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English Harbour 1981 Vintage (25 Year Reserve Rum)

Review: English Harbour 1981 Vintage (25 Year Reserve Rum)  94/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
March 30, 2018

English Harbour Rum is a genuine Caribbean spirit produced by Antigua Distillery Limited (ADL). The rum is named for the Antiguan naval port of English Harbour which was the site of naval confrontations between the English and the French who were the two major naval powers of the 18th Century.

When I contacted ADL several years ago with respect to their rums they indicated to me that the special character of their molasses based rum begins with the fermentation process. They use baker’s yeast during their fermentation and allow it to interact with the wild yeast present in the distillery. The use of open top fermenters aids and encourages the marriage of the different yeasts. After fermentation, the English Harbour rum is distilled upon an all copper continuous still. (The Antigua Distillery operates one of the few remaining all-copper continuous stills in the Caribbean.) According to the ADL website all English Harbour Rum is aged in used American bourbon barrels which are charred on the inside. Interestingly, as each barrel is filled a handful of oak chips is added to enhance the interaction of oak and rum.

The English Harbour 1981 Vintage distilled in 1981 to commemorate Antigua’s Independence. It is the last of the rum to be distilled on the Company’s original Savalle Still which the Company installed when it was first founded in 1933. The vintage rum was aged for 25 years in whiskey and bourbon barrels before blending and bottling. It is available in very limited quantities with only 600 bottles released annually. Each bottle is individually numbered for authenticity.

In the Bottle 4/5

To the left is a photograph of my sample bottle of English Harbour 1981 Vintage. To remove the 25 Year Old rum from the brown cardboard display, the box swings open from the center and the rum must be pried gently from the foam casing inside. It is a little difficult to get the spirit out of (and back into) the display case; however the cool factor of the unique opening makes up for this. Unfortunately this is the only part of the display which I was happy with. This is quite an expensive rum, and as such it is the type of spirit that someone would reasonably buy as a special gift for someone important, or to mark an important occasion. This means the display and the bottle should ‘look the part’ and make the person who is receiving the spirit know just by looking that rum they are being given is special.

The display box goes part of the way, but the bottle and the labeling disappoint in that regard with a bland colour scheme and no real ‘pop’. The bottle is nice; but it is not special. Other than the label indicating this is a uniquely numbered bottle (995/5712) it is not very special either.

(I would have preferred my bottle to be dated as for the year it was released and then numbered out of 600.)

In the Glass 9.5/10

The rum displays itself in my glass with a nice amber tone which is well on its way to copper. When I tilt my glass and give it a slow twirl I see it leaves a thickened sheen on the inside of the glass the crest of which drops fat leglets down the side.The initial nose is robust with a certain smokiness which reminds me of plums and raisins. Oak spice also rises up in abundance.

As this is a well aged rum I let it breathe for a full 20 minutes to let the spirit acquaint itself with its new-found freedom from the bottle. My patience is rewarded as a nice caramel and vanilla sweetness began to rise into the air joining with the oak spice, the plums and the raisins. This gave the breezes a rich tobacco-like quality which reminded me of port cigars. The nuttiness of walnuts and almonds seemed to be hinted at as well. Bittersweet chocolate and Oolong tea rounds out the aroma which frankly has me unable to restrain myself.

In the Mouth 57/60

The rum is rich and imparts a feeling of guilty decadence when you take your first sip. I immediately know that this is a spirit which I probably will not be sharing as I only have one bottle and when something is this good, my upbringing fails me and greed takes over.

Oak is the backbone of the rum, with a bounty of wood tannin and spice. I taste oak sap melded with dark brown sugar and rich baking spices which have taken the form of vanilla,nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and cloves. (I am strongly reminded of fresh cinnamon bins just taken from the oven.) Although the wood spice and oak is readily apparent, the rum remains smooth and easy to sip. When I add ice (certainly not required by any stretch) I taste bittersweet chocolate and strong tobacco flavours oozing from the oak and baking spice. A nutty quality runs throughout reminding me of roasted pecans.

All in all this is a wonderful rum!

In the Throat 14/15

The rum has a mid-length finish full of old oak and baking spice. The palate and throat are heated by this spice, but only to a mild degree as it is important once again to remark on the smoothness which is encountered during the swallow. After the swallow, am left with aftertastes of dark fruit and raisins and more of that bittersweet chocolate. If I was told that some of the aging barrels used were used sherry barrels, I would believe it. I wonder if it is the loose oak chips thrown into the oak barrels which is giving the rum this smoky character.

The Afterburn 9.5/10

The English Harbour 1981 Vintage Rum is a real treat. Although I was slightly disappointed in the bland bottle presentation and display case, it is certainly true that every other part of my review scores in the stratosphere. The spirit shows remarkable depth of flavour and great balance alongside a remarkable smoothness which makes it ideal to serve neat or perhaps over ice if one wants to explore some of its bittersweet nuances.

My final score is 94/100 which means that it is a rum which I will be loathe to share. (It really is that good!)

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Rum Reviews.


My Final Score is out of 100 and you may (loosely) interpret the score as follows:

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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