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).


 

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.
  • *Added Modern Caribbean Rum (Matt Pietrek and Carrie Smith)Published in late 2022, this book is sure to remain a standard reference for the next decade (at least). It tries to cover everything: history, production, technical details, the rum business, regulations, and biographies of just about all the Caribbean distilleries. It’s not small and it’s not light, but as a roundup of a bunch of rum geekeryin essence, every question a neophyte or an interested rum geek might haveis covered. (Note: There are no rum reviews here, which I think was the right decisionsomething would always be left out and the releases these days are so quick and so numerous that the book would be dated for such a section even by the time it went on sale).
Apr 232020
 

Introduction

Brutta ma buoni is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good”, and as I wrote in the SMWS 3.5 “Marmite” review, describes the oversized codpieces of the “151” types of rums very nicely indeed. These glute-flexing ABV beefcakes have been identifiably knocking people into stupors for at least since the 1930s and possibly even before thatand while they were never entirely good, when it came to serving up a real fast drunk with a hot-snot shot of whup-ass, they really couldn’t be beat. Flavours were often secondary, proof-power everything.

Everyone involved with rumswhether bartender, barfly or boozehoundknows what a “151” is, and they lend themselves to adverbial flights of fancy, humorous metaphors and some funny reviews. They were and are often conflated with “overproof” rumsindeed, for a long time they were the only overproofs known to homo rummicus, the common rum drinkerand their claim to fame is not just a matter of their alcohol content of 75.5% ABV, but their inclusion in classic cocktails which have survived the test of time from when they were first invented.

But ask anyone to go tell you more about the 151s, and there’s a curious dearth of hard information about them, which such anecdotes and urban witticisms as I have mentioned only obscure. Why, for example, that strength? Which one was the first? Why were there so many? Why now so few? A few enterprising denizens of the subculture would mention various cocktail recipes and their origin in the 1930s and the rise of tiki in the post war years. But beyond that, there isn’t really very much, and what there is, is covered over with a fog suppositions and educated guesses.

Mythic Origins – 1800s to 1933

Most background material regarding high-proof rums such as the 151s positions their emergence in the USA during the Great Depressioncocktail recipes from that period called for certain 151 proof rums, and America became the spiritual home of the rum-type. What is often overlooked is that if a recipe at that time called for such a specific rum, by name, then it had to already existand so we have to look further back in time to trace its origins.

1873 Australian newspaper ad for Lemon Hart (Rum History FB page)

That line of thinking brings us to Lemon Hart, probably the key company behind the early and near-undocumented history of the 151s. It had to have been involved since, in spite of their flirting with bankruptcy (in 1875) and changes in ownership over the years, they were as far as I am aware, among the only ones producing anything like a widely-sold commercial overproof in the late 1800s and very early 1900s (quite separate from bulk suppliers like Scheer and ED&F Man who dealt less with branded bottles of their own, but supplied others in their turn). Given LH’s involvement with the rum industry, they had a hand in sourcing rums from the West Indies or from ED&F Man directly, and this made them a good fit for supplying other British companies. Their stronger rums and others’, so far as I can tell, tended to just be called overproofs (meaning greater than 57% for reasons tangential to this essay but related to how the word proof originated to begin with¹)…but not “151”.

Victoria Daily British Colonist, March 11, 1914. Ad for a 32 Overproof rum, which is what 151s were once called

Navy rums were considered the beefcake proofed rums of their day, and certainly stronger ones did existthe 69% Harewood House Barbados rum bottled in 1780 is an examplebut those that did were very rarely commercially bottled, and probably just for estate or plantation consumption, which is why records are so scant. The real question about rums bottled north of 57% was why bother to make them at all? And what’s that story that keeps cropping up, about a British / Canadian mercantile concern having something to do with it?

Earliest record of a 151 rum. the Canadian HBC – 1934, Montana, USA

Here’s the tale: the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1670, and was not only the first great trading concern in North Americait had its origins in the fur trade and trading posts of the British-run northern part of the continentbut for some time was almost a quasi-Government of large parts of the vast territories that became Canada. Their chain of trading posts morphed into sales shops which also sold alcoholbut as Steve Remsberg remarked in relating this possibility, the story (without proof, ha ha) goes that rums with proof strengths or lower were insufficient for the business of the HBC in the 1800s: it froze in the deep cold above the Arctic Circle, and so something with more oomph was required (mind you, at that time they sold mostly brandy and gin, not rum so much, but I have no doubt that rum was also part of their overall alcoholic portfolio given their Canada’s long history with rum, and HBC’s identification with it later). This tale was supported in Charles H. Baker’s 1951 bookThe South American Gentleman’s Companion” (p. 77 and 78) where he remarkedOrdinary proof rums, shipped up to the chill winter wastes round Hudson Bay in Canada, promptly froze and burst their bottles. 151 proof was finally hit upon as proper proof to weather that cruel wintering.However, the source reference of the story itself is not cited or dated, and as Matt Pietrek noted, both Curtis and Remsburg might have used it as their source.

Lemon Hart had a strong presence in the colonies (it was big in Canada and huge in Australia through the late 1800s to early 1900s, for example), possessing connections to the main importer of rum and the Caribbean rum industry, and can reasonably be construed to have been involved in bootstrapping these efforts into an even stronger version of their regular rums to address HBC’s requirements, a theory I put forward because there really wasn’t any other company which was so firmly identified and tied to the rum-type in years to come, or so suitably positioned to do so for another major British mercantile concern². There is, unfortunately, no direct evidence here, I just advance it as a reasoned conjecture that fits tolerably well with such slim facts as are known. It is equally possible that HBC approached major rum suppliers like Man independently….but somehow I doubt it.

