Review: Mount Gay 1703 Master Select Rum (2017)

Barbados’ Mount Gay Rum was launched in 1703, and it reserves the name for its rarest rum, a series launched in 2009 that is now called 1703 Master Select. This has become an annual release that has evolved over time, and 2017’s version is now here. (For example, in 2010 it was known as 1703 Old Cask Selection.)

This year’s rum is “a blend of copper column and copper pot rums from Mount Gay’s oldest reserves – ranging from 10 to 30 year old rums – created and hand-picked by Master Blender Allen Smith.” For 2017, 12,000 bottles or so will be released worldwide.

The rum’s nose is dense and rich, loaded with cloves and dark brown sugar, barrel char and salted licorice. The palate is dry — this isn’t a rum that’s been loaded up with sugar — but along with its more savory elements emerge notes of red fruit and some tropical character, particularly grilled pineapple. On the finish, cinnamon is evident, along with hints of red pepper atop a somewhat winey character.

1703 Master Select becomes more complex and alluring over time, with a light but lingering sweetness that really draws you in. Great stuff.

86 proof.

A- / $150 / mountgayrum.com

Review: By The Dutch Old Genever and Batavia Arrack

Everything old is new again, not only with classic spirits brands returning to the market but also with the revival of long-forgotten types of spirits, too. Among them are genever and Batavia arrack, a type of gin and rum, respectively, which are both resurging in the industry.

By The Dutch is a new brand founded in 2015 “with the purpose of producing traditional spirits with a Dutch heritage. These spirits are distilled and handcrafted primarily in Schiedam, South Holland, a village known as Genever-Town.” The company’s first two releases, Old Genever and Batavia Arrack Indonesian Rum with the U.S. market.

If you need a little primer on genever and arrack, read on:

The origin of English Gin is Dutch Genever. In 1650, Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch doctor, created Dutch Genever as a medicine that was used by soldiers in the Thirty Years War. English troops hailed the spirit for its warming properties and calming effects, thus the phrase, “Dutch Courage.”

Batavia was the name of the capital city of the Dutch East Indies, and corresponds to today’s city of Jakarta. Batavia became the center of the Dutch East India Company trading network in Asia and commerce of Batavia Arrack was entirely in hands of the Dutch VOC. Almost all arrack exported to Europe arrived in Amsterdam or Rotterdam in wooden barrels, where it would then be matured and blended to create a spirit of consistent quality and fine flavor.

And now, for some reviews of these specific expressions:

By The Dutch Old Genever – “A handcrafted blend of pure malt wine and a distillate of Juniper berries and other botanicals, made according to a secret recipe dating back to 1942.” Quite malty on the nose, with heavy hospital notes and overtones of melon, banana, and pineapple. The palate continues the ultra-malty, layering in notes of juniper (quite mild), licorice, and some fleeting notes of cloves. The genever is round on the tongue, but the ultimate flavor profile is quite mild and limited in both its overall power and its interest level. There’s better genever out there. 76 proof. C+ / $27

By The Dutch Batavia Arrack Indonesia Rum – This is “a sugarcane molasses-based distillate produced exclusively on the island of Java, Indonesia. Setting it apart from the standard sugarcane rum is the addition of local red rice in the fermentation process. The Master Blender ages Batavia Arrack in oak barrels for up to 8 years, creating an extremely rich rum, deep in flavor, with a lovely, lingering finish.” On the nose: pungent and “rummy,” with big molasses, burnt sugar, and some forest floor notes. The palate is rough and rustic, a hearty maritime style of rum that kicks off with some briny character and leads to some interesting tropical flavors as well as notes of dark barrel char and heavily toasted spices. The finish is lengthy and reminiscent of cooked vegetables and coconut husk. It’s a curious and often intriguind sipper, but that said, Arrack is rarely drunk on its own; rather, it shows up from time to time in classic cocktail recipes — for which this bottle would seem well-suited. 96 proof. B / $34

bythedutch.com

Review: Avua Cachaca Tapinhoa

Brazil’s Avua is back with another single-estate cachaca, this one a very rare edition called Tapinhoa. Tapinhoa is a dense hardwood found in Brazil, and Tapinhoa is aged for up to two years in a large cask made from this wood. (The Tapinhoã large vertical barrel was initially used by the distiller’s father on the family farm decades ago and after a lengthy recommissioning process and up to two years of aging, Avuá Cachaça restored it in 2013.)

