If you’ve paid any attention to the high-end rum world as of late, you’ve no doubt noticed a large upswing in the number of special, limited-edition releases by the major players. Guyana’s El Dorado has a healthy handful of special “finishes” (red wine, white port, Madeira, Sauternes) for their twelve- and fifteen-year mainstays. Mount Gay has its Origins series (pot vs. column, virgin cask vs. charred cask), and a pricey, limited edition XO cask strength. Ron Zacapa’s Reserva Limitada 2014 claims to have spent two additional (?) years aging “…in a herb garden created high above the clouds…”
On one hand, special releases are a good thing for the rum category, providing enthusiasts like yours truly with more collectibles for their shelves. Equally important, they provide strong evidence outside of the rum world that there’s more to the category than millions of liters of Bacardi silver and Captain Morgan. On the other, some of these releases feel like gratuitous money grabs. Sure, they may be limited release, but do they really warrant the 2x or 3x premium for similar products from the same producer? Into this maelstrom of special, limited release products steps The Real McCoy, a relative newcomer to the rum world, that recently released a limited-edition twelve year rum. Let’s put it up on the rack and take a look.
First, a bit of background on the players involved in bringing this to market. The Real McCoy rum brand comes from documentary filmmaker Bailey Pryor. Having produced a film entitled “The Real McCoy” about Prohibition-era rum runner Bill McCoy–famous for not watering down his rums and thus inspiring the eponymous catchphrase–Bailey was sufficiently enthused to take on the herculean task of creating a new line of rums. With funding by ex-Apple CEO John Scully and a connection to Foursquare master distiller Richard Seale (whose family history in the rum trade on Barbados goes back to Bill McCoy’s era), Bailey launched the Real McCoy line. The core of the lineup is a three year, filtered “white” rum, a five year, and a twelve year, all made by Foursquare distillery in Barbados. That puts The Real McCoy brand solidly in the “private label” category, although one that’s upright and honest about its source.
As for Richard Seale and his Foursquare distillery, they need little introduction within the rum cognoscenti. However, if you’re not up on the story, here’s the short synopsis: Richard’s family has a history of blending and selling rums in Barbados reaching back to 1926, when Richard’s great grandfather started the business. This was in an era when Bajan law prevented distillers like Mount Gay from selling their products in quantities less than ten gallons. Thus, separate companies like Doorly’s were established for blending and bottling rum for the end consumers. The Doorly’s brand still exists today, and we’ll come back to that shortly.
In the mid-1990s, Richard and his father, David, purchased a shuttered rum factory and built a large scale, very modern distillery with an equivalent scale to what Mount Gay operates. This made it the third large scale producer on Barbados, along with Mount Gay and the West Indies Rum Distillery (WIRD). Since getting underway, Foursquare has been putting away countless barrels and releasing them under a large variety of labels.
The laws in effect in Barbados regarding rum production are fairly strict and disallow additives such as sugar. They also state that if an age statement is represented on the label, it must declare the age of the youngest spirit in the bottle. These seem like fairly commonsense regulations, but as I’ve written about extensively, not all countries and producers follow them, and shenanigans abound. In the past three years, Richard has become the most well-known and vocal advocate for honesty and transparency in rum production and labeling.
Not being content to simply age rums in ex-bourbon American oak barrels, Richard has experimented with other barrel variations, such as previously used port wine casks. In our conversations, he’s forcefully put forth that high quality, seasoned barrels showcase a blender’s skills, and that the reason for using an older seasoned cask isn’t to make the rum taste like what was in the barrel previously. (I’ve written about this topic previously, in this post.) So far, we’ve seen Foursquare products using casks that previously held sherry, port, Zinfandel wine, cognac, and of course, Portuguese Madeira as seen in the Real McCoy Limited Edition.
There are plenty of examples of Richard’s rum craftsmanship available today, although you may not find them all without knowing where to look. Unlike fellow Bajan producer Mount Gay with its namesake brand, Foursquare rums are sold under a variety of labels. In addition to their Foursquare rums, the company also sells under the Doorly’s line (referenced earlier), Old Brigand, and R. L. Seale.