1935 Fairbanks Daily News (Alaska, USA) ad

Whatever the truth of the matter, by the early 1900s some kind of overproof “style”no matter who made itis very likely to have become established across North America, and known about, even if a consistent standard strength over 57% had not been settled on, and the term “151” might not have yet existed. Certainly by 1914 the strength had been usedit just wasn’t called “151,” but “32 Overproof”. (If we assume that proof was defined as 100º (57.14% ABV) then 32 Overproof worked out to 132º proof and the maths makes this 75.43%close enough for Government work for sure). Unsurprisingly, this was also the Hudson’s Bay Company, which marketed such a 32 Overproof in British Columbia as far back as 1914 (see above).

The Daily Colonist, Victoria, Vancouver Island B.C, 01 May 1914

However, I suggest that such high-powered rums would have remained something of a niche spirit given their lack of branding and advertising, and they might have stayed in the shadows, were it not for the enactment of the Volstead Act in the USA and similar legislation in Canada after the restrictions of the First World War.

That drove the category undergroundwhile simultaneously and paradoxically making it more popular. Certainly the strength of such a rum made it useful to have aroundfrom a logistical standpoint at least. Because quite aside from its ability to get people drunker, faster (and even with its propensity to remain liquid at very low temperatures of the North), from a shipping perspective its attraction was simply that one could ship twice as much for the same cost and then dilute it elsewhere, and make a tidy profit.

Although direct evidence is lacking, I am suggesting that sometime between 1920 and 1933 (the dates of American Prohibition) a consistent strength was settled on and the title “151” was attached to rums bottled at 75.5%, and it was an established fact of drinking life, though maddeningly elusive to date with precision. Cocktail recipes now called for them by name, the public was aware, and the title has never disappeared.

The Strength

So why 151? Why that odd strength of 75.5%, and not a straight 70%, 75% or 80%? We can certainly build a reasonable chain of supposition regarding why overproofed spirits were made at all, why Lemon Hart and HBC made something seriously torqued-up and therefore why subsequent cocktails called for itbut nailing down that particular number is no longer, I believe, possible. It’s just been too long and the suppositions too varied, and records too lacking.

1938 Ron Rico advertisement

One theory goes that some US state laws (California and Florida specifically) required that proofage (or a degree higher) as the maximum strength at which a commercial consumable drink could be madethis strikes me as untenable given its obvious limitations, and in any case, it’s a factoid, not an explanation of why it was selected. Ed Hamilton of the Ministry of Rum suggested that the strength was roughly the output strength of a historic pot stilldistillate would have come off after a second pass or a retort at about 75% abvbut since Puerto Rico was making rums at that strength without any pot stills quite early on (Ron Rico advertised them for being useful for cooking, which is an intriguing rabbit hole to investigate) this also is problematic. Alternatively, it might have been the least dangerous yet still cost-effective way of shipping bulk rum around prior to local dilution, as noted above. Or because of the flash point of a 75% ethanol / 25% water mix is about the ratio where you can set it on fire without an additional propellant or heating the liquid (also technically unlikely since there are a range of temperatures or concentrations where this can happen). And of course there’s Steve Remsburg’s unproven but really cool idea, which is that it was a strength gradually settled on as rums were developed for HBC that would not freeze in the Arctic regions.

All these notions have adherents and detractors, and none of them can really be proven (though I’d love to be shown up as wrong in this instance). The key point is that by 1934, the 151s existed, were named, released at 75.5%, and already considered a normand interestingly, they had become a class of drinks that were for the most part an American phenomenon, not one that grew serious legs in either Asia or Europe. How they surged in popularity and became a common part of every bar’s repertoire in the post-war years is what we’ll discuss next.

Tiki, the Beachcomber, Lemon Hart et al – 1934-1963

In spite of the 151s’ modern bad-boy reputationsas macho-street-cred testing grounds, beach party staples, a poor man’s hooch, where one got two shots for the price of one and a massive ethanol delivery system thrown in for freethat was a relatively recent Boomer and Gen X development. In point of fact, 151s were, for most of the last ninety years, utilized as cocktail ingredients, dating back to the dawn of the tiki era started in the 1930s and which exploded in the subsequent decades. And more than any other rum of its kind, the rep of being the first 151 belonged to the famed Lemon Hart 151, which was specifically referenced in the literature of the time and is the earliest identifiable 151 ancestor.

So if there was ever a clear starting point to the 151s’ rise to prominence, then it had to have been with the repeal of American Prohibition in 1933 (Canada’s Prohibition was more piecemeal in execution and timing of implementation varied widely among provinces, but in almost all cases lasted less than a decade, during the ‘teens and 1920s). Within a year of the US repeal, both Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company liquor division and the UK rum supplier Lemon Hart had made 151-proof rums, explicitly naming them as such (and not as some generic “overproof”), and positioning them for sale in the advertisements of the time.

This came about because of the opening of Don’s Beachcomber, a Polynesian themed restaurant and bar in Hollywood, run by an enterprising young man named Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gant, who subsequently changed his name to Donn Beach to jive with the renamed “Don the Beachcomber” establishment. His blend of Chinese cuisine, tropical-themed rum cocktails and punches and interior decor to channel Polynesian cultural motifs proved to be enormously influential and spawned a host of imitators, the most famous of whom was Victor Bergeron, who created a similar line of Tiki bars named Trader Vic’s in the post war years, to cater to renewed interest in Pacific islands’ culture.

