Skip to content

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!



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.



When is an Agricole Not an Agricole?

September 8, 2016

When is an Agricole Not an Agricole?


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:

sugar-production-pfdIn  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.

Postscript: I recently got a chance to make and taste two rums from the rawest forms of sugar available: piloncillo and jaggery. These sugars are made from a simple boiling of cane juice–a process where only water is removed and there is no added lime, nor any centrifugation. Because only water is removed and all the nutrients from the cane remain present, the distilled wines from these sugars are indeed rums. 

Piloncillo cones from Mexico

The jaggery was lighter than the piloncillo, indicating a very gentle evaporation process arrested prior to caramelization (see production video here). Indeed when it was rehydrated for fermentation, the resulting liquid was green like cane juice!

Jaggery from India

So how did these two rums taste? Well, they were both lovely and vaguely reminiscent of cane, but neither had any of the qualities of an agricole aside from a slight hint of grassiness. So let’s stop the insanity once-and-for-all. You can’t make an agricole style rum from anything other than fresh cane juice.

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…



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…



Five Positive Things Happening in the Rum World Right Now

July 7, 2016

good-vibesSerious 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.

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


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


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


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


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


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!

New Rum Review: Don Q Single Barrel 2005

June 22, 2016

Greetings, friends!

At long last, I’m back with another rum review. This time it’s Don Q’s new single barrel signature release–a rum distilled in 2005 and aged ten plus years. People often don’t give Puerto Rican rum a chance, but this offering is likely to change more than a few minds. It’s loaded with flavor and makes for a delightful sipping experience. Read the review here for more details and learn a little company history while you’re at it.



The Trouble with Rum Nerds

June 9, 2016

The Trouble with Rum Nerds


With rum’s increasing popularity, the numbers of experts, aficionados, and other passionate members of the cane cognoscenti are growing at an unprecedented rate. The rise in rum’s popularity is of course welcome, but it’s also proving to be a double-edged sword for some members of the rum establishment.

The passion that rum inspires in people can manifest itself in various forms, and for many it imparts a deep thirst for knowledge. These knowledge-seekers scour the earth for pearls of rum wisdom lying in a diverse set of shells ranging from antique trade journals and out-of-print books to blogs, forums, and social media posts. And as these passionate researchers discover more facts and hearsay about their favorite spirit, they inevitably begin to expose cracks in rum’s fun-loving façade.

Rum is of course a business, and each of the 60+ million cases sold worldwide annually support someone’s livelihood, representing everything from food on the table to a yacht payment. So when outsiders try and peek behind the curtain, those who truly depend on rum become understandably concerned.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle on a variety of issues from additives to the health of cane cutters, what is the rum establishment to do?

Up until now, the answer for some has been to try and put the genie back into its bottle. This tactic as typically employed invokes rum’s fun and free-wheeling “no rules” nature, and instructs the rum nerd to take their passion less seriously. While this tactic may quiet one person, it just as easily might enrage another, and it’s no way to win an argument.

Another common ploy is to tell the rum nerd that this is the way it’s always been, and therefore they should lighten up and have some rum. This is another fallacious argument that does nothing to assuage an impassioned rum fan in search of the truth, and is in fact more likely to piss them off than anything else.

The third leg in this stool of defensive ideas is to accuse the rum nerd of sabotage, saying things such as “If you love rum so much, then why do you spend all of your time knocking it down?” Here again, we have an argument that on its face appears to make some sense, but in actual fact does nothing to address the nerds’ underlying concerns.

If we accept that the three defensive strategies described above do nothing to win over the rum nerds and in many cases cause them to deepen their resolve to air rum’s dirty laundry, then what strategy would be more constructive?

Here’s a radical idea: tell the truth.

In order to illustrate the power of this tactic, consider the case of two rum makers with different views on blending: Foursquare and Plantation rums.

Richard Seale of Foursquare is well-known in the rum world for being staunchly anti-additive. His rums are nothing more than a blend of pot and column fermented molasses distillates aged in barrels for no shorter than the time stated on the label. Richard’s rums are highly regarded for their flavor, but also for their authenticity. Because Richard’s rum-making philosophy is one of purity, many of those who enjoy his products do so with an extra sense of amazement because they can be sure there are no mysterious ingredients added to barrel or bottle.

Plantation is a bit different. Coming from a tradition of Cognac making, Alexandre Gabriel freely admits that like with many French grape distillates, a bit of sugar is often added to his rums. He’s also out front about his sourcing, the barrels he uses for finishing, and so on. As a result, everyone in the rum world knows Plantation rum usually has sugar added. And you know what? They still buy Plantation rum.

Why? The products are quite tasty of course, but beyond the flavor is the authenticity. In the rum nerds’ minds, Plantation is saying “Hey man, I know you’re smart so I’m not gonna try and bullshit you. There’s a little sugar in this rum, and I added it because I thought it rounded it out nicely, OK? If that makes you not want to buy it, that’s cool.” And you know what? It is cool, and everyone can move forward without feeling duped or taken advantage of.

In contrast to these two companies, there are others who would rather say nothing or double down on obfuscation or outright lies when confronted with the truth. Of these approaches, most would recommend saying nothing. It’s likely the least offensive, anyway. Insulting your customers’ intelligence is rarely a good move.

Look, the fact is that U.S. law allows for up to 2.5% by volume of additives in every bottle of rum, and producers are not required to state what the additives are if they are considered to be “customarily used in the particular class and/or type of distilled spirits”. For rum, that could mean sugar, caramel, sherry, molasses and any number of other things. If rum nerds want to change that, they’ll have to take it up with their elected representatives.

In the meantime, those who make their living from rum need to read the writing on the wall and stop arguing with their customers. As rum sheds volume at the lower tier and moves upmarket, the marketing message necessarily changes. Consumers are seeking rationalization for expensive rum purchases. This is especially true of Millennials (now the largest segment of the population) who enjoy experiential luxury purchases, but are simultaneously looking for authenticity and sustainability in the products they purchase. The more truth your story contains, the more you’ll sell to them (assuming the product tastes good, of course).

Buddha said that “three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” It’s time to accept that rum’s most passionate supporters represent a force for positive change (even if they are a pain in the ass).





New Article: Visiting the House of Angostura

February 15, 2016

Hey folks!

Today we finish the recaps of our recent distillery visits with a look inside the House of Angostura. The home of the world’s most famous bitters produces a LOT of rum, too, so join me on a tour and learn a bit about a delicious rum that is sometimes overlooked. Article here



%d bloggers like this: