That golden rum in your speed rail – it’s as good as gold coins in your till. An Imbibe panel put 11 examples through their paces so that you, too, can cash in. Ker-ching! says Clinton Cawood
Golden rum is a flourishing category with an ever-growing number of new brands on offer, as well as countless crowd-pleasing ways to mix them. But which brand gives you the best bang for your buck?
We decided to survey some of the best entry level and premium pouring golden rums now on the market. Allowing a generous budget of up to RRP £20/bottle to cater for a range of venues, this tasting proved what variety and quality this category has to offer.
And as these rums are unlikely to be served neat very often, regardless of how good some of them might taste on their own, our panel tried them mixed in some typical drinks, with sometimes surprising results.
If nothing else, this tasting proved that it’s certainly worth taking another look at that golden bottle in your speed rail. Increasingly, your customers are too.
HOW IT WORKED
Clinton Cawood, Imbibe; Luca Cordiglieri, China Tang; Artur Dogiel, Riding House Café; Will Foster, Casita; Andy Heller, Plain And Fancy; Victor Nordelof, Callooh Callay; Ondrej Pospichal, Quo Vadis
81 El Dorado 5yo, Guyana
Taste: Defined by a molasses sweetness and distinctive spice, Guyana’s representative won praise for its raisin, apricot, cacao, Moroccan spice and cinnamon notes. Universally loved by this panel, although there were questions about its suitability as a pouring rum. ‘Great sipping rum, but I wouldn’t mix it,’ said one taster.
Mixed: When it came to mixing, some were a bit more sceptical, but that didn’t stop El Dorado taking number two spot both mixed and alone, despite concerns regarding the prices these drinks would command.
40% abv. £18.88/70cl. Inspirit Brands, 020 7739 1333
75 Ron Abuelo Añejo 5yo, Panama
Taste: Coffee liqueur, dark chocolate and caramel flavours won tasters over. This full-bodied rum also showed orange notes, along with sweet vanilla and hints of liquorice and nutmeg. As with the El Dorado, there were concerns about how comfortable this would be in a speedrail: ‘20 out of 20 for taste, but not as a house pour.’
Mixed: That said, it passed the mixing stage with flying colours; favourite for both Mojitos and Cuba Libres. The rum character shone through in the drinks, too strongly for some, but ultimately achieving both complexity and balance.
40% abv. £19.50/70cl. Noble Trading Company, 07956 699 820
69 Havana Club Añejo Especial, Cuba
Taste: This was dominated by coffee flavours and citrus – orange peel and grapefruit predominantly. A medicinal character identified it to some as Cuban.
Mixed: This rum got tasters thinking about its mixing potential, though the actual mixing saw it placed middle of the field for both drinks. One taster, who hadn’t rated this particularly highly,
was surprised once it was mixed with Coke, however, saying that ‘maybe it needed sweetness to bloom – must be why it’s called a Cuba Libre.’
40% abv. £19.29/70cl. Pernod Ricard, 020 8538 4484
69 Mount Gay Eclipse, Barbados
Taste: A restrained, rather closed nose didn’t stop tasters scoring Eclipse highly, describing an array of spice, cacao, kola tonic and cinnamon, but citrus oils most of all, ranging from mandarin to orange.
Mixed: What might have been elegance and restraint caused it to be a bit lost as soon as it was mixed, however.
40% abv. £18.59/70cl. First Drinks Brands, 01256 748100
63 Bacardi Gold, Puerto Rico
Taste: Uncontroversial, this pleased the panellists without causing any epiphanies. Light but balanced, with a ‘standard rum taste’, specific descriptors included cocoa beans, grapefruit and ginger, as well as a light floral note.
Mixed: The real revelation came when this rum encountered Coca-Cola, or did service in a Mojito, for that matter. Sweet, perhaps, but balanced, and with an attractive citrus character – it placed fourth overall for both drinks.
40% abv. £19.49/70cl. Bacardi Brown-Forman, 01962 762450
63 Santa Teresa Añejo Gran Reserva, Venezuela
Taste: A great divider of opinions, Venezuela’s emissary either drew praise for its straightforward approach with dried fruit, vanilla, chocolate and spice, or was criticised for one-dimensionality, and a lightness on the palate. The more commercially-minded on the panel noted this offering’s value for money – leading one to describe it as ‘GP-tastic’.
Mixed: Similarly, opinions were divided once this was in the mix – commercially viable on the one hand, but lacking in rum character on the other.
