How to Taste Rum
Visitors to Montanya Distillers’ Tasting Room love to take advantage of our free tastings, especially when they learn that Montanya is locally made (as in right upstairs) from only four, all-American ingredients. Each of our rums not only looks different, but tastes different too—it’s fun to pick out the different flavors, whether you’re a rum connoisseur or simply like Montanya cocktails.
You don’t have to be in Crested Butte to get in on the fun. Whether you’re visiting a distillery in your own back yard or hosting your own rum tasting at home, you can hone your palate with a few simple tips. Here, Montanya owner Karen Hoskin, General Manager Brandon Muller and Front of House Manager Allysa McGill share their best tips on the differences between Montanya rums and how to conduct your own tasting.
The Differences Between Montanya rums
The marque of Montanya Rums is that they are 100% pot distilled and considered to be “low ester” in the world of premium rum. This is in stark comparison to the high ester rums from Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean, often described as having “funk.” Esters form during longer fermentations when acids are produced and they come to life during aging in the barrel. The consumer world is rapidly developing an appreciation and appetite for funky, high ester rums but that is not what we make here are Montanya Distillers. Our fermentations produce low acidity during their 6-7 day lifespan.
Matt Pietrek of CocktailWonk provides a great way to think about this. “Much like bakeries make many styles of breads, distilleries have ways to make many different rums. Some batches may be created to be very light with delicate flavors, other batches may target an intensely strong and pungent style,” he says “From the types of molasses and yeasts used to the temperature and fermentation time, and continuing on to distillation choices (pot vs. column, when “cuts” are made, etc.) a distillery can craft any number of different flavor profiles.”
At Montanya Distillers, our style of rum is generally lighter, drier, less funky and more oak forward than many pot distilled rums. As we often explain in the Tasting Room, the main differences between Montanya rums result from how they are aged. All of our expressions come off the still exactly the same—clear in color—but the aging process is different for each one.
Montanya Oro rum goes into a fresh and wet whiskey barrel from Laws Whiskey House in Denver. The barrels are actually charred prior to holding the whiskey, and still have whiskey in their pores. Naturally, this imparts a lot of flavor and color into the rum. This is why the partnership we choose for our barrel aging is so important to us—we absolutely love the red chili and capsicum notes of the Laws Whiskey, which come through in all of our rums.
The Platino, on the other hand, goes into a barrel that has already aged whiskey and then our Oro rum. These barrels impart less color and flavor into the rum. The Platino rum is filtered using coconut husk carbon filtration, removing the color imparted by the barrel and making the rum clear. Owner Karen Hoskin’s main goal with this rum was to create a light rum that possessed the flavor characteristics of an aged rum, making it great for daiquiris, Hemingway daiquiris, mojitos, and more. (If you’re going to put fresh and delicious ingredients like fresh lime in a strong cocktail, it makes sense to use the smoothest rum possible, right?)
For our Exclusiva and limited-edition Aniversaria, the aging process is even more complex. The Exclusiva, for example, is finished in a Sutcliffe Vineyards French Oak barrel that previously aged Cabernet Sauvignon and Port. The Aniversaria is triple aged, finished in a third barrel which had Peach Street Bourbon in it. The Peach Street Bourbon barrel tends to contribute peach and cherry notes to the final product—possibly terroir from their location in the peach and cheery growing region of Colorado.
How to host your own rum-tasting
You don’t have to be a rum expert or study up on a rum’s qualities before tasting. In fact, when our assistant manager, Allysa McGill, hosts a tasting, she waits to share each rum’s characteristics. That way customers can experience the rums for themselves and determine what differences they note. (You can always consult labels or other descriptions after the initial tasting to see how they compare to what you experienced.)
Before starting, our General Manager Brandon Muller suggests having appropriate glassware on hand. While some distilleries serve tastings in plastic, he finds that glass gives the experience a more elevated feel and makes it easier to truly taste the rum. (And even 80- proof spirits act as a solvent on plastic. Plus, we don’t use single-use plastic at Montanya Distillers, anyway.) Brandon also likes to have water on hand, which helps cleanse the palate between rums so you can taste the subtle differences. As an added perk, the water keeps you hydrated especially at high elevation in Colorado.
When you begin tasting, always progress from the lightest to the darkest and oldest spirit. For Montanya rums, that means starting with the Platino and progressing by age to the Oro, Exclusiva and, finally, the limited-edition Anniversaria.
And don’t forget that when tasting hard alcohol, the second sip lets the flavor shine. As Karen explains, the first sip gets the taste buds acclimated to 80 proof alcohol, and the second sip allows for true tasting of all the flavors. It also helps to have the rum served at room temperature; only high quality spirits remain delicious at room temperature. If you are offered a spirit to taste that is highly chilled, this is usually an attempt to cover up impurities and flavor characteristics that are not favorable.
Tasting notes on Montanya Rums
Montanya rums tend to be drier than other rum brands, primarily because they aren’t sweetened with sugar caramel and colorings like many distillers do.
In the Platino, Karen picks up notes of vanilla, cardamom and pineapple (if you’re palate isn’t cultivated yet, don’t worry. It will develop over time, and in the beginning you may simply notice that this rum tastes fruitier).
In the Oro, Karen tastes strong notes of crème brûlée, pear, vanilla and red chili. And the Exclusiva has more of a tannic/vinous (or wine) finish as a result of the port and Cabernet Sauvignon previously stored in the finishing barrel.
When describing Montanya rums, Brandon likes to start with the Oro, even though you would taste it second. Because it goes into those charred, white oak American bourbon barrels first, it pulls out a lot of the barrel’s color and flavor before being finished with a tiny touch of local, caramelized honey. (The amount of honey is so small as to be almost undetectable, but it helps the natural flavors and character of the American sugar cane and barrel notes to shine.)
When the Platino goes into that same barrel, there is less color and flavor to be absorbed—add in the coconut husk carbon filtration, and the Platino is lighter on the whiskey notes compared to the Oro. That, Brandon says, makes the Platino a great rum for mixing cocktails or making infusions because it takes on other flavors well. By comparison, the Oro might be more of a favorite for both sipping and richer classic cocktails. And the Exclusiva, which is aged longer and finished in that port wine barrel, is more of a top-shelf sipper. It’s often not meant to be mixed with much, except perhaps a little lime or enjoyed on the rocks.
That said, one of Karen’s favorite cocktails featured in Volume II of her cocktail recipe book Elevated Cocktails is the Ti’ Exclusiva made with the Montanya Exclusiva rum. The original Ti’ Punch (short for Petite Punch) is a deeply historic and classic cocktail usually made with French Agricole style rum. It predated the Margarita and was most popular on the French Island of Martinique. Below is our spin on it so you can give it a try yourself:
2 oz. Montanya Exclusiva Rum
1 tsp. cane syrup (or rich turbinado or demerara syrup)
1 lime, fresh squeezed
Let us know what you think
Of course, part of the fun is seeing what one person picks up compared to the next. If you set up a tasting of your own or stop by the Tasting Room, let us know how it goes. How would you describe each of Montanya’s rums?