It's always rough being the middle child. By this, I mean that youth and vitality is a virtue, and so is wisdom and experience. But you're SOL smack dab between the two, where it's often hard to make a name for yourself.
And so it goes with Rhum Barbancourt's 8-year expression, which very neatly splits the difference between an agricole and an aged rum.
While a longer rum primer exists on this site that goes a little more in-depth on those rum categories, frequent readers and serious boozehounds will note that agricole "rhums" are usually bold in their grassy, often medicinal nature. They're an acquired taste to be sure, but rhums of this sort often have complexity to burn. It might not be too far a stretch to call them the IPAs of rum.
Meanwhile, aged rums the likes of El Dorado, Ron Zacapa, Kirk and Sweeney, and Zafra are ready to broadside you with a double-digit number and give you both barrels of flavor. Where agricoles are grassy, these rums are often like a distilled glass of bananas foster: equal parts delicious and rich. Two completely different flavor profiles. If forced to pick, and given my sweet tooth, I'd begrudgingly admit I'm partial to the latter.
For that reason, it might seem that Rhum Barbancourt's attempt to toe the middle ground between the two very different camps would run the risk of pleasing no one through the compromise. For example, imagine you awake on Father's Day with a well-meaning loved one hovering over you. Then, when you first open your eyes all bleary-like in the morning, that person says, "I know you like ham, and I know you like waffles, so today I made you ham waffles." Blecch, right?
But in reality, I like Barbancourt's take. Applying Fred Minnick's "rub it on your hands and see if it feels sticky" test of determining added sugar, it doesn't feel like there's sugar added. Geeks will note that there is indeed some added sugar, but it's still hardly enough to push this outside of "dry" territory, and especially so as far as rums go. And indeed, there's a significant amount of grassiness at first taste not unlike an agricole.
But as it sits, there's a bit of a wham, and then a lot of familiar aged rum character emerges. Tobacco, caramel, vanilla, and barrel spices float along the palate without being cloying—they're tempered, perhaps, by that slightly bitter and astringent arrival. Where other spirits feel confused, this offers a nice juxtaposition between both worlds.
So all in all, I'm very interested to see what Barbancourt is like both above and below this price point. The 8-year version reviewed here wouldn't really be my first choice for a mixer in traditional rum drinks, but the adventurous may feel like experimenting to see how this would tweak the character of a daiquiri or mojito. It's juuuuuust on the cusp of affordability where a person might feel like playing around with it.
I reviewed the Uncle Val's Botanical gin a while back, and I feel very similarly toward this as I did that. This isn't the place to start in the spirit category as a whole, but serious drinkers familiar with the quintessential bottles who are looking for something off the beaten path will find a lot to enjoy, I think. Well, provided they're happy existing somewhere between the realm of ultra-dry agricoles and ultra-decadent sugar bombs.
The world's a big place.