Ruminsky

Jun 232016
 
saint-james-vintage-1986 crop

Photo copyright (c) lagourmandinerhumerie.com

Rumaniacs Review 023

Supposedly the 1970s and 1980s are the rarest vintages of many Martinique rhums – nearly thirty years later, that’s as little as makes no difference, since any and all rhums from that era are now collector’s items, irrespective of the country.  Many have been lost forever and aren’t even remembered.  This one from 1986 deserves to be rescued from the pit, however, because it’s pretty good.

Saint James on the north east coast of Martinique has been around since 1765 when Father LeFebure of the Brothers of Charity first devised a cane spirit, which he began shipping to the British colonies up north.  Initially he named the rhum Saint Jacques after a gent who actually bought the island in the 1630s (from the Compagnie des Îles d’Amérique) and developed it into a successful French colony – but not one to let sentiment (or his faith, apparently) get in the way of sound commercial bastardization, he renamed it Saint James to sound more english and thereby increase sales.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Wow!  What a lovely, deep, fruity nose.  Is this an AOC agricole?  Nope, the island adopted it only in late 1996, so all kinds of weird stuff was going on before then…and thank heavens for that.  This nose is lovely – vanillas and oaken tannins, white flowers, sweet peaches in syrup, but held at bay by a crisp driness almost like a Riseling, and ending up with (get this) fanta soda pop and bubble gum.  Don’t ask me how, I just smell this thing and call it as I see it – but it’s great.

Palate – On a medium-to-light bodied, deliciously warm mouthfeel, the Fruit Express continues to romp: dark red cherries, apricots, wound about with light and chirpy citrus peel; dates and raisins, lime juice soaked brown sugar…yet somehow the rhum remains light and sprightly, not heavy at all and without any kind of overbearing sweetness. Last tastes with water add white chocolate, some weak coffee grounds and grasses wet in the rain, all very very nice.

Finish – more a summing up of the preceding than anything new, and quite short, perhaps to be expected from 43%.  Warm, a little bite, clean and very clear, with more leather and oak, some citrus (a little), and fruits. Only complaint is I wish it was longer.

Thoughts – The AOC is something of a double edged sword to rummies – drinkers and makers both.  Many appreciate the standards, others chafe under the restrictions. It’s always interesting to see how different the old ways are from the new, just by comparing any modern aged Saint James with this one rhum from a generation ago. The 1986 may be long out of production, costs upwards of €500 and rare as a negative Velier review, but that doesn’t mean the ways of the old masters were in any way bad ones.

(86/100)

 

Jun 222016
 

SMWS R3.5 1

A big ‘n’ badass Bajan rum, brutal enough to be banished to Netflix, where Jessica Jones and Daredevil occasionally stop by Luke Cage’s bar to have some.

(#281 / 86/100)

***

“They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts,” I remarked once of one of the 151s with which I amused myself.  The SMWS on the other hand, does this stuff with the dead seriousness of a committed jailbird in his break for freedom.  They have no time to muck around, and produce mean, torqued-up rum beefcakes, every time. So be warned, the “Marmite” isn’t a rum with which you good-naturedly wrestle (like with the 151s, say) – you’re fighting it, you’re at war with it, you’re red in tooth and claw by the time you’re done, and afterwards you’re somehow sure that the rum won.  You may feel exhilerated just surviving the experience

Behind the user-friendly façade of the muted camo-green bottle and near-retro label of unintended cool, lies a rum proudly (or masochistically) showcasing  74.8 proof points of industrial strength, the point of which is somewhat lost on me – because, for the price, who’s going to mix it, and for the strength, who’s going to drink it?  It’s eleven years old, aged in Scotland, and hails, as far as I’ve been able to determine, from the Rockley pot still owned the West Indies Rum Distillery, making it a cousin of the Samaroli Barbados 1986 and the SMWS R3.4 10 year, old and thereby setting the stage.

SMWS R3.5 2The hay blonde rum oozed intensity right from the moment it was cracked. It was enormous, glitteringly sharp, hot, strong and awesomely pungent – the very first scents were acetone, wax, perfume and turpentine, so much so I just moved the glass to one side for a full ten minutes.  That allowed it to settle down into the low rumble of an idling Lambo, and gradually lighter notes of flowers, lavender, nail polish, sugar water and olives in brine came through, though very little “rummy” flavours of caramel and toffee and brown sugar could be discerned. It was clear nothing had been added to or filtered away from this thing.

