Jan 022010

This was for me, for many years, one of the top five commercially available rums in the world. Not to be missed, even for the price. Four stars, triple A, I don’t care what you call it, this thing is simply awesome.

First posted on Liquorature, January 2010.

After gathering a ton of notes on rums from all points if the compass for most of 2009, it seemed appropriate to begin my official rum reviews with what is arguably the best – and the second-most expensive – rum I’ve ever tasted to this point in January 2010. Now I cheerfully admit to being something of a peasant and have no compunctions about using an expensive rum to dilute my cheap-ass coke if I think it a bit harsh, but for something this exclusive it almost seemed like sacrilege to let anything dilute it.

My friend Keenan and I were doing a rum run at Willow Park to stock up for a wings night (he who gets the largest raise buys the wings).  For those who have never heard of it, Willow Park in Calgary may just be as Curt has described it – the best liquor store in Western Canada.  Now Curt speaks from the misguided perception of his whisky-love (for which I have found the strength to forgive him), but there is little doubt that I have found more and better vintages of God’s water, more consistently, here than anywhere else. Browsing around, I saw this pricey bottle, read the label, hesitated and then, overcome by a fit of madness, bought the thing.  It was all I could do not to wince as the price rang up (and if you think this is dumbass, just read my review of the Appleton 30 year old)

It was well that I parted with the bucks, I think, because even a lifetime of boozing didn’t prepare me for the quality of this baby…packaging, bottle, appearance, legs, colour, drink – all were uniformly top of the scale.  I reverently cracked the sealed wax over the cork (Keenan’s wife laughed at us and our seriousness), bared our pates and bowed our heads, and took a neat sip each. And sat still, a little awed. This was, without question, the smoothest rum I’ve ever had in my life, one of the very few I’ve had without ice, and, at $200 for that bottle, it’s really pricey, but worth every penny. I’d have to say Keenan’s appreciation wasn’t far behind mine.

English Harbour 1981 is distilled by Antigua Distillery Limited from fermented molasses and bottled in 2006. It’s aged 25 years in used whisky and bourbon barrels and the subtle notes come through in the nose and taste. The copper and dark cedar color is sealed in with a wax-seal cork stopper that, when sniffed, gives a gentle nose of smoky wood followed by black cherry and currants. The initial taste doesn’t disappoint with more dry wood, caramelized dark fruit and roasted cashew in the body. And so, so smooth, it’s unbelievable – first rum I have ever had without even a smidgen of bite on the way down. The finish is dominated by smoky wood balanced with cinnamon and soft nutmeg tones. It’s like a liquid Hagen-Dasz caramel ice cream. If I ever get another one and feel like parting with that much money for the benefit of the peat-lovers, it’ll make the club for sure.

Highly, highly recommended if you can afford it (it runs into the El Dorado Problem, unfortunately, but in a pinch, the English Harbour 5-year isn’t half bad either at one-eighth the cost – I’ve got the review here as well). If only to apprise one’s palate of what rums can be at the top of the scale, buying this 25 year old is something a rum-lover should do at least once in his life.


Other notes:

  • This is totally irrelevant but in 2011 I snagged four more of these babies because a local shop mislabelled them at the price of the 5-Year Old. I can virtuously claim to have shared three of those bottles with others over the years.
  • The core of this rum is the Cavalier 1981 rum made by the same company. In 2014 I asked a brand rep about it and he admitted that they had underestimated how good the Cavalier was – when they did, they had enough left for the 5712 bottles that made up this rum.
  • 750ml of 40%. Bottle #552 of 5712.

Update March 2013: This rum has, of course, been superceded in my affections and appreciation of quality, which was inevitable given how many rums I’ve tried and written about. I still think, though, that if one was to make any list of the top five rums in the world, this one should be somewhere on that list.

Update October 2014: tasted this again at the 2014 Berlin Rumfest and scribbled some notes.  Even given the evolution of my tastes to stronger and more intricate, original profiles, I’d still give this a solid 86 points. It loses some for lack of intensity at 40%, but the complexity of what is there remains lovely.

  12 Responses to “English Harbour 1981 25 Year Old Rum – Review”

  1. Awesome review. Thanks a lot for the insight. On the other hand, you do mention that you have found a rum that has now taken the heart winning spot that EH 1981 previously had. I am intrigued. What rum is it? I just tried the 1981’s. I fell in love with it. But it is virtually impossible to buy a bottle of it in Australia unfortunately..

    • The Velier UF30E, the Rum Nation 1989 Demerara 23 year old, and (in spite of its horrendous price) the Appleton 50, are all contenders for the spot the 1981 once held. There are others, but these are the ones I thought of immediately as I read your question. (ou’ll note that they are all around 45%). This is not to say the EH25 is outclassed, it’s just got more competition.

