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Rum Journal: The Rum Awards 2015

There’s something different about sipping a glass of fine rum. Sure, there are great spirits from around the world. But when you drink a glass of rum, you’re tasting something else — history, culture, love, torment, romance. You are tasting a place. Often, you are tasting the Caribbean. And that’s what makes rum not just the world’s most diverse spirit, but its most interesting, too. This is the fourth edition of the Rum Awards, something that began as a way of celebrating rum and has grown into one of the world’s most influential annual selections of fine rum. This year, the Rum Journal team tasted almost 200 rums from around the Caribbean (and the world) and chose the ones that we loved the most — the ones that are the most interesting, the ones that embody the spirit best, including the rum of the year, which was our hardest choice since we began in 2011. Here are the our favorites for 2015 — the best rums of the year. You can call them the Rummys 2015.


Rum of the Year: 1931 (Fourth Edition) By St Lucia Distillers

The Rum of the Year is always the hardest choice to make, and this year was no different. More and more producers are entering the market with serious aged rums, looking to highlight how far rum has come, how many delicious, interesting rums are now on the market. But one rum took top honors: 1931 from St Lucia Distillers. This is the fourth edition of a small-production rum, but this year there was a twist: along with a blend of several maturates, this year saw the inclusion in the blend of St Lucian-grown rhum agricole, the first agricole to be produced on the island since the 1930s. The result is something rather astonishing: a velvety, voluptous rum with a fascinating texture and a playful but elegant flavor profile marked by tropical fruit, citrus zest, caramel, dried mango and spice. This was the best rum we tried all year, and a simply spectacular rum. Cheers to the 2015 Rum of the Year, 1931 By St Lucia Distillers.

Runners up: Mount Gay XO, Ron Santiago de Cuba 11 Anos, Flor de Cana 25, Papa’s Pilar Limited Edition.


Rhum Agricole of the Year: Rhum Depaz XO Grand Saint-Pierre

Another incredibly difficult choice. The rums of the French Caribbean are, arguably, the most “authentic” in the Caribbean — they have a real terroir, a sense that one can taste the region where they were made, thanks to a local, vertically integrated process from cane to cap. But the best offering from the French Caribbean was this: Rhum Depaz XO Grand Saint-Pierre. This agricole from the foothills of Martinique’s Mont Pelee volcano is magnificent: ultra-smooth, ultra-balanced and spicy, with notes of candied fruit, with a transcendent finish. This is the second year in a row that Depaz has taken the top agricole crown, and the reason is clear: they’re producing simply exquisite rums.

Runners up: Rhum HSE XO, Rhum Damoiseau 8 Ans, Rhum Dillon XO.


Best New Rum: Afrohead

Long a house rum, this rum was born on Harbour Island in the Bahamas but now is something far more regional, from Dominican molasses to Trinidadian distillation. The 15-year variety is a terrific rum that earned a lot of points for its wonderful drinkability and a feeling of authenticity. At its roots, it still feels like a house rum, and that’s a very good thing.


Best New Rhum Agricole: Rhum HSE 2005 Sherry Finish Pedro Ximenez

This is the most creative rum distillery in Martinique, and one might argue in all of the Caribbean. HSE is the rum that really pioneered the extra “finishing” process of rhums agricoles, from finishing agricoles in malt whisky barrels to, more recently Spanish sherry. The latest edition of the Sherry Finish saw an aged agricole spending eight months in Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels, and the result was a peppery but sweet rum with HSE’s signature power. A tremendous product and one that makes us excited to see what they come up with next.


Best White Rum: Bacardi Facundo Neo

Two years ago, the new Facundo Collection took the rum world by storm — the best rums Bacardi had produced in decades. And the company’s Exquisito took home Rum of the Year honors. We’re glad to see that the Facundo collection is still around, and the company’s Neo white rum (actually a blend of aged rums that’s then charcoal-filtered) is, while expensive, a new kind of standard for great white rum: smooth, elegant, crisp. It passes the most important test of white rum with flying colors: you can sip it.


Best White Rhum Agricole: Rhum Bologne

There are a few important benchmarks for a great rhum blanc. First, and most importantly, how does it taste in a Ti’ Punch? And second, how does it taste sec, or neat? On both counts, Guadeloupe’s Rhum Bologne is at the top of the class. Bologne’s 100-proof white rhum agricole is a floral, sweet, energetic superstar. Guadeloupe remains one of the world’s undiscovered rum capitals — but here’s hoping that changes.


Best Gold Rum: Don Q Gold

This is a tough category to judge, simply because the area between young white rums and older aged rums is often filled with a motley crue of rums. But Don Q has long been making some of the Caribbean’s best rums in this category, and the Don Q Gold is no exception. While, like most gold rums, it’s best off in a cocktail, this is a rum with a honey-sweet aroma and a caramel-brown sugar flavor profile that makes it quite drinkable on its own.


Best Spiced Rum: Siesta Key Spiced Rum

The first time we announced the Rum Awards, a certain upstart rum from Florida, not from the Caribbean, took the crown. Since then, Siesta Key has swept the Rum Awards’ Best Spiced Rum category every year, last year with its Distiller’s Reserve. And this year is no different, except that this year we return to the rum that started it all: Siesta Key Spiced Rum, the company’s flagship expression. It’s quite smooth, made from Florida sugar cane and distilled in a copper pot still. It’s simple, rooted in natural spices and, most importantly for a spiced rum, uniquely sippable. This distillery in Sarasota has set a standard for spiced rums around the world, and has also shown the world that America is producing some rather good rums of its own. 2015 makes it four years in a row. Cheers, Siesta Key.


Best Flavored Rum: Rhum Clement Mahina Coco

We were pleasantly surprised to this on the shelf in an American city, because Clement’s Mahina Coco is absolutely lovely. A throwback to the homemade punchs you often find after dinner in the French Caribbean, this is a fruity, creamy delight that’s a dessert on its own —and an elegant digestif.


Best Overproof Rum: Sunset Very Strong Rum

St Vincent Distillers is quietly one of the Caribbean’s underrated outfits, best known for Captain Bligh XO but also producers of some significant Caribbean spirits. And none more robust than the aptly-named Sunset Very Strong Rum. This is as strong a rum as you will find anywhere on earth — but it’s also remarkably smooth. Bottled at 84.5% ABV, it requires some courage. But that courage is rewarded with a remarkably smooth overproof spirit.


Best Bottle Design: Rhum Damoiseau Rhum Vieux 8 Ans

The thing we love most about this bottle is that it feels far older than eight years. It feels like something you find floating around in the ocean, or tucked away in a corner of a centuries-old bar. Its green, flat shape hearkens back to a different era, and that’s what rum is all about.


Rum Bar of the Year: Papa Zouk, Antigua

We were dismayed to learn that, last year, the venerable Papa Zouk in Antigua had burned down. But through the charity and love of its many patrons, the bar was rebuilt. It remains a Mecca of Caribbean rum, a place that all rum pilgrims must visit and pay homage. Bert Kirchner’s “rum shop” on the outskirts of St John’s has more than 100 rums, less than its heyday but one growing quickly, in large part to frequent donations by customers. This is a wonderful place, a wonderful rum shop and the best rum bar in all of the Caribbean.

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