Ruminsky

Jan 292015
 

 

 

Masked man

 

In December 2014, Ian Burrell put a survey up on FB’s The Global Rum Club Page.  It read: “If you had to pick 5 people who have been a major influence for the rum category, who would you pick ? It can be brand founder, distiller, blender, brand ambassador, bartender, promoter, blogger, marketer, etc. Vote for your pick or add your own major influence. I’ll throw 5 (pre 1950’s) into the mix (in no order) Don Facundo Bacardi Massó ; Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt AKA Don the Beachcomer; Admiral Edward Vernon aka Old Grog; Constantino Ribalaigua Vert and James Man (ED & F Man)”

I both love and hate lists.  Perhaps because I’m into the numbers game as part of my day job, I love the exactitude of things nailed down and screwed shut, copper-bottomed and airtight.  And so I devour top ten lists, readers favourites, drinker’s grails and all the various classifiers we humans enjoy creating so as to rank the objects of our passion.  As a reviewer of rum, I dislike them intensely.  Because in any subjective endeavour – be it art, literature, film, food, drink, the perfect significant other – taste and experience and quirks of personality dictate everything, and what one person might enjoy and declaim from the rooftops, another vocally despises (both with flashing eyes and elevated blood pressure).  So for me to create a list of any kind is problematic, and I try not to.

Still, this one piqued my interest.  Until I saw it, I sort of thought I was reasonably knowledgeable about matters of the cane (even if it’s possible I’m the only one, in the country currently called “home”).  But as I went down the list, I could tell that I  was as green as a shavetail louie, and my own knowledge, while extensive, couldn’t come near to figuring out who all these people were, or how they could rank in terms of influence.  And of course, loving a challenge, I decided to create a small glossary for that one person who might have a question.  Indulge my sense of humour as I go along…I’m kinda stoked up on hooch-infused coffee right now.

***

Don Facundo Bacardi Masso – you’re kidding right?  Who doesn’t know the Catalan-born founder of Bacardi, the bête noir of those who prefer premium rums, that guy who founded the company which whips up a gajillion barrels of dronish tipple a year, and has a market cap that eclipses the GDP of small nations.

Don the Beachcomber – actually named Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, hailing from Texas, he was the founding father of tiki restaurants, bars and nightclubs, often with a Polynesian flavour.  A bootlegger and bar-owner (he opened Don’s Beachcomber Café in 1933 in Hollywood), he was increasingly referred to by the name of that bar.  He actually changed his name several times to variations of this, until finally settling on Donn Beach.  He was a lover and ardent mixer of potent rum cocktails, God love him. Supposedly created the Zombie cocktail, Navy Grog, Tahitian Rum Punch, Mai Tai and others. Trader Vic was a competitor of his (the rivalry was reputedly amicable). Died in 1989

Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron – much like Don the Beachcomber, Victor Jules Bergeron Jr., a California native, founded a chain of Polynesian themed restaurants, which he named after his nom de guerre, “Trader Vic,” the first one way back in 1932 as a pub, which moved into alcohol in a big way as a as soon as Prohibition ended (that one was called Hinky Dink’s, renamed Trader Vic’s in 1936  and it did not have the tropical décor and flavour it later acquired). The first franchised “Trader Vic’s” restaurant/bar opened in 1940 in Seattle.  It supposedly created the franchise model which many other restaurants – not the least MacDonald’s – subsequently emulated.  It hit its high point in the 50s and 60s when the Tiki culture fad was at its height. Both The Trader and the Beachcomber claim to have invented the Mai Tai.  There are a line of rums of the same name that are readily available in the US.

Ian Burrell – London based drinks enthusiast with his own bar not too far from Camden Town.  Instrumental in organizing the annual UK Rumfest, and holds the Guinness Record for largest single tasting event (in 2014).  And he started this list going.  I meant to go visit his rum bar in December and hoist a few rarities with him, but got drunk on Woods 100 and ended up in Greenwich.

Ernest Hemmingway – Also known as “Papa” Hemmingway; journalist, war correspondent, writer, deep-sea fisherman, Nobel Prize winning author of superbly spare, masculine tales.  Popularized rum and rum cocktails during his later life when he resided in Cuba.  Alas, he killed himself in 1960, but one hopes he had a good rum or three before deciding there was no better rum to be had and he’d better go out on a high note.

Christopher Columbus – nope, not my Italian neighbour across the way, nor a film director of fluff puff pieces. A Genoese mapmaker from the 15th century who legend has it, was looking for India when he accidentally bumped into the Caribbean islands in 1492, and promptly named the natives “Indians.”  Sure glad he wasn’t looking for Turkey.

Admiral Edward Vernon (“Old Grog”, died 1757) – popularized the sadly discontinued practice of issuing rum diluted with lemon juice on board Royal Navy ships partly to ward off vitamin C deficiency (scurvy), to make shipboard drinking water more palatable, and – we can hope – to boost morale.  You could argue he therefore created the first cocktail. We still, call rum “grog” because of his being affectionately named after his frock coat, called a Grogram.  As a nice bit of trivia, George Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon, was named after him.

Aeneas Coffey – inventor (or perfecter) of the single column still in 1830 — he enhanced a previous 1828 design of Robert Stein’s , and this led directly to the industrial mass-production of rum; previously, pot stills were the main source of rum production, but suffered from higher costs, wide batch variation and small batch sizes of lower alcoholic content.  The Coffey still addressed all these issues and kicked off the explosion of rum production (and, one can argue, the 20th century resurgence in craft pot still products).  I suspect he was more interested in whisky than in rum, but nobody’s perfect.

Constantino Ribalaigua Vert – Catalan immigrant who began working in the famous Floridita fish restaurant and cocktail bar in old Havana, back in 1914…four years later he became the owner.  Constantine is on this list because he invented what is one of the most famous rum cocktails ever made, the Daiquiri, somewhere in the 1930s, and it became inextricably linked with Floridita’s, which even today is known as La Cuna del Daiquiri. The bar became known for producing highly skilled cantineros whose expertise lay in crafting cocktails made with fresh fruit juices and rum, which he may have been instrumental in promoting.  Hemmingway supposedly frequented the joint.

Homère Clément – founder of one of Martinique’s better known distilleries and rum houses, Clemente, which makes superlative agricoles to this day. Clemente was mayor of La Francois and purchased a prestigious sugar plantation Domaine de l’Acajou in the 1880s, just when the introduction of sugar beets was decimating the Caribbean sugar industry.  He instigated the practice of using sugar cane juice to create rhum agricole, and modeled his rhums after the brandy makers and distillers of Armagnac in southwest France.  I haven’t done enough research to test the theory, but Old Homere might have saved the French sugar islands from utter ruin with his rhum.

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry – Jeff is a bartender, author, contributor and cocktail personality who specializes in cocktails and Tiki culture; thus far he’s written six books on vintage Tiki drinks and cuisine, and he is referred to by the Los Angeles Times as “A hybrid of street smart gumshow, anthropologist and mixologist.”  He’s created original cocktail recipes and been published in many trade, liquor, bartending and cocktail magazines.  He doesn’t exclusively focus on rum, but it’s certainly a part of his overall interest, and he has raised the profile of rums in the published world like few others have.

Richard Seale – owner and manager of 4-Square distillery in Barbados, and therefore the maker of rums like Doorly’s and 4-Square brands, as well as providing barrels for many craft makers in Europe.  He provided the initial distillate for St Nicholas Abbey, as they waited for their own stocks to mature.

Hunter S. Thompson – No idea why he would be on this list, except in so far as he is the author of “The Rum Diary” which is less about rum than it is about a lustful, jealous men stumbling through life in an alcoholic daze, indulging in violence and treachery at every turn (much like my Aunt Clothilde after a pub crawl). Of course, Thompson was known for imbibing colossal amounts of coke and alcohol (he was, like many young authors of the time, trying to copy the uber-mensch lifestyle of Hemmingway), so maybe this is where the connection arises.  As a man with influence on rum as a whole, I’d say he’s more road kill than idol.

Rumporter – publisher of a French language magazine “Rumporter” which is dedicated like few others to the culture of rum.  Too bad there isn’t an English version around, but then, I grumbled the same thing about Luca’s book.  Maybe I should learn a seventh language.

The average British Navy man – also known as a Jolly Jack Tar; he needs no further intro.  Lovers of Navy rums, these boys, and retired or not, keep the names of Watson’s and Woods 100 alive and well in their memories. And mine.

Don Pancho Fernandez – well known Cuban maestro ronero who worked initially for Havana Club.  Developed the Zafra line of rums that are a perpetual staple in many liquor cabinets. Additionally acclaimed for the work he has done in raising the quality and profile of Panamanian rums like Varela Hermanos’s Abuelo line, Panamonte, Rum Nation and his own line of Don Pancho.  Also the man behind the irritatingly named, but better-than-you-think rum Ron De Jeremy. I met him briefly in 2014.  Nice guy, very courtly.

