Ruminsky

Aug 272015
 

D3S_8927

A love note from Bristol to lovers of Guyanese PM-still rums

(#229. 88/100)

Bristol Spirits is that independent bottler out of the UK which started life in 1993. Their barrel selection from the various countries around the Caribbean has created an enviable track record of limited bottlings; I’ll always have good memories of the PM 1980, and the subsequent editions of the 1990 and 1999 were rums I’ve been keeping an eye out for on the basis of that positive experience.

All of these were made, of course, using the Port Mourant distillate – in this particular instance they didn’t just age it between 1990 and 2007, but allowed it rest for the final two years in matured port pipes for an extra fillip of flavor.  It sort of succeeded, it’s a great rum by any standard, and of course, they did continue their happy tradition of a funky, screaming fire-engine-red label slapped on to a standard barroom bottle. I just can’t pass these things by, honestly.

The PM 1990, a dark amber rum with ruby hints to it, derived from the famed wooden PM double pot still now held in DDL’s facilities at Diamond. It poured, sulky and heavy into the glass, and while it was tamed to a very accessible 46% (which is sort of de rigeur for many of the UK craft makers who seem determined not to lose a single sale by I dunno, issuing good rum at cask strength), the initial scents were impressive from the get-go. Wood, sweat, sap, brine, oak and smoke permeated the nose at once in thick waves.  These are not always my favourite smells, but I used to say the same thing about plasticine and turpentine, so what do I know? It’s the way they come together and enhance the experience, that matters, anyway. And indeed, things mellowed out after some minutes, and the good stuff came dancing forward – raisins, Christmas cake, soy sauce, molasses, licorice and burnt sugar, all wrapped  up in salty caramel and toffee, citrus rind (very faint) and chamomile (even fainter). Just a phenomenally rich nose, generous with promise.

It delivered on that promise very nicely, thank you very much.  Warm and strong, some sweetness came forward here, with initial tastes of salt caramel, dulce de leche ice cream, and dark tea leaves.  Quite full bodied to taste, no issues there for me at all – this thing was giving the PM 1980 some serious competition at a lesser price. The more familiar tastes of licorice, molasses-soaked brown sugar and musty leather came through, and after adding some water (didn’t really need to, but what the hell) the full cornucopia of everything that came before mushroomed on the tongue.  Flowers, orange rind, licorice, smoke and some tannins, together with old polished leather and linseed oil, all full and delicious and not at all over-spicy and sharp.  It’s fine rum, very fine indeed.  The fade was shortish, not dry, quote smooth and added no new notes of consequences, but simply summarized all the preceding, exiting warmly and easily with caramel and toffee, anise, and then it was all gone and I was hastening to refill my glass.

Here I usually end with a philosophical statement, observations that come to mind, anything that can wrap things up in a neat bow.  But truth to tell, in this case I don’t think I need to.  Bristol Spirits have simply made a very good rum for the price (about a hundred bucks) and age (seventeen years).  As such, it will be more accessible, more available and probably more appreciated than fiercely elemental, higher-proofed offerings costing much more.  So in terms of value for money, this is one of those rums that I would recommend to anyone who wants to dip his or her toe into the realm of stronger, more complex, and also more focused high-end spirits.  As long as your tastes run into dark and flavorful Guyanese rums, this one won’t disappoint.

 

Aug 252015
 

Bloggers 1

Bloggers 2

 

“I don’t read a lot of blogs because, well, most of them are written by people who aren’t qualified to piss in the ocean,” remarked Ed Hamilton on his blog The Ministry of Rum on July 7th 2015.  To say I was surprised at such a blanket indictment of the majority of the rum blogging community would be an understatement.  He’s not the only one to make such a statement in the recent past: when I wrote a five part series on how to start reviewing rums earlier this year, in an effort to provide some advice on new bloggers who often cease operation after a short while, I got a snarling response from another writer, who suggested that there are too many incompetents writing as it is (myself among them) and more should not be encouraged.

I simply don’t understand this attitude.  It originates from persons who themselves write a lot, opiniate even more, and have a large body of words on their sites (which obviously pass muster by their own definitions of “qualified”), yet they seem to feel that almost all other websites, discussions, opinions and reviews, are a waste of internet space.  I can sort of understand Sir Scrotimus Maximus in Retirement Land, since he despises everyone (and spews a vomitus of condescending and negative opinions just about every day), but Mr. Hamilton, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is a more puzzling enigma.  Especially given his well-known dedication to rum, and the oft expressed moan abut rum not having enough visibility and fighting an uphill battle against other more established tipples.

To make my own position clear: I myself have nothing but distaste for short, ignorant, non-knowledgable click-bait written by writers for online spirits magazines (see here, here, here, here and here for some examples).  Too often they display an abysmal ignorance of rums in general, and make lists of rums that would be amusing if they weren’t so uninspiring.  But I don’t think this is what Sir Scrotimus or Mr. Hamilton were referring to.  Nor do I believe that they are talking about news stories.  Or cocktail sites and writers for them. No, when they refer to monkey mutterings and blogs, they are talking about reviewers.  And since I’m one of them, I think I’ll take up cudgels on behalf of myself and others in my field.

