Hulk no like puny rum. Hulk smash. The last and strongest of the overproof howitzers batters my glass.
It’s a giant of a drink, the most powerful commercial rum ever made, a gurgling frisson of hot-snot turbo-charged proofage. 0.5% additional points of proof and the black clothes squad with silenced helicopters and full SWAT gear would be rapelling down to my apartment searching for weaponized rum. It skirts jail-time illegality by a whisker, and I can truly say the only reason I bought it was anal-retentive machismo and the desire to say I had. Like every 151 ever made (but more so), it was a drink to be feared the way Superman crosses himself when he sees Kryptonite
The Sunset Very Strong Rum is equal parts amazing and puzzling. For one thing, it’s not entirely clear why St. Vincent makes such a juggernaut. Bragging rights, maybe? Even with their proof-point, 151s are vastly more popular, and more common, so what’s the point of this one? About all it could reasonably be used for, after all is (a) a killer cocktail or mixer like the Vincentian “steel bottom” (a man-sized chug from the local Hairoun beer, then top the bottle back up with the rum, pleasant on a hot day, but only one or two or your day would be done) (b) the fastest drunk ever (c) an economical boozer for those without deep pockets, since one gets two 40% bottles for every one of these, and (d) an excuse to use lots and lots of colourful metaphors.
The Sunset Very Strong is made by St Vincent Distillers, formed from Mt. Bentnick Estate which had its genesis at the turn of the 20th century; in 1963 it was sold to the government and renamed the St. Vincent Distillery. This company was itself resold to a private concern in 1996 but the name was retained and they remain in operation to this day. The SVS originates from a two column stainless steel still – I am unclear whether the molasses comes from Guyana or new cane crops planted on the island, and nowhere is it mentioned whether any ageing takes place at all. (I’ve heard that it’s unaged, though I believe it is, just a bit).
I can tell this is boring to non-history buffs. Seriously, you want tasting notes on this thing? To be honest, I don’t quite know where to start, since drinking the rum neat is an exercise in futility (no-one else ever will). But whatever….
The (cautiously assessed) nose was extremely sharp, a glimmering silver blade of pure heat. For all that, once the bad stuff burned off, I was amazed by how much was going on under the hood. Initially, there was an explosion of an abandoned Trojan factory installed in the Batcave, fresh cut onions, sweat and oil, crazy crazy intense. Stick with it, though, is my advice – because it did cool off (a little). And then there were vanilla aromas, some cane sap, coconut shavings and red ripe cherries, a subtle hint of butter lurking in the background. I looked at the glass in some astonishment, quite pleased with the scents that emerged where I had expected nothing but rotgut, and then moved on to taste.
Before you sip, a word of warning. Move your cigar to the side. Make sure no sparks are nearby. Literally, take a tiny drop at a time. A teensy tiny one. 84.5% is so incredibly ferocious that even that small drop coated the entire tongue with a massive heated oiliness. And it was even a bit creamy. Wow. White chocolate, butter biscuits, philadelphia cream cheese on wonder bread, vanilla ice cream, nuts, nougat, toblerone, all dialled up to “11” (make that “12”). To call this rum sharp or chewy might understate the matter. It had so much maxillary oomph that it might well cause the shark in Jaws to go see his therapist, yet it was remarkable how much I enjoyed it. As for the fade, well, come on, what were you expecting? Long and dry as speeches my father makes at other people’s weddings. Ongoing notes of vanilla, butter, white chocolate (nothing new here). But those few, clear tastes went on for ages – I think my automatic watch might run down before the closing notes of the SVS dissipate. And before you ask – yes, I really liked this thing.
At 84.5% ABV, the SVS is brutal, amazing, interesting, tasty, and will always be the most powerful rum of its kind…in shadowed corners of near-abandoned bars I’ve heard it whispered that it once tore an Encyclopedia Brittanica collection in half with its bare hands while simultaneously curing the common cold and giving birth to Def Leppard and AC/DC (at the same time). In the overproof rum pantheon, the Sunset Very Strong sits at the extreme top, next to that crazy bastard next door who claims to have brewed something stronger in his grandmother’s bathtub.
But as psychotic as it is, I can’t help but think this is what we’ve been looking for from the world of badass white full-proofs. It’s wholly ridiculous, impractical to a fault and so completely preposterous that it revels in its own depravity. Frankly, that’s just what a powerful Hulk-sized rum should do. And depending on your level of crazy, it’s either a blessing or a curse that the Sunset Very Strong Rum will rarely be seen beyond the walls of a local watering hole’s private stocks, amused fanboys’ homebars…or, perhaps, mine.
- I must stress that originality is not the SVS’s forte. The Clairins out of Haiti, for example are quite a bit more off the beaten track (if not as strong). The SVS is actually a very traditional white rum, akin to Grenada’s Clarke’s Court or Guyanese High Wine, and serves primarily a local market (exports are relatively minimal outside the Caribbean). Unlike those two, it’s merely torqued up to the maximum legal point and that provided the flavours it did contain with such intensity that it became a sort of masochistic reflex just to try it that way. But it was meant as a mixer, not a sipper, and should be tried that way, I think.
- This rum is the most popular spirit on the island, and is often seen as the kill-divil of overproof choice in many other small Caribbean islands catering to the tourist trade. It is almost always mixed. Word has it that it’s so popular in St Vincent, that when stocks ran out after a shipment of Guyanese molasses was held up at the port, riots nearly ensued.
- A year or so after I tried this rum, I scored one even more powerful – the Surinamese Marienburg 90%. That one was stronger, but I liked this one better.
- Thanks to Robert Bradley for the note on the SVG “steel bottom” variation.