Sep 272015

Epris 1

If originality and straying off the beaten path of the rumworld is your thing, wander no further.  The thing is just a few stops short of being stunning.

(#234. 85/100)


This is one of the rare occasions where I tasted a rum blind, knowing absolutely nothing at all about it before I started…really, absolutely zilch. Not the country, not the company, not the distillate. I blame this on the pad I crash at in Berlin which has no wi-fi, no internet, no elevator, and what passes for hi-tech is an East-German era rotary dial phone.  So the situation when I tasted this rum was kinda interesting, and allowed me to dispense with any preconceived notions and just tell you what it was like to drink. Short version?  It isn’t half bad, and just a step removed from stunning.

Before all that, let’s speak briefly about the company. L’Esprit is a French bottler and distributor based in Rennes, in the Brittany province of France.  They do all the usual importation and distribution of old favourites from old countries (or islands) which we know better, but have also branched out into independent bottlings from all over the map – Barbados, Guyana, Panama, Guadeloupe, Nicaragua and so on, all uncoloured, unmessed-with, unadded-to.  

This is a column still cane juice product. Bottled at 47.7%, the rum (I’ll call it that, even though, y’know, it confuses me, and it may actually be a rhum….or not) was light yellow, one of 198 from the single cask, and matured between 1999 and 2012 in an ex-bourbon barrel: it’s a hair over thirteen years old. It’s not, strictly speaking, an original – Bruichladdich (Renegade) and Cadenhead have both issued rums from Epris before.  Epris, for what it’s worth, is a distillery located just outside São Paolo in Brazil, and they apparently also distill for Bacardi (as usual, their website is massively uninformative on their product lines).

Epris 2

Brazil may be something of an afterthought for L’Esprit (or not).  Doesn’t matter. It’s great. There’s very little that’s wrong with the spirit, and much that they got absolutely right.  Consider first the aroma: Vegetal, sweet and easy to sniff, quite warm.  Initial notes of cardboard, creamy nougat touched with some lemon zest.  There was a musty kind of background here, like dried hay in a sunlit field, but also the clean, crisp sweetness of a good Riesling. After a while additional notes of peaches, soft ripe mangos, green grapes and then the slight tartness of soursop, ginnips and green apples came to the fore.  Really cool stuff, honestly.

That slight lip-puckering tartness didn’t go away on the taste either, which I think was a good thing.  It was oily and pleasant, a little fuller than the light yellow colour might have implied, and was both a little sweet and a little briny at the same time.  The vegetal hay-like notes (complete with dusty dry hints) stayed along for the ride, with citrus emerging gradually from the background.  Somehow the rum managed to balance both the creamier tastes of brie and toblerone with sharper citrus and soursop into a melange I quite enjoyed. With water these tastes came into fuller focus, but I can’t pretend anything new or more original came out, except perhaps some smokiness and well-oiled leather.  

The finish was also quite excellent – somehow L’Esprit managed to dampen down the sharper and more acidic citrus notes, and allow the deeper, fruitier closing aromas (plus a last surprising licorice hint) to take their turn on the stage in a fade of medium length which closed things off just right. All in all, it was just sweet enough, just strong enough, just fruity enough, just salty enough; and displayed a quality to both delight and impress.

Clearing away the dishes, then, the rum had real character and originality, and I enjoyed it a lot – it was one of those samples that has sent me running around looking for more. I think that agricole aficionados would greatly enjoy it, and even traditional molasses rum lovers would have little to complain about here – L’Esprit have found an intersection of heavy and light, warm and sharp, fruity and tart aspects here, that left me admiring as hell, wondering if I shouldn’t get more into Brazilian products.  In reviewing the Ron Veroes Anejo, I said of it that it should have had more edge, more oomph, more complexity, more daring.  Here’s an example of the rum about which I was thinking.

Other notes

Sometimes a review is about more than just tasting notes, but illustrates a larger point about the rum universe.  

