Plantation O.F.T.D. Overproof: Behind the Scenes and Deeply Deconstructed

In this enlightened era of bespoke, high-end distilled spirits, we celebrate the soloist – the carefully nurtured, single estate gems rising to the top of category: Pappy Van Winkle 23 year bourbon, Fuenteseca Reserva 21 year tequila, Appleton 50 year rum, Macallan M Single Malt, and so on. Each represents a high point, a moment in time and the essence of a particular place. A pinnacle of individuality and greatness.

Yet distillery driven expressions weren’t always the way of the world. It was fewer than sixty years ago that single malt Scotch whisky first became a category. Previously, nearly all Scotch whisky was a blend made from the product of multiple distilleries. Travel back to the 1950s, where the dominant brands were names like Dewar’s, Chivas Regal, Cutty Sark, and Johnnie Walker – blenders, all. The value proposition of these brands and their expressions was their blending expertise — gathering a mixed bag of distillate from multiple producers and creating a coherent symphony of flavors. Not to mention maintaining this consistency of flavor profile over time, to guarantee the happiness of their customers.

Cognac tells a similar story. The big houses like Hennessy, Courvoisier, and Remy Martin buy blending stock, unaged and aged from multiple distilleries, to create a house style across a number of expressions, from budget VS to high-roller. As with blended Scotch whisky, the perceived value is more about the blender and consistency from year to year, and less about the individual, unheralded distillers.

But no other spirit goes as deep when it comes to blending as rum. When whiskey and brandy blenders pull together multiple distillates, all are from the same geographical region, with a baseline of similarities. Sure, Johnnie Walker Double Black may contain both peated Islay and light Speyside whiskies, but both are made in Scotland using the same source material and distillation technique.

In contrast, rum blenders draw from distillate made from multiple Caribbean countries, and sometimes farther afield. It’s well known that rums differ widely from country to country. These differences are due to source materials (cane juice vs. molasses), fermentation techniques, and distillation styles (batch vs. continuous).

Maison Ferrand aging warehouse
Maison Ferrand aging warehouse, Cognac

Taste an ultra-funky Jamaican rum next to a pungent rhum agricole and a light, mellow Cuban rum — the differences are astonishing. Now imagine a whisky blender pulling together Islay Scotch whisky, American bourbon, corn whiskey, and Canadian rye into a single product. It seems almost unthinkable, right? But for rum blenders, it’s common to deftly assemble the right ratios of Jamaican, Guyanese, Bajan, and Trinidad rums, perhaps with a splash of Brazilian cachaça or Indonesian Batavia Arrack.

Blended rums tell a long and storied history. Mandatory training for rum enthusiasts is internalizing the story of British Navy rum, issued to sailors daily for centuries until the admiralty (wisely) stopped the practice. Navy rum is traditionally a blend of rums distilled in British colonies such as Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados, then shipped back to merry olde England for further aging and final blending. After the British Navy’s daily ration stopped on July 31, 1970 (aka “Black Tot day”), the remaining rum was sold off. You can still buy a bit of this historical liquid: Aptly named “Black Tot – Last Consignment, a bottle costs around $1,000 US.

In more recent times, blending several rums to create “rum rhapsodies” was an early cornerstone of Tiki recipes. Legendary drinks like the Mai Tai, Zombie, and the Jet Pilot meld together rums (and rhums!) to create a strong, complex base layer for the juices, syrups, and spices to build on. Look through the rum aisle in a well-stocked liquor store, and you’ll find bottles bringing together an exquisitely tailored, precisely blended set of rums that even the most knowledgeable rum-head would struggle to match–rums like Denizen Merchant’s Reserve, Plantation Three Stars, and Banks 5 Island. If you’re curious about the company that crafts many of the rum world’s blends, look no further than my article on Amsterdam’s E&A Scheer.

