English Harbour is a rum hailing from the island of Antigua, named for the town of English Harbour, a town and port used heavily by the British Navy during the time of Admiral Nelson. The rum is molasses based, distilled in copper, and aged 5 years in used Bourbon barrels.
Antigua Distillery is the only distillery on the island, having been started by a group of plucky Portuguese (as my dad would say, “Port-a-/É¡/ees”) in the early 1930s. Here in the U.S., it may be hard to get your hands on a bottle of anything other than the 5 year, which seems a darned shame, as the 5 year is, well… I suppose you should continue reading to find out!
Appearance: A lovely pale golden in the glass, with the usual firm sticky legs that a good aged rum should have.
Nosing: It’s a powerful nose that can be detected from a good distance away, making sure you know there’s an open glass nearby. There’s a bit of dust (smells like old!), a good amount of burnt wood, and something that really had me confused for a bit, but I finally keyed in to… Banana Bread! That is, with nuts, of course. It’s very obvious even from the nosing that I’m going to really like this one.
Tasting: The nose runs into the flavor with ease. Not the heaviest rum in texture, sitting on the tongue the initial tastes are of vanilla and honey. There is a bit of a creaminess, almost akin to carrot juice. It can be quite sweet on top of the tongue, but on the sides shows a bit of bitter tannin, a lovely blend of youthful vigor and aged calm. It’s overall quite a smooth rum, that gives its heat only at the end of the experience, with quite a bit of fruit and nut flavors to it.
On Mixing: For all its flavor, this is not a killer diller of a mixing rum, with flavors being easily lost amongst the other ingredients. This is best served, for my taste, with just a spot of spiced syrup, lime, and a few ice cubes for Maximum pleasure. For classic tiki drinks, keep it to the simple side of things (Donga Punch, Jasper’s Jamaican) to really let this rum shine through.
Score: It’s a lovely little sipper, but not of much use in mixology. For scoring it as a sipper, it’s got quite a bit going for it, but there’s just a certain wowee-zowee that I’m not feeling with it. An exceptional rum, and highly recommended, but there’s just something that won’t let me give it that fifth star… barrel… okay, it’s a Trader Tiki head.
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St. James Royal Ambre has been readily available on the shelves for the past few months here in Oregon. After drinking my dear departed bottle of Hors D’Age until it was no more, I was happy to see its younger brother on the shelf of my favorite liquor store. Not every Donn drink calling for Martinique requires long-aged rhum, so I was hoping this would add a bit of that fiery Martinique kick some drinks, and maybe provide a rather spirited sipper. At 45%, this definitely has a bit of punch to it, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The Royal Ambre, one of a damned decent product line from St. James, is the second blend out of the Limousin Oak barrel, having an aging of 18 months to two years. This Rhum is distilled as an agricole, and follows the strict regulations required to approve its A.O.C. labelling under French law. The cane in Sainte Marie is grown exclusively for the use of the distillery, as is most cane on Martinique. Once the homeland French found out how to make sugar from locally grown beets instead of island grown cane, sugar refining on the island became a much less profitable enterprise.
And what an enterprise it has been, with some of the finest and most unique rums on the market (including what may just be my all time favorite of all time ever) being produced on the island. So, what does this bottle hold in store?
Appearance: It’s a lovely golden amber color, with lots of oak color in it, but hints that it is still a bit young. A light hue of copper on the inside makes it quite a pretty rhum. It leaves a strong residue after spinning it in the glass a bit, definitely potent.
Nosing: Strong alcohol on the nose, with a bit of a scent like you’d imagine a burning cane field, grassy, light amber caramel, and that touch of oak tannin. The ethanol can be a bit overpowering, so it’s good to let it sit a few minutes to let it air out. After it calms down, there’s actually a lovely lilting flowery scent to it. Don’t sniff too deeply though, that high proof is still ready to knock the wind out of your sails.
Tasting: This has a good fatty viscous texture, and combined with the brick oven tasting notes almost gives it an animal skin feel going on. Go ahead, sit it in your mouth for a few seconds, you’ll see what I’m getting at. There’s a bit of sage in there, plenty of char, and only the lightest bit of honey sweetness. The declared fruitiness of the rhum is missing for my non-taster palate. The aftertaste has plenty of burn, and leaves a bit of a bittersweet chocolate chalkiness on the palate. It’s interesting to be sure, but not something I find myself wanting as a sipper.
