The Rum & Cachaça Masters 2023
The rum sector looks like it is winning its battle to be seen as a top-quality liquid, as this year’s entrants in our annual Rum & Cachaça Masters demonstrated the sheer scale of excellence that is available in all categories.
Social media can be a powerful tool for detecting what’s top of consumer demand. A recent report into the 100 fastest-growing drinks brands on Instagram in the UK indicated a strong penchant for rum, with Bacardí beating all others – including beer and wine – to the top spot. Captain Morgan took second place in The UK’s Fastest Growing Drinks Brands on Instagram report by drinks marketing agency Yesmore.
Rum remains the third biggest spirits category in the world – and past editions of The Rum & Cachaça Masters have shown premium developments in the category.
To assess the current standard of rums and cachaças on the market, a group of expert judges gathered at the London City branch of Peruvian restaurant Coya.
The blind tasting was split between four groups of tasters due to the number of entries, with the first panel comprising: Bryan Rodriguez, wine and spirits buyer, Harvey Nichols; Sara Jane Eichler, founder of the Negroni Club UK; and Nicola Carruthers, deputy editor of The Spirits Business, who chaired the panel.
Group two was led by Matt Chambers, spirits writer and co-founder of the Whisky for Everyone blog. He was joined by Evan Prousaefs, bar manager at London’s Sexy Fish; and Claire Filer, of Ginesthesia.
David T Smith, spirits writer, consultant and co-founder of the Craft Distilling Expo, chaired the third group, which consisted of: Alan Uresti Silva, head of mixology at Annabel’s Mayfair; and Laurence Baker, general manager at Callooh Callay group.
The fourth panel was chaired by Billy Abbott, ambassador at The Whisky Exchange, and contained: Vicky Illankovan, editor-in-chief of Sated Online, and marketing and project manager at Equal Measures UK; and Federico Caputo, assistant bar manager at Coya.
The taste test began with a flight of premium white rums, priced between £16 and £20. Two Golds went to Angostura Reserva and Havana Club 3 Years Old. Angostura Reserva delivered flavours of “chocolate milk and creamed pineapple”, while the latter offered “tropical fruit and a touch of savoury wood” on the nose. Three Silvers meant the contest got off to a solid start.
Rodriguez noted: “It shows that for the price you’re paying, you can get some good-quality mixing rums. Some you wouldn’t mind sipping, and would work in a Mai Tai or Rum Punch – you can’t go wrong. It’s impressive.”
The super-premium price segment (between £21 and £30) delivered one Gold and three Silver medallists. The Gold award went to BrewDog’s Duo White Rum, which was “well balanced with a gentle sweetness”.
The ultra-premium end of the white rum contingent found a Gold star in Elizabeth Yard – Rum Union – Blanco. Abbott found this to be “very expressive” on the nose with “layers of sweet and savoury fruit – plantain and bananas upfront”.
The White Rum – Overproof round led to the first Master medallist of the day: Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum. “The palate is intense and packed with cane greenness – lots of flavour,” enthused Abbott.
The judges progressed to flights of gold rum, starting with a standard-priced selection (up to £25). A Master medal went to Plantation Barbados 2013 Under the Sea, which impressed with its “good texture” and “solid dark sugar notes”. A trio of Gold medals and two Silvers completed the flight.
Maison Ferrand scooped three Master medals in the following flight of super-premium gold rums, ranging from £26 to £40. Plantation XO 20th Anniversary, Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry, and Plantation Isle of Fiji all secured the top award.
Plantation XO 20th Anniversary was found to have “light tonka bean” on the nose, leading to “chocolate, wood varnish, dried vanilla and milk cream” on the palate, with “weighty mouthfeel and texture”.
“I was impressed,” said Rodriguez. “Golden rum has a bit of a hard time, especially among the ‘rum geeks’. This flight showed how you can make good quality Gold rums that have ageing and a sense of place; [Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry] was outstanding.”
The flight also delivered 11 Gold medals and three Silvers. Gold medallists included Worthy Park Select, Mezan Chiriqui, Embargo El Ron Libre, and Santa Teresa 1796.
