2020 has finally ended. With the start of a new year, I thought I’d try to persuade the MALT readers to try new things. By something new, I mean rum.
As MALT’s resident rum geek, I can understand the hesitation towards it. It’s a category which has been misunderstood for a long time, and those misconceptions have been taken advantage of by dishonest companies with misconceptions like “rum is naturally sweet,” or “rum has no rules.” I’ve done my best to fight those misconceptions by writing about brands to be cautious of, as well as how to classify rum, but I’m sure not everyone has read all of my rum articles. New MALT readers or rum newbies might also not yet think of MALT as a reliable rum resource, so here I go with another attempt to convince more whisky drinkers to get into this neighboring spirit. The blinkered readers might want to listen to this if they think this is going to be a blasphemous horror article.
One of the best things I enjoyed getting into rum is the community, or as some would call it, the rum family. When comparing the whisky community to the rum community, it’s safe to say that the rum community is far more accessible. For one, a lot of the brands or distillery owners and head distillers are active online. Industry icons such as Privateer’s Maggie Campbell, Foursquare’s Richard Seale and Luca Gargano of Velier usually comment on certain Facebook rum groups. They are patient about repeatedly dispelling and breaking down certain brand propaganda and rum misconceptions. These passionate folks take the time to provide technical explanations as to why certain styles of rum are the way they are. They also don’t mind answering simple questions like when a certain release will come out and how many there will be. Let’s not forget the regular community members who like to ask and answer questions. Interesting questions come up from time to time, and these community members take the time to share the information they have learned from the rum icons. Even so, I will be frank: the community is not perfect. Issues such as the sweetening of some rum and some brands’ degree of transparency cause some friction.
With regards to events, how often do the whisky master distillers or big brands owners attend spirits shows? Companies like Foursquare and Velier are still fairly small when compared to the corporate giants, so you will most likely see their owners attend spirits shows. In fact, much of their schedule involves traveling to these events. Adapting to the struggles 2020 has given, they’ve been in a lot of virtual masterclasses and tastings. Because they have no one to answer to, they don’t need to check with the corporate ladder to answer difficult questions.. That said, I don’t blame the whisky personalities; they often only follow their corporate overlords. Brand ambassadors get sent in their place, but I don’t really learn much from them these days. They usually seem to follow scripts.
In close relation to the rum community’s accessibility is how rich it is in knowledge. Where there is sugarcane, there is rum, or a form of sugarcane spirit. This means one can expect a huge variety of cultural, historical and technical backgrounds. Geeks from different backgrounds, even those not in the industry, usually chime in. A lot of the new rum drinkers often come from whisky. I was one of them. The numerous factors I learned from the rum community about what really goes into spirits production is amazing. It made me aware of how limited the conversations are in the whisky scene. Essentially, any open-minded spirit enthusiast will love the wealth of knowledge that studying rum provides. I used to be one of those arrogant exclusive whisky drinkers who thought whisky was the end-all, be-all. But no, casks, ridiculous prices and undeserving limited-edition releases are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to enjoying alcohol.
Rum also attracts fans of other spirits. The earthy and grassy profile of unaged sugarcane juice-based rum attracts Mezcal drinkers. Fans of aged sugarcane juice rum venture out to French brandies like Armagnac. Historical and technical notes are compared from time to time. For example, it was through Privateer’s Maggie Campbell that I learned that an increase of molasses tax was one of the main reasons for the American Revolution. She also spent some years with California brandy producer, Germain-Robin. There, she learned how to age water in barrels to be used to dilute Privateer’s rum.
Being a fan of a brand or a certain style of drink usually invokes the desire to travel. You see this in whisky fans who make great efforts to tour the distilleries scattered all over the world, and it also applies to rum geeks. I’ve met and talked to numerous aficionados who have traveled all over the Caribbean to visit distilleries like Foursquare and Hampden. I haven’t been to the Caribbean myself, but it’s on my bucket list. Thankfully, with more rum producers popping up in Asia, it’ll be easier to visit rum distilleries for everyone.
Then there’s the noticeable affordability of rum. For a price comparison, the Appleton 12 costs £39.95 in The Whiskey Exchange (TWE). Glen Grant 12 is worth £44.95 in TWE. Which is better? It depends on you. But consider these facts. I chose these two as they are both under Campari. This lessens the differences between the two spirits and brands and makes the field even as possible. Both have age statements of 12 years and are bottled at 43%. However, Appletons are aged only in Jamaica, while Glen Grants are aged in Scotland. We’ve all learned that hotter climates result in more spirits lost due to angel’s share. So why is the Appleton 12 cheaper than Glen Grant despite there being more loss? I guess we can consider more factors. Let’s assume both spirits are aged in ex-Wild Turkey bourbon casks. That means the costs of the barrels should be the same. Barring economic issues I’m not aware of, it should be cheaper to send used Wild Turkey casks to Jamaica, as it’s closer. Regardless, I don’t think logistical costs of casks is the only thing keeping Appleton from being cheaper than Glen Grant.
