Is Single Rum the new Single Malt?

Recently while in London, my friend and I were conversing with Sukhinder Singh, owner of Specialty Drinks and The Whisky Exchange about what is new and interesting in the world of spirits. Without hesitation, a discussion commenced on single rums and more specifically Luca Gargano – a remarkable figure who has brought rums from around the world from the category of something to mix with coke for a cuba libra to stand on par with exceptional whiskies.

Clearly, this was a sign to finally share insights from my experience at the 2016 Singapore Whisky Live Master Class with master of all things malt – Dave Broom and the unforgettable character – Luca Gargano.

Before us were four brown spirits and one bonus white spirit. The question was to discern which was whisky, which was rum, gaining appreciation into each. Before serving, the rums and whiskies were carefully watered to be the equivalent of 46% to bring parity in strength between each.

1. Habitation Velier Forsyths White (2005) 57.8% (watered to 46%)

Quite clearly rum… and yet clearly no ordinary one…

  • Nose – Pear, apples, bright then becoming more sour
  • Palate – Marvellous spice, fruits, a slight tin or metallic quality, lots of oils, quite soft yet sumptuous in its dancing elements
  • Finish – After the initial burn, leather and pineapple, over-ripe fruits

There was an appealing, genteel yet quirky quality to this rum. Dave Broom observed it has an “Elegant, wonderful fruit… “ with a “funky character.” As it aired, it revealed increasingly sour elements yet still sweet.

The distillery closed in 1962 and then re-opened, remaining completely independent.

2. Balvenie 12 year Single Cask No 12742 47.8%

Whereas the 2nd sample was clearly whisky, yet had some qualities in common with the rum just tasted.

  • Nose – More sweet soft apples, an almost candy floss sweetness, floral, gentle honey, thinned bannana
  • Palate – Spiced yet soft, a kind of juicy fruity character, lots of creme caramel
  • Finish – Clean, soft and sweet

The overall pronouncement? One heard the exclaim – this is a “disgracefully drinkable dram!” And an excellent example of Balvanie character from a single ex-bourbon barrel, released in 2013.

3. Edradour 10 year (2006) 46%

Again, distinctly Scottish whisky yet with character…

  • Nose – Initially had a clear sherry stamp. As it opened, much more sour than the earlier two. Dried fruits, light “new shows” leather
  • Palate – Very smooth with a spice body, rich, powerful and slightly oily,
  • Finish – Sweet spices like cinnamon, all spice, shifts into liquorice, becoming dry, sweet, spice

Quite a beautiful sweet spice whisky and again falls into the category of “terribly drinkable.”

4. Hampden 2010 HLCF 68.5% (watered to 46%)

No doubt this was rum, of an exceptional character.

  • Nose – Darker sugars, spiced caramel, pineapple, egg nog… a symphony of aromas
  • Palate – Such flavours! So multilayered with spice, toffee, cream, roasted nuts, an almost malty quality
  • Finish – Delicious…

As we sipped and appreciated this remarkable single rum, Luca described with graphic imagines the conditions under which this rum is produced. He shared how they still use 18th century methods, in wooden vats, open with flies, horrible breadfruit, bacteria, in an environment that creates something “beautiful” with “fermentation that is magical.”

5. Clairin Vaval 58.1% (watered to 46%)

This last rum is quite distinctive and memorable. I could immediately place it as the Haitian rhum auricle, 1st sampled back in 2015 at La Maison du Whisky.

  • Nose – Very organic like new make spirit
  • Palate – Overripe fruit, tropical and distinctly different. Like sunshine in a bottle. Light sweet spices, a hint of vanilla, then warms into fruits, berries and even a hint of nuts.
  • Finish – Sugarcane, long and sweet

Luca spoke of history of sugar, from Java in 1770s to Haiti, no hybrid sugar cane, transported by donkeys, fermented and distilled in small pot still, then the evolution of multi-cultivation sugar cane.

Dave added his thoughts about the role of artisanal small stills “in conditions that make you humble“… full of “heart, as good, as clean terroir as one can get.”

In comparing the impact of tropical temperatures in which rum is typically produced vs whiskies in Scotland, Luca explained the correlation between evaporation and remaining spirit… pointing out how in just 6 years, spirits aged in tropical climates have only 610 ml remaining, comparing it with 25 years in Scotland with 600 ml.

In speaking about “Pure Single Rum” vs “Pure single Malt”, Luca shared his emphasis on transparency, giving information on the label, educating producers, retailers and bartenders, rather than pushing for imposition of regulatory rules… demonstrating a passion to bring unique, quality rums to the world.

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