40% abv. £16.33/70cl. Mangrove, 020 8551 4966
62 Chairman’s Reserve Rum, St Lucia
Taste: Our tasters reserved their strange descriptors for this one… Pine, root beer, cedarwood, copper, maple, furniture polish and smoke, with some saltiness for good measure. Not that this was a bad thing – this was also described as distinctive and complex.
Mixed: In addition, Chairman’s Reserve performed particularly well in a Mojito, and not much worse in a Cuba Libre. ‘Sweet but fresh, with a subtle but obvious rum flavour,’ said one panellist of the Mojito.
40% abv. £18.75/70cl. Emporia Brands, 01483 458700
61 Ron Barceló Gran Añejo, Dominican Republic
Taste: A big and bold spirit, with perhaps more elegance on the palate than nose, this was packed with fruit – ripe banana, apricot and apple, with some vanilla and oak. Solid and substantial, but ultimately unremarkable.
Mixed: Barceló made a better Cuba Libre than a Mojito, although neither set the world alight.
37.5% abv. £18.99/70cl. Love Drinks, 020 7501 9630
60 Appleton Estate V/X, Jamaica
Taste: Distinctively Jamaican, panellists praised pineapple and spice aromas, and also recognised some major mint character, along with coffee notes, and also reminded one taster of agricole.
Mixed: Mix it with Coke, though, and suddenly it all made sense, making the panel’s third-favourite Cuba Libre of the day. Ranking fifth in the Mojito stakes is nothing to be scoffed at either.
40% abv. £18.58/70cl. J Wray & Nephew, 020 7953 3808
58 Doorly’s Gold 5yo, Barbados
Taste: Almost universally described as ‘light’, nearly every taster also used the word ‘vanilla’. Some also identified crème de cacao, maple syrup and coffee flavours, as well as a floral character. Some bitterness on a rather short finish cost it some points, however.
Mixed: It performed better in a Mojito than a Cuba Libre, although not particularly well in either.
40% abv. £17.80/70cl. Eaux de Vie, 020 7724 5009
CLINTON CAWOOD, IMBIBE
‘I was happy to sacrifice some complexity for versatility here, particularly when the price was right. While there was some correlation between the neat tasting and the mixed scores, it’s definitely no exact science. And at this house-pour level, mixability’s one of the most important factors. Price-wise, I thought too many of these hovered around the upper £20 limit.’
LUCA CORDIGLIERI, CHINA TANG
‘This was a very interesting tasting. I found the rums versatile and good for mixing in cocktails, with a couple that I would drink on their own. I think golden rum is overshadowed by dark and white rums, but there’s a real potential to create an upsell with it. For some of these, where there was both quality and versatility, I’d happily pay the price.’
ARTUR DOGIEL, RIDING HOUSE CAFE
‘The overall quality was very good and it was interesting to see how some of them worked with mixers. There were rums here that would be an upsell, depending on what the customer wants to spend. There’s definitely a point to recommending some of these as an option to upgrade a Mojito, but not necessarily for mixing with Coca Cola.’
WILL FOSTER, CASITA
‘The greatest rums aren’t necessarily the best for a speed rail. I think that for a house pour, where you’re mixing, you’re looking for a more medicinal, Cuban style. The Guyanese, on the other hand, are great on their own. Overall, these were all really good aside from one or two.’
ANDY HELLER, PLAIN AND FANCY
‘House pouring rums are designed to fit particular drinks. Some here had an extra dimension and were really interesting as a result. I’ve always been an advocate of golden rum as a speedrail option. That said, sometimes a white rum made well shows quality better than a golden rum made badly.’
VICTOR NORDELOF, CALLOOH CALLAY
‘There were some real surprises today, particularly when it came to mixing. For me, it’s based on taste and price, but most importantly what the customer expects. So, one rum might make a better drink, but it may be too expensive or flavourful for your average customer. I love upselling, but it’s important that customers feel they get what they want and what they’re willing to pay for.’
ONDREJ POSPICHAL, QUO VADIS
There’s no doubt that the category is on the rise and that it’s popular with consumers. What this tasting proved, though, is that not every rum is suited to every occasion. The range of flavours gives a huge number of options to consumers. That said, I don’t think people are looking for Mojitos with aged rum, and it’s not that profitable either. To have an option for upselling, you need to find an aged rum that isn’t too pricey.’
Also tasted: Gosling’s Gold
Many thanks to the team at Riding House Café for hosting the tasting and for all of their help on the day.