Oct 052020
 

Although just about every conversation about the Hamilton 151 remarks on its purpose to replicate the Lemon Hart 151 as a basic high proof bar-room mixer, this is a common misconceptionin point of fact its stated objective was to be better than Lemon Hart. And if its reputation has been solidly entrenched as a staple of that aspect of the drinking world, then it is because it really is one of the few 151s to satisfy both rum drinkers and cocktail shakers with its quality in a way the LH did not always.

Back in the late 2000s / early 2010s Lemon Hartfor whatever reasonwas having real trouble releasing its signature 151, and it sporadically went on and off the market, popping back on the scene with a redesigned label in 2012 before going AWOL again a couple of years later. Aside from Bacardi’s own 151, it had long been a fixture of the bar scene, even preceding the tiki craze of the mid 1930s (some of this backstory is covered in the History of the 151s). Into this breach came Ed Hamilton, the founder of the Ministry of Rum website and its associated discussion forum, author of Rums of the Eastern Caribbean and an acknowledged early rum guru from the dawn of the rum renaissance. As he recounts in a 2018 interview (from around timestamp 00:41:50), he decided to create his own line of Demerara rums, both 86 and 151 proof and while barred from using the word “Demerara” for trademark reasons, he did manage to issue the new rums in 2015 and they have been on the market ever since.

Whether Hamilton 151 has replaced or superseded the Lemon Hart is an open question best left to an individual’s personal experience, but to compare them directly is actually apples and oranges to some extent, because the LH version blends Guyanese, Jamaican and Barbados rums while Hamilton’s is Guyanese onlythough likely a blend of more than one still. But certainly there’s at least some significant element of the wooden stills in there, because the profile is unmistakable.

It is, in short, a powerful wooden fruit bomb, one which initially sits and broods in the glass, dark and menacing, and needs to sit and breathe for a while. Fumes of prunes, plums, blackcurrants and raspberries rise as if from a grumbling and stuttering half-dormant volcano, moderated by tarter, sharper flavours of damp, sweet, wine-infused tobacco, bitter chocolate, ginger and anise. The aromas are so deep it’s hard to believe it’s so youngthe distillate is aged around five years or less in Guyana as far as I know, then shipped in bulk to the USA for bottling. But aromatic it is, to a fault.

It’s also hard to see the Hamilton 151 as “only” a bar-based cocktail mixer when one tries it like I did, neat. The taste is very strong, very powerfulgiven the 75.5% ABV, caution is of course in orderyet not sharp so much as firm, a flavoured cricket bat stroking the tongue, tasting thirty proof points lower. There’s the piquance of ginger, red wine, raisins, dark fruits, followed by vanilla, caramel, cloves, licorice, pencil shavings, and cedar planks, melding an initially simple-seeming rum profile with something more complex and providing a texture that can be both coked up or had by itself. Me, I could as easily sip it as dunk it into a double espresso, and then pour that over a vanilla ice cream. Even the long lasting finish gives up a few extra points, and it closes the experience with dark red cherries, plums and prunes again, as well as coriander, cumin, cloves and toffee. Pretty good in comparison to a lot of other 151s I’ve tried over the years.

Frankly, I found the rum revelatory, even kind of quietly amazing. Sure, it hit on all the expected notes, and the quality didn’t ascend to completely new heights (though it scaled several rises of its own). But neither did it collapse and fall like a rock. In its own way, the rum redefined a good 151, moving it away from being a back-alley palate-mugger, to more of a semi-civilized, tux-clad thug. It might not be as good as a high-proofed ultra-aged Velier from the Age….but it wasn’t entirely removed from that level either. Drinking it, standing on the foothill of its taste, you can see the mountaintop to which it could aspire.

(#767)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • You’ll note the careful use of the wordDemeraraon the label. This was to get around the trademark issue which prevented the use of the termDemerara Rum.The rum is trademarkedthe river is not.
  • Thanks and a tip of the trilby to Cecil, old-school ex-QC squaddie, for sending me a more-than-generous sample.

 

Apr 232020
 

Introduction

Brutta ma buoni is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good”, and as I wrote in the SMWS 3.5 “Marmite” review, describes the oversized codpieces of the “151” types of rums very nicely indeed. These glute-flexing ABV beefcakes have been identifiably knocking people into stupors for at least since the 1930s and possibly even before thatand while they were never entirely good, when it came to serving up a real fast drunk with a hot-snot shot of whup-ass, they really couldn’t be beat. Flavours were often secondary, proof-power everything.

Everyone involved with rumswhether bartender, barfly or boozehoundknows what a “151” is, and they lend themselves to adverbial flights of fancy, humorous metaphors and some funny reviews. They were and are often conflated with “overproof” rumsindeed, for a long time they were the only overproofs known to homo rummicus, the common rum drinkerand their claim to fame is not just a matter of their alcohol content of 75.5% ABV, but their inclusion in classic cocktails which have survived the test of time from when they were first invented.

But ask anyone to go tell you more about the 151s, and there’s a curious dearth of hard information about them, which such anecdotes and urban witticisms as I have mentioned only obscure. Why, for example, that strength? Which one was the first? Why were there so many? Why now so few? A few enterprising denizens of the subculture would mention various cocktail recipes and their origin in the 1930s and the rise of tiki in the post war years. But beyond that, there isn’t really very much, and what there is, is covered over with a fog suppositions and educated guesses.

Mythic Origins – 1800s to 1933

Most background material regarding high-proof rums such as the 151s positions their emergence in the USA during the Great Depressioncocktail recipes from that period called for certain 151 proof rums, and America became the spiritual home of the rum-type. What is often overlooked is that if a recipe at that time called for such a specific rum, by name, then it had to already existand so we have to look further back in time to trace its origins.

1873 Australian newspaper ad for Lemon Hart (Rum History FB page)

That line of thinking brings us to Lemon Hart, probably the key company behind the early and near-undocumented history of the 151s. It had to have been involved since, in spite of their flirting with bankruptcy (in 1875) and changes in ownership over the years, they were as far as I am aware, among the only ones producing anything like a widely-sold commercial overproof in the late 1800s and very early 1900s (quite separate from bulk suppliers like Scheer and ED&F Man who dealt less with branded bottles of their own, but supplied others in their turn). Given LH’s involvement with the rum industry, they had a hand in sourcing rums from the West Indies or from ED&F Man directly, and this made them a good fit for supplying other British companies. Their stronger rums and others’, so far as I can tell, tended to just be called overproofs (meaning greater than 57% for reasons tangential to this essay but related to how the word proof originated to begin with¹)…but not “151”.

Victoria Daily British Colonist, March 11, 1914. Ad for a 32 Overproof rum, which is what 151s were once called

Navy rums were considered the beefcake proofed rums of their day, and certainly stronger ones did existthe 69% Harewood House Barbados rum bottled in 1780 is an examplebut those that did were very rarely commercially bottled, and probably just for estate or plantation consumption, which is why records are so scant. The real question about rums bottled north of 57% was why bother to make them at all? And what’s that story that keeps cropping up, about a British / Canadian mercantile concern having something to do with it?

Earliest record of a 151 rum. the Canadian HBC – 1934, Montana, USA

Here’s the tale: the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1670, and was not only the first great trading concern in North Americait had its origins in the fur trade and trading posts of the British-run northern part of the continentbut for some time was almost a quasi-Government of large parts of the vast territories that became Canada. Their chain of trading posts morphed into sales shops which also sold alcoholbut as Steve Remsberg remarked in relating this possibility, the story (without proof, ha ha) goes that rums with proof strengths or lower were insufficient for the business of the HBC in the 1800s: it froze in the deep cold above the Arctic Circle, and so something with more oomph was required (mind you, at that time they sold mostly brandy and gin, not rum so much, but I have no doubt that rum was also part of their overall alcoholic portfolio given their Canada’s long history with rum, and HBC’s identification with it later).

