Review: The Rums of Maggie’s Farm

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Maggie’s Farm is focused on one spirit only: rum (plus a couple of liqueurs, one of which is a falernum). The name of the distillery hails from a Bob Dylan song, and while he didn’t mention rum production in it, a quick listen might get you into the mood to sip some of their craft-distilled goodies.

Below find our thoughts on six of the nine rum expressions the company currently produces. Production differs from product to product, so follow along closely!

Maggie’s Farm White Rum – Made from 100% raw turbinado sugar and unaged after pot distillation. Pungent with oily fuel notes, as is typical for unaged rum, with some aromas of citrus peel, lavender, and ginger. On the palate, the more industrial-tasting notes are dialed back, with notes of ripe banana and marshmallow fluff showing, though the finish is loaded up with coal dust and hints of petrol. Not unapproachable, but strictly a mixer. 80 proof.  B / $28

Maggie’s Farm La Revuelta Dark Rum – (“The uprising.”) This is a funky product that is actually a blend: Maggie’s Farm’s raw cane pot-distilled rum from Pittsburgh mixed 50/50 with a column-distilled molasses rum from Trinidad. Solid stuff here: The nose is rich and authentic, with caramel and molasses notes, strong vanilla, and some chocolate, too. Mildly floral aromas persevere, given enough time. The palate is sweet and loaded with cinnamon-heavy baking spice, applesauce, and just a hint of diesel on the back end to give it some kick. A top-notch, well-aged rum. 80 proof. A / $35

Maggie’s Farm Spiced Rum – This is the turbinado-based rum, flavored with eight different spices, “including Tahitian vanilla bean, fresh orange zest, nutmeg, and allspice.” It is not sweetened with sugar. The nose is bold with notes of lemon, vanilla, gingerbread, and evergreen Christmas notes. Enticing, it leads the way to a body loaded with those baking spices, dusky root beer notes, some green olive, and loads of vanilla. It’s strong for a spiced rum, but as promised, it’s only very lightly sweet, so let your mixer do any sugar-sweetening you need. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Maggie’s Farm Queen’s Share Unaged – “Queen’s Share Rum is made exclusively from the tail runnings of our normal cane rum distillations. Being heavier than alcohol, the flavor and aroma compounds boil off the still in a higher concentration at the end of the distillation cycle. We keep these tail runnings and re-distill them on their own. This results in a more flavorful and complex spirit. This unaged version is the unadulterated and bottled at cask strength.” Much more neutral than the standard White Rum, this is both fruitier and more floral, with a honeysuckle kick. At 57% abv, it’s hot but not scorchingly so, with a slight petrol finish, followed by some more banana. Milder than you’d think. 114 proof. B / $24 (375ml)

Maggie’s Farm Queen’s Share Rye Barrel Finish – The Unaged Queen’s Share mentioned above spends 18 months in rye whiskey barrels before bottling. The whiskey character is undeniable here, from the sweet caramel nose, loaded with rye-heavy baking spice, to the lush and clove-forward, toffee-soaked palate. Some flambed banana notes remind you that this is actually rum, not whiskey, with a finish that adds in notes of bubble gum and some fresh cherry fruit. Fun stuff, but far off the beaten path of traditional rum. 110 proof. A- / $35 (375ml)

Maggie’s Farm Queen’s Share Double Cask Finish – This is another Unaged Queen’s Share rum, finished in two types of casks for 21 months. Mysteriously, the identity of both of those casks hasn’t been revealed to me. Again it’s got a whiskey kick to it, all toffee and caramel, cut with baking spice, banana bread, and almonds. Some moderate but sharp citrus notes percolate here and there, but the sweeter notes of vanilla and creamy caramel dominate. The finish is racy with allspice and cloves, spiced nuts, and hints of gunpowder. I like the more straightforward rye finish a bit better. 110 proof. B+ / $NA

maggiesfarmrum.com

Review: The Spirits of Sugarlands Shine

Don’t look now, but one of the busiest distilleries in the country — based on tourism visits — is Sugarlands Distilling, in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. A connection with the popular show Moonshiners doesn’t hurt, nor does the vast product lineup, which includes 21 varieties of moonshine, rum, and liqueurs, which range from a straight white rye to a peanut butter and jelly moonshine, all bottled in (incredibly messy) mason jars. Candy- and dessert-flavored ‘shines are a particularly specialty of the operation.

It’s impossible to keep on top of all of these flavors — there will be more by the time you read this — so consider this a representative sampling of what Sugarlands is up to. Thoughts follow.