These high standards continued into the ultra-premium heat of gold rums, where the price range was £41 and above. Cacique Antiguo and Matugga Rum Mavuno 2022 both received the Master award. Cacique Antiguo was described as having a “grassy and estery nose; nicely complex with some spice and a touch of mace and clove.”
Matugga Rum Mavuno 2022 picked up a Master award thanks to its “inviting and exciting” aroma, leading to “lovely nutty almond notes and pleasant esters”. Three Gold awards and two Silvers completed the round. Smith noted: “We can see different styles of rum with a good quality in most of the products delivering what you expect from the category.”
The following flights abandoned price points, focusing instead on the rum’s performance based on its relevant age category. In the Gold Rum – Aged up to 7 Years heat, a Master award was given to Barracuda Gold Rum. The judges praised the rum’s “fruity banana funk on the nose” and its “creamy, green banana and coffee” flavours. Four Gold medals and a Silver award were also celebrated in this round.
One rum stood out enough to bag a Master medal in the Gold Rum – Aged 8 to 12 Years flight: Quarterdeck Single Cask Jamaica Rum Hampden Distillery 12 Years Old. The rum had a “powerful nose – pungent, ripe tropical fruit” leading to more fruit and “saline, pepper, chocolate banana pudding, funk, and salted caramel” on the palate, as noted by Filer. Two Gold medals were awarded to Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Years Old and Appleton Estate Reserve 8 Years Old, complemented by two Silver winners.
Old J Tiki Fire took home a Gold medal in the Gold Rum – Overproof heat, with its “warming buttery finish”.
And with that, the judges turned to dark rums, starting with a flight of standard-priced expressions, up to £25. Two Silver medals were handed to Plantation Original Dark and Coruba Dark Rum. Bleeding Heart Rum Company impressed in the super-premium heat, winning a Master medal for its “smoky, dark bitter marmalade notes” and “long, complex finish”. Among the three Gold winners was Bayou Rum Reserve, with notes of “confected orange, spice and toffee”. A trio of Silvers rounded off the flight.
As the price range jumped to ultra-premium, the standard also markedly improved – with four Master medals awarded to dark rums priced at £41 and above.
First up, Master-winning Havana Club Maximo. This rum was described as having “rich raisins” on the nose, leading to “treacle” on the palate. “Robust and a good intensity for 40% ABV – good texture, too,” noted Smith.
Master-winning Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum was praised for flavours of “caramel, tropical fruits, dried herbs and grilled pineapple”. Elizabeth Yard – Travellers Distillery – Spanish Oak PX Sherry Octave received a Master medal for “juicy pineapple” flavours, complemented by “ripe banana, spiced caramel, and a good texture for the ABV”.
And the fourth Master winner, Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve 2022, won the top award after impressing with notes of “tangy dried orange peel, cinnamon, ginger, dark caramel and a hint of umami funk”.
Chambers said: “Wow, what a treat of a flight. The extra depth and complexity was noticeable, and the rums were delicious across the board, with a couple of exceptional examples. Definitely worth spending the money, then sit back to sip and savour.”
Old Nick Dark maintained the Master standard in the Dark Rum – Aged up to 7 Years flight. The Master winner was “very sippable” with “a little butteriness and toasted sugar”. A Gold and two Silvers were also enjoyed in this flight.
An additional trio of Master winners made themselves know in the 7-12 years age range, all hailing from Holyrood Distillery. The Master winners were: Elizabeth Yard – Trinidad Distillers – Spanish Oak PX Sherry Octave; Elizabeth Yard – Diamond Distillery (Port Mourant) – Spanish Oak Palo Cortado Sherry Quarter Cask; and Elizabeth Yard – Ron Barceló – Peated Refill American Oak Octave. Eichler found the last Master-winning rum to be “rich and woody” on the nose, with “wonderful fruitiness hovering in the background; loads of depth, dark chocolate and rounded tropical fruitiness – like the best ever boozy fruit cake.”
Seven further entries, five bottled by Holyrood Distillery and two by Justerini & Brooks, secured Gold medals. Eichler added: “These were the types of spirits you want to spend time with. Sipping them quickly doesn’t do them justice.”
