Checking out Afrohead’s Seven Year Rum

Mrs. Wonk and I spend more than our fair share of time in bars, where one of our pastimes is scanning the backbar and picking out most interesting and worst looking bottle, based solely on appearance. The Afrohead rum is one such bottle that grabs your attention. A recent arrival on US shores, the Afrohead rum line is produced by the Harbor Island Rum Co., out of the Bahamas. There are two bottlings, a seven year as well as a fifteen year “Grand Reserve” edition. The Afrohead rum line first came to my attention when I was provided a bottle of the seven year for review by their PR firm. The Afrohead rums are truly a multi-island affair: In addition to being based in the Bahamas, it incorporates molasses from the Dominican Republic, is distilled in Trinidad, and bottled in Barbados.

The striking thing about the Afrohead Seven year bottle is the graphic logo of a Bahamian woman with very large hair. Look more closely and you’ll spot a variety of symbols in the pattern, including a crown and a mind’s eye. The logo commemorates Brenda Barry, the first Miss Bahamas and mother-in-law of Toby Tyler, a self-styled “rum savant” and master blender for Harbor Island Rum. Brenda was the original owner of The Landing Hotel on Harbour Island, now owned by Toby and Joe Farrell, the other co-owner of Harbor Island Rum Co. The Landing, a historic boutique hotel, offered a house rum for a number of years which, as the marketing story goes, was popular enough with guests that Joe and Toby decided to bring it to market. Beneath the main logo is a compass with coordinates; yes, they’re meaningful (Thanks Google Maps!) Where they point is an exercise for the reader. The reverse label headline reads, “Universally Inspired. Authentically Crafted”, a company tagline along with #rumspect.

The reviewer’s material says this about the rum’s provenance:

“Production for AFROHEAD Rum begins with sugarcane molasses sourced from around the West Indies. It is then fermented using a yeast strand, proprietary to Trinidad, that is more than 100 years old and creates its banana and toffee base.”

(Hmm… We’ll come back to this later.) It goes on to say, “Tyler looks to blend towards the middle palate as well as finish so the taste reflects what the barrel gives back to the rum.” (I interpret that to mean “wood forward.” Nothing wrong with that in my book.) The barrels, by the way, are the usual ex-bourbon oak barrels commonly used for aging rum.

Coming in at a typical 80 proof, in the glass the rum is a nice medium to dark copper color. On the nose I get a bit of banana and wood, with a slight amount of vanilla. Taste wise, the oak comes to the forefront, along with some cinnamon. It’s a hearty taste with a moderate amount of burn. The finish has some spiciness that reminds me a bit of how rye finishes. As somebody who’s gravitated toward the drier rums over time, I could imagine sipping this in a pinch, but a better choice is to use it in spirit-forward cocktails like a rum-based Old Fashioned, where the flavors aren’t overwhelmed and the slight bit of burn is smoothed out.

So here’s the deal: As a bit of a rum wonk, knowing that the Afrohead is distilled in Trinidad made my rum senses perk up. You see, Trinidad has a single, big-dog rum distiller: Angostura, who in addition to their own line, also sells rum in bulk to other bottlers. You can bet that if a multi-island rum blend lists a Trinidad component, it’s from Angostura – in fact, this article comes out and says that Angostura itself blends the Afrohead. I support rum companies that buy bulk rum and blend it in meaningful ways to create unique expressions – Denizen’s rums are a fine example. However, I’m less enamored of vanity labels that simply relabel rum from a distiller, no matter how respected that distiller may be.

Early on in my Afrohead assessment–and knowing it was Angostura based–the seven year age statement triggered a thought: Angostura has a seven year rum as well. In short order I acquired the Angostura 7 (sadly it wasn’t already in the Casa Cocktail Wonk Strategic Rum Reserve) and tried them side by side. By all indicators – color, nose, and taste–they are extremely similar, and Mrs. Wonk agreed when I presented both to her in a blind tasting. Perhaps there’s some slight blending difference between the two, but if so it’s imperceptible to me. The Afrohead Seven is a perfectly fine middle-of-the-road, seven-year-aged, column still rum from Angostura, but based on online prices, you’ll pay close to double for the Afrohead relative to Angostura 7: $20 US vs. $38 US.

While Afrohead and Angostura 7 are very similar, the Afrohead 15 year may tell a different story. As far as I’m aware, there are no fifteen-year Angostura rums, so a head-to-head comparison can’t be made. While I didn’t have the opportunity to try the 15-year Grand Reserve (priced at $60 US), my friend Dave Russell over at the Rum Gallery has, and he gives it a positive review, so check that out as well.

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