Edward Hamilton and the Ministry of Rum webpage (combined entry) – founder of the Ministry of Rum website where many rum noobs (myself among them) got their start in networking with other rum lovers. Still a very good resource to start researching producers and distillers and rums in general. Ed is also the author of “Rums of the Eastern Caribbean,” and has recently issued the Hamilton line of rums.  Holds tastings and seminars all over the place. As a guy who started to pull Rummies together into an online whole, his influence cannot be underestimated – almost all rum bloggers in some way derive from what he started.

All The Poor Slaves – and damn right too.  We should never forget the backbreaking labour under inhuman conditions that slaves had to undergo to work in the fields that allowed our ancestors to sweeten their tea and create rumbullion. It is the original sin of rum.

Bartender – a good bartender is the aristocrat of the working class, knows his stuff backwards and forwards, and can whip up any cocktail you want.  A great one not only knows your first name, but that of all the rums on his shelf.

Dupré Barbancourt – Founder of the eponymous distillery and rum maker on Haiti.  He was a Frenchman from the cognac producing region of Charente, immigrated to Haiti and founded the company in 1862.  To this day, they make some phenomenal agricoles.

Don Jose Navarro – A former Professor of Thermodynamics (ask him, not me), Don Navarro is maestro ronero for Havana Club (the Cuban one, or the “real” one).  We should all  be lucky enough to be able to take a right turn from our day jobs like he did in 1971.

Peter Holland – Curator, writer and owner of the website “The Floating Rum Shack.”  The gentleman attends tastings around the worlds, acts as a judge of rum festivals, and is a consultant to various companies in the field.  His site deals with primarily rums and cocktails.  Apparently he was in Berlin in 2014, just as Don Pancho, Rob Burr and some of my other correspondents were, but we passed like ships in the night and never met each other.

Martin Cate – A San Francisco-based rum and exotic cocktail expert who collects rum like a bandit, conducts seminars and judges rum and cocktail competitions around the world; aside from that, he’s the owner of Smuggler’s Cove San Francisco, which specializes in rum cocktails, and was named by the Sunday Times of London some time back, as one of the 50 greatest bars on earth; Drinks International Magazine thought so too…three years in a row, and several other magazines think the same.  I’m beginning to think I should move and crash over at Josh Miller’s place. Or just across the road from the bar.

Robert Burr –A promoter and lover of rum (and Hawaiian shirts), he is the organizer of the premier North American rum expo, the Rum Renaissance in Miami. He and his wife and son publish “Rob’s Rum Guide”, as well as hosting the Rum Renaissance Caribbean Cruise. He created the collective of judges from around the world called the RumXPs and he travels around the world judging and consulting. I met him briefly in Berlin in 2014, but he didn’t recognize my hat, which is something I really have to work on.

Father Pierre Lebat – This should probably be spelled Pere Labat; I’ll assume we’re talking about the man, because there is a rhum by that name still made on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe), where a French missionary polymath called Jean-Baptiste Labat was stationed.  He was a clergyman, mathematician, botanist, writer, explorer, soldier, engineer, landowner – and slaveholder (lest we get carried away with admiration).  A Dominican friar, he became a missionary and arrived in Guadeloupe in 1696 at the age of 33.  While he was the procurator-general of the Dominican convents in the Antilles, he was also an engineer working for the French government; in this capacity and as proprietor of his own estate on Martinique, Labat modernized and developed the sugar industry, building on the pot still of Jean-Baptiste Du Tetre (see below).  His methods for manufacture of sugar remained in use for a long time. The white agricole produced on Marie-Galante is named after him.

Luca Gargano – an exploding comet in the skies of rum, Luca made his bones by sourcing what is arguably the best collection of Guyanese still-specific rums in existence, the largest surviving Trinidad Caroni hoard any one company possesses, and in between that, issuing rums at anything between 50-65% ABV. I speak only for myself when I say that he is upping everyone else’s game, and showing that there is a market for full proof rums, just as there is for that obscure Scottish drink.  And he’s a great guy.

Pirates – These guys sang shanties, shivered their timbers, pillaged, raped and plundered (and were knighted in at least one case), and drank rum.  Lots of it. They may be long gone, them and all their cutlasses and pistols and sailing ships (maybe they migrated to Somalia and the South China Sea), but their shades hang around and inform the culture of rum like nothing else.

Joy Spence – The Nefertiti of the Noble spirit, Joy is the creative force behind J. Wray & Nephew, who make Appleton Estate rums in Jamaica.  Since we’ve all swigged Appleton rums for decades, I’m not sure there’s much I can add here, except to note she was the first female master blender ever, and that’s quite an accomplishment in a rather male-dominated industry. With degrees in Chemistry, she took a job as a developmental chemist with Estate Industries (they produced Tia Maria) but got bored and moved on to J. Wray and Newphew, which was right next door..and there she stayed ever since.  Owen Tulloch, the master blender for JW&N at the time, took her under his wing and when he retired in 1997, she became the master blender herself.  So her hand is behind many of the Appletons we know and admire today.  You could argue that the Appleton 50 is her and Mr. Tulloch’s love child.

Captain Morgan – The rum or the pirate?  The rum is a world famous spiced baby which in some cases is not too shabby at all, and to some extent sets the bar for decent (read “non-lethal spiced overkill”) flavoured rums.  The pirate did himself well.  Henry Morgan, who lived and freebooted across the Caribbean in the 17th century was a privateer, not a pirate (meaning he sailed and pillaged under letters of marque issued by the English crown).  He acted as an agent to harass Spanish territories and shipping, taking a cut of all plunder and ransoms. Knighted in 1674 and made Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1675.  He was replaced in 1681 and then gained a rep for being extremely fat and extremely drunk and extremely rowdy, like many friends of mine (and they’re all fun to hang with). Died 1688. His connection with rum is tenuous at best – about all you can say is he was a licensed pirate and a drunk.  Come to think of it, so is my lawyer.

Alexandre Gabriel – the force behind Cognac-Ferrand’s magnificent Plantation double-aged line of rums.  Not all of them are top end, but many are, and they have been instrumental, along with other European craft bottlers, in raising the bar for rums in general.

Christian Vergier – Cellar master of New Grove rums, which is based in Mauritius.  And there was me thinking the gentleman dabbled only in wines.  Not much I can say about man or rum, since I’ve never met either of them.  I’m sure that will change.

Oliver Rums – Created by Juanillo Oliver a Catalan-Mallorcan immigrant to Cuba in the mid nineteenth century. After the revolution in 1959 the family departed, but later re-established a sugar plantation and rum making concern in the Dominican Republic in the 1990s. They make Opthimus, Cubaney and Quohrum rums with what is supposedly the original rum recipe of the founder.

Tito Cordero – who doesn’t love the Venezuelan rum range of Diplomatico?  The Reserva Exclusiva in particular receives rave reviews across the board (although I can’t speak to the ultra premium Ambassador…yet).  And it’s all due to this maestro ronero, who, like Joy Spence, has a background in Chnmistry (chemical engineering to be exact). And, oh yeah, he received the 2011 Golden Rum Barrel award for Best Rum Master in the world.  Not too shabby at all.

Andres Brugal – the founder of Brugal and Co from the Dominican Republic.  Also a Catalan, he migrated from Spain to Cuba and then to the Dominican Republic in the mid 1800s…but not before soaking up equal quantities of rum and expertise.  He introduced the first dark rum from his company in 1888, and over a century later, his descendants repaid the favour by naming one of their top end rums the 1888 (I liked it a lot, as a totally irrelevant aside).

James Man – Ever since I bought my Black Tot bottle, I see references to Navy rums wherever I go.  And so it is here: James Man was a sugar broker and barrel maker who in 1784 secured the exclusive contract to supply rum to the British Navy.  And now, more than two centuries later, his descendants, running a company called ED&F Man still trade in sugar and molasses (they are a general merchant of agricultural commodities).  By the way, Man held the rum contract for 186 years – although not exclusively so for that whole time – which ended on…yup, Black Tot Day.

Silvano Samaroli – Silvano, an Italian craft bottler who started with whisky in 1968, makes this list because he may have been the first bottler to source rum, age it and issue it under his on label as a craft product in its own right.  To this day I have never tasted a Samaroli (many of my correspondents wonder what my malfunction is), but by all accounts, the man’s work is superb.  Fabio Rossi and Luca Gargano are his intellectual heirs.

John Gibbons – a RumXP member, rum judge, bar-trawler, independent spirit ambassador, cocktail enthusiast and rum lover.  Moved to UK in 2010.  Started the website Cocktail Cloister (no updates since 2011) and the Glasgow Rum Club.  Does not appear to have been very active since 2013, but maybe the XP page has simply not been updated

Leonardo Isla De Rum – another XP member, Leonardo Pinto has been a rum enthusiast since 2008, and curates his rum-themed website Isladerum.  Nothing unusual with all this; but Leonardo has gone a step further, developing the Italian Rum Festival (ShowRum) as well as acting as a consultant for brands that wish to enter the Italian market.  Honestly, I feel like a rank amateur next to people with such commitment and drive.

