Jamaican Overproof Rum is strong, flavourful and special. I believe it’s so special that it should have it’s own building, street, island or planet.
The average persons response to the words “overproof rum” is usually something like:”Oh god, that’s like drinking gasoline”. You can replace the word “gasoline” with “jet fuel” or even “poison”, if you like. This makes total sense, as drinking 63% unaged spirit is not an easy exercise for the untrained palates and livers out there. Plus, there are some horrible overproof rums around, but that’s for a different article.
Enter the skilled bartender with a passion for rum. I’ve met a few of these wonderfully creative creatures who work tirelessly to make our lives more enjoyable. They use Jamaican overproof rum as a magic potion in cocktails. A little drop here, a little drop there. What a difference it makes in fragrance and taste, without overpowering the palate with alcohol.
I’m lousy at making cocktails. Mainly because I’m not that interested in them and because I’m a lazy drinks maker. I do however love watching bartenders create cocktails. I can watch that for hours. It’s like watching a painter or a sculpturer at work. There is one exception to this though, the daiquiri. I love a well made daiquiri! I even make them myself, although admittedly not very well. Rum, sugar, lime. It’s so simple, but according to many bartenders it’s one of the hardest cocktails to balance correctly. The simplicity is probably why I like it so much, as it can become a very rummy cocktail pretty easily.
In my mind, you can’t have a serious daiquiri conversation without mentioning Jamaican overproof rum at least once. When you do, it’s like opening a door to an endless stream of joy through tasty cocktails. Although endless for me is typically one or two daiquiris before I switch to straight rum or rum and cokes. The latter I drink a lot more of. I’ve been told it’s not a cocktail as it only has two ingredients. Well then, if I want to be sophisticated, I’ll add some lime and all of a sudden it’s a cocktail.
I love experimenting with OP rum in these. Straight up with coke is amazing, which ever of the three you use. But blending is so much fun as well. Appleton 8 with Wray & Nephew and Coke is delicious. Mount Gay XO and Rum Bar OP with Coke is amazing, so is the same blend in a daiquiri. Rum Bar OP and Rum Bar Silver is a wonderful daiquiri combo. Then there is Rum Fire, which seems to make everything taste and feel better.
Before I continue I should perhaps introduce the cast of this article. The most well known of the 3 rum celebrities is Wray & Nephew Overproof. It’s hard to find a place where this isn’t for sale. One can even buy it in Canada. It is of course aligned with Appleton Estate, but actually produced at its sister distillery, New Yarmouth Distillery. Next up is Rum Bar Overproof, produced at Worthy Park Estate. Last and certainly not least, Hampden Estate’s Rum Fire.
Let me stop my rambling, as it is much more interesting to hear from the experts. The people behind these amazing rums. First up, Joy Spence. Appleton Estate’s Master Blender, rum celebrity and all around awesome person.
“Wray & Nephew is known as the Jamaican Hero. It is found in every home in Jamaica and is an integral part of our culture.
It is used in many ways, from preventing the baby from having a cold by rubbing it on the middle of the head, to using with honey and lime to cure the flu, blessing the foundation for new construction, and finally blessing the grave foundation.
It has been produced at New Yarmouth Distillery for over 69 years.
It is made from molasses fermentation with specially cultured yeast and is a blend of Pot and Column still rums producing unique funky notes.
It is a bartender's dream. A bartender once told me that if he made an error in his recipe, he simply uses Wray & Nephew as his adjuster”.
Next up, Christelle Harris. Hampden Estate’s Director Of Sales And Marketing.
“My family had just taken over ownership and operation of Hampden Estate in 2009 and quickly learned three important facts: 1, no rum was barreled there. 2, all the rum was shipped fresh, mostly to Europeans. 3, when it got there it was either barreled, sold fresh (or aged) as a component of blends to adding significant value to the blends, or sold as a flavoring agent to be used in a diverse range of products, from perfumes to chocolates and everywhere in between - it was highly valued. So my (now late) grandfather, Lawrence Francis Close Hussey (LFCH- get it now?), did two things: he created a brand for the local market and started barreling rum on the estate. He said:”if it’s so profitable overseas, there must be a lot more value putting it in barrels here”.
The local market brand was, the now iconic, Rum Fire. We realized that rum geeks all over the world were chasing high esters, no wonder everyone loved the juice so much when I took it overseas! It is available in the local market, in the USA through Valhalla Imports and in Europe through LM&V.”
Since ladies go first, it’s only logical that Zan Kong, Worthy Park Estate’s Export Manager, goes last.
