Review: Stolen Overproof Rum

Stolen has made a name for itself by producing the world’s only (so they say) smoked rum. Now it’s hitting the market with its latest product, a burly overproof (and unsmoked/unflavored) expression of six year old Jamaican rum.

Some details:

Stolen discovered this juice at a historic, family-run distillery in Jamaica that’s over 250 years old, renowned for making some of the best heavy pot still rums in the world. It is the last of a 6-year aged, pot still rum made using hand harvested sugar cane grown by local farmers. The sugar cane mash is fermented using a proprietary yeast strand that is cultured in outdoor wood vats. The mash ferments for seven days in a selection of the distillery’s 50 different traditional cedar tanks. Utilizing mountain rain water collected by the estate’s own rain water retention system, the rum is distilled using very old, traditional pot stills… the same as those found in Scotland to make high flavor single malt whiskies. The distilled rum is then carefully matured in ex-whiskey barrels.

Bold pot still notes hit the nose immediately, offering wet earth-infused notes of coffee bean, dark chocolate, coconut husk, some charcoal, and ripe banana. It doesn’t immediately smell “hot” or alcohol-heavy, but comes across simply as well-aged pot rum. On the palate, the heat emerges quickly, which masks a surprising amount of flavor. More banana finds a companion in mixed tropical notes, plus notes of green grass, tea leaf, coconut meat, and a finish that ends on a slightly ashy (and fiery) note.

I wasn’t surprised that the rum had such a long finish — at this alcohol level, it pretty much has to — but I was amazed that despite clocking in at over 61% alcohol, a full glass can actually be sipped on comfortably without too much trouble. That said, when used for its intended purpose — floats and flavor-boosting — it’s quite a valuable addition to your cocktail arsenal.

123 proof.

A- / $20 (375ml) / thisisstolen.com

Drinkhacker’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Our ninth year is under our belt, and that means our ninth annual installment of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — is here. As always, the list gives you the lowdown on some of the best-rated products we reviewed over the last 12 months, with at least some eye toward availability and affordability. (Though, as you’ll see, some selections can cost a pretty penny…)

As always, the offerings below comprise a small selection of our favorite wines and spirits from the last year, and there are many other worthwhile products on the market worth considering. Feel free to sound off in the comments with suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting.

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! We look forward to providing our guidance on the world of wine, beer, and spirits as we begin our 10th year on the web and approach our 5,000th post! Stay tuned for the appropriate festivities come the big anniversary in September 2017.

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 2015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

of-1920-rendering-jpegBourbon – Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon ($60)  As inventory pressures continue to pound bourbon country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find solid “giftable” bourbon bottlings on the market. Rarities like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sell out before they ever hit shelves. This year I’m naming to my top pick something that you ought to have more luck finding, but which is just as good as anything else out there: Old Forester’s most recent Whiskey Row expression, meant to mimic bourbon made during its “medicinal” Prohibition days. Other top tipples: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood ($70 on release, $500+ now), Blood Oath Pact No. 2 ($100), Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish ($100, often available for less), and, for the budget-minded, 1792 High Rye Bourbon ($36).

Scotch – Compass Box The Circus ($300) – You want to wow your loved one this year? Give them The Circus, a blend that comes complete with its own infographic outlining all the whiskies inside. It’s a complex but truly outstanding whisky worth every penny. Other top picks for 2016 aren’t going to come cheap, including Chivas Regal Ultis ($200), The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route ($350), Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish ($90), and your best bet for an easier-to-find bottling, Glenmorangie Milsean ($130 on release but easy to find for $100 or less).

