Ruminsky

Mar 012021
 

Nearly ten years ago, I was rather indifferent to Flor de Cana’s 12 year old rum.  It wasn’t as cool as the older expressions like the 18 for sipping, and was outdone by the 7 year old for a more assertive a cocktail. The 12 YO made a decent drink…except insofar as I thought it was somewhat unfinished mid range rum which didn’t seem to be either flesh or fowl. 

A decade has now passed, and the brand has lost both brownie points and market lustre with consumers. The 2015 Chronic Kidney Disease matter has died down, but the peculiar and more lasting damage of their age statements continues. In fine, the age statement number on the label was phased out after around 2014 (when Wes Burgin first noted it in his middling-scored review) and now just says “7” or “12” or 18” without further clarification.  Of course, even then they were touting that silly “slow aged” moniker, which I regarded then and now with the same sort of impatience.  What on earth do they think this means, honestly? That the world spins more slowly for this thing?

What this all does mean, and what just about every reviewer on reddit or other fora is at pains to note (when they bother reviewing anything from Flor at all), is that the big number on the label is completely useless, if not outright deceptive. It tells you nothing of consequence, not the age, or whether it is a blend of X rums (unlikely) or whether it’s a link to the past when it was 12 years old.

With that in mind, let’s see what we have: an older 12 year old 40% rum, whose current “12” blend is no longer now what this once was; column still distilled and aged in ex-bourbon barrels. A more standard rum could not be imagined (unless maybe it’s the Appleton 12 YO or Doorly’s 12 YO).  The only reasons to try it are curiosity (always), to see if it could be a candidate for the Key Rums list (no), and to see if anything has changed from my original review (yes, but not for the better).  

I confess it did not impress now either.  The nose started out medicinal and a bit sharp.  It’s predominant characteristic was dark prunes and viscous molasses, honey, overripe cherries, a tang of salt and olives. The ageing showed up via a trace of vanilla and tannins, whose aromas stayed mostly in the background, but overall, not a particularly expressive or impressive nose.

The rum tasted mostly of caramel, treacle and molasses.  There was a trace of nuttiness and honey, a few dark and ripe fruits, nothing particularly sharp or tart.  Black olives, some brown sugar. It felt like something of a soft blanket, lacking the sharper notes of a citrus element that would have make a stronger statement and balanced things off more nicely. With some strain and patience, a touch of orange peel and unsweetened chocolate was discernible at the tail end leading into the short, dry finish, just insufficient to make a difference to the overall profile.  Not something that made it any more memorable, however. 

For my money, the 12 YO remains something of a middling work in progress, once leading to the better 18 Year Old (now the “18”) of the supposedly even more upscale “Luxury” expressions (this one is referred to as an “Ultra Premium” in its current iteration). I don’t think it merits anything near those kinds of descriptions – based on tastes alone, it encourages words like “capable,” “decent” and “mid range” but “Premium”?  No chance.

To me, it comes down to that that big number 12 on the label: without any qualifiers or explanations, it is a sign of not just shoddy marketing and the peacock-like display of a double-digit (if not an outright attempt to mislead buyers), but of a lack of faith in their own product. I have no particular issues with Flor de Cana as a whole – I admire what they’ve managed to accomplish to recover their reputation – but this rum is just not worthy, at this stage, of being included in the pantheon.  It’s too simple, too ambiguous, and it excites mostly a kind of indifference. Ten years ago it was the sort of rum I’d drink when I just wanted to get hammered, and in that sense, it’s exactly the same now

(#805)(78/100)


Other notes

  • In a time of true-aged cask-strength full-proofs as part of several primary producers’ ranges, I wonder why they insist on keeping this old work horse and not rebrand it as a true 12 year old, and/or goose the proof a bit?  For that matter, why not issue a complete range of high-octane full proofs?  To stick with the advertising of yesteryear at a time when the world has already changed so much strikes me as odd, to say the least.  Perhaps, like DDL, they regard that kind of thing as a loss-leading indulgence of the independent bottlers, not something they really care about themselves.
  • Both TWE and MoM keep on naming their entries for the rum as if it were a true-aged rum, when the label clearly says nothing of the kind.
Feb 252021
 

Back in 2013 when I wrote about the Scotch Malt Whisky Association’s release R3.4 Barbados 2002 10YO “Makes You Strong Like  Lion”, several people went on FB and passed the word around that it wasn’t a Foursquare rum, which was hardly needed since I noted in the review that it was from WIRD, and the Rockley Still. Four years later the SMWS did however, decide that the famed Barbados company shouldn’t be left out and bottled an aged rum from Foursquare (the first of two), named it R6.1, and gave it one of their usual amusing titles of “Spice At The Races.” One wonders when they’re going to try for a Mount Gay distillate, though I’m not holding my breath.

Now, for years, every rum geek in the observable rumiverse (bar a few of my acquaintances who don’t drink kool aid) has formed up behind the oft-repeated idea that there is no way a continentally aged rum is the equal of one left to sleep in its island or country of origin. I’ve always taken that statement with a pinch of salt, for two reasons: one, its adherents always talk about taste and age, yet it’s actually touted for social and economic reasons, which is a point often lost in the shuffle; and two, I’ve simply had too many aged rums that ripened in both places for me to be so dogmatic in my assertions, and I’ve seen as many failures as successes in both. Ultimately, it’s the taste that counts no matter where it’s bottled.

This pale yellow rum cost around £75 when initially released, was 57.3% and with a 210 bottle outurn, aged for a solid 14 years old (yes, in Europe) , illustrates the problem with making such sweeping “four legs good, two legs bad” generalizations, because it’s a really a fine rum in its own peculiar way, and one I enjoyed a lot.

Consider first the nose, which opens with the firm assertiveness of my primary school teacher wielding her cane. It smells of sawdust, dusty cardboard, glue, has an odd medicinal touch to it, and also a nice smoky-sweet sort of background. Then the fruits begin their march in: orange peel, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, some light cherries and peaches. The citrus line, augmented with other sharper aromas of persimmons and ginnips provide a lovely through-line, and the smokiness and leather lend an intriguing edge.

