In the craft distillery world, as in the craft beer world, the consumer must eventually come to terms with the fact that they’re always paying a premium for the satisfaction of supporting a small enterprise. This simply comes with the territory—a microdistillery that has fought and clawed to get its first aged whiskey to the two-year mark required to label it as “straight” essentially has to charge a premium for that product in order to make it financially feasible, even if the Jim Beams of the world can produce something twice as old and sell bottles of it for $12. The knowledge that craft distillers can’t operate as efficiently, on as great a scale, should be baked into the consumer’s understanding of this landscape.
But what about the case of sourced spirits being bottled by craft distilleries? Theoretically, these spirits might bring a bit more parity to the pricing game, but what is true in theory is often not true in practice. Independent distillers need those higher margins in order to survive.
Which is all to say, that after tasting Four-Port Rum from Richmond, VA’s tiny Virago Spirits, I’m all the more impressed that they’re selling bottles of this spirit for $31.99. It’s a lovely blend of aged rums that can compete with some of the best of what the Caribbean has to offer in terms of both profile and price, and that is a rare find indeed.
Four-Port, like the name implies, is a blend of aged rums from four different classic rum producers in the Caribbean and Central America, which come together nicely to form something that is greater than the sum of its parts. The blend features the following:
— 8-year-old rums from Barbados, pot and column distilled
— 4 year-old rum from Jamaica, pot distilled
— 5-8 year old rums from Nicaragua, column distilled
— 6-year-old rum from Panama, column distilled
These particular “ports” were chosen as representative of various rum-producing substyles of the region, from the funk and earthiness of Jamaican rum, to the richness of “Bajan” rums from Barbados, to the cleaner, smoother profile of Nicaragua and Panama. The results seem very much what was intended: A deft mixture of different influences, which thankfully comes off as “complex” rather than muddled or confused.
On the nose, Four-Port is redolent of warm baking spices, with plenty of vanilla bean, caramel creme, dessert banana and pineapple. On the palate, sweet cinnamon stick is a major component, with hints of funk and grass giving way to deep caramelization and significant richness, without too much overt sweetness and residual sugar. This rum strikes a very attractive midpoint between richness, sweetness and acidity, allowing individual flavors of tart green apple, brown sugar, cinnamon, butterscotch and Jamaican funk to each shine through one at a time. It is unmistakably “rummy,” but difficult to nail down. In comparison with say, a Mount Gay XO (MSRP $43), it’s a tad more brash and less smoothly composed, but absolutely not lacking in assertiveness or a wide array of flavors—and $10 cheaper, to boot.
In other words, it’s pretty much exactly what you’re hoping for, if you buy a bottle of blended aged rums in this particular, mid-shelf price range. It’s lovely to drink neat, thanks to the balance of sweetness, spice and richness, and it makes an outstanding daiquiri that allows the funk and richness of Four-Port to shine through, especially when mixed at the Virago bartender’s unconventional ratio of roughly 3-1-1, in terms of rum, lime juice and simple syrup respectively. This allows for a more rum-influenced and less lime dominated version of the drink than the classical 3-2-1 (rum, lime, simple) ratio, and it’s something I’ll be taking note of for the future.
All in all, it’s an impressive find, and it makes me curious to sample Virago’s own distillate, which is still quietly aging for a future release. Four-Port will also come in a variety of barrel-finished variants, including port and sherry barrel versions, making Virago a small distillery for rum geeks to keep on their radar.
Distillery: Virago Spirits
City: Richmond, VA
ABV: 43% (86 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $31.99 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.