To begin with, who qualifies as a “good” writer?  For my money, this would be someone who writes with prose that engages the reader; who has a good understanding of the industry; who crafts decent tasting notes on the rums that are tried; expresses an informed opinion; has a body of rums to refer to, and self-evidently is involved in not only increasing his own knowledge but that of his readers.

Why do we need more of such people?

Because, dear reader, there aren’t enough. No really.  Excluding cocktail blogs which speak to rum as a secondary enterprise, there are less than twenty focused rum reviewing sites in the whole world. I can’t think of many which are run on a commercial basis.  And yet we constantly complain about rum taking second place to whisky in the minds of the tippling class, not having exposure, people not “getting” the variety it represents.  Well, having more writers who raise the profile would therefore be a good thing, wouldn’t it?

It is online writers like Johnny Drejer, Cyril of DuRhum, Dave of the Rum Gallery and Wes of TheFatRumPirate who are spearheading the fight against improper labeling, undisclosed sugar and additives and outright deceptive marketing practices. Would less reviewers have the same effect? Not at all.  Because then we’d just be left with the polarizing negativisms of Sir Scrotimus.

We also need more writers because they are the ones who call attention to the rums of the world in a time of declining advertising budgets and quality magazine writing about rums. Yes there’s the RumPorter, and yes there’s Got Rum…but there are scores of such publications on whisky or wine, so we’re supposed to be happy with a mere handful  on our tipple of choice? Hell no.  We need dozens, not just a couple. Reviewers, bloggers and online writers fill this void.

Even assuming the statements of these two gentlemen were correct (and I dispute that) they both ignore the obvious question: where are the “qualified writers”? No please, educate me.  Who are they?  For whom do they write?  What are their blogs?  Are they active and engaged in the rumworld? Are they the few book authors who exist? To toss out generalized comments about the chattering underclass who supposedly don’t know what they’re doing seems grossly unfair to me, without listing them and their opposite numbers who are worth reading.  If you are going to use your platform to diss someone, by all means provide a list of those who do fit your personal criteria.  More than two, please. Negatives are one thing, but if you have no positives to contribute then your argument lacks substance.

I think that part of the issue is that such qualified reviewers are somehow expected to spring to life overnight like Athena from Zeus’s brow, and wow us with their Kiplingesque prose, incredible depth of knowledge and scintillating wit, right out of the gate.  But in a world where nobody (well, almost nobody) gets paid for writing about rum  – and to my mind the greater proportion of rum writers write for love, not money – I think it says a lot for the dedication  and devotion of rum aficionados who are also reviewers that they do as much as they do for free.  This is somehow a bad thing?

So I think the two comments above do the writing community a disservice.  Yes there is an unmet need for more writers who provide their own perspective and writing style and knowledge. Yes we could use some more professional authors who do more than just blog about cocktails and the tiki culture.  We could have more reference materials and other information out there that raises the bar for the expected knowledge of a rum blogger. We need that kind of talent for those who write about rums specifically, not as an afterthought or a sideshow.  And the reviewers and bloggers that are so casually dismissed, are the ones that provide, as best they can, this level of commitment and growing expertise.  Because nobody else is.

In summary, it’s a shame that opinion makers and commentators like these two, instead of trying to raise the bar with mentorship and good advice for the new blood and existing writers, resort to such unfortunate takedowns.  But you know, Mr. Hamilton called it right: he doesn’t read those he doesn’t like.  Maybe there’s a word of wisdom for us all in that.

Aug 242015
 

D3S_9397

While I loved the single-minded, furious purity of the PM and Diamond rums individually, I could not find fault with what was accomplished by marrying them off.

(#228 / 89.5/100)

***

In a time where conglomerates rule the roost, where even old distilleries with respected antecedents produce supposedly high-end rums that aren’t always, the wonderment is that rums like Veliers can still be made.  The craft makers are the sharp end of the spear – many are artists who cater only to those who want the pure rum experience…they live in their own corner of the rumworld, have small sales of pricey rums, and we must be prepared to enter there, hoping that their ethos seeps into the wider world. This rum is a good place to start. Because, you see, working through and assimilating the oeuvre of all Velier’s expressions can be a lifelong occupation for us rum lovers; and while there is no one of their rums that must be drunk in order to qualify as a well-rounded geek of the dark spirit, I submit that if you are not eventually familiar with the brand, you’re really not a rum lover at all.

Luca Gargano’s reputation has been made in three major steps – the Damoiseau 1980, the Demerara rums and the Caronis (with maybe Haitian clairins waiting in the wings for the next big thing).  The man addresses the commercial lack of adventurousness in far too many makers by emphatically banging the table with products like this one — un-chill-filtered, unadulterated, cask-strength.  And, as with the EHP-PM blend that was also issued in 2014, here the output of the Diamond still and the Port Mourant still was married (by DDL) prior to letting them age for nineteen years.  He calls it an experimental.  I call it exceptional.