The taste is admittedly odd at the inception; my first notes speak of a pair of old, well used, polished, leather shoes (with socks still in ‘em). This is not actually a bad thing, since it is balanced off by ginger, mauby and some rich fruit notes – apples, guavas, almost ripe yellow Thai mangoes – and these make it both tart and delicately sweet, gathering force until it becomes almost creamy at the back end, with a sort of caramel, port, molasses and vanilla taste to it. This is one of these cases where the finish lingers and doesn’t do a vanishing act on you: it’s slightly acidic and tart, with vanilla, oak, smoke, unsweetened yoghurt and a touch of delicate florals and fruits. Nice.

So, a couple of points.  Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged-Mind, who was sampling it with me, and who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the various Bajan rum profiles, wondered if it was even a Foursquare at all (I chose to disagree, and accept the rum as stated).  Also, It’s unclear from the labelling whether it’s a pure pot still distillate, or – more consistent with Foursuare’s own releases – a blend of pot and column.  Rum Auctioneer classed it as a pot-column blend.  The bottle remains silent. The Rum Shop Boy, one of the few who’s reviewed it, noted it as pot still only in one part of his review, and a blend further down (and didn’t care much for it, as a matter of interest). However, he further noted in an earlier Kintra Foursquare review some months before, that Mr. Seale had confirmed some 2002 pot still 4S rum had indeed been sold that year. My own initial take was that it was a blend, as I felt it lacked the sort of distinctiveness a pot still distillate would impart and I didn’t think Mr. Seale shipped his pot still juice over to Europe. However, Simon’s quote from him, and Seale’s subsequent note on FB put he matter to rest – he confirmed it was a pot still spirit.

All that aside, it was a really good rum, one which shows that when they want to, the SMWS can pick rums with the best of them (especially with more familiar and more famous distilleries – their track record with less known and less popular marks is a bit more hit and miss).  If various laws and regulations being pursued stop indies from getting continentally aged juice in the years to come (though this is unlikely given the extent of Scheer’s stocks), I think the Society can still rest comfortably on its laurels after having issued a rum as fine as this one, young as it may be in tropical years.

(#804)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Rum Shop Boy scored the rum 67/100, so about 83 points by my scale and 3½ out of 5 on Wes’s.  Like Marco, he commented on how different it was from the Foursquare rums he knew, and rated it “disappointing”.
  • Angus over at WhiskyFun liked it much more and scored it 87, rolling out the tongue-in-cheek “dangerously quaffable” line, and meaning it.
  • Ben’s Whisky Blog (near bottom of page) rates it a “Buy” with no score
  • Post details regarding source still is updated based on a conversation on FB the same day I put it up.  It could indeed be a pot still rum, but the jury remains out.
Feb 222021
 

Rumaniacs Review #124 | 0803

There were several varieties of the standard white Havana Club mixer: strengths varied from 37.5% to 40%, the labels changed from saying “El Ron de Cuba” to “Mix Freely” and in the early 2000s this old workhorse of the bartending scene, which had been in existence at least since the 1970s and produced all over the world, was finally retired, to be replaced by the Anejo Blanco. 

From the label design I’m hazarding a guess mine came from the early 1990s (it lacks the pictures of the 1996 and 1997 medals it won that were added later) but as it was part of a collection from much earlier and the design changes were stable for long periods, it may be from the late eighties as well (the HC sun began to be coloured red in the early 1980s which sets an earliest possible dating for the bottle). As far as I know it was a column still product aged for no more than 18 months, filtered to white and made in Cuba.

Colour – White

Strength – 40%

Nose – Very light, fragrant and delicate. Sugar water, coconut shavings (and actual coconut water), watery pears.  A touch of light vanilla, watermelon and cucumbers, and an almost industrial sort of aroma to it that is supposed to double for “alcohol,” I guess, but feels too much like raw spirit to me. Without practice this could come off as a serious no-nose kind of rum.

Palate – Meh. Unadventurous.  Watery alcohol.  Pears, cucumbers in light brine, vanilla and sugar water depending how often one returns to the glass.  Completely inoffensive and easy, which in this case means no effort required, since there’s almost nothing to taste and no effort is needed. Even the final touch of lemon zest doesn’t really save it.

Finish – Short, faint and undistinguished, complete non-starter. By the time you think to ask “Where’s the finish?” it’s already all over.

Thoughts – By today’s standards, this venerable white is unimpressive.  Current Havana Club variants like the 3YO Anejo Blanco or the Verde are slightly more taste-driven on their own account, and have a life over and beyond the cocktail circuit since they possess a smidgen of individual character. This is too much of a backgrounder, too anonymous, to appeal.  

Note however, that it is completely consistent with its purpose which was to liven up a mojito or a daiquiri, not to appear on one of my lists of white rums (here and here) that stand tall alone.  At the time, this was what such blancos were made for and what made them sell. That this one fails by today’s more exacting standards for white rums, is hardly its fault. We changed, not it.

(74/100)


A picture of some of the silver dry series over the decades, from the FB site HC Sammlung Hamburg

Feb 172021
 

This is a completely theoretical “what-if?” about the implications for the rum world if the technological process of superfast ageing were ever to be perfected.

Ever since ageing of spirits became a thing, people have been trying to make it faster in a sort of half-assed time-travel wish-fulfilment. They’ve tried the adding of wood chips, smaller barrels, keeping the barrels in motion, dosage, temperature control, music, ultrasound, etc etc – all in an effort to have the taste of a 20 year old rum stuffed inside a spirit made the day before yesterday.

Take Rational Spirits’ Cuban Inspired rum I wrote about recently, and the NYT article on research into the field. That rum was itself based on technology Bryan Davis of Lost Spirits had developed years earlier (he is mentioned in the NYT piece) where he was trying to do exactly that…accelerate the change in taste profile of selected spirits, to mimic that created by many years of ageing.

I’ve never stopped thinking about what such a technology might actually imply – particularly the outcomes. Because I think that the state of modern chemical and physical technology is such that even with all the thousands or millions – or billions – of disparate variables that interact in such complex ways to create the taste of a seriously aged rum, it may possible, just possible — not now, but someday — to get close to a 1975 Port Mourant…and do it in a few days. And what that implies for the industry should be considered.

