For another installment of spirits reviews, we turn to rum and cachaça (a clear distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice). These sweet and spicy spirits have long captured the attention of mixologists, and have made inroads with connoisseurs as premium sippers.
The notes and ratings below come from the 11th Annual New York International Spirits Competition, a sister competition of Cheers magazine. Judges for the NYICS are trade professionals—retailers, bartenders, buyers, etcetera—who blind-taste products based on price tiers. These reviews and ratings recognize spirits that represent both quality and value. The most recent series of NYICS competitions all occurred virtually.
DOUBLE GOLD MEDAL
Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Year (Campari America). The rum is distilled in Jamaica using a blend of 12- to 18-year rums aged in American oak barrels. It has a lovely dark copper color with long legs as it swirls around your glass. Brown sugar and spice and hints of citrus are on the nose. The pot still distilling brings hints of tobacco, along with vanilla and chocolate, as it coats your tongue and throat.
Cutwater Spirits Cask Strength Rum (Cutwater Spirits). A special release from Cutwater Spirits, aging the rum in American oak barrels that are charred to the #3 level. The gluten-free rum is bottled at 64% ABV. A dash of water will open it up to release the oak and vanilla and spice on the nose. The full body lies in the mouth with hints of leather on the edges of your tongue. The cask strength is felt all the way down your throat, with spices and vanilla floating on top.
Tanduay Double Rum (Midway Trading Company). Distilled in the Philippines and aged with a blend of 6- and 15-year-old rums before married and aged together for two years in bourbon oak casks. Tropical dried fruits and pineapple fill the nose. More pineapple and other tropical fruits, along with hints of vanilla, are found on the tongue. The finish is well balanced with remaining hints of oak and tropical fruit at its soft end.
Pinkertons Cocunut Rum (Pinkerton’s Distillery). Distilled at 30% ABV, this rum from Texas starts off as their Platinum rum. The coconut-themed presence starts when first lifted up to your nose. The blend of sugarcane forms the base as the top layer has fresh coconut. The finish is soft with a light coconut ending, and meant for cocktails or sipped over ice.
Bacardi Black (Bacardi). This rum aged in heavily charred oak barrels, giving it a darker color than you would expect for such a medium-bodied rum. The heavy char of the barrels also provides hints of toast and vanilla and caramel in the mouth. A soft finish and a good value for cocktails and over ice.
Barrell Craft Spirits Rum Private Release B903 (Barrel Craft Spirits). A unique blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and rhum agricole from Martinique. It is bottled at 63.6% ABV, and deserves first to be tasted neat before adding water or into a cocktail. Green apple and fresh fruit on the nose that really opens up with a dash of water. Its presence is immediately felt when in your mouth, along with the fresh crisp fruit. The fresh crisp fruit and herbs are present throughout, including the finish with a soft burn.
Appleton Estate 21 Year (Campari America). Nestled in the fertile Nassau Valley of Jamaica, the pot still distillery releases its dark mahogany-colored rum, aged a minimum of 21 years, in oak barrels. When brought to the nose, spices and citrus and dark brown sugar lift you to the islands. The length of time in the barrels gives it some oakiness in the mouth, along with cinnamon and traces of orange. Baking spices and dark sugar are part of the layered finish.
Cutwater Spirits Bali Hai Tiki Dark Rum (Cutwater Spirits). A blend of four-year barrel-aged rum, along with white rum, that was created to be the foundation for your favorite beach cocktail. Made from 100% pure cane sugar and distilled in San Diego. Caramel and hints of toffee and vanilla lightly coat the mouth. The smooth finish continues with top layers of toffee and vanilla.
Cachaça Pitu (Engarrafamento Pitu). Cachaça from Brazil aged a minimum of two years in American oak barrels. Hints of vanilla are on the nose and in the mouth. It has a smooth finish and works well served neat or cold over ice and in cocktails. A classic cachaça.
Gatsby Spirits The Tides Rum (Gatsby Spirits). Distilled from sugar cane from the U.S. Virgin Islands and blended with rum from the French West Indies. It has a golden hue appearance with tropical fruit on the nose. Vanilla and pineapple lie on the edges of your tongue. The finish is soft with a light layering of tropical fruits as it descends down your throat.
Koloa Rum Cocunut Rum (Koloa Rum). A true coconut white rum with a hint of green tint in color when in the glass. The smell of fresh coconut is present when you lift the glass. Lightly toasted coconut is tasted in the mouth with cocoa flavors. The finish is smooth with a continued lightly toasted coconut finish and pleasurable hints of pineapple.
Milk Street Distillery Wooden Leg Rum (Milk Street Distillery). A silver rum inspired by Brazilian rum and distilled from a combination of evaporated cane juice and rich brown molasses. Light molasses is found in the nose, and extra sweetness of molasses softly lie on the tongue. It has a smooth sweet finish for a silver rum.
Dos Maderas Rum PX (Taub Family). A world-traveler rum starting in Barbados and Guyana in American oak barrels before arriving in Spain to age in sherry butt barrels. A deep dark-colored rum with light hints of oak with a mix of sherry and dry fruit. A battle ensues in the mouth between the sherry finish and its rum foundation of dried fruit and deep spice. A smooth finish that is layered with a continuous sherry presence and spice finish.
Ron Abuelo XV Anos (Varela Hermanos). Distilled in Panama, aged over 15 years in American oak and finished in cognac casks. Dark in color in the glass, with dried fruit—including raisins and plums—on the nose. A fine layer on the tongue with multiple dried fruits lying on top in the mouth. It has a pleasant, long, deep finish, with remaining hints of dried fruit at the end.
Next Century Spirits Exalted Rum (Next Century Spirits). A traditional Caribbean-style rum distilled in the Virgin Islands and aged in refill oak barrels. The scent of oak from the barrel along with banana and pineapple is at the edge of the glass. Pineapple and toasted coconut lie softly on your tongue. The finish is soft with a continued medley of fresh fruit as it passes down your throat.
Bacardi Gold (Bacardi). A column-still rum with a light amber coloring, for it is not aged long in the oak barrel. It shows a light sweetness and vanilla aroma. Hints of vanilla notes along with light spice and brown sugar are found on the edges of the tongue. A soft medley of cinnamon and other spices add to the finish, which will work well with most cocktails.
Cooperstown Distillery Sam Smith’s Boatyard Rum (Cooperstown Distillery). Distilled in Florida, aged a minimum for two years in used bourbon barrels in their bonded warehouse. It is bottled at 46% proof and created to replicate Caribbean-style rum. Soft notes of spice and vanilla are on the nose and in the mouth. It has a well-balanced finish for a 46% proof rum.
Door County Distillery Golden Rum (Door County Distillery). A golden rum distilled from sugar cane and aged in used single malt whiskey barrels. Golden in color with hints of vanilla on the nose. Lies softly on the mouth with light layers of coconut and marshmallow. A soft finish with continued hints of vanilla and coconut as it meanders down your throat.
Mad River Distillers Rum 44 (Mad River Distillers). Distilled in Vermont from 100% Demerara sugar. The 100% gluten free white rum has hints of brown sugar in the nose. It lies softly on the tongue with brown sugar and vanilla on the edge of your mouth. The finish is soft and not syrupy with the continued presence of brown sugar.
Turnbull Bay Gold Rum (Sugar Works Distillery). Distilled in Florida in a hybrid pot still. A copper colored spice flavored rum bottled at 40% ABV. Cinnamon and vanilla wafts up into the nose when you lift your glass. Cinnamon and other dry spices are present as it lies on your tongue. Spice and pepper are softly present as it travels down your throat.