Having experienced some rums qualifying as brutta ma buoni (which is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good” and describes such overproofs perfectly) I was very careful about my initial sip.  And with good reason – it was hellishly powerful. Incredibly thick and coating on the tongue. Massive, razor-sharp flavours of brine, cherries, more olives, some dried fruits, watermelon, and that weird combination of a cucumber sandwich on rye bread liberally daubed with cream cheese.  Christ this was hot – it was so over the top that were you to drink it in company, you wouldn’t be able to hear the guy next to you screaming…he’d have to pass you a note saying “OMFG!!!”.  Yet that’s not necessarily a disqualification, because like the 3.4, there was quite a bit of artistry and complexity going on at the same time. I have never been able to follow the SMWS’s tasting notes (see the label), but concede I was looking for the marmite…it was just difficult to find anything through that heat.  Once I added water (which is a must, here), there it was, plus some nuttiness and sweetness that had been absent before.  

All of this melded into a finish that was, as expected, suitably epic….it went on and on and on, holding up the flag of the overproofs in fine style, giving up flavours of hot black tea, pears, more florals, and a final hint of the caramel that had been so conspicuously absent throughout the tasting. I had it in tandem with the 3.4 (and the R5.1, though not strictly comparable), and liked the earlier Bajan a bit more.  But that’s not to invalidate how good this one is – about the only concession I have to make is that really, 74.8% is just a tad excessive for any kind of neat sipping. Overall?  Not bad at all – in fact it grew one me.  There was a lot more going on over time — so quietly it kinda sneaks up on you — than the initial profile would suggest, and patience is required for it.

SMWS R3.5 3

In trying to explain something of my background to my family (a more complicated story than you might think), I usually remark that no West Indian wedding ever really wraps up before the first fistfight erupts or the last bottle of rum gets drained.  The question any homo rummicus reading this would therefore reasonably ask, then, is which rum is that? Well…this one, I guess. It’s a hard rum, a tough rum, a forged steel battleaxe of a rum. It maybe should be issued with a warning sticker, and I honestly believe that if it were alive, it would it could have Robocop for lunch, yark him up half-chewed, and then have him again, before picking a fight in Tiger Bay.  It’s up to you though, to decide whether that’s a recommendation or not.

Jun 192016
 

K&S 12 YO 1

Not a bah-humbug rum…more like something of a “meh”.

(#280 / 81/100)

***

I have an opinion on larger issues raised by this rum and others like it, but for the moment let’s just concentrate on the review before further bloviating occurs. Kirk and Sweeney is a Dominican Republic originating rum distilled and aged in the DR by Bermudez (one of the three Big Bs of Barcelo, Bermudez and Brugal) before being shipped off to California for bottling by 35 Maple Street, the spirits division of a The Other Guy (a wine company).  And what a bottle it is – an onion bulb design, short and chubby and very distinctive, with the batch and bottle number on the label.  That alone makes it stand out on any shelf dominated by the standard bottle shapes. It is named after a Prohibition-era schooner which was captured by the Coast Guard in 1924 and subsequently turned into a training vessel (and renamed), which is just another marketing plug meant to anchor the rum to its supposed piratical and disreputable antecedents.

Dark orange in colour, bottled at 40%, the K&S is aged for 12 years in the usual American oak casks.  Where all that ageing went is unclear to me, because frankly, it didn’t have a nose worth a damn.  Oak?  What oak? Smelling it revealed more light vanilla and butterscotch than anything else, with attendant toffee and ice cream.  It was gentle to a fault, and so uncomplex as to be just about boring…there was nothing new here at all. “Dull” one commentator remarked. Even the Barcelo Imperial exhibited more courage, wussy as it was.

K&S 12 YO 2To taste it was marginally better, if similarly unadventurous. Medium bodied, with an unaggressive profile, anchored by a backbone of vanilla and honey.  There was a bit of the oak tannins here, fiercely controlled as to be almost absent; not much else of real complexity. Some floral notes, cinnamon, plums and richer fruits could be discerned, but they were never allowed to develop properly, or given their moment in the sun – the primary vanilla and butterscotch was simply too dominating (and for a rum that was as easy going as this one, that’s saying a lot).  The Brugal 1888 exhibited a similar structure, but balanced things off  a whole lot better. Maybe it was just me – I simply didn’t see where all the ageing went, and there was little satisfaction at the back end which was short, soft as a feather pillow, and primarily (you guessed it) toffee and cocoa and more vanilla. 

