Ever since I sampled Traveller’s Liquors 1-barrel expression, I’ve wanted to move up the chain – that rum, for its youth and antecedents, was a pleasure to drink, and I really appreciated its ten year old cousin, the excellent Don Omarios Vintage Rum. As with the latter, it was a bottle which “Rum Balls” Tony brought back when he was on holiday over in that part of the world: he obliged his parched amigo by schlepping a bottle of this Belize-made rum back for me to try (with him in attendance, of course). So once again, big hat-tip to Da Man.
I remarked in the Don Omario review that the 5 Barrel would really have to have an oomphed up game to beat it, and the initial nose of the amber coloured, thick legged rum suggested it might: it had a musty, earthy pungency to it, a certain driness, reminding me of an old carpet I used to beat the crap out of in the days before the family had a vaccuum cleaner. Licorice, caramel, brown sugar in a plastic baggie, and a lingering whiff of a cloying overripe (dark red or black) grape notes, something like a sweet red wine. Not quite my thing, that last, though overall, nothing to gripe about, and much to admire.
The taste was an interesting counterpoint. Light and smooth and clear…clean is a word not inappropriate to use in this context, and odd after that darker earthier nose. The rum itself was bottled at 40% and was medium to light bodied, but care must be taken – I’m not comparing the taste on the palate to an agricole, because here the balance was different, well handled between the light clearer flavours of androgynous fruit like papaya, kiwi and breadfruit. The caramel and sugar notes were held in check while not being entirely overwhelmed, and if I had to make on contrary observation here, it was that there was a salty, almost crackers or biscuits background at the last I simply didn’t care for. The finish was shortish, smooth, warm, and decent without brilliance: it simply reaffirmed all the aforementioned flavours. The Omario, which counted this as its weakest point, was still better.
Summing up, I liked the 5 Barrel quite a lot, but those odd discordant notes that crept in somewhat marred the experience for me. At end I can’t help but feel faintly let down. It’s not that it’s a bad rum (quite the opposite — in fact it’s a perfectly solid rum in its own way). I just expected, given the sterling encomiums it was given by individuals for whom I have respect, that it would be, somehow…better. When I compare it to both the 1-barrel, which I enjoyed but which it eclipsed, and then the Don Omario’s, which edged past it, you can perhaps forgive me for being just a shade sniffy about the matter.
If I was feeling bitchy, I’d close by making grumbling, snarky comments about where it failed and what it didn’t do for me and how could it be said to be such a premium expression when it really isn’t, and so on. I won’t, though, because truly, as a mid-range sipping rum, there’s not much fault to find. The thing is solid, just not brilliant (for me…your mileage will inevitably vary). So what it comes down to is expectation versus reality, the very conundrum that infects our daily lives. I go into every new job as an unbridled optimist, thinking that this will be the last one, the best one, this is the one I’ll make my pile from and retire in. Anyone who knows the penurious state of my finances and the precariousness of employment in my drone-like cubicle knows how laughable that sentiment is.
And so also for rums. The Traveller’s Five barrel is what it is, a decent, workmanlike entry into the genre, well put together, decently blended, nothing to be ashamed of at all. My expectations aside, there’s no reason for me – or you, for that matter – to ignore it if it ever came across my path again.
This rum is a five year old, aged in American oak, and so my scoring is a bit out of synch with other five year olds, especially with the four looked at in “A Tale of Four Fives.” I’d rank it below Plantation’s Bajan 5, El Dorado 5 and Angostura, but no lower. It’s a shade better than both the Juan Santos 5 and the Fluor de Cana 5 year old rums, which should tell you something about my personal taste preferences.