      That 1981, by the way, is still available in Canada…last I saw, it was Can$200. I’m really surprised they haven’t sold out yet. I hope you snag one, one day

  2. Lance great work! I have been reading your reviews and it made me buy two products EH25 and Bristol Spirts 1974. After trying the former I offered my wife a sip and she said, oh that is lovely, it taste kind of naughty, sexy, as if it’s too good to be drunk.

    You mention it has been superceded, in 2015 to date what would your top 5 be?

    • Always a tough question, but contenders are:

      Damoiseau 1980
      Bristol Spirits PM 1980
      Velier UF30E, Diamond 1999 and of course the Skeldon 1973
      Appleton 50
      Courcelles 1972
      Rum Nation Jamaica 1986
      Berry Bros. & Rudd PM 1975
      G&M Longpond 1941

      That’s more than five, but what’s a guy to do? The list keeps growing 🙂

  3. Speedy response. In the UK they are virtually hard to get hold of.

    I’m intrigued to find and try the Veliers. Not much luck yet. In the meantime whilst I hunt around I’ll stick with the EH25. That I feel is a great premium rum to have and maybe share with close friends at a special time..

    In regards for value for money and availability would you list still be the same?

    • No, that’s a different equation. Only the Rum Nation would stay on the value for money top five, because it was relatively affordable for its quality.

      Off the top of my head….

      El Dorado 21 (some argue for the 15)
      Havana Club Single Barrel (now “Seleccion de Maestros”)
      Flor de Cana “21” 15 Year Old
      Barbancourt 15 Year Old
      Millonario Solera 15 (in spite of the sweet)
      Appleton 12
      Rum Nation Panama 21
      St. Nicholas Abbey 10

      Verlier has some excellent rums whose list-prices would make this cut, but they are all becoming so rare they can only be found on the secondary market, and so I can’t add them here. Most craft makers have limited bottlings and therefore fail the “availability” test, however good they are.

      (btw…I have a separate set of favourite “Original” rums that I simply like because they’re amazingly different without being bad; they would make neither of these two lists above)

      • Lance, now I’m intrigued.

        Could you share that list too? I wonder what list you put the EH25 on as it has not featured yet on any lists from you today?

        You said it was your first love for a while but it seems that you have kicked it to the kerb.

        In regards to your second list I agree with you barring two, the Appleton 12. I find the metal screw cap annoying and cheap, the rum itself slightly too dry and woody with the signature Appleton’s taste.

        The other is the Millonario 15 I find it a bit too sweet. However my rum mates at a recent tastings loved it, personally their XO is lovely, more refined. A bit like Jacob and Esau. One sensible with the birth right the other a bit prickly.

        The El Dorado 15 holds a special place in my heart but the 21 is very good.

        Never tried the St. Nic Abbey, I think having Bajan roots I was lead to believe that Mountgay products are the best . But I will add this to my to get list. This list seems far more reasonable price wise however, this other list may bring up some gems.

        • My favourite rums that have a taste out of left field (so far), don’t always break the bank and don’t always make the news

          Rum Nation White Pot Still 57%
          Nine Leaves French Oak Cask
          Clairin Sajous
          SMWS Barbados 75.3%
          Panamonte Red 108 (I have a sneaking suspicion this has been spiced up)
          Karukera Double Maturation 2004

          There are a few others but these are the ones that spring to mind

          No, the EH25 has not been relegated to an also-ran…I have simply moved to stronger drinks of differing profiles, much as I still love it. It is value and has quality, but at $200 it’s pricey and I don’t know how available it is any longer. Hence it disappearing from the list.

  4. Good discussion. I look forward to reading your other reviews in the future. If I ever get to try a Velier ill let you know my views.

    When I open my Bristol Spirts 1947 I’ll let you know my thoughts. I’m waiting for a special occasion for that though.

    In the meantime I’m going to enjoy my EH25 and look into getting another one for my unopened collection.

  5. GrandmasterJay

    We can get hold of most if not all the rums listed by Lance. We just need to look online

    The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt are usually my first ports of call followed by Drink Finder then Drink Shop. (If we are talking high end rums)

    Then its a case of searching for online wine merchants (one off retailers) who may have a few bottles of old stock.

    • Hi thefatrumpirate,

      On Lance’s first list
      Damoiseau 1980
      Bristol Spirits PM 1980
      Velier UF30E, Diamond 1999 and of course the Skeldon 1973
      Appleton 50
      Courcelles 1972
      Rum Nation Jamaica 1986
      Berry Bros. & Rudd PM 1975
      G&M Longpond 1941

      all but the longpond 1941 are hard to find. The whisky exchange has the longpond 1941 but that’s at 500..

      However the second and third list we can source.
      Fatrumpirate I see you are in the UK one day we should meet for a drink to compare, I see you too have a site that I follow. Who knows we may brush shoulders at rum fest 2015 are you coming too Lance?

      • Going to Berlin again this year, so much as I would like to come back to the UK, it looks more likely to be 2016.

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