“We broke ground for our (new) distillery in 2004 and by 2005 we were distilling rum again. Now, keep in mind we hadn’t been distilling rum since the early 1960’s, so we weren’t exactly an established producer in the Jamaican Rum world, so we started selling rum in bulk and otherwise aging rum.
In Jamaica, by far and wide the most consumed rum in the market is White, un-aged, Overproof rum. It made sense for us try to develop a product to compete in that market space. Also, not having to wait for rum to age was an added benefit too! We went into development knowing that we were going to be releasing a 100% pot-still rum which would be a point of differentiation in how our product tasted compared to the others available in the market. We knew that there would be some similarities being that the other rums used pot-still rum in their blend, we all abide by the rules of Jamaican rum making etc.
By 2007, after development of different blends and product testing we decided on a blend. When we were doing product testing, one of the panelists made the comment, “this tastes like the livin’ rum bar rum.” Majority of the rum consumed in Jamaica is done at the community bars that dot the landscape of Jamaica. We decided that we would be the rum that spoke to this section of rum consumer and the Rum-Bar was born.
Oh, on another note, we decided to release it originally at 65% alc./vol. in order to have an additional point of differentiation between the other Overproof rums available. We changed it down to 63% when the taxation was changed in Jamaica to be based on the alc% of the product, not Ad valorem.”
I don’t think I really need to provide more details about these rums as they are so well known, but I’ll do it anyway. All are bottled at 63%. Wray & Nephew is a blend of pot and column still rums from New Yarmouth Distillery. Rum Bar is a pot still rum from Worthy Park Estate, a blend of 3 different marks (WPEL, WPL and WPE), using different yeast strains. Rum Fire is a pot still rum from Hampden estate. The mark is HLCF, which indicates a rum in the 500 to 600 ester level.
Wray & Nephew Overproof
Strong on the salty minerals and it’s somewhat metallic. Banana is quite strong, light olives, light bacon and white pepper.
Fruity! Lots of sweet fruits and berries, with a layer of overripe rotting fruit behind it. Light paint stripper with strawberry flavour. Added to all that loveliness is burnt caramel, raisins, molasses and olives.
Rum Bar Overproof
Much thicker feel than W&N. I’m smelling molasses, pine, pineapple, olives, smoked ham and some overripe fruit. It’s fruitier than W&N but not as much as Rum Fire.
Wray & Nephew Overproof
Just like the nose the salty minerals are strong. Banana comes through again, plus pineapple and pepper. It’s slightly metallic and boozy. With some water it is a lot more interesting with increased fruity sweetness and a nice peppery finish.
Rounder mouthfeel than W&N. It’s fruity with pineapple, black tea, light meat, newspaper, raisins and nutmeg. The finish is sweet and strong. With water, fruit, pepper and meat form a lovely combo. It’s very spicy and the finish is long.
Rum Bar Overproof
Strong on olives and banana. It’s quite metallic and mineraly. Very sweet in the front and on the finish, which is less boozy and spicy than I expected. It’s somewhat middle ground between the other two. With water it opens up, becomes more pleasant and flavourful.
When it comes to rum & cokes and daiquiris I have a preference for the punch and fruitiness of Rum Fire. It provides such an incredible flavour experience. It is however quite dominating and thick. If you are looking for a more neutral/light daiquiri, the other two are a better option. Those two are also easier to balance in a multi rum blended cocktail than Rum Fire, which dominates rather quickly.
I love these rums. I feel they are somewhat underappreciated in rum enthusiast circles. They are so packed with flavour that you have to remind yourself it’s low cost unaged rum. It’s all in the fermentation, distillation and blending. They are a showcase of the incredible skill and knowledge level of the distillers and blenders at the respective distilleries.
Choosing a winner for my palate isn’t difficult, choosing the #2 and #3 definitely is. The pure pot still Rum Bar is thicker and sweeter, Wray & Nephew has more bite and pepper, likely thanks to the column still component. When it comes to sipping, I prefer Rum Bar over Wray & Nephew….slightly. For daiquiris and rum and cokes it’s the other way around, W&N for me. Both were present in a daiquiri challenge where it was clear everyone had a tough time picking a winner. In this case I can’t choose between the two, they are equally fantastic.
The overall winner is easy for me though. I love Rum Fire. It’s simply one of the best unaged rums in the universe.
Wray & Nephew Overproof – 85
Rum Fire – 90
Rum Bar Overproof – 85
Click here for info on the scoring method.
Click here for the complete list of reviews.
Big thank you to Joy, Christelle, Zan and Nicholas Feris for your incredibly valuable contributions. The rum universe wouldn't be nearly as interesting without the input of people like yourselves.