First posted 22 June 2010 on Liquorature.
“The spice must flow,” said the Padishah Emperor in Dune. I agree, because I do love my cheap-ass spiced rums. My sweet tooth and plebian background make having a rum with no stratospheric price or ostentatious pedigree such a pleasant experience, truly. And I could tell, that day when I trotted out the Renegade 1991 for my Newfie squaddie (who snatched it happily out of my hand with a speed his corpulent frame does not begin to hint at), that even if I was a snob with pretensions to the peasantry, he had more grandiose notions of what kind of rum he liked to drink (or deserved to be poured).
Which is not to say Lamb’s is a bad rum, or even particularly limited in quality. Alfred Lamb, who started making this dark rum from West Indian raw stock in 1849 in London — his factory was bombed out during the London Blitz and subsequently rebuilt — simply added spices, aged it in cellars below the Thames (hence the original title of London Dock Rum) and made pretensions to the Royal Navy cachet by stating his product was made with that recipe. Pusser’s did the same, as readers of that review may recall. In the years since, Lamb’s has become more of a tipple than a refined drink, and not – to my knowledge anyway – any kind of top tier rum; though I know a few who swear by its 151 proof offering. One can find it pretty much anywhere in Calgary for under thirty bucks.
When I’m drinking with a good friend, I like a good grog, but the point is not the drink but the conversation that the drink enables. Of course, if the conversation is about the drink, that’s another matter (for example, the higher priced stuff which I like company to taste with) – but for the most part, when I talk I just like a good little mixer on hand, and this is why SDRs (single digit rums) are always good…one never worries about how much money is being pissed away, only what a good time you’re having with it.
The rum is dark reddish in colour and has a very decent, almost heavy body. Lamb’s is a blend of rums from all over the Caribbean (up to 18, or so my research suggests), and has a virulent nose that I should warn you against taking a deep sniff of, if you don’t want to go crying to your mommy about how the bad rum bottle biffed you on the hooter. The spirit burn on the nose fades fast and leaves the brave and persevering soul with an overwhelming sniff of caramel, with vanilla and cherry undertones. The spices are harder to pick out – nutmeg and licorice come through at the tail end. The taste is strong with the spice, and the spirit burn from those nose hasn’t gone anywhere, just grabs you by the throat and holds on – yet it can be tolerated and even adjusted to (as I did), at which point it transmutes into a sweet and caramelized almost-sipper that I quite enjoyed. The finish is hard to gauge because you’re being assaulted by the admittedly harsh spirit burn, which lasts long after the taste has vanished. Lamb’s is about as subtle as a charging brontosaurus, really.
I’ll concede that the rum is better as a mixer, but I would caution against coke or (god forbid) pepsi. Some kind of cola with a little less sugar would probably enhance it better, otherwise you get a syrupy mess that you either like or toss away. For the record, I had only coke on hand so that was what I used, but as I got drunker that evening in Keenan’s house, I found that it got progressively better over ice. Maybe that was my throat being sanded away, or something.
In summary, I liked its simplicity and taste, even as I acknowledge how devoid it is of real complexity – a connoisseur would probably never buy one of these except as a reference point. If I were to wax metaphorical, I’d say Lamb’s is the country sweetheart with a heart of gold, the one who can rope a steer or take apart a John Deere tractor, who’s on the square-dance floor at Ranchman’s giving you the eye, who you really can’t go wrong with if you don’t expect too much, treat her right and don’t tread on her toes. Perhaps give her a kiss when the night is over.
That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure as hell is mine.