D3S_9396

Even as I let it stand there, opening up, the dark amber rum introduced itself with a decisive nose that struck to the heart, and established its quality and originality at once.  After tasting hundreds of rums over many years I didn’t think I was capable of surprise any longer…this thing proved me absolutely wrong.  Immediate wine and feinty notes wafted out of the glass, accompanied by a cheering section of plums, blackberries and vanilla.  I thought, okay, this was great, but it continued – caramel, smoke, some oakiness, licorice and dark toblerone notes added themselves to the overall mélange, combining into a luscious amalgam that represented an obscure and crazy kind of brilliant madness in a bottle.  This was a rum I just could not stop nosing for another fifteen minutes, so enthralling was the experience.

That 62.1% really made itself felt on the palate, even after sitting around waiting to burn off for a while.  It was certainly quite spicy, sharp even.  Good body and awesomely intense mouthfeel, but this was one of the few Veliers where I thought it might be a shade too torqued up.  But never mind that – just luxuriate in the panoply of tastes it provided in exchange. Licorice and marzipan led straight off, followed by burnt sugar, some tar (not as much as with the Caronis), mitigated by more unsweetened dark chocolate and coffee grounds.  Port infused cigarillos, mixed in with smoke and wood, black cherries, more plums and more prunes, and some vague phenols rounding things out. Here water is absolutely recommended, and lo and behold, even more stuff came out – some stale coffee grounds (not as bad as it sounds), freshly sawn wood, musty old cigars and more smoke, honey and cream cheese. It was the gift that kept on giving.  I went through three glasses of the stuff, while warding off the depredations of my better half, who was wondering what the gurgles of delight were all about. As for the finish well, pretty damned good, long of course, hot and spicy without the sandpaper rasping across the back of the throat, and final notes of dark chopped fruits, cake, more licorice, dried raisins and (weirdest of all) some fried bananas.

D3S_9399

Think of it as you would an El Dorado on crack, beefed up and dialed to “11” and yet, and yet…it didn’t have the direct in-yer-face machismo of Velier’s single-still editions with their singular power and focus. In fact, the tastes were not so much fierce and attacking as well-behaved, coming across the taste buds in a strong and orderly fashion.  For a rum this strong, that’s nothing short of amazing. Drinking and savouring and enjoying a rum like the Diamond-PM is to be reminded that rum can ascend to heights more makers need to seek.  Luca rarely, if ever, just throws rum out the door, never dumbs his sh*t down, never dilutes it to crap or adds the worm.  He always seems to try going for broke, and to experience this rum is to watch a man risking his talent and his company’s reputation, not merely taking them out for a stroll.  I don’t know about you, but for me that deserves respect.

Other notes
2 barrels, 564 bottles

Distilled 1995, bottled July 2014.  The sources are the metal coffey still of Diamond and the wooden double pot still of Port Mourant, with Diamond supposedly dominant.

The marks on the barrels were <SV> and PM.  PM needs no elaboration.  The SV is more problematic, because Diamond had marks <S>, S<W> and SVW at various times.  Marco in his seminal essay of the various Guyanese estates thought it might be from one of the original owners, a Mr. M. Steele, or maybe Mr. Samuel Welsh.  But in truth, with Diamond absorbing so many different estates in the last hundred years, it’s anyone’s guess. Shouldn’t stop you from reading his essay, though

D3S_9400

 

Aug 182015
 

D3S_9081

As appealing and soft as a pair of slippers on a cold evening

(#227 / 83/100)

*

Nosing this golden brown forty percenter was like revisiting a place in the mind. The soft sweet scents transported me back to the first time I tried the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva on a dark, bitterly cold and wintry evening.  This rum, made by the same outfit as the DRE, was quite similar: caramel, toffee, unsweetened chocolate and salted butter on rye bread.  There was a slight salty-sweet note here that hinted at soya, or even tequila, but very much in the background, and as it developed, coffee, dried dark fruits and raisins were also elbowing their way to my attention – not bad at all. I felt warmer just sniffing it, and thought back to the early fun days of Liquorature, where I fought a long hard battle to excommunicate the heresy of the scottish tipple with the rums of the True Faith (ultimately without success, but the fight rages on).

