The Rum & Cachaça Masters 2017 results

9th March, 2017 by admin - This article is over multiple pages: 1 2 3

Rum is available in such a wide variety of expressions, with offerings to suit every budget – pity, then, that it still seems to lag behind in popularity. But if The Rum & Cachaça Masters were anything to go by, the sector has the potential to soar, writes Kristiane Sherry.

Rum is a category full of contradictions. Ranked fourth globally in terms of volume sales in 2016, behind local spirits, whiskies and vodka, (all data courtesy of Euromonitor), it languishes in fifth in value terms, outpaced by liqueurs and stagnant in growth. Where global value sales for liqueurs climbed by 2.2% in 2016 and whiskies made 3% gains, rum shrank by 0.9%, although a modest 0.4% recovery is forecast for 2017.

It is also a frustrating sector. Its potential is abundant – a good proportion of producers have honed their distilling and ageing techniques, with quality coming on leaps and bounds as a result. Yet consumers haven’t quite got the message. Where Tequila is actively challenging party preconceptions and Scotch whisky is shrugging off its staid reputation, rum lacks such a collective, joined-up PR approach. And when it comes to a global definition – well, it is no wonder spirits drinkers are failing to be converted to the sugar side.

Given the state of the category – and the nagging questions of if and when it will meaningfully premiumise – judges gathered at Rum & Sugar in London’s West India Quay for this year’s Rum & Cachaça Masters with some consternation. With rum’s dissonance between premiumisation potential and failure to up its value sales, how would the Class of 2017 perform?
Doubts were immediately cast to one side for the first flight of the day, with the sole Cachaça candidate securing a Gold medal: Capucana Handcrafted Cachaça from Vantguard. Assessed by a panel chaired by me, Kristiane Sherry, and joined by Timothy Falzon, head bartender at Mahiki; Chris Mathurin, co-founder of rum blog Rumming.co.uk; and Keegan Menezes, Drinkapparition blogger; the cachaça was deemed “clean”, “aromatic” and “full of flavour”.

But the judges wanted to see more come through from the wider cachaça category. “There’s so much space to innovate in. With 38 wood types, and more in testing, it has the potential to become a highly complex category in itself,” said Menezes.

Cachaça was swiftly followed by the sizeable white rum contingent, kicked off by a sole Standard entry. Facile & Co’s Noble Selected was awarded a Silver for its “funkiness”, before the panel moved on to tackle a substantial Premium flight that pulled in seven Silvers: one each for the “good value” Angostura Reserva, the “tropical” Ron Pedro Mandinga Silver, “well- balanced” Tanduay Asian Rum Silver, the “vanilla, butterscotch-led” Bayou Silver Rum, the “pure, well-made” Havana Club 3 Años, the “round, citrusy” Botran Reserva Blanca, and the “pleasantly balanced” Bacardí Maestro Ron.

In all, judges were pleased with their findings. “They’re all sippable, drinkable on their own,” asserted Falzon. “The distillers should be pleased.” Mathurin agreed, also praising the flight’s versatility: “They were all very different, aroma-wise, and some were quite pungent. It really showed the diversity of white rum.”

Moving up the price segments, the panel then explored a group of White Rum Super Premium expressions – with two striking Gold. “Banks 5 Island is a star – all those fruit notes,” remarked Menezes. Meanwhile, Murderer’s Day White Rum also delighted, with Mathurin praising the “complexity” amid the “tropical fruit” notes. While the judges praised both the expressions, the “super” aspect was called into question. Do consumers actually get better rum for their money or is it purely about positioning? The jury is still out.

Meanwhile, the second panel of the day – Alessio Franzese, Rum & Sugar deputy general manager; Kevin Kent, Rum & Sugar bar manager; and Matt Chambers, co-founder of Whisky for Everyone blog and a rum enthusiast; chaired by Amy Hopkins, The Spirits Business deputy editor – got stuck into a small but perfectly formed White Rum Ultra Premium flight, with Dark Matter White Prototype X picking up a Gold medal. “I got some liquorice and semi-dry notes – it reminded me of a vermouth,” mused Franzese. “What you got on the nose you get on the palate – it respects the expectation.”

Chambers said the Ultra Premium bracket is useful when defining a style and making sure the rums hit consumer expectations. “Most people would think they’d spend £15-£20 (US$18-US$25) on rum in the supermarket. Spending double means they want a softer rum.” Producers, take note.

Gold standard

Time to inject some colour into the proceedings – judges pressed on to the Gold Rum section, broken down into both price bracket and ageing period. First to face scrutiny was a single Gold Rum Premium expression to be assessed by the third panel, led by Lewis Hayes, co-owner of The London Bar Consultants, who was
joined by Jérôme Allaguillemette, assistant bar manager at Sexy Fish; Ben Manchester, bar manager at The Kensington Hotel; and Alexandre Dos Santos, head bartender at London Fields’ NT’s.

