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

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

Cadenhead’s Classic Rum – 6 year old 2019 release

What is it? A blend of rums done by Cadenhead, and Independent bottler of spirits. This blend is a mixture of molasses based pot and column still rums from Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Panama and was aged in oak casks for 6 years in the UK before it’s release in 2019. For a long time Cadenhead have produced their “Classic Rum” blend and it generally changes year to year, but the type of rum they are aiming to produce remains the same, so if you pick up a bottle from another year chances are it wont be too far from this profile.

Not coloured by Cadenhead, not chill filtered and bottled at 50% abv.

Sugar? No.

Nose: Ah, proper dark rummy rum, in the “Navy” style if you will. Molasses, roasted nuts, soot, boot polish, ink and tar. Certainly some estery notes from the Jamaican element with squishy banana and citrus fruit. There’s some dark chocolate cake here too along with some cinnamon and handful of cloves.

Palate: Full, rich mouth feel. Some black olives, tar and brine at first then richness; coffee beans, cocoa beans, toffee covered banana, liqourice, cinnamon, fudge and a little flamed orange rind. The roasted nuts are still here and a little zing of lime part way keeps it from getting too heavy.

Finish: Long. A little salty brine here but it’s really on the sweeter side as it finishes off with molasses, toffee, strong black and sweet coffee, maybe a really good espresso with a thick crema, dark chocolate and loads of black banana, a little slightly burnt Christmas cake and a touch of charred pineapple right at the end.

Thoughts? Good. A little sweet at times, maybe that’s the Panama or Demerara if it’s been “treated” at the distillery, but I didn’t find any sugar in my hydrometer reading. There are plenty of good flavours going on here and it’s got a lovely body to it so it’s pretty versatile if you wanted to mix it or drink it neat. A proper dark rum without any of the over-the-top colouring nonsense and at 50% it’s good value too for £35. It’s not as good as the 1842 Cask in my view, but it’s cheaper and it is what is it – a consistent, good tasting dark rum.

 

Diamond 11 year old Port Ellen Cask (2008) – Kill Devil

What is it? Pure Single Rum (molasses based, 100% pot still, single distillery) from the Diamond Distillery in Guyana. This rum was distilled on the Port Mourant wooden pot still back in April 2008 and matured in the UK for around 10 years in an ex-bourbon cask, at which point it was transferred over to an ex-oloroso sherry butt for finishing for just under 2 years, after which it was bottled by Hunter Laing for their Kill Devil rum brand. Now this wasn’t any old ex-oloroso butt that Hunter Laing had knocking about, oh no, this was a sherry butt that had been holding Port Ellen single malt Scotch whisky. For those of you that don’t follow whisky, Port Ellen is a bit of a unicorn; it was an Islay distillery that produced a peated single malt (they had their own maltings, which are still used today for malting the barley on Islay for the distilleries there) and closed back in 1983 during an industry wide culling of distilleries. It’s very rare whisky and is now a collectors item, with bottles going for £1000’s. This cask was used to mature Port Ellen whisky for over 34 years, so there is plenty of the spirit soaked into the wood, and this rum is likely to be the closest I’ll ever come to Port Ellen!

One of 690 bottles produced.

Not chill filtered, not coloured and bottled at cask strength of 60.9% abv.

I’ve been waiting to review this Diamond 11 year old Port Ellen Cask Kill Devil for ages, but there’s some type of pandemic going on, my kids are off school, the wife is at home and knocking reviews out…..well…..it’s been on the back burner.

So Port Mourant, in a very old Port Ellen sherry cask, at full blast. Hold on to your hats.

Sugar? No

Nose: Quite rich and full actually, given the very light colour to this whisky. Typical Port Mourant notes of aniseed, fennel and salted liquorice, green olives and brine, crushed sea shells and marine fuel. Then we get the cask. What a cask! Sweet vanilla, a little cinnamon and soft billowing smoke, iodine, tarry ropes on a jetty, smoked lemons and a touch of icing sugar. We’ve also got meaty figs, flame raisins, sultanas and blanched walnuts in there too – that peat from the Port Ellen cask really shows up.

Palate: Full mouth, not as big and rich as the nose though. Holy shit, peat. Immediately the aniseed and liquorice of the rum are joined with thick, salty, medicinal peat smoke. Surgical bandages, sticking plasters, stamp glue, smoked ham, pine sap, menthol and smoke lemons again. The medicinal peat amplifies the fennel and liquorice of the Port Mourant and binds with it – it’s a savoury party in your mouth, hugely phenolic. The notes of new leather, fig and milk chocolate from the sherry butt show up part way just to keep it real, but that tell-tale peaty smoke sits there all the way.

Finish: Long. The smoke billows on and is joined by sweeter notes of milk chocolate, lemons covered with icing sugar, roasted walnuts, smoked fennel, pan-fried green banana and even a little butterscotch. There’s the odd tang of olive and bitter liquorice root that pops up during the course but it tends to stay sweeter and less phenolic here.

Thoughts? Rumsky! Give it to a whisky drinker and they’d tell you it was the latest Ardbeg release (whatever thing they were doing that year). That Port Ellen cask is magnificent, what I’d have given to actually have tried the whisky. There is so much character with peat, smoke and sherry that comes through to the rum even with such a short finishing period. The cask really compliments the savoury side of the Port Mourant, sure it’s dominant but it doesn’t over shadow the rum, it binds and amplifies it into one harmonious thing.

Ardbeg released a young whisky finished in rum casks some time back (Ardbeg Drum), it was the same price as this and it was shit. 1-nil to the rum world I’d say.

Right, £90. Yes, an expensive 11 year old European aged rum, but you’re paying for the cask it’s been sat in for that 2 years so that’s just how it goes I’m affraid. As I say, the closest I’ll ever get to Port Ellen. I think it’s wonderful, but it’s not going to be for everyone this, I happen to really like peated Scotch, and if you don’t then probably give it a miss. I feel lucky to have been able to get hold of a bottle and I’d buy it again.