Muhammad ibn Zakariyā Rāzī – this guys gets my vote for sure.  A Persian polymath, doctor, chemist (or alchemist, if you prefer) and philosopher, who lived around 854-925 AD.  Why is he influential, and why should he be in the list?  Well, leave aside his contribution to experimental medicine (he wrote a pioneering books on smallpox and measles as well as treatises on surgery that became de rigeur for western universities in the middle ages); ignore his many philosophical books, his work in chemistry and his desire for factual information not tied to traditional dogma; but just consider that he created (or at least popularized) the forerunner of all modern distillation apparatus – (drum roll) the alembic.  We may now know it as a pot still and he’s the guy who is credited with spreading its usage. I’ll drink to him.

Ron Matuselam – one of the best brands of rum coming out of the Dominican Republic, and, like others, an exile from Cuba after the revolution.

Pepin Bosch – The man who could be argued to have saved Bacardi…twice. Jose M. Bosch, who died in 1994, was born in Cuba, and married into the Bacardi family.  He was instrumental in rescuing Bacardi from bankruptcy during the Depression, and again in the 1960s when Castro seized all the company’s assets.  Mr. Bosch ran the company from 1944 to 1976, when he retired.

E&A Scheer – A Netherlands-based ship owning company formed in the 18th century, heavily involve din the triangular trade between Europe, the West Indies and Africa – they therefore were instrumental in shipping bulk rum to Europe, at a time when (pause for loud cheers) rum was the primary tipple, and whisky wasn’t.  They were also involved in shipping Batavia Arrack from the Dutch East indies at that time.  By the 19th century, the company specialized in just shipping rums and then started their own blending and bulk distillation processes.  To this day, they still concentrate on this aspect of the business (dealing in distillates), though they have expanded into other shipping areas as well.

Retailer –where would we be without the retailers?  Too bad most corner store Mom-and-Pops don’t know half of what they sell, or speak knowledgeably about it.  But then there are more specialty shops like Berry Bros & Rudd, Willow Park, Kensington Wine Market, or Rum Depot, and these guys keep the flame of expertise burning.  Online retailers are going great guns too (this is where I buy 90% of what I taste these days), and if Canada were ever to get its act together regarding postage, I l know a lot of guys who would be buying a helluva a lot more.

Pat O’Brien – creator of the Hurricane cocktail in the 1940s (it’s a daiquiri relative), which he made in order to rid himself of low quality rum his distributors were forcing him to accept before they would sell him more popular whiskies.  At the time O’Brien was running a tavern in New Orleans (it was known as Mr. O’Brien’s Club Tipperary” and required a password to get in during Prohibition). It is still served in plastic cups (New Orleans allows drinking in public…but not from glass containers or glasses).  The name of the cocktail derives from the shape of the glass it was originally served in which resembled a hurricane lamp. O’Brien’s still exists to this day.

Bertrand-Francois Mahe de La Bourdonnais – (1699–1753) French Naval officer and administrator, who worked in the service of the French East India company, primarily in Mauritius and Reunion.  His inclusion on this list stems from his introduction of a free enterprise system on the islands, and the concomitant launch of commercial sugar (and therefore rum) production.  This generated great wealth for Mauritius and Reunion, and sugar and rum have remained pillars of their economies ever since.

Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre – (1610-1687) A French blackfriar and botanist, he spent eighteen years in the Antilles and wrote many books about indigenous people, flora and fauna.  His written work created the concept of the “Noble Savage”.  Why is he on this list? Because he designed a rudimentary pot still (an alembic variation) to process the byproducts of sugar mills on the French islands, and thereby indirectly spurred the development of agricole rhum production upon which Pere Labat built.

Lehman “Lemon” Hart – Like Alfred Lamb and James Man, a purveyor of Navy Rums in the 1800s and liked to boast that he was the first to get such a contract but I think his license, issued in 1804, is eclipsed by Man’s (above).

George Robinson – Another master blender/distiller makes the cut, deservedly so.  George Robinson was the Big Kahuna at DDL in Guyana and was in the company for over forty years (he passed away in 2011 but DDL hasn’t gotten the message yet, because their El Dorado website still has him alive and kicking.  Maybe they think he’s faking it).  The man was a cricketer in his youth, but it was his ability to harness the lunacy of the various stills DDL possesses that made his reputation and places him here. RIP, squaddie.

Capt William McCoy – I’m hoping I have the real McCoy here because no glossary of rum could be complete without at least one or five pirates, in this case a bootlegger who paradoxically never touched alcohol. The guy was unique, that’s for sure: he called himself an honest outlaw, never paid money to organized crime, politicians or the law for protection.  He thought the Prohibition was daft (as do I) and made it his mission to smuggle likker from the Caribbean.  He finally got collared in international waters in 1923, spent less than a year in clink, and ended his smuggling activities.  He died in 1948.

Helena Tiare Olsen – Ah, Tiare. Runs one of the most comprehensive, long running and detailed cocktail blogs out there.  She does rum reviews (always with the angle of what it would do for a cocktail), and until Marco of Barrel Aged Thoughts took the crown, had one of the best online articles on the stills of Guyana.  Her site is an invitation to browse, there’s so much stuff there.  She attends various rumfests around the world as and when she finds the time.

Daniel Nunez Bascunan – Danish blogger, rum enthusiast, owner of RumClub bar in Copenhagen and micro-brewer. Don’t know the gentlemen personally, but that bar looks awesome.

Joe Desmond – Rum XP member and mixologist.  Lives in New York, acts as a judge to various festivals, collects rums and is reputed to have one of the most extensive collections in New York.

José León Boutellier – You’d think Bacardi ran out of entrants, but no, here’s another one from the House of the Bat.  Sometime after Facundo Bacardí Massó came to Cuba in 1830, he inherited (through his wife) an estate of Clara Astie; this included a house, and a tenant, the French Cuban Mr. Boutellier, who ran a small distillery there which produced cognac and sweets.  After hammering out the rental agreement, the two joined forces and Facundo was granted use of the pot still, creating the Bacardi, Boutellier y Co. in 1862.  By 1874 Don Facundo and his sons bought out Boutellier’s stake as he declined in health.  But it is clear that without Boutellier’s pot still and the happenstance of him being in that house, Bacardi would not be the same company.  Small beginnings, big endings.

Jennings Stockton Cox – American mining engineer who is said to have invented the Daiquiri, perhaps because at the time when he made it, he had been working in Cuba, close to the village of Daiquiri.  Supposedly running out of gin and not trusting local rum served neat, he added lime juice and sugar.  Some say that Cox just popularized an already existent drink, but whatever the case, he’s now associated with it.

Rafael Aroyo – Author of an ur-text of rum-making in the 1940s – “The Production of Heavy Rum.”  It is used by many home brewers as a veritable bible on how to make home-hooch.  I wish I’d had it when I was a young man working in the bush.  The white lightning we made could have used some expertise, and I could have saved some IQ points.

José Abel y Otero – founder of Sloppy Joe’s in Cuba just after the First World War. Immigrated from Spain to Cuba in 1904, then moved to New Orleans in 1907, then again to Miami, and returned to Cuba in 1918, where he worked in a bar called The Greasy Spoon before founding his own bodega called Sloppy Joe’s.  In 1933 another bar with the same name opened in Florida (and Hemmingway was a patron…the guy sure did get around) which specifically referenced the original from Old Havana.

Alvarez & Camp – the two families who united to form Matusalem.

José Arechabala y Aldama – Founder of the Havana Club rum and the company that made it, before being expropriated following the 1959 Cuban Revolution

Robert Stein – inventor of a columnar still subsequently refined by Aeneas Coffey (see above).  Stein’s 1828 still was itself inspired by the continuous whiskey still patented by Sir Anthony Perrier in 1822

George Washington – Possibly one reason the first president of the USA is on this list is because he liked rum – so much so that he demanded a barrel or two to be on hand for his inauguration.  On the other hand he did operate a distillery himself on Mount Vernon, and it was the largest in the country at that time.  Alas, it mostly produced whiskey.

Owen Tulloch –Joy Spence’s mentor in Appleton, he was the master Blender until 1997. I hope he and Mr. Robinson are having a good gaff somewhere up there, smoking a good Cuban, playing dominos on a plywood table, and arguing about the relative merits of El Dorado versus Appleton.

Alfred Lamb – creator of Lamb’s Navy Rum and London Dock rum in the 1800s.  Another pretender to the crown, if either Lemon Hart of James Man are to be believed.

And there you have it.  All the reference points people have made on the list.  This took me the better part of a day to hammer together under the influence of both coffee and some homemade hooch, so please forgive any errors I’ve made in the spelling.  It was fun to do, and I hope you who have had the stomach to read this much and have reached this point (drunk or sober), walk away with a few laughs and a bit of extra trivia.

Oh, and one other influence on rums…

All we drinkers: it is we as drinkers, writers and exponents, who make the industry. Cheers to us all!

Jan 242015
 

D3S_9097

Clean, clear, dry and old, with a lackluster finish that detracts from the excellent front end.

