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Great Canadian Rum Review

When someone thinks about rum, Canada is likely not the first country they’d associate it with. There are no palm trees or white sandy beaches in Canada, it’s all snow and igloos, some say. Why would anyone produce rum in such a country, with that climate?!

As a matter of fact, Canada is quite a big rum drinking nation. Navy rum is a well known term in many Canadian households, especially on the east coast. There are small distilleries all over the country that produce a myriad of spirits, including rum. Still, I never find them in my local liquor store in Toronto. I can see a few reasons for this. Everything around alcohol is highly regulated in Canada, especially in a few provinces like Ontario and Quebec. The amount of red tape is intense and the taxes and costs are high. Anyone deciding to produce spirits in Canada must have a lot of passion and patience. Liquor stores in Ontario are a government monopoly called LCBO, which stands for Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The ‘C’ is the standout letter there, as it’s mostly about control. LCBO’s primary goal is to collect taxes for the government. The easiest way to do that is high volume sales. Why go into the trouble of having a varied rum selection, including some niche products, when you can stock the shelves with cheap Bacardi, Bumbu and Captain Morgan?! They prove time and time again they have little interest in rum, nor do they have solid knowledge about rum.


It can be difficult for any producer to break this barrier and have their products for sale in store. I’m talking about larger distilleries here who are being denied by the LCBO for dubious reasons. Imagine the uphill battle for the smaller companies. They might as well not bother. It’s also expensive to get into the LCBO. A common question they ask any producer is the size of their marketing budget. If that’s not sizeable, it's unlikely they'll stock their product, as it might not sell quickly enough without the added promotion. Let’s not forget the high prices because of the hefty markup LCBO applies, which is another reason for some producers not to bother, as they know it won’t sell at that price level. We are lucky to have Mount Gay rum widely available. But, their special releases will never make it here. They simply have to jump through too many hoops to be able to sell it here. It’s much easier, and likely cheaper, to sell it in other markets.

Let’s go back to the small Canadian distillers. Dealing with all the above can be a bridge too far. In a lot of cases they end up selling from their distillery shop only, which is very limiting. Whisky, vodka and gin are much bigger money makers than rum. Hence why rum usually isn’t a priority.

Another problem is the lack of rum knowledge and education. Most Canadians still see rum as a cheap mixer. Something that’s harsh, that’s supposed to be put in a large glass of Coke or juice. When that’s the general opinion, $100+ bottles of rum won’t be flying off the shelves.


Is there no good Canadian rum then? Well, I reviewed North of 7 rum here and liked it very much, although a later batch wasn't as good as the one I tried there. I figured it’s time to look at a few more, since I’m in Canada after all.

The Cast

*Black Galley Distilling - Small Cask Series - 1 Year - Bourbon Cask - 45% - Produced in New Brunswick

*Ironworks Distillery - Rum Boat Rum - 2 to 5 years - 45% - Batch 5 - Produced in Nova Scotia

*Ironworks Distillery - Barrel 97 - 5 Years - 42% - Produced in Nova Scotia

*Distillerie de Montréal - Rosemont Rhum Brun No 03 - 3 Years - 45% - Produced in Quebec

*Distillerie de Québec - St-Roc Fondation - NAS - Bourbon Cask - 42% - Batch 3 - Produced in Quebec

*Moonshine Creek Distillery - Nautical Reserve - 18 Months - New Oak - 57% - Produced in New Brunswick


Naturally I wanted to get more information about the production process of each rum. This is usually a bit easier with smaller operations than when dealing with massive distilleries. It showed, as I was able to have a chat with each distillery and receive detailed information from Distillerie de Montréal, Distillerie de Québec and Moonshine Creek Distillery. Ironworks is the negative exception. It’s not the first time they’ve ignored a request for more information unfortunately.


Moonshine Creek Distillery is located in Waterville New Brunswick. It was founded in 2018 by brothers Joshua and Jeremiah Clark. So far they’ve produced three different batches of Nautical Reserve rum. Batch 1 is a limited edition with a black and gold label. Batch 2 and 3 are lower priced regular releases with a red label. I had a long chat with Jeremiah, who was generous with his time and very open to answering my questions.