The key takeaway from this rising interest in matters tropical and tiki, was the creation of ever more sophisticated cocktails using eight, nine, even ten ingredients or more. Previous 19th and early 20th century recipes stressed three or four ingredients, used lots of add-ins like vermouth and bitters and liqueurs, and at best referred to the required rums as “Jamaica” or “Barbados” or what have you. Then as now, there were no shortage of mixesthe 1932 Green Cocktail book lists 251 of them and a New York bartender’s guide from 1888 has nearly two hundred.

Extract from Don the Beachcomber 1941 drinks menu

What distinguished Beach and Bergeron and others who followed, was their innovative and consistent use of rums, which were identified in some cases by name (like the Lemon Hart 151 or the Wray & Nephew 17 year old), with several now-classic cocktails being invented during this period: the Zombie, the Mai Tai, the Three Dots and a Dash, the Blue Hawaii and the 151 Swizzle, among others. Not all these required high proof rums, but twothe Zombie and the Swizzleabsolutely did, and by 1941, the Beachcomber’s rum list had several 151 variants including branded ones like Lemon Hart, Lownde’s, and Trower’s….and yes, HBC.

Initially the Lemon Hart 151 was the big gun in the house and was explicitly referenced in the recipes of the time, like for the Zombie, which Beachbum Berry spent so much time tracking down. But if one were to peruse the periodicals of the day one would note that they were not the only ones advertising their strong rums: in the mid to late 1930s: the Canadian Hudson’s Bay Company liquor arm, and a Puerto Rican brand called Ron Rico (made just as the Serralles’ firm launched the Don Q brand with a newly acquired columnar stillthey acquired Ron Rico in 1985) were also there, showing the fad was not just for one producer’s rum, and that a market existed for several variations.

The fortieswar years were quiet for 151s, but by the 1950swith post-war boom times in the USA, and the rise of the middle class (and their spending power) — their popularity began to increase, paralleling the increase in awareness of rums as a whole. Tens of thousands of soldiers returned from duty in the Pacific, movies extolled the tropical lifestyle of Hawaii, and members of the jet set, singers and Hollywood stars all did their bit to fuel the Polynesian cultural explosion. And right alongside that, the drinks and cocktails were taking off, spearheaded by the light and easy Spanish style blends such as exemplified by Bacardi. This took time to get going, but by the early 1960s there was no shortage of 151 rumsfrom Puerto Rico in particular, but also from Jamaica and British Guianato rank alongside the old mainstays like Lemon Hart.

The Era of Bacardi – 1963-2000

It may be overstating things to call these years an era of any kind: here, I simply use it as a general shorthand for a period in which 151s were no longer exotic but an established rum category in their own right, with all their attendant ills.

As with most ideas that make money, sooner or later big guns and small come calling to join the party. Bacardi had its problems by being ousted from Cuba in 1960, yet had had the foresight to diversify their company even before that, and operated in Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the USA. After the dust settled, they made their own 151 in the lighter Cuban styleat the time it was made in Brazil before production shifted to Puerto Rico, and its low and subsidized price made it a perennially popular rum popskull. It was widely available and affordable, and therefore soon became the bestselling rum of its type, overtaking and outselling all other 151 brands such as the Appleton 151 white, or the Don Q 151 made by the Serralles boys in Puerto Rico and those that had existed even earlier.

The official basis of the popularity of 151s remained the cocktails one could make with them. Without searching too hard, I found dozens of recipes, some calling for the use of Bacardi 151 alone, with names as evocative as “the Flatliner”, “Four Horsemen”, “Backfire on the Freeway”, “Superman’s Kryptonite” and “Orange F*cker”. Obviously there were many more, and if Bacardi seemed ubiquitous after a while, it was because it was low-cost and not entirely piss-poor (though many who tried it neat over the years might disagree).

One other demographic event which propelled 151s to some extent was the rise of the western post-war Baby Boomer generation and its successors like Gen-Xers who had known little privation or want or war in their lifetimes. These young people raised on Brando-esque machismo and moody Dean-style rebellion, had disposable income and faced the enormous impact of American popular culturefor them, 151s served another purpose altogether, that of getting hammered fast, and seeing if one could survive itsome sort of proof-of-manhood kind of thing. Stupidity, hormones, youth, party lifestyle, the filmic romance of California beaches, ignorance, take your pick. For yearsdecades, eventhis was the brush that tarred 151s and changed their popular perceptions.

In all that happy-go-lucky frat-boy party reputation combined with the allure of easily-made, inexpensive home-made concoctions, lay the seeds of its destruction (to Bacardi, at any rate). People got hurt while under the highly intoxicating influence of killer mixes, got into accidents, did stupid and dangerous things. 151s were highly flammable, and property damage was not unheard of, either by careless handling or by inexpert utilization of the overproofs in flambees or floats. Unsurprisingly in a litigious culture like the USA, lawsuits were common. Bacardi tried to counter this by printing clear warnings and advisories on its labels, to no avail, and finally they decided to pull the plug in 2016 in order to focus on more premium rum brands that did less harm to their reputation.

That singularly unspectacular happening (or non-happening) was accompanied in the subsequent months and years by retrospectives and newsbytes, and a peculiar outpouring of feelings by now-grown-up man-children who, from their home bars and man-caves, whimsically and poetically opined on its effect on their lives, andmore commonlythe tearful reminiscences of where they first got wasted on it, and the hijinks they got up to while plastered. It did not present the nobility of the human race in its best light, perhaps, but it did show the cultural impact that the 151s, especially Bacardi’s, had had.