Here, I won’t go into the methods and processes various companies have developed: what interests me is what the success of such a process might mean, the impacts it would have…if it were a reality. For the purpose of this what-if article, I am taking “the process” to mean not just being able to produce an ersatz aged product in a very short time…but any profile at will (it is part of the same idea, after all, so one inevitably follows the other).

And thinking of that leads down some interesting paths.

Obviously, first and foremost is money.  All input costs gathered post-distillation get reduced with a process that can do “ageing on demand” – most especially the warehousing charges of storing barrels for years or decades. Moreover, if one can produce an aged profile in days, oak barrels would be an unnecessary expense since storage could be in larger, inert vats made of steel or even (heaven forbid) plastic – the profile is already “set” so why bother going further with real barrels? Warehousing overheads would be reduced both for the physical infrastructure and its utilities, and the staffing. 

Too, if any superfast ageing process can happen, then clearly the angel’s share would shrink to nothing, which would leave more available to be sold.  Inevitably, this would have a knock-on negative effect on prices. One of the reasons legends like the the Skeldon 1973 is so expensive is because it was issued at an incredible age which probably left less than 5% of the initial volume available for bottling – can you imagine five thousand bottles of this stuff being available instead of five hundred, and not having to wait 32 years to get it? The four figure prices it commands now would take a nose-dive.

In point of fact, such a process, since it could theoretically be done just about anywhere and replicate any rum’s profile, would instantly render the distinction between tropical and continental ageing nearly irrelevant. The ripple effects of what “pure” rum would mean under such circumstances are huge even beyond that – because if you could not tell the difference between an aged Foursquare produced in situ and a fake that someone else can produce by just dialling in some coordinates on a reactor, the entire business model of premiumization premised on GIs, terroire and island specific profiles is going to be disembowelled. Why pay a hundred bucks for a Hampden Great House when you can get the same thing (or an indistinguishable thing) made down the street for ten?

Tony Sachs, who touched on this topic back in 2015, suggested that it would primarily affect the smaller producers, who would be able to produce a better rum for less money, instead of having capital tied up in ageing inventory and having to sell sub-par young juice to make cash flow.  But he also remarked that larger producers could make better “bottom-shelf” booze as well, and experimentation, being made simpler and faster with this tech, would allow profiles to be tested and produced on a much faster cycle than now. Nobody would be immune from this if they wanted to stay in the running. A lot of the same points were made in two FB conversations around the same time, in the Global Rum Club and La Confrerie du Rhum – and to this date, none of these issues have gone away (or been discussed beyond the superficialities).

Unsurprisingly, the industry commentators so far remain sanguine, relying on brand awareness, their names, the reputation built over decades, even centuries, the skill of their master distillers, blenders and cellar masters. “Old fashioned craft rum,” said one producer when commenting on superfast ageing several years ago, “Will always be there.” He’s probably right but at what level of production, I wonder, when faced with such a disruptor? The impacts I’ve described (or others I haven’t thought of) may not come to pass, but have not really been considered, largely because nobody takes this technology seriously: and with good reason, since so far it has not been shown to work.  Nor, in spite of its application to some rums like Lost Spirits,’ has it succeeded in producing a rum the hype leads us to expect. In other words, the process is not making rums to upend the industry.

A successful technology would, however, force traditional mid-sized rum producers to adapt to a major change in their pricing models and sales strategies. Faced with a technology that would provide real price competition and render their carefully blended aged products less desirable (because a similar product could now be had for less), they would have to up their game by making new and different and (hopefully) even better rums, and to make them in such a way as to hobble any attempts at mimicry by such a process. This would cost them money. 

It’s clear why labelling redesign and better disclosure are going to be required….

They would have to advertise differently, focus on their own premium-ness, the genuine nature of their products as opposed to the ersatz lab rats that are coming on the market. You can see this happening with mid sized “country-level” producers now, as they combat cheap US, Indian or Asian rums on the world market, or mass produced rums made by huge multi-column operations like Florida Distillers or those in Panama and elsewhere.

Distinctions between a “manufactured” rum made by a process of this kind, and a traditionally made one, would take on much greater importance, and that would logically lead to the courts. It is very likely that laws – or at least regulations by industry bodies – would be passed regarding advertising and restricting the labelling of such manufactured rums; they would not be able to pass themselves off as the genuine article. GIs would be amended to exclude fake-aged, or processed rums. Social media personages and little online armies would be mobilized by at-risk producers to wage a war of opinion and words against such upstarts (we have seen this already in other areas of the rum world). 

The word “ageing” itself would have to be more rigorously defined and enshrined in legislation. If I set up my equipment in Bridgetown, buy unaged bulk rum from any of the distilleries and then run it through the process at half the cost, you’d better believe I can call it a NAS Barbados rum under the current rules, and that means post-distillation processes have to be re-specified and redrafted to stop me from undercutting their prices for what they make and taking away their market share. Moreover, some way of trademarking or patenting the taste profile of a rum from one specific still, distillery or country is going to have to be found and distinguished, because the technology would instantly make counterfeiting and copying known brands a huge issue.

Multinational spirits conglomerates are likely to jump on board with this as well.  Since they go after bulk sales of cheap one-for-everyone commercial products whose margins are thinner, anything that reduces costs, or increases quality for the same price, will be looked at and developed. They might even buy the technology from some small tech startup like Mr. Davis and scale it up to industrial proportions, at which point market dominance is a very real possibility and small producers would hit the wall.

Of course, the high end connoisseurship and chatterati would absolutely continue prefer and promote the true-made rum as opposed to any ersatz lab concoction (we see that already with dosed rums).  But the painful truth is that such buyers, influencers, self-styled ambassadors and social media pundits, for all their noise, don’t actually account for much in the way of sales (otherwise Plantation and Flor de Cana would have gone belly-up years ago). The mid range and bottom shelf is where the vast majority of sales to the public lie – there is no significant, high-end premium market in existence (as there is, for example, in mechanical Swiss watches), just a marginal one.  

What this means is that it won’t matter if famed famed distilleries and notables of the industry throw their weight behind artisanal rums – if the cost is low and the quality is good enough, the majority of rum drinkers (who know little and care less about the rum wars others fight on their behalf) will continue to not just go for Bacardi but a low end ersatz Bacardi copy at an even lower price.  We won’t even go into the inevitable scourge of counterfeiting that is sure to start if any profile can be replicated at will.