So the rum lacks the power and jazz and ever-evolving taste profile that I mark more highly, and overall it’s just not my speed.  Note, however, that residents in the DR prefer lighter, softer rums (which can be bottled at 37.5%) and its therefore not beyond the pale for K&S rum to reflect their preference since (according to one respected correspondent of mine) the objective here is to make an authentic, genuine DR rum.  And that, it is argued, they have achieved, and I have to admit – whatever my opinion of it is, it’s also a very affordable, very drinkable rum that many will appreciate because of that same laid back, chill-out nature to which I’m so indifferent.  Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean a lot of people aren’t going to like it. Not everyone has to like full proof rums, and not everyone will ever be able to afford indie outturns of a few hundred bottles, if they can even get them; and frankly not everyone wants a vibrating seacan of oomph landing on their palate.  For such people, then, this rum is just peachy. For me, it’s just isn’t, perhaps because I’m not looking for rums that try to please everyone, are too easy and light, and don’t provide any challenge or true points of interest.

Opinion: you can disregard this section

Years of drinking rums from across the spectrum leads me to believe that there’s something more than merely cultural that stratifies the various vocal tribes of rummies. It is a divide between rum Mixers and rum Drinkers, between bourbon fanciers moving into rums versus hebridean maltsters doing the same (with new rum evangelists jumping on top of both), all mixed up with a disagreement among three additional groups: lovers of those rums made by micro-distillers in the New World, aficionados of country-wide major brands, and fans of the independent “craft” bottlers. Add to that the fact that people not unnaturally drink only what they can find in their local likker establishment, and what that translates into is a different ethos of what each defines as a quality rum, and is also evident in the different strengths that each regards as standard, and so the concomitant rums they seemingly prefer.

That, in my opinion goes a far way to explaining why a rum like the K&S is praised by many in the New World fora as a superb rum…while some of the Old World boyos who are much more into cask strength monsters made by independent bottlers, smile, shrug and move on, idly wondering what the fuss is all about.  Because on one level the K&S is a perfectly acceptable rum, while on another it really isn’t…which side of the divide you’re on will likely dictate what your opinion of it and others like it, is.

Other notes

  • I actually think it’s closer to a solera in taste profile – the Opthimus 18 was what I thought about – but all online literature says it is really aged for twelve years.
  • Bottle purchased in 2013…I dug it out of storage while on a holiday back in Canada in 2016
  • K&S also produces an 18 and 23 year old version.

 

Jun 152016
 

Enmore 1988-1

A slightly discombobulated Enmore from the year Feynman died and Rihanna was born.  I wonder if that says anything about it?

(#279 / 86/100)

***

Bristol Spirits is a UK independent bottler formed in 1995, and so can no longer be considered a new kid on the block. Its label design has gone through several  iterations before settling on the current wildly coloured labels that so kidnap your eyes when you spot them on the shelf, and unlike some other indie bottlers, they pretty much issue all their rums at what they consider the appropriate strength, usually between 43%-55% with outliers at 40% in existence.  Like, say, Compagnie des Indes, they mostly bottle rums from all the usual and comforting locations – Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana, Cuba, Trinidad — while occasionally indulging themselves with diversions to less common places like Mauritius, Nicaragua, Peru, Haiti, Grenada and Guadeloupe.

Enmore 1988-2Some basic details on provenance: the Enmore continuous wooden coffey still is the only one of its kind extant, and while it is not a hundred-plus years old (the greenheart wood has been gradually replaced over the decades) it is well-used and still in operation to this day. The company notes on the rum speaks about being made from the pot still made by John Dore in 1880, but I suspect this may be in error, since these are actually two separate stills, the John Dore pot still is not made of wood (or from Enmore as far as I know), and the Enmore still is not a pot still. So let’s just assume this came from the wooden Enmore coffey still and move on before everyone falls asleep or breaks out the Rambo knife to settle the issue.

Right, with all that out of the way, what have we got here? A dark hay blonde 43% spirit bottled by an always-interesting company, from a country and a still for which I have a fond regard. And, I must admit, some very strange tastes, that seriously made me check my glencairns to see if they had been washed right: because I was asking myself, did it get stored in the pantry to near the spices?  The initial nose was light and warm and provided comforting smells of vanilla, raisins, licorice (the red kind) and a trace of sealing wax and turpentine…but there was also an undercurrent of garam masala, tumeric and drier indian spices coiling around in there that was as bizarre as Jessica Rabbit’s decolletage. I wasn’t complaining, mind…it just seemed out of place, and at least it didn’t derail the entire experience, being too vague to dominate the profile.  Anyway once the rum settled into its paces, more familiar notes of caramel, toffee, nougat and crushed walnuts emerged, with a dry kind of sawdust mustiness pervading the thing.  I can’t say it overwhelmed me, though it was pleasant enough.