As for accessibility to limited-edition releases, I can’t make a valid argument yet. A lot of the good rum brands aren’t as widely distributed yet. If your area doesn’t get the regular offerings, it’s more likely that you won’t have access to the limited offerings. Unless of course, online stores can ship to you. For the whisky brands, if your area gets both the regular and limited offerings, it means there’s a lot of competition to get those bottles.
Lastly, for those looking for something new, just try rum. I’m one of those who prefer rum over whisky, but is it better than whisky, or vice versa? I can’t answer for you, but I can assure you that they are quite different. There’s a staggering amount of variety out there, from a difference in base materials to differences in fermentation and distillation. There is also rum from the Caribbean being aged in Europe, which complicates matters even more. How does trying new things or learning about them hurt anybody?
With all that persuading, I think it’s only right that I give you 5 rum recommendations for what to try. These are all rum with real age statements, easy to find, affordable and always recommended to others getting into rum.
Bacardi 8 – This should really be Cuban Havana Club 7, as I prefer its fuller body over the Bacardi 8, but readers based in the US can’t get access to the Havana Club due to the embargo. As a result, I’ll have to settle for this, as both have similar styles. I also still haven’t tried the Puerto Rican Havana Clubs. Bacardi 8 should be a good fit for the whisky drinkers who like the “smooth” stuff like Glenlivet 12 and Johnnie Walker Gold. The Bacardi 8’s distillate is light and fruity, and most of the flavors come from the ex-bourbon cask influence. As Bacardi, this should be widely distributed and very affordable. It’s available at Shared Pour for $33.99 and on TWE for £29.95, or Master of Malt has it for £29.83.
Doorly’s 12 – A disclaimer before you read this one: I just started importing and distributing Doorly’s where I am. Anyhow, Fred Minnick convinced Bourbon drinkers to try rum by calling the Foursquare 2006 the Pappy of rum. Sadly, the Foursquare 2006 bottled by Velier was a very limited one time release, so unless you have the cash for auction prices, you’ll be just like the unsuccessful hunters of BTAC and Pappy. But why go after something you most likely have never tried? Instead, I recommend Doorly’s 12 and the rest of the range, also products of Foursquare. I’ve been seeing a lot of bourbon drinkers converted to rum thanks to Doorly’s, so this is a sure and safe recommendation. I think the Barbados style of balanced flavors from the distillate and barrel influence seals the deal. Doorly’s 12 is double matured in ex-bourbon and ex-Madeira casks. With the drought of bourbon bottled at double-digit age statements, I think this 12-year-old rum should be a welcome alternative. US-based folks can only find Doorly’s at Total Wine, which sells it for $26.99 in California. The bottle can also be found on TWE for £44.95, or Master of Malt for £40.94.
El Dorado 15 – This trailblazer of a “premium” will be the only sweetened rum in the list. I’m not a fan of how most of the sweetened rum or “rum” like Diplomatico and Don Papa are dominated by overpowering and monotonous artificial flavor. But the full-bodied, funk-laden and varied range of flavors crafted in Guyana’s Diamond Distillery can stand up to the added sweeteners. This is the first rum that opened my eyes to how versatile rum can be. It also made me realize that in a blind tasting, it could taste like a Highland single malt. It has a medium body with lots of fruits and confectionaries. This may seem “quite expensive” for a rum, and when compared to the rest in the list, but it’s worth trying. For $54.99 at Total Wine and £53.45 on TWE, or Master of Malt have it for £52.95, it’s not that big of a gamble. At this price range, it’s not that far off from a lot of 15-year-old single malt Scotch.
Appleton 12 – If Scotch has Islay single malt which is known for its peat and smoke flavors, then Jamaican rum is known for their medium to full-bodied flavors along with that estery funk. Like people who haven’t tried Islay single malt, they don’t know if they’ll like it or not, but they’re sure it has a distinctive character. Appleton 12 is on the list, as it’s widely distributed by Campari, and the funk isn’t as strong compared to the Hampdens and Worthy Parks. If you like the fermenting banana funk in this one, then this can ease you into the funkier Jamaican rums. If you don’t like this, then at least you’ve tried it and can move on. This only costs $48.99 at Shared Pour, and goes for £39.95 on TWE, or Master of Malt have it for £34.95.
Clement Rhum Blanc – This recommendation is for the Mezcal and Tequila aficionados, those die-hard fans who appreciate agave spirits in their true, unaged form. Agave spirits aged in oak is evidence of Western influence, and it’s not a practice native to Mexico. Like unaged Mezcal and Tequila, there is a sense of terroir in unaged Agricoles and other sugarcane juice-based rum. The grassy and earthy flavors brought out by the distiller is a treat. TWE lists it at £24.75, or Master of Malt for £22.
Lead image by Christian Fridell. Others kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange. We also have commission links within this article for your convenience and to help support Malt – such links don’t influence our opinion.