I’ll tell you this straight away: Smith and Cross is one of those spirits that embodies why I started this website and the kinds of things I hope to make people excited about when I write about alcohol.
Let’s attack this from a few separate angles before we get to the actual taste itself. The first is the context. Cocktail historian David Wondrich and Pegu Club owner Audrey Saunders are two people who really do know what they’re talking about, and helped importer Haus Alpenz bring a product to market that represented the character of a high-ester, uniquely Jamaican rum. (We’ll get to what that means in a bit.)
What I like about this, especially: people who cared saw a hole in the market for something good, and lo and behold, it was made so. This was not a spirit hyped by someone like Drake or Connor MacGregor looking to make even more money off the back of an inferior, “who really asked for this?” type of product. The idea for Smith and Cross didn’t originate in a boardroom or focus meeting: cocktail wizards produced something at scale that they wanted for themselves and couldn’t easily find.
Secondly, the value is out of this world. For less than thirty dollars, you get a true Navy Proof rum that’s a whopping 57% ABV. Cask strength, man. You’d pay $60 to get that quality in a bourbon, and somewhere around $70 to 100 for a non-age stated scotch at the same proof. Yeah, it’s strong, but there’s no downsides to this proof.
Mixed into tiki-based cocktails—WHAM—instant depth and body. Consumed with ice and water, it’s made genteel without a sacrifice of flavor. But, if you’re the kind of madman that wants to see what this stuff tastes like without any water at all, you’ll be astounded at the lack of alcohol reek and burn when it almost should assuredly taste like rocket fuel given the price point and proof. And again, it’s just thirty bucks! I was reminded of Fred Willard’s genius FedEx commercial. Keep your sawbuck!
Third and most importantly: the taste. Smith and Cross is huge. Even diluted from 57% to somewhere around 40% ABV, it’s still a backbreaker of a rum in all of the best of ways. Whereas Captain Morgan or Bacardi are vaguely scummy, acrid, and sugary, Smith and Cross is explosive and expansive. There’s simply a ridiculous amount of stuff to suss out on the palate. Like what, you ask?
For one thing, you’ll instantly know what “funk” means when applied to rum. The S&C is prototypical of the Jamaican, high-ester style. There’s an earthy, root-like quality to the Smith and Cross evocative of ginger or ginseng, but boy howdy does that medicinal arrival open up into a cavalcade of additional flavors.
There’s copper. There’s lemongrass. Of course, the molasses and brown sugar you’d hope to get from a rum of this color. But also tobacco and lime, bringing yet more tastes forward that are evocative of the tropics. A sense of place is all over this stuff, and they didn’t hold anything back. It’s impossible to get everything from one sip. Or seven sips. And it all changes just slightly if you add water, or as your big-ass ice cube begins to melt (a great way to experience this stuff).
If you’re normally not a rum drinker, this might be a little like being thrown into the deep end and told to swim. Great if that’s how you want to experience things, but it might be all just a little much to someone looking for a place to start. I’ve gifted a lot of Plantation Pineapple Rum and Atlantico White to people who are just cutting their teeth on rum (much to their delight), but gifting this to someone just getting into spirits is like giving your 16-year-old nephew the keys to a Lambo. It’s going to be too much, too fast.
That said, if you even passively like rum on its own, do yourself the favor and track this down. You know who you are.