Holyrood delivered again in the Dark Rum – Aged over 13 Years flight, netting another Master: Elizabeth Yard – Travellers Distillery – Ungrogged American Oak No 1 Char Octave. Smith liked this rum’s “light spiciness with just the right amount of sweetness”.
“Rounded, sweet and fruity” Plantation OFTD Overproof performed well in the Dark Rum Overproof round, bagging a Gold medal.
The next style of rum to be assessed was Agricole. The first Agricole Rhum flight found a Master winner in the form of Trois Rivières Cuvée l’Océan. The judges enjoyed the “classic agricole nose” of “banana, grass and buckets of mulchy fruit” leading to “layers of funky fruit and creaminess” on the palate. Two Trois Rivières rums received Gold medals. Two Silvers were also awarded in this heat.
The scores reflected an enjoyable round for the judges, who tasted the aged agricole entries. Three Master medals were bestowed upon the flight’s best entries: Depaz XO, Depaz Vieux Plantation, and Depaz VSOP.
Tasting notes for Depaz XO included “a rich Cognac-like nose” leading to a “floral, aromatically fruity palate with orange and grapefruit peel”. “A sipping rum; absolutely beautiful,” enthused Rodriguez.
Master-winning Depaz Vieux Plantation also received high praise for its aroma of “whisky-like maltiness, with ample woody character”. The taste profile presented “roasted apple and dry woodiness, with some smoke”.
Then, Depaz VSOP was enjoyed for hints of “popcorn, wood, roasted banana” on the nose, leading to “a floral, ripe, fat and weighty” palate, with notes of “grapefruit and orange blossom”.
“Brilliant,” Rodriguez said. “Really great to see strong agricole rhums. Very complex spirits; it takes some time to fully understand them. That type of complexity can be overwhelming, but it’s worth sitting and exploring them.” A Gold medal for Hell or High Water Reserva Honey & Orange concluded the flight.
Spiced is popular
A large flight of Spiced rums showed why this is an increasingly popular category, with five Gold medals awarded. Among these were Old J Spiced Rum, which delivered “decent rum character, nice warming gingerbread and cinnamon”.
Hidden Loot Original was also among the Gold winners, found to be “tropical with good balance in spice”. Eleven Silver medals completed the flight.
Uresti Silva noted the “diverse range of flavours” in this round, which he thought would be able to “target different markets”.
If the Spiced round was lengthy, the Flavoured segment of the tasting was enormous – but with brilliant results. Three Master winners were enjoyed here, including two from Hitchhiker Rum: Hitchhiker Botanical Rum | Sicilian Pine, and Hitchhiker Botanical Rum | Breton Sea Salt.
The Sicilian Pine expression caught the judges’ interest for delivering “lots of pine” on the nose, while still allowing the rum to shine through with added “rosemary notes”.
The Breton Sea Salt variant impressed with its “gentle minerality and salinity”.
Belgrove also bagged a Master for its Hazelnut Rum. “Delightful,” enthused Smith, picking out notes of “hazelnut with Nutella and Ferrero Rocher; good nuttiness in harmony with the rum”.
Ten Gold medals were also awarded in this round, including medals for Langs Banana Rum, Bullion Coconut, and Koloa Kauai Spice Rum. Eleven Silver medals brought the flight to a close.
Rum Liqueurs featured as the penultimate flight of the day, with a deserving Gold medal given to Worthy Park Rum Cream. The expression presented “rum-and-raisin ice cream” sweetness, with a “hint of chocolate and coffee – very smooth and creamy”.
Then, to complete the initial tasting, the judges were given a healthy measure of cane spirits and cachaças to sample. Yaguara Cachaça went straight to the top with a Master medal for its Organico entry. Prousaefs said the spirit had “great balance and long aftertaste”, with “loads of red fruits” on the palate.
The rest of the flight culminated in eight Gold medals and a Silver award. The Gold medallists included Cachaça Dom Tápparo Extra Premium Carvalho Europeu 12 Anos, which had notes of “minty chocolate, vanilla, cherries and soft, woody spice”.
