Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels
A little while back, fellow cocktail and spirits enthusiast/blogger/writer Lincoln rounded up a few of like-minded types to review a number of spirits and write about them. Booze reviews? Bottles provided? Yes, please. This kind of thing doesn’t usually fall within my milieu, so all of you cocktailians, sit tight: a separate recipe post will follow on the heels of the review.
First up on the spirits list? A pair of Cockspur Rums from Barbados, the Old Gold and the 12-year-old VSOR…
Cockspur Old Gold Rum
Country of Origin: Barbados
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
Color & Appearance: Golden Copper, with very fine-grain suspended sediment, but it’s not at all noticeable while sipping.
Nose: Somewhat mild, but definitely not neutral. Notes of vanilla; cinnamon-sugar; raw sugar or molasses, but nothing as distinctive and deep as brown sugar; some fruit, likely apricot; malty nougat. A bit of straight alcohol burn is detectable, suggesting that this rum will be a little rough around the edges, but this dissipates as the rum sits.
Taste, Build, and Finish: Like the nose, relatively mild, but with just the right touch of funk (a.k.a. hogo in the rum world). Much less vanilla than expected; mellow, with the roundness and flavor of honey. Faint hints of fruit (again, apricot) and a bit of nutmeg and allspice. Flavor of raw alcohol is present but minimal. Medium level of perceived sweetness and a medium body, more akin to drier Spanish-style rums than the richer, full-bodied English style. No alcohol burn on the swallow, counter to what’s perceived on the nose. Finish is clean and and short-to-medium length, with a faint, lingering flavor of raw sugar and allspice sharpness. The length of the finish increases over time as you sip the rum.
Thoughts: A very agreeable rum — not especially remarkable, but solid. Cockspur Old Gold would be a good choice for a “starter” rum or a mixing rum, but is a little too straightforward to be a sipper. To my taste, there is slightly too much raw alcohol flavor (but no burn), so I would personally eschew the Old Gold in favor of other, slightly cleaner rums. Still, it would perform very well when used as a base for cocktails — I could see this making crowd-pleasing Classic Daiquiris, and it would be an excellent choice for a secondary rum Tiki drinks due to its round, honeyed flavor. As it’s relatively simple, Old Gold would be best used in sour-type cocktails rather than spirit-forward ones.
Lastly, Value: Price range is $20-25 for a 750 mL, and well worth it. Recommended as a starter rum or a more interesting base for mixing. Give it a shot — if you find something you like better for these purposes, a bottle of Old Gold is not necessary to round out the liquor cabinet, but a very good starting point.
Second, Cockspur’s older offering…
Cockspur V.S.O.R. (Very Special Old Reserve) 12-year
Country of Origin: Barbados
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
Color & Appearance: Dark Copper / Amber, and perfectly clear.
Nose: Rich, but not heavy; similar to the Old Gold but more complex and woody. Notes of pine-tinged honey, cinnamon-sugar, vanilla, and raw sugar, along with dried cranberries, charcoal, and driftwood. There’s a kind of briny hogo to this one. Same trace of straight alcohol as the Old Gold, but this dissipates much faster (within a couple minutes) as the rum airs out.
Taste, Build, and Finish: Rich caramel and honey flavor on the front end with a cassia-and-allspice sharpness that hits on the back of the tongue and the swallow. Some vanilla extract and charcoal-tinged oak, but less of this and the fruit (cranberry, maybe banana) that one would expect, given the nose. Some toasted-almond bitterness. This rum also has some of the same grassy funk you get from cane syrup, but nothing as heavy as a pot-stilled rum. The thinner body is an odd contrast with the rich initial flavor, but this makes the rum more interesting. Comes out as off-dry and medium-bodied, with a cocoa/bitter-chocolate, charcoal, and pine sap finish that lingers for a while on the middle of the tongue. For some reason, it distinctly reminds me of Barr Hill Gin — must be the honey and wood.
Thoughts: The 12-year would make a fine sipping rum — its dryness would pair well with sweet desserts like flan, bread pudding, crème brulée, and anything involving caramel sauce or bananas. Also, bitter dryness like this is rather unique in older British-style rums (at least in my experience). For mixing, my first instinct is to use this as a base for stirred, spirit-forward drinks, but don’t over-stir and be sure to add a sweetener for body; sugar will also help the rum’s flavors pop. May also pair well with bittersweet amari (nothing as heavy as Cynar — go for the sweeter and orange-tinged Nonino or the cola-like CioCiaro) and orange or banana liqueurs.
Lastly, Value: Price Range is $28-34 for a 750mL, and worth it if you’re looking to round out the rum collection with a rather distinctive sipper. Though unique for its category, it’s a subtle rum that I feel like it belongs to the rum enthusiast’s market, rather than that targeting the majority of drinkers (who will veer toward the bolder, sweeter bottles) or bars (who will also skew sweet while looking for a lower price point). Very nice for its price.
Now for a little anecdote: I’ll mention that isn’t my first run-in with Cockspur…I first picked up a bottle back in 2011, when I got my hands on a copy of Beachbum Berry Remixed. The Cockspur 12-year was distinctly mentioned and recommended in the book’s spirit index, but unavailable to me in Atlanta at the time. I did manage to locate the Cockspur Fine Rum, however, which Berry frequently recommends as a Barbados Gold that acts as a secondary rum in Tiki drinks, lending a bit of depth that the white rum base will often lack. Berry also notes that Barbados rums tend to be more mellow and floral than their other British-island-born brethren — having now tasted the Old Gold and 12-year, I’ll agree with that one.
Also, I remembered the Cockspur Fine as being a little to aggressive and unrefined — meaning too much of the alcohol burn was detectable — so I’ve largely bypassed Cockspur in the past few years in favor of another Barbados rum: the mellower, rounder, more widely-available Mount Gay. Another interesting note that I forgot until just now, flipping through Remixed: Jeff Berry notes that Cockspur 12-year VSOR (“redolent of charred oak and honey”) and Mount Gay Extra Old are, “in mixed drinks, almost indistinguishable” from each other — I’m skeptical of that one. Mount Gay XO seems much more expressive and bold with its flavors, and it’s a long-standing favorite of mine. The Cockspur 12 strikes me as being less versatile and less able to stand up to the wallop of fruit and spice typical of Tiki, though it’s certainly bounced around long enough in the Tiki-verse. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be discounted — just enjoyed elsewhere, where its subtleties can be better appreciated.
All in all, if you’re a rum fanatic like I am, Cockspur Old Gold and 12-year are well worth a look: mellow, approachable (and affordable) gateway mixing and sipping rums that are evocative of the island atmosphere in which they grew up.
All that being said: stay tuned for a recipe or two! Cheers!
Photos and text by Ian J. Lauer