(#198. 73/100)

When I reviewed the Depaz Reserve Speciale a while back, I thought that the flavours seemed a shade sharp, too vague, and departed the scene with all the hurry of a street cur at which you threw a rock…or something to that effect.  Most of these issues were absent from the Cuvée Prestige, which was a better rhum in almost every way.  It is a blend of rhums aged between six and nine years, has a lovely outfit, and probably the top-of-the-line product from Depaz. I hesitate to recommend it at the higher price points I’ve seen, but must concede that I think it’s one of the better agricoles out there (bar the finish), and for those with deep pockets (or who can ferret out a more economical buy), it may be worth that kind of outlay…assuming their tastes bend in that direction.

Points should absolutely be given for the packaging (oh come on, lie to me and say you never bought a bottle of something purely on the way it looks).  The carafe-style bottle with gold etching (it shows the “castle” of Depaz and its date of founding, 1651) was surmounted with a gold-coloured cap and thick cork, and came in a wooden box with metal snaps, the design of which mirrored the bottle etching.  It all looked very impressive, which it was: it just exuded an air of expensive Savile Row suits. As I’ve remarked before, when you’re at this price range, you’re absolutely within your rights to ask for some spiff on the wrapping, otherwise what are you spoiling yourself for?  Who can you show off to? An unadorned barroom bottle can contain the elixir of the gods, sure, but who’d ever believe it does until they shell out the money, and who’d take the chance?

D3S_9099

Anyway, the Cuvée Prestige is an AOC agricole from Martinique, made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses, grown on the Depaz plantation at the base of Mount Pelee (which nearly ruined the joint back in 1902 when it last woke up and belched). As with other Martinique rhums, it is terroire specific, and since Depaz is located right close by La Montagne with both volcanic soil and varying weather, some of its distinctive profile can certainly be attributed to those factors.  The initial scents of this 45%, gold brown rhum certainly pointed in this direction. Initially very clean and dry, the vegetal green-grass aromas were to be expected, and did not disappoint – the rhum was extremely pungent, smooth and easy, even deep. It had some of the briny freshness of ocean spray. As it opened the scents moved to display more of that dry-ish, almost-salty profile – dates, figs, nuts and almonds, leather and toast, all nicely soft. No real fruity background to speak of here, just the shy promise of better to come

The taste on the palate did not take any sudden left turns or quick swerves.  It retained cleanliness and smoothness, which were endearing characteristics – I have to be honest, the medium bodied rhum had the smooth and relentless flow of a slow tidal wave of double cream.  And it also continued to display the warmth and aridity of the nose. It hinted at sea-salt and sawdust, still more nuts, nutmeg, hazelnut and almonds. Some caramel, cigar smoke, sandalwood.  It almost felt like one of Renegade’s rums, like, oh, the Guadeloupe 1998 11 year old; also the Cuba 11 Year Old, or even (shudder) the Coruba 12 year old. Letting it stand, and adding some water finally coaxed out the flavours I was hoping to have – figs, dates, some light vanilla and overripe black grapes, all bound together by the smell of crushed sugar cane stalks still weeping juice and drying in the hot sun.  The finish was a weak point for me – smoky and sharper than it should have been (it lasted a good while, I can’t deny that), with not much going on aside from some closing notes of vanilla, and salted peanut butter.

It had a good mouthfeel, nice body, good tastes around the edges, and the nose was heavenly, but I think that here, the slight dominance of the non-sweet brininess made the product falter as an overall experience for me (when related to the price – had it been cheaper, I dunno, I might have been more lenient).  It’s definitely better than the Reserve Speciale, and I could see its overall quality, feel its texture, and acknowledge that in my scoring. But I’m afraid it’s not my cup of tea, really, not entirely. Therefore, dear buyer, if money is an issue, it’s a rum that you might wish to taste first (if possible) and checking it fits in with your personal profile preferences, before shelling out.  It’s a very good rum in its own way, and just because that way meanders apart from my own path doesn’t invalidate the product on its own merits.

D3S_9104

Other notes:

Online cost shows wild variation.  I’ve seen everything from €80 to €250, with one reviewer remarking that it can be had for substantially less on the island itself. While I’m not privy to the sometimes obscure pricing mechanisms of web stores, I don’t think I’d shell out more than €100 for this one, both for the cool looks and lovely taste, and also because of the failed backend.  It would have to be a hell of a lot rarer and more in line with the personal preferences I have, to convince me to part with that much of my hard earned balles.

Nowadays it’s owned by Bardinet (who also make the Negrita line of rums I’ve never tried), but who, interestingly, make no mention of Depaz at all on their (poorly designed) site.  There are days I wonder how advertising is really done for products this good: maybe that’s what we reviewers are here for.  After all, if we shell out some cash to buy the thing and like it (which is a chance the makers seem to think is worth taking), then they don’t have to.  I’ve made my peace with that situation a long time ago, but there’s no doubt I still feel a twinge of annoyance about it – we should not be seen as a free resource, to act as a substitute for their reluctance to advertise properly on their own account.

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating on the above list is 73/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 86.5 points)

Jan 202015
 

Photograph Copyright © Niko Neefs

 

There’s a aspect of Japanese culture which appeals to me a lot – the concept of kaizen, or slow, patient, incremental improvement of a thing or a task, by constant repetition and miniscule refinement, that over time can lead to spectacular results and quality.  Consider Toyota’s manufacturing processes as an example. Or the master chef Jiro Ono, who has been making sushi for decades, constantly making his work simpler, more elegant…and better, much better, Michelin-3-star better.  Or the filmmaker Ozu, who always seemed to make exactly the same film, until his repeated, specific observations on Japanese life became universal generalities (look no further than 1955’s “Tokyo Story” if you are interested).

Given the length of time Japanese stay in their professions, or the years lavished by them on their artistic endeavours before even pretending to any kind of expertise, it may be too early to include Nine Leaves distillery in this august company – yet there’s something in the stated long term philosophy of its founder and sole employee (for now), who began the operation in 2013, which reminded me of this idea and how it is a part of Japanese thinking. And I enjoyed all three of the micro-distillery’s products when I tried them in October 2014, and wanted to know more about the company.

There have, of course, been other Japanese rum producers and brands: Ryoma (Kikusui), Yokosuka, Ogasawara, Midorinishima, Cor-cor come to mind, and most of these are in the south, or in Okinawa, where climate favours the production of sugar.  However, none of them have ever made a real splash on the world scene. And all are relatively modest affairs, much like Nine Leaves is, though one could argue Nine Leaves markets itself somewhat better.

Nine Leaves Distillery is located in the Shiga Prefecture on Honshu island, at the south end along the river Seta.  It sits at the foot of a privately owned, nameless mountain, which is mined for anorthite (feldspar), the glaze used in high-end porcelain. When the bottom fell out of the market as a result of cheaper glaze from China, the owners started bottling the water from a spring under the ground level, which was unusually soft, and it was the prescence of this water which convinced the man behind Nine Leaves to ground his new operation there.

Photograph Copyright © Niko Neefs

Much like all startups, the short history of this outfit cannot be separated from that of its owner: Mr. Yoshiharu Takeuchi.  As I remarked in my review of the French Oak Cask Angel’s Half, nothing in his background or that of his family would suggest that this was a passion of his. The family business was one of those small sub-contracting firms that manufactured precision car parts for the big car companies, and located in Nagoya;  it was started by Mr. Takeuchi’s grandfather. Mr. Takeuchi himself was dissatisfied with the life, and casting around for some creative endeavour of his own — something he could make and control from start to finish, which showcased a long tradition of Japanese craftsmanship – and was drawn to the possibilities of distilling whiskey.  However he was soon diverted more towards rum, because unlike the highly regulated Scottish drink, rum was (and remains) remarkably free of any kind of global standards…which he saw as an opportunity to put his own stamp on the process and end-product. And also unlike the craft makers — like Cadenhead, G&M, Velier, Rum Nation, etc —  Nine Leaves never intended to rebottle from pre-purchased casks sourced in the West Indies or wherever, but is a one stop shop from almost-beginning to end.

There was not a whole lot of rum distilling expertise in Japan, yet Mr. Takeuchi did manage to spend a whole three days (!!) soaking up the advice of another small distillery owner, Mr. Ichiro Akuto of Chichibu (he was the grandson of the founder of the now-defunct Hanyu Distillery), which had been operating since 2008, and used small copper stills from Forsythe’s to make a range of whiskies. On the advice of Mr. Akuto, he ordered a wash and spirit still from Forsythe’s as well, and when they arrived in Japan, assembled them himself; he dispensed with wooden washbacks and went with stainless steel instead, figuring that if it was good enough for Glenfarclas, it was good enough for him. Having found his water supply, established his site close by, and having assembled his equipment (personally), he next sourced his brown sugar from Tarama-jima (a small island in the Okinawa archipelago) …one can only wonder what would have happened had he found the perfect water next to a sugar plantation in the south of Japan.  Most likely he would have gotten into cane cultivation, and made his own sugar as well.

Photograph Copyright © Niko Neefs

All preparations complete, Mr. Takeuchi was ready to commence operations in 2013, two years after having made his initial decision, without hiring any staff…and without quitting his day job.

