90 point rums!?!?
Updated: Jan 4
Amazing - my 50th blog article already. So I've chosen something a little different. As requested by a few readers. Today I will benchmark a 90 point rum!
What makes a rum worth 90 points?
Clearly very subjective and only fully relevant when comparing rums scored by the same reviewer. Tomato tomato. My 90 might be another person's 87, however - it's critical that my 90 point unaged cane juice rum today, is of the same level (in my opinion) as a 90 point long aged molasses based rum next year!
Why am I doing this?
Firstly - In order to ensure consistency in my scoring, both over time as well as across styles and genres. I need a baseline, a benchmark, against which I can refer and validate future scores.
Secondly - I have a free weekend and this gives me an excuse to taste a bucket load of amazing rums
What does 90 points mean to me?
A faultless rum - a benchmark rum which other rums should be compared against. The baseline for outstanding. The point at which greatness begins.
How am I doing it?
Over 2 days - I'm starting with a seriously extensive selection of rums (Mrs SecretRumBar is away for the weekend!) All of which I previously scored 89 to 91 points.
For clarity, the objective today is not to find the best rum, but rather to establish a level across all rum categories for what 90 points represents to me. Hence you will not see the very best rums - the ones I have previously scored 93, 94, 95 pts are not in the mix. Nor, obviously, are the 85, 86, 87 pointers.
Some examples of rums you won't see as they are too good to feature today:
The approach I've taken is to group the rums into heats. To review similar rums side by side. And then to take the benchmark rum from each category into the final.
If necessary, at this point, I could switch out a rum to a better or worse one from it's category, where I feel a tweak is necessary (hence the heats approach).
Just 10-15ml of each. I may have all weekend but I still have to make it to the end in one piece! Assisted today, nice and loud, by the new queen of soul, blues and groove Izo FitzRoy.
Round 1 - Barbados
Based on previous scores, 2005 & 2009 were exactly 90 point rums.
Empery and Last Ward received 91 points and Diadem slipped just below at 89. Let's see how they stack up side my side...
Foursquare ECS Diadem - 89 pts (unchanged) Some minor imperfections and a tiny bit less wow factor than I expect from a 90pt rum. Don't get me wrong, 89 pts is pretty bloody awesome (I will try to avoid repeating this throughout this epic article!)
Foursquare ECS 2005 - 90 pts (unchanged) Absolutely bang on. A beautiful rum. A true benchmark 90 point rum.
Habitation Velier Last Ward 2007 - 90 pts (reduced fr0m 91) A tough call as it really is stunning, and also very interesting, but I don't feel it stacks up against Empery.
Foursquare ECS 2009 - 90- pts (scraped in, unchanged) For me this is not quite up to the 2005 but still in the 90 point level. The minus for me gives 2005 the edge in what I'm looking for. Fine differences!
Foursquare ECS Empery - 91 pts (unchanged) Utterly delicious. Delivers more complexity and with a yum factor that is off the scale. More that I expect from a 90 point rum.
So, Empery is my favourite of this cluster but it's above the 90 point standard!
Crucially, Foursquare ECS 2005 or Habitation Velier Last Ward 2007 are both hitting the benchmark for a 90 point Barbados rum. I have to pick one so Foursquare ECS 2005 will represent Barbados in the final.
Round 2 - Jamaica
Sadly many of my favourites from Long Pond, Hampden, New Yarmouth and Monymusk were too good to make the cut today. That said, it smells pretty bloody awesome in here since I poured these five.
Velier Tiger Shark (not fully Jamaica but understandably included in this round) - 90 pts (up from 89 pts) A stunning blend. Heavy on the Worthy Park which works for me. Exactly what I would expect from a 90 pointer. Super tasty, outstandingly well made. Complex, interesting. Wild, but Luca has managed to tame it.
Hampden Great House 2019 - 90 pts (unchanged) The nose utterly blows me away, and suggests a 91+, but the taste is a little under-integrated. Overall it's very much in line with what I would expect from a 90 pointer. Outstanding. That said, possibly not a benchmark 90 pointer - I'd describe is as "really, really amazing, with faults". For my benchmark Jamaican I'd rather have something that hits 90 more cleanly, more evenly.
Habitation Velier Worthy Park WPL 2007 - 91 pts (unchanged) This might not have the wow factor of the Great House, but the quality, the beauty, is screaming out. More than I would expect from my benchmark 90.
Habitation Velier LROK 2010 (US 10yr) 90- pts (an halfpenny down from 90) Good level of wow, but not without it's faults. In the HV range it's way above the LFCH and way below HGML & C<>H.
Long Pond Whisky Jury 2005 - 90+ pts (up from 89) A pretty big step up since last tasted, possibly due to how long it's been open. I'm really enjoying this.
That was a great reminder of how much I love Jamaican rums.
A real struggle to choose a benchmark 90 point example. It's going to be either Tiger Shark or the Whisky Jury Long Pond, if anything the LP is a touch too good for 90pts. Might take both into the final.
