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Nine Exceptional Foursquare Rums (or so I’m told)

Somedays you get lucky.

In our world, this means one gets gifted a box of samples containing many vials of delicious tropical liquid containing the exceptional rums from Foursquare’s Exceptional series.

The skeptics out there might ask “Why are these ‘Exceptional’ and who deems them as such?” Good question.

I shall quote the response directly from Altamar Brands, the distributor of Foursquare, and the folks who kindly donated the samples: “Exceptional Cask Selections represent the unique, and rare offerings of Foursquare Rum Distillery that Richard [Seale] [Master Distiller and Blender] has hand selected – his personal projects only released when he feels they are of exceptional quality. These are one of a kind expressions, available only for a limited time, and showcasing truly unique approaches to both rum blending and maturation.”

Unless you are relatively new to Malt reviews, or you simply have never paid any attention to the rum world (that is not to lay blame, merely an acknowledgement that rum isn’t at the forefront of spirit connoisseurs), you’ll probably have at least heard of Foursquare and know its ubiquitous status as a major force in the Caribbean.

This is not my first time tasting or enjoying Foursquare, as I have been a fan for countless years, but it is my first time trying NINE DIFFERENT RELEASES side-by-side. Honestly, it’s a true privilege to taste many spirits from a single distillery all at once. Side-by-side tastings are exciting because they provide the opportunity to really examine the individual components of each spirit, pick apart small details you might not have noticed on their own, and understand the overarching character of the distillery.

Honestly, if I were to have individually ranked each of the spirits in this list, there’s a highly probable chance several of them would be a point higher. Context is very important in life – a hotdog at a steakhouse is disappointing, but a hot dog at the baseball game is the best thing ever. My incredibly difficult job here is to separate the hot dogs from the steaks, if you catch my drift.

Now, let’s face it, you don’t want to hear my stories. You want the details. So, let’s get to it.

I compared similar releases side by side at first, then at a later time tried all eight side-by-side. Many of these rums are ones I’m familiar with, so I more or less knew what I was getting into and specifically chose not to do this blind. My intention was to focus on the nuances of bottles, thus the scores below are arranged not by sequential release date but rather shared similarities (madeira vs. madeira) or families (sweet versus dry red wine).

While the samples were provided gratis by Foursquare’s USA importer of record, no money has exchanged hands and as much journalistic integrity one can claim to have after receiving free goods is declared. These samples are also not a part of a PR campaign or product launch. I was provided these merely on my charm (I jest) and pre-existing interest in Foursquare.

Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Mark II Port Cask – Review

Three years in Bourbon and then six years in Port wood. 9 Years. 2014 Release. 40% ABV.

On the nose: Sweet. First scent reactions: A rapid evolution of “Is this scotch? No, it’s bourbon. Oh it’s rum.” If you told me this is a weird Maker’s I’d believe the nose. Really opens up with oxygen and I get more port and sticky toffee pudding. Give this sucker O2! Because it did so well with 20 minutes of O2, I gave it an hour and hello, the sticky toffee and port notes are more way more clear. Earlier it was dessert from a nice family-owned restaurant, now it’s a Michelin starred treat with oozy caramel and a port reduction.

In the mouth: Taste definitely provides the port but it doesn’t feel so much integrated as it does like a float on top of the rum. I’m not complaining though. It coats the palate for the next wave of flavors. It’s really nice and adds a winter-warmer sweetness to the rum. Medium light viscosity. The lightest drop of water smooths the edges. The 40% feels a little weak and sharp.

Conclusions:

This is no doubt a high-quality spirit with all the flavors I like. That said, maybe a little boring? This could go to an 8 I feel like if the port casks had been a bit more fresh and juicy. If the casks hadn’t already given everything they had to give, definitely think another year soaking up Port would have helped. A bump to 43 or 46% would’ve helped as well.

Score: 7/10

Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Mark IV Zin – Review

Bourbon and Zinfandel wood. 11 years. Pot and Column distillation. 2015 release. 59% ABV.

On the nose: This is zingy! Does everyone know what zingy means? Must at the bottom a red wine barrel. Tart fruity acidity that kind of pinballs around. A light lingering cloud of bubblegum dust. Faintly chemical.

In the mouth: HELLO TANNINS. This is dryyyyyyyyyy. Did I just lick sand? There’s the classic bitter sediment mustiness I associate with red wine casked age single malt scotch, and typically really don’t like because it tastes astringent, but it works here. Maybe because the inherent rum sweetness offers contrast? This has a very powerful flavor profile that’s neatly enhanced by the ABV.

