What do you make of a spirit that combines elements that get the hardcore geeks excited, with crowd-friendly treatment designed to appeal to the masses? Is it a bottom-shelf product that has been dressed up and legitimized? Or a beautiful spirit that has been irreparably adulterated? That’s what I immediately found myself internally debating, when I saw the concept for Canerock Jamaican Spiced Rum.
Jamaica has always been a hotbed of rum geek interest, as its distilleries produce some of the most intensely flavorful, funky and potent rums in the world, redolent in pot still character and funky, fruity esters. These big flavors make Jamaican rum somewhat daunting to those who are dabbling in the category for the first time, though they of course exist on a spectrum—from “lightly funky,” to overwhelmingly so. Regardless, well-aged and high-ester releases from distilleries such as Long Pond and Clarendon tend to be extremely sought-after among the rum geek community.
What, then, does one make of a company taking that kind of rum and making an affordable spiced rum with it? Spiced rum is not exactly a category that gets a lot of passionate rum geek attention, as most on the market are either tooth-strippingly sweet, artificially flavored, or just obnoxiously assertive. And yet, with the new Canerock brand, Maison Ferrand (who of course own the Plantation line of rums, still working on that supposed name change after more than two years) has combined the two, and aged the whole thing in former Pedro Ximénez sherry casks just to add one more element of “WTF” to the mix. Suffice to say, this is one of the strangest combinations I’ve ever seen in the rum market, but could it work?
More specifically, here is what is going into a bottle of Canerock Jamaican Spiced Rum:
— “A blend of 100% Jamaican aged rums from Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries,” which the company describes as “including high-ester rums aged between 5 and 10 years.” I can only assume that they probably make up a small percentage of the blend, both for balance and because if they were most of the bottle, the MSRP would be higher than $30. Using a relatively small amount of high-ester rum is common, however, in terms of adding more complexity to a profile.
— The rums are “enhanced with delicious natural spices,” which including Madagascar vanilla bean, Caribbean coconuts and “a touch of ginger from Jamaica.” Each ingredient is individually infused, before the full blend is achieved.
— The infused rum blend is then finished in ex-Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, and bottled at 40% ABV (80 proof). This is pretty standard practice for Ferrand, whose Plantation rums primarily see some kind of finishing time in ex-cognac barrels. This practice, plus the expectation of “dosing,” (adding extra sugar to finished spirits) are part of why Maison Ferrand has become a persistent, hot button topic in the rum world in the last decade.
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting and see how this eccentric combination actually tastes.
On the nose, the first things I’m registering are coconut flesh and heavy vanilla, capturing multiple aspects of vanilla bean. It’s floral, and it’s also perfumey, with an intensity like walking past the local Yankee Candle at the mall. Hidden behind all that vanilla, I’m also getting some chocolate, nougat and other sweet impressions. What I’m not really finding on the nose are the classic Jamaican rum esters, or a lot of influence that is easily attributed to the sherry casks. The primary impression is just of confectionery elements, sweetness and copious vanilla.
On the palate, to its credit, Canerock becomes significantly more interesting. Here, I’m getting sweet cinnamon, toffee and nougat along with the heavy, floral vanilla and coconut candy. But at the same time, there’s other fruity impressions of pineapple upside down cake and banana, and more flavors attributable to the aged Jamaican rum making up the backbone of this blend. Those estery notes are absolutely present, even though they’re playing second fiddle to spices and intense sweetness. The overall impression is a bit like multiple bottles collided, and partially fused into a new product. As for the sherry character, it’s not really standing out to me—I’m not getting the darker, vinous fruitiness or nuttiness one expects in sherry, but that doesn’t really surprise me when the spice and sweet flavors are so assertive and over the top. In particular, it’s the vanilla that really feels like it’s pushing the envelope—other elements such as the ginger are much more subtle.
In the end, Canerock strikes me as a radical experiment, and perhaps in theory this could be worked into a really beautiful product, if the use of the flavorings was considerably more restrained. As is, however, it’s being pulled in two directions at once—toward the purity of its Jamaican rum backbone, which I would love to taste on its own, and in the direction of heavily flavored accessibility to the “average consumer,” who Ferrand must believe want intense sweetness and flavors that read as artificial. It’s by no means the worst spiced rum I’ve had, and I do feel like the product deserves some credit for its boldness and originality, but at the same time it feels like Canerock is trapped between potential niches where it might be appreciated.
Distillery: Maison Ferrand (sourced, Long Pond, Clarendon)
Style: Spiced rum
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
Availability: 700 ml bottles, $30 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.