Jan 052024
 

Speaking from my solitary spot in the rumiverse, 2023 was in many ways a year of challenges and changes and oddly enough, also of maintaining the status quo and holding the line. It was an exciting year with many new experiences and many new rums, and while I could not attend quite as many festivals as I might have preferredor met as many friends, colleagues, aficionados and rum people as I wanted toin many respects the year was a success on other levels and I really can’t complain except for one thing: I didn’t get to taste enough, or write enough. All this while the rum world was expanding and generating ever more new and fascinating branches and going in some interesting directions.

So here’s my observations on the state of the rumiverse, and my commentary on emerging trends and some interesting issues that popped up over the year.

Personal

For those who know something of my vagabond nomadic existence, the big event of 2023 was that after ten years living and working abroad, I returned with my family to Canada, leaving behind a stash of rums in Europe whichin spite of much begging, pleading, negotiating or even outright connivinghad to stay there because the duties and tax levied on shipping such a huge collection were simply unaffordable. One of these days I’ll figure out what to do with it, I guess.

Happily, the decade away showed me that at least Alberta (if not other provinces) began to get a pretty good rum selection, often from abroad but also from Canadian producers. Admittedly we get only the most occasional Velier rum, and none of the Foursquare ECS series; most of the indies are absent, agricole availability remains weak and juice from the Far East, Taiwan or Australia are wistful daydreams; but enough distillery and independent bottlings are now being seen that one can reasonably pick up a cask strength rum from Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, South America, Japan, and even the odd American edition, with some sleuthing…a high point for me was finding the Japanese Teeda 21 YO, for example.

On the flip side, what with trying to get professional, family and social life back into order, it made writing harder; a lot of that was just finding the time and energy to keep it up. The level of written output maintained for so many yearstwo reviews a week, essays, opinion pieces, articles and what have youdeclined, and so for 2023 I only wrote 86 reviews (vs 88 the year before) even though I travelled less; wrote no published opinions (though quite a few unpublished ones), made no new lists, posted no essays. The Key Rums and Makers series languished somewhat for lack of time to do the deep dives they require: they limped along. And there were at least regular updates to several reference posts which I like keeping an eye on: the Strongest Rums of the World, the Guide to Online Resources and the Annual Global Rumfest Schedule, all of which I think are really useful, and which should not be left to become dated. I remained active on Reddit and posted a few longform comments, but let’s face itthe reduction in output was marked. This was and is frustrating because there are a lot of things I want to research and document more deeply, and the hope is that in 2024 as things settle down I can resume a better output and address these.

Other stuff

Being able to interact with people in an environment where alcohol was not illegalwhich is to say, outside of a rum festival environmentwas also something I had not realised I missed so much during years of enforced teetotalling. People could actually come over and taste with me. I could attend a tasting, and get a bit of a buzz on, talk to interesting people, meet new ones. The New Renegade tasting run by Jane Nurse at Willow Park was a great evening, and I reconnected with all the fun people at Kensington Wine Market (especially when they had a rum tasting of their own). Mitch Wilson passed through on his world tour, and I attended his Black Tot session in Edmonton; I met Karl Mudzamba of Bira! when he came to Calgary and had an awesome afternoon riffing about the subject with him and some friends. And having Logan, Dwayne, Carter and Neil come over to share their finds and damage my shelf on a weekend afternoon was just a great experience. That said, the store people at major emporia almost totally ignore this category and know little about it, nobody outside the extremely small circle of rumdorks in Western Canada has a clue that there even is such a reviewer as the ‘Caner, and so the obscurity that I began with has come full circle. C’est la vie.

Mitch of Black Tot and the Krzysiek (the Rum Explorer), Berlin 2023, on the cruise….

With respect to rum festivals, well, those had to be chosen carefully and it was with real regret that I passed on Paris for their major events in March and October and had to limit things to the TWE and German rum shows, which was a decision driven by their being a week apart so attending both was feasible. They were great though: going on a nighttime rum cruise in Berlin with Matt & Carrie, Mitch, the Colours of Rum crowd, the Rum Explorer and Mrs. Caner was an event of which I will retain fond memories; I met up with Alex of the Rum Barrel, Steve Magarry from Oz, Dawn Davies, Dirk Becker, Pete Holland, the Skylark boys, Kris Van S., the UK rum-loving crowd, and of course the UK rum-making crowd from all those amazing little distilleries up and down the country. Overall, I just had a lot of fun walking around and talking to people.

Unsurprisingly, my new location almost demanded that my focus on which rums to review be shifted again, as they already have several times. My desire to try more rums from Australia was temporarily sated (though I look forward with real eagerness to writing about the 2023 Advent Calendar), and I have a backlog of rums from new distilleries from the UK to write about. I lack access to the best of the newest that’s out therein that respect Canada has not really changedbut on the flip side this leaves me free to spend some time looking at what Canada itself has to offer. For the most part, my initial forays have proved uninspiringespecially among the white rumsbut there are glimmers of light in the darkness. Romero and Ironworks demonstrated real quality, for example, and I know there are others to be found and written about.

Passing 1,000

Another event of some note was, of course, that the ‘Caner finally hit that once-unthinkable milestone of the 1,000th review. You have to understand what that meant to a guy who, when he started, once thought that making it to a hundred was cool beans…and didn’t even think there were a thousand rums to taste (let alone that they could be sourced). I’m not the first to get thereSerge Valentin was and remains way ahead (as I write this in the final days of 2023 he’s closing fast on 2000 rum entries) and I’m of the firm opinion that had Wes Burgin (The Fat Rum Pirate) not taken a leave of absence from the reviewing gig he would have gotten to that stat next since he wrote and posted fast and more often. But you’ll forgive me for being just a little proud of the accomplishment. The enormous catalogue of essay-length reviews, none of which was phoned in or just dashed off, all of which I can stand behind, has proved to be a consumer reference tool as useful in it own way as any book out there; and hardly a week goes by when someone doesn’t ask about a rum from decades ago which now only lurks on those sometimes obscure and forgotten posts. Tasting notes go stale within a few years, but as snapshots of a moment in time the background details and surrounding context do serve a useful function to laypeople now getting involved in the field…and this is why, although I think the Key Rums series is important, my real love is given to the Rumaniacs, started so many years ago in Paris.

Anyway, as an aside: when I began approaching the milestone I wanted to write about something very special. I sent out an exploratory note to Luca Gargano in Genoa to see if there was anything I could raid his legendary warehouse for, but that got nowhere. And seeing how occasionally, very occasionally, Richard Seale puts out a two- or three-bottle extraordinary release for worthy causes, I seriously considered approaching the man and asking him what could be done…but couldn’t find the courage (or the arrogance to pretend it was a huge deal to anyone except myself). Yet, as luck and a penchant for sniffing around liquor stores would have it, one day I found that amazing Lost Spirits Jamaican rum from 1976 gathering dust (for two freakin’ years!) in an Edmonton shop, and after thinking hard about it for a fortnight, ended up getting the bottle, it became Review #1000, and never regretted that for a momentit’s now another one of those rums for which I need a special occasion to share with others.

Developments in the Greater Rum World

With respect to the rumiverse generally, here are few observations I made throughout the year.

For one, the number of independent bottlers just keeps increasing every year, and it seems like each turn around the sun brings a new challenger out to the front, in a way that just excites people’s interest and ignites their enthusiasm. In past year we had the Companie, 1423, Nobilis, Bira!, Rom Deluxe, Valinche & Mallet, TBRQ, Dram Mor, Nectar of the Daily Drams, Swell de Spirits, Rum Sponge and others, and I don’t think it’s wrong to say the Polish company Colours of Rum was the one people were looking at in 2023, if the scuttlebutt, social media commentary and sheer visibility factor is taken into accountcertainly they seem to be all over the place these days and the rums they select are damned fine. Holmes Cay is also of note: they made waves mostly in the States and now have an increasing presence in Europe as well (especially with that thundering duo of the uber-aged pot still Foursquare rum and the Grand Arome from Savanna they came out with).

Alas, we lost sight of Sangar from Liberia, and I heard Toucan from French Guiana folded its tents which is a shame and a loss for all of us. Mim in Ghana has changed hands I think; fortunately there’s a fair bit of their juice floating around Europe. Nine Leaves in Japan is having some difficulties and I don’t think they’re doing much right now, and Moscoso in Haiti is using others’ facilities to make their klerens. As always we have losses to offset the gains.

Concurrent with all that, are a plethora of new and small distilleries emerging from around the world. In the UK we saw Retribution, Ninefold, Outlier, Dropworks, J. Gow and the Islay Rum Company take on greater visibility (they were founded in previous years and I met many in 2022, but they deserve mention again here). Matugga out of Uganda is going strong in a new direction. Australian distilleries like Killik, Tin Shed, Husk and Beenleigh began to be represented more in the indies’ repertoire, and none too soon, because a raft of others making rums of equal quality is snapping at their heels and I’m convinced we’ll see many more cross our sightline in the years to come (and none too soon). The Asian scene remained quiet and I can’t say I saw much from Sampan, Vientiane or Issan on the festival circuit, but I know they’re all still there so maybe I just attended the wrong festivals and didn’t shop enough.

With the pretty half of Renaissance DistilleryTWE Rumshow 2023

If I had to single out a single distillery for kudosoutside the indies, the Aussies or the New Brits (and I loved them all) — it’s going to have to be Renaissance out of Taiwan, whose single cask, full-proof, sub-five year old rums were simply astonishing, all of them. Their coming out party was at the TWE Rumshow in July and I consider myself fortunate to not only meet the husband and wife team and their sons (same age as the Little Big Caner) but to attend their masterclass and find out more about what they went through to get to this stage….sort of like toiling for a decade to become an overnight success. I know they brought over their best half-dozen to wow us proles, but nobody can make six rums that good without knowing exactly what they’re doing.

And this brings me to an observation I had first made to myself a year ago, thought was premature to state in 2022, which now seems to be appropriate: young rums we would not have looked at seriously before have started to become really damned good. We are conditioned to look for big numbers and multi-decade old rums and yes, those will always be fine and expensive and command our desire. Yet consider how many rums ten years or youngereven five years and belowhave crossed our paths in the last few years and which enthralled, wowed and out-and-out impressed us. Renaissance was one, the Australians and Brits showed us a bunch of others, and even the various blends coming out of more established distilleries around the Caribbean are showing a serious uptick in quality and appreciation. My friends in the whisky world groused many years ago that first the distilleries and blenders made a big thing of “age is everything” until aged stocks ran low at which point they switched the mantra to “age isn’t everything” in their marketing. Perhaps the same thing also happened in rum, but the amount of new distilleries selling really fantastic younger rums to make cash flow suggests that our little corner of the spirits world may simply be better at making such elixirs.

Arminder, the gent behind Rum Revival, (c) Rum Revival Instagram feed

Online Resources

If you were to consider only website-based reviewers you might think the writing gig is one of diminishing interest and output. I have come to the realisation that this is not so, it’s just that the format and platform and methodology has changed. The rum writing and reviewing game is as vibrant as ever, one only has to look elsewhere.

Some years ago I commented on my dissatisfaction with the increasing prevalence of the “short form” review model (you could argue Serge Valentin popularised if not actually created it), whereby quick, tasty little McNuggets of reviews are written, tasting notes are briskly and succinctly provided and a score assigned. I feltthen and to some extent nowthat bereft of context and without placing of a rum in its larger universe, with no provision of some historical or other background, such reviews may be quick to write and lend themselves to building a fast library of tasting notes, but are not always as valuable in the long term. However, in all the ensuing years, the trend has continued and it’s time to stop whining and simply accept that this is the way the world now consumes information. And indeed some of these little reviews, which are almost always platform-based on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or even FB, are pretty good, with the subreddit /r/rum being the best of them all, and Instagram coming right behind it.

It’s not just written micro-reviews either. Other formats are becoming more prevalent. A new short-form video reviewer I like, Arminder Randhawa, started his Instagram feed and YouTube channelRum Revival in 2022; and 2023 is when he really picked up a head of steam and became much more well known. I met him at TWE Rumshow in July and he’s pretty much the same as he is in his videos: fun, pleasant, engaging. In his videos he is crisp, informative and has good editing chopshis presentations really move along and unlike some others, eschew gimmickry, stay resolutely focused and on point which is why he can get away with very short ones.

Older stalwarts like Steve the Barman (on YouTube) remain fixtures on the video scene and almost makes me want to try a spiced rum on occasion (he lives in hope). His philosophy is simply that somebody needs to talk about these bottom feeders as well and so he does it, with a blend of enthusiasm and fast talk that is really fun to watch. He has not changed my mind so far, but then, he doesn’t need to. And a hat tip to Ready Set Rum in the USA who has much fun with his friends and rums as he ever did. All three of these made the Rum Raiders “Five Most Influential Rum YouTube Channels of 2023” listalong with Nia of My Rum Diaries and the duo of Roger and Robert of Just Drinking.

In any event, what I did not see as clearly then but which has slowly come into focus, is that such visual or short form reviews are part of the third internet generation of creative endeavour. This is a generation of creatives which moves a lot faster, attracting a cohort of the consuming audience whose attention span is a lot shorter and probably skews younger. Thousand word essays are passe, reading is so yesterday, and it’s crisp little reviews that make up the bulk of the reviewing ecosystem these days, including the video reviews and podcasts that have become more popular, and this is where I should give a loud shout out to the pair of Will Hoekinga and John Gulla who run that always excellent biweekly podcast The RumCast, which for me is required listening even when I disagree with them. With the exception of Steve and Ralfy who are in the UK, they serve a primarily American audience (and this shows if you know what you’re looking for), but all have a reach far exceeding that and should not be ignored.

A quick roundup of the others around the world: the UK rum reviewing scene has tilted and the three long time resources of Rum Diaries Blog, Rumshop Boy and The Fat Rum Pirate have ceased writing. They remain active on social media and the general rum community but hardly review any longer. Into their place have stepped others. Alex of the Rum Barrel is one of the best: he is a bartender at Trailer Happiness and you sort of wonder where he finds the time to be so prolific; his UK rum distillery tour is an example of the passion and breadth he brings to the subject. Another is Stuart, who runs the Secret Rum Bar and is a short form multi-bottle reviewer in the vein of Single Cask Rum and WhiskyFun. He takes horizontal or vertical tastings as his schtick, and it’s always a good read. Sandor over in Hungary must come in for mention, as he is a long form writer who writes in Hungarian and one of a kind over there, single handedly fighting to get rum some recognition in Eastern Europe. 88 Bamboo represents Asia in fine style and I look forward to the day I can meet their editorial and writing team. Nothing in Australia that I know of (which remains a shame), and Africa and South America remain silent (or at least unknown to me). In the USA, it’s mostly rum clubs (like Austin or Memphis) and reddit contributors with ancillary websites that churn out content these days, and none have made a larger impact outside their region so far as I can tell, though I usually read them all.

The Soapbox Commentary Section

It was with some relief that I observed that to some extent, the vituperation that so characterised 2019-2021 online discourse died downat least a bitas COVID receded and the great social movements the world experienced took a break, as they inevitably dountil the next crisis.

But by no means are any of the issues gone: they’re sleeping, not dead and it seems like people just need something to get them fired up when things gets too quiet. Dosing and disclosure remain on the docket and reliably come up for rancorous discussion every few months on some platform or the other. A fair amount of people who regularly dive into this subject cheered when another lawsuit was filed against a multinational for bad label design related to its ageing, without ever bothering to actually check what the laws really require and what will very likely happen (which is nothing).

The Ministry of Rum FB group, one of the largest social media rum clubs, became a cause célèbre for a while. The issues that got people sharpening their digital codpieces were a combination of a change in the ethos of the group (to a less adversarial, more inclusivebut also more dollar-centric and monetisedtrack), the treatment of existing mods/admins, and the seemingly arbitrary removal or banning of those who posted controversial opinions and commentary, without warning. This flashed in the pan until those who it affected (unsurprisingly, this was mostly the same ones who comment the most about all the usual flashpoints) departed the group en masse and immediately found more congenial FB homes. I genuinely didn’t approve (or see the point) of either side’s high handed actions given how many options each had, but there’s no question that the cesspit that the MoR had become is much less brutal now…at the expense of a certain Darwinian character it once held. Not everyone appreciates the change, probably because there are now limits where before there had been none.

The long standing issue of the Barbados and Jamaica GI remains unresolved, and continues to elevate rhetoric and blood pressures in equal measure, even as the spillover to MF / Plantation continues apace on social media. I find nothing but a raging desire to be right, to shut down dissent, and to target favoured enemies in petty vendettas in most of these posts, and have almost completely disengaged from any discussions on the subject, or even reading them, because how many times do you have to hear “Plantation is sh*t” before you get it? The GI is of great importance and I’m personally behind a strong version endorsed by Foursquare, SNA and Mount Gay (the most recent version of which most commentators have never read), but I argue that the lack of tolerance, the inability to be reasonable, to see points of view other than one’s own, has done more to hurt the case than help it. I simply cannot understandand will never acceptthe constant hate and personal attacks promulgated by a pompous commentariat who have no skin in the game but are somehow okay with telling everyone else what to think and drink (or what not to)1. And this is why thoughtful people simply sign off from getting involved, which is to everyone’s detriment. Moreover, I am convinced that it’s just a matter of time before one of these flame wars gets physical, and when (not if) it happens, you can be sure that the loudest voices who make the environment so toxic will never take any blame for inciting it. It’s a measure of how deeply this issue and the self-censorship it engenders has become embedded in the rum ecosystem, that I rewrote this one paragraph six times and pruned it savagely (it’s a summary of a much longer unpublished opinion piece), and even now I’m leery about the reaction it will inevitably provoke. But it has to be said and someone has to come straight out and say itthe enmity that people provoke and promote with their intractable trolling does our world no service, because like it or not, Plantation is not going anywhere and the GI is not in our hands…so all that spilled digital ink is accomplishing nothing positive at all. It’s time to take a step back and calm down.

Favourite Reviews / Articles of 2022

As I said, my output decreased somewhat with respect to the essays and commentaries and company biographies but here are some that managed to stand out, even if only in my personal opinion:

  • A user on reddit asked about my tasting methods when there are loads of samples to go through, so I wrote him an extended explanatory reply.
  • An extended opinion on the background surrounding the Tamosi “Kanaima” rum formed an addendum to the review which I think was a useful correction and counterweight to the vitriol that had attended the release of the rum a few years ago (which many forgot about, but I didn’t). It just goes to show how much savage commentary is driven by feelings, ego and a desire to be heard rather than anything more thoughtful or knowledgeable.
  • Only two Key Rums articles went up this year (although there is material for more to come) – the Bacardi “Ocho” and the Plantation OFTD, the latter of which was posted with some trepidation (see Soapbox, above), but which was received reasonably well.
  • The Sugar House Overproof rum review was a cheerful look at a masterful unaged rum from one of the New Brits which impressed me to the tune of 90 points. I had similar fun with L’Espirit’s “still strength” unaged MPM rum from Guyana and reread it every now and then for a laugh. Similarly, I enjoyed writing about the Outlier Distillery’s impressive “Hurricane” rum which was bottled at a growly 64% and had taste chops to die for, which was almost matched by the Bundie Overproof.
  • A small series of Rumaniacs reviews of older Bacardis is useful for the window they open into the pastR149R154
  • Review #1,000 must come in for mention here as I spent a lot of time researching it and even more drinking it. It’s one of the most magnificent rums I’ve ever tried, both for taste and for heritage.

Best Rums Tasted During the Year

As before I decided to stick with the Rumcast’s simple categorization (more or less) otherwise this post (already overlong) would become unmanageable. Even within that restriction, it’s really kind of amazing how many fantastic rums crowded into my sightline this year, whether through tastings, festivals, the generosity of friends or simple happenstance (“Oys!! You gotta try dis ting, mon!). I remain grateful and enriched by the sheer variety I was able to try…which, in 2023, numbered more than 200.

Unaged Rum

It’s not that I didn’t try more unaged rums than this small list suggests, it’s just that overall they were good but not always exceptional. I could just as easily have added a Savanna or three, and several more from Australia and the UK. These however, were the ones that stood out to me, and for my money, that HSE was simply the very best of a really strong field with the stunning Islay Rum Distillery Uine Mhor coming a close second. I should have bought myself a bottle, honestly.