Since tasting the L’Esprit Epris, I’ve been left with questions that remain unresolved. It was made in Brazil, but aged in France, so is it a cachaca?  An agricole? An aged red-haired love-child of both? Does ageing it that long make it less than either, or more? When you think about it, what it does, more – and perhaps better – than any rum I’ve tried in the last year, is tell us that we have to take a look at how we classify rum.  It’s the exceptions that inform how good our rules are, and this one falls into no clear point in the current system. Perhaps it’s time to seriously examine the system.

Compliments to Cyril of DuRhum, who provided the sample gratis, as well as the photographs from which the crops above were taken


Sep 202015
Photo Copyright (c) Henri Comte

Photo Copyright (c) Henri Comte

An agricole that bends the rules just enough to be original, without dishonouring its antecedents. What a remarkable rhum.

(#233. 86/100)


In between the larger and more well known independent bottlers lurk smaller operators pursuing their own vision. Some, like Old Man Spirits, or Delicana, fight the good fight without undue recognition or perhaps even real commercial success.  Others seem to find a more workable middle road. Chantal Comte is one of these, an eponymous company run by a bright and vivacious lady who Cyril of DuRhum interviewed earlier in 2015.  I first saw some of her products in 2014, bought some more out of Switzerland, and now keep an eye out for anything else the lady makes, because, almost alone among the independent bottlers, her company specializes in agricoles and pays no mind to the larger market of molasses based rums.  That gives her rhums a focus that seems to pay huge dividends, at the price of being relatively unknown and relegated almost to bit-player status in the broader rum community.

Born in Morocco into a family with West Indian connections, Ms. Comte started out as a winemaker in the early 1980s, in Nimes. Martinique influenced her interest in rhum, and through the decades she was mentored by two major players in the agricole world, André Depaz of the Mount Pelee plantation, and Paul Hayot (the Hayot family company took over the Clement distillery, you will recall). In the  mid eighties this interest developed to the point where she began blending and bottling some of Depaz’s rhums (with André’s encouragement) and stuck with a philosophy of blending the original vintages, sourced from all over the French West Indies, and bottled at natural strength…whatever was felt to be appropriate to the final expression.

What I had here, then, was a bourbon finished 46.5% amber-coloured AOC Martinique rhum…the questions for me were, which plantation and how old, because Martinique has quite a few different agricole makers and Ms. Comte bottles several. But then the fine print on the label showed it was L’Habitation Saint-Etienne, so mystery solved. How old?  No idea. The rhum is a blend, and comprises several different vintages from HSE: there is no detail on whether the blend was itself aged or not, and how long the bourbon finishing regimen was. It was probably an XO, six years old at least, and honestly, I felt it was likely older than that. On the other hand, I was informed that all vintages are derived from small creole column-still distillates (much like most of the French island agricoles) aged in limousin oak before final transferrence to bourbon barrels for the final finishing and blend.  No additions, no filtration, and the AOC designation remains.


These days I don’t write much on presentation unless there’s something intriguing (or irritating – cheap corks and tinfoil caps are pet bugbears of mine).  Still, I’d like to comment on the beefy barroom bottle, similar to Rum Nation’s, as well as the wooden box, which certainly gets my nod of approval, given the thing costs over a hundred euros – I’ve never discarded my feeling that when one pays a fair bit of coin, then one is entitled to a fair bit of bling, and here the delivery is just fine. (Note to wife: makes a great gift at Christmas).

On to the rhum, then.  Amber coloured, remember, and middling strength. Pouring it out was almost sensuous, it even felt thicker than usual.  It nosed well, and smelled heavenly – instant green lime zest mixed with softer vanillas, plus eucalyptus and that characteristic grassy cleanliness that so mark agricoles.  I remember looking at my glass in some amazement, wondering how the soft and the sharp scents could meld so well.  Trust me, they did. As it opened up cinnamon, rosemary and riccotta cheese came out, and there was a growing background of ripe fruits from the bourbon barrels tapping my tonsils to say “Oy…we’re here.”