This leads, then, to the possibility that the industry might for the first time require a global controlling body to set proper standards for production and labelling, national and international enforcement with teeth, and to find room for such a manufactured product that can separate it out and classify it in a way that makes its nature pellucidly clear.  The dog eat dog nature of spirits production, so tied up in national pride and economics, has so far resisted this kind of move, but I submit that under the pressure of a potentially mould-breaking force, it may become inevitable.

Admittedly, I paint a blue-sky picture of massive disruption here, based on a technology that is far from proven and does not currently exist in the form I posit.  So far, none of it has happened, and the earth keeps on spinning as it always has. And as others have pointed out, should such a process or the technology be perfected, it would make the bottom shelf better and the top end cheaper.

In any case, as has been constantly and comfortingly stated, people also do love the genuine article. I have heard no end of statements that people will always prefer the depth and rounded flavour and complexity of a natural, true-aged rum.  And that’s completely true…for rums they can get, and afford.  But what happens to rums that are out of production but desperately sought after? Rums made in limited quantities? That are too expensive? The Saint James 1885 comes to mind, and we won’t even talk about the Harewood House rum from 1780.

The technology’s research and the articles written about it, is currently and mostly aimed at two aspects of the spirits world: one, to provide an aged profile without actually ageing anything (for costs reduction), and two, to recreate old marks that can be sold for high prices (for revenue enhancement). 

Rational Spirits with its Cuban Inspired rum, and Lost Spirits before them with their Navy, Polynesian and Colonial rums, went the route of re-creation. But that created a third additional issue not often articulated, which most commentators (who only focus on the first thing, ageing) never address. And that’s who to sell the recreated dead marks to. 

It’s a reasonable question because consider: so few such “dead” rums remain and so few people exist who could actually describe the taste accurately (let alone write about it or have the nostalgia to get one), that you could just as easily do any old thing and say it was a faithful replica, call it “inspired” and who would gainsay you? At best such a duplicated re-creation owes its sales to marketing, curiosity or nostalgia.  It’s not really geared or guaranteed to provide a long term market or massive sales. A duplicate does not become a sought-after classic. No aged replica could ever have serious street cred – buyers would be unable to say it was genuine and pricing would be a problem.  This thing such companies have, that they want to recreate halo-marks of yesteryear, lost or dead, therefore, strikes me as no more than a marketing game and ultimately a dead end. 

***

What this all in some way leads up to, then is my belief that the real potential of such a process is not in the duplication of past profiles, or even the faux-ageing that nobody will ever take seriously, can’t be proven and can’t be labelled as such. Today’s drinking class don’t give a good goddamn about some Farrell’s Montserrat rum from the 1950s, Trader Vic’s Appleton 17 YO, or even a Caputo 1973 recreation.  

What buyers want is the new Chairman’s Reserve at cask strength for five dollars.  They’re after a Velier-Hampden Great House or HV Port Mourant White for ten bucks, and even more, would like to buy entire Foursquare ECS range available for only a Benjamin. That’s the third, ignored side of what such as-yet unproven technology would really entail, and all these companies doing research on different ways to flash age, re-create, re-do or re-invent are promoting the wrong aspect of their work.  They keep trying to recreate something that doesn’t actually exist any more and bottle their results as an “Inspired” version.  

The true, unspoken, unseen, undiscussed killer-app of any process of spirits alteration is in the recreation of what’s popular now. The proof of the pudding is whether they can recreate current marks which people can buy in the store and know really well, and do it so well that almost no-one —  consumer, taster or expert — can tell the difference…and accepts the made product as indistinguishable from the real one.  If the companies hustling to develop such techniques were ever to succeed at that, then they’d have my (and everyone else’s) serious attention…and upend the industry overnight. 

However, so far that has not seemed to compute, so it’s replication and fast ageing that gets all the attention — and the real market disruptions I once thought Lost Spirits and all the other companies might herald, remain unrealized. For now, anyway. 

And, as an old fashioned kind of rum guy who prefers the genuine article myself, I kind of hope it stays that way.

Feb 152021
 

Remember Lost Spirits? No? This was the company that made rumbles a few years ago, by using a proprietary “flash ageing” process developed by its founder, Bryan Davis, to promote “super fast ageing”. In theory, the chemical reactor Davis built would create a spirit that would taste like a twenty year old mature product, when in fact only a week old. Most sniffed condescendingly, made remarks about charlatans and snake oil sellers, sneered about how it had been tried and failed many times throughout history (usually to con the unwary and fleece the innocent) and walked away…but I was intrigued enough to buy their three initial attempts. Those were not all that hot, although I heard subsequent editions with tweaked settings produced better results.  But the hoopla faded and I heard little more about it and I was not interested enough to follow it up (an article was posted in the NYT in February 11th this year that spoke about the efforts of several companies to currently pursue this Holy Grail.)

That didn’t stop Lost Spirits from hitting the bricks to try and jack up some interest via licensing, and Rational Spirits out of South Carolina teamed up with Mr. Davis, who has continuing to tinker with the technology. In 2017 they released a Cuban Inspired rum, the second generation after Lost Spirits’ own, at a breathtaking 70.5% ABV – its stated purpose was to replicate pre-Revolutionary pot still Cuban rum profiles, and use that as a springboard to do similar magic with many near-dead or all-but extinct rums (like Appleton’s legendary 17 Year Old, perhaps). Weeellll…okay.  Let’s see what we have here, then.

First of all, the actual origin spirit of the rum is somewhat murky.  Master of Malt, Distiller.com and Andrew Abrahams all mention the pot still business, but it’s nowhere stated where that came from or who distilled it; there’s loads of this in the marketing materials which all online stores quote, and they helpfully also include Grade “A” molasses base and charred cask ageing, but hardly inspire my confidence. Since Rational is now out of business and its website leads to a gambling site, not a lot of help to be gotten there. Moreover, the “Cuban style” even in pre-1960 times was considered a light distillate made on column stills (for the most part) so there’s some issues there — would anyone even recognize what came out the other end?