Aged Rum (5 years or less)

  • JM VSOP 4YO 43% (Martinique)
  • Rom Deluxe STCHE 2019 3YO Longpond (Denmark/Jamaica) 69.6%
  • Chalong Bay Double Barrel 2YO 47% (Thailand)
  • TBRC Black Gate Australian Rum 3YO 57.2% (UK/Australia)
  • Hampden DOK 2017 5YO 64.6% (Jamaica)
  • Ninefold Distillery Watson’s Reserve 3YO No.1 59% (UK)
  • Renaissance Rums, Taiwan

Australia, Martinique, Jamaica, UK, Thailand, Taiwan…how to chose from such a cornucopia? I almost hate to narrow things down to just one, because all entrants were uniformly lovely and showcased so much variety. But this year, I want to give the blue ribbon to Renaissance for sheer overall excellence, even if the others were right there alongside it.

Aged rum (Over 5 years)

  • Rum Club No. 40 Beenleigh 2007 64.8% (Germany/Australia)
  • Appleton Hearts 3rd Edition 1993 63%(Jamaica)
  • Foursquare-Velier Raconteur 61% (Barbados)
  • TBRC Mount Uncle 12 YO Rum 64.9% (Australia)
  • Homes Cay Barbados 2002 20YO Pot still 51.1% (USA/Barbados)
  • The Last Drop Distillers 1976 44YO Rum 68.5% (UK/Jamaica)
  • Havana Club 11YO 50% (TWE Special Release)(Cuba)

It almost seems like blasphemy to pass by a magnificent Mount Uncle rum, a 20 YO Foursquare pot still, or one of the Appleton Hearts, yet I think from my own review notes, I have to award my best aged rum to the Last Drop 1976. For those who want to have a nomination and award given to something they might actually get to try one day, I’m going to have to say Raconteur was surely a well deserved #2, though I emphasise how strong the entire field is, and that none would be a fail under any circumstances.

“New to me” rum

Honestly, my love is given to this section because this is where rums that don’t always score wellsome do, some don’tbut which have a certain something to them, get to shine and show their chops and be recognized. This year India (or Indian style) had a moment, the New Brits were kicking ass and taking names, and the Philippines’ Luisita deserves serious praise for getting out from under the shadow of Don Papa and somewhat redeeming the honour of the Philippines. Yet, I want to acknowledge Canada’s Romero Distilling’s full proof sherry cask rum, which was by far the best Canadian rum I’ve had thus far and gives me hope that this non traditional region of rum making will rise up and be counted in the years to come.

Most Surprising Rum, aka “AITA for liking it?” Award

Here’s a section that keeps me honest, because they are rums where I had to exercise serious effort not to prejudge. Romero’s Amber and Dark rums did not impress which made their Cask Strength rum so much more impressive; everyone hates on Bundie (not the least in Australia) yet their overproof presented as not half bad. I walked into Cargo Cult not expecting a whole lot and walked back out again really impressed and listening to Steve Magarry snicker. And of course people do know of my general indifference to Doorly’s…so how amazing is it that I really enjoyed not one of their really old expressions but their barely-out-of-diapers 3YO? In this category, I just have to give it to Havana Club though, because normally I’m not a great fan of the Latin / Cuban rum style: however, their 11YO was so solid and well assembled, pipped the 15 YO so easily (which I didn’t think that was possible), that I could not ignore it. What a lovely dram indeed.

(Really) Honourable mentions

  • Isautier Agent Double 01 and 02 (Reunion)
  • Foursquare Touchstone (Barbados)
  • The New Renegade Pre-cask / Aged Series (Grenada)
  • The new ED cask strength series 2009 (PM and ENM)(Guyana)
  • Naga Rums (Indonesia)
  • Ninefold Distillery’s rums from the UK
  • Worthy Park 2015-2020 5 YO Canadian Only Edition 68% (Jamaica)
  • English Harbour High Congener Series 2014 6 YO 63.8% (Antigua)

These not-quite-there-by-a-nose rums are those that scored just a smidgen below the threshold I would use to bring anything into these categories, but were somehow good enough, memorable enough, that I want to call some attention to them irrespective. Isautier’s duo of cane juice and molasses based rums ensorcelled me, and the Naga rums from Indonesia weren’t of the best but unique and special even so. Ninefold just keeps on getting better every damned year and it’s tough to pick a fave so I chose the lot. Touchstone from Foursquare was really quite lovely (as most of the ECS range is), and I remain chuffed by what El Dorado has done after giving up on the Rares, and folding its limited edition aged caskers into the regular portfolio. Worthy Park and English Harbour are perennially high quality hooches, with some exceptional outturns found this year. Here though, the pride of place must go to Renegade’s precask line and also their young aged rums, most particularly the Pearls, which really was a sublime little rumlet, for something so young.

Overall best

I doubt it’s a secret that of all the rums I tried this year, that Last Drops 1976 took home the crown, and right behind it came the Cadenhead TDL 19YO which I still suspect has a smidgen of Caroni in it (unproven, but…). So that’s number 1 and 2, yet they are so unavailable it almost seems like a cheat to name them to the pantheon at all, because, what’s the point for regular rum folks? With that in mind, I reread my notes, rechecked my scores, revisited my memories, and decided that among all these really fantastic rums, this year I have to declare a tie between the Killik Handcrafted and the Black Tot 50th Anniversary because they were both original, stunning, tasty and unique rums that took rums to another level. But again, I cannot emphasise enough that any of the rums on this list is worth looking for and trying, if you can. I hope you do.

So, once again, there you have an example of my inability to make a top three listing that summarises an entire year of writing, thinking, tasting and reviewing. I hope you find it useful and enjoy your drinking, because I certainly did, and with that, I close this overlong annual review, except for one last section which I too often leave out.

Acknowledgments

No such wrap up would be complete without some words of appreciation, since the effort is never entirely solo and many people are involved in what I do. First and foremost, Mrs. Caner who has and always has had, my back, and in turn, my love. She allows me the time to think and write, and acts as a valued counsellor, especially when I’m angry. She sniffs and mutters dark imprecations about the Prada purses she isn’t getting because of my mad pursuit of the next rum, the next festival, the next meet-upbut I know she supports me in all I do, and once in a while might be persuaded to give a grudging compliment, especially if she gets to stow away on a trip to Paris in exchange.

Gregers in Denmark, thanks for all your help, and your friendship; Matt, our back and forth commentary always enriches the narrative. To Steve Magarry who once endured me babbling away for two hours in a Moroccan cafe on a Sunday morning before escaping on a flight back home, to Mr & Mrs Rum who put together those advent calendars that introduced us all to Oz, and the entire Australian and New Zealand rum community who have been so helpful and generous with your timeI’m deeply grateful to you all. Dawn Davies, you’re great, appreciate everythingstill owe you a dinner sometime. Steve the Barman, Keegan, Jazz and Indy, well, what can I say, it’s always fun to hang out with you dodgy lot. For the Canadians, my appreciation goes to Dwayne in Sask (originator of the famed Conjecture), Karl of Bira! in BC, Logan, Carter, and Neil in Calgary, the KWM folksShawn, Curt, Andrewwho always squirrel away some of the good stuff, or find me the last seat in a tasting; and Robin in TO as always. Tips of the trilby must also go to all those people who lend quiet assistance or act as sounding boards, without recompense or mention: CityBarman, John Go, Richard Seale, Sean Caleb, Christelle Harris, Will and John of Rumcast and many more.

This is a lot, but yet, and yet…one more specific person deserves mention and must not only be thanked, but saluted: the badass, cocktail-sipping Teutonic marvel with more pizzazz then the Energizer Bunny, able to leap pallets of rums and cringing reviewers in a single bound, the indomitable, pragmatic, helpful and supportive, one and only Grandma Caner. If Mrs. Caner gave moral and personal support, Grandma Caner was the one who enabled the infrastructure. For the decade I was in the Middle East, the woman patiently gave up her basement to my rum purchases, rented storage, unpacked boxes, cleared my extravagant buys through customs or the post office, and sometimes fetched them home in her bicycle panierin summer or winter, rain, snow or shine like a one-grandma Pony Express. Her small apartment was the site of the famed Caner Afterparties, and she took time and money to help me maintain a foothold on the rum scene wherever it was happening. She gets too little thanks in these pages, but she’s amazing, the greatest Mom I know, and there’s a bunch of people who’ve met her over the years who think the same.

And lastly, my personal thanks and heartfelt appreciation goes to all the very many rum loving individuals who read my work, occasionally leave a comment, and in all ways provide impetus for the project to continue. It would not be the same without all of you. Thanks again, and have a great 2024!


 

Dec 292022
 

Although 2020 and 2021 were deserts of activities and opportunities to meet, share, drink, talk and socialise, the rumworld never really stopped ticking over, and while RumCask’s annual three-rum top of the year invitational roundup took a nosedive, many of us kept churning out product and adding to the literature, tasting new rums, and keeping the flag of geekdom fluttering. In late 2021 some rum expos timidly cracked their doors, and 2022 was when the world finally opened up and the entrances were flung wide for a resumption of the festival season.

The COVID period, for all its many tragedies and frustrations, was really quite productive for manycertainly it was one of the most intense periods of concentrated writing in my life. Essays, opinions, reviews, Key Rums articles and producers bios all flowed without pause, and when in 2022 all that output was added the ability to travel and access rum shows and my personal stash, well, there was a lot of material to be going on with for this year.

Highlights

2022 held many interesting experiences for the ‘Caner, following along from the rebuilding of the site after its crash in 2021 – though it’s never really recovered the hit level it enjoyed before that. I wrote 88 full length reviews including four new Key Rums, four major essays, three in-depth opinion pieces, three Makers profiles, yet another list of 21 great white rums, and did a long, rambling interview with Le Blog a Roger via email. And that’s not counting updates to the Guide to Online Resources, the Strongest Rums of the World post (which I keep an eye on because more strong stuff keeps getting made) or the 2022 and 2023 Rum Festival Calendars which I see as a curated resource to help all us citizens of the larger rumiverse make our travel plans (this is the one post where I have no qualms about being approached by commercial interests to list their event).

To my delight, finally, after whining about it for years, I got a serious sample set of Australian rums courtesy of Mr and Mrs Rum in Oz who sent me the 2021 advent calendar, which allowed me to get a sense of what was going on Down Underthe quality of what they are making over there is really quite fantastic and my only regret is they did not have the opportunity to make another one for 2022. I hope that names like Killik, Winding Road, JimmyRum, Kalki Moon, Tin Shed, Black Gate, Riverbourne and others will one day become as well known as the great distilleries of the West Indies, because what they’re making sure bears watching. The best part of the experience (aside from tasting the rums, of course), was simply being in touch with a bunch of really pleasant, committed, talented and skilled distillers, many of whom poured their savings and their lives into these small companiesthey were happy to help, provided background, offered samples, and I bet that if I were to turn up unannounced at their doorstep, they’d give me three hots and a cot right next to the pot still and a special unaged white rum to cuddle up next to.

Activity in rums from niche companies in SE Asia, Africa and small islands like Cabo Verde was not as dynamic as 2019 had led me to believe they would be, so I did not see much from Mia, Chalong Bay, Issan, Vientiane, Laodi, Samai, M&G, Barbosa, Vulcao and others as I might have had they been exporting and showing up at festivals. Yet I’m sure they’ll turn up again in 2023, and it’s something on my list to keep an eye on. Balanced against that I was able to pick up a decent set of rums from Madeira, which I think may be poised to become a really big thing if the markets open up for them and a few voices make more noise about how good they are. Like Australia, it may just be a matter of them finding their legs and one producer coming up with something that gets huge audiences east and west, north and south that reflects on all of them.

And of course I developed a strong interest on Japanese shochus, specifically the variant made from unrefined brown sugar, akin to Mexican panela used in charandas or the jaggery which the Indian rum makers use for some of their products. This led to more research, new friendsauthors and podcasters Chris Lyman and Stephen Pellegrini were amazingly friendly and generous with their time, for exampleand yet another branch of the Great Rum Tree to clamber around.

In late 2021 / early 2022 COVID receded and vaccinations were had, so I was able to come to Germany and start tasting a raft of bottles and samples that had been gathering there for over two years (and that’s a lot). Seeing the sprightly Grandma Caner and making a long-delayed trip to Flensburg were high points, and I would strongly recommend that anyone with an interest in rum go do the museum and the Sugar Mile in that small northern town. There’s a ton of old rum history in Eastern Europe we never hear about, and as I remarked to Sandor, who runs that interesting Hungarian site Rum Ambassador, we could all do to hear more about the stuff from theresure it’s looked down upon as a verschnitt or a spirit drink or a room (which is to say, not “real”), but the base of these drinks was rum and sometimes we have to relax the standards a bit to understand more about our favourite tipple’s long history.

And, of course, there were the rum festivals, which opened with a bang in 2022. If it was up to me I would have done Miami, Paris (twice), Bordeaux, Berlin, Nordic and London (twice) and maybe even more, but the job, the purse and Mrs Caner stridently objected to such wanton profligacy in spite of my tearfully operatic protestations. As it turned out, I was able to attend the very well organised first TWE Rum Show in July, as well as Paris’s WhiskyLive in September and was fortunate enough to be accredited with a press pass to both (which did not allow me free entry to anything but the trade session, I hasten to add, though I did get a cool lanyard and badge to make me feel important; master classes and VIP tastings remained on my dime).

To say I enjoyed my time at these two would be an understatement. Meeting old friends and making a few new ones after such a long time in Solitary was enervating. I caught up with Christelle Harris and her uncle from Hampden, Benoit Bail-Danel, Jerry Gitany, Mitch Wilson, all my buddies from Skylark (Chet, Jazz and Indy who have now turned into firm friends whose fridges and rum stashes I can raid at will), the guys from J. Gow, Sugar House, Ninefold and Islay Rum Company, Daniele Biondi of Velier, Kris Von Stedingk, Alex Sandu, Ian Burrell, Sly Augustin (at last), Oliver Gerhardt of Rum-X, Robert of WhiskyDigest (best rum reviewer on Instagram by a mile), Dawn Davies of TWE (who sneaked me gratis into a few under-represented masterclasses and spotted me a few bottles I had begged for, for which I owe her big time). I had too little time with Richard Seale (we have a long-outstanding dinner and drinks discussion between us, but were both too busy), Laurent Cuvier of the French site Man With A Stroller, or Serge Valentin, who I had last met in 2014 at the formation of the Rumaniacs but who remembered me kindly; I missed Luca Gargano of Velier in Paris (I doubt I would have had any chance to actually talk to the man, but it would have been nice to say hello). And no such listing of personages could be complete without mentioning the great time I had cracking up with that certifiable kiwi, Richard Nicholson, who puttered around Europe for a year straight, in an old beat-up, farting, flower-power era VW van and attended every (and I mean every) rum show in sight, paying his way by renting out his services as the festival circuit’s most geriatric and cheerful booth attendant. And you ask why I like rum, the rum world and its denizens?

Indy, Richard Nicholson and the ‘Caner

Favourite Reviews / Articles of 2022

Going strictly by the year’s writing, excluding all the content from 2020 and 2021 (some of which was stuff I remain quite pleased with), here are those pieces I think are worth an occasional reread.

  • Other Sugar Cane Spirits – Kokuto Shochu. Shochu is made from a wide variety of materials, but it was the sugar cane varietal I focused on in this long piece about an almost unknown quasi-rum from Japan. I followed it up with reviews of the Nagakumo Ichiban Bashi Kokuto Shochu, and Tomoet Moi Kokuto Shochu, which hopefully won’t be the last.
  • The Australian Rum Series Recap. Granted a score or so of rum reviews from about a dozen distilleries is hardly enough to make any sweeping statements or trend analyses for an entire country with maybe ten times that many distilleries making hooch, yet I feel that even within that limited scope certain remarks could be made, and in it, I summarised my findings from all the rums from the 2021 advent calendar I had tried and keep my fingers crossed there will be another one in my future.
  • The 2022 Spirits Business Rum & Cachaca Masters Opinion. In this post, which I believe remains applicable to pretty much all spirits judging competitions, I take aim at its many weaknesses, and express my dissatisfaction with the way the entire thing was handled. At the end, one major conclusion I come to, which has become stronger and stronger of late, that there has to be a consistent categorization model for all rums of all kinds, used by and agreed to, by everyone. This is unglamorous, unsexy and doesn’t fill many column inches or blog postsand is too often seen as a GI thing, which it only partially isbut I think it will remain one of the most important unsolved issues of the rumworld in the foreseeable future.
  • Key Rums of the World: St. Lucia Distillers Original Chairman’s Reserve. I always knew a rum from this somewhat underrated distillery had to be in the pantheon; I was just hampered by the cessation of the 1931 series after Rev 6, and my being stuck without a sample of the current original. Finally, this year, I managed to get the job done and really took my time crafting something I hope remains useful.
  • A Guide to Online Resources. This post is one that keeps getting updating to stay current and while not often in the “top ten viewed posts of today” (the honour for that goes the Mohan Meakin bio, Strongest Rums of the world and Rum Fest Schedule), it’s one of the most useful posts on the site. I share it to the curious and the searching at least once a week.
  • Key Rums of the World – Velier’s Haitian Clairins. It pains me to exclude so many other other Haitian clairins (including the well regarded Benevolence); yet I had to acknowledge the impact the five Velier-distributed rhums have had on the world of spirits, and this was my way of not chosing any one of them. A lot of text got left on the cutting room floor as well, yet even so, with history, commentary, tasting notes, opinions, hints and background, this article clocks in at nearly 3000 words. The whole thing speaks to my fascination with, my respect for, and my liking of, these indigenous artisanal rhums…and also my uneasiness about aspects of their promotion.
  • Rhum Jacsi (Martinique) from the 1950s. Okay, have to be honest, this one is all about the history, not anything else. I found the backstory fascinating because it demonstrates something of how appreciation for rum and rhum and the varieties developed over a century in Europe.
  • Review of Saint James “Bio” 2020 Rhum Blanc Agricole. Here it’s the writing I enjoyed. I don’t always or often feel energised, but after coming up with that joyous opening paragraph, I couldn’t stop and laughed my way through the rest of the review. Who says reviews have to be brief tasting notes and bland factual observations only?
  • A User’s Guide to attending a Rum Festival. You can tell I was happy to be out and about the world again this year, and in that cheerful frame of mind, seeing the occasional questions on reddit, I wrote this lighthearted (but hopefully useful) novice’s guide to the perplexed, about what a rum festival is all about and how to survive one.
  • Review of S.B.S. Antigua 2015 7 YO High Congener Rum. Hands down my favourite review of the year, because it channels how and where I tried it and who was there, with a sort of heedless abandon (trust me, I kept the embellishments to a minimumit really was like that). Plus, it was a ballin’ rum, really. Occasion, location, rum and people all meshed into something raunchy, raucous and special, and I loved every minute of it.
  • Creating the Ultimate Rum database Part I and Part II. This very long post is really about the Rum-X app: in writing it and delving into the history, I was struck once again how even here, the issue of categorization seeps subtly through the narrative. But that said, for historical background and a bio of a really useful tasting app and its founder that just so happens to double as a rum database is helpful in understanding the issues rum aficionados have faced in trying to make any kind of definitive list of all rums.
  • Key Rums of the worldRon Zacapa 23. Sooner or later I had to come here and make a case why this damned rum is so pervasive, so popular, so hated, such a constant feature in all people’s rum bios…and a Key Rum. Everyone tries it at one point in their journey. Some stay there, some move on. This article attempts to present the facts, explain the hype, and what it means to try it.
  • Yet Another 21 Great white Rums. The third list of its kind. It’s not intentionalI just keep finding more of these delicious badasses, and feel they are often written off with some disdain by too manyespecially by whisky drinkers who have no Zero-YO equivalents, look for big numbers, ask for bourbon lookalikes and don’t get how amazing these rums are.
  • Company Bio of Amrut Distillers. Much more well renowned around the world for their whiskies, Amrut isn’t a big player in the Indian rumspacelet alone that of the rest of the worldwhen compared to Mohan Meakin’s Old Monk or United Distillers’ McDowell’s. Yet the story is interesting and tells us something of what it is and was like in the subcontinent, and the challenges faced by companies who wanted to do more, grow bigger and do it all at scale. Everyone knows something of the Caribbean distilleries and estatesthe Asian companies are no less important, or fascinating, even if we have yet to see world-beating rums from any of them.

