Rum Review: Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum

As someone who drinks a large number of spirits for this site, I appreciate the ones that are a little strange. A little different. If everything was all the same, then there would be no point to discovery (and no point to this site). So when one of my friends came across a rum that he claimed tasted like no rum he’s tried before, I knew I had to give it a whirl. One quick bottle swap later and I was staring at a bottle of Smith & Cross.


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History

John Taylor founded the Chelsea Distillery in 1820, located at 56 Cale Street in London and focused on producing gin and liqueurs. He sold the distillery for £400 in 1863 to a pharmacist named James Borrough, who built relationships with some of the higher end merchants in London such as Fortnum & Mason. Borrough had already been using his experience as a pharmacist to perfect gin recipes for some time before he bought the distillery, with some of those recipes dating back as far as 1849. It was one of those improved gin recipes that Borrough would use to create the now-iconic Beefeater London Dry Gin.

Borrough died in 1897 and the distillery passed to his sons, who continued to expand the business and purchased new facilities to support their growing client list. That expansion not only included physical floor space, but also expansion into other types of spirits and even into the medicinal alcohol business.

The company would remain privately owned until 1987, when it sold to the British spirits conglomerate Whitbread, which also owns Laphoraig as well as a handful of other scotch whisky distilleries. Christopher Hayman had been working at the company since 1969 and saw this as his opportunity to strike out on his own, purchasing a portion of the brands from Whitbread and starting his own business as Hayman Limited. This new company focused on building a business as a wholesaler for spirits, building brands and sourcing spirits from other locations while not actually operating any distilleries of their own.

Sometime around 1788, two firms — Smith & Tyers and White Cross — started cooperating on importing sugar and rum in the London docks. The enterprise would eventually lead to the formation of the Smith & Cross brand, which was obtained by Hayman Limited where it remains today.

Product

Hayman Limited doesn’t actually produce any of their products — instead they re-package spirits produced by other distilleries. This rum is created by Hampden Estate in Jamaica, who starts with a combination of molasses, cane juice, and sugar syrup. That sugary substance is fermented to create a mildly alcoholic mixture that is then distilled in a traditional pot still to create the new make rum.

You might notice that there’s two additional names on the front of the bottle: Plummer and Wedderburn. This refers to the use of two different styles of rum production (pioneered by Plummer and Wedderburn independently and then joined in this bottle) for the spirits here today. The higher proof Wedderburn style rum is aged for six months in oak casks, and the lighter and more flavorful Plummer distillate is aged for three years in previously used bourbon barrels.

Once aged, the spirits are blended together and bottled.

This rum is often described as having the characteristics of a “hogo” rum. The term is derived from the French “haut gout” or “high taste”, generally used to describe strong or desirable characteristics in food and drink.

Packaging

There’s nothing particularly special about this bottle, and in fact I find that it hits more of my pet peeves than it does get my admiration.

The glass bottle is shaped like every other glass bottle out there, with straight walls and a slight bulge in the neck. The bottle is capped off with a wood and cork stopper. Nothing new or interesting there.

On the front of the bottle is a massive blue label with gold lettering describing the brand name as well as the contents. And this is where the packaging goes from mediocre to being actively disappointing. The vast majority of this blue label serves no purpose other than being a big blue blob on your bottle. It blocks out your ability to see the contents for no good reason, and doesn’t even pull off the Apple-esque minimalist aesthetic properly.

If you’re going to slap a huge honking label on your bottle, either get the minimalism right or have something interesting to put on it.

Neat

There’s a funk to this rum that is readily apparent the second you take a whiff. There are some traditional barrel aged aromas like brown sugar and vanilla in the background laying down a base, but what really stands out is this pungent note that I think can best be described as rotting mangos. And I don’t mean that in a negative sense — you’re getting an over-ripened, super sweet version of the aroma like you’d expect to see from the fruit just as it starts to turn. But coupled with that is a deeper and darker note as well, enhanced by the barrel aging process, and it becomes closer to the yeasty tone you get coming off a fermenting tank.

Taking a sip, this is probably the most complex and interesting rum I’ve ever tried. Initially, there are some baking spices up front, coupled with some sweet and sugary molasses, but this quickly develops with some expected vanilla and gains some fruity touches. I taste some apple, mango, banana, and apricot in there, all of which is tempered with some oak wood and leather for depth and complexity. On the finish, we once again get that funk that was in the aroma, tasting like you just bit into a slightly rotten mango (again, just the over-ripe and slightly yeasty aspects) which lasts a good long while.

On Ice

As you’d expect, the addition of a bit of ice tones down the more outlandish aspects of the flavor profile and calm things down a bit. In this case, the ice knocks out most of that funk, leaving mainly apple, banana, and mango in the aroma.

That said, the flavors seems to have changed quite a bit. Instead of molasses up front, now I’m getting a flash of dark chocolate which is followed by the fruity tones and the sweetness. There’s almost a slightly bitter twinge in here that wasn’t apparent before.

One thing is for sure, though — the funk is too funky for the ice to eliminate completely. It may not be as strong, but it’s still there.

Cocktail (Daquiri)

Even before you add the fruit juice, this already kind of works as a daquiri. There are plenty of fruit aspects in the rum as-is, so really what we’re doing is just accentuating that portion of the flavor profile and adding some dilution to make the funkiness chill out for a bit.

All of that said, I don’t think the daquiri is this rum’s forte. There’s already a bit of an acidic bite in the rum as-is, and adding the lime juice just accentuates it. Adding some simple syrup definitely takes the edge off, but I still found it to be not quite balanced.

I’d love to see this in something like a painkiller… but alas, I didn’t have the ingredients for that to hand.

Fizz (Dark and Stormy)

Another swing and a miss, sadly.

The bitterness in the ginger beer and that bitter dark chocolate note in the rum have combined in a bitter feedback loop to make it almost feel like your tongue is being stabbed with a sharp stick as soon as you take a sip. And the only other flavor cutting through the bitterness is sweetness – because this is a cocktail that is simply way too sweet, with no depth or richness to compensate.

It felt like drinking bitter candy, and (just to be clear) I don’t say that in a positive way.


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Overall Rating

Let me start with this: I’m keeping this bottle on the bar. Despite this making a mediocre daquiri and an absolutely abysmal dark and stormy, there are enough weird and interesting flavors in this rum itself that I desperately want to keep experimenting with different flavor profiles to see what I can get out of it.

As I said at the start, I like spirits that are interesting, experimental, and just different. And this is undoubtedly all of those things. It has a lot of really delicious components to it, but is very temperamental when used in a cocktail. So, word to the wise: don’t think you can straight up swap this for a bottle of Captain Morgan or Bacardi. This will take some thought and experimentation to mix properly in a cocktail, but there’s potential for some really awesome results when done right.

Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum
Produced By: Smith & Cross
Production Location: United Kingdom
Classification: Rum
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 57% ABV
Price: $28 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
A funky, fruity, complex rum that seems to be very picky about its associates in a cocktail.


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