The 2015 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Rum
Last year when I presented my Rum Howler Awards for Rum (and for Whisky), I discussed the trend of disappearing age statement upon many of the latest rum and whisky bottlings. This trend which shows no sign of abating. Worse yet, it seems that many companies have additionally chose to disguise their missing age statement by placing a large number prominently upon the label to imply to the consumer an age which may or may not have any basis in reality.
To be fair this practice has been going on for many years. The first time I was misled this way was when I purchased a bottle of Cockspur 12 about 7 years ago. I believed the rum was 12 years old and did not find out until three years later that the 12 upon the label was essentially meaningless and the rum inside the bottle was only 4 years old at the most. Legendario Elixir de Cuba was another such purchase of mine. A prominent 7 upon the label led me to believe the rum inside the bottle was seven years old. However some research done a few years revealed to me that the brand contained rum as young as one and two years old, and no rum older than four years. It didn’t help that many liquor store owners and managers advertised both of these rums as being 12 years and 7 years respectively on their store shelves and in their flyers.
Based upon my experiences and after laboriously going through the rules and regulations of the US regulatory framework pertaining how rum may be labeled (see What is Rum? ), I want to relate to you my readers one important lesson I have learned:
A number is not an age statement!
In fact a large prominent number on a liquor bottle almost certainly has no relation to an age statement unless it is accompanied by the words “Years Old” or is part of a statement that reads “Aged _Years” where the _ is the large number in question. Any other depiction of a large number on a liquor bottle irregardless of whatever the label implies is not a valid age statement and should be treated as essentially meaningless.
Jack Daniels No. 7 is not seven years old; George Dickel No. 12 is not twelve years old; Flor De Cana 18 is not eighteen years old, and Ron Zacapa 23 Solero is not twenty-three years old. The numbers on the labels are not age statements. It is best to treat them as merely numbers or even better, pretend that they are just random letters of the alphabet.
Hopefully that little rant is helpful to some of you. I know it would have been helpful to me when I first started acquiring premium spirits.
On to my Rum Howler Awards for Excellence in the Production of Rum.
This year, to determine my Rum Howler Award Winners I first checked my review scores in all of the categories of each rum I had sampled in the last two years and chose for each category the 5 top spirits based upon those review scores. Then I asked two friends of mine to rank each of the rums I had chosen within each of the categories. The only category in which cocktails were constructed to help assist in the rankings was for the white rums, and the cocktail constructed was a simple daiquiri. All other rum categories were judged neat.
I compared the rankings assigned by my two jurors for each spirit within each category with my review rankings and determined the Winner as well as the Runners-up and the Honourable Mentions for each category. The results turned out to be very consistent with my review scores although there are a few exceptions. No system is perfect, but I believe my friends and I did a thorough job with good results.
It is time for me to bring forward my 2015 Rum Howler Awards Winners. These are the spirits which have risen to the top and provided us with our greatest enjoyment:
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best White Rum:
and the winner is:
Runner-up Award to: Pumpkin Face White Rum
Honourable Mention to: Brugal Especial Extra Dry Rum
The Rum Nation Jamaica White Pot Still Rum is a beast of a rum. Produced in Jamaica upon a copper pot still and bottled at a full 57 % alcohol by volume, this rum was deemed a bit of a risk by Rum Nation owner and principal Fabio Rossi. Simply put, he considered it is an ester filled bombshell which might confuse and alienate his customer base. Fabio, knew in his heart though that this rum might just represent a new direction for the category, one which might bring new customers to the table. My opinion for what it is worth, is that this Jamaican White Pot Still Rum just might be the best white rum I have ever tasted.
My Runner-up selection, is the Pumpkin Face White Rum produced by Itsko Imports Inc of Beverly Hills, California. It is distributed in Canada by Pure Global Imports. The rum inside the cool looking pumpkin shaped bottles is apparently a blend of selected rums from the Dominican Republic.