151s in the New Centurya decline, but not a fall

The discontinuation of Bacardi’s big bad boy obscured a larger issue, which was that these rums had probably hit their high point in the 1980s or 1990s, when it seemed like there was a veritable treasure trove of now-vanished 151 brands to choose from: Carioca, Castillo, Palo Viejo, Ron Diaz, Don Lorenzo, Tortuga and Trader Vic’s (to name a few). It was entirely possible that this plethora of 151s was merely a matter ofme tooandlet’s round out the portfolio”. After all, at this time blends were still everything, light rum cocktails that competed with vodka were still the rage, neat drinking was not a thing and the sort of exacting, distillery-led, estate-specific rum making as now exists was practically unheard of (we had to wait until the Age of Velier’s Demeraras to understand how different the world was before and after that point).

But by the close of the 1990s and the dawn of the 2000s, blendswhether high proof or notalready showed a decline in popular consciousness. And in the 2010s as independents began to release more and better high-proofed single-barrel rums, they were followed by DDL, Foursquare, St. Lucia Distillers, Hampden, Worthy Park and other makers from countries of origin, who started to reclaim their place as rum makers of the first instance. Smaller niche brands of these 151s simply disappeared from the rumscape.

The fact was, in the new century, 151s were and remained tricky to market and to promote. They exceeded the flight safety regulations for carrying on some airlines (many of whom cap this at 70% ABV, though there are variations) and the flammability and strength made many retailers unwilling to sell them to the general public. There was an ageing crop of people who grew up on these ferocious drinks and would buy them, sure, but the new generation of more rum-savvy drinkers was less enamoured of the style.

Which was not surprising, given the ever-increasing panoply of selections they had. The growing indifference of the larger drinking public to 151s as a whole was aided by the explosion of rums which were also overproofs, but not quite as strong, andmore importantlywhich tasted absolutely great. These were initially IB single barrel offerings like those of the SMWS or L’Esprit or Velier, and also juice from the Seychelles (Takamaka Bay), Haiti (the clairins), Martinique (Neisson L’Esprit 70º), and the highly popular and well-received Smith & Cross, Rum Fire, Wray & Nephew 63% White, Plantation OFTD, and on and on. These served the same purpose of providing a delicious alcoholic jolt to a mix (or an easy drunk to the rest), and were also affordableand often received reviews in the internet-enabled blogosphere that the original makers of the 151s could only have dreamed about.

Photo montage courtesy of and (c) Eric Witz from FB, Instagram @aphonik

Many such producers of 151s have proved unable or unwilling to meet this challenge, and so, gradually, they started to fade from producers’ concerns, supermarket shelves, consumers’ mindsand became less common. Even before the turn of the century, mention of the original 151s like Hudson’s Bay, Lownde’s and Trowers had vanished; Bacardi, as stated, discontinued theirs in 2016, Appleton possibly as late as 2018 (their Three Dagger 10YO 151 pictured above was gone by the 1960s), and many others whose names are long forgotten, fell by the roadside way before then. Nowadays, you hardly see them advertised much, any more. Producers who make themand that isn’t manyare almost shamefacedly relegating them to obscure parts of their websites, same as retailers tucking them away in the back-end bottom shelf. Few trumpet them front and centre any longer. And on the consumer side, with drinkers and bartenders being spoiled for choice, you just don’t see anyone jumping up on social media crowing how they scored oneexcept perhaps to say they drank one .

But the story doesn’t end here, because some producers have indeed moved with the times and gone the taste-specific route, gambling on bartenders and cocktail books’ recommending their 151s from an ever-shrinking selection.

Lemon Hart was, of course, the poster child for this kind of taste-specific Hulkamaniac of tastethey consistently used Demerara rum, probably Port Mourant distillate, for their 151, and even had a Jamaican 73% rum that boasted some serious flavour chops. Internal problems caused them to falter and cease selling their 151 around 2014, and Ed Hamilton (founder of both the website and the Facebook page “the Ministry of Rum”) jumped into the breach with his own Hamilton 151, the first new one of its kind in years, which he released in 2015 to great popular acclaim. The reception was unsurprising, because this thing tasted great, was an all-Guyana product and was aimed at a more discriminating audience that was already more in tune to rums bottled between 50%-75%. And that was quite aside from the bartenders, who still needed 151s for their mixes (as an aside, a rebranded Lemon Hart 151 was released in 2012 or thereabouts with a wine red label and was again subsequently discontinued a few years later). Even Velier acknowledged the uses of a 151 when they released a Worthy Park 151 on their own as part of the Habitation Velier line of pot still rums (and it’s great, btw). And in an interesting if ultimately stalled move that hints a the peculiar longevity of 151s, Lost Spirits used their Reactor to produce their own take on a Cuban Inspired 151so irrespective of other developments, the confluence of strength, flexibility of use and enormity of taste has allowed some 151s to get a real lease on life.

Others are less interesting, or less specific and may just exist, as many had before, to round out the portfolioDon Q from Puerto Rico makes a 151 to this day, and Tilambic from Mauritius does as well; El Dorado is re-introducing a new one soon (the Diamond 151, I believe), and Cruzan (Virgin Islands), Cavalier (Antigua), Bermudez (Dominican Republic), and Ron Carlos (USA) have their 151s of varying quality. Even Mhoba from South Africa joined the party in late 2020 with its own high ester version. The point is, even at such indifferent levels of quality, they’re not going anywhere, and if their heyday has passed us by, we should not think they have disappeared completely and can only be found, now, in out of the way shops, auctions or estate sales.

Because, somehow, they continue. They are still made. Young people with slim wallets continue to get wasted on this stuff, as they likely will until the Rapture. People post less and review 151s almost not at all, but they do post sometimesalmost always with wistful inquiries about where to get one, now that their last stock has run out and their favourite brand is no longer available. 151s might have run out of steam in the larger world of tiki, bartending and cocktails as new favourites emerge, but I don’t think they’ll ever be entirely extinct, and maybe that’s all that we can hope for, in a rum world as fast moving and fast changing as the one we have now.