For a rum this light in colour, it was also pleasantly deep (though not heavy a la Port Mourant or Caroni, it was too fresh and clear for that) – somewhat stinging initially, even harsh, so watch out.  And also, be warned…there’s an opening salvo of cordite and firecrackers in here, a gun-oil kind of metallic note; not strong enough to overwhelm subtler tastes that were waiting in the wings, and they died away quickly…but it did make my hair curl for a moment.  More traditional tastes followed in swift, balanced unison, trip-trapping across the palate – semi-sweet fresh fruit, lemon-grass,  ripe mangos, papaya, vanilla, ginger (very faint). It began to trend towards driness as it trailed off, and the finish just confirmed that – fairly long, heated, arid, and last flavours of grass and mild zest to round things off.

Honestly, I don’t know how they managed to meld the offbeat metallic notes with sharp citrus, clean grasses and soft fruits all at once and wrap it all up in a bow of tannins that were kept in check, but they did it, and the result is really worth trying. I liked it partly on the strength of that originality, and indeed, it was on the basis of this one rhum, that I bought their 1977 45% and 1980 58% Trois Rivieres editions as well. It’s a little offbeat, marching to its own tune, and if it’s not quite as insane as the certifiable Clairin Sajous, well, I guess they thought that they had taken enough risks with their client base for one day, and pulled in their horns

My experience with independent bottlers is that they usually come to rum after dabbling in the obscure Scottish drink and only later discovering the True Faith.  Ms. Comte took a different path, starting out with wine (she owns the Château de la Tuilerie which she inherited from her father, and until recently, ran the winery there).  It’s debatable what specific skills can be transferred from one spirit to another: yet, if other editions put out by her company are on par with or better than this rather interesting and remarkable rhum, all I can say is that I hope more wine makers move over to rhums, and quickly.

Other notes

Big hat tip to Cyril of DuRhum, who not only wrote the initial interview with Ms. Comte, but proofed my initial post.


Sep 142015
Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

An unaggressive, bright and clear, sipping-quality rhum agricole that can serve as a bridge between traditional molasses rum and agricoles.

(#232 / 85/100)


Clément holds the dubious distinction of providing one of the first agricoles I ever tried.  That was five years (and some change) ago. At the time when I tried that Tres Vieux XO, just about the top of their range, I remember the clarity and smooth brightness of it, and how it flirted with a molasses profile without ever stepping over the  line.  That rhum was a blend of three exceptional years’ production…the Hors D’Age I was trying this time around was supposedly a blend of the best vintages of the past fifteen years.  On the basis of such remarks are high prices charged.  Note the “hors d’age” statement – what that means in principle, is that the rhum is aged between three and six years, which strikes me as absurd for a bottle costing in the €90+ range.  Still, it is an AOC rhum, Clément is enthusiastic abut the care with which they assembled it, and all in all, it’s a pretty decent dram.

Clément has a long history, dating back to 1887 and the purchase of domaine de l’Acajou by Homère Clément. Initially it just produced sugar and raw alcohol, but the demand for liquor durting the first world war persuaded him to upgrade to a distillery in 1917. After the death of Homère, his son Charles took over the business. Credited with developing (some say perfecting) the company’s rhum agricole methodology, he studied distillation at the Louis Pasteur School in France, and named the first bottlings after his father.  He subsequently expanded the company by instigating mass exports to France, which became the company’s primary market outside the Caribbean.  When he died in 1973, his sons took over, but thirteen years later they sold the Acajou distillery to another Martinique business owned by family friends (Groupe Bernard Hayot, one of the largest family businesses in France), who have kept the brand, heritage and plantation intact and functioning and modernized. The company gained the AOC designation in 1996.

Agricoles, of course, even the aged ones, trend towards a certain clarity and lightness to them…one might even say sprightly. The nose on the Homère Cuvée broke no new ground, while still being quite delicious to sniff. It presented a tasty mix of the tartness of freshly pressed apple juice (almost cider-like), and softer tastes of under-ripe apricots, freshly sliced.  Some vague grassy hints wafted around, very much in the background, and after a few minutes traces of nuts and yellow mangoes and a little leather and waxy stuff rounded things out.  It was quite soft and smooth, with very little sting or bite to it.