The source of the fermented wash is neither molasses nor cane juice, but brown sugar (muscavado) and water, which may explain something of the rums’ interesting profiles, seeming to be somewhat of a hybrid of both agricoles and molasses-based rum, without exactly being either. Mr. Takeuchi has noted on his website that this was a deliberate choice: “[I aimed]… to discard the variable of bitterness or off-flavor from sugar cane juice and molasses, and to enhance the clear, refined sweetness and… [lingering tastes] that I had in mind.” After the first distillation of the wash – fermentation takes about four days — Mr. Takeuchi’s process for making rum relies heavily on the second distillation, where careful monitoring of the spirit quality and the cut phases to reduce the amount of undesirable feints (he sometimes tastes every few minutes).  Usually in the three standard cuts (‘heads’, ‘hearts’ and ‘tails’), it’s the ‘heart’ you want to keep – the skill comes in knowing when to start taking out the distillate from that middle phase, before which you throw away the ‘head’ and after which you dispense with the ‘tails’ (unless in the latter case you’re after some interesting effects, or wish to use them both to redistill later).  It would appear that Mr. Takeuchi has a flair for making his cuts just right, which he rather drily attributes to an appreciation for his wife and other’s home cooking in developing his sense of taste and smell. However, one can also assume that something more personal is at work here, as evinced in a remark Mr. Takeuchi made, oddly similar to one Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation also expounded: it comes down to “trusting your nose and your instinct…we all know what’s good and what isn’t.”

Photograph Copyright © Niko Neefs

Because bottle shape in Japan is highly standardized – depending on the bottle one can tell immediately whether it contains local tipples like nihonshu (sake) or shochu – Nine Leaves sourced its glassware from France, and bottles the non-chill-filtered by hand, as well as manually affixing the labels (sometimes the family chips in to help).  At the time when the company began in 2013, it issued an unaged ‘Clear’ rum, bottled at 50% (it’s the same as a ‘white’ – the name was chosen to reference the glaze mined in the mountain).  In that same year Mr. Takeuchi, thinking beyond making just a localized white lightning, sourced 225 liter virgin oak casks, of American and French oak, one of each.  His intention was to set aside perhaps 60% of his production, create two gold variations aged for perhaps six months, and move on to ageing 20% more into a dark set of rums aged for more than two years (the remainder will be white rum). And there are already plans to use ex-sherry, ex-bourbon and ex-wine barrels (this last from California) as well, so certainly we can expect to see the range of Nine Leaves expand in the years to come.

x3_a.jpg

Photograph © Nine Leaves

The question is how much, and how soon.  Nine Leaves lacks warehousing space, though plans are afoot to build some.  In speaking to Mr. Takeuchi last year he told me he’ll keep his output minimal for a while, enough to retain his distilling license from the Japanese Government, and to allow him to progressively age his rums, tweak with the taste profiles, perhaps even build some inventory.  A regular release of the six-month-aged gold rums would occur – another batch was set to be bottled around the same time we met (of course, since he was talking to me, he couldn’t be bottling anything…). A lot would depend on the reaction of the rum drinkers in the world to the products he had already issued in early 2014 – the French and American oak Gold “Angel’s Half” rums and the “Clear”, and he was certainly doing his best to attend the various rum and whisky expos in order to build awareness and find potential distributors.

Mr. Takeuchi also sees that the process of building a brand name is one that will take years, if not decades, and intends to make this a family operation spanning the generations. It’s not something to be hurried, and since ageing of spirits is intimately involved, having a timeline of years is perhaps not so unusual.

You kind of have to admire that kind of persistence and determination in a man who not too long ago was making machine parts for cars.

***

So here’s an opinion (as opposed to the more straightforward facts above).

I thought his rums were atypical.  They were clearly young, but quite well made for all that. There was a certain clarity and cleanliness to the taste reminiscent of the agricoles, yet some of the slightly darker notes coming from the residual molasses notes in the brown sugar. I considered the French Oak rum slightly better than the American oak version, and the Clear reminded me somewhat of Rum Nation’s 57% White Pot Still rum…not quite as good, but not too far behind it either (they are both recognizably pot still products, for example).  My opinion aside, it bears mention that the “Clear” won an award for “Innovation de l’année” in Paris in 2014 for the silver category and the American Oak won “Best Newcomer” at the 2014 Berlin Rumfest. The difference in Nine Leaves’ products to this point seems to be that western/Caribbean rums, aside from being aged longer, have many things going on all at the same time, often in a kind of zen harmony, while  Nine Leaves’s philosophy is more to accentuate individual notes, a sort of central core dominant, supported by lighter, subtler tastes that don’t detract or distract from the central note of character.  Of course as these rums age for longer periods, I fully expect to see the profile evolve: but there was no denying that at the time I was quite impressed with the first batch (and said so, in my review of the French Oak, even if I had my qualifiers).

Also…

The Nine Leaves logo (also source of the company title) is a modified samurai crest (“kamon”) of the Takeuchi family…nine bamboo leaves.  It is no coincidence that “Take” in Japanese means ‘bamboo’. As a student of history, I’d love to know how that all came about. In an interview with AboutDrinks website in 2014, Mr. Takeuchi noted his family was once involved in the timber/wood industry.  If this was bamboo, the question is answered.

And…

I am indebted to Stefan van Eycken of nonjatta.com, whose five part series on Nine Leaves I drew on for many of the points regarding distillation technique.  Hat tip and acknowledgement to Niko Neefs for permission to use some of his photographs.

Arigato to Mr. Takeuchi himself, who patiently endured my pestering questions for half an hour straight even as my wife was trying to drag me away.  And then responded to more questions by email.

Below is a current list of products issued by Nine Leaves.

 

 

Sources:

Jan 122015
 

D3S_9094

Complex, yes. Quality, not entirely.

(#197. 65/100)

***

Although the Depaz VSOP Reserve Speciale is noted as being a complex agricole, not much except perhaps the taste of the reddish brown rhum deriving from the Plantation de la Montagne Pelee really works for me as it should, which just goes to show that not every single spirit hailing from a part of the world supposedly making only top-end products can be as good as it is meant to be.  Part of the issue here (I hesitate to say “problem”) is that all sensations go by too fleetingly for any real impression to be left, and what was there just never came out the way it might have.  The Depaz agricole is a Tolkien elf running across the snow, and leaves few footprints worthy of remark.

Which is somewhat odd for a spirit that is bottled at 45%: that strength alone would lead you to assume some intensity and heft in the profile.  But nope, not really.  At least not in this one, and it starts right away in the nose.  Unlike some really stellar exemplars of the craft (think Damoiseau 1980 or even the Karukera Millesime 1997) which wafted a cloud of deep, luscious scents into the room as soon as the bottle was cracked, the Depaz seemed thin and reedy as a hungry rice-eating mongrel’s ribs, and like such a pooch’s snarling attack, it was sharp and fast and over way too quick.  There were underlying aromas of grass, crushed cane and rosemary, some subdued hints of apricots, fruits, flowers and sweet bubblegum, followed by faint leather, and the damp musky smell of cheap cigarettes smoked in the midst of a tropical rainforest with high humidity (having done so in the past, I know whereof I speak).  But it was all too little, too sharp, and too scrawny for the schnozz of this reviewer, who openly prefers more aggressive fare.

The taste in the mouth on the other hand elevated the drink quite a bit, and made me check my glass to see if I had confused my samples.  It was stronger and more assertive, very nicely warm without the spiciness of the nose…a bit more body you might say, entering quite cleanly and clearly. Sweet and solidly fruity, it opened with sugars and some oakiness, chopped light fruits (green grapes, white guavas), licorice (odd in a Martinique AOC agricole), bleeding sap from a fresh cut cane stand, green leaves and even a flirt of vanilla and caramel.  The complexity was hinted at but seemed scared to come out and strut its stuff and therefore, while it was discernible, it never quite took centre stage.

I should however remark on the mouthfeel and texture, which wasn’t bad at all, coating the tongue well and warmly, allowing some of those tastes to take on greater prominence after a few minutes.  Here adding some water had to be done with some delicacy, as too much would have shredded an already unaggressive drink, and too little wasn’t enough to release the additional flavours that lay hidden.  The finish was an overall disappointment, by the way – there was a backtaste of cane juice on a cutlass blade (I kid you not – it had both metallic and vegetal notes), some sugar water, vanilla, a little oakiness, too quick and too sharp to appeal to me.

D3S_9095

Depaz hails from the eponymous estate in St. Pierre in Martinique, and is located at the foot of  Mount Pelée  itself: it’s been in existence for over three hundred years, sicne 1651 in fact, when the first governor of Martinique, Jacques Duparquet, created the plantation, and these days bears the AOC mark of terroire-based authenticity. Although the famous eruption of the volcano in 1902 decimated the island, Victor Depaz, who survived, reopened for business in 1917 and it’s been operational ever since.

The company also makes quite a few other rhums: the Rhum Depaz, a full proof 50% beefcake, a blanc variation, the Blue Cane Rhum Agricole (which are all a little down the evolutionary ladder), as well as an XO and the Cuvee Prestige (a little above quality-wise, a lot more price-wise). I’ve heard that the VSOP was made with a single column copper still (and was unfortunately unable to confirm it), aged for seven years in charred oak casks, from cane juice (of course) and without filtering or additives; it is presented in a bottle more reminiscent of wine or champagne, but you have to kind of admire such audacity – it sure sets it apart from the crowd.