Palate was better, much better: more light bodied than the  initial impressions above would suggest, as awkward as Tom Hanks in his new “Big” grown up body.  Initially presenting an almost-hot, briny foretaste, it developed really well with muted individual detonations of raisins, vanilla, dried fruit, apples just starting to go, some more licorice, some molasses, a flirt of citrus peel and again, those odd spices creeping around like John McClane serving up a little chaos in the mix – and these aren’t complementary sweet breakfast spices but sere, aromatic, powdery, crisp-smelling piles of spices on an open table (saffron, paprika, masala, more tumeric, cardamon, cumin)…it felt like walking through an open-air spice souk in the Middle East (oh wait…).  The finish was actually quite good: I hadn’t expected something so assertive from a 43% rum, but it delivered – a little sharp, more of that driness, caramel cream, brine, vanilla ice cream, cherries, licorice and some last hints, very faint, of nutmeg.

Okay, so in the sense that the rum was an oddball, it diverged from a more standard and familiar profiles, and showed more potential than delivery (much like Windows 2.1 did), while retaining the power to interest and enthuse.  It was not a depressing experience, nor a dour one (I was watching “Grave of the Fireflies” off and on as I made my notes, hence the comment). It was more a reminder of how a single still can produce several different variations on a theme, the way it was suggested that Old Enzo kept making the same car, just sleeker and better and faster each time.  Consider: the Velier Enmore 1988 (issued at 51.9% and one year younger) was more brutal, more intense, but better behaved, with flashes of brilliance; the Renegade Enmore 1990 hewed more to a standard profile (and wasn’t an Enmore anyway, but a Versailles), Secret Treasures Enmore 1989 was firmer and darker, while the El Dorado EHP wasn’t as complex. Nobody who’s had that many varieties of a single still’s rum can ever say they were running on empty…there’s something for everyone here and you won’t feel short changed if you manage to find Bristol Spirit’s version on some dusty shelf in a back-alley shop someplace, forgotten and ignored, and you snap it up.

***

Other notes:

Outturn unknown

Enmore 1988-3

Jun 122016
 

Damoiseau 1989-2

The 1980 Damoiseau was no fluke, as this 1989 forcefully demonstrates.

(#278 / 88/100)

***

Last week I wrote about the Longueteau Grande Reserve which I tasted in tandem with this excellent Damoiseau (and five or six others), and wow, did this one ever stand out. At the risk of offending that actually rather pleasant and inoffensive Grande Reserve, I think the Damoiseau shows what it could have been with some egging on.  (Actually, this is what the Pyrat’s XO could have been had they ever found their cojones, lost the oranges and dialled the whole thing up to “12”, but never mind).

Because frankly, I believe that the dark orange 58.4% twenty year old beefcake is one of the better rhums to come out of Guadeloupe – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, there are few, if any, missteps of any kind (unless you count the paucity of any single sterling point of achievement as a misstep) — there’s so much that’s right with it, that it seems almost churlish to point out where it fails to ascend to the heights of brilliance achieved by, oh, the Chantal Comte 1980 or even its own 1980 older brother.

Dsmoiseau 1989-1

Consider first the smell of the thing: it was amazingly full bodied, with a charging, yelling, joyous nose – if Braveheart ever visited Guadeloupe, it’s this he would have been drinking and all the Scots would be speaking creole and we’d never have heard of that obscure Hebridean tipple.  Candied light oranges started the revels off (here’s where my reference to the Pyrat’s came in – observe the tact with which the citrus was presented here versus the overripe nonsense Patron has been selling).  Peaches, apricots, and brown sugar soaked in lime juice, which sounds a little loopy until you actually taste it. And after letting the rhum open up a bit and settle down, lovely aromas of honey, licorice and sweet soya came forward to lend piquancy and heft to the experience.

Damoiseau 1989There were fond memories of other agricoles issued at cask strength in my tasting, and  I felt no particular amped-up over-aggressive heat  from the 58.4% ABV at which it was bottled. The sharpness burned off in no time, leaving a warm solidity of the honey and soya to carry forward from the nose.  And then it was like slow fireworks going off – strongly heated black tea, coffee, chocolate, earthy, waxy and citrus notes detonated on the tongue in solemn grandeur.  Some fleshy fruits (more apricots and peaches), lemon zest and yes, those candied oranges were back again for an encore, dancing around the backbone of the other, firmer notes. The control of the oak, by the way, was pretty good, and in no way intrusive – at most there was some background of vanilla and vague tannins, and even that was in no way offensive or overbearing.

