By Neal MacDonald, Editor
Bottom line: the Real McCoy is a fine example of aged rum in general. It is well-crafted and aged to a fine point. It’s savored in a proper setting with 1 or 2 ice cubes. But it’s easily lost in mixed settings where perhaps more age or more proof would escalate in cocktail settings. But for more whiskey-style presentations, this is a quality rum and a good example of what rum can be.
The story couldn’t be better. In those dark, awful times of Puritanical ignorance that is politely termed Prohibition, there was a rum smuggler named Bill McCoy. He sailed his ship from the Caribbean Islands filled with rum and parked it exactly enough miles off-shore to avoid the Puritanical enforcers. It turned into what the marketing website calls a “floating liquor store.” The neat part about the story is that in this time when questionable quality (bathtub gin) and watered down spirits were prevalent—and easy to do because folks were desperate—McCoy never stinted on the quality of his rum. His name became synonymous with authenticity: the “real mccoy.”
That’s a great legacy and it’s one being leveraged by Real McCoy Spirits who have produced a 5yr aged rum out of Barbados from the Foursquare Distillery. They regard it as sipping rum of great quality… a departure from the lighter-bodied mixing rums so popular in cocktails. They also call it an “old fashioned rum” after the style of the Roaring Twenties.
A sipping rum is not a common term, even in this time of bourbon resurgences and designer tequilas. It implies that the rum can hold up against other sipping spirits like whiskey and brandy. But it also implies a certain capability of mixing as well. Given that, we thought to test the spirit against a similar-aged whiskey as well as similar-aged rums. Also realizing that sipping, “straight-from-the-bottle” rum suggests an ability to draw consumers away from more popular spirits that can also be drunk neat, we delved into the spiced rum category. We ended up with this field:
- Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum—the very best spiced rum on the market according to our current algorithm (as of this writing, October, 2013) and also widely available so hopefully familiar to many people. Those who are familiar with it already know it’s far better than garden variety Captain Morgan (though the Private Reserve and Sherry Oaked might give it more competition). Is McCoy more fun to sip than spiced rum?
- Mount Gay Eclipse Gold Rum—this is a widely available gold rum from the same country of Barbados though made by a different distillery. We wanted to compare the McCoy against a rum from the same terroir. Can the age on the McCoy beat the general Barbados gold rum?
- Diplomatico Anejo Rum—here is some true competition for: a highly regarded spirit (by critics, at least) also aged for 5 years from Venezuela. It is currently in the 98th percentile of all rums according to our algorithm (again, as of October, 2013). Can the McCoy compete with one of the best in the world at similar age and price point?
- Maker’s Mark Bourbon—another well-known spirit though in this case a bourbon. The current popular opinion (Beam, Inc doesn’t say) is that it’s aged about 5 to 6 years. Can the McCoy plausibly draw away the bourbon drinker?
Read on to see our results!
Neat and Again with a Little Ice
Preparation: pour into the glass… smell the molasses. Sip. Drop in a little ice to taste.
This is really the true test. McCoy Spirits claims their rum is a sipping rum so it should show it’s best face right here when it’s going solo in the glass with a little ice and water for accompaniment.
Mount Gay Eclipse: Vanilla on the nose and palate… a little sweet. A light, trippy rum that’s not heavy at all. Pleasant, even. A little water really brings out the molasses, which augurs well for cocktails. This is a mixing rum all the way.
Sailor Jerry: we move from 80 proof in the Mount Gay to 92 proof in the Jerry. Not to mention the sugar and the spice. For a spiced rum, it’s not remotely overbearing or overly sweetened. Cinnamon on the palate and a clean finish for a high proof rum. We can kind of see why people would love this in cola. A little water really brings out the honey, vanilla, and other spices. Especially honey or toffee/caramel. It really smooths out the hot proof.
Diplomatico Anejo: A little banana with the molasses on the nose. The absence of sugar is nice but it’s not quite the silky smooth finish we were looking for. “The end of the paragraph is missing,” one of our party said. Water brings out sweetness and vanilla and smooths out a little heat; somehow, the little dilution also accentuated the oak finish. Nice.
