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Review 10: Old Monk – The Legend

India – Food, Spices, Bollywood, the IPL and Rum. RUM?!

Welcome to the world’s biggest consumer of rum. Figures from 2012 according to this article state that the thirsty Asian subcontinent bought up 404.2 million litres of the good stuff (the US some way behind with 241.9 million litres). Indian rums in general tend to be molasses distilled, dark and viscous.

The number one selling rum brand in the entire world is India’s very own McDowell’s No.1 Celebration. However McDowell’s rum offering didn’t appear until 1990. Long, long before that, a different dark rum from India ruled the rum roost! Old Monk Rum (OMR) from Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh was launched on the 19th December 1954 and was the world’s largest selling dark rum until McDowell took over in 2013.

OMR has a number of varieties including Supreme and Gold Reserve (both 12 Year) but the most popular is the 7 Year XXX vatted rum. In 2013 they launched Old Monk “The Legend”, a limited edition 1 litre bottle crafted in the shape of the Monk’s head itself (or some say it is the likeness of H.G. Meakin, the company’s founder). This review will focus on “The Legend”, OMR’s most recent creation. Although no indication is given as to the aging of this “Very Old Vatted” Indian Rum, we are told this blended rum has been created for connoisseurs.

Aged in Silver Oak Wood Cask and drawn from spirits from various raw materials (sugar cane we hope!) The Legend as with other OMR rums delivers 42.8% ABV. The bottle is completely clear, revealing the classic, rich, dark-brown Indian rum inside. We often see premium offerings from manufacturers these days, pair their bottles with cute corks from Portugal however The Legend, perhaps staying true to OMR’s no advertising, word-of-mouth brand loyalty pragmatism, seal their Monk Head bottle with a black metal screw cap with gold lettering. It’s almost a little endearing!

On first approach we smell soft spices, wood, cloves and with a small follow through of vanilla but nothing overpowering. Observing the rum in the tumbler, there is a beautiful dark orange, rustiness to the liquid that reminds me of certain dessert wines (check out the Hungarian Royal Tokaji). The rum leaves a high line post swirling that holds for a long time, with minimal streaking.

The first sip is stronger than the smell gives away, a greater warmth to the roof of the mouth and the back of the throat than anticipated. The vanilla and caramel give way quickly to a blend of complex spices and oak tones. Cinnamon, clove, wood dominate the palate. The flavour profile is intense, varied but brief. After a small wait, further tastes confirm the presence of dried fruits and zest but once again, the overriding flavour is wood and Indian spices.

Our bottle is from Goa and as such purchased at the local sticker price of 500 Rupees (just over £5 GBP). Pretty good for a limited edition premium rum! However, to buy it outside of India will set you back north of £50. Therein lies the problem as sadly, The Legend, does not warrant to be in that price bracket. A good rum, short but complex, not overly sweet but lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. We would say it’s a must for collectors and enthusiasts, but overall its short flavour profile in our opinion means it could be better suited to premium cocktails rather than a high end sipping rum. We will happily experiment with it in cocktails and report back with our findings. If you do happen to find yourself or a good friend heading to India, ask them to pick up the bottle, for at £5, this bottle is a must purchase!

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Rum From Asia?

As mentioned in previous posts, the bulk of rum produced today comes from the Caribbean and Latin America. However, rum can be produced anywhere that sugar cane grows which is over 70 countries worldwide. Brazil and India produce over 50% of the worlds supply. It would make sense then, that India and other countries in Asia also produce rum.

One of the main rums of India is known as Old Monk. It was launched in December 1954. Uniquely it has zero advertising and relies purely on word of mouth from the loyalty of its customers. It must have very loyal customers though, as it was the world’s largest selling dark rum until 2013. There are 6 different variations of Old Monk Rum, including “The Legend” which was launched in 2013.

The Philippines have one of the largest rum markets in the world. However, the bulk produced is geared towards low price points. High volume low quality mixing rums are what dominate that market. As a result, it was only a matter of time before higher quality rum was produced. Don Papa is one of those that have exploded recently due to its marketing campaign and superb packaging and bottle finish (It has won the double gold medal for packaging design and for product innovation at two different spirits competitions in 2013). In October 2015 they launched a new 10 year version to their range.

Nine leaves is the new Japanese rum brand, launched in 2013. Nine leaves use only the finest ingredients for its creation, including water refined from the Otowa Mountains and the brown sugar from Okinawa. It is the first rum brand to be domestically produced in Japan. Almost immediately after release, Nine Leaves won the silver medal for innovation at Rhum Fest Paris in 2014, less than 12 months after official release of its first product (Nine Leaves Clear) in June 2013. They have started exporting and distributing to France and other countries in Europe and North America.

The stereotype that high quality rum only comes from the Caribbean is fast being debunked by more than just the rum community. If you haven’t ventured out further than those areas I would suggest giving any (or preferably all) of these three brands a try. Or why not suggest one of your favourites below for others to experiment with?