The golden rum was equally gentle to taste, providing very little aggressiveness even at 44% (unless it was just me and my palate being fireproofed by stronger drinks).  The feel on the tongue was quite pleasant, gentle and easy-going to a fault.  It started out smooth and then morphed to something drier over time. Sharper tastes of lemon dueled it out with more apples, mint-leaves and green grass, some brine and dates, all of which came together really well, with additional breakfast spices, cinnamon and hazelnuts being in evidence…even some chocolate.  I found it, in fact, to be somewhat similar to the XO (they were side by side, so I tasted them both simultaneously, one to inform the other), just not quite as good.  Still, even after all those tastes, there was still some faint traces of leather and smoke to round things out, and while I won’t swear to a tinge of molasses in there, it certainly felt like it. The fade was sweet and aromatic, smooth and warm, pretty short, some wood, leather, chocolate and citrus ending the experience.

There’s enough good stuff trapped in the bottle to please, even satisfy, just insufficient excitement to make it a ultra-remarkable drink that would score higher. Of course, chosing which vintages to blend into a rhum like this presents its own difficulties to the makers, and I’d never say it was bad rhum: my feeling is simply that the Cuvée had more modest goals than the rather more impressive XO, and aimed no higher.  Did I like it?  Yes.  Enjoy it?  Surely. It’s a really well-made AOC rhum for those who like agricoles and displays the hallmarks of time and care and blending expertise.  So when I say you won’t feel short-changed by the Cuvée, that’s entirely true…what you won’t be is seriously challenged.  Still, just because it doesn’t rise to the heights of its predecessor is no reason to dismiss it out of hand. It’s a worthy addition to the brand.



Other notes

It’s possible that this rhum has been made in order to replace the sadly discontinued XO.  Some people disliked the XO (I was initially not enthused myself, though my appreciation grew over the years), and there’s a whole FB thread about varying opinions on the matter; the cynic in me thinks that by not stating which vintages comprise the blend, it allows Clément the freedom to sidestep the issue of what happens when those vintages run out…unlike with the XO, where they couldn’t mess with the assembly because everyone knew which years’ production was inside.  I hope the silence on the components of the Homère is more a trade secret than an end run around the buying public.

Sep 072015
Samaroli Nicaragua 1995

Photo (c)

This is a rum that reaffirms my faith in the Nicaraguan rums.  Nothing need be added to it, nothing can be taken away. There’s a purity and minimalism of construction here that is almost zen.

(#231. 88/100)


The sheer range  of flavours emanating from the glass that held the Samaroli Nicaragua 1995 tickled my nose and astonished my mind.  Few light coloured rums I’ve tried in the last six years were ever this rich right out of the gate.  For a person whose background in Nicaraguan rum trends more to the Flor de Caña range (of which the 21 remains my favourite), this was not only intriguing, but an outright pleasure.

Samaroli is one of the first modern independent bottlers who’s still around (though Veronelli may be older), having opened its doors in 1968.  As with many other Italian outfits, they initially specialized in whiskies, but in our subculture, it’s their rum bottlings for which they are more highly esteemed. There’s a certain cachet to Samaroli rums, perhaps because there were among the first to begin issuing limited edition craft bottlings for rum which were more than just by-the-way-we-think-you-might-like-this efforts done by scotch makers.  Companies like Secret Treasure, Velier, Rum Nation, Compagnie des Indies are its intellectual heirs.  These newer companies seem to grab reviewers’ attention, headlines and market share much more than the old guy on the block, and  yet there is Samaroli, still quietly putting out the hits.  Maybe it’s Samaroli’s absence from the Facebook or festival circuit. Maybe it’s their comparative rarity – this ten year old 45% rum, for example, only has 378 bottles in existence.  Maybe it’s their overall quality – I have not heard a bad thing said about the decades-long rum lines. Still, it ain’t exactly cheap at €160, and that will make a lot of people pause.

All of this crossed my mind as I nosed a more-than-generous sample sent to me by that estimable gentleman from France, Cyril of DuRhum, so a big hat tip to the man.

