A small victory: given Bacardi's past track record around my home bar, I was expecting to struggle through the taster. While smart money would bet on a zero-star review, the Oakheart dodged that bullet. Color me mildly surprised.
If anything, the Bacardi Oakheart seems to demonstrate a growing suspicion I have with just about most spirits from the big manufacturers: if you buy any brand extension beyond their baseline, mass-marketed bottle, you're getting a step up. You're at least saying, "I am a consumer who has at least some preferences and won't drink whatever swill you tell me to. If I am going to be lured to your brand, you need to at least try."
Now, when I say "try," I want you to picture a C-student trying to do his math homework at lunch, right before it's due. He could have said, "Fuck it, whatever," so let's acknowledge he at least made an attempt. That's about akin to the level of craft here, as Bacardi puts the Oakheart in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels for a year. That's not very long, but it is something, and even that rudimentary level of aging and cask management does a lot to lift the normally shit-grade Bacardi into something barely passable.
Let's start with the surprisingly good things here: within the aroma is the occasional whiff of cherry-flavored tobacco. I had a perfect moment of synesthesia where I remembered that rich, woody, earthy smell of my stepdad's garage. That experience, combined with the generous flavors of butterscotch and maple flavors, provided me with enough positive moments to carry me from sip to sip.
All the same, these moments are disproportionately, bizarrely enjoyable given how crappy the rest of the experience is. Many of the worst Bacardi hallmarks are present (though thankfully muted) in this bottle. Sniff the drink too long, and you'll be reminded of dissection day in junior high—you know, when the caps came off the specimen jars and the air reeked of formaldehyde? Hold it for too long in your mouth, and you'll get odd notes of fake lemon-lime. Swallow it, and there's an unusual burnt, metallic flavor. Drinking bottom-shelf Bacardi is like tasting an electrical fire.
Note that some places can't even call Oakheart rum. I've seen the Oakheart labeled in some markets as a "spiced rum spirit drink," and in some cases, a "smooth and spiced spirit drink," in which case the r-word is banished altogether. At only 35% alcohol, this has probably been spliced with a healthy dose of neutral grain spirits (think low-quality vodka), added sugars, and caramel colorant. I'm sure that accounts for why so much of the glass tastes and smells vaguely artificial.
Only three things save Bacardi Oakheart from being at death's door: sometimes, there are some surprisingly agreeable flavors here, it isn't quite as bad as standard Bacardi silver or gold, and lastly, it's ten fucking dollars for 750mL. At that price, a total hatchet job on the Oakheart would read like a Zagat review of your nearest Burger King. Expecting rum ascendancy for less than the price of a small pizza seems a big ask.
So again: not as bad as I thought. It's even better than Sailor Jerry! But I'd be remiss not to mention there are a lot of straight-up good rums that can be sourced at about $15.