Lemon Hart had a strong presence in the colonies (it was big in Canada and huge in Australia through the late 1800s to early 1900s, for example), possessing connections to the main importer of rum and the Caribbean rum industry, and can reasonably be construed to have been involved in bootstrapping these efforts into an even stronger version of their regular rums to address HBC’s requirements, a theory I put forward because there really wasn’t any other company which was so firmly identified and tied to the rum-type in years to come, or so suitably positioned to do so for another major British mercantile concern². There is, unfortunately, no direct evidence here, I just advance it as a reasoned conjecture that fits tolerably well with such slim facts as are known. It is equally possible that HBC approached major rum suppliers like Man independently….but somehow I doubt it.

1935 Fairbanks Daily News (Alaska, USA) ad

Whatever the truth of the matter, by the early 1900s some kind of overproof “style”no matter who made itis very likely to have become established across North America, and known about, even if a consistent standard strength over 57% had not been settled on, and the term “151” might not have yet existed. Certainly by 1914 the strength had been usedit just wasn’t called “151,” but “32 Overproof”. (If we assume that proof was defined as 100º (57.14% ABV) then 32 Overproof worked out to 132º proof and the maths makes this 75.43%close enough for Government work for sure). Unsurprisingly, this was also the Hudson’s Bay Company, which marketed such a 32 Overproof in British Columbia as far back as 1914 (see above).

The Daily Colonist, Victoria, Vancouver Island B.C, 01 May 1914

However, I suggest that such high-powered rums would have remained something of a niche spirit given their lack of branding and advertising, and they might have stayed in the shadows, were it not for the enactment of the Volstead Act in the USA and similar legislation in Canada after the restrictions of the First World War.

That drove the category undergroundwhile simultaneously and paradoxically making it more popular. Certainly the strength of such a rum made it useful to have aroundfrom a logistical standpoint at least. Because quite aside from its ability to get people drunker, faster (and even with its propensity to remain liquid at very low temperatures of the North), from a shipping perspective its attraction was simply that one could ship twice as much for the same cost and then dilute it elsewhere, and make a tidy profit.

Although direct evidence is lacking, I am suggesting that sometime between 1920 and 1933 (the dates of American Prohibition) a consistent strength was settled on and the title “151” was attached to rums bottled at 75.5%, and it was an established fact of drinking life, though maddeningly elusive to date with precision. Cocktail recipes now called for them by name, the public was aware, and the title has never disappeared.

The Strength

So why 151? Why that odd strength of 75.5%, and not a straight 70%, 75% or 80%? We can certainly build a reasonable chain of supposition regarding why overproofed spirits were made at all, why Lemon Hart and HBC made something seriously torqued-up and therefore why subsequent cocktails called for itbut nailing down that particular number is no longer, I believe, possible. It’s just been too long and the suppositions too varied, and records too lacking.

1938 Ron Rico advertisement

One theory goes that some US state laws (California and Florida specifically) required that proofage (or a degree higher) as the maximum strength at which a commercial consumable drink could be madethis strikes me as untenable given its obvious limitations, and in any case, it’s a factoid, not an explanation of why it was selected. Ed Hamilton of the Ministry of Rum suggested that the strength was roughly the output strength of a historic pot stilldistillate would have come off after a second pass or a retort at about 75% abvbut since Puerto Rico was making rums at that strength without any pot stills quite early on (Ron Rico advertised them for being useful for cooking, which is an intriguing rabbit hole to investigate) this also is problematic. Alternatively, it might have been the least dangerous yet still cost-effective way of shipping bulk rum around prior to local dilution, as noted above. Or because of the flash point of a 75% ethanol / 25% water mix is about the ratio where you can set it on fire without an additional propellant or heating the liquid (also technically unlikely since there are a range of temperatures or concentrations where this can happen). And of course there’s Steve Remsburg’s unproven but really cool idea, which is that it was a strength gradually settled on as rums were developed for HBC that would not freeze in the Arctic regions.

All these notions have adherents and detractors, and none of them can really be proven (though I’d love to be shown up as wrong in this instance). The key point is that by 1934, the 151s existed, were named, released at 75.5%, and already considered a normand interestingly, they had become a class of drinks that were for the most part an American phenomenon, not one that grew serious legs in either Asia or Europe. How they surged in popularity and became a common part of every bar’s repertoire in the post-war years is what we’ll discuss next.

Tiki, the Beachcomber, Lemon Hart et al – 1934-1963

In spite of the 151s’ modern bad-boy reputationsas macho-street-cred testing grounds, beach party staples, a poor man’s hooch, where one got two shots for the price of one and a massive ethanol delivery system thrown in for freethat was a relatively recent Boomer and Gen X development. In point of fact, 151s were, for most of the last ninety years, utilized as cocktail ingredients, dating back to the dawn of the tiki era started in the 1930s and which exploded in the subsequent decades. And more than any other rum of its kind, the rep of being the first 151 belonged to the famed Lemon Hart 151, which was specifically referenced in the literature of the time and is the earliest identifiable 151 ancestor.

So if there was ever a clear starting point to the 151s’ rise to prominence, then it had to have been with the repeal of American Prohibition in 1933 (Canada’s Prohibition was more piecemeal in execution and timing of implementation varied widely among provinces, but in almost all cases lasted less than a decade, during the ‘teens and 1920s). Within a year of the US repeal, both Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company liquor division and the UK rum supplier Lemon Hart had made 151-proof rums, explicitly naming them as such (and not as some generic “overproof”), and positioning them for sale in the advertisements of the time.

This came about because of the opening of Don’s Beachcomber, a Polynesian themed restaurant and bar in Hollywood, run by an enterprising young man named Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gant, who subsequently changed his name to Donn Beach to jive with the renamed “Don the Beachcomber” establishment. His blend of Chinese cuisine, tropical-themed rum cocktails and punches and interior decor to channel Polynesian cultural motifs proved to be enormously influential and spawned a host of imitators, the most famous of whom was Victor Bergeron, who created a similar line of Tiki bars named Trader Vic’s in the post war years, to cater to renewed interest in Pacific islands’ culture.

The key takeaway from this rising interest in matters tropical and tiki, was the creation of ever more sophisticated cocktails using eight, nine, even ten ingredients or more. Previous 19th and early 20th century recipes stressed three or four ingredients, used lots of add-ins like vermouth and bitters and liqueurs, and at best referred to the required rums as “Jamaica” or “Barbados” or what have you. Then as now, there were no shortage of mixesthe 1932 Green Cocktail book lists 251 of them and a New York bartender’s guide from 1888 has nearly two hundred.

Extract from Don the Beachcomber 1941 drinks menu

What distinguished Beach and Bergeron and others who followed, was their innovative and consistent use of rums, which were identified in some cases by name (like the Lemon Hart 151 or the Wray & Nephew 17 year old), with several now-classic cocktails being invented during this period: the Zombie, the Mai Tai, the Three Dots and a Dash, the Blue Hawaii and the 151 Swizzle, among others. Not all these required high proof rums, but twothe Zombie and the Swizzleabsolutely did, and by 1941, the Beachcomber’s rum list had several 151 variants including branded ones like Lemon Hart, Lownde’s, and Trower’s….and yes, HBC.

