As in some other paired reviews done here, these two rums share a family resemblance. They are from the same Foursquare distillery in Barbados. It is possible that the family resemblance stems from the same feed stock and stills. What distinguishes these is the aging process and also the final ABV. The 2004 is offered at 59% ABV and spends 11 years in American Bourbon casks. The Port Cask comes in at 40% ABV. It spends 3 years in bourbon casks and then another 6 in barrels previously used to age Spanish Port. At least one other review of these points out that both rums are unadulterated (no added sugar) and the port barrels used for the Port Cask started out dry, without any port sloshing around. Both are “honest rums” whose distinct flavors and aromas come from the genuine care taken in distillation and aging under conditions conducive to their exceptional development.
First opened was the “Port Cask”. The label here, as with that of the 2004, is one of the nicer I’ve seen; not for art’s sake, but for the information it conveys about the rum including its age, barrel number, and a firm declaration that nothing has been added to this rum. A heavy wax seal concealed a metal screw cap.
Pouring, it is a medium dark amber shading to red. Swirled it produced tiny tiny beads that take forever to form into legs of varying thickness that slowly at first, and then more quickly drop into the liquid. Aroma is marvelous. There is so much in here. Just a little alcohol, fruit like apricot, orange, grape, raisin, and banana. There is a little vanilla, brown sugar, and a little burnt caramel. There is even a hint of funkiness like the dominant note in Pusser’s or Appleton 12, but it is barely there. None of these is overwhelming they all seem balanced and available to the nose. The smell is sweet, I almost didn’t want to taste it for fear of spoiling the effect.
But I did take a sip. My first impression was “Wow! This might be the finest rum I’ve ever had!” Some days and a few glasses later I remain convinced of it. This doesn’t mean it will replace some of my best cigar pairing libations like the Dos Maderas 5+5, Barbancourt 5-Star, or my Mocambo 20 year, but as goes the quality and sophistication of the drink I think this one takes the prize at least if you like a fairly dry spirit. Like the aromas, there are a lot of flavors in this one, but they all come with a light touch that lets you tease them out one by one. Both bright and dark fruit are present as is a little burnt brown sugar and vanilla. There is a hint of coffee too. The funk I thought I sensed on the nose does not appear on the palate. The rum is slightly creamy and most interesting of all, despite the dry notes up front there is a distinct fruit-sugary sweetness on the long aftertaste. How do they do that? The swallow is smooth but with a little more fire than I find in most of my 40% ABV rums and this effect is probably due to the absence of added sugar.
I opened the 2004 a few days after the Port Cask and have had a few glasses. A bottle identical to that of the Port Cask, same style label, and same metal screw cap — though this time without the thick wax seal. Color in the glass is almost the same as the Port Cask, perhaps a slight shade lighter. That difference must be the port casks because the 2004 offering is aged two more years for a total of 11 in bourbon’d oak. Swirled in the glass the rum makes fast but thick legs that quickly coalesce as they run. The aroma is a little thin carrying hints of caramel and brown sugar, vanilla and perhaps raisen. Some sharpness of alcohol comes through but surprisingly lightly considering the ABV, a nod to the aging time.
At 59% ABV this is a kick-ass rum. Other reviews tell me that this is not an “overproof” rum, but a genuine from-the-cask bottling the blender thought worked well at this ABV. As high in alcohol as it is, this rum can be sipped neat. One can feel the smoothness of the aged spirit even as one also notices the fire that comes up as you swallow it. That it can be sipped this way is a testament to its fine pedigree. Even at full strength it has a little creaminess and there are flavors melded into the alcohol but they are hard for me to tease out. Of all my spirits this is the only one I’ve discovered that stands up to added water without tasting like a diluted spirit. I found that about 1/4 teaspoon in a dram (1.5 oz) glass not only cuts the heat (only a bit) but enhances flavors. In particular, I get apricot, green grape, raisen, vanilla, and caramelized brown sugar in the flavors once a little water goes in. I remind myself to try this rum with an ice cube on the next warm day around here.
A quick calculation tells me that my 0.25 t-spoon brings the ABV down by only 3%. Not much but it makes a big difference in the flavors that come out of the rum.
As goes cigars I have nothing much to report. I’ve had only a few glasses of each of these bottles now and so paired them with but a few cigars. So far nothing stands up and shouts “great pairing” at me, but of course all the combinations have been enjoyable.
Neither of these rums will appeal to you if you like the sweeter stuff, even the moderately sweeter stuff. Both are dry up front with a tickle of sweetness. The Port Cask is distinctly sweet in its aftertaste, while the 2004 is less so but adding some water brings the sweetness out. Even undiluted it avoids the bitterness that comes up at the end of a swallow for some rums.
In my rum journey I have transitioned very far from the sweeter offerings I enjoyed early on (Atlantico, Papa’s Pilar, Diplomatico R.E. and others) to much drier rums. These two from Foursquare are exceptionally good. I think the flavors in the Port Cask are a little more fulfilling, but the 2004 is a grand example of superb refinement in rum. At roughly $40 the Port Cask is exceptional. At $70 the 2004 is of course more expensive, and more subtle version of the Port Cask.