2018, while challenging in so many ways, was a good year for rum. Across the globe we saw an array and volume of releases that far exceeded any other year that I can recall. For me the year began with a quick trip up to New York to witness the launch of La MaisonVellier’s Clairin and Caroni products in the U.S. market. While I found the Caroni 2000 an interesting rum, it was the three Clairin releases from Haiti that for me that were the most approachable both for sipping and cocktail versatility. There was something about those products that made me think back to the colonization of the New World and in away was a spark to return to my roots and dive deeper into the history of that era.
Barbados and Jamaica were the two islands that captured my attention for most of the year with a constant stream of information and releases. Last year the French company Maison Ferrand, owners of Plantation rum, purchased the West Indies Rum Distillery. This year they got to work renovating and giving the facility some much needed TLC and dealing with the harsh reality that the remains of the pot stills on the property are never going to be more than lawn ornaments. With the purchase of WIRD they also acquired stakes in two Jamaican Distilleries: Long Pond and Monymusk. This led to the release of Xaymaca Extra Dry, which after being previewed at multiple spirit and Tiki festivals, was anticlimactically premiered at Tales of the Cocktail in July. Several months later I can say that Xaymaca functions well in certain cocktails and falls completely flat in others. What it does show me is the potential of what the company can do in Jamaica and hope they build upon this release and engineer better products in the future.
Tales of the Cocktail was one of the most positive experiences I had this year. To say I learned a lot is an understatement. I had identified that one of the areas as a reviewer that I needed to develop was my understanding of bitter flavors. Camper English, an author that I highly respect, happened to be teaching a seminar on that very subject. The class was worth the price of admission and with a blasted palate and a head full of knowledge I went about drinking lots of water because certain flavors grab hold and never want to leave. I attended most of the rum programming and finally had the pleasure of meeting the revered Joy Spence, Appleton rum Master Blender. The discussion of Jamaican Funk and that Appleton sees itself as having “sophisticated” funk did not really add up to me, but I prefer the funky flavors that can be found in Worthy Park, Hampden, and Monymusk, or the privately blended Doctor Bird. Appleton has its place in my bar, but I have never thought of it as delivering any kind of funk until I sampled the limited “Joy” release last year.
Another discovery at Tales was a new vintage from Diplomatico, the aggressive distribution of Ron Santa Teresa, and Bacardi releasing Cuatro and Diez. Cane Land of Louisiana made quite the positive impression as did Lyons. What was very apparent to me at Tales was across several spirit lines there is an aggressive battle for market share and this was no more apparent when it came to the rum companies. Tensions were apparent, as the battle for the hearts and minds between brands was in full force. We the consumers will ultimately decide who the winners will be as our buying power in the stores and bars will dictate demand.
Speaking of demand, 2018 was the year Foursquare came out swinging hard and Richard Seale planted the Barbados flag all over the globe introducing his distillery’s products to rum enthusiasts old and new. I have long been a fan of this distillery’s products as the Doorly’s line has long been a staple in my home back bar. Seeing the Exceptional cask releases actually created the rare situation where a rum series is elevated into a class of its own. Each new rum in the series is going to provide a positive experience and, ultimately, they compete with themselves for the one you like best. For me that was simply Foursquare Exceptional Cask Series 2005. It was by far my favorite new rum of the year and will be the ruler that other aged Bajan rums are measured against for a very long time. With the promise of more Exceptional Cask releases as well as a new Doorly’s product for 2019, I have faith Richard Seale will not disappoint.
This fall we made our first trip to Cuba. We barely scratched the surface and, if the planets align, hope to get back there within the next couple of years. I am currently in the process of exploring our souvenirs and you will start seeing reviews of those products in the upcoming months. Like most U.S. consumers most of my experience with Spanish style “Rons” is limited to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and that ill prepared me for some of the products I am exploring now.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to read this, my reviews for Got Rum? Magazine, and other writings. When I started this website eight years ago, I had no idea how far things would evolve and at the end of the day am just happy to be here. Remember never be afraid to ask questions; the best of the companies out there have nothing to hide. You the consumer have the power and should speak with your wallet, so always spend wisely. Enjoy what you like, and most importantly, understand WHY you like it. This knowledge will help you with future purchases and create your own path of rum exploration. I plan on doing more with RumJourney.com in 2019 and hope you will join me as I share my travels and explorations with you.
Cheers to you and your continued rum explorations!