My Wandering Eye: Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum

My wandering eye is a series reacting to the crazy rising prices in the bourbon world. We’ve reached a place where even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. If I’m going be asked to drop $40 to $70 on a mid-range bourbon, I might as well see what else I can get for that money. See if another spirits category offers something that is downright tasty in that price range. The goal isn’t to find cheap spirits, but to maximize the quality, I’m getting at a particular price point.

Tonight's rum will be the last rum I'll be doing for a while. Not because I've grown tired of rum, but instead because I think I've found enough of them to keep me busy for a while. I found a sweet rum, a sipping rum, a complex rum, and even a cognac-finished rum. I've found rums of 2-, 5-, 9- and 12-years-old as well as rums containing some combination of them.

Tonight, however, I'm going to review a bottle of rum that covers two firsts for me. This will be both my first navy-strength and my first funky* rum.

Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum

Purchase Info: $26.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 57% ABV. 

Nose: Molasses and light ginger (I'm thinking the soft molasses-ginger cookies your local supermarket bakery makes) along with a light hint of campfire smoke.

Mouth: Hot with lots of spice upon entry. After you get past the heat, there is a lovely molasses and funk combination.

Finish: Spicy yet not too hot, especially considering the proof. The flavors last forever. Lingering molasses cookie flavors of ginger and molasses mix with a fun fruity funk.

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Thoughts: I know my wife would disagree, but I'd drink this neat all night long. But then, she is more of a "bourbon-only" person than I am. She even finds a glass of rye whiskey less exciting than I do. So yes, I'm really enjoying this rum. It might be my favorite of the ones I've bought for drinking neat. I think there is a lot herefor a bourbon lover to enjoy. 

And hey, it's pretty good in a cocktail too. 

*I believe the rum experts might use the word "hogo," but since I am not exactly clear on what that is, I'll stick to funky since that is what I personally taste. 


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Woodford Reserve Cocktail Bitters and Bourbon Cherries by Bourbon Barrel Foods

As you might have noticed, I have been on a bit of a rum kick lately. Rereading Fred Minnick's wonderful book on the subject while on a cruise ship in the Carribean surrounded by tasty rum (and even some tasty rum drinks) will do that to you. 

My favorite rum drink that I had on the trip was a Rum Old Fashioned. They used a spice-infused rum and house-made bitters in the drink (no I'm not trying to be fancy, it was Bacardi 8-year-old rum which the bartenders had infused with spices, not Capt. Morgan or its ilk). When I got home, I knew that I needed to try to reproduce this drink at home. What I landed on was a lot easier than infusing rum with spices. All I did was use a bitters that replicated the experience.

In this case, that bitters was Woodford Reserve Sassafras and Sorghum Bitters. I'd had this particular bottle on hand for quite a while. In fact, it was long enough that I had forgotten I had it. And so I did what any geek would do when I realized that something I had on hand forever was something I really enjoyed. I went looking to find more.

When I got to the website, I found they had a few varieties. I wasn't going to buy five more bottles of bitters without trying them, but luckily they had a five pack of small bottles that would allow me to figure out if the rest of their varieties were any good. Here are my impressions. I used each of them in an Old Fashioned.

Woodford Reserve Barrel Aged Bitters by Bourbon Barrel Foods

Purchase Info: $25 from BourbonBarrelFoods.com

General Thoughts: These are all highly aromatic. The tiny bottles are kind of hard to use without making a mess (as seen in the photo above) but if you progress to a large bottle, they have a dropper in the cap to minimize the mess. 

Aromatic Bitters: Pretty basic aromatic bitters flavor profile. Nicely spicy and works very well with bourbon. It's a nice replacement for other Aromatic bitters if you want to move away from Angostura or support a small business. 

Sassafras and Sorghum Bitters: This one has a lot of baking spice flavors. It feels sweeter and richer than the aromatic and works very well with both bourbon and rum.

Orange Bitters: Very potent. There is a lot of orange flavor, but not a lot of spiciness. This isn't my favorite Orange Bitters. It works fine, but I'd want to use it mixed with the Aromatic to give it more bitter and spice notes.