Favourite Rums of the Year

And this leads me to the final section of this ode to 2022, the rums I enjoyed most in 2022, the first list of this kind since the one I made to remember 2019, for the boys at the RumCask, who had asked for a couple of drams, and got a firehose instead. It should be noted that not all these rums were released in the year: but many were, and it’s important to both make the distinction and try one’s best to be representative of current releases, otherwise the value of the retrospective diminishes to the user. One is, after all, implicitly suggesting these rums are simultaneously available, of decently recent vintage and worthy of a buy: talking about an overpriced, barely-available rum from five years back is hardly likely to engender enthusiasm or make much sense.

In what may be seen as an odd move, I’ve taken most of the listing structure of The Rumcast (Will Hoekenga and John Gulla’s love child), whose podcast episode #70 listed many of their own picks in a categorization that is relatively brief, but workable (there’s no really good way to do this so it’s all up to the individualsee The Rum Barrel and Secret Rum Bar for alternative takes on the matter). I’ve ignored a couple, and changed the format some and my context is there for each.

The white rum category continued to be the nexus point for some amazing innovation. There are several relatively small batch “Bio” rhums from the French islands, so this is surely a coming thing; I enjoyed the distinct differences of Renegade’s pre-cask whites and Saint Nick’s overproof was a quiet little stunner, as were the Australian cane spirits and agricoles. But for originality, and really freakin’ great tastes, Foursquare could not be beaten this year. As Richard observed to me in Paris, “It’s good to have the Habitation Velier label to bottle these more experimental rums under; we’re not ready to bring it out as a completely commercial product, but this allows us to gauge consumer sentiment.” This consumer agreed, and wanted more.

  • Aged rum (5 years or less)

Aside from old stalwarts from all the usual houses, it’s not often I buy or manage to taste really young rumsthe trend is towards older rums or NAS blends or unaged whites these days. Yet they continue to be made, often by new companies yet to find their niche. Sugar House was startlingly original, and Papa Rouyo was the equivalent of many a sterling Guadeloupe rhum: I considered both of these for the top slot. I also liked Chalong Bay a lot; and Renaissance is on its own plane of existence sometimes. It was Black Gate Distillery’s Dark Overproof from Australia that was the standout this year for mefor originality, taste, strength and overall quality. It must be noted, however, that all the others were really strong too, and it’s entirely a matter of personal opinion that Black Gate pipped the others, which were and remain worthy contenders.

2022 had eight rums aged more than five years which were so startlingly good that to pick just one was near impossible. Foursquare’s Sovereignty, Hampden’s Sherry-aged “Pagos”, Nine Leavesever-better Encrypted IV, the Damoiseau, the Bally, that frikken’ awesome Saint James 15YO from the Magnum series… At the end of it all, I threw away the scoring and simply had to acknowledge that the SBS Antigua, like Velier’s “Catch of the Day” is an Antiguan masterpiece and concede it deserves its place on the podium. If you forced me, if you pressed, I’d have to give a strong second place finish to Saint James and Rum Artesenal right behind that.

One of the reasons to go to rum festivals is to try new things, whether innovations from old companies, or new companies doing their own thing. This year I picked one from each of the major subdivisions of my thinking: one from Japan (a shochu), one from the Australians, one of the new Scottish rum distilleries and one from Taiwan. I could have picked more, but these were the ones that channelled some form of serious and distinct originality which tweaked the format in a new direction. Does it come as any surprise that my enthusiasm for the pot still, jaggery-sourced Indian rum from Amrut bottled by Habitation Velier led the pack? I wrote with some wonder, that it’s “familiar enough to enjoy, strange enough to enthrall, flavourful enough to remember (and then some). Taste, complexity, balance, assembly, they’re all quite top notch.” I still think that way about it.

These days, the breadth of experience and the sheer number of rums I have in my physical and mental library makes it difficult for anything to surprise me…or so I thought. Bristol Spirits showed me I still had stuff to learn. Because, although normally I don’t care much for Spanish Heritage style rums as a wholethe soft, column-still low-strength barrel-aged easy drinkers don’t present much of a challenge or anything that’s significantly different from one year to anotherthese two rums from the 2022 rollout really impressed me. They were simply better in almost every way than the occasionally boring rums from either location I’ve tried before. Whether that’s because they tweaked the fermentation, added a pot still, did some extra boosting under the hood, who knows? The results speak for themselves.

Honourable mention, however, has to go to two of the more original Australian rums I tried: from Aisling Distillery, who made an agricole with a terroire profile that cause quantum states to vibrate with new frequencies, and Killik’s channelling of the Jamaican style to a completely different level. I hear the latter is exploring opportunities in western markets: when you see it, make sure you try it.

 

  • Overall Favourite Rum Of The Year – based on novelty, strength, taste, uniqueness and the introduction of something new – and these are important, because this year we have a really strong field on so many different levelsI’ll have to say the Habitation Velier Amrut ticks slightly more boxes for me than the Foursquare LFT or the Australians and the Magnums, though it’s close, very close. Strong runners up are the Black Gate Dark and Velier Saint James Magnum (or the Mount Gay) and of course, that insanely wonderful Foursquare.

And so, there you have it. An entire year’s worth of experiences and tasting and thinking, distilled into just shy of 4,000 words. It doesn’t cover the actual wealth of rums I tried, or every single experience I had, but it gives you a flavour of how great this year was.

See you next year, then, when the advance towards Review #1000 kicks off. You can be sure there will be an even longer retrospective for that one.

Happy New Year!


 

Dec 042022
 

Ten years ago, overproof rums (which I mentally designate as anything 70% ABV and above even though I’m well aware there are other definitions) were limited to the famed 151sjuice at 75.5%, often lightly aged, and designed as mixing agents of no particular distinction or sophistication. “Something tossed off in between more serious efforts,” I wrote once, not without a certain newbie disdain. They were fun to write about, but hardly “serious.”

But then over the years a strange thing happenedsome producers, independents in particular, began releasing rums at serious cask strength and many were powerful and tasty enough to make the shortcomings of the 151s evident, and interest started to go in a different directionstronger, not tied to a number, and either unaged or straight from the cask after some years. I don’t know if there was a sort of unspoken race to the top for some of these kinds of rumsbut I can say that power and seriously good taste were and are not always mutually exclusive, and man, they just keep on getting better. They became, in short, very serious rums indeed.

Clearly the interest in knowing about, owning or just trying such record-setting rums is there. That said, clickbait listmakers don’t respond to the challenge with much in the way of knowledge. If you searchstrongest rums in the worldthen at the top comes this epically useless 2017 list from SpoonUniversity.com which was out of date even before it went to press. Then, there was a recent re-post of the not-really-very-good 2018 Unsobered “Definitive” list of the strongest rums in the world, which certainly wasn’t definitive in any sense but which got some attention, and an amazing amount of traction and commentary was showered on Steve Leukanech’s FB Ministry of Rum comment thread of the Sunset Very Strong the same week, and there’s always a bunch of good humoured and ribald commentary whenever someone puts up a picture of the latest monster of proof they found in some backwater bar, and tried.

And so, seeing that, I thought I would recap my experience with a (hopefully better) list of those explosive rums that really are among the strongest you can find. I won’t call minedefinitive” – I’m sure there’s stuff lurking around waiting to pounce on my glottis and mug my palate someplacebut it’s a good place to start, and better yet, I keep updating the list and have tried most, so there’s a brief blurb for each of those. I began at 70% and worked my way up in increasing proof points, not quality or preference (this created issues later as more and more rums blasted past that arbitrary marker, but to take a higher starting point would have meant excluding the 151s which was not something that sat well with me: and so, the list keeps getting longer. My bad).

Hope you like, hope you can find one or two, and whatever the case, have funbut be careful when you do. Some of these rums are liquid gelignite with a short fuse, and should be handled with hat respectfully doffed and head reverently bowed.


Neisson L’Esprit Blanc, Martinique – 70%

Just because I only have one or two agricoles in this list doesn’t mean there aren’t others, just that I haven’t found, bought or tried them yet. There are some at varying levels of proof in the sixties, but so far one of the best and most powerful of this kind is this fruity, grassy and delicious 70% white rhino from one of the best of the Martinique estates, Neisson. Clear, crisp, a salty sweet clairin on steroids mixed with the softness of a good agricole style rum.

Jack Iron Grenada Overproof, Grenada – 70%

Westerhall, which is not a distillery, assembles this 140-proof beefcake in Grenada from Angostura stock from Trinidad, and it’s possibly named (with salty islander humour) after various manly parts. It’s not really that impressive a ruman industrial column-still filtered white rarely iswith few exceptional tastes, made mostly for locals or to paralyze visiting tourists. I think if they ever bothered to age it or stop with the filtration, they might actually have something interesting here. Thus far, over and beyond local bragging rights, not really. Note that there was an earlier version at 75% ABV as well, made on Carriacou and now discontinued, but when it stopped being made is unclear.

L’Esprit Diamond 2005 11 YO, Guyana/France – 71.4%

L’Esprit out of Brittany may be one of the most unappreciated under-the-radar indies around and demonstrates that with this 11 year old rum from the Diamond column still, which I assumed to be the French Savalle, just because the flavours in this thing are so massive. Initially you might think that (a) there can’t be much flavour in something so strong and (b) it’s a wooden stillyou’d be wrong on both counts. I gave this thing 89 points and it remains the best of the 70%-or-greater rums I’ve yet tried.

Takamaka Bay White Overproof, Seychelles – 72%

This Indian Ocean rum is no longer being madeit was discontinued in the early 2000s and replaced with a 69% blanc; still, I think it’s worth a try if you can find it. It’s a column still distillate with a pinch of pot still high-ester juice thrown in for kicks, and is quite a tasty dram, perhaps because it’s unaged and unfiltered. I think the 69% version is made the same way with perhaps some tweaking of the column and pot elements and proportions. Yummy.

Plantation Original Dark Overproof 73 %.

Also discontinued and now replaced with the OFTD, the Original Dark was the steroid-enhanced version of the eminently forgettable 40% rum with the same name (minusoverproof”). Sourced from Trinidad (Angostura), a blend of young rums with some 8 YO to add some depth, and briefly aged in heavily charred ex-bourbon casks with a final turn in Cognac casks. Based on observed colour and tasting notes written by others, I think caramel was added to darken it, but thus far I’ve never tried it myself, since at the time when it was available I didn’t have it, or funds, available. I’ll pick one up one of these days, since I heard it’s quite good.

Lemon Hart Golden Jamaican Rum (1970s) – 73%

Since this rumwhose antecedents stretch back to the 1950sis no longer in production either, it’s debatable whether to include it here, but it and others like it have been turning up at the new online auction sites with some regularity, and so I’ll include it because I’ve tried it and so have several of my friends. Blended, as was standard practice back then, and I don’t know whether aged or notprobably for a year or two. The taste, thoughwow. Nuts, whole sacks of fruits, plus sawdust and the scent of mouldy long-abandoned libraries and decomposing chesterfields.

Longueteau Genesis, Guadeloupe – 73.51%

Not a rhum I’ve had the privilege of trying, but Henrik of the slumbering site RumCorner has, and he was batted and smacked flat by the enormous proof of the thing: overpowers you and pins you to the groundand that’s from a foot away,” he wrote, before waxing eloquent on its heat and puissance, licorice, salt, grass and agricole-like character. In fact, he compared to a dialled-down Sajous, even though it was actually weaker than the Genesis, which says much for the control that Longueteau displayed in making this unaged blanc brawler. As soon as I was reminded about it, I instantly went to his dealer and traded for a sample, which, with my logistics and luck, should get in six months.

SMWS R3.5 “Marmite XO”, Barbados/Scotland – 74.8%

Richard Seale once fiercely denied that Foursquare had anything to do with either this or the R3.4, and he was correctthe rum came from WIRD. But there’s no dishonour attached to that location, because this was one strongly-made, strongly-tasting, well-assembled piece of work at a high proof, which any maker would have been proud to release. I liked it so much that I spent an inordinate amount of time lovingly polishing my language to give it proper respect, and both review and rum remain among my favourites to this day.

Forres Park Puncheon White Overproof, Trinidad – 75%

Meh. Cocktail fodder. Not really that impressive once you accept its growly strength. It used to be made by Fernandes Distillery before it sold out to Angostura and maybe it was better back then. The slick, cool, almost vodka-style presentation of the bottle hides the fact that the column still rum which was triple filtered (what, once wasn’t enough?) only tasted glancingly of sweet and salt and light fruits, but lacked any kind of individual character that distinguishes several other rums on this list (above and below it).

SMWS R3.4 “Makes You Strong Like a Lion” Barbados/Scotland – 75.3%

The L’Esprit 2005 got 89 points, but this one came roaring right behind it with extra five points of proof and lagged by one point of score (88). What an amazing rum this was, with a rich and sensuously creamy palate, bags of competing flavours and a terrific finish; and while hot and sharp and damned spicy, also eminently drinkable. Not sure who would mix this given the price or sip it given the proof. It’s a ball-busting sheep-shagger of a rum, and if it can still be found, completely worth a try or a buy, whatever is easier.

All the various “151” rums (no need to list just one) – 75.5%

It may be unfair of me to lump all the various 151s together into one basket. They are as different as chalk and cheese among themselvesjust see how wildly, widely variant the following are: Habitation Velier’s Forsythe 151 (Jamaica), Brugal (blanc), Tilambic (Mauritius), Lost Spirits “Cuban Inspired” (USA), Bacardi (Cuba), Lemon Hart (Canada by way of Guyana), Cavalier (Antigua), Appleton (Jamaica), and so on and so on. What unites them is their intentthey were all made to be barroom mixers, quality a secondary concern, strength and bragging rights being the key (the Forsythe 151 may be an exception, being more an educational tool, IMHO). Well, maybe. If I had a choice, I’d still say the Lemon Hart is a long standing favourite. But they all have something about them that makes them fun drinks to chuck into a killer cocktail or chug straight down the glottis. (Note: the link in the title of this entry takes you to a history of the 151s with a list of all the ones I’ve identified at the bottom).

There is also a 2022 cane juice release from Guadeloupe’s Bologne distillery that is bottled at 75.5% called ‘Brut de ColonneorStill Strength”, which is rested, not aged, for 18 months. It is separate from the 151s and does not pretend to be one. This is not a rhum I’ve tried and do not consider as part of the 151 canon. As always, it looks interesting, though and one redditor gave it a 7.5/10 endorsement.

 

Inner Circle Cask Strength 5 YO Rum (Australia) – 75.9%

This is a rum with a long history, dating back to the 1950s when the “Inner Circle” brand was first released in Australia. It was bottled in three strengths, which in turn were identified by coloured dots – Underproof (38-40%, the red dot), Overproof (57% or so, green dot) and 33 Overproof (73-75%, black dot).This last has now been resurrected and is for sale in OzI’ve not so far managed to acquire one. I’ve heard it’s a beast, thoughso the search continues, since I’m as vain as anyone else who boasts about sampling these uber-mensches of rum, and don’t want the Aussies to have all the fun.

Plantation Jamaica (Long Pond) 1993 27 YO – 76.8%

This is part of the Extreme Series, which are mostly (but not always) high proofed single cask rums; as always, there’s that last finishing in a <insert other cask type here>, the MF trademark despised villified by some but accepted by those with less of an axe to grind. This is a version I haven’t tried (too expensive) but I must admit that the strength and age have me intrigued. Picture taken from FB post on Rum Kingdom Group)

Velier Caroni 1982 23 YO Full Proof Rum – 77.3%

One of the classic canon of the Caronis released by Velier and now an object of cult worship, a unicorn rum for many. “A shattering experienceI wrote with trembling hands in 2017 and I meant it. Steroidal fortitude and a cheerful lack of caution for one’s health is needed to drink this rum; and it’s not the best Caroni out therefor sure it is one of the better ones, though. I don’t always agree with these multiple micro-bottlings from the same year that characterize the vast Velier Caroni output over the years, yet I also think that to dilute this thing down to a more manageable proof point would have been our loss. Now at least we can say we’ve had it. And take a week-long nap.

L’Esprit Beenleigh 2013 5YO Australian Rum – 78.1% and 2014 6 YO 78.%

Australia adds another to the list with this European bottling of rum from the land of Oz, and another released a year later. The first is a sharp knife to the glottis, a Conrad-like moment of stormy weather. The second, with an additional year of ageing, is much tamer, much better, though still seriously strong. What surprises, after one recovers, is how traditional both seem (aside from the power) – you walk in expecting a Bundie, say, but emerge with a jacked-up Caribbean-type rum. That doesn’t make either one bad in any sense, just two very interesting overproofs from a country whose rums we don’t know enough about.

Stroh 80, Austria – 80%

Apparently Stroh does indeed now use Caribbean distillate for their various proofed expressions, and it’s marginally more drinkable these days as a consequence. The initial review I did was the old version, and hearkens back to rum verschnitt that was so popular in Germany in the 19th and early 20th century. Not my cup of tea, really. A spiced rum, and we have enough real ones out there for me not to worry too much about it. It’s strong and ethanol-y as hell, and should only be used as a flavouring agent for pastries, or an Austrian jägertee.

Denros Strong Rum, St Lucia – 80%

A filtered white column still rum from St. Lucia Distillers, it’s not made for export and remains most common on the island. It is supposedly the base ingredient for most of the various “spice” rums made in rumshops around the island, but of course, locals would drink it neat or with coconut water just as fast. So far I’ve not managed to track a bottle down for myselfperhaps it’s time to see if it’s as good as rumour suggests it is.

SMWS R5.1 Long Pond 9 Year Old “Mint Humbugs”, Jamaica/Scotland – 81.3%

This is a rum that knocked me straight into next week, and I’ve used it to smack any amount of rum newbs in Canada down the stairs. Too bad I can’t ship it to Europe to bludgeon some of my Danish friends, because for sure, few have ever had anything like it and it was the strongest and most badass Jamaican I’ve ever found before the Wild Tiger roared onto the scene and dethroned it. And I still think it’s one of Jamaica’s best overproofs.

L’Esprit South Pacific Distillery 2018 Unaged White – 83%

Strong, amazing flavour profile, pot still, unaged, and a mass of flavour. I’m no bartender or cocktail guru, but even so I would not mix this into any of the usual simple concoctions I make for myself….it’s too original for that. It’s one of a pair of white and unaged rums L’esprit made, both almost off the charts. Who would ever have thought there was a market for a clear unaged white lightning like this?

Sunset Very Strong, St. Vincent – 84.5%

The rum that was, for the longest while, the Big Bad Wolf, spoken of in hushed whispers in the darkened corners of seedy bars with equal parts fear and awe. It took me ages to get one, and when I did I wasn’t disappointedthere’s a sweet, light-flavoured berry-like aspect to it that somehow doesn’t get stomped flat by that titanic proof. I don’t know many who have sampled it who didn’t immediately run over to post the experience on social media, and who can blame them? It’s a snarling, barking-mad street brawler, a monster with more culture than might have been expected, and a riot to try neat.

L’Esprit Diamond 2018 Unaged White – 85%

Just about the most bruisingly shattering overproof ever released by an independent bottler, and it’s a miracle that it doesn’t fall over its strength and onto its face (like, oh the Forres Park, above). It does the Habitation Velier PM one better in strength though not being quite as good in flavour. Do I care? Not a bit, they’re brothers in arms, these two, being Port Mourant unaged distillates and leaves off the same branch of the same tree. It shows how good the PM wooden still profile can be when carefully selected, at any strength, at any age.

RomdeluxeWild Tiger” 2018, Jamaica/Denmark – 85.2%

Wild Tiger is one of many “wildlife” series of rums released thus far (2019) by Romdeluxe out of Denmark, their first. It gained instant notoriety in early 2019 not just by it handsome design or its near-unaged nature (it had been rested in inert tanks for ten years, which is rather unusual, then chucked into ex-Madeira casks for three months) but its high price, the massive DOK-level ester count, and that screaming proof of 85.2%. It was and is not for the faint of heart or the lean of purse, that much is certain. I cross myself and the street whenever I see one. Since then Rom Deluxe has released several strong rums in the 80% or greater range.

