In late 2010, for Christmas, I posted a list of my favourite rums under fifty dollars. It’s proved to be quite a hit: for a modest little site like ours, that list keeps getting decent hits. I’ll probably put out another one this year. My intention here is to drift into more expensive waters. Oh, I know that when one talks about whiskies worth this kind of money, you’re still in crap territory – every time I go into KGM or WP or any of the boutique-wannabes, the really nice stuff is almost always north of three figures. I see that as the beauty abut rums, though – their lack of what I call street cred in the coinnoisseur’s world keeps prices low enough that riff raff like me can afford them. So when I post a list of ten good rums that you can get (in Canada) for under a c-note, my take is that you are really getting good quality for money.
I should also point out that when you are getting into this somewhat more exclusive atmosphere, you are also heading away from mixing bases or black cake ingredients, and into sipping territory – stuff that can and should be enjoyed on its own. Almost all of these rums are sippers and should be approached as such – at least at the inception. I don’t hold with the concept my northern friend has, that there ain’t a likker that can’t be enhanced in a cocktail…but I leave that thorny decision up to you: you now know my opinion on the matter. Go thou and choose for thyself.
1. The first and maybe even the best on this list has to be the El Dorado 21 year old ($90). Deep, dark, warm and slightly dry, this is the epitome of the Guyanese rums. It’s not as sweet as the 25 year old, and has a body, a mouthfeel, a palate and a nose that combine molasses, old leather and fruits in a way that it simply sublime. If this was a girl I’d have married it long ago, and as the epitome of grace and strength and loveliness, I can only say she’s called Amallie.
2. A.D. Rattray Caroni 13 year old ($70). I called this rum a rum lover’s secret discovery, a prime number of a rum, indivisible by anything except you and itself. It’s rare, it’s going to be gone soon (Caroni closed many moons ago), and it’s lovely. Bottled at 46%, this relative beefcake of a sipper is a shade spicy, yes, and wussies need not apply: but let it sit for a minute and observe how all flavours deepen and concentrate. I don’t often re-buy liquors once I’ve finished what I bought the first time (and written about it) – here I already have another two unopened on my shelf. (Note: many bottlers bought Caroni stock prior to its dissolution, so you can expect others beyond AD Rattray to come out with variations.)
3. Ron Zacapa 23 Solera. I honestly don’t know how much this costs, since this excellent solera is currently not to be had in Alberta– I paid $80 for mine. I have sampled a few soleras and didn’t care much for them as a whole (too thin for the most part, not robust enough), but this one blew my socks off and I have to reastrain myself from taking it out every weekend. Just sweet enough, voluptuous body, a truly stunning nose, and a mouthful of flavours combining cherries, cinnamon, vanilla, orange, nuts…wow. No wonder it’s considered a touchstone. A must on your shelf and a gift no-one should refuse.
4. Zaya Gran Reserva 12 year old ($70). These days it’s controversial to like this baby. Ever since production moved out of Guatemala(home of the Zacapa) to Trinidad, the grumbling has not ceased: too sweet, too adulterated, too spiced and (horrors!) no mention is made on the label about any additives, though clearly, in the opinion of many, there must be. I have to take it on its merits and just say I like it: soft, fruity, sweet, excellent mouthfeel and like the first and longest real kiss of your teenage life. About as different from the El Dorado 15 as you can get, and worth the money if you’re willing to ignore the disdain of the purists.
5. There are too many Renegade Rums from Bruichladdich which I have not yet tried, so I’ll just pick my favourite of the few I’ve managed to sample: Renegade Trinidad 1991 16 year old (port barrel finish, about $70). Not all will enjoy its overproof nature (46%) and attendant spiciness. Man up there, dude. You’ll get traces of oak, port, tobacco and caramel, and maybe burnt apples. A lot of people have commented on its whisky-like taste and finish, including me. You want to see what whisky maker can do for (or to) a rum when experimenting a little? Here’s your answer. It’s my ambition to one day be able to have the entire line, but I keep running into the El Dorado Problem.
6. El Dorado 15 year old ($60). My pappy’s favourite (or so he says – he may be lying in order to get me to spring for the 21 year old). This rum is the bridge to the 21 and 25 for sure, but forgets none of its heritage of the 12 year old and less, and is still all teenager, bouncy and sprightly, flexing its glutes, full of life and vitality. Nose and palate are redolent of molasses (though not as much as you’d think), smoke, charcoal hints, all leavened with a delightfully light fruitness, cinnamon and orange peel. Here’s a rum I suppose you could mix, but why would you?
7. Flor de Cana Centenario 21 15 year old ($90) A very solid if oddly different rum from a Nicaraguan distiller also responsible for the phenomenal 18 year old. This is a lovely, dry, lighter-than-normal rum aged 15 years in oak barrels. A shade sere and not quite as sweet as Cana’s other offerings, it caresses your taste buds with a delicate yet assertive scent of floral and herbal traces wound about with caramel and honey. Fine, clean and smooth exit: definitely a rum I was happy to have shelled out for.
8. Rum Nation Martinique Hors D’age (~$80). I haven’t reviewed this yet, just had it at the last KGM Rum Tasting, but should sound the trumpets for those North of 49: this thing is brilliant for its price, exceeded only by the more expensive 12 year old Anniversario (which costs three figures and doesn’t therefore count here). 43% budding musclebeach from Martinque rum stock. Soft, smooth and well rounded, well balanced. Sweet, grape-like, with notes of dark citrus, tangerine, caramel, candy and chocolate. A clear and relatively light rum in a really cool box that will lighten your wallet to show it’s no accident and is worth (in my own opinion) every peso you pay.
9. Juan Santos 21 year old ($90). My discovery for this year and it was too long in coming. I think this baby is called Ron Santero in Colombia, but it’s a rose by any other name…and is a liquid bottled symphony. Relatively light, medium sweet, and with one of the best balances of flavours I’ve had – toffee, cofee and caramel, with hints of soft spices and flowers. Smooth on entry and exit. I simply cannot say enough good things about this product of South America, and recommend it highly. Note that its younger siblings are also above average for their ages and if you want to dip your toe in cautiously to this unknown brand, the 9 yr old and 12 yr old are excellent first tries to get you hooked.
10. Pusser’s 15 year old (~$60). A solid, powerful man’s rum that assaults your palate with tiny hammers of Thor. It’s not stronger or more flavourful than others, yet manages to leave an impression of being big, brawny and cheerfully uncouth. Spicy, earthy nose that mellows fast into a smoother note, and a taste that at once attempts to brain and seduce you. A barbarian in leotards, to paraphrase my own review, and I’ve got a kind of love-hate relationship with it. Most of my friends have an opinion for good or ill on this one, so I’ll leave you to come up with your own…my take is you’ll remember it no matter what your impression.
So there we have it, ten decent rums that herd you into sipping territory, will dent your wallet somewhat, but reward the patience and effort. Every few weeks on the Ministry of Rum I see some newcomer to the rum world asking for advice in what to start with. Between this list and the other one about those under $50, I’d like to think a good intro has been made.
There are other rums in this price range, of course there are. I can only scrape off the top of the iceberg, and recommend those that I have tried. I’ve found all these rums in Calgary and they appear regularly on many review sites, so in terms of commonality, I think I’ve come up with a good representative sample that won’t disappoint.
Enjoy. And drive safely, please. Winter is coming.