Chocolate Bitters: Chocolate and nutty. Overpowers the Old Fashioned but has a nice spiciness on the back end. I'd use this sparingly. I'm not sure that an Old Fashioned is the right drink for this.

Spiced Cherry Bitters: This is named very accurately. Very spicy upfront with perfumed cherry flavors appearing on the back end. This is tasty, but if perfume notes bother you, think about passing on it. I thought it actually worked nicely alongside the chocolate bitters to make a chocolate covered cherry Old Fashioned.

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Cherries by Bourbon Barrel Foods

I just happened to notice these this past weekend while wandering the aisles at Total Wine and thought I might as well grab them to toss into here as well.

Purchase Info: $14.99 at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN. They are also available from BourbonBarrelFoods.com for $16.

Thoughts: The syrup is richly cherry flavored and very sweet. Not a lot of spice here. The cherries themselves are sweet but are a bit tough without the crisp snap of ones I made at home. They work well if, like me, you've run out of the homemade ones and they are a huge step up from the glowing red ones you find in most supermarkets.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

My Wandering Eye: Don Q Gran Añejo

My wandering eye is a series reacting to the crazy rising prices in the bourbon world. We’ve reached a place where even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. If I’m going be asked to drop $40 to $70 on a mid-range bourbon, I might as well see what else I can get for that money. See if another spirits category offers something that is downright tasty in that price range. The goal isn’t to find cheap spirits, but to maximize the quality, I’m getting at a particular price point.

Last week I was on my first Carribean cruise. One of the stops was Puerto Rico. Having realized through this series that I enjoy rum, even if I don't know much about it yet, I made sure that a couple of bottles of the spirit came home with me. When in Rome and all that. 

I don't know a lot about what to look for in a Rum. I haven't spent enough time to learn more than the basics. But I planned ahead and loaded my friend Fred Minnick's book Rum Curious on my Kindle before I left. I may not have tasted a lot of Rum, but I know he did, and he recorded what he learned in that book, so it made an excellent place to start.  

I spent most of my short visit in San Juan visiting the old Forts, but on my way back to the ship I made sure to stop off at the duty-free store so that I could see what they had. My mother-in-law had given me an ultimatum that she wanted to buy me a bottle of Rum for Christmas while we were on the cruise and had given me a $50 limit. Luckily, for Rum that seemed to be a pretty generous limit. I ended up settling on the Don Q Gran Añejo, mostly because Fred said it was good, the bottle said it was 9-12 years old, and it was exactly $50. 

Now I knew nothing about the Don Q brand when I picked it off the shelf. But after visiting their website for a little bit, I realized that they seem to be fairly forthcoming with their information. The company that produces the brand (Destilería Serrallés, Inc.) dates back to the early to mid-1800s and the sugar plantations that were on the island. They started producing Rum in the 1860s. They use water from the Río Inabón as their exclusive water source and their distillery is located outside of Ponce, Puerto Rico. They do their best to be environmentally friendly in their processes. The Don Q brand itself was launched after the end of Prohibition and was named after Don Quixote. Though they don't get into a lot of the data points of production (for instance, Fred Minnick reports that the off the still proof of their Rums are 94.5% ABV which is not on their website), I did enjoy making my way through all the information that they do provide.

Don Q Gran Añejo

Purchase Info: $50 for a 750 mL bottle at the Duty-Free Store in the San Juan Cruise Port, San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Available locally for $59.99 at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN.)

Details: 40% ABV. Blended from rums between 9 and 12 years old. 

Nose: Brown Sugar, vanilla bean ice cream, cola.

Mouth: Soft mouthfeel with vanilla bean ice cream, caramel and a hint of spice. 

Finish: Gentle burn with lingering caramel, baking spice, root beer and a hint of menthol after it is all done.

