By no means does it outweigh the challenges and difficulties inherent in being a young spirits company, but one of the upsides of being relatively new on the market is that every release represents a lot of “firsts.”
Holmes Cay is still a young spirits company, although one that the most dedicated rum geeks probably know and admire by this point. They focus entirely on cask-strength, single-origin sourced rums that are presented without secondary barrel finishes—the purest possible expressions of rums from countries that have previously included Barbados,Fiji and Guyana. All of those rums have been unique and exceptional in some way, to the point where a lot is now expected of any given Holmes Cay bottling, especially given the substantial price tags and limited run of bottles in each one.
The latest release, and fourth country in Holmes Cay’s series, brings us to Belize with a handful more firsts. For one, this is “the first 100% tropically aged, cask-strength rum from Belize to be offered for sale in the U.S.” It’s also the company’s first “dependent bottling,” meaning that the bottling/packaging was done in conjunction with/on the site of the distillery itself, rather than being independently bottled off site.
Belizean rum isn’t particularly common in the U.S., nor do there seem to be many large commercial rum distilleries in Belize. The largest and most well-known by far is Travellers Liquors, which is the source of this particular rum. This column-distilled rum was aged in the tropical Belizean climate for no less than 15 years, entirely in ex-bourbon casks, before being bottled at the Travellers Liquors Distillery in Belize City. As Holmes Cay typically states: “No sugar, color, flavor nor adulterations were added” to the product, which was bottled at a cask strength of 61% ABV (122 proof). MSRP is actually somewhat lower than previous batches, at $109—pretty in line with other bottlers, given that advanced age statement and proof. In fact, in terms of price point this is probably the best bang-for-your-buck Holmes Cay has released to date.
“Like our previous editions, we believe this cask strength Belize 2005 is comparable in quality and character to aged premium whiskeys or bourbons,” said founder Eric Kaye. “We are proud to work with Travellers Liquors Distillery to showcase this cask strength, full 15-year tropically aged Belize rum. Holmes Cay was created to celebrate the world’s best rums for distilling artistry and transparency of production. With few opportunities in the United States to enjoy pure aged rum at full cask strength, we exist to connect spirits lovers to great quality, unadulterated rums.”
It’s hard for me to know exactly what to expect on this one, for the simple fact that I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted any Belizean rum before. So let’s get to tasting and find out.
This is immediately notable in the glass for its dark coloration—very dark amber into garnet, which certainly seems to suggest that tropical climate was drawing this deeply into the wood indeed. It’s a color you’d more expect to see in something that had sherry or port barrel secondary aging.
On the nose, this is rich, savory and funky all at once. I’m getting cocoa and dark fruit, like stewed prunes and a melange of tropical fruit at once. There’s also a more sherry-like nuttiness, and some funky vegetal notes that I can’t quite parse or define. I’m left being unsure of exactly what this is going to taste like.
On the palate, Belize 2005 explodes with sweetness and spice—this is a different sort of thing than I was expecting from the nose. Huge molasses and brown sugar character is on the treacly side, met by prune/plum and baking spice that touches every note of the spice rack. Tropical fruitiness rushes in and suggests pineapple upside down cake, while also being redolent in vanilla bean. Alcohol heat is appropriate for the 122 proof, nicely tempered by all those years in the barrel. The long spice finish returns to the wood, again drawing out plentiful baking spices.
This is a very desserty dram in terms of its archetype, and on my first few sips I thought Belize 2005 might actually be too cloying for my taste. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of “premium” rums on the market that have been significantly sweetened after the fact, but as I sit with this dram I think it avoids the point of over-sweetness. In fact, I find myself increasingly enraptured with the dark fruit and cocoa/coffee/roasty notes that are emerging over time, which combine nicely with the festive spices to create a very decadent dram. You might say that it’s working within a relatively narrow band of flavors in comparison with some of the other Holmes Cay releases—sweet, caramelized sugars, roast, dark fruit and spice—but it balances the elements of that range superbly. This would definitely be kept among the “dessert” bottles on my shelf, functioning as a well-earned treat for special occasions. If big, decadent aged rums are your thing, it’s another bottle you should be seeking out.
Distillery: Travellers Liquors (via Holmes Cay)
Style: Aged rum
ABV: 61% (122 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $109 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.