Time was, I thought rum a universally sickeningly sweet concoction of distilled sugar water (well, it is) that was only useful in a bare handful of drinks with ingredients you actually have on hand. Seriously, who stocks orgeat syrup, or pineapple juice? The idea of drinking rum neat, frankly, turned my stomach. Then I heard that Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits Distillery was turning his alchemical hand toward the creation of rum. A series of them, in fact. Who knew there was more to rum than “dark” and “light”?
Disclaimer: I am not a rum drinker. I know diddly about rum. This is not a review, critique, or even a coherent product spotlight. I just think these rums are cool and wanted to talk about them. So feel free to correct my wantonly inaccurate statements in the comments below, but don’t take any of this as gospel.
I picked up the first one, a fiery cask-strength 68% ABV aged rum in the Navy style (meaning dark, rich, and full-bodied), and was blown away by the extreme depth of flavor, the surprising drinkability despite high proof, and the fact that it in no way turned my stomach. (How’s that for a compliment?) Bryan, as is his wont, does all kinds of crazy things to create these rums, including his usual voodoo involving oak barrels that somehow create super-aged and super-dark spirits in no time at all without added coloring. He also managed to simulate the traditional “dunder” (a bacterial substance used in a vaguely similar way to a sourdough starter, but for rum) in the lab by inoculating overripe bananas with particular bacterial strains. The rum has no added color, no artificial additives, and even has the ingredients on the label: “Baking grade molasses, evaporated sugar cane juice, water.” In the glass, it’s as dark as cola, smells like molasses and caramel-infused pineapple, and tastes like so many different things that I can barely distinguish them. Cola (appropriately), fresh banana, coconut flesh, cold-brew coffee, vanilla, cherry, butterscotch, pineapple upside-down cake, toffee, and burnt caramel among scores of other things. In a cocktail, it does something magical: Instead of tasting fruit juice and alcohol, you taste RUM. I mean it – the other ingredients support and accentuate the tasty flavors of the RUM, not the alcohol. This stuff can make the difference between alcoholic lime juice and a daiquiri that really satisfies. Also – disregard all those recipes that call for “light” or “white” rum – put some Lost Spirits Navy Rum in there, and it will taste like a rum drink. Like it’s supposed to. Also – Lost Spirits Dark ‘n Stormy? Oh my God, yes.
Next up, the Polynesian style rum. At a slightly less hangover-inducing 66%, this one is a lighter style, and a correspondingly lighter color. The rum is full of floral and fruity aromas and matching flavors. The sugary notes are more subtle than the molasses-heavy navy style, instead tending towards sugar cookies, light brown sugar, blonde fudge, sandalwood, coconut water, and so on. While I prefer sipping the navy style, this rum melds perfectly with fresh fruit juice and creates a silky, sophisticated cocktail that, once again, actually tastes like it has RUM in it!
About the Cuban-inspired 151… First, a public service announcement: Don’t drink this stuff neat! They’re serious about that 75.5% alcohol bit – a sip straight-up will peel a layer of skin from your tongue, scorch the roof of your mouth, give you a case of strep throat on the way down, and burn ulcers into your stomach lining. Rum, or napalm? You decide! Nevertheless, stick your nose in a glass, undiluted, and you will be rewarded with a flurry of aromas – pure sugar cane juice, buttery shortbread, and banana puree among them. A dosing of water (or lime juice, or ginger ale) shows lime oil, pineapple, marzipan, hazelnuts, and an almost mezcal-like smokiness. In a cocktail, that 151 proof can really stand up to some hearty ingredients and maintain its identity.
Oh, I forgot to mention the best part. They’re $45, $40, and $40 respectively. What?! Compared to the whisky market these days, that’s unreal value for a cask-strength craft spirit with this depth of flavor. Seriously, if you’ve ever even been remotely interested in dark rum, at least seek out a bottle of the Navy Style. Then once you polish that off in a weekend, buy another bottle, and the other two styles as well.
Bryan will be releasing a fourth rum soon, although it’s a special-edition Colonial American rum, not a regular release.
If you’re curious about the mad-scientist inner workings of distiller Bryan Davis’s mind, check out his conversation with David at K&L: Rum Super Geekdom.