Ruminsky

Oct 202014
 

velier.it

It’s no surprise that I start the “Makers” section of this website with Velier.  Perhaps no other company since Rum Nation has so captured my attention the way this one has, and with both it’s about their focus. The scotch makers like G&M, Cadenhead, A.D. Rattray and Bruichladdich also produce year-specific, limited editions of rums, but their product lines are somewhat diluted by not concentrating solely on rums but on the whiskies which are their primary products (at least in my opinion).  Velier in contrast has made its name primarily by doing something quite different  – they issue all of their products at full proof, and they issue only rums, mostly from Guyana, Trinidad and the French West Indies (see below for other lines of business).

Luca Gargano, the man most closely identified with the company, began with Velier by buying into the tiny Genoese concern in the early nineteen eighties while he was only 27 – at the time he was the Director of Marketing Spirit SpA, the largest import company in Italy.  Even then, his experience as the brand ambassador for St James (from Martinique) during the 1970s infused him with a love for rums.  Velier, a small family firm, had been founded by Casimir Chaix back in 1947, and between 1953 and 1983, it became known for importing of wines and spirits to Italy, mostly the north (products included champagne, brandy, even tea and cocoa). Luca began to change the tilt of the company by encouraging the import of spirits particularly targeted at top restaurants and wine bars and developed the image and the distribution of Champagne Billecart-Salmon, which at the time was completely unknown.

In 1991 Velier developed a line of Latin American White Spirits (cachaca, mezcal, pisco) made ​​to cater to the trendy and ethnic spirits wave which was just gathering steam at the time.  The company began its move to craft spirits in 1992 (which I think is the year that the El Dorado 15 year old first appeared), by beginning its selection of barrels of old single malts and rum for its brand.  This led, in 1995, to the issuance of several Caribbean rums, riding the wave of the current trend in releasing craft bottling in limited quantities.

Arguably Luca’s earliest coup was to buy almost the entire Damoiseau 1980 output that had been deemed unsell-able because of a proportion of molasses in the rum.  He released Velier’s Damoiseau 1980 in 2002 (followed many years later by Damoiseau themselves – they had kept back some of the stock, and as I can attest, that rum is excellent) and he remarked that it was this rum that crystallized his “full-proof” concept, that of issuing rums at natural strength with no dilution whatsoever, and having them fully aged in the tropics.

In 2003, after having befriended Yesu Persaud, the chairman of the Guyanese spirits conglomerate Demerara Distillers Ltd, he was given access to very old stocks mouldering away in their warehouses in Diamond – it is my contention that the issuance of these rums has solidified Velier’s name as a company whose bottlings are one of a kind, a company to watch, and whose rare and aged products are really spectacular.  Most independent bottlers have the Enmores and Port Mourants as part of the canon, and DDL themselves blend many estate- or still-specific rums into their excellent El Dorado line – but Velier took it one step further, and issued the estate specific rums as rums in their own right: LBI, Blairmont, Versailles, Albion, Skeldon, Port Mourant, Enmore…and all at natural strength.  They have, as I remarked in my Skeldon 1973 review, become occasional subjects of cult worship simply due to their rarity (and excellence – I have yet to find a dog in Velier’s line up, and have consistently scored their rums very high). In 2004, Velier bought a stake in DDL, which granted them access to future (and past) rum stocks.

Another series of rums of note which enhanced Velier’s street-cred among rum aficionados was the Caroni line.  Caroni was a plantation and distillery in Trinidad, which was shuttered in 2002 (some darkly mutter that it was for crass political reasons), and has a place in rum-lovers’ pantheons which whisky aficionados reserve for Port Ellen.  The last stocks of this distillery were supposedly sold at auction in 2003, but in 2004, Velier seems to have snapped up an enormous amount of casks from the 70s, 80s and 90s which they have used to issue several iterations (all full-proof, of course).

