Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

What's Going on with Rum?

Designed by Annabel Emery

Rum is an interesting class of spirits.  Rum is a distilled spirit made from any sugar cane byproduct (fresh cane juice, molasses or refined sugar) and it can be made anywhere in  the world. For a number of years now, rum has been the third largest selling class of distilled spirits in the US (12% market share in 2014) behind Vodka (34%) and Whiskey (24%) yet I almost never hear regular people talk about it. Many of the of the social media accounts and drinks writers I follow hardly ever post about rum. In terms of its overall market share, rum shrank 1% since 2012. So it begs the question, what's going on with rum?

While it is certain that the craft cocktail movement has largely been stoked by a renewed interest in whiskey and gin; rum is an incredibly important base for cocktails and it has a very rich history. During the US Colonial era, huge amounts of rum were produced in New England and consumed throughout the colonies. And while most domestic whiskey production was outlawed during National Prohibition, rum from the caribbean became very popular and inspired a number of phrases such as "rum runner" and "the real McCoy." Lastly, the Tiki movement which began at the end of Prohibition, created a number of complex and delicious cocktails that centered around rum. 

Two years ago I edited a book called the Distiller's Guide to Rum, and ever since then small US rum distillers that I've talked to want to know, when is rum going to have its moment? When will be the Summer of Rum? Whiskey gets a huge amount of press and gin has an incredibly passionate fan base, but rum rarely gets mentioned outside discussions of Tiki drinks. 

It is possible that rum's lower profile might be in part due to the fact that 80% of the rum market in the United States is dominated by 10 brands with the two largest being Bacardi and Captain Morgan (Beverage Information Group Handbook Advance 2013). The remaining 20% of the rum market is filled with hundreds of brands from around the world, many of which have amazing aromas and flavors you just can't get in whiskey. At a recent industry event a retail spirit buyer made the comment that in his experience Bacardi drinkers are often not rum drinkers. He explained that for these people if Bacardi isn't available they are more likely to turn to vodka as their next choice rather than another brand of rum. While this statement was purely anecdotal it rings true in my experience. In contrast, if a bourbon drinker's favorite brand isn't at the bar I think there's a better chance they will try another bourbon rather than get something completely different.

However, there are a couple of encouraging signs for rum. As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago The Rum Lab which put on the California Rum Festival also sponsors a couple of other rum festivals around the country. Both the California and the Midwest festivals are only in their second year but like many festivals, if the quality stays high, the number of attendees will likely continue to grow and increase the number of people who become more familiar with the vastness that rum has to offer. Similarly to whisk(e)y in the mid-90s there is some incredible value in the market as long as drinkers aren't obsessed with extra aged rums like they seem to be with whiskey. The second encouraging sign was the publication of Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki written by Martin & Rebecca Cate. This fantastic book has helped to spread the deep love and passion for rum and tiki culture outside the confines of the country's few tiki bars. While I want to see rum move beyond the overly sweet and kitschy drinks that mask the beauty of the spirit, for many people this is their entry point and bars like Smuggler's Cove and False Idol know how to move people from zero to a deeper appreciation of rum.

The rum market like others spirits is veering towards premiumization. While some aspects of this trend are misguided (more expensive does not always mean higher quality), there  is an incredibly strong demand for quality and transparency. Hopefully rum producers will embrace this trend which I hope will be be a boon for the entire industry. All in all, while rum took a slight dip in market share I am hopeful about its future. And, in the end as the hula girl above suggests, keep calm and drink rum. Because the time for rum has arrived and is yet to come.


A New Texas Bourbon on the Horizon

Last year I wrote an article for Distiller Magazine called "From Bark to Bourbon," about the effort that Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. went through to find the right wild yeast for their bourbon. At the time of my visit the oldest bourbon had been in barrels for about three years with no definite plans of when to bottle. However that may be changing. Recently I was looking at the TTB's Public COLA Registry which allows the public to view beer, wine, and spirit labels approved by the Federal Government. While I was looking I came across the approved label for FRDC's Straight Bourbon.

Stylistically this label matches there current whiskey TX Blended Whiskey which they have making from purchased whiskeys they blend together. I appreciate their honesty and transparency about their process  while they've been waiting for the bourbon to come of age.

There are a couple of things that we learn from the label. First and in no particular order, they have decided to bottle at 45% ABV or 90 proof. This is a very common bottling strength for bourbon and a good sign they are focused on the flavor more than how many bottles they can squeeze out of the barrel. Second, they have decided to bottle this as a "Straight Bourbon" which legally means that the whiskey in the bottle is at minimum two years old and it has nothing added to it accept water to proof it down from barrel strength. Third, there is no age statement on the label which indicates that the youngest bourbon in the bottle is a minimum of four years old. This is a funny quirk in the labeling laws but what it means for American whiskey is that anything younger than four years old must state the age of the whiskey in years, months, days etc. while anything four years and older is not required to state the age. Lastly, the production statement on the back label is clear that they distilled, aged and bottled this bourbon which is the clearest way of saying they are the one's who made it. Unfortunately the labeling laws are a little strange in this regard because anything labeled, produced, made, or even handmade could mean that the spirit in the bottle was distilled by someone else. Their label makes it clear that the bourbon in the bottle from from FRDC.