So let’s try it and see. Nose is, let me state right out, great. Sure, it’s rather rough and ready, spurring and booting around, but nicely rich and deep with initial aromas of butterscotch, caramel, brine, molasses.  A nice dry and dusty old cardboard smell is exuded, and then a whiff of rotten fruits – and, as the Jamaicans have taught us, this is not necessarily a bad thing – to which is gradually added a fruity tinned cherry syrup, coconut shavings and vanilla. A few prunes and ripe peaches. Hints of glue, brine, humus and olive oil. It smells both musky and sweet, with anise popping in and out like a jack in the box. Glue, brine, humus and olive oil. So all in all, a lot going on in there, all nicely handled.

It starts, however, to falter when tasted, and that’s in spite of that very powerful proof. The caramel, chocolate, toffee, vanilla and butterscotch carries over. To that is added some aromatic tobacco, rather dry, plus polished well-cured leather. A drop or two of water releases additional notes of citrus and deeper molasses (perhaps a bit too much of the latter, methinks). Aside from faint dark dried fruit, most of what I taste is the non-sweet kind – dates, figs, olives. Very little sweet here, more of spices and leather. The finish is simple enough – it’s long though, and quite hot and spicy (“brutal” remarked Paul Senft, in his review) – mostly vanilla, a bit of fruit, caramel and molasses, plus one last filip of anise.

So, it started really well, and then just lay down, heaved a sigh, farted and then expired, but fatally, it never really enthused me.  It felt more like any reasonably decent low-brow young wannabe rum — made honestly, but less like a Cuban than the bastard offspring of a rather uncouth lightly-aged Versailles hooch and a low-grade but high-proofed Hampden. The nose was fantastic, by the way, which raised hopes, but then all that goodwill drained away, because sipping and tasting invited confusion, leading to outright disappointment.  

In fine, my opinion was that running it through this “flash-ageing” process neither helped nor hindered, because who could tell what the fermentation, charred barrels and the origin-still imparted, versus the tech? And the Cuban-inspired part? Not hardly. Best to ignore that aspect for now and drop the expectation down the toilet, because it’s nothing of the kind.  Take your time nosing it and enjoy that part of the experience to the fullest, because after that, there’s not much of interest going on or heading your way, except a really speedy drunk.

(#802)(79/100)


Other Notes

  • The Wonk has probably written the most about Lost Spirits, here’s a tag for all his articles on the subject. They express no opinion on the technology, but just report on the story up to around 2018.
  • Originally, I scored it 81 as a rum, but ended up by subtracting a couple of points for not making anything remotely resembling a Cuban.  This is an interesting point to think about, when considering a reviewer’s score – it’s not all and always about intrinsic quality excluding all other factors, but also about the expectations he walked in with. I try not to let such secondary issues affect my judgement but in some cases it’s unavoidable, such as here. The re-creation of an old Cuban mark is so much a part of the mythos of this rum it cannot be disentangled from the critique.
  • The whole business about superfast ageing led me down some interesting thought-lines and rabbit holes.  I expanded upon them in an opinion piece separate from this review a few days later.
Feb 112021
 

With the rise of the New Jamaican and their distillery offerings, it is instructive to remember that indies still have a pretty good handle on the good stuff too. We keep seeing new aged releases from Monymusk, Clarendon, Long Pond from makers big and small.  Velier continues to add new Hampden releases (or whole new collections) every time we turn around and Worthy Park is always around putting out really good pot still juice for those who know the difference. 

Lastly there’s New Yarmouth, which is the distillery in Clarendon Parish which is part of Appleton (not to be confused with the Clarendon Distillery) and supplies it with its white overproof stocks. New Yarmouth has both pot and column stills, and is more into the production of stock components for blends (often shipped elsewhere in bulk) than any individual bottlings of its own. That of course has not stopped many smaller companies from trying to bottle just New Yarmouth rums as a unique releases in their own right in then ever more concerted drive to atomize Jamaican rums to the nth degree (I’m still waiting for the first unaged backcountry moonshine to be given the full rollout as a true artisanal rum of the country). 

Back to NY: currently 1423 out of Denmark is getting some serious kudos with its 2005 edition from that distillery, Rum Artesenal has its 2009 10 YO and a stunner of a 25YO from 1994 (issued almost in tandem with Wild Parrot who did their own 1994 25YO in 2020), and even the boys over at Skylark created one called The River Mumma (Vidya) in 2020, which also hailed from 2005. Evidently that was a good year.

But as far as I’m aware, the first indie to make a real splash with this distillery was actually Florent Beuchet’s outfit, the Compagnie des Indes, when they started bottling some for the 2017 release year.  Time passes fast nowadays and new hot-sh*t releases are coming more often, and 2017 was no slouch itself — Toucan appearing on the scene, the first Worth Parks I can recall, Novo Fogo, Foursquare’s Criterion, Rum Nation’s Madeira agricoles — yet even in this company, the CdI New Yarmouth stood out in the rum fests where it was shown.  There were two versions: one at 55% for the more general market, and a huge 65.2% beefcake that for some reason only those raving rum crazies in Denmark were allowed to buy.  That’s this one.

And what a rum it was. I don’t know what ester levels it had, but my first note was “a lot!”.  I mean, it was massive. Pencil shavings and glue. Lots of it. Musky, dry, cardboard and damp sawdust. Some rotting fruit (was that dunder they were using?) and also rubber and furniture polish slapped on enough uncured greenheart to rebuild the Parika stelling, twice. The fruitiness – sharp! – of tart apples, green grapes, passion fruit, overripe oranges and freshly peeled tangerines. Florals and crisp light notes, all of it so pungent and bursting that a little breeze through your house and the neighbors would either be calling for a HAZMAT team or the nearest distillery to find out if they had lost their master blender and a still or two.

Okay, so that was the nose, smelly, fruity, funky, alcoholic, rummy and completely unapologetic. It took no prisoners and didn’t care what you thought, and Lord was it ever distinct and original.  Was the palate any different? 

