick in the corner of their eye will tell you all you need to know about the current state of things.

Reports and predictions of the “bourbon bubble” bursting have so far been premature. It seems that—at least for now—for every one person who tires of the hunt, there are ten more ready and willing to take their place in line for the latest limited release. I’m not here to predict when that will end, because it’s already proven to be a pointless exercise. However, what can be a fun prediction is guessing what will follow bourbon as the almighty “next big thing.” So let’s take a look at a few spirits, and the reasons why they will — or won’t — usurp bourbon’s place at the top of the hype pedestal. For each of these four, we’re also including the all-important “Van Winkle Factor” — wherein we ask whether there is a singular product which will drive said hype train and become the bane of existence to liquor store employees everywhere.

1. Rum

For years now, rum has been talked about over and over again as being the next big spirit.

Why it Will Succeed:

Rum has a lot of crossover appeal to the bourbon fan. Many rums share a lot of the same flavor components with bourbon — vanilla, caramel, and good old-fashioned barrel spice — though with a slightly softer and sweeter side rum has the potential to appeal to an even broader audience. I have myself, and have heard many others refer to it as “summertime whiskey,” a product which delivers a lot of the same flavor notes but without the warming heat of whiskey. It’s easy and delicious. Plus, the rebirth of tiki drinks and island culture has pushed the importance of specific rum types into the minds of consumers everywhere.

Why it Won’t:

First and foremost, rum has an issue with age statements. Countries like Jamaica and Barbados require an age statement consistent with what most U.S. consumers understand, the age on the label is representative of the youngest spirit in the blend. But rum comes from so many places beyond those two countries, and in those countries age stating is much more vague. Two brands that represent this better than most are Ron Zacapa and Zaya. Ron Zacapa uses a solera aging system which puts a vague average of “23” on their entry level bottle. Zaya recently changed their bottles from saying “12 years” to now indicating that it is now a blend of 12 aged rums. It’s a clever switch of phrasing that makes marketing departments proud but makes many consumers roll their eyes. Also, and here is the obvious, rum has been talked about as the next big thing for quite a while and hasn’t really taken off. Maybe rum’s popularity as it is now is just where it is going to be. Maybe we have already reached peak rum and we are just fooling ourselves that it is going to keep growing.

Van Winkle Effect:

Does rum have that one big bottle? The one which people will wait in line for, the one which will inspire countless Instagram posts with jealous responses? It just might. The Caroni Rum Distillery has been closed or 15 years. Bottles still pop up from time to time from independent bottlers. This may be more of a correlation to a bottle of A.H. Hirsch than a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, but bottles of this rum seem to pop up and disappear quite quickly.

2. Mezcal

Why It Will Succeed:

Tequila’s funky, and smoky, compadre has been king of the mixology world for a couple years now. Not since the concept of “pre-Prohibition” have we seen such an obvious inspiration for so many new bars. In one Chicago neighborhood alone, I can count at least three new mezcal specific bars that have opened up in the last year. Yet it persists. A few weeks ago my social media feed was full of one friend’s picture of a mezcal flight, another drinking a mezcal old fashioned, and another commenting on the addition of a new bar a block from their apartment. All of this is without mentioning that mezcal has sotol and raicilla, new Mexican spirits, to bolster its rise in the same way that rye whiskey did for bourbon.

Why It Won’t:

The barrier of entry to mezcal knowledge is quite difficult for even the more advanced drinker. The variation on types of plants mezcal can use and the 8 different regions where they can all come from can create a dizzying combination of recipes and styles. While this is a wonderful thing for adventurous drinkers, it limits the amount of direct bottle to bottle comparison and debate over what is the best, which was a key component to the rise of bourbon. While mezcal may be the current king of the cocktail world, that hasn’t quite yet translated over into bottle sales.

Van Winkle Effect:

Del Maguey’s Single Village series seems to be the obvious choice here. They were among the first to push mezcal as something more than just the thing with the worm or scorpion in the bottom of the bottle. Also they fully embraced the extra funk that is the pechuga style of hanging a chicken carcass in the still for some extra gameyness. To be honest though, mezcal is the current and future king of the cocktail world, but it will have a hard time transitioning into actual off-premise consumer sales.

3. Armagnac

Why It Will Succeed:

There is an old adage which states that all old punk singers become country singers. In the same way, all old whiskey drinkers become Armagnac drinkers. It turns out that while Cognac has been all the rage, it has had a southern neighbor which has offered more value for the money all along. While both Cognac and Armagnac are grape brandies, the big difference lies in the use of the Baco and Colombard grapes. Baco is a big deal in terms of difference, it is a grape variety which can only be grown in the Armagnac region and can only be used for distillation. Also, Cognac opts for double distillation while Armagnac goes for single. Just think of Armagnac as Cognac’s rustic cousin. Only in this regard “rustic” means that bottles can be packed with complex and wonderful flavor.

Why It Won’t:

It certainly doesn’t help that the average consumer still has a hard time understanding what Armagnac is. Couple that with the fact that the TV. show Chopped recently referred to Armagnac as an “apple brandy” and you get the idea of the hill this delightful spirit needs to climb.

Van Winkle Effect:

There are stores you can walk into where you can buy a Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac which was distilled in 1865. Those types of stocks are extremely rare and should instantly spark the attention of any collector. Outside of that you have producers like Chateau de Laubade and Darroze, which have lots to offer that will happily turn heads.

4. Irish Whiskey

Why It Will Succeed:

Irish whiskey has been one of the fastest growing spirit categories in the world over the last few years — mainly because its sales started off so small. What has been a predominantly homogenized category is currently exploding with new offerings. Look no further than the style of single pot still Irish whiskey for a style of whiskey that is unique to the country that started it all. As well, there is no shortage of Jameson drinkers that are looking for something more premium and more unique. For ages all of your Irish whiskey came from one of four distilleries: Midleton, Cooley, Bushmills, and Kilbeggan. Since 2014 there are now 32 running and proposed distilleries in Ireland.

Why It Won’t:

Irish whiskey has a slight image problem. There are many consumers who have for very long looked at it as predominantly for shots. To many whiskey drinkers it can be seen as plain and boring. The heavy influx of new distilleries and producers putting out new and varying products is already starting to combat these attitudes, but it remains more a question of when change will take place.

Van Winkle Effect:

One need look no further than the relative disappearance from shelves of the Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve to see how stocks of older Irish whiskey are becoming squeezed. Releases like the Redbreast Lustau Edition and the Midleton Barry Crocket Edition are helping keep the hype chatter up.

In Conclusion:

Here is the thing with bourbon. Seemingly every major bourbon distillery is expanding in some form, be it actual distilling space or simply just more warehouses to store more barrels. According to some reports, companies like Beam-Suntory are filling almost 500,000 barrels a year, which to us means only one important thing, the big producers don’t see an immediate end in Bourbon’s expansion. In fact they are looking forward to numbers that only continue to grow. And as younger distilleries across the country are able to start bringing new and more mature products to the market the demand will be there.

So yes, maybe it is poor form to say that the next big thing after bourbon is bourbon. But I’m OK with that. Because if it’s something else it will probably be mezcal, or rum, or Armagnac, or Irish whiskey.

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