I was looking for the herbal and grassy profile of a true agricole, and must confess there were just about none.  It was just a really well-constructed panoply of tastes both strong and subtle, leading into a slow, warm finish as post-coital languor in a courtesan’s boudoir – you almost want to break out the newspapers and some shag for your pipe as you enjoy long, pleasant closing notes of coffee, orange peel, and bitter black chocolate.  What a lovely piece of work indeed.

As I’ve observed before, I have a slight, sneaking preference for Guadeloupe agricoles over Martinique ones (though both are good, of course – it’s like asking me who I love more,  Little Caner (my fast-growing cheeky son) or Canerette (my just-graduated, far-too-clever daughter)…a pointless exercise since both have aspects of real distinction which get equal adoration from their papa).  I must simply sum up by stating that the way traditional, classic agricole components in this rum have been melded with something that is almost, but not quite, a molasses product, is masterful. This, for its price, is a rum to treasure.

 

Other notes:

  • Distilled April 1989, bottled January 2010, so, a whisker under 21 years old
  • Tasted in Paris in 2016, courtesy of Christian de Montaguère and Jerry Gitany.  I bought seventeen rums and tasted a raft more, which we all thought was fair.  Merci beaucoup, mes amis.
  • Nope, I never managed to acquire the Velier Damoiseau 1989 for a comparison.  But now I really want to.
  • €100 for this?  Great value for money. BUT….In an odd (but not entirely uncommon) coincidence, Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun wrote about this rhum this same week.  He rated it at 78, remarking on its ‘indefinite’ character.  So balance his review with my more enthusiastic one.  If you can, try it yourself before buying.
Jun 072016
 

Long

Strong beginning, fine development, chokes on the backstretch

(#277 / 85/100)

***

There are many things about agricoles that I slowly learned to appreciate: the clear profiles, the subtleties of their ageing, the differences and similarities with the molasses based rums that some almost indifferently dismiss as ‘industrials.’ So far I seem to be leaning more towards Guadeloupe rhums than those from Martinique, and while the Grande Reserve I sampled in Paris in April 2016 wasn’t one of the shining stars of the firmament, it wasn’t all that bad either and I had several hours to come to grips with it properly

Longueteau distillery has been around since the end of the 19th century, and is located in Domaine Espérance Belair, Sainte-Marie (on a SE corner of Basse-Terre) – it produces the Karukera and Longueteau lines.  Originally the whole estate was part of the the property of the Marquis de Sainte Marie, but the poor chap dedicated himself somewhat excessively to the pleasures of the nobility that came with his station – wine, women and gambling, all the expected high points — and was forced to sell out to Henri Longueteau in 1895 to cover his debts. The notary handling the sale, so local legend has it, passed it to Henri on trust, since that worthy didn’t have enough money either, and that faith seems to have paid of handsomely. Four generations of the family have kept the estate going ever since.

Longueteau-2This dark orange-gold ten year old began well on the nose: phenols, acetone, caramel, sweet red licorice, wet cardboard, it gave a good impression of some pot still action going on here, even though it was a column still product. Then there was some fanta or coke — some kind of soda pop at any rate, which I thought odd. Then cherries and citrus zest notes, blooming slowly into black olives, coffee, nuttiness and light vanilla.  As a whole, the experience was somewhat easy due to its softness, but overall it was too well constructed for me to dismiss it out of hand as thin or weak.

That thin note of acetone and nail polish remover came and went as fast as a man through the window of his paramour’s house  when the husband comes through the door.  Thick and almost full bodied, warm, welcoming, non-aggressive.  Herbal and grassy notes, much less prevalent than in a true agricole (or a white) and I got the impression, right or wrong, as I do with many Guadeloupe rums, that this was a molasses based rhum (which it isn’t).  With water there was more fanta and soda pop, bubble gum, plums and prunes.  Certainly fruit, without the tartness of unripe mangies but something more subdued, like ripe black cherries and soft apricots, and some of that watery soggniess of watermelon just starting to go. But hey, I liked it, and to be able to pick out that much from a living room strength rum is no small achievement — maybe it was the cognac barrels in which it had been aged. The finish was more problematic – short, nutty, giving up hints of salty caramel.  The fruity notes were there but just, I dunno, evaporated.  Nice enough, just the weakest part of the whole experience, which was a shame after noting how well it all started.

So where does that leave me?  Feeling pretty good, all in all, because it is a very well assembled rhum, with few faults except a certain lack of heft, and the finish which seemed in a hurry to either get me to put the glass down, or to refill it.  It shared many points of kinship with another rhum I had that day, the Damoiseau 1989 10 Year Old (I’ll look at that next week maybe).  Part of the issue might be the 42%.  Perhaps it was filtered, I don’t know.  For your average Tom, Dick or Harrilall it would work pretty well, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to start working his way around to the French islands’ products, without hesitation.  It’s a very good rhum for that — even if for me, it’s not one to add to my pantheon of great rums.

