Rum Review: Hamilton Demerara River

Rum Review: Hamilton Demerara River

The label on the back of this bottle says: “The bottle of rum in your hand was blended from carefully selected rums distilled and aged up to five years in Guyana then bottled in the U.S. without adding any sugar or other sweetener. The rich dark fruit, spice, smoky wood, and tobacco notes in this rum add a unique flavor to cocktails and Tiki drinks…”

Looking this up on the web it turns out that this rum is bottled from the same blend as the Hamilton Overproof 151 rum but dialled back to a less eye watering 86 proof (43% ABV). It is, presumably, made from molasses extracted from Demerara River (in Guyana) sugar plantations. Why Demerara sugar is so highly prized for rum I do not know, but it is true that all the “Demerara rums” I’ve tried (like El Dorado) are pretty darn good. As it turns out, according to this interesting essay on Demerara rums there is only ONE DISTILLERY (Diamond) in Guyana now and all Demerara-based rums start there. How do they do this? The key (from the linked article above) is: “The challenge for the Diamond Distillery is to maintain the distinctiveness of the many different brands while having them all under one roof. One way they do this is by using a variety of different stills including the only wood stills left in the world.” Here is a link to the Diamond distillery’s page.

So now you know… Let’s get on to the tasting

Color: medium-dark amber, red, orange. Not the darkest rum but on the dark side
Legs: tiny beads coalesce to thick tear drops and run slowly
Aroma: Heavy hit of prune and raisin, slight alcohol, caramel and treacle, apricot, sweet smoke. Very rich aroma, I could delight in this sensory experience a long time.

Flavor: Mixed-up. Light touches of tobacco, light brown sugar, a little oak, dark fruit. Sweet and rich without a lot of flavor separation. Reminds me of a creamier, sweeter version of English Harbour. Flavors are amalgamated and come forward as one delicious offering. Smooth, long sweet finish, a bit of heat rises slowly after the swallow, and sustains itself quite long, the prune-raisin and tobacco in the aroma coming up at the end on the nose and back of the throat. Nice experience!

It is hard to believe that nothing is added to this rum to smooth it. If the oldest rum in the blend is 5 years this seems rather dark in color and the smoothness in it can only come from the blend . Yes, English Harbour is smooth and only 5 years old, but it does have a little sugar in it. This rum is distinctly richer than English Harbour but reminiscent of it. At $24 at my supplier it also competes with English Harbour on price, and while I love that rum and always have some around, I will be adding this Hamilton to my permanent collection as well.

Highly recommended if you are looking for a smooth and easy-going rum to enjoy neat or in cocktails. For your interest here is a link to Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum

For those living in or around the San Francisco Bay Area, here is a link to Bitters & Bottles, my local (South San Francisco) retailer maintaining a superb rum collection!

Hamilton Navy Strength Rum

Hamilton Navy Strength Rum

I first encountered Hamilton rums late in 2016 when I tried the Saint Lucian 2006, an ester fueled funky rum in the Jamaican style. Since that time I’ve found and tried three others, the ’86, the Pot Still Gold, and now this latest and best of all by far the Navy Strength.

At 57% ABV this is a true “navy strength” rum. This phrase comes from the fact that at 56% and above, a gun powder wet with a little rum will still light (it doesn’t explode, but burns something like a sparkler) while below 56% it will not. Given this much alcohol (and I am assuming there is no added sugar here, an implicit promise of the Hamilton line) I expect some heat. I was not disappointed.

This from the Ministry of Rum website and here is a direct link to the page on this rum. There is a lot of information there about the history of this blend. Would love to do what Ed Hamilton does!

“60% Guyana rum at 154 proof and 40% Jamaican rum at 170 proof are blended together and slowly stirred for 48 hours before dilution to 114 proof with filtered well water at the Five & 20 Distillery in Westfield, NY. “

Color: Medium dark, copper red.
Legs: A few fast thin legs, and a lot of slow thick drops suggests a creamy experience.

Aroma: Dark fruit, prune, raisin, apricot, alcohol, molasses, oak, and burnt caramel (treacle).

Sipping: Lots of heat from the beginning to a long smooth and sweet finish. You get the dark fruit, molasses, burnt brown sugar, strong sherry notes, oak. Very creamy. I put a little water in this (1/4 t-spoon in a dram lowers the ABV from 57% to 55%, not very much) and it stands up well to it. The heat is a little reduced, bringing out coffee and chocolate notes from the rum while all the dark fruit remains. The heat is still there is a little reduced and the rum gets even creamier. The treacle turns into a less burnt brown sugar.