My Honourary Mention, Brugal Especial Extra Dry Rum is produced using the company’s proprietary double-distillation technique which apparently creates a clean, dry rum. It is blended from a mix of rum spirits which have been aged a minimum of 2 years and up to as many as 5 years in White American Oak casks, and was developed as a high-end cocktail spirit meant to compete with ultra premium Vodka.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Spiced Rum:
and the winner is:
Runner-up award to: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum
Honourable Mention to: Captain Morgan Silver Spiced Rum
Louisiana Spirits was formed in 2011 with the stated aim to produce a world-class rum in Lacassine, Louisiana from Louisiana sugarcane. By 2013 their distillery located a few miles east of Lake Charles, Louisiana, was producing a craft rum in what they call the largest privately owned rum distillery in the USA. Their rums are distilled upon a traditional copper pot still using 100% locally (Louisiana) produced cane sugar and molasses. The care and attention to detail is obvious as in just a few short years they are producing one of the best spiced rums in the world.
Another recent newcomer is Kenny Chesney’s, Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spice Rum which blew me away last fall when I sampled it at the 2014 Edmonton Food and Wine Show. I would never have thought that coconut and spiced belonged together on a rum label. However, I was wrong, and this wonderful new spiced rum is the proof.
Captain Morgan’s Silver Spiced Rum shows us that less is sometimes more and their charcoal filtered white spiced rum is a new style of spiced rum designed for the cocktail enthusiast. The spiced rum category continues to show steady improvement each year.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Overproof/Cask Strength Rum:
and the winner is:
Runner-up Award to: Rum Nation Jamaica White Pot Still 57%
Honourable Mention to: Lemon Hart Original One Hundred British Proof Reserve Rum
The Caroni Distillery in Trinidad and Tobago was established in 1918, and was operated at near full capacity until 1993. Unfortunately, due to industry consolidation, rum production at the facility began to decline late in the 20th century and the distillery was closed in 2002. We can count ourselves lucky that some of the rum barrels from the Caroni distillery are still finding their way into the market place, and the Rum Nation Caroni 1998 is one such offering.
My Runner-up is Rum Nation’s new Jamaican White Pot Still Rum is produced entirely without age straight from the still. Rather than giving us a smooth refined ultra premium white rum, this new rum revels in its brutish, concentrated (bottled at 57 % alcohol), Jamaican pot still flavour. The result is a bold new style of white rum which is anything but smooth and refined, but which has enthralled me since I first tasted almost two years ago.
Honourable Mention goes to Lemon Hart Original One Hundred British Proof Reserve Rum which is a full British 100 proof offering (57.1 % alcohol by volume), developed for Mosaiq under the direction of former Hiram Walker Master Blender, Mike Booth. At this time, this brand is aimed exclusively at the travel (duty-free) market. This rum has a concentrated, complex flavour profile which combines a bevy of heated spice with rich vanillans, brown sugars and fruit. I found the rum quite nice over ice, and that strong assertive spicy flavour also works great in tiki style cocktails as well.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for the Best Flavoured Rum:
and the winner is:
Runner-up Award to: Captain Morgan Grapefruit Flavoured Rum
Honourable Mention Award: Hawaiian Moonshine (Okolehau)
RumChata (Horchata Con Ron) is a cream based liqueur created by Tom Maas (former marketing executive for Beam Distillers). Apparently about ten years or so ago, while Tom was still working for Beam, he was trying to help the company penetrate into the Latin American market looking for ways to make bourbon a more popular spirit. During this time, he was introduced to a non-alcoholic beverage called horchata which was popular in Central America. When he retired, Tom decided to create a his own alcoholic beverage based upon the creamy horchata he remembered (which was apparently made from coconut milk, crushed rice, nuts, cinnamon and other spices).
Earlier this year, CAPTAIN MORGAN® introduced three flavors to its fleet of rums, CAPTAIN MORGAN® Pineapple Rum, CAPTAIN MORGAN® Coconut Rum, and CAPTAIN MORGAN® Grapefruit Rum. It was the Grapefruit Rum that my tasting group, The Rum Chums went crazy over and it has earned this year’s Runners-up award.
