Rumtastic rum of the year 2020

Well 2020 is nearly over (thank God), although 2021 doesn’t look like it’s about to start the right way – thanks COVID –  so it’s time for any bloggers obligatory “top rums blah blah blah”. As I don’t score my rums this process is actually fairly easy for me as I don’t have to go through my scoring and try to pick out rums with a slither of a mark between them, all I have to do is engage my memory. Basically my selection is pretty straight forward here, I chose my favourite rums; do I remember the rum blowing my mind? Ultimately, if a rum sticks in my mind then it’s a contender and there have been quite a few of these this year. Now I must caveat that I’ve not tried every rum that has been released 2020, let’s face it I’ve got a limited budget and a limited amount of time, naturally I can only rank what I’ve actually tried – so in the scheme of things this list is pretty much meaningless, but it’s getting done anyway. The other thing to note is that I may well have drunk and reviewed rums in 2020 that were released earlier, again because I don’t have an unlimited amount of time and money, and due to the volume of releases it’s quite easy to get behind with stuff.

Right, bullshit out of the way, what are Rumtastic’s 5 most rumtastic rums of 2020?

Coming in at number 5:

Chairman’s Reserve Master’s Selection 13 year old (2006) – The Whisky Exchange Exclusive

This was a bottle of Chairman’s Reserve that was done for The Whisky Exchange and a 50/50 mix of Vendome and John Dore pot still rum. It was the first time I’d really ventured into rums from Saint Lucia Distillers and made me have to sit down. It was incredibly complex, hugely phenolic and carried a very divisive profile so not everyone will get on with this. The result of drinking this rum was that I went out and bought a load of other stuff from Saint Lucia Distillers without even thinking about it.

 

 

 

Next at number 4:

The Black Tot 50th Anniversary

This rum was released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Black Tot Day and is an incredible blend. A “Navy” blend rum that hits all the right notes but also tips it’s hat to a modern, fresher style of rum. No sugary sweet bollocks or cloying stickiness going on here, just really good rum blended together. Some of the original Naval rum in here too! Big props for full disclosure of the blend, right down to the percentages and the aging split of everything that went in to the bottle.

 

 

 

Rocking in at number 3:

Foursquare Detente

A list of top 5 rums of the year wouldn’t be complete without something from Foursquare and 2020 is no exception. Detente was probably the rum I was most looking forward to in 2020 because of the nostalgia attatched to the very first Port Cask in the Exceptional Cask line-up and it really didn’t disappoint. Beautiful rum, dangerously easy to drink and a showcase in the journey Foursquare have made with their rums and presentation over the last 5 years.

 

 

 

 

Runner up this year at number 2:

New Yarmouth 2005 (The River Mumma) – Vidya

This bottle was released right at the end of the year and has managed to sneak into second spot at the very last minute. This was my Christmas present to myself so it’s only just been opened and at the time of writing there I’ve not reviewed it. This is the inaugural bottling by the lads at Skylark Spirits and is a 15 year old single cask New Yarmouth rum, bottled at full strength and from the NYE/EM marque which comes in at a whopping 1300-1400 gr/hlaa on the ester level. I was kindly sent a sample of this ahead of release and immediately pre-ordered a bottle…..I don’t even think I asked them the price, it was that good. I recall spending literally an hour just nosing this.

 

 

Top spot and my number 1 rum of the year goes to:

Foursquare Nobiliary

What is there to say about this one? Not only my favourite rums of 2020 but one of my favourite rums so far since I’ve been blogging. When I first saw the label I did a little eye-roll thinking it was going to be yet another 100% ex-bourbon cask Foursquare rum, which we get every year under the vintage releases, then I opened it. Boy how wrong I was. Utterly fabulous rum and a no-brainer to make my top spot.

 

 

 

 

So there we have it. My favourite rums of 2020. The takeaways from there are 2 things; firstly there’s a good range that’s fallen into my top 5 – that’s not deliberate, if my favourite rums were all Jamaican then that’s what my list would be – but we’ve got a scatter across Jamaica, a blend, a couple of Barbadians and rum from a country I’d never tried before. This is a good thing and shows that incredible stuff is coming from many different taste profiles and not limited to 1 style, country or region. The second is that these are all limited releases. I’m sorry about that, and if you’ve not been able to get your hands on any of them then that is a shame. This isn’t as good as the first takeaway. The rum is there, clearly, but no continuous release has made it. I’d really like to see 2021 lifting up bottles from core ranges and continuous releases and at least one getting into my top 5 next year – this would help everyone from the distilleries right down to the consumers. Let’s drink the best rum we can.

