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.

Foursquare Diadem

What is it? Single Blended rum (molasses based, pot and column still rum from a single distillery) from Barbados, produced by the Foursquare distillery. There’s so many Foursquare releases these days it’s hard to keep up, this year alone has seen Nobiliary (ECS 12), the 2008 vintage (ECS 13), imminent UK release of Detente (ECS 14) and in a few months, Redoutable (ECS 15). So which one is the Diadem then? Well, it’s not any. It’s not an Exceptional Cask Selection release, it’s a Private Cask Selection which has been bottled exclusively for The Whisky Exchange, the same vein as Hereditas from last year if you can remember that far back. So what’s in the bottle this time? The rums in here are from both pot stills and column stills and are blended together prior to aging. A portion of the blend spent 12 years in ex-bourbon casks whilst another portion of the blend spent 12 years in first fill ex-Madeira casks, the resulting rums were then blended together again (at an undisclosed ratio) to get the final blend. So 12 full years of aging, tropically done in Barbados.

There is a total outrun of 2000 bottles in this release.

Not coloured, not chill filtered and bottled at a 60% abv.

I’m drinking and reviewing this at around 55%, which is the strength I tend to take these beasts down to. A drop of 5% doesn’t seem like much but it makes a world of difference to the nose, palate and the inside of my throat.

Sugar? Nah.

Nose: Yeah, this has spent some serious time in Madeira casks alright. Lots of dark fruit here at first with blackberries, black cherries and black plums, some meaty figs, prune and a shitload of roasted nuts; walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, brazils, almonds and cashew – like sticking your gonk into a Christmas nut selection. Following the nutty onslaught comes to oak, with varnished wood, cinnamon, ginger, clove, roasted coconut, smoked vanilla and the classic “old” smells from dusty libraries and leather armchairs. There’s a thread of dark chocolate that runs through it but it’s not prominent and as you get deeper in there’s a surprising zesty lift of pineapple and candied lemons. Yuletide here we come.

Palate: Hot. Full and rich oily mouth feel. Hot – ginger, black pepper, clove – it’s a fiery blighter at the start. A couple of sips in and we’re starting to get somewhere, it sweetens but still holds on to the spice; black cherry and chipotle jam, a pack of glazed pineapple and chilli cashew mix, those big bars of dark chocolate you get with chilli in them, chocolate covered stem gingers and black pepper infused caramel. There’s this constant play between sweet and spice, just when you get a nice bit of sweetness along comes the heat and chilli spice and punches you in the mouth.

Finish: Initially your mouth is left with the heat from the palate, but it does soon disappear. The finish is long and once the spices have left you’re left with all the flavours that were hidden before; black forest chocolate cake, liqueur cherries, candied ginger and a lighter fruit note of raspberry and nuts, almost like Bakewell tart. There’s still oak here and prickles of heat, notes of the “old” from before with leather and mushrooms, so it’s not all fruits and fancies. Part way through the finish I keep getting savoury flashes of something oily, like WD40 or some type of glue, which is really nice as it just keeps you paying attention to what else there might be hidden in here to find. It bitters at the end with a really good cup of tea (Yorkshire) and some raw walnuts.

Thoughts? I’m not sure how to take this one. The last Madeira cask Foursquare I had was the Sagacity and I struggled with that for a while, this is way more intense and much better for it, it’s just really bloody hot! I like Madeira and this is dialled down somewhat but still clearly the main force of the rum, unfortunately I think that the usual wonderful balance that we find in Foursquare rums is lost here, it doesn’t know what to do to you; the Madeira wants to be all earthy and nutty and sweet, the bourbon wants to be all toasty and caramelly and something else inside it wants to kill you, but all 3 elements fight each other.

It’s really good, the day Richard Seale puts out a shit rum is the day I find another drink, but I’m looking at a line-up of Foursquare ECS bottles and shrugging with this. Yes I’ll enjoy it massively once Autumn proper starts, and no there isn’t any part of me that regrets buying it, but I just feel like it’s “another” bottle that’s been put out there. Where would I put this in the range of Foursquare bottles? Well you can’t do that really, the goal posts move forward at such a damn rate! I think it’s better than the Sagacity, but not as good as the Hereditas (yes I know they are different rums, but I’m placing it based on the Private Cask Selection and some Madeira).

This was £85, would I get another? Heh, of course. It may not be my favourite bottle of Foursquare rum but in the world of rum it’s still playing a whole other game.

You can pick this up from The Whisky Exchange here:

Foursquare Diadem

Foursquare Nobiliary

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 12 in the line-up of frankly ridiculously good rums from Foursquare and named Nobiliary, and I’m going to review the shit out of it – spoiler alert, it’s really, really good.