Cachaça Dom Tápparo Extra Premium Amburana 6 Anos also collected a Gold medal; the expression was enjoyed for its “extreme tonka action – Germolene, vanilla and freshly mown grass”.
Prousaefs said: “This was a complex and diverse flight, from unaged cachaças to aged cane spirits. The unaged cachaças definitely stole the show, with the rest of the spirits following through.”
With the bulk of the tasting done and dusted, all that remained was to resample the Master winners to determine the entry most deserving of the 2023 Taste Master accolade.
After whittling down the Masters to the judges’ favourites, the product that came out on top to claim the Taste Master title was Holyrood Distillery’s Elizabeth Yard – Travellers Distillery – Ungrogged American Oak No 1 Char Octave.
Across the board, the judges noted how brands really seemed to be embracing the move towards more authentic flavours, and less sugar and caramel influence.
If this standard can be sustained, rum’s premium quest looks set to be a success.
White Rum – Premium
|Havana Club International||Havana Club 3 Years Old||Gold|
|Anora Group||Barracuda Silver Rum||Silver|
|Maison Ferrand||Stade’s Rum Beach Vat N°1||Silver|
|Justerini & Brooks||Ron Santiago de Cuba Carta Blanca||Silver|
White Rum – Super Premium
|BrewDog||Duo White Rum||Gold|
|Beenleigh Artisan Distillers||Beenleigh Artisan Distillers White Rum||Silver|
|Maison Ferrand||Plantation 3 Stars||Silver|
|Worthy Park Estate||Rum-Bar Silver||Silver|
White Rum – Ultra Premium
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Rum Union – Blanco||Gold|
White Rum – Overproof
|Campari Group||Wray and Nephew White Overproof Rum||Master|
|Worthy Park Estate||Rum-Bar Overproof Rum||Gold|
Gold Rum – Premium
|Maison Ferrand||Plantation Barbados 2013 Under the Sea||Master|
|Beenleigh Artisan Distillers||Beenleigh Artisan Distillers Double Cask Rum||Gold|
|Havana Club International||Havana Club Añejo Especial||Gold|
|Worthy Park Estate||Rum-Bar Gold||Gold|
|Maison Ferrand||Stade’s Rum Bond N°8||Silver|
|Campari Group||Appleton Estate Signature||Silver|
Gold Rum – Super Premium
|Maison Ferrand||Plantation XO 20th Anniversary||Master|
|Maison Ferrand||Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry||Master|
|Maison Ferrand||Plantation Isle of Fiji||Master|
|Worthy Park Estate||Worthy Park Select||Gold|
|Distillerie Tessendier||Saison Rum Triple Cask Jamaica||Gold|
|Marussia Beverages||Mezan Chiriqui||Gold|
|Marussia Beverages||Mezan XO||Gold|
|Les Bienheureux||Embargo El Ron Libre||Gold|
|Les Bienheureux||El Pasador De Oro – XO||Gold|
|Ron Santa Teresa||Santa Teresa 1796||Gold|
|Beenleigh Artisan Distillers||Beenleigh Artisan Distillers XO Rare Rum||Gold|
|Angostura||Angostura 5 Years Old||Gold|
|Dellanva/Four Roads Spirits||Dellanva||Silver|
|Neptune Rum||Neptune Rum||Silver|
Gold Rum – Ultra Premium
|Matugga Distillers||Matugga Rum Mavuno 2022||Master|
|Campari Group||Appleton Estate 21 Years Old||Gold|
|Worthy Park Estate||Worthy Park Single Estate Reserve||Gold|
|Beenleigh Artisan Distillers||Beenleigh Artisan Distillers Tawny Barrel Rum||Gold|
|Havana Club International||Havana Club Selección de Maestros||Silver|
Gold Rum – Aged up to 7 Years
|Anora Group||Barracuda Gold Rum||Master|
|Banqero||Banqero XO Trinidad||Gold|
