2018’s Best Rums and Opinions on Rum’s Current Position
In this article:
- Opinion on rum’s current position in the UK.
- Are spiced rums good for rum?
- Favourite rums from 2018.
- Rum in 2019.
- Is rum the new gin?
- My top 3 rums of 2018.
- My top 3 distilleries in 2018.
In addition to presenting a list of Best Rums, I thought I would add something extra with my thoughts on the rum sector and releases we have been treated to. The rums mentioned were tasted by me in 2018, not necessarily first released in 2018.
2018 has been another vintage year for rum. It is amazing to see just how much progress is being made in helping rum be appreciated for the truly great spirit that it is. Bars, supermarkets and even airlines are stocking more than just the standard basic brands and consumers are starting to look beyond the big boys and explore the incredible diversity of the rum category. It is also exciting to see some craft distillations popping up here in the UK, many of which are batch distilled in traditional copper pot stills.
But, a measure of how far we still have to go is that there is a glut of spiced “rum” liqueurs that for me, confuse the category. It especially annoys me when most of them are piggybacking someone else’s craft. What I mean by this is many spiced “rums” are imported rums distilled by a third party that are just flavoured and sweetened and then given a fancy bottle, a dodgy pirate-based marketing story and consumers think they are drinking rum. Well they are not! I have even encountered a rum being described as having botanicals added to it. I mean, come on, no thank you – keep your botanicals in the flavoured vodkas aka gin!
The rum category is in danger of becoming gin-like – a world where very few “distilleries” actually distill (many just add flavour) and hardly any create their own neutral spirit. Add the mythical botanicals that are so eagerly lapped up by consumers, introduce a novel marketing idea, pop in some over-priced fancy tonics and a few pieces of botanicals and you have a multi-million pound formula. Now whilst the big multi-national brand owners would love to repeat this in the rum world, I am horrified to think rum would become as shallow as the gin world is. Are sales and the bottom line all that matters? If it is, we could end up with nothing but 95% multi-column distillate, produced at ethanol plants and artificially flavoured.
I find it rather odd having to explain to “rum” drinkers that they are not actually drinking rum, but merely a liqueur. Morgan’s Spiced for example cannot legally be called rum due to its low ABV, yet it is often referred to a being “rum.” Whisk(e)y drinkers do not have to explain that Drambuie is not whisk(e)y and Brandy drinkers do not have to explain that Grand Marnier is a liqueur that contains brandy. If rum continues down the flavoured spirit route or tries to emulate gin, the artesanal production we crave and enjoy today would quickly disappear and the progress in the rum category would quickly disappear. It is not that spiced rums are wrong, but for me they denigrate the category solely due to the perception that they are actually rums. I was in a UK supermarket recently and saw Appleton 12 year old and Mount Gay XO sandwiched between Kraken and Sailor Jerry! Imagine seeing Glenmorangie and Macallan next to Southern Comfort and Glayva.
So for me, maybe it is just the terminology that needs to change. Of course, many drinkers aspire to be spirit connoisseurs and see quaffing a fine spirit as something chic and sophisticated. No-one wants the illusion to be shattered when you inform someone that their spirit is not what they think it is. But, again, this is only something that occurs in the rum world with adulterated rums or flavoured vodkas masquerading as premium drinks.
Whilst much progress has been made, there is more work to do to give consumers more information about the rum in their glass. By ensuring consumers know what they are drinking, we can further ensure that the money spent on a rum is for the liquid itself rather than a marketing story and fancy bottle. And that the liquid is actually rum, not some amalgamation of cheap imported rum and a shed load of sugar and additives. Ultimately, we want artesanal and traditional rums to continue to be made. To ensure this end, knowing what we are drinking and paying for is important. I hope that myself and other writers in the rum category help others to sort out the wheat from the chaff, or should that be the rum from the flavoured vodkas?
But, moving some negativity aside, I am genuinely excited about what has happened in the rum world in 2018 and also thinking about what is to come in 2019.
My favourite rums from 2018.
In such a vintage year, I have broken down the rums by country and category. This is by no means a comprehensive list and I am sure there are lots of other fine rums that are not on this list but inevitably, not every rum can be featured!
The re-emergence of Worthy Park is one of the amazing rum stories of recent years. Steeped in a rich and long history, Worthy Park produce stunning pure pot still rums. Continuing from the 2017 Marsala and Oloroso cask finishes, 2018 saw Sherry, Madeira, Port and Virgin oak casks benefit from secondary ageing. There has also been some fine collaborations with Velier.