All of the above background sets the stage for what we’re really here to talk about – an intensely deep dive into Plantation’s O.F.T.D. Overproof, the most recent blended rum to capture the hearts and minds of bartenders and Tiki enthusiasts. I’m talking distilleries, ester levels, cask types, and more for each component rum in the bottle.

Regardless of whether O.F.T.D. is your jam, it’s hard to dispute that it’s received significant publicity compared to other recent rum launches. With an all-star cast of Tiki and rum luminaries assembled to create the blend, a sledgehammer-territory 69 percent ABV (albeit less than the 73 percent ABV of Plantation Original Dark that it replaces), and a nifty name origin story (“Oh fuck, that’s delicious!”), O.F.T.D. seems tailor made for Tiki and rum-centric bars around the globe. (Read here about the very first live sighting of O.F.T.D. in the wild by yours truly at New Orleans’ Latitude 29. I was also among the very first to review O.F.T.D., at

But what was the creation of O.F.T.D. targeting? While the historic Lemon Hart 151 and Wray & Nephew “dagger” rums are beloved in Tiki recipes, the group ultimately decided that the new product should stand on its own, while pulling elements from the older styles. Paul McGee, one of the “magnificent seven” gathered for the creation of O.F.T.D., put it thusly: “While this rum was intended to be used primarily in classic tropical cocktails, I really want this rum to stand on its own and have the ability to have an application in spirit-forward cocktails, too.”

Other Tiki bartenders agree with Paul’s sentiment. “I enjoy O.F.T.D. in my drinks because it blends well with other rums and it can help dry out a sweeter cocktail while adding a little extra punch,” says Tiki master Jason Alexander, owner of Devil’s Reef in Tacoma, Washington. “It can be an unforgiving rum that must be wielded with precision and not as a direct replacement for a Demerara 151 proof rum.”

It’s a crisp October morning in the Cognac region of southwestern France. Mrs. Wonk and I ascend the grand staircase at Château de Bonbonnet, the headquarters of Maison Ferrand and Plantation Rum. In a large meeting room, several rows of ten small tasting glasses, each filled with a different rum, await us on an enormous wooden table. The glass on the far right holds O.F.T.D. The nine glasses to the left comprise the complete set of constituent rums that are blended to make the final offering.

Plantation Rum OFTD Overproof Deconstructed
Plantation Rum OFTD Overproof Deconstructed

Also waiting for us is Benjamin Galais, Maison Ferrand’s Technical Director, and Nicolas Malfondet, Maison Ferrand’s Director of Research & Development. They tell us that today’s agenda begins with the deconstruction of O.F.T.D. Overproof. This isn’t the first time Plantation has gone the deconstructed route, however. They’ve hosted prior events where attendees tasted samples of each component of their Plantation blended rums – notably their 3 Stars blend (Trinidad, Barbados, and Jamaica) and more recently the Stiggins’ Fancy pineapple rum (pineapple infused Original Dark and 3 Stars.)

Transparency has become one of the rallying cries of rum enthusiasts lately. The fact that Plantation provides detailed insights into their popular rum blends certainly adds points to their transparency column. It’s not something I’ve seen any other brands do with their blends, at least not publicly.

Plantation Rum OFTD magnificent seven - Slide courtesy of Maison Ferrand
Plantation Rum OFTD magnificent seven – Slide courtesy of Maison Ferrand

The tale of how this exact set of rums before us were selected for O.F.T.D. is an unusual story, told previously in many forms. To recap the high points: In July of 2015 at Tales of the Cocktail, Maison Ferrand Master Blender Alexandre Gabriel convened a secret meeting of a handful of the rum world’s most illustrious personalities – noted Tiki experts and bar owners Jeff Berry, Martin Cate, Paul McFadyen, Paul McGee, and Scotty Schuder, along with renowned spirits and cocktail historian David Wondrich.