At around $44 this rum is on the expensive side for me, but only one of the Hamiltons I’ve tried (the ’86 at $24) is under $40 anyway. This is a superb rum. Think of Foursquare 2004 (for heat) with the rich flavors of their Port Cask, and more of them. If you like the higher ABV rums, this is one to try, the richest, thickest rum I’ve had with an ABV above the 40s. As far as I know, the Hamilton rums are available only in the U.S. Considering how many great rums we cannot get here are available to Europeans, it’s good to have a line like this on my side of the Atlantic.

Pairing with cigars? Of course! This rum works best with the less sweet cigars bringing out nutty brown sugar sweetness in the smoke. Highly recommended.

Hamilton Pot Still Gold

Hamilton Pot Still Gold

Another rum from the collection of Ed Hamilton.  This one different in that there is no explicit “declaration of honesty” (added sugar?) and looking this up on the Ministry of Rum website doesn’t add much. Here is what it says:

Black rum distilled from fermented molasses. Aged up to five years.

A blend of light, very light and heavy pot still rums from the Worthy Park Estate where rum has been made since 1670. Colored with gold-tint sugar-based caramel, this pot still rum embodies the heavy aroma and flavor of Jamaican rum. Over-ripe bananas dominate the aroma and yield to spice, sugar cane and ripe fruit in the body. The finish is reminiscent of the aroma with ripe bananas and vegetal notes.

I cannot fathom what is “black” about this. As you can see from the photos, it is the palest rum I’ve ever had. Any paler and it would be perfectly clear.

Bottled at 46.5% ABV. There is no age statement on the bottle.

Glass: Thin fast legs at first followed by a thicker, slower wave. Never quite seen anything like this. There are distinctly two different legs. Perhaps the difference between the light and heavy rums in the blend?

Aroma: Nose of alcohol, bright pineapple, ripe banana, and light caramel. Some dark fruit aromas (prune/raisn?) too belying the rum’s color. If you have too many straight hits it starts to take on a varnish quality. Making me dizzy.

Flavor:  Bright pineapple and citrus, a little bit of raw sugar and I get a distinct note of mint and anise! the rum has a hint of Schnapps in it! I can taste youth in the rum but depth at the same time. It is much smoother than I would expect with a “young rum” with something like a minty black cherry cough drop on a surprisingly long aftertaste.

I’m trusting that the Hamilton name means there is no added sugar in here. the label says nothing about it. The bottle has no “batch number” on it either. Obviously a blend and surprisingly (or at least seemingly) the components are distinctly sensible.

This is a little like Smith & Cross (you can also taste two rums there) but smoother, much less “in your face”, and with a mint/anise twist. A good substitute in the rotation. the Smith & Cross was getting a bit overpowering. For $24 Hamilton’s “Jamaica Pot Still Gold” an outstanding find for those times when I feel like a change from dark rums.


Hamilton 86 Guyana Rum

Hamilton 86 Guyana Rum

Another from Ed Hamilton creator of the Ministry of Rum. A Guyana Demerara River rum I expect this to be both sweet and smooth. I was not disappointed. The bottle says 43% ABV product of Guyana distilled and aged on the banks of the Demerara river. Who doesn’t like Demerara rums? On the back label: “A blend of rums aged up to five years in Guyana and then bottled in the U.S. without adding any sugar or other sweetener.

Color: Dark mahogany red, rich looking.

Legs: A few fast thin legs descend from a swirl, but many little beads also form and slowly coalesce.

Aroma: Heady molasses, coffee, chocolate, burnt caramel (treacle), prune, strike you along with just a little alcohol. The nose is fantastically rich. There are no “young rum” acetone notes, only delicious darkness. This smells very sweet. No ester funk in the aroma at all.

Flavor: Smooth, dark fruit, less sweet than it smells. Very creamy blended flavors favoring prune, tobacco, and coffee but subtle. No one flavor leaps out and there is something a little different from every swallow. No funk! Warm but not at all hot or sharp. Smooth, smooth, smooth. Medley of aromas disappears in the flavor to a subtle dark fruit sweetness, creamy throughout. Long finish warm creamy rich with just a touch of bitterness at the very end. It reminds me of the Foursquare Port Cask or maybe a richer version of English Harbour.

