Four rums won Platinum Medal-Superlative, and 33 rums won Gold Medal-Exceptional at the Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) recent judging of rums. Three top rums were Overproof Rum, while one was in the Aged More than Three Years category.
The top-ranked rum, scoring 97/100 points, was Rest & Be Thankful 1998 23-Year Aged Longpond Single Cask #10245, 57.6% ABV. Founded in 1753, Longpond is one of Jamaica’s oldest distilleries. Today it is part of National Rums of Jamaica. The distillery operates a column still and two pot stills. It was closed from 2012 to 2017 for extensive repairs but is now back in operation. Much of its output ends up with specialty bottlers and blenders.
The BTI’s judging panel described the Jamaican rum as featuring:
Light gold color. Aromas and flavors of honeydew, pineapple cream, vanilla bean, and palm hearts with a round, dryish medium body and a very long finish with overtones of grilled pineapple upside down cake, pralines and banana bread, sweet peppers, black tea and salumi. Intensely, exquisitely full of flavor; if you like old and funky on George Clinton levels, this is the rum you are looking for.
Scoring 96/100 points was Black Tot 2022 Master Blender’s Reserve Limited Edition Rum. Black Tot is one of the world’s fabulous rums and can always be relied on to deliver outstanding quality. It is a perennial medalist in international spirit competitions.
This UK-based blender specializes in a range of traditional British Navy rums. Like its Royal Navy inspiration, Black Tot’s rums are drawn primarily from Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad, although rums from other locations can be used.
Navy rum did not have a set recipe; it was instead a style of rum that was sweet on the palate, featuring dried fruit, sweet molasses, brown sugar notes, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove spice. It was bottled at “navy strength,” typically 54.5% ABV, although the proof varied.
The BTI’s tasting note for Black Tot described it as exhibiting:
Golden amber color. Aromas and flavors of Nutella, mocha and leather, roasted red berries, and menthol with a round, dry medium-to-full body and a very long finish, with accents of strawberry syrup, maduro tobacco, roasted hazelnuts in vanilla, caramel and chocolate, and bananas foster. With complex layers of roasted fruit flavors, this is just a stunning rum.
Also scoring 96/100 points was Rest & Be Thankful 2000, 21-Year Aged, Monymusk Single Cask #13916, 61.7% ABV.
Although this rum carries the same Rest & Be Thankful brand as BTI’s top-ranked rum, it was produced at another historic Jamaican distillery, Clarendon. The molasses-based rum was distilled in an iron still in 2000 and subsequently aged in Jamaica in ex-bourbon oak casks for 21 years before being bottled in the UK.
Single-cask rum bottlings are becoming more prevalent in the spirits trade, an inevitable consequence of the premiumization driving the category. This trend toward single-cask bottlings has been particularly prevalent in Caribbean rums. It has proven particularly fruitful for specialty blenders and bottlers.
The official BVI tasting note described the rum as showing:
Light gold color. Aromas and flavors of butterscotch, wok-fried water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, vanilla Greek yogurt, and sour peach beer with a round, dryish medium body and a very long finish displaying notes of kyr, lemongrass and pickled mushrooms, raspberry cordial, and creme fraiche. Like distilled raspberry goat cheese with a caramel and apricot drizzle, an incredibly expressive Rum that is totally delicious.
The top-ranked rum in the Rum Aged More Than Three Years category was Kuleana Rum Works (Hawaii) Hokulei Aged Rum, Batch No. 07.
Hokulei means “garland of stars” in Hawaiian. It’s a blend of seven rums, ranging in age from 18 months to 18 years. The blend consists of four molasses-based rums sourced from Panama, Nicaragua, Barbados, and Venezuela. These rums were distilled initially at 85% to 94% ABV. They were aged “2-3 years, 3-8 years, 5-8 years, and eight years, respectively.”
To that blend, the distillery added Kuleana’s own Aged Hawaii Rum Agricole produced from fresh sugar cane juice distilled to 50% to 74% ABV and aged for 18 months in ex-Cognac barrels and a 15 YO molasses-based rum from Barbados distilled to 90% to 94% ABV.
The final addition to the blend is an 18 YO molasses-based rum from Trinidad distilled at 90% to 94% ABV.
The resulting blend offers a complex, nuanced rum with layers of flavors. The BTI’s official tasting notes described the rum as featuring:
Gold color. Aromas and flavors of pineapple, vanilla, toffee, and caramel syrup with a velvety, dryish medium body and a very long finish with accents of caramel sauce on grilled pineapple, lime oil, green banana, and green apple skin. A supremely delightful Rum that is grassy and fruity with a superb balance of barrel flavors to bring everything together.
Other top-ranked rum well worth trying included: The Equiano Rum Company, Original Limited Batch 02 Rum (95/100 points); E Leon Jimenes, 2019 La Aurora 110 Aniversario Rum (94/100 points); Holmes Cay, Heritage Blend, Esotico Edition (94/100 points); Panama Pacific 9 Year, Aged Rum (94/100 points); and Bacardi Gran Reserva, Diez Rum (94/100 points).
