This year’s Global Rum Masters judges put a record-breaking number of entries through their paces in our highly anticipated annual blind tasting.
This year’s Global Rum Masters showed off the great achievements of the world’s talented rum producers
A whopping 15 flights made up this year’s Global Rum Masters and pushed our judges’ palates to the limit with their diverse style, complexity and flavour.
From the light, delicate sweetness of white rum to the intense grassy vegetal profile of agricole, each entry was stringently tested and the champions of each category honoured with a medal.
Entries this year tended to swerve towards the Premium category, with more and more spirits instead qualifying for the Super- and Ultra-Premium categories – demonstrating rum’s combined effort towards premiumisation and away from its lingering party image.
But while this year’s tasting contained more entries with a higher price tag than ever, quality and subsequently the all-important medals were not confined to the upper echelons of the rum world.
The competition took place at The Jugged Hare in London’s Chiswell Street, where the day’s judging was accompanied by a lively and apt soundtrack of reggae, as the genre of choice for venue-owner ETM. This year the entries rolled in thick and fast, so in order to accurately examine each submission our judges were split into two panels under the charge of chairman Becky Paskin, editor of The Spirits Business, and co-chairman Adam McCulloch, bar manager at The Cadogan Arms. In Paskin’s team sat Pepijn Vanden Abeele, bar manager of Coburg Bar at The Connaught; Georgi Radev, bar manager of Mahiki; and independent rum judge John Gibbons, while McCulloch’s squad was comprised of rum writer Peter Holland; Luca Cordiglieri, bar manager at China Tang; Jamie Kimber, bar manager of Trailer Happiness; and Elliot Ball, co-owner of the Cocktail Trading Company.
From left to right: Luca Cordiglieri, Pepijn Vanden Abeele, Jamie Kimber, Elliot Ball, Adam McCulloch, Peter Holland, Becky Paskin, John Gibbons, and Georgi Radev.
The judging commenced with a hefty flight of white rums, but despite its size and importance to the category overall, both panels were left feeling a little dejected. “All the rums went in the same direction – light with not a huge amount of character,” noted Radev. “Most were light and fruity, but there was nothing demonstrating that characteristic pot-still style. Unfortunately you can see the direction in which white rum is going.”
The first round failed to bag a Master, with the highest accolades awarded to Havana Club 3 Year Old and Angostura Reserva. However, Ball saw the potential in a select few to add an extra dimension of flavour in cocktails. “In terms of mixability, some of these stood out,” he said. “Good characteristics can lead to a good mixed drink.” After a slightly subdued opening round, the judges’ spirits began to rise during the tasting of the Gold up to 7 Year Old flight, which attracted three Gold medals. McCulloch commented: “It’s very nice to see that rums of a young age can develop a nice level of complexity – a lot of these were perfectly enjoyable.”
Despite enjoying a more successful round, it seemed the wow-factor our panels were holding out for had not yet been unearthed. “Gold rum is a category you make cocktails with, and I didn’t feel many would stand out in a cocktail,” explained Radev. Sticking with golden rums, the next flight moved up an age classification to Gold 8-12 Year Old, which received praise for its diversity. The Duncan Taylor Whisky Company gleaned a Gold medal for its Caribbean Blended Rum 2001 12 Year Old, as did Saint James Reserve Caribbean Rum.
Paskin noted: “I actually thought this round was a marked improvement on previous rounds; in terms of character and flavour, these rums packed a punch. While I considered a couple to be exemplary, other judges didn’t quite agree. However, this is a democracy, so the overall vote won out.”
Moving further up the age ladder to Gold Over 12 Year Old our judges revelled in an exciting leap toward the level of excellence our panels were waiting for, and the attraction of our first Master – awarded to the “delicious” La Hechicera, which had an “exquisite finish”. Cordiglieri commented: “It was amazing, full of taste and complexity, great tobacco notes – a great representation of a well-made rum.”
Summing up the round, McCulloch reflected: “An outstanding range of expressions, representing how good rum can be with due care and attention.”
Judges scrutinised white, gold, dark and flavoured rums with a balanced, unbiased approach
From one exciting category we flowed right into another with a selection of “delightful” Dark up to 7 Year Old rums – the flight that bagged the most medals out of the entire competition. “There’s a much wider complexity coming through in this round. Some were creative but didn’t quite hit the mark, while others were incredible – aromatic and flavourful,” noted Kimber. McCulloch added: “This was a consistent round, and all delivered from ‘perfectly acceptable’ to ‘very good’ results. It seems the rum industry is fully aware of what makes a good dark rum.”