Notes

  1. See my essay on proof
  2. Two other possibilities who could have developed a strong rum for HBC were Scheer and ED&F Man.
    1. Scheer was unlikely because they dealt in bulk, not their own brands, and mercantile shipping laws of the time would have made it difficult for them to ship rum to Britain or its colonies.
    2. ED&F Mann also did not consider itself a maker of branded rum, though it did hold the contract to supply the British Navy (Lemon Hart was their client, not a competitor). But by the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s, they already had diversified and became more of a major commodities supplier, so the likelihood of them bothering with developing a rum for HBC is minimal (assuming that line of thinking is correct
  3. I have a reference from the Parramatta Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate dated May 11, 1901 (Parramatta, NSW, Australia) that refers to a 33% Overproof LowndesRum, which, if using metric proofs, works out to 76% ABV exactly and also sheds light on how far back the Lownde’s brand name goes.
  • I am indebted to the personal assistance of Martin Cate, Jeff “Beach Bum” Berry, Matt Pietrek, and the writings of Wayne Curtis, for some of the historical and conjectural detail of the early days of the 151s. Needless to say, any mistakes in this text or errors in the theories are mine, not theirs.

1970s Cruzan 151, used with kind permission of Jason Cammarata Sr.

The List

There is almost no rum company in existence which really cares much about its own release history and when its various rums were first issued, changed, reblended, remade, re-labelled, re-issued, nothing. Nor, since the demise of ReferenceRhum website, is there a centralized database of rums, to our detriment (though in 2022, Rum-X started to become a viable replacement). So one has to sniff around to find things, but at least google makes it easier.

There is a huge swathe of time between the 1930s and the 1990s, when rum was a seen as a commodity (referred to as merely “Jamaican” rum or “Barbados rum,” for example, in a generalized and dismissive context), and practically ignored as a quality product. Unsurprisingly records of the brands and rums were not often kept, so the list below is not as good as I’d like it to be. That said, here are those 151s I have managed to track down, and a few notes where applicable. I make no claim that it’s exhaustive, just the best I could do for now. I’d be grateful for any additions (with sources).

  • Admiral’s Old J 151 Overproof Spiced Rum Tiki Fire
  • Aristocrat 151
  • AH Riise Old St Croix 151 (1960s; and from reddit page. A “St Croix Rum” was referred to in 1888 Bartender’s Guide without elaboration
  • Appleton 151 (Jamaica)
  • Ann’s Cove 151 Proof Barbados Rum (Discontinued, date unknown)
  • Bacardi 151 Black (various production centres)
  • Bacardi 151 (standard, discontinued 2016)
  • Barbarossa 151 (USA)
  • Bermudez 151 (Blanco and “standard”)(Dominican Republic)
  • Barcelo 151 Proof (Dominican Republic)
  • Bocoy 151 Superior Puerto Rican Rum
  • Bounty 151 (St. Lucia)
  • Black Beard’s Overproof 151
  • Bocador 151
  • Brugal 151 Blanco Overproof (Dominican Republic)
  • Cane Rum 151 (Trinidad & Tobago)
  • Carioca 151 (post Prohibition)
  • Caribaya 151
  • Castillo Ron Superior 151 Proof
  • Cavalier 151 (Antigua)
  • Cockspur 5-Star 151 Rum (Barbados, WIRD, Herschell Innis, made 1971-1974)
  • Cohiba 151 (USA)
  • Comandante 151 Proof Small Batch Overproof Rum (with orange peel)(Panama)
  • Conch Republic Rum Co. 151 Proof (USA, Florida Distillers Co.)
  • Coruba 151 (Jamaica)(74%)
  • Cruzan 151 (2YO)(White and gold varieties) (US Virgin Islands)
  • Cut to the Overproof (Spiced) Rum 75.5%
  • Diamond Reserve Puncheon Demerara Rum 75.5% (Guyana)
  • Don Q 151 (3YO blend)(at least since the 1960s)(Puerto RicoSerralles)
  • Don Lorenzo 151 (Todhunter-Mitchell Distilleries, Bahamas, 1960s-1970s)
  • El Dorado 151 (Guyana)(Re-issue 2020s)
  • El Dorado Superior High Strength Rum (DDL USA Inc, 1980s)
  • Explorer Fire Water Fine Island Rum 150 proof (St. Maarten, made by Caroni)
  • Goslings Black Seal 151 (Bermuda)
  • Hamilton 151 (Guyana/USA)(2014)
  • Hamilton 151 “False Idol” (Guyana/USA)(2019)(85% Guyana 15% Jamaica pot still)
  • Hana Bay Special 151 Proof Rum (Hawaii USA, post 1980s)
  • Havana Club 151 (post Prohibition)
  • Habitation Velier Forsythe 151 (Jamaica, WP)(2015 and 2017)
  • Inner Circle Black Dot 33 Overproof Rum (Australia 1968-1986, pre-Beenleigh)
  • James’s Harbor Caribbean Rum 151
  • Lamb’s Navy Rum 151 (UK, blend of several islands)
  • Largo Bay 151
  • Lemon Hart 151 (possibly since late 1880s, early 1890s) (Guyana/UK)
  • Lost Spirits Cuban Inspired 151 (USA)(2010s)(Limited)
  • Mhoba Strand 151º (South Africa)(High Ester, Glass-Cask blend)
  • Monarch Rum 151 Proof (Monarch Import Co, OR, USAHood River Distillers)
  • Mount Gay 151 (Barbados)
  • Old Nassau 151 Rum (Bahamas)
  • Old St. Croix 151 Rum (A.H. Riise)(long discontinued)..
  • Palo Viejo 151 Ron de Puerto Rico (Barcelo Marques & Co, Puerto RicoSerralles)
  • Paramount “El Caribe” 151 Rum (US Virgins Islands )
  • ParamountWest Indies Flaming Rum” 151 (US Virgin Islands)
  • Portobelo 151º Superior Rum (Panama)
  • Puerto Martain Imported West Indies Rum (75.5%)(Montebello Brands, MD USA)
  • Pusser’s 151 (British Virgin Islands)
  • Ron Antigua Special 151 Proof (US Virgin Islands, LeVecke Corporation)
  • Ron Diaz 151 (Puerto Rico / USA)
  • Ron Carlos 151 (Puerto Rico / USA)(Aged min of 1 yr)
  • Ron Corina 151 (USA, KY)
  • Ron Cortez Dry Rum 151 (Panama)
  • Ron Matusalem 151 Proof “Red Flame” (Bahamas, 1960s-1970s)
  • Ron Rey 151 (post Prohibition)
  • Ron Palmera 151 (Aruba)
  • Ron Rico 151 (Puerto Rico)(post-1968 a Seagrams brand, marketed in 1970s in Canada; bought by Serralles in 1985)
  • Ron Ricardo 151 (Bahamas) from before 2008
  • Ron Roberto 151 Superior Premium Rum (Puerto Rico / USA)
  • Three Dagger 10YO Jamaica Rum (J. Wray & Nephew), 151 proof (1950s)
  • Tilambic 151 (Mauritius)
  • Tortuga 151 Proof Cayman Rum (1980s-1990s)
  • Trader Vic’s 151 Proof Rum (World Spirits, USA)

