The history of rum is intertwined with the history of the Caribbean — particularly that infamous (and somehow lastingly romantic) age of rum-fueled pirates.
But for all the stories of Caribbean pirates and treasure-seekers, a surprisingly small number of pirates have actually found their names adorning bottles of rum (the most famous being Captain Henry Morgan, of course).
That brings us to John Watling’s, a rum brand increasing in renown in recent years and the pride of the historic quarter of Nassau in The Bahamas.
Watling, a 17th century pirate who gave his own name to what had been San Salvador Island, and whose treasure-filled travels took him across The Bahamas (and even to the aptly-named Rum Cay).
Set at the Buena Vista Estate in the heart of Old Nassau (a short stroll down the road from Graycliff, The Bahamas’ greatest restaurant), John Watling’s has become one of Nassau’s must-see attractions, with a vibrant cocktail bar and a large aging warehouse set on the grounds of a centuries-old villa.
The Bahamas doesn’t grow sugar cane; that means the rum itself is distilled elsewhere in the Caribbean, although the company remains coy on the precise sourcing location.
But, as with many Caribbean rum brands, the aging and blending is done on-site, with what Watling’s calls a pair of distillates: one called “firewater” and the other “killdevil,” aged in American oak for as many as five years. (Watling’s says the rums are charcoal-filtered with coconut husks before barreling.)
The rum first launched in 2013, kicking off with a lightly aged pale and amber rums before eventually introducing the Buena Vista blend, the latter aged for five years in former bourbon barrels.
And it’s all a very well-done production; the label and branding is excellent — evoking a rum with a far longer history and pedigree. More importantly, through the estate and visitor center and the bottling, the rum has cultivated a real Bahamian identity.
And the bottles themselves are wonderful, particularly with the addition of sisal plait woven by hand in The Bahamas.
The collection is led by the very good Buena Vista. But the company’s flagship expression is something very different.
In what was certainly a nod to the growing demand by rum aficionados for stronger, cask-strength rums, John Watling’s launched its Single Barrel Rum, and it’s quite special.
John Watling’s Single Barrel Rum is actually a four-year rum. The difference is that it’s bottled at cask strength — meaning a whopping 66.2 degrees. Serious stuff.
It’s a trend that continues to grow — perhaps most notably with the wonderful Genesis series of rhums by Guadelloupe’s Longueteau, which were among the first to show just how exquisite a lightly-aged, cask-strength rum could be.
So what is it like?
John Watling’s Single Barrel has a classic amber color; the unsurprisingly strong aroma has notes of bourbon, dried mango; coconut and a hint of anise.
The flavor profile has notes of brown sugar, licorice, dried fruits, white pepper and spice. On repeated sips new flavors emerge: marzipan, raisins; cinnamon.
This is a fiery rum; a strong, raw rum statement. And while it is bold and forward, it’s not brash; there’s a finesse, an elegance here — one that gives a rounder structure to what is inarguably a very strong spirit.
The verdict? This is a really good rum, and it’s the best expression John Watling’s has produced so far.
And it’s a bold, powerful, adventurous rum that’s certainly worthy of a pirate’s name.
John Watling’s Single Barrel Rum
Rum Journal Review
For more, visit John Watling’s (yes, it’s available in the U.S.)