Richard also sells Foursquare output to other companies, Dutch rum powerhouse E&A Scheer for use in its blends made for private labels. More recently, Richard has teamed up with Luca Gargano of Italy’s Velier (an independent bottler) to create and promote a value-based rum classification system, which I wrote about here. Velier has begun releasing very highly regarded rums under this classification system, including rums from Jamaica’s Hampden Estate. As you can probably surmise, there’s a Velier Foursquare/Velier 2006 release.
This leads us back to the topic of the Real McCoy lineup. It’s easy to see the parallels between its rums and the Doorly’s series – both lines have three, five, and twelve year expressions, similar, but not identical. But the focus here is to learn about the newly released twelve year limited edition.
Let’s look at the hard facts first: Both the regular and Limited Edition Real McCoy twelve years are a blend of pot and column still rum. The limited edition comes in at six percent ABV higher than the regular twelve –leading to a not inconsequential jump to 92 proof. As an aside, Richard has been leading a charge toward higher proof and even cask-strength releases. As in the whisky world, gone are the days where the connoisseurs are happy with anemic, 80 proof rums, the lowest allowed by law.
While the regular twelve year is aged entirely in ex-bourbon, approximately ninety percent of the Limited Edition spent its twelve years in ex-bourbon barrels. The remaining ten percent spent its twelve years in casks previously used for Portuguese Madeira. To be very clear, this is not a cask finish like some producers make, aging the rum first in ex-bourbon, and then transferring it for a short stint in another type of cask.
Doorly’s aficionados may note a similarity in the description between the Doorly’s 12 and the Real McCoy limited edition, i.e. both are 90 percent ex-bourbon aged and ten percent Madeira aged. I asked Richard about the distinctions beyond the obvious difference in proof. He said the Limited Edition had a smaller pot still component than the Doorly’s 12, and that he chose a different type of ex-bourbon cask. For the Limited Edition he could be choosier about the cask without need to worry about replicating the flavor profile batch after batch. However, relative to the regular Real McCoy twelve, the Limited Edition has a bit more pot still in the blend.
On to the tasting notes!
The Limited Edition bottle is similar to the other bottles in the Real McCoy lineup: Moderately tall with a slight bulge in the neck and a synthetic cork stopper. The white front label is full of relevant details, including “Batch No. 2016,” implying there may be more to come. The back label dispenses with the Bill McCoy story from the regular twelve, replacing it with even more production details (“500 cases,” “high ratio of copper pot still distillate”).
Pouring a dram, the Limited Edition’s color is a satisfying medium copper hue. Side by side with the regular twelve, the colors are very similar. After letting it breathe for a few minutes, the initial nose is very much within the Foursquare family style. The expected vanilla transitions to a medley of lavender-like florals, tropical fruit, with a somewhat subdued amount of ethyl acetate compared to some other Foursquare rums. Sipping it, the vanilla from the nose takes a back seat the tropical fruit–pineapple and mango, in particular. The mouthfeel is moderate, not super thin nor overly viscous like you’ll find in additive-laden rums. After a few minutes, menthol elements appear in the finish.
A quick online search shows the Limited Edition retails for around $50 US, compared to $40 US for the regular Real McCoy Twelve Year. At those prices, both are extremely good bargains for a rum of this quality and provenance. You can easily pay double that for a heavily doctored rum with half the actual aging. Side by side, I prefer the Limited Edition to the regular twelve year. The flavor is a better balance between vanilla and fruit, and the bump up to 92 proof makes a noticeable difference. To me, the extra ten or so dollars is well worth it. It’s affordable enough to use in rum-forward cocktails like an Old Fashioned, but it really begs to be savored neat. If you’re looking for a top notch, real rum at a really good price–and especially if you’re a fan of Bajan rums–grab a bottle (or two!) of the Real McCoy Limited Edition before they’re all gone!