To some extent, yes. It started out dry, and quite sharp, with a lot of lumber and fresh sawn green wood – the pencils had it! – plus glue and rubber. Acetones, nail polish, paint stripper and turpentine. But also some organics were there, because clearly the kitchen and a table had now been built and now it was time for food.  So, gherkins, pickles, cucumbers in vinegar and pimento. Green apples, sour oranges and five-finger, soursop, kind of marginal, but trending towards an edgy sweet. Only at the end did the richness and hidden quality emerge to provide its own version of shock and awe: honey, caramel, nougat, bitter chocolate, and bags of rich fruits like peaches, apricots, dates, raisins, finishing up with a long, dense, sharp, dry close redolent of honey, vanilla, red wine trending to vinegar. 

From this overlong description it’s clear there’s a whole lot of shaking going on in my glass. It’s an extraordinarily rich pot still rum which rivals any Worthy Park or Hampden I’d tasted to that point.  It somehow never managed to slip off the rails into undrinkability, and was a great sipper even at that strength, completely distinct from Hampden or WP, and perhaps trending a bit more to Long Pond. But a caution – it is complex and has flavours that at first blush don’t seem to work well together (until, much to one’s surprise, they do). For that reason and for the strength, I’d suggest either trying the 55% edition or adding some water to tame this thing a bit, because it’s surely not for beginners — which may be the reason, now that I think about it, that it was only released to the guys up north, and why they were happy to get every last bottle for themselves.

The New Yarmouth, then, was not just a damned fine rum in its own right, but something more, something I would have thought to be impossible in this day and age – a distillery-specific hooch that didn’t depend on its age or its antecedents or the myth of the still or the name of its maker for effect and power.  It came together and succeeded because of the enduring strength of the rum itself, and the mastery of those who made it, and lends its lustre to all of them.

(#801)(88/100)


Other Notes

  • Some background can be found on Marius’s site over at Single Cask, and the ‘Wonk wrote his unusually scant cheat sheet which has little on it about this distillery. Note that both Clarendon Distillery and New Yarmouth Distillery are located in the Clarendon parish in south-central Jamaica, but they are distinct from each other. Clarendon makes Monymusk rums, named after the next-door sugar factory.
  • Cask #JNYD9, providing 255 bottles
Feb 082021
 

Rumaniacs Review #123 | #800

Here is a rum that defies easy tracing.  It predates us all, and almost everything about it remains educated conjecture and guesswork — even the name, assuming it has one.  It was bought by the German firm of Gerb. Hoff Weinkeller in 1941 from Wilhelm Roggemann in Hamburg (essentially that’s what the typewritten text on the label says – WR were wine and spirits merchants, no longer extant); Rene van Hoven, in whose collection the bottle currently sits gathering yet more dust, told me that all the research he had done on tax stamps, invoices, bills of sale and assorted other paper chases, suggested it had been bottled in the pre-WW2 years at least a decade earlier. I’ll take that on faith until I can find out different.

Also, it supposedly came from Jamaica, was bottled in a Burgundy wine bottle and rated 60% ABV.  I was told that no, it is not a verschnitt – that is, a neutral alcohol to which a high-ester Jamaican rum was added for kick, as was the practice in Germany and Eastern Europe back then. At that strength it might have equally been an “original overseas pure rum” (as the label claims)…or not. Don’t ask which distillery made it and inquiring after the age is pointless. Sorry, but sometimes, that’s all we have, and we take what we can get.

Colour – Dull amber

Strength – Supposedly 60% ABV per the label

Nose – Rubber and plasticine, dusty books. In fact it reminds me of an ancient second hand or antique bookstore where the aroma of glue from the bindings, and the delicate disintegrating yellow pages of unread tomes, pervades the whole place. Lots of fruits break in after some minutes – strawberries, bubble gum, fanta, oranges, overripe peaches, and also honey, molasses and a rich lemon meringue pie. It felt hot and heavy but somehow managed to avoid real raw ethanol sharpness, for which one can only be grateful

Palate – Hot, spicy, creamy, lots of stuff going on here.  Like the amazing Harewood House rum from a century and a half earlier, the taste is extraordinarily vibrant.  Molasses, damp brown sugar, soursop and unsweetened yoghurt, orange peel, sweet soya sauce.  And fruits, lots of fruits – yellow sweet mangoes, kiwi, pomegranates, peaches, yummy.  Did I mention a dusting of cinnamon and cumin?

Finish – Medium long, quite aromatic. Gets a bit rougher here, but the fruits and spices noted above see this thing out in fine style. An additional light layer of coconut and lemon zest in there, perhaps.

Thoughts – “It’s very alive,” remarked Rene to me, and I could not but agree.  The storage had evidently been impeccable, because that same week I’d tried another 1930s rum (from Martinique) of which less care had been taken, and it had been a complete disaster. This rum is not so much a Jamaican — I would not pretend to you that it screamed the island’s name as I tried it — as simply a very good, very sprightly rum that managed to stay awake and not fall flat.  And it demonstrated that even back then in the rum dark ages, perhaps it wasn’t really all that dark, and they were making some pretty good juice then too. Wish I knew more about it.

(84/100)


Other Notes

  • If you’re ever at a rumfest where Rene Van Hoven is hanging his hat, I strongly recommend you go pay his booth a visit.  The man has some very old rums from way back when, that are just fascinating to try; and his background research is usually spot on. Check out the website, and his instagram page.
Feb 042021
 

Given the backward Prohibition-era-style rules governing alcohol in the US, Americans rightly sigh with envy when they see the rum selections in Europe. To get their favourite rums, they have to use any number of workarounds: bite the bullet and go over in person to buy some; have somebody mule it; come to an arrangement with a local liquor store in their state; or, heaven forbid, courier it – a tricky and not hazard-free process, I assure you.  

But occasionally the situation goes in reverse, and it’s the Europeans who grumble at the luck of the Yanks. Ed Hamilton’s little indie operation of eponymous rums is one of these.  Although perhaps the most renowned for the 151 Demerara rum (which went head to head with Lemon Hart in the early 2010s and has remained a bar staple ever since), the Collection also includes a Worthy Park edition, a Navy rum, a white rum, a New York blend, even a pimento liqueur…and several years’ releases (from 2004 through 2009) of St. Lucia Distillers’ rums, bottled in between 2013 and 2015. 

