Holmes Cay is an American independent bottler. Their rums have gotten quite the reputation in a short amount of time. When I met owner Eric Kaye at UK Rumfest in 2019 he was about to release his first rum. Just over a year later it already feels like an established brand in enthusiast circles. I’m really impressed by what he’s been able to accomplish within only a handful of bottlings. When I heard Eric was ageing some Foursquare rum in a port cask, I could hardly contain my excitement.
I asked Eric to tell a little more about the 2009 Barbados:
“The Barbados port cask was our first experiment with secondary maturation. We put two barrels of 2009 Foursquare rum into port casks back in September 2019, before we even sold our first barrel of Holmes Cay Barbados 2005. We had no idea if we would even be able to sell our first release back then. At this point we expect these to all be gone soon. Thankfully, we've got some more Barbados rum aging, which will be ready in the fall of 2021”.
The rum was aged in Barbados for 8 years, then 2 years in Europe and 1 year in port cask in New York. Double dynamic ageing through two sea voyages! :) Bottled at 56% and only two casks of this 11 year rum are available.
The second bottle in this review is Holmes Cay Belize 2005. I’ve started to appreciate rum from Belize recently. It’s a rum country that I feel should get more attention than it’s currently getting. The distillery where this rum originates from, Travellers Liquors, has quite a few interesting releases out on the market through independent bottlers. I wrote an article about three of them here, where you’ll also find more information on the distillery.
Here’s Eric on this particular release:
“The Belize is special, as it's our first "dependent" bottling, done in conjunction with Travellers Liquors Ltd. To the best of my knowledge, it's the first 100% tropically aged cask strength rum produced and released by the distillery. The 2005 was aged for 15 years at the bottling warehouse in Belize City. They also have an aging warehouse at the distillery, located inland in Belmopan. I prefer the barrels aged by the coast. The angels take a ton down there. Until they recently insulated the warehouse, they were losing up to 10% a year. Now that's down to 7-8%. The barrels are ex-Buffalo Trace barrels. Travellers has an old manually operated 3 column still, of which only 2 columns are in operation. Molasses are sourced locally in Belize”. Bottled at 61%, from a total of 4 casks.
For the tasting I used two other rums as “reference” points. Foursquare 2005 and Cadenhead Belize MBT 11 Years.
Holmes Cay Barbados 2009
Familiar Barbados oak and coconut notes. Then some candle wax and a sweet flowery and perfumey note. Finally some wine, sherry? and newspaper. Not super expressive.
In comparison, the Foursquare 2005 has more of the typical spicy oak notes from the bourbon cask and clearer Foursquare dna. Of course it isn't a port cask aged rum but it is so very Foursquare and therefore interesting to compare regardless.
Holmes Cay Belize 2005
Chocolate is strong, oak, the baking spices make me feel like someone’s baking a rum cake in my house. Dried fruit, tobacco, light paint, red fruit, paper is strong….like a paper wrapper of a caramel candy that’s melted, burnt wood…camp fire rum! Wonderful nose.
In comparison the Cadenhead is a lot lighter, not nearly as expressive as Holmes Cay Belize.
Holmes Cay Barbados 2009
Raspberry and strong on blackberries, wood, tons of wood spice, grapes, mint, raisins, perfume, winey. It’s a slightly bitter and dry finish with plenty of oak spice, which is nice. Finish is the best part.
Holmes Cay Belize 2005
Chocolate, licorice, very strong tobacco, heavy oak spice, black pepper, burnt wood, some red wine, cherry, red fruit and quite strong on caramel. It’s a heavy rum that has touching points with a Demerara. I’m thinking about El Dorado EHP.
It’s not until the finish that you feel it’s a column still rum, it’s a little light but still long and flavourful with oak spice, licorice and caramel.
I think it’s quite obvious that I’m a fan of Holmes Cay and I’m very happy we’ve got an independent bottler just south of the Canadian border who understands the needs and wants of the small rum enthusiast community as well as Eric does. I can’t hide my disappointment with the Barbados 2009 though. For my palate, the second maturation hasn’t worked very well. The perfumey/flowery and winey notes in combination with a fairly strong blackberry flavour is not what I’m looking for in a Barbados rum. The Foursquare profile is still there, albeit very muted. I did enjoy the finish, but that’s not enough for me at this price point.
The Belize 2005 is a totally different story. I like rums that slap you in the face with bold flavours. This is definitely one of those. Total flavour bomb. Much more expressive than any other Belize rum I’ve tried so far. The intense caramel notes gave me a feeling that fans of Demerara rums will like this one much. That combined with some of the winey notes I picked up did make me wonder how this profile was created. It doesn’t seem like a straight bourbon cask aged rum to me. Was it in a different cask for part of the time? Was something added? We know DDL adds a lot of caramel to some of their rums before they age them, which is why it makes sense to taste heavy caramel in them. Did something similar happen here? We’ll probably never know. As crazy as it sounds, distilleries aren’t always completely forthcoming with these types of details. As a bottler you have no choice but to go with what you’ve been told by them.
Don’t get me wrong though, I like this rum very much. I wish I had a bottle of it. I’d sip some of it on a regular basis. Best Belize rum for me so far. Great pick! More please!
Thanks to Jim Pukas for the samples!
Holmes Cay Barbados 2009 – 66
Holmes Cay Belize 2005 – 88
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