What I Learned from the California Rum Festival
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 Durán 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.