It was at the end of 2020, it was on Facebook, it was in a group of rum heads, it was thanks to the leading rum heads, that myself and other peers from the same community got the chance to purchase and try 4 different potent unaged Jamaican rum distillates, all from different distilleries. That was the S.B.S x The UK Rum Club High Ester Jamaican Rum Collection and it was launched exclusively for the members of The UK Rum Club (UKRC) in order to compare various Jamaican rum styles while simultaneously giving back to charities.
The project was possible thanks to the initiative of the UKRC founders who are also two of the rum bloggers I admire the most – Wes Burgin (thefatrumpirate) and Steven James (Rum Diaries Blog) – PS: Nobody tell Wes I said that. Both of them teamed up with Skylark Spirits and S.B.S Single Barrel Selection from 1423.dk and they made their very first collaboration charity pack a reality.
Following up on that, Wes and Steven decided to aim higher, this time bringing the members of their rum group a selection of (shortly) Pedro Ximenez* aged rums made at 4 different distilleries from 4 countries. There were 82 packs containing four 20cl bottles sold at £120 each with £10 from each one sold being split between 2 charities:
- ShowerBox – they are working on giving the homeless people in London the opportunity to clean themselves and have a good hygiene – chosen by Skylark Spirits;
- Mind – they focus on tackling mental health issues – chosen from a list by the people from The UK Rum Club.
“We love the idea that a hobby that we both love can help others too with the charity contributions.”Steven James
Indeed, buying and drinking rum while helping others? Can’t think of a better incentive! All the rums in the set are distilled in 2021, bottled in February 2022 and are continentally aged for less than a year in PX casks – no chill filtering or additives either. The maturation period was signed off by Wes and Steven as they sampled the barrels at different times intervals and chose the right time to release them.
I will make this a versus and compare the different bottlings because that’s fun. Now let’s go through them one at a time.
S.B.S Jamaica 2021 HGML
The first bottle is made at Hampden Distillery in Jamaica. While not all labels will carry a marque, this one does and is HGML aka Hampden George MacFarquhar Lawson. According to the Cocktail Wonk, the level of esters for this marque ranges between 1000 and 1200 gr/hL AA – so we should expect some big funky flavours. Molasses based, pot still distilled, aged for less than 12 months in a PX cask and bottled at 58.3% ABV.
On the nose, as expected, there’s a good amount of Jamaican funk. Superglue, guava juice, stemmed ginger, overripe pineapples and furniture polish. Sour cherries, nail varnish and strawberry syrup. Black tea, cocoa powder and allspice. This is an intense start!
On the palate the funk seems a bit tamed by the cask maturation. Sour cherries, dark chocolate, strawberry puree and apricots. Peppermint, nail varnish and overripe pineapples. Some ripe plums and allspice. Seems like the PX cask just toned down the harsh notes of the HGML that I could feel on the nose. Black olives, walnuts, pink pepper, watermelon and cloves. The finish is long with mint and overripe tropical fruits.
This was really intense, but in a good way. Can’t feel the PX influence in an obvious way, but I do believe it rounded the initial distillate’s profile. It’s a nice Jamaican rum I’d have again anytime, but (as a rum enthusiast) I wouldn’t say is that unique.
S.B.S French Antilles 2021 Grand Arome
The second one is made in Martinique at Le Galion Distillery. The Grand Arome monicker is a style rather than a marque representing a heavy style of rum made on a French island. I have actually tried a sample from another S.B.S French Antilles from the same distillery, but it was bottled for The Whisky Exchange and was aged for a similar amount of time in a Port cask rather than sherry – spoiler alert, I loved it – so I have high expectations from this one! Molasses based, column still distilled, aged for less than 12 months in a PX cask and bottled at 55.5% ABV.
On the nose this time there’s “French” funk. Camomile tea, honey, mint, peach and other stone fruits. Prunes, umami, moth balls and black pepper. After Eights, black tea and raisins. Some blue cheese too. It’s definitely funk with a twist!
On the palate it becomes very interesting. Black tea, mint galore, strawberry jam, prune jam, stone fruits, cacao nibs and moth balls. This is already quite layered. Lime zest, cinnamon, apricot liqueur, tobacco, agave syrup and pistachios. Brandy infused cherries, salted caramel, raisins and sandalwood. The finish is long with umami, nuts and stone fruits.
Just as I thought the French Antilles once again impressed me. If I were to guess I’d say the PX maturation steered the rum towards those umami-prunes-raisins notes and I don’t hate it. Very complex and keeps delivering with each sip – this 20cl bottle will go down very quick.