The mission: Help Plantation Rum create a new overproof rum blend to replace the company’s Original Dark Overproof, a blend of Trinidad rums. The group tasted many rums that day, and Alexandre took his notes back to Bonbonnet, where he, Benjamin, and the Ferrand team created a number of different sample blends. Furthering the cause, a few of the attendees supplied vintage rums to Plantation for extensive analysis, to better understand their organoleptic characteristics (i.e., smell and taste) and production methods.

In December of 2015, the same group reassembled at Bonbonnet to taste the blended prototypes, create yet more trial blends, and eventually decide on a final formulation. Imagine being a fly on the wall for those sessions!

Maison Ferrand aging warehouse
Maison Ferrand aging warehouse, Cognac

Paul McGee recounts a very fortuitous moment in the process:

“While touring a warehouse with rums from all over the world, David Wondrich noticed a large vat in the middle of the space and asked, “What’s that?” Alexandre indicated it had young Bajan rum, so David runs over, opens the spigot, and takes a drink! He seemed to like it, so we bottled some up and took it with us.”

Once back at Bonbonnet, McGee’s story continues:

“Based on our prior conversations, there were blends with young rums from Guyana, high-ester Jamaican rums, and Grand arome rhums from Martinique…. All the samples were good, but two stood out from the pack. After everyone pled their case for their favorite blend, David said, “Why don’t we add some of that Bajan rum we brought back?”  About five minutes later, Benjamin returns to the office with a new sample including the Bajan. This was it – it was finally unanimous! The Bajan rum was the bridge that linked the Demerara and Jamaican rums!”

Fast forward nearly two years to the very same room where the group had deliberated that December. Mrs. Wonk and I are preparing to run the gauntlet, tasting all nine high-proof rums. Several are ultra-high ester rums, doubling down on their palate-destroying power. To anybody but a hardcore rum geek, this might seem terrifying. For me, these are the sort of moments that make rum writing worth all the effort.

Before getting to the exactly what type of rums are in O.F.T.D. (finally!), a few notes of explanation on what follows:

“Ester levels” and “volatile elements” are both crude measurement of the intensity of a rum’s flavor. They are not the same however. Traditionally, Jamaican rums cite ester levels, which are a measurement of just the esters without regards to other volatile elements. For the most part, this means measuring Ethyl Acetate. This particular compound is usually found in much higher quantity than other esters. (You can learn more about esters and flavor here.

Low ester levels in Jamaican rum, from say 0 to 50 g/hL AA, are associated with lightly flavored rums. For comparison’s sake, the ester levels of most vodkas are close to 0 g/hL AA. Smith & Cross Jamaican rum, well known for its funkiness, has an ester level of around 200 g/hL AA. Rum Fire Overproof from Hampden Estate is around 500 g/hL AA. The maximum ester count that Jamaican law allows for export is 1600 g/hL AA. From firsthand experience, rums at that ester level are essentially undrinkable after a few sips.

With the advent or more advanced laboratory techniques, it’s possible to measure the concentration of other volatile elements in addition to Ethyl Acetate, such as higher alcohols like propan-1-ol, butan-1-ol and butan-2-ol. This provides a more comprehensive reading of how much flavor adding components are within the rum. If you really want to geek out on exactly what these are, read this, although it’s far from light reading. Fun fact: The Martinique AOC actually specifies minimal volatile element levels.

It’s critical to understand that “ester” and “volatile element” measurements don’t tell you anything about a rum’s flavor profile, however. Martinique rhum agricole is also high in volatile elements, yet tastes very different than Jamaican rum, also known for high levels. Ester and volatile elements counts are about intensity, not flavor notes.

All measurements below are in standard units of grams per hectoliter (100 liters) of absolute alcohol. (g/hL AA)

In some cases below, the “marque” of certain rums is given. A marque in rum-speak is essentially a specific style and flavor profile that a particular distillery makes. Much like a bakery may make many types of bread, a rum distillery can make different intensities and flavor profile of rums. Each marque is effectively a unique recipe, and all batches of a given marque should be very similar in taste.

