The Rum & Cachaça Masters 2018 results

7th March, 2018 by Amy Hopkins

The Rum & Cachaça Masters 2018 was notable for the sheer quality of the expressions on display. As our blind-tasting competition proves, the category is bursting with innovation.

Rum is coming under greater scrutiny than ever before. As the category takes slow but meaningful steps up the ladder of premiumisation, and as the captivating notions of ‘craft’ and ‘heritage’ seep over from other spirit sectors, consumers and industry stakeholders are paying closer attention to rum – how it’s made, where it’s made, and its quality credentials.

Rum has long been something of an elusive party spirit, and a lack of consumer education – as well as irregular definitions around the world – means it hasn’t premiumised as fast as its brown cousins whisky and Cognac. As the category moves upmarket, some products have also been criticised for a perceived lack of transparency, namely, using colour, sugar and other additives, seemingly to justify higher price points.

Despite this, rum truly is a drink for the masses, and its potential is clear for all to see – it is sweet enough to be accessible to new spirits drinkers, and also has the sophisticated traits inherent to aged products that are sought by spirits connoisseurs.

The Spirits Business gathered together a group of drinks experts at The Rum Kitchen in London’s Notting Hill to assess the state of the category. Our Rum Masters 2018 competition was assessed by three panels of tasters. The first flight of the day – a Cachaça sub­category – came under the scrutiny of: Daawud Zepherin, The Rum Kitchen ambassador; Alessio Franzese, executive bar manager at The Kitty Hawk; Chris Mathurin, rum blogger; and Peter Holland, independent rum expert and founder of The panel was chaired by Melita Kiely, deputy editor of The Spirits Business.

The first round of the day saw three medals awarded: two Golds and one Silver. Vale Verde Prata won praise for its “fruity nose”, “peppery palate” and “soft mouthfeel”. Judges celebrated the “toffee and baked apple” flavour of fellow Gold medallist and stablemate Vale Verde Extra Premium 3 Años.

The same panel then turned its attention to entrants in the White Rum – Standard category, which yielded one Silver medal for Old Hopking Premium White Rum and one Gold for Negrita White Signature, which judges deemed “very good value for money”. Franzese said: “I think this is unique as it has an intense aftertaste, which is unusual for a white rum.”

At a higher price point, the panel then assessed the White Rum – Premium category, awarding one Gold and three Silvers. Judges enjoyed the good balance of flavours in Gold medal winner Havana Club 3 Year Old, as well as its “lovely touch of oak”. Holland said of the flight: “Expectations were higher here and a few of the rums delivered – they were young but had really good balance.”


Another Gold medal-worthy entrant was discovered in the White Rum – SuperPremium flight. Here, judges were looking for “something that would stand out in premium cocktails”, according to Holland, and Zepherin said he enjoyed Gold medallist Banks 5’s “natural sweetness and “well balanced” character. Rum­Bar Silver walked away, fittingly, with a Silver medal.

The event’s second panel tackled the Gold Rum – Premium flight. The judging team consisted of: Nicola Thomson, director of Fifteen71; Matt Chambers, spirits journalist and consultant and co-­founder of Whisky for Everyone; and Alessandro Geraci, assistant bar manager at Aqua Shard. Proceedings were chaired by me, Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business.

The judges were impressed by their first flight of the day, bestowing Golds on “fresh and vibrant” Bougainville Gold Aged Rum; “sweet and interesting” Six Saints Pedro Ximénez; and Tanduay Asian Rum Gold, said to have a “lovely peach and apricot character”. Negrita Añejo Reserve was awarded Silver. Looking back on the category, Chambers mused over its dichotomy: “There was a split, with two very fresh and light and two sweeter and heavier styles.”

The Gold Rum – Super-­Premium section proved to be incredibly strong and featured the first Master winners of the day. Both Neptune Rum Gold and Element Eight Republica Rum walked away with the highest accolade The Rum Masters had to offer. Judges loved the “honey and nutmeg” aroma of the Neptune expression, and praised its “smooth, silky palate of tropical fruits and caramelised banana”. Meanwhile, Thomson said the Element Eight entry “challenges the palate with its sweet spiced and salty flavours”.

Chambers concurred, adding: “There’s a lovely woody flavour of baking spice that comes through. If you spent £35 or less on this, you would be delighted.” In the same flight, Golds were awarded to MarlinSpike 888 HighSeas Blend, Angostura 1919 and Banks 7, while Ron de Jeremy Reserva bagged Silver.

