Jul 292015
 

D3S_8976

A brooding, dark exemplary Caroni with a slightly jagged ending..

(#224. 86/100)

***

We who chronicle our rum journeys make all the expected genuflections and obeisances to the great standards and stations of the cross…Appleton, Mount Gay, DDL, Four Square, Caroni, Trois Rivieres, Havana Club (the real one), J. Bally, Neisson, Flor, Diplomatico, and so on and so forth. Then we move to the independent bottlers as we broaden our ranges…and somewhere along the way, it’s almost a given that we stop at La Casa di Luca for a bite.  I’ve done twelve so far, and believe me, there’s no end in sight.

This rum from Velier is from 1996, 3000 bottles and 55% strength, and an 80% angel’s share. Sometimes Luca confuses me with his expressions because he would issue the same rum at two different strengths just ‘cause, you know, he’s got ‘em, he can, and he wants to (this heavy 1996 has been issued at 63% as well – Henrik from Rumcorner waxed rhapsodic about it here quite recently).  Frankly, I worry this may be the sad case of there being too much of a good thing. They are all very good, you understand, but finding a favourite among so many expressions that are actually quite similar is a job for someone with deeper pockets and a more discerning schnozz than mine.

The bottle and its enclosure conform to all the expected values Velier has espoused for so long: stark and two-colour presentation, the box showing a photograph of Luca’s taken at the distillery (he’s actually a very good photographer as well), and all the usual useful information you could want. About the only thing you’re not getting was any notation on additives, but you can take it from me that Luca is a Spartan minimalist who cheerfully channels Josef Albers and Mondrian, is a proponent of pure rums in all senses, and is insistent that what comes out of the cask is what goes into the bottle. So rest assured, all ye puritans.

D3S_8898a

Photo courtesy of Velier

A darkish amber-orange coloured rum, it was, as expected, quite pungent and rich to smell, after burning off the more intense alcohol: immediate, dark scents of caramel and molasses duelled it out with musky tar, smoke, oak, leather, rubber and my son’s plasticine collection.  As it opened up, these muscular smells were lightened somewhat by lighter, sharper, floral hints, and the oils you smell on your fingers after manually peeling an orange, and some additional citrus (not much)…and then the petrol and aniseed blasted back to show they weren’t taking second place any time soon.  Heavy, thick and pungent, much like the 1994 edition.

The rum was a nocturnal, glowering Heathcliff to taste too (the nose wasn’t lying). Scarily big and bold bruiser when I tried it first (neat): more oak, molasses, tar, I couldn’t escape that signature profile, leavened somewhat with eucalyptus oil, dark chopped dried fruits, and raisins.  The harsher petrol and rubber disappeared almost entirely, and with a little water the thing became downright drinkable – certainly it was hot yet smooth all the way through, and the balance was quite extraordinary. Henrik loved the 63% edition: still, I could argue that the 55% is no slouch either, and may be more accessible than that other, stronger rum.  Just sayin’…

As for the finish, well, it was long, so no fault there: there was, I felt just a bit too much oak, and it was shade too bitter (nobody was more surprised than I).  I could make out the softer, fruitier notes that worked so well when I tasted it but here they were overwhelmed somewhat, and were only briefly discernible in the background before disappearing entirely.  So in that sense, not one of the very best of the Veliers for me, though none of this was enough to sink what really was a very good rum indeed.

Given that the sense of bitterness and oak was quite subtle, don’t take my word for it. We should be wary of dismissing a rum this engaging just because it doesn’t get up there on the soapbox and dance with the best of the best. It still stands pretty damn tall as it is, and I don’t see that much competition on the horizon. It’s a phenomenally well-made full-proof, big, thick and heavy, and it fulfills the latent desire of just about any A-type who thinks a rum should match his junk.

 

***

Other notes:

The series of reviews on Caroni rums is one I should have completed ages ago. In late 2014 I bought a whole raft of them at once, ran them past each other, tasted them individually and in depth, and yet almost a year later I’m still not done the scribbling.  So next week I’ll wrap up the last one (Rum Nation, for those who like sneak peeks).

The rums reviewed are:

 


  13 Responses to “Velier Caroni 1996 17 Year Old Heavy Full Proof Rum – Review”

  1. Great review, Lance.

    I think your comment on finding a favourite expression is spot on.

    Personally, I prefer my Caroni to be at least high proof. The sub-50% Caronis I have tried, have all felt weak and anonymous.

  2. I wonder why Velier does not give any information regarding the stills on which their Caronis were produced. As far as I know there were several different ones at the distillery. And they bought the stock directly from a Caroni warehouse in Trinidad, so there had to be some sort of marks on the barrels. It seems even more strange in comparison to the detailed facts that are stated on Velier’s Demerara-bottles.

