This rum is simply too weak and underpowered. It is the Prince Myshkyn of rums.
Bajans like to say they did everything first, annoy and harass no end of Guyanese travelling through Grantley Adams, and are a suitably soft-spoken, deprecating folk to boot (“You may enter the war; Barbados is on your side,” went that famously modest telegram to King George in 1939). However, research shows their claim to produce the first commercial rums in the western hemisphere is likely to be true. Mount Gay is of course the most famous and widely exported, but for some reason they missed the boat on the emergence of premium sipping rums in the last few years, and so very few top-tier liquors emerge from Little England at this time from that house (they didn’t lay in enough stocks twenty years ago, or something). Other rums made on the island are less well known, though I’m sure most know of Cockspur and Malibu (a liqueur) and St. Nicholas Abbey, and maybe Mahiki. I’m still waiting for a good top-end Mount Gay to pass through Calgary, mind you.
Anyway, this XO is supposedly the best of the lot from this Barbados distiller R. L. Seale’s (of Foursquare Distillery) which blends and bottles it under the original marque of Martin Doorly, an old rum-making concern that was bought by Alleyne Arthur (yet another now-defunct merchant bottler from Barbados) in the 1970s and itself taken over by Foursquare in 1993. Doorly’s claim to fame was/is the double distilling and then ageing of the blend in used Spanish oloroso sherry casks, which impart a lighter, less dense and clearer aspect to this 40% rum (I’m not sure whether this is a practice has been discontinued).
I am in awe of people who can flex their probosces, sniff, gargle and spit, and come up with liquorice, aniseed, mint, grapes, treacle, walnut and raisins, plus ten other things including the breakfast cheese the blender had had on the morning of the bottling (plus, perhaps, the name of his favourite marmalade). I am, alas, nowhere so practiced or adept. Once I broached the squat bottle – love that rare blue macaw on the label – a sniff and a swirl suggested a lighter than usual rum, of toffee-brown hue, and a nose hinting at toffee, fruit, caramel (very lightly so), and a dusting of nuts of some kind. Sugar, and a sort of perfumed sweetness that goes well with the overall delicacy the rum seemed to embody.
Up front, I have to tell you – I wasn’t pleased. I didn’t pay an arm and a leg for the rum to be a delicate little wallflower, with lace curtains on chintzy wallpaper: I wanted the proverbial cutlass and yo-ho-hos, the dead man’s chest, a little pillage, rape and plunder, damn it. Was this what almost four hundred years of distillation had taught them? To make rum for the wussies and tourists?
Sipping it neat, and then on ice, confirmed some ideas, dispelled others: I tasted walnuts, cinnamon, sugar, and there were few hints of the usual burnt sugar which current tastings of other rums to this point had led me to expect. And yet there was that same delicacy again, that slight civilization of rum, which made itself evident in very light notes overall. In other words, here was not a rum that took you by the johnson and gave a good hard tug: rather, it politely tapped you on the shoulder to get your attention. Discreet, polite, effeminate. One could almost believe this was a stronger than usual but not-as-sweet port. This lack of assertiveness carried over into the texture and feel on the tongue. Light, smooth, yes, but was this not defeating the purpose of a rum?
I must admit to being left a shade irritable, as if by a girl who smiled and promised and then bailed just as I was getting my hopes up: it was a rum, sure, but I’d never had one that held back so much, revealed itself so shyly. I was unused to the concentration I needed to bring to tease out the notes on Doorly’s, and even then, my overall lack of a decades-long well-trained snoot put me at a disadvantage. I liked it – it was smooth on the palate and didn’t burn much on the moderately long finish, so on that level, not bad. But this lightness and complexity doesn’t work for me – I’ve always preferred strong tastes that “tek front” and don’t dick around.
On the other hand, maybe the Bajans really did overwork Doorly’s, they really did make it for the wussies, my feelings weren’t lying and it really is nothing beyond the gentle delicacy of a tamed wild libation that should have more depth and character. If that is the case – and I’ll go back to this one again to ensure I’m not marking it unfairly – then the rum remains a part of the starter line and should not be considered anything special.