In the last five years or so, as Velier’s reputation grew (and maybe as finances and enthusiasm permitted) the company began branching out to other islands and experimenting with distillation and ageing techniques. According to Luca, he had the impulse to produce a rhum agricole with a double distillation, and convinced Mr Vittorio Gianni Capovilla, himself a master distiller (www.capovilladistillati.it) and the Bielle distillery on Marie Galante, to create a new distillery.  This was to be located beside Bielle but completely independent, apart from the sugar juice supplied by Bielle. The Liberation line (issued under the label RhumRhum) essayed to make agricoles by fermenting the juice without adding water and then double distilling it in copper pot stills.  Then there is the Clairin line of Haitian rums, launched in 2012, and more recently there are experimental blends like the 2014 release of PM/ENM, and the Ron Papalin.  There are plans to deal in Jamaican rums and maybe soleras at some point.

In 2014 Velier opened two shops in Paris, one dedicated to Velier Rhum (the other to Triple A wines).  That same year, Luca’s first book “Atlas du Rhum” was published by Flammarion. Velier continues to do more than rums, of course.  They are both bottler and importer, yet I argue that it is for their rums they are now primarily known and upon which their fame rests.  They might import absinthe, gin and whisky and whatever else – but they make rums. Damned good ones.

I don’t imagine I’ll ever get them all – Luca is issuing them too fast, and my wallet can’t keep pace (a complete set of every Velier Caroni ever issued was advertised for sale by an Italian gent for over two thousand Euros, and a single bottle of the Skeldon 1978 is on sale on Ebay for €800, which gives you an indication of what acquiring the entire canon would entail). Yet I’ll keep trying, because Luca’s one of the few in the rum making world who keeps raising the bar for aged, powerful and unique rums that will not be seen again.

***

Below is a list of all Velier products of which I am aware.  I don’t think it’s exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point.  Links relate to reviews I’ve written…and frankly, they look as lonely as a few camels in the Sahara, but them’s the breaks.

 

Guyana

  • Port Mourant / Enmore Experimental 1998 16YO (1998 – 2014), 62,2% vol.
  • Port Mourant / Diamond Experimental 1995 19YO (1995 – 2014), 62,1% vol.

 

Trinidad – Caroni

  • Caroni 1974 Heavy 34 YO (1974 – 2008), 66,1% vol.
  • Caroni 1982 Light 23 YO (1982 – 2005), 59,2%
  • Caroni 1982 Light 24 YO (1982 – 2006), 55,2% vol.
  • Caroni 1982 Heavy 24 YO (1982 – 2006), 58,3% vol.
  • Caroni 1982 Heavy 23 YO (1982 – 2005), 62%
  • Caroni 1982 Heavy 23 YO (1982 – 2005), 77,3% vol.
  • Caroni 1983 Heavy 22 YO (1983 – 2005), 55% vol.
  • Caroni 1983 High Proof Heavy 22 YO (1983 – 2005), 52% vol.
  • Caroni 1984 Heavy 22 YO (1984 – 2006), 54,6% vol.
  • Caroni 1984 Heavy 24 YO (1984 – 2008), 59,3%
  • Caroni 1985 Old Legend 15 YO (1985 – 2006), 43,4% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Blended 20 YO (1985 – 2005), 49,5% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Heavy 21 YO (1985 – 2006), 58,8% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Heavy 20 YO (1985 – 2005), 62% vol.
  • Caroni 1985 Heavy 20 YO (1985 – 2005), 75,5% vol.
  • Caroni 1988 Blended 20 YO (1988 – 2008) 43%
  • Caroni 1989 Heavy 16YO (1989 – 2005), 62% vol.
  • Caroni 1989 Light 17YO (1989- 2006), 64,2% vol.
  • Caroni 1991, 66% vol.
  • Caroni 1991 Blended 19YO (1991 – 2010), 55% vol.
  • Caroni 1991 Blended 15 YO (1991 – 2006) 43,4%
  • Caroni 1992 Heavy 20 YO (1992 – 2012) , 60,2% vol.
  • Caroni 1992 Heavy 20 YO (1992 – 2012), 55% vol.
  • Caroni 1993 Blended 17 YO (1993 – 2010), 44,4% vol.
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 18YO (1994 – 2012), 55%
  • Caroni 1994 Heavy 18YO (1994 – 2012), 62,6%
  • Caroni 1994 High Proof 17 YO (1994 – 2011), 52%
  • Caroni 1996 Heavy 17 YO (1996 – 2013) 55%
  • Caroni 1996 Heavy 17 YO (1996 – 2013) 63%
  • Caroni 1998 100% 15 YO (1998 – 2013), 52%
  • Caroni 2000 100% 12 YO (2000 – 2012), 50%

