I am fairly certain now I will bring both a single barrel rum and cognac to the Gazebo (Friday night's in my case). The reason is to see if certain similarities to bourbon, especially single barrel bourbon, are evident. I have tasted from both these bottles and have some preliminary conclusions. One bottle is an aged cognac. The number 20 appears on the label but it doesn't actually state "20 years old" so I am not sure if it is that age, but clearly it is well aged and will have the character of the single barrel it was taken from. The rum is a 21 year old pot-stilled Jamaican rum that was aged in Bristol, England for many years. While bourbon (except for some of Woodford Reserve's contents) is not pot-distilled, a good bourbon is still a valid comparison to these pot-distilled cousins because all bourbon as we know is distilled at low proof, the final abv being in the range of a pot-distilled product (say 120-140 proof).
Here are some things each drink shares (I used Booker's for the bourbon but any good bourbon would do for the comparison):
(i) a congeneric quality, a distillery character in other words, something one can recognise from its absence in the obverse drink of vodka, for example;
(ii) a certain texture: softness and silkiness, body. Can this result from not having too many diverse whiskeys or other spirits "bumping up" against each other in the mingling? Hard to say; and
(iii) a wood, in fact, oak, flavour; the Booker's shows more charred lignin taste but the toasted quality is evident in the cognac and even the rum which results possibly from using refill charred casks or recharred casks for those spirits.
Where the drinks differ is in the top-notes of "cereal" flavour for bourbon vs. "grape" flavour for cognac vs. a brown sugar-like flavour for the rum (this rum is not dark and heavy but rather medium-light and as the label states, "coconut" and "lemon" in flavour). Clearly, the particular chemical components in a particular fruit or grain fermentation come through in the final product when again it is not highly rectified. I mean, we all know that, but it is worth recalling that apart from the congenerics only water and alcohol are vaporised in each case. No "grapes" or "wine" comes over into the spirit, no "cereal" comes into a whiskey distillate. Rather, naturally produced chemicals and compounds come over which retain their characteristics from the constituent mash. I find that fascinating. Seeing how sophisticated is modern organic chemistry, I wonder if it is possible to duplicate these flavours in a lab. Some of the congeners must be common to each drink since there is a certain similarity of flavour in each. Some congeners must be different, however, to account for the signature taste of each drink, a difference that continues into the condenser, the cask, and is marked even after years of aging.