Other notes

Distilled Mar 2004, bottled April 2014

LOngueteau-3

May 312016
 
ampleforth

Picture (c) Ocado.com

Too much spice, too much sugar, too little interest.

(#276 / 78/100)

***

The name is almost Dickensian in its imagery.  Professor Cornelius Ampleforth could be straight out of the Pickwick Papers…you know, some chubby, benevolent older fellow in half-specs and a faded waistcoat, with rather limited mental capacity, down on his heels, but possessing a good heart. Whatever – the name evokes a certain good humour and indulgence from us, and at the very least is evocative.  That, unfortunately, doesn’t make the Professor’s Rumbullion a rum worth drinking, unless you are into spiced rums and like to have that in your drink (which I’m not and I don’t, so be aware of my personal preferences in this review).

Whether there really is a Professor Cornelius Ampleforth is subject to intense and spirited debate by all the same people who can tell you the middle name of the runner up of the 1959 Tiddlywinks Championship in Patagonia.  The UK company which releases the Rumbullion is called Atom Supplies and under its umbrella of e-commerce and business consultancy, also runs the online shop Master of Malt, and the brand is their independent bottling operation. They certainly have a sense of humour, as evinced not only by the Professor’s name, but the “Bathtub Gin” they also sell.

Bottled at 42.6% and darkly coloured within an inch of the Kraken, what we had here was a rum that assaulted the nose immediately with enormous and instant nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon notes, caramel and toffee and chocolate, all of which rushed and jostled and ran heedlessly together like a mob entering a Black Friday sale where everything is  90% off. It was also rather thick and almost chewy, and while back in 2010 I appreciated the Captain Morgan Private Stock for precisely those reasons (no longer, mind you), here it was simply excessive, and there was no order to any of it, no gradual progression from one series of well-blended, coherent smells to another…and that made the whole experience something of a disorganized mess.

And by the time I got around to tasting it, those spices really became too much, which led to flagging interest, waning ardour and a lot of grumbling and head shaking.  So there was cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sweet dark chocolate – these were somewhat better behaved now – to which, with some water, were added scents of cloves, marzipan (I liked that) and candied oranges, at which point the party was over and I was blatted into near catatonia by just wave upon wave of cloying sweetness (quick Prof, pass the insulin!). So yeah, there were additional elements of taste that weren’t bad, just so strong and so much that it was like having seven incidences of coitus in one night – one wakes up the next morning with an utterly blank brain and no desire to do anything meaningful. Even the warm, short fade exhibited this oversweet sense of warm syrup, without adding any new notes – there was the incessant hammer of cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, and to me it was just overkill.

To its credit, as I don’t hide my preferences, the makers don’t hide anything either: it is a spiced rum, it’s trumpeted as such, and they’re proud of it. But as always, it’s mostly marketing that one gets when one checks: a secret recipe (hate those), fancy wrapping and no information on components or ageing, if any. I guess for less than thirty quid we shouldn’t be asking for more.  This rum is squarely aimed at the casual imbibers who just want a tasty, tarted up, adulterated drink with a little bit of oomph and no hassle, and so although I acknowledge that spiced rums sell briskly for precisely those reasons, they really aren’t my tot of grog.

 

Other notes

For the record, I disapprove of an online shop not disclosing in its listings that it is itself the maker of a rum whose tasting notes (by its own staff) are rabidly enthusiastic.

May 252016
 

D3S_3878

A blue-water rum for the Navy men of yore.

(#275 / 86/100)

***

This may be one of the best out-of-production independent bottlings from Ago that I’ve had.  It’s heavy but no too much, tasty without excess, and flavourful without too many offbeat notes.  That’s quite an achievement for a rum made in the 1970s, even more so when you understand that it’s actually a blend of Guyanese and Bajan rums, a marriage not always made in heaven.

I’ve trawled around the various blogs and fora and articles looking for references to it, but about all I can find is that (a) Jolly Jack Tars swear by it the way they do Woods or Watson’s and (b) it’s supposedly slang for undiluted Pusser’s navy rum.  “Neaters” were the undiluted rum served to the petty officers onboard ship; ratings (or regular sailors if you will), were served with a measure of rum famously known as the tot, which was a quantity of diluted rum called grog, and if you don’t know the terms, well, brush up on your reading of rums.

