It's not often that a spirit renowned for college parties tries to issue a limited edition anything! But that's exactly what Diageo's Captain Morgan brand did: the 1671 Commemorative Spiced Rum is a very striking-looking bottle dedicated to a naval battle in1671 where the pirate Henry Morgan fought and was ultimately victorious after losing 5 ships. Despite being a limited edition, the rum itself is very reasonably priced at $20... well within striking distance of most students and young-adults. It follows in a line of Captain Morgan extensions that seem to aim at a more sophisticated palate, including their Black Spiced Rum and Sherry Oak Spiced Rum.
The 1671 distinguishes itself not just by a good-looking bottle but also by a declared aging in Spanish Oak. We've taken the leaping assumption that the Spanish Oak is likely in ex-sherry casks (and certainly Diageo should have these in supply after their production run of Captain Morgan sherry oak spiced rum). This should suggest a more whiskey-like, oak-driven flavor with perhaps a red-sherry influence from Spain. One guesses that this stands in contrast to the more customary, sweetened, and confectionary flagship Captain Morgan rum that everyone is familiar with.
Put more plainly: you spiced rum drinkers out there have a simple decision in front of you! Should you run out and buy this limited edition bottle or not? To help answer this question for you, we tried the limited edition against general Captain Morgan and a leading, critically-acclaimed competitor in Sailor Jerry. We'll try these out in different settings:
- Tasted neat and with just an ice cube or two... recognizing that this isn't the primary use for spiced rum.
- The notorious "rum and coke," which is really a Cuba Libre cocktail when you do what we did and drop in a squeeze of lime. This is often considered the highest and best use of spiced rum.
- A recommendation from Bar None Drinks is to make a Spiced Ginger cocktail, which is the "rum and coke" but with ginger ale instead of cola.
- Lastly, a summertime classic in strawberry daiquiris. No, not the crappy version made in blenders from pre-mixed vats of colored corn syrup acquired at the corner store. Real lime juice, agave syrup, muddled fresh strawberries, and spiced rum shaken and served on the rocks. Yes, it's worth the extra effort and the extra spend all day every day.
First: Captain Morgan 1671 tasted all by itself
The Flagship Captain Morgan is all vanilla and sugar. That's really about it. it tastes all of sugar as well. Compared it to the Sailor Jerry and you find it much less sweet, much stiffer (obviously) and tastes like other spices all the other spices in the world that aren't vanilla. Perhaps nutmeg; perhaps a hint of maraschino.
So with these two pole stars of sweet, slightly proofed and needing to be mixed versus not sweet, overproofed (so to speak), and more of a cocktail on its own, where does the 1671 fit in? We consider it a liqueur-like, digestif sort of affair, if going to be drunk straight. The difference between the 75th and the Flagship is not necessarily striking, but it does have something going on with it more than just sugar and vanilla, which is nice. Just not enough nice.
Verdict: the clear majority of our group preferred the Sailor Jerry as a sipping rum for the greater complexity and the diminished sweet.
Second: Captain Morgan 1671 in a Cuba Libre! (that is, "rum and coke")
The Flagship Morgan was quite good with the Coke... apparently it was meant to be mixed. The lime helps it a great deal. "I feel like liberating Cuba," bellowed one person in great satisfaction after drinking. The spice helps rather than overwhelms; it's nice. Oddly, the Sailor Jerry was not as good in the Coke. Where the Flagship greatly improved with mixing with Coke, the Sailor Jerry deteriorated. Not recommended. Apparently, vanilla and cola go very, very well.
The 1671 mixed very, very well with the lime but not as well with the Coke. Nonetheless, one enthusiast noted "I'd serve this instead of regular Captain Morgan because I want to look cooler now that I'm out of college!" Still a heckuva lot of vanilla.
Verdict: overwhelmingly, our participants actually liked the Flagship best in the Cuba Libre setting. A minority preferred the 1671 with a lone outlier preferring the Sailor Jerry.
