The first International Cane Spirits Festival Tasting Competition, held in Tampa's historic Ybor City area, went off with nary a hitch but plenty of glitter.
Entries came from distilleries ranging from the expected places -- such as Jamaica -- to the surprising -- Nepal, the tiny Himalayan nation tucked between India and China, as well as from the United States, Guyana, Trinidad, Guatemala, Brazil, Grenada, Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, Colombia, Venezuela, St. Maarten, Aruba and Barbados in the Caribbean and Latin America as well as from Australia and the African nation of Mauritius.
With nearly every one of the 60-plus entries taking a medal of some sort, the enthusiasm of the 25-plus judge panel certainly was evident. The judges, a mix of writers, marketers, business people and hospitality industry specialists from the U.S., Brazil and the UK, awarded gold medals to 28 of the 63 entries.
However, some of that could be laid to the fact that new competitions, be they for spirits, wine or beers, tend toward large numbers of medals because only the strongest competitors are willing to enter a new event and they usually enter only their best distillations.
"While there are other respected tasting competitions in the U.S. and Europe, this is the only opportunity for sugar cane spirits to be judged on their own merit and in classes recognized by the sugar cane spirits industry," said Edward Hamilton, an internationally-known expert and author on rums who created and organized the competition. Hamilton is known for his Ministry of Rum Web site that is devoted to all things rum.
Santa Teresa, a Venezuelan distiller, earned the largest number of gold medals, taking four. Entries from Prichard's, a Tennessee distiller, and Inner Circle of Australia took three each.
Blind tastings were conducted in four sessions held over two days in Ybor City -- once the center of Florida's cigar-making industry. They covered more than 1,600 samples of cane spirits, distilled either directly from sugar or from molasses, a sugar byproduct.
While local laws and methods for producing rum vary widely around the world, the essential process is uniform. Rum is made by a process of fermentation and distillation. The clear liquid distillate usually is aged in wood casks. The majority is made in and around the Caribbean and along the Demerara River in South America, but higher-end spirits are distilled around the world as the entries in this competition show. Most commercial rum producers use traditional small batch pot distillation, then age the distillate in oak casks to obtain the brown-gold color of most rums along with various fragrances and flavors.
Rums and cachaças from around the world were judged for their aroma, initial taste, body and finish on a scale of 1 to 25 points for each attribute. Judges then added their scores for these attributes and gave a final rating which Hamilton used to calculate awards, using a bell curve system.
Cachaça, once merely a blue-collar drink in Brazil, has grown in popularity as tourists "discovered" the cane-based drink and created a demand for it once back at home, similar to what happened to tequila when it grew from a blue collar Mexican drink to a major player in the international spirits industry . Outside Brazil, where 98% of the domestic production is consumed, cachaça is used almost exclusively as an ingredient in tropical drinks. The most popular is the caipirinha -- a mixture of muddled lime slices, superfine sugar, ice and cachaça.
Santa Teresa, this competition's top entry, is spirits royalty in Venezuela, established in 1796 and still family owned. Prichard's uses Tennessee spring water and molasses to manufacture its rums. And, Inner Circle is an Australian industry giant once made only for employees of the distillery (thus the name) and that now routinely wins major competition medals.
The gold medalists:
• Santa Teresa Arakú Ron y Coffee Liqueur (Venezuela)
• Prichard's Sweet Georgia Belle Fine Rum Liqueur (U.S.)
• St. Maarten Guavaberry Rum Liqueur (St. Maarten)
• Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur (Venezuela)
• Pirate's Choice Key Lime Rum (U.S.)
• Santero Coffee Rum (Colombia)
• Prichard's Cranberry Rum (U.S.)
• Canne Royale Banane Rum (Grenada)
• Guap Lemon Capirinha Cachaça (Brazil)
WHITE RUMS (inc. spirits aged less than a year)
• Santa Teresa Blanco (Venezuela)
• Starr African Rum (Mauritius)
• Prichard's Crystal Rum (U.S.)
• Ron Botran White Rum (Guatamala)
• Distiller's Choice White Rum (U.S.)