Cachaca fanatics may want to compare the spirit to Avua Amburana, which is aged in barrels made from a different Brazilian wood.

As a reminder, “Avuá Cachaça is organically produced with only renewable energy, with water piped from a natural source to grind the sugarcane, and a boiler for the still that is fired by the residuals of the sugarcane pulp, known as bagasse. The cane, composed of three specifically chosen varietals, is hand-cut, ground with a waterwheel, and fermented for less than 24 hours using airborne wild yeasts, before being distilled in a copper-crafted alembic still.”

Let’s get on to tasting.

The color is the palest of yellow, a clear sign about how hard the Tapinhoa wood is and how little of the spirit is able to penetrate the wood even after two years. The nose has the light petrol character that’s typical of cachaca, but it’s filtered through fresh notes of lemon, mint, and some salty brine. On the tongue, similar notes dominate, with the sharp citrus and herbs quickly segueing to gentle vanilla, coconut, and some curious impression of wood — though not the typical oak — notes. The finish is lightly vegetal with some notes of green beans and steamed broccoli. Late in the game, petrol notes bubble back up — essentially impossible to avoid in any cachaca.

All told it’s a unique entry into the curious world of aged cachaca with a neat story behind it, though its flavor profile is not so unusual as to blow one’s mind.

80 proof. 600 bottles released.

B+ / $73 / avuacachaca.com.br

Review: Lost Spirits Distillery Navy Style Rum (2017)

Lost Spirits (which I’ve written about extensively) never seems to rest, and the company’s scientific obsession with the science of accelerating aging is second to none. Case in point: Head honcho Bryan Davis is the only distiller I know that has given a TED Talk. In shorts, no less.

While Lost Spirits is hard at work on whiskey, the operation got its real start producing rum, the idea being to imitate dark, old, navy rums that you don’t much find any more in this age of super-sweet (though admittedly delightful) sipping rums. The catch, of course, is that it only takes Lost Spirits about a week to power through the aging process, courtesy of its unique and cutting-edge technology.

We reviewed one of the first Navy Style rums to come out of Lost Spirits back in 2014, and now Davis is back with a revamp. The labels look almost the same (though proof has dropped from 68% abv to 61% abv). This bottling is distilled from Grade A molasses on Lost Spirits own copper still, then “aged” via the Lost Spirits reactor in new American oak. (The 2014 bottling used sherry cask staves; this is a change from that.)

Davis says this rum is a closer approximation of his original target — a recreation of 1975 Port Mourant Demerara Rum — and says that longtime followers will find it a close kin to the 2014 Colonial American Rum bottling.

I sampled the new Navy Style vs. both the 2014 Navy Style and the 2014 Colonial bottling to see how things have progressed.

The 2017 Navy Style Rum release offers that classic dark rum nose of tobacco, licorice, and burnt (burnt black) sugar — think burnt marshmallows over the campfire — but also vanilla, ripe banana, and bubble gum, all bubbling up under the surface. There’s less wood influence here than I expected, the palate offering notes of burnt matches, dark chocolate, and very ripe (perhaps overripe) fruit notes — a full-on salad of plum, banana, raspberry, with a lingering finish of gentle vegetation and mushroom, plus cloves and another kiss of dark chocolate.

