First posted 25th February 2010 on Liquorature;
Young, rambunctious and strong of nose and taste. It is the epitome of a low ranking Demerara rum, with powerful scents and tastes lacking in anything remotely resembling complexity: and yet, I really kinda like it. Perhaps because it’s a simple creation of such primary flavours. It’s not meant for taking neat, but as a mixer? Yummo.
The bottle of Old Sam I tasted is a “single digit rum” whose ingredients come from the Old Country, where the primary distillation takes place in DDLs facilities — these are the gentlemen who make the excllent El Dorado 21 year old also reviewed on this site — but is matured and blended in Newfoundland. There it is made by the same company responsible for making Screech, the much-loved, equally-derided traditional Newfie tipple – also deriving from a Caribbean raw stock – and which I have to check out one of these days.
The history of the rum revolves around parts of the old “Triangular Trade” (from Europe with trade goods, to Africa for slaves, over to the West Indies for sale of slaves and goods and loading of fruit, fish, sugar and rum, and then back to Europe – over time stops in North America were added). Howard Young and Company introduced Old Sam to England in 1797 – why they would ship it to Newfoundland for blending is a mystery, since rum was already being made in commerical quantities in the Caribbean at that time: perhaps it was because back then, Guiana was vacillating between being a Dutch colony and an English one, and often used as a bargaining chip in the wars of the time between these two powers.
Old Sam is a Demerara Rum, dark and rich, redolent of molasses and bunt sugar. It is aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, and then blended with various other 12-year old rums. “Navy” rum is a much bandied-about term — Pusser’s, Lamb’s, Screech and Old Sam all like to make claims to the title, but this low end stuff is nowhere near the much better, smoother Pusser’s, and even the Old Sam website recommends it as a mixer, or a base for cocktails and food requiring a rum ingredient.
Having said that, I have to say that the nose, while sharp, is rich, and develops good hints of caramel, brown sugar – a lot of brown sugar – and a shade of fruity vanilla. Nothing out of the ordinary, and being relatively young, is not particularly smooth. Note that I still get all pissy when rums don’t mention their age even if it’s two years old or something, since to me, age and price and word of mouth are the three pieces that go together in assessing whether to buy a rum or not. For this one I have one out of three – price, and since that is quite low (about $22), and since I’ve never heard of this one mentioned, or lauded, it seems reasonable to suppose it’s a young ‘un, not particularly special, and indeed, the tasting pretty much confirmed that. Harsh on the way down, has a burn and kick that would make a smarter man swear off low-end rums for good, and not much of a finish. About par for a low end rum – it’s definitely not for sipping. As a mixer, it’s pretty good, but not everyone will enjoy that very rich burnt sugar and molasses taste.
Rereading this, it sure looks like I am dissing the rum. That’s unintentional, and perhaps results from me treating it like an upscale sipper, and judging it that way. So let me be clear: it’s disappointing as a sipping spirit….but in a mix, it’s excellent. Brown sugar, molasses, caramel, vanilla and coke. Fine, just fine. It kind of proves the point that you don’t have to have a premium sipper to enjoy a rum. Unsuspected riches exist for the diligent trawler and tireless taster, and if you’re into deep, dark Demerara rums, you can do worse than this unpretentious product. Personally, I’ll keep searching for better, knowing that another rum equivalent of Cibola is probably waiting for me out there, somewhere…but that doesn’t mean I don’t like this one.
Update June 2020
- Over the years my liking for Old Sam’s has remained steadfast, and these days I’d probably score it around 80-82. My personal opinion is that it is a large proportion PM distillate, though this has never been confirmed. With DDL no longer exporting bulk “heritage still” rums, it’s possible that Young’s Old Sam may be forced to change its blend in years to come.
- Who Old Sam actually was is a subject of some conjecture, brought to a head with the BLM movement in the last years, because to some the drawing of the man on the label is that of a black man, implying a product being sold that implicitly glorifies slavery. Others dispute that interpretation of the picture, saying it’s of Mr. Young himself.