 

 

 

Black Tot 50th Anniversary

What is it? Well this is a molasses based blended rum from various stills, from various countries, aged both tropically and continentally, and various ages. Let me elaborate a bit; the Black Tot rum brand was created by The Whisky Exchange (specifically the co-founder, Sukhinder Singh) who blended together some of the final British naval rum to create Black Tot: The Last Consignment – this was old rum and bloody expensive stuff, and was put out in 2010 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Black Tot Day (the day that the British Navy ceased issuing the Rum Ration to it’s sailors). Since then a we’ve had Black Tot 40 Year Old which was distilled in 1975 and a continuous release called Black Tot Finest Caribbean. The line-up has now expended, with a limited release of the Black Tot 50th Anniversary rum to celebrate – you’ve guessed it – the 50th anniversary of Black Tot Day. So what’s in this one then? The full recipe has been published and is below, but to summarise it’s a got rum in it from Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados as well as a little splash of original Royal Navy Blend.

You can read more about the creation of the rum over at The Whisky Exchange blog, I’m not going to lift and drop all the blurb because I’m lazy and there’s loads of stuff on there.

It’s worth noting that they had about a third of the blend left over after bottling, so it’s gone back into some sherry casks where it’ll be topped up with other rums and released in 2021 for another limited bottling. I believe that some of that blend will be held back and re-casked too for 2022 where it will repeat so we get a continual release each year of a different blend based on the original. Cool idea.

Bottled at navy strength of 54.5% ABV, no chillfiltering and with a limited run of 5000 bottles.

Sugar? Nope.

Nose: Exactly what I was expecting and hoping for, which is good. Black bananas, big dollops of toffee, molasses, boot polish, camphor, pine sap, liquorice, a big handful of black olives, tar and engine oil. Further in we’ve got fruity raisins, candied pineapple and baked apples with cinnamon and nutmeg (apple crumble I guess). As you’d expect there’s an old musty smell here too with leather, aged coffee beans in hessian sacks and grilled mushrooms. It’s really rich, dark and deep but still carries some light fruitiness.

Palate: Full, rich mouth feel. Oh yes. Rum and raisin dark chocolate, caramel, molasses, treacle toffee, strong black coffee, figs and loads and loads of soft black liquorice. Fruity mid-palate with banana, pineapple and oranges but quickly turns phenolic with brine, tar, diesel, olives, menthol, hot rubber and a touch of stamp glue.

Finish: Long. Smoky. Rolling tobacco, smoked toffees, maple syrup, cinnamon, Demerara sugar, nutmeg and raisins. Seems sweeter here and less phenolic but throws in a little heat with cloves, ginger, chillies and salt & pepper nuts. There’s still plenty of liquorice going on and a little brine note but it mixes sweeter creamier notes and prickling spices on the whole. I’ve found myself nosing the rum as the palate is finishing and the combination adds a really nice burst of fruit into the idea of the finish too – it’s one of those rums that you want to smell and taste at the same time to get the whole image.

Thoughts? A really very good blend. The problem you have with a lot of “Navy” blends is that they often get bogged down or become flabby and fall apart with too much molasses’y liquorice. This one does not. It’s got those real deep, dark and dirty notes you expect but there’s a constant burst of fruit and phenols flickering throughout that pulls you up when it’s getting too heavy.

If you read the link the to The Whisky Exchange blog they were looking to create a balance between a modern rum and traditional old British style rum, and I think they’ve got it spot on with this. I’m not sure I’d change anything in the blend so it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes with the release in 2021, but one thing is for sure; I really look forward to trying it.

So the damage? £110. Yeah, not cheap I know, but really this is fabulous and it does have some very old and rare rum in it. I would, and I have been, recommending this to people. I’d happily buy it again and will be getting the 2021 release when that comes out for the 51th anniversary.

If you fancy this you can pick this up from The Whisky Exchange here:

Black Tot 50th Anniversary

Foursquare Détente

What is it? Single Blended Rum (molasses based, both pot and column still at a single distillery) from Foursquare in Barbados. This is Exceptional Cask Selection Mark 14 in the line-up of the range and it’s a Port cask one, yippee. Now the reason I’m so excited by this is because way back in 2015 the UK was treated to a Port cask “finish” rum from Foursquare as part of the ECS range – it was so new that the bottle was simply labelled as “Exceptional Cask Selection”, there wasn’t even a number on it – for the purpose of this we’ll call it ECS2. This rum was really the first proper rum I’d tried and what started my love affair with the spirit. So now we have another Port cask rum to play with. So what’s in this one? Well it’s back to the old “blend of a blend” that we know and love from Foursquare ECS cask treatment rums; pot and column rum is blended, some of it goes off to be matured for 10 years in ex-bourbon casks and some of it goes off to some other ex-bourbon casks where it sits for 4 years, at which point it’s moved over to to Port casks for 6 years. The resulting 2 rums (10 year ex-bourbon and 10 year ex-bourbon/Port) are blended together to get our resulting rum. So total aging is 10 years, all done tropically.