Initially the Lemon Hart 151 was the big gun in the house and was explicitly referenced in the recipes of the time, like for the Zombie, which Beachbum Berry spent so much time tracking down. But if one were to peruse the periodicals of the day one would note that they were not the only ones advertising their strong rums: in the mid to late 1930s: the Canadian Hudson’s Bay Company liquor arm, and a Puerto Rican brand called Ron Rico (made just as the Serralles’ firm launched the Don Q brand with a newly acquired columnar stillthey acquired Ron Rico in 1985) were also there, showing the fad was not just for one producer’s rum, and that a market existed for several variations.

The fortieswar years were quiet for 151s, but by the 1950swith post-war boom times in the USA, and the rise of the middle class (and their spending power) — their popularity began to increase, paralleling the increase in awareness of rums as a whole. Tens of thousands of soldiers returned from duty in the Pacific, movies extolled the tropical lifestyle of Hawaii, and members of the jet set, singers and Hollywood stars all did their bit to fuel the Polynesian cultural explosion. And right alongside that, the drinks and cocktails were taking off, spearheaded by the light and easy Spanish style blends such as exemplified by Bacardi. This took time to get going, but by the early 1960s there was no shortage of 151 rumsfrom Puerto Rico in particular, but also from Jamaica and British Guianato rank alongside the old mainstays like Lemon Hart.

The Era of Bacardi – 1963-2000

It may be overstating things to call these years an era of any kind: here, I simply use it as a general shorthand for a period in which 151s were no longer exotic but an established rum category in their own right, with all their attendant ills.

As with most ideas that make money, sooner or later big guns and small come calling to join the party. Bacardi had its problems by being ousted from Cuba in 1960, yet had had the foresight to diversify their company even before that, and operated in Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the USA. After the dust settled, they made their own 151 in the lighter Cuban styleat the time it was made in Brazil before production shifted to Puerto Rico, and its low and subsidized price made it a perennially popular rum popskull. It was widely available and affordable, and therefore soon became the bestselling rum of its type, overtaking and outselling all other 151 brands such as the Appleton 151 white, or the Don Q 151 made by the Serralles boys in Puerto Rico and those that had existed even earlier.

The official basis of the popularity of 151s remained the cocktails one could make with them. Without searching too hard, I found dozens of recipes, some calling for the use of Bacardi 151 alone, with names as evocative as “the Flatliner”, “Four Horsemen”, “Backfire on the Freeway”, “Superman’s Kryptonite” and “Orange F*cker”. Obviously there were many more, and if Bacardi seemed ubiquitous after a while, it was because it was low-cost and not entirely piss-poor (though many who tried it neat over the years might disagree).

One other demographic event which propelled 151s to some extent was the rise of the western post-war Baby Boomer generation and its successors like Gen-Xers who had known little privation or want or war in their lifetimes. These young people raised on Brando-esque machismo and moody Dean-style rebellion, had disposable income and faced the enormous impact of American popular culturefor them, 151s served another purpose altogether, that of getting hammered fast, and seeing if one could survive itsome sort of proof-of-manhood kind of thing. Stupidity, hormones, youth, party lifestyle, the filmic romance of California beaches, ignorance, take your pick. For yearsdecades, eventhis was the brush that tarred 151s and changed their popular perceptions.

In all that happy-go-lucky frat-boy party reputation combined with the allure of easily-made, inexpensive home-made concoctions, lay the seeds of its destruction (to Bacardi, at any rate). People got hurt while under the highly intoxicating influence of killer mixes, got into accidents, did stupid and dangerous things. 151s were highly flammable, and property damage was not unheard of, either by careless handling or by inexpert utilization of the overproofs in flambees or floats. Unsurprisingly in a litigious culture like the USA, lawsuits were common. Bacardi tried to counter this by printing clear warnings and advisories on its labels, to no avail, and finally they decided to pull the plug in 2016 in order to focus on more premium rum brands that did less harm to their reputation.

That singularly unspectacular happening (or non-happening) was accompanied in the subsequent months and years by retrospectives and newsbytes, and a peculiar outpouring of feelings by now-grown-up man-children who, from their home bars and man-caves, whimsically and poetically opined on its effect on their lives, andmore commonlythe tearful reminiscences of where they first got wasted on it, and the hijinks they got up to while plastered. It did not present the nobility of the human race in its best light, perhaps, but it did show the cultural impact that the 151s, especially Bacardi’s, had had.

151s in the New Centurya decline, but not a fall

The discontinuation of Bacardi’s big bad boy obscured a larger issue, which was that these rums had probably hit their high point in the 1980s or 1990s, when it seemed like there was a veritable treasure trove of now-vanished 151 brands to choose from: Carioca, Castillo, Palo Viejo, Ron Diaz, Don Lorenzo, Tortuga and Trader Vic’s (to name a few). It was entirely possible that this plethora of 151s was merely a matter ofme tooandlet’s round out the portfolio”. After all, at this time blends were still everything, light rum cocktails that competed with vodka were still the rage, neat drinking was not a thing and the sort of exacting, distillery-led, estate-specific rum making as now exists was practically unheard of (we had to wait until the Age of Velier’s Demeraras to understand how different the world was before and after that point).

But by the close of the 1990s and the dawn of the 2000s, blendswhether high proof or notalready showed a decline in popular consciousness. And in the 2010s as independents began to release more and better high-proofed single-barrel rums, they were followed by DDL, Foursquare, St. Lucia Distillers, Hampden, Worthy Park and other makers from countries of origin, who started to reclaim their place as rum makers of the first instance. Smaller niche brands of these 151s simply disappeared from the rumscape.

The fact was, in the new century, 151s were and remained tricky to market and to promote. They exceeded the flight safety regulations for carrying on some airlines (many of whom cap this at 70% ABV, though there are variations) and the flammability and strength made many retailers unwilling to sell them to the general public. There was an ageing crop of people who grew up on these ferocious drinks and would buy them, sure, but the new generation of more rum-savvy drinkers was less enamoured of the style.

Which was not surprising, given the ever-increasing panoply of selections they had. The growing indifference of the larger drinking public to 151s as a whole was aided by the explosion of rums which were also overproofs, but not quite as strong, andmore importantlywhich tasted absolutely great. These were initially IB single barrel offerings like those of the SMWS or L’Esprit or Velier, and also juice from the Seychelles (Takamaka Bay), Haiti (the clairins), Martinique (Neisson L’Esprit 70º), and the highly popular and well-received Smith & Cross, Rum Fire, Wray & Nephew 63% White, Plantation OFTD, and on and on. These served the same purpose of providing a delicious alcoholic jolt to a mix (or an easy drunk to the rest), and were also affordableand often received reviews in the internet-enabled blogosphere that the original makers of the 151s could only have dreamed about.

Photo montage courtesy of and (c) Eric Witz from FB, Instagram @aphonik

Many such producers of 151s have proved unable or unwilling to meet this challenge, and so, gradually, they started to fade from producers’ concerns, supermarket shelves, consumers’ mindsand became less common. Even before the turn of the century, mention of the original 151s like Hudson’s Bay, Lownde’s and Trowers had vanished; Bacardi, as stated, discontinued theirs in 2016, Appleton possibly as late as 2018 (the Three Dagger 10YO 151 pictured above was gone by the 1960s), and many others whose names are long forgotten, fell by the roadside way before then. Nowadays, you hardly see them advertised much, any more. Producers who make themand that isn’t manyare almost shamefacedly relegating them to obscure parts of their websites, same as retailers tucking them away in the back-end bottom shelf. Few trumpet them front and centre any longer. And on the consumer side, with drinkers and bartenders being spoiled for choice, you just don’t see anyone jumping up on social media crowing how they scored oneexcept perhaps to say they drank one .