It compares favorably to the original Navy Style rum, but it doesn’t have quite the powerfully fruity punch (with those raisins and figs) of the Colonial bottling. Davis is clearly working to find a balance between the two, and he’s done a remarkable job of threading the needle, giving the 2014 Navy Style some much-needed elegance, while dialing down the fruit overload of Colonial a bit. Is this a doppelganger for Port Mourant? I’ll never know, but if you breathe deeply while you smell the rum, you can hear a sea shanty being crudely sung, off in the distance.

122 proof.

A / $43 / lostspirits.net

Review: Rums of Beach Time Distilling

Beach Time Distilling, based in the small, coastal town of Lewes, Delaware, is one of a growing number of American craft distilleries producing our nation’s first favorite spirit, rum. Distiller and co-founder Greg Christmas worked for seven years with Delaware-based craft brewing powerhouse Dogfish Head before setting off on his own to focus on craft spirits. Since opening Beach Time in late 2015, he has created an impressive list of offerings in addition to rum that include vodka, gin, and plans for a young malt whiskey. All of his small batch spirits are crafted on a meticulously maintained 66-gallon Polish-made still. In keeping with the tradition of “lower, slower Delaware,” Greg emphasizes that the yeast in his spirits is not rushed or stressed in the natural fermentation process, creating what he calls “Leisurely Refined Spirits.”

Beach Time Distilling Silver Rum – Beach Time Silver Rum is made with raw cane sugar and molasses, fermented with two yeast strains, double-distilled, and bottled at 80 proof. It has a light, buttery nose, a slight heat on the palate, and great ripe banana and pineapple notes. These flavors are created through the use of a tropical yeast strain and dunder during fermentation, which is common with Jamaican rums. Similar to sour mash in bourbon, dunder is essentially stillage from the previous distillation used in subsequent fermentation. 80 proof. A- / $25

Beach Distilling Gold Rum – Beach Gold is the same Beach Time Silver aged for a short period of time in new charred American white oak barrels. Unsurprisingly, the nose has subtle vanilla notes. The tropical fruit flavors found in the Silver are barely present, with dominant caramel and cinnamon notes becoming banana bread on the palate. The finish is abrupt, making it a better mixer than sipper. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Beach Time Distilling Navy Strength Rum – The Navy Strength version of Beach Time Silver has a big buttercream nose. It’s rich on the palate and hot with a velvety sweetness. The heat, unfortunately, dampens some of the tropical fruit notes on the mid-palate, and they only show up again briefly on the finish. Still, this one could be a real bartender’s friend, standing up well in any rum-based cocktail. 114 proof. B+ / $21 (375ml)

Beach Gold Distilling Barrel Strength Rum – For nearly 130 proof, the nose on the cask strength version of Beach Gold is subdued. The vanilla aromas have to almost be pulled out of the glass, but on the palate this one is surprisingly good. There’s noticeable heat right from the start, but it never overpowers the bold and creamy flavors of Madagascar vanilla, raw honey, and nutmeg. The finish is short with sweet oak notes that become slightly drying. That aside, it’s a worthy sipping rum. 129.2 proof. A- / $28 (375ml)

Beach Fire Distilling Spiced Rum – Beach Fire is Beach Silver infused with a blend of cinnamon, orange peel, whole vanilla bean, and six additional spices. It’s all fresh cinnamon stick and orange marmalade on the nose. There’s a nice heat on the palate and a good balance of fresh ground cinnamon, orange zest, and clove. The spice in this rum is somewhat subdued compared to other spiced rums on the market, and I imagine it might get lost in a mixer. 80 proof. B+ / $35

beachtimedistilling.com

Tasting: Late 2016/Early 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

Today we’re ganging up two recent quarterly shipments of MashBox spirits samplers, one a rather random collection of recent releases, the other a trio of the same whiskey but finished in different barrels types. Read on for details from this outturn of the internet’s most interesting booze-of-the-month club.

As a reminder, $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples.

