As we’ve written about several times in the past, the rum industry can be subject to both a lot of gimmickry and a lot of misinformation. Poor standards for labeling can allow companies to get away with deceptive advertising, while the “premium” sphere of modern rums has arguably had a negative effect upon redefining consumers’ idea of what “good rum” tastes like, pushing them away from the nuance found in genuinely aged rums and in the direction of artificially flavored or sweetened facsimiles that bear no age statement.
It is refreshing, then, to receive a press release about a new aged rum release where the only gimmick is straight-up transparency. Holmes Cay Single Cask Rum is a new boutique rum bottling company, with an initial limited release that has recently arrived in the U.S. At a mere 504 bottles, this is an ultra-limited amount of rum, but it should probably be considered simply a taste of what Holmes Cay has planned. And if the future releases are anything like this one, then something special is happening here.
The first release from Holmes Cay is simply titled Barbados 2005, and is exactly what the name would imply—a 14-year-old, single barrel rum from the island’s iconic Foursquare Distillery, well known among any of the proper rum geeks out there. It’s fitting that the first Holmes Cay release should hail from here, as Bajan rum is among the oldest in the world, with many of the spirit’s creation myths pegging Barbados as the first rum-producing island in the Caribbean. So too is Foursquare a sensible pick—the product of a family that has been making rum since 1820, it’s known for producing a wide variety of brands, including The Real McCoy, Rum Sixty Six and the eponymous Foursquare rums. There’s no shortage of heritage here, and the Holmes Cay label presents it all very simply, trusting the consumer’s knowledge of spirits, which I appreciate.
What’s more, Holmes Cay isn’t just committed to releasing well-aged, single-barrel variants from famous rum distilleries—they’re doing it at barrel proof as well. The Barbados 2005 weighs in at a massive 128 proof (64% ABV), certainly among the strongest aged rums I’ve ever consumed. At that kind of proof, and after 14 years in the wood, you can practically guarantee an explosively flavorful end result, and the Barbados 2005 certainly doesn’t fault on that front.
So, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, the fact that this rum isn’t all ethanol is already impressive on its own, given the exceptionally high proof. The oak has clearly tempered the alcohol character nicely, leaving us with notes of butterscotch, buttered popcorn, brown sugar and nutmeg.
On the palate, this rum is as assertive as you would no doubt expect, although not too difficult to drink neat—although a splash of water probably makes for the ideal experience here, unless you’re specifically trying to impress people. I added a tiny amount of water, leaving this dram still a little on the fiery side, but smoothing it out just a tad. Brown sugar, intense caramel and waves of oak hit the palate first, seguing into something I can only describe as “pumpkin spice” in its complexity. Granny Smith apples make excellent bedfellows with deeply caramelized sugar, with hints of “burn” or “charred” sugar, before a finish that just revels in the contents of the entire spice rack. There are spice notes of every description here, with an emphasis on candied ginger and molasses cookie. If there’s a downside to the overall experience, it’s that these spicy notes slightly overwhelm the full presentation, but it’s delicious nevertheless.
Notably, residual sweetness is only moderate, despite the advanced proof and age. This is a true “aged rum,” in the sense that it is the product of the barrel it went into—no more and no less, rather than a sweetened, “premium rum” product that has been molded after leaving the barrel for a specific profile. We are not meant to conflate residual sweetness with quality, here—we are merely meant to appreciate what 14 years in the wood have done to the spirit.
Finally, I will note that at $149, the MSRP of this Barbados 2005 release likely seems high, but that ultimately strikes me as a fair price for the uniqueness of what is being offered here. Barrel proof, single-barrel releases from classic Caribbean distilleries are not often easy for consumers to get their hands on, and with a 14-year age statement tacked on as well, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the asking price on this release was $200 or beyond. Certainly, Holmes Cay isn’t gouging people here—you’re not going to find many 14-year-old, barrel-proof releases from sought-after distilleries in general, and certainly not much cheaper than this, especially given the tiny size of the release.
As stated above, the limiting factor is that there’s merely 504 bottles of Barbados 2005 in the wild. The Ferris Bueller seal of approval applies: “If you have the means…”
In the meantime, we’ll be very curious to see what Holmes Cay is planning as a follow-up.
Distillery: Foursquare Distillery (via Holmes Cay)
Style: Aged rum
ABV: 64% (128 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $149 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.