But the story doesn’t end here, because some producers have indeed moved with the times and gone the taste-specific route, gambling on bartenders and cocktail books’ recommending their 151s from an ever-shrinking selection.

Lemon Hart was, of course, the poster child for this kind of taste-specific Hulkamaniac of tastethey consistently used Demerara rum, probably Port Mourant distillate, for their 151, and even had a Jamaican 73% rum that boasted some serious flavour chops. Internal problems caused them to falter and cease selling their 151 around 2014, and Ed Hamilton (founder of both the website and the Facebook page “the Ministry of Rum”) jumped into the breach with his own Hamilton 151, the first new one of its kind in years, which he released in 2015 to great popular acclaim. The reception was unsurprising, because this thing tasted great, was an all-Guyana product and was aimed at a more discriminating audience that was already more in tune to rums bottled between 50%-75%. And that was quite aside from the bartenders, who still needed 151s for their mixes (as an aside, a rebranded Lemon Hart 151 was released in 2012 or thereabouts with a wine red label and was again subsequently discontinued a few years later). Even Velier acknowledged the uses of a 151 when they released a Worthy Park 151 on their own as part of the Habitation Velier line of pot still rums (and it’s great, btw). And in an interesting if ultimately stalled move that hints a the peculiar longevity of 151s, Lost Spirits used their Reactor to produce their own take on a Cuban Inspired 151so irrespective of other developments, the confluence of strength, flexibility of use and enormity of taste has allowed some 151s to get a real lease on life.

Others are less interesting, or less specific and may just exist, as many had before, to round out the portfolioDon Q from Puerto Rico makes a 151 to this day, and Tilambic from Mauritius does as well; El Dorado is re-introducing a new one soon (the Diamond 151, I believe), and Cruzan (Virgin Islands), Cavalier (Antigua), Bermudez (Dominican Republic), and Ron Carlos (USA) have their 151s of varying quality. Even Mhoba from South Africa joined the party in late 2020 with its own high ester version. The point is, even at such indifferent levels of quality, they’re not going anywhere, and if their heyday has passed us by, we should not think they have disappeared completely and can only be found, now, in out of the way shops, auctions or estate sales.

Because, somehow, they continue. They are still made. Young people with slim wallets continue to get wasted on this stuff, as they likely will until the Rapture. People post less and review 151s almost not at all, but they do post sometimesalmost always with wistful inquiries about where to get one, now that their last stock has run out and their favourite brand is no longer available. 151s might have run out of steam in the larger world of tiki, bartending and cocktails as new favourites emerge, but I don’t think they’ll ever be entirely extinct, and maybe that’s all that we can hope for, in a rum world as fast moving and fast changing as the one we have now.


Notes

  1. See my essay on proof
  2. Two other possibilities who could have developed a strong rum for HBC were Scheer and ED&F Man.
    1. Scheer was unlikely because they dealt in bulk, not their own brands, and mercantile shipping laws of the time would have made it difficult for them to ship rum to Britain or its colonies.
    2. ED&F Mann also did not consider itself a maker of branded rum, though it did hold the contract to supply the British Navy (Lemon Hart was their client, not a competitor). But by the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s, they already had diversified and became more of a major commodities supplier, so the likelihood of them bothering with developing a rum for HBC is minimal (assuming that line of thinking is correct
  3. I have a reference from the Parramatta Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate dated May 11, 1901 (Parramatta, NSW, Australia) that refers to a 33% Overproof LowndesRum, which, if using metric proofs, works out to 76% ABV exactly and also sheds light on how far back the Lownde’s brand name goes.
  • I am indebted to the personal assistance of Martin Cate, Jeff “Beach Bum” Berry, Matt Pietrek, and the writings of Wayne Curtis, for some of the historical and conjectural detail of the early days of the 151s. Needless to say, any mistakes in this text or errors in the theories are mine, not theirs.

1970s Cruzan 151, used with kind permission of Jason Cammarata Sr.

The List

There is almost no rum company in existence which really cares much about its own history and when its various rums were first released, changed, reblended, remade, re-labelled, re-issued, nothing. Nor, since the demise of ReferenceRhum website, is there a centralized database of rums, to our detriment. So one has to sniff around to find things, but at least google makes it easier.

There is a huge swathe of time between the 1930s and the 1990s, when rum was a seen as a commodity (referred to as merely “Jamaican” rum or “Barbados rum,” for example, in a generalized and dismissive context), and practically ignored as a quality product. Unsurprisingly records of the brands and rums were not often kept, so the list below is not as good as I’d like it to be. That said, here are those 151s I have managed to track down, and a few notes where applicable. I make no claim that it’s exhaustive, just the best I could do for now. I’d be grateful for any additions (with sources).

  • Admiral’s Old J 151 Overproof Spiced Rum Tiki Fire
  • Aristocrat 151
  • AH Riise Old St Croix 151 (1960s; and from reddit page. A “St Croix Rum” was referred to in 1888 Bartender’s Guide without elaboration
  • Appleton 151 (Jamaica)
  • Bacardi 151 Black (various production centres)
  • Bacardi 151 (standard, discontinued 2016)
  • Barbarossa 151 (USA)
  • Bermudez 151 (Blanco and “standard”)(Dominican Republic)
  • Barcelo 151 Proof (Dominican Republic)
  • Bocoy 151 Superior Puerto Rican Rum
  • Black Beard’s Overproof 151
  • Bocador 151
  • Brugal 151 Blanco Overproof (Dominican Republic)
  • Cane Rum 151 (Trinidad & Tobago)
  • Carioca 151 (post Prohibition)
  • Caribaya 151
  • Castillo Ron Superior 151 Proof
  • Cavalier 151 (Antigua)
  • Cockspur 5-Star 151 Rum (Barbados, WIRD, Herschell Innis, made 1971-1974)
  • Cohiba 151 (USA)
  • Comandante 151 Proof Small Batch Overproof Rum (with orange peel)(Panama)
  • Conch Republic Rum Co. 151 Proof (USA, Florida Distillers Co.)
  • Coruba 151 (Jamaica)(74%)
  • Cruzan 151 (2YO)(White and gold varieties) (US Virgin Islands)
  • Cut to the Overproof (Spiced) Rum 75.5%
  • Diamond Reserve Puncheon Demerara Rum 75.5% (Guyana)
  • Don Q 151 (3YO blend)(at least since the 1960s)(Puerto RicoSerralles)
  • Don Lorenzo 151 (Todhunter-Mitchell Distilleries, Bahamas, 1960s-1970s)
  • El Dorado 151 (Guyana)(Re-issue 2020s)
  • El Dorado Superior High Strength Rum (DDL USA Inc, 1980s)
  • Explorer Fire Water Fine Island Rum 150 proof (St. Maarten, made by Caroni)
  • Goslings Black Seal 151 (Bermuda)
  • Hamilton 151 (Guyana/USA)(2014)
  • Hamilton 151 “False Idol” (Guyana/USA)(2019)(85% Guyana 15% Jamaica pot still)
  • Hana Bay Special 151 Proof Rum (Hawaii USA, post 1980s)
  • Havana Club 151 (post Prohibition)
  • Habitation Velier Forsythe 151 (Jamaica, WP)(2015 and 2017)
  • Inner Circle Black Dot 33 Overproof Rum (Australia 1968-1986, pre-Beenleigh)
  • James’s Harbor Caribbean Rum 151
  • Lamb’s Navy Rum 151 (UK, blend of several islands)
  • Largo Bay 151
  • Lemon Hart 151 (possibly since late 1880s, early 1890s) (Guyana/UK)
  • Lost Spirits Cuban Inspired 151 (USA)(2010s)(Limited)
  • Mhoba Strand 151º (South Africa)(High Ester, Glass-Cask blend)
  • Monarch Rum 151 Proof (Monarch Import Co, OR, USAHood River Distillers)
  • Mount Gay 151 (Barbados)
  • Old Nassau 151 Rum (Bahamas)
  • Palo Viejo 151 Ron de Puerto Rico (Barcelo Marques & Co, Puerto RicoSerralles)
  • Paramount “El Caribe” 151 Rum (US Virgins Islands )
  • Portobelo 151º Superior Rum (Panama)
  • Puerto Martain Imported West Indies Rum (75.5%)(Montebello Brands, MD USA)
  • Pusser’s 151 (British Virgin Islands)
  • Ron Antigua Special 151 Proof (US Virgin Islands, LeVecke Corporation)
  • Ron Diaz 151 (Puerto Rico / USA)
  • Ron Carlos 151 (Puerto Rico / USA)(Aged min of 1 yr)
  • Ron Corina 151 (USA, KY)
  • Ron Cortez Dry Rum 151 (Panama)
  • Ron Matusalem 151 Proof “Red Flame” (Bahamas, 1960s-1970s)
  • Ron Rey 151 (post Prohibition)
  • Ron Palmera 151 (Aruba)
  • Ron Rico 151 (Puerto Rico)(post-1968 a Seagrams brand, marketed in 1970s in Canada; bought by Serralles in 1985)
  • Ron Ricardo 151 (Bahamas) from before 2008
  • Ron Roberto 151 Superior Premium Rum (Puerto Rico / USA)
  • Three Dagger 10YO Jamaica Rum (J. Wray & Nephew), 151 proof (1950s)
  • Tilambic 151 (Mauritius)
  • Tortuga 151 Proof Cayman Rum (1980s-1990s)
  • Trader Vic’s 151 Proof Rum (World Spirits, USA)