Today we’re looking at the Hamilton 2007 7 year old rum sent to me by my old schoolfriend Cecil Ramotar, which can be considered a companion review to the 2007 9 year old I wrote about four years ago (but of which I still had a smidgen for comparison purposes…in the name of science, of course).  Like its older brother, the 7 YO came off of SLD’s Vendome pot still in September 2007 and set to age in ex-bourbon casks, shipped to the US in 2014 and bottled in January 2015 straight from the cask with additives of any kind.  At a snorting, growling 60.4%, which I thought was excessive until I realized that several others in the line were even stronger.

That strength was bolted on to a firmness of profile and a solidity of taste that was really quite remarkable, and smelled, at the beginning, like I had stumbled into a high end cake shop with a fruit stand somewhere in there.  There were aromas of honey, marzipan, cinnamon and unsweetened dark chocolate; vanilla and the sort of rich pastry that makes really good cookies. I wandered out back and found the fruit shelf: apples, green grapes, fanta, strawberries, and just the faintest hint of saline solution and olives, all dusted liberally with brown sugar. 

Well, the nose might have been good, but taste tells the tale, right? Yes indeed. Again I remarked on its lack of sharpness, it’s lack of raw sandpaper scrape.  I mean yes, it was spicy and hot, but it more gave an impression of real heft and weight rather than cutting pain.  It was slightly salty and sweet and sour all at once, with the piquancy of gooseberries and unripe mangoes married to riper and more dusky fruits: raspberries and peaches and apricots.  Somehow the molasses, salted caramel, brown sugar and creme brulee didn’t up-end that profile or create any kind of crazy mishmash – the integration of citrus, flowers, pastry and cereal notes was pretty well handled and even added some peanut brittle and mint chocolates at the back end, during a nicely long and aromatic finish.

Clearing away the dishes, it’s a seriously solid rum. If I had to chose, I think the 2004 9 Year Old edges this one out by just a bit, but the difference is more a matter of personal taste than objective quality, as both were very tasty and complex rums that add to SLD’s and Ed Hamilton’s reputations. It’s a shame that the line wasn’t continued and added to — no other St. Lucia rums have been added to the Hamilton Collection since 2015 (at least not according to the master list on Ed’s site) and that makes them incredibly desirable finds in that cask strength desert they call a rum selection over there. Worse, only 20 cases of this one were released…so a mere 240 bottles hit the market, and that was six years ago. 

Now, in 2021 I think these rums are a close to extinct, akin to the Stolen Overproof Jamaican which was made, sank without a trace and is regarded as something of an overlooked bargain these days. With reviews like this one and for the kind of quality I argue the Hamilton St Lucia rum displayed, it may now be seen as more desirable, but good luck finding any.  If you do, I think you’d like it (though see “other notes”, below), and hopefully accept that it’s right up there with the better known rums of the New Jamaicans, Barbados or Mudland. In my mind, deservedly so.

(#799)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the empty reviewing landscape in the US where the rum was primarily distributed, few have bothered to say anything about it. Spirits Surveyor wrote about it last year (December 2020) in a short eval, rating it 7 (presumably out of 10) and commented on “liquid baking spices”. In July of 2020 LIFO Accountant on Reddit didn’t care for it and thought it too hot and unbalanced and rated it 4/10, preferring the 9 YO. TheAgaveFairy, also on reddit, gave it a 6+ and extensive tasting notes…and even thought it was a Jamaican for a bit. On RumRatings, it scored between 8 and 9, assuming you discount the one perspicacious gent who didn’t like it because he didn’t care for agricoles.
  • There’s another 7 YO from 2007 in the Collection, with a slightly lesser proof of 59% ABV.
Feb 012021
 

Although the Rhum Rhum PMG is essentially a rhum made at Bielle distillery on Guadeloupe, it uses a Mueller still imported there by Luca Gargano when he envisioned producing a new (or very old) type of rhum agricole, back in 2005. He wanted to try making a double distilled rhum hearkening back to the pre-creole-still days, and provide a profile like that of a Pére Labat pot still rhum he had once been impressed with and never forgot.

Co-opting Gianni Capovilla into his scheme (at the time Capovilla was creating a reputation for himself playing around with brandy, grappa and eau de vie in Italy), the two made Marie Galante a second home for themselves as they brought their plan to fruition with Dominic Thierry, the owner of Bielle. “We used fresh, undiluted cane juice provided by the Bielle mills and then subjected it to a long fermentation in small 30hl steel cuvees, before double distilling it in two copper stills through a bain-marie (a water bath, or double boiler).” And in 2006 the first rhum came off the new still.

Although the plan was always to sell white (unaged) rhum, some was also laid away to age and the aged portion turned into the “Liberation” series in later years.  The white was a constant, however, and remains on sale to this day – this orange-labelled edition was 56% ABV and I believe it is always released together with a green-labelled version at 41% ABV for gentler souls. It doesn’t seem to have been marked off by year in any way, and as far as I am aware production methodology remains consistent year in and year out.

What the rhum does, then, is mark an interesting departure from the regular run of rhum agricoles which usually have a single pass through a creole column: here it has a longer fermentation time, and two runs through a pot still.  I would never dream of dissing the French islands’ blancs – they are often amazing drinks stuffed with squirming ferrets of flavour – but I gotta tell you, this thing is a quiet stunner that more than holds its own.

Nosing it immediately suggests a different kind of profile from the sweet grassy herbals of a true blanc. This is more like a Paranubes, or a clairin – it starts with that same wax and brine and olives and sweet hot dog relish, as if daring you to chuck it away; it calms down to more earthy flavours of black bread, salt butter, cream cheese, and a nice vegetable soup spiced up with a sweet soya sauce; then it gets pleasantly, crisply sweet – fennel, cane juice, citrus, lemon grass, and nice tart green apples.  Quite a series of aromas to work through, not something to be hurried if you can spare the time.

