If there’s one thing that rum geeks can all be said to have in common, it’s a thirst for nitty-gritty details of how their favorite spirit is produced, matured and refined. People who are really into rum are used to taking what they can get in terms of accessing these details, often having to rely on third-party bloggers or reviewers to get the more intimate specs on what might make any one bottle of rum unique. Rarely do the producers volunteer up the really detailed information themselves, whether that’s because they’re guarding trade secrets or simply don’t believe the consumer needs (or wants) to have so much detail.
That typical reticence to really dive into the details is one of the things that makes new Grenadan brand Renegade Cane Rum immediately stand out from the pack. Here is a terroir-focused brand that doesn’t just tell the consumer they have special farms, sugar cane varietals or production methods—they tell you exactly what has gone into every stage of the production of every single bottle. They’re offering up transparency on a level that is pretty much unheard of in the industry, even among other brands that pride themselves on transparency. There’s so much detail available here that even some of the most intense sugar cane spirit geeks may find it all overwhelming.
From top to bottom, Renegade was clearly designed with this kind of transparency in mind—a luxury that is easier to achieve when you’re making an unaged product, which the brand rather amusingly refers to as “pre-cask.” Silliness of that label aside—it strikes me like a filmmaker referring to his movie as “pre-award winning”—the level of planning that went into achieving an array of different terroir is quite impressive. To grow their estate sugar cane, the Renegade team selected “a range of sites across the island to grow their 7 chosen varieties of cane. Spread around the beautiful Caribbean island, they have considered everything when selecting these sites, and which cane to grow at each … microclimate, altitude, soil type, terroir!” All Renegade rums are made with fresh-pressed cane juice rather than molasses, effectively making these the Grenadan equivalent of the better-known rhum agricole from the French-speaking Caribbean.
Thus, when one finds a bottle of Renegade Cane Rum, the most important follow-up is “where is it from, and how was it made?” In addition to the different soil types and cane varieties, the brand also uses both column and pot stills for various brands, adding another major level of variation. The one consistency: All Renegade releases, at least for now, are “pre-cask,” and all are bottled at a sturdy 50% ABV (100 proof).
How does one find all of this information, though? Well, each bottle of Renegade Cane Rum comes with a 9-digit “Cane Code” printed on its back. Enter this information on the website, and you’ll be shown an absolute wealth of technical information about the contents of the bottle. They’ll tell you about the sugar cane varietal, the characteristics of the soil, and the specific area of the farm where the cane was grown. There’s even a recording where you can listen to the sound of that particular farm, like some kind of tool for guided meditation as you sample the rum. Strangely, the one thing that is on the more sparse side are the actual tasting notes, and it feels as if some of this information could make it to the back of the bottle label as well. After all, is someone really going to look up the Cane Code while they’re browsing in a liquor store? Having access to all that information is great, but the consumer browsing at a package store needs some assistance as well.
With all that said, let’s talk about what’s in the single bottle of rum I received to sample.
Renegade Cane Rum: Lake Antoine Upper Crater
My bottle of Renegade comes from the company’s largest cane farm at Lake Antoine, from the field designated Upper Crater Lake South. Typing in the Cane Code, one can read about the soil—apparently “Woburn Clay Loam soil dominates the entirety of the farm,” and “the ashy richness of the earth derives from the volcanic formulation and remnants of a once active volcano.” The sugar cane, meanwhile, is known as the “Purple Tallboy” varietal, and the company notes that “keeping the length of this variety manageable at harvest time is the key to getting it off the field without challenges.” You know, in case you were wondering about the practical challenges of harvesting this particular species of sugar cane.
My bottle was distilled quite a while back, in January of 2021, in an iron pot still after a 60-hour fermentation. It was then rested for an unusually long time, more than a year, before being bottled in a batch of 3,654 bottles in February of 2022. Note, it was not aged but merely rested, presumably in a large tank, allowing certain chemical compounds to mellow or develop. The finished, 700 ml bottle retails for an MSRP of roughly $65. So let’s taste it, shall we?
On the nose, this rum is complex, wild and quite unique—aromatic, funky and hard to nail down. It’s earthy and grassy, that’s for certain, but there’s also a spiciness and something more like a “meatiness” permeating the profile. It was a note that I initially found off-putting, but one that seemed less prominent as I tasted and was able to wrap my head around it. Fruit impressions of ripe pineapple are also present here, but what really stands out most is the vegetal complexity. It smells like how I imagine a cane field would likely smell after soaking in heavy rain.
On the palate, this is a very unique mélange of similar notes, and a rum that is frankly well outside my typical experience. As one might expect, rhum agricole provides the closest comparison, though there’s also elements that might remind one of the wild clairin of Haiti. Suffice to say, there’s a lot going on here, but you sometimes feel like your descriptive language is failing you. Regardless, the rum is strongly grassy and vegetal, with an earthy note of forest floor or decomposition, but also notes that are flinty and mineral, like wet stone. At the same time, there’s also significant fruitiness, with plantain and overripe pineapple, sprinkled with chile powder—combined with the meatiness, I found at one point that this seemed to strongly suggest pork al pastor. Residual sweetness is mild, and the ethanol, meanwhile, is considerably more mild and integrated than one might expect from a 100 proof, unaged cane juice rum—perhaps that’s the effect of resting this one for more than a year before bottling.
All in all, this is a bottle full of intense, complex flavors that are likely to be both intriguing and challenging to rum geeks in equal measure. I feel even now like I’ve really only scratched the surface in assessing it, and I have a feeling it may be one of those bottles where my opinion will evolve each time I revisit it in the future. Regardless, I applaud Renegade for their commitment to transparency, and I’m fascinated to see how this brand will continue to break boundaries in the rum industry.
Distillery: Renegade Cane Rum
Style: Cane juice rum
ABV: 50% (100 proof)
Availability: 700 ml bottles, $65 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.