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.

Review: Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced Rum

The latest product from Destilería Serrallés, the Puerto Rican producers of Don Q Rum, is a natural line extension: spiced rum.

The catch? Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced Rum is an aged, spiced rum. The spirit is made from “a blend of Puerto Rican rums that have been aged for a minimum of three years and up to six years.” The aged rum is them spiced with a blend of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. It’s also bottled slightly overproof — not at 70 proof like many mainstream spiced rums on the market.

The rum is immediately quite dry, even on the nose, which is laden with baking spices, particularly nutmeg, plus notes of toffee, gingerbread, and hints of black tea. Barrel influence is evident in the form of bold vanilla aromas as well. This leads to again a quite dry palate that has only a modest amount of sugar, those baking spices and the natural fruit character of the rum working to provide what sense of sweetness the rum has to offer. Lightly nutty and a little floral, the spice and fruit work side by side to give the rum a complexity not often seen in spiced rums. A little brown butter and some smoldering notes of cloves and barrel char on the back end serves to complete a surprisingly elegant and approachable package.

90 proof.

A- / $30 / donq.com

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

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