The top-ranked rums in the Rum Aged Three Years or Less, both with 94/100 points, were Don Q Double Aged Port Cask Finished Rum (Puerto Rico) and Plantation Isle of Fiji, Double Barrel Rum.
The BTI tasting note described Don Q as exhibiting:
Dark amber color. Aromas and flavors of roasted coconut butter, kola nut, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice with a round, dryish medium body and a long finish conveying notes of gingersnap cookies with fresh coconut shavings, walnut paste and black tea, bitter cocoa, and dates and figs. Smells and tastes of many seasons of extended aging; pour over a single ice cube on a warm summer evening and let this Rum unfold for an hour or so.
The tasting note for the Plantation Isle of Fiji described it as showing:
Gold color. Aromas and flavors of flambéed banana, caramel and butterscotch, Madagascar vanilla and sweet tobacco, and grilled pineapple with chocolate sauce with a velvety, dryish medium body and a long finish displaying notes of grilled bananas with vanilla caramel and chocolate sauce, brown butter caramel, cinnamon and nutmeg, and leather and tobacco. Light and ethereal tones of the sugar cane mixed with rich characteristics of the barrel aging make this a genuinely delightful sipper.
Other top rums in the category were Plantation Original Dark Double Aged Rum (93/100 points), Myers Reserve Dark Rum (93/100 points), and Jung & Wulff, No.2 and Jung & Wulff, No. 3 (both 93/100 points).
The top-ranked white rum, with 93/100 points, was Plantation 3 Stars Silver Rum and Bayou White Rum. The official BTI tasting note described the Plantation 3 Stars as featuring:
Clear color. Aromas and flavors of lemongrass, butcher’s paper, salted caramel, and mocha with a soft, bone-dry light-to-medium body and a long finish that exhibits overtones of vanilla, black pepper, banana leaf, and marzipan and plantains. Extremely light, clean, and supremely mixable; a benchmark column still white Rum.
The Bayou Rum, on the other hand, was described as exhibiting:
Clear color. Aromas and flavors of toasted vanilla bean, nougat, caramel, and ripe plantain with a silky, bone-dry light-to-medium body and a long finish manifesting notes of vanilla whipped cream, banana paste, raspberry nougat, and honey. A super clean white Rum that still shows some sugar cane flavor. This rum will make a great Daiquiri and meet all your rum cocktail needs.
The top Unaged Fresh Cane Juice Rum was Kuleana Rum Works, Hawaiian Rum Agricole Batch No. 105 (93/100 points), while the top Aged Fresh Cane Juice Rum (90/100 points) was Ron Zacapa Solera Gran Reserva XO Especial Rum from Guatemala.
The BVI tasting notes described the Kuleana rum as showing:
Clear color. Aromas and flavors of palm hearts, apple, pear, mango eau de vie, coconut butter, and aloe with a round, dry medium body and a long finish exhibiting accents of green plantains and lime, palm hearts and bamboo shoots, lemongrass, and coconut butter. It would make a wonderful Daiquiri and exhibits both the natural fruit sweetness and earthy, grassy undertones of sugar cane.
While the Ron Zacapa Gran Reserva rum was described in the official BTI tasting note as featuring:
Rich bronze color. Aromas and flavors of fruitcake, cigar box, flambéed bananas and cherries, and vanilla bread pudding with cocoa drizzle with a glycerous, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a medium-long finish revealing notes of dark chocolate covered figs and dates, caramel and marshmallow, dark chocolate covered candied orange peel, and fresh leather and cigar box. With rich, barrel-forward notes of chocolate-drizzled baked goods, this is a great Rum to add depth and oak support to a cocktail.
The top-ranked Spiced Rum was Bayou Spiced Rum (90/100 points). The BTI tasting note described it as:
Golden amber color. Aromas and flavors of brown sugar, pralines, Nutella, banana bread and caramel apple with a round, off-dry medium-to-full body and a medium-long finish that exhibits notes of milk chocolate with artificial cherry syrup, vanilla nougat, candied bitter orange peel, and pecan pie. There’s an earthy and nutty quality to the vanilla and Rum flavors that will play especially well in coffee cocktails.
The top-ranked flavored rum was Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum. The BTI tasting note described the rum as exhibiting a:
Light gold color. Aromas and flavors of tangerine, candied pineapple blossom, orange and raspberry mambas together, and fruit stripe gum with a satiny, fruity medium body and a medium-long finish that exhibits accents of pineapple candy, banana, vanilla, and watermelon. Light, fun, and extra fruity, a fun base to start tiki cocktails at home.
This year’s judging from the Beverage Testing Institute produced another superlative set of top medalists. Some are perennial winners, while others are new or relatively unknown brands. As in prior years, single-barrel offerings did exceptionally well. If you are a rum drinker, there are plenty of new rums to try out.
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