On the palate the brininess (which would have been off-putting here, I think) retreats and it becomes somewhat warmer.  At first the slight sour of a Korean chili sauce is evident, and a sweet-salt soya dunked into a soup with too much ginger and too many carrots.  But this is just the first sip or two – once one acclimatizes, other more traditional tastes that any agricole lover would recognize come out of hiding: citrus (limes); cane juice; green grapes and apples; cloves, rosemary and even a hint of firm yellow mangoes of the sort West Indians love with salt and chili pepper.  The rhum remains fresh and bright and not sharp at all, just exceedingly complex, with a lot of different layers chasing themselves up and down and around your tongue, before it finally fades away with closing notes of cardamom, papaya, mangoes, cucumbers in vinegar, swank and lime juice. It’s crisp and clean throughout, and the balance is really superb.

From the description I’m giving, it’s clear that I like this rhum, a lot. I think it mixes up the raw animal ferocity of a more primitive cane juice rhum with the crisp and clear precision of a Martinique blanc, while just barely holding the damn thing on a leash, and yeah, I enjoyed it immensely. I do however, wonder about its accessibility and acceptance given the price, which is around $90 in the US. It varies around the world and on Rum Auctioneer it averaged out around £70 (crazy, since Master of Malt have it for £48), which is problematic when one considers all the other very good blancs out there retailing for less. 

For people into their cocktails and who love white rums with real character, I would suggest it’s the bees knees, however.  It’s got great complexity, loads of flavour and is made at right angles to more popular and better known whites that aren’t as “difficult”. Yet at the same time it respects the traditions of rhum making; and it tastes amazing. It might not appeal to those now getting into the white rhum subculture – at least, not yet – but perhaps once in a while when there’s a bit of extra coin rattling around in the pockets, it’ll be worth it to splurge on this distinctive and original white rhum which gets far too little press. It may yet turn out to be that undiscovered gem we’re all look for, even if it’s not quite underpriced.

(#798)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Quotes and production details taken from Nomadi tra i Barrili by Luca Gargano © 2019 Velier Spa.
  • The PMG stands for Pour Marie Galante – “For Marie Galante”.
  • Tarquin Underspoon in her very readable (and positive) reddit review, comments on the price (a “craft tax”) as well and suggests alternatives if it is felt to be too steep.
Jan 282021
 

Photo used courtesy of /u/Franholio from his Reddit post

Every now and then a reviewer has to bite the bullet and admit that he’s got a rum to write about which is so peculiar and so rare and so unknown (though not necessarily so good) that few will have ever heard of it, fewer will ever get it, and it’s likely that nobody will ever care since the tasting notes are pointless.  Cadenhead’s 2016 release of the Caribbean Rum blend (unofficially named “Living Cask” or “1842” because of the number on the label) is one of these.  

Why is it so unknown? Well, because it’s rare, for one — of this edition, only 28 bottles were released back in 2016, and how this could happen with what is supposedly a mix of many barrels? For comparison, the Velier Albion 1989 had 108 bottles, and it wasn’t a blend. Only the Spirits of Old Man Uitvlugt had this small an outturn, if you discount the Caputo 1973 which had a single bottle. It’s been seen the sum total of one time at auction, also in 2016 and sold for £85 (in that same auction a Cadenhead from the cask series, the TMAH, sold for £116, as a comparator).  

But a gent called Franholio on Reddit, supplemented by WildOscar66, and then a 2015 review by the FRP on another variant explained it: this is a sort of Scottish solera, or an infinity cask. It is a blend of assorted rums, in this case supposedly mostly Demeraras in the 8-10 YO range, though these are never defined and could as easily be anything else. These are dunked into any one of several quarter-casks (about 50 liters) which are kept in Cadenhead shops in Edinburgh and London, constantly drawn off to bottle and then when it hits halfway down, is refilled from a bit left over from whatever IB cask they’re bottling.  What this means is that it is not only a “living cask” but that the chances of your bottle being the same as mine is small – I’ve picked up references to several of these, and they all have different bottling years, strengths, sizes and tasting notes.

That doesn’t invalidate the skill that’s used to add components to the casks, however – the rum is not a mess or a completely mish-mashed blend of batsh*t crazy by any means. Consider first the nose: even if I hadn’t known there was some Demerara in there I would have suspected it.  It smelled of well polished leather, dark dried fruits, smoke and cardamom, remarkably approachable and well tamed for the strength of 60.6%. It melded florals, fruitiness and brine well, yet always maintained a musty and hay-like background to the aromas. Only after opening up were more traditional notes discerned: molasses, caramel, burnt sugar, toffee, toblerone, a little coffee and a trace of licorice, not too strong.

I would not go so far as to say this was a clearly evident heritage (wooden) still rum, or even that there was plenty of such a beast inside, because taste-wise, I felt the rum faltering under the weight of so many bits and pieces trying to make nice with each other. Salty caramel, molasses, prunes and licorice were there, though faintly, which spoke to the dilution with other less identifiable rums; some dark and sweet fruits, vanilla, a hint of oaken bitterness, more smoke, more leather. The coffee and chocolate returned after a while.  Overall, it wasn’t really that interesting here, and while the finish was long and languorous, it was mostly a rehash of what came before – a rich black cake with loads of chopped fruits, drizzled with caramel syrup, to which has been added a hint of cinnamon and cardamom and some vanilla flavoured whipped cream.

This Cadenhead is a completely fine rum, and I’m impressed as all get out that a quarter-cask solera-style rum – one of several in shops that have better things to do than micromanage small infinity barrels – is as good as it is.  What I’m not getting is distinctiveness or something particularly unique, unlike those “lettered” single barrel releases for which Cadenhead is perhaps more renowned. I might have scored it more enthusiastically had that been the case.

I believe that the process of developing any blend is to smoothen out widely variant valleys and peaks of taste into something that is both tasty and unique in its own way, without losing the interest of the drinker by making something overly blah. Here, I think that the rum’s strength carries it further than the profile alone could had it been weaker: and that although that profile is reasonably complex and has a nice texture, sold at a price that many have commented on as being pretty good…it is ultimately not really as rewarding an experience as it might have been with more focus, on fewer elements.

(#797)(84/100)


Other notes

  • While the review ends on a down note, I did actually enjoy it, and that’s why I endorse going to any of Cadenhead’s shops that have one of these casks, and tasting a few. 
  • Nicolai Wachmann, one of my rum tooth fairies out of Denmark, kindly passed along the sample.
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