Pass the Dunder (to the left hand side)
What makes Jamaican rum so special in the rum geek circle, you ask? Why it's that funky, overripe banana, fruity, petrol-laden nose and flavor profile that can range from bitter mango to fruit tea with menthol and gasoline in character. Jamaican rum, when presented to you in an unblended, pure pot distilled, unmanipulated form is one of the wackiest, craziest, most unique spirits that exists. I've never been to Jamaica and pretty much everything I know about rum distillation I learned from two people, but from what I've soaked up over the years much of Jamaican rum's character has to do with high ester counts and a mysterious substance called dunder. Matt Pietrik's Cocktail Wonk blog has some of the best, most detailed first-hand accounts about Jamaican rum production I've ever read, so you can get the long version there. The short version, however, is this: a large smelly pit of decaying matter is propagated in order to create acids that will react with the molasses wash in the copper pot still and turn into fragrant esters, which are then condensed into the rum (I think that's right). Think of esters in rum like you would peat in whisky and you'll get an idea of how fanatical people can be about their rums. If Octomore is the peatiest of all single malts, then pure pot still Jamaican rum is the equivalent in terms of esters. This is some funky shit.
When I was visiting with the Laing brothers in Scotland this past September, they mentioned to me the idea of helping them launch a new rum label called "Golden Devil," a series of single cask rums bottled at 100 proof that would help introduce some new barrels into the U.S. market. I was all for it, especially since I could have first pick of the litter. I decided that the American market is already full of both value-priced and high-end rums. We have plenty of white mixing rums. There's more than enough sweet sippers. We have a fair share of agricole rhums as well. What we don't have enough of, however, are funky, high-ester, pure pot still Jamaican rums that are priced according to what they're worth. You have to understand: single casks of rum are expensive. Who wants to mix Tiki drinks with a $90 bottle of 10 year old rum? Better yet: how many people are interested in a wacky $200 bottle of 24 year old Hampden? I'm adventurous, but I'm not stupid. I was going to have to get clever with the math if I was going to make this work.
And so I did.
For my enjoyment, your enjoyment, and the enjoyment of our super nerdy Tiki fans who can legally purchase spirits from us, I bring you three new Jamaican rum selections that are interesting, distinct, and more than fairly priced. Dis generation rules the nation! Now pass me that Monymusk; to the left hand side, please.
2007 Monymusk 9 Year Old "Golden Devil" Single Barrel Jamaican Rum $49.99 - Monymusk is the name of the Jamaican sugar factory near Clarendon distillery where a rum of the same name is produced. While there is such a brand as Monymusk Plantation rum, we don't ever see that label in the U.S. Almost all of Clarendon distillery's rum is sold off to one main contract: Diageo, which uses the Jamaican rum for its European release of Captain Morgan and for part of its Myer's rum formula. That means we almost never get to taste pure, unadulterated, pot-distilled Monymusk in America, despite the growing desire for more aromatic, flavorful and interesting Jamaican rums in our expansive Tiki cocktail culture. Every now and again you'll find an independently bottled cask, but they're often quite pricy and the quality can be unpredictable. This pale straw colored rum is the lightest and most mixable of the three Jamaican casks, but it has a lovely sweetness on the finish that might taste good over rocks with a splash of soda or Coke. The dunder aromas and flavors are dialed up here with earthy notes, bitter fruit, menthol, and savory herbs dominating the profile. It's a homerun for just about any classic Tiki drink, but the potency of the pot still flavor can likely cut through whatever you throw its way.
2006 Worthy Park 10 Year Old "Golden Devil" Single Barrel Jamaican Rum $49.99 - Worthy Park is a centuries-old Jamaican rum distillery that ceased operations in 1960 before a new generation rebuilt the facility in 2005 and resumed distillation. Almost all of the rum made at Worthy Park is sold and consumed on the island, but a small amount trickles out from independent bottlers in the UK and Europe, which is where we tracked down our 10-year-old cask. This Worthy Park 10 year old rum is a beautifully balanced, fully sippable expression of classic Jamaican rum flavor, steeped with tropical fruit and richness from the oak cask, but balanced by classic pot still flavors of over-ripe banana and wood polish. This is the most mellow of the three Golden Devil Jamaican casks we purchased, but it's still not El Dorado or Diplomatico. This is for high-end Daiquiris and Mai Tais, or whatever else your Tiki desires call for.
1992 Hampden 24 Year Old "Golden Devil" Single Barrel Jamaican Rum $99.99 - Hampden is one of Jamaica's oldest sugar estates, dating back to the 1750s, and its rum is one of our favorites here at K&L. We purchased a 14 year old cask of Hampden a few years back that has since become a cult classic, and we're also huge fans of the Smith & Cross pot still rum, which is contracted from the facility. Hampden isn't just known for being one of Jamaica's best rums, it's also known for being one of the funkiest and most flavorful; the result of a long, rustic fermentation process that is renowned for being as old school as it gets. This ancient 24 year old single cask is going to test the ester limits of even the most faithful Jamaican rum drinkers. Imagine a pineapple and mango Hi-Chew candy dipped in petrol followed by an intense and lasting note of vanilla, fruit tea, menthol, and gasoline. If that sounds too weird, this isn't the rum for you. This isn't Ron Zacapa. This is serious, glorious, and spell-binding Jamaican rum, only for the most dedicated of Tiki fans.
If you want a full scale tour of these distilleries, I'll link Matt's blog posts to Monymusk, Worthy Park, and Hampden here. As I'm often tasting in warehouses or conference rooms, I'm thankful someone was there to provide me with some of the first-hand details. These posts are a great read and I highly recommend checking them out whether you end up buying a bottle of these rums or not! If you do buy a bottle, however; you've been warned. These are not smooth and mellow rums full of sugar and spice. They are FUNKY! But they're also incredible. I hope you take the plunge.