The rum is bottled at 95.5º proof, and one has to be careful what that means – it’s not actually half that (47.75%) according to modern measures, but 54.5%. And that’s because originally 100 proof rum was actually 57% and so….well, you can do the math, and read a previous essay on the matter to get the gist of it. Beyond that, unfortunately, there’s very little information available on the rum itself — proportion of each country’s component, and which estate’s rums, for example — so we’re left with rather more questions than answers.  But never mind. Because all that aside, the rum is great.

D3S_3876

I have to admit, I enjoyed smelling the mahogany coloured rum. It’s warmth and richness were all the more surprising because I had expected little from a late ’60s / early ’70s product ensconced in a faded bottle with a cheap tinfoil cap, made by a defunct company. It started off with prunes, pepsi-cola (seriously!), molasses, brown sugar and black tea, and developed into cherries and purple-black grapes – complexity was not its forte, solidity was.  The primary flavours, which stayed there throughout the tasting, were exclamation points of a singular, individualistic quality, with no attempt at subtlety or untoward development into uncharted realms. In the very simplicity and focus of its construction lay its strength. In short, it smelled damned good.

The heavy proofage showed its power when tasted neat.  Neaters was a little thin (I guess the nose lied somewhat in its promise) but powerful, just this side of hot.  No PM or Enmore still rum here, I thought, more likely Versailles, and I couldn’t begin to hazard where the Bajan component originated.  Still, what an impressive panoply of tastes – flowers, cherries again, some brown sugar and molasses, coffee grounds, watermelon.  The softness of the Bajan component ameliorated the fiercer Guyanese portions of the blend, in a way that I hadn’t seen before, and boy, did that ever work. It was smooth and rattling at the same time, like a mink-overlaid machine gun. With some water added, a background of fried banana bread emerged, plus more brown sugar and caramel, salt butter, maple syrup and prunes, all tied up in a neat bow by a finish that was just long  enough and stayed with the notes described above without trying to break any new ground. So all in all, I thought it was a cool blast from the past.

D3S_3877A well made full proof rum should be intense but not savage.  The point of the elevated strength is not to hurt you, damage your insides, or give you an opportunity to prove how you rock it in the ‘Hood — but to provide crisper, clearer and stronger tastes that are more distinct (and delicious).  When done right, such rums are excellent as both sippers or cocktail ingredients and therein lies much of their attraction for people across the drinking spectrum.  Perhaps in the years to come, there’s the potential for rum makers to reach into the past and recreate such a remarkable profile once again.  I can hope, I guess.

Company bio

Charles Kinloch & Son were wine and spirits merchants who were in existence for almost a hundred years when they joined the Courage Brewery group in 1957.  That company had been around since 1757 and after many mergers and acquisitions was itself taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group in 1972, eventually passing to the Foster’s Group in 1990.  In 1995 Scottish & Newcastle bought Courage from Foster’s and it changed hands again in 2007 when Wells & Young’s Brewing company bought all the brands under that umbrella.  By then Navy Neaters had long been out of production, Kinloch was all but forgotten, and the current holding company now is more involved in pubs and beers in the UK than in rums of any kind.

Other notes

The rum had to have been made post-1966, given the spelling of “Guyana” on the label. Prior to that it would have been British Guiana.

The age is unknown.  I think it’s more than five years old, maybe as much as ten.

May 182016
 

Nine Leaves French 2

A love note to the concept of kaizen

(#274 / 84.5/100)

***

It’s an old joke of mine that Nine Leaves’ staff consists of  a master blender, office assistant, purchasing agent, bottler, General Manager, brand ambassador and sales office, and still only has one employee.  This was and remains Mr. Yoshiharu Takeuchi, who single-handedly runs his company in the Shiga Prefecture of Japan, and basically issues some very young rums (none are older than six months) on to the world market. The unaged whites in particular are getting all sorts of acclaim, and I have one to write about in the near future.

Back in December 2014 I wrote about the six-month-aged 2014 French Oak, which I thought intriguing and pleasant to drink, though still a bit raw and having some issues in the way the flavours blended together.  Running into Mr. Takeuchi again a year later, I made it a point to try that year’s production, the The American Oak “Spring 2015” and this “Autumn 2015” … and can happily report that Nine Leaves, in its slow, patient, incremental way, is getting better all the time (and as a probably unintended side-effect, has made me buy a few more Japanese rums from other companies just to see how they stack up).

Just a brief recap: the rum was distilled in a Forsythe copper pot still, double distilled, using sugar cane juice from cane grown in Okinawa, so the rum is an agricole in all but name. Mr. Takeuchi himself decides when and how to make the cuts so that the heart component is exactly what he wants it to be. The rums are then aged for six months in the noted barrels, which are all new, and lightly toasted, according to a note Mr. Takeuchi sent me..