On Mixing: The Bottle notes “Saint James Royal Amber can be sipped by itself, but is the special secret of a true Planter’s Punch: 1/3 Saint James Amber [sic], 1/3 orange juice, 1/3 pineapple juice, a dash of grenadine.” Well, I gave this a shot and found it.. pretty damned sippable. A bit of a sweet and modern take, but the rum still shone through the sweet flavors, not shabby. I have also used this as the Aged Martinique in Donn Beach’s Donga Punch, where it works fairly well with a bit of spice and citrus from the Don’s Mix and Lime Juice, though honestly, using the Hors d’age knocks this drink really out of the park.
Score: The St. James Royal Ambre is, for my palate, not much of a sipper. It’s interesting, but has a bit much burn and not enough flavors for me to reach for just to sip. For mixing though, it can add a bit of that unique martinique cane flavor and a bit of punch to your potion, which for me is its saving grace to give it a 3 out of 5.
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The Scarlet Ibis is a rum I kept a distance from for quite awhile, but just recently became very good friends with. Originally produced for use at Death & Co. in New York, this rum is now in limited quantities across the country. Even in Oregon we got a special order approved for this steamroller of a rum that’s put out by Haus-Alpenz, Eric Seed’s little magical goodies factory.
The Scarlet Ibis is a custom blend of 3-5 year White Oak aged rums, copper-pot distilled from molasses in Trinidad by the Rum Distillers of Trinidad and Tobago, and bottled at 98 proof. The distillery, it appears, is now solely in the bulk rum business. I’ve never gotten a chance to try any of the Caroni rums, but will definitely keep an eye out, as, from what I’ve tasted and will review below, I seem to have a fondness for anything Trinidadian.
Appearance: The Color is a very pale hay, which becomes a light copper when in the bottle. It leaves a real sticky layer on the glass, and takes quite a while to bead. What this is indicative of, I’m still learning… either high alcohol or high sugar. I think I know the case in this instance.
Nosing: Straight after pouring, the nose is very rough, like a big funky fist to the face of ethanol and copper. It’s not unpleasant, it’s just extremely intense. Use your best open mouth, lightly breathing in with your nose technique on this one… or perhaps, as in Chemistry back in High School, you’re best to waft it towards your nose. This rum makes no means to hide its proof. Given about 10 minutes in the glass, it’ll start to calm down, and gives of some very light cane, and hints of orange flower petals, citrus, and just a touch of white soap.
Tasting: On the tip of the tongue, there are notes of lavender and honey, very herbal, sweet, and inviting. The millisecond it hits the back palate though, it starts wrestling with your tongue, telling off your palate’s mother, and in general becomes one helluva rough customer. The Sweet and floral tones become ten times more intense, allspice joins in the flavor mix, and a light gasoline-like vapor rises through the nose. This rum is loaded with copper pot still funk, and gives off some extremely intense flavor. The finishing flavors are a bit of coffee, a continuity of allspice, and of course, the ethanol. From what I’ve stated, this might not sound entirely pleasant, but I find myself reaching for this rum constantly when I’ve got a glass out. It’s definitely a thinker’s rum, confusing the senses and challenging the palate to find what flavors it’s putting out next, or just put out on the tip of your tongue a second ago.
On Mixing: Forget liqueurs and mixers, this sucker needs ropes to tie it down. Okay, okay, really, a daiquiri with a slightly higher proportion of sugar can tone it down quite a bit, allowing more of its natural character to come out without any of its harsher tones. But why tame such a beast? For fun, I decided to go with a FogCutter made with the Scarlet Ibis, Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin, and just a splash of BarSol Quebranta. This was not a smooth drink by any means, and neither was the night that followed it. I’m not sure who remembers that particular evening, but I do hope they can, in their hearts, forgive me for it. What can I say, when some of my best friends are in town hanging around, it can get a little rowdy.
Score: I’m not entirely sure what you may glean from the above review. I don’t seem to have sung its glowing praises, but the overall affect, with all its harshness, funk, and big flavors, is that I am in serious man love with this rum. The character is so full, so unique that the rum almost personifies itself in my mind, and I keep hoping I’ll see it again in the next bar I belly up to. Let’s just hope those limited quantities last just a little longer.