Being a big Hampden fan and having visited the distillery a couple of years ago, it is superb to see them producing mainstream rums again. Hampden Rum and Overproof Rum are both stunning drinks.
Of course, anyone who knows me is aware that Appleton always has a special place close to my heart having grown up drinking it and having visited the distillery on multiple occasions. 2018 saw Appleton produce a Canadian-only 15 year old expression (I will review it when time permits) as well as a stunning 30 year old, which is due for an imminent release. I have already had a sneak tasting and love it!
Jamaica has now introduced its own Geographical Indication to guarantee certain standards in order for a bottle to be labelled as Jamaican rum – the type of water used, location, type of fermentation, use of pot and/or column stills and of course a guaranteed age statement on a bottle ensuring that every drop of rum in a bottle is at least the age stated on the bottle.
My other favourite distillery (along with Appleton) is Foursquare in Barbados. Richard Seale from Foursquare has been very busy in producing and releasing new rums in 2018 – we have had Foursquare ECS VI 2005, Foursquare ECS VII Dominus and Foursquare ECS VIII Premise as well as Principia (with Velier) and Veritas. The continued quality of rums coming from Foursquare never ceases to amaze me and 2018 has been one of their best.
The oldest distillery in Barbados, Mount Gay, has also been very busy in 2018, producing an exceptional limited edition bottling – Mount Gay Peat Smoke Expression Rum. They have also paired up with The Whisky Exchange to release a limited edition of a 7 year old rum.
St. Nicholas Abbey
Cask strength versions of SNA’s white and 5 year old rums have been released – both of which are superb.
For me, 2018 was the year when agricole rhum started to be more fully appreciated in the UK. This is an often neglected or overlooked sector but one that delivers amazing characterful rhums.
Inevitably, when mentioning agricole, Martinique springs to mind. This year I discovered some amazing rhums from Rhum JM including an Armagnac finish.
Neisson is a brand that is very hard to find in the UK. I purchased a bottle of Profil 105 from France, and would hope to see more of it coming over here.
A new agricole I discovered at 2018’s UK RumFest is Rhum Depaz. I especially enjoyed their Rhum Depaz XO.
The surprise find of 2018 is Rum Agricola Da Madeira: 970 Single Cask Edition. Few people outside Madeira are aware of the stunning rums being produced on the island. I already discovered the amazing William Hinton Rum and this year, it has been matched by 970.
Other / Independent Bottlers
Of course, Velier usually sits at the top of many rum enthusiast’s lists for independent bottlings. For me, one of the highlights of 2018 was the release of Antigua Distillery Velier “Heavy” Rum. There have been many other fine Velier releases this year, notably from Hampden and Worthy Park.
One of my favourite independent bottlers, Kill Devil, have released many new single cask rums in 2018 – the Guyana Enmore 1992 (24 and 25 year old) rums being a personal highlight. The 2006 Panama rum released at 61.5% was also a top tipple.
Compagnie des Indes
Another independent bottler that continues to release amazing single cask rums from all around the world. Their 55% 9 year old Hampden rum was my personal favourite of their releases this year.
St. Lucia Distillers
Those wonderful distillers in St. Lucia have added 1931 to the Chairman’s Reserve regular line-up. Going forwards it will be the same blend each year and will be branded as Chairman’s Reserve – as always, it is a stunning rum. Admiral Rodney rum has been given a shake-up too with three new versions of the rum being released.
One of my favourite Spanish-style brands of rum is Don Q who always produce top quality rums. This year saw the release of their superb 2007 offering as well as the long-awaited release of the Vermouth Cask-finished rum, which is a really unique and superb product.
One brand I am fond of is Neptune. 2018 saw them upgrade their blend of aged Foursquare rums. Pure, smooth and unadulterated top quality rum!
A brand that produces much controversy in the rum world due to their adulteration of rums through adding a “dosage.” 2018 saw much improvement though with the second Extrême editions – Plantation Extrême No. 2: Fiji Islands 16yo Rum and Plantation Extrême No. 2: Guyana 18yo Rum being especially good, albeit pricey. Their Xaymaca Special Dry Rum met with mixed reviews – personally, I quite liked it!
As a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I often enjoy their single cask rums. 2018 brought several new ones to market including SMWS R7.1: “Welcome to Jamrock” which was my favourite.
Some new independent bottlers appeared with some fine single cask rums. I especially enjoyed the Marsala wine cask-finished SBS from Foursquare distillery and the equally excellent The Duchess Barbados 13yo Rum also from Foursquare.
The one flavoured rum that I absolutely loved in 2018 was Cane & Bean 1870. A superb combination of rum from Foursquare and real Peruvian cacao.