Sources

Some rum list resources

Bacardi’s discontinuing the 151

Don the Beachcomber, recipes, the rise of Tiki and post-Prohibition times

Cocktails

Other bit and pieces

 

Sep 262019
 

Around two years back, I put up a list of those favourites of the mixing class, the white rums, and listed 21 examples I considered memorable up to that point. Back then, I contended that they might or might not be aged, but for pungency, strength, uniqueness and sheer enjoyment, they were an emerging trend that we should pay attention to. And indeed, happily, in the time since then, we have seen quite a few new and interesting variations for sale, not least among the new micro distilleries that keep popping up. They must be thanking their lucky stars for this strong undercurrent of appreciation, because it allows unaged rums right off the still to be available for sale immediatelyand be wanted! – rather than have to try to break into the mixing market with some kind of ersatz Bacardi knockoff in an effort to make cash flow

For the most part, I ignore bland mixing rums in my reviews, but that’s not because they’re bad, per se. After all, they serve their purpose of providing an alcoholic jolt without questionjust without fanfare or style, or uniqueness of any kind. They are, to me, plain boringcomplete yawn-throughs. In point of fact, providing alcohol is just about all they do, and like a chameleon, they take up the taste of whatever else is chucked into the glass. That’s their raison d’etre, and it would be incorrect to say they’re crap rums just for toeing the line of their creators.

Still: my own rather peculiar tasting desire is different, since I’m not a tiki enthusiast or a boozehound. When it comes to whites, I’m a screaming masochist: I want snarling growling bastards, I want challenge, I want a smackdown of epic proportions, I want to check out that reeking dutty-stink-bukta over there that may be disgustingly strong, may have the foul stench of Mr. Olympia-level strength, may reek of esters and might pour undiluted sulphur and hogo and rancio and God only knows what else all over my schnozzola and my palate. It’s perfectly all right to hate ‘embut by God, I won’t be bored, because like those big-’n’-bad porknockers and bushmen I used to work with in my youth, while they might garb themselves in a glorious lack of sophistication, they’re honest and they’re strong and they’re badass, and they’ll give you the shirt off their backs without hesitation.

Not all rums listed below necessarily conform to those admittedly off-kilter personal standards of mine. And sure, you might hate one or more (or all), and very likely have favoured candidates of your own which you’ll berate me for not listing. Let’s just say that they’re all worth trying, some maybe only the one time, others quite a bit more. If you have not dipped your toes in here yet, then I hope you get to enjoy them, one day, as much as I did when I first got assaulted by their sometimes-rabid charms.


MartiniqueSaint James pot still white rum (60%). Surely this has been one of the most interesting rums of any kind (not just a white) of recent times, even though it’s been in production for many years. Largely this is because most of the Martinique whites we try are from column stillsthis one is from a pot still, takes no prisoners and is pungent, beefy and an all-round massive piece of work for a cocktail, or for the brave to sip neat.

GuyanaEl Dorado 3 Year Old white rum (40%). While it’s an oldie that is more of a standard rum than a real exciting new one, it remains a mid-tier favourite with good reasonbecause it derives from a blend of the wooden stills’ output, and even if it is filtered after ageing to make it colourless, even if it’s amereliving room strength, much of the elemental power of the stills still bleeds through. And that makes it a rumlet for a lesser god, so to speak.

Guyana-Italy. And yes, the Habitation Velier Port Mourant unaged white rum (59%) must come in for mention right alongside its softer cousin from DDL. What a steaming, ferocious, tasty white this is. Salty, waxy, fruity, with anise and complexity to spare, it’s a wordless masterclass in appreciating the wooden stills, trapped in a single bottle. Velier sure raised the bar when it devoted a whole series of their HV rums to the blanc side.

