Here is another in my ongoing series of “favourite” lists. This one focuses on the premium segment.
Make your enemies green with envy, please your friends, impress wannabe hangers-on and have an all-round good time with these expensive rums that will cheerfully excavate your wallet. Mix not required, and what the hell, ditch the ice as well….you don’t need that either. I know this is spouting Liquorature heresy, but I think even some maltsters might do well to sample some of these. Yeah Hippie, it’s you I’m lookin’ at.
This posting is meant to list (in no particular order) some decent rums that I thought were worth the hundred dollars or more yet two hundred or less which I paid for them. It’s not a “best” list (that would be futile). It’s a list of rums that if you knew a bit about rums (and that you liked them), were looking to try sipping quality hooch, wanted to get something out of the ordinary and felt you needed to splash out the cash for a favoured relative or friend…well, you could use this as a reference on where to start.
Of course, once we move into (and upwards past) the three figure price range, a reviewer has a problem, because not every rum costing that much is actually worth it, and opinions vary widely as to what the perfect rum profile truly is – what to one person is a particularly fine example of the craft and worth every penny, is savagely put down by another who despises the very bottle that embraces it. So, a note of caution. The higher in price we go, the more objective price and perceived value diverge (this principle is exemplified in the US$5000 Appleton 50 year old). In no case does the higher price confer practicality or utility to the average Joe, who’d get to work through morning rush hour just as quickly in his Ford as in a Ferrari. After all, I didn’t think the $300 Santa Teresa Bicentenario was worth it, and I know for sure the G&P 1941 58 year old Longpond, on a quality basis alone, doesn’t rank the four figures I shelled out – I could have gotten as much enjoyment out of a Potters, and probably better conversation.
We pay high prices for many reasons – status, narcissism, rarity, exclusivity, quality, angels share losses, or labour manhours that must be recouped by the makers (look no further than the St Nicholas Abbey for an example). In that sense, uber-rums are something like precision swiss watches: you’re paying a premium for meticulous work (sometimes) done by hand over a long period (and, of course, brilliant marketing), irrespective of how the final result comes out – a Timex would tell more accurate time…it just doesn’t have the cachet of an Audemars, a Patek, or a Rolex. And that too is part of the reason we pay so much.
I should also point out that at this level of expenditure, you’re absolutely within your rights to demand a better packaging of the product. If you can blow more than a hundred bucks, why skimp at an extra few that the maker throws in for neat presentation? Consider the sleek sexy bottle of the Mount Gay 1703, or the etched flagon of the St Nicholas Abbey 12. Hell yes I want a great look to go along with the great price. Just about all my malt-swilling buddies disagree with me, but on this one I honestly think they’re barking up the wrong tree. When my Breitling chronograph arrives, I’d like it in a leather wrapped box, thank you very much, not a paper bag.
The rums I write about here are drawn from my experience of tasting them every single week for almost four years; my own personal preferences, and what I have been able to sample and find and buy in Canada – and more importantly, what I like. Your mileage may vary, your availability and cost will almost certainly be otherwise, and you may disagree with the worth of any. Let that, however, not stop you from trying these lovely products if you can spare the money and can find them.
(NB: All prices are Calgary Can$ and are correct for the amount I paid at the time)
St Nicholas Abbey 10 year old ($145) – ever since I had this one, I’ve made no secret of my liking for it. The 12 year old could be on this list as well: my opinion is simply that the ten somehow gets it all righter and correcter — and is a complex, well rounded sipping rum that should be tried at least once. Apparently, you can get a 1/2 price refill of your bottle right at the Abbey, and get your name etched on it as well. Hmmm….
English Harbour 1981 25 Year old ($188 but trending above $200 these days). One of my all time top five, and the first review I ever wrote (shows by being the shortest too). I’ve never fallen out of love with it, and have given away at least four bottles to date…since two have gone to Central Asia to rave reviews, I may have the dubious distinction of being single-handedly responsible for turning an entire nation’s tastes away from vodka to rums as a consequence. Well, I can dream, right?
Clemente Tres Vieux XO ($126) – I know this will surprise some, as I marked it down for a certain spiciness I felt was out of place in a product marketed as premium. Oh but that fruity burnt sugar nose, that fade…it’s just grown on me over the years.
Ron Millonario XO Reserva Especial ($110). Not everyone will like this rum, as it may edge too close to the sweetness and borderline liqueurishness of the El Dorado 25. Well, yes – but I argue there’s more here to appreciate than is commonly acknowledged. It’s a smooth, complex, well blended rum whose fade just keeps on giving. Given a choice I’d buy three of these rather than one of the ED25. It is also, in my own estimation, better than both the Zaya 12 and the Zacapa 23. No, really.
Mount Gay 1703 (~$130). I had to go back to this one a few times to appreciate it more – and although I won’t change my original review which honestly represented my feelings at the time it was written, there is no contesting the overall balance and convoluted taste profile of the rum. A shade spicy, yet mellow on the nose and dark on the finish, redolent of burning sugar cane fields smouldering in the tropical twilight.
English Habour 10 year old ($105) – this just barely made the cut in price terms: not that it’s cheap on what counts, mind you, and neither should it be overshadowed by its bigger, better known and more expensive sib. It has a zen quality all its own. A solid, excellent all round rum.
Rum Nation 1985 Demerara 23 year old ($165). Fabio Rossi, take a bow. In no uncertain terms, an Italian outfit takes on the big guns of the Highlands and takes its place among the boutique rum-makers. Big, flavourful, odd, smooth, dark, tasty and a tad rubbery, somewhere Batman is weeping into his cape with envy.
Rum Nation Panama 21 year old ($103). What? Another one? Accidente a me, what are those Italians doing? Ladies and gentles all, this rum is superlative. Rum Nation somehow managed to get rid of the slight feinty notes that some will despise the Demerara for, and replaced it with raisins, dried fruit, leather and tobacco and an admirable driness that lifted my spirits just by sampling it. Could be stronger than 40% and still be superb.
Secret Treasures Demerara 14 year old: ($100 in Euros). This rum explains why I want to move back to Europe. A Swiss concern named Fassbind has produced an enormously excellent dark amber rum with a nose, mouthfeel and finish that had me drain the bottle in labba time, and have to snatch it away from my mother’s grasping fingers after she was on her fifth shot and almost lost her teeth in the glass.
Rhum Vieux Domaine de Courcelles Grande Reserve 58% (~$180)
Although this hails from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, I hesitate to pronounce it an agricole (and the bottle sure doesn’t either)…it has a depth of taste and texture that strikes me more as a pot still product based on molasses. Certainly it’s an awesome drink, if you can find it, though some might prefer it’s tamer twin (same age) bottled at 47%. Not me. It’s amazing how the bite of 58% has been tamed into this excellent rum.
Closing notes. So yes, I have not included the Appleton 21 (about which I’m unenthused), or any of the Plantation rums nor the Renegades (the last two are not widely available for purchase in Canada, I don’t have anyof the former and too few of the latter, and so cannot speak to them). I probably missed one of your personal faves. Sorry. And I know for sure that many superior rums available in Europe are not to be found on my shelf or in my local liquor emporia. That’s my (and our) loss. Still, I’ve been at this for going on four years, and the subject remains fascinating and of interest, I still fork out for the privilege of sampling and reviewing, and I know there’s more out there that will eventually come this way. Consider this list to be a complement to those already written, and one of others to come.
And enjoy the rums. The products are pricey, yes – but they have worth that cannot always be measured in mere pieces of eight.