I have to comment on the velvety smoothness of the mouthfeel of the Cacique, which was great – it was like your rice-eating mongrel’s adoring I-love-you-master kiss without the drool, or a hungry cat purring and making nice. It was warm and sweet and unaggressive sort of feel on the palate, smooth and thick, without ever quite stepping off the edge and becoming a sweet vanilla-bomb.  Anyway…salt butter again, sour cream, toffee, vanilla, more coffee, very light floral notes, and exactly zero woody or even tobacco notes to be found.  Water?  Naah, I passed – water might have shredded this thing, it was already too light.  You see, the 40% was too weak to really emphasize and bring out the potential of the flavours hidden beneath…I really had to stretch just to sense what I described just now. This made it somewhat unadventurous, uncomplicated, and lacking in what us techno-rum-geeks with our love of exactitude, call “oomph.”  And this carried over into the fade, which might have been the weakest part of the entire drinking experience – the brown sugar came out really hard here, with dark, sweet caramel, butter and toffee…barely escaping the dreaded term “cloying” by the slight bitterness of oak and stale coffee grounds.

D3S_9084

The brand first marketed its rums way back in 1959 – it is now owned by Diageo – and according to wikipedia, it’s the top selling rum in Venezuela (Diplomatico must be pissed). Three varieties exist, the Añejo, the Cacique and the Antiguo, in ascending order, so this is a considered by the makers to be a middle of the road rum. All the rums in the range are supposedly made from molasses distilled in copper stills (I kinda doubt that – the profile suggests column still product), aged a little, then blended, then aged again, for up to eight years. The 500 is no newcomer to the stage, being first issued in 1992 to commemorate the date Columbus landed in the New World (I hesitate to use the word “discovered”).  Now you know as much as I do, and that’s still more than you’ll find on the Diageo website.

Cacique is made by Licoreras Unidas SA in La Miel – these are the same cheerful amigos who make the equally sweet, light and very drinkable Diplomaticos, which may inspire either praise and derision depending on where you stand on the sugar issue. I always kinda liked the Diplomaticos myself, especially in the early years — and even now that I’m more of a dark, heavy, full-proofed aged-rum aficionado, I still think they’re really good as introductory sipping rums (which is also how I came across them).  So I expected the Cacique to more or less hew to the same profile, and it didn’t disappoint in any major way. It shared points of similarity with the light Colombian and Peruvian rums, as well as the other Venezuelans, which argues for a commonality of origin in the diaspora of Cuban-influenced roneros.

So…did I like it?  Yes and no.  The smooth and familiar tastes were comforting in their own way, sweet, pleasant, unadventurous, uncomplex – they love you. No attention needed be paid to the Cacique – it wasn’t that kind of rum – but if that’s your thing, add five points to my score. If on the other hand you’re into cask strength beefcakes that menacingly flex their power and dunder and esters in all directions, and show their indifference to your health or your opinion or your tonsils, better take five off.

Other notes

A cacique is an Arawak (Amerindian) tribal chieftain. I wonder if the irony of a bottle label commemorating both the arrival of Europeans, and the title of a chief of those they nearly exterminated, ever occurred to anyone.

Aug 162015
 

Want a rum that says a big FU to your opinion? Here’s one, and then eight more. 

***

I get so sick of seeing the same boring rundown of standard table rums extolled by journalists who don’t bother to do the most elementary research on what a good rum actually is, and make no effort to take the subject seriously.  Earlier in 2015, in response to yet another vanilla listing of same-old-blah-blah-blah-rums-you-should-try written by someone who “discovered” rums on a weekend Caribbean safari (or was that the one put together by a hack who only now realized rum was a drink worth checking out?), I asked rather peevishly why a list of crazy rums you’ve never heard about wasn’t issued by some enterprising writer for an online rag someplace.  After waiting around for a while, getting older, with no response, I realize maybe they were waiting for one of us real writers.  Oh. Okay. For my rag, then…

Note – just because they are listed here, does not mean I entirely love these rums…just that they are really at odds with more standard rum profiles. You can buy them, sure. However, let’s not pretend they’ll entirely be to your tastes. They showcase all the illogic and weirdness and wonderful breadth of rum, though, and there’s nothing at all bad about that.

1. D3S_1657Clairin Sajous

Come on, was this ever even in doubt? This friggin rum is utterly nuts, impractical to a fault, unaged, white and simply flat out amazing.  Can’t wait to try the Casimir and the Vaval. That gunpowder and wax nose, the amazing taste. Gave it points for sheer originality.

 

D3S_89692. Rum Nation White Pot Still 57%

Jamaican badassery in a sleek sexy bottle. Pungent, strong and estery, Rum Nation took a deep breath, threw the dice, ran with it, and I think it paid off.

 

 

D3S_7054

3. SMWS 3.4 Barbados 10 Year Old

All right, I admit it, this is tough to find even if you’re a member of the SWMS. And not that many of it were made.  But heavens above what a great, snarling, amazing rum for its strength.  It got the highest score I ever gave a drink that powerful. Wish I could find the “Marmite” 3.5.

 

D7K_12984. La Occidental Guayabita del Pinar

Leaving aside the issue of whether this Cuban softie is a rum or not (I said it was), here is one of the few flavoured rums I ever tasted that I liked…perhaps because it is made differently rather than having spices chucked into it like Emeril was having a bad hair day.  It remains (somewhat to my surprise) one of the most re-visited posts on this site. I wonder why.