Nine Leaves French 1The French Oak “Autumn 2015” rum was a bit lighter in hue than the American Oak version I tried alongside it, and also a little easier on the nose…and smoother, even rounder to smell, in spite of its 48% strength. There was a subtly increased overall depth here that impressed – though admittedly you kinda have to try these side by side to see where I’m coming from.  Aromas of fanta, orange, cinnamon, vanilla were clear and distinct, as clean and clear as freshly chiselled engravings, and after a while, sly herbal and grassy notes began to emerge…but so little that one could be forgiven for forgetting this was an agricole at all. This was something I have enjoyed about Nine Leaves’s rums, that sense of simultaneous delicacy and heft, and the coy flirtation between molasses and agricole profiles, while tacking inobtrusively to the latter. 

The profile on the palate continued on with that subtle dichotomy – it was slightly sweet and quite crisp, beginning with some wax and floor polish background, well controlled. Sugary, grassy tastes of cane juice, swank, vanilla, some oak, dill and incense led off, and while it displayed somewhat more sharpness and a little less body than the roundness of the nose had initially suggested, further softer notes of watermelon, cucumbers and pears helped make the experience a bearable one. As with the American, there was a chirpy sort of medium-long finish, as the rum exited with dry, bright, clean flavours of citrus, breakfast spices, some cinnamon and maybe a touch more of vanilla. It was clearly a young rum, a little rambunctious, a little playful, but overall, extremely well behaved.  I sure can’t tell you which agricole is exactly like it – Nine Leaves inhabits a space in the rum world uniquely its own, while never losing sight of its rummy antecedents.  That’s always been a part of its charm, and remains a core company competence.

Clearly Nine Leaves is slowly, patiently improving on its stable of offerings. I spent a few hours checking for news that the company intends to issue progressively more aged rums without result – it seems that the current idea is to continue with gradually improving the young rums that area their bread and butter (though I know that Yoshi has a few barrels of the good stuff squirrelled away in his warehouse someplace that he isn’t telling us about, and will issue a two year old American oak rum as a limited edition at some point).  I can’t fault the concept, and if a new distiller can make rums this decent, and improve a little bit every year, you can just imagine what they’ll be putting out the door within the decade. Until then, we could do a lot worse than try one of these lovely seasonal issues Nine Leaves makes.

Kampei!

Other notes

  • Because of some obscure tax regulations in Japan regarding spirits three years old, Nine Leaves is unlikely to issue really aged rums for the foreseeable future
  • The French Oak cask rums are now no longer being produced.
May 162016
 

bacardi-oro-gold-1970s-rum-001Rumaniacs Review 022

On the surface, rums like this one remind one how long Bacardi has been around (as if we could forget);  the Superior has also had a long history – I found a photo dating back to the 1930s.  This one is of more recent vintage, the 1970s, and made in the Bahamas.  Other versions of this rum were made in Trinidad and Cuba, some white, some not.  The labelling of “Carta de Oro” and “Añejo” and the colour, however, makes this a lightly aged product, less than five years old I’d say, based on taste.

Colour – hay blonde

Strength – 40%

Nose – As light as the morning sunshine on a winter day, so lacking in anything resembling strength I wonder if my sample was mislabelled and it was actually 37.5%. It’s right on the edge of vanishing in a stiff breeze: vanilla, citrus peel, some really weak watermelon and papayas, with the vaguest hint of something unidentifiably tart over the horizon.

Palate – Mild, thin, watery, weak, wussy, bland, feeble, insipid, lifeless.  You can swallow this whole, no problem. The idea of adding water to the rum is an exercise in redundancy. After ten minutes or so one can sense sugar water, light lemon zest, brine, pears, cucumber, and if water had a smell, lots of that.  It barely registers as a rum, though some faint rummy-ness manages to make it out if you search for it.

Finish – Short, vague, here now, gone a second later. Couldn’t sense anything beyond some heat, a little brine and vanilla and (again) light lemon.

Thoughts – This might have been a cocktail mixer back in the day, or a digestif of some kind.  Chuck a lemon and some soda in there (or the perennial coke) and you’d be okay.  As a rum to stand alone, it falls down stone dead without even a feeble twitch.  Maybe I’m bringing a modern sensibility to a rum from Ago, and not taking into account the lighter Spanish style so in vogue in those days: but if Kinloch can produce a Guyanese rum around the same time that could tear all thirty volumes of Encyclopedia Brittanica in half at once, I don’t know what was stopping Bacardi.

(72/100)

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