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Thoughts: This is a tasty drink whether you are having it in a glass with a little ice or in an Old Fashioned. It is sweet with just enough spice and menthol to keep it interesting. It's certainly one I hope to pick up again.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Barrel Aged in a Bottle Oak Infusion Spiral

It really is amazing what you find when you clean your office. A little over a week ago, I got fed up with the disorganized mess that used to be my office. When I realized that I had started to record my monthly (ish) Patreon video in another room, I decided that the time had come to bring it back to a less stressful level of disorder. 

As I was cleaning, I found something that I received on a visit to a local craft distiller that I took with a couple of friends. It's an Oak Infusion Spiral created by The Barrel Mill here in Minnesota. He was talking about some failed experiments that he had tried and held one up. Since he wasn't using it, he asked if we wanted them. There were three of them and three of us, so we all said yes. Upon returning home, I promptly set mine on one of my desks and proceeded to let the sediment of time cover it in a pile of papers, notebooks, and folders. 

So when I found it last week, I was anxious to do something with it. While I have almost no desire to add it directly to a bottle of spirits, I did have a couple of ideas of what to do with it. I was in the process of making a batch of orange bitters and tossed half of it in there while the liquid rested. To be honest, I never thought to do a control batch on that, so I have no idea if it helped, hurt or did nothing. 

With the other half of the spiral though, I decided to get a little more ambitious. I made 750 mL of Manhattan (minus the water/ice) and poured half of it into each of two 375 mL bottles. With one, I put the spiral into and with the other, I left it out. I figured I would let them both sit for seven to ten days and then try each along with a freshly made Manhattan using the same ingredients. (I'll be setting the no spiral one aside to allow it to bottle age for three to six months. Look for that post in the future.)

The main question I wanted to answer was: does this thing do anything? The answer to that is yes. The Manhattan with the oak spiral is noticeably silkier and is better integrated than the freshly made one that I am having next to it. So that's it. The stick does the trick. 

Or does it? Oaked versus fresh doesn't really tell you if it was the time it sat or the spiral doing the work. To answer that, I tried the 10-day-old oaked one next to the 10-day-old non-oaked one. To be honest, I expected that there would be little difference between the two since there wasn't a noticeable "oakier" flavor in the bottle with the stick versus the freshly made drink. But there was a huge difference. The non-oaked version might be the worst Manhattan I've ever had. It basically tastes like I used old ingredients. 

To sum up, I can't say if this will help your whiskey should you stick it in the bottle. But it might help your cocktails. Just don't try to use it with ones that use non-spirit ingredients to minimize spoilage.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Announcing: BourbonGuyGifts.com

A little over a month ago, I got it into my head to buy 1000 whiskey barrel bungs. It took a little fast talking to convince the wife that it was a good idea. Especially since we had recently learned that my biggest client was going to be drastically reducing their need for me. But I had an idea that I wanted to try. 

About six months ago, my wife filled her tasting journal. She asked me to come up with a new one for her. I tried a few things, but I finally came up with a workable design and format a couple weeks ago. Now she can stop using the spiral bound notebook she picked up in the school supply aisle at Target.

Two weeks ago, I noticed someone from South Dakota selling used wine and whiskey barrels on craigslist. At this point, it was a foregone conclusion that I'd be getting at least one. Even though I had other things to do, the barrel had to come apart first. 

What do any of these things have to do with one another? Well, it is no secret that I love whiskey. Bourbon especially. I love bourbon in a glass, but I also love everything else about it. I like seeing barrels and bottles. And every time I go to Kentucky, I have to convince myself to not buy the things created from barrels and bottles. 

I love building things. I like creating real things with my own two hands. It's exciting and real in a way that creating a digital file never will be. And since I had the time and opportunity to do so, I decided to start creating things. Some big, some small. And as of today, I am offering them for sale. I've created an Etsy store, but you can get there by going to BourbonGuyGifts.com

I've created a lot of things so far. Art prints, holiday ornaments made from whiskey bungs, coat racks and candle holders made from staves, Bourbon Tasting journals, a bourbon tasting kit complete with glasses and more. And with more to come. I have a lot of ideas and to this point, I've only made enough to get the store up. so check back often and if you have an idea you'd like to see created that I don't have up yet, drop me a note in the comments. 


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!