I’ve faced a couple of pretty funny comments on recent blog posts on Facebook lately. One was from a guy who said that Knob Creek 15 year old was too weak at 100 proof, and he wants his bourbon at 120 proof. Another was from an old college friend that indicated you must not drink bourbon between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but rather drink rum, vodka, or gin. Now, given that National Bourbon Day is in June, that is utter hogwash to me. But, on the high proof bourbon side, I agree that high proof bourbon does present a whole lot of flavor and while I appreciate the subtleties of long aged bourbon after being proofed down, it is indeed proofed down; with water comes a loss of flavor, however you slice it.
But, what about rum? Today happens to be World Rum Day, although our U.S. National Rum Day is August 16th. So, it’s appropriate we talk about rum today on the blog. Distilled spirits come essentially from three sources. The first is fruit, which ultimately yields Brandy. The second is grain, which ultimately yields whiskey, or, if distilled to nothing, vodka or gin. Both of these distilling processes require extracting sugar from either fruit of grain, which yeast consumes and turns into alcohol. Rum, on the other hand, starts with sugar or molasses, which is still basically sugar. Nothing to extract, just add yeast and boom – you have a sugar mash that can be distilled. Rum is drinkable like a vodka or gin after distillation, but becomes more whiskey like after aging in oak barrels. Put another way, rum after being aged into oak barrels in high Caribbean heat is like bourbon without the grain being inhaled by the barrel like Tommy Chong toking on a joint, but with a certain slightly medicinal taste that is a by-product of the fusel oils from cooking the sugar mash. However, various distillation processes remove this taste from the fusel oils, particularly that utilized by Jim Beam’s brand, Cruzan, which is quintuple distilled in column stills. The middle still gets rid of the fusel oils, which is why Cruzan is an extremely drinkable rum.
My rum roots run pretty deep. My grandfather on my father’s side drank rum old fashioneds as a rule. My dad and brother both drink rum like I drink bourbon today. While I prefer bourbon, drinking with them has given me a new appreciation for rum. Rum, like bourbon, is experiencing a premiumization revolution. Your bar will benefit from these newer brands of ultra aged and high proof premium rums.
Plantation Rum is a brand developed by Maison Ferrand, a French cognac house, has developed quite a reputation for premium rums. This particular rum, labeled OFTD, contains Jaimacan, Guyanian, and Barbados Rums, blended together. According to the label, O.F.T.D. stands for Old Fashioned Traditional Dark. However, according to my brother, when they rum connoisseurs who developed the rum got together and tasted this rum, one of them remarked “Oh, F&%k that’s delicious” and that is how the rum really got its name. This is a 138 proof bruiser, which is higher proof that most cask strength bourbons.
So, the color is as deep of a mahogany as you would ever see on an ultra aged bourbon. On the swirl is luscious film and legs. Interestingly, the droplets on the end of the legs have a little color to them; something you generally don’t see, which indicates that these rums extracted a lot of flavor from their barrels. On the nose, deep brown sugar and molasses, vanilla, banana – like Bananas Foster being cooked right next to your table at a restaurant in New Orleans, That’s just the nose. On the palate, the vanilla really intensifies, with the Bananas Foster notes turning somehow darker as to add molasses candies to the mix. In the background are some dark chocolate notes, nutmeg, and clove. The mouthfeel is medium, and, for being such high proof, is remarkably smooth. The finish turns to clove, cinnamon, and oak as the banana fruitiness fades, and the finish just seems to linger forever. My only criticism of this rum is that there is a good bit of fusel oil in this rum; that typical rum taste that is off putting to some.
So, I imagine my bourbon drinking readers are now thinking, yeah, that sounds delicious, but how much of my bourbon budget should I spend on trying something like this? Well, most Plantation rum offerings are finished in French wine or brandy casks, and are generally around $80. But this bad boy that has no additional cask aging and comes in one liter bottles, and is $28.
Next up, is the Hamilton 151 Ministry of Rum Demerara River Rum from Guyana. Demerara River Rum is famous in tiki cocktail culture, and a shot of this type of overproof rum was floated on traditional mai tai’s for an extra kick. Made with molasses rather than sugar, it is noted for its rich deep flavors. This kind of rum is a component of the Plantation OFTD. And yes, this is 151 proof, which is the sort of standard proof for overproof rums. Yeah, that is 75.5 alcohol. So you think you have drinking chops from drinking hazmat bourbons? Well, hold on, there is a whole other level in rum.
The color, well, is an even darker mahogany compared to the OFTD. On the swirl the legs are super thick. The nose on the Hamilton is much more refined than the OFTD, and frankly a little more bourbon like than OFTD: dark cane syrup, vanilla, caramel, and a hint of oak. It is also more refined on the palate, despite its higher proof, with notes of vanilla, clove, dark chocolate, toffee, and tobacco notes, which crescendo on the finish into wonderful oak notes.
The Hamilton, despite being higher proof that the OFTD, is smoother and more refined despite the higher proof, which I attribute to it being a blend of Demerara River Guyana rums, rather than incorporating Barbados and Jaimacan rums at high proof. This style of rum has been sold at 151 proof for a long time, precisely because of this refinement, while other rums tend to be proofed down. This rum is made to be high proof because the flavors are just right. One thing I will note in this rum is that the fusel oils are minimized; some of the rums used for this blend are clearly either multiple column stilled or potstilled, and that is noted by various online reviews of this rum.
So, what does this refined overproof rum cost? Surely, it must be more expensive that OFTD, and it is. It’s $35. If you really enjoy high proof and cask strength bourbon, it’s hard to argue why you shouldn’t give Hamilton 151 a try. Just delicious.
So, maybe my old college buddy wasn’t entirely wrong; there is a certain seasonality to alcoholic beverages. Bourbon does sort of scream fall, winter, and even spring because of the Kentucky Derby and mint juleps. And while rum is used in wintertime punches, it’s tropical flavor so mixes with summer’s hot weather. But, here is the funny thing – you can buy 1.75 liters of rum in the form of these two amazing bottles for the cost of a typical fifth of what I would call good bourbon. And it’s not like bourbon is going to leave you because she caught you cheating with rum. So, what not have a rum affair this summer? She’s a cheaper date than bourbon nowadays, and my, she is good.