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Head-to-Head Rum Review: Havana Club vs. Havana Club

September 14, 2016

Will the real Havana Club please stand up? One at a time, please. Oh great, now they’re fighting…

Whether you’re a legal scholar or a rum aficionado (or both) you’ve likely been following the protracted court battle between Pernod Ricard and Bacardi over the rights to the “Havana Club” trademark in the United States. In every other country but this one, “Havana Club” is a Cuban rum jointly owned and marketed by Cubaexport (the Cuban government) and Paris-based multinational drinks conglomerate Pernod Ricard. But here in the States it’s another story, where Bacardi sells Puerto Rican rum under the “Havana Club” name.

Bacardi has long sold a white “Havana Club” rum in Florida, but the company recently released an aged expression and re-launched the white in a nationwide roll-out. Naturally, this seemed like a good time to pit the two “Havana Clubs” against one another. I may not be a lawyer, but I know my rum, so let’s take a look at four rums named “Havana Club” and see who comes out on top!


Pernod Ricard Havana Club versus Bacardi Havana Club

New Rum Review: Mt. Gay Origin Series Vol. 1

September 12, 2016


Special releases are becoming the order of the day in the rum world these days, and industry stalwart Mount Gay is adding to the category with their new “Origin Series”. The series so far has included special cask finishes and single still offerings. The first in the series just hit shelves in California, and we snapped them up post-haste. The set is comprised of two 375 ml bottles of 43% rum which retails for $80 here. At that price, many folks I know wanted to read a few reviews before deeming these worthy of the price tag, and who could blame them? Read my review here and then decide for yourself.


Mt. Gay Origin Series Vol. 1 Virgin Cask Charred Cask

When is an Agricole Not an Agricole?

September 8, 2016

When is an Agricole Not an Agricole?

Sugar cane derivatives

Lately I’ve seen two American-made cane spirits being sold as either “agricole” or “agricole style” rum.  Both are made from what they term “evaporated cane juice”. To the uninitiated, this seems logical enough—rhum agricole is made from cane juice, so evaporated cane juice is basically the same thing, right? Sorry, no. Not even close.

Evaporated cane juice is nothing more than raw sugar (aka turbinado, or Demerara sugar [often a misnomer])  which is to say it’s white crystalline sugar with a light coating of molasses on it. If you make a distillate from raw sugar, you have not made rhum agricole, you have made “sugarshine”. Let’s take a look at the sugar production process to clear this up:

Raw sugar production process

Diagram courtesy Process Flow Sheets

In  the diagram, we see the cane coming in from the fields at top left, and raw sugar leaving and bottom middle. That raw sugar is what these folks are buying as “evaporated cane juice”. Is there any possible way it could taste or have other properties similar to fresh cane juice? Sure, both the juice and raw sugar contain sucrose, but that’s essentially where the similarities end. Evaporated cane juice is simply a misleading term that fools consumers into believing they are consuming something more healthful than processed sugar, and the US Food & Drug Administration agrees.

So what is real agricole, then?

Real agricole is made from the fresh-pressed juice of sugarcane. Period. It’s mostly made in the French West Indies on islands like Martinique and Guadeloupe, but recently, some small distilleries in the United States have started making agricole style rums.

Saint George Distillery in Alameda, California, for example, sources fresh sugar cane from the Imperial Valley near the Mexican border and ships it directly to the distillery for crushing. There are a few more startups with similar arrangements in the American Southeast (and even more planned). Another example is Manulele Distillers on Oahu, which takes the process one step further by growing several different cultivars of its own estate cane, each of which brings a unique flavor to the end-product.

Time is of the essence when it comes to sugar cane harvesting. As soon as the cane is cut, it becomes susceptible to bacterial infection and in turn, a loss of sugar content. Hand-harvested cane is a bit more resilient than machine-harvested cane in this regard, but in either case the optimum scenario will see the cane crushed within a few hours of its harvest. The fresh juice then flows directly to the fermenter where yeast will convert the sugars into alcohol and CO2.