Tanduay Asian Rum Gold, perhaps fittingly, picked up a Gold medal. “It’s got a really good nose – very interesting and quite floral,” said Allaguillemette, with Manchester adding “at that price point I’d be quite happy sipping it”.

The panel then pressed on into Super Premium Gold, finding a Silver in “Sherry- like” La Hechicera and a Gold in Angostura 1919. “It had a lot going on,” said Manchester. “The nose was complex, it was multi-dimensional on the palate and it had a great spiciness.”

Moving up the price positioning again, Hopkins’s panel explored a trio of Gold Rum Ultra Premium expressions and discovered the first Master medallists of the day.

Kicking off the Master excellence was Rémy Cointreau’s Mount Gay 1703 Old Cask Selection. “It had a wonderful nose, which I hoped would transfer to the palate – and it didn’t disappoint,” said Chambers. Kent agreed: “From start to finish this was a very well-balanced rum,” he said. “It came with a full circle of flavour – sweet to dry and then sweet again on the finish. I can’t say anything bad about it.”

Also deemed Master-worthy was Bacardí Reserva Limitada. “It was wonderfully round with an incredibly smooth finish,” reckoned Hopkins. “Caramel, tropical fruits – it was very well balanced.” The “bold yet smooth” Brugal 1888 from Edrington completed the trio with a Gold. In all, the flight was a “delight” to assess, she said. “The diversity within the quality band was fantastic – all three rums do the category proud.”

Next to come under the microscope were the Gold Rums broken down by age statement. Eight medallists came to the fore in the Aged up to 7 Years flight, which was also tackled by Hopkins’s panel. “I would recommend Mount Gay Black Barrel as an entry-point rum,” Franzese said of the first Gold medal-winning expression. “Even with its complexity it’s actually quite straightforward.”

Bayou Selected Rum picked up another Gold. “If I bought something not knowing much about rum and got this, I would be delighted,” mused Chambers. “It’s soft, fudgy, butterscotch with a bit of fruit – exactly what I would want.” Securing a third Gold was Chairman’s Reserve Original. “It was the smoothest of the flight,” said Franzese, with Chambers adding: “And the most interesting.” The fourth and final Gold went to Banks 7 Island Rum, celebrated for its “orangey” nose and “great balance”.

“This is the best category to start with if you’re introducing someone to the rum world,” said Franzese. “It’s more complex than white rums, but you don’t have to mix it in cocktails – it’s perfect for educating the palate of a non-rum drinker.” For Chambers, this is where the industry as a whole should start to further rum’s cause. “Consumers are more educated than they were, and brands are better at educating themselves.” If the premiumisation of rum depends on an increased understanding of the category, this is the place to start.

A natural progression in terms of flavour profile, my panel then explored the Gold rums in the Aged 8 to 12 Years flight. The “heavyweight” grouping brought with it much excitement, with two Master medals and three Golds awarded. “I’d happily drink Duncan Taylor’s Caribbean Rum Blend all day,” exclaimed Menezes. While “anyone can drink it”, noted Falzon, the rum was found to be rich and complex – and was rewarded with a Master.

Hot on its heels was Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Cask, which also secured the coveted Master accolade. “It’s super, with all the flavours you’re looking for in a rum, plus a pretty long finish,” praised Falzon. Menezes agreed. “The finish lasts and lasts, which you want if you’re drinking something aged.” Golds went to “cigar box, sweet tobacco and fudge”-led Plantation St Lucia 2005 Rum; the “layered, multifaceted” Bacardí 8 Años; and the “complex yet quiet” Don Q Signature Release Single Barrel 2005.

“This is the strongest flight we’ve had so far,” said Menezes, emphasising the general consensus that these were all quality rums. “I really rate them,” said Mathurin. “Without exception they were well fermented, smooth and balanced – amazing sipping rums. And they were also made in a way that they are still accessible.”
The final Gold flight of the day was Aged over 13 Years, comprising a duo of Master medallists at the pinnacle of the category.

Duncan Taylor Single Cask Rum – a 14-year-old expression from the Diamond Distillery in Guyana – was the first to thoroughly impress the panel, and was deemed a “connoisseurs’ rum”. “There’s such bold flavours on the nose,” said Falzon. “The oakiness is very apparent, but it works.” Rémy Cointeau’s Mount Gay XO picked up the other Master. “It’s got a great finish with deep, complex flavours,” said Menezes. “It’s really well rounded,” Falzon echoed. “The nose is great, the finish is long and you can really enjoy it.”