Hawaiian Moonshine is produced by Island Distillers, and it is apparently a re-creation of an original Hawaiian spirit called Okolehao. For those interested, Okolehao was originally an old Hawaiian fermented beverage whose main flavour ingredient was the root of the ti plant. It was if you will a ‘ti root’ beer. As my Honourable Mention in this category it is definitely a worthwhile indulgence.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Amber or Dark Rum (aged up to 5 years):
and the winner is:
Runner-up Award to: Myer’s Planters’ Punch (Canadian Bottling)
Honourable Mention to: Brugal XV Ron Reserva Exclusiva
Travellers’ One Barrel 5 year Rum is the new name given to the rum formerly known a 5 Barrel Rum. Apparently the name was changed due to trademark issues which arose as the brand began to penetrate new markets. This a premium aged rum brand produced in Belize, (the northernmost mainland country of Central America). The rum is made from locally grown Belize sugar cane, cut and crushed in a manner which retains its natural flavors, and then aged in Kentucky oak barrels for a full 5 years.
My Runner-up is Myer’s Planter’s Punch. Produced by Diageo, it is a blend of continuous and pot still Jamaican rums which have been matured in previously used bourbon barrels for a minimum of four years. The Canadian bottling features a small amount (about 1.5 %) of Canadian Rum in the blend which was produced at the Hiram Walker Distillery.
The Hounourable Mention, Brugal XV Ron Reserva Exclusiva is a traditional molasses based rum aged from 3 years to 5 years on site in Puerto Plata in American white oak barrels. This rum was bottled for the domestic (Dominican) market at 37.5 % alcohol by volume.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Rum (aged 6 to 10 years):
and the winner is:
Runner-up Award to: El Dorado 8 Year Old Cask Aged Rum
Honourable Mention to: Flor de Caña 7 Gran Reserva (NAS)
Only 7000 bottles of Penny Blue XO Batch #002 were produced from 22 oak casks. Thirty percent of the rum was drawn from ex-Whisky casks, thirty percent from ex-Bourbon Casks, and 30 percent from ex-Cognac casks. The ages of these rums varied between 5 to 11 years. An astute person will note that this accounts for only ninety percent of the rum. The final ten percent of the rum was actually a portion drawn from Batch #001 which was added to the blend for additional flavour and complexity. After blending the rum was bottled at the Medine Estate.
The Runner-up, El Dorado 8 Year old Cask Aged Rum is blended from selected stocks of rum which were produced from no less than four of the Diamond Distillery’s Heritage Stills including both the original Wooden Coffey Still which was rescued from the Enmore Estate and the Double Wooden Pot Still which was rescued from the Port Mourant Estate. Each of these stills is well over 200 years old and they represent the last of their kind operating in the world today. The use of these ancient stills ensures that the Demerara Rum produced at DDL’s Diamond Distillery is unlike anything produced anywhere else in the world.
Last year, the entire Flor de Caña line-up received a make-over with splashy new bottle designs. Part of this redesign was the elimination of definitive age statements upon the new bottles and labels. Last year when I corresponded with the company, they indicated that they wanted to modernize the bottle presentation; but they maintained that no changes to the flavour profile of their rums has occurred. Further correspondence with the Company has led to my understanding that the Flor de Cana Rums are now bottled to an ‘average age’ depicted by the number on the bottle rather than a minimum age.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Premium Sipping Rum (Aged 11 to 20 Years & Solera 10 Plus):
and the winner is:
Runner-up Award to: Dictador XO Insolent
Honourable Mention to: Diplomatico Single VTG 2000 Rum
Although Ron Millonario, is headquartered in Italy (owned by Rossi and Rossi S.R.I.), the rums of Ron Millonario are distilled and aged in Northern Peru. The company website does not give us the exact location of the distillery which produces the Millonario rums although it does speak of a mid-sized Northern Peruvian distillery with three old Scottish column stills and a slow distillation process which is used to produce their rum from sugar cane molasses. Ron Millonario XO Reserva Especial Rum is the premier rum produced by this Italian Company, and it has been one of my most favoured rums ever since I first tasted it.
My Runner-up, Dictador XO Insolent is aged in pre-used oak barrels which have a significant percentage of oak obtained from Jerez Spain, as well as in pre-used Port Wine Barrels. Near the end of the aging process, the barrels earmarked for the XO Insolent Rum are emptied (and the rum stored of course), and these barrels are subjected to an open flame process which caramelizes the rum soaked oak fibres on the interior of the barrel. These barrels are then refilled with the same rum allowing the spirit to draw the sweet caramelized flavours from the interior of the oak barrel.
