There’s no doubt that rum is one of the most versatile spirits in the world. From the smoky finishes of the British style, to the herbal, fiery qualities of the French style, rum can’t be pinned down by just one characteristic or location.
Japan might not be a destination that first comes to mind when you think of rum. But the Land of the Rising Sun is pushing the boundaries for what’s possible and experimenting with different flavours. Santa Maria gold rum is an example of this beautiful experimentation.
Santa Maria is crafted by the Ieijima brewery on Ie Island in Okinawa. Considering Okinawans are fond of their booze, it’s safe to say epic craftsmanship goes into every drink that’s produced.
The Ieijma brewery was first known for distilling awamori, Japanese moonshine with a powerful kick. Branching out into rum distillation, the brewery decided to mix traditional Japanese techniques with a respect for the environment.
The result is a 100% pure agricole (agricultural) rum made from local sugarcane that’s been cultivated on the island since 1630. As a reflection of the company’s respect for nature, the bottle features an elegant white feather floating above a mountain.
The Santa Maria name comes from the white Easter lily that blossoms on Ie Island during spring. In the West, the lily is a symbol of Saint Mary. It’s a subtle hint to the Japanese philosophy of life being ephemeral, of the seasons changing and nature transforming the land.
The rum is aged for two to three years in Nikka whisky oak barrels. This process infuses Santa Maria with a smooth whisky quality that’s reminiscent of Nikka Coffey grain.
There’s so much to unpack about Santa Maria and let’s start with the scent. It has a pleasant fruity aroma that puts me in the mind of high-quality ginjo grade sake. Totally different to the woody notes that are popular in Caribbean rums. Notes of banana and pineapple waft through the air, as gentle as the feather that hovers on the bottle.
The first taste I got hit with was pear. Next came apple. And just when I was thought I had the Santa Maria flavour figured out, I got bowled over by an undercurrent of cocoa and chili pepper. That is the elegance of Santa Maria gold rum at work. It’s a soft, slow build of a drink that doesn’t need to have big, punchy flavours to hold your attention.
As far as mixers go, Santa Maria is a revelation with coffee. The sweetness of the rum and the bitterness of the coffee beans tag-teamed my taste buds into submission. ‘More rum!’ They seemed to demand. I’m happy to oblige.
Variety: Rhum Agricole
Nose: Banana, pineapple, lychee
Mouthfeel: Pear, apple, cocoa, chili pepper, caramel
Pick up a bottle and start your journey into the unique world of Japanese rum. To learn more about Japanese drinks, check out Yamato Magazine for regular sake, shochu and awamori reviews.