As a long-time malt whisky enthusiast, I hadn’t expected to appreciate, much less even like rum. Don’t get me wrong- I enjoy a good mai tai or piña colada now and then, but in those drinks, you generally don’t taste the rum. So I was recently invited to try a selection of “sipping” rums – some aged, some “rare,” but all worthy of consideration by an old whisky-sipper like me!
Rum is one of the genres of spirits that is rising dramatically in popularity. According to the IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record), the premium-plus rum segment is predicted to grow by a CAGR of 6%-6.5% (2021-2026 estimate), primarily driven by US market demand. Although it may not top the growth expectations of other stalwart spirits like tequila and vodka, it’s certainly significant and worthy of an in-depth look. So who better to take a deep rum dive than little-ol’-humble-me?
The four rums I’m tasting include Bayou Mardi Gras XO, Brugal Visionaria Edición 01, Plantation Venezuela 2010, and Camikara 12-year-old. These are all what I’d call “dark” rums, ranging in price from $80 to $100 (depending on the source), which places them right in the hunt with premium Scotch, Irish, and American single-malt whiskies (my area of expertise). So, with my trusty Glairncairn nosing glasses at the ready, let’s swim!
Bayou Mardi Gras XO
Most people are unaware that rum was America’s original spirit. It makes sense, given our maritime history and the prevalence of molasses import trade in the colonies. Sadly, between multiple wars, prohibition, and the great depression, it became easier just to make bourbon from American-grown corn. However, that original American spirit left a lasting impression, and some American distilleries have resurrected the tradition. Bayou Rum is a perfect example of that rebirth. Since 2013, Bayou has been producing sipping-quality rums.
Bayou’s Mardi Gras XO is an ultra-premium rum produced with “double-wood” aging. It’s matured “up to” five years in ex-fill bourbon barrels and finished for another year in ex-fill Spanish Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry casks. The nose is woody and slightly sweet, with vanilla, caramel, oaky barrel spice, dark fruit, and winter spices being the most prevalent, all thanks to the PX maturation. Swirling releases hints of aromatic elements, including sandalwood incense, anise, and pine. The mouthfeel is thick, round, and slightly drying. Despite the forward honey, vanilla, and caramel notes, myriad complex flavors are layered in the swallow. These include a surprising array of cooked fruits: baked plums, candied orange peel, prune Danish, and grilled pineapple. The swallow reveals subtle spice elements such as black pepper, red chilis, and cinnamon combined with bit-o-honey candy chews open up during the swallow, leading to a long, decadent, and slightly drying finish.
Brugal Colección Visionaria, Edición 01
Brugal is no stranger to producing high-end rum. It began production in 1888, long before the Dominican Republic was known to anyone except the traders and sailors who frequented its rich ports. Brugal started as a family-run rum business but has grown into an international giant, known as much for its contributions to the DR’s growth and continued industrialization, including building infrastructure and even the first hospital in Puerta Plata. Driving all that support is a world-class rum distillery managed by successive generations of the Brugal family.
Brugal’s Colección Visionaria, Edición 01, is a limited edition Dominican rum with the unique distinction as the only rum aged in virgin European oak casks toasted with burning cacao beans. The process infuses the casks with unique smoke and cacao characteristics, manifesting as a nuttiness and fruitiness that would otherwise be unobtainable. In the glass, Brugal appears a deep coppery brown, with red highlights when held up to bright lighting. The aroma leads off with an intense milk-chocolate richness, backed by notes of raisins, roasted pecans, caramel, and oak. The first sip is rich, mouth-coating, and surprisingly mild, given its 45% ABV. The initial vanilla and caramel kick leads to an explosion of toasted cinnamon rolls dipped in hot chocolate, followed by candied pecans, orange marmalade, and, ultimately, hints of sweet black tea and biscuits. Its elegantly complex and sweet flavor profile makes it ideal as a dessert or cigar dram. In fact, I believe it would make a great cigar dip. If you’re interested in this limited-production rum (and I heartily recommend it), you must act quickly – Brugal intends to create just four batches.
Plantation Venezuela 2010
Plantation Rum, the prolific division of Maison Ferrand that produces a vast array of rums, has done it again. Plantation Venezuela 2010, a 12-year-old, age-statement release of 100% Venezuelan rum, joins a long line of high-end, highly acclaimed rums, including one I particularly recently reviewed, Stiggins Fancy Smoked rum. Part of Plantation’s Vintage series, which includes rums aged up to 17 years, this vintage was part of 22 casks hand selected by Maison Ferrand’s creative force (president and owner) Alexandre Gabriel. Initially aged eight years in ex-fill bourbon casks in the famed Destilería Sofa distillery cellars in Aragua Valley, Venezuela, the rum made a sea voyage to France, where it was transferred to the Ferrand aging facilities in Javrezac, a city in the Charente (Cognac) region of France. It spent the next four years in Ferrand French oak cognac casks, where it developed its complexity and expressiveness.
Lighter in color than the previous two rums, it’s also more subdued and refined. The nose is much more delicate, with vanilla, almond extract, egg custard, and nutmeg most prominent, backed by hints of fresh-cut apple, orange slices, and baker’s coconut. The mouthfeel is slightly astringent, with heat from its 52% ABV fully evident (tamed with a dash of quality water). Some reviewers have noted peanut in the flavor profile. I didn’t recognize that, but there is a slight vegetal hint, more like dried fruit than peanuts. Initial flavors of vanilla and egg custard transcend the nose, along with some spice elements, plus light coffee, almond cookies, macadamias, banana pudding, and a distant hint of caramelized orange peel. The finish is long but drying, with hints of white pepper, banana chips, and dried pineapple at the end. This is more of an aperitif dram – perfectly at home served with a platter of dried fruit and biscuits or sponge cake.
I recently had the pleasure of sampling my first Indian single-malt whisky, Indra Trini, a spectacular three-wood whisky from Piccadily Distillers. Inside the box, I received with the whisky lay a small sample bottle of Camikara rum, touted as India’s first cane-juice rum. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after sampling the single-malt whisky, I couldn’t wait to try the rum! Camikara’s color is somewhere between the golden amber of the Plantation rum and the dark copper of the Brugal. Like the other rums in this review, Camikara claims to use no colorants, sweeteners, or other additives, so the color must come from the extended barrel aging process.
The nose is quite complex, with initial aromas of caramel custard, cinnamon, nutmeg, dark chocolate, and a distant whiff of woody smoke. Swirling releases additional notes of freshly roasted cashews, candied orange peel, crystallized ginger, and finally, toasted oak. Despite its 50% ABV, the mouthfeel is moderately soft, although, between the spice and the alcohol, it’s slightly drying. The initial sip reveals a fat custardy goodness, with cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice quite prevalent. Mid-swallow reveals a dark chocolate component, plus hints of baked plantains, pie crust, and, again, an oaky smokiness – not actual smoke, but a burnt woodiness. The afterglow is long and warm, leaving a memory of ginger spice, cocoa, and a dash of black pepper.
If you ask me which of the four is the “best,” I’d be hard-pressed to give you an answer. Each was spectacular in its own right, and none was “better.” At this level of quality, you can’t go wrong with any of them. The one that most surprised me was the Camikara, simply because I had no idea what to expect. If I were forced to choose, I’d probably pick the…. (wouldn’t you like to know???)! One thing is certain – rum has made massive strides in quality over the past few years. While I might not jump off the malt whisky train soon, there are worse places to land than in the middle of a quality rum patch!