The darker side

Hopkins’s panel was the first to explore the dark side, getting the proceedings under way with a sole Premium expression. “It is definitely a style of rum I would usually drink,” said Franzese of the Gold medal- winning Bati Dark Rum from the Rum Co. of Fiji. “It’s got a good balance of dry and spicy on the palate.”

Next to be assessed and rounding off the flights in that price bracket was the Ultra Premium Dark Rum segment, which came up trumps with a Gold medal for the “very inviting, round” new release from Angostura, the 1787 expression. Bacardi Facundo Exquisito, assessed as “well balanced between spice and sweetness”, picked up a Silver.

Moving on to age statements, and the Dark Rum up to 7 Years category produced a Gold in the form of Cruzan Aged Dark Rum. “It’s really easy drinking and quite honest for a younger rum,” said Hayes. Angostura’s 7 Year Old expression was awarded a Silver. Pressing up on into the Dark Rum Aged 7-12 Years segment, and my panel discovered a trio of Gold medallists. Angostura’s 1824 was celebrated as “simple, straightforward and done well”, while Beam Suntory’s Cruzan Single Barrel Rum was praised for its cedarwood and coffee notes. Rum Sixty Six from the Bajan Trading Company completed the group with its “well- blended” character.

“There was a good balance here overall – the rums were light and not too dry, but still flavoursome,” said Mathurin. For Falzon, the expressions were “good introductory rums, and good mixing rums – let’s be honest, there are some out there that don’t fit that bill. But these were definitely approachable.”

The judges then moved into the final dark rum flight of the day, with a duo of Over 13 Years expressions. Maison Ferrand impressed with its Plantation Jamaica 2002 expression. “The finish just lasts and lasts,” praised Menezes, who also backed Pusser’s 15 Year Old Rum as a “real crowd-pleaser”. Both duly were awarded Gold medals.

While the dark rums themselves were well received, premiumisation again came to the fore as a topic of conversation. What does ‘super-‘ or ‘ultra-premium’ mean to consumers, and is the category living up to expectations? With liquid on lips it surely is, the panel felt. The question most pertinent is how to persuade potential rum fans to splash the cash in the first place?

Agricole assembles

With molasses-based rum tending to dominate the premiumisation debate, it was time to look to the cane juice cousins with a side-step into Rhum Agricole. Despite being so often overlooked by rum novices for the more “approachable” alternatives, it was clear from this year’s showing that agricole producers are finally stepping out of the shadows and into the limelight.

“People are not appreciating what the category has to offer – especially not in the UK,” opened Menezes. But that’s set to change if the strong White Agricole flight is representative of the sector. Producing an incredible 11 medallists, including three well-deserved Master winners, the time for all things agri is now.

Hayes’s panel was captivated by Maison Le Mauny Rhum Blanc Agricole 40°. “We couldn’t criticise it – it’s a truly great white agricole,” he said. Allaguillemette concurred: “For me, it’s exactly what I expect in a white agricole rhum. The flavour is really enjoyable – it’s something you can sip.” The “punchy, pleasant and creamy” expression led the Masters charge, closely followed by Rhum Clément Select Barrel.

“I love it – it’s like it’s calling you to stop and just sit and enjoy it,” praised Dos Santos. “It’s super-aromatic and very floral.” For Hayes, its “sophisticated complexity” more than earned it a Master medal.
Completing the Master trio was Trois Rivières Rhum Blanc Agricole 50°, which was described as “a joy to drink”. “You can find some special rhums under the agricole banner,” said Manchester. “It’s a completely under-appreciated style, but once you spend time with the category it brings its rewards.” These continued with a quartet of Golds: Trois Rivières Cuvée Spéciale Mojito & Long Drink Rhum, which offered a “stewed fruit and fresh lime, alongside a real nutty character”; the “incredibly smooth” Maison La Mauny Acacia; the “great, straightforward”

Trois Rivières Cuvee de l’Océan; and the celebrated La Martiniquaise Saint James Imperial White.
The Aged Agricole flight also produced some extraordinary rhums, with a further four Master medals awarded. Rhum JM XO “carried a lot of finesse – from the nose to the finish you can taste the skill in this rhum,” proclaimed Falzon of the first Master medallist. The high praise continued: Trois Rivières VSOP Reserve Spéciale was “very well put together from the nose, and palate through to the finish”, while Trois Rivières Triple Millésime was “well-integrated and well-made” with notes of coffee and orange zest, the panel found.
Rounding off the Masters, Rhum Clément Select Barrel was found to have “a real complexity”, with Hayes declaring it “a really sophisticated rhum”.

After the Masters haul came a Gold rush – with no fewer than nine securing the accolade. “This was an excellent demonstration of what aged agricoles can offer,” said Menezes, looking back over the flight. “While they all had slightly different characteristics, the excellence was universal.” It seems agricole producers know how to make great rhum.