Marienburg 90, Suriname – 90%

Somewhere out there there’s a rum more powerful than this, but you have to ask what sane purpose it could possibly serve when you might as well just get some ethanol and add a drop of water and get the Marienburg (which also makes an 81% version for exportthe 90% is for local consumption). There is something in the Surinamese paint stripper, a smidgen of clear, bright smell and taste, but this is the bleeding edge of strength, a rum one demerit away from being charged with assault with intent to drunkand at this stage and beyond it, it’s all sound and fury signifying little. I kinda-sorta appreciate that it’s not a complete and utter mess of heat and fire, and respect Marienburg for grabbing the brass ring. But over and beyond that, there’s not much point to it, really, unless you understand that this is the rum Chuck Norris uses to dilute his whisky.

Rivers Antoine 180 Proof White Grenadian Rum – 90%

I’ve heard different stories about Riversrums, of which thus far I’ve only tried and written about the relatively “tame” 69%and that’s that the proof varies wildly from batch to batch and is never entirely the strength you think you’re getting. It’s artisanal to a fault, pot stilled, and I know the 69% is a flavour bomb so epic that even with its limited distribution I named it a Key Rum. I can only imagine what a 90% ABV version would be like, assuming it exists and is not just an urban legend (it is included here for completeness). If it’s formally released to the market, then I’ve never seen a legitimizing post, or heard anyone speak of it as a fact, ever. Maybe anyone who knows for sure remained at Rivers after a sip and has yet to wake up.

Rom DeluxeDestillation StrengthDominican Republic 474 Esters Unaged Rum – 93% ABV

In March 2022, the Marienburg lost the crown after reigning just about undisputed since, oh, whenever it was issued. I have no idea what possessed Rom Deluxe out of Denmark to release this MechaRumzilla, but my God, I have to get me a bottle. Because the issue behind all the metaphors and flowery language a review would inevitably entail, is this: can a rum maintain a taste profile worth drinking in any way, even when stuffed with esters, at that strength? Can’t wait to shred my tonsils and find out.


Additions and honourable mentions, added after the original list Was published in 2019

Unsurprisingly, people were tripping over themselves to send me candidates that should make the list, and there were some that barely missed the cutin both cases, I obviously hadn’t known of or tried them, hence their inadvertent omission. Here are the ones that were added after the initial post came out, and you’ll have to make your own assessment of their quality, or let me know of your experience.

Old Brothers Hampden 86.3% LROK White Rum

360 bottles of this incredibly ferocious high ester rum were released by a small indie called Old Brothers around 2019 , and the juice was stuffed into small flasks of surpassing simplicity and aesthetic beauty. Even though I haven’t tasted it (a post about it on FB alerted me to its existence). I can’t help but desire a bottle, just because of its ice-cold blonde-femme-fatale looks, straight out of some Hitchcock movie where the dame offs the innocent rum reviewer right after love everlasting is fervently declared.

Maggie’s Farm Airline Proof – 70%

Maggie’s Farm is an American Distillery I’ve heard a fair bit about but whose products I’ve not so far managed to try. Their cheekily named Airline Proof clocks in at the bottom end of my arbitrary scale, is a white rum, and I expect it was so titled so as to let people understand that yes, you could in fact take it on an airplane in the US and not get arrested for transporting dangerous materials and making the world unsafe for democracy.

DOKTrelawny Jamaica RumAficionados x Fine Drams – 69% / 85.76%

Here’s a fan-released DOK for sale on Fine Drams, and while originally it oozed off the still at 85.76% and close to the bleeding max of esterland (~1489 g/hLPA), whoever bottled it decided to take the cautious approach and dialled it down to the for-sale level of 69%. Even at that strength, I was told it sold out in fifteen minutes, which means that whatever some people dismissively say about the purpose of a DOK rum, there’s a market for ’em. Note that RomDelux did in fact release 149 bottles at full 85.76% still strength, as noted by a guy in reddit here, and another one here.

(Click photo to expand)

Royal Hawaiian Spirits 95% Rum

In May 2020 the RHS Distillery on Maui (Hawaii), which rather amusingly calls itself theWillie Wonka of alcoholapplied for TTB label approval for a 95% rum which immediately drew online sniffs of disapproval for being nothing more than a vodka at best, grain neutral spirit at worstbecause at that strength just about all the flavour-providing congeners have been stripped out. Nevertheless, though the company seems to operate an industrial facility making a wide range of distilled spirits for all comers (very much like Florida Distillers who make Ron Carlos, you will recall), if their claim that this product is made from cane is true then it is still a rum (barely) and must be mentioned. I must say, however, I would approach tasting it with a certain cautionand maybe even dread. For sure this product will hold the crown for the strongest rum ever made, for the foreseeable future, whatever its quality, or lack thereof.

Plantation Extreme No. 4 Jamaica (Clarendon) 35 YO 74.8%

Plantation should not be written off from consumers tastes simply because it gets so much hate for its stance on Barbados and Jamaican GIs. It must be judged on the rums it makes as well, and the Extreme series of rums, which take provision of information to a whole new level and are bottled at muscular cask strengths, every time (plus, I think they dispensed with the dosage). This one, a seriously bulked up Jamaican, is one of the beefier ones and I look forward to trying it not just for the strength, but that amazing (continental) age.

Dillon Brut de Colonne Rhum Blanc Agricole 71.3%

An unaged white rhum from Martinique’s Dillon distillery, about which we don’t know enough and from which we don’t try enough. This still-strength beefcake is likely the strongest they have ever made or will ever makeuntil the next one, and Pete Holland of the Floating Rum Shack twigged me on to it (that’s his picture, so thanks Pete!) remarkingOnce you try high proof, is it ever possible to go back?” A good question. I probably need to find this thing just to see, and for sure, if it comes up to scratch, it’ll make my third list of great white rums when the time comes.

Velier Caroni 1982 Heavy 23 YO (1982 2005) 77.3% | Caroni 1985 Heavy 20 YO (1985 2005) 75.5% | Caroni 1996 Heavy 20 YO (1996-2016)(Cask R3721) Legend” 70.8% | Caroni 1996 Heavy 20 YO (1996-2016)(Cask R3718) Legend” 70.8% | Caroni 1996 “Trilogy” Heavy (1996 2016) 70.28%

Five of Velier’s legendary Caronis make this list, all clocking in at 70% ABV or greater. They are, unsurprisingly, hard to get at reasonable prices nowadays, and to some extent there’s a real similarity among them all, since they are varied branches off the same tree. Once hardly known, their reputation and their cost has exploded over the last five years and any one of them would be a worthy purchaseand with its mix of fusel oil, dark fruits, tar, wood chips and no shortage of amazing flavours, I’d say the 77.3% gets my vote for now. Serge thought so too, back in the day….but beware of the price tag, which recently topped £2600 just a few months ago at auction.

rockch12 (2)Cadenhead Single Cask Black Rock WIRR 1986-1998 12 YO 73.4%

Another rum I have not gotten to try, one of the varied editions of the famed 1986 Rockley pot still from WIRD. At a stunning 73.4% this is a surprisingly hefty rum to have come out of the 1990s, when rum was just making its first baby steps to becoming more than a light Cuban blend wannabe. Few have managed to try it, fewer still to write about it. Marius of Single Cask (from whom I pilfered the picture) is one of them, and he, even though not entirely won over by it, still gave the rum a solid 87 points.

Saint James Brut de Colonne Rhum Agricole Blanc BIO 74.2%

After having tried Saint James’s titanically flavoured pot still juice, it’s a no-brainer that this 100% organic unaged white rum powered by 74.2% of mad horsepower is something which I and any lover of white column still juice has to get a hold of. Stuff like this makes the soft light white mixers of the 60s scurry home to hide in their mama’s skirts, and will cheerfuly blow up any unprepared glottis that doesn’t pay it the requisite respect. I can’t wait to try it myself.

Pere Labat 70.7 Rhum Blanc Agricole (Brut de Colonne) 70.7%

Indies and the agricole makers are sure raising the bar for overproofs. Here’s a lovely still-strength white agricole that just squeaks by the arbitrary bar I set to cut off the wannabes. I don’t know how good it is but Facebook chatter suggests it’s intense, smoky, salty and comes with optional extra-length claws to add to the fangs it already has. I want one of these for myself.

 

Rom Deluxe Jamaicans (Hampden) – R.17Rhino” 5th Anniversary Edition 2019-2021 <2 YO 86.2% | R.20Springbok” (C<>H) 2020-2022 86% | R.23Pronghorn” (C<>H) 2020-2021 < 2YO 86% | R.32Wolf” (HGML) 2020-2022 <2YO 86%

I have to get myself some of these. These are all weapons grade rums, the sort of thing tinpot banana-republic dictators only wish they had in their arsenals to dissuade unwashed insurrectionists who insist on weird things like, you know, their rights. By now Rom Deluxe has morphed into a full blown Indie, and I wonder if they deliberately seek out rums like this to blow our minds. It’s a full blown Hampden pot still rum from Jamaica, and yes, it’s a high-ester DOK funk bomb as well. Go wild.

Barikken (France) Montebello Distillery 81.6º Brut de Colonne (Unaged)

Unaged, white, clean, agricole. Gradually the agricole makers are coming up to the level of the Latin/Cuban and English style monsters of proof, though one could reasonably ask why they bother. The taste profile of this one is almost, but not quite taken over by the power of its strength, and is a fitting answer why at least they wanted to tryand should try for even more in the years to come. It’s really quite something.

Montebello Edition Oge Cheapfret Brut de Colonne 77% ABV (Unaged)

Not to be outdone, Montebello released an unaged column still white of their own, though not quite as powerful; I think this came out in 2021 or 2022. So far I have yet to taste it and can’t provide much commentary.

 

 

Engenho do Norte Branca 78% ABV and Branca Brut de Colonne 79.4%

Engenho do Norte is a distillery located on the north coast of Madeira and they have several lines of rums: Rum North, Zarco, 980, 970, Lido, and the cane-juice agricoles of theBrancaorWhiteseries. These come in several varieties, from a sedate 40%, up to the previous Big Gun, the 60% “Fire”. In April 2022 a new version without a name was promoted, setting a new proof point record for the company of 78% ABVbut so far I have not seen any reviews or comments, and it has still not made it to the company website, probably because they’re afraid it might spontaneously combust. It was followed in late 2022 by another Brut de Colonne at 79.4%. Wow….

Distillerie de Taha’a, Pari Pari, French Polynesia – “TDouble Distillation 74º

I’m fairly sure nobody outside the region has heard much about this small distillery in French Polynesia. Yet they seem to have made a quiet reputation for themselves over the last four or five years. Their products are cane juice rhums for the most part (Rum-X lists a dozen or so), at various strengths and with occasional ageing, and finishes. This double distilled agricole-style rhum is definitely one I want to try: for its strength, its terroire, its origin and yes, damn it, for sheer curiosity. (NB: I can’t remember where I picked the photo fromit languished in my to-do basket for a whileso I apologize to the owner for the lack of attributionwill correct if notified).

L’Esprit Still StrengthA Jamaican Distillery” 2019 Unaged White Rum – 85.6%

I’m not sure if L’Esprit has gone off on a tangent with these massive overproofs. I thought the Fiji and Diamond were pretty much the standard badasses the company put out; not soin 2020 Tristan clearly wanted to outdo his previous efforts and issued 279 copies of this Jamaican monster. I have a sample dissolving a bottle somewhere in a lead lined box suspended in superconducting coils channelling a magnetic field to keep it from doing some weird scientific sh*tlike maybe creating a singularity. But I can’t wait to try this one (Updateand I finally did, in November 2022).

Mhoba (South Africa) High Ester Pot Still RumsMar 2019 74.5% and Jul 2019 78.2%

Mhoba has been making big waves since it debuted a few years ago, mostly because of its high quality aged and unaged pot still juice. They have branched out some into flavoured rums, high ester rums and strong badasses starting north of 65%, and the two mentioned here are just some of what’s going to become available in years to come. I don’t know if there’s a race to go past 90% these dayssometimes it sure seems so, what with the stronger and stronger rums that keep getting issued.


If I had to chose the best of the lot I’d have to say the Neisson, the SMWSs and the L’Esprits vie for the top spots, with the Wild Tiger coming in sharp right behind them, and I’d give a fond hat-tip to both the old and new Lemon Harts. The French island agricoles as a whole tend to be very very good. This is completely subjective of course, and frankly it might be better to start with which is worst and move up from there, rather than try and go via levels of force, as I have done.

Clearly though, just because some massively-ripped and generously-torqued overproof rum is aged for years, doesn’t means it is as good or better than some unaged white at a lower strength (or a higher one). Depending on your tastes, both can be amazingfor sure they’re all a riotous frisson of hot-snot excitement to try. On the flip side, the Marienburg suggests there is an upper limit to this game, and I think when we hit around 90% or thereabouts, even though there’s stronger, we ram into a wallbeyond which lies sh*t-and-go-blind madness and the simple lunacy of wanting to just say “I made the strongest” or “I drank it.” without rhyme or reason. I know there’s a 96% beefcake out there, but so far I’ve not found it to sample myself, and while it is a cardinal error to opine in advance of personal experience in these matters, I can’t say that I believe it’ll be some earth shaking world beater. By the time you hit that strength you’re drinking neutral alcohol and unless there’s an ageing regiment in place to add some flavour chops, why exactly are you bothering to drink it?

But never mind. Overproofs might originally have been made to be titanic mixers and were even, as I once surmised, throwaway efforts released in between more serious rums. But rums made by the SMWS, Romdeluxe, L’Esprit and others have shown that cask strength juice with minimal ageing, if carefully selected and judiciously issued, can boast some serious taste chops too, and they don’t need to be aiming for the “Most Powerful Rum in the World” to be just damned fine rums. If you want the street cred of actually being able to say you’ve had something stronger than any of your rum chums, this list is for you. Me, I’d also think of it as another milestone in my education of the diversity of rum.

And okay, yeah, maybe after drinking one of these, I would quietly admire and thump my biscuit chest in the mirror once or twice when Mrs. Caner isn’t looking (and snickering) and chirp my boast to the wall, that “I did this.” I could never entirely deny that.


Other notes

  • In my researches I found a lot of references to the Charley’s JB Overproof Rum at 80% ABV; however, every photo available online is a low-res copy of the 63% version which I wrote about already, so I could not include it as an entry without better, umm, proof.
  • Thanks to Matt, Gregers and Henrik who added suggestions.
Oct 192022
 

Nothing demonstrates the fast-moving development of the rumworld more clearly than the emergence of, and appreciation for, white rums, whether called aguardientes, blancs, whites, silvers, platinos, clairins, grogues, charandas, cane spirits or blancos. So no, I am not referring to the anonymous 40% lightly aged and filtered whites of the American cocktail circuit, where the objective is to hide the rum in the mix (Lamb’s, Bacardi and various forgettable blancos are examples of the type) as if embarrassed to even mention its presence. No, I refer to high proofed, often unaged belters that have enormous taste chops and can wake up a dead stick.

There are several reasons for the emergence of these rums as a major branch of the Great Rum Tree in their own right. For one they speak to the desire of younger audiences for an authentic experience with the terroire of the spirit. It’s not always possible to tell from an aged rum where it hails from unless it’s Jamaica, Guyana or somewhere else with a clearly recognizable profileby contrast, one is rarely in doubt about the difference between an agricole rhum, a grogue, a clairin, a kokuto shochu or a charanda.

But more than that, white rums are being seen as among the best value for money rums available, because not only are they true purveyors of terroirethey have, after all, not been touched by either barrels’ influence or additives of any kindbut years of ageing are not part of the cost structure. We have been conditioned for years to believe that “older is better” and pay huge sums of money for rums aged three decades or more (or less) – and the entire time, these flavourful rums so representative of their source, which have now gotten to the stage of being good enough to sip or mix, have been quietly developing. They are cheaper, they provide new up and coming distilleries with useful initial cash flow, and are an absolute riot to have for the first time. If there’s a theme at all in this third list of white rums, it’s the emergence of small non-tropical distilleries’ small batch, pot still, unaged whites at ever increasing proof points, demonstrating uniqueness and distinctiveness and inventiveness.

Hold on to your hats, then, because while it’s sure to be a bumpy ride, it’s equally certain we won’t be bored or unhappy, and that’s something we need more of in these troubled times.


Renegade’s Pre-Cask releases (Grenada)

Years ago I wrote the company profile of Renegade, when they were an early, unappreciated indie bottler ahead of their time. They folded their tents in 2012 but Mark Reynier kept the name, and went on to found a new distillery on Grenada. Not content to wait until his rums aged properly he released five unaged white varietals to showcase what terroire meant. They are all lovely rums, and they prove that terroire and parcellaire really have solid meanings, because each of these rums is completely distinct from every other.

Killik Handcrafted Silver Overproof White (Australia)

Killik is one of the New Australian rum companies about which we know far too little and get not enough. It’s hard to say whether their rums will make it to the European or American audiences any time soon: if any single one of them ever does, I hope it’ll be this one. Killik messes around with a hogo-centric approach to their rums and the results are to be seen in all their glory in this almost unknown unaged white rum. (NB Honourable mention should also be made of Winding Road Distillery’s white “Virgin Cane” rum, which was also very good)

Clairin Sonson (Haiti)

Nothing much need be said about this rum, because it’s released by Velier and given all the attention attendant upon that house. For those who don’t know (and want to), it’s made from syrup, not pure cane juice; derives from a non-hybridized varietal of sugar cane called Madam Meuze, juice from which is also part of the clairin Benevolence blend; wild yeast fermentation, run through a pot still, bottled without ageing at 53.2%. What you get from all that is a low key rhum, quite tasty and one to add to the shelf of its four siblings.

Barikenn Montebello 81.6º (France-Guadeloupe)

Barikenn is a small French independent out of Brittany that is of relatively recent vintage, having been founded “only” in 2019 by Nicholas Marx, who followed the route taken by another Breton bottler, L’Esprit: slow and easy, small outturns, just a few, and high quality every time. A WP and a Foursquare were first, followed by this massive codpiece of a rum from Guadeloupe at a whopping 81.6%. How it maintains a flavour profile at that strengthand it does, a very good oneis one of life’s enduring mysteries.

Saint James Brut de ColonneBio” 74.2% (Martinique)

The high water mark for Saint James’s blancs will always, for me, be the Coeur de Chauffe pot still unaged white. Yet for me to dismiss the Brut de Colonne would be foolish because it’s a parcellaire rhum, issued with serious proofage, and best of all, it’s wonderful either by itself, or in a mix. Distinctive, unique, flavourful and useful, it’s a tough act for this old house to beat.

Pere Labat Brut de Colonne 70.7º (Guadeloupe)

There is nothing particularly special about this unaged blanc from Marie Galante: it’s not a bio, a parcellaire or some fancy experimental, and in fact, the 40º, 50º and 59º blancs also deliver similar profiles…with somewhat less power, to be sure. Yet the sheer intensity of what is provided here makes this, the strongest rum in the company’s arsenal, impossible to ignore completely and to be honest, I liked it quite a bit.

Engenhos do Norte Branca Rum Fire 60º Agricola (Madeira)

Slowly but surely Madeiran rums are becoming De Next Big Ting within the rum world and maybe it’s just poor word of mouth that’s keeping them from being more appreciated. The “Branca” at 60% may be Engenhos do Norte’s strongest commercial offering (the word means “The White One”) and it is their own bottling, not something they passed on to either That Boutique-y Rum Co. or Rum Nation. It’s distilled on a column barbet still as far as I know, and it’s quite a tasty treat.

N4021

El Destilado Wild Fermented Oaxaca Rum (Mexico/UK)

El Destilado is a small UK bottler whose signature limited edition rums are all from Mexico (mostly from Oaxaca) and are really charandas in all but name (thought unless from Michoacan and covered by the Designation of Origin, they’re not). This rum is from 100% cane juice, natural five-day fermentation, 8-plate column still distillation and trapped with zero ageing. The terroire shines through this thing, and while some flavours will appear strange, wild and near-untamed, well, I made similar comments on the clairin Sajous back in 2014, and look how well that turned out. I buy every rum this company makes on principle, because I think when the dust settles, we’ll never see their like again.

