My dad is a whiskey guy through and through, but there’s one rum that I’ll occasionally see on his liquor shelf. And that’s Sailor Jerry. So, while we’re taking a stroll through the rum aisle here on the site, I figured this collection wouldn’t be complete without trying a bottle of my dad’s favorite stuff.
Norman Keith Collins was born in Reno, Nevada in 1911 but his family moved shortly thereafter to California where Norman would grow up. He didn’t stay there long either, and as a teenager started hopping freight trains across the country and meeting new people along the way. One of them was a man named “Big Mike”, who taught Norman the art of tattooing by hand, and then Gib “Tatts” Thomas who in the late 1920’s taught Norman how to use a tattoo machine.
At the age of 19, Norman enlisted in the U.S. Navy for World War II, during which he earned the nickname “Sailor Jerry”. Also during his time at sea, he was exposed to the various art styles of the South Pacific that he brought back to his new home on Hawaii and incorporated into his own designs. He also formed a deep love and admiration for rum, a common spirit among sailors. His shop in Hawaii pioneered practices that are common today — such as single use needles and autoclave sanitization equipment, and his tattoos would have a massive impact on the burgeoning art form often being copied or incorporated into designs by other artists.
When Norman died in 1973, his proteges took over the shop and continued his tradition, aiming to share Norman’s art and history with as much of the world as they could. In 1999, they formed Sailor Jerry Ltd., a company dedicated to expanding the use of the artwork Norman created in other mediums.
In 2001, the company launched a brand of rum bearing Sailor Jerry’s name and artwork, and agreed to a distribution deal with the British firm William Grant & Sons. Seven years later, WG&S purchased the brand outright, and (following the resolution of some legal issues over the rights to Norman’s artwork raised by his widow) continues to produce the rum to this day.
The big question: what’s in the bottle?
Checking the label isn’t helpful, as all it reveals is that this is bottled in Edison, New Jersey (probably at the large bottling plant that William Grant & Sons runs there that also bottles things like Hudson Whiskey).
According to some reports, this rum starts its life in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The actual source for the sugar content isn’t disclosed but, typically, molasses is a common starting point that is added to water and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid. From there, it is distilled and flavored.
Reportedly, the original flavor combination that Sailor Jerry used in his rum was four specific spices: cinnamon, clove, vanilla and ginger. In addition, an infusion of lime juice was added. Whether those specific additives are still in use is unknown, especially following a recent re-formulation of the spirit.
So, to answer the question of what’s in the bottle… we’ve got a big ‘ol shrug.
The bottle design itself isn’t much to write home about. You’ve got a rounded body with some ridges at the top and bottom, straight walls, and a rounded shoulder that tapers into a medium length neck. The bottle is capped off with a metal screw-on cap.
The part that makes this a Sailor Jerry rum is the artwork on the label. Which, to be frank, is disappointing. I’d expect something closer to the wall of flash art on a tattoo shop showcasing more of Norman’s artwork, but instead all we get is a single hula girl and an island profile. The logo is especially unimpressive: a large black dot with white lettering.
It stands out on the shelf, for sure. But it’s not something that I would showcase at home.
Pouring a bit into the glass, this is a beautifully clear spirit with a pale amber color. There’s a spicy and warm aroma coming off the rum, starting with some caramelized brown sugar notes, vanilla, and some baking spices. It isn’t super complex, but it is bold and well balanced.
Those aromas carry over to the flavor pretty well, but with some changes. Overall, the flavor is a little more intense than usual, starting out with the same brown sugar note but with an added herbal aspect to it as well, like fresh cut grass. There’s also just a touch of bitterness on the front. Beyond that is some vanilla, those baking spices, and just a bit of dark chocolate near the end. The spirit finishes quickly with a single note of charred brown sugar lingering on.
Ice can do some strange things to a spirit, but with a spiced rum, theoretically this is where it should start to shine. Cocktails should be its stock and trade, and that’s exemplified no better than in this glass in front of me here.
There was some minor unpleasantness in the glass when taken neat, but this really lets loose with the ice added. The caramelized brown sugar and vanilla, the baking spices, even a bit of star anise are all making their presence known in a big way and it is absolutely delicious. I’m not usually a rum sipping kind of guy, but this is a rum I would sip any day.
It’s very close to a Vanilla Coke at this point, if I had to put my finger on it. A little more spice than usual perhaps, but the components are all there.
Honestly, this is surprisingly unbalanced. So much so, that I had to go double check that I had my proportions right when I mixed this.
The lime juice is starting to run away with the cocktail here. There isn’t enough spice or strong flavors to balance it, and there’s not enough sweetness to counteract the bitterness. It isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever had, just a bit off kilter.
Fizz (Dark and Stormy)
Now, this is much more what I was hoping for.
This started out tasting like a Vanilla Coke when we added just ice, and that’s still mostly what I get here. But I think the ginger beer does adds some nice brightness and balance to those darker tones. The flavors coming from the rum itself also start to change a bit, so that I actually get some pineapple and mango notes in the cocktail. All in all, a delicious surprise.
I can’t tell you if the “new” or the “old” version of Sailor Jerry is better — I’ve only had what’s on the shelves right now. And based on this version, as long as you’re drinking it with a little bit of ice or some ginger beer, this is some pretty good stuff.
There are a lot of good flavors going on here, but while they are complex and balanced in their own right there isn’t much complexity in the source. It’s all flavors from the additives, and not really anything from the manufacturing process or the raw materials. The rum is good, but it doesn’t have a “sense of place” as the WSET folks would say.
|Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum|
Classification: Spiced Rum
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 48% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A delicious rum that would make Sailor Jerry happy. I just wish it had a bit more of his artwork on the bottle.