The rising popularity of rum seems, to me, like it has has encouraged more whisky-focused independent bottlers (IBs) to bottle more rum.
If I’m mistaken and they’ve just been releasing the same amounts, then they’re certainly getting more attention. Brands like SMWS, Berry Bros. & Rudd, Cadenheads, and Hunter Laing’s Kill Devil (Golden Devil in the US) are a few examples. Malt just got a long due SMWS Scotch review last week. I thought it would be good to squeeze in a trio of Guyanese rum bottled by them.
While this type of visibility can certainly help bridge whisky drinkers to rum, I’m not completely excited about this. For one, I’m under the impression that these bottlers are just jumping on the wagon without respecting and understanding these rums. I got this impression through either hearing stories or tasting some bottlings.
Some stories I hear are mostly about these whisky-focused IBs not knowing how to pronounce some names. The one that comes to mind was when rum from Guyana’s Uitvlugt was part of a tasting (it’s pronounced eye-flut), but the team presenting didn’t know how to pronounce it. A rum geek from the crowd had to step up. Yes, Dutch words aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re bottling and selling these, you should, at least, know how to pronounce it. If someone mispronounced Laphroaig, you can bet there’d be a lot of whinging.
Another example is SMWS R8.6 Dunderfunk WD40. R8 refers to the Nicaraguan distillery that produces Flor De Cana. Dunder refers to the backset/stillage from Jamaican rum that’s added to a fermenting wash. Bourbon drinkers will know this as sour mash. Funk in molasses-based rum often refers to the delicious “off” flavors of rotten fruit produced by long fermentation and pot distillation.
This Nicaraguan distillery has short fermentations and uses multi-column stills which will result in light distillates. They also don’t use dunder. As a result of their light distillates, much of their rum’s flavor come from the casks. There’s no way that funk nor anything representing dunder will be present, which leads me to think that SMWS is just using whatever popular term they can to jump on the rum wagon.
If you’re open to trying IBs who only bottle rum, may I recommend you go for those who are pouring their full passion into them. Some examples would be Holmes Cay, 1423’s SBS and Compagnie Des Indes (CDI). I’ve had interactions with these companies, and they really know what they’re selling.
After all my words, let’s see how these Guyanese rum bottled by SMWS will do. Even if they don’t seem to have a good understanding of rum yet, they should at least be able to pick good casks. Thanks to The Lone Caner for sending me these samples.
SMWS R2.4 Sweeney Todd in a Victorian Kitchen – Review
67% ABV. 22 years old.
On the nose: The ethanol burn sneaks up on me. Initially, there was nothing, but as I breathed in more of the aromas, the heat slowly came out. I get medium, sharp and long scents of ripe bananas, licorice, old wooden furniture, nutmeg, cloves, leather, prunes and dark chocolate. As I let this open up more, the aromas become a bit more intense. I also get subtle aromas of mocha and vanilla in-between the notes above.
In the mouth: Sharp and quickly alternating tastes of licorice, leather, cloves, nutmeg, roasted dandelion tea and cacao. The bananas and prunes linger in and out in between random tasting notes. Like on the nose, as this opens up more, the different tastes become a bit more intense. They also became rounder.
I have no idea how this is Sweeney Todd in a Victorian Kitchen. When Sweeney Todd is mentioned, images of pies and barbershops come to mind. This doesn’t smell nor taste like pie. Are barbershops in the UK this funky? The flavors of licorice, leather and old wooden furniture are dead giveaways that this could be from either the Port Morant double wooden post still or the Versaille single wooden pot still.
I think the only thing to get excited about is the age of this rum. But aside from that, it’s not impressive. I’ve had younger Guyanese rum that are as good or better than this. This rum doesn’t act its age. The flavors aren’t as cohesive and as “patient” as they should be. They bounce all around the place and the high ABV isn’t really helping.
SMWS R2.7 Pleasing and Teasing – Review
63.4% ABV. 13 years old. 12 years in an ex-bourbon barrel and 1 year in French oak barrique. (This doesn’t pass as a single cask for me)
On the nose: Surprisingly mellow despite the ABV. I get medium intense and long aromas of Cafe Du Monde chicory coffee, licorice, damp wood, banana peel, ripe bananas, caramel, banana bread, leather, and black walnuts. In between are subtle aromas of prunes and licorice.
In the mouth: The ethanol heat is sharper, but it’s very similar to the nose except for a few minor differences. The banana bread taste is stronger and more enveloping. I also got to taste more of the licorice and prunes. It seems like the weakening of the leather note allowed for the other two to shine more.
This is certainly pleasing and teasing. I think this is another rum from either the Port Morant double wooden post still or the Versaille single wooden pot still. Despite being younger, I find this to be a better rum than the R2.4. This acts older than its age. Every note is more patient and integrated. The different notes here are easier to identify as they wait to take turns to be more expressive.
SMWS R2.9 Demerara Deliciousness – Review
62% ABV. 11 years old. Aged in new oak.
On the nose: I mostly only get oak and some bananas at the start, so I let this breathe for around 30 minutes. The oakiness has toned down. It smells like it has become infused with the bananas and has sprouted allspice berries. There are bits of prunes, leather, banana liqueur, and dates enveloped by a zesty lemon and Febreze aroma.
In the mouth: More expressive than the nose. I get oak, caramel, bananas, leather, cloves and allspice berries. In between are subtle tastes of lemon & lime zest, muscovado sugar, coconut sugar, and honey.
Demerara deliciousness… erm… this is good but I wouldn’t call it delicious. It’s more like a slightly tasty chaos. The idea of trying a Demerara rum aged in new oak is something I never really thought about, since my preferences has recently been going toward distillate-forward spirits. But after seeing this was aged in new oak, I became slightly curious about how this would turn out.
I think this is one of the odder cask strength spirits I’ve tried. There’s the anticipated heat due to the high ABV, but the aromas seem fleeting. It’s really there, but it feels like it’s trying to get away from you while jumping all over the place. This is better on the nose as it’s fuller, more engaged, and more expressive. Despite being more expressive, the different notes are calmer, so they’re easier to appreciate and dissect.
Overall, not a mouthwatering trio of rums. With the reputation of SMWS, I was hoping these would be better. But then, this is the issue with single casks. They can be so random. A dud cask can’t be saved by blending.
This leads me to wonder if The Lone Caner was unlucky in buying these? There are better Guyanese rums out in the market, single cask or not. Does SMWS have a resident rum expert to pick their rum casks?
R2.4 image courtesy of Whisky Auctioneer. R2.7 image courtesy of SMWS Japan. R2.9 phot courtesy of SMWS USA.