|Banqero||Banqero XO West Indies||Gold|
|Beenleigh Artisan Distillers||Beenleigh Artisan Distillers Copper Pot Rum||Gold|
|Angostura||Angostura 7 Years Old||Gold|
|Karu Distillery||Outcask Rum||Silver|
Gold Rum – Aged 8 to 12 Years
|Duncan Taylor||Quarterdeck Single Cask Jamaica Rum
Hampden Distillery 12 Years Old
|Campari Group||Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12 Years Old||Gold|
|Campari Group||Appleton Estate Reserve 8 Years Old||Gold|
|Justerini & Brooks||Ron Santiago de Cuba Añejo 8 Years Old||Silver|
Gold Rum – Overproof
|Signature Brands||Old J Tiki Fire||Gold|
Dark Rum – Premium
|Maison Ferrand||Plantation Original Dark||Silver|
|Campari Group||Coruba Dark Rum||Silver|
Dark Rum – Super Premium
|Bleeding Heart Rum Company||Don Papa Gayuma||Master|
|Bayou Rum||Bayou Rum Reserve||Gold|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Rum Union – Sherry Cask||Gold|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Rum Union – Peated||Gold|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Rum Union||Silver|
|Sovereign Brands||Bumbu XO||Silver|
|327 Spirits||327 Rum XO||Silver|
Dark Rum – Ultra Premium
|Havana Club International||Havana Club Maximo||Master|
|Black Tot Rum||Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum||Master|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Travellers Distillery – Spanish Oak PX Sherry Octave||Master|
|Black Tot Rum||Black Tot Master Blender’s Reserve 2022||Master|
|Havana Club International||Havana Club 15 Años||Gold|
|Les Bienheureux||El Pasador de Oro – Gran Reserva||Gold|
|Bodegas Williams and Humbert||Dos Maderas Luxus 10+5 (15 Years Old Rum)||Gold|
|Takamaka||Takamaka Pti Lakaz||Gold|
Dark Rum – Aged up to 7 Years
|Bardinet||Old Nick Dark||Master|
|BrewDog||Duo Dark Rum||Gold|
|Havana Club International||Havana Club 7 Años||Silver|
|Anora Group||Barracuda Gran Reserva||Silver|
Dark Rum – Aged 7 to 12 Years
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Trinidad Distillers – Spanish Oak PX Sherry Octave||Master|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Diamond Distillery (Port Mourant) – Spanish Oak Palo Cortado Sherry Quarter||Master|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Ron Barceló – Peated Refill American Oak Octave||Master|
|Justerini & Brooks||Ron Santiago de Cuba Extra Añejo 12 Years Old||Gold|
|Justerini & Brooks||Ron Santiago de Cuba Extra Añejo 11 Years Old||Gold|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Savanna Distillery – Spanish Oak Palo Cortado Sherry Quarter Cask||Gold|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Trinidad Distillers – Red Wine Refill Octave||Gold|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Trinidad Distillers – Ungrogged American Oak No 3 Char Octave||Gold|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Savanna Distillery – Single Cask Rum||Gold|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Diamond Distillery (Port Mourant) – Red Wine Octave||Gold|
Dark Rum – Aged over 13 Years
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard Travellers Distillery
Ungrogged American Oak Taste No 1 Char Octave
|Master & Master|
|Naud||Ron Panam 15 Years Old||Gold|
|Duncan Taylor||Quarterdeck Single Cask Barbados Rum Foursquare Distillery 14 Years Old||Gold|