 

Cadenhead5. Cadenhead’s Classic Green Label Demerara 12 Year Old

The peat is strong with this one, I grumbled when I sampled this rum, and still don’t care much for it.  Whatever. If you ever wanted to see a the result of a tussle between an Octomore and Port Mourant, here’s your chance.  There are many anoraks who swear by it, mind you.

 

 

bundie6. Bundaberg Reserve

Quiet, all you there in the peanut gallery. I know that Bundie is seen as a balm to exiled Aussies, and a butt of constant jokes from, about and by the residents of Oz.  The question is not whether you like it neat…more of what a rum can be when it takes not a sharp left turn, but a hundred and eighty about-face, and then smacks you a good hard one on the schnozz. Honestly, I think it’s more tequila than rum. Still, you can’t deny its originality, and you’ll not mistake it for many others.

 

D3S_68467. BBR Fiji 8 Year Old

The one Berry Bros. & Rudd rum I didn’t care for. Was like a paint thinner, unbalanced, weird to taste, and a rum that can only be approached with head-scratching, jowl-quivering perplexity, wondering how a minor god does not rise up and smite it stone dead.  That said, I felt that way about it because it simply, defiantly, obnoxiously said “I shall not conform to your expectations of me.”  That alone might warrant a taste or two.

 

D3S_90748. JM 15 Year Old

I’m still coming to grips with what exactly was it about this rum that made it so memorable, so strange, so intriguing.  It was off-kilter, sure, but not batsh**t crazy different…just enough for me to keep it in my taste memory bank and recall it with bewilderment from time to time, still, after all these months, trying to pin down its elusive weirdness. Yeah, I liked it.

 

clark's9. Clarke’s Court Pure White Rum – Bush Variation

You will never find this rum in the bars of the east or west or anywhere except its own squat. The already odd white pot still rum was added to by some enterprising bushman-wannabe in Grenada, who cheerfully dumped in bark, twigs, berries and a plump worm (I kid you not), and then sold it to my crazy friend in Toronto.  And mad as this may seem, all that crap made the rum even better.  Every time I see myself starting to get snooty about additives in rum, here’s one that jogs my memory and makes me laugh, and realize that sometimes, it isn’t all a bad thing.

****

A postscript: I do not necessarily recommend that you go after these rums just because I’ve written about them (or because you have a kink in your own mind that such rums would appeal to).  What I am saying is that they are rums which go their own way; have a screw loose somewhere; they do not adhere those more familiar tastes to which we are accustomed.  Some are good, some not so much, at least one is just a rampage of laughably ridiculous insanity, and all are absolute blasts to drink.  

Now this is how a list should be written, dammit.

Aug 132015
 

D3S_9085

Frankly, I get more excitement looking for the keys in my pocket.

(#226. 77/100)

***

Like most people, the stuff I’ve tried from Venezuela are the Pamperos, the AJ Vollmer rums of Santa Teresa, and the Diplomaticos from Destileridas Unidas, the latter of which have recently been getting some flak on social media for their over-sugary backbones. Let me add to the Veno lineup with the Veroes, which won medals in 2012 from both the Madrid World Congress of Rum (and again in 2013) and from the XPs at the Miami Rum Rennaisance. I think the Cacique 500 is knocking about somewhere, I’ll probably look at that soon as well.

For the history buffs, Veroes is a part of a group of family businesses. With the 2009 acquisition of San Javier Distillery (itself founded in 1974, though 1975 and 1976 are also quoted in various online sources), the inclusion of commercial recreational spirits took off . San Javier Distillery is located in north-central Venezuela and the brand of Veroes seems to have been theirs. Their expansion into the export market gathered steam after a 2009 modernization and while not precisely unknown in North America, their current thrust is primarily into Europe (Spain for the most part).

In a 2015 interview with GotRum Magazine, it was stated that there were no inclusions and additions whatsoever in the Añejo, so we were certainly getting a pure rum here.  I should mention, that there are some discrepancies in various online materials regarding its true ageing: Industries Bravo, a distributor in Venezuela, says it’s 4 years oldMr. Leopoldo Ayala of CEO of Destilería San Javier (DSJ) and Destilería Veroes (DV), Venezuela, said it’s six years old, in 2015The Madrid International Rum Conference gave it a silver in the “five years old or less” category, and the booth attendant at the Berlin Rum Fest was absolutely sure it was a blend of rums between 2-5 years of age. So go figure.  A private message to Veroes themselves gave me the reply that it is a blend of five year old rums…they may be having some trouble getting the word out.

