Tasting Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum

The Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum is a far cry from the stuff you used to hammered back at the frat house.

Henry Phillips

The recipe for Gosling’s flagship Black Seal Rum is a closely guarded family secret. As one of only a handful of rums to receive a Platinum Medal from the Beverage Institute, it’s considered one of the best dark rums in the world. There’s no doubt that it’s Gosling’s most renowned rum, elevated to the status of a Bermudian national treasure. But it’s not the only rum they make. At Gosling’s production facility in Bermuda, Malcolm Gosling Jr., the eighth-generation heir to the family business, led a group of lucky individuals — myself included — to bar in the back. Here, he grabs a bottle, one without seals or balancing barrels, and places it on bar. “Now, you’re not going to flambé any bananas with this.”

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The Gosling’s Family Reserve doesn’t quite have the history of the family’s Black Seal Rum, which was introduced to Bermuda in 1806 when James Gosling got lost sailing from the UK to America. But it beats the Black Seal in age — and lore. “It came from my great uncle Teddy”, says Gosling Jr. as he pours me a glass. Teddy Gosling was in charge of bottling Black Seal back in the ’60s and ’70s and, as the story goes, after he would run each batch, he would secretly pour a little bit into his own personal barrel. “Teddy didn’t really tell anybody about it and just let it age”, Gosling Jr says. “After 12 years he brought it up to the family’s Christmas dinner and tested it. He poured a glass of regular Black Seal and a glass of this [Family Reserve]. The family tasted it and were just blown away.”

“You’re not going to mix this with anything.”

After this unconventional seal of approval was given, the Gosling family formalized production of Family Reserve. Today the it’s made almost identically to their original Black Seal. Both rums are made from molasses and aged using once-used Kentucky bourbon barrels. There’re also both completely aged in Bermuda. “We tried aging it in Kentucky”, Gosling Jr. says, “but with the climate difference, it creates an almost entirely different product.” The one key difference is time. Where the Black Seal is aged between two and six years, the Family Reserve is left to sit for somewhere between 16 and 20 years. Before I can take a sip, Gosling Jr. stops me. “And you’re not going to mix this with anything”, he says. Yeah, making a Dark ‘n Stormy with this? Not a good use of resources.


ABV: 40%
Country of Origin: Bermuda
Style: Rum
Price: $85 (RSP)

Instead, pour this spirit into an aromatic glass at room temperature with no ice. It smells pungent and sweet, like caramel and brown sugar. When it hits your lips it’s surprisingly complex. At first it tastes super rich, as if it were just cream and caramel; then alcohol kicks in second; the finish is strong, devilishly smooth and just seems to last forever. It’s in this finish where the spirit’s age reveals itself: Resting in the oak for so much longer, the Family Reserve has much more distinct flavors of oak and spice.

The Family Reserve competes against cognac and high-end bourbon whiskey. And because the aging process is so extensive, Gosling’s doesn’t make a lot of it. According to Malcolm Gosling, President of Gosling’s Export Limited and father to Gosling Jr., they produce 21,000 bottles of the old rum each year, which they hope to increase to 60,000 by 2020. Each bottle is hand-labeled and hand-numbered. And that’s not its only decoration: It’s received double gold medals at the San Francisco Spirits Competition and Caribbean Journal rated it #1 aged rum in the world. So pour a post-dinner glass, sit back and silently celebrate the fact that you can afford better rum than your college days.

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