Usually a light gold rum almost presumes a certain light sparkly diffidence…not here.  Smooth thick and slightly heated aromas rose from the glass, firmly providing the initial dusting of citrus and ripe oranges, cinnamon and pepper, around which danced scintillating notes of overripe green grapes.  It had a slightly nautical tang to it, of seaspray and brine, black olives…really well put together, not too heated to be unpleasant, not too faint to be unnoticeable.  It did take a while to open up, but that wait was worth it – additional scents of caramel and sugar notes sulkily emerged at the tail end, as if doing me a favour.  Never mind, still liked it.

Ahh, the taste of this thing….just lovely.  It was medium to full bodied in texture, and the various tastes were distinct and separable and came across as sweetly as a series of precise piano notes dropping gently into a pool of silence…something by Mendellsohn, I think, or one of Chopin’s quiet nocturnes.  There was absolutely no bombast or fire here, just one pure thing after another…green grapes to begin with, fleshy apricots, followed by a frisson of plums and the zest of tangerines.  A little water brought out toblerone, honey and nuts…and oddly, very little brown sugar or caramel.  On the other hand, well controlled oak, aromatic tobacco and vanilla rounded things out quite nicely, so no complaints there.  The exit was medium long, warm but not sharp, presenting the final tastes of peaches and citrus oil and leather, and you’d better believe I wasted no time in having another sample.

The Nicaragua 1995 is an completely delicious, professionally made rum.  Mr. Samaroli has always felt that as flavours increase with age the texture and body fall off, and there’s a sweet spot where age, texture and strength intersect.  In this case, ten year ageing and 45% may be just about right for providing a remarkable tasting experience without overreaching.  There are some who have no particular liking for Nicaraguan rums (as represented by Flor de Caña, which has gotten some flak in recent years due to its age-statement  and labeling philosophy) – to such naysayers, I’d simply say that for depth of flavour and overall profile, for an enjoyable spirit that succeeds on practically every level and can be used for whatever you want, you wouldn’t shortchange yourself by trying this rum if it ever crosses your path.

Other notes

No additions or inclusions or chill-filtration

Distilled in Nicaragua in 1995, bottled 2005 in Scotland, where it was also aged.

Sep 032015


It’s all a little bit, well, funky.  There’s an element of crazy about, it, perhaps deliberately created, perhaps not, which is almost in defiant contrast to more traditional PMs.  All things considered, this rum raises my ire and hurts my heart, both at the same time.  In it I see all that craft makers aspire to, while somehow failing to realize both its and their own potential.

(#230 / 84/100)


Last time around I looked at the quietly impressive PM 1990, which I tasted in conjunction with the PM 1999.  You’d think that with core distillate being the same, and with the same port finishing, the results would differ only in the details.  Yeah.  No.  The 1999, too well made to ignore, turned out so different from its sibling that I spent ages with it just to make sure I wasn’t being taken for a ride. It’s an illustration of how similar origins, combined with some chaos theory, leads to a remarkably divergent outcome

As before, the Port Mourant wooden double pot still supplied the core distillate; it was aged until 2013 in oak, and like the 1999-2010, and the 1990-2007, it was left to rest in port pipes for an extra finish, at that same unadventurous 46% that just makes me shrug my shoulders.  When I inquired about the Peru 8 Year Old strength, they responded, “40% suits the rum well, in our opinion,” and I think they have the same opinion here. To their own detriment, maybe.  One or two rums at less than cask-strength I can accept, but when the entire range never varies between 40-46%, I have to question the logic (beyond trying to sell as many as possible to more conventional purchasers). If other independent bottlers can take their barrels out for a spin and crank them up a shade just to see where they can take their audience, I see no reason why an outfit that made the magnificent PM 1980 can’t occasionally break out of their own self-imposed corsets.