• 10 Cane Rum (Trinidad)
• Vodkane, Sugar Cane Vodka (Colombia)
• Inner Circle Traditional Pot Still Rum (Australia)
• Cartavio1929 Ron Blanco Superior (Aruba)
• P51 Cachaça (Brazil)
• Água Luca Cachaça (Brazil)
• Guapiara Prata Cachaça (Brazil)
• Guapiara Special for Caipirinha Cachaça (Brazil)
• Fãzenda Mae de Ouro Cachaça (Brazil)
• José Junqueira Guapiara Ouro Cachaça (Brazil)
• Inner Circle Rum Green Dot (Australia)
• Inner Circle Rum Black Dot (Australia)
• Cannes Royale White Overproof Rum (Grenada)
• Coronation Khukri Rum (Nepal)
• One Barrel Rum (Belize)
• Ron Botran Solera Rum (Guatamala)
• Ron Abuelo Añejo Reserva Especial (Panama)
• Santa Teresa Selecto (Venezuela)
• Santa Teresa Gran Reserva (Venezuela)
• Pirate's Choice Molasses Reef Rum (U.S.)
• Inner Circle Rum Red Dot (Australia)
• Inner Circle Rum Blue Dot (Australia)
• Ron Botran Añejo 8 yo (Guatamala)
• Cartavio 1929 Ron Añejo Reserva (Aruba)
• Sea Wynde Rum (Jamaica / Guyana)
• Ron Botran Gold Rum (Guatamala)
• Ron Barceló Añejo (Dominican Republic)
• Distiller's Choice Gold Rum (U.S.)
• Maui Reserve Gold Rum (U.S.)
• Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 yo (Guatamala)
• Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva (Venezuela)
• Santero Ron 21 Años Antigua Reserva (Colombia)
• Prichard's Fine Rum (U.S.)
• Ron Macuro Ron Añejo Ultra Premium (Venezuela)
• Cockspur Bajan Crafted Rum 12 (Barbados)
• Ron Zacapa Centenario 15 yo (Guatamala)
• Ron Abuelo 7 Años Reserva Superior (Panama)
• Ron Botran Añejo 12 yo (Guatamala)
• Ron Bastidas Reserva de Conquistador Añejo 23 Años (Colombia)
• Ron Barceló Imperial Rum (Dominican Republic)
• Santa Teresa 1796 Ron Antiguo de Solera (Venezuela)
• Cartavio 1929 Old Rum of Solera 12 years (Aruba)
• Canne Royale Extra Old Rum (Grenada)
• Cartavio 1929 Ron Gran Reserva, 7 (Aruba)
Photo by William M. Dowd
MY TASTING NOTES
As one of the judges, my selections resulted in 12 gold medal votes, 19 silvers, 13 bronzes and 18 no-medal votes.
• In Flavored/Spiced/Cream Rums, I agreed with one of the three golds, my tasting notes calling the St. Maarten Guavaberry Rum Liqueur "pleasing on all levels with a just-right hint of fruit."
• In White Rums, I cast no gold medal votes but did cast a silver for eventual gold-medalist Starr African Rum from Mauritius which I regarded as "peppery; floral; and, with a long finish."
• In Cachaça, my gold vote matched that of the panel for the P51 Cachaça, my notes saying "olive-brine notes, nicely nuanced, good finish." The gold medal Água Luca I rated silver, noting it was "smooth; full-bodied with a hint of lemongrass."
• In Overproof, I didn't rate anything better than a bronze. Overall, there was just one gold among four entries in the 100-150 proof range.
• In Dark Rums, nine of the 18 entries collected golds. I concurred with two of those, my notes saying of the One Barrel "complex nose; layered flavors; pleasantly lingering aftertaste" and of the Inner Circle Blue Dot said "very good throughout; heat and flavor balanced; long finish."
• In Premium Rums, eight of 17 entries took gold, with me agreeing with half of the golds. My notes said of the Ron Abuelo 7 Anos Reserva Superior "mild butterscotch-caramel, vanilla and peat; smooth, nicely balanced." Of the Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva, "pleasant molasses evident in the taste, finish; heady fragrance; rich mix." Of the Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 yo, "Irish whiskey style; very smooth; butterscotch notes." And, of the Prichard's Fine Rum, "pleasant aroma of candied fruit; initial taste echoes it."
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