ThailandIssan (40%). A contrast to the HV-PM above is difficult to imagine. Issan is a soft, mild, not too fierce sundowner. Its charms are in ease and languor, not in some kind of rabid attack on your face like Velier prefers. Even with that though, it showed great potential, a serious set of tastes, and if one walks in expecting little but a sweetened almost-liqueur, one is in for a welcome surprise. If it ever goes higher than 40%, it’ll be an even better deal.

GuadeloupeLongueteau Rhum Blanc Agricole 62°. If it had not been for Neisson’s L’Esprit 70%, or L’Esprit’s 85% mastodon of the Diamond, this might have had bragging rights for power, since most whites are 48-58% ABV and shine at that strength. This one aimed higher, dared more and is a complete riot to have by itself, adhering to much of what we love about the unaged agricolesthe grassy, herbal, fruity notes, mixed in with a little pine-sol and a whole lot of attitude.

MexicoParanubesWhite Rum (54%). This is the closest to a clairin I’ve tried that isn’t from Haiti, and it possesses a glute-flexing character and Quasimodo-addled body second to none. Unless you’re into clairins and mescals, please use caution when trying it; and if you can’t, don’t send me flaming emails about how the salt, wax, wet ashes, gherkins, and chilis created a melange of shockingly rude baddassery that nearly collapsed your knees, stuttered your heart and loosened your sphincter. It’s as close to a complete original as I’ve tried in ages.

GrenadaRivers Royale White Overproof. Retasting this 69% hard-charger was like rediscovering ancient whites, pure whites, pirate-grog-level whites, made in traditional ways. It’s still not available for sale outside Granada, and I may have been premature naming it a Key Rum of the World. But if you can, taste itjust taste itand tell me this is not one of the most amazing unaged clear rums you’ve ever had, melding sweet and salt and fruit and soup and a ton of other stuff I have no names for. It’s a pale popskull nobody knows enough about, and that alone is reason to seek it out of you can. There’s a stronger version that never makes it off the island even in traveller’s suitcases

Madeira-ItalyRum Nation Ilha da Madeira (50%). Madeira rums can use the “agricole” moniker and they do, but alas, are still not widely known, and therefore it’s up to the indies to raise their profile in the interim. One of the first was Rum Nation’s 50% white from Engenho, which walked a fine line between “Z-z-z-z” and “WTF?” and came up with something both standard and queerly original. If it had a star sign, my guess would be would be Gemini. (Note: this entry is a re-taste because it was also on the first 2017 list and I had subsequently checked it out again).

Madeira-UKBoutique-y Reizinho White Agricole (49.7%). The Boutique-y boys’ Reizinho comes from another indie, freshly minted and given lots of visibility by its enormously likeable rep, Pete Holland of Ye Olde Rum Shack (rumour has it that whenever brings his beautiful wife and cute-as-a-button daughter to a fest, sales jump 50% immediately); they chose well with their first such rum, and one of their selections became a standout of the whites in Paris 2019. This one

Guyana-FranceL’Esprit White Collection “PM” (85%). One of the most powerful rums ever unleashed (no other word will do) on defenseless rum drinkers, not quite eclipsing the HV PM above, but coming close and serving as another indicator that the wooden heritage stills at Diamond preserve their amazing taste profiles even when fresh off the stills. 85% ABV, and it means business, with licorice, caramel, vanilla, dark fruits and God only knows what else bursting out of every pore. I call mine “Shaft”.

MartiniqueHSE Rhum Blanc Agricole 2016 (Parecellaire #1)(55%). I would not pretend that I can pick out the difference between various parcels of land which make up such atomized micro-productions. Who cares, though? The rum is good with or without such detailsit’s sweet, fragrant, fruity and has some old sweat-stained leather shoes ready to kick ass and take names. Tons of flavour and complexity, oodles of enjoyment.

Reunion-ItalyHabitation Velier HERR. Merde I liked this. 62.5% of pure double distilled pot-still Harley-riding, jacket-sporting, leather-clad bad boy from the High Ester Still. So flavourful and yet it loses nothing of its cane juice origins. Unaged, unmessed-with, bottled in 2017 and a serious rum from any angle, at any time, for any purpose. Savanna’s decision not to do away with the still that made this, back when they were modernizing, was a masterstroke. We should all be grateful.

Cabo VerdeVulcao Grogue White (45%). Based on its back-country pot-still antecedents, I was expecting something much more feral and raw and in-your-face than this ended up being. But it was lovelygentle at the strength, packed with tasty notes of fruit, sugar water, brine and mint, channelling a delicious if off-beat agricole rhum and a character all its own. I’d drink it neat any day of the week, There are others in the range, but this one remains my favourite

Haiti-ItalyClairin Le Rocher (2017)(46.5%). For my money, the Le Rocher is the most approachable clairin of the four issued / distributed by Velier to date, the most tamed, the richest in depth of tasteand that’s even with the mounds of plastic that open the show. These develop into a glorious melange of fruits and veggies and herbs and citrus that’s a testament to Bethel Romelus’s deft use of syrup and a variation of dunder pits to get things moving.

South AfricaMhoba White Rum (58%). There’s an upswell of interest in making rums in Africa, and one of South Africa’s newbies is Mhoba. Again we have an entrepreneurRobert Greavespractically self-building a micro-distillery, using a pot still and the results are excellent, not least because he’s gone straight to full proof without mucking about at 40%. Tart, fruity, acidic, hot, spicy, creamy, citrus-y….it’s an amazing initial effort, well worth seeking out.