Sources

Some rum list resources

Bacardi’s discontinuing the 151

Don the Beachcomber, recipes, the rise of Tiki and post-Prohibition times

Cocktails

Other bit and pieces

 

Feb 092020
 

Rumaniacs Review #110 | 0700

Lemon Hart needs no further introduction, since the brand is well known and reasonably regardedI’ve written about quite a few of their products. Their star has lost some lustre of late (though one of their recent 151 releases from 2012 or thereabouts found much favour with me), and it’s interesting that Ed Hamilton’s own line of 151s was specifically introduced to challenge the equivalent LH, if not actually supplant it. With so much going on at the high end of the proof-list these days, it’s good to remember what Lemon Hart was capable of even as little as 40-50 years ago, and revel in the courage it takes to crack a bottle released at 75.5% ABV.

(The bottle is from the late 1960s / early 1970s based on label design, the “40 fl ozs” volume descriptor (switched over in mid 1970s) and the spelling of “Guyana” which was “British Guiana” until 1966. I’ve elected to stick with 1970s as a reasonable dating.)

For further information on the whole 151 series of rums and the whys and wherefores surrounding them, see this article on those beefcakes.

Colourdark amber

Strength 75.5%.

NoseHoly hell, this thing is intense. Blackcurrants, molasses, raisins, licorice, dark ripe fruits galore, and even more molasses. It’s like they poured the deepest darkest flavours imaginable from some kind of rum gunk residue into a barrel, let it steam for a while, and then grudgingly decided this might be a mite too powerful for the unwary, and added some flowers and crisp white unripe fruitssharpish pears and green apples, that kind of thing. Then, still dissatisfied, found a way to soothen the final nose with some additional vanilla, caramel, light briny aromas and some musty-dusty scents of long unopened books

PalateEven if they didn’t say so on the label, I’d say this is almost completely Guyanese just because of the way all the standard wooden-still tastes are so forcefully put on showif there was anything else in there, it was blattened flat by the licorice, plums, prunes and cloves bearing down like a falling Candy of the Lord. It remains musky, deep and absolutely massive right to the end, and even adds some salted caramel ice cream, Danish butter cookies, almonds, cloves and crushed nuts to the mix, plus maybe a bit of citrus.

FinishSuitably epic for the strength. Hot, long, fruity, with molasses, vanilla, caramel and licorice, a bit of floral lightness and aa closing whiff of lemon peel.

ThoughtsIt’s unclear how much the rum has been agedI’d suggest 2-3 years, unlikely to be more than five. Stuff this young and at this kind of strength is (or was) commonly used for mixed drinks, but the truth is that with the amount of glute-flexing, teeth-chomping action going on here, nobody would blame you if you cracked a bottle, poured a shot, and started watching 1980s Stallone or Schwarzenegger movieswhat my irascible father would call “dem akshun-pakshun film”in between pretending to work out with your long disused barbells.

(85/100)

Feb 112019
 

Rumaniacs Review #091 | 0598

Overproof rums started out as killer cocktail ingredients, meant to boost anything they were put into by, I dunno, a lot. For many years they were pretty much the bruisers of the barflieslow-life, lightly-aged mixers (or occasionally unaged whites) which only islanders drank neat, largely because they had the least amount of time to waste getting hammered. Still, as time passed and cask strength rums became more fashionable (and appreciated), the gap between the strength of a cool aged casker and an overproof shrank, to the point where a 75% bottling of a “regular” rum that’s not labelled as an overproof is not out of the realms of possibilityI know several that stop just a bit short of that.

One of the old style overproofs is this rum from the Takamaka Bay rum company located on Mahe, the main island of the 115-island archipelago comprising the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. The company is of relatively recent vintage, being formed in 2002 by the d’Offay brothers, Richard and Bernard d’Offay, and sourcing sugar cane from around the islandthey are, according to their website’s blog, one of the few distilleries in the world that make rum from both juice and molasses. They have two copper pot stills and a columnnar one, and this white rum, now discontinued and replaced with the 69 Rhum Blanc, is an unaged, unfiltered column still distillate with possibly a touch of high ester rum from the pot still. I’ve read on a Czech site that the rum is triple distilled from cane juice and then diluted, which was later confirmed by Bernard d’Offay.

ColourWhite

Strength – 72% ABV

NoseSweet and light soda pop, like a 7-Upwith fangs. Tons of herbs here, grass, thyme, mint, light lemon zest. Sugar water. Light fruity esters. Bananas, nutmeg, cardamom.

PalateFruit juice poured into my glass, clean and light. There’s the crispness of green apples, cane juice and red cashews, melding well with the tart creamy sweetness of ginips and soursop. Herbs remainedparsley, dill and mint. It was hot and delicately sweet, presenting with force, yet it also reminded me somewhat of a tequila, what with a background of brine and olives and a faint oily texture on the tongue

FinishQuite good. Long, dry, spicy, fruity, redolent of bananas, red currants, blackberries, watermelon and sugar water.

ThoughtsIt’s really quite a good rum, and I’m sorry to see it’s no longer being made. Before I got a response from Takamaka Bay, I thought the column still produced this from cane juice spirit (this proved to be the case). It’s a mixer for sure, though anyone who finds it and tries it neat won’t be entirely disappointed. It’s a fiery, flavourful white which may now no longer be made, but lives on in its slightly lesser-proofed brotherwhich I have a feeling I’ll be looking for quite soon.