At some small distilleries with estate cane, cane production can exceed their fermentation and distillation capacity, so they need to stabilize the sugar for storage. In these cases, the sugarcane juice is boiled into cane syrup (no crystallization) to kill the naturally present bacteria and increase the sugar content to a shelf-stable level. Examples include Richland in Georgia and Saint Nicholas Abbey in Barbados. These rums may taste grassier than rums made from molasses, but the boiling process changes the flavor components significantly enough to make it something apart from agricole.

Cane juice is a delicious beverage on its own. Its grassy, sweet profile is not only pleasing to the palate, but it contains nutrients such as iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. If you compare that flavor with “evaporated cane juice” (a product that has in fact gone through extensive processing) one can quickly see that beverages fermented and distilled from these two sugar sources will taste nothing alike.

So distillers take heed. And more importantly, taste a bunch of real rhum agricole and ask yourself if the product you’re making from raw sugar tastes anything like it.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t

PS. Stop it.

Agricole rum lovers

For more sugar fun, check out my visit to the famous Enmore sugar factory in Guyana.



New Rum Review: El Dorado White Port Cask

August 26, 2016


Today we’re back with another review of a special cask finished rum, this time from El Dorado. DDL’s line of special cask finishes was released in the Fall of 2015, but being limited, not many have made their way to California. I was lucky enough to find the 15-year white port cask finish online, so let’s dive in and see how it compares to the regular El Dorado 15! Click here for the review…


El Dorado 15-Year White Port Cask Finish

2016 California RumFest Preview

August 12, 2016

We are just two weeks away from the Second Annual California Rum Fest, which will take place at SOMArts in San Francisco. Federico Hernandez of The Rum Lab has gathered an amazing slate of rum producers and industry luminaries for this event, so let’s quickly break the weekend down into a schedule so you don’t miss a thing.


But first, click here to buy your tickets!

Friday, August 26

Exhibition Schedule

2:00-4:00 pm

Drinks Industry Trade-Only Session

Pro bartenders, bar and restaurant managers/owners, distributors and off-premise booze folks will gather for a peek at the participating brands prior to the grand tasting.

5:00-9:00 pm

Rum Aficionado Grand Tasting

If you are not already a rum enthusiast, you will be after attending this session! With over sixty different cane spirit marques from over thirty brands, you’re guaranteed to find something that wows you. Just look at this lineup:

Abuelo La Favorite
Bacardi Neisson
Banks Rum Papa’s Pilar
Barbary Coast Parce
Blue Chair Bay Penny Blue
Brugal Pussers
Caliche Rational Spirits
DeadHead Clement
Diplomatico Damoiseau
Don Q JM
English Harbour Ron Cartavio
Flor de Caña Ron del Barrilito
FourSquare Ron Duran
Gosling’s Tanduay
Kirk & Sweeney The Real McCoy


Presentation Schedule

As if the rum wasn’t reason enough to attend, there are some really great speakers talking about our favorite subject as well. Mark your calendars for these talks, all of which take place on Friday, August 26:

2:20-3:00 pm

Learning in-depth about Panamanian Rums
Forrest “The Rum Connoisseur” Cokely, industry consultant

3:20-4:00 pm
Effective Social Media in the Spirits Industry
Matt Pietrek, social media guru at

5:20-6:00 pm
“All in the Family”–a spirited examination of the distinct styles of punch that make up this convivial cannon of mixed drinks that came before the cocktail
Jim Meehan, author of The PDT Cocktail Book & co-creator of Banks Rums

6:20-7:00 pm
Using rums in vintage exotic cocktails
Martin Cate, Owner of Tales of the Cocktail 2016 Best Bar–Smugglers Cove and Whitechapel, author, and speaker

7:20-8:00 pm
Understanding Rum
Richard Seale, Owner of Foursquare Distillery

8:20-9:00 pm
A short history and the future of rum
Ed Hamilton, Importer and The Ministry of Rum founder

Saturday, August 27

rum bazaar

Exhibition Schedule

1:00-6:00 pm

Save some strength for Saturday, as the rum fun keeps flowing at the Rum Bazaar with Tiki Diablo and other artists and vendors of tiki goodness and ephemera.  There will also be live music and DJs playing as you sip tiki drinks from some of San Francisco’s top bartenders.

