Review: Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum

There are a few brands of spirits which are simply iconic and cultural icons, and Captain Morgan is absolutely one of those. Much like some of the other spirits that have come out of Seagram, it’s so popular that it has its own instantly recognizable drink named after it (Captain and Coke), but the question is whether we’re dealing with an actual quality spirit that just happens to be infamous… or just a really good marketing campaign.

History

Henry Morgan was born in Wales in 1635, which had been fully annexed into Great Britain less than 100 years earlier. His early life and how he made his way to the Caribbean is unknown, but by the 1660’s Henry Morgan was captain of a privateer ship charged with capturing Spanish ships in the area. He married his cousin in 1666, the daughter of the deputy governor of Jamaica, and was soon after elevated to the rank of admiral and tasked with leading a group of privateers. In 1668, he led those forces in a successful assault on the town of Porto Bello, reportedly using clergy which he had captured as human shields for his assault on one of the fortifications. He further led raids on Maracaibo, Gibraltar, and Panama before the end of privateering in the Caribbean in 1672. Morgan would continue to be a figure in Caribbean politics, acting as governor of Jamaica before his death in 1688.

Morgan is best known because of a memoir published by former French shipmate Alexandre Exquemelin, which recounts his exploits as a privateer.

The Seagram company started as a Canadian distillery in 1857 and grew to become one of the biggest spirits companies in Canada. During prohibition in the United States, the owners of the company reportedly participated in bootlegging operations to bring their product into the US, and as a result paid $1.5 million in fines in 1930 (significantly less than the $60 million the US government asked for).

Post-prohibition, once again able to do business unimpeded in the United States, the Seagram corporation decided to create a couple new brands of whiskey to satiate the American market. The two brands they developed, Seagram’s 5 Crown and Seagram’s 7 Crown, were massive commercial successes.

In 1944, the company decided to launch a new line of Caribbean spiced rum inspired by the life of that famous pirate and formed the Captain Morgan Rum Company as a holding company for the new venture. Seagram purchased an existing Jamaican distillery to produce the spirit. The company they purchased had been producing alcohol for the local Levy Brothers, who ran a local pharmacy and had been purchasing raw rum from the distillery and adding their own medicinal herbs and spices before distributing it as their own product. Seagram liked the Levy’s recipe so much that they purchased it and used it as the basis for their new rum.

In the 1950’s, Seagram decided to sell their ownership of the distillery to a Puerto Rican company in favor of building a new distillery in San Juan, and licensed them the rights to produce Captain Morgan rum. The new company would introduce Captain Morgan to the United States in 1984 and it quickly became (by volume) the second largest brand of spirits in the country.

The company wouldn’t last, however — in the early 2000’s, the various divisions of the company were carved out and sold to larger beverage manufacturers. The mixers division was sold to Coca Cola who still produces them under the Seagram’s name. Other brands, including Captain Morgan and Seagram’s 7 Crown, were sold to the British spirits firm Diageo in 2001.

Product

In general, rum is produced by first combining molasses or sugar with water and yeast to produce a fermented mildly alcoholic mixture. Captain Morgan starts this exact same way and once the initial slurry is ready for distillation it is fed into a continuous distillation still (or column still) to produce the raw rum.

The distilled spirit is placed into oak barrels for an undisclosed period of time, reportedly up to a year. After an appropriate aging period, the company adds a secret blend of spices which are indigenous to the Caribbean prior to bottling.

Packaging

Overall, the bottle is a rather straightforward and typical design. There’s a slender cylindrical body that sports a bit of a flare at the top, but quickly tapers into a long neck that seems purpose designed for pouring. The bottle is capped off with a metal screw-on cap.

Really the only thing exciting here is the label. It takes up damn near all of the real estate on the bottle itself, with the cartoonish representation of Captain (or Admiral, more accurately) Morgan with his iconic pose of having a single foot elevated on a wooden barrel. The rest of the branding seems almost like an afterthought, written in a reflective golden label at the very bottom of the bottle.

Really what you are buying here is that cartoon pirate, and even I have to admit that he looks pretty cool.

Neat

At first glance, this smells almost as sweet as one of those flavored spirits, something like Fireball or Skrewball. There’s no doubt that this came from molasses, but that might not account for all the sugar I see here, as there’s a distinctly ‘artificially-sweetened’ tone to the rum. In general, this smells like someone dumped half a bottle of vanilla extract into a pound of brown sugar. Which, to be fair, is a delicious concept and the start of any good baking experience. There’s some nutmeg and cinnamon around the edges as well it seems.

Taking a sip of the spirit, it has a good weight to it that coats the tongue and sticks around. There’s an immediate hit of caramel followed by some vanilla, with the addition of those baking spices creeping into the mix as the flavor subsides and lasts well into the aftertaste.

There’s a flavor in here that I’d almost describe as a flat Coca Cola, with that syrupy aspect more prominent than the other flavors.

On Ice

This is decidedly a bad idea.

If this was resembling “flat Coca Cola” before, there’s no longer any question – or any other flavors. Those baking spices and a significant blast of sweetness are pretty much all that is left in this spirit. That said, the spices are a big enough component, even with the added ice, that I could definitely see how this becomes a good mixer. It still has something to bring to the table… you just probably don’t want it sitting alone.

Fizz (Dark and Stormy)

This is where the spirit really shines. With the addition of a little ginger beer, all of those flavors start to come together really nicely for a delicious drink. The sweetness of the rum and the brown sugar aspects pair nicely with the bitter ginger beer, and the baking spices add a depth and richness to the drink that you otherwise wouldn’t have seen with something like vodka.

The one warning I have here is not to add too much rum to your glass. The rough guideline of 1/3 rum to 2/3 mixer should be strictly followed, as the spirit is extremely sweet by itself and can overpower the other components. When making a Kentucky Mule, I usually do about a 50/50 mix of whiskey and ginger beer, but a Dark and Stormy just can’t handle that ratio with this rum.

Overall Rating

There definitely is some room for improvement here. It’s a solid mixer and absolutely brings some flavors to the experience that otherwise would be missing, but that same result can be achieved with other varieties of spiced rum. Especially spiced rum that actually tastes good all on its own, of which there are plenty of options out there.

For the price, it’s close enough to ‘good’ that it’s worth a look. But while you’re in that aisle of the store, try branching out into some other brands as well.

Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
Produced By: Captain Morgan
Owned By: Diageo
Production Location: Jamaica
Classification: Rum
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 35% ABV
Price: $11.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 2/5
I’ll drink it if my options are either this or scurvy.

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