Plantation Rum – showcasing the blenders’ art

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After a whisky-heavy beginning to our tastings calendar, we jumped away from Scotland for something more exotic – Plantation Rum.

Alexandre Gabriel

Alexandre Gabriel and the TWE Spirit of the Year, Plantation Barbados XO

We were joined for the evening by founder and master blender Alexandre Gabriel, who brought with him a wide range of rums to demonstrate the various different ideas that drive Plantation. If you’d like to learn a bit more about the company, have a read of this post from earlier in the year, but today I’m going to focus on the rum.

In short, Plantation is an offshoot of Maison Ferrand, the Cognac house that Alexandre Gabriel revived in the 1980s. Looking for somewhere to sell his used casks, he turned to the Caribbean, where he fell in love with rum and decided to branch out to become a blender – Plantation doesn’t make its own rum, instead using rums from various islands and distilleries across the Caribbean, selected by Alexandre for their character.

Rum is a very varied spirit, and even within the Caribbean there are a large number of styles. Every part of the rum-making process contributes, from the source of the sugar cane, to the yeasts used to create alcohol, the type of still used, the casks used to mature the rum and the climate where the casks are stored. These factors give a lot of variation, and Plantation complements them with one major extra step – the rums are transported to France and finished in Cognac casks at Maison Ferrand. This last step give Plantation extra control, as well as a period of slower maturation, in the cooler and less variable climate of south-west France.

While the character of the rum from individual islands is distinct and can make for excellent bottlings, Plantation also specialises in blending, creating new rums that combine the best parts of several different styles. We kicked off the evening with three rums that showed the variation.

We started with a column-distilled Nicaragua 2003 vintage rum which began its life as a very high-strength and clean spirit before being filled into wood. The resulting rum was sweet, spicy and comparatively light. We compared it to a pot-distilled 2001-vintage Jamaican rum which was much heavier and oiler on the palate, with more overripe fruity flavour – ‘like bananas on a warm engine’ my notes say. The third rum in the comparison was the Barbados 5 Year Old Signature Blend, an top-selling ongoing release. It is a combination of pot- and column-distilled rum from Barbados, combining the more pungent pot character with the cleaner and fresher column spirit to create a balanced and easy drinking rum:

Plantation Barbados 5 Year Old Signature Blend

Nose: Buttery and sweet – overripe bananas drizzled with golden syrup. There are some darker oily and spicy notes of clove and toasted cinnamon sticks hiding behind, along with custardy vanilla and sweet apple. Cream and citrus notes develop: orange creme and marshmallow.

Palate: Lemon zest bitterness leads off, with a balancing candied lemon sweetness. Light custard and dark liquorice are joined by foam bananas of ground dry spice – cinnamon and nutmeg.

Finish: Sweet cream with a squeeze of lemon fades to lingering dry spice.

Comment: A strongly flavoured all-rounder with crisp citrus, squishy-banana sweetness and a solidly spicy backbone.

We finished the night with a pair of rums showcasing the blenders’ art. We began with our Spirit of the YearPlantation Extra Old Barbados rum, originally bottled to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary. You can read all about it in this post, but it’s a complex and layered rum, carefully constructed to showcase the best of each component.

We ended with something special – a rum currently in development that’s a step up from the 20th Anniversary bottling. Alexandre said that he still has some work to do, but based on the sample bottle he brought over from France, he’s got something very special on his hands – we look forward to trying the finished product.

You can see more of what went on during the tasting over on Storify and sign up to hear about our upcoming tastings here. The next one is a whisky tasting with Benriach brand ambassador Stewart Buchanan – details will be appearing here soon…

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