Now what does this mean? Well it doesn't mean that it will be hitting store shelves anytime soon. The label approval process can sometime take months so distillers will submit a label for approval well before they are ready to bring the spirit to market. However, it is an exciting indication that we are getting closer to tasting what I expect will be a fantastic Texas bourbon.

Review: Appleton Estate Signature Blend Jamaica Rum

Owned by Gruppo Campari, Appleton Estate Signature Blend Jamaica Rum is distilled and blended by Appleton Estate and bottled at 40% ABV.

Price Range: $16-$22 as of 10/2016

Located on an 11,000-acre estate in the Nassau Valley of Jamaica, Appleton began producing rum in 1749. The estate sits atop a limestone formation known as a Cockpit Karst that provides great soils and water for the sugar cane. Appleton, Like other Jamaican rums, makes theirs from a fermented molasses mash. 

Appleton Estate Signature Blend is a blend of 15 different rums, aged between 5 and 10 years in used oak casks. And according to Matt Robold, Appleton gets their once used barrels from Jack Daniel's. Once the blend is created the rum is put into new barrels and allowed to marry for a few months before bottling. Campari recently redesigned the labels for the Appleton Estate lineup while keeping the blends for each bottles the same. The Appleton Estate Signature Blend was once bottled as Appleton Estate V/X.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose has bright fruity notes of guava, pineapple and passion fruit balanced against deeper aromas of sweet brown sugar, molasses, vanilla and caramel.

Palate: The palate is sweet and slightly saline like salted caramel with notes of oak and light dry tannins. The mouthfeel has a smooth velvety texture and a little bit of heat.

Finish: The finish is dry though notes of salted caramel, molasses and oak continues to linger on the finish. The sweet and saltiness holds on like a foggy day at the ocean.

Conclusion: Appleton Estate Signature Blend is a great example of a pot distilled Jamaican rum that is smooth and has a bold flavor profile. The fruity esters indicative of a warmer fermentation are well balanced against the barrel notes of vanilla, caramel and oak. While it has a little heat at 40% this actually works well when used for mixing. It's great in a simple rum and coke, cutting through intense sweetness of the soda. One of my favorite uses of the Signature Blend is in my annual Christmas egg nog. The bigger ester profile pairs fantastically with eggs, cream, and nutmeg. Any way you cut it, Appleton Signature Blend is a great rum made even more appealing at its $20 price point. If you are like me and enjoy rums with more flavor than say Bacardi and that isn't over oaked then you need to check this out.

What I Learned from the California Rum Festival

Image from TheRumLab.com

The other weekend I attended the 2nd Annual California Rum Festival hosted at the SOMArts Center in San Francisco. I found out about this event last year just after its inaugural festival came to a close. Now I really like rum and rum cocktails so I made sure to sign up for their newsletter because I didn't want to miss it again.

When the day of the event arrived I was excited to check out a couple of the breakout sessions though overall, I didn't know what to expect from the event. While the first speaker was setting up I decided to walk the floor and create a game plan for tasting. The event was hosted in a long open gallery space and as I walked the hall there were a couple of rum brands that I recognized but many of them I hadn't heard of. Going into the festival I knew that I generally like Jamaican rums (I'm a big fans of Appleton and Rum Fire) and that I'm not a fan of overly sweet rums. 

After scoping out the floor, I popped into a great seminar lead Forrest Cokley on Panamanian Rums.  Forrest presented Ron Abuelo 7 Year Old Rum, Panama-Pacific 9 Year Old Rum, and Ron DurĂ¡n 12 Year Old Rum. Each of them were made on column stills and aged in ex-whiskey barrels and both Ron Abuelo and Ron Duran had some amount of sugar added post distillation so they were a little sweeter and a little easier on the palate. All three were nice rums  and while my favorite of the three was Ron Abuelo, I wasn't super excited by any of therm. However, I think they would really appeal to people who love Ron Zacapa or Flor de Cana.

After the session I returned to the floor and began tasting a lot of rums. I tried rums from Puerto Rico, Panama, Antigua, Jamaica, Guyana, Kauai, South Carolina and even the Philippines. And as I tasted them, I began to discern a pattern of what rums spoke to me. I noticed that I like rums that taste like rum. Not rum that tastes like oak, or rum trying to be whiskey, or rum so adulterated that it tastes more like vanilla extract. I got excited for unaged or lightly aged rums, high ester rums, rum made on pot stills and rum agricole. Now this doesn't mean I don't like any sweetness, oak, or spice in rum but rather that I those flavors in proportion so that the base distillate can show its character. Here were my favorites...

The Rum Society No. 40: The Rum Society is a company that buys single origin pot distilled rum and blends them together. No. 40 is an unaged rum distilled in Guyana on a wooden pot still. This rum comes from the same distillery that produces El Dorado. The rum is chalk full of beautiful fruity and floral esters and it is incredibly smooth. Drinking this rum was an ecstatic revelation.