|Holyrood Distillery||Elizabeth Yard – Travellers Distillery Ungrogged American Oak No 3 Char Octave||Gold|
Dark Rum – Overproof
|Maison Ferrand||Plantation OFTD Overproof||Gold|
|Campari Group||Trois Rivières Cuvée de l’Océan||Master|
|Campari Group||Trois Rivières Cellar Reserve||Gold|
|Campari Group||Trois Rivières Triple Millésime 2005, 2010, 2015||Gold|
|Campari Group||Trois Rivières Vsop Réserve Spéciale||Silver|
|Bardinet||Depaz Cuvée de la Montagne||Silver|
Agricole Aged Rhum
|Bardinet||Depaz Vieux Plantation||Master|
|One Eyed Spirits||Hell or High Water Reserva Honey & Orange||Gold|
|Signature Brands||Old J Spiced Rum||Gold|
|Signature Brands||Old J Dark Spiced Rum||Gold|
|Beenleigh Artisan Distillers||Beenleigh Artisan Distillers Australian Spiced Rum||Gold|
|Naud||Hidden Loot Original||Gold|
|The Sly Group||Sly Dog Spiced Rum||Gold|
|Angostura||Angostura Tamboo Spiced Rum||Silver|
|Eccentric Spirits Co||Black Batch Rum||Silver|
|Signature Brands||Old J Gold Spiced Rum||Silver|
|Intercontinental Brands||Hawksbill Caribbean Spiced Rum||Silver|
|Sovereign Brands||Bumbu The Original||Silver|
|Havana Club International||Havana Club Cuban Spiced||Silver|
|Les Bienheureux||Embargo Spiced||Silver|
|BrewDog||DUO Spiced Rum||Silver|
|Hampton Court Gin||Father of the Fleet||Silver|
|8 Track Spiced Rum||8 Track Spiced Rum||Silver|
|Hitchhiker Rum||Hitchhiker Botanical Rum Sicilian Pine||Master|
|Hitchhiker Rum||Hitchhiker Botanical Rum Breton Sea Salt||Master|
|Maison Ferrand||Canerock Jamaican Spiced Rum||Gold|
|Maison Ferrand||Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple||Gold|
|Anora Group||Barracuda Raspberry Spiced||Gold|
|JG Drinks||Wooden Moose Rum Co – Caramelised Banana and Peanut Butter Spiced Rum||Gold|
|Bullion Rum||Bullion Coconut||Gold|
|Bullion Rum||Bullion Java Banana||Gold|
|lan Macleod Distillers||Langs Banana Rum||Gold|
|Neptune Rum||Neptune Rum Mango & Ginger||Gold|
|Hitchhiker Rum||Hitchhiker Botanical Rum Azorean Orange Blossom||Gold|
|Koloa Rum Company||Koloa Kauai Spice Rum||Gold|
|Neptune Rum||Neptune Rum Pineapple||Silver|
|Neptune Rum||Neptune Rum Banana||Silver|
|Pembrokeshire Cider||Pembrokeshire Apple Spiced Rum||Silver|
|Uche Rum||Uche Premium Coconut Rum||Silver|
|Anora Group||Barracuda Vanilla Spiced||Silver|
|Les Bienheureux||El Pasador De Oro – Pasion||Silver|
|One Eyed Spirits||Hell or High Water Reserva Honey & Orange||Silver|
|lan Macleod Distillers||Langs Mango & Ginger Rum||Silver|
|Koloa Rum Company||Koloa Kauai Coffee Rum||Silver|
|Koloa Rum Company||Koloa Kauai Coconut Rum||Silver|
|JG Drinks||Wooden Moose Rum Co – Coffee Cocoa and Caramelised Chipotle Spiced Rum||Silver|
|Worthy Park Estate||Worthy Park Rum Cream||Gold|
|Engenho Dom Tapparo||Cachaça Cabare Extra Premium 15 Anos||Gold|
|Engenho Dom Tapparo||Cachaça Dom Tápparo Extra Premium Carvalho Europeu 12 Anos||Gold|
|Engenho Dom Tapparo||Cachaça Dom Tápparo Extra Premium Jequitibá 6 Anos||Gold|
|Engenho Dom Tapparo||Cachaça Extra Premium Duas Madeiras Ademilson Tapparo Blend||Gold|
|Engenho Dom Tapparo||Cachaça Extra Premium Carvalho Americano 10 Anos Dom Tapparo||Gold|
|Seleta e Boazinha||Seleta Antônio Rodrigues||Gold|
|PT Gaia Prima Sentosa||Lamafa Rum||Gold|
|Yaguara Cachaça||Still Strength||Gold|
|Engenho Dom Tapparo||Cachaça Dom Tápparo Extra Premium Amburana 6 Anos||Silver|