Before revealing my choices for best rum of 2018, here is a quick preview of what to expect in 2019.
Rums in 2019
As always, we will be treated to more new and exciting releases from Foursquare. Already announced are a 14 year old version of the excellent Doorly’s rum – having had a couple of tots of this already, I can promise that it really is superb. There will be the imminent official release of Destino in collaboration with Velier and further Exceptional Cask Selection releases, starting with “IX Empery” at 56% and also “Imperium” at 58%. There will also be “Patrimonio” a 14 year old ex-Sherry, ex-Bourbon cask rum at 56%. And I expect further Velier collaborations too!
We may see something from St. Nicholas Abbey. This year I had a lovely tasting of an 8 year old single cask rum – it would be great to see this released.
There will also be further work on the Barbados Geographical Indication, which will help to guarantee standards in all bottles of rum labelled as being from Barbados.
In Jamaica, Appleton 30 year old is due for release imminently. As soon as I get mine, I will be reviewing it of course. I also expect to see more coming from Worthy Park, too.
Pusser’s new 15 year old blend is due to hit the shelves soon. Always a tasty tot!
Is rum the new gin?
With gin dominating the UK “craft” distillation sector in 2018, I expect to see more distilleries switching away from the saturated gin-sector and into rums. 2018 was full of spiced adulterations in the UK, with many “distilleries” merely flavouring someone else’s distillate. Let’s hope 2019 sees more English fermented/distilled rums.
The distillery I work for, English Spirit were the first distillers of rum from scratch in the UK and the rums they distill are top quality, pure and clean. Many more rums distilled from scratch are on the horizon in the UK – Morvenna from Cornwall and Greensand Ridge Wealden Rum from Kent are two such examples as well as several fine rums from Scotland.
Further afield, the emergence of Mhoba rum from South Africa has been a big plus in the UK. I hope to see (and taste) more of their rums in 2019. Fiji and Mauritius have also started to gain popularity as has agricole from Madeira and so it would be great to see more of their rums.
Best Rums of 2018
1. Foursquare ECS VII Dominus
It is somewhat inevitable to find a Foursquare rum at the top of my list, but just because it is, does not mean the position is not thoroughly deserved. Foursquare ECS VI 2005 was stunning but for me Foursquare ECS VII Dominus has the edge. Having re-visited both rums on multiple occasions, every time I prefer Dominus although an honourable mention should go to Foursquare ECS VIII Premise as something to appeal to lovers of lower ABV rums. The release of Principia (with Velier) was stunning, too although Dominus still has the edge. That said, choosing your favourite Foursquare rum often depends on your mood and there is a Foursquare rum for every occasion and mood. I have found that my moods are most often suited to Dominus though.
Of course Destino is superb too but as the 2018 release was just 600 bottles, I have not included it in 2018. Maybe in 2019…..
2. Antigua Distillery Velier “Heavy” Rum
This rum is stunning – a real surprise from a column still rum. Luca Gargano at Velier found some amazing casks of rum at Antigua Distillery and the result speaks for itself. The €55 price and 66% ABV defy belief value-wise. The real appeal of this rum is that it is a grower. Each additional sip brings more nuances to your palate. Some might think 66% ABV is too high, but it really does not feel nor taste as strong – sipping this neat is a delight.
3. Mount Gay Peat Smoke Expression Rum
High ABV and a unique cask-finishing have produced this gem from Mount Gay. The only downside is the price point, but the quality is beyond doubt. At times, you feel as if you are drinking whisky, yet clearly you are actually drinking rum. The peated influence strikes the right balance and the 57% ABV is superb.
Best Distillery in 2018
1. Foursquare (Barbados)
Year-on-year, Foursquare continue to innovate and raise the bar and every year, they succeed in producing fine rums that get better and better. Not only that, but they are natural products and promoted by the very articulate and one of the most passionate people in the rum world, Mr. Richard Seale. I salute you and your fine rums sir!
2. Worthy Park (Jamaica)
Since re-commencing distilling in 2005, Worthy Park have produced batch distilled rums of the finest quality. Their collection of cask-finished rums adds a new dimension and coupled with the high ABVs, they are some of the finest rums in the world.
3. Don Q
The release of 2007 and the superb Don Q Sweet Vermouth Cask “Finish” set Don Q aside from other producers of lighter Spanish-style rons. They continue to innovate and produce fine quality rums.
And so, that is all from me for 2018. Thank you to everyone who reads my posts.
Happy New Year to everyone – let’s make 2019 a rumtastic year!
Simon aka RumShopBoy