    Henrik mentioned on his Blog that his 1996 Full Proof bottling was distilled on a copper column.
    Henrik, if you read this: Do you have this information from Mr. Gargano directly?

    • DDL in Guyana is the only rum-maker in the world, as far as I know, that has made a habit of separting its distillate based on which still made it; and especially for the older rums, this is because the stills were actually in separate geographical locations, in specific plantations.

      As time went on the stills themselves – even though now all at Diamond – became their own selling point because the craft makers and aficionados recognized their individuality and marketed them that way. So it makes sense that they continue to be separated in the barrels, and identified as PM, EHP, etc.

      Caroni may have had more than one still – but they were always at Caroni, nowhere else, and therefore lacks something of the cachet that DDL has managed to create for its stills.

      All this aside, I sent a note along to Henrik and Luca to ask. Let’s see what turns up.

    • Sadly, I don’t have any information directly from Velier regarding the still of Caroni.

      So far, I haven’t been able to dig out any information on the internet which suggests, that Caroni had more than one copper multi column still and one pot still operating since the beginning of the 80s.

      The typical Caroni character of tar, plasticine and sulphur, are typical off notes from fusel oils and other congeners, when using a column still to emulate pot still distillates through low rectification.

      If you look through the catalogue of Velier Caronis they fall into just two categories, when disregarding proofage: Light or heavy.

      This usually indicates which type of retification had been done. High or low. Low indicates higher ABV and less undesirable congeners (though still way more than in a true low rectification pot still distilalte).
      High would indicate the opposite. Lower ABV, more fusel oils and other undesirables.

      The continuous column still is able to deliver a much higher output than a pot still, so I fear that the pot distillates may only have played a minor role – perhaps even only as a blending element.

      My theses is, that most Velier Caronis are blends of column and pot distillates, with column being the absolute largest part.
      Therefore it would only make sense to distinguish between light or heavy.

      In the case of the Demerara rums, you have wooden stills, copper stills, pot stills, column stills, single stills and multi stills.
      Many of them so unique in expression, that you don’t even have to be a full blown expert or professional to tell them apart when nosing or tasting.

      The expressions are very different and therefore the barrel marks actually says something about the rum inside the barrel.
      Especially since DDL hasn’t had the tradition of blending before aging (which is why the latest Velier Demerara blends are so rare).

      No other distillery has that kind of diversity, so therefore it makes sense to reveal the barrel mark to the consumer/connaisseur.

      Well, that is what I think. It would be nice with some hard evidence from somebody who actually knows these things though 🙂

    • On a side note, I have seen several Caroni products from other indie bottlers, which claimed to be pot still rums.

      If they truly are, and they still display the typical Caroni flavour profile, that would indicate that the master distiller operating the pot still, was pretty bad at his job or that he took pride in making bad distillates.

  3. Hm, it seems I can’t enter any comments.

  4. Thank you very much to both of you for your replies.

  5. Short ones work. Is there a limit for comment lenght?

  6. i dont think these bottles are potsill rums, it sounds impossible.
    here is what i found on books :

    – caroni sugar factory began distilling rum in a cast iron still in 1918
    – 25 years later, a wooden coffey still was installed
    – in 1957 caroni limited took over the Esperanza Estate and the single-column still from that estate was moved to Caroni
    – As the market for Caroni rums grew, a new four-column-still was commissioned in 1980 increasing production capabilities

    source : Ed Hamilton book “Rum of the Eastern Caribbean”

  7. Here is a link: http://therumquest.co.uk/

    (Post link amended by The Lone Caner)

  8. Ah, I got it: Apparently the reason that my original comment was not accepted was the link posted above. So I wrote the dots as words. Next try:

    On the rumquest website you find a picture of an old Caroni brochure, where they give some information regarding their stills. There are two stills mentioned that were installed in 1984, after the 4-column still: A Blair two column still and a pot still.

  9. In his book Ed Hamilton says the 4-column still was able to produce both heavy and light rum: for heavy rum only the first column was used, for light rum all four. I find it strange that he does not mention the two newer stills at all. The book was published in 1997, I cannot imagine that they were not longer in use after such a short time. But I agree, it seems that at least the majority of Caroni rum was produced on the 4-column still.

    The only Caronis where we can be sure, that they were not distilled on the 4-column still are the 1974 bottlings by Velier and Bristol. Since Bristol clearly states that their rum was column distilled, my guess would be the single column still from the Esperanza Estate.

    While the overall lack of information regarding Caroni and many other rum distilleries (Rockley! Vale Royal! ) certainly adds to the mystique, at times I find it maddening.

    I look very much forward to Luca’s answer. Hopefully he can shed a little light on this subject.

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