LiberiaSangar White (40%). Staying with Africa we have another pot still white rum contrastingly released at living room strength (because its initial prime market will be the US) and that succeeds well in spite of that limitation. It’s light, it’s tasty, and snorts and prances like a racehorse being held on a tight rein, and shows off brine, wax, olives, flowers and a nice smorgasbord of lighter fruits which harmonize well. A really good sipping drink, with just enough originality to make it stand out

Cabo VerdeMusica e Grogue White (44%). Clearly we have some Renaissance men making rum over on Cabo Verde, because not only are Jean-Pierre Engelbach and Simão Évora music lovers, but their careers and life-stories would fill a book. Plus, they make a really good white grogue in the same area as the Vulcao (above), crisp and yet gentle, firm and clear, with flowers, fruits and citrus coming together in a pleasant zen harmony.

JapanHelios “Kiyomi” White Rum (40%). Nine Leaves makes what I suggest might the best white rums in Nippon, but other locals have been there longer, and some are starting to snap at its heels. Helios tried hard with this relatively tasty and intriguing white, with a 30 day fermentation period and column still output dialled down to 40% – and it certainly had some interesting, strong aromas and tastes (wet soot, iodine, brine, olives, light fruits and spices etc) even if it failed to impress overall. If they decided to up the strength and switch the source to their pot still, I think they have a shot at the brass ringfor now, it’s more an example of a “what-might-have-been” rum with some interesting stylistic touches than a really amazing product.

French AntillesRhum Island “Agricultural” (50%). This rhum is peculiar in that it is a blend, not the product of a single distillerythe source is from various (unnamed) distilleries in the French West Indies (its brother the “Red Cane” 53% is also along that vein, except it comes from distilleries in Guadeloupe and Marie Galante only). That makes it unique on this list, but one cannot fault the crisp, apple-like freshness of its taste, the way the creaminess of a tart fruit melds with the light zest of citrus and sour cream. Both this and the Red Cane are excellent, this one gets my vote by a whisker.

Viet NamSampan White Overproof (54%). Much like Sangar and Issan and Mhoba above, one guya Fabio-channelling Frenchman named Antoine Pourcuittecreated a small distillery from scratch and is happily releasing three variations of this rum, all white, at 45%, 54% and 65%. I only got to try the middle bear, and it blew my ears back handilythose earthy, briny, fruity aromas and the crisp snap of its tastesolives, lemons, green apples, licorice and moreare really quite delicious. It marries “the freshness of an agricole with the slight complexity of an entry level vieux,” I wrote, and it’s good for any purpose you put it to.

LaosLaodi Sugar Cane White Rhum (56%). A wonderful, massive delivery system for some serious juice-distilled joy. Salty, dusty, herbal, earthy and lemony smells, followed on by classic agricole-type clean grassiness and herbs, wrapped up in a creamy package that deliver some serious oomph. An enormously pleasing evolution from the same company’s original 56% Vientiane Agricole. I have no idea what else they make, just know that I want to find out.

Cabo VerdeBarbosa Grogue Pure Single Rum (45%). Given Velier’s footprint in the world of Haitian clairins, it’s a surprise they only have one grogue, and even that has hardly had any of the heavy-hitting marketing that characterized the launch and subsequent distribution of the Sajous, Casimir, Vaval and Le Rocher. It would be a mistake to exclude it from consideration, however. It has a bright and clean fruity nose, very refined, almost gentle (something like a Saint James rhum, I remember thinking). The taste is crisper on the fruits, has some cold vegetable salad, a olive or two, green apples and lemongrass, and overall it’s a very easily sippable spirit.


Well, there we go: another 21 rums, all white, cane juice or cane syrup or molasses, which are worth a look if they ever cross your path.

One thing that stands out with these rums is what a wide geographical range they coverlook at all those countries and islands they showcase, from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean (and this was after I excluded rums from the Pacific, the USA and Europe). No other spirit has ever had this kind of diversity, this kind of spread, with a profile for any taste, for any purpose.

Note also how, gradually, increasingly, pot stills are being representedbatch production is seen as inherently inefficient compared to the sheer volume a well-tended column still can generate, but the depth of flavour the former imbues its products, as well as gradually increasing efficiencies technological innovation provides.

It’s also nice to see how full proof rums are taking center stagemany now take this to be a given and have grown up cutting their teeth on such powerful products, but I still recall when 40% was all you got and you had to pretend to be grateful: North Americans in particular still have far too much of that kind low-rent crowd-pleasing crap crowding out good stuff on their shelves.

A note should be spared for grogues. The few that I’ve tried have been shown to befor want of a better term“not clairins”. They inhabit the space in between the fierce and uncompromising nature of the Haitian rhums, and the softer and more accessible Guadeloupe ones, while not being quite as clearly refined as those from Martinique. That’s not to say I can always pick ‘em out of a blind test, or that they are somehow less (or more) than any other white rumjust that they are resolutely themselves and should be judged as such.

Asia, to my delight, keeps on throwing up new and interesting rums every yearsome from new micro-distilleries, some by larger operations, but almost all of it is moving away from their softer and sweeter styles so beloved of tourists and backpacking boozers. I have yet to seriously attack Australia; and SE Asia and Micronesia continue to develop, so if I ever put out a third list, no doubt such regions will be better represented on the next go-around.

With respect to the rums here, my purpose is not to rate them in some kind of ascending or descending order, or to make a choice as to which is “best”whatever that might mean. I just would like to make you aware, or remind you, that they exist. The other day, a post on reddit asked about smooth agricole rhums. I read it and didn’t comment, but what the responses make clear is how many different white rums and rhums exist, and how many of them arein people’s mindsassociated with the Caribbean. I hope this second list of mine shows that there is much enjoyment to be had in sampling white rums from around the globe, no matter where you are, and that the future for the subcategory remains a vibrant and exciting one to be a part of as it unfolds.


Note: Would you believe it, the niche expanded sufficiently to add yet another 21 in 2022.