Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Review 47 - Plantation Barbados XO 20th Anniversary

Photo copyright © H.Kristoffersen
A natural place to start your sipping career. But not the place to end it.
Today I am returning to a classic and one of the first sipping rums I ever tried.
The Plantation Barbados XO 20th Anniversary made by Plantation Rhums owned by French spirits corporation Cognac Ferrand.

As the name indicates it comes from Barbados and one of my local spirits dealers claims, that it comes from the Foursquare distillery. So far I have been unable to confirm the claim, as C.Ferrand has yet to respond to my enquiry.

Matured in the caribbean, rums of age 11 to 14 are blended by the master blender when reaching France. Then the blend is finished 12-18 months in smal french oak casks.
Bottled at 40% - nothing new.

It was first made to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of master blender Alexandre Gabriel in 2009.
The original blend was made by some of this colleagues after having spent 4 years on the drawing board. According to Alexandre it was an extreme show off of skill with more than 20 different sorts of wood used for the maturation proces.

When Alexandre returned to work, he introduced the Barbados XO as part of the line up in a dialled down version. So the Barbados XO you go out and buy today haven’t spent time in barrels of 20 different sorts of wood.

It has however won an impressive amount of awards at various competitions and such over the last couple of years. However I question the legitimacy of such competitions, as we have no information of which competitors it beat or which didn’t even show up. An award is relative only to the exact pool of competitors at that exact competition. Hence an award is worth nothing on its own.

Sadly the majority of consumers and media fail to realise this, and a lot of mediocre rums are marketed with 24k Gold Medal from Ordinary Joe’s Rum Competition or Triple Platinum/Best of Class from last year’s Less-Than-Relevant Rum Expo. Some are even worshipped for their impressive achievements of gold medals from the Huckleberry RumShow 4-5 consecutive years in a row … albeit this happened 10+ years ago.

Note: Any resemblances with actual rum competitions are unintentional and I mean no disrespect. I accept that competitions are a point in time and place, where certain rums duke it out, points and medals are given and winners are celebrated.

Another case of smoke and mirrors, which indirectly helps to fool consumers to pay more for mediocre products.

It makes me sad, but thankfully the Barbados XO wasn’t priced as such dressed up corpses, so I still have hopes for this one.

Presented in a taupe coloured box made of sturdy card board, I get an immediate feeling that this is good stuff. Covered in gold coloured print, front and back are identical, with the Plantation-logo and name, as well as the product name.

The sides contain a description of the thoughts behind the rum in english and french.

The bottle is something of its own. A decanter like shape and feel. A very thick glass bottom makes it a heavy item. Nice grooved top of the neck, topped off by a synthetic cork with a big, gaudy, wooden stopper.

The bottle is further dressed in a bagasse net adding some kind of natural authenticity to the package.

It has a smaller label around the neck which bears the XO and 20th Anniversary marks.

Almost at the bottom of the bottle there is another label, repeating the 20th Anniversary mark, showing the 40% ABV and a couple of decorative images of a ship and a tropical island.

The nice amber liquid creates a nice ring inside the glass and shows skinny legs with fast moving droplets. A clear hint of a lighter profile.

First impression tell me that it is a little weak on the nose.

The main components are soft syrup and honey notes, enveloped in massive coconut and vanilla fumes.

On top of that there is a mild oak presence, ”spiced” up by some plasticine and a slight sting from the alcohol.

Not bad. A little roughness which gets countered a lot by the massive coconut and vanilla.

I don’t dislike it, but it feels a bit covered up.

Upon taking your first sip, you are caressed by a soft and buttery light profile.

Very rich with maple syrup and coconut, but also sporting sufficient vanilla and candied orange peel, it is quite nice and interesting.

At the backend I also got some weak tobacco and oak notes.

Not the most complex of rums and perhaps a bit too perfumed on the coconut. But pleasant all together.

There is no hurry to say goodbye, and you get a pleasantly warm medium length finish.

It goes down smoothly, with flavours mostly of coconut, a little oak spice and some maple syrup.

There is no denying that it is a sweet rum, and it flirts with getting sticky. But it avoids crossing the line and barely saves itself from a scolding.

Rating and final thoughts
Even though it has a more premium look than many other rums, I am very reluctant to actually calling it a premium. Simply because it isn’t.

What it is, is a solid entry level or perhaps even mid tier product.

It is to the sweet and perfumed side, but I am sure a lot of people will find this rum very enjoyable.

Value for money is all right. You can find it for around €45 and at this price it is more than a half decent rum. So if you are into sweeter, non-brutal rums, this might very well be for you.

I know that I often give sweeter rums a hard time for not being awesome enough, so I have to stress the fact that I actually do enjoy the sweet rums as well. There is a time and place for almost everything, and some days I do grab something just for the enjoyment of my sweet tooth.

I do however not consider heavily sugared rums to be great feats of artisanal skills.
According to measurements by Johnny Drejer, this particular rum had an estimated 20-25 grams of sugar pr. liter added after distillation.  

Human beings have a predisposition towards sweeter things. Scientists believe our brains loves sweeter things, because we evolved from fruit eating primates. Preferring sweet, ripe fruits would yield more readily available energy to further foraging, fighting and/or mating, than more bitter unripe fruits. Further more ripe fruits would contain more water, which could be a scarce ressource high up in the jungle canopy.

So there it is. The reason why we (as a species) easily favour sweeter rums, and perhaps have a harder time enjoying the not so sweet ones.

And with that lesson in natural science, we come to the conclusion.

To sum it all up in a few words: Enjoyable sipper. Not very complex. A little untamed. Heavy on the coconut. End result is a …
Rating: 65/100

A big thanks to Mads Heitmann of Romhatten.dk for his essay about Plantation Rhums in the latest edition of the Danish magazine ”Hele Danmarks Whisky & Rom Magasin”. Otherwise I would probably never have learned the store of the birth of this rum.



  1. Posted this on FB as well: "Aside from appreciating your reasoning why you felt this one scored 6.5 (my own score was 8.85), I really liked your notes on tasting competitions.

    I think the only way tasting competitions can ever be taken seriously is if (a) they publish the complete list of rums being tried and (b) if every such competition around the world uses the same standardized classification structure, every time, all the time. All these varying ways of defining rum categories lessens - if not actually eliminates - relative comparability."

    Maybe I should go back to this and see how much my tastes have changed since the time I tried it first.

  2. Although I've not reviewed this particular rum yet, it is in my collection and your tasting notes are similar to my perceptions.

    Good job calling out the less well-known side of rum competitions. People need to be aware of this. I've seen competitions with 25 entries and 25 medals.