The consistent success of the previous rounds marked a step up for the mastery of the flights that followed, including the next round, Dark 8-12 Year Old, which heralded a “pleasant selection” including the Master-winning XM Royal 10 Year Old, described as “brilliant” and displaying “great balance”.
The praise continued into the next round, Dark Over 12 Year Old, which Radev described as his favourite category of the competition thus far. Here the judges awarded two Master medals, for Connoisseur’s Cut Guyanian Cognac Cask, which judges found well-rounded due to the fruity Cognac notes of the cask, and XM Supreme 15 Year Old. The round took an unexpected twist when judges tasted Connoisseur’s Cut Guyanian Whisky Cask, which, after deliberation, secured a Silver medal. Describing it as a “wild card” rum, Vanden Abeele said: “It could fill a category of its own. It’s a very interesting product, daring actually, with a very brave finish for a rum product. It’s a Marmite rum though – you either love it or hate it.”
This wildcard ‘Marmite’ rum, which incidentally was matured in Guyana in Bourbon casks for two years before being finished in malt whisky casks in Europe, instigated a discussion over the shape of the competition, attracting just one Gold medal for Afrohead XO 15 Year Old, and two Silvers for Penny Blue Single Cask and Angostura 1824. “This round was disappointing, particularly as this is the round where as far as consumers are concerned, expectations should be blown,” observed Paskin. “They were all approachable and perfectly lovely samples, but the category leaves a lot to be desired in terms of value for money.” Her sentiment was reflected by all the judges, who were generally pleased with the “characterful” rums available for the price point, and were not opposed to the notion of sipping the night away with the selection. Kimber explained: “It was nice to see a great cross section of flavours within rum, especially ones that develop in the glass – something we’ve now come to expect given the price.”
Pepijn Vanden Abeele noses a line of golden rums as this year’s competition heated up
The judges next faced a series of Agricole Rhums; a selection of spirits typically made in the French West Indies from fresh sugar cane juice. While the category has been known to divide drinkers, our judges embraced the niche flavour with vigour, awarding a Master medal to Rhum Clément for its Rhum J.M Très Vieux XO, as well as three Gold and four Silver for other styles within the company’s portfolio. Holland said: “This round is a lesson in the art of rum making. This is what rum should taste like.” Cordiglieri was also full of praise for the French entries, which he described as the “most balanced” of the categories. “It was very difficult to pick the best one,” he mused, but added that the category “could do much better in terms of serves in bars.”
As the distinctive flavour of the Agricole Rhums made their mark on judges’ palates, McCulloch’s team trialled the small selection of Rum Liqueurs, which gleaned a Master medal for complex, flavoursome yet “not too sweet” Toussaint Coffee Rum Liqueur, and a Gold for the distinctly banana-flavoured Rum-Bar Cream Liqueur.
McCulloch described the round as: “A perfect range that demonstrated that rum liqueurs can be made well.” After a sweet and satisfactory round, judges delved in to sample a plethora of spiced rums which, through their vast selection, accurately represented the evergrowing popularity of this sector of the category. The variety of interpretations drew mixed responses from the judges, who awarded Louisiana Spirits’ Bayou Spiced Rum, Sailor Jerry and Pusser’s Spiced Rum a Gold medal, while Berry Bros & Rudd’s Pink Pigeon and Ratu Dark Spiced Rum 5 Year Old all achieved a Silver medal. Paskin praised the variety of flavours now available in the category: “Such diversity… This flight is really representative of just how popular the spiced rum category has become recently.”
The final two categories of the day – left until the end so as not to destroy our judges’ palates – were White Overproof and Aged Overproof. Paskin’s team took to the former, awarding Rum-Bar White Overproof Rum a Master medal for its robust flavour profile. “It was pleasantly surprising, particularly for a rum of such strength,” praised Paskin. “Full of fresh, fruity flavours and aromas.”
Meanwhile, McCulloch’s team took charge of the Aged Overproof flight, unanimous in agreement that the round could sometimes be a tricky one to judge. In the end, Tilambic Overproof 151 75.5% came out on top with a Gold medal. McCulloch commented: “Overproof is always a difficult round to judge as it’s a challenge to differentiate between the balance in flavour against the strength of the alcohol. Nonetheless, we still found an outstanding product with a good flavour profile which just so happened to be the highest abv.” It seems in this year’s Rum Masters, overbearing similarities in the older, premium categories left the panels unsatisfied at times, and so it was left to the unique profiles of agricole and the diversity of younger-aged rums to steal the show. Summing up the day, Paskin said: “If the category is to benefit from premiumisation, like other spirits categories have, then it needs to focus on quality at the top end as well as the low.”
Click through to the following page to see the results of The Global Rum Masters 2015.