L’Esprit Jamaican “Still Strength” White Rum (France-Jamaica)

L’Esprit is one of a handful of unappreciated European indies whose reputation should be greater. They still make extraordinary barrel selections of aged rums, yet the occasional unaged whites they produce may be even more amazing. On my last list I mentioned their “still strength” 85% Port Mourant white, and of the next batch, the 85.6% Jamaican white released in 2020 is equally worthy of acclaim. If you want to see a white that channels shock and awe in equal measure, you may have found it here.

St. Nicholas Abbey Overproof White (Barbados)

Who would have thought that the conservative Barbadian Little Distillery That Could could escape its traditions? For most of their releases it’s been ever increasing ages and all at living room strength, and then somebody decided to cast caution to the winds, step on the gas and dropped this 60% beater of an unaged white on us. Holy Full Proof, Batman. It’s fiery, it’s spicy and tasty and aromatic, all at the same time

Foursquare LFT White (Barbados)

Few rums are or have been more eagerly anticipated than Foursquare’s various ECS rums or the Collaborations with Velier. Yet those were and are variations on a theme: well known and much loved to be sure, but not completely original either. This one, nowthis one is cut from wholly new cloth for the distillery, has the potential to take the company in a whole new direction, and the best part is, it’s really kind of fantastic: a high-ester long-fermentation style rum from juice that may just cause a few puckered…er…brows, over in the French islands. And, maybe, South Africa. As all the 2022 UK and Paris rum fests are now over, look for reviews of this thing to come soon from all the usual suspects. Me, I think it’s great.

William Hinton 69% White Agricole (Madeira)

A year or so back, I wrote about a white Madeiran rum from William Hinton (Engenho Novo) at the usual inoffensive 40% and gave it a dismissive “it’s a rum” rating of 75 points. It didn’t impress me much. Side by side with that was another review: of the overproof white at 69%. Both were column still cane juice agricoles, but the difference was night and daythe stronger version is completely impressive on all levels and while it’s made for mixing, I’d enjoy it fine exactly as it is. (The difference is probably because the 69% edition is not aged and has a 2-3 days’ fermentation time, unlike the 40%’s 24 hrs and a couple of years’ ageing and subsequent filtration).

Montanya Platino (USA)

Aside from maybe a double handful of serious distilleries, American rums rarely get much appreciation or respect, and with good reasonthey keep trying to make whisky and see rums as a “filler” spirit (if even that), and the results often reflect that indifference. Not so Montanya, Karen Hoskins’ little outfit in Colorado. There’s all sorts of promising stuff going on there and this white rum is one of themit’s one of the few white rums out of the USA that does not try to copy Bacardi, take cheap shortcuts, or, at end, disappoint.

Sugar House White Overproof Rum (UK)

The New Scots are coming, and they aren’t messing around. Sugar House demonstrates that it’s not necessary to have a ginormous industrial still, age your rum up to yinyang in barrels blessed by the Pope, be in the tropics or have a cool pirate theme to be completely, totally awesome. I have little interest in their spiced rums, “scotch bonnet” rums or the coffee infused varietals, and even the standard white they make is not in this one’s league. The overproof though….in a word, fantastic. It has so many flavour notes I’m in danger of running out of words.

Islay Rum Co. “Geal” Pure Single Rum (UK)

The British Invasion is getting serious when an island renowned for its whisky distilleries can allow a rum distillery to be constructed (in Port Ellen, forsooth!). I was able to try the 2022 Inaugural Release of a 45% pot still unaged white rum, which is made with a 5-7 day fermentation period and uses dunder. The results, while not spectacular, channel Jamaica so well that it cannot be ignored, and I wouldn’t want to. Are we sure this is made in Scotland?

J. Gow “Culverin” Unaged White Rum (UK)

J. (for “John”) Gow Distillery is located on what is likely the smallest rum producing island in the world, up in the Orkneys in northern Scotland, on a 0.15 square mile island called Lamb Holm, where it is rumoured, cane does not grow well. Armed with a 2000-litre pot still they produce a series of lightly aged rums with evocative names, all at around standard strength. The “Culverin” unaged white I tried at TWE Rum Show in 2022 really was a quiet little stunner. Bottled at 50% it channelled dusty, woody, briny, molasses and kimchi notes that reminded me of unaged Port Mourant rums. Note: to be honest the limited (171-bottle and sold-out) edition of the 1st Wild Yeast white rum they did back in March 2022 was even better, but I’d prefer to have this list represent rums you can actually get.

Papa Rouyo Rhum Agricole de Terroire (Guadeloupe)

Papa Rouyo has been quietly available in France for about a year, and perhaps it’s 2022 that was their coming out party. A new microdistillery in Le Moule on Guadeloupewhich puts them right by Damoiseauthey operate a couple of charentais pot stills to make cane juice rhums. Some are aged, some are single cask, some are taken by indies like Velier for the HV line. But it’s the pair of lightly aged (120 days and 450 days) almost-whites that I include here, because their double distillation and R579 Red Cane varietal makes for two stunning rhums. The aromas and tastes almost explode in the nose and mouth, and while adhering to the general agricole profile, go off in joyous directions of their own at the same time.

La Favorite “La Digue” andRiviere Bel’Air” (Martinique) Rhum Agricole Blanc (Martinique)

Another pair that are tough to separate: 52% and 53% respectively, parcellaire rhums, limited outturns, AOC specs, 2018 harvest, monovarietal canes, unaged…few rhums pack such a series of plot points to their production details. What comes out at the other end is delicious: sweet, herbal, spicy, citrus, vegetal, fruity, tart….I could go on, but the bottom line is that this pair of rhums, either or both, shows why parcellaires deserve attention.

Chalong Bay High Proof White Rum (Thailand)

The Thai cane juice rum from Chalong Bay should didn’t make the cut for either of my two initial lists…probably because I had only tried the original 40% white and that was decent, just not terrific. Things got dialled up quite a bit with the high proof rum, though. The 57% rhum nosed well, tasted well and was an all round winner for me. While I liked it, it’s hard to tell whether such a product would sell in its home country where softer and sweeter profiles are more common, so the jury is out on whether it continues to be made, and if for export only or not.

J. Bally Unaged White Rhum 55% (Martinique)

Bally has been on the list before with their more mainstream 50% rhum blanc, yet the 55% unaged white is so good, it even eclipses the untrammelled quality of the regular offering (which was surely no slouch either). I can’t say what makes the extra five points of proof so intrinsically delicious, only that somehow it exceeds its origins. I really loved it and went back to the bottle several times to filch some more.

Habitation Velier Distillerie De Port Au Prince Double Distilled White Rhum (Haiti)

Given it was distilled in 2021 (twice) but not seen in public until 2022 (and even then the label seemed incomplete), I’m unsure whether it’s been aged or rested. From the taste, my money is on the latter. Initial distillation in the Providence Distillery located in Port-au-Prince, the capital, with crystalline cane syrup coming from Saint-Michel-de-l’Attalaye (also home of Benevolence, Sajous and Le Rocher). It channels all the agricole hitsbrine, fresh fruit, cane, honey and a smorgasbord of a lot else; I found it rather more elegant than the punch of, say, the Sajous.. It’s a great entry into the HV series and just keeps getting better as you taste it.


Summing Up

Looking at this list, it’s clear that the epicentre of such rhums remains for the most part in the Caribbean (and I’ve excluded a few other really good rhums from there to keep the list from ballooning too far and showcase other regions). There are still many interesting rums to be had from other countries and continents, of course, and I think that the areas to keep an eye on are Asia and Africa (South Africa. Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon specifically, for now).

Another interesting trend these whites suggest, is the emergence of micro-distilleries in locations like the UK, which are outside the usual tropical haunts of enthusiast-driven operations. Since GIs, terroire and cane juice are not the main focus, they can buy molasses from wherever, and just go from thereso what’s surprising is how good so many of them are.

Lastly, it’s good to see the 40% limitation is being dispensed with across the board. Whites are being issued at any strength suitable to their character, and although sometimes I think distilleries take it to extremes with thestill strengthreleases (Rom Deluxe’s DR 93.6% white rum is the poster boy for this in action), it’s way better than the anonymous blah I grew up with and which still dominates too many bars I’ve been cordially escorted (=thrown out”) of.

So that’s it for now. Until List #4 comes out, try these and enjoy the ride.


Note: Previous lists of great white rums are here (#1) and here (#2).


 

Sep 212022
 

Part I was an extended discussion on the evolution and development and early efforts to create a comprehensive data seta databaseof rums. Not just current rums available now, but all of them, from all times, all eras, all countries. That it has never been done doesn’t make it any the less important…or dreamed of.1

To be sure there were some resources available, as listedthe problem was they were scattered, inconsistent, incomplete or did not have such a focus, and almost all that did gradually went dark because of the effort of maintaining them. Peter’s Rum Labels and Rum Ratings remain the best ones that are still live, yet they have limitations of their own. Sites like the American Rum Index and Australian Rum Index remain too small-scale in scope and rarely list rums at all; and review sites with real quantities of reviewsWhiskyFun (the champ with 1600+), the Fat Rum Pirate and this site (nearly a thousand apiece) — can only list rums that have been tried and to which there is access; still other sites like Barrel Aged Mind, Barrel Aged Thoughts and Single Cask Rum (which list issued rums as part of company profiles) only focus on what interests them, and are hardly exhaustiveand therefore there are gaps and fissures all over the place.

The time was therefore ripe for the next phase in such rum databases’ evolution: crowdsourcing and the mobile app. Already technology was moving to a point where solutions in other areas (where large volumes of data had to be collated) were seen as potentially applicable here, most notably that of setting up easy-to-use online infrastructure and letting the users provide the data.

Given the user-driven examples of Wikipedia and Rum Ratings in particular, the only real surprise is why it took so long for some enterprising rum aficionado to combine crowdsourcing with the increasingly headlong move towards portable devices and port the entire concept to mobile in the first place. Maybe it’s because app development is a young person’s game while the real deep diving rum chums are all old farts using desktops (like me, ha ha). The advantages of an app based on mobile rather than desktop (or laptop) technology are clear: in real time and usually on the fly, users provide the input, the content, the tasting notes, the scores, the production details, the label dataand the app or its owner acts as a middleman and moderator, curating the content for error checking, duplication and incorrect data. In this way the combined power of many creates a greater whole than any one person could possibly do alone and if crowdsourced edit and error correction gets folded in, well, you really have something here.

While Rum Ratings was the first application to take crowdsourcing seriously, it was geared for the larger screens of desk- and laptop, and hampered by the fact that the creator, for all the good intentions, was not so deep into the rum culture as to note the wave of consumer requirements and enthusiasm which would have made the website more useful. It was a hobby project that had great utility for a general rum drinking audience, but never stepped up to the next level to make it some kind of de facto leader in the field, or a standard of any kind.


The origin of the application that was and remains the closest to realising the vision of a publicly available, curated, and comprehensive rum database was actually notthen or nowcreated for that purpose. Like most programs, websites or applications that enthusiastic people slapped together in the past two decades with enthusiasm, gumption, gallons of coffee and too little sleep, its genesis was personal. Oliver Gerhardt in Germany was getting interested in rum, had a control spreadsheet to record his tasting impressions of those rums he had sampled, and a Master’s degree project to develop a mobile app: so he simply combined the two and came up with a small and very rudimentary application he called “Rum Tasting Notes”, which replaced his spreadsheet tasting diary.

Unsurprisingly for a first-gen effort where the basics and philosophy hadn’t been firmly nailed down yet, it was primitive. The database mechanism was clunky and at first very manually driven. The architecture lacked community ratings or a tasting feed, and there was only a very rough way to create tastings: if one wanted to record tasting notes it required manual fill of key data with no error checking. There was no true database in the backbone. The point-scale was between 1 and 10 with 0.5-point increments and thus covered only one fifth of today’s value range. But there were a few sliders, a scoring mechanism and a comment field, so the core features were already there.

After playing with it and expanding the facilities of the app for many months, he realised his pet project actually filled a niche that was imperfectly addressed by the existing sources available at the time. Perhaps others would be interested? In early 2018 he showed it to some friends and the app even as it was, was so well received that in December of that year he finalised the first version and uploaded it to the online app ecosystem, for free (it remains a free app as of this writing). Initially RTN was provided to the iOS app store, but an Android version was soon provided as well. At the time it had tasting notesfor that was the purpose of the appfor a total of 300 rums which had been cobbled together from his own notes, blogs, online stores and even books.

Although initially released only in Europe, several things caused the app to grow by leaps and bounds. For one, Oliver brought in several volunteers from the rum community to share it around, talk to fans about itsome, like Benoit Bail-Danel were well known and had good reputations in the field, so their word carried weight, and their social media posts and commentary accelerated the visibility and acceptance. Secondly, he added to the development team quickly: critically this was Jakob Schellhorn for product management and marketing, Marcus Rottschäfer for the recommendation engine and machine learning aspect, Vincent Kesel who played a major role in the development of the android version, Theresa Plos for her lovely design work, and other users and early adopters who provided useful feedback and acted as proselytisers for RTN. Clearly, then, the moment it went up as an app, commercial possibilities were being explored, and it was not going to remain a guy-in-a-garage thing forever.2.

And it didn’t, because it was constantly tweaked and redesigned as more functionalities were added, thought of or asked for. The name got switched from Rum tasting Notes to RumX in a major update in 20213. A website was set up for future expansions, where searches can be done. Both the recommendation engine and the tasting engine became more sophisticated; the latter allowed for both pre-defined words and manual fields; scores were made easier, and extra fields were added for new rums’ background details (a godsend to a guy like me). Error checking, data integrity and duplicate elimination was beefed up as rums were added, and continues to be scrutinized regularly (no rum gets added without being vetted first). And in mid-2022 the app was expanded to be available in North America.

Users could now, on the road and with minimum fuss and bother, add new rums and define where it was bought, basic details about it, whether it was a sample or a bottle, and how much it cost. Bar codes could be scanned in. Users could build a collection of their bottles, their tasting notes, their wish lists, interact with each other through a community feature, link to reviews and websites…the app has become something of a one-stop shop for all the things that individual sites once didlikes, discussions, bottle splits, shares, tasting notes, charts, scoring, and so onwhile seamlessly integrating the experience and making it easier. Plus, it was mobile, so people could use it in real time when they were shopping, scan bar codes into it to get and upload data, check out aggregate scores on the fly and, as time went on, even check out prices and shop online for their rums. People in a shop used to have to search for bloggersreviews to see whether a rum might be worth buyingthis app makes that an option, not a requirement, and it’s faster.

Of course, it’s not perfect: no app really can be and what one person likes might be an anathema to another. Adding a new rum on a smartphone takes time and is still something of a pain in the ass. Tasting notes icons for quick selection are not entirely intuitive (though the colour coding does help) and it’s not always clear what a slider or icon description might actually be for (e.g. “roasted”). It also lacks speed for multiple tastings and updates which a desktop version would assist. There are many like me who have hundreds of tasting notes and would like to add that to the database but it’s not feasible to do so. On a phone it’s just not going to happen: yet there is no facility to do so via an API upload or a desktop version of the program (as yet).


But circling back to the main theme of this two part essay, RumX’s influence and importance exceeds its user-friendliness and multi-functional abilities, to an extent not clearly appreciated by casual users, or even, perhaps, its creator. Most users, after all, just want to know whether to buy a rum or not, or what a bottle they have should taste like, or what others thought of it.

Whether by design or not, though, RumX has become far more than just a tasting notes diary, score aggregator, digital collection builder and rum collector’s app. It has become a central hub in the rum consumer’s ecosystem, connecting shops, reviews, scores, specifications, users and even conversations. And as time went on and more and more people adopted it and began adding to it, what it brought to the table was a digital, mobile tasting note app, reasonably easy to use, minimising the amount of typing and quick to update by the average user. Nothing we’ve ever seen has even come close to this kind of broad functionality. And this in turn has led RumX, not quite four years after its introduction, to already boast more than 13,000 rums in its database.

Just think about what that means. In 2013 I opined to a friend of mine that perhaps there might be 5,000 rums in the world. Ten years on, I know that it was a woeful understatementbecause having seen Luca Gargano’s 5,000-rum warehouse and knowing of Steve Remsburg’s 1,200+ rum collection, and considering the hundreds or even thousands of new rums that get released by old and new bottlers, distillers and indies every year, I’m aware that we are in very real danger of just getting lost in the wash. It’s too much, too fastno writer can keep up, not without help, time, sponsorship or fundingso to have this one resource that lists more than anyone else and has it available to everyone, is a huge benefit to the entire community.

For once, we have the facilitylimited, but still more than beforeto tap into the biggest single repository of rum bottling information that exists for the general public. At last we can tell if the Cadenhead VSG 73.6% 1990-2003 Guyana rum is real, or a mislabelled sample bottle, and not spend two days tracking it down. Individual reviewers and writers might deep dive into a single rum and put more info out there (and in better prose), and those who write informational pieces about distilleries, distillation, companies, personalities, styles, countries and so on will never be out of work. But in aggregate and for what it is, RumX is quite simply the biggest database and the best resource of rum bottling information out there that’s available and accessible to the general public. If Oliver and his team can find a way to upload bulk information or allow the inclusion and processing of data more rapidly by the reviewing sources who have been the backbone of the writing community for so long, I don’t doubt that RumX can top twenty thousand entries in another few years, easy.

And that serves all of us who want to know more about the more obscure older bottlings we occasionally run into, as well as the newest and bestest by the big names. Finally, it looks like after decades of trying, the ultimate rum database has been found: not in the basement labour of an unknown and unappreciated solitary rum lover who never shares because it’s never finished, butas it almost had to have beenin our own collective consciousness, in each and every one of us who love the spirit.


Other Notes

  • I could have made this a single essay and just added RumX as the last entry in the list of databases, but that would have meant shortening the info I had on the app (hat tip to Oliver, who provided much of it) and I felt it to be useful in and of itself.

Sources

Sep 182022
 

Since the very beginning of the distributed and engaged rumiverse, there have been movementsalmost all by individualsto catalogue all rums in existence. All of them came up short, failed, or were abandoned…though many, in hindsight, pointed to the desirable characteristics of some as-yet undeveloped system and encouraged the next generation of creators. Yet perhaps now we are on the edge of cracking the problem. This two part essay charts the beginnings of such projects, why they are important, and where it all seems to be leading.


For rum deep divers, researchers, auction houses, the curious, the writers, the inheritors of dusty bottles, for all these people and more, a good rum databasea listing of rumsis now needed more than ever before. A good database or website that catalogues rums would not only have technical detailsproducer, bottler, source material, distillation notes, dates, strength, age, additives, country or city or company of origin and so onbut link to secondary and tertiary sources, provide label photographs, list online review sites, available shopping sites, and have commentary. In today’s world where questions asking about this or that rum pop up all the time and with ever-increasing frequency, the importance of such a database cannot be casually dismissed. It can be used to gauge value, chart trends and identify purchases, if for no other reasons, but for me it’s because I know something of the simple human compulsion to just know.

Moreover, my own researches into company histories and the Rumaniacs Project showed that sometimes the bottlers themselves are no longer in business and so there’s nobody who can shed light on a bottle being queried; worse, in some cases existing companies themselves kept no records of what the hell they did. There was a Cadenhead rum bottled in 2003 which was practically unknown, to give one example; the SMWS’s lack of a list of the rums they themselves had issued was another, and I can assure you that almost no old rum-making company anywhere in the world has records of all its bottlings, blends, label changes or even markssuch things were either never deemed of great importance or simply left forgotten and unrecorded.


Books

There was a time less than a generation ago, when books were all we got, and we were grateful. Though not specifically created with the aim of compiling lists or catalogues except as an incidental by product of their researches, they immeasurably aided in such efforts. It was considered, with a kind of endearing innocence, a fairly easy task in the pre-Renaissance and pre-Internet era when most people knew at least something about Caribbean and Latin rums but rarely ventured further afield. Local rums in other lands and climes stayed local and developed their own national character, and at best it was world fairs and occasional newspaper articles over the last hundred years that allowed more knowledge to disseminate. Nobody ever really tried to collate or tie together the world of rum into a cohesive whole.

That said, these early books, when (or if) they made lists of rums at all, concentrated on geographical areas for the most part, and tried to gather some knowledge together with what limited information was then available. Excellent as they were in moving the subject of rums forward in the greater perception of the drinking world, however, they had several drawbacks.

