Plantation’s New Xaymaca Special Dry – Deeply Deconstructed

Plantation Xaymaca front label

When Maison Ferrand (parent company of Plantation Rum) purchased the Barbados-based West Indies Rum Distillery in 2017, it came with a bonus: One-third ownership of Jamaica’s Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries. While master blender Alexandre Gabriel is no stranger to Jamaican rums – witness Plantation’s Jamaican vintage rums and blends like O.F.T.D. Overproof–in the past year he’s ventured deeply down the Jamaican rabbit hole. The first visible sign just hit the wires today with Plantation Xaymaca Special Dry announcement – a 100 percent pot still, blended rum from the two aforementioned distilleries.

First, let’s answer the obvious questions:

  • No, Xaymaca isn’t a typo. It’s the Arawak name for Jamaica and means “land of wood and water.” The indigenous Arawaks inhabited Jamaica well before Columbus set foot on the island in 1494. Thus, Xaymaca is the original name for the island.
  • Online guides suggest Xaymaca is pronounced zay-muck-uh.
  • The rum clocks in at 43 percent ABV, or 86 proof. Most cocktails are tuned for rums in this ABV range, not cask-strength monsters, much as we love them.
  • There is no added sugar, aka dosage.
  • It’s not a limited release of just a few casks.
  • It will be widely available and found in the same locales you’d expect to find other Plantation blends. It will be part of Plantation’s “Signature Blends” series.

With the preliminaries handled, let’s jump to the wonky parts. In April of 2018, Mrs. Wonk and I visited Chateau Bonbonnet, home of Maison Ferrand, for an extremely in-depth look at the Xaymaca blend as the final blend profile took shape. Eagle-eyed followers of my Facebook page might have noticed my post about a Xaymaca blend preview at the Paris Rhum Fest the prior April weekend.

Alexandre Gabriel with Xaymaca components
Alexandre Gabriel with Xaymaca components

Over several hours at Bonbonnet with Alexandre, Benjamin Galais (technical director), and Nicolas Malfondet (director of research and development), we tasted through numerous Long Pond and Clarendon marques, as well as several other iconic Jamaican rums found on bar shelves around the world. There was a spirited debate about the true nature of Jamaican rum, as well as reviewing laboratory analysis data for many of the rums on the table before us. Wonky nirvana, in case that wasn’t obvious.

Plantation Xaymaca back label
Plantation Xaymaca back label

The Xaymaca label provides very detailed production information, especially for a rum that’s not a limited edition, single-cask rum from an independent bottler. Let’s start with the distilleries: Long Pond and Clarendon. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows the Plantation story. In early 2017, Maison Ferrand purchased the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados from Goddard Enterprises. Included in the assets were one-third ownership of National Rums of Jamaica, aka NRJ. The other owners of NRJ (also at one-third ownership each) are the Jamaican government and Demerara Distillers Limited. The primary assets of NRJ are the historic Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries.

The Long Pond distillery is in the Trelawny parish, not far from Hampden Estate. Like Hampden, Long Pond produces a wide range of rums, including extremely heavy, ester-filled hogo bombs. A few years ago Long Pond shut down for several years, but it has since restarted operations, in mid-2016.

The Clarendon distillery (sometimes referred to as Monymusk) is essentially two distilleries in one. The original distillery, built in 1949, houses the old wooden fermentation vats and double retort pot stills. The new distillery, built in 2009, is very modern and utilizes a quite large multi-column still.

Components of Plantation Xaymaca
Components of Plantation Xaymaca

Returning to the Xaymaca label, if you read a little closer, you’ll see that it not only lists the distilleries but also the exact rum marques from those distilleries. (Note: Some people use “marques,” some people use “marks.” Same idea, either way.) As I wrote about in The Case of the Missing Marque, marques are the specific “recipes” that a distillery employs during production. Every Jamaican distillery creates a number of marques, from very light rum with low ester counts up to very pungent, highly flavored rums with extremely high ester levels. Loosely speaking, more esters means more flavor.

