Rum Roundup: Mount Gay Black Barrel, Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish Spiced Rum, Blue Chair Bay Rum

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Mount Gay Master Blender Allen Smith
  • Mount Gay Master Blender Allen Smith
People don't believe me when I swear this is my job, but recently I took a quick inventory of my "to be reviewed" liquor shelf and noticed that I had a backlog of five rums that I needed to taste through. So, being the hard-working spirits writer that I am, I cinched up my liver and put on my drinking cap.

I'll tell you right off the bat that my favorite of the five is also the most expensive, so I apologize for having a high-end palate if you choose to follow my advice. I might have been a bit prejudiced since I had already tried Mount Gay Black Barrel Small Batch Rum at a private tasting with the distillery's master blender, Allen Smith, last month during Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Mount Gay has been making pure sugar cane rum on the same hilltop drawing water from the same well in Barbados since 1703, and has been a favorite of the sailing set for generations.

To celebrate their 310th birthday, Mount Gay set out to create a very special product. All of their rums are distilled in single and double copper pot stills and then aged in toasted oak barrels that have previously been used by American whiskey and bourbon makers. For their new Black Barrel product, they charged Allen to develop something really unique. He selected a high percentage of their double-distilled rums and blended it with some of their best single pass rum to create a very clean tasting product.

After being aged in their regular casks, Mt. Gay moved this small batch rum into some heavily charred barrels for finishing. The result is a bold, caramel/honey-colored rum that has leeched extremely spicy notes of vanilla and wood from the barrels. On the nose, heavy whiskey notes come through along with a nice spicy nuttiness. A peppery flavor, almost like rye, makes Mount Gay Black Barrel a wonderful ingredient in cocktails, and a Manhattan made substituting rum for the usual rye or bourbon is a wonderful change of pace.

What I really liked was that instead of creating a spiced rum the traditional way by adding spices like cinnamon, rosemary or pepper directly to the distillate, Mount Gay accomplishes it through contact with oak. I enjoy it up, chilled in a snifter in place of my normal evening whiskey. Although Mount Gay Black Barrel was specifically created to commemorate a special anniversary, they plan for this to be a regular release going forward. Look for it in Nashville's finer liquor stores for around $30.

The second rum I tasted was also a new spiced rum that has undergone a unique finishing process. I've been a longtime fan of Captain Morgan — ("Have breakfast with The Captain," I always say on football Saturdays and Sundays) — although I acknowledge that their base product Original Spiced Rum is overly sweet and caramelly for some people. But damn, it's tasty with cola and a lime wedge.

The Puerto Rican distillery has recently begun to experiment with some different finishing techniques themselves, and I reviewed their Black version last year. Their latest release is Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish Spiced Rum, and it is quite a different animal from the original.

The legend behind the new product goes that in 1671, Capt. Henry Morgan led an invasion off the shores of Panama where five of his ships were sent to the bottom of the sea, including his flagship The Satisfaction. In 2012, Captain Morgan funded an expedition to find the remains of the fleet, and among the wreckage they discovered a barrel of sherry.

Never one to miss out on a historical marketing opportunity, Captain Morgan decided to finish some of their own product in modern sherry barrels. After spending time in repose in the French oak, the spirit emerges with nice delicate aromas of cherry and raisins. These nuances would be lost in a sweet rum and coke, so try this one on the rocks. You can't miss the distinctive metallic silver label on the bottle, which retails for about $25 for a fifth.

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I'll admit to some trepidation about the final three rums that I had on my plate. Well, in my glass. Since he's known as the Jimmy Buffett of the country set, it was only natural that Kenny Chesney would come out with a line of rum for his beachy fans. But I've been bitten by country star spirits before, so my expectations were low as I unboxed my samples of Chesney's Blue Chair Bay rums.

For one thing, the bottles were pretty. Too pretty. I smelled the work of an expensive marketing agency and hoped they had invested at least some of that money into creating a good product instead of hiding bad hooch in a silk purse. Blue Chair Bay has released three products, which are firmly positioned in the bargain rum category, a white rum for about $16 per bottle and coconut and coconut spice varieties for about $3 more.

I tried the Blue Chair Bay White Rum first. Considering the price, I didn't expect to enjoy it much by itself, and I was right. The nose had an unpleasant chemical aroma like rubbing alcohol, and the taste reflected that as well. But mixed with Coke, hell, it'll get you where you want to go. And the bottle's purty.

Blue Chair Bay rums are made in a partnership with West Indies Distilling Co., which also makes Bombay Rum, so I had some hope that maybe they would do a little better job with their two coconut varieties. In fact, they really did. The straight Blue Ray Bay Coconut Rum has a definite coconut aroma, but not overpoweringly so. While it does smell a little artificial, the first sniff took me right to the beach in my mind, which I imagine is exactly what Chesney would want. I wonder if there is some Caribbean factory out there that just pumps out essence of coconut for Coppertone and rum companies ...

The spiced version of Blue Chair Bay isn't markedly different from their other coconut rum, not enough that I would bother buying both of them. However in a piña colada or just mixed with some pineapple juice, both would be fine ways to take a little island vacation on your own back deck or by the pool.

Contrary to the Metro school calendar, summer isn't over yet. Go out and buy yourself some rum and keep the party going at least until Labor Day!

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