This is my second “Hamilton Rum”, the first being a very high ester (funky) St. Lucian 2006. Also rich, but very funky. This one is very different. Ed has a good nose for good rum of all kinds. This bottle cost me $42 (the St. Lucian was $60 something)! Fantastic deal for such a well crafted rum! Highly recommended.

Review: Hamilton St. Lucian 2006 rum

Review: Hamilton St. Lucian 2006 rum

I seem to have missed reviewing this rum and thought I’d better get to it while I yet have some left. Edward Hamilton is a modern adventurer of the old school. He has been everywhere and done a lot. Eventually he found his way to the Carribbean and fell in love with rum, its history, and its making. Sometime later (2006) he started “The Ministry of Rum” website (and then taught himself enough computer coding to make it better). The sight is a fantastic source of rum information. A lot of its categories are inactive. If you look at his “rum of the month” you discover that only two were ever entered, the latest in 2006! But the forums are very active with hundreds of rum and whiskey subjects discussed, and his informational essays (dozens of them) about rum will always remain relevant. There is a lot of education to be had here. Membership, allowing you to participate in the forums, is free.

Edward eventually put together a collection of rums under his own name. Alas this is one of the moribund parts of his website, only 4 of his collection listed and described. There must be nearly a dozen now, but all (I’m not sure of that) limited bottlings some no longer easily found. The nice thing about buying any Hamilton rum is that you know you’re getting something honest, unadulterated, well made, and not on the mass market. His labeling is among the best in the industry. On the front of my bottle it says:

Hamilton St. Lucian Pot Still 2006
Distilled by Lucian Distillers batch 813-7CS Aged 7 years
63.8% ABV

Supposedly you can put that batch number in some field somewhere on his website and find out more about that particular batch, but I have been unable to find that entry point. Perhaps one of my readers here will have better luck. The back label says this:

Back label: Hand selected by Edward Hamilton for the Ministry of Rum collection from the cask aging warehouse at St. Lucia Distillers Ltd for its flavor and authenticity. Distilled from fermented molasses in a Vendome Pot Still, this medium-bodied rum was imported in the cask in which it was aged in St. Lucia.

As I understand it the barrels are imported in New York where they are bottled. Let’s get to the rum.

Color: Medium amber, copper a little organge rather than red. The rum in my glass is just slightly cloudy. Mind I opened this particular bottle about 3 months ago and I do not remember the rum being cloudy when it was fresh. I have one more bottle, I’ll try to remember to update this review when I get around to opening it.

Legs: Swirrled it forms the tiniest of droplets at the front of the glass that only slowly coalesce towards the back in thick legs that slowly drop down the glass.

The aromas of this rum are fantastic. Only a little alcohol (interesting considering the almost 64% ABV), no acetone, no “young rum notes”. It smells rich and sweet with ripe but not overripe fruit: apricot, orange, banana, allspice (or something like it), and a noticible “pot still” funk so up front in rums like Pusser’s and Appleton 12.

The flavor strikes me as nothing like the aroma. The contrast is jarring. This rum is not sweet; very dry. I cannot taste any of the fruit I get on the nose. There is burnt brown sugar that isn’t sweet, tobacco, and a meld of oaky smokey (as smokey as rum gets) notes I can’t tell apart but I can tell there is a lot of nuance here I am not qualified to reach. The alcohol makes its presence known. It isn’t in the least harsh, but it comes up across the mouth and down the throat with a medium finish that speaks of oak. The fire stays with you for a bit after the swallow slowly fading. The texture wants to be creamy but the alcohol cuts through the cream. There are lots of contrasts in this rum but they don’t fight, they get along and sum to something interesting and different.

Given the high ABV I had to see what a little water did to the flavor. Turns out not a lot! Adding 5 or 6 drops and then twice that to an ounce brings out a little fruit from the nose but only by a little. I get a little banana, maybe raisin but it’s hard to tell. There is less heat but not by much. All the melded richness, the flavors I can’t separate, is still there, the funk is even a bit stronger. The rum still isn’t sweet, but maybe not quite so dry. Perhaps there is a little less oak bitterness, and the aftertaste gets a little longer.

At around $50/750ml here I’m on the fence with this rum. I have one more bottle to try, but not sure I would buy more even if I can still find it. I think the price is very good given the complexity, depth, and balance of the rum. It is a very good rum if you like this kind of profile. I can enjoy it, and I can appreciate it because to really get in to rum you have to stretch your palate. But it isn’t something I sip and say “wow I love this”. I have to work at it.

