When I first saw the label on this bottle of Admiral Nelson’s, I did a double take in the rum aisle of the liquor store — at first glance, this looked like a bottle of the much more popular Captain Morgan brand. But of course, after a couple seconds I realized that this was just an off-bland clone (the booze version of Steven Spielberg’s non-union Mexican equivalent, if you will). It seemed like an open-and-shut case of trying to be close enough to the more famous label to hopefully trick a few unknowing consumers, but out of pure curiosity I grabbed this bottle off the shelf to see just how much effort they put into the contents… and I found myself pleasantly surprised.
Established in 1935, shortly after the end of prohibition, Old Heavenhill Springs Distillery was founded by a group of investors in Bardstown, Kentucky. They were gambling on the idea that post-prohibition alcohol production would be a booming business and invested heavily in being one of the first companies to stand up and service that market. One of those investors was well known distiller Joseph L. Beam, first cousin to Jim Beam, and would become the first master distiller of the facility.
As the years went on, the Shapira family bought out all of the other investors to become the sole owner of the business and changed the name to Heaven Hill Distillery. Despite being bought out, the descendants of Joseph Beam remain the master distillers of the facility to this day.
Their primary distilling facility burned down in 1996, destroying 90,000 barrels of whiskey and lighting the creek that feeds the distillery on fire for nearly two miles downstream. The business survived and in 1999 they purchased from Diageo a new distillery in Bernheim, where production now takes place (but all aging still takes place at the original Bardstown facility).
That 1935 bet has paid off — big time. Heaven Hill Distillery is currently the largest family-owned distillery in the United States and the second largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. Their flagship brands include Deep Eddy vodka and Elijah Craig, and their facility hosts the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
- Learn More: What Is Rum?
While this brand of rum might be owned by Heaven Hill Distillery, it seems like they only bottle it in Bardstown, Kentucky. The rum is labeled as “Caribbean rum”, which indicates that it probably is manufactured somewhere a bit warmer and more tropical… but specifically in what country or what distillery is not disclosed. Total Wine (the retail store I purchased this from) claims that this comes from the U.S. Virgin Islands, which would make sense, but that’s not really supported by any hard evidence that I could find.
Also not disclosed is any morsel of information about what this actually is beyond a “spiced rum with natural flavor”. So we’re going to have to make a couple inferences.
As a rum, the source raw material at play here is some form of sugar. The cheaper rums like this one usually start with something called “backstrap molasses” which is the sludgy residue left over at the end of the sugar production process. Everything actually edible is boiled away and removed, leaving a thick black goo that is somewhat sugary and also full of impurities.
That molasses is added to water and fermented with yeast to create a mildly alcoholic liquid. From there, the liquid is distilled (usually in a column or continuous still for cheaper spirits) to concentrate and select the alcohol from the mixture, creating the raw white rum.
For a spiced rum such as this one, spices are introduced to the spirit. The ‘proper’ way to do this is usually by hanging huge bags of raw spices in the spirit and allowing it to soak up the flavors, but cheaper spirits often use concentrated flavorings and add those elements to the spirit. My guess would be that it is exactly that process, combined with some coloring and water to lower the proof, which results in the finished product we see here.
I feel like the fact that this only comes in 1.75 liter bottles at my local Total Wine store should be an indicator that we’re going for quantity and not quality here. That said, this is apparently sold elsewhere in a traditional 750ml version that looks much more “normal” in comparison.
The 1.75 liter bottle isn’t anything to write home about: standard plastic design, plastic screw-on top, and an “easy pour” spout inside to keep you from spilling it all over the table.
What I really want to focus on is the label, as this is probably as close as you could possibly get to copying the Captain Morgan design without getting sued. There are plenty of commonalities: a nautical theme, featuring a man in uniform in front of a large sailing ship, with a sword drawn on the left side of the figure, on an illustrated background. All of the elements are there, but there’s just enough to make it legally distinct. The sailor is an Admiral, not a Captain. He’s looking to the left, not the right. There’s a blue color scheme instead of red. And, probably most importantly, there’s no signature barrel for the figure to have their leg raised on.
I understand and appreciate that there’s at least a smidge of plausible deniability here, as Admiral Nelson is in fact a huge historical figure in the British Navy, and those limey bastards are pretty much the reason for rum’s popularity. Naming a rum in his honor makes logical sense… but the rest of this branding reads to me like an attempt to confuse customers into grabbing this bottle instead of Captain Morgan.
It certainly looks the part of a spiced rum, with a light amber color to the spirit. Immediately after pouring a glass, there’s a heavy industrial alcohol smell, but if you let it sit and air out for a minute or two it mellows down significantly to more of a sweet marshmallow, caramel, vanilla, cinnamon and clove mixture of aromas. It actually smells quite nice — well balanced and not quite as sweet as Captain Morgan.
The flavors in the spirit are unfortunately a bit weaker and less composed than I had hoped. Molasses and vanilla are the first flavors that come forward and bring a bunch of sweetness with them, followed by some clove spice, and then some caramel on the finish.
I’d like to point out that, initially, these flavors are all fine. They seem to play well, and things appear to be moving smoothly. There isn’t a whole lot of saturation, but the molasses and clove flavors provide some good depth. The odd man out here is the caramel on the finish, which tastes like someone added it at the last minute and it didn’t really get incorporated with the rest of the flavors. There’s also a twinge of bitterness in there that I’d probably attribute to artificial coloring.
When you add some ice to Captain Morgan, it starts to fall apart. You get basically a flat Coca-Cola with a significant blast of sugar. Surprisingly, Admiral Nelson actually seems to perform better, retaining many of the other flavors and even improving a little bit.
I’m still getting the molasses and vanilla up front, followed by some cloves and darker richness, and then the caramel on the finish. But there isn’t the same bite that we saw when taken neat. The ice seems to have toned that down and mellowed everything out making for a surprisingly enjoyable sip.
It’s still sweet and sugary, more than I usually prefer, but it isn’t unpleasant.
Fizz (Dark & Stormy)
This is where the spirit really starts to fall apart.
I like a good spiced rum in my Dark & Stormy. I know that typically you’d see a dark rum in here (hence the name of the drink), but using spiced rum instead adds some character and uniqueness that you don’t always get from a dark rum. In this case, though, the only contributions to the cocktail are the sweetness from the molasses (and probable added sugar) and a little bit of cinnamon and clove on the finish.
To be frank, this is still a perfectly drinkable cocktail. There’s nothing wrong with it whatsoever. It’s just… bland, uninteresting, and disappointing.
I’ll be the first to admit that on first glance I thought this was just a blatant attempt to confuse consumers and get them to buy this instead of Captain Morgan. And while I still wouldn’t rule out some shady branding practices, the contents of this bottle turned out to be not half bad.
This is a perfectly serviceable spiced rum. It’s a little sweet for my taste and a bit boring, but for this price it’s does what you need. It clocks in at about $3 less than Captain Morgan and actually tastes slightly better in my opinion, performing admirably on the rocks where Captain Morgan has some problems.
I’m not jazzed about the branding, or the nebulous sourcing, or the complete lack of detail about what’s actually in here. But for this price, if you’re looking for a rum to bring to a party where it’s just going to be used with some mixers, this might actually be the best bargain.
|Admiral Nelson's Premium Spiced Rum|
Classification: Spiced Rum
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 35% ABV
Price: $8.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
If you need a good cheap spiced rum, this is worth a look. Just do not expect miracles.