The 40% rum was golden in colour; nosing provided an initially very sharp and spicy entrance, with opening scents of floor wax, herbal tea, incense and alcohol.  In some cases such a melange works, in others not.  Here, not so much. I endured the unappealing sharpness at the front end, and it mellowed out into more traditional molasses, vanilla and caramel as time passed.  I literally hung around with the rum and talked to my glass for over ten minutes exchanging anecdotes (with the glass) about other rums we had known and met over the years, but complexity (or conversation) did not seem to be its ambition or its forte, and apart from some additional light floral and citrus notes, it had nothing further to offer me. So, not being overly inspired thus far (or by its ability to speak), but knowing that sometimes nose and palate diverge widely in quality, I moved on.

The palate: reasonably smooth, a shade spicy, medium to light bodied; clear and clean and much less heated than those nose. It provided pleasant, unremarkable flavours of vanilla and caramel; quite a bit of woodiness in there; the rum seemed to have no particular unique character of its own that would make it stand out, which can be read as both a compliment and a denunciation, I suppose.  Adding water helped a little, just not enough to raise the bar.  Certainly coconut, some cherries and a flirt of citrus made themselves known, yet I felt that it needed more, more of everything – heft, intensity, weight, complexity, flavours – to succeed better, even as a cocktail ingredient.  The finish confirmed this – it was clean and short, nothing additional to report, without attitude or real complexity.

D3S_9088

 

Maybe I’m being somewhat curt with my rejection of what is a workmanlike rum, reasonably made, if unexciting to behold.  Perhaps even unfair, given that it is a young rum still growing out of training wheels and likely not made to be a sipping rum. There are indeed older variants of the brand, six and twelve years old, which I have not tried, and it’s likely that satisfaction is to be gained there, as is usual with older expressions higher up the price and value chain. And after all, it did win those medals in Madrid, got a nod from the XPs, so others appreciate it.  This one may be all about opinion, then.

But for me, the Veroes Añejo is a young rum, too light and untamed. A mixing agent, that’s all. This is not a rum I particularly disliked, or, conversely, particularly enjoyed.  I was left feeling very little of anything. It absorbed enjoyment, anger, challenge, complexity, artistry, character, the way a black hole absorbs…well, everything. Finishing my tasting and writing up my detailed notes, all that remained was a peculiar indifference, hanging around like the Cheshire cat’s grin. Normally I revel in the plunge to dissect a drink’s profile: here, I’d much rather remain on the event horizon and hang around, getting older while waiting for its more aged siblings.

Other notes:

The rum conforms to the Venezuelan CIVEA “Denominación de Origen Controlada” (DOC) which marks it as Venezuelan rum adhering to certain standards of aging, production and bottling. I have not yet done any research to see how closely this lines up with the French AOC.

Aug 062015
 

La Favorite 1990 - box

Rumaniacs Review 008

Founded in 1842 and remaining a small family owned outfit in Martinique, La Favorite makes this AOC designated rhum vieux, aged a minimum of three years (I’ve been told it is five years old).  They make a big deal of the transmission of distillation technique and blending from father to son, as well as their selection of only the best cane, the natural fermentation, and controlled distillation (using steam powered equipment).  I’ve gone into the history of the company a little more here.

This gold rhum derives from pot still, issued at 40% in 1990.  One wonders why they didn’t keep it longer, if the year was such a good one.  And what’s with the cheap tinfoil cap?

Colour – Amber-Dark Gold

Nose – Wow. A very punchy, pot still profile (almost like a clairin with a tan). Pungent, briny, oily, chewy. Like a pail of salted beef. Grassy and green mango hints permeate here and there. Morphs well into black cake, chopped dark fruit (prunes, black grapes) and olives. More than 40% might have been too much, and I don’t say that very often.

Palate – A bit raw, toasty and spicy. Rubber and plasticine.  Emergent deep notes of black olives, dates, cereal, caramel, vanilla and smoke (in that order, for me). With water, an amazing thread of green apples and citrus, tart lemon zest (like a meringue), yet the dusky brine never entirely leaves the profile.

Finish – Medium short and warm, not dry at all. Some of that saltiness continues, but mostly wax and lemon and some unsweetened caramel

Thoughts – Unusual, in a good way. Really a lot of flavour here. This is one of those times I think 40% is okay. Stronger would have been more intense yes, but might also have shredded the balance of sweet, salt, grass and citrus.

(83/100)

La Favorite 1990

Aug 062015
 

D3S_8965

 

The last of the flight of seven Caronis I tried in depth back in 2014, and one of the best.

(#225. 88/100)

***

There are two extremes to the Caronis: the limited release bottling from independent bottlers which are usually less than a thousand bottles, and Velier with its huge stockpile and multiple issues…so much so that one always has difficulty figuring out where to start with ‘em (the 12 year old 50% may be the best place).  I have a feeling that Rum Nation’s take on the late great plantation’s rum is likely to be one of the more accessible ones available to the average consumer, because the rums are (relatively) easily found, well advertised, and come on, let’s face it – Rum Nation do rums well.