Why rum?


We always had a great appreciation for rum but only began distilling and aging rum after some discussions with Crosby's Molasses of New Brunswick. They had asked us if we were interested in making a liqueur with molasses and it seemed like it would be a disservice to them if we made one that didn't have a real Canadian Rum base made from their molasses. Once we started making rum, we fell in love with the spirit. Prior to this we had been making a similar spirit from maple sugar we call Canadiana (Acer-rhum), but our focus has since changed to Canadian Rum.


Why 57%?

The 57% was chosen by the artist (Andrew MacPherson) who designed the Nautical Reserve Rum concept. He was fascinated with the gunpowder proof test of old sailors and wanted the rum to have a navy theme. We were happy to use the rum we had to make this project happen. It was initially only meant to be a one time fundraising project of 500 bottles (Black and Gold Label). But, the rum became popular with rum enthusiasts and we were asked to release more at a lower price, so people could enjoy it more often. That lead to the red label releases.


What are the details about the fundraising initiative?

he initial project of 500 bottles was only made to raise money for struggling artists. Covid had disrupted their source of revenue in many ways. So we created a grant to help them get through tough times. Anyone within NB can apply for the grant. They have to have a project that supports the arts though. That could be going to school, a project, purchasing equipment, anything that applies to the arts. It’s a direct payment from us to the recipient. More info can be found here: https://moonshinecreek.ca/art-grant/


Where are the casks coming from and what's their size?

We get our casks shipped from cooperages in the USA. They are currently always virgin oak. Primarily 53 gallon, but due to supply chain disruptions we have used some 30 gallon barrels. They come in a range of medium toast to char 4 and sometimes a blend of the different heats in one barrel (ie, charred head with toasted staves).


What type of still are you using?

We have a 300 gallon hybrid column still.

How do you determine the cuts?

We make our cuts based on taste and aroma. They can be different depending on the mark.

Commercial yeast, or a unique yeast just for you?

We use a couple varieties of Lallemand yeast.

How long has the rum been aged?


Currently, we are using rum that is aged between 1 to 2 years. We plan on using older rums as our young distillery (est. 2018) gets older. Next year we will be releasing a 3 year Nautical Reserve Rum and another yet to be announced rum project of 2 year aged rums.

How many casks do you have ageing rum currently?

We have about 40 barrels of rum aging right now. We should have twice that by this time next year as we focus more on rum production.

Can you provide some more details about batch differences?

Batch 1 and 2 are made of barrels that were distilled back to back, blended down and barrelled on the same day. We blended them with the same ratio and drew from the same barrels. They were 18 months old. Batch 3 is a blend of 1 year and 2 year old barrels. The barrels used for Batch 1 and 2 were light charred. Batch 3 had light charred and heavy toasted barrels used. I blended batch 3 with what I call our hybrid barrels, (toasted staves, charred heads) and charred barrels.


We always use virgin oak for this project, and we don’t chill filter. We will likely use a char and toast blend for batch 4, but they will be 3 years old. Our distillery just turned 4 in August, but our plan is to give greater age statements on all products as we get older. We’ve also been experimenting with different marks.

Batch 3 is the last planned run of red labels. Batch 4 will have a navy blue and gold label. That’s the plan right now anyway.


Distillerie de Québec is located in Québec City. Their Rhum St-Roc Fondation is available at the SAQ, Quebec’s liquor monopoly stores. It’s more common to find locally made rums there than at the LCBO. I chatted with Christophe and he too was very generous with his time.


Since when is the distillery in operation?


We opened Distillerie de Québec in 2016 after 3 years of planning, we are located in Charlesbourg, a suburb of Quebec City.

Why rum?

Rum is a delicious spirit that we enjoy personally. Also, Quebec City is the birthplace of Canadian distilling, according to historians a rum distillery was set up here in 1769 and using molasses from the Antilles. The St-Roc Distillery - as it was called - was short lived but it is a unique part of our history and our rum name is a reference to this landmark.


Where are the casks coming from and what's their size?

For the St-Roc Fondation we are using ex-bourbon small casks from selected U.S. distilleries, from 10 to 53 gallons. Other barrel types are also used for experimentation on future rum releases.


