English Harbour 1981 (25 Year Old)

English Harbour 1981

Product of:  Antigua
Aged:  25 years
Price: $225 on Antigua
Alcohol: 40% ABV 
Sugar: 0 g/L
Context:  Premium Aged Rum
RG Rating: 10

Tasting Notes
Extremely Smooth.  English Harbour 1981 shows a light brown mahogany color and a golden glow as you’d expect, nay, demand! from 25 years resting in oak.  Its aromas invite themselves into your senses like the most welcome of guests — including the smoothest caramel, light milk chocolate, mild almond, a hint of sweet golden raisin and dried plum.  Subtle spices of clove and vanilla are highlighted, reminiscent of  whipped cream and brown sugar wafting up from steaming hot sweet potatoes.  Sure, having a well developed nasal palate that appreciates fine aromas is a plus in this hobby, but at some point the anticipation of sipping just tortures your tastebuds.  On with it then.  The initial taste is like disrobing a gorgeous, new-but-somehow-familiar partner, revealing a fully developed yet delicately voluptuous body.  The flavors are warm and refined with a rare purity of sweetness, and slight earthiness like damp, soft leaves.  The flavors are perfectly balanced in harmony with the aromas, layered on top of
 a copper texture from the three-column still.  English Harbour 1981 finishes long, like nectar, leaving a bit of cinnamon to linger the over your tongue and throat. 

English Harbour rum begins with molasses imported from the Dominican Republic and Guyana, while the DR source is preferred for it’s higher sugar content (55-58%).  Baker’s yeast is used to initiate fermentation.  Anthony Bento, Managing Director of Antigua Distillers Ltd’s explains this gives English Harbour rums a wonderful bready flavor.  Some airborne wild yeasts also enter the open-top fermentation tanks, giving additional complexity. 

Barrels of Rum Ready for the Blending Tanks at ADL

ADL’s distillery is located near St. John’s harbour on the ruins of an old fort called the Citadel, kissing the Caribbean Sea.  Mr. Bento claims this location imparts the slightest hint of sea and salt notes to the rum, and I wouldn’t argue with him.  The 1981 Vintage 25 Year Old was produced on an old French-design Savalle still, which is no longer made.  Antigua Distillers currently uses a John Dore three-column continuous still.  According to Mr. Bento:  "We will never be able to reproduce the rum nor flavours of this old still with our current still. This makes the 1981 Vintage even more special because it can't be replicated.  Enjoy it while its still available. Only 600 are released per year worldwide."  Take note.

English Harbour 25 Year Old is aged for a minimum of 25 years in used, ex-Jack Daniels barrels.  About two pounds of oak chips are added to each barrel of rum to provide natural color and flavor.  Barrels see no more than one rounds of aging for the 25 Year Old rum, and the Angels take at least their share of during that time.  Only 600 bottles are produced each year!  Blending the 25 Year Old product takes "as long as it takes" Master Blender Kevin Semple to patiently tend to this truly exceptional rum.

The packaging is unique too, serving as both a sturdy protective case as well as a presentation podium.  The box is reminiscent of a 16th century nobleman’s horse drawn coach;  one corner opens like a tiny theater to show the heavy, cork topped bottle, which is mounted on a low platform, giving the impression that this is indeed a rum of distinguished heritage.

There is nothing else quite like English Harbour rum.  At $10 an ounce, the 1981 Vintage is one of the most expensive rums in my collection.  Sure, it's pricey, but I'm a huge fan of English Harbour rum.  See, many years ago I had an epiphany tasting their Extra Old rum (no longer produced) while sailing from Antigua to Grenada.  English Harbour Extra Old ignited my passion for rum.  First loves leave lasting memories, so of course the 1981 vintage 25 year old is a must have.  If I had but one rum wish, it would be that I could afford to make this my daily rum, sipped before a warm fire or on a boat’s foredeck in a fine breeze.  Only you can decide if the price is reasonable.  There's no question in my mind.

Quin Farara logo

Antigua Distillers Ltd announced their current product line in October 2007.  I chartered a sailboat a few months later for an island hopping adventure in the Eastern Caribbean, searching for more great rum.  First stop:  Antigua, for the specific purpose of bringing home English Harbour's 10 and 25 year old rum.  A quick hike through the capital city of St. John’s was frustratingly unfruitful, until I stepped inside Quinn Farara Ltd, my favorite duty free rum store in the Caribbean.  There I found bottle number 236 of 5712, aged 25 years from distillation in 1981 and bottled in September 2006, two years before I had the bottle in my hands.  Now I make a bee line for Quinn Farara's every time I visit Antigua. (I haven't seen it for sale in USA.)

Reviewed: October 2012 at ADL's tasting room on Antigua, and October, 2008 at the Rum Gallery, USA.

© Dave Russell 2017