A single, but superb, entry followed in the Gold Rum – Ultra-­Premium flight, where Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve was named Master. The expression was lauded for its “lovely pepperiness”, as well as its “herbaceous”, “bitter” and “sweet caramel” flavours. Reflecting on the gold rum offering over various price points, Thomson noted that a significant number of entries offered exceptional value for money.


The third and final panel of the day assessed the gold rum contingent segmented according to age. The team consisted of: Sly Augustin, owner of Trailer Happiness; Imie Augier, general manager at Merchant House; and Keegan Menezes, rum blogger. They were chaired by Antony Moss, director of strategic planning at the WSET.

In the Gold Rum – Aged up to 7 Years round they awarded two Gold medals and four Silvers. The Gold medal winners were Rum-Bar Gold from Worthy Park Estate, which had a “very pure” nose, and Marauda Rum Steelpan, which was described as “a solid all­-rounder, with the most honest nose and palate”. They then turned their attention to the Gold Rum – Aged 8 to 12 Years contingent, where the Gold standard continued with Plantation Fiji 2009, described by Augier as “what rum should be – big and bold”. Four Silvers followed, for Bacardi Limitada, Penny Blue XO #2005, Rum Sixty Six Family Reserve, and Rum Sixty Six Cask Strength.

The gold rum section of the competition concluded with Gold Rum – Aged Over 13 Years, where Plantation Peru 2014 walked away with a Gold medal, and Plantation Barbados 2002 and Pirate’s Grog No.13 bagged Silvers. “The nose transports you to an old warehouse,” Augustin said of the Gold medal winner. Moss praised the entire flight for careful consideration of wood, but said he would liked to have seen “more real rancio depth” across the board.

Moss’s panel then tackled the Dark Rum – Super­Premium category, and discovered an exemplary Master medalist. Lost Spirits Distillery’s ‘Jamaican’ expression – which, like all products from Lost Spirits Distillery, undergoes a scientific process of rapid maturation – secured the top accolade for its “wood tannin” flavour and “oily” texture. “But there’s a flavour of exotic fruit still running through the palate,” mused Moss. Havana Club Selección de Maestros, meanwhile, won the judges over with it’s “nice long finish” and walked away with Gold in the round. Two further Silvers were given to Bayou Select Rum and Mount Gay Black Barrel.

In the Dark Rum – Ultra­-Premium flight, Ron Dos Maderas Luxus and La Hechicera Solera 21 – described by Augier as a “rum drinker’s rum” – were both awarded Gold. A fleet of Silvers also followed. Judges noted that while many of the entries exemplified attractive qualities, some lacked the complexity expected at this high price point, and instead focused heavily on wood flavour and sweetness.

My panel examined the dark rum contingent divided by age and kicked off with the Dark Rum – Aged up to 7 Years flight, awarding two Golds and one Silver. Judges praised Angostura 7 Year Old’s “good integration of wood” and Huracán Organic Rum’s “complex and balanced” character.

We then swiftly moved on to the Dark Rum – Aged 8 to 12 Years contingent, where we discovered another Master medallist: Bacardi 8 Años, which was lauded for its rich notes of “dark molasses, chocolate and cherries”. Cruzan Single Barrel Rum also impressed and won Gold, with Chambers commenting: “It’s delicious, like a single malt – it’s got that Bourbon cask finish.”

At the top end of the dark rum age spectrum – in the Dark Rum – Aged over 13 Years category – an abundance of Gold medals were bestowed. Havana Club 15 Years Old impressed with its “intensely woody” flavour and notes of cardamom, while Pusser’s Rum Aged 15 Years was celebrated for its notes of “sweet cinnamon”. A trio of expressions from the Ron Vacilón brand also bagged Gold, winning praise for interesting flavour profiles that included “eucalyptus”, “fresh strawberries” and “smoky raisins”. Two Silver medal winners were also named.


Kiely’s panel assessed what proved to be one of the most successful categories of the day: agricole rum. Made from sugarcane juice rather than molasses, agricole rum has grown in favour among bartenders and rum connoisseurs in recent years because of its varied and complex savoury flavours.

The contingent got off to a solid start, with one Master awarded in the Rhum Agricole – White flight. Trois Rivières Cuvée l’Océan impressed with its “sweet, citrusy, peachy” flavours, prompting Franzese to claim: “This has all the notes we are looking for in a white agricole rum – it’s a complete rum.” Stablemate Trois Rivières Cuvée Mojito & Long Drink was said to have a “deep earthiness” and won Gold. Two expressions from Maison la Mauny won Silver.