For instance, the absence of reference or supplementary materials made it necessary for authors to do primary research, in person. Rum lacked the cachet of wine and whisky, where print magazines and newspapers had on-staff critics who were sent on the tab to major wine- and whisky-producing regions to taste, interview and record: in stark contrast, aspiring rum writers were a solitary bunch working in obscurity, and they had to travel and research and experience rums on their own dime. Unsurprisingly, therefore, they stayed within the confines of the regions with which they came from and which were accessible, primarily the Americas and the Caribbean; and they ignored the rich pickings to be held in other parts of the world (a weakness which continues to this day).

Moreover, by the time any book was written and then proofed, sent to printers and distributed, it was often already overtaken by new releases, and if not, became so within a year or two. Once printed they were locked, and so they dated fast. At the time, the majority of the rum market consisted of a sea of blends (only occasionally re-released, re-branded, or reformulated), and the era of multiple annual releases by a host of independent bottlers or multitudinous monthly batches by micro-distilleries, had yet to arrive: but, even with this slower pace of rum releases, no book could ever really stay current.

Ed Hamilton’s Rums of the Eastern Caribbean and Complete Guide to Rum from the 1990sboth based on his extensive travels and distillery visits in the regionhave long since become almost obsolete (thought retain much usefulness as snapshots in time), and even a more recent book like Martin Cate’s Smuggler’s Cove has a rum list that is at best representative, and is approaching its sell-by date as new rums and distilleries emerge on the stage. Other recent books like the French language Le Guide Hachette des Rhums (The Hachette Rum Guide) with originally 400 and now 550 entries, or Alexandre Vingtier’s more modest effort 120 Rhums are useful additions, but unless updated, will suffer similar fates. And the multi-kilo double-tome of the recently printed Caroni distillery history and its bottlings will surely have to have a companion volume to account for all the releases that will be made after 2022.

The original Encyclopaedia Britannica tried to address the same issue by printing annual yearbooks where they updated the content as best they were able. But aside from the Hachette guide, the writers of books on rum never went that far (and let’s be honest, why should they?) – they rested on their laurels as published authors and moved on to other projects. Even something as potentially useful as a summary-form Rum Bible (an equivalent to Murray’s work on whisky) was never written, because nobody was in a position to taste the hundreds and thousands of rums such a book would entail, even assuming they were known or available for tasting. In any case, any rum lists included by the various established authors were seen as adjuncts or extensions to their main work of description, story telling and historical recollectionnot the primary focus of the work itself.

Things started to change with the advent of the internet and the rise of enthusiast driven weblogs, which started around 2007. Most of the early efforts in this direction were rum reviews, and sites like Refined Vices, Rum Reviews, El Machete and others stuck with this formula until they went dark and were replaced by yet others doing the same thing. Websites were and almost always are, run by individuals, and such initial forays into the online world came from this pool of enthusiasts who did their best to create, as best they could, a repository of the rums they had tasted. Few went further, though some certainly did take it to the next leveland such sites often dispensed with the whole reviewing gig altogether, perhaps as they had to.


Ed Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum Website

Possibly the most influential of the early rum-focused websites, the Ministry of Rum was launched in 1995 at a time when usenet groups and dial-up bulletin boards dominated the online space and user interaction. Windows 95 debuted that year and the Netscape Navigator had only been released the year before and the internet was a wasteland of disparate websites only gradually finding their way. Easy-to-use website builders like WordPress and SquareSpace were far in the future and Ed hired a programmer to create his website. He added a discussion forum for users, wrote some commentaries, added some articles, but for the purpose of this essay, it was his brief country distillery listings and the rums these distilleries produced which is of note. When I researched the early reviews of my own, it was often the Ministry that provided the first core data points of a rum’s origin, stills, strength, company background and other products they made. Sadly the site is moribund and most of the links do longer work, and there was never any structured table listing one could consult, so I actually have no idea how many rums were under the hood.


The Burrs: Rob’s Rum Guide, Ultimate Rum Guide, et al

This is what led to one of the earliest websites that tried to capitalise on the burgeoning rum scene of the late 2000s and early 2010s: the Burrs’ Rob’s Rum site, and the associated list of rums which topped out at 622 items (but which lacked many of the minimum provided details we now take for granted). The site was part of an overall multi-channel effort that tied into their various commercial enterprises, especially the Miami Rum Renaissance (which at one time was the premiere North American rum event). Their Ultimate Rum Guide (now offline, and ported to Instagram) was another offshoot of this approach and listed some rums and provided brief details. Unfortunately it was never scaled up or maintained, ignored far too many rums, was limited in geography, and I don’t think it’s been updated in a while. The efforts of the Burrs have been redirected to the American Rum Index, the Rum Minute (60-second tasting notes on You Tube) and other businesses in which they are involved. So the whole database “project” (and it never really was anything so structured or grandiose) really didn’t go anywhere and died for lack of oxygen.


Taster’s Guide

Another attempt which was much more serious was the (now defunct) site of Taster’s Guide, created around 2010 by a longtime correspondent of mine named Stefan Hartvigson from Sweden. Over time it amassed what for the time was an enormous listing of popular rumsit’s now dark so I can’t remember how many rums it ever had, but it was very detailed, and had many of the fields enthusiasts were to clamour for as the bare minimum in years to come: name, age, components, source, country, distillery, strength and if available, year of distillation, plus notes on each distillery and other rums they made. The site never got the acclaim it deserved because Stefana marine engineer by tradenever marketed it with that intent or did more than casually update itlike many such sites (including my own) the initial impetus for its creation was simply to catalogue his own purchases and info he picked up along the way. Gradually this grew legs and he tried to keep it going with an enormous body of research, but by 2015 he acknowledged that it was too much work for one person to do, and he let it go.


Peter’s Rum Labels

A site that defies easy categorization and is not a database in the strict sense of the word, but was and remains enormously useful and probably one of the best out there for what it is, is the Czech site of Peter’s Rum Labels, created and maintained in English by Petr Hlousek from Prague. It does not have a standardised database format, and doesn’t try listing anything. What it has is pictures of rum bottle labels, and data on each company that makes them, plus translations and “the fine print” on each label. This might not sound like much, but from a historical perspective its worth is incalculable because of the 9,785 label pictures he has from nearly 6,000 producers, companies and brands, many predate the modern era and provide a window on rums of years and decades past. Moreover, there are often small company bios accompanying each (the site is more or less organised by countries and producers) and even how many medals a company or its products won (though I think this ceased around 2010).


Rum Ratings

Then there was Rum Ratings, a website initially created to be a repository of tasting notes by Andrew Shannon, which went live in 2012. As a student in the UK he wanted to remember and catalogue the collection of rums he had left behind in the US as well as those he wanted to try in the future, and the site began life as a personal blog in which he kept his own scores. As he recounts, “Within days of launching, people somehow found the site and asked me if they could enter their ratings as well. It took a little work, but after I opened it up to others things just seemed to take off.” Even without any sort of deliberate or conscious marketing the site gained popularity, perhaps because it was the only one of its kind in the worlda place where people could fulfil their desire to record their own scores and comments of rums they had tried.

The site has come in for criticism (including by me on occasion), because of its populist ethos, something Andrew is correcting over time by bringing in links from external bloggers. The average scoring method is problematic when there are only a few ratings (it comes into its own with greater volumes), though the bar chart of score-distribution is great. The data set for each rum is also somewhat limited and as a rum lover I confess to always wanting more.

Yet I’ve come around to really appreciating this sitebecause alone among all the others it does get updated, you can post your own comments, and you can rate a rum, of which there are close to 8,600 as of 2022. Moreover, because it has been around for so long, it has opinions on rums that go back a long way, which is a useful window into the past (I made use of that when demonstrating why the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva had to be considered a key rum, for example). So as a resource of archival material, it’s really very useful and should not be discounted simply because it is user-driven and lacks rigorous reviews or tasting notes. It remains in use, updated and non-monetized by a person with no development experience and no connection with the rum world at all and I continue to have a real affection for Andrew’s work, and use it regularly. (Note: there’s an app for it now, but I prefer the desktop version).


Reference Rhum

When it comes to pure data shorn of any externalities, perhaps the best pre-app, pre-mobile, pre-wiki website database of rums, which has now been offline for many years, was the French site of Reference Rhum (not to be confused with the sales page of that name which now exists, or the review site Preference Rhum). Reference Rhum was the last gasp of websites curated by a single person which sought to list all rums in existence, and honestly, I still think it did a bang-up job and came as close as anyone possibly could at that time, to nailing it. There were tons of stats for each rum, label or bottle photographs, distillery notes, distillation notes, proof, age, dates, names, sources. When I was doing bottle lists for some of the “Makers series” company bios, it was Reference Rhum I went to as my first stop. At its peak it had around 9000 rums or more listed with a level of detail no other site even came close to, except for Rum Ratings (and the two weren’t comparable). Sadly, the job of updating and curating the site became so onerous and time consuming, that the owner finally shuttered it, which was a loss to the rum community that is often not appreciated.


The position in 2018

By 2018 or so, whether acknowledged or not, it was clear to many that there was a huge gap in the reference materials available to rum aficionados globally with respect to actual bottlings. Books that were published and posts that were put up were all about rum companies and production details, historical perspectives and limited or specialised foci; and we were and are immeasurably enriched by the research of Matt Pietrek and the few others like Marco Pinieri, Anil Lutchman et al, who mine this lode. Yet aside from the imperfect examples listed above, no-one has ever tried to list all rums in production or those from the past, perhaps because the job is just so absolutely Himalayan in scope. And after my near complete failure to find any reference to that Cadenhead rum mentioned above even from the bottler, I began to realise this could turn out to be a very serious issue indeed for future buyers, fans, writers or researchers.

However, even as the internet widened and democratised the expertise of rum pundits (and their number), it became equally obvious that it was almost impossible for any single individual to create, curate and maintain a master database of this kind. Given the volume of rums and brands available around the world, and adding to that the historical one-offs, merchant bottlings, independent bottlers or special editions dating back (in some cases) centuries, it was simply too time consuming. It would require full-time effort, not occasional after-hours dabbling by enthusiastic amateurs. Nobody has that kind of time in our world, quite simply because nobody is getting paid to do it and it’s such a thankless job. A new system of such record keeping therefore had to be found to address the lack of any serious databases of rums in existence and the gradual move away from desktop computers or even laptops.

We’ll discuss the one application that tries to crack this issue, in more depth in Part II


Other Notes

  • The site of Spirit Radar is an interesting one. Registered in 2020 and run by a small team out of the Czech Republic, the site notes that it is anext generation data platform for rum and whisky collectors.They monitor auctions, online shops and ecommerce sites for historical and current bottle pricing information for rums and whiskies (some 60,000+, they note). The site is fully commercialyou pay for the data service and pricing information and have the option to do a free 14 day trial. As part of the data on each bottle, the sort of thing we needcountry, strength, age, distillery and so onis included, and there are options to create a bottle list of your collection, and the site shows its aggregate current value. Because of its collector and commercial focus and inaccessibility to the broad mass of users, I elected to not include itbut it is a resource of the kind this article speaks about.
Aug 312022
 

Attending rum festivals is one of the most cost-effective ways of sampling a wide variety of rums you might not otherwise have the chance to encounter, as well as (and perhaps this is just as important), meeting all your friends and other folks you’ve only texted, tweeted or commented with over long periods. It’s not as riotous as a jump-up bottom-house, and not as staid as a formal tasting, but it’s almost guaranteed that over a few days you won’t be bored. Almost alone among major spirits categories, rum festivals are still modest enough for you to meet not just booth attendants and rum ambassadors, but actual owners and distillers of small startups (and many large concerns) who are happy to go to the nth degree about their rums, and often have something special squirrelled under the counter for those who show a genuine interest.

Since rum festival season is more or less upon usthe second half of the year has more, on balance, than the first halfit’s perhaps a good idea to assess exactly what attending any one of them is likely to provide, and more importantly, what to do once you get there.


Like other spirits expos, rum festivals are usually held on a weekend, and often comprise of three main elements: there are usually pre-and post-show get-togethers at bars around the city (or even in people’s homes, on occasion) that are enthusiast-driven and attended by aficionados of all stripes; then there’s the main event which is held in a large-ish hall where booths are set up for vendors and distributors to tout their wares; and within that event are somewhat more specialised ancillary “classroom” sessions. In the larger festivals there’s also usually a trade day (or half-day) tacked on at either end, where members of the industrydistillers, producers, distributors, buyers, agents, owners, journos and bloggersget to go in without members of the public around. This is less a matter of elitism as one of practicalityit’s difficult to talk business and do a hard sell when a long line of people are impatiently waiting their turn to take a snootful in front of a small booth with limited space.

The “ancillary sessions” I refer to above are almost always seminars and masterclasses and if you’re wondering, a seminar is an informative get together for anyone who’s interested with maybe a tasting tacked on, while a masterclass is exactly what it describes. This is why when Richard Seale goes into the technical details of the endochronic properties of resublimated thiotimoline it’s a masterclass (and usually leads to a thundering stampede for the exits five minutes in), while a run-through of six agricole rhums by a distributor is closer to a seminar.

All these events can be spread out over a week or, more commonly, two to three days. The recently concluded London TWE Rum Show was on Friday and Saturday with the Trade session between 12-4 on Friday and the public given access after 5pm, and 11am-6pm on Saturday. The Berlin festival, by contrast, tends to be 12pm-9pm Saturday and Sunday, with professionals or media people being let in an hour before either one. Most follow one or the other format, or, like the Miami Rum Festival, split it up into two half days sessions in two different venues, one for seminars, one for tasting.

The Planning

What these facts point up, however, is the importance by a prospective attendee of at least some planning. Not all rum festivals have the same brands and companies in attendance, so it’s worthwhile checking out what they have to offer. For instance, Brit festivals (TWE, Manchester, UK, etc) would have a stronger representation of British-made rums yet be shy of American ones, while American shows would not have much from the UK and Europe, would probably ignore most agricoles and the Far East, while being stronger on local producers and maybe South America. Berlin has always had a balanced representation of both as well as Latin America, Reunion and Mauritius; and Paris has been best at cane juice varietals, agricoles, grogues, and obscure small distilleries from Asia. Just about all festivals have their local in-country star boys and major international brands from the CaribbeanEl Dorado, Foursquare, St. Lucia Distillers, Bacardi, Mount Gay, Flor de Cana, Hampden, Worthy Park, Appleton, Angostura and so on. Knowing these things helps you chose the rum festival holiday better, I argue, especially if one is not a resident of the city (or the country) in which the rum festival is happening. Fortunately, these days there are loads to chose from.

Secondly, with respect to planning, it’s always useful figure out in advance if any of the seminars or sessions held alongside the main event are worth your time (not least because usually you have to pay to attend, though the prices vary) and address an interest…or not. Booking in advance is recommended because seating is almost always limited, and popular ones sell out fastany session with Velier or Foursquare or Hampden tends to go quickly, for example, while something more esoteric like “Misunderstandings in the use of language regarding rum” can have you and the presenter having a good dialogue but not much else. I usually stagger the few I attend around both days to divide up the time, and find them particularly useful to provide a break in between very intense tasting sessions, as well as resting my feet.

Thirdly, as noted above, unless you’re okay with simply wandering around, talking to people and randomly stopping wherever it suits you, it is a good idea to know which specific brands and companies are exhibiting. There are several reasons for this. For one it helps you prioritise where to spend your time during a day when it is very likely you will be having more rum in a short period than usual. You may have an interest in Panamanian or Colombian rons, or French Island agricoles, or new American micro-distilleries, so would ensure you know those are represented and which brands are attending. Also, by the end of the day you’ll have a good buzz on and your focus won’t be top notchso tasting those rums you really want to try and talking to people who really interest you the most is best done while some of your faculties remain. It’s also good to remember that there are always some brands that are more popular than others and will always draw a crowd and it’s difficult to get close enough to talk to anyone, let alone get a decent pourtherefore finding them early before they themselves get tired and irritable at repeating the same schtick for the umpteenth time is a good idea.

The Process

If this is your first rum festival or your fifth, the rules are the same as for all of us more experienced hacks. Don’t drink and drive and ensure you have your transport to home or hotel organised.

For experienced festival attendeesespecially those in Europe who have several good ones in close proximity (Paris, London, Marseille, Manchester, Berlin, etc) that are relatively easy to get to and are really top classit is no particular problem to get around, and I doubt the rules are different for other parts of the world, from Canada to Australia. As with all things, get a transport pass, have an Uber, or hang with folks you know who themselves know where they’re going.

Also, I strongly recommend eating something before you set out. And take a bottle of water with youmost festivals provide (or sell) water, but why take a chance? Normally a tasting glass is provided at the entrance, and if you can snag a second one, take it. Trust me, it helps. 1. And while this might sound odd, I’d really recommend going with a friend or two, or a small group. The experience is enhanced when it’s shared.

Once at the festival itself, one of the most important things to always keep in mind is that you will be there for a few hours at the very least (my personal record is seven) and be tasting a lot of rums, very quickly. Palate fatigue is a real thing, and so is intoxication, both of which derail the experience. Therefore, take it easy, take your time, and most of all, take small sips, and nose more than taste. Pace yourself. There are often black spittoons on or by all the booths so you can spit, and while I don’t use them very often, I know their utility and don’t think it makes me look like a rum snob at all. Spend as much time at a booth as you please, and talk to the (usually really friendly) people there, especially if you are interested in their products, because they’ll always be happy to tell you all about their company, how they make their rums, and small anecdotes that make it all interesting.

Drink lots of water, and stop whenever you feel like it to take a breather and have a snack or a palate cleanser (if available). Keep an eye on the clock in case there’s a master class you forgot about, because that’s really easy to do when you meet up a bunch of rum chums and get to talking, or are standing in a line at the food truck for a sandwich and are focused on that and not the time. I’ve made that mistake a few times and strolled in just as everyone else was leaving, asking me where I had been the whole time.

I say take tiny sips, and I mean that. The objective is not to get drunk, not gun back shots as if you were at a barthough getting at minimum a good buzz is a near-inevitabilitybut to be able to taste and enjoy the rums. Look around at the festival officials: girls and guys with lanyards and badges denoting staff, judges, guests, press, or exhibitorsthey flit from booth to booth like butterflies but stay relatively sober because (a) they try tasting only what they like and are curious about and (b) they take small sips (if at all) and take their time with it. With some practise, you can more or less stay reasonably sober and attentive and still taste stuff hours into the rum fest without completely blowing out your nose or palate.

One other point I should perhaps raise is that of keeping your ears pricked and your eyes peeled, especially at the larger festivals where it’s unlikely that you can try something from every single booth in the time available. Look for crowds, search for the brands you never heard of, the companies that are obscure (or from obscure places), listen to people talking, try and step back and take an overview to see where the new stars of the show are. There are always one or two new producers who are flying under the radar yet have a quality that should not be missed and which you’ll regret not having tried after it’s all over. Hampden and Worthy Park in 2017 at the German Rum Fest, Liberia’s Sangar a year later, the new Asian rums debuting in Paris in 2018 (Issan, Sampan, Laodi, etc), Lazy Dodo from Mauritius, Toucan from French Guiana), and the new British rum distilleries in the UK festivalsall these had small footprints at the time but were considered bellwethers of rums and trends to come.

Party Time: bars, events, afterparties

One of the best things about being a part of the greater rum community, is the camaraderie and friendship surrounding the participants at non-fest off-the-grid little events. There have been many enthusiastic posts over the years about the Barbados Rum Experience, for example, and various pub crawls at one rum festival or the other, or additional brand-sponsored tastings where one can hear whole dissertations on new releases. When the world agricole rum tour was being organised by Jerry Gitany and Benoit Bail several years ago, Benoit arranged an opening of the 250th Anniversary Saint James agricole rum at the Brandenburg gate in Berlin…at midnight. Aficionados who know each other through social media and commenting and memories of excursions past, sometimes have little parties of their own, or meetups in famed rum bars someplace (Trailer Happiness, Lebensstern, Smuggler’s Cove, Grandma Caner’s apartment, you know the ones), for everyone who feels like it to attend. These are often more fun than the fests themselves and my strong advice is, unless you have a reason for not doing so, attend as many as you can, and party hearty.

