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.

 

 

 

Monymusk EMB 9 year old (2010) – Habitation Velier

What is it? Pure Single Rum (100% pot still, molasses based, single distillery) from the Clarendon distillery in Jamaica and bottled under the Monymusk name – you can read a bit more about Monymusk and Clarendon here in this review. The rum was distilled in 2010 after which it was aged tropically for 9 years before being bottled in 2019 for the Habitation Velier series of rums. The aging has taken its toll on the rum with an Angels Share of over 64% lost in that short 9 years. This particular bottling is from the EMB marque of rum meaning it has an ester level of 275.5 g/hlpa – so a mid level range of esters.

Not chill-filtered, not coloured and bottled at 62% abv.

Sugar? Nope.

Nose: Woody at first – toasty oak, varnish, furniture glue, toffee, maybe a touch of golden syrup. It’s not an ester bomb that’s for sure but Monymusk rarely are. We’ve got fruit in here though, richer, darker than you’d expect from a Jamaican with prune, plum, black cherry, sultana and dried apricot. There’s a little pineapple hiding in here too but it’s almost candied, some roasted nuts, marzipan, vanilla and dried coconut. Maybe a little note of chocolate here and there but it’s faint. It’s quite fruit cake like on the nose.

Palate: Full mouth feel. We’re at the same party as the nose, which is good. Cherries, figs, prune, black plum and raisin. Some dark chocolate, butterscotch, golden syrup, molasses, dates, flamed oranges – all that deep stuff. There’s a burst of sourness part way which is almost gherkin or caper like, some varnish notes, pear drops, mango and fresher pineapple, but it goes back to the richer side and gets cake’y again.

Finish: Long. Stays as we are here, nothing fancy. Brioche buns, vanilla, chocolate and fruit cake with marzipan again. The odd burst of sourness pops up with brine, some pear drops and mango too but it remains largely darker and cake’y. We get the addition of some rubber gloves and black olives here at the end as things tail off.

Thoughts? Very good. It walks a careful line between Demerara and Jamaica, and it’s definitely more brooding than normal Jamaican rum – it’s a cracker for our shit Autumn weather. Ok, this probably isn’t the “best” Monymusk I’ve ever had, but you often get a bit of a curveball with these Habitation Velier releases and this is one of them. This was a touch over a ton when I bought it, I think it was around £105 or £110.

Would I get another at that price? You know, I really enjoyed this rum but if I were pressed for an answer, no I wouldn’t. There’s just something missing here and I can’t put my finger on it, but if I’m spending over £100 on a bottle I want a little something “extra”.

If you fancy giving this one a go it’s still around on The Whisky Exchange here:

Monymusk EMB 9 year old (2010) – Habitation Velier

 

Or Master Of Malt here:

Monymusk EMB 9 year old (2010) – Habitation Velier

Hampden Estate Overproof

What is it? Pure Single Rum (molasses based, pot still, single distillery) from the Hampden distillery in Jamaica. This is one of the two official distillery bottles that came out back in 2018 – the Hampden Estate Overproof (bottled at 60% abv), the other being a standard 46% one – the rum in the bottle is the same, only the abv differs. It’s a 7 or 8 year old blend, I say this because the front of the bottle says 8 years old and the back says 7 years old, all of which was done tropically so is equivalent to around 25 years worth of European aging. There are no concrete details of the marques in the blend but the consensus seems to be that it’s a mix of OWH, LROK and DOK, which vary massively in ester levels – for those that know, the DOK will be only a small amount due to it being the secret formula that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America, it’s that damn strong:

OWH: 40-80 g/hlaa (low ester level)

LROK: 300-400 g/hlaa (mid ester level)

DOK: 1500-1600 g/hlaa (holy fucking shit)

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

I’m drinking this, and therefore reviewing it, at between 50% and 55% abv depending on how heavy handed I’m being with my teaspoon as I find that this is where it gets the most out of the rum. 60% is fine, but a lot of the smells and tastes are muted there.

Sugar? No

Nose: Not entirely what I was expecting, which is good I guess as it keeps us on our toes. Pretty savoury at first; putty, wallpaper paste, vegetable bullion, nail polish and a little musty hessian. Dry spices like cumin and cardamom, maybe a little turmeric and liquorice root, and a touch of new leather. Classic brine and a bit of olive oil in here too and then the fruits with lemons, mango, Conference pears, faint pineapple and maybe a small peach which sharpens it. It certainly doesn’t scream “high ester” or punch you  in the face like so many Independent bottles.

Palate: Full mouth, but crisp at the same time. Hot, even with water. This is more like what I was thinking; brine, salted fish, tar, varnished wood, stamp glue, liquorice and olives. More fruit here with pineapple, lemons, papaya, mango and green banana. There’s a touch of pipe tobacco and some nutty, earthy notes mid way, just before it swings back to fruit again.