Marie Galante

  • MG Bielle 2003 7 YO (2003 – 2010), 49% vol.
  • MG Bielle 2003 9 YO (2003 – 2012), 49% vol.
  • RhumRhum Libération 2010, 45%
  • RhumRhum PMG white 56%
  • Rhum Rhum PMG white 41%
  • RhumRhum Libération 2012 45%
  • RhumRhum Libération 2012 ‘version intégrale’ 59,8%

 

  • Guadeloupe
  • Velier Guadeloupe from Courcelles 33 YO (1972 – 2005), 54% vol.
  • Velier Guadeloupe from Montebello Basseterre Rhum Vieux 1995, 58,2% vol.
  • Velier Guadeloupe from Montebello Basseterre Rhum Vieux 1997, 49,2% vol.
  • Rhum Damoiseau 1980 22 YO (1980 – 2002) 60.3%
  • Rhum Damoiseau 1995 11 YO (1995 – 2006), 66,9%
  • Rhum Damoiseau 1989 17 YO (1989 – 2006), 58%
  • Rhum Damoiseau 1986  15 YO (1986 – 2001) 42% (Cuvee du Millenaire)

Other

  • Neisson 1997 47% (Joint bottling with Velier)
  • West Indies Old Barbados Rum 12 YO (1986 – 1998), 46%

 

 

Sources

 Posted by on October 20, 2014 at 2:33 am
Oct 162014
 

D3S_9388

An exceedingly well-made, clean, relatively light rum with remarkable depth of flavour and beautiful mouthfeel.

(#184; 78/100)

***

Velier, as its barrels mature in Guyana, issues annual releases when they feel they are ready, much as Rum Nation and other craft rum makers do.  This presents a particular and peculiar problem to rummies, because there is no consistency to any of them: in other words, while a DDL El Dorado 21 Year Old will be more or less the same no matter when you buy it, a Velier PM 2013 release will not be the same as a Velier PM 2014 release, even if they are both fifteen years old. This, to my mind, highlights a great strength and great weakness of craft bottlers, because while it allows for amazing creativity and variety, it also limits the issuance of a particular bottling to a few thousand bottles at best, and it forces consumers to shell out a lot more money for favoured companies’ products – as I have.

That aside, let’s start at the beginning with some core facts about the subject under review here. Velier issued this new (2014 year) release in July, with 1404 bottles deriving from five barrels; it was distilled on a Savalle still, it’s an experimental version – a lighter distillate from a still which can produce both light and dark variations, hence the “ULR”, which stands for Uitvlugt Light Rum (thanks, Cyril).  The labelling on bottle and cardboard case is excellent, by the way: no fancy frippery or outlandish graphics, just pertinent facts about the rum (including evaporation losses of 77%), as brief and stark as a haiku.  Just about everything you might want to know is there.

D3S_9390

Nose?  Wow.  Just lovely.  The ULR 1997 was a darkish-honey colour in the glass, and emitted heated vapours of soft clarity that was reminiscent (if not quite as spectacular) as the that McLaren that was the UF30E. Vanilla, herbal tea and white flowers right off the bat, not fierce on the attack, just clean and strong, and persistent to a fault.  Vague caramel and salt biscuits followed on, and easy notes of fruit jam and sweet, ripe black grapes closed off the nose – it was so succulent that I felt I had just roped in Monica Bellucci in a teddy.