Not coloured, not chillfiltered and bottled at 51% abv. It’s worth noting this is not a cask strength rum, we’d be up to around 60% abv if there were the case. Richard Seale has experimented with the abv and found that 51% was the sweet spot on this one, so that’s why it’s been bottled at that strength.

This has an outrun of 21,000 bottles globally with 9000 of those in Europe.

Sugar? No.

Nose: Ah, this takes me back. All the way to that point in 2015 when I first stuck my nose into ECS2 (Port cask). Bone dry – yes, a nose can be dry 🙂 . Massive red and black fruits with black plums, black cherry, strawberries, blackberry jam and of course black grapes. Vanillas from the cask along with dark chocolate, cinnamon and nutmeg. There’s heat from some ginger root and ground black peppercorns, a touch of roasted coconut and roasted chestnuts. Cut wood and a flicker of brine which adds a tiny bit of savoury to the mix.

Palate: Full mouth feel, really good body. Very dry, very dry indeed. There’s this great oxymoron with Foursquare rums of the dry sweetness. Usually you get sweet or you get dry with drinks, but frequently I find these bottles have a incredibly dry effect on the palate but burst with sweet flavour notes. For example, this rum is a dry as a camels ass but it’s full of flavours we associate with sweetness, such as caramel, sweet vanilla, honey and bags of plums, cherries and strawberry, but all the time your tongue is puckering. Along side the sweet notes is some very dark chocolate, white pepper and chilli jam, just to light up your mouth every now and then.

Finish: Long. It’s quite spicy here with red chillies, white pepper and mustard seeds. The fruity notes make a little appearance but it’s fleeting and goes back to dark chocolate, a fruity Kenyan coffee, butterscotch and oaky spices. The spice and dryness make you want to dive right back in for another glass, it’s very drinkable and very moreish.

Thoughts? Another belter from Foursquare, as always. It does very much remind me of the ECS2 Port cask in a lot of ways, but at the same time it’s clearly a very different rum. The evolution of Foursquare ECS bottles over the last 5 years is shown very obviously here when you look at both the 9 year old Port Cask ECS2 and the Détente ECS14.

So this rum does what it sets out to do. It shows you how cask type can change the resulting rum and yet leave a clear picture of the distillery character in place too, and how the two bond to make a harmonious result.

This was £60 when released. Just shut up and take my money.

Easily one of my top 3 rums of 2020, without even thinking about it. Unfortunately for the Détente it’s going to be kept of the top spot by it’s comrade; the Nobiliary.

Montanya Exclusiva

What is it? American rum, distilled, matured and bottled at the Montanya distillery in Colorado. The rum is a blend of sugarcane and molasses mixed together for fermentation and distilled via direct fired Alembic pot stills – you can read more into this on my review of the Montanya Oro. In terms of maturation this one has had a different treatment; the official line is that it’s a 3 year old rum with 2 and a half years in American white oak casks that have previously held Laws Whiskey and then 6 months in French oak casks that have previously held Sutcliffe Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and Port. In practice some of the rum may well have been aged longer than this 3 year period.

If you read about the Oro, there are details about added honey to the rum when it’s casked, the same applies here. A small amount of honey (0.04% of each bottle) is added, this appears to have had an impact of my hydrometer when measuring sugar levels, again this was covered off in the Oro review so you can hop over there for more detail.

Montanya are a B Corp certified business. This means that they have been certified as meeting the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and their purpose. They were the first rum distillery in the world to be given B Corp status, they really care about the people and place around them.

In case you are interested my bottle is from barrel number 410.

Not coloured, not chill-filtered and bottled at 40% abv.

Sugar? No. Hydrometer test shows 19g/l of added, but as stated above and on the Oro review, this is most likely due to the honey and the way in which hydrometers are used to measure sugar content.

Nose: Woah, fruit. This baby is massively fruity on the nose; loads of cherry, strawberry, raspberry and cranberry at the start. We’ve got ginger, white pepper and sweet chilli/pimento that follows it up and clove from the cask. After the big fruit and spice it settles in to a little honey, vanilla and a lovely warm pasty note – think breakfast fruit Danish. What’s really nice here is I keep getting a big waft of menthol and eucalyptus darting about which gives an unexpected counter to the juicy red berries.

Palate: Medium mouth feel. Ah, it’s more whiskey forward here at the start with those Laws casks taking the lead over the wine, just like the Oro, although it’s nowhere near as sweet. Spicy with ginger, clove and white pepper. Herbal with that menthol and cane’y, grassy freshness. Then creamy; vanilla, white chocolate bars filled with raspberries and black cherries. There’s this cooling feeling you get in your mouth, which follows the spices, and tastes of cherry stones – it’s an odd thing I find in Talisker single malt and it’s very welcome here. Not as fruity as the nose at all really, it comes to more honey, a little melon maybe, and on the whole stays spicier.

