Belize has never been on my rum radar and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s very likely because I find it very hard to find good rums coming from Central America. The fact that it’s bordering Guatemala, with its plethora of uninspiring rums, doesn’t help it either. That’s changed recently however, when I visited my good rum friend Steve Leukanech at his Florida home. He has several expressions from Belize in his massive collection. These surprised me in a positive manner.
Belize is home to roughly 408000 people. It became a British colony in 1840 and got its independence in 1981. There are three distilleries….or four. Travellers is the most known one, then there is Cuello’s distillery and the newest distillery is Copal Tree Distillery (from 2016). I’m saying three or four because a company called L&R Liquors also talks about Cuello, so it might be the same company. I’d be happy if someone can clear that up for me. Copal Tree Distillery sounds incredibly interesting. They grow their own cane, use sugar cane juice instead of molasses and distill on pot and column stills. I’ve never seen their Copalli rums but hope to taste them one day.
Travellers is the main focus of this article. It was founded by Omario Perdomo in 1953. At first it was not a distillery but a bar, where he blended his own rum for his customers. When it became increasingly difficult to get good distillates he decided to build a distillery. I wish I could make decisions like that. Lets build a distillery tomorrow! Their most well know expressions are Don Omario and One Barrel. They use local molasses for fermentation and have a triple column still for distillation.
I tasted three different rums from Belize. An 11 year old that was bottled by Cadenhead, which I got right after I returned from Florida. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with that one. The second is also from Cadenhead, this time a 9 year old. Tasted it in Florida and then Steve gave me a sample for this article. Last is a 14 year Belize from Danish bottler SBS. Those guys were nice enough to send me a sample. The tasting was blind.
· Cadenhead Belize SFBT, 9 Years, Distilled 2005, 64.6%
· Cadenhead Belize MBT, 11 Years, Distilled 2007, 64.4%
· SBS Belize 2005, 14 Years, Distilled 2005, 58%, 315 Bottles
Wood….the musty kind. Light tobacco, gentle sweetness, sherry?, candle wax, light chocolate. After standing for a while some lovely varnish appeared. Nice nose.
Seems like this one is lower abv but the alcohol is more pronounced, if you know what I mean (lighter profile but more boozy). Slightly less expressive than #1. Finding oak, molasses, vanilla and ripe banana. My least favourite.
I feel like I’m walking into a bakery. The unexpected but rather nice smell of fresh bread. Next to that I’m getting nuts, nutmeg, white pepper, oak, marzipan, coconut and the same light varnish note as rum #1. This is definitely my favourite nose of the three.
Vanilla heavy, oak, tobacco, light chocolate, some alcohol bite, the medium long finish is not super interesting with a slight bitter note.
Alcohol is quite sharp, there is sweetness in the front and a slight bitterness in the back. I’m getting vanilla and oak. My mouth is on fire. Tons of good wood spice. There is some nice sweet oak underneath that alcohol…..it’s simply buried a bit. Need to dig. Finish is quite long and spicy. Bourbon lovers should like this.
Molasses, pepper, oak, vanilla, seems like it’s seen a wine cask, tobacco, little bit of chocolate on the finish. It’s got much less of the bitterness of the other two. It’s rounder, fuller and sweeter than the others. Clear winner for me.
Rum #1: SBS Belize 2005
Rum #2: Cadenhead Belize MBT 11
Rum #3: Cadenhead Belize SFBT 9
I quite like these rums and I’m glad I got introduced to them. They aren’t super complex but do pack a punch for a column still distillate. For comparison sake I had some Panamanian Grander 8 cask strength rum next to it and that felt rather thin compared to these Belizean rums. They are quite full and rounded, especially the 9 year, and have a solid bourbon cask profile. They should be appealing to bourbon drinkers.
I’ve been drinking the 11 year Cadenhead over the past couple of months and have enjoyed it very much. However, in this blind comparison I liked it the least. Quite the surprise. The 14 year SBS and especially the 9 year Cadenhead simply have more going on.
Older isn’t always better, which is proven again in this case, as the 9 year takes the win over its older cousins. Overall they are each great examples of how capable Travellers distillery is in making a solid rum without needing additives. To me they are a step up from Panama and Nicaragua rums, which are often way too light and simple but are much more known. In that sense, I think Belize is a bit of a sleeping rum giant.
SBS Belize 2005 – 78
Cadenhead Belize MBT 11 – 76
Cadenhead Belize SFBT 9 – 82
Click here for info on the scoring method.
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