(84/100)

Dec 042018
 

Ten years ago, the 151s were regarded with the sort of wry caution with which one approaches a crazy old uncle who may lash out with either invective or drool at any moment, depending on the circumstances. They encouraged adverbial density, were the strongest rums available to the rumworld, and used exclusively as cocktail bases and mixing agents. Myself, I was always a little amused by their ferocity and used their elephantine profiles as an excuse to write reviews that didn’t take themselves too seriously (like the Bacardi, Lemon Hart, Cavalier, or Appleton 151 reviews, for example). But what else to do? I mean, back then we had no access to or real knowledge of the cask strength rums that now so dominate the upper echelons of quality rums, and to consider a 151 as anything else but a throwaway effort made to bag the overproof crown and/or to concoct crazy strong cocktails would be to mis-state what they meant to us.

As the years passed, overproofs more or less fell out of the mainstream, even out of favour, replaced by exactingly made full proof rums, some of which are approaching that kind of strength, though comparatively rarely. I can’t remember the last time I saw a review of a 151 aside from Habitation Velier’s new white (not that there were that many to begin with) and mention of any is passing rare. But me, I never forgot them, and still hold fond memories of their harsh fury, and when I saw a Tilambic 151 sample for sale, well, what’s a reviewer to do?

Cracking it, you’d certainly exercise all the usual cautions, as one would with the SMWS Long Pond 5.1 (81.3%), the Sunset Very Strong (84.5%) or the Marienburg White (90%). Because like all of those, the Tilambic is frenetic, unapologetic and massively alcoholicit smokes, it seethes, it exudes badass from every pore: you can almost hear the tinkling plink of minigun shell casings piling up around your feet as you pour. To smell, it’s sharp and extremely hot, spicy and slightly sweet, redolent of raw molasses and sweet corn in a can (weird, I know), to which some light lemon zest and caramel has been mashed in with an oaken club wielded by The Rock. And whichyou might be surprised to discoveris actually not bad at all. I was certainly expecting less.

As for the palate, well, it’s a monster (yeah, big surprise). Briny with olives, pimentos, hot hot hot. A lot carries over from the nose, but there’s more too, once you adjust to the force with which it attempts to tattoo “151” on your tongue. It has, both before and after a few drops of water, some strawberries, green apples, sawdust, light pencil shavings, licorice, mustard, vanilla and a ton of oak ameliorated by a sly little citrus line. But it also doesn’t attempt to do too much; and unlike some indie caskers at this level, is not that complicatedin that relative simplicity lies much of its appeal, if your taste runs into high proof drinks. It all gets summed up very nicely on the finish, which is oaky, spicy, briny, dry, with a little fruit and some licorice, vanilla, caramel, and then it’s gone. Probably leaving you gasping.

So who makes this thing? We know about St. Aubin, Lazy Dodo, New Grove and Chamarel, all of which channel the old rum making traditions of the island. But the company that makes this one, Green Island, is actually a UK company which licenses International Distillers Mauritius to provide their rumsIDM also makes marks like the Flamboyant, Cascavel and the well known and positively regarded Penny Blue rums, as well as a number of Green Island starter rums. So not so much an artisanal rum maker as a local spirits conglomerate, like DDL in Guyana or Angostura in Trinidad. The Tilambic 151 is made on a column still, aged for varying times (“up to seven years”) and has no additives, flavourings, colourings or filtrations.

That puts the it squarely into the mixing category, as are most lightly aged rums of this kind. That it has more qualities than defects is to its everlasting credit, and our relief. I mean, this thing could take out two defensive linemen in full pads just by cracking the sealbut it was surprisingly light and flavourful too, especially after resting for a while to burn off the alcohol. And even if it wasn’t genetically enhanced by a team of imported Swiss scientists who had seen King Kong one too many times, I can’t dismiss it out of handbecause for all its coarse and brutish power, it really was quite an interesting rum, with some positives and very few negatives. For a 151, that’s really quite an achievement.

(#575)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • The name “Tilambic” is a creole name for the local farmers’ stills, which they use, much like the Haitians do, to make their own personal hooch.
  • Steve James over at the Rum Diaries took a look at the rum back in 2014, which gives you some idea how long it’s been knocking around.
  • For additional details on the history and development of 151 overproof rums, this article provides all the background
Jul 032016
 

Lost Spirits Cuban 1

Not quite there. Yet.

Lost Spirits, if you recall, is the company that produced a set of rums of varying strengths last yearpolynesian, navy, colonial, and this onewhich are processed by their proprietary “reactor” to emulate the taste profile of rums aged for many years, while only being days old. This is one of the three I bought, the “Cuban Inspired” version, bottled at a growlingly powerful 75.5% and properly labelled “151”. 151s are generally mixers (unlike, say, the SMWS beefcakes), which strikes me as an odd choice to producebecause if one is trying to showcase the ageing potential of the reactor, why make a rum that people have never seen as an aged product? Perhaps it is to try and recreate the taste markers of the style as wellif that’s what was attempted, I stand here before you telling you that the system still needs more work.

That said, let’s just get the stats and background out of the way: the Cuban Inspired is made from baking grade molassesmuch like, I guess, Pritchards’water and yeast, some interesting tricks with nitrogen deprivation, no additives or colouring, some ageing in charred and toasted American oak barrels, and filtration through a coconut husk filter. So as 151s go, something of a diversion. I was therefore quite curious whether a Cuban-style profile could be made via technology instead of actually in Cuba.

The light bronze rum nosed quite kinetically, of course, which at that strength was to be expected. Sharp, hot scents of brine, figs, olive oil and tequila led things off with some of the waxy, glue and petrol notes of some serious pot still action. I set it aside to let the spicy alcohol fumes evaporate, and when I went back to it ten minutes later, things settled down a bit and the scents were much more interesting: huge molasses and burnt sugar, cocoa and vanilla notes were the backbone, upon which rested a sharper, less intense secondary aromas of coarse dry breakfast cereal and stale orange peel that’s been sitting in the sun for too long. Interesting and quite intriguing, for sure, though there’s something lacking here, a sort of middle section to bridge the gap between the sharp higher notes and the deeper and more solid underpinnings.

Putting aside the sheer oomph of this thingfor sure, given its intensity at that strength, I sipped very carefullyI was surprised how much there was on the palate: molasses soaked brown sugar, butterscotch (way too much of these three elements), salt butter, fresh baked dark russian bread (I used to buy one daily for a year straight back in my working days in the ‘Stans). Too hot and untamed to sip really well, it was damned rough on the tongue. With water, matters settled down, and additional flavours of overripe plums and peaches, more tequila and olives in brine emerged, weirdly mixed with hot black tea and yes, that stale orange peel made a comeback, all finishing off with a very long exit as befits an overproof, and last hints of wood and sawdust and an old, lovingly polished leather bag.

Lost Spirits Cuban 2So there’s the tasting notes. Opinion? Well, it has quite a lot of action, that’s for sure.They sort of whirl around in a melee of unfocussed aggression, like a war-movie battle scene where the director is too much in love with his shaky-cam, making nonsense of any attempt to come to grips with an underlying structure. Tastes just exist, and they do not come together in any kind of layering or synthesis, and where each one should be informing, supporting and melding with others, here what we have is a bunch of rabid individualists who do not know the meaning of teamwork. And honestly, there’s over-dominance by molasses and vanilla and butterscotchit’s deep and it’s nice and it’s pervasive…perhaps too much so.