Fourth: Captain Morgan 1671 in Strawberry Daiquiris
The drink for real: lime juice and hand muddled strawberry with agave syrup and the spiced rum. The Flagship blended very well, harmonious, and allowed the strawberry to sing. The alcohol was a definite "late hit" and subtle. Harmonious as the fictionally well-behaved English children in a Norman Rockwell sandbox. The Sailor Jerry was a big miss. It aspires to children's Robitussin and fails even at that small task. Bad all the way around Sailor Jerry defies mixing. Disharmonious as actual children in a sandbox. (Predictably, we had a small outlier group that liked the Sailor Jerry better.)
The 1671 found its groove with the strawberry daiquiri. It was fully balanced... the prodigal son returned to Lake Woebegone. The alcohol is a background and a complement to the cocktail, which is highly desirable in the tiki beach cocktail.
Verdict: the runaway favorite (but for the outlier for Sailor Jerry) was for the 1671. The difference between the two Captains wasn't big but it was decisive.
Third: Captain Morgan 1671 in a Spiced Ginger
We mixed this 2:1 with garden variety Canada Dry ginger ale. With the Flagship it was drinkable if boring... but it did have this going for it: "I'd drink it like crazy on the golf course" announced a golfer. But overall, the best that can be said is it's inoffensive and the worst is it's flavorless. The Sailor Jerry has a very definite flavor and it works quite well. It turns the ginger ale surprisingly ginger beerish.
The 1671 does have a taste. For all we complained about the lack of a distinctive character in a neat setting, it has a flavor that complements the ginger ale.
Verdict: our group elected for Sailor Jerry but it was a close decision with the 1671. Quite clearly, as a mixer, the Captains are coming out ahead.
This is a fairly non-trivial question. The proliferation of Captain Morgan brands is great enough to create a certain degree of confusion with the customer. If I want to go "up market" with the Captain, where do I go? When? Why? Which?
Captain Morgan Private Stock: this rum has no special claims to make for itself other than to be "better" as the private stock of "finest rums" and bottled at 80 proof (vs the regular version at 70). . On the taste, can definitely detect the higher proof. Far sweeter and different set of spices... a warming burn and way more vanilla. Pleasing for those who want a stiffer and more vanilla Captain.
Captain Morgan Black Spiced: the Black's claim to fame is its "double charred" blackened oak, which leads to believe it uses a heavy "alligator" char barrel with a signature, bourbon like bite on the finish from the oak. Plus, it's bottled at 94.6 proof, which is quite a bit higher than the flagship's 70 or the Private Stock's 80. Presents a much darker black in color (thank you oak). Tastings, it has a much thicker mouthfeel and decidely whiskey-like character. Recommended for those who want stronger oak and whiskey character in their Captain.
Captain Morgan 1671: here we're back down to 70 proof but with the sherry oak finish, which leads us to believe it's the flagship rum with a sherry cask finish. Appears red. Hard to distinguish it from the flagship. Recommended for those who want something other than sweet in their Captain... a bit more spice bite but no extra oak.
What did we learn?
Let's say it again: Captain Morgan is-for all we can tell-contra-indicated for drinking straight. That's a decidedly unpleasant experience. If you like sipping on the rocks, seek elsewhere. But this is not news to people who drink Captain Morgan products. These piratical adherents are mixing cocktails like Tiésto and Deadmau5 mix beats. In coke, with lime, with strawberries, with ginger... in most common settings, the Captains performed well. The 1671 consistently performed a touch better than the Flagship, which may not quite be the recommendation for a product that's about 60% higher in price (we paid $13 for our bottle of Flagship while the 1671 retails for about $20) but it is decidedly better; easily worth the stretch for spiced rum fans. While perhaps not as exciting as some of the more exotic spiced rums coming on the market, as a Big Market brand, it's worth the purchase.
by Neal MacDonald, editor
[Disclosures: we received a 750ml bottle of 1671 Commemorative rum for review free of charge. All other products mentioned in the article were acquired on our own.]