Plantation Rum OFTD Overproof Deconstructed
Plantation Rum OFTD Overproof Deconstructed

While the O.F.T.D. label says it’s a blend of Barbados, Jamaica, and Guyanese rums, Plantation internally breaks these up into four categories:

Barbados Rum

These four rums selected by the team in 2015 come from either Foursquare Rum Distillery or West Indies Rum Distillery, which Maison Ferrand purchased in early 2017. Each rum here is a blend of pot and column distillate. The overall style is described as “medium body, blend between finesse and oaky notes.”
[* Update, March 2021: Plantation tells me that the current blend no longer contains Foursquare rums in it. Also, Mr. Seale disputes that 13-year aged Foursquare was used in the original O.F.T.D. blend. I have left the original component description provided to me for historical context below]

  • Distillery: Foursquare (See * above)
  • Method: Pot/Column. Column is predominant
  • Cask type/Age: Ex-bourbon, 2 years
  • ABV: 74 percent
  • Marque/level: Volatile substances: 112 g/hL AA
  • Distillery: Foursquare (See * above)
  • Method: Pot/Column. Column is predominant
  • Cask type/Age: Ex-bourbon, 13 years
  • ABV: 65 percent
  • Marque/level: Volatile substances 153 g/hL AA
  • Distillery: West Indies Rum Distillery
  • Method: Pot/Column. Pot is dominant (1850 Batson pot still)
  • Cask type/Age: French new oak, 4 years
  • ABV: 65 percent
  • Marque/level: Volatile substances 248 g/hL AA
  • Distillery: West Indies Rum Distillery
  • Method: Pot/Column. Pot is dominant (1850 Batson pot still)
  • Cask type/Age: Heavy toasted American white oak, 2-3 years
  • ABV: 74 percent
  • Marque/level: Volatile substances 234 g/hL AA

Jamaica Young, High Ester Rum

In addition to owning West Indies Rum Distillery, Maison Ferrand also now owns one-third of Long Pond as part of the same purchase. The use of new French Oak for these Jamaican rums is unusual, suggesting that they weren’t aged in Jamaica but rather by Maison Ferrand in France. French oak brings tannins and structure on the palate. The overall style is described as “very heavy rums, focused on fruity notes thanks to ester levels.”

  • Distillery: Clarendon
  • Method: Pot (Vendome)
  • Cask type/Age: New French Oak wide-grain, 1-2 years
  • ABV: 69 percent
  • Marque/level: MLC (Monymusk Light Continental), esters 500-700 g/hL AA
  • Distillery: Long Pond/Hampden
  • Method: Pot (John Dore)
  • Cask type/Age: New French Oak, 1-2 years
  • ABV: 75 percent
  • Marque/level:
    • Long Pond TECC, esters 1500-1600 g/hL AA(As high as Jamaican law allows for export)
    • Hampden DOK, esters 1500-1600 g/hL AA (But see note below).
    • Note: While Hampden was used in the original formulation, the blend has shifted to use Long Pond.

Jamaica Old, High Ester Rum

The combination of ex-bourbon and then ex-Cognac casks suggests these rums already had some Caribbean aging in ex-bourbon casks before being purchased and relocated to France, for more aging in ex-Cognac casks. The overall style is described as “very heavy rum, focused on fruit notes thanks to esters, rounded off by wood compounds and time.”

  • Distillery: Long Pond
  • Method: Pot (John Dore)
  • Cask type/Age: ex-Bourbon, ex-Cognac casks, 2008 distillation. 7 years in ex-bourbon, then 1.5 years minimum in ex-cognac casks
  • ABV: 75%
  • Marque/ester level: STC^E, esters 550-700 g/hL AA
  • Distillery: Long Pond
  • Method: Pot (John Dore)
  • Cask type/Age: ex-Bourbon, ex-Cognac casks, 1997 distillation. 18 years in ex-Bourbon, then 1.5 years minimum in ex-cognac casks
  • ABV: 72%
  • Marque/ester level: TECA, 1200-1300 g/hL AA

Guyana Rum

A pot stilled, lightly aged rum at 150 proof invites obvious comparison to the venerable Lemon Hart 151, a mainstay of the Tiki canon. However, the French oak aging, some of it in ex-Cognac, suggests a different flavor profile. The rum is described as “quite heavy rum, focused on body strength, alcohol and chocolate notes, thanks to higher alcohol level.”

