Before we start, in the interests of full disclosure, the keen eyed amongst you will have noted that this is an Overproof rum review written by myself, a maker of the one of the rums being sampled. Whilst I’m at it, I should also like to admit that I’m good friends with the distiller of one of the other products as well (the New Zealand distilling community is small). Clearly, this situation does not lend itself to total impartiality. Perhaps the reader might be better to look upon this as an opinion piece rather than an unbiased assessment! Now, with that out of the way….
Here in New Zealand, a country practically unknown in rum making terms, out of a small group of distillers actually producing rum commercially, there are only two who have put out an unaged overproof product; ourselves with the recent release of “Exponential” Organic Overproof and 1919 Distilling in the form of their “Cane” Overproof. The big flavour and big alcohol style just isn’t something the typical kiwi consumer is familiar with and it’s yet to garner the same devotees as overseas. In fact, it would be fair to say that outside of the hospo market there’s only a handful of rum and cocktail enthusiasts who actively seek out this sort of thing here. In short, it’s not an easy product to sell so there’s no surprise that many don’t bother.
It’s a shame really because from a distillers perspective, it’s quite the challenge making a high strength, flavourful distillate straight off the still and yet keeping it drinkable. I really feel it’s a demonstration of the distiller’s technical ability to pull it off. Hopefully however, things are changing and as rum becomes increasingly popular (is it the year of rum yet?!) and drinkers start straying from the tried and true to explore more varied offerings, perhaps this niche will have its time in the New Zealand sun.
With this in mind, I thought It would be an interesting exercise to see how these two offerings stack up against an international equivalent. The choice of which one was pretty obvious: In the pantheon of overproof white rums, one name is writ large…J Wray & Nephew. A rum of almost mythical status. The OG, if you like. If we’re going to have the courage of our convictions and want to compete on an international level, this is the bad boy we need to go toe to toe with!
Just to clear things up, all three are molasses based. Despite the name and somewhat confusingly, Cane isn’t made from cane juice although I do believe the ferments are supplemented with raw sugar so it’s not strictly 100% molasses either.
Now, onto the tasting notes:
Nose: Bright banana and pastry. Light creamy toffee with a slight hint of strawberry. Very pleasant if a bit one dimensional. Stays pretty stable in the glass and doesn’t really develop with time.
Palate: Sweet with big Banana. To me this is a rummy banoffee pie in a glass! Good body…handles the ABV well but is all in the front of the mouth. If I was a betting man , I’d say the cuts were pretty tight on this making it quite well behaved really considering the strength. Having said that, there’s more heat in the mouth towards the finish which is moderate in length and slightly drying.
Nose: Initially it’s a little more muted than expected. After a few minutes in the glass, it starts to develop and open up. Still, it’s not a hugely high impact nose in terms of volume but don’t confuse that with boring, there’s plenty going on to keep you interested. Not a typical tropical fruit style nose though. Theres peaches and cream, apple and pear, chalky green banana with a floral honey top note. There’s a subtle umami background note that adds a layer of complexity. Powdery milk chocolate in there too.
Palate: Wow. Big body. Very, very fruity. Like a juicy summer fruit salad. Bit of creamy toffee. There’s some heat in the mid palate but it’s welcome (this is an overproof after all!) and helps lead into slightly salty licorice finish. Impressive, even I do say so myself!
Nose: Bit sharper on the nose with a nail polish note upfront. Grassy. Tropical fruit and bananas. Lemony citrus brightness. There’s a slightly funky Jamaican element but it’s not as big as I remember from previous encounters. Fades a little as it sits in the glass. The tropical fruit notes aren’t as prominent as I remember either – funny how the memory works.
Palate: Less eventful in the mouth than expected. Surprisingly creamy but takes a while to develop. Follows the nose in terms of flavour profile but not volume. Green and funky comes through later. Little thin in the mouth and on the finish compared to the others.
Three quite different rums in more or less the same category. Here’s the crunch question…Is one better than the others? I’m going to be disappointingly politically correct and say, not really! They all have their deserved place. Cane for example, is probably the most accessible with those lovely dessert-like banana notes and you could see it working well in classic rum cocktails. Whereas Exponential is the most rewarding when sampling neat thanks to its greater complexity and big juicy, fruity palate. And the Wray? Well, the funkiness will always be a crowd pleaser and it certainly doesn’t need the likes of me to sing its praises further but, and here’s the encouraging thing, in no way does it stand out as being significantly better than the upstarts. In fact if I was forced to, I’d say the home team rums actually have the edge.
All in all, a solid representation from us and plenty to be encouraged about. If New Zealand distillers keep making rums of this calibre then sooner or later, people are going to start to take notice. When that finally happens, perhaps I can stop having to blow my own trumpet in blogs like this!
Now, all that remains is to persuade my fellow Kiwis to take up the Overproof cause and drink more of it.
Talking of which, you can buy Exponential here: https://lunaticandlover.com/product/exponential-rum/
And, because they’re good bastards who make delicious rum, here’s the link for Cane as well:
As for the Wray, they don’t need my help to sell more rum so you’ll just have to find that for yourself!