Review: Thomas Tew Rum

Newport, Rhode Island, home to world-famous classic yachts, breathtaking mansions, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and now, home to their very own American Rum. Naval rooted Newport has a long history as a colonial port and 20th century escape for the well-to-do, but many don’t know it was once the Rum capital of the world, with sugars imported directly from the Caribbean, colonial Newport had as many as 22 active distilleries. The locals called their rum “Kill Devil” and it was not without dark roots, as rum at this time was intrinsically linked to the slave trade.

Fast forward 250 years however, and we arrive at the modern state of rum. While most Americans will think of rum as a strictly Caribbean spirit, just as Whiskey and Bourbon was made distinctively American using local distilling methods, there exists an American style of rum as well.

Thomas Tew, named after the famous Rhode Island pirate, is distilled in Newport RI using a single still method, in the same recipe and tradition as its 1750s counterpart. Coming from the same parent company (Newport Distilling) as acclaimed microbrew Newport Storm, I knew I was in for a treat when I came across my first bottle of Thomas Tew rum at a local store.

The Details: 

Price: $20-$30 / 750ml
Proof: 84
Style: Single-barrel copper still Rum
Origin: Newport, RI
Aged: 2+ years

Having been a rum fan for years, this bottle had somehow evaded my radar until I found it being sampled at a local tasting. After one sip I knew I had to bring home a bottle for the collection.

A perfect combination when paired with a Connecticut cigar.

The Bottle: Each bottle (750ml) is elegantly presented with a black wax seal, similar to the finish on a bottle of Maker’s Mark Bourbon, or Gosling’s Family Reserve rum. It certainly adds a unique touch to every bottle and catches the eye. My only criticism is it was a bit of a task to cut through it! Each bottle is hand marked with the barrel number, something usually only found among high-end or microdistileries.

Appearance: The rum is certainly dark, but nowhere near black. The dark amber color shines through the clear bottle, and lightens up a bit when poured into a glass. The color is all natural and the rum is free of artificial flavorings, both of which are all too common in mass market rums.

Nose: A touch of molasses and caramel out of the bottle. Swirling in the glass brings out a bit more of the alcohol but certainly nothing overwhelming. The more delicate flavors of the oak and vanilla also become more apparent after letting it sit in the glass.

Palate: My first impression left me surprised at just how dry this rum is compared to almost everything else I’ve tried. A very light mouthfeel contrasts the more sweet and sticky rums of the Caribbean variety. You can really taste the oak and some of the more subtle fruity flavors which linger on the tongue. It finishes with a slight burn much like an American whiskey. If you poured a glass for a friend and told them it was Bourbon, they might just believe you had they not seen the bottle. A clean aftertaste doesn’t linger much other than the warmth of the rum itself. Given the nature of single-barrel production, we can expect some slight flavor variations from barrel to barrel and across different years as well.

The bottle I purchased came as a set that included a rocks glass and sample of the charred oak barrel used in production. You can see a line down the middle that indicates how deeply the rum has soaked into the barrel, interacting with the tannin in the wood to produce natural flavors in the same way a barrel aged whiskey would.

Comparing the color to Goslings, the famous Bermuda rum.

In a side by side comparison, I found Goslings to have a much sweeter bouquet with the caramel being the most pronounced flavor. This is echoed in the palate with a sweeter and thicker mouthfeel. While Goslings is the de facto rum for Dark n’ Stormies, Tew shines as a stand-alone sipper, much like the more expensive and limited Goslings Family Reserve rum, which is similarly aged in oak casks.

Verdict:   For the price, Thomas Tew really hits it out of the park, delivering something very unique and flavorful without running your wallet aground. There aren’t that many spirits (and fewer rums) which right out of the bottle, with no ice or mixers are enjoyable to sip away at, but Tew accomplishes just this at a much lower cost than the more premium rums on the market, which run $60+ a bottle. If you aren’t much of a rum drinker now but you like bourbon, scotch, or whiskey, Tew might just be the rum for you.

Cocktail Ideas: Add some ice, a splash of lime, and a dash of bitters, water, and a pinch of sugar for a Rum old-fashioned. Garnish with orange peel and serve in an old-fashioned glass. In the summer, try with mint and club soda for a Tew Mojito.  For a Cuban inspired cocktail, combine ice, rum, curaçao, sweet vermouth, and grenadine in a mixer and strain for an El Presidente.

Distribution is currently limited to New England, so if you are in the area, I highly suggest tracking down a bottle for yourself. I will be adding the brewery/distillery tour to my list of places to visit the next time I find myself in NPT as well.

Aaron Doucett
Aaron is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and works as a cartographer in Cambridge, MA. Outside of work, he enjoys rowing, cycling, and hunting for vintage ties at thrift stores.

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