In this case Rum Nation double-aged the heavy rum (from column distillate) for nine years in Trinidad itself, before shipping them off to Europe for further seven years of maturation in some barrels that were ex-bourbon, and others that once held the Peruanao 8 year old (a rather light, sprightly and delicate rum with a character similar to Bristol Spirits’s version, and also akin to the Millonario Solera 15).  The effect of the ageing regime in differing barrels and countries certainly added to its complexity and also its overall voluptuousness, I think.

Nosing a beefcake of 55% usually provides an intense intro, like one of those idiots who shakes your hand with a painfully overstrong grip to show he’s a badass…the Caroni 1998 wasn’t quite like that, but it was certainly powerful.  Pungent — if not quite in the league of the Jamaican Pot Still White which edged over into ferocious – and vibrant with initial scent of honeycomb wax and rubber and straw, like a frogman strutting around in a dusty hayloft. There was a lot more going on here all at the same time, mind you — after letting the glass sit for a few minutes, additional scents of freshly sawn cedar, tar, oak, vanilla and moist molasses-soaked brown sugar were joined by softer, muskier scents of coffee, nutmeg and licorice. It was one of those rums that proved why pushing past the too-oft self-imposed 40% limitation is absolutely recommended.  It was a phenomenal rum to simply enjoy smelling.

And no slouch to taste either. Licorice and tar led off, lots of it.  The rubber, happily, started to take a back seat (I like it, but often there’s too much of a good thing and it’s nice to see it a bit subdued).  Caramel and toffee and coffee continued to make themselves felt as primaries, with background hints of green tea, white pepper coiling around behind it all.  The balance between the softer, muskier elements, and sharper, more herbal tastes was really quite something.  Even the faint bitterness of tree sap and fresh sawdust was kept in check (I was reminded of the quinine derivatives I used to have to drink in my bush years, but that was memory, not necessarily a taste I clearly sensed, and what the hell, I’ll mention it anyway). A touch of water smoothened things out quite nicely, but no additional flavours came forward that I could add to this already excellent smorgasbord.  I would like to point out that the rather brutally ascetic character I sense in many full proof Caronis (like the Veliers, for example) has been tamed here somewhat, and I attribute that to the 5g/L of sugar that Rum nation have added to the profile.  I’m not really a fan of such inclusions, yet must concede it works here.

The finish? Very long, heated and dry, really good – it released last sensations of molasses and caramel and angostura bitters (really!), with some of the  licorice and pepper notes coming over from the taste profile.  All in all, this is an enormously pleasant rum to play with and savour if you are into the Trinidadian profile, definitely one to share around.

Rum-Nation-Caroni-1998-2014

2014 was certainly an interesting year for Rum Nation.  In that single year they issued a new bottle shape (the squat one); they released their first white pot still rum (the Jamaica 57%); and for the first time they went over 50% in not one but two rums, the aforementioned Jamaica, and the amber-red medium-to-full-bodied Caroni 1998, the first batch of which I’m looking at here, and 3120 bottles of which were issued at cask strength 55% (or full proof, take your pick). They seem to positioning themselves in that relatively untravelled country between the craft makers with their few hundred bottles of exclusive full proof expressions, and the much more commercially orientated big distilleries who issue many thousands of bottles of aged rums at a lower proof point

I mentioned accessibility earlier. “Approachability” is just as good a word.  What I mean by this is how easy it is to get, how expensive it is, and how an average Tom, Dick or Harrilall would like it. With several thousand bottles of the Caroni on sale (and more batches to come), I’d say if you wanted this rum, you could find it; it’s mid-priced — not student-cheap, but reasonably affordable; and the taste has been smoothened out and somewhat domesticated by that 5g/L of added sugar. For purists, this last may be a disqualifier, but I argue that for people who buy rums only occasionally and have less lofty standards (or who don’t know or care), it would make a decent choice and introduction to higher proofed rums (to his credit, Mr. Rossi has never hidden the inclusions, but like many others, I wish a statement to that effect would be on the bottle front and centre).

In any event, a slightly softer, yet still intense taste profile, ready availability and a price your spouse won’t scream at you for, makes this Caroni a tempting proposition when the time comes to buy one for yourself, or recommend a Trini rum for a friend. My love is give to the immense stable of Velier Caronis, of course, but that’s no reason to pass Rum Nation’s top-notch edition by. It’s a damned fine exemplar of rum from a distillery whose stocks are shrinking every year.

 

Other notes

Steve James of the RumDiaries reviewed a RN Caroni 1998 bottle from the 2nd Batch, with some additional details on the distillery and methods of production.

I’ve looked at eight Caronis, most sourced in 2014. They are:

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:

 

Jul 222015
 

Severin Simon

(#223)

Germany has a number of home-grown rum makers out there.  Oh, they’re not world beaters by any means, but in a country that never really had any tropical colonies, no real culture of rum, no background in sugar cane production, it’s surprising to find any at all. And I’m always curious about these relatively small companies – after all, some small ones become big ones through sheer blending skill and mastery of craft bottlings and great word of mouth, right? Maybe this will be one of them, who knows, let’s take a look, I always tell myself. And let’s never pretend that a background in making other spirits does not have its positive side.