The key message here is that if a producer can nail the excitement of these high ester rums AND match the quality, balance and integration of Richard Seale's Foursquare ECS rums then .. wow!
Round 3 - Aged Cane Juice
I've not found many aged cane juice rums that really wow me. This is reflected in the fact that we only have 3 rums in this category. Please remember that this tasting isn't all rums, it isn't even all rums I have reviewed, it's simply the rums I have scored 89-91 that I have available.
The category is dominated by rums from Mhoba (I could also have added the FAQ but don't have one open at the mo).
Rasta Morris - Bielle 8y - 90 pts (unchanged from previous 90pts) Massive step change from the wild Jamaica category. And what a great change. This rum is absolutely beautiful. Elegant, classy, delicious. So well made. Exactly what I want from 90 points, maybe more!
Habitation Velier Mhoba 2017 - 89 pts (unchanged) Fun scale score of 10 out of 10 ! A trip to the fairground. Candyfloss and toffee apples. Wonderful. A tiny step below 90 but who cares, I love it.
Mboba French Cask 2019 - 89 pts (up from 88) A more grown up Mhoba. But only just. The wine cask influence is glorious. Mhoba know how to make cane juice rum for aging!
Clear winner and a perfect example of what I want from a benchmark 90. The Rasta Morris Bielle 8yr is the epitome of "baseline outstanding". Near faultless. Look forward to seeing how this measures up in the final!
Round 4 - Rest of the world, aged Molasses Rums
No Fiji, no USA, no UK etc etc...? Well no, this needed to be a shortlist of molasses based rums I've tried and I have scored 89-91. These four are the only ones I have open bottles of. They'll work though. And the representative from the category will add an important dimension to the final.
SLD Chairman's 13yr (JD/Vend) - 89 pts (down from 91pts) St Lucia distilleries are (IMO) seriously under-rated, rolling out some outstanding rums. I've particularly enjoyed the output from the Vendome still (both cane and molasses). This is a classy rum, in the context of the giants today it misses the magic 90 mark. A significant downgrade, partly due to the years since I previously reviewed it (I guess that's the point of today)
Velier Beenleigh 2015 - 'desert aged' for 5 years. 88 pts (down from 89pts) A very complete, tasty and flavoursome rum. Not quite hitting the 89 I'd scored before. Certainly lacking some wow that would be needed for that high 90pt bar.
Velier Beenleigh 2006 (15r) - A fantastic rum. Is it 90pts? Maybe not. Awarded 89pts (down from 90). I'm finding these Velier Beenleigh to be lacking some of the depth, complexity and pedigree that the 90pt rums of the previous rounds have offered.
It's been a while so I'll repeat that 89pts is a bloody incredible score for a bloody incredible rum, just not reaching the benchmark I'm looking for today!
Velier Antigua Heavy 2012 - Now that is a 90 point rum. Big, rich, deep. A thoroughbred!
Not much to add. It's 90- (up from the 89 I scored it a couple of years ago).
My representative of the 'Rest of the world, aged Molasses Rum' at the 90 point level is Velier Antigua Heavy 2012
Final round 5 - unaged rums
As you can see, I don't appear to have given 89-91 to any unaged molasses rums. Still hunting an unaged molasses based rum that reaches these dizzying heights. Oddly missing Guadeloupe too - unfortunately the new Rhum Rhum PMG bottling doesn't quite reach the levels of the old (Bielle?) version. Still, a solid group that I'm very excited to compare.
A1710 La Perle Rare Canne Bleu 69-566 (2020) 89pts (previously 89) A near perfect example of small batch, artisan rhum. A tiny touch thin on the initial taste keeps this from hitting 90. Stunning rhum.
Clairin Sonson (2018) 89-pts (previously 89) SecretRumBar 'rum of the year 2021'. It's not faultless, however when you combine the quality with the complex, unique and exciting flavours, you end up with a spectacular rum, just a smidge below that high high bar of 90 points.
Clairin Sajous (2018) 89+pts (previously 88-90 depending on vintage). A benchmark rum. Not quite hitting 90pts on this vintage, however the consistently high quality of this unique and delicious clairin make it well worth consideration as the benchmark example of a 90 point unaged rum.
Neisson L'esprit (70%) 91 (previously 91pts) I have described this as the best unaged rum I've ever tasted - and I stand by that. Too good for the 90 point level.
Controversial representative of the unaged rum/rhum category is Clairin Sajous.
The Final - how do these, very different, '90 point rums' compare side-by-side??
To really do this justice I've just spent an hour in the garden with a half dram of each of these. I can confidently say that I nailed it. To recap, this is what I was looking for ...
"...a benchmark rum which other rums should be compared against. The baseline for outstanding. The point at which greatness begins."
These six are all different. but all hit that level :-)
If I was to be super critical, the Bielle and Long Pond are pushing at the top end of my 90 point target, and the Antigua is looking around feeling a bit of imposter syndrome in this group. One day I might replace it with an SLD 100% vendome, but for today I've achieved what I set out to do. These rums and rhums are the epitome of secretrumbar 90 points!