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Spirits: Spiced rum beyond the Captain

As good as it is, you don't actually have to make your own spiced rum. (Jonathan Ernst for The Washington Post)

I was chatting via email the other day with Joe Riley, fine-spirits manager of Ace Beverage, and he wrote something that surprised me: "I love the spiced rum category." I was surprised by this statement because, while many consumers love spiced rum, most spirits aficionados do not. And Joe Riley is one of the biggest spirits aficionado in Washington.

"I'm enjoying the new attention paid to spiced rums," Riley continued. "Spiced rum is traditional in the islands. I'm glad that more rum companies are releasing these here and foregoing the stupid flavors that they have out there (okay, some of them make sense, but there's more than a little flavored rum crap on the market). I'm also heartened that these companies aren't just ceding the entire category to Diageo and Captain Morgan."

Ah, yes ... the Captain. That's the Captain who's kinda dull, thin, and unflavorful and at 70 proof gets lost in a Captain-and-Coke -- though he did just get a makeover to look "more rugged" on the label last week. Anyway, also last week, I was attempting to suggest alternatives to Virginia's top-10-selling bottles, and the Captain appeared at number 8. My alternative advice was: "If you're a fan of spiced rum, I guess there's nowhere to go except to maybe make your own -- or perhaps wait until Chairman's Reserve Spiced Rum hits stores."

The more I thought about this, however, my advice seemed a little short-sighted. While I do enjoy making my own spiced rum -- as I did with Todd Thrasher during the holidays -- the are actually other options beyond the Captain. So this week I tasted a half-dozen or so spiced rums that are on the market; I tasted them neat and mixed with coconut water for a delicious, simple on-the-rocks drink. A few, such as Sailor Jerry (92 proof), have been on the market for several years. Others, like Cruzan 9 (80 proof), have only come on the market recently. Some should be avoided altogether, such as Heaven Hill's Blackheart (93 proof), with its lurid, buxom label somehow channeling both Sailor Jerry and Captain Morgan.

My two favorites are:

  • The Kraken (yes, there is a sea monster on the label). Rich, tar-colored, 94-proof, with deep molasses and chocolate flavors, plus notes of ginger, licorice and coffee. $20.
  • El Dorado "Cuba Libre" Spiced Demerara Rum, from Guyana. Lighter, at 80 proof, and relying more on vanilla and sweet baking spice flavors. $16.

One bottle that is hard to find and seems to have lost its importer and/or distribution is Foursquare, from Barbados, which many rum enthusiasts consider to be the finest spiced rum in the world. It's owned by the same company that makes John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum, which I occasionally include in cocktail recipes.

Finally, you can wait, along with me, for the launch of Chairman's Reserve Spiced Rum, available in Washington on Sept. 1. This might be the best spiced rum yet to come on the market.

-- Jason Wilson

Follow Wilson on Twitter. His book, "Boozehound," is to be published in September by Ten Speed Press.

By The Food Section  |  August 13, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Spirits  | Tags: Jason Wilson, spirits  
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And what's the likelihood of those two (or the spiced one) appearing in VA?

BTW, I just moved and took that list of VA spirits to my new ABC store, got 6 of them. Any gin suggestions?

Posted by: Hemisphire | August 13, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Your two favorites are interesting! I am a big fan of the 15 year old El Dorado Demerara rum - I had no idea that they made a spiced version as well. I would love to give it a try!! Is this only available in DC or can it be purchased in the VA/MD area?

Posted by: suburbanfoodnerd | August 13, 2010 9:36 PM | Report abuse

@ Suburbanfoodnerd: El Dorado spiced rum is available in D.C. now. Not certain about Maryland or Virginia. For Virginia, you can check the state's ABC website (easy to Google).

Posted by: JoeRiley | August 13, 2010 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Hello Jason,

Thank you for the kind comments on Foursquare Spiced.

Yes we parted company with our importer a few years ago and so availability is limited. The Total Wine chain of stores actively carries Foursquare Spiced

We do intend to be fully active in the US in the near future but only when we find the right importing partner.

Our spiced rum does tend to find favour with spirit aficionados and I think it is because we use only aged rum (min 2 years) and there is no added sugar nor added vanilla. None.

Subtlety and balance is the objective.

And I agree with Joe, there is really no comparison between a genuine spiced rum and the flavoured rums to be found on the market.

Richard Seale
Foursquare Rum Distillery

Posted by: rlseale | August 16, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

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