Real McCoy: it smells of wood where the others don’t and even the taste resembles a bit of whiskey. The mouthfeel is much more viscous than the other offerings and the finish carries some wood. Very nicely crafted. The finish feels a little short… perhaps because we’re reading too much whiskey in it. Water brings out some herbaceousness… “rosemary,” “spiced coffee,” and “thistle” were called out in our throng. The viscosity settles back as well and just rolls across the tongue. Very delicious.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon: now we’re grain versus molasses (along with the oak aging). Honey and oak… plus the sour corn smell that bourbon is so famous for. For a point of comparison, we hauled out the Jim Beam Black 8yr whiskey. Now we appreciate the power of age… the finish just goes on and on and on.
We wouldn’t call the Mount Gay or the Sailor Jerry sipping spirits, as well-made as they might be. But clearly, the Diplomatico and McCoy are in the sipping class (not to mention the bourbon). Of these, we feel like the Real McCoy truly takes the prize, particularly with an ice cube or two (which is exactly what the marketing website recommends a person do). The balance and flavors are delicious. It could entice committed whiskey drinkers to the Caribbean.
Preparation: 1½ oz rum; 1 oz coffee liqueur (we used Kahlua); dash of fresh lime juice.
Kingston Cocktail comes under a variety of different recipes all demanding aged Jamaican rum. Of course, none of our rums are from Jamaica but often a little oak-aging can lead to a different character so we choose this cocktail to explore the aging aspects. This particular recipe calls for coffee liqueur where others call for spiced spirits or even gin.
Mount Gay Eclipse: Would never have guessed there’s anything but Kahlua in this drink. Not surprising… the Eclipse is so light that it just can’t stand to these bigger flavors.
Sailor Jerry: this is better… at least one could tell there’s something else in her besides Kahlua. One might guess rum… maybe. It’s a nice drink but so far not for elite spirits.
Diplomatico Anejo: This is a better version than the Mount Gay but we wouldn’t swear that we could tell the difference between the two cocktails. It’s a heavier, more brooding spirit.
Real McCoy: There is a distinct difference here… almost a chocolate apple. It’s very sublte but the flavors seem to round out a little better. Is there truly, really a difference? We lab-tested it. This means we blindfolded our participants and flipped a coin 10 times and forced the person to announce what they were drinking. Alas, we were statistically at chance-guessing when put to the test.
First, this particular version of the Kingston Cocktail is a very heavy, rum-masking sort of affair. A spiced rum is probably the best chance of overpowering the Kahlua. If one wants to look for fine variations in flavor, it can be done—even if in a psychosomatic placebo sort of way—but it’s a highly unrewarding experience. We can easily tell the difference between the Mount Gay and the Sailor Jerry (well, not easily but successfully). Gun to our head, Sailor Jerry takes the round but the distinction is small and meaningless.
Preparation: 4 oz pineapple juice (we used Lakewood); 2 oz rum; 2 oz cream of coconut (we used coconut juice also from Lakewood).
What? Aged rum in a Pina Colada? Well, hell: why not. If nothing else, this gives the spiced and gold rums a chance to shine in their personal backyards and for us to find out how the elites compete in the playground. Our version was over rocks instead of a blender because we find blenders to be messy and unpleasant.
Mount Gay Eclipse: It’s tasty… but it could be virgin. Not only could I not taste the rum, I couldn’t even taste the alcohol. It’s great for the beach to get the party started… but anyone who used designer rum in this setting is wasting money and waxing pretentious.
Sailor Jerry: This gave the rum a bit of edge and gives a person the barest inkling that there might be alcohol in the drink. The flavors are identical.
Diplomatico Anejo: Again, we feel that the more elite rum made for a more balanced drink but the difference is surpassingly subtle.
Real McCoy: Ditto above… to us, there is no discernible difference between this and the DIplomatico but we can successfully determine the difference between Mount Gay in blind tastings. Maybe a first drink is worth the spend.
What have we learned? Our street training has suggested to us that dilution of greater than 3 or 4 parts to 1 means you have little hope of discriminating differences in alcohol. The point is being proven here. There are subtle differences but they are the definition of subtlty. Bottom line: if you’re going to mix punch bowl cocktails, then use mixing rum. That said, the 5yr rums were better though equal to each other.
Preparation: Simple syrup (we used 1 tablespoon of agave syrup), mint leaves (we used exactly 5 mint leaves), and one-quarter of a lime muddled; 2¼ oz of rum; shake on ice and then pour over ice; top with club soda to taste.
