This is going to suck.
Not the rum, mind you. I haven’t even opened it as I am writing this. Rather, I’m talking about this review. I’ll do my best to try to make it not quite as bad as it’s going to be, but no promises. You’ve been warned; you might want to quit now while you’re not too far behind. I promise I won’t be offended if you go make a sandwich or take a nap or something.
Forgive me for saying so, but I think reviews (mine, as well as others’) get better as more of them are completed. I believe the reason for this is that so much of what we (the Malt team) do is about context. As time goes on, we’ve tried more whisky, we’ve studied and contemplated more, and we’ve seen more of the industry’s practices.
As a consequence, we’re better equipped to put a whisky in its place: relative to other whiskies from that distillery, relative to that type of whisky more generally, and relative to the category overall. We’re also savvier shoppers; we know the competition at a given price point and can score with more sensitivity to value for money.
When we step outside our respective competencies, all those layers of experience and insight are stripped away. We’re forced to develop novel frameworks for evaluation, with the nagging concern that we’ll make amateurish mistakes. The trade-off is that we’re often able to bring you weird and wonderful stories from obscure corners of the globe.
Absent those angles, however, a reader could be forgiven for wondering: would a review from a critic who had never reviewed a certain species of libation be of any value? You’re about to find out the hard way, as today I’m tackling a type of spirit with which I have but a cursory acquaintance.
My dalliances with rum have been infrequent and mostly in the form of exotic cocktails at one of Chicago’s several tiki bars. Yes, really; winters are long here. Setting that aside, I can count on one hand the number of bottles of rum I have personally owned over the last decade.
There’s the 8-year-old El Dorado Demerara rum I bought for a work boat trip, still half full, sulking in the back of my liquor cabinet. For our 6th anniversary, I was gifted two bottles of Samaroli rum by my wife (given that it was the “sugar” anniversary and, well, you know). One, the 14-year-old 1999 Panama rum, was consumed forthwith and left little impression on me. The second, a 12-year-old 2001 Fiji rum, sits undisturbed in my cellar awaiting the arrival of someone who will appreciate it more than I, perhaps Mark or John? (side note: if you guys can find some blokes named Matthew and Luke, you can start a site called “The Rum Gospels.” That one’s free. You’re welcome).
Speaking of John, he’s done a yeoman’s work on rum on this site, treating us to several different varieties. As rum seems to be his muse, I’ve looped him in below in order to provide some context to what would otherwise be a vague and credulous recapitulation of the official talking points.
Before John’s comments, though, I’ll give you a summary of what I’ve been able to glean about this rum from Rolling Fork’s website. The company describes itself as an independent bottler, founded by Jordan Morris and Turner Wathen to put a Kentucky twist on imported rum. The Rolling Fork value add seems, according to them, to be “blending and finishing.” In a slightly confusing twist, the name comes from the Rolling Fork Distillery (founded 1788 by members of the famous Wathen family) despite no distilling happening under the modern company’s auspices. Another case of repurposing a legacy; I’ll throw it on the pile.
Today we’ll be sampling the Kentucky Cask Series Rum. This is from the first batch, which consists of rum from El Salvador. This was aged partly in ex-bourbon and ex-rye whiskey American oak barrels, with another portion aged in ex-port and ex-sherry French oak casks. Following “two Kentucky summers” in the warehouse, these casks were blended together to create the finished product we have here.
I ran this description by John, who weighed in as follows: “Rum made in the ex-Spanish colonies are usually very light due to their fondness for column stills. A lot of them use multi columns which are meant to strip as much flavor while yielding more volume. Bacardi will be the best example for this. There are also those who use traditional column stills to produce a heavier or full-bodied rum. Don Q and Diplomatico are some good examples. A lot of rum from these ex-Spanish colonies are often sweetened also. I’ve never heard of any rum brand from El Salvador. So I’m not aware of any reputation of any El Salvadorian rum. My guess is this they used the French Oak and ex-sherry cask to give the rum more interesting flavor, with the rum being mostly likely lacking in character.”
Ouch. Okay, so I’m setting my mental bar very low. Here we go:
As noted above, this is El Salvadoran rum finished in Kentucky and bottled at cask strength, 55% ABV. The label indicates it is 11 years old. I’ve seen bottles retailing for $85 and will be using that price for the basis of this review (the sample was generously provided by Brett, who remains a valued source of rare and wonderful spirits for our consideration).
Rolling Fork Kentucky Cask Series Rum Batch 2020B1 – Review
Color: Rose-tinted copper
On the nose: Exotically creamy, or creamily exotic. Vanilla, though not in the manner of new charred oak. Rather, there’s a very fresh, wild aspect to this aroma. Call it vanilla bean. Around the edges, this has elements of baking spice, ginger, sandalwood, and unbaked sugar cookie dough. With enough time, the vanilla bean softens and takes on a baked nuance, turning into the unmistakable smell of Nilla wafers.
In the mouth: An austere entrance, as a faintly oaky kiss turns quickly into a slightly piquant nip of cracked pepper and underripe orange, lightened by some confectioners’ sugar. As the rum moves towards the center of the tongue it feels very much all over, with a nondescript sweet-and-spicy taste and feel. This is momentarily its most delicious self at midpalate, where all the wood, fruit, spice, and spirit elements knit together and sing out as one. This exits with the flavor of gingerbread cookies and a bit of a harsher texture around the back of the mouth. Lingering vanilla, this time more of a decidedly more woody character, is accompanied by a warming heat that persists well after the finish.
I’m pretty satisfied with this. It’s got a broad range of very interesting notes on the nose and makes for pleasant sniffing over an extended period of time. Some of those notes re-emerge in the mouth, though at points this feels somewhat awkward. The texture shifts too quickly; first it’s thin, then sharp, then flabby, then perfectly balanced, then rough, then hot.
So, would I buy another bottle of this, or recommend that you do? Here’s where I feel the missing context most acutely. I haven’t the first idea whether this represents good, bad, or fair value for the asking price, in the realm of rum (“Realm of Rum” is another great potential rum website name, again provided to you free of charge by Mr. Cope’s Noggin!).
In total, I am giving this a solid score in the middle of the range. I thank you for indulging this digression from my normal beat; hopefully it will be a building block on the path to expanded horizons.
Lead image kindly provided by Rolling Fork.