English Harbour Madeira Cask Finish

What is it? Rum (multi-column at over 95%), from Molasses, produced at the Antigua distillery in St John’s, Antigua and bottled under the English Harbour brand. The rum is distilled in a copper 3-column still which runs off at 95.5% abv, so it’s virtually neutral spirit (pretty much no taste). The flavour profile of the rum is built up during the maturation process by barrel selection and ageing, which in this case are; approximately 5 years in ex-bourbon casks followed by a finishing period of between 3 and 6 months in ex-Madeira casks that were previously used to mature Malmsey and Bual wine. All ageing is done tropically so that 5 years is more like a 10-15 year old European aged spirit.

The rum is produced in small batches, and this review is from batch 001. My bottle is number 7995 and was bottled in November 2016.

No details on colouring but the rum is non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% abv.

Sugar? No online details for this. There is some sweetness but it seems comparable to Madeira cask maturation and I don’t have any reason to suspect additions.

Nose: Big Madeira influence straight away with roasted almonds, pecans and raw walnuts. Behind the earthy walnut there is a meaty, earthy mushroom, notes of wet leaves, old hessian sacks and cardboard. The savoury side gives it a nice counter to the sweeter notes that follow with; toffee, cinnamon, marzipan and vanilla flavouring or syrup that you put in your coffee, in fact there is a milky coffee too so maybe it’s more of a vanilla cinnamon latte type thing…..

As expected, there isn’t really much spirit character here at all but a lot of cask influence. Oh no. A full packet of spent matches right at the end, which isn’t too nice. It looks like some of the casks have been sulphur treated, but please note that I’ve found that I’m quite sensitive to sulphur so you may not actually notice.

Taste: Medium mouth feel, verging to full maybe. Sweet entry and quite spirity at first. A couple of sips in and you can taste more; very similar to the nose with loads of nuts, big marzipan and caramel. Dries after time and becomes earthy (walnuts), soil and mushrooms in there too. The whole thing loose steam part way through and becomes a little thin and slightly bitter, but not in a good way.

Finish: Medium, just about. All savoury here; dry roasted nuts again, buzzing spices from the cask with white pepper, cinnamon and clove. Unfortunately the sulphury notes come through here with those spent matches and used candle wick.

Thoughts? On the whole a pretty nice rum. I’m not getting a lot of “rum” in the rum as the cask influence is too great, but the flavours are nice, it’s got a good balance of dry, savoury and sweet notes with a good lean to the nutty side. The sulphur does let it down though, but as I say I am quite sensitive to it; some people are more than others, genetic thing apparently, like asparagus metabolism (don’t ask, if you’ve got that affliction then you know what I mean!).

I paid £32 for this, which for a small batch, 46% unfiltered rum I think is a fair price and right for the market. I would buy this again at that price.

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South Pacific 10 year old (2003) – Duncan Taylor single cask number 18

What is it? A single cask rum, from molasses, produced at the South Pacific Distillery in Fiji on their Pot still – so a Pure Single Rum. This rum was distilled in April 2003 and bottled in September 2013, making it 10 years old. There are no details on where this was matured but judging from the colour and profile I’d guess it was entirely European ageing.

This is one of 284 bottles from cask number 18.

Not chill filtered, not coloured and bottled at cask strength of 54.8% abv.

Sugar? Nope.

Nose: Very Jamaican! Bananas (green ones), olives, brine, rock pools, crushed shells and warm sand. Then on to tar, solvent, varnish, petrol and some WD40. Maybe some lighter liquorice and a grapefruit or bitter orange zing – I can’t quite place it but whatever it is it’s zesty and sharp. Really intriguing and quite phenolic throughout – it reminds me of a young Worthy Park or young lighter ester Hampden, or should I say that it certainly has some of the characteristics of them.

Palate: Medium to full mouth feel, good weight and coats well. Oily. Hot and sharp on first entry, verging on sour actually, maybe the white pith from grapefruit that I found on the nose. Liquorice again, beeswax, a touch of caramel and honey, but not a lot. Still pretty phenolic and medicinal, even hints of TCP and smoke, but very distant. There are notes of lemon cough lozenges, tangerine and a handful of dried herbs that I can’t pick out.

Finish: Medium, no more, no less. Phenolic, herbal, lemony. Buzzing spice on the tongue due to the abv no doubt (there isn’t much cask influence here), but things show sweeter at this point with a little butterscotch, runny honey, raisin and some orange. There still lingers a petrolly/briney note and a bit of new car tyre throughout.

Thoughts? A very intriguing and interesting rum. A style of it’s own really, it’s not sure if it wants to be Jamaican, from Guyana or some Rockley Still wannabe; there are elements of all 3, which it shows equally but doesn’t blend them too well and looses it’s balance. It’s a really solid rum though and great to go for if you fancy trying something new and different. However, beginners beware; there is stuff in here you probably wont like too much if you’re expecting a sweet rum.

I picked this up for £40, and it’s a really good rum for that price, so long as you know and accept what you’re getting with it.

Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof – Black Label

What is it? Well, it’s a blended rum produced by Pusser’s. Pusser’s was founded in 1979 and has the rights to the blending information used for the original British Naval rum, the intention is that they produce a rum which is as close to the original Naval rum as possible given current global rum stocks and availability. The blend isn’t widely known, but from what I understand used to be mainly made up of rum from Guyana and Trinidad, I’ve seen bottles saying this on but my bottle only says “product of Guyana” so I’m guessing the blend has changed a little. Pusser’s state the blend is “predominately pot still” and I understand this to be from the Port Mourant wooden pot still. Naturally, Pusser’s keep their cards close to their chest so we’re working off online research, hearsay and guess work….as far as I’m concerned it’s fairly young rum, blended.

Coloured, chill filtered and bottled at 54.5% abv. Now this isn’t gunpowder proof. The term “gunpowder proof” refers to a strength by which grains of gunpowder that are soaked in the rum will ignite, which is actually 57% abv or 100 degrees British proof. The term “proof” comes from the rum being proven to be full strength.

Sugar? Yes, I’m afraid so. Only around 7 g/l, which isn’t really that much so we’ll let them off.

Nose: Big and rich, dark molasses, liquorice, aniseed balls and Big Red gum. Treacle, actually more creamy so maybe treacle toffee that you get on bonfire night, and thick butterscotch. Shoe polish, lots of black coffee and a little vanilla creeps in. There are slight herbal notes of marjoram, olives and a touch of an old boat engine. Not hugely complex but plenty going on. This is pretty much the exact smell I was expecting from a Naval rum.

Palate: Thick mouth feel, hmmm, this is pretty viscous and feels a lot sweeter than the sugar data would imply. Something not all too “natural” about this. Yep, as goes the nose so goes the palate; treacle toffees, over brewed black coffee, molasses, caramels and prunes. Very heavy and too much on the sweeter side for me. Some good notes of dirt/soil, burnt toast, shoe polish, mushrooms and pipe tobacco.

Finish: Medium length, a bit sticky. Molasses again with the treacle. A sugary buzz and flattening of the finish….but still some good flavours with dark chocolate, figs and Marmite. It’s young rum, not massively complex and pretty much follows the nose and palate.

Thoughts? As I expected really and very typical of my thoughts of a “Navy” rum. Certainly not the most complex rum in the world but it’s a real Ronseal rum (it does what it says on the tin), which is fine by me because that’s what I bought it for. I’m not sure if this purpose of this rum is to mix into cocktails or not but it does sip very well and for the price I wouldn’t really want to be mixing it anyway, I’d use Wood’s 100 or Goslings if I wanted a Navy mixing rum.

Look, I don’t have an issue with less complex rums that have been “concocted” a little, I just want to know what I’m buying and be able to make an informed decision. I decided to buy this based on what I thought I’d get and it totally delivered, so I’m happy with that. At £30 it was a pretty decent buy too and worth it in my opinion.

West Indies Rum and Cane Merchants – French Overseas XO

What is it? An Agricole rum (sugar cane juice based rum) produced by Rivere du Mat in Reunion and Galion in Martinique. This was distilled using column stills then aged in American and French oak casks for an undetermined amount of time and bottled for Crucial Drinks under their “West Indies Rum and Cane Merchants” brand. I’ve contacted Crucial Drinks for details on ageing but they have not responded. This is a limited release of 2,000 bottles worldwide.

My bottle is number 859 from Batch 3.

No colours or flavours added. The rum is non-chill filtered and bottled at 43% Abv.

Sugar? No. They state so on their website and on tasting it seems clean to me.

Nose: Quite floral with lavender, Lilly of the Valley and violets. There is a vegetal note that reminds me of very well made/home made leek and potato soup, yams, some caramel and a light roast coffee bean. A touch of olive oil appears, as well as a little clove and a tiny bit of vanilla. The longer it’s in the glass the more vegetal and rooty it gets.

Palate: Medium weight, slightly hot and spicy entry. Cane juice, as you’d expect, olives again (green ones), Seville oranges, a touch of raisin and a burst of spicy oak mid palate. There are tastes of herbal and floral notes that I can’t quite pin down to a specific thing, some menthol, liquorice root and sweet potato. There is a burst of soot and charcoal as it moves to the finish.

Finish: Quite long actually, given it’s probably young rum. The end of the charcoal from the palate carries through, salted liquorice and and then gets really quite rooty with that good vegetable bouillon/soup note from the nose. There are some lingering cask spices with clove, ginger and white pepper as it tails off.

Thoughts? I find this pretty good actually. It’s probably very young stuff but that doesn’t really seem to matter with agricoles – maybe a French oak maturation thing, there’s a fair bit of tight grained oak spice to it. There are some really good rooty agricole notes in here and they are laid right out in front of you so you don’t need to go hunting for them. I wouldn’t say it was an “easy” or mass approachable rum but it is an accessible agricole for a good price that isn’t too full-on, so it you fancy having a go at agricoles it’d be a good place to start.

I picked this up for £35 in July 2017 and I personally think that the price reflects well the rum in the bottle. So happy with that.