Other Whiskey – Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” ($300 on release) – You know who nailed it this year? Jim Murray! The crazed whiskey critic is known for his outlandishly goofy “best of the year’ picks, but he hit it perfectly with his pick of the first ever release of Booker’s Rye. The bad news: It was already a cult hit, and whatever’s left on the market is going to cost you at least $600 a bottle. More sensible options include Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old ($90), High West’s latest release of Bourye ($80), and Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof ($70), which is lightly flavored with apples in the “Alabama style.”

oregonbarrelagedginbottleworkGin – Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels ($38) – We’ve been drowning in gin this year, which means there’s plenty of solid and unique bottlings to choose from on the market. My top pick is this one from our pals at Big Bottom, which is aged solera-style and is perfect for wintertime sipping thanks to a fun holiday spice character. For unaged expressions, check out Graton Distilling D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin ($40) or Spain’s Gin Mare ($38).

Vodka  Stolichnaya Elit Vodka ($47)  It’s more than just a fancy bottle; Stoli Elit is very good vodka, too. Beyond that, check out Vikre Lake Superior Vodka ($35) or Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka ($35), one of the best citrus vodkas around.

Rum – Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old ($60)  Great rum needn’t break the bank. Angostura 1824 is a top-notch 12 year old with all kinds of versatility. Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary ($43) and Ron Zacapa 23 ($48) both make for awesome alternatives.

martell-blue-swift-largeBrandy – Martell Blue Swift ($50) – Martell wasn’t the first to put brandy into whiskey barrels to develop a more sophisticated, deeper flavor, but it is doing the best at it at the moment. This expression is gorgeous and cheap when it comes to Cognac. Another great, budget option is Gilles Brisson’s VSOP, a steal at $35. For the other direction, consider Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” ($2250), one of the most exquisite sips I had this year.

Tequila – Tequila Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Anejo ($340) – Tons of great tequila hit this year, but I have to give the nod to Herradura and its extra anejo bottling of Seleccion Suprema, a luscious experience that every tequila lover needs to try. A smattering of top agave alternatives across the price board includes Pasote Reposado ($59), Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel Mezcal ($96), Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo ($100), and Asombroso Ultrafino The Collaboration Barrel 1 ($2500).

cynar 70Liqueur – Cynar 70 ($37/1 liter) – Cynar gets a proof upgrade and a flavor boost in this new edition, which I think is an even better rendition of this classic amaro. I also can’t stop raving about Grand Poppy ($30), another amaro. Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur ($11/375ml) is also highly worth picking up, as is Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur ($30), a unique spiced liqueur.

Wine  A smattering of giftable picks for the wine-lover in your life, with California showing incredibly strongly in 2016.

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Review: NJoy Spirits Wild Buck Whiskey and Mermaid Rum

NJoy Spirits, not to be confused with N’Joy coffee creamer, is the brainchild of Natalie Goff, nee Joy, and Kevin Goff, who make two products, a whiskey and a rum, in Weeki Wachee, Florida, which they promise is a real place. The whiskey is a true craft spirit, no sourcing here, made from local grains and purified rainwater and without artificial coloring or flavorings, and it is made in small batches, aged in variously sized, new, charred oak barrels. The rum is sourced, but it is aged in the company’s own whiskey barrels. “We use no automation at our distillery except for a grain grinder. We fill our bottles by eye and hand label, cork, and sanitize all bottles,” says Natalie.

We tasted both of NJoy’s products. Thoughts (and more production details) follow.

Wild Buck Whiskey – This is a 100% rye made from local Florida grain (30% grown by NJoy itself); the second distillation (of two) is in a pot still. Again, aging is in new oak barrels of various smaller sizes (5, 15, and 25 gallons), but no age statement is offered (the company says barrels are generally 10 to 24 months old). Distinctly youthful on the nose, the whiskey offers aromas of lumberyard along with eucalyptus, mushroom, and a touch of dried fruit. The essence of rye comes further to the fore on the palate, where hefty baking spices interplay with the whiskey’s significant charred wood influence to create a mixed bag of flavors. In time notes of black cherry, significant mint, and cloves push through the hefty wood notes, but the overall impact is still one of a whiskey that will benefit substantially of a few more years of aging; a 5 year old reserve is planned down the road. 100 proof. B / $60