There’s no set rule for any of this and knowing where to go is mostly a matter of paying attention, plugging in, watching what influencers’ websites and social media say about what’s going onwhich almost demands being a member of various FB rum clubs or instagrammers who put their professional rum lives out there. Sometimes all it takes is keeping ears open for conversations at popular booths, or knowing somebody who knows somebody else who mentioned that their friends are going to this or that establishment at such and such a time….

These events are rarely, if ever, about tasting rums…though of course that features in all of them. It’s about hanging out with a bunch of like minded folks, and just talking, laughing, sharing experiences, and making new discoveries (“Man I tasted this rum the other day and it’s fantastic, here, check out the sample!) that may not have been considered before. I have the greatest memories of listening to Yoshi Takeuchi tell a hilarious story in a bar in Paris about being mugged in Marseille, of meeting Sly Augustin at Trailer Happiness in London (and being enthusiastically hustled behind the bar to meet his Guyanese cook), or of manfully trying to remove the obstinate metal sealing on a bottle of a 1930s Martinique rhum at an afterparty of my own while Jazz and Indy laughed themselves silly (the rhum turned out to be completely oxidised crap), or of Florian showing off a sample of the legendary J. Wray & Nephew 17 YO at Lebensstern (while chasing away a particularly persistent hooker) but then being told “Sniff only!” You simply can’t make sh*t like this up and the fact that I remember them so clearly says a lot about how much fun they all were.

Summing up

While I’m all for randomising the experience and just pottering aimlessly around a cavernous hall showing off booths in all directions, I honestly do believe that one can have the best and greatest experiences at fests, classes and surrounding events with a little bit of organisation in advance, some forethought on staying sober, and the complete willingness to just have some fun and go wherever the party is happening. Whether official tastings on a stage, or an unofficial get together in a sleepy bar at 2am where the rum is flowing and the conversation is cheerful, it’s an experience to be savoured.

And if your sleep gets interrupted and you go on short rations of energy and sobriety for a few days, well, isn’t that what it’s really all about at confabs like these? We must all make some sacrifices in the name of creating new and cherished friendships, and memories. I’ve got tons of my own, and that is why I wrote this, because there’s absolutely no reason you can’t too.


Other notes:

  • Click on the link for a listing of as many rum festivals around the world as I could find. (Currently updated, this link now lists the 2024 expos)
  • A US reader on the /r/rumserious subreddit asked me which fest he should attend given his lack of language ability. That was a question that had not occurred to me in writing the essay, but it is useful to know, so I responded at some length: You need have no fear […] because English is spoken across Europe [and Asia] as a second or third language. Moreover, booth exhibitorswho are often owners themselves, for smaller outfitsare often to be seen at rum festivals around the world (or at least around Europe and the USA) and almost always speak good English. If there is a language barrier at all, it’s with cashiers, security, cloakroom attendants and the support staff, but even there, there’s usually one person who can be called on to help. I’ve found it particularly helpful in, say, Paris, to simply respond toBonjourwithHi there, how are you?” and then they know instantly they are speaking to a non-native speaker and adjust. That said, somebut not allmasterclasses and seminars take place in the language of the country where the festival is held, so if you plan to attend any and must pay for the privilege, ensure you check beforehand, especially in the smaller and regional ones (like in eastern Europe).”

 

Aug 172022
 

When it comes to Australia and its rums, it’s likely that only two names immediately jump to mind (assuming you know of any at all and are not from there yourself): Bundaberg and Beenleigh. Both are relatively long-lived companies that predate many better-known producers founded much more recently in other parts of the world, yet it is only recently that awareness of them has climbed. Of course, this is in a large part due to association with or ownership by other major spirits companies with worldwide clout and visibility that can be leveraged, as well as social media trends.

Those two companies aside, however, few western consumers have tasted a wider selection of rums from Down Under. Australian rums don’t make it to rum shows or rum festivals (except in their own region) and pricing problems prohibit easy import or muling of bottles to and from the country, whether by distributors or individuals. But there is a vibrant and dynamic rum culture in Australia, and in the last two decadesparalleling the rum renaissance in the westa host of small distilleries has cropped up, almost all single- or family-owned enterprises that make small batch pot still production. Because of the lack of any blogger or writer or reviewer in Australia who has a broad-based international readership, little of this has reached the attention of the wider rum world until very recently, when Mr. and Mrs. Rum issued the 2021 Australian Rum Advent Calendar. For the first time a wide variety of rums became available for people to try, and it was my good fortune to get hold of a box.

I systematically wrote the reviews one by one, and while they are now done, the thoughts they engender about Australian distillery culture and the rums they make, are too many to fit easily into a single review. Granted that twenty-plus reviews is hardly a complete sampling of the entire country, yet I feel that the points that occurred to me as the process continuedand at the end when I was summing upare relevant in a more general context…more, at least, than just an observation on this or that distillery.

The first is evident from the tenor of the reviews: it’s something of a surprise how good the rums were (and are). Few scored below 80 points, and many were eye openers. I’ve tasted some really foul American, Canadian and Japanese rums which are thankfully not widely available, but here, small and local distillers I had never heard of before were making impressive young rums and cane juice spirits that held themselves up well even when rated against Caribbean rums of greater fame and heritage. Some were essays in the craft, to be sure, and in many cases the rough edges remained visible, the rums too young, the style not yet complete; yet I firmly believe that many will only get better as time goes on, and skills and technique get more refinedand hopefully they will get the attention and kudos they deserve.

The operations making these rums are, for the most part, micro-distilleries, and serve a regional market (some are only at a town- or state-level). A few large ones like Beenleigh and Bundaberg export abroad, but this is an exceptional situation. What characterises most of the distilleries that produced these rums is that they are either sole-proprietorships, husband-and-wife teams, or set up by a few friends, and while I don’t know anything about their financial situation, it seems to me that what they do is a personal thing, a labour of love, and their own funds and families and friendship networks are quite invested in the success of what is at end a small business that has some unique restrictions.

For one, they are hampered by the “ageing law”: rum may not be called “rum” until it’s been aged for at least two years in Australia, a law that has been on the books since 1906. Initially enacted to prevent low grade, poorly made, unaged moonshinewhich quite literally, could be and often was, lethalunscrupulously being sold to unknowing patrons, it is not completely a relic of rougher colonial times as I had thought. Alcoholism and abuse by both buyers and sellers is still a problem today and this is one reason why the law remains, and taxes on alcohol remain quite high.

The law’s intention (if not its ultimate effect) was and is to remove unaged full-proof rum from easy distribution to vulnerable segments of the population, though of course it only really affects legally established distilleries, not outback hoocheries beyond the easy reach of regulators, lawmakers or taxmen. But the unintended consequence of this is that one of the potential revenue spinners of new distilleries which need cash flow to recoup their substantial initial capital outlaythe sale of unaged white rum, especially if made from cane juiceis removed, as it cannot be sold as “rum”.

Inventive and agile distillers have gotten around this issue by releasing such rums as “cane spirit” yet undoubtedly sales are foregone by application of a law which has not kept pace with developments in the wider rumiverse, where such cane spirits are called rums. Elsewhere in the world, they also go by names like charanda, grogue, clairin, aguardiente or agricole and have devoted consumers who prize the authentic nature of the spirits produced in such a fashion. The problem in Australia as elsewhere, is, of course, that those not already into rum won’t make the connection between these varieties and “real” rum, which again impacts sales and hampers recognition.

The two-year rule therefore prioritises and incentivises aged rums and other spirits without such restrictions, and this means that for at least those two years (likely moreJames McPherson suggests five) no rum distillery can really make cash flow on rum alone while its stock is maturing. This requires Australian distillers to focus on other money-makers that can provide more immediate revenues: the most common of these is gin, which is why the gin varieties and volumes in Australia are so great. Unaged cane spirit is another. However, unaged bulk sales abroadwhere 10,000-litre or greater iso-containers are the normare usually not feasible, because volumes of rum which are distilled are relatively small, sometimes as little as a few thousand litres annually.

And it must be conceded that most distillers are in it to make whiskies, not rums, and like the American micro distillers I’ve mentioned before, rums are a sideshow, if not a complete afterthoughtthere are many more whisky distillers to be found on Google Maps than rum-focused ones, for example. Some distillers make yet other products in addition to gins and whiskiesspiced spirits, vodkas, limoncello, liqueurs, etc. But the consequence of all this diversity is very much the same as it is in America: focus is diluted and expertise is scattershot, and deep experience, while not absent, is thin on the ground and takes longer to develop than in an operation where it’s rum, and only rum that’s the first spirit of make (I’m not criticising distillersnecessary choices, only mentioning this is an inevitable outgrowth of the rules).

But seen from the outside, clearly there is talent and to spare in Australia and a genuine love of rums. After all, people keep drinking the stuff, and if it’s being bought, it’ll continue getting made. It didn’t matter whether it was a hundred-year-old distillery, or one established less than a decade ago: almost all the rums I tried were of good quality, with some real standouts. The size or age of the distillery had at best a marginal impact on qualityfor example, Killik (founded in 2019) had an unaged white rum was way better than the venerable Beenleigh’s 3 Year Old White, and Black Gate’s Dark Overproof (from a company established in 2009) was its equal though aged.

The key determinants of really good Australian rums seemed to be a combination of their proof points (stronger was mostly better than weaker, though not always) and the ability of their distillers to think a little outside the box, play around and go for something newthey pounced on niche techniques to seek competitive advantage. Since just about all the rums came from a pot still or a hybrid pot/column and had the 2-year age restriction (Hoochery’s Spike’s Reserve aged 7 years and Tin Shed’s Requiem at 6, were the oldest), it was fermentation and source material that helped carry the flag, and high scoring distilleries like Winding Road, Aisling, Tin Shed, Black Gate and Killik had points of uniqueness in their production methodology unrelated to ageing. Some used cane juice or syrup rather than molasses, others went into longer ferments or used dunder and relentlessly experimented to get “Jamaican style” rums out the other end, while still others played around with finishes and odd casks.

That said, a not unreasonable question is whether they display anything specific to themselves, something uniquely Australian that would allow someone with even a smidgen of experience to stand up straight and immediately identify a rum from Oz. After all, say what you will about the Bundie, one sniff of that thing and after you stop spilling your guts and recover your sight, you’d instantly know it for what it was, sight unseen. Are the ones I’ve been reviewing anything like that?

In my personal opinion, not really. In fact, the strongest impression I took away from this admittedly limited sample setand one which had been tickling me since I tasted the first indie bottlers’ Beenleighs years agois how modern and contemporary they tasted, and that’s both a compliment and an observation. While the quality was indisputably there, the tasted profiles often conformed to the formal regional “styles” already popularised by existing countries and their flagship distilleries. To put it another way, it was hard for me to try these rums blind (as I did) and not instinctively see Barbados, Antigua, Trinidad, Panama, or St. Lucia, depending on which it was. They have the same naturemuch improved by being fully pot still distillate, to be surethat makes them fine drinks, but not clearly identifiable as being from Australia. Even the ones that suggested Jamaica were like that (though more Appleton than Hampden or Worthy Park, it must be conceded). The most distinctive were the unaged agricole-style cane juice rums like Winding Road’s Coastal Cane, or high ester unaged rums like Killik’s Silver Overproof. Those you could tell came from someplace new, someplace damned fine.

Does this matter? Not entirely, because good rums are good rums and people will always gravitate towards tasty spirits that don’t break the bank. It’s only superdorks, ur-geeks and rabid rum aficionados (did somebody say “Caner! ?? Hush, ye snickerers) that make these superfine distinctions. However, for a more globally recognized Australian rum category to truly emerge will to some extent depend on being able to sway rum lovers the world around on not only quality, but uniqueness: because, why would anyone in the US or Europe buy an Australian-made Jamaica-style rum when the real deal from Hampden or WP or Appleton can be had more easily and for less? I honestly hope that a localised, Australia-centric style of rum will slowly come into focus because of such pressures, and a move away from already existing styles will help.

Wrapping up, then: notwithstanding all the remarks above, I loved these rums. Almost without exception, every single one of the samples in the calendar displayed a quality that for distilleries so small and often so young, was nothing short of astounding. They are not yet top-tier, bestest-of-the-restest, but damn, they did come close in places, they were good for what they were, and will only get better. The hard and often unappreciated workof so many individual distillers, so many obsessive rummies and their patiently eye-rolling spouses, who experiment without rest or reward day in and day outreally has achieved something wonderful in Australia. I hope to lay hands on more in the years to come, or at the very least more advent calendars as they become available. Because good or bad or indifferent or spectacular, it’s worth it to see a new rum region rise up, snap into focus and add new some fruit to the great rum tree. We should all be grateful for that, no matter where we live.


Further reading


 

Apr 182022
 


Originally published November 2020. Continuously updated, with the last edit in June 2023


Introduction

More and more resources are coming online even asor perhaps becausean increasing amount of people, young and old and in between, are coming into rum. They arrive new, or from some other spirit, and are wont to inquire “Where can I find out about…?” The questions are always the same and after more than ten years of doing this, I sometimes think I’ve seen them all:

  • What rum do I start with?
  • If I like this, what would you recommend?
  • What’s the sugar thing all about?
  • How much?
  • What’s it worth?
  • Where can I find…?
  • What to read?
  • How? Where? When? Why? What? Who?

Several years ago (February 2016 for those who like exactitude), Josh Miller of Inu-a-Kena, who was one of the USA’s premier reviewers before he turned to other (hopefully rum-related) interests and let his site slide into a state of semi-somnolence, published an article called “Plugging into the Rum World.” This was a listing of all online resources he felt were useful for people now getting into the subculture.

Five years on, that list remains one of the only gatherings of material related to online rum resources anyone has ever bothered to publish. Many bloggers (especially the Old Guard) put out introductions to their work and to rum and just about all have a blogroll of favoured linked sites as a sidebar, and I know of several podcasts which mention websites people can use to get more infoit’s just that they’re scattered around too much and who has the time or the interest to ferret out all this stuff from many different locations?

Moreover, when you just make a list of links, it does lack some context, or your own opinion of how useful they are or what they provide. That’s why I wished Josh’s list had some more commentary and narrative to flesh it out (but then, as has often been rather sourly observed, even my grocery list apparently can’t be shorter than the galley proofs for “War & Peace”).

Anyway, since years have now passed, I felt that maybe it was time to kick the tyres, slap on a new coat of paint and update the thing. So here is my own detailing of all online and other resources I feel are of value to the budding Rum Geek.

(Disclaimer: I am not into tiki, cocktails or mixology, so this listing does not address that aspect of the rumisphere).


GeneralSocial Media and Interactive Sites

For those who are just starting out and want to get a sense of the larger online community, it is strongly recommended that one gets on Facebook and joins any of the many rum clubs that have most of the commentary and fast breaking news. There’s an entire ecosystem out there, whether general in nature or focused on specific countries, specific brands or themes.

Questions get asked and get answered, reviews get shared, knowledge gets offered, lists both useful and useless get posted, and fierce debates of equal parts generosity, virulence, knowledge, foolishness, intelligence and wit go on for ages. It’s the liveliest rum place on the net, bar none. You could post a question as obscure as “Going to Magadan, any good rum bars there?” and have three responses before your ice melts (and yes I’ve been there and no there aren’t any).

The big FB Rum Clubs are:

Other general gathering points:

More specialized corners of the FB rum scene are thematic, distillery- or country-specific, or “deeper knowledge-bases”. Many are private and require a vetting process to get in but it’s usually quite easy. (NB: After a while you’ll realize though, that many people are members of many clubs simultaneously, and so multiple-club cross postings of similar articles or comments are unnecessary).

there’s tons more for specific companies but those are run by industry not fans and so I exclude them. Too there are many local city-level rum clubs and sometimes all it takes is a question on the main fora, and someone in your area pops up and says, “yeah, we got one…”

The other major conversational forum-style resource available is reddit, which to me has taken pride of place ever since the demise of the previous two main rum discussion sites: Sir Scrotimus Maximus (went dark) and the original Ministry of Rum (got overtaken by Ed Hamilton’s own FB page). Somewhat surprisingly, there are only two reddit fora thus far, though the main one links to other spirits and cocktail forums.

/r/rum This is the main site with over 41,000 readers. Tons of content, ranging from “Look what I got today!” to relinked articles, reviews and quite often, variations on “Help!” Conversations are generally more in depth here, and certainly more civilized than the brawling testosterone-addled saloon of FB. Lots of short-form reviewers lurk on this site, and I want to specifically recommend Tarquin, T8ke, Zoorado, SpicVanDyke and the LIFO Accountant. Both the question “What do I start with?” and the happy chirpLook what I got!” are most commonly posted on this subreddit.

/r/RumSerious (Full disclosureI am the moderator of the sub). Created in late 2020, the site is an aggregator for links to news, others’ reviews and more focused articles. Not much serious discussion going on here yet but I continue to live in hope.

/r/tiki Lots of rum subjects turn up here and it’s a useful gathering place for those whose interests in tiki and rum intersect.

I’m deliberately ignoring other social media pipelines like Instagram and Twitter because they are not crowdsourced, don’t have much narrative or commentary, and focus much more on the individual. Therefore as information sources, they are not that handy.


Reviewers’ Blogs & Websites

On my own site I subdivide reviewers into those who are active, semi-active and dormanthere, for the sake of brevity, I’ll try to restrict myself to those who are regulars and have content going up on a fairly consistent basis.

Reviewers

  • WhiskyFun (France) – Serge Valentin is the guy who has written more reviews about rum than anyone in the world (he’s also done almost 16,000 whisky tasting notes but that’s a minor distraction, and a sideline from his unstated, undeclared true love of rums) in a brutally brief, humorous, short-form style that has been copied by many other reviewers.
  • Rum RatingsThis is a user-driven populist score-and-comment aggregator. From a reviewer’s ivory-tower perspective it’s not so hot, but as a barometer for the tastes of the larger rum drinking population it can’t be beat and shows why, for example, the Diplo Res Ex remains a perennial favourite in spite of all the negative reviews.
  • The Rum Barrel Blog (UK) – Barman Alex Sandu used to post his reviews directly into FB until he gave in and opened a site of his own. This guy posts mainly reviews, and he’s quite good, one of those understated people who will turn up a decade from now with a thousand tasting notes you never knew were there.
  • Single Cask RumMarius Elder does short form reviews of mostly the independent bottlers’ scene. What he posts is amazing, because he does flightsof similar bottlers, similar years, similar geographical placesto make comparatives clear, and the bottles in those flights are often a geek’s fond dream.
  • The Rums of the Man With the Stroller (French) – Laurent Cuvier is more a magazine style writer than a reviewer, yet his site has no shortage of those either, and he serves the French language market very nicely. Plus, all round cool guy. The poussette has been retired, by the way.
  • Le Blog a Roger (French) – Run by a guy whose tongue-in-cheek nom-de-plume is Roger Caroni, there’s a lot more to his site than just rumsalso whiskies and armagnacs. Good writing, brief notes, nice layout.
  • Who Rhum the World? (French) – Oliver Scars does like his rums, and writes about the top end consistently and well, especially the Velier Caroni and Demerara ranges.
  • Barrel Aged Thoughts (German) – A site geared primarily towards independents, and a strong love of Caronis, Jamaicans and Demeraras. Nicely long form type of review style.
  • John Go’s MalternativesJohn, based in the Philippines, writes occasionally on rum for Malt online magazine. Good tasting notesand its his background narrative for each rum that I really enjoy and which will probably remain in the memory longest.
  • Whisky Digest (FB)Now here’s a gentleman from Stuttgart who eschews a formal website, and whose tasting notes and scores are posted on FB and Instagram only. Crisp, witty, informative, readable mini reviews, really nice stuff. Love his work. Also posts reviews on Instagram, which is unusual for written work.
  • 88 Bamboo is an interesting website that was started around 2020 by two whisky guys in Singapore to concentrate onwell, whisky. As luck would have it they allowed guest posts from time to time, and one gentleman, Weixiang Liu, a cheerfully self-proclaimedcoffee brewologist and occasional rum addict,” started to pen some short rum reviews (about 70+ are on the site, most of them his). The writing is nice and the selections are well done.
  • Secret Rum Bar out of the UK does flights and single reviews and is really quite informative. This kind of work almost requires the short form approach to writing, and Stuart, the showrunner, is an engaging blogger with interesting rums to look at, every time.
  • Malt Runners is a new site that opened in June of 2023, and is a curated collection of reviewsmostly whisky but also with a strong rum componentthat were and are all written and posted first on reddit. These are all shortform pieces, and because of the multiple authors involved (mostly from USA/Canada), it is sure to be one of the best resources for quickie reviews that consumers can consult without wading through acres of turgid prose (y’know, like mine). LifoAccountant, mentionerd elsewhere here posts under the handle The Auditor on this site.