Sugarlands Shine Silver Cloud Moonshine – This corn and cane sugar moonshine is the starting point for much of what Sugarlands makes, and it’s a fair enough ‘shine to get you going. Plenty popcorny at the start, particularly on the nose, the spirit offers hints of vanilla and cinnamon but otherwise drinks relatively flatly but cleanly, with a jet fuel-soaked finish — that classic moonshine pungency. 100 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Unaged Rye – Billed as a rye, though no mashbill information is available. This is a more classic white whiskey, loaded with popcorn and roasted grains, with a subtle undercoat of baking spice. Lacking the sugar of the moonshine, the finish is rougher and more rustic, with a mushroom and tobacco note, plus some hints of baked bread. 100 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine – Less sweet than many an apple pie moonshine, the raw cereal character of the spirit comes through more clearly. The fruit takes on an apple cider character, somewhat oxidized with a kind of butterscotch note that isn’t completely on the pie spectrum. The finish is reminscent not of apples but of cherries, particularly the cough syrup variety. 50 proof. C / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Hazelnut Rum – Nicely nutty on the nose, those hazelnuts roll over anything that’s particularly rummy in the mix. Some brown sugar notes and cloves at least offer a nod toward a spiced rum, with a touch of that funky petrol layering itself in underneath. The finish is a sustained nuttiness, with notes of toasted marshmallow. Hazelnuts are a smart choice to give this spirit a strong and unique flavor, but it drinks almost like a liqueur rather than a rum. 80 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Root Beer Moonshine – Spot-on root beer aromas kick the nose off on this heavily flavored (and nearly opaque) ‘shine, which is heavy on the sassafras and baking spices. Alongside a healthy slug of sweet vanilla, the body sees more peppermint coming to the fore than I would like or expect, with surprisingly heavy clove character. These cloves endure for quite some time, eventually mellowing as the finish fades into a sort of charred wood character, which erases some of the excitement and nostalgia of what’s come before. 70 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Butter Pecan Cream Liqueur – Not dark brown as the bottle would indicate, but rather a gentle, creamy tan. Extremely sweet on the nose, with light brown sugar the clearest component. The buttery, nutty pecan notes are a bit slightly clearer on the palate, but there’s so much sugar that it overwhelms just about all of it, leading to a milky finish akin to melted vanilla ice cream. 40 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream Liqueur – The color of milk chocolate, with a nose that is a heavier blend of coffee with some chocolate syrup swirled in. Ample vanilla kicks off the palate, along with some butterscotch sweetness, before the relatively gentle coffee character arrives. There’s nothing really “dark” about the chocolate in this liqueur. As far as the cocoa goes, it’s about as milky as it gets. Nevertheless, it works fairly well. 40 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

sugarlandsdistilling.com

Review: Mezan Single Distillery Rum – Guyana 2005 and Panama 2006

We last wrote about Mezan in 2015, when we looked at its XO Jamaica bottling. The rums here are something a bit different. While the Jamaica is a blend of various distilleries’ products, these two rums are sourced from single distilleries (“some founded centuries ago, others no longer in operation”) and, in fact, from single vintages of those distilleries. Mezan has a wide range of these rums in its arsenal, so consider these to be merely representative. These rums are “unblended, unsweetened, uncolored, and only lightly filtered.”

Without further ado, let’s give this duo a spin. Both are 80 proof.

Mezan Single Distillery Rum Guyana 2005 – Sourced from Diamond Distillery and distilled in a wooden pot still originally from Port Mourant. Bottled in 2015, making in 10 years old. The color is very light for a rum of this age, and the nose is bold and fruity, with big notes of banana, green apple, guava, and slightly sour notes of vinegar and overripe fruit — hallmarks of younger pot-distilled rums that are a surprise in a 10 year old product. The body is sweeter with notes of caramel, raisins, and more of that fruit, with just a touch of barrel char on it. The finish has some funk to it, offering a lightly vegetal/weedy note along with lingering hints of tobacco and mushroom. B+ / $50

Mezan Single Distillery Rum Panama 2006 – Column-distilled rum from an unstated producer that grows its own cane. Aged twice in separate sets of ex-bourbon casks, which give it a significant amount of color. No bottling date is noted. This is a classically-styled, rich rum loaded with notes of caramel, creme brulee, vanilla, and a lightly smoky barrel char note. The palate is largely the same, with a clear and lush sweetness that leads to a slightly spicy, slightly coffee-tinged, milk chocolate finish. A classic, older rum that is perfect on its own and will mix beautifully in just about anything. A / $43

mezanrum.com

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

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