Finish: Long, of course. Salty, brine, olives and tar. Crushed shells, anchovies and rubber gloves. Little fruit here, as with the nose, but what does show up are the usual suspects and mainly on lemon and mango. There’s an undertone of smoky, leathery, oiliness as it finishes off that’s really nice.

Thoughts? I’ll get this out of the way first; it’s a cracking rum, of course it is, and I was never in doubt. As far as my preference for Hampden goes, it falls short. Where the Indie bottles and single casks are full to the brim with character and/or depth (some aren’t deep but are like dynamite), this is narrow and pleasing. It’s excellent rum and will please many (it does please me) but it’s lacking the je ne sais quoi that lurks in a single marque, single cask Hampden. It seems it’s an Everyman’s Hampden and this is something that often happens with official distillery bottlings; Worthy Park Estate was the same for me – very, very good, but robbed of the spark that you get in some those so wonderful single casks. When a distillery puts out a bottling like this they throw the net wide for the biggest catch and in doing so let some the more prized fish escape.

This cost me £80. I’d save the money and get the 46% version instead, as I’ve had to drop it down to not far from that anyway to get the best of out it, and it’s the same rum in the bottle.

If you want a full proof, real Jamaican and big ester stuff puts you off then go for it, but don’t be expecting a massive funky rum here. Not the Hampden I’m after I’m afraid.

If you fancy a bottle of this then you can pick it up at The Whisky Exchange here:

Hampden Estate Overproof

Or Master of Malt here:

Hampden Estate Overproof

Hampden 18 year old (1998) – Kill Devil

Don’t get too excited, this isn’t some hidden little rum, this is simply me doing a face palm. I get through a lot of rum and I don’t have time in my life to write a review and post on the blog every time I open a bottle, as such I’ve taken to writing notes over the years and posting reviews as and when I’m able to. Usually I’m quite good with it and my reviews are reasonably current to what I’m drinking but sometimes it’s from a bottle that I have finished many months prior. This one is quite embarrassing. I was looking through my historic notes for my next review and found a piece of paper tucked down the back of my bookcase – I did wonder where this one got to! So it’s old. You can’t buy it anymore. I bought it, I drank it and wrote notes, so I’m going to review it.

What is it? It’s a Hampden, so Jamaican Pure Single Rum (100% pot still, from molasses, distilled at a single distillery). This one was distilled in December 1998 and matured for 18 years after which it was bottled by Hunter Laing for their Kill Devil rum range. There isn’t any information on where this was matured but I’m certain it was aged in Europe, judging by the taste profile. Again, we have no marque detail on the rum, but Hampden bulk exported at one marque a year and in 1998 it was marque HLCF which stands at an ester count of 500-700 g/hlaa. Back in the day, when this was put out, Kill Devil only had a small portfolio of rums – there wasn’t much Hampden about (or much else from Kill Devil) at the time and certainly nothing at Cask Strength – so it’s quite interesting to re-read and remember the noting and drinking in the more recent rum climate.

One of 381 bottles.

No colouring, no chill-filtration and bottled at 46% abv

Sugar? No.

Nose: Yep, Hampden has entered the building. Pineapple cube sweets, old black bananas, pineapple slices, banana bread, pineapple juice and so it goes on. Some lime zest, actually more Key Lime Pie, so creamier and some earthy biscuit. Paint thinner, diesel, creosote and the smell you get on your hands when oiling a door latch – that metallic oily smell. A little brine, sand, rock pools and the faintest distant oak.

Palate: Medium to full mouth feel, just starting to get oily. Big initial entry of banana and fermenting pineapple, it just explodes straight away. Some white pepper, limes, mangoes and more pineapple and banana. Pear Drops, nail varnish, furniture glue – or what it would taste of, I imagine. Olive oil and a little salted butter which is a nice touch. Very little cask influence indeed, the teeniest bit of vanilla and oaky cinnamon, and I mean tiny. Things settle mid-palate and it gets nice and calm.

Finish: Medium, which is surprising, I thought it’d be longer. Left over fruits, but fuller so more on the banana bread, pineapple cake and lime cream than actual banana, pineapple and lime. Big fat green olives (those massive Greek ones) and some rubber balloons, a touch of stamp glue and a prickly buzz of pepper and green chilies right at the end.

Thoughts? Solid. A very good solid Jamaican pot still rum. By anyone’s standard this is very good rum but I can’t help but compare it to another 1998 which was the 16 year old Kill Devil; that one just exploded with flavour – it was just such a massive rum – this certainly has aspects of that but where the 16 year old took off mid-palate this drops away. It just goes to show you how single casks can be.

I picked this up back in 2017 for £70 and it was retailing for a touch over £80 at the time. When I bought it I thought that was fine enough for an 18 year old Hampden, but looking at modern prices it seems like a bit of a steal. Personally though if I had the choice of this or the 16 year old for the same money I’d take the 16 year old every day of the week.

Still, very good rum, just lacking in a few areas.

 

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.