There is a good review of this rum by Inu Akena at his website. Hit the link.

The cigar by the way is a “Cinco Maduro” from Rodrigo Cigars. Medium strength with wrapper, binder, and all the filler blend made from maduro (5 different) leafs if I recall a “lost creation” of Island Jim. Don’t know if there are any of these left but George has a lot of good cigars and frequent discounts. It’s worth getting on his mailing list.

Comparing Foursquare Port to Zinfandel Cask Rum

Comparing Foursquare Port to Zinfandel Cask Rum

Foursquare seems to come up with an endless variety of good rums. I discovered the Port Cask Finish last year, and then found a retailer who also carried the Zinfandel Cask Blend. I’ve reviewed each of these separately and also the Foursquare 2004. But these two in particular seemed so similar I wanted to see what they were like side-by-side.


As goes information concerning the production and aging of these rums I can do no better than to quote the blog site of the fatrumpirate. The links following the quotes will take you directly to his reviews of these two rums as my own are linked above.

“The Port Cask Finish is a blend of pot and column distilled rum all distilled, blended and bottled at Foursquare. The Port Cask Finish is actually a bit misleading. Many producers would rate it as “double aged”. The rum is aged for 3 years in Bourbon Barrels and is then re-casked into 220 litre Port Casks for a second maturation of 6 years.”

“[The] Zinfandel Cask Blend is a mix of Pot and Column distilled rum which has been first aged in Bourbon casks before being finished in Zinfandel casks. In total the rum has been aged for 11 years.”

Both rums are produced at the Foursquare distillery in Barbados. The Port Cask comes at 40% AVB and the Zinfandel Cask at 43%. This isn’t much of a difference, but it is noticeable on the swallow. I am operating on the assumption that both of these rums start out in the same distillate and the whole of their differences comes from the aging process, 9 years for the Port and 11 years for the Zinfandel. The above linked website does not say for how long the zinfandel version ages in ex-zin barrels, but I have to believe that it is for many of those 11 total years.

Both rums come without additives, no extra sugar or coloring. “Honest rums” as this phrase is used on all the blogs these days. I have read that the ex port and zinfandel barrels used were dry. There was no wine sloshing around as is often the case with other wine-finished rums. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing by the way. I suspect there is a little bit of Spanish sherry in Dos Maderas 5+5 (review linked) and that is one delicious rum.

I’ve been through one whole bottle of the Port Cask at this point, but so far only this (pictured) bottle of the Zinfandel Cask. As a result, this particular Zin version has evolved for about 3 weeks in its opened bottle, but the Port Cask only a week and as you can see I’ve had only 3 or 4 glasses from the pictured bottle. So to some extent I am comparing apples to oranges, but I hope the comparison will still be useful.


I’ll not go into all the swirling legs business here I did that in the earlier reviews linked above. But I do want to call attention to the color of these rums which you can see from the photos is as nearly identical as it can be. I sometimes think the Port Cask is a tiny bit darker, but some photo experiments suggest this is just a trick of the light.

On the nose, the Zinfandel Cask is sharper, there is more alcohol. There is also raisin, grape, some burnt caramel and light brown sugar, more than a hint of tobacco and oak. There isn’t a lot of sweetness in the aroma and only the barest hint of “pot still funk”. Oak is more prevalent but the aromas are nicely distinguished. By contrast the Port Cask is much more mellow and melded. It’s harder to tease out separate notes, but they are definitely sweeter. No oak to speak of in the Port Cask, some dark fruit, molasses, a little vanilla, and maybe almond. I don’t notice any tobacco or funk, but something like a hint of milk chocolate. I don’t think of rums as smokey compared to bourbon, but between these two, the Zinfandel has more burnt notes.

The flavors are as different as the noses. The Port Cask is smoother with less fire on the swallow and a short to medium but sweet finish. There is dark plum and raisin, brown sugar, black cherry, and chocolate, but like the aromas, they are more melded than the flavors of the Zin. The Port gives very little alcohol taste on the tongue and no funk. The rum is creamy and gets creamier as you go through the glass. I don’t detect any oak in it.