Spice up your life

If the agricole contingent turned up in their numbers, then the spiced rum producers were simply taking over the tasting table – an impressive 13 entrants took home medals, with two deemed Master-worthy. “Botafogo is a journey from the nose, which is orangey chocolate, to a spiced palate destination,” said Franzese of the first Master winner, a runner from the BBC Wines & Spirits stable. “It gives a rounded complexity and the finish doesn’t trick – there’s a gentleness; it’s something different.”

Rumbullion from the Ableforth’s brand was similarly highly regarded. “It was very good all round,” decreed Chambers. “You wouldn’t get tired of sipping this rum – it’s smooth on every single note.” The Golds followed thick and fast: Dark Matter Spiced Rum was the “punchiest of the lot”, while Bayou Spiced Rum was praised for its “more savoury” flavour profile. Don Q Oak Barrel Spiced Rum was deemed “very balanced with nothing overpowering”, with Ron de Jeremy recognised by Chambers for its “medicinal quality – it’s one of the most interesting with sweetness and also a coffee bitter note”.

Rounding off the Golds was Red Leg Rum, described by the panel as “classy with a lot of sugar cane”. “Spiced rums used to be over-sweet and full of vanilla and caramel, but now distillers are doing something different by adding unusual ingredients like cardamom – giving spiced rum a more bitter taste,” Franzese evaluated. “It opens up the market to different people with different tastes – there’s a real expansion.”
For Kent: “Variation is good. Different styles make a different entry point for people moving into more premium rums.” Could the key to elevating the category actually lie with spiced expressions?

Over and out

Bridging the gap between spiced and overproof was a miniscule Spiced Overproof flight, featuring Old J Tiki Fire. “It is really strong, but the spices add a subtlety,” mused Kent. Chambers developed an unusual tasting technique for the Gold- winning expression: “I found it really nice to leave it in your mouth until you get used to the strength – then so many flavours open up.”

Next to fly the flag for Overproof in a class of its own was Rum-Bar Rum, White Overproof, a Silver medallist which “does exactly what a white overproof should,” said Manchester. His panel then moved on to explore Don Q 151, a Gold Overproof expression, scooping a Gold with a “really honest flavour profile, once you get past the heat and strength,” said Hayes.

Last but not least for the punchy rums was a duo of Dark Rum Overproof expressions, which really shone. Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof Rum won a Master for its “crammed full of flavour” character, while Plantation Old Fashioned Traditional Dark scooped a Gold for its strong palate and all round complexity – regardless of its 69% abv.

Rounding off the proceedings on a sweet note was a flight of rum liqueurs, two of which were deemed to be medal winning by Hayes’s panel. Rum-Bar Rum Cream was found to be “very easy drinking”, securing a Silver medal, while Bayou’s Satsuma Rum Liqueur stood out for its “cleanliness, sweetness and flavour quality” – picking up a Gold. “It’s not an artificial product – the balance between the fruit and the rum is very good,” reckoned Allaguillemette. “It is very versatile.”

A ‘genuine’ day

After a day packed with diversity, the judges went away impressed by the category’s prospects. “Rum is getting a lot of stick for all the things that are added during production,” Hayes said. “Maybe it was the flights we tasted, but all the samples seemed pretty genuine – which is great because there’s a lot of sh*t out there.”
Falzon was also impressed by the lack of additives – and by the category’s inherently broad appeal. “People don’t appreciate that rum has the spectrum to make everyone happy – people who like vodka, whisky, Bourbon, they can find something for them all in one category.”

How then, to make sure they do? “It’s about perception – at the moment rum is perceived as a party drink,” Menezes countered. “As people go up their career ladders, they switch to Cognac and whisky. We need to tell them there are amazing rums out there, too.”

(L-R) Kevin Kent, Lewis Hayes, Jérôme Allaguillemette, Alexandre Dos Santos, Ben Manchester, Keegan Menezes, Timothy Falzon, Amy Hopkins, Chris Mathurin, Matt Chambers, Kristiane Sherry, and Alessio Franzese

But for a pragmatic Mathurin, it’s not as straightforward as ramping up the PR wagon. “It’s more than education – a bar is supposed to make money. If your base spirit is a big brand, you know it’s a great rum, and also that it will sell – like a bar call. So it’s about finding that balance between having a less expensive base spirit and a back bar of interesting rums.”

Could consumers pick out those interesting rums? Menezes is not yet convinced. But as the 2017 Rum & Cachaça Masters showed, the good, interesting spirits are out there. But the question facing the industry remains: how to tell their story and lure consumers from other categories? There’s still a lot of work to do.

Click through the following pages for the Rum Masters 2017 results in full.

One Response to “The Rum & Cachaça Masters 2017 results”

  1. Nice to see such an array of rums in the competition.

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