Anyway, let’s pull it all together.  I tried this three times to see whether my opinion changed (and it didn’t), but my overall lack of passion should not entirely dissuade you: there were aspects of the rhum that worked well (the palate in particular).  My own predilection for more intricate, stronger and deeper flavours should not be seen as a blanket indictment of any rum that doesn’t conform, or which those persons with a liking for subtler, lighter rums would enjoy. This is where knowing your preferences comes in handy. Lovers of soleras, Bajan, Panamanian or Demerara rums are not likely to swoon here.  Trinis, maybe; Cubans and Jamaicans, quite likely. And people with a penchant for agricoles will probably like it – for the same reasons I couldn’t muster serious enthusiasm, in all likelihood.

Some might consider this to be like a black mongrel’s left leg – it ain’t right, and it ain’t fair – but that’s the way it is. And that’s also as it should be, because if we all agreed on everything, then all of you reading this would want to pilfer all my rums…and be in love with my wife.

Other notes:

In Europe this goes in the €60 range.  My own feeling is that if you can spare the change, go a step or three up the ladder for the Cuvee Prestige, which is a very good rhum indeed, and which I’ll look at in my next review.

 

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating on the above list is 65/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 82.5 points)

 

Jan 082015
 

D3S_9369

A rich, argicole rum of a depth and flavour I savoured for literally hours – it almost qualifies as the perfect comfort drink, and for sure it’s the best sub-10 year old rum I’ve ever tried.

(#196. 75/100)

***

Karukera in Guadeloupe is a distillery for whom I have grown to have a great deal of respect: I was not won over by their Vieux Reserve Speciale, but the 1997 Millesime was something else again, and I often drifted back to it when looking for an agricole baseline, or a control.  On the strength of that positive experience, I decided to step up and shell out for this one, partly because of the strength and partly due to the double maturation moniker, which piqued my interest.

Which is not to say that its presentation didn’t appeal to me also – I’m shallow that way, sometimes.  It may not be a top shelf super-premium rum, true, yet it did its best to raise the bar for any rum that purports to be a cut above the ordinary.  Just look at that wooden box printed with all sorts of interesting details, and the sleek bottle with its cork tip.  All very nice – it looked damned cool on my shelf. And so, my lizard brain having been catered to and placated, off I went into my tasting routine to see whether the implied quality inside the bottle was as interesting as what the outside promised.

D3S_9373D3S_9376

Which it was. Aged for six years in bourbon and then two more in french oak cognac casks, only 2000 or so bottles of honey/amber coloured rum came out at the other end, and mine presented a very interesting aspect, in spite of my having wrestled with mostly full proof pachyderms over the last few months (so 44.6% can almost be considered “standard strength” for me, these days).  Let’s just agree it was…gentler.

 Sleek salt butter, cream cheese and some brininess led right off. To say I was not expecting that would be understating the matter: the rum is made from blue cane grown on the plantation itself, and I was looking for a more standard nose of vegetal notes and some citrus.  But after letting the spirit rest in my glass for a bit, ah, there they were.  Apricots, black grapes, cloves and orange rind sidled shyly forward, to be replaced by hay and freshly mown grass.  There were some spicier oaken aromas at the back end, nothing unpleasant – in fact the whole experience was really quite excellent – a firm mix of salt, sweet, sharp, and pungent smells.

Tasting it was a rewarding experience. It was a medium bodied rum, quite smooth and warm, opening up with white flowers, and soft tanned leather.  As the nose did, some patience rewarded me with mild caramel, smoke, more leather, which in turn morphed easily into mellow tastes of mango, pears, pineapple, cinnamon, cumin, even marzipan and flavoured port-wine cigarillos (used to love those as a young man). And I was also quite impressed with the finish, which lasted quite long, warmly dusting itself off with white guavas, caramel, and half ripe pears. The rum may have caused north of a hundred Euros, but man, it was a pretty awesome drink. My mother and I shared it in her dacha in north Germany on one of the last sunny days of autumn in 2014 as my son ran barefoot on the grass blowing soap bubbles, and it was the perfect accompaniment to a really great afternoon laze-in.

D3S_9371

Karukera continues to be made by the Espérance distillery (founded in 1895) a distillery down by the Marquisat de Saint Marie in Guadeloupe, doesn’t chill filter or add anything to its rums, and proudly wears the AOC designation. I’ve been fortunate to climb the value chain of its products and each one I try raises the bar for its rums. You can be sure I’ll buy others they make in the years to come.

Personally, I’m not sure a rum so warm and friendly, yet also firm and tasty, is suitable for mixing (it was all I could do to see what a few drops of water could do, just to be complete about it) – I know I wouldn’t, on balance.  There’s a remarkable softness and overall quality to the Karukera, which, while excelling at no one thing, came together so sweetly that I honestly can’t imagine what a mix could do to enhance it. The rum is excellent as it is, and whether you like molasses spirits or agricoles (or both), there’s no doubting that here is a rum that sneaks past your defenses, hits the sweet spot of your desire for a good rum, and gives you all the love and comfort you could ever ask for. That alone may be worth all the euros I paid.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame. This one might have scored higher with a heavier body, I think (but that’s just me).
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.


(LC rating is 75/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 87.5 points

Jan 032015
 

D3S_9377

Velier has created a heated, tasty, toasty Demerara rum that in my opinion takes its place alongside the UF30E and the Skeldon 1973 as one of the best rums they have ever made.

***

(#195. 85/100)

More than “42”, here’s the answer some of the great and grand questions of the universe.  When asked by the inquiring, “What makes anything you say worth hearing?” or “Why should I sleep with you?” or “Why’s the front door smashed in?”, all you need to do is smile, shrug, and point to this rum.

Velier’s rums sometimes seem similar when described (look how many Caroni rums they’ve put out the door, for example): but their lines are unique, each one depending on its own specific characteristics, closely observed, exactingly made, powerfully executed. Any serious sojourn into the world of rum sooner or later arrives here. And this Diamond estate rum from Guyana is no exception.

As before, Velier adhered to their starkly minimalist presentation, and continued their admirable practice of providing a fair bit of information on the stiff cardboard box: fifteen years ageing in situ, metal-coffey-still distillate set to age in 1999 and bottled in 2014, with an outturn of 1137 bottles from four barrels, and a 72% angel’s share loss.  Note that the barrels in this case where charred new oak, which might be an effort to impart more and intense flavours to the distillate, in a shorter time period.

D3S_9379

If that was their intention, they sure as hell succeeded.  I thought the UF30E and the Skeldon had deep and intense aromas, but they had been aged for a century in rum years, were bottled at greater than sixty percent, and it was to be expected.  Here we had a 53.1% ABV rum aged for half as long, and yet the scents just poured and billowed out of the bottle even before I had a chance to tip some in my glass. The dark, smooth and heavy nose (which mirrored the dark, smooth and rather heavy liquid) was immediately redolent of plums and apricots, vanilla and nutmeg.  No notes of citrus here, but pineapple, and cloves, then backed up by raisins and some very faint licorice, coffee and a whiff of mocha. It had the rich, plush nasal glissades akin to the soft crumpling of your disposable income, and was the kind of nose one just wanted to continue savouring.

As for the taste, oh man, this dark red-mahogany rum jiggled the jowls and rattled the rump like a revel dancer tramping down Vlissengen Road on Mash day. It was smooth with some spice and heat (both proof and oak showed their biceps here), thick, oily, tarry, full bodied.  Licorice, smoke, vanilla (not much), raisins, black grapes, rounded out with lighter floral notes started off, darkly sweet and all-round excellent, displaying a kind of exquisite zen-like brutality I couldn’t help but appreciate. And it didn’t stop there either, but continued providing flavours of dark chocolate, coffee, hibiscus and poinsettias in full bloom, as if you were at some kind of tropical Starbuck’s. I think Velier’s tamping down the volts on this rum was the right decision – I don’t believe that a higher proofage would make this as good a dram as the current strength does…more intense, yes, but not necessarily as memorable. And closing things off, the finish was fittingly long, warm, providing that last fillip of leather and oak, smoke, red wine, licorice and anise.

D3S_9382

Honestly folks, I was impressed as hell. Just to be sure, I ran the Diamond 1999 past four other Veliers in my stash, and still it stood up damned well. It was somewhat like the Diamond 1996 (but better), and, as with the Blairmont 1991, it developed over subsequent sampling.  It rewards re-tasting and comparisons, astounds and amazes, and like my wife, grows better with time and experience.  It growls and gurgles and purrs hard love down your throat, never crosses over to malignant sharpness and bite, shows the heights to which rums can aspire when made with verve and flair and daring, and is simply one of the most phenomenal rums I’ve tried in the last two years. If after two minutes of sampling this thing you aren’t jumping around the room rocking your air guitar like my nine-year-old son and looking for online big-hair wigs, carefully peruse the mail from your insurance carrier. It might have “Deceased” stamped on it.

***

Other notes

Velier has dropped the “Full Proof Old Demerara Rum” from the labelling for some reason.

