For all the bad press Plantation gets1, it is, as I remarked in the Rumcast interview back in 2021, in no danger of going out of business any time soon. Its stable of rums, whatever their provenance, is simply too wide ranging and useful — and often affordable — to ignore, and many of them have become reliable workhorses of backbars the world around. Not the high end stuff, of course, like the single cask bottlings of the Extreme Series which are regarded with desire or despite in any representative rumdork population…but the modest and less ambitious rums of the line that we the proles drink.
If I had to pick the best known rums of the starter set — they call them the “Bar Classics” — it would have to be the OFTD, and Stiggins Fancy, with a bit more upscale name recognition from the “Signature Blends” going to Xaymaca and the Barbados XO. The Three Stars white mixer is an interesting essay in the craft, and rounding out the bar is the Original Dark, the subject of today’s look-see.
In brief, the Original Dark was one of the first bar mixers the company made — references to it predate 2010 — and at the inception was a rum using only Trinidad (Angostura) rums which were blended from stocks aged 3-5 years, added to with some eight year old, all of which was then aged for a further year and a half or so in ex-Cognac barrels in France, then bottled at 40%. By 2017, which is around the time Maison Ferrand (the parent company) acquired WIRD in Barbados and with it a ⅓ share in National Rums in Jamaica, its formulation was changed to include some Jamaica rum, and nowadays it’s all 1-3 year old Barbadian rum with some high-ester aged 10-15 YO Jamaican rum for kick, aged for about half a year in the usual Ferand style, in SW France. Oh, and of course, there is that 15g/L of sugar which is officially declared, but which I think is more 2.
So there we are. A sweetened, finished rum, a bartender’s mixing agent, retailing for a pretty affordable price point. What does it sample like?
Well, the smell is actually not too shabby, and packs a punch that is appreciably better than the 3-Star, the Barbados XO, the Grande Reserve and the Gran Anejo (though not the Xaymaca). Aged prunes, plums and dates, bitten into by the shaper fruitier notes of fresh pineapple and limes. There’s some interesting (if rather vague) Demerara-like action here and there if you stick with it – licorice, caramel, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves – and overall the nose is an essay in light faintness that may simply be trying to do too much and mostly not quite making it. Still it’s a nice nose, quite intriguing once you get accustomed to the rather anemic strength.
Alas, that sense of piquant and potential complexity flops over and pretends it’s dead by the time you get to the palate. I’m sorry, but it turns into a rather anonymous every-rum of the sort in vogue in the mixing era of the 1970s and 1980s (of which I’ve reviewed far too many for the Rumaniacs). It’s not bad per se…just not that interesting – it channels vanilla, brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon, a touch of licorice and sugar water, maybe some raisins and behind it all is the memory of pineapple but not the reality, fading into a finish that’s as soft and indifferent and wafts an even fainter set of those same notes at you…plus a marshmallow.
There’s a real promise when one smells it but it just doesn’t carry over into a drinking experience, and beyond dunking it into a mix, is there a purpose here that isn’t better served by, say, the OFTD, the Xaymaca or the 3-Star? It may be time to retire this old warhorse: it helped establish the company’s backbar staples a decade or more ago, but is now too long in the tooth to come up well against the new batch of more distinctive rums the company makes, let alone that of the competition.
Until overtaken by the OFTD – which is a completely separate and different rum – the Dark was one of Plantation’s most successful products, almost, but not quite, straddling the divide between sipper and mixer., and all the early reviews at the dawn of the internet gave it glowing encomiums. The same elevage and dosage and secondary ageing that is now sneeringly dismissed as gimmicky French nonsense was then lauded as innovative and distinctive and worthy of note.
These days not many writers or bloggers bother with Plantation’s Original Dark – most save their digital ink for the OFTD, the Xaymaca or the Striggins; at best you’ll find a few sentences in a throwaway Facebook or Instagram post, or a brief reddit review, and there the reviews are pretty uniformly less than stellar. “Not a fan.” “Tastes like a spiced rum.” “Artificial”. “…couldn’t do anything with [it]. It even ruined Coke.” “Too sweet.” “Doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.” These are more recent comments, contrasted against those at the beginning of its career when people were more effusive with their praise – yet they speak to a dissatisfaction with the rum which I share today.
Because in the end, it’s too bland, too quiet and too easy; it’s an un-aggravating, impersonal goodbye from a pretty date with whom I could not connect: who didn’t really like me but felt I should be treated politely for my trouble. And so I get a chaste kiss, a quick goodbye and no memories or experiences worth a damn I could reflect on later. How sad that is, for something that starts so well.