Finish: Medium. Creamy but still a little spicy heat. Milky coffee, chocolate (both white and milk this time), pastries, cherries and strawberry again. It starts to swing back to the nose but doesn’t make it all the way, so it’s a mix of the noses fruitiness and the honey and spices from the palate. Really nice.

Thoughts: Again, as with the Oro, unusual. This baffles me, in a good way. It’s very fruity indeed, you definitely get the wine casks on the nose, the whiskey casks have an intense impact on the palate, but it’s this odd mix of cane juice and molasses I’m struggling to calibrate my brain to. Montanya rums don’t taste like any other rum I’ve had before and that is really interesting and exciting. It’s a style all on its own.

I really like this rum. I prefer it to the Oro quite a bit, I did find that a little too sweet for my preference. This is much dryer, more complex and a lot more interesting. Be warned though, it’s very easy to drink, as my almost empty bottle will attest. I would just say that I’d prefer this up to at least 43% abv but preferably 46% as I think it’d really push those flavours. In the scheme of things though this is a very minor quibble.

So the damage? £45. That’s a fiver more than the Oro and for me a massive jump up. I’d happily spend £45 on this, I’ve been very much enjoying it.

You can pick this up from Master of Malt here:

Montanya Exclusiva

Diamond 2003/2015 – Bristol Spirits

What is it? Single Traditional Rum (column still, molasses based, single distillery) from the Diamond distillery in Guyana. It was distilled in 2003 and bottled in 2015 by Bristol Spirits for the Bristol Classic Rum range, making it 12 years old. Almost all of the aging for this rum would have been in Europe as DDL (Diamond) are no longer supplying tropically aged rum, but as this was distilled back in 2003 there may be some tropical aging that has taken place prior to their change of policy – unfortunately no-one has the details of the aging split on this bottle. So which still is it from? Well unfortunately no-one seems to have any information on that either! We know it’s column still rum and it’s unlikely to be from the four-column Savalle still, so that leaves the Enmore wooden column or the Diamond metal column. It’s lighter in style than I’d expect from the Enmore, but given how many different marques that can produce it’s hard to say.

Coloured (most likely at source by DDL), chill-filtered and bottled at 43% abv.

Sugar? No.

Nose: Woody at first, plenty of toasty oak and burnt fruit loaf. Roasted coffee beans, raisins, brown sugar and oranges. There’s a little liquorice, a touch of tar and some smoky rolling tobacco. With a bit of time I’m getting some banana, lemon and pineapple at the end, but it’s quite a rich, soft nose rather than light and fruity.

Palate: Medium mouth feel, I was expecting it to be a bit fuller and thicker to be honest. Fruity entry with plenty of raisin, sultana and pineapple. Some orange and banana as it progresses and then some heavier notes of fruit cake, coffee and caramel. A little vanilla note and oak come out and then a slight bitterness of liquorice and caught molasses.

Finish: Short. Ouch. It ends pretty quickly which is disappointing. It’s quite fruit cake’y again here still with loads of raisins, cherries, sultana and orange. There’s a slight tar note and a touch of rubber glove towards the end.

Thoughts? The bottle says “soft fruit and easy style”, yeah, it’s easy drinking alright, but I find it heavier than it’s being portrayed by Bristol. It’s certainly not a heavy rum by any means but I wouldn’t describe it as light and fruity. It’s a good classic Demerara style rum. It balances soft fruitiness well with the richer, darker, heavier, more brooding notes. Ok, it’s not going to blow your mind but if you’re after a sugar/additive free classic style Demerara at a “normal” drinking strength then this could be one for you to go for. The thing is, there aren’t that many rums around like this; most of the rums that people think of as a typical Demerara style rum (like El Dorado) are sugared, or  blends, or both – so actually finding an unaltered one is a pretty tough task.

You’re looking at between £60 and £70 for a bottle of this depending on where you go, which I do think it quite a lot of money, but it’s climbed in price quite a bit these days. Why? Well it’s from “back then”, that’s why. Bristol Classic don’t seem to put much stuff out these days, I’ve certainly not seen anything new from them for a few years, but they were quite prolific some years ago and when I started out on rum they were really one of the only Independent bottlers about, as such their “old” rums are in quite high demand.

Would I get another of this? No, not for £70, but certainly one I’m glad I picked up whilst I could, just for nostalgia sake if nothing else.

If you fancy this you can pick this up from The Whisky Exchange here:

Diamond 2003/2015 – Bristol Spirits

 

Or Master Of Malt here:

Diamond 2003/2015 – Bristol Spirits