When it comes to the average consumer, people like a story to go along with their booze. Such has it always been, and so shall it likely always be—most iconic brands have some kind of well-known, apocryphal, possibly BS story behind them, like Rev. Elijah Craig being the “first person to char oak barrels” for bourbon aging. Brands need those mythic anchor figures around whom the marketing can revolve, and with young, new distilleries or sourced spirit brands, that often becomes the colorful character of the founder.
So it is with the newer Campesino Rum brand, which relies heavily on marketing revolving around its founder/blender, Alabama native Hatton Smith. While living abroad in Panama, working at coffee plantations, Hatton “discovered a still previously owned by the family of Manuel Noriega, a former Panamanian dictator. After learning how to distill his own rum with the help of the local Campesinos as his taste testers, Hatton quickly realized he had made something special, and Campesino was born.” The marketing goes on to say that “Today, the brand carries on the legacy of the Campesinos Hatton had befriended and honors the mystery and passion of the jungle that they all once called home.”
That’s all well and good, but keep in mind that this the preamble to a sourced blend of rums, none of them distilled by Campesino, which is what we call a non-distiller producer (NDP) rather than a company distilling rum and waiting years to age it. To their credit, Campesino is focusing on delivering straightforward and unadulterated spirits, promising that none of their brands contain added sugars, additives or artificial ingredients. They’re simply light-to-moderately aged blends, priced at competitive price points, but primarily favoring lighter, column-distilled rums.
So with that said, let’s step past the marketing and simply give each of these a taste. We’ve got two brands here, each at a basic 40% ABV (80 proof), which make up the core Campesino lineup: Silver X and Aged XIV.
Silver X is Campesino’s “white rum” offering, although this is an aged rum that is charcoal filtered to remove coloration picked up in the oak—almost always a positive in my book, as most of my favorite “white rums” are aged for at least a few years, rhum agricoles not included. Silver X is a proprietary blend of rums from Trinidad and Tobago (from Angostura) and Nicaragua (unknown, but likely Compañia Licorera Distillery), aged between 2 and 5 years. As a result, the label reads “aged for a minimum of 2 years,” in keeping with the law. I’m not sure what the “X” of the brand name entails—I might have called it a bit deceptive, reminiscent of Ron Zacapa’s implied “23” age statement, but I can’t complain when the actual age statement is prominently displayed on the front label. As previously stated, this one is charcoal filtered after aging to remove color. It is likely 100% column still rum.
On the nose, this one is on the mild side, which one might expect for the 40% ABV and column still origin, with not much in the way of funkier esters. There’s light fruitiness to be found on the nose, perhaps a bit of pineapple, and a whisper of vanilla bean and florals. Probing further, there’s also something slightly nutty or roasted, but this nose is pretty mild overall.
On the palate, Silver X proves to be fairly neutral, displaying light sugar cane-like freshness (though none of the funk of more intense grassiness of agricole) and a moderate amount of vanilla, which contributes a distinctly floral tone as well. It finishes pretty dry, and is perhaps a bit on the hot side in terms of the ethanol flavor for this low proof point. All in all, this is just a pretty neutral white rum blend that seems calculated as a “hey vodka drinkers, try this” selection, offering those kinds of drinkers an opportunity to experience a marginally more flavorful spirit. As for me, I’m usually searching for a white rum with a bit bolder flavor profile.
Once again, I’m not sure exactly what the “XIV” means, and you’d be forgiven for thinking at first glance that it’s probably an age statement. The actual age statement and makeup is listed below, however: Aged XIV is a blend made up of “80% 8-year-old rum from Barbados (Foursquare) and the Dominican Republic (Alcoholes Finos Dominicanos), and 20% 6-year-old rum from Panama (Varela Rum Distillery).” Note that we don’t actually know how much is from Barbados, and how much is from the DR, given that both fall into the “80% 8-year-old rum.” I can’t help but think that this may imply the portion from Barbados is probably on the smaller side, as Bajan rum tends to fetch higher prices (especially Foursquare) in the U.S. But that’s just speculation on my part. Like the Silver X, these rums are blended together and bottled at 40% (80 proof), so they’re clearly meant to be very approachable.
On the nose, the Aged XIV offers gentle impressions of caramel, orange zest and brown sugar cookie, along with subtle baking spice. It’s not an assertive nose overall, but it is a pleasant one. It smells very “classic” as far as aged, unadulterated rum blends go.
On the palate, this one offers up some pleasant fruitiness, with impressions of apple crumble and orange, along with cinnamon spice. Molasses/brown sugar cookie give way to some nice, drying oak that comes out in a gentle but then slightly firmer way, helping this one from ever seeming desserty or decadent. There’s perhaps a bit of green plantain to it as well, which ties things together.
All in all, this one is quite approachable, and the ethanol is more perfectly incorporated to my palate than on the Silver X. I have no doubt that either of these would mix just fine in various mixed drinks, and the Aged XIV would be a very easy sipper, but I suspect that I would be seeking out more assertive rums for the purpose of rum-forward cocktails or neat drinking on most occasions. All in all, I don’t think Campesino seems like the kind of brand the rum geeks will be seeking out (although the bottles look quite attractive), but to the more casual or newfound rum consumer, they would likely be quite welcome.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.