I’ve looked at two other German companies’ rums before (Old Man Spirits and Alt-Enderle), and today I’ll turn my attention to Severin Simon, a small distillery out of Bavaria, which has been, in one form or another, open for business since 1879. Severin Simon made and make gin, schnapps, brandy and whisky, and are now turning their attention to rum, which kicked off into high gear when they installed new distillery apparatus in 2012.  As with the other two companies mentioned above, their primary market remains Germany.

An interesting point of their production methodology is that they use fair trade organic molasses deriving from the Dominican Republic: Tres Hombres ship it to Germany in their sailing ship, and I appreciate that Severin Simon doesn’t use industrial grade alcohol and tart it up to make a throwaway paint-stripper.  Ageing is done in oak barrels made of local Spessart oak, some of which have been charred, some not. Two of the three rums I tried were aged eighteen months, and the current 2015 crop of rums is edging to just over two years, with single-cask and longer aged, higher-proofed rums on the horizon.

Valkyrie

Valkyrie (“Nordic”)

Notes – Pale gold. Pot still. Aged for 18 months in new barrels whose staves and floor were hand toasted.  Non-chill-filtered.  No additives or inclusions.40% for 0.5 L, costing ~€53

Nose – Sharp, even thin. Too much oak here.  Leather, smoke, caramel, some vague dried fruits and rosemary.

Palate – Light to medium bodied.  Unappealingly raw.  This thing should be aged more, I think.  Maybe it’s that local oak used in the barrels. Some raisins, dried prunes, plums, burnt sugar.  Water doesn’t help. It’s that smokiness, the sharper tannins of the oak, asserting too much influence.

Finish – Short and dry. Musty leather, charcoal-fire smoke, raisins and some toffee and caramel, all over rather quickly.

Thoughts – Should be aged for another few years, which I believe is the intention anyway. Given the price tag, do they consider it their premium rum? It’s complex enough, and a decent rum, just too much smoke and ash, not enough of the other stuff I enjoy. Plus, the sharpness needs some toning down, I think.

(79/100)

Kalypso

Bavarian Sweetened Rum (“Kalypso”)

Notes – Colour: amber. Pot still, flavoured rum.  Aged about two years. Darkest rum of the three.  40%, costs ~€48. Simon Severin noted the rum has 50g/L sugar.  Points to them for not dissembling on the matter.

Nose – Why is this thing so spicy at 40%? Oh, okay, it dies down after a few minutes.  Massive and simple taste bomb, this one, mostly vanilla and mocha, with prunes and some raisins at the back end.

Palate – Medium bodied. Spiciness of the nose gives way to thicker warmth. Sweet and redolent of more vanilla, raisins, coconut shavings, molasses, brown sugar, and red cherries in syrup. If you know what you’re looking for (or have good comparators) you can tell this is a young rum, still too uncouth in spite of the inclusions, which help mask – but not eliminate – a lack of well-cut underlying base distillate.

Finish – None too long, nothing special. Mostly more vanilla and some caramel here. Some lemon zest, if you strain a bit.

Thoughts – I’ll stick with unflavoured rums.

(74/100)

Konig

Royal Bavarian Navy Rum (“Königlisch”)

Notes – Colour: light amber. Two-tier solera system rum, molasses based, oldest component aged eighteen months.  Initial distillate from pot still. Dark straw coloured, 40%. Around €35.

Nose – Rather whisky-like, salty, oaky and herbal.  Smoothest of the three, which may be damning it with faint praise.

Palate – Medium bodied. Citrus emerges from out of the musky background; smoke and woody notes, not altogether masking some burnt sugar, salty caramel and black olives.  Rather spicy, turns arid after a while.

Finish – Short and dry.  Fennel and toasted walnuts, some non-too-sweet toffee.

Thoughts – To my mind this one is – by a narrow margin – the best of the three, and the cheapest.  The absence of clearly identifiable sugar inclusions, and the eschewing of charred barrels somehow allows a shade more complexity to sneak in there. It’s a toss-up between this one and the Valkyrie for those who like their smoky background more.

(80/100)

Summing up

Like Old Man Spirits and their interesting – if ultimately not quite successful – Uitvlugt 16 year old, what we have here is a company still finding its legs in the rum world. Pot still and molasses source notwithstanding, a few more years and tweaking their cuts, ageing profile and barrel selection, and they’ll really have something here.  I’d like to see if they ever come out with a white rum made from cane juice…have a feeling the Spessart oak they use would work some interesting effects there.

Let me just close by repeating something I’ve said before – you have to give points to people who actually make a product and jump through all the hoops to get a company off the ground in a field like rum, in a highly regulated region like the EU; and who provide employment and pay taxes and contribute to the larger rum world. I always and sincerely wish these outfits well, no matter what my rating of their products might be.

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