Mermaid Rum – This is 75% 3 year old Florida sugar cane rum blended with 25% Caribbean pot still rum which is then aged in once-used Wild Buck Whiskey barrels for 90 days. The nose alone could knock you over. It hits with the power of a pure pot still rum, full of intense phenolic solvent notes alongside heady alcohol. Brown sugar and molasses notes bubble through this, but the focus remains squarely on the funky hogo and raw alcohol character. On the palate, the rum explodes with sweetness, showcasing myriad flavors that you just can’t suss out in the overpowering nose. Brown sugar leads the way to gingerbread, ripe banana, coconut, cocoa nibs, orange peel, and, on the finish, more of those cloves. The conclusion has those petrol notes lingering on the palate, but it’s the explosion of flavor beforehand that lingers on the mind. A masterful blend. 100 proof. A- / $40

wildbuckwhiskey.com

Review: Charbay 2005 Double Aged Rum

charbay-rum

This new and highly, highly expensive rum from Napa’s Charbay was distilled in 2005 from Hawaiian and Jamaican first-press sugar cane juice (not molasses), fermented with Champagne yeast, and distilled on Charbay’s pot-style Cognac still. It was aged in stainless steel for five years then put into French oak Chardonnay barrels for three more years. It was bottled two years later, before finally being released at full barrel strength, uncut and unfiltered.

If the production methodology alone didn’t cue you in, this is an exotic and highly unusual rum. It has a lot in common with nicely aged rhum agricole, but it finds a style that’s completely its own, too.

The nose kicks things off with curiosity: dried banana, buttered popcorn, and notes of saltwater taffy. On the palate, the popcorn really pops, as notes of maple syrup, toasty brown sugar, cinnamon, and cloves hit forcefully, followed by a backbone of earthy coffee bean, mushroom, and tobacco. Deep and lasting, it is surprisingly approachable at nearly 65% alcohol, but water is a lovely idea, which brings out some salted licorice notes that don’t fully show at cask strength.

137 proof. 2790 bottles produced; about 25% of that was released this year.

A- / $450 / charbay.com

Review: Mount Gay XO Cask Strength Rum

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As a celebration of 50 years of Barbados independence comes Mount Gay XO Cask Strength, its most luxe bottling to date. This is a limited edition, overproof expression of its existing Mount Gay XO bottling, which is itself a blend of rums 8 to 15 years old.

This expression is a deep and brooding rum that kicks off with heavy aromas of barrel char, licorice, and coffee bean. Dark chocolate and cloves are both well represented on the nose. At 63% alcohol it’s a burner on the palate, and a healthy splash of water helps to reveal its significant charms. Sans water, the dusky notes of the nose follow through closely to the palate, but when tempered it reveals much more — ample wood, to be sure, but a backbone of rich baking spices, sweet coffee, molasses cookies, and ginger. There’s a lot going on, but it sticks closely to the family of holiday baked goods and, well, very old rum.

What’s not to like?

126 proof. 3000 bottles produced.

A- / $185 / mountgayrum.com

Review: Koloa Hawaiian Rums, Coffee Liqueur, and Ready-to-Drink Cocktails – Complete Lineup

koloa-rum-all_5-md-large

The tiny Hawaiian island of Kauai is home to Koloa Rum, a small operation with a surprisingly robust line of rums, a coffee liqueur, and ready-to-drink cocktails. All five rums are made from the mash of raw cane sugar, double distilled in a copper pot still, and cut with filtered water from Mount Waialeale. That said, there’s no aging or other information on how the white, gold, and dark rums differ from one another.

Here’s a look at the entire Koloa lineup of (5) rums, (1) liqueur, and (3) premixed cocktail products. Whew!