Component Rum Geek Out

The Xaymaca label tells us that the Clarendon (aka Monymusk) rum marques  are EMB and MLC, while the Long Pond rums are VRW and STC^E. Great! But what exactly does this mean? Never fear, dear reader, I’ve got you covered. On my Jamaican Rum Marques Roundup page, you’ll find a listing of nearly all Jamaican distilleries and all their (known) marques.

DistilleryMarqueEster range
ClarendonEMB125-175 g/hL AA
ClarendonMLC500 g/hL AA
Long PondVRW150-250 g/hL AA
Long PondSTC^E550-700 g/hL AA

The letters and symbols that make up a marque have no codified meaning. Every Jamaican distillery defines their own, and they are often people’s initials or an acronym. Figuring out the meaning of the marques is a parlor game for the truly Jamaican obsessed, myself included. So far, we’re reasonably sure that MLC is “Monymusk Light Continental.”  The VRW marque refers to “Vale Royal Wedderburn,” a Jamaican distillery that was purchased and absorbed by Long Pond in the mid-1950s. (See here for additional background.) As for EMB and STC^E, I’ve yet to come across a plausible explanation for the initials’ meaning. If you know, do tell!

Normally with the above information, you’d have a fairly good idea what’s in the bottle. However, thanks to Benjamin and Nicolas, we can go far wonkier on each component rum:

  • Distillery: Clarendon
  • Marque: EMB
  • Distillation method: Vendome pot
  • Fermentation: 1 week
  • Cask type/age: Tropical < 1 year, Continental 1-2 year (ex-Cognac and American oak casks)
  • ABV: 65 percent
  • Esters: 125-175 g/hL AA
  • Volatile substance: 250-350 g/hL AA
  • Distillery: Clarendon
  • Marque: MLC
  • Distillation method: Vendome pot
  • Fermentation: 2 weeks
  • Cask type/age: Tropical < 1 year, Continental 1-2 year (ex-Cognac and American oak casks)
  • ABV: 70 percent
  • Esters: 500-600 g/hL AA
  • Volatile substance: 800-900 g/hL AA
  • Distillery: Long Pond
  • Marque: VRW
  • Distillation method: John Dore pot
  • Fermentation: 1 week
  • Cask type/age: Tropical < 1 year, Continental 1-2 year (ex-Cognac and American oak casks)
  • ABV: 70 percent
  • Esters: 150-250 g/hL AA
  • Volatile substance: 300-400 g/hL AA
  • Distillery: Long Pond
  • Marque: STC^E (2009)
  • Distillation method: John Dore pot
  • Fermentation: 3 weeks
  • Cask type/age: Tropical 8 years, Continental 1 year (ex-Cognac casks)
  • ABV: 60 percent
  • Esters: 550-650 g/hL AA
  • Volatile substance: 900-1000 g/hL AA

While we don’t know the exact ratios of each rum in the Xaymaca blend, we can piece together a reasonable guess. The label helpfully tells us that the ester level is 156 g/hL AA. From the above chart, we know that the EMB and VRW components are substantially lower in esters than the MLC and STC^E. In fact, the EMB and VWR ester ranges are similar to the Xaymaca’s ester level. Simple mathematics (weighted averages) tells us there must be substantially more EMB and VRW rums than of the other two. Put another way, if you blended all four rums in equal proportion, the resulting blend would have an ester level around 325 g/hL AA. Since the Xaymaca measures far less than that, we know the majority of it must be EMB and/or VRW.

Case closed, right? Not so fast. In the immortal words of Steve Jobs, there is… one more thing.

Although not mentioned on the label, there’s a fifth component rum in the Xaymaca Special Dry. It’s not necessarily a permanent part of the Xaymaca blend and may be replaced with another marque (or marques) at some point. The master blender’s job is to keep the overall flavor profile consistent over many years while dealing with slight changes in flavor profile of available stocks, and/or their depletion. If you read my The Case of the Missing Marque story, this  ITP marque is the rum at the center of the story. Truth be told, it was my favorite out of all the marque samples we tasted. The details:

  • Distillery: Long Pond
  • Marque: ITP
  • Age: 17 years, mostly tropical (distilled in 2000)
  • Esters: 280 g/hL AA
  • Volatile substance: 1030 g/hL AA

As a side note to the above, blending mostly lighter rums with a touch of much heavier rums is a very common technique. Alexandre calls this a “wide range blend.” Another example in Plantation’s portfolio was their first iteration of Original Dark, made entirely from light and heavy Trinidad rums.

