Rum Review: Coruba NPU and Coruba 7 year old.
There’s a particular flavour present in some (but by no means all) Jamaican rum that is
completely almost unique in the rum world. Often described as “funk” or sometimes “hogo” or “dunder” it’s a love-it-or-leave-it taste that is often said to be akin to over-ripe banana. I’m not going to go into detail on how these high ester rums are made because a) I’m not sufficiently informed on the subject and b) from what I do understand the process is gnarly enough to put you off trying them and that would be a real pity. It’s a flavour that really grows on you even if you find your first experience of it a bit perplexing. I know I did. There’s been a mini explosion in demand for funky Jamaican rums recently which shows a wider appreciation of what was until recently though to be something only the locals had a palate for. Funky rums can be white or gold, regular strength (40%), navy proof (57%) or overproof (usually 63% in Jamaica) but the best known examples are perhaps Smith & Cross (gold 57%) and Wray & Nephew Overproof (white 63%) and those two are firmly funky albeit in slightly different ways. Being a fan of all things funky I also stock a less well known gold Jamaican rum called Coruba NPU which is less strong, just as funky and extremely affordable. The last time I ordered some I noticed there is now a new aged version so I snagged a bottle of that too. Review time!
But before we get (finally) to the review part we need to get one thing straight; there’s Coruba rum and there’s Coruba rum. Huh? In 1889 a Swiss company called Compagnie Rhumière de Bâle was founded to bring Jamaican rums to Europe. At some point (details are sketchy) some distribution rights were sold off the end result of which is that some Coruba is owned by Campari. This Coruba is distributed in the US market (and some others) and includes a dark rum along the lines of Myers’s that is a popular choice with American Tiki-heads that is said to have a strong molasses flavour (I’ve not yet had a chance to try any). However in Europe we get a completely different Coruba, still owned, blended and bottled by the original company which has a completely different flavour. Both Coruba variants are Jamaican rums made and aged by (as I understand) J. Wray & Nephew and both are really quite inexpensive if a bit tricky to find. I’m going to be talking about the European Corubas here so be aware that these rums may not be available in your region.
First up, Coruba NPU* (left). The very normal screw cap bottle has a super cheesy label with I would have thought were some iffy racially stereotypical design details – all the more surprising as this is a very recently redesigned label. It comes wrapped in a loose dried grass web which is a nice touch that is normally only found on higher end rums. Which brings us to the price. At just €14/700ml this is one of the cheapest bottles to grace my rum shelf. At 40% ABV it is a long way from the strength of Smith & Cross yet has a very similar flavour profile. If anything it has even more of the fruity elements although it’s not quite as elegant or punchy – but then it’s almost half the price and it still delivers that classic funk flavour to a cocktail so I can forgive it for being a little rough around the edges. I’ve a feeling there might have been a slight change in the flavour along with the newer labeling but I can’t confirm that as I neglected to hang on to some of the previous style (rookie error!). If true it’s not major just a slightly less aggressive funkiness but without a side by side comparison I admit I could be mistaken. Coruba NPU is my “secret weapon” which I deploy as one of the mix of rums in my Navy Grog, Jet Pilot, Zombie or, indeed, any time a gold rum is called for and I feel like funkin’ it up a bit. It also represents an excellent introduction to this style of Jamaican rum for the uninitiated funkster. Largely due to the excellent value for money Coruba NPU scores a straight:
Coruba 7 year old solera.
The new version that caught my eye has a similar presentation to the NPU but with a sort of “night time” look. The NPU tag is dropped in favour of a “Solera 7 Years Aged” statement. It’s not clear if all the rum is 7 years old – that whole solera thing can be a bit sneaky but its darker colour suggests that there is at least that possibility. Being bottled at the more respectable 43% is another promising sign and I’m really looking forward to cracking this one open. But when I pour some in my glass I immediately notice something wrong; Funk – where is thy whiff? Barely there at all alas. A sip does little to uncover it. I believe I actually exclaimed out loud, “They’ve aged the funk out of it!” Once I’d calmed down a bit I realised that it’s still a decent rum that’s more rounded, a little spicier and a bit woodier than the younger version but with the dunder really held in check as a background note rather than the main event. The problem is that at €22 you are getting fairly close to the price of the much loved funky rum benchmark that is Smith & Cross (€25). For the exact same number of rum tokens as the 7 year you can even come by the overproof version of NPU at 74% (Hwa!). It would seem that rum funk simply mellows away with age and indeed all the best loved funky Jamaican rums are minimally aged. While I applaud the makers for trying something new it just doesn’t fit our mixing requirements very well (although it is perfectly sippable) and in combination with its mediocre value for money just gets a:
*NPU stands for “non plus ultra” which I think is French for “the dog’s bollocks”.