  • Distillery: Demerara Distillers Ltd. (DDL)
  • Method: Pot (multiple)
  • Cask type/Age: Mostly French oak, new & ex-Cognac casks, 1-2 years
  • ABV: 75 percent
  • Marque/ level: Volatile substances 250 g/hL AA

While the exact ratios of each rum in the O.F.T.D. haven’t been disclosed — a blender has to have some secrets, after all–it’s reasonable to assume that the younger Guyanese and Jamaican rums are a larger part of the mix, while rums like the 18-year, high-ester Long Pond are used sparingly, as accents and top notes. Benjamin also notes that the Jamaican rums provide the esters, while the Guyanese rum bring the higher alcohols and associated bitter chocolate notes.

Plantation Rum OFTD Overproof Deconstructed
Plantation Rum OFTD Overproof Deconstructed

What was it like to taste all these rums? It wouldn’t be truthful to report that I made detailed tasting notes on each—we had ten rums to work through, as the first stop on an intense day of learning and touring, not to mention that high-proof rums in rapid succession are palate killers. However, I do recall that there weren’t any huge surprises. The Bajan rums were consistent with my mental references for West Indies and Foursquare rums. The Port Mourant notes were very present in the DDL blend. And the high ester TECC Long Pond had nuclear levels of funk, tamed just a tiny bit by aging, much as I remember from the first time I tried it.  A few rums were easy to place within the final O.F.T.D. blend, while others worked together as a backdrop. Several times, I asked Benjamin, “Could you just bottle this one exactly as it is?”

A question many people ask about O.F.T.D. is whether it’s been sweetened (aka “dosage”), as Plantation does with many of their rums in the Cognac tradition. While this practice is common in the Plantation vintage lineup, bartenders typically prefer drier rums for use in their cocktails. The general consensus is that the O.F.T.D blend has no added sugar.  I asked Paul McFadyen, Plantation Brand ambassador and member of the “magnificent seven” about why Plantation didn’t use dosage with the O.F.T.D.:

 “Why is there no dosage in the OFTD? With respect, you may well have asked why is the Jamaican rum there? Or why we selected the level of caramel for bitterness, or that particular ABV? Every rum is the product of hundreds of decisions dictated by the question: Does it enhance the rum?”

Echoing the “no dosage” message is Martin Cate, who’s measured the actual ABV with his fancy Anton Parr hydrometer. His measured ABV is effectively identical to the labeled ABV, which is generally taken to mean that there’s essentially no sugar present, assuming the label ABV is accurate.

My hope is that this descent into the ultra-wonky levels of a blended rum has given you valuable insights into an important part of the rum world, often overlooked in the pursuit of the latest single-cask vintage expression. I wish to express a very large and heartfelt thank-you to Alexandre Gabriel, Benjamin Galais, and the rest of the Maison Ferrand staff for the very wonky experience and for disclosing far more insider information about a proprietary blended rum than is typically revealed. In the end, we all benefit from this by having a better understanding of the rum world, and being smarter consumers as a result.

Maison Ferrand aging warehouse
Maison Ferrand aging warehouse, Cognac

10 thoughts on “Plantation O.F.T.D. Overproof: Behind the Scenes and Deeply Deconstructed

  1. “Now imagine a whisky blender pulling together Islay Scotch whisky, American bourbon, corn whiskey, and Canadian rye into a single product. It seems almost unthinkable, right?”

    S0, High West Campfire? I don’t think that has any Canadian whisky in it, but it’s awful close. I guess you could say that it’s the exception that proves the rule, but we may see more of that kind of experimentation in the future.

Leave a Reply