I am a big fan of the other Rums that I’ve tasted by Antigua Distillery Limited including English Harbour and Soldiers Bay. This post however is all about the bigger more mature brother of the young fiery upstart that was English Harbour 5. A little about Rum and Antigua firstly though.
At around the middle of the 18th Century around 70,000 acres (about half of the arable land in Antigua) was planted with sugar cane. There were also more than 150 stone built sugar mills on the island with associated boiler houses etc. This led to the Plantation Act of 1793 establishing sugar cane as the principal Antiguan crop. By the 1920’s the Rum Shops on Antigua were importing large quantities of Rum from other Caribbean Islands for blending and aging to create their own brands to sell to customers. Rums with names such as Red Cock, Silver Leaf, White House, Black Cock and Bolanda were all available! As Rum Shops were the inevitable meeting place within the village, they were very popular venues with the majority of the Rum Shop owners being Portuguese immigrants from Madeira. It was in 1929 that a group of 8 local entrepreneurs joined together to bulk buy molasses with the end goal of controlling the process of distilling their own Rum. All but one of the 8 were Rum Shop owners! They had an initial request for land in the St John’s area turned down by the colonial government as they were not keen on a distillery and all of the associated smells that it brings. They were however granted land on the wonderfully named ‘Rat Island’ which sat next to a one time leper colony! In June 1932 the Antigua Distillery Limited company (ADL) was founded. All of the founding members stayed to serve as active directors. Early equipment comprised a 3 column copper Saville still from France. The Rum that this still produced was characterized by a pronounced sweet, sugar cane aroma in conjunction with a medium-bodied dry flavour. Apparently the rectifying section of this still is currently in use to this day! The first Rum produced by ADL was sold by the barrel to local Rum Merchants and was blended and bottled by each Merchant individually under their own private labels. By the 1940’s, the company started producing its own Rum which was initially called Caballero Rum. This was changed in 1947 to Cavalier Muscovado Rum. A lighter version of this Rum is still available today as Cavalier Antigua Rum.
Fast forward to modern-day goings on at Antigua Distillery Limited and they buy molasses in bulk on the world market in conjunction with other Caribbean buyers. I’ve read that Guyana and Dominican Republic are preferred sources. In 1991 the old Saville still was replaced with a *
5 column copper still* copper column still sourced in England from John Dore & Co. The spirit is drawn off at a strength of 95% abv and piped into stainless steel holding tanks to be tested by both taste and smell in the hopes of identifying any unwanted trace flavours. The spirit is also lab tested for trace elements that may affect flavour. The Rum is then diluted with pure water to 70% abv. It is at this point that it is laid down into newly charred used 200 litre Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey barrels. The aging period for Rum on Antigua is never less than 2 years and generally ranges from 2 to 10 years with the occasional batch being held for 25 years…..(an article on the bottle of 1981 that I have will follow as soon as I’m brave enough to open it). With this new still, ADL began to expand its product line and in 1993 English Harbour Rum was introduced named after Antigua’s Navy Heritage. As an aside, the English Harbour Dockyard was restored in the 1950’s and is the only active Georgian dockyard in existence. Currently ADL is managed by descendants of the founding directors. Paul Farara, son of Quin Farara is Chairman of the Board of Directors and Anthony Bento, related to both E.C Farara and Quin Farara is Managing Director. ADL continues the tradition of distilling Rum at the ‘Rat Island’ site.
*EDIT: It appears that my still information is inaccurate, I have requested clarity from ADL and will update once confirmed*
English Harbour Reserve 10 Year Old Rum – 40% abv
So what we have is a column distilled Rum and the first thing to state is that every drop of Rum in this bottle is a minimum of 10 years old. ADL is quite keen to point that out. The rear bottle label also tells me that some Rums in the blend are up to 25 years old…..how much is that age is unknown. Also the availability of test data (both amateur and professional) for certain Rums helps identify any additional ‘tampering’. The result found for this Rum is based on Dave Russell’s excellent Rum Gallery site and the estimated sugar content (undissolved solids) is 0 g/L. I state this as if you have previously read my English Harbour 5 article, Anthony Bento stated that guidelines forbid the addition of ‘extras’ apart from caramel which should be tasteless and for colour only. But there was a random test result verified between two sources on the 25-year-old 1981 bottling giving a reading that would mean added sugar……this was however a proofing error at ADL in the actual product it seems so the panic is over! The bottle is a nice squat affair that has a low centre of gravity….the Rum is also housed within a presentation box which is a nice touch. To buy in the UK it will set you back upwards of £70 which is a hell of a price….fortunately I purchased from a French website at what I consider to be an absolute steal of £45! I really should’ve purchased in bulk! So here goes nothing……
In the glass: The Rum displays itself as a coppery bronze in the glass and a swirl of the Rum leaves a ring of sluggish droplets. The Rum is pretty spiky too with a fair bit of alcohol burn but this calms to leave quite a bit of fruitiness in the form of apples, Victoria plums and a bit of dried fruit. Vanilla, light buttery pastry and croissants follow on. There is a little oak bringing with it toffee and chocolate. There is also a nice freshness to the Rum and a little floral note to round things out. You can smell a few of the toffee and vanilla notes without even going near the glass. It is a really pleasant Rum to sit with.
In the mouth: The Rum is spicier than expected initially with an entry that is driven by oak and black pepper. There follows a sweetness full of cinnamon, vanilla and caramel. This lingers for a while as the Rum has a nice oily medium body that coats every bit of your mouth. It does start to dry a little as the oak comes forward and that reveals some brown sugar and also gives way to the dried fruit and a crisp apple freshness. The finish is quite long and is full of pepper, buttery home-baked cinnamon swirls as the sweetness makes a return. Subsequent sips calm the spicy entry and leave you with what is a very flavourful and moreish Rum.
So what you have here is a Rum that has not been ‘tampered’ with, that is a minimum of 10 years old, and tastes like joy in a bottle. At its £70 price tag I would still buy a bottle just to see what all the fuss is about….I would be careful with it and would not have it on heavy rotation….however, I paid considerably less and will enjoy it on a weekly basis. Is it twice the Rum of its younger sibling? It takes things up a notch for sure but when English Harbour 5 can be picked up for £25, that represents a bargain….this not so much. I love it however and will most certainly be purchasing another bottle from my newly found source! Still to come though is the much fabled English Harbour 1981….a 25 year old bottle from ADL that for want of a better phrase made me fall in love with Rum all over again. But we’ll save that for when I’m brave enough to open my bottle.
As per usual, I’d love to hear your opinions on the Rum and feel free to pop in for a drop.
The eagle eyed amongst you will also note that I’ve been trying out a new tasting glass for this article. It is an absolute peach of a glass and really does encourage generous pouring which suits me down to the ground!
© Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both written and photographic without the express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steven James and Rum Diaries Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.