By Bruce Collier
Every liquor store has rums labeled “overproof,” also called “full proof,” or “Navy proof.” The latter refers to an 18th century British Navy test for rum strength—whether gunpowder soaked in rum would ignite. If it did, the rum was deemed “Navy strength,” which translates onto 57 percent ABV, or 114 proof.
Higher proof can mean a richer, more flavorful rum, the kind to build into outstanding cocktails. I sampled five rums of this ilk, all available in the area. I also found cocktails that show them to maximum advantage.
Wray & Nephew (Jamaica)
Sampled neat: scent is funky and sulfurous. Taste is fruit rind, green pear and unripe pineapple, ripe banana. This rum surrounds your tongue, and it’s hot.
Mixed and blended it’s a basket of ripe and overripe fruit—green apples, bananas, green pears, grilled pineapple, vanilla.
I used J. Wray in a “320 Main’s Planters Punch”—1 1/2 ounces rum, 1 ounce fresh lime juice, 1 ounce simple syrup, 1 ounce plain water, and 2-4 dashes Angostura bitters. Combine all ingredients and shake with crushed ice, pour into a Collins glass. It’s simple but the best Planter’s Punch I ever had.
It also shines in a “Papa Doble” daiquiri from the Floridita bar in pre-Castro Havana, honoring star patron Ernest Hemingway—3 and 1/2 ounces rum, 1 ounce grapefruit juice, 3/4 ounce Maraschino liqueur, 1 ounce fresh lime juice, and 1/2 ounce simple syrup. Shake with ice and strain, then start a fist fight with F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Foursquare 2004 Exceptional Cask Selection Mark III Single Blended Rum Ex-Bourbon Cask (Barbados)
Tasted neat: Scotch/bourbon color. Nose: No funky sulfurous banana nose here. This is a pot- and column-distilled blend, and it spent 11 years in an ex-bourbon cask, so it acquired manners and polish. There’s a touch of smoke, though, burnt sugar waffle cone, and roasted nuts. No fruit.
Taste: sherried scotch, then peppery heat and a real mouth-coating grip. Caramel lingers on the palate, then, just at the end, the funk takes a brief bow. Vanilla syrup. A few drops of plain water release more of the toasted nut scent.
I made an Old Fashioned (liquor, sugar, bitters) with this. The proof here is high enough that the rum shines through, highlighted by the touch of sweetness and offset but never overcome by the citrus/bitter seasoning. I tasted some banana and honey-vanilla, with a warm but fresh and floral finish.
Smith & Cross Navy Strength (Traditional Jamaica Pot Still)
Tasted neat, and with some water. Not chill filtered so it’s a little hazy. Light amber like scotch. Nose is butterscotch and taffy. Wood, wax/polish, wisp of smoke. Taste: more taffy, honey, sautéed banana, pound cake. Added two drops of filtered water—banana bubble gum, candied pineapple. Sugar waffle cone. Sulfur-y pineapple finish that lingers. More water draws out the candy fruit esters, overripe musky cantaloupe, and canned fruit cocktail.
I also made an Old Fashioned with Smith & Cross. “Funk” is a common word used when describing Jamaican pot still rums. It’s a slightly sulfurous, aged molasses, overripe fruit scent and taste—dark bananas or late-stage cut pineapple. It’s off-putting to some, but with the same kind of charm possessed by stinky French cheese. There’s plenty here, especially banana, and cinnamon/clove taste on the finish that made me think of Christmas cookies.
Hamilton Navy Strength (Jamaica and Guyana)
Tasted neat. Reddish amber like whiskey. Scent is dry, with wood, not sugary molasses and honey; wood and polish, vanilla extract. No high-proof scorching of the nostrils. Taste: hot on the tongue, burnt sugar, slightly overripe banana, pipe tobacco, dark soy sauce.
A few drops of plain water releases scents and flavors of roasted nuts, sherry, more vanilla, toasted marshmallow, pear, grilled fruits—pineapple and ripe plantains. Some sulfurous funk. If you sip it straight, add some water, it really opens things up and flies its true colors.
Navy Grog—rum, simple syrup and lime juice. Stir (don’t shake) and serve over ice. What scurvy, matey?
Plantation OFTD (Old Fashioned Traditional Dark) (Blend of Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados Rums)
$28.99 (for 1 Liter)
Tasted neat. Reddish brown, like cognac. Subdued nose—coffee, root beer, sweet tea, polished wood, cloves, cinnamon, prune. Taste: heat, but no lingering burn. Cherry cola, molasses, unsweetened cocoa, dark sweet dried fruit, cherries. With unfiltered water—roasted nuts, coffee beans, vanilla extract, honey and toffee nose; taste is less dry.
I made a Manhattan. Instead of rye I used 2 and 1/2 ounces OFTD, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, Angostura original and orange bitters. Orange peel and cherry. I laid the orange on pretty thick because that’s how I like Manhattans. No rye spice, but a hit of licorice started it off, then receded. There’s smoke and burnt sugar. It was less sweet than my rye Manhattan; most of the sweetness was coming from the vermouth, not the rum.
It’s strong—one to a customer.