Updated: Nov 23
I really enjoy following people’s rum journeys, especially when I’ve helped them a tiny bit along the way by giving information, rum samples or when they’ve been helped by people in the FB rum group I run. Canada is a big rum drinking nation, but it's is in its infancy stage when it comes to higher quality products. In a somewhat masochistic kind of way, that makes it even more fun to watch, as people have to jump through a lot more hoops to get good rum here than most others. Think Brexit is tough on your available rum choices? Come to Canada and see how good you have it. Anyhow, I digress. The journey. With most people, when they start getting more interested in rum, let’s say the stage after Captain Morgan and Bacardi, they’ll start doing some searches online or ask their local liquor store for help. Thanks to big marketing money and uninformed liquor store employees (LCBO), this usually results in the purchase of some sugary liquid with fancy packaging and hopefully a big number on the label. Think Zacapa, Diplomatico or Plantation. For a lot of people (likely the majority), this is the final stop on the rum journey. They love a sugary smooth drink that provides them with a perception of quality and the perception of a premium experience. Which is fine of course, albeit unfortunate in my eyes….as they will never experience how rummy and complex rum can be underneath that blanket of sugar.
However, for some people it isn’t the last stop on the journey and that’s where it gets really interesting. Thanks to the enormous variety of the rum category, you never know in which direction ones journey will go. It’s one of the things that make this spirit so fascinating. I’ve seen people stick to the sugary stuff, but also venture out to dryer rums like Mount Gay, Foursquare or Appleton. They switch between dry and sugary. They are hybrids! Then there are examples of people saying they find the "Jamaicanness" of Appleton 12 not pleasing, when 2 years later they are sipping Hampden Rum Fire. Some have an AHA! moment and ditch the sweet stuff completely, as they want to spend all their time and money on exploring the world of naked, complex rums. Whatever it is, I’m glad so many people are sharing their rum experiences for all of us to follow.
Another journey I find interesting to watch is that of Foursquare Distillery in Barbados. Not too long ago, outside of Barbados, it was known for Doorly’s…..and that’s about it. No Foursquare ECS, no Velier or Hampden collaboration, no cask strength offerings. Look at it now. It seems like half the bourbon world is switching to rum because of Foursquare and Real McCoy rums. People are falling over each other to recommend their rums in FB groups (except one). Consumers are virtually trampling each other in online stores to buy the latest limited release. Foursquare FOMO has become a real thing. I’m happy for them (FS). It’s a great example of a company having vision, talent, clever low budget marketing, lots of hard work and above all else….a top quality product at a reasonable price.
Richard Seale is Foursquare’s marketing manager (don’t ever call him that), but more importantly he’s in charge of the strategy, the distilling, blending and ageing of rum…..and about a million other things that are and aren't related to rum. What I’ve found very interesting is the role he’s played on Facebook for years. The one of myth buster. Social media has become a very powerful tool for businesses wanting to reach their target audiences. It’s great for a small company with a tiny marketing budget, as it’s pretty easy to go on Facebook rum groups and connect with tens of thousands of rum lovers, costing only time and effort in Foursquare’s case. Richard has given his opinion and shared his knowledge on many rum subjects. Topics like debatable age statements, added sugar, nonsense marketing, distillation methods, fermentation, yeast, ageing vessels and plenty of rum history. He clearly likes to teach. I’ve learned a lot from this and I’m sure many others have as well. The message has always been about knowledge, honesty, clarity and quality. Which has really helped Foursquare’s reputation in a big way, as these words always come up when someone’s talking about FS nowadays. I’m sure it hasn’t hurt sales either. I think it might have all been a cunning plan. One that is hard to pull off, especially with such a small team. It’s astonishing when you see how much influence this has had in the rum scene as a whole. From consumers who are demanding a lot more transparency and honesty in products to certain producers who are increasingly trying to please that part of the market. Even most of the self appointed rum "experts" have changed their stance on various rum topics. This is all in part because of Richard Seale. I take my hat off to that.
Now, let me stop blabbing and talk about Shibboleth, the 16th Exceptional Cask Selection release. I always feel some excitement with every new Foursquare expression, although I’ve been able to contain it better lately, as it’s so hard to get my hands on these bottles in Canada. But, how can someone not get excited by a 16 year rum, bottled at 56% and fully aged in Barbados in ex-Bourbon casks?! Great specs!
As a comparison I picked the very tasty Nobiliary. Not a slouch with 14 years in ex-Bourbon at 62%. I spent quite a bit of time on this, as I wanted to taste them next to each other first and then taste them separately from one another on different days. The comparison tasting was done semi blind. Here goes…
I'm getting wood, sweet vanilla, black pepper, marzipan, baking spices, crayon, red fruit and tobacco. I’m amazed this is ex-bourbon barrel only. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had spent some time in an ex wine cask. Smells great! It’s a little fatter and rounder than rum 2 with a tad more complexity.
Chocolate is quite strong, besides that there is oak, vanilla, cinnamon, orange peel, citrus, candle wax and again marzipan. I like the oak note in this one better but prefer the nose of rum 1 overall.
Oak, coconut, sweet vanilla, chocolate, baking spices, nutmeg. The sweetness is breaking through the oak spice. Finish is long with a good amount of tobacco and wood spice. The level of sweetness keeps the bitterness away largely. To me it’s slightly more complex than rum 2.
Oak, marzipan, vanilla, nuts, light orange, nutmeg. There is enough sweet deliciousness to combat the considerable wood spice, which results in it having less of a bitter note on the finish than rum 1. The finish is medium length, oaky and nutty, with some chocolate and faint coffee. It’s soft and drinks under its stated abv. It’s also less complex than rum 1 and somewhat on the light side. I enjoy nosing it more than tasting it.
Rum 1: Foursquare Nobiliary
Rum 2: Foursquare Shibboleth
What surprises me with Shibboleth is that it isn’t as woody and bitter as I expected. I’ve found quite a few of the 14 year Foursquare rums slightly too woody and bitter for my palate. I likely haven’t been the only one whining about that, so I was wondering if it was one of Richard’s goals to show whiners like me that a 16 year rum doesn’t have to be very woody or bitter. So, I asked. His answer:”That is correct”.
I do understand the basic theory behind an old spirit being overly woody or not. It heavily depends on the cask, which is like a tea bag. The more you use it, the less it has to give. Therefore an old spirit doesn’t have to be heavy on oak by definition. As long as it doesn’t spend a lot of time in a barrel, or when it does, the barrel has to have been extensively used already.
The not being too woody part of the mission has been accomplished. How about the rest? Well, I must admit I’m underwhelmed by this rum. First time I tried it was at a friends place. Then I received a sample from a fellow Rum Club Canada member. In both occasions I wasn’t convinced of its greatness. I saw a few people online saying it needs to breath a lot and will get better over time. When I got an opportunity to buy a bottle, I pulled the trigger, realizing that I can spend a lot of time with a proper bottle at home. After doing all that, I’m still not convinced. It has a certain lightness to it on the nose and palate that I don’t appreciate. It’s missing some complexity and robustness. I much prefer Nobiliary and let’s not even mention 2007.
Age is just a number, which is proven again with this comparison. The excellent 14 year Nobiliary beating the 16 year Shibboleth by quite a margin. Ageing is an expensive component in the price of rum. Therefore, it makes sense Shibboleth has the higher price tag. However, I wouldn’t buy it again purely from a drinking experience point of view. I’d much rather buy two bottles of 2007, if I could.
Foursquare Shibboleth – 76
Foursquare Nobiliary – 89
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