There were some pleasant surprises for the judges among the various flavours and styles in this year’s Rum Masters. Becky Paskin reports
The Rum Masters 2014 results showed the category’s diversity in all its glory
The Cuba Libre originally consisted of a blend of white rum, cola and lime, a highball created in celebration of Cuba’s independence from Spain, and of the arrival of Coca-Cola in the country in 1900.
But over a century later, and with a diverse selection of rums now readily available in markets the world over, bartenders and consumers frequently omit the classic cocktail recipe’s white rum, for a variety of different styles. From the deep, chocolatey sweetness of dark rum to the earthy, vegetal charms of agricole, it’s no wonder the category’s diversity attracts so many fans and so much experimentation.
But at the Rum Masters 2014, our judges were not enlisted to grade the diversity of the category, or each entry’s mixability in the Cuba Libre, but rather the quality of the liquid in its own merit.
The setting this year was pan-Asian restaurant Spice Market at the W London hotel in Leicester Square. As the competition itself had grown to include the largest collection of rums in its six-year history, we needed a large, experienced panel of judges to help us determine those entries worthy of a Master, Gold or Silver medal.
Our participants for the day were divided into two teams, with the UKBG vice-president and head bartender at China Tang at the Dorchester, Luca Cordiglieri, joining me as co-chair.
In my team was James Chandler, bar manager for Central & Co, Johnny Florea, bar manager at One Canada Square, Jim Wall, bar manager of Trailer Happiness, and Georgi Radev, bar manager at Mahiki. Pepijn Vanden Abeele, manager of the Coburg Bar at The Connaught, Adam McCulloch, bar manager at The Angel & Crown, Crescenzo Mirto, bar and beverage manager at Spice Market, and Barny Ingram, bar manager at The Gun were part of Cordiglieri’s team.
The rums were scrutinised on their aroma, as well as palate in The Rum Masters 2014
The judging began with a wash of white rums, in what was one of the largest categories of the day. With so many established bartenders on the panel, our judges were looking for full flavours and mixability, both on the nose and palate.
While we weren’t disappointed, the category failed to attract a Master, the highest accolades of the round going to Havana Club Añejo 3 Year Old and Angostura Reserva. “Overall the white rums were absolutely great, and considering they are pretty much entry level it was an impressive round,” Radev said.
Our judges were greatly anticipating the arrival of the super-premium and aged rums, but found the most impressive round of the day was in fact the Gold up to 7 Year Old. “This category threw up a variety of tastes and styles that were completely unexpected,” pointed out Wall. “Some would be great mixed into cocktails, while others would be fantastic just to sip.”
The category attracted 10 medals including two Masters for Joseph Banks 7 Golden Age and Santa Teresa Añejo Gran Reserva, as well as four Golds and four Silver medals. What impressed the judges most was the high quality found among the younger expressions in the competition. “We should be very pleased with this level of quality,” exclaimed Florea. “It demonstrates the excellence there is to be found in the market right now.”
Sticking with the golden rums we moved up an age classification to the 8 to 12 Year Olds, where we found a significant drop in the level of quality expected. Just two rums impressed enough to attract a medal, with both Santa Teresa Selecto and St Nicholas Abbey Gold 10 Year Old awarded Silver medals. “These were very good products but didn’t have the depth we’d like from a rum,” declared Wall. “They needed more bite.”
Moving further up the age ladder into the Gold Over 12 Year Olds, our judges were more than pleasantly surprised. “We had the highest quality of the competition,” exclaimed Cordiglieri, whose team awarded two Master and two Gold medals. “Most entries had good noses and complexity,” he added, claiming Rum Botran Solera 1893 was the ”most balanced with the right amount of sweetness”.