With non vintage ECS releases that have fancy names, you usually expect some type of cask play (Port, Madeira, Sherry, whatever) and the vintage releases tend to be ex-bourbon cask matured, so I was a little surprised when this was released to see that it has a fancy schmancy name and it’s ex-bourbon matured. My first reaction was that it was a little odd, given we had a 2008 vintage of the same type of cask, but I trust Richard Seale and any doubt lasted about a picosecond before I hit the “order” button. So what do we have in the bottle? As with the normal ECS run, we have a blend of rums that have come off a column still and a pot still, blended together and then casked up into ex-bourbon casks (I believe these are a mixture of 1st, 2nd and 3rd fill casks). The rum is then aged, tropicaly in Barbados, for a minimum of 14 years before being released in December 2019.

Released in limited numbers of 12,000 bottles worldwide; 6,000 in Europe and 6,000 in the US.

Not chill filtered, not coloured and bottled at full cask strength of 62% abv.

I’m reviewing the Foursquare Nobiliary at around 55% abv (ish) as that’s the strength I’ve been drinking it at. 62% isn’t any good for getting the depth out of the rum, it’s too tight there.

Sugar? Nope.

Nose: Wow, this thing is incredible. Initially there is a lot of oak, but that does blow off after a bit. It’s actually fairly sweet at first with lovely toasted oak, toasted coconut, really rich vanilla pod, clove, nutmeg, and an rum infused caramel or butterscotch. Then we’ve got deep woody smells of varnished old bookcases, those red or green leather chairs with buttons in that you see in stately homes, walking into a cobblers with leather clue, grease and old shoes. There’s this fantastic perfumed note that I can’t put my finger on, it’s a little like sandalwood but not as heavy mixed with some type of cut flowers and it’s gorgeous. Under the heavier smells, and once you get used to them, there’s plenty of fruit on offer too; red apples, red plums, figs, sultanas, dried banana and pineapple.

Palate: Full mouth, perfect weight at 55% abv. Not hot at all, which is really surprising. I mean, sure there’s a little heat of course but it’s so easy drinking at high abv is scary. A strange notion of sweetness, but not sweet. There’s the idea of sweetness here, with caramel, vanilla and coconut but it’s dry sweetness. Oak, varnish, buttered toasted bagels, peanuts, pecans, and some bitter walnut. There’s that perfumed note that I can almost taste on my palate again, slight violet note maybe, and liquorice root. Fruits come in later on with orange, red apple, red grape, plums, figs and date. There’s a little lift and zing some tropical or citrus with a lime, pineapple and banana but it’s fleeting – it’s just enough to stop the heavy oak from being too heavy. Unlike the vintage releases, there isn’t really any savoury in this rum, if anything there’s a touch of grease, stamp glue and a tiny bit of brine but it’s only faint and noticeable just as you swallow. Throughout the whole palate there’s a mild ginger root, black pepper and sweet red chilli that just sits there behind everything else, you feel the prickle and spice of it but it never comes to the front of the taste.

Finish: Very long. Things are sweeter here; rum and raisin fudge, dark chocolate, candied ginger root, candied pineapple and banana. There’s cinnamon, nutmeg and raisin, almost like a teacake or toasted cinnamon bagel with salted butter on. Lovely coconut, vanilla pod, roasted cashews and a sweet pipe tobacco that sits lightly on your tongue. I’m sure that this finish would go on for longer if I let it, but this rum is too damn good so I’ve usually dived back in for another swig!

Thoughts? One of my rums of the year, without doubt. This is utterly incredible rum. The rum itself it fantastic and the way it’s been matured in the cask mix has complimented it perfectly – if you’ve ever been lucky enough, as I have, to drink Eagle Rare 17yo there are flickers of the epic bourbon maturation that show in here and the mixing of old rum and those bourbon notes are seriously harmonious.

Whilst I usually like my Foursquare ex-bourbon casks with some savoury notes in them, and this has very little, there is just something else in here – it’s that perfumed note I’ve not been able to peg down. The way the oak works with it and then flashes of fruit and the overall softness is brilliant – if I were to describe this rum in one word it would be “beautiful”. A tip for you; make sure that as you drink this and swallow, and let the finish do it’s thing, that you constantly nose it at the same time. It’s quite an experience having both senses hit at the same time.

What’s the damage? £60.95. Would I buy this again? I bloody well can’t! It’s all sold out……yes, but yes. Oh yes, I would….

You can’t get this from the big boys anymore but The Whisky Exchange are still selling samples of this (at the time of writing) here, if you want one:

Foursquare Nobiliary Sample