Conclusions:

I find this extremely interesting. I don’t know if it’s a flavor profile that I love, but I want to keep coming back to it because it’s just so interesting. It makes me want to make a New York Sour with R.L. Seale’s 12 Year rum instead of rye and see what happens. If it works, I’m calling it a Barbados Sour and henceforth stake my claim on it. On personal taste preferences I’d say 7, but it gets a bonus bump for intellectual stimulation.

Score: 8/10

Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Mark V Criterion – Review

Seven years in Bourbon with a three year Madeira finish. 10 years total age. Pot and Column distillation. 2017 release. 56% ABV.

On the nose: Lots going on. A little all over the place. Overripe bananas. Old fashioned cocktail.

In the mouth: Way more interesting than the nose. ABV is definitely there but it is not intimidating. Saltiness. Some fishiness. A little more funky than I’m typically used to from Foursquare. If you asked me what interesting cask this was finished in, I’d probably say Fino or Manzanilla sherry. Almost full-bodied mouthfeel.

Conclusions:

This is an extremely well crafted rum. I wish the nose had more going on, but the flavor profile is excellent. It’s very close to an 8 score for me.

Score: 7/10

Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Mark XV Redoubtable – Review

Blended at the end of aging. 14 years of Bourbon with 14 years of Madeira. Pot and Column distillation. 2020 release. 61% ABV.

On the nose: Rich and magnificent. Especially compared to Criterion. Luxardo maraschino cherries. Brown sugar. Oak. Shoe polish.

In the mouth: Yes, please. It’s hard to put into words just how delicious this is and what scrumptious texture it has. It has the sumptuousness of quality Madeira, maybe like a medium-sweet Baol, that pairs so nicely with the very light rum funk.

Conclusions:

I really really like this! I think the blending of single cask aging as opposed to shared cask (ie: 7 years into bourbon, then the entire lot spends 3 years in Madeira) aging does wonders. Honestly, more distilleries across all styles should really take note here. I know there is a big age difference between this and Criterion, but there is a clarity here that supersedes age. Considering the time in cask, especially with the speedy tropical nature, there is wonderful vibrancy of flavor.

Score: 9/10

Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Mark III 2004 – Review

Bourbon barrel. 11 years. Pot and Column distillation. 2015 release. 59% ABV.

On the nose: More ester funk. Some bananas. A flaky frangipane custardy pastry.

In the mouth: Overwhelming heat. Fruitiness. Dankness. The esters that are almost tangible in the nose also come through in the palate. Compared to Hampden the funk barely even registers but in comparison to other Foursquare bottles, definitely pronounced. It veers toward armpit, in a not unpleasant way.

Conclusions:

Too hot to handle.

Score: 5/10

Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Mark VI 2005 – Review

First, second, and third fill Bourbon. 12 years. Pot and Column distillation. 2017 release. 59% ABV.

On the nose: There is a lot of complexity swirling in a pool of older, slightly frail, nail polish remover. It’s a little hard to pinpoint the exact notes because there’s a lot going on, but black forest gateau (chocolate, cream, dark cherries) finished with a spray of rum is what I keep coming back to.

In the mouth: This makes me weak at the knees a bit. A classically trained opera singer performing the hits. (Think Maria Callas performing “O mio babbino caro”) Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper reduction. It’s sweet but also has darker undertones. It makes me wonder what an alternate dimension of 56% distilled PX sherry would be like.

Conclusions:

This is harmonious. Everything sings in perfect pitch. If I’m going to nit-pick, I would say I’d want a touch of salinity in the taste and a slightly longer finish.

Score: 9/10

Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Mark XIII 2008 – Review

A combination of first, second, and third fill Ex-Bourbon Barrels. 12 years. Pot and Column distillation. 2020 release. 56% ABV.

On the nose: Citrus smoothie. Some banana sunscreen. Graham crackers. There is some small prickly sharpness from the heat gently reminding you of its proof.

In the mouth: Chocolate covered dried oranges. A slightly malty sticky granola and dried berry with a dollop of tangy yogurt finish. Really lovely mouthfeel. The legs on the glass are thick and slow moving.

Conclusions:

This is an extremely friendly spirit. It’s basically an excitable golden retriever. More energy and playfulness sitting still than your weary bones could ever dream of. It’s not terribly complex, which is why the score isn’t bumped to an 8, but hey, not every friend needs to be the one you talk about celestial navigation with.

Score: 7/10

Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Mark XVI Shibboleth – Review

Bourbon barrels. A minimum of 16 years of age. Pot and Column distillation. 2021 release. 56% ABV.

On the nose: Freshly lacquered oak. Woodiness with some alcohol fumes. A touch of dark chocolate. The ABV isn’t immediately noticeable unless you take a big whiff. It feels a bit tight, but after 15 minutes the glass starts to open up a little.