Judge Barny Ingram inspects the line-up
My team meanwhile had an eye-opening experience with the Dark Under 7 Year Olds. While we questioned some entries’ classification as “dark”, with some being more golden in colour, these rums mostly packed a real flavour punch. A Master was awarded to Pusser’s Rum, for its “complex notes of prunes, dates, liquorice and dark chocolate”, while Gold medals were given to Havana Club Añejo 7 Year Old and Angostura 7 Year Old. Both the Dark 8-12 Year Old and Over 12 Year Old categories continued to cause a stir among the judges, with one Master, four Golds and a Silver medal awarded across the two rounds. Cordiglieri said: “The Dark 8-12 Year Olds was the most diverse and consistent round so far, with high quality rum ranging from fruity to chocolate and honey nut flavours. This was even better than the gold round.” Pusser’s impressed again with its 15 Year Old Navy Rum, which delivered notes of “fig, oak, peach and dark chocolate”.
We left the age statement categories behind and moved into rounds where entries were divided by price point. When it comes to judging a product based on its market positioning, The Spirits Masters judges often discover a great level of quality among the Premium set. In the Rum Masters 2014 however, the panel favoured those entered as Super-Premium. Wall, in particular, lamented the lack of quality in the Premium round. “I’m not sure some of these are worth the title of ‘premium,’” he said. “The quality does not match the price point and I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of the cost is in the packaging.”
The Premium category attracted just one Gold for Santa Teresa 1796, while the Super-Premium entries were awarded four Golds, for Mount Gay Extra Old, La Hechicera, Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s Rumbullion and Havana Club Selección de Maestros.
Following such a successful few rounds, Cordiglieri’s team were faced with the Agricole rums, those made from fermented cane sugar that have a distinctive vegetal nose and flavour that are known as the “Marmite of rum”.
Despite a touch of initial trepidation, the judges were pleasantly surprised by the excellence presented by the entries. “The quality was very high and there was actually a nice variety within the range, which demonstrated the vast differences within agricole rum,” said Vanden Abeele. “It’s a category everyone expects to be the same, but there were big differences between the Guadeloupe and Martinique rums.”
The category gleaned one Master, for Very Old Rhum Damoiseau 10 Year Old 2001 Vintage, plus two Golds and three Silvers.
While Cordiglieri’s team were fascinated by the Agricoles, mine tackled the Overproofs, which again showed a brilliant diversity of styles. The high alcohol content of the entries was not enough to put off the judges, and in many cases added to the character of the rum. “There were some beautiful flavours here, and even though they are overproof you can still feel the small nuances of the rum,” said Florea. We awarded a Master to Westerhall Jack Iron Rum, a Gold to Wood’s Old Navy Rum and a Silver to Rum-Bar White Overproof.
Back row, left to right: Becky Paskin, The Spirits Business; Jim Wall, Trailer Happiness; James Chandler, Central & Co; Pepijn Vanden Abeele, Coburg Bar at The Connaught; Barny Ingram, The Gun; Johnny Florea, One Canada Square.
Front row, left to right: Crescenzo Mirto, Spice Market; Georgi Radev, Mahiki; Luca Cordiglieri, China Tang at The Dorchester; Adam McCulloch, The Angel & Crown.
Following the Overproofs my team calmed our palates down with some relatively low-abv flavoured rums, which featured a plethora of styles from orange to chocolate and coffee. Approaching the category we were keen to be able to decipher some rum character behind the added flavouring and sugar, and were looking for products that could be mixed in cocktails or sipped on their own over ice. We were surprised. Of the handful of products entered, we awarded a Master and two Gold medals, the former going to Juan Valdez Coffee-Infused 8 Year Old Rum, the latest release from the team behind La Hechicera. This product successfully and delicately balanced the natural sweetness of rum with natural coffee flavour, making it the stand-out entry in the category.
Having spent the majority of the day sampling some seriously high quality rums from white to dark and agricole, we moved on to the final category of the day that’s seeing enormous growth in many markets across the globe. Never before has The Rum Masters seen so many entries in the Spiced Rum category; the unprecedented number of entries is testament to the popularity of spiced rum worldwide, and our judges were not disappointed either.
“The category was quite varied with lots of different flavours coming through,” explained Cordiglieri. “The quality was actually so high we awarded two Masters. But while it was impressive overall, some were too sweet, almost blurring the boundary between flavoured rum and liqueur. The sheer number entered this year is a sign that the spiced rum category is becoming quite huge.” In fact, eight medals were awarded in the category, making it one of the most successful of the day.
The full list of The Rum Masters 2014 results are on the following pages.