Pluswhere’s the Cuban by which it was supposedly inspired? I’ve had a few from the island in my time, and the Spanish style, which so many in Central and South American rum-makers have copied over the centuries, was not particularly self-evident in this rum. Usually, rectified column still spirit further amended by careful barrel ageing is a defining marker; but I didn’t get any of that clean, dry, light, flowery profile with coy hints of molasses and citrus dancing their own little tango, bound together by easy fruitinessquite the contrary, this was a rapier turned into a fruit-smeared butterscotch bludgeon, not all of which worked.

Whether we like it or not, when a rum is labelled as something, we expect from our past experiences of similar rums for the promise implicitly made on that promo to be honoured. As with the Navy 68% I tried before I didn’t feel that really occurred (I sampled alongside the Navy and the Polynesian, and the Cuban resembled the former quite a bit) . There’s little of the Santiago de Cuba or Havana Club here, to me. I’m giving it the score I do because of originality, some very interesting tastes, and then taking away some points for lack of coherence (but not for not being a Cubanthat one is an irrelevancy and I mention the matter only because the label does). I like what Bryan Davis is doing, admire his dedication and passion and love of technology which he is bringing to bear on a very old process, but still feel the process needs work. From that perspective, it was real smart to call this aCuban Inspiredrum.

(#283 / 83/100)


Other notes

I know this review will be somewhat divisive (it’s not meant to be dismissive), so here are some references to give you more positive points of view, if you’re interested:

Jun 092015
 

D3S_9003

I just imbibed an angry blender set to “pulse”.

Even now, the words of the Roman poet Horace, resound: “Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.” Every time I try one of the barking mad overproof 151 rums, these words come to me, because all I can think is that some mischievous guy in a lab somewhere is happily whipping up these rums like Professor Snape in his dungeon. Surely there is little reason for rums this powerful to exist, but exist they do, and just like all those crazies who eat suicide wings by the cartload, I’m drawn to them like a rice-eating mongrel to the outhousegotta see what’s in there, why people constantly troop in and out, even if there’s a risk I might fall in.

Cavalier 151 is one of the select entries into the pantheon of 75.5% overproofs made by companies as diverse as J. Wray, Tilambic, Bermudez, Bacardi and Lemon Hartand a few other rums even stronger than that. Honestly, there’s not really much point to reviewing one of these from the perspective of advising a drinker whether to have it neat or not, and what its mouthfeel compares to. These porn-inspired liquid codpieces are made for local markets, or for cocktails which channel a Transformer on cracknot for more casual imbibers.

The Cavalier is from the same outfit that produced the English Harbour series of rums as well as the long-out-of-production Cavalier 1981 . It’s a straw coloured rum distilled from fermented molasses, and aged at least 2 years in used American bourbon barrels.

Some of that ageing shows in the initial profile (I let the glass sit down for about half an hour before approaching it). Yes it had some of the fierce, stabbing medicine-like reek of almost pure alcohol; it also had an appealing kind of creaminess to it, with a vague background of fruits and berries (blackberries, soft blackcurrants and the sharper spiciness of red ones), some faint vanillait was more than I was expecting, to be honest. If tamed, I could almost sense the aged English Harbour expressions coiling behind.

151 Label

As we might expect, on the palate, the thing turned feral. I know the label says it’s arefined and mellow rumbut if you believe that, then I have some low tide real estate you really should look at. It was deep and hot and spicy to a fault, and care had to be taken not to take too large a sip lest my my gums fell out. The heat and power of this overproof were, as with most others, its undoing as a neat spirit. First neat and then with water, I sensed muted flavours of vanilla, leather, some smoke, caramel, butter cookies, all wound around with coconut shavings, followed by more black-currants and blackberriesthey were just all so faint, and the heat so intense, that it made picking things out something of a lost cause, as it more felt like I had just swallowed the freshly stropped shaving razors of the Almighty. No issues with the finishlong, long, long, hot and spicy, with a last sharp puff of coconut and biscuits left behind to mingle with some vanilla.

So, yeah, of course it’s a little unrefined. With that much alcohol in the liquid, there ain’t a whole lot of space left over for the finer things. Yet flavours were indeed there, however mild and overawed by the raw boozeand they were very nice when I spotted them. It supports my contention that overproofs as a whole are meant for deep and massive mixed drinks, barflies and bartenders and lovers of the Tiki, and not so much for any kind of snooty tasting. They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts, but in that very unsophistication lies their attraction (that, and some bitchin’ cocktails).

I would suggest that’s more than enough foolishness to get us all through a season of silliness or two. And it’ll put a ridiculous smile on our faces for sure. That alone might make such a bottle worth buying.

(#218. 79/100)


Other notes

As far as I know, rums stronger than the more common 151s are:

Dec 252010
 

Originally Posted 25 December 2010. Photo courtesy of Chip Dykstra’s Rum Howler Blog

Let’s assume that there is a place where goodness reigns, the evil get punished, all kittens get rescued from trees and lotteries are won by the deserving. Trust me when I tell you that the Appleton 151 does not hail from here. This raging brown liquid is the Rum of Sauron. No, it’s Sauron’s dark effluent after he drinks the Rum of Sauron. Wussie whiskies such as the cask strength 60-percenters run crying to their mommies when the 151 approaches.

Appleton 151 is a dark, sinful, bottled morals charge, a mischievous indecent wink against our perceptions of rum. It takes no prisoners, expresses itself in four letter words, and is unashamedly, unapologetically vulgar. It’s a barbarian trying to eat with a knife and fork. You show this fella in public, you’ll either be arrested on sight or be accosted on every street corner being furtively, wistfully or eagerly asked “Where the hell can I get me some of that?

The 151 series from any maker may be the ne plus ultra ofstandardoverpoofs1. Rums like this will never really be made fresh or new again. While I may be exaggerating just a smidgen, it is my considered opinion that distilling and blending techniques have now gotten sophisticated enough for overproofs to be taken seriously as drinks in their own right, and not just bases and mixers and cooking ingredients. You see, although generations of gleeful blenders and traumatized drinkers think otherwise, the purpose of an overproof is not really to cause you pain or get you drunk: it’s to deliver a concentrated flavor unobtainable anywhere else, at any other strength. And maybe to make a real bitchincocktail.

As an example, take the Appleton’s nose. I wouldn’t recommend this, but this is what I did and you’re welcome to try: take a hearty sniff of this sour Klingon sweat. A massively alcoholic man-eating lion will leap fiercely at your defenseless snoot. You will fall back, feet excavating spade sized trenches from the ground, pounding frantically on your chest, not the least because your breastbone feels like it’s now somewhere behind your spine. Once the fire goes out and the spirit fumes have finished raping your beak, in between bouts of delirium you will remember that there was a deep caramel taste, a cinnamon shot, and a scratch of vanilla. Really. Personally, I think you’d be lucky to find your sinuses again (ever), but you see what I mean? The nose is a Godzilla of flavor if you stick with it and move through the pain.

Knowing it was my duty to take one for the team and complete the review in an appropriately stiff-upper-lip fashion, I sipped it when I managed to draw a thimble of oxygen into my seared chest and the uranium spill in my lungs reached its natural half life. This roughly equates to rapidly following up stupidity with an act of irredeemable idiocy. You’d think by now I’d learn to mix this stuff, but no…I had to take the taste neat, and a good sized one at that. Never let it be said, guys, that I wasn’t there for you when it counted.