Rhum JM Agricole Blanc 50%: Rhum JM is a historic producer of rum agricole, i.e. rum made from fresh pressed sugar cane, on the French island of Martinique. Like other rum agricole, the blanc has a wonderful bouquet of grassy and floral notes. And even at 50%ABV it wasn't overly hot or harsh.

Rhum JM VO: This rum takes the raw distillate from above and matures it in new American oak barrels and re-charred bourbon barrels. This short stint wood adds a layer of complexity however, the base rum still shines through. In my opinion the V.O. demonstrates how rum can be complemented by its time in oak without being overpowered.

Damoiseau Pure Cane Rum 110 Proof: Damoiseau is another rum agricole however, this one is distilled on the French island of Guadalupe. The rum has a wonderful earthy character complemented by an array tropical fruit notes. And at 110 proof this unaged rum is designed for cocktails.

Pusser's Rum Gunpowder Proof: Pusser's is a blend of five rums from Guyana and Trinidad aged for a minimum of 3 years. This blend was used for over 300 years by the British Royal Navy as a daily ration to its sailors. The original blend was stored at 54.5% ABV which saved space and was strong enough that gunpowder soaked in the rum would still ignite. Pusser's is a very rich and dense rum with lots of molasses, honey, and spice. For my taste the Gunpowder proof was the sweet spot. The lower proof Blue Label (42%) did not have the same intensity of flavor, and the overproof  (75%) was super hot and clearly meant to be used sparingly in cocktails.

Koloa Rum Company Kaua'i Coffee Liqueur: This Liqueur is made through a collaboration between the Kauai Coffee Company and Koloa Rum Company. Koloa takes their white rum which is twice distilled from raw sugar up to 90% ABV before being  proofed down.  A brewed coffee of Kauai grown aribica and robusto beans is added to the rum with a little sugar and vanilla. The combined flavors of rum and coffee is a fantastic combo and the vanilla, molasses, and dark chocolate flavors make this a tasty after dinner treat.


If you have a chance to attend an event like this I highly recommend it. When only one spirit is served, whether it is rum, gin, or whiskey, I think it presents a great opportunity to discover new brands and better understand your own personal preferences.

Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old Bourbon

Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon, distilled by Heaven Hill Distilleries and bottled at 47% ABV. 

Price Range: $25-$35

Heaven Hill first introduced Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon in 1986, six years before Jim Beam introduced their line of small batch bourbon collection. Small batch is an unregulated term that usually means the producer uses a smaller number of barrels (anywhere from 50 to 200) which are blended together before bottling. Whereas larger brand like Evan Williams or Jim Beam might use thousands of barrels for one bottling run. In large part, the term small batch is just a marketing ploy to justify a higher price point but as with most things, if you like the product in the bottle and you are willing to pay for it then marketing like small batch doesn't really matter.

Up until the beginning of 2016, Elijah Craig Small Batch was essentially a 12 year old version of Evan Williams. Because of this some friends and I ran a little taste test. We poured ourselves three glasses: Evan Williams Black Label, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, and Elijah Craig. This is a fun way to see how aging time can affect the bourbon. Now obviously this wasn't an exact 1 to 1 comparison since they are each bottled at different proofs and the Vintage comes from just one barrel. However, you get a general idea of what Heaven Hill bourbon is like at about 6ish years for E-Dub, 10 years for the Vintage and 12 years for Elijah. This was a great experiment because it confirmed for me that I'm not a big fan of extra aged bourbons. With each jump in age there is a noticeable increase in the amount of oak flavor in the bourbon. While I think Elijah Craig is a high quality bourbon, it wasn't my favorite because for my tastes there was too much oak. However, for one of my friends, Elijah Craig was his favorite because he liked the more intense oak flavor. There are a number of brands that you can use to run this experiment, but if you happen to still have a bottle of Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 year old it is worth trying with some friends.

At the beginning of 2016, Heaven Hill announced that, Elijah Craig Small Batch, which now sells 70,000 9-liter cases per year, has dropped it 12 year old age statement. This change is apparently  due in part to its own success and Heaven Hill's desire to see the brand continue to grow. Heaven Hill said that they could not continue to grow Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old without increasing the price or negatively impacting supply of Elijah Craig 18. From here out Elijah Craig Small Batch will be a mix of 8 to 12 year old bourbon. So if you like Elijah Craig and you happen to find a bottle with the 12 year old age statement, you should snatch it up because it probably isn't coming back.


Nose: There is a strong aroma of caramel and vanilla with notes of fresh oak and green apples.

Palate: The palate is intense, full of sweet caramel, oak and baking spices. At 47%ABV there is some heat but very little astringency and the flavors round out with a pleasant note of honey water.

Finish: The finish starts with a lingering sweetness that is balanced with dry tannins from the oak. Spice flavors and cornbread slowly fade as a warm sensation fills your chest.

Conclusion: Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old is a very bold bourbon that should please drinkers who like stronger wood and oak notes in their whiskey. Its power if awe inspiring and it is definitely a bourbon worth contemplating slowly over a long quiet evening. For its price it is a fantastic value which probably explains why Heaven Hill decided to drop its age statement.