You can tell a masterful rum when, as you sip the thing down, 59.7% doesn’t really feel like it.  It was as exciting and well made as a Gibson guitar, with notes that hummed and vibrated in harmony…I honestly don’t know how this is accomplished so well.  The white chocolate, cafe-au-lait, pastries, and creamy buttery notes slid smoothly past my taste buds and there were some oak tones winding their way around the palate, though not enough to spoil the drink. Nougat and hazelnuts shimmered around the edges, moving to a lingering, warm finish with final fumes of raspberries in cream.

Uitvlugt was a West Coast Demerara sugar plantation which Bookers McConnell mothballed decades ago: it means “outflow” in Old Dutch (yes, like New York, Guyana was once a Dutch colony), and it usually has marques of ICB/U, ICB/C and ICB associated with it (most notably by DDL itself), possibly by reference to the original owner of the plantation, Iohann Christoffer Boode; it’s unclear when this new moniker of ULR began. Its rums, made from a metal Savalle still, are usually characterized by a distillate which is not so heavy as the dark brooding machismo of, oh, Port Mourant.  This one may be even more so.

D3S_9389

Summing up, the Uitvlugt 1997 is immensely enjoyable…I went through three tasting glasses of it in next to no time, it was so pleasant.  It’s cleaner and lighter than other Veliers (like the Albion 1994), has perhaps more in common with the Blairmont 1991, and stands singularly apart from the remarkable Diamond 1999 (2014 edition); it’s a UF30E in waiting, maybe. It might not be the most charismatic or powerful exhibit in this sub-universe of the equine-endowed full-proofs, but it isn’t a shrinking violet in the greenhouse either, and compares exceedingly well with all its other siblings.

***

NB: This was one of four samples provided by Luca Gargano to me personally when he heard I would be in Europe in October 2014.  I stand by my sterling review because it really is that good (see the review for Old Man Spirits’s Uitvlugt 16 year old next week for an interesting counterpoint).  I have outstanding query from my email to him…I’ll get into that when I deal with the Old Man.  See you next time.

D3S_9392

 

A:8/10 N:20/25 T:19/25 F:20/25 I:11/15 TOT: 78/100

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.
 Posted by on October 16, 2014 at 10:06 pm
Oct 122014
 

D3S_9334

 

***

A deeply rich and remarkable rum – 1980 was a damned good year for this company

(#183. 83/100)

***

When one buys a raft of intriguing aged rums and then samples several dozen more (especially after a protracted absence), the issue is which rum to start reviewing first. Since my intention on this go-around was to run through several Caroni rums from Trinidad, as well as to give more weight to agricoles from the French West Indies, I decided that one of the best of the latter deserved some consideration.  And that’s this sterling Damoiseau.

The Bellevue au Moule estate and distillery was established at the end of the 19th Century by a Mr Rimbaud from Martinique, and was acquired by Mr Roger Damoiseau in April 1942…since then it has remained within his family (the estate and distillery are currently run by Mr Hervé Damoiseau).  They claim to be the market leader in Guadeloupe — 50% market share, notes the estate web page — and their primary export market remains Europe, France in particular.

D3S_9338

Forget all that, though: this 1980 edition would be enough to assure their reputation as a premium rum maker by any standard. Damoiseau themselves obviously thought so too, because it’s not every day you see a polished wooden box enfolding a bottle, and costing as much as it did. And once open, bam, an immediate emanation of amazing aromas greeted me. Even with my experience of full proof rums clocking in at 60% and over, this one was something special: plums, dark ripe cherries and cinnamon blasted out right away.  The rum was impatient to be appreciated but then chilled out, and crisp, clean and direct notes of white flowers and the faintest bit of brown sugar and fresh grass came shyly out the door.  I’d recommend that any lucky sampler to get his beak in fast to get the initial scent bomb, and then wait around for the more relaxed aftersmells.

What also impressed me was how it arrived in the palate: you’d think that 60.3% strength would make for a snarling, savage electric impact, but no, it was relatively restrained: heated, yes, but also luscious and rich. (The closest equivalent I could come up with when looking for a comparative to this rum was the 58% Courcelles 1972 which also had some of the loveliness this one displayed). Fleshy, sweet, ripe fruit were in evidence here, pineapple, apricots, crushed grapes, apricots – it was so spectacular, so well put together, and there was so much going on there, that it rewarded multiple trips to the well.  It’s my standard practice to add some water when tasting to see how things moved on from the initial sensations: here I simply did not bother.  It was hard to believe this was an agricole, honestly – it was only at the back end that something of the light cleanliness and clarity of the agricoles emerged, and the fade was a pleasant (if a bit sharp), long-lasting melange of white fruit (guavas, I’m thinking), a twist of vanilla, and light flowers.

D3S_9341

Guadeloupe as a whole has never been overly concerned about the AOC designation, and creates both pure cane-juice and molasses-based rums, in light and dark iterations of vieux, très vieux, hors d’age and (not as common) the Millésimé – that’s where we head into rarefied territory, because it denotes a particular year, a good one. From the taste of this rum, the heft and the richness, 1980 outturn must have been phenomenal. For a very long time I’ve not been able to give enough attention to the products of the French West Indies (to my own detriment) – but even the few steps I’ve made have been worth it, if only to see diamonds like this one washed up on the strand at the high water mark.

 

Other notes

Aged for 18 years in 180 liter ex-bourbon barrels.

A:7½ /10 N:22/25 T:23/25 F:17½ /25 I:13/15 TOT: 83/100

 

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 

 Posted by on October 12, 2014 at 8:05 am
Oct 122014
 

D3S_9709

 

***

All “Wizard of Id” references in the photo aside, I must admit it’s good to return to reviewing. The steady, continuing hits on the site, the continual online and offline questions I get and then the explosion of interest after the reddit post went up, all lit a fire under my nether regions.  Plus, after a year in the Middle East, you would not believe how much I missed writing.

So I cut a deal with my wife that once a year I’d attend a European Rum Festival (Berlin, London or Madrid), and made a private deal with myself that I’d acquire as many rums as I could while there, taste a raft of everything available, put together tasting notes, photographs, scores and comparative rankings, and issue the reviews as best I could over the next months.  And hell, if I can get to buy samples in my current location (never mind how), yeah, I’ll do that too.

I’d like to say thanks to all the readers, most anonymous, some not, who actually read what I write and drop by every now and then.  I always thought my style was too different, too long, too at-odds with other established writers, to garner much support – it was quite a pleasant surprise to find that it was appreciated for precisely that reason by some (big hat-tip to you all, you know who you are).

So, the Caner’s back.  Now let’s see what’s next….

 Posted by on October 12, 2014 at 7:47 am
Jul 152014
 

D3S_8380

 

Rich sipping rum of remarkable complexity and flavour, one of the best I’ve ever had out of Jamaica.

(#182. 80/100)

Rum Nation’s Supreme Lord VI (the Jamaican 26 year old 2012 edition by any other name) is as good as its 2010 brother, if not actually surpassing it. It shows what can be done with an aged rum if time and care and patience – and some artistry – is brought to bear.  I loved the Supreme Lord V, which I reviewed a while back – and I must say, the VI does dial it up a few notches.  (Full disclosure – Fabio Rossi, the man behind Rum Nation, was having so many troubles working out the complications of me buying a single bottle from him, that he finally just lost patience, sent me the one, and said it was on the house.  So this one was a freebie, which happens rarely enough these days).

