Suitcase Rum: Coruba “Cigar” 12 year

“Suitcase” posts here on CocktailWonk cover spirits that aren’t readily available in the United States– they’re spirits I’ve discovered while traveling and brought home in my suitcase, warranting an in-depth look.

Within the rum world, the Coruba brand is reasonably well known, but almost entirely for budget priced “mixing” rums such as the Coruba Dark and more recently, a set of flavored rums – spiced, mango, coconut, and pineapple. Being from the United States, these bottlings were my only exposure to the Coruba brand, so I was shocked and possibly a bit too excited to find this 12-year aged Coruba rum at the Vintage House in London, alongside its older 18- and 25-year aged siblings. Being a nut for Jamaican rums, I knew at least one of those bottles would accompany me home. After consulting with Jamie Kimber at Trailer Happiness, I picked the 12-year. My wallet emitted a small sigh of relief, as the 25-year was well in excess of $100.

Piecing together the history of this particular Jamaican rum has been a challenge. The backstory of the Coruba brand is a particularly convoluted series of companies. Trying to make sense of the history and where these high end Coruba editions (the 12, 18, and 25) fit in wasn’t easy, but here are the basics: The Coruba name is a contraction of “Compagnie Rhumière Bale,” a Basel, Switzerland-based company, that in 1929 formed “The Rum Company Ltd.” in Jamaica. In 1965. The Rum Company Ltd. was purchased by the J. Wray & Nephew Group, another Jamaican rum producer. Diehard rummies know that J. Wray & Nephew is the parent company of Appleton rum, so my Coruba 12-year and Appleton 12-year are, in theory, stablemates. This of course begs for a tasting comparison – which we’ll get to after I drop some more twists to the story.

The Coruba brand has a confusing corporate parentage. In 2012, Gruppo Campari bought the parent company of J. Wray & Nephew. Here in the US, Coruba, Appleton, and Wray & Nephew rums are imported by the Campari group and are listed as being a product of Jamaica. The only Coruba bottlings we have in the US are the value-based Coruba Dark and the flavored rums.

On the back of my Coruba 12, there’s no mention of Campari or J. Wray & Nephew, however. Rather, the listed producer is “Haecky Drink and Wine AG.” A little time with Google turns up that Haecky is a Swiss company, based in Basel. Their web site says about Coruba: “Even today it is still blended and filled for the whole of Europe at Haecky in Reinach BL.” In addition, the Haecky web site has a link to rumcoruba.com, a Flash-based monstrosity pushing the sunny island lifestyle and, by extension, Coruba Dark. (The site seriously needs to ditch the music and chatty Jamaican beachbum character.) With enough patience on rumcoruba.com you can find the “Prestige” section that says this (quoting verbatim): “The three exclusive Rum Coruba Cigar 12 years, Rum Coruba 18 years and Rum Coruba 25 years are the noble flagships of the Rum Company Ltd. The tropical climate, the many years maturing in selected oak barrels and the careful processing lend the three noble” (sic)

At this point, I was thoroughly confused and dug in deeper, trying to piece together how both Campari and Haecky produce Coruba branded rum. Eventually I found a PDF file in German that says J. Wray & Nephew sold the majority of the Rum Company Ltd. shares to Haecky in 1993. My speculation is that when J. Wray & Nephew sold to Haecky, it retained distribution rights for the Coruba brand to certain regions, while Haecky does its own blending/bottling for European Coruba. Fun fact I learned along the way: Coruba has been the bestselling brand of rum in New Zealand since the 1970s. While the Campari sourced Coruba focuses on the budget-friendly, fun time beach party Coruba, the Corubas from Haecky straddles the fence, pushing both the fun time sunshine as well as the prestige “aged rum” category.

As best I can identify, all Coruba branded rum originates from a J. Wray & Nephew-owned distillery, of which there are several in Jamaica.  However, the exact distillery (or distilleries) that the 12-year Cigar originates from remains a mystery. The bottle label only says: “Produced in Jamaica by the Rum Company Ltd., Kingston.” I’ve seen reference in some pages translated from German that it’s a blend of a dozen or so different rums. It’s unclear if all of the aging occurs in Jamaica, or if additional aging is done in Switzerland by Haecky.

The Coruba 12 bottle is old-school handsome, topped by a wood-capped stopper. It’s bottled at 40 percent alcohol by volume and the color is a medium gold, and noticeably lighter than Appleton 12. The Coruba’s nose is less fruity and more subtle than the Appleton. The initial entry of the Coruba has a slight bit more burn than I’d expect for a rum of this age and cost. The usual Jamaican funky esters are dialed way back, even next to the Appleton 12, which I don’t consider particularly funky relative to other Jamaicans in my collection. I also get a small taste of wet cardboard on occasion in the finish. To be honest, in a blind test I wouldn’t have identified the Coruba 12-year as Jamaican. It’s certainly not an unpleasant rum for sipping, or presumably for smoking a cigar with, but at a price of US $75 I won’t be rushing to replace the bottle when it’s gone.

For another in-depth discussion of this particular rum, check out the Lone Caner’s review. And if you have additional insights about the Coruba history, drop me a note in the comments.
Appleton 12 (left), Coruba 12 (right)