How long is fermentation?


Up to 10 days

Where do the molasses come from?


Blackstrap molasses from Louisiana and organic sugar cane.

So you ferment molasses and cane sugar?


Yes we do.

What type of still are you using?

250 gallons bain-marie with 4-plate column still from Still Dragon.

How do you determine the cuts?


We monitor temperature but the final cut is done using our nose and taste.

Commercial yeast, or a unique yeast just for you?

Our approach to fermentation and yeast is confidential.

How long has the rum been aged?

Each batch is a blend of selected barrels between 1.5 and 2+ years, it depends on the cask size and we always taste each barrel to determine if it makes the cut or if needs to “sail” some more time before it is ready.

Any additives like sugar or caramel (E150a)?

The St-Roc Fondation does not have any additive, sugar, colouring or spice.

How many casks do you have ageing rum currently?

We have a few hundred barrels in stock and expanding.

Could you share some future rum plans?

We have a few ideas on where our rum adventure will take us next, we’re not rushing anything. We enjoy doing different experiments and we let time be on our side. On each bottle of our rum, you will find a tiny illustration of a snail carrying a cask on its back, this depicts our approach with crafting spirits, slowly but surely.


Distillerie de Montréal I visited recently and a lot of information in regards to them can be found in this article. Nans Canapa was again willing to entertain some of my questions about their Rosemont Rhum Brun No 03 though. He was driving around France for work while we had our phone conversation. He's clearly passionate and good at multi tasking!


Why is it called No 3?


Because it’s 3 years old, 3 different casks and 3 different sugars have been used.

Which casks has it been aged in?


New American oak, new French oak and ex-Bourbon.

What about the three sugars?


Molasses from Colombia and Guatemala and cane syrup from Brazil. The cane syrup gives it a light base, the Colombian molasses introduce deeper flavours and the Guatemalan molasses bring smokiness to the blend.


Why 45%?

For taxes and flavour. Taxes are high. The lowest cost would be to bring it down to 40%, but we didn’t like the taste of it at that abv as much. 45% was the sweet spot between flavour and taxes.


Black Galley Distilling is located in Hanwell, New Brunswick. I couldn’t find much about them online. Their website wasn’t working unfortunately. I did chat with them through social media and they were very kind, just haven’t heard back unfortunately. I will update this if anything changes.

Ironworks Distillery is the oldest distillery in this list and is located in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia. When asking them for more information, through email and social media, the only thing I get is crickets. So, we’ll have to do with some info from their website. "Ironworks is a micro-distillery located in the old port of Lunenburg on Nova Scotia’s historic South Shore. We take our name from the 1893 heritage building we call home: a marine blacksmith’s shop that once produced ironworks for the shipbuilding trade.”

The distillery was founded by Pierre Guevremont and Lynne MacKay in 2009. They use molasses from Guatemala, purchased at Crosby’s in New Brunswick. The still is German.

When I compare rums I always do this in multiple sessions on different days, as one rum can influence the other on the palate. I like to change the tasting order in subsequent sessions. The first session is always blind. That’s where I base most of my opinion and rating on. All sessions after are for tweaking and confirming. This approach is even more important when dealing with this many rums.

Nosing


Rum 1

Vanilla, oak heavy, wet wood, toffee, molasses, oats, light raisins. A good start, but after a while I’m starting to smell a sweet combo of vanilla and strawberries, somewhat similar to marshmallows (spekje in Dutch). Not a good end to that one.

Rum 2

It’s very light and flowery. Pineapple, light oak, citrus, vanilla, strong strawberry. The fruitiness is nice but overall it’s too light for me.


Rum 3

Raspberry gummy bears, oak, tobacco, leather, candle wax, somewhat nutty, figs, raisins, orange. Smells like walking into a fruity candle shop. Best so far.

Rum 4

Earthy, dried flowers, honey, hay, wood shavings, vanilla. Smells like brand new oak furniture in a barn. Pleasant but light.


Rum 5

Oak, vanilla, raisins, sweet tobacco, candle wax, molasses, crayon. It’s on the light side and takes a while to open up. Nice though.