Like its predecessor, this rum was dark red-amber in hue, and gave evidence of good viscocity, what with its chubby legs slowly draining back into the glass.  It was also richly pungent to a fault: when I opened that bottle and decanted into my glass the aromas were all over the room in no time: a fragrant nuttiness with a faint tawny, perhaps herbal tinge, and cloves and nutmeg, a little pepper, vanilla, cherries.  I noted in my review of the 2011 edition that there was that slight turpentine, plastic tinge to it – none of that was in evidence here.  This rum has esters flexing their biceps all over the place.

The feel and taste on the palate was similarly excellent.  There was a sense of fruit teetering on the edge of over-ripeness, without actually falling over.  Leather, and the dry mustiness of a closed stable full of tack.  Aromatic tobaccos mixed it up with (I kid you not) a freshly opened packet of loose black tea. Even at 45%, it was smooth and easy, with a peaches and cream texture on the tongue that quite subdued the normally sharp citrus tinge Jamaican rums have.  And after adding a smidgen of water and waiting a while, there was even a tease of unsweetened dark chocolate and molasses winding its way through there – I just loved this rum, honestly.

And like the nose and the arrival, the exit was warm, a little aggressive, not too long, not too sharp and quite satisfying – one might even say it was chirpily easy-going, sauntering out the door with the casual insouciance of a person who knows he doesn’t have to tout his ability.  That last twitch of molasses, orange zest and nutmeg was just heavenly.  The Supreme Lord VI was quite a step up the evolutionary ladder from the last one I tried, I think (though I still love that one as well, don’t get me wrong – it had an aggro I found pleasing, in its own way).  All in all, this may have been one of the best Jamaican rums I’ve ever tried, and speaks volumes about why I’m a fanboy of Rum Nation.

When asked, Fabio noted to me that he produced 760 bottles of this nectar.  It was distilled in a pot still out of Longpond (home of the rampaging rhino that is the SMWS 81.3%) back in 1986, aged in ex-Bourbon american oak barrels, but also finished for another eight years in Oloroso sherry butts – that would be where the amazing panoply of flavours got a helping hand, I’d say.  Rums like this one explain something of why I am prepared pay the extra coin for small batch creations – it’s a bit hit and miss, I concede…but not here.

Occasionally I go on a real multi-hour bender (usually out of boredom) – these days somewhat more rarely, of course. Still, with most rums I polished off a standard bottle in a few hours…this one is so smooth, so tasty, so complex — so good — that the experience (were I ever to perpetrate such a discourtesy with such a gem) would take half the night, yet feel like it’s over in five minutes.  There are some words I always hesitate to use in a review because it sounds so much like mindless genuflection or commercial shilling, but here I have to be honest and say, from the heart, that I think this rum is exquisite.

A:8/10 N:20/25 T:21/25 F:18/25 I:13/15 TOT: 80/100

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion. In this case, for sure.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on July 15, 2014 at 8:29 am
May 102014
 
Photo Courtesy Ministry of Rum

Photo Courtesy Ministry of Rum

 

It’s official.  Velier has raised the bar for super premium rums, with an extraordinary 32-year old blast from the past that will excavate a punt-wide trench in your wallet if you ever find one.

(#181. 87/100)