The Zinfandel Cask is less sweet and less creamy but it has some of both. It has a much longer after taste carrying a bit of oak bitterness as does the initial flavor. It is a little less smooth and the alcohol makes it hard to find distinct fruit notes, but I do get burnt brown sugar notes even without any sweetness. There is no funk I detect in the flavor. Although less sweet and more distinctly oaky than the Port Cask, the Zinfandel Cask is bolder, a more manly rum. It carries a forceful flavor kick compared to the subtlety of the Port Cask which is more rounded and nuanced. At least this is so at their bottled strength.


I did try an experiment, adding just enough water to a half ounce of the Zinfandel Cask to bring it down to 40% ABV. As expected there was less alcohol on the nose and a little less fire on the swallow, but still not as smooth as the Port Cask. The water maybe brought out a little raisin in the flavor of the Zin, and there was some funk there too, but way in the background. The Zinfandel Cask was still more oaky and not as creamy as the Port Cask though. The two remained quite distinct so it isn’t only the ABV making these two good rums different.


These are both excellent rums and both on the distinctly drier side of the rum world. In some ways they come out the way you might expect. Port is sweeter and less acidic than Zinfandel and this comes across in the noses and the flavors. Both in the mid $40 price range near me, I will certainly be keeping them around as long as I can. As I understand it both are generous (thousands) if limited bottlings. Once they are gone, well, you know…


Rum Review: Real McCoy small batch 12 year old rum

Rum Review: Real McCoy small batch 12 year old rum

Back in the days of prohibition in the U.S., the spirits sold in the speakeasies (or maybe from the back of a truck) were frequently watered down. The story goes that one particular rum runner, Bill McCoy, loaded a boat with rum in the Caribbean, and sailed it up to New York where he remained in international waters (the 3 mile limit) and passed his rum on to boats that came out to meet him making I would think a tidy profit in the process. Bill McCoy gained a reputation for moving only honest unadulterated product into the black market channels for distilled spirits. “The real McCoy” became American idiom for “honest whiskey”, and soon after for anything genuine.


The Real McCoy rum series (there is a 3 year, 5 year, and 12 year) is the creation of Bailey Pryor who did a documentary on Bill McCoy and in the process met R. L. Seale of Foursquare rums. The Real McCoy is a result of their collaboration, a “Barbados style” (it says so on the label) rum mixing pot and column still distillates. According to the website (linked here) a good part of the idea was to keep the rum honest. Each of the age statements represent the youngest rum in the standard blended product. It is also made without added sugars or anything else.

A picture of the standard 12 year blend (black label) appears at the end of the review. There are reviews of the standard 12 year on several well known rum sites like Inu Akena and The Fat Rum Pirate. It appears to be a very good rum, but alas I have not tried it…


What I have tried, pictured here, is a special “small batch” 2016 release aged in both charred American bourbon, and Portuguese Madeira casks for a full 12 years (total). I assume it is a blend, the label makes no mention of a single barrel. The white label sets it off, bottled at 46% ABV (as compared to 40% for the production blend). The price of this special product is about $50, while the standard blend is about $40. It comes in a nice old fashioned sort of bar bottle, with a plastic-capped cork stopper that gives a satisfying pop when pulled. Let’s get to the rum…

Color: Medium amber, slightly red. Very appealing.

Legs: When you swirl the rum in the glass the tiniest droplets form and take forever to coalesce into very thick drops that run very slowly down the glass.

Aroma: Apricot, burnt sugars (treacle), molasses, raisin, some alcohol, tobacco. As always there seems to be something different in every whiff. Good smells though. Want to keep breathing it in.

Flavors: Very creamy from the beginning. There is the burnt sugar from the nose, but also a distinctly cinnamon note, some chocolate, tobacco, ripe grape, apricot again, and a little touch of oaky bitterness. The finish is long, smooth, and sweet. Some heat comes up but gets spread out over the finish and never burns. Very nice. The Foursquare pedigree is notable in the creaminess and depth of the flavors. Very nice.

For the price ($49) at my retailer this is close to as good as the slightly less expensive ($42) Foursquare Zinfandel and Port cask products. Purely a matter of taste here, I think the Real McCoy is a little more complex perhaps but less cleanly refreshing. In any case it is a very good rum and I know I will have to pick up a bottle of the standard black label 12 year on my next visit to my local retailer so I can review that one too.


The cigar pictured above is a Rodrigo “Corona Project” house blend I reviewed before over here. The rum goes well with every smoke I’ve tried with it. If there’s a little roasted nut or sweet woodiness in the cigar, this rum will bring it out a bit.

Drink up me hearties!