Rum 6

Red wine, oak, dark chocolate, light paint, vanilla, molasses, black current and very strong caramel. It’s oily.


Rum 3 and 5 win the nosing round.

Tasting


Rum1

It’s bitter and flat. Light strawberry,vanilla candy, wood, light plastic, chai tea. Has no body. Very woody and sharp. Like sucking on a pencil. Medium finish with more oak, vanilla and strawberry.

Rum 2

Quite bitter, oak, some fruitiness, citrus, honey, cinnamon and light vanilla. Finish is short with wood spice dominating and some vanilla coming through at the end. Very light body.


Rum 3

Raspberry (almost like a raspberry flavoured pop), good amount of wood spice with no bitterness. It’s quite one dimensional, light and watery. Not as nice as the nose suggested. It is an easy light sipper though which could work for people switching from mixed drinks to straight sipping.


Rum 4

Has somewhat of an agricole feel to it. Earthy, oak, light sweetness, vanilla, white pepper. It’s very dry. Finish is short and slightly bitter. Body is on the thin side with oak dominating. Might appeal to agricole or, dare I say it, bring some tequila drinkers to the rum universe?


Rum 5

Great rum, finally. Only took 5 tries. Oak, tobacco, vanilla, molasses, light cotton candy. Nice amount of wood spice. Has to be higher abv than the rest. Finish is long, sweet and solid. Good body. It’s not super complex, but what it does, it does well.


Rum 6

Oak, orange, caramel, slightly bitter, creamy vanilla like soft serve ice cream, light grass, dried fruit. Spicy minerals on the mid palate. Decent body and nice balance. Finish is medium long and better than the entry. Overall quite nice and flavourful.


Reveal

Rum 1 Black Galley Distilling – Small Cask Series Rum

Rum 2 Ironworks Distillery – Rum Boat Rum

Rum 3 Ironworks Distillery – Barrel 97 – 5 Years

Rum 4 Distillerie de Québec – St-Roc Fondation

Rum 5 Moonshine Creek Distillery – Nautical Reserve

Rum 6 Distillerie de Montréal Rosemont Rhum Brun No 03


Before going to the conclusion I’d like to talk about another rum. Moonshine Creek Distillery has made 3 batches of rum so far. The one in this review is batch 2, which is the same as batch 1. However I tried batch 3 as well. On the nose it’s got more body, it’s thicker and sweeter. It takes a lot less time to start giving than batch 2. On the palate I’m finding sweet tobacco, vanilla, oak, raisins. It doesn’t fully have the body of a long aged Caribbean rum, but it’s not far away for a young rum.


Conclusion


To put all of this in perspective, you need to keep realizing these distilleries are young and thus the rums are young. Also, in some cases they might still be figuring out what works well and what doesn’t when making rum, so expectations can’t be too high. In that sense I’m most disappointed in Ironworks. They’ve been around the longest, but both expressions are very average regardless. Their 5 year being the best of the two, which is especially nice on the nose. On the palate, they are very light bodied sippers with little complexity and short finishes. With the prices they ask for their small sized bottles, I would not buy these again. Interesting fact…..their Rum Boat Rum is named as such because it’s been ageing for a while on a small boat that’s anchored in the Lunenberg Harbour. Some call this dynamic ageing. Some call it marketing nonsense.


The one I like the least is the rum from Black Galley Distilling. It’s flat and watery, despite its 45% abv. If you try hard you’ll find a little hint of this and a hint of that, but in the end it’s mostly woody water.


St-Roc Fondation is an interesting one, in the sense that it reminds me of rhum agricole somewhat. It’s very earthy and has hints of dried flowers and hay on the nose. It’s a decent light sipper, but therein lies the issue with this rum as well. It is, again, too thin and not expressive enough for me. The finish is short and unremarkable. I enjoyed it more than the Ironworks and Black Galley rums though. I'm wondering how much influence the cane sugar in the fermentation has on the final result. It's so far removed from sugar cane. I find it challenging to remember a good rum that's distilled from cane sugar.