In the mouth: There is the ABV. So much stewed tropical fruit – mangoes, passionfruit, pineapple. Milk and dark chocolate notes swirl around in the background. The age is pleasantly not a factor in regards to the oakiness of the spirit, it feels properly aged. I think if it was any younger, the profile would be very raw and sharp.

Conclusions:

The profile is nice, but this particular rum feels like it has a stiff upper lip. I wish it would let its hair down, turn up the music, and party a little bit. There’s something interesting here, but in context it’s not quite grabbing my attention in comparison to all the other amazing spirits.

Score: 6/10

Foursquare Exceptional Cask Selection Mark XII Dominus – Review

Bourbon and Cognac Barrels. 10 years. Pot and Column distillation. 2018 release. 56% ABV.

On the nose: Cognac! Whoa. I was really not expecting the profile to be so pronounced – especially with the relatively lower age statement. The cognac presence feels fresh and youthful with just a hint of oak sharpness I associate with the distilled grape spirit. It’s a very pleasant nose, but the rum character is in the background.

In the mouth: Are we sure this cognac-barrel-aged rum and not rum-barrel-aged cognac? This is definitive departure from all the other Foursquare bottles in this tasting. There is no doubt that there is a Foursquare rum influence here, but the power of the cognac is the driving force.

Conclusions:

This tastes almost cocktail-esque. I really can’t get over how prominent the cognac is. It’s almost like they forgot to dump the barrels before refilling them. To be clear, I don’t have a problem with this whatsoever. This is delightful. But would I call it rum? How do I score this? I’d say 7 on the enjoyment scale, but this is a rum tasting, and I feel maybe I have to dock a point for the wild left turn this spirit takes from the Foursquare name.

I think this highlights the laissez-faire nature of scoring spirits, which is why I’ve left it as the final tasting note – if it was an independent bottle, it would be a 7, but because it’s not what I’ve come to expect from Foursquare (and honestly what THEY have said I should expect) I’m docking it a point.

Score: 6/10

Final Conclusions:

After years of drinking Foursquare, and now tasting nine bottles side-by-side, it’s very easy to understand why they are an exceptional distillery and Richard Seale is a living legend in the industry. I really hope to meet him one day and learn more about the inner workings of his mind and distillery.

Technically, I am amazed by the differences in alcohol presence. Why does the 2004 have so much more heat than the 2005 when it is the same proof, albeit only one younger? There’s no discussion of racking like there is in bourbon, is it because one barrel sat lower or higher than the other?

I live in Southern California and being an enthusiast beer drinker, the word “crushable” is something I, with deep passionate enthusiasm, really truly love-to-hate and hate-to-love. That said, Foursquare rum is crushable. If an infinite supply of this juice landed at my door, I would happily drink everything for a lifetime. Sure, there are other truly brilliant spirits like Hampden and Laphroaig that taste like they are awakening the darkest corners of the earth, but they are not everyday drinkers. Going back to the beer world, you theoretically could crush Bud Light, but… (I’m sticking to High Life). What I’m trying to say is that Foursquare is the equivalent of the finest Kölsch from Cologne, Germany. The quality is not sacrificed for ease of consumption. It is simply a spirit at the top of its class and dangerously drinkable.

  1. Mark P says:

    Great read Bryan. I’d be sceptical on your scores but have a bottle of Exceptional myself, Detente, and it’s the finest rum I’ve tasted (though I’m not a rum connoisseur)

    1. John says:

      Mark, do yourself a favor and get more Foursquare. Your palate and wallet will love you for it. Cheaper and tastier than most whisky today.

    2. Bryan says:

      Thanks Mark for reading. It is indeed to hard to believe but I suppose a bit more believable when you realize each bottle is only launched when its creator deems it worthy – that’s some quality control!

  2. John says:

    Hi Bryan, just so you know that you’re not alone in this. There is a large consensus that the 05 Foursquare distillates are something else. Even in the IB bottlings, the 05s are really just good.

      1. John says:

        What’s more remarkable is that it’s not Foursquare hyping up their own products. Richard Seale sells it. The rum speaks for itself. The consumers judge for themselves.

  3. Welsh Toro says:

    Excellent and enjoyable review Bryan. I’ve been what Ralfy calls a ‘Rum Rascal’ for quite some time so got to enjoy many Foursquare bottlings before they really took off. I still have a couple in the bunker and I’m amazed what the going rate is for them. My personal favourites were the early ex-bourbon casks but they are all pretty good. What I will say is they all have the same distillery profile that comes through way more than the cask influence. You can clearly taste it in Seale’s Doorly’s range as well. It’s a Barbados profile that’s very present in Mount Gay too.

    I think it’s very good rum but it’s popularity has become hysterical like Springbank. Cheers. WT

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