Others

  • Rum Revelations (Canada) – Occasional and valuable content by Ivar de Laat out of Toronto, who is usually to be found commenting on FB’s various fora and who runs the Rum Club Canada FB group. The gentleman has strong opinions, so you’ll never be in doubt what he likes or dislikes.
  • Rumtastic (UK)“Another UK Rum Blog” his website self-effacingly says, and he modestly and deprecatingly considered himself a merely “awesome, ace, wicked dude” in a comment to me some time ago. Short, brief, trenchant reviews, always good to read.
  • Master Quill (Holland) – Alex and I are long correspondents and I always read his reviews of rum, which take second place to his writing about whiskies, but are useful nevertheless. Like most European bloggers, he concentrates mostly on the independents.
  • Québec RhumThis large Francophone Canadian site is unusual in that it is actually more like a club than a single person’s interests the way so many others on this list are: within it reside rum reviews, distillery visits, master class programs and some cost-defraying merchandise. For my money, of course, it’s the reviews that are of interest but it certainly seems to be the premiere rum club in Canada, bar none.
  • Rum Shop Boy (UK) – Simon’s Johnson’s excellent website of rum reviews. Personal issues make him less prolific than before: in 2022 he began to post again, so here he is.
  • Rum Diaries Blog (UK) – Busy with work these days, great content and reviews, some of which are quite in-depth. Mostly posts on FB but has resumed a limited posting schedule in late 2022, and the work is really quite excellent.
  • The Fat Rum Pirate (UK) – Wes Burgin was the second most prolific writer of rum reviews out there (Serge remains the first). The common man’s best friend in rum, with strong opinionsyou’ll never be in doubt where he’s coming fromand tons of reviews. He’s slowed down some as of 2023 and is almost dormant these days

Dormant Sites With Good Content

  • Du Rhum (French) – Cyril Weglarz is a fiercely independent all rounder, writing reviews, essays and even a book (The Silent Ones, see below). He’s noted for taking down Dictador and other brands for inclusion of undeclared additives and remains the only bloggereverto have sent rums for an independent laboratory analysis, over and beyond using a hydrometer.
  • Roob Dogg Drinks is run by Toronto-based Reuben Virasami, whose family hails from Guyana. The site went live in January 2021 and posts remain intermittent, but always well written and informative.
  • Rum Gallery (USA) – no longer updated for some years, I include it for the back catalogue, because Dave Russell has been active on the review since before 2010 and so has many reviews of rums we don’t see any more, as well as those from America.
  • Rum Howler Blog (Canada) – Chip Dykstra reviews out of Edmonton in Canada, and is one of the oldest voices in reviewer-dom still publishing. He has done rather less of rum of late than of other spirits, and remains on this list for the same reason Dave Russell doesbecause his reviews of rums from before the Renaissance are a good resource and he covers Canada and North America better than most. Not so hot for the newer stuff or independents, though.
  • PhilthyRum (Australia) – One of the few who posted about and from Australia, the site has not been updated since November 2018. What a shame.

News Sites and Newsletters

Not much news out there, the older sites have all been subsumed into the juggernaut that is Facebook. There do remain some holdouts that try to stem the tide of the Big Blue F and here are a few

  • RumPorterThis site is in French, Spanish and English, and has both a paid and free section. The articles are well written and well researched and may be the best online magazine dealing with rum that is currently extant.
  • Coeur de Chauffe (French) – Magazine-style deep-dive content, curated by Nico Rumlover (which I suspect is not his real name, but ok 🙂 ).
  • Got Rum?US-based ad-heavy magazine which publishes monthly. Paul Senft, one of the only remaining US rum reviewers left standing, posts his reviews here, and historical essays are provided by Marco Pierini. The rest is mostly news bits and pieces, of varying quality.
  • The Rum LabThere’s a website for this, with useful stuff like the Rum Connoisseur of the week, various infographics and newsmy own preference is to subscribe to the newsletter which delivers it to your inbox every week. Good way to stay on top of the news if you don’t think FB is serving you up the rum related stories you like.
  • *Added Instant Rum (French) – This is a magazine aggregator (i.e., no original content) which reposts sources and links of articles having to do with rum, in French. A lot of writers really hate the way it never asks for permission, and often doesn’t provide source attribution.

© istock.com/Rassco

Online Research, Technical, Background & History

Once you get deeper into the subculture, it stands to reason you’re going to want to know more, and social media is rarely the place for anyone who needs to go into the weeds and count the blades. And not everyone writes, or wants to write, or reads just about reviews, the latest rums, their rumfest visitssome like the leisurely examination of a subject down to the nth degree.

  • Cocktail Wonk (now also the Rum Wonk) – Without question, freelance writer Matt Pietrek is the guy with the widest span of essays and longform pieces on technical and general aspects of the subject of rum, in the world. In his articles he has covered distillery visits and histories, technical production details, in-depth breakdowns and translations of governing regulations like GIs and the AOC, interviews and much more. Sooner or later, everyone who has a question on some technical piece of rum geekery lands on the rum section of this site.
  • Rum Tasting NotesNow renamedRum-X”. This is not a website, but a mobile application and is a successor to the lauded and much-missed site Reference Rhum. It is an app allowing you to input your tasting notes for whatever rums you are working with, to make a collection of your own and to curate it … but its real value lies in being a database, a reference of as many rums as can be input by its users. Last I checked in March 2022, there are over 12,000 rums in the library.
  • WikiRum is another such app, but it differs in that it also has a fully functioning website in both French and English, and also with nearly 8,500 entries.
  • American Distillery IndexProduced by Will Hoekenga (not the last time he turns up here) as part of the American Rum Report, it lists every distillery he could find in the USA by state, provides the website, a list of their rums and some very brief historical notes. There is an Australian Distillery Index that I use when doing research, but it’s not as well laid out.
  • The Boston ApothecaryVery technical articles on distillation. The September 2020 article was called “Birectifier Analysis of Clairin Sajous,” so not airport bookstore material, if you catch my drift.
  • PeterRum Labels out of Czechoslovakia defies easy categorization. It’s one of the most unique rum-focused sites in existence, and the best for what it is: a compendium of pictures of labels from rum bottles. Ah, but there’s so much more: distillery and brand histories, obscure vintages and labels and producers….it’s an invitation to browse through rum’s history in a unique way that simply has no equal.

Sugar Lists

This is a subject that continues to inflate blood pressures around the world. Aside from the “wtf, is that true?” moments afflicting new rum drinkers, the most common question is “Does anyone have a list of rums that contain it?” Well, no. Nobody does. But many have hydrometer readings that translate into inferences as to the amount of additives (assumed to be sugar), and these are:


Podcasts

  • Five minutes of rum – 88 (for now) short and accessible episodes about specific rums plus a bit of text background, some photos and cocktails. If time is of essence, here’s a place to go. Not updated since October 2021.
  • Single Cast (French)The big names of the Francophone rhum sceneBenoit Bail, Jerry Gitany, Laurent Cuvier, Christine Lambert, Roger Caronirun these fortnightly podcasts, which make me despair at the execrable quality of my French language skills. Great content.
  • RalfyWell, yes, Ralfy does do primarily whiskies on his eponymous vlog and rum takes a serious back seat. He does do rums occasionally, however, and his folksy style, easy banter, and barstool wisdom are really fun to watch (or just listen to), whether it’s in a rum review, or an opinion piece.
  • Zavvy.coA video platform which co-founders Federico Hernandez and Will Hoekenga (remember him from the American Rum Index?) intended as a live streaming tool for rum festivals, repurposed after COVID-19 shattered the world’s bar industry and cancelled all rumfests. Now it is a weekly series of interviews and discussions with members of the industry
  • ACR has some really useful virtual distillery tours andRum Talksessions with distillery people
  • RumcastThis podcast run by John Gulla out of Miami and Will Hoekinga from Tennessee was very busy from April to August of 2020, then declined due to both the pandemic and the attention switching to Zavvy (Will Hoekinga is part of it, so that may be why). In 2021 the show went back up to a regular schedule of once a fortnight and passed their 50th podcast in March 2022. Very in-depth and knowledgeable interviews and occasionally just the two guys riffing on some rum related subject or other.
  • Global Rum Room (FB)This is a place where every Friday, rumfolk from around the world just hang out and sh*t talk, using a Zoom link. The link is usually posted weekly and to be found in the group page. It’s a private group, so an invitation is needed but as far as I know nobody has ever been turned away.
  • *Added Romradion (English/Swedish): On Spotify, a Swedish site that often interviews English personages in the rum world. A mix of languages, good humoured, in depth, with an eclectic schedule and varying lengthsanywhere between twenty minutes and an hour. I like listening to them riff, though haven’t yet gone through all of their episodes.

Video Blogs

  • Added Arminder Randhawa’s vlog Rum Revival on YouTube is one of the best shortform, easygoing video blogs out there. He keeps it clear, crisp and reasonably informative, doesn’t go on for too long and limits himself to themes and rum subjects that can take as little as three or four minutes, or as many as fifteen. Tight, quick editing, aimed squarely at those still early in their journey.
  • Hugely enthusiastic and very short notes and reviews of mostly spiced rums come from the enormously entertaining and energetic Steve the Barman, which I would not normally include but nobody else is doing it to this extent and they need a home too. Steve rums both a YouTube channel and an Instagram Feed and goes all over the map with his quick videos. Unsurprisingly given his handle, his perspective is that of a barman, and one of knowledge sharing, not reviews so much
  • Rum on the CouchDave Marsland, who runs the UK based Manchester Rum Festival, hosts brief conversational look-what-I-got videos and reviews of mostly one bottle at a time. He reminds me a lot of The Fat Rum Pirate’s informal written style. He really does, quite often, review from his couch. Lots of information and opinion presented in an easygoing fashion, and not as prolific as he once was, though still fun to watch any time he posts something.
  • Ready Set RumA 2021-founded YouTube vlogger, Jamé Wills, is a Floridian originally from Trinidad (though his accent tilts more towards Jamaican on occasion). His rum video reviews are longer than most, and what characterizes them is his cheerful laid-back energy and the guests he brings in; the conversational back-and-forth makes each video a comfortable and fun watch. Also dropping in productivity as of 2023.
  • Consider as well the videos of Scott Ferguson’s vlogDifferent Spirits” (lots of rums reviews, some whiskies and other stuff, each about half an hour). He moonlights quite often on /r/rum on Reddit as a commentator and reviewer. The August 2022 episodeIntroduction to Rumis particularly good.
  • The New World Rum ClubThis was a new YouTube entrant, fresh out of the gate in January 2021. The Foursquare ECS overview is great (and doesn’t have a single tasting note). So far Simon concentrates on narratives, a gradually increasing amount of reviews, but alas, like others, less of latenothing posted since November 2021.
  • Diary of a Rum Hunter is too new for sweeping opinions about quality, for now. Darren has an armchair conversation and rum review thing going, but occasionally moves around in the real world to showcase the subject (as he did with the one about doubling his money on auctions). Each review, with one exception, is about 20-30 minutes. Hasn’t posted anything since December 2021.

Specific Articles

Even within the fast moving rum community where things change on a daily basis, some articles stand out as being more than a flash in the pan and survive the test of time. Most bloggers content themselves with reviews and news, and a few go further into serious research or opinionating. Here some that bear reading:

  • Tarquin (Rachel) Underspoon’s List of what Rums to Start With. Every boozer and every blogger sooner or later addresses this issue, and the lists change constantly depending on who’s writing it, and when. This is one of the best.
  • The Cocktail Wonk’s article on E&A Scheer. This is the article that allowed laymen to understand what writers meant when they spoke about “brokers” buying bulk rum and then selling it to independent bottlers. It introduced the largest and oldest of them all, Scheer, to the larger public in an original article nobody else even thought to think about.
  • The History of Demerara Distilleries, written by Marco Freyr of Germany, is the most comprehensive, heavily referenced, historically rigorous treatise on all the Guianese sugar plantations and distilleries ever written. No one who wants to know about what the DDL heritage still are all about can pass this monumental work by. The ‘Wonk has a two-part Cliff-notes version, here and here which is less professorial, based on his visits and interviews.
  • Josh Miller’s well written piece on the development of Rhum Agricole.
  • The Man With A Stroller, Laurent Cuvier, has, as of January 2022, a seriously good 12-part series of mini reviews exclusively dedicated to White Cane Juice Rums. You’ll have to use Google translate to convert the French (note: the link here goes to Part 12; links to the other 11 are at the bottom and he tells me there will undoubtedly be more to come)
  • [Shameless plug alert!] The Age of Velier’s Demeraras. A favourite within my own writing, a deeply researched, deeply felt, three-part article on the impact Velier’s near-legendary Demerara rums had on the larger rumiverse. Two others are the History of the 151s, and the deep dive into all the different kinds of barrels and containers rum is and can be stored in.

Shopping Sites

Well, I can’t entirely ignore the question of “Where can I get…?” and get asked it more often than you might imagine. However, there are so many of sites nowadays, that I can’t really list them all. That said, here are some of the major ones I know of that other people have spoken about before. I’ll add to them as I try more, or get recommendations from readers.

(Note: listing them here is not an endorsement of their prices, selections or shipping policies; nor have I used them all myself, and they may not ship to you).

USA

EU & UK

Canada


The Final Question

I wanted to address the one question that comes up in my private correspondence perhaps more often even than “Where can I find…?” or “Have you tried…?.

And that’s “How much is this bottle worth?

Aside from the trite response of It’s worth whatever someone is willing to pay, there is no online answer, and I know of no resource that provides it as a service outside of an auction house or a site like RumAuctioneer where the public will respond by bidding, or not. One can, of course, always check on the FB rum fora above, post a picture and a description and ask there, and indeed, that is nowadays as good a method as any. Outside that, don’t know of any.

So, that said, I never provide a website resource or give a numerical answer, and my response is always the same: “It is worth drinking.”


Summing up

When I look down this listing of online resources (and below in the books section), I am struck by what an enormous wealth of information it represents, what an investment of so many people’s time and effort and energy and money. The commitment to produce such a cornucopia of writing and talking and resources, all for free, is humbling.

In the last fourteen years since I began writing, we have seen the rise of blogs, published authors, rum festivals, and websites, even self-bottlings and special cask purchases by individuals who just wanted to pass some stuff around to friends and maybe recover a buck or two. New companies sprung up. New fans entered the field. Rum profiles and whole marketing campaigns changed around us. The thirst for knowledge and advice became so great that a veritable tsunami of bloggers rose to meet the challengenot always to educate the eager or sell to the proles, but sometimes just to share the experience or to express a deeply held opinion.

It’s good we have that. In spite of the many disagreements that pepper the various discussions on and offline, the interest and the passion about rum remains, and results in a treasure trove of online resources any neophyte can only admire and be grateful for. As I do, and I am.


AppendixBooks On Rum

Books are not an online resource per se, so I chose to put them in as an appendix. I do however believe they have great value as resources in their own right, and not everything that is useful to an interested party can always be found online.

Unsurprisingly, there is no shortage of reference materials in the old style format. No matter how many posts one has, how many essays, how many eruditely researched historical pieces or heartbreaking works of staggeringly unappreciated genius, there’s still something about saying one has published an actual book that can’t be beat. Here’s a few that are worth reading (and yes, I know there are more):

  • Rums of the Eastern Caribbean (Ed Hamilton)Released in 1995 at the very birth of the modern rum renaissance, this book was varied survey of as many distilleries and rums as Mr. Hamilton found the time to visit over many years of sailing around the Caribbean. Out of print and out of date, it’s never been updated or reprinted. Based on solid first hand experience of the time (1990s and before), and many rum junkies who make distillery trips part of their overall rum education are treading in his footsteps. (It was followed up in 1997 by another book called “The Complete Guide to Rum”).
  • Rum (Dave Broom)This 2003 book combined narrative and photographs, and included a survey of most of the world’s rum producing regions to that time. It was weak on soleras, missed independents altogether and almost ignored Asia, but had one key new ingredient – the introduction and codification of rum into styles: Jamaican, Guyanese, Bajan, Spanish and French island (agricole). Remains enormously influential, though by now somewhat dated and overtaken by events (he issued a follow-up “Rum: The Manual” in 2016, the same year as “Rum Curious” by Fred Minnick came out).
  • Atlas Du Rhum (Luca Gargano)A coffee-table sized book that came out around 2014. Unfortunately only available in Italian and French for now. It’s a distillery by distillery synopsis of almost every rum making facility in the Caribbean and copies the format of Broom’s book and the limited focus of Hamilton’s, and does it better than either. Beautifully photographed, full of historical and technical detail. Hopefully it gets either a Volume 2 or an update for this decade, at some point, and FFS let’s have an English edition!
  • French RumA History 1639-1902 (Marco Pierini). This is one of those books that should be longer, just so we can see what happened after Mont Pelee erupted in 1902. Still, let’s not be ungrateful. Going back into the origins of distilled spirits and distillation in the Ancient World, Marco slowly and patiently traces the evolution of rum, and while hampered by a somewhat professorial and pedantic writing style, it remains a solid work of research and scholarship.
  • The Silent Ones (Cyril Weglarz)Few books about rum’s subculture impressed and moved me as much as Cyril’s. In it, he toured the Caribbean islands (on his own dime), and interviewed the people we never hear about: the workers, those in the cane field, the lab, the distillery. And provided a portrait of these silent and unsung people, allowing us to see beyond superstar ambassadors and producers, to the things these quieter people do and the lives they lead.
  • Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki (Martin & Rebecca Cate)Addressed to the cocktail and tiki crowd in 2016 (as is self evident from the title) the reason I include this book here is because of the Cates’ proposal for another method classification for rums that goes beyond the too-limited styles of Dave Broom, and is perhaps more accessible than the technical rigour of the one suggested by Luca Gargano. Jury is still out there. Other than that, just a fun read for anyone into the bar and mixing scene.
  • Minimalist Tiki (Matt Pietrek)If I include one, I have to include the other. Matt self published his book about matters tiki in 2019, and again, it is a book whose subject is obvious. Except, not reallythe section about rum, its antecedents and background, the summing up of the subject to 2019, is really very well done and pleasantly excessive, maybe ⅓ of the whole thing. The photos are great and I’m sure to learn a thing or two about mixing drinks in the other ⅔. For now, it’s the bit about rum I covet.
  • Rum Curious (Fred Minnick)Building on the previous book by the Cates, this takes rum in its entirety as its subject, and covers history, production, regulations, tastings, cocktails and more. It’s a great primer for any beginner, still recent enough to be relevant (many of the issues it mentions, like additives, disclosure, labelling, regulations, remain hotly debated to this day), though occasionally dated with some of the rums considered top end, and very weak in global rum brands from outside the Caribbean.
  • And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails (Wayne Curtis)This is a book about rum, cocktails and American history. It is not for getting an overview of the entire rum industry or the issues that surround it, or any kind of tasting notes or reviews. But it is an enormously entertaining and informative read, and you’ll pick up quite a bit around the margins that cannot but increase your appreciation for the spirit as a whole.
  • A Jamaican Plantation: The History of Worthy Park 1670-1970 (Michael Craton & James Walvin)A deep dive into the history of one of the best known Jamaican distilleries. (I’m sure there are others that speak to other distilleries and plantation, but this is the one I happen to have, and have read).
  • The Distillers Guide to Rum (Ian Smiley, Eric Watson, Michael Delevante)For a book that came out in 2013, it remains useful and not yet dated. As its title indicates, it is about distillation methodology, and there is some good introductory rum material as well. If you want to know about equipment, ingredients, fermentation, blending, vatting, maturation, that’s all thereand then there’s supplementary stuff about the subject (styles, bars, cocktails, etc) as well, making it a useful book for anyone who wants to know more about that aspect of the subject.