The <S> on the label relating to the marks on the barrel is obscure. Marco’s phenomenal essay on the Guyanese distilleries speculated it might be related to the diamond logo <> surrounding the single initial of the plantation’s previous 18th century owner, Samuel Welch. Or maybe that of M. Steele, another 19th century proprietor. The question remains open.

This was the second of four samples Luca Gargano sent to me personally in September of 2014 when he heard I would be in Europe in October of that year. Next time I’m out in the real world I’ll pick up a couple of bottles of my own, I think. Maybe even three or four.

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating is 85/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 92.5 points)

 

Dec 282014
 

D3S_9458

A surprising, dry, sharp and flavourful rum, yet somewhat missing of the high bar set by the Caronis made by other Italians. It’s got too many conflicting components, good in themselves, failing to cohere.

(#194. 71/100)

***

Readily available, cheaper and often excellent “everyone has one in his bar” rums dot the North American reviewing landscape, and every blogger usually begins his or her writing with such standards (European bloggers like Cyril, Marco and Henrik do not, for other reasons). Just like all film lovers eventually come to Ozu, sooner or later all us web scriveners move towards the craft bottlers, and with good reason. These makers take a select set of barrels from a particular country, a favoured distillery — even a specific still — and then lovingly tend the result without the problems of mass producing massive amounts of rum for an export market. These are almost always – and probably always will be – somewhat niche products, created for the rabid, not the mainstream, and alas, they tend to be pricey, if available at all. I think it’s a crime that more of this craft stuff doesn’t come over the water…even Renegade Rums are a vanishing breed over the pond. Add to that that this is a Caroni, and that says all that needs to be said as to why I bought it (for €80).

Depending on how you order the words on the label, this rum is called “Silver Seal Fine Caroni Heavy Rum 1997” with an additional moniker “Wildlife series No. 2” which relates to the label illustration of “Red, Blue and Yellow Macaws” by Harro Maas (several other Silver Seal rums have such designs). Given that it was marked as being bottled in 2011 on the label, then it is a 14 year old rum, even if it is not stated outright as being such; and like many other independent bottlers, they diluted the rum with distilled water down to 46%.  Black tipped cork on a standard barroom bottle, which held a golden-brown rum inside.

As I noted before with the Bristol Spirits and Barangai Caronis, there were certain things I expected from the rum, and here I found some of them returning like well-regarded, familiar friends on holiday, others not.  The nose started off somewhat lightly, with cherries and white flowers, but after just a few minutes the heavier flavours began to marshall their attack: tar, leather and smoke began, with estery wax and rubber notes of squishing wellies charging in later.  It was hot and spicy throughout – somewhat surprising for a rum of such relatively modest proofage.  And yet, as I stuck with it (and re-tasted later), the sweet flowers returned, accompanied by aromatic soap, citrus and – get this! – bubble gum.  A bit light, overall, and very rich in complexity and flavour.

No milquetoast rum this, it displayed real heft and weight to the taste.  Salty, briny and spicy, with tar, jute rice bags and heavy burnt sugar notes present, without the rum ever actually becoming sweet. Oak and smoke abounded, plus black dripping engine oil from a leak under your car, cooking on the asphalt on a really hot day.  Alas, these notes on the palate did not reach the high standard set by the initial scent. Adding some water didn’t quite rescue it, but did allow other flavours of vanilla and green olives to emerge.  The rather lacklustre finish of salted peanuts, butter and caramelized sugar was more of a question mark than an exclamation point on a unique rum which didn’t come together properly – I think too many interesting and complex flavours were at work (and querulously interfering with each other) for me to really love it. The nose was great, the palate pretty good and the finish just…meh. In a way it was a kinda crazy amalgam of taste impressions, not all of it succeeding as it should.

D3S_9459

Silver Seal is a bottler much in the vein of Velier, Rum Nation and others, if perhaps older (they were formed in 1979 and named “Sestante” before being renamed in 2001 after a ten year operational hiatus): like them, it bottles casks sourced and aged with attention to detail, from all over the world; like them, it is based in Italy; unlike Velier it does dampen down the natural exuberance of the cask, perhaps to appeal to a broader audience.  Its website gives equal, if not more prominence, to whisky (drat!), which I have to admit may not be all bad – love of the product does not blind me to the fact that flogging rums in the shops of the world can be an uphill slog, so if their whisky sales allow them to continue producing rums, well, that’s all good.

Summing up, I enjoyed the rum, just not as much as other Caronis I went through in series that day. This one is a shade too dry and salty – and maybe harsh – in comparison to those.  Oh, it’s a country mile ahead of cheaper and more available Trini rums, and there’s no denying its complexity (and the taste which single malt Islay lovers will really drool over) — so points for its technique there.

But you see, when people want to know about a particular rum, they’re after something quite specific. They never ask questions like, “Is the bouquet transcendent?” Or “is the palate sublime?” Or “is this a rum to share with friends, to show my personal sophistication?”

What they do want to know is, “Is it any good?” That’s what they always ask. And what they really mean by that, is “Is it good for the price?”

So for what I paid, I can’t tell you with a straight face that the Silver Seal Caroni 1997 is extraordinarily remarkable, an undiscovered masterpiece, a da Vinci among rums.  But I can make the case that for the money you spend, you’ll have a fascinating and intriguing time…as long as you accept that the overall profile is less that of a well balanced rum than that of a smorgasbord of great individual bits and pieces, that somehow fail to communicate with the mothership.

***

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating is 71/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 85.5 points)

Dec 132014
 

D3S_8931

A tasty, svelte, supple rum like this brings home the point of how widespread the world of rum is, how we are too often satisfied with too little, and why should demand more. Even at 40%, this rum is quite a drinking experience.

(#193. 70/100)

Réunion? Quick, place that on a map.

Casting around for something to look at to close out 2014, I settled on this sprightly and supple forty percenter.  This was not just because I wanted to cast a geographically wider net (though this is also true) – but because when you see a good rum, you really want to toot its horn a bit. While I’m no longer as stuck with loving only 40% rums as I used to be, there’s no reason for me to deny this rum its rightful plaudits.  It’s good.

Appearance wise, I had no objections. Stiff cardboard box, round shouldered bottle, plastic tipped cork, all holding within them a golden-brown spirit with tints of red. It certainly smelled great, when I poured it out. For a rum as relatively lacking in oomph (compared to some of the Tiger Bay toughs I’ve been getting mugged by over the last months), the 40% ABV was really kind of fun.  It was…well, zippy.  Happy.  It was zesty, light, clear and vegetal.  I don’t know why, but I kept thinking of daisies, spring picnics on a green sunlit meadow somewhere.  The rum felt like it was frolicking over the nose.  Nothing heavy here, only scents of orange peel, sweet fresh sap, vanilla, light white flower petals dried between the leaves of an old book; guava and sugar cane and fresh mown grass after a light rain.

That same cheerful sprightliness was also evident on the palate.  There were a few references that stated the core distillate was made from molasses, yet it is remarkable how the overall taste was light, and what clarity it displayed: it seemed to be more of an agricole than anything else. Those same easy-going floral notes carried over, and here the ageing was more evident – baked candied apples, ginger, baking spices, vanilla and sweet wooden notes, very well done.  Adding anything to this is pointless because it has a delicacy to it that would be rent apart by anything but the mildest of mixing agents – even water dilutes it too much.  As for the fade, it was medium long, pleasantly aromatic, and tickled your tonsils rather than trying to skewer them.  All in all, a lovely très vieux with a little bit of bite to let you know it was there, and not to be taken as an underproof. You could almost imagine it wearing shades and a Hawaiian shirt on a beach somewhere, watching the tide come in.

The Grande Réserve is a blend of rums aged six years or more in Limousin barrels, and well put together – one hardly tasted smoke and tannins and leather of any kind. It hails from the island of Réunion, which is located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar.  Although originally settled by the Portuguese, by the 16th Century, it was taken over by the French, and these days is a French Department. Because of that, it is considered part of France, as if it was right on the mainland, and therefore also part of the Eurozone.

Réunion has quite a pedigree with respect to rum.  Sugar has always and traditionally been the chief agricultural export crop, and the first stills were brought by the French to the Island as far back as 1704; in 1815  the first modern distillery set up by Charles Panon-Desbassyns and coincided with the start of large-scale sugar-production, which took up just about all the sugar-cane harvested.  The production of local ‘arack’ (or ‘sugar brandy’, produced from sugar-cane juice) was limited to production from the residue of sugar manufacture. The number of distilleries fluctuated from six in 1842 to thirty one in 1928, down to one during the second world war, and three presently: Savanna, Rivière du Mât and Isautier. All three produce the most famous brand of the island: Rhum Charrette. The other well-known brands of these distilleries are Savanna rums, which is a brand that consists of more than 12 different rums (and there I was, grumbling about the seven rums in Ocean’s Atlantic edition, remember?), the Rivière du Mât, Isautier, Chatel, Varangues and Belle-Vue rums.