S.B.S Guyana 2021 PM
The 3rd rum comes from Diamond Distillery in Guyana, and as the PM on the label suggests, it has been distilled in the unique double wooden pot still – the Port Mourant. Read more about these one-of-a-kind wooden stills that Guyana uses to make rums here. Apparently this one is Steven James’ favourite so I am looking forward to try it, especially given that I never had a sherry finished Port Mourant distillate. Molasses based, pot still distilled, aged for less than 12 months in a PX cask and bottled at 57% ABV.
On the nose it’s the good ol’ PM. Liquorice, Earl Grey tea, sweet coffee, cacao nibs and blackberries. Cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, aromatic tobacco and pencil shavings. Canned prunes, sultanas and toffee. Pretty classic notes, let’s see how it tastes like.
On the palate it’s quite different than what I was expecting. Liquorice, brown sugar, vanilla, dark chocolate and a layer of peat smoke. Reminds me of some of those young UK rums aged for just a year or less. Orange zest, salted caramel, molasses and burnt tobacco. A touch of bubblegum and charred oak. Some berries jam too. The finish is long with smoke, liquorice and black coffee.
Ok, this is probably the youngest aged Port Mourant I’ve tried (not counting unaged PMs) and it delivers so much. It has all the specific flavours but with a woody/smoky bite. I think here it was less about the actual PX influence and more about just the wood itself – the short time gave it oaky layers while complimenting the original distillate. An absolute treat, I can see why Steven praised it!
S.B.S Fiji 2021
And now the final expression is hailing from the South Pacific Distillery, Fiji. This is the only rum that doesn’t have any marque or monicker, but I know Fiji rums can range anywhere from light to fairly heavy and pungent – I’m expecting the later to be the case here. Molasses based, pot still distilled, aged for less than 12 months in a PX cask and bottled at 55.7% ABV.
On the nose it has a lovely tropical profile. Bananas, mangoes, coconut and passion fruit. Freshly baked bread, stone fruits, caramel and lemon zest. Seems a bit milder than the rest. Cardamom, pears and white pepper.
On the palate it develops more pungency. Stonefruits, black tea, vanilla, pink grapefruit, bananas and a touch of menthol. Fragrant tobacco, nutmeg and ginger beer. Maple syrup, dried fruits and a hint of liquorice. I could confuse it with a Guyanese distillate. Some stout and brown sugar. The finish is long with liquorice, grapefruit zest and salted caramel.
The Fiji definitely held its own against the rest of the lot. While probably the mildest of the group, it still has a lot of body and plenty going on – aromatic, rich and citrusy.
As you could probably tell, all the rums here are heavy and there are some recurring tasting notes – that would be due to the similar intensity of the distillates and the fact that they’ve been aged in the same type of cask. The PX cask maturation was barely noticeable, but I do believe it soften up the harsher notes in the rums while adding a subtle twist to them. So here are the results:
4. S.B.S Jamaica 2021 HGML – Nobody get me wrong, I love Jamaican rums and this one is no exception, but as I mentioned above, it doesn’t seem to have anything extra. It doesn’t have nothing that gets through the hogo in order to make it more interesting.
3. S.B.S Fiji 2021 – The Fiji was good and complex enough to pass the Jamaica, but unfortunately the 2 remaining distillates are in a slightly different league in my point of view. Still a very solid tipple that I will revisit.
2. S.B.S Guyana 2021 PM – Well I do love a good Port Mourant to begin with, and this gave me that and some more. I will say I’m a bit confused about that smoky profile it got, I can’t see how a PX cask could’ve done that, but at this point I don’t even care, it’s simply delicious. Good choice, Steven!
1. S.B.S French Antilles 2021 Grand Arome – It might be the novelty of it since I haven’t tried that many Grande Arome from Le Galion, but I absolutely love its profile. It just evolves with each sip and can’t get enough of it!
Thank you for sitting through this long read! Great rums and all for a couple of good causes, definitely worth purchasing the set. This was quite the organoleptic journey, congratulations to Wes and Steven for making it possible!
*Pedro Ximenez is a sweet style of Spanish sherry, typically containing between 300 and 400 grams of sugar per litre.
S.B.S Jamaica 2021 HGML score:
Value for money: 17/15
S.B.S Fiji 2021 score:
Value for money: 17/15
S.B.S Guyana 2021 PM score:
Value for money: 17/15
S.B.S French Antilles 2021 Grand Arome score:
Value for money: 17/15