Big friggin’ mistake. A lake of fire exploded. The sobriety I had fondly embraced became the sobriety I had just left behind. There was a concussive cchuuuff of vanilla, caramel and light citrus that scaped across my tongue just before I lost track of ten minutes of my life in one searing amnesiac flash. My tongue writhed like a serpent doing a rain dance, my tonsils vapourized, and my head spun as rapidly as if I had just been hooked up to the high-speed paint shaker at Home Depot. I lost twenty IQ points, and I swear the Appleton 151 caused my DNA to devolve on the spot. Ugh mug kook aagh.

I don’t know about you, but me, I gave up. Forget nose, forget taste, forget finish. Like all highly overproofed rums out there, there’s simply no point to it. It’s got a ferocious taste, sure, but let’s be honest: the 151 is not meant to be a garden party sipper or socializing enabler. Tasting notes are pointless here.

Because, guys, come on: all of you who are reading this and snickering, none of you ever tried this stuff for its bouquet, or aroma or its elegant fade, redolent of whatever-the-hell-they-added. You didn’t drink it because your Tanti Merle made a great Black Cake from it, and her eggnog was to die for. You drank it because you were young, because you were high on life, and because you wanted to get loaded as fast as possible. Because it was your passport to manhood among The Boys, because Grampi always had it, because la petite femme over there on the floor of the bottom-house Old Years party was giving you the eye and might kiss you later if she thought you had some balles. You drank it then because it was your rite of passage to all other rums that came after, and you drink it now because you want to remember the bright sharp days of your youth when the world was an apple in your mouth. So forget this review. Just put it away, pour a shot and enjoy taking your drinking experience to the wild extreme of unreason.

(#061)(Unscored)


Other Notes

  • For additional details on the history and development of 151 overproof rums, this article provides all the background
  • Also, for reference, here’s a list of the most powerful rums in the world, starting at 70% ABV and working up.
  • It is unclear whether as of 2021, this rum continues to be made. Certainly it remains available, but I think that with the rise of cask strength bottlings from around the world, it may have been quietly discontinued without fanfare.
Oct 012010
 

First published 01 October 2010 on Liquorature.

This deep-throated bellowing maniac of a rum does almost nothing wellbut one thing so grandly it borders on Van Gogh-level insanity: it hits you in the face. A lot. Welcome to the lost week of your life.

Even in the world of lesser rums, there is such a thing as subtletya whiff of class, or style, be it ever so humble. Bacardi, with this 151 proof beefcake, sneered long and loudly and stated flat out that they wanted no truck with that kind of pansy nonsense. They stayed as far away from the notion of class as they could, and made a popskull that reminds you of nothing so much as the liquid equivalent of a Tarantino movie, or a permanently pissed off ex-spouse packing an Uzi in either hand. The rum acts like Bacardi decided to build some kind of high test which jet engines can run on and set altitude records. It’s as if they let some mad scientist out of their chemistry lab and he went ape while unsupervised.

Bacardi 151 is absolutely not a for the weak. If you’re merely average, then make your will, alert your relatives that the possible cost of long term health care will be theirs, and ensure the insurance is paid up. Kiss your significant other tenderly one last time. If you’re still single, well, you may be in luck, ‘cause after a shot or ten of this massive ethanol delivery system, you will think just about any girl and maybe even the neighbor’s dog is fair game. And I have to state up front: with a rum this powerful, clear health advisories are in order. Do not drink while smoking, or when camping out and stoking the fire. The 151 is as flammable as hell: giving vent to a loud fart or indulging your propensity to bloviate may leave you as a rapidly decomposing burnt amoebic mess on the floor.

Because Bacardi 151 is quite simply, nuts. It blows out your sniffing nose at 500 hp and 8000 rpm, and when you’ve recovered breath, rediscovered your voice and stopped crying like a little girl, it thunders down your throat with a tonsil-ripping 600 ft-lbs of torque. Zero to drunk arrives in 2.5 shots – yeah, go ahead, try itand that figure is only marginally exaggerated. Generations of insects will expire on your exhale, and professional flamethrowers will avoid you like the plague. Other drunks at the bar will only vaguely remember seeing a flash of alcohol fumes as your sobriety disappears over the horizon in a cloud of vaporized rum.

In between the waves of spirit and ethanol burns waft tantalizing hints of something warm and caramel like. Hey, if you don’t mind some suffering and try a second sniff or a real taste, you can probably pick out the molasses and the burnt sugar, plus – and I’m reaching here – vanilla (I was comforting my throat with EH25 and weeping into my wife’s shoulder a the time so my memories are a little hazy). But these are like bunny rabbits in a cane field of jaguars and have about as much chance: the 151 swiftly, efficiently and mercilessly hunts them down, eviscerates them with sharp ethanol claws and has them for lunch. You only think you noticed such warm and comforting scents and tastes before reality invades your fantasy and you are ravaged yet again.

Bacardi’s makers took a rum aged a minimum of one year, snickered into their mustaches, and distilled it to a whopping 75.5%. At that strength, it’s kind of irrelevant what kind of barrels they age it in…they could age it in my son’s potty with a diaper floating in it, and the next morning both diaper and potty would be gone. That also makes it one of a select few overproofs in the world today: their own 151 Dark, or the Stroh 80, Sunset Very Strong, the SMWS Longpond 9 year old 81.3% or poorer bastard cousins like the Wray & Nephew White Overproof (a mild 63%) or the Stroh 54 (at which you can just see Bacardi laughing hysterically whenever they name it). The company can, of course, indulge itself in such cheerfully infantile pursuitsselling more rum than just about every nation on the planet allows it to pretty much create anything they feel like.

Making this one, they may not have attempted to create a superrum. But for my money, they sure as hell gave birth to a rum like few others. Which probably means that, as with other overporoofs like the Stroh 80, you’re more likely to run out of bar patrons than a bottle of this stuffor cojones, or whatever other words the Puerto Ricans use for “courageously stupid.” It’s not quite my thing and I’m not masochistic enough to try 151 on a consistent basis, however grudging an affection I may have for it: but that this rum exists at all is reason enough to admire it.

(#037. Unscored)


Other Notes

  • The Bacardi 151 rum was discontinued in 2016 because health and safety issues (stupid people using it for stupid reasons) — this kept Bacardi in near constant litigation and finally they just got fed up and pulled the plug, though of course it remains available to be found on auctions and secondary markets to this day. Buzzfeed carried a humorous retrospective.
  • This rum started a train of thought that culminated in a deep dive into the History of the 151 rums that was posted in 2020 (I had a more detailed section on Bacardi than this review allows), and a place of sorts in the list of Strongest Rums in the World, as part of the 151s entry.

Opinion

[August 2021] Aside from being one of the strongest rums I had ever tried, and written about, the review here was and remains important (or at least, it marks a milestone of sorts) for one other reason: it was written almost entirely with a sense of humour lacking in the 36 reviews that preceded it. Those had the occasional funny sentence or witty phrase as part of the review, but in the main, they were pretty standard and sober little essays. Here, for the first time, I just let myself go from start to finish, and laughed my way through the whole thing, enjoying the writing process thoroughly. It was worth it for that alone, I think.

But the reactions of readers over the years has been uniformly positive, and demonstrated that one need not be a dry, serious, punctilious, pedantic writer all the time. One can simply enjoy the writing, the expression and the laughs (and isn’t that what rum is all about?). And what that did was allow me, thereafter, the freedom to explore other modes of expression in writing reviews, whether serious, or lighthearted, using a first person narrative, a conversational tone, or even adding a biblical flavour. I may be in the minority on this one, but I think it made the overall body of work a lot richer and more enjoyable for average readers.