I’ve fallen head first into a bottle of rum on many occasions in my life, and you know what I’ve never said, ever? I’ve never said, “man, I wish this rum was stronger.” The standard 80 proof rum seems to do the trick just fine. And yet, there’s an entire category of rum designed to solve the non-problem of weak booze called “overproof rum,” with bottles hitting proofs well above the 100 mark. This is the stuff you can set on fire if you’re into that sort of thing. Bacardi has the infamous Bacardi 151; Cruzan and Gosling’s also make a 151, and there are a bunch of overproof options that fall into the 114-proof “Navy Strength” category. The bottle we have here, Plantation’s Overproof OFTD (Old Fashioned Traditional Dark) splits the difference at 138 proof. That’s some serious booze.
So, why the hell would you want a 138-proof rum to begin with? There are a few different legends surrounding the history of overproof spirits. One notion is that overproof was created because it was cheaper to ship. Ship a barrel of high-octane rum, then water it down to a drinkable proof at your destination and you’ve got twice the rum taking up half the space on a ship. Also, sailors were sometimes paid in booze (awesome, right?), and the higher the proof, the better the pay. And then there’s the concept that a barrel of rum or gin needed to has enough alcohol that it wouldn’t ruin gun powder if it spilled on a ship. Supposedly, that’s where the term Navy Strength comes from. Those are all solid reasons to create a boozy spirit. Today, bartenders like a well-made overproof rum in part because the stuff you typically mix rum with is so strong-willed, you need a strong base liquor to hold its own in the Tiki glass.
I’m not much of a Tiki guy so I decided to pour this 138-proof Plantation neat. The Plantation is a blended rum, combining a three-year-old Trinidad rum with Plantation’s own Bonificateur rum, which has been aged between 15 and 20 years. It pours a beautiful rosy color and smells like oak and a hangover. My first sip is so hot, it actually evaporates in my mouth. Naturally, this rum is boozy as hell, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its charms. Even when sipped neat, there’s a lot going on in this sip beyond just the heat of the alcohol. Notes of chocolate and cherry dominate, while some oaky elements play a supporting role. Some smokiness begins to emerge after a few sips, although that could just be the smell of my liver burning. The mouthfeel isn’t so much “thin,” as it is “razor sharp.”
Obviously, you’re not supposed to drink this high proof rum neat, so I put a massive chunk of ice in it and let it sit for a minute or two. After the ice melts a touch, the rum gets all soft and sweet. The mouthfeel is thicker—that razor sharpness is gone—and there are all kinds of caramel and vanilla notes. The alcohol heat becomes more of a welcoming warmth as opposed to the fast-burning fire I encountered on the first few sips. It’s absolutely delicious—so good, that I might even be willing to use it as the base for one of those saccharine Tiki drinks with the umbrellas. Maybe.
Location: Rums come from the Caribbean, parent company is in France
Style: Overproof rum
Availability: Year round