All in all, then, this is a rum that is light, easygoing and an absolute pleasure to drink neat. As an entry level vieux, it may be a tough ‘un to beat.  I can’t wait to write about the XO by the same company: that one is also good, but also more pricey.  If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, with a taste all its own, not too expensive, with aromatic, clear and slightly fruity notes, then this is as good a rum to buy as any others…others which may be more available and perhaps better known in the bars of the west than Rivière-du-Mât’s rum — but not necessarily better.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating is 70/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 85 points)

 

Dec 092014
 

D3S_8858

This is the second in a series of about six Caroni rums which I bought in mid-2014. It’s a solidly impressive rum, and quite a sophisticated, tasty bruiser.

(#192. 73/100)

Barangài?  What the hell is this? I asked myself, when scouring the online shoppes to come up with another Caroni perhaps worthy of purchase.  I found out that the word is not a title or the maker’s name (as I had initially surmised) but refers to an old descriptor used by the islanders for ships of medium capacity: I suppose a caravel, or a carrack, or a ballinger would be as good a title.  But never mind: it had a nice ring to it, a whiff of salt and seaspray and yohohos, and for that I gave in and bought it. On such small matters do the purchase of rums sometimes hang.

Caroni’s older, pre-1990s stocks are the stuff of legend and tall tales: I often joke that you’re more likely to find a unicorn than one of those.  However, in the past years, I noted that a number of bottlers are now issuing 1990s-era rums, so we may be entering into something of a golden age for this mothballed estate, where availability and price aren’t too far divergent (though they are still pricey, I hasten to add, since just about all are made by independent bottlers).

Pellegrini SA, a craft bottler out of Italy about which I have heard nothing much before now (mea culpa, not theirs), sourced this 52% full proof from 1997 stocks – which, given the big fat “16” on the label, meant that it was bottled in 2013.  They made a point of noting it had no additives, no filtration, and less than seven hundred bottles exist.  Now, they also mentioned that it was aged  and imported by them, but I was unable to find out how much of the ageing was done in situ, and how much in Europe – though I suspect at the very least, the final sherrywood cask finish was done in Italy.

D3S_8866

Sixteen years of ageing in two kinds of barrels certainly had its influence: the rum poured out in a dark-brown, almost-but-not-quite mahogany, and displayed the thick, slow legs of a sweaty steel band player banging away up Laventille Hill. The initial aromas were excellent, complex to a fault: cedar, oak, flowers, some fruitiness, orange peel, baking spices were right in the forefront, intense but not a liquid sword to the nose. In fact, for a 52% rum, I felt it to be impressively soft after the initial alcohol sting faded away – that sherry cask influence muting and smoothening things out, perhaps. I should also note that here was a rum rewarding some patience – it got better as it rested and opened up, showing off further musty and tarry scents, some smoke and leather, and I kept thinking of old-time sealing wax burning on paper.  In its own special way it reminded me somewhat of the Bristol Spirits 1974 Caroni, though not quite at that level of quality.

On the palate – heaven. Here’s a rum (one of many) displaying what I’ve liked about Caronis from the get go: it was medium bodied, both lightly sweet and briny, like crackers covered in honey, or toast and cream cheese: a liquid breakfast, if you will.  Again, fruity sherry notes, citrus zest, flowers, hyacinth, licorice and hot black tar.  And dry.  It is actually (and surprisingly) more intense in the mouth than the nose would lead you to expect, a bit more spicy than those accustomed to rums bottled at standard strength might prefer – but by no means unpleasant, just something to watch out for.  The fade was as good as the beginning, pleasantly long, a bit dry, with honey, corn flakes and some burnt notes of both tar and brown sugar. The “Barangài” moniker may have little to do with the rum, and may have been named for a medium sized ship, but I’ll tell you, title aside, the rum had the mad grace of a clipper with a full spread of sails, doing the transatlantic run in record time.  I really enjoyed it.

A few notes on the maker: the Italian company Pellegrini S.A. has been around since the very early 1900s (if not even before that), located close to Milan, and has been primarily known for wines, both as a distributor and a producer.  However, as well as being a general spirits distributor, they do indulge in their own rum bottling, and their private stock has several of the Barangai Caronis, as well as Demerara, Jamaican and Bajan rums.  In this sense they act much as Samaroli, Silver Seal, Fassbind, Velier and Rum Nation do – as independent bottlers who are so commonly found in Europe, but hardly so in North America (to that regions’s detriment).

I’ve remarked before on how good the Caroni distillate is.  If a slightly heavier, clear and tart mixing rum is your thing, this one might in fact work better for you than the somewhat more elemental Veliers, or even Bristol Spirits.  Perhaps it’s something to do with the Italian sunshine, or its age.  Still, with this particular Caroni rum and its sherry finish, I believe I can say with some justification, that it’s an excellent purchase, and won’t disappoint for the seventy five Euros or its equivalent that you would shell out to snag it.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating = 73/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 86.5 points)

Dec 052014
 

D3S_8985

A Japanese pot still rum of clout and flavour, perhaps needing some more ageing to score better and reach a wider audience.

(#191. 65/100)

***

In five years of writing about rum, I’ve seen quite a few new rum-making enterprises come across my radar: Elements, Koloa, Downslope, Ocean’s readily spring to mind.  Now they are joined by a new outfit called Nine Leaves, which may be unique in that it’s a distillery, a bottler, and a distributor, all run by one person: Mr. Yoshiharu Takeuchi, who operates in the Shiga Prefecture of Japan (the company was formed in 2013).

At this point in time in their existence, Nine Leaves makes three rums: a white (called “Clear”), and two “Angel’s Half” rums – perhaps so named because Mr. Takeuchi takes half of his distillate and ages it for six months in fresh American oak barrels, and the other half for the same period in French oak.  It was the latter which I tried, largely because I was quite enamoured of the golden colour and its viscosity as it rolled down the tasting glass (not the best reason for trying a new rum, but I’ve done worse for really stupid reasons, so this almost classes as sober judgement on my part).

Speaking to Mr. Takeuchi revealed the following facts about him and his rum, which, much like the Ocean’s Atlantic edition 1997 I looked at not too long ago, is something of a labour of individual love: he’s a one man operation, who brought the distillery to life when nothing in his past (or that of his family) would suggest such a thing.  The sugar originated from Okinawa, the water used came from an underground spring in Shiga.  The barrels came from the US and France, and a Forsythe copper pot still was bought in Scotland.

So once again I was sampling a pot still product, bottled at a full proof 50%, and the theory of terroire having a detectable impact on the final product was put through its paces. Now pot stills preserve a large part of the flavour of the distillate and this bleeds over even after substantial ageing which itself adds extra layers of complexity – but with only a six month period, was it all enough?

D3S_8989

I thought so…to a point. Consider the aromas hailing from the golden-hued rum: sharp and estery, light raisins and figs, salt biscuits, butter…and all those attendant scents of rubber and wax polish, even some fresh sawn woodchips, like one was entering a brand new house fresh from the builders and still in the plastic wrapper. There were some faint background notes of caramel and vanilla, but these were waiting for a turn on the stage that didn’t materialize until the actual tasting.

Which was pleasantly intense, as befitted a 50% rum, and this is where I think some more time in the barrels might have improved the product. It was a firm, medium-bodied-verging-on-light rum, which retained some of that sharp peppery consistency of the nose; the caramel notes now came forward, incense sticks, biscuits, vanilla, coffee; and yes, the waxy, rubber tastes were there, as well as green herbs – dill, maybe (no, really). A very very original palate, fading well into a clean exit of some length, redolent of cane juice, a touch of vanilla, and a last mischievous wink of coffee grounds.

Still, unlike the Rum Nation Jamaican White Pot Still 57%, the Angel’s Half French Oak Cask somehow missed the mark of having all these flavours blend together seamlessly (and that other one, you will recall, was utterly unaged); plus, it still feels a little too raw, which I imagine further ageing would iron out.  Yet I must concede the overall experience was pretty good, which speaks well for Nine Leaves’s expertise here.

The question that occurred to me was, for whom and for what is this rum made? I’d suggest it’s not for freshly press-ganged sailors in the Navy of Rum Appreciation, who are only now beginning their journey, or those who prefer more standard profiles – it really is too different for that. I think it’ll make a cocktail that’ll blow your socks off, and taken neat, with its heft and remarkably different, fresh profile, aficionados who drink a lot of rum would really enjoy it (as might maltsters).

Nine Leaves is worth keeping an eye on. Mr. Takeuchi is clear about his intention of keeping his distillery going for the long term, ageing the rums for longer periods, and developing his blending skills, his market, and his entire product range. He sees his enterprise as something of a constantly tweaked, incrementally refined project. That’ll surely be something to watch, in the years to come, for a rum maker who seems to enjoy running apart from the mainstream. Because already he has a made a good rum right out of the gate — one you will assuredly not mistake for any other.

 

Other notes

Forsythe copper pot stills are made in Scotland by the eponymous company, and while it’s now a smaller part of their overall business, they still handcraft them (as they have since 1890).  Nine Leaves’s model is supposedly similar to the one in business at Glenmorangie.

LC Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

LC Score = 65/100. Conversion to “standard” scoring = 82.5 points)