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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Antigua High Ester Rum Battle

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Column stilled, molasses based rums from English Harbour distillery on the beautiful island of Antigua.

High ester, high congener - what? Congeners - the stuff (including esters) that gives flavour to your alcoholic beverage.

Introduced into the spirit during fermentation, kept there (or not) during distillation. Sometimes concentrated during aging.

Usually associated with super long fermentation and pot stills.

When we're talking high ester, all things are relative. With these column stilled Antiguan rums we're not expecting Jamaican funk beasts, however barrel picks of these tropically aged rums can offer some unexpectedly funky results.

At 'just' 6-7 years these are all relatively young rums, however, as they were aged in the dry tropical Antiguan climate*, both the angel's share (loss through evaporation) and barrel interaction will have been sped up considerably. We could approximate these to a similar level of maturity to 15-20 year continentally aged spirits. [Hence the beautiful rich gold colour (you will see below) that these have naturally reached]

*unclear where all the aging took place for the Nectar bottling

Left to right EH High Congener, Nectar, Velier Heavy

20ml of each, left to open up for 25mins. Nosed first, then tasted, in increasing abv order.

Assisted today by the absolutely mesmeric sounds of Lack of Afro.

English Harbour, High Congener Series 2014, 6yrs, 63.8%, 1200btls

Estate bottled at English Harbour as part of their high congener series, this 'transatlantic single cask selection' was aged for 6 years at the distillery before being selected for it's high level of congeners and bottled in 2020 at 63.8%. The bottle suggests that this is part of a regular, limited, annual release of high congener rums - I've not heard of a follow up so maybe this idea didn't take off?

Nose: It's a big rum, no hiding from that, but the alcohol 'warning' is delivered alongside an invitation - that says dive in! Rich, deep and inviting. The oak influence is surprising for such a young rum - clearly the climate in Antigua has accelerated things considerably. I would love to know the angel's share after 6 years!

Glue, sweet caramel, cocoa, vanilla, coconut, wood floor varnish, poached pears. Considering the high abv, the alcohol integration is excellent.

Mouth: Again, the 63.8% is undeniable, but there is a softness too. A mouth coating rum. Lemon sherbet. Caramel. Spice. Salt. After the first taste, the initial impressions of sweetness are blending with sour old tropical fruit. The alcohol is perfectly integrated - a really complete and beautiful rum. High ester without doubt, balanced perfectly with vanilla caramel. Yum yum [90pts]

The Nectar Of The Daily Drams Antigua High Congener 2015, 7y, 65%Vol,

Bottled by the Belgium independent bottler 'Nectar of the Daily Drams'.

I would direct you to their website for more information (here), but sadly it's not been updated for a number of years and hence this bottling is not listed.

The beautiful colour, very similar to the other two, suggests that the majority of the aging was at the distillery.

Nose: A little more acetone / nail polish remover, but overall less richness and depth than the first. A similar rum but initially a little less balanced. More 'high notes', less 'bass'. Given that this is column stilled I'm amazed at the level of gluey ester. Quite oily. Citrus notes and floral - quince jam. Not quite achieving the impressive alcohol integration of the other two.

Mouth: Wow, that's lively. Tastes younger and more zesty than the others. Fizzy alcoholic sprite. A little harshness on the aftertaste - 65% and fiery. Less caramel oak, less balance, but still very good. A touch of eucalyptus, very slight glimmer of cola cubes and pear drops. Sweet esters. Really enjoyable, just not quite as polished. [87 pts]

Velier Antigua Heavy Traditional Rum, 2012, 6yrs, 66%

A blend of 27 casks 'discovered' by Luca Gargano in June 2017. The story goes that Luca went to Antigua looking for something special and amongst thousands of barrels he discovered 27 casks with unusually high levels of congeners. So he selected these for a limited bottling under the Velier brand.

Bottled in 2018 after being aged at the distillery in Antigua for 6 years.

The eagle eyed might remember that this rum featured in my '90 point rums' benchmarking article a few months ago (here)

Nose: At first this was the lowest ester nose of the three! And the most savoury. The other two offer a sweet upfront nose, whereas the Velier is much dryer. Moorish. Initially the 'quietest' nose of the three. The first two offer everything on first [nose] date - all those inviting sweet caramelly esters. Whereas the Velier is coming across a bit more shy, lets see how things develop :-)

[30 mins later, still dry and balanced. But it's opened up and is incredible. I could nose this for hours]

Mouth: A really long moorish taste. Quite an experience. A beautiful rum. The gluey sweet esters are there, perfectly balanced with a dry, spicy, vanilla core. Good fruit. Pear and banana. A big bold rum. Over the years I've bounced between 89 &90 points. And that's where I land again today. A beautiful monster of a rum that needs time to open up. Unbelievably complete for it's age. Balanced to perfection. A benchmark rum. [89.5 pts]

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