Moving into the Rhum Agricole – Aged flight, the judges awarded the highest number of Master medals in any category throughout the entire competition – three in total. The top accolade went to Maison la Mauny Signature de Maître de Chais, Maison la Mauny VSOP 40°, and Trois Rivières 12 Ans. “This is my favourite of the competition so far,” Zepherin said of the first Maison la Mauny expression. “It’s really balanced with lots of oaky notes, and it reminded me of why I love rum.”

Holland said of Maison la Mauny VSOP 40°: “This was close to a perfect score for me,” adding that the Trois Rivières Master medallist “offered something different – passion fruit, pineapple and a long finish”.


Five Golds were also discovered, including Maison la Mauny XO, described as “smooth and easy to drink”, and Trois Rivières Cask Strength, said to offer a “big explosion of flavour”. In addition, five Silvers were named.

In the Rhum Agricole – Overproof flight, Maison la Mauny’s success continued with a Gold medal for its Rhum Blanc Agricole 50° expression, which Holland deemed “lovely and fruity”. Maison La Mauny Acacia and Trois Rivières Rhum Blanc Agricole 50° also impressed in the high­strength round and secured Silvers.

Reflecting on the incredibly strong agricole rounds, Holland said: “It’s such a pleasing feeling when you reach the end of a flight and you don’t experience any cloying additives. These were honest and well balanced rums; the standard across the board was very high.”

Going from savoury to sweet, my panel tackled a mammoth Spiced Rum round. In our assessment of the category, which makes up a significant bulk of rum’s volumes sales, we were looking for delicious sweetness without the sickly element and a clear sense of the base ingredient, which shouldn’t be too muddied by flavour additives.

We were delighted to discover such traits in Master medal winner Negrita Spiced, in which Chambers identified notes of “white pepper and Sicilian lemon”. He added: “This is a unique expression – it’s one of the best spiced rums I’ve tried.”

Quality was evident elsewhere in the flight, with four Golds and 10 Silvers named. Judges enjoyed the notes of “chocolate and hazelnuts” in Old Hopking Spiced Gold Rum, the “warming cinnamon spice” of Botafogo, the “delicate white chocolate and vanilla” flavour of Bayou Spiced Rum, and the “tobacco and coffee” aroma of Maison la Mauny Rhum Spice.

“I was really quite shocked by the level of quality in this flight,” Thomson said. “People often see spiced rum as a commercial venture; there’s a snobbery around it and a lot of rum connoisseurs turn their noses up at it. But it brings new rum drinkers into the category, so it’s important to have a high quality offering.”

(L­R): Alessio Franzese, Antony Moss, Matt Chambers, Keegan Menezes, Nicola Thomson, Melita Kiely, Alessandro Geraci, Sly Augustin, Imie Augier, Amy Hopkins, Chris Mathurin, Peter Holland and Daawud Zepherin

(L­R): Alessio Franzese, Antony Moss, Matt Chambers, Keegan Menezes, Nicola Thomson, Melita Kiely, Alessandro Geraci, Sly Augustin, Imie Augier, Amy Hopkins, Chris Mathurin, Peter Holland and Daawud Zepherin


Moving into higher­-strength territory and another Master was named in the White Rum – Overproof flight, judged by Moss’s panel. Rum-­Bar White Overproof Rum was praised for its “beautiful precision” and walked away with the top accolade.

While one Silver was awarded to Old J Tiki Fire in the Gold Rum – Overproof round, the Dark Rum – Overproof flight saw a further two Masters named: Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof British Navy Rum and Plantation OFTD (Old Fashioned Traditional Dark). Moss described the Pusser’s expression as “the dream combination of esters together with lovely integrated oak and rancio”, and called OFTD “very woody – deep and lovely”. Lost Spirits Distillery ‘Navy 61’ also received recognition in the form of a Silver medal.

In the final two rounds of the day, my panel assessed the flavoured sub­section of rum, awarding two Silver medals in the Flavoured/Infused round and three Golds in the Rum/Cachaça Liqueurs flight. Chambers said of New Grove Honey Rum Liqueur: “It’s lovely and light, fresh and delicate. I get tropical notes of peach and lychee.”

The competition came to a close with 13 Master medals awarded, which means judges must have agreed a score of 90% or above – a sign that many producers across the broad spectrum of rum styles are recognising the role that quality has to play in the sector’s international progress.

In particular, The Rum Masters 2018 showed that such quality is not confined to the typically dark and older varieties of rum – judges noted the excellence among gold, agricole and spiced entries, and highlighted them as exciting categories to watch in the future.

Click through the following pages for the full list of medal winners in this year’s The Rum Masters 2018.

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