Manhattan Moonshine – Full review here. A pungent and somewhat mushroomy white dog, tempered by notes of gingerbread and breakfast cereal. 95 proof. B

Owney’s New York City Rum – A white rum, unaged. Quite weedy on the nose, with hard cereal notes. The palate doesn’t offer much intrigue and the finish is harsh and astringent. Generally, a funky rum like this needs some barrel time to mellow out, even if it’s being filtered back to clear. 80 proof. D+

Black Button Distilling Bespoke Bourbon Cream – A whiskey cream liqueur, made with bourbon (whose is unclear, but Black Button doesn’t make any). This is super stuff, easy to drink and loaded up with notes of vanilla and butterscotch, atop a creamy, cake-frosting-like base. Bourbon creams always manage to pack in more flavor than Irish creams, and Black Button’s is no exception. 30 proof. A-

And now for a trio of releases from Filibuster Bourbon. These are each aged for four years in new oak, then finished for two years in different types of French oak wine barrels (details follow). (Check the stickers on top to see which is which; the individual bottle labels are otherwise all the same.) Each is 90 proof.

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels – Lively, with sweet butterscotch, milk chocolate, and vanilla custard notes. The finish sees some baking spice and red pepper, making for a supple and sultry sugar bomb of an experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Chardonnay Barrels – A big surprise — this one is far racier up front, with lots more of that peppery character and a more powerful baking spice element. The finish sees the spice fading and the sweeter elements enduring more clearly, making for a distinctly different, but equally compelling, experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Chardonnay Barrels – Is this the sweet spot? While still rather heavy on the pepper notes up front, the whiskey fades a bit after that rushing attack, becoming a bit dull in tone across a somewhat gummy body. The finish is soft and a bit flabby — a big surprise considering the pedigree of its lineage. Proof that the whole can indeed be less than the sum of a whiskey’s parts. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: J. Wray & Nephew Silver Rum, Gold Rum, and Overproof Rum

Jamaica’s J. Wray & Nephew — or just Wray & Nephew — lays claim to being the #1 producer of rum in the country, and when you consider that the company makes both Appleton and Captain Morgan, it’s a claim that’s not hard to believe. Wray & Nephew also makes pot-distilled rum that is released under its own label, some of it highly sought-after by rum aficionados. Recently, Wray & Nephew’s entry-level bottles, a white and a gold rum, both finally made it to the U.S., joining the company’s renowned overproof expression.

Let’s find out what the fuss is all about.

J. Wray & Nephew Silver Rum – This is an aged rum, filtered to white. I will go on record and tell you this is one of the best white rums I’ve ever encountered. Gentle but full of depth, it offers a nose of toasted coconut, vanilla, fresh cream, and just a hint of hospital character. On the palate, the expect rush of rubber cement flavor so typical in white rum is absent. Just supple coconut and light caramel, sweet vanilla cream, and subtle banana notes. The finish is clean, just a touch rubbery (to remind you it’s rum, of course), but fresh and quite versatile. Everything a white rum should be — a clear winner. (Get it!?) 80 proof. A / $25

J. Wray & Nephew Gold Rum – Aged (and indeed gold in color) but with no particulars attached. This has an immediately much more pungent nose, with notes of mushroom, red bean paste, burnt toast, and barrel char. It settles down on the palate, bringing out a sweeter side that showcases toffee, coconut, vanilla, and some baking spice notes. There’s more complexity here than in the silver, but you’ll find this kind of richness more commonly in a number of other rums in this category, which makes it a bit less unique. 80 proof. A- / $25

J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum – This is the flagship rum from Wray and the rum with which most American drinkers will be familiar. This is familiar instantly on the nose, with a mixture of citrus and petrol notes, very aromatic with florals and the raw alcoholic notes one expects from an overproof rum. The body is a bit tougher and astringent, slightly charcoal-dusted but otherwise intense with fruit, both citrus and tropical, with overtones of overripe banana, bubble gum, and a touch of eucalyptus on the finish. Surprisingly approachable despite the heavy alcohol level. 126 proof. A- / $19

camparigroup.com

-->