Koloa Kauai White Hawaiian Rum – Lots of vanilla, chocolate, and coconut notes give this the character of a flavored rum, with unexpected coffee notes emerging in time. Moderate sweetness gives way on the palate to notes of hazelnut and a lingering coffee note on the back end. Very easy to sip on — but not at all what I was expecting from a white rum. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Gold Hawaiian Rum – There’s more fruit on this one, but more astringency, too, particularly on the sharper nose. All told this rum has a more classic (and youthful) construction, with some dusky coconut husk notes and a somewhat raw, ethanol-heavy character, but on the whole it’s a passable mixer. 80 proof. B- / $27

Koloa Kauai Dark Hawaiian Rum – Heavy on notes of molasses and coffee, with chocolate overtones. Like any good dark rum, it’s built with lumbering sweetness in mind, rich and chewy and appropriately dessert-like. That said, it’s relatively light on its feet, but short on complexity. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Spice Hawaiian Rum – Yes, it’s “spice,” not “spiced.” Said to be a response to other “oversweetened spiced rums,” but Koloa’s rendition feels amply sweet to me, studded with cinnamon, cloves, honey, cola, and tons of vanilla. It comes together a lot like a Vanilla Coke, or perhaps a Vanilla Diet Coke, with lightly artificial overtones on an otherwise rousing, somewhat fiery finish. Surprisingly, it’s overproof, not under, making it a solid mixer, for sure. 88 proof. B+ / $27

Koloa Kauai Coconut Hawaiian Rum – Heavy coconut, as expected, here backed with a touch of banana (particularly on the finish), and vanilla milkshake notes. Unctuous and rolling on the palate, it’s got ample (but not overblown) sweetness, hints of pineapple, and — as you’d expect (and desire) — plenty of coconut. As good as any other coconut rum out there. 80 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Kauai Coffee Liqueur – This is a collaboration with Kauai Coffee Company, and it’s a robust and lightly-sweetened but otherwise quite pure expression of coffee in classically alcoholic form. The finish finds a surprise in some slightly peppery notes, with nutty and dark chocolate overtones. The whole affair comes together quite beautifully and with sophistication. 68 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Mai Tai Cocktail – Gatorade-green in color, this offers a pungent, overwhelming almond character on the nose, then segues to a vague tropical character with lemon/lime overtones. Somewhat bitter on the finish, the citrus notes veer toward notes of bitter lime zest. 34 proof. C+ / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Rum Punch – Grapefruit and pineapple are heavy here, with a squeeze of lemon and a touch of vanilla. It’s a credible punch, but quite light on its feet, with a light nuttiness that lingers on the finish. Perfectly sippable, though it’s quite low in alcohol, making it feel a bit frivolous. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Pineapple Passion Rum Cocktail – Another simple punch, this one punching up the fruit component with a stronger pineapple and passion fruit character, giving it a slightly floral edge. What you think of when you imagine a drink with an umbrella in it, it’s a slurp-’em-down beverage that will offend no one, though I think the standard Rum Punch is a bit better balanced. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

koloarum.com

Review: Bayou Rum Silver and Select

bayou-rum

Louisiana Spirits in Lacassine claims to be the largest privately-owned rum distillery in the U.S. Here they churn out a total of four spirits, distilled from local cane sugar and molasses using a copper pot still. Today we look at two of them, representing the core of the line.

Both are 80 proof.

Bayou Rum Silver – A credible silver, though its pot still funk comes through in spades. Gooey caramel and vanilla on the nose give way to notes of mushroom, petrol, and some charcoal. The simple-syrupy sweetness grows with time in glass, though the finish still tugs at the back of the throat with some roasted vegetable notes. Fair enough on the whole, but best as a mixer. B / $22

Bayou Rum Select – Same recipe, but rested in American oak for an unstated amount of time. The nose is duskier than the Silver but still moderately to heavily sweet, with hints of cinnamon and cloves plus an undercurrent of rancio. Dusty lumberyard notes emerge with time, but these are much more evident on the palate, which is surprisingly wood-heavy from the start. The sweetness takes on an oxidized, almost Madeira-like tone here, with winey-raisiny notes emerging; still, they battle mightily with the relatively heavy wood character, which soldiers on to a relatively tannic, tough finish. Reviewed: Batch #1503. B- / $31

bayourum.com

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