All rum is ultimately a product of the sugar cane plant, but rum geeks know that there is a dramatic difference between the spirits produced at different stages of harvesting from the plant. Most rum is fermented and then distilled from molasses, a by-product created when refining sugar cane juice into crystallized table sugar. A smaller percentage of rums are instead fermented from the fresh sugarcane juice itself, imparting what is essentially the purest flavor of sugarcane. land. What drinkers call this type of “cane juice rum” depends on where these rums come from – in Haiti, the native spirit clairin is produced this way, whereas in the likes of Martinique or Guadeloupe, it is agricultural rum.
And yet, these are not the only regions to produce rum from fresh cane juice. While a spirit such as Martinique AOC Rhum Agricole is arguably the standard bearer for the style, it seems I’ve recently tasted other examples of what might be termed “agricultural style” rums from other overseas sources. Some are made in Africa, as evidenced by the wonderful South African Mhoba rum from Holmes Cay, or Equiano Light Rum. And then there’s Copalli, a Belizean product that stands out a bit from the country’s more traditional rum industry, which are largely molasses rums.
Copalli Rum is a younger, decidedly modern distillery that operates an impressive farm and facilities deep in the rainforest of southern Belize. Their product is marketed with an emphasis on natural production methods, being organic and non-GMO, and proven with “canopy water” collected directly from the rainforest. Likewise, the company promotes its green efforts and energy efficiency, using the remains of sugar cane, after crushing, to fuel its boiler, while the resulting ash is used as fertilizer. All of the rum they produce is also made from fresh sugar cane juice, which is pressed just hours after being cut by hand, before being distilled in copper pot stills and column stills. Various Copalli bottlings are expressions of one or both stills.
I was certainly curious how Belize’s fresh cane juice rums would compare to the agricultural ones I’m more familiar with, so I set out to taste the three Copalli bottlings that are on the market today.
ABV: 42% (84 evidence)
As mentioned above, this is a fresh rum made from sugar cane juice, and it is a blend of pot and column distillate that has been rested in stainless steel tanks. It comes in at a slightly higher proof point than the minimum (proofed with canopy water) and seems to have an MSRP of around $30, though I’ve seen it as low as $25 in several places. This price makes them potentially a very valuable expression of an agricultural style rum, given that they are often more expensive than molasses-based rums.
On the nose, I get clean citrus and more musky and funkier fermented pineapple, as well as more reserved notes of grass or resin. It’s a bright nose, suggesting some acidity, but without a lot of the deeper funky/earthy/wild notes one would expect. clairin or many Martinican farmers. It seems a little more easygoing, with almost a slight graininess to the nose, a little something like toasted strands of wheat.
On the palate, Copalli White Rum is slightly sweet, with grass, resin and green pineapple, turning into a slightly spicy green character. There’s also a bit of ripe tropical fruit, but overall the palate is quite sweet and suits the relatively lower ABV, and I also don’t get a ton of obvious fruity esters from the serving still in pot. What stands out here is how clean it is, with a nice fruitiness of citrus and cane juice, although it also has traces of that hoarse grain note from the nose, somewhere in the distance. .
In all? Looks like it would make a perfectly enjoyable daiquiri, splitting the difference between the more familiar flavors of agricultural rum and molasses rum. And if you can find it for $25-30, that’s pretty good value too.
ABV: 44% (88 evidence)
This “barrel rested” expression is also still produced from fresh sugarcane juice, but to a slightly higher degree than White Rum. The biggest difference, however, is the fact that this expression is fully pot distilled rather than a pot/column mix, which should result in a more robust rum. The use of “rest”, on the other hand, alludes to the fact that this rum does not spend long in the old bourbon barrels at all, apparently less than a year. In this range, one has to wonder if the color is the bigger contributor than the flavor. This one has an MSRP of around $35-40.
On the nose, I have bigger impressions of coconut this time around, both the shell and the flesh, as well as toasted nuts and cocoa nibs. The grass/resin character is still there, as are citrus and pineapple, although they are now harder to locate individually.
On the palate it’s quite toasty, with more of that gritty quality that has been found in traces on the white rum – I assume it comes from the still at the distillery, as it’s more prominent here. There’s a lingering cocoa that almost reminds me of Nestlé Quik powder, before a transition to the more familiar profile of grass and ripe tropical fruit – the two work well together, but lack a certain cohesion. At the back, the profile unexpectedly shifts in a drier, dustier oak direction, bringing more of a dry mouthfeel than one would expect for the relatively short aging time. Overall, this brand seems somewhat immature to me, and I wonder how a few more years might transform it. Right now they don’t feel like they’re getting the best aspects out of these barrels yet.
ABV: 40% (proof 80)
A chocolate flavored rum is always the kind of thing I’m wary of, as I have little fondness for flavored spirits of any kind, but it’s about the most natural way possible to make something like “chocolate rum”. It’s simply the company’s white rum, placed in a vat to infuse with “freshly harvested 100% organic cocoa nibs,” then redistilled. It’s a very simple highlight of the ingredients, and thankfully it avoids artificial flavors or added sweeteners. Kudos to Copalli for being transparent about products like this.
On the nose, this one is quite roasted, with an extra touch of overripe banana that comes through more strongly than on either of the other rums. I remember a chocolate-covered frozen banana you might buy at a zoo or at a sporting event. On the palate, the cocoa flavor is quite intense, mingling with a more neutral alcohol – the cocoa is the big star and has erased most of the white rum’s varietal character. That said, it ultimately feels more like a dry cocoa liquor than a chocolate dram, with a silky texture that particularly stands out. I still find that a little off-putting, but it’s mostly a matter of personal preference – I think in terms of delivering the natural cocoa nib flavor, this one probably gives people exactly what they’re going to want. It’s truly a dark chocolate mood, with a solid roast and nutty flavors. It could actually be useful as a liqueur – I could see adding it to other whiskey cocktails in particular, in small amounts, to infuse that chocolaty character the same way one might use chocolate bitters.
Jim Vorel is a staff writer at Paste and a resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.