Since this is the very first of my spirit reviews let me explain how it’s going to work. I’m not going to be taking the whole “I taste slightly damp shoe leather, stewed gooseberries and a hint of cigar ash” approach. Maybe I just don’t have the palate for that or maybe it’s just a load of old drivel. Whatever. I’m reviewing these spirits (and maybe some liqueurs) primarily for the purpose of mixing rather than sipping neat so I’ll be telling you whether I like them, roughly what they taste like and how well they work in a cocktail. Value for money will also be a significant factor. I’ll give them school style grades (A+ to F) because everyone understands those and because the 0-100 scale makes no sense as practically everything gets rated between about 78 and 93 anyway. Sound reasonable? Great. Let’s rock.
Ultimatum Selected Rum.
This is one of a range of Ultimatum branded rums “made” by The Little Distiller (who are in this case clearly just the blender), a small Dutch company who seemed to pop up out of nowhere fairly recently. From what I’ve heard they might be related to the quirky Van Wees/Ooievaar liqueur company that we’ve met before. If you’re wondering why I started my spirit reviews with such a niche product, well, when I first tried this rum it just begged me to write about it. I’ll try to review something more widely available in future.
There are some things I like about the presentation of this rum and some things I don’t. On the plus side the squat apothecary style bottle looks great; simple, stable, a bit different and really quite practical. The wide synthetic stopper is perhaps the best way to go as, well, who doesn’t like the pop of a “cork” without the worry of it coming apart and leaving a bunch of crapola floating in your booze? I also like that there is some useful information on the label (we’ll come to that) but what I like less is that all their labels look much the same. Understandable from a small company but a bit irritating when trying to differentiate between them on a shop shelf or website. Likewise it doesn’t really have a very catchy name and it’s in a fairly small and boring font. Still in my book you get extra marks for an attractive bottle that, once empty, you can soak the label off and use for your own concoctions and blends or just use as a water carafe. Ultimatum maxes out in that department – assuming the label is stuck on with a water based glue, which is usually the case with small production runs. The label tells us that the rum is a blend of “eight different rums with 50% pot still distilled” and “8 years old rum”. Whether this is 50% by volume or simply half of the rums is unclear but, hey, pot still and 8 years of aging (hopefully the minimum age) are good signs in a rum. On the side of the label are a few little boxes and those for “natural colour*” and “no sugar added” are both ticked. Given that far too much rum is heavily sweetened and coloured I very much approve of this. That the rum is bottled at 46% also tells us that the blender isn’t trying to maximise their profits by watering it down to the more common 40% (don’t even get me started on that) which in turn shows a bit of integrity. We’re also told that the rum is “Spanish style” which I find intriguing as such rums are almost always column distilled. Where did they dig up four(?) different Spanish style pot still rums? Or is it really a mix of styles? In any case, pot still produced rum usually has more flavour and character than column (aka Coffey) distilled rum so jolly good for them. The box for “non chill filtered” is also ticked meaning that they didn’t filter all the flavour out just for the sake of a little more clarity, and indeed this rum is ticking all my boxes so far. But then we haven’t so much as sniffed it yet…
Well it doesn’t just smell like rum, it smells like rum should smell like: Rummy. In a good way. Not like so many of those anemic rums (hello Bacardi and friends!): That’s those pot stills talking to us baby! On the rum scale we’re firmly in the golden aged zone here. Although we’re not told exactly where the eight rums in the blend come from I’m tasting a somewhat mid-Caribbean profile; somewhere between the British and Spanish styles. Nice and dry, just as promised, with only the rum’s natural sweetness on show but tempered with a sharp ever so slightly bitter edge – in the best possible sense – a slightly oily texture and a good hint of orange. It’s got a little bit of burn – but not too much – and certainly not at all bad for its 46% ABV. Just enough to know it means business. With a little ice for cooling and dilution we’re firmly into the sipping zone here as long as you like your rum dry and zingy. Which I do. But we’re here to evaluate its mixability and the only true test of such is to make a Daiquiri. Take it from me; a good sipping rum does not always a good Daiquiri make. But this one does. There’s a slight nuttiness that wasn’t there when tasted neat or with ice. Curious but tasty. I’d use this rum in relatively simple rum cocktails as I think its subtleties might be lost in some of those three rum Tiki mixes such as the Navy Grog. Although, having said that, it’s an ideal rum to split into a Mai Tai.
What I really like about this rum is that it looks like rum (despite the lack of colouring), smells like rum and tastes like rum and all in the best possible senses. I paid a hair over €25 which given its pedigree and strength looks like a total bargain to me. We’re getting a sipping quality of rum for a mixing price and a rum that occupies that zone is a rare thing indeed. It reminds me of a slightly less sophisticated version of one of my very favourite rums – Plantation Trinidad 2001 – but at a much lower price. Sorted.
At this price Ultimatum Selected Rum scores a rock solid:
* Although I do wonder if caramel could be sneakily classed as a “natural colour”. Such trickery doesn’t sound like their style though.