Presentation Schedule

Just one presentation on Saturday, but it’s a doozy:

2:20-3:00 pm
The Multi-Origin Rum Category
Jim Meehan, author of The PDT Cocktail Book & co-creator of Banks Rums

Rum Colada Cocktail Competition
Sponsored by Real Syrups and Don Q
Time TBD

The NorCal and SoCal finalists will face off against one another, and you are the judge! Taste the two drinks and vote for people’s choice using the Trophy Cocktail app. The stakes are high, as the winner gets $1,000!

Sunday, August 28

wrap party

3:00pm ‘til Pau

While the Rum Fest technically ends on Saturday, the fun continues on Sunday at Forbidden Island. Join us in Alameda for the CA Rum Fest Wrap Party sponsored by Tanduay rum. Drink specials and pupus at one of the world’s most famous tiki bars.

So there you have it, folks. The Rum Fest is gonna be a doozy, so come on out an join in the fun!





New Rum Review: Foursquare 2004

August 3, 2016

Howdy folks,

Things always tend to slow down here in the Summer, but after another fantastic vacation in Hawaii, I’m back and reinvigorated! So let’s kick August off with a review of a really exciting rum from Foursquare in Barbados: the 2004 single blended rum. This eleven year-old rum was aged in ex-Bourbon casks and bottled at a whopping 59%.

If you’re in California later this month and would like to meet the distiller of this rum, please join me on August 26th at the second annual California Rum Festival in San Francisco!

Click here to read the review…


Foursquare Rum Distillery 2004

Five Positive Things Happening in the Rum World Right Now

July 7, 2016

Serious rum lovers spend a fair amount of time bashing the decisions of both major and minor rum producers. It’s a natural thing to do when you care deeply about something you perceive to be in jeopardy. Good Vibes Only

And while it’s important to call these folks out for moves that negatively impact the category, that negativity can snowball to a point where the positives are lost. I am as guilty of this as anyone in the rum community, so I thought I’d take some time to highlight some of the positive movements in the rum market right now.






1. More Independent Bottlings

Mezan Jamaica 2003

Velier, Silver Seal, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Cadenhead, and the like have been putting out high quality, high proof, unadulterated rum releases for some time now. This is where most rum nuts end up when they discover their first love was a lie.

Now there are even more choices thanks to the Mezan line of rums. Not high proof, but otherwise unaltered, and available at a very reasonable price point.







2. More Special Releases Direct from the Producers

Foursquare 2004

Rum makers have seen the success of independent bottlers and the enthusiasm with which the rum community snaps up their products, providing a ready model for taking their products to super-premium levels. Why let the independents have all the fun? As a result we have releases like the 2004 vintage rum from Foursquare, and a 2005 vintage from Don Q.







3. More Great Domestic Rum

Maggie's Farm Queen's Share Rum

Early in the craft spirits boom, a lot of distilleries were putting out rums that were pretty terrible. Those days are (hopefully) coming to an end now, and we are seeing a host of really respectable offerings from domestic rum makers. Examples include Siesta Key, Maggie’s Farm, Treaty Oak, KoHana, Lost Spirits, Privateer, and Malahat.







4. More Cane Juice Rum

Damoiseau Rhum Blanc

Cane juice rums are super interesting, and now we are luckily seeing more of these rums on U.S. shores. From agricole’s traditional home in the French West Indies we have Damoiseau, KoHana from Hawaii, and here in California (when the cane is available) we have St. George. Others like Richland and St. Nicholas Abbey are making cane syrup rums, which have some similar characteristics.







5. More Rum Fans

Jack Nicholson drinking Bourbon

The popularity of American whiskey has shown a vast number of people the beauty of brown spirits. And while there is a considerable amount of variety in Bourbon and rye, the really good stuff has gotten super expensive and scarce. Rum’s variety makes it even more fun to explore, and the prices are ridiculously cheap as compared to the secondary Bourbon market. These folks (like the extant rum nerdery) are seeking pure, unadulterated spirits, and are helping to move the needle in that direction.

Well, there you have it. Five positive things happening in the rum world right now. Now let’s all sing Kumbaya!

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