After a few months' delay, Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Cask Finish is set for release next week in a move that is sure to raise the image of spiced rum, a segment of the category that is quickly supplanting unflavored rums in popularity.
Like many high-end whiskies, the spiced rum is rested in Sherry casks to further inform the flavor. The brand's owner, Diageo, says it's likely that the rum drunk by Henry Morgan, the 17th century privateer and namesake of the spirit, would have been stored in such casks.
The limited release is meant to commemorate Morgan's 1671 sacking of what was then Panama City. The Welsh-born Morgan was a privateer, operating under the authorization of the British crown to attack its enemies—in this case Spain. Depending on whose side you were on, a privateer might well have been considered a pirate. Morgan's raid, with up to 1,800 men, on the then-second-largest city in the New World remains the most formidable pirate attack in history.
Diageo recently partnered in a Sundance Channel documentary based on the discovery of sunken cannons near the sight, which have been attributed to Morgan's flagship, the Satisfaction. Ironically, the privateer was not a good seaman and lost several ships on a reef before the raid, which was undertaken mainly over land. The attack also took place—unbeknownst to Morgan—after a truce had been struck with Britain and Spain. He also missed out on much booty—the main intention of privateering—because the Spanish had been alerted to the attack and removed most of their gold from the city, which was destroyed in fire.
Today's rum version of Captain Morgan can hardly be accused of a misstep. Conceived as a spiced rum under Seagrams' ownership in 1984 and sold to Diageo in 2001, it is now the third most popular of all spirits branded—not just rums—in the United States and seventh in the world. It follows a tradition of flavoring rums with local spices and herbs, one that has been alive in the Caribbean since rum was first made there. It is therefore likely that the hard-drinking human Morgan drank spiced rums in his time.
The spice rum category is quite dynamic today and Captain Morgan itself now includes Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum, Black Spiced Rum, Private Stock, 100 Proof Spiced Rum, Lime Bite, Long Island Ice Tea cocktail, Silver Spiced Rum and Tattoo Spiced Rum.
(Cigar pairings on next page)
Captain Morgan Sherry Oak Finish Spiced Rum (70 proof, or 35 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $19.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Gold color, with thick, quick legs.
NOSE: Vanilla is the obvious note, but one that is quickly joined by meaty fruits, caramel, molasses and island spices. Possibly some banana.
PALATE: The Sherry wakes up on the palate with a grapey, raisiny influence. Very candied with some floral notes. The fruits from the nose turn to berries—especially cherry—and passion fruit.
FINISH: The sweet finish is not cloying, but lasts only for moments before fading into slight nuts and then shutting down.
CIGAR PAIRING: Freedom by Rocky Torpedo (6 1/8 inches by 52 ring gauge, $7.85, 89 Points, March 26 Cigar Insider). This dark cigar is well made with a sharp pyramid tip. Pepper and hickory wood notes complement a solid, savory core of leather. The rum enlivens the spice on the torpedo and draws out some sweet notes, while the Captain Morgan takes up the leather core and becomes savory in the bargain.
La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor Reserva Divino (6 1/4 inches by 52 ring gauge, $9.75, 91 Points, June 11 Cigar Insider). Tea and wood notes become richer and earthier as this dark, flavorful cigar progresses. A well-balanced, flawlessly constructed smoke. Tea notes from the cigar intertwine with the vanilla and spice of the rum and explode. Captain Morgan seeks out that earthiness and pours on sweetness. A sublime combination of sugar and spice.