Rosemont Rhum Brun No 03 is second best for me in this lineup. There is quite a lot happening on the nose, although the caramel is a bit strong for me. Perhaps the result of adding too much caramel colouring. The combination of that and the vanilla might put some people off before they’ve tasted it. Which would be a shame, as it’s quite nice on the palate. It doesn’t make me go wow, but it has enough complexity and a decent finish for me to like it. I would compare it to a solid South American rum, without the 20g/L of added sugar. One thing I’m not a fan of is the term “dark rum” on the label. It’s time to say goodbye to using colour as a descriptor, since it’s completely meaningless and in some cases misleading. I created a video on this subject a while ago.


Where I did say “wow” was with Nautical Reserve, especially their batch 3. When it came out I bought batch 1 and 2 at the same time, thinking they were different from one another. Turns out they are the same rum in a different package. If you’ve read the long story about this rum above, you’ll understand the reason behind the different packaging. The label design is gorgeous and really stands out. However, it is hard to read and figure out what’s in the bottle. Once you get past that and start experiencing the rum, it swiftly becomes clear that it’s a level above the other expressions in this tasting comparison. The higher abv (57%) makes it a somewhat unfair comparison to the other rums. Perhaps the differences in the end result would have been smaller if the abv had been similar. But, I’m tasting and rating as is. I think it’s a brave decision for them to bottle it at that strength instead of going for the cheaper 40s option. That should be celebrated and not punished by adding water.

Batch 2 is a little tame on the nose but gives plenty on the palate. Batch 3 has a more expressive nose and is sweeter and rounder on the palate. It is a clear improvement on batch 1 and 2. It’s the best Canadian rum I’ve had so far. I’ll go as far as saying it can compete with quite a lot of well known Caribbean rums. In fact, I believe if you let people taste this blind, they will never guess it’s from Canada. I do hope they will add some different and older barrel types to their ageing regime, as new oak is known for overpowering a spirit rather quickly.


I did this blind Canadian lineup right before I went to UK Rumfest. I was so impressed with Nautical Reserve that I wanted to bring some to London. This idea then came up while I was chatting with the guys from Moonshine Creek Distillery. In the end I bought another one of the expensive batch 1 and they threw in a couple more and a batch 3. Amazing! I ended up giving all of it away. A batch 1 is on the back bar at Trailer Happiness, one of the most well known cocktail bars in London. Their first and only Canadian rum! I opened another and shared it with fellow rum enthusiasts at the festival. The responses were ranging from average to good. In the end I gave the still half full bottle to Wes Burgin, aka The Fat Rum Pirate. I gifted a third batch 1 to Ben Ingles, manager and distiller at Islay Rum Distillery in Scotland. He liked it, but preferred the sample of batch 3 I shared with him.


At the festival I shared batch 3 samples with three industry experts. I can’t think of more knowledgeable and experienced rum people than these three. They agreed to tasting it blind. Their responses were very positive and even somewhat surprised after I told them what they had been tasting. My reasoning for doing this was to try and get some valuable feedback and advise for the guys at Moonshine Creek Distillery from true experts and to shine a light on a (rare) good Canadian rum. If Canadian distillers are willing to take a gamble, stick their necks out and bottle a proper rum at 57%, I think they deserve some attention. I hope they can keep up this level of quality, as consistency is hard for a small distillery.

In the end, this tasting session produced a bit of a mixed bag of results. I was disappointed with the Black Galley and Ironworks expressions, pleasantly surprised by Nautical Reserve and the two Quebec releases were somewhere in between there. It shows there is a lot of potential in the Canadian rum scene. Good quality can be found and consumers are increasingly looking for top level rums. Why wouldn't it be Canadian?! I'm looking forward to following the progress of these distilleries and to find other Canadian rums. When I do, I'll write another Canadian rum chapter.

Scores


Black Galley Distilling – Small Cask Series Rum – 48

Ironworks Distillery – Rum Boat Rum – 52

Ironworks Distillery – Barrel 97 5 Years – 56

Distillerie de Québec – St-Roc Fondation – 60

Moonshine Creek Distillery – Nautical Reserve Batch 1 & 2 – 78

Moonshine Creek Distillery – Nautical Reserve Batch 3 – 82

Distillerie de Montréal Rosemont Rhum Brun No 03 – 70

Click here for info on the scoring method.

Click here for the complete list of reviews & scores.


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