After reviewing an old release from Rum Nation, I thought it would be nice to take a deeper dive into the brand.
When I decided to learn more about rum in 2017, the first few (in)dependent bottlers I immediately encountered were Italian. They were spoken of in such high regard that it made me think there was this holy trinity of Italian (in)dependent rum bottlers. To be honest, those were the only ones I knew of at that time. This trinity consisted of Samaroli, Velier, and Rum Nation. Being part of their culture for centuries, the rum scene was already fairly popular and developed in Europe, which meant they had the advantage of being ahead of the rest of the world.
Let me also say that there’s a lesser known but also great Italian bottler called Moon Imports. Most of the samples I’ve tried from Moon were sent by The Lone Caner. It’s due to their lack of availability outside of Europe that they’re not in this trinity.
At that time, the rum craze hadn’t really reached North America and Asia yet. America’s Tiki culture, which mainly uses rum, was only just starting to become popular again. This is largely thanks to the research and books of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove. Most of North America’s cocktail scene was just only starting to catch up in terms of understanding rum. Bourbon drinkers also weren’t flocking to rum yet. There were pockets of rum fandom in Asian countries like Japan and Singapore, but the rum scene in these places only really took off once better brands started to enter them… and also started destroying the rampant misconceptions which polluted the category for decades.
I said there was this holy trinity because only one of them is deemed as “holy” now: Velier. I’m not going to wax lyrical about the company now, as it will seem like a one-sided pitch. But I’ve also written about Velier’s impact on me before.
Samaroli, aside from being a popular single malt Scotch bottler, also had rum bottlings which were considered really good. The ones I know of are bottlings from Jamaica (Hampden) and Trinidad (Caroni) rums distilled in the 90s. But the death of their founder, Silvano Samaroli, in 2017 made people wonder if the brand could keep its quality. Despite crediting one of Samaroli’s Jamaica Rum Rhapsodybottlings for getting me into Jamaican rum, that type of sentiment isn’t enough to keep them in my praises.
The rise of other more bang-for-your-buck and rum-focused independent bottlers such as Compagnie Des Indes, Holmes Cay and 1423’s SBS also didn’t help with Samaroli’s popularity. I say bang-for-your-buck because Samaroli tends to bottle a lot of their releases at 45%, while the other brands I mentioned tend to bottle at cask strength or still strength.
Rum Nation is an independent rum bottler started by Fabio Rossi in 1999. He hails from a family that have been alcohol merchants for generations. They were initially in wine, until their success prompted them to look into spirits in the 1960s. Fabio’s father, Mario Rossi, started to import Scotch. This eventually led to the birth of Rum Nation’s older sister, Wilson & Morgan. You can read The Lone Caner’s more complete article on the history of Rum Nation in the link above.
From my perspective, Rum Nation was well liked until consumers started finding out they sweetened a lot of their rum. I guess the criticism eventually got to them, as they eventually came out with an unsweetened and premium range called Small Batch Rare Rums, where they’d bottle the rum at cask strength and be more transparent with the number of casks and cask numbers used in the blending.
Aside from their reputation souring due to the revelation of and disapproval for their sweetening practices, I also learned that Rum Nation is no longer Italian owned. They were bought by a Danish company called Mac Y Group A/S in 2018. So, they’re no longer an Italian company.
Rum Nation Small Batch Rare Rum Port Morant 1999 17 years old – Review
Blend of Cask 21 & 22. Sherry Finished. 57.4% ABV. USD $120-ish in Tokyo in 2017.
On the nose: I get sharp and short aromas of sulfur, nutmeg, leather, walnuts, cherries, chocolate, coffee, and raisins. At the core of it, there are longer and rounder aromas of strawberries, date molasses, more sulfur, more coffee, and cherries.
In the mouth: I get sharp, hot, and short tastes of cherries, raisins, chocolate, coffee and date molasses. Along with a lingering but not overwhelming taste and texture of sulfur, the other notes just repeat themselves. Leather, yogurt and black walnuts come out at the end.
This shows much more elegance and complexity on the nose. The ABV isn’t very noticeable there, while in the mouth it’s more fiery. It’s more expressive but not as complex and elegant. The ABV is also more felt here.