Thursday February 9th restored some of my faith in the future of rums here in Calgary. The third Raucous Rums tasting event which I have now attended — hosted by Kensington Wine Market’s Andrew Ferguson — did not have the rather embarassing nine people in it, but was sold out for the full complement of tickets…in fact, several people I recommended it to who took me at my word and tried to get in, told me in the week leading up to the event that it had already been sold out prior to that. Good for KWM, then.
Andrew The Occasional Rum Guy (as I shall call him for reasons related to his email address) has now held perhaps four of these gatherings, and while hamstrung by the general indifference to rums in this city (if you doubt that, feel free to go to any whisky tasting and then speak to me about the difference) there is no doubt he puts out a good selection that covers a wide gamut of styles and tastes, and they are usually at the middle to top end of the scale. No Bacardis for this gent…though I would personally take a snarky kind of pleasure in seeing one sneaked in there one of these years just to see how it matched up.
Unlike the September 27th session, where we knew right up front what we were getting (mostly Rum Nation products plus two excellent St Nicholas abbey rums), here Andrew went back to the tried and true blind test variation, which suited me just fine. Seven rums were up for consideration, and in between the history and background of rums which Andrew probably knows by heart now, we went through the lineup. For the sake of this article, I’ll simply write about the tasting notes we made, and then I’ll do the big reveal.
- The Occasional Rum Guy makes a point
Colour: Lightest colour of the night, gold and sunlight.
Nose: Full burnt sugar, caramel, vanilla and nuts. Chocolate, marzipan and licorice edged out towards the end
Palate: Medium body verging on light; toffee, honey, vanilla, cherries and white flowers. Bite of spice and citrus.
Finish: Medium long, pungent, toffee and honey
Notes: Seemed young, but vibrant and strong, lovely balance of flavours. Panamanian, Nicaraguan, Colombian? The slight sweet suggests it.
Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Sweet, sugar, grapes, prune juice and the scent of fleshy darker fruits. Some spicy oak background
Palate: Sweet honey, nuts, creamy vanilla notes wound around with a smooth, viscous mouthfeel. Vague tannins and some spice to the taste.
Finish: Soft, creamy finish with toffee and grapes
Notes: It’s aged, but by how much? Quite an excellent rum.
- Dale’s snacks were as good as always and disappeared fast
Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Initial arrival reminds me of a Riesling; sweet and grapy; this dissipates into a fruity, floral scent, with marzipan, licorice and green grapes mixing well with subtle whiffs of burnt sugar I really liked a lot.
Palate: Somewhat thin with a spicy taste to it; brown sugar for sure, caramel just a bit. Very hard to pin down and disassemble. Has the deeper bite of an overproof
Finish: Smoky feel of burning sugar cane fields; light floral background
Notes: Thought this was an aged Cadenhead due to its strength feeling greater than 40%. Really liked the nose, taste not as much.
Nose: Chocolate, soft maple syrup notes, with a hint of spices, vanilla and burnt sugar
Palate: Medium body; spicy and oaky, extremely dry and not very sweet; some honey, dark sugar and candied notes
Finish: Long and pungent, quite spicy
Notes: Unimpressive. Couldn’t make up my mind whether this was a Cuban or a Jamaican rum, but that driness on the tongue made me wonder whether I wasn’t just barking up the wrong tree
Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Dark fruit and jam; floral notes contested with red grapes; vanilla, grapefruit, honey and leather with pipe smoke brought up the rear. Nice
Palate: Spicy, a shade dry, sweet and smooth; creamy and full-bodied with an excellent mouthfeel; dark sugar and allspice, and very smooth. Good one.
Finish: Gentle and smooth, with dark sugar notes and caramel and oak.
Notes: Something about this reminded me of a Rum Nation product, and this is where I hung my hat…not sure which one…just not the really aged varieties.
Nose: Vanilla, honey, blancmange, toffee and all the good stuff from your childhood parties. Smelled this and saw balloons and pinatas.