My Honourable Mention, Diplomatico Single VTG 2000 was produced from a blend of rums which were all distilled in the year 2000. This limited edition rum was created by DUSA Master Blender, Tito Cordero and follows on from his first limited edition rum, the VTG 1997, which (unfortunately for the rest of us) was only released in Venezuela. The distillate from the year 2000 was chosen to be featured in a Single Vintage bottling because of the tremendous sugar cane harvest which was produced that year. Apparently a series of climactic factors in Venezuela combined to produce exceptional growing conditions which led to the bountiful cane harvest. The Limited Edition Single VTG 2000 Rum is a celebration of that exceptional year.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Ultra Premium Sipping Rum (Aged over 20 years or Solera 20 +):
and the winner is:
Runner-up award to: Panamonte Reserva XXV – 25 Year Old Rum
Honourable Mention to: Pumpkin Face 23
The Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) Master Blender is credited with the creation of El Dorado 21-Year-Old Rum which uses a blend of rums selected from their world-famous stills, the Enmore (wooden Coffey still), the Versailles (single wooden pot still), and the Albion (Savalle still). All of the rums in the blend have been aged in oak for a minimum of 21 years, making this one of the oldest production rums in the world.
The Runner-up Panamonte Reserva XXV is a well aged Panamanian rum from PANAMONTE BRANDS. This is a molasses based rum produced from sugar cane grown and distilled in Las Cabras de Pese. This rum is very special, as every drop of the Panamonte Reserva XXV rum has been aged for a minimum of 25 years in used bourbon casks. It was handcrafted by Master Blender, Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez Perez.
Pumpkin Face Rum is a brand of rum being distributed in Canada by Pure Global Imports. The rum inside the cool looking pumpkin shaped bottles is apparently a blend of selected rums from the Dominican Republic. The rum was aged in oak for 23 years, however it was also at some point during the maturation process ‘rested’ in stainless steel vats for 10 years before being bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best White Rum: Rum Nation Jamaica White Pot Still 57%
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Spiced Rum: Bayou Spiced Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Overproof/Cask Strength Rum: Rum Nation Caroni 1998
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for the Best Flavoured Rum: RumChata (Horchata Con Ron) Cream Liqueur
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Amber or Dark Rum (aged up to 5 years): Travellers One Barrel 5 Year Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Rum (aged 6 to 10 years): Penny Blue XO Single Estate Mauritius Rum (Batch #002)
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Premium Sipping Rum (Aged 11 to 20 Years & Solera 10 Plus): Ron Millonario XO Reserva Especial Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Award for Best Ultra Premium Sipping Rum (Aged over 20 years or Solera 20 +): El Dorado 21 Year Old Special Reserve Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner-up Award for Best White Rum: Pumpkin Face White Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner-up Award for Best Spiced Rum: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner-up Award for Best Overproof/Cask Strength Rum: Rum Nation Jamaica White Pot Still 57%
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner-up Award for Best Flavoured Rum: Captain Morgan Grapefruit Flavoured Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner-up Award for Best Amber or Dark Rum (aged up to 5 years): Myer’s Planters’ Punch (Canadian Bottling)
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner-up Award for Best Rum (aged 6 to 10 years): El Dorado 8 Year Old Cask Aged Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner-up Award for Best Premium Sipping Rum (Aged 11 to 20 Years & Solera 10 Plus): Dictador XO Insolent
The 2015 Rum Howler Runner-up Awards for Best Ultra Premium Sipping Rum (Aged over 20 years or Solera 20 +): Panamonte Reserva XXV – 25 Year Old Rum
The Honourable Mentions
The 2015 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best White Rum: Brugal Especial Extra Dry Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Spiced Rum: Captain Morgan Silver Spiced Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Overproof/Cask Strength Rum: Lemon Hart Original One Hundred British Proof Reserve Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Flavoured Rum: Hawaiian Moonshine (Okolehau)
The 2015 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Amber or Dark Rum (aged up to 5 years): Brugal XV Ron Reserva Exclusiva
The 2015 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Rum (aged 6 to 10 years): Flor de Caña 7 Gran Reserva (NAS)
The 2015 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Awards for Best Premium Sipping Rum (Aged 11 to 20 Years & Solera 10 Plus): Diplomatico Single VTG 2000 Rum
The 2015 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Ultra Premium Sipping Rum (Aged over 20 years or Solera 20 +): Pumpkin Face 23