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In its homeland, the Pride of Barbados is a flowering shrub that serves as a medicine, reducing fever, healing wounds, and curing breathing ailments. I can’t say the same for the drink I made to share the name, but I can personally guarantee that it will certainly make you forget about whatever ails you.
This drink utilizes two of the Mount Gay Rum product line, combining the rich oak and tropical notes of the XO, with the young springy cane in the Eclipse. I developed this drink specifically for Mount Gay Rums, and think it’s a real winner, and hope you’ll think the same.
Pride of Barbados
- 1 ½ oz Mount Gay XO
- ½ oz Mount Gay Eclipse
- 1 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
- ¾ oz Fresh Lime Juice
- 1 oz Allspice Syrup
- 4 drops Vanilla Extract
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
Shake with 6 ounces of Crushed Ice and pour into Chimney Glass. Garnish with Orange Ribbon and serve with a straw.
Ron Abuelo 12 aÃ±os is a rum I recently received from Panama. Panama, is not an exceptionally well known rum producer, but the distillery there, Valera Hermanos, does have several product lines available, most of which are never seen stateside. Abuelo in EspaÃ±ol means “Grandfather” in English, and the label depicts the drawing of an elderly gentleman. Is this the grandfather of the Valera brothers? Perhaps. But would this be the rum he drank? Probably not, considering it’s new to the market as of 2009. Let’s see what ol’ grandpa’s got going on in the bottle though.
Ron Abuelo 12 aÃ±os is a molasses based spirit, aged for 12 years in former Bourbon or Whiskey barrels, bottled at 80 proof. If you weren’t aware, Bourbon requires the use of new charred White Oak barrels to be legally designated as Bourbon in the good old US of A. That’s why this, that and the other distillery tends to use former Bourbon barrels for their own aging purposes. Hell, I’ve got a chair in the basement that’s a former Bourbon barrel, and a few planters outside that once held gallons of the stuff too. Be patriotic, and keep those Coopers employed by drinking the good stuff!
As I may have said here before, or just in passing conversation, 12 years of aging is usually the “Sweet spot” to hit my palate just right. Will this match the rest? Let’s read my tasting notes.
Appearance: A lovely pale straw color coming from the barrel aging, edged with a coppery hue. The legs leave quickly, but show where they’ve been. Not an exceptionally viscous rum, but not too watery either.
Nosing: The nose surprisingly matches the color, giving the lightest hints of vegetation and straw, as well as an indistinguishable citrusy note I might attribute as Grapefruit, but a bit rougher. The Ethyl Alcohol note is present, but not unpleasant, and almost subtly sweet. After a few minutes out, the nose simplifies and tones down to mostly the sweet alcohol scent, with a touch of honey.
Tasting: As in the visual notes, the texture on the tongue shows it’s a really low viscosity rum, not coating thickly on the tongue, or leaving any residue once removed from the mouth. There are a few strange, unexpected flavors in the rum, such as that of sea salt and a musty oak flavor that speaks of maybe a year too long in the barrel, or maybe a bit of intense heat at some point during the aging process. Tannins and a burnt oak flavor dominate the mostly bitter aftertaste, with a bit of a vegetal quality not unlike a CachaÃ§a. Is this indicating a few negative congeners sneaking in during the distillers cut, perhaps. It’s a bit off putting, and not something I expect from a fine aged rum.
On Mixing: Giving that I found some flavor similarities between Ron Abuelo and CachaÃ§a, I thought it might suit well with some bitter lime to dominate its own bitter notes, and some sugar to sweeten the deal in a Caiprinha variation, the Caiprissima. This definitely strikes the right cords with this rum, and makes for quite a nice drink. If I may so advise, pick up some Demerara Sugar or other natural cane sugar to use. It adds the sweet richness to the drink that I was expecting to come from the rum.
Score: This rum gets 2 out of 5 of my stamps of approval. It stands out negatively or doesn’t contribute well to most mixed drinks, and just isn’t enjoyable as a sipper. There are some notes that make me think the rest of the Ron Abuelo line would be interesting, but this perhaps sat too long in the oak, or just wasn’t cut right during distillation. Why 2 out of 5? Because it’s not entirely bad, just… not quite there. Have you tried it? Got some nicer things to say? Let’s hear it in the comments!
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