Anyway, so, we had a reddish bronze rum here, nicely aged, affordably priced.  On the pour some of the expected notes came out immediately: what made me retreat a metaphorical step was its unexpected aggressiveness.  The thing lunged out of the glass with an attitude, was sharp and unlike its other brothers (and other PMs I’ve been fortunate enough to try)…it did not display heavy, brooding notes of enchanted forests, but instead the harsh spearing glares of desert sunlight.  Initial notes of dusty hay, chopped fruits, some mangoes and papayas were there, gone very fast, a little smoke, some tannins from the oak.  Leaving the rum to open some more brought out secondary scents of anise, smoke, leather, some dark chocolate, green grapes, and it was all nowhere near as deeply luscious as the 1990…no idea why.  There was a shimmering clarity to the rum which was intriguing, yet not entirely appealing. The mix of light and heavy components wasn’t working for me.

The taste moved on from there…not nearly as full bodied as the other PMs in my experience, at all.  More of that light sharpness, a rapier compared to the more elemental battleaxes of even the 1990 variation.  Some of the richness of the others (even made by Bristol themselves) was missing here, and I really was not that impressed with the result.  Tastes were decent, can’t complain too much about that – there were raisins, black grapes, prunes, figs and some dark chocolate to contend with, all interlaced with some sharp bitterness of oak which thankfully was not predominant.  With water, the chocolate started to assert some biceps, as did a slightly drier element, plus fresh brewed black tea and vanilla, and even a flirt of feintiness and some other more winey notes from the port finish.  I seem to remember reading somewhere that a smidgen of sugar had been added to this rum, but I didn’t really sense any – if true, it couldn’t have been much.  On the fade it was dry and spicy, with some crushed walnuts, anise, more fruit and a sly background of molasses and brown sugar: that and the nose were the two best parts of the rum, for me.

My dissatisfaction with this rum stems from what appears to be two differing characteristics marrying uneasily – the dour, anise-led, brown-sugar profile of a PM, and something lighter and sharper, younger, friskier.  It’s like an old fart in his Bentley trying to make nice with a coed driving a 370Z. So, is it, or will it be, a successful commercial rum?  I think so.  It suggests an ironic future for Bristol – they bring a well known, well-loved distillate to the stage, age it decently, make it reasonably, price it well, issue it at an agreeable strength, and I’m sure if it hasn’t already flown off the shelves, it will – and yet, this very success might prevent them from making any more of those genuinely fantastic PM-1980-style rums of which I am convinced they are capable.  What a shame.


Other notes

For a much more positive review of the 1999, read Marco’s take, with all his usual and remarkable historical detail, here.

There is another 1999 bottled in 2010 and yet another bottled in 2014 (the latter without the port finish).

Aug 272015


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.

Are there truly none of such writers around? Sure there are.  Henrik from Denmark keeps getting better all the time and that’s in his second language; Marco Freyr from Barrel Aged Mind in Germany is a historian par excellence with enormously detailed articles on the rums he tries; Josh Miller of Inuakena writes well, tastes well and goes far afield whenever it pleases him; Cyril from duRhum fills in with great reviews of more obscure fare, especially agricoles; Steve James of Rum Diaries writes great reviews in depth; The Fat Rum Pirate writes accessible notes for the common man with lots of opinions and off-hand facts, primarily for the UK crowd, and lovingly tends to the low-end and mid-range.  I enjoy Laurent’s work on Les Rhums de l’homme à la Poussette. Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery is a long running stalwart, and while Chip and I happily trade emails back and forth about our differences in opinion, the man does put out a welter of rum reviews that North Americans in particular take seriously.

Why do we need more of such people?

Because, dear reader, there still aren’t enough. Not 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, Cyril, Dave and Wes 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. You can disagree with what they write, but at least they’re out there providing information. Why would having fewer somehow be seen as better?

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,” if the ones I mentioned above aren’t representative? 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, and in the same post as your takedown, not elsewhere on your site. Negatives are one thing, but if you have no positives to contribute then your argument lacks substance. More, there’s a puritan ethos of understated censorship wafting through those two comments I find disturbing…y’know, Write what I like, or you’re an idiot.

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 it’s my considered opinion that 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


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.


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.


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



Aug 182015


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.


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. 


It annoys me no end, 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.




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 haunting and 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 that’s how a list should be written, dammit.

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