Even though most recipes invariably call for light rum in this drink, we personally love a little age on the rum in this drink. It makes the sugar and the mint a warming glow that in turn gives us a warming glow. We mu
Mount Gay Eclipse: We gave up on the Mount Gay… why continue tasting if we’re going to say the same thing? This is a very competent but very light mixing rum.
Sailor Jerry: heroically good… balanced and lovely. Grown men melt into a kind of feminine, unicorn-idolatry warmth of spirit on drinking.
Diplomatico Anejo: Nice… but not quite as good as the Jerry. The citrus came out more. Not quite the overpowering loveliness but we would still drink it all day long.
Real McCoy: Again… very nice but not quite as good as the Jerry. And again, this is a very, very good drink but something about the spicy sweet of the Jerry really made this drink pop and the aged rums couldn’t match it.
What have we learned? We’re learning that aged rums are fine in cocktails but they’re not necessarily essential, which we bring us back to the earlier point: they’re superior sipping spirits but not necessarily indicated in more diluted volumes.
Preparation: 2 oz rum; ½ oz lemon juice; 1 teaspoon sugar, 3-5 cloves; 6 oz boiling water. Combine all ingredients in a mug and stir with a cinnamon stick.
One of our favorite all-time cocktail books—and you can tell because the pages are falling out and every one of them is stained with some long-forgotten spirit—is The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide by Sharon and Ron Herbst. They mention a real Edward Vernon of the British navy who was known as Old Grog and known for watering back his rum rations. Later, the watering back included citrus juice to prevent scurvy. This was the forerunner of the grog recipe that they list here… this was too cool not to try out.
Sailor Jerry: this is good—surprisingly good—but in the end a little overpowering with the sweetness and spice.
Diplomatico Anejo: Wow… you don’t often think of boiling water cocktails being delicious but this was. It tasted like what spiced rum should be but at Christmas time and warmed. Very, very nice.
Real McCoy: Again, this is a surprisingly excellent drink but in the thunderdome of our tasting, faded just a bit in front of the Diplomatico. This was interesting because those rums have been neck-and-neck the whole way (at least after we got past the neat tasting). But here, the dilution overpowered the rum a bit.
What have we learned? Don’t discount how awesome warmed drinks can be. Obviously, you don’t serve this on the beaches in the Caribbean. But somewhere in the Rocky Mountains there’s a ski party looking for a cocktail and this is it. There wouldn’t be a clothed person in the room after 3 hours of this cocktail… and they’d all be warm despite the frigid temperatures. Here, aged rum can definitely help out because of the oak presence and robust flavors. Sadly, the McCoy fades just a bit in front of the Diplomatico. The naked skiers probably wouldn’t know the difference.
Preparation: We like it light, 2 oz rum and 4 oz of Joia Lime Hibiscus Clove.
Real McCoy Spirits offers several different drink recipes that call for quasi-exotic carbonation: tonic water, ginger beer, etc. We went back to one of our staples… La Joia, the truly magical mixer. La Joia tends to make everything it touches better so it’ll be interest to see if the McCoy can make the La Joia better.
Sailor Jerry: sadly, the sailor does not belong in this setting. Not at all. Didn’t mix well, didn’t play well, didn’t taste well. Yuck.
Diplomatico Anejo: this was a very tolerable drink. It had a nice zest and lift like a push-up bra on pretty woman or a “dance belt” on a male ballet dancer. It’s a pleasing drink if a little unusual. We do find it hard to imagine ordering a second.
Real McCoy: in what is becoming a trend with McCoy, it didn’t mix quite as well as the Diplomatico. It kicked the daylights out of the Sailor Jerry in this setting—which is important, because the website mentioned tonic and ginger beer as potential mixers—but it falls a shade short, once again, of the Diplomatico.
What have we learned? Carbonation and dilution do not favor the McCoy. They really don’t favor any spirit particularly well but it tends to hide the finer characteristics of mouthfeel and age that make the rum so nice in purer settings.
In summary, we find that the Real McCoy 5yr is a rapier. It belongs in a setting of elegance, purity, and isolation. It’s a finely tuned spirit that sits in a snifter or a rocks glass with aplomb and confidence but can find itself obscured by other flavors. It serves competently in every setting - just as the rapier, if you use the point-end, can kill if properly aimed - but its highest and best use is on its own. There, it shines.
[Disclosures: we received a 750ml bottle each of Real McCoy rum for review… all other ingredients mentioned were acquired on our own.]