Palate: Sweet, dark, yet not too overloaded with caramel or other baking spcies to piss me off
Finish: An odd, port-like finish of dark grapes and vanilla
Notes: This was almost definitely the Zacapa 23 formerly out of Guatemala, I thought.
Colour: Rusty red brown
Nose: Rubbery, feinty right off the bat; Nav, who sat on my table, hated it right off. Muscatel grapes, burnt sugar and no real edgy spice to it.
Palate: Aged leather and slightly dusty scent; chocolate, cinnamon and well-cured tobacco leaves; yet smooth for all that. The most distinctive rum of the night.
Finish: Slow and fruity; dark heat with a slightly dry back end on exit.
Notes: I really enjoyed this for its distinctiveness and ranked it high on my personal pantheon (if not that of the rums of the night). I hazarded a guess this was the Jamaican 23 year old aged rum from Rum Nation…that rubbery note gave it away.
- Dan concentrates fiercely….
At the end, the Occasional Rum Guy asked for our votes for which rums we liked in order, and then asked us to raise hands for our first and second picks of the series as he went through the list and named what we had tasted
Rum # 1 was the Traveller’s 1 Barrel from Belize. 8 people picked this as either their #1 or #2 of the evening
Rum #2 was the Ron Abuelo 12 year old from Panama. 6 people picked this as their #1 or #2 of the evening
Rum #3 was the Clemente XO Tres Vieux from Martinique. 3 people picked this one as their #1 or #2.
Rum #4 was the $300 Santa Teresa Bicentenario solera, which nobody picked for their #1 or #2.
Rum #5 was picked by 5 people as their #1 or #2 of the night (I was one of them), and turned out to be the Rum Nation Martinque 12 year old
Rum #6 was without question the most popular of the session, garnering 12 nods for best or second best…and turned out to be the Zaya 12 year old, made by the same outfit that makes the Zacapa in Guatemala, before Angostura from Trinidad took things over.
Rum #7 was the 23 year old Demerara (not Jamaica) from Rum Nation, and while I ranked it #3 for distinctiveness, nobody else except Andrew himself ranked this anywhere close to the top.
So what does an exercise like this tell us?
Well, for one thing, there’s a definite separation between the crowd-pleasers and those rums that move beyond such ephemeral and fleeting opinions and achieve true value for their price; look no further than the rapturous reception of the Zaya 12, which, when you brutally disassemble it is simply a pleasant sipper without the complexity of something like, oh, the Rum Nation Martinique 12.
Secondly, there is no correlation between quality and price: the cheapest rum of the night, the Traveller’s 1 Barrel, got 40% of the votes for being either #1 or #2 of the evening; or, in reverse, the ultra-premium $300 Santa Teresa, which was roundly dissed, and came in at #5 overall, followed only by the Rum Nation Demerara 23 and the Clemente XO (for what it’s worth, my rankings before I knew the names were the Abuelo 12, RN Martinque 12, RN Demerara 23, Zaya 12, the Clemente XO (good for nose, not so much on taste), Traveller’s 1 Barrel and Santa Teresa Bicentenario).
Thirdly, guessing what you’re drinking is not easy, and I’m no expert, in spite of having sampled as many rums as I have: look how I got the first one wrong (couldn’t even get the country right), mixed up a Scottish Cadenhead with a Martinique agricole with Rum #3 (lots in common, but still…) and confused #7 between Demerara and Jamaica. It points out something of the subjective nature of any review, done at the time the review is performed, versus a more leisurely one-at-a-time exercise, and how the surrounding rums in a blind tasting can sway one’s opinion of others to the left and right.
Lastly, it’s clear that one need not relegate oneself to the easy rums and cheaper prices to get a good drink. I acknowledge that most rum drinkers in this province are part timers whose real love and affection is given to the whiskies (and forgive them for this lapse, but never mind) – yet when one considers the sheer variety and range of rums we had that night, ranging from dry to sweet to dusty, from cask strength to standard 40%, light to dark, there is no doubt in my mind that there’s something for everyone to be had in the rum world.
Kudos to Kensington Wine Market for taking the lead in getting that to people’s attention.