One last word on the label: In addition to ester levels (156 g/hL AA), it also provides the volatile compounds measurement – 312 g/hL AA. The volatile compound measurement includes not only the esters (i.e. ethyl acetate) but many other flavor-related compounds as well. If you read the Martinique rhum AOC, it also specifies a minimum volatile compound measurement for AOC-compliant rums. In case you’re curious, there is an official EU definition of what’s included in the volatile compound measurement.

Enough with the science – How is it?

The Xaymaca is instantly recognizable as Jamaican. However, don’t approach it with the premise that it will be like Smith & Cross or Hamilton Jamaican, both of which are also pot-stilled, hogo-forward “mixing” Jamaican rums.

The fact that these expressions are different isn’t surprising. The distillates from different distilleries are usually very easy to differentiate, even at the same ester levels. The Xaymaca is from Clarendon and Long Pond, the Hamilton is from Worthy Park, and Smith & Cross is a blend of rums from several distilleries.

While the Xaymaca is very much its own rum, dunderheads will obviously compare it to the two aforementioned rums. In the interest of science, I tasted Xaymaca, Smith & Cross, and Hamilton Jamaican Black side by side, with the Smith & Cross diluted to approximately 43 percent ABV to keep things fair. The Hamilton, at 46.5 percent ABV, is close enough to 43 percent that I didn’t dilute it.

The Xaymaca’s nose is much lighter than the other two — it doesn’t leap from the glass as quickly as some Jamaicans do. I notice tropical fruits with a hint of fresh sawdust. In contrast, the other two rums had strong overripe banana, black tea, and vegetal notes.

Once sipped, the Xaymaca is very different from what my nose suggested. The tropical fruit remains, but joined by lush, oily notes similar to what I’ve found in other Long Pond expressions. There’s an abundance of flavor at 43 percent ABV without being overbearing. As for the Smith & Cross and Hamilton, I found their flavor slightly less intense and more astringent, with a thinner mouthfeel than the Xaymaca.

If I were to spend an evening sipping only one of these rums, the Xaymaca is the clear winner. Of course, your preferences may differ.

Wrap-up

As a fan of all things Jamaican, I’m excited to see the Xaymaca enter the market – it offers a very different flavor profile than other Jamaicans such as Appleton, Coruba, Myers’s, etc…

For folks pushing for more transparency in rum, the Xaymaca label sets a pretty high bar. In some circles, much will be made of the lack of dosage from Plantation, and wondering if it’s a trend. But the big picture is what’s unsaid thus far: Xaymaca is the first clear and visible signal that owning two Jamaican distilleries has created opportunity for new directions for Alexandre Gabriel and crew to explore. I don’t expect Xaymaca to be the last.

Pot stills at Long Pond, Jamaica
Pot stills at Long Pond, Jamaica
Ferment vats at Clarendon, Jamaica
Ferment vats at Clarendon, Jamaica
Pot stills at Clarendon, Jamaica
Pot stills at Clarendon, Jamaica
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10 thoughts on “Plantation’s New Xaymaca Special Dry – Deeply Deconstructed”

  1. That was a fantastic deep-dive into a rum I’m very looking forward to trying. The transparency is also a really nice step that I hope becomes more common in the years to come, though I’m not holding my breath.

  2. Another great article! Thank you!!

    One question: The label lists fermentation as 1 & 3 weeks, but all of the marques you list are one week fermentations. Is there another component to this rum that has a longer fermentation? Or are one of the listed marques fermented longer?

    Thanks again for the great work!!!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful review. Im really looking forward to try this one, as i love rums with with no (or just a little) added sugar. Transparency is a thing that consumers should demand in this time and age. It’s already happend with coffee and beer so other drinks will follow. I’m so happy that Plantation is showing the way.

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