Rum isn’t something you typically associate with central Texas. There are some distilleries that make it, though — either by necessity (as it doesn’t require aging and therefore can be a product for sale for new shops) or by choice (like the Balcones Texas Rum). But it’s almost always a side project and not the main focus of the distillery. That’s where HYE Rum is different — right in the name, the focus on all the delicious versions of rum. And today we’re taking a look at their spiced rum offering.
Thirteen years ago, James Davidson’s father declared that he wanted to try and make his own scotch whisky, and the younger Davidson was all in. James was a data analyst by trade, a background which served him well as he started trying to learn the art of distillation. He started out distilling whatever he could get his hands on — even the old dregs of returned beer kegs from a local distributor — as he perfected his technique and took note of what he liked and didn’t like. Along the way, someone handed him a barrel of molasses (the typical base for rum) and he was instantly hooked on the amazing liquid coming out the other end of his condenser.
Davidson fell way, way down the rabbit hole of rums, buying a ton of different brands and seeing what made each style tick. As he continued experimenting, he found a winery owner in the Austin area who was happy to supply him with molasses and the pair formed a partnership that eventually turned into the HYE Rum Company. The winery owner would eventually part ways with the company, and Stephanie Houston stepped in as the new partner.
What sets HYE Rum apart, according to Davidson, is a focus on the spirit itself. According to him, most American rum follows the bourbon path by focusing on barrel aging and post processing. Davidson wanted HYE Rum to produce a superior raw spirit, and then their expressions would focus on the essence of the style and produce something in that vein (rather than simply mimic the flavor profile of bourbon).
- Learn More: What Is Rum?
HYE Rum starts with Louisiana-sourced molasses, which is the impurity-heavy byproduct of sugar production. That choice of raw ingredient is a deliberate decision — not just for the economics, but also for the flavor since those impurities provide flavor components that survive distillation and add some interesting character to the finished product. The molasses is mixed with water and cultured yeast, but the distillery deliberately uses a smaller quantity of yeast that takes longer to ferment (about 10 days instead of the usual ~3). This yeast results in better flavor components from the happier yeast bacteria that now has more room to grow and eat.
Once the fermented liquid has been created, it is added to a 22-year-old Portugese pot still that the distillery purchased from Oregon and repurposed for their rums. The still is directly heated with propane, and the resulting distilled spirit is re-distilled until it has reached the proper level of alcohol content.
For their spiced rum, HYE Rum uses three different spices: clove, Vietnamese cinnamon, and vanilla. The vanilla is steeped for a full month and a half and the other components for two week periods, a long time that allows the various flavors to really be absorbed by the spirit. The end result is not filtered (which may result in some cloudiness in the bottom of the bottle) and directly bottled for shipment.
According to the folks at HYE Rum, this bottle was specifically chosen to showcase the spirit and let it speak for itself. There’s no marketing language on the bottle or distracting logos — just a clean, modern design that allows the liquid inside to be the star of the show.
The bottle is a common design called a Kendo spirit bottle, which uses a completely cylindrical skinny body and angular shoulder to produce a very modern feeling. That is accentuated by the branding and font, which could be at home in any modern art museum. It’s a nice, clean looking design… but it borders a bit too closely to ‘sterile and corporate’ for my own personal aesthetic preferences.
We noted in the product section that there are only three spices in this spirit… and while you can definitely identify each of them individually in the aroma, the combination of these together is absolutely delicious. I’m getting the cinnamon and vanilla up front with some brown sugar sweetness, followed by that clove adding some depth and character.
That same aroma pattern translates perfectly to the flavor when you take a sip, and the combination is perfect. Even as a sipping rum, I’m getting some well-developed flavors and even a good spicy kick from the cinnamon (bold, but not so much that it is overpowering). It’s a sweet flavored spirit that isn’t actually overly sweetened, with a good balance and a solid, well-saturated flavor profile.
The nice thing about a spiced rum is that, usually, the flavor components are already saturated and strong enough to hold up on their own to the cold and dilution that comes with added ice. I mean, that’s the entire point of rum: it’s designed to be primarily a mixing spirit. We just really are looking for any indication that the balance is being thrown off, and I’m not getting any of that here.
The only change I’m seeing is that the flavors are a bit less saturated compared to before. It was rich and delicious when taken neat but, with the added ice, it does become a touch more watery. All the flavors are still there though, and the only balance change I notice is that the spicy cinnamon seems to be taking a bit more of a front stage position.
Fizz (Dark and Stormy)
There isn’t a whole lot of “dark” to this Dark and Stormy, but that doesn’t mean that this is bad — far from it, in fact. This is an interesting take on the cocktail that I don’t think I’ve seen before.
That cinnamon is shining through loud and clear, with the spiciness adding a good bit of kick to the texture of the cocktail. That’s really the star of the show here, with the vanilla and clove in the background keeping the ginger beer from becoming too loud and obnoxious. It’s a bit of a different take on a D&S, but I’m not mad at all.
It’s not my favorite presentation of a Dark and Stormy, but it works well in its own way.
I very much appreciate what the distillery is trying to do here. We’ve got a product where the distillery legitimately sounds like they are trying to do the right things and focus on making a quality bottle of booze. And with this expression, for the most part, they are firing on all cylinders. Taken neat or on ice, this is absolutely delicious with a well-balanced and rich combination of flavors.
Where this falls apart a bit is the packaging and the cocktail presentation.
I appreciate that they were trying to let the spirit do the talking, but the modern take on the packaging makes it seem like this is a hip and trendy spirits company trying to make a buck off dumb and impressionable millennials. After speaking with their staff, I know that not to be the case at all — but that’s the message that the packaging is sending in this market. I think a more traditional aesthetic would be beneficial here, or even something fun and quirky that could earn itself a spot on my shelf.
As for the spirit itself, the flavors are delicious on their own but there’s a bit too much cinnamon coming through in the standard Dark & Stormy cocktail. It’s a fine line to walk to make that really “pop” taken neat and then have it still work in a cocktail, and I think this is damn close, but just misses the mark by a hair.
Don’t let that stop you from buying it, though. I’m going to be drinking this rum all summer long… just neat or on ice, and not in a cocktail.
|HYE Spiced Rum
Produced By: HYEProduction Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Spiced Rum
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $25.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Delicious vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, and clove flavors mixing in a well saturated and enjoyable balance, but it might need some experimentation in a cocktail.