The 544-bottle run of the Skeldon 1973 Old Demerara Rum has, since being released in 2005, become something of an object of cult worship.  In 2012 a single bottle went for sale on eBay for close to  €500. I searched for three years before I found a gent in France willing to part with his (and at a cost I’m glad my wife never found out about).  It isn’t very well known, except among rabid collectors, and the only reviews I’ve ever seen were in Italian and French.  It is without doubt a rum from further back in time than anything else Velier has ever made, or perhaps will ever make.  And it is worth every penny. Yes, I love Rum Nation, yes I have soft spots for Cadenhead, Berry Brothers, Secret Treasure, Plantation, El Dorado, Pussers, Young’s Old Sam and a score of others. But this thing is a cut above the crowd, and part of that is the way Velier mastered and balanced the subtleties trapped within the enormous tastes of a 32-year-old beefcake.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside Guyana who knows about Skeldon, or where it is. It’s a plantation on the far east of the country, right close by the Corentyne River — I visited the area many times in my youth — and not, as some have mentioned, on the Demerara (all Guyanese rums are often noted as being Demeraras, but the pedant in me disputes the moniker).  The original distillate was made in Skeldon before the still was shut down, and I’ve heard that the barrels were transferred to Uitvlugt before finding their final home in Diamond Estate, where Luca Gargano found the last four barrels from that year ageing quietly away in DDL’s warehouses, perhaps even forgotten by them: he snapped them up, and from that stock, made an old, bold bastard of a rum, eschewing the softness of a standard strength and allowing it to be issued at a mouth ravaging 60.5%.

The Skeldon 1973 was remarkably dark, molasses brown, deeper in hue than the PM 1974 I looked at not too long ago. Such was the skill of the makers that almost no time needed to be spent waiting for the spirit to open up in my glass: almost as soon as I poured it out, rich, powerful fumes of coffee, burnt cocoa, and smouldering sugar cane fields billowed out. Mellow aromas of peaches, nuts and licorice provided exclamation points of distinction, and these were followed by notes of honey, pecans and toast. And it wasn’t over yet: after half an hour, when I went back to it, I detected yet other traces of cherries, blackberries, and even a sly waxy taste that was far from unpleasant.  And each component was clear and distinct, crisp and vital as tropical morning sunshine.

If the nose was extraordinary, so was the palate:  intense without sharpness, heated without pain, and not so much full bodied as voluptuous.  Cumin, tannins and a certain muskiness attended the initial tasting, with a briny undertone, all in balance. As these receded, other flavours came to the fore: coffee again, unsweetened cocoa, walnuts, some caramel, burnt sugar cane (as from the nose), almonds, hazelnuts and at the very bottom a wink of eucalyptus oil. Many rums I have tried often seem to come from the recycle bin: reblends, a new finishing regime, a little tweak here or there, but with the venerable core formula always intact. The Skeldon 1973 does a difficult thing: it feels original, cut from new cloth and yet structured around  blending basics so seamlessly that it samples phenomenally well.  It’s got a certain sumptuousness to it, a sense of extravagance and out of sight quality, as rich as the silk in the lining of a Savile Row suit.

As for the finish, well, its persistence may be as unique as, oh, the Albion 1994, or the SMWS Longpond 9. Fumes and final flavours continued to make their prescence felt for minutes after a taste, as if unwilling to let go. Coffee was prevalent, toasted hazelnuts, some caramel, all melded together into a fade that was a function of 60.5%, and lasted a very very long time, none of it wasted.  So good was the overall experience that I must have had four or five tasting glasses of the stuff, just so that I could savour and sample and extract the very last nuance, and even then I’m sure I missed something.

Everything works in this rum.  Nose, palate, mouthfeel, exit, the whole thing. Usually I’m ambivalent about one point or another in a review – good points in one area are marred by small disappointments in others and this is why the “intangible” part of my scoring goes down and not up like all the others – but here there is such a uniformity of excellence that it made me feel re-energized about the whole business of reviewing rums (and, as an aside, that I may have underrated even the phenomenal UF30E which is about on par, and which I used as a control for this review).

What an amazing, fulfilling rum Velier has produced, indeed.  Yes it’s extraordinarily hard to find, and yes its damned pricey.  Good luck finding one in the States or Canada (or even in Europe, these days).  I’m remarkably fortunate in that I was able to source an unopened bottle given its rarity.  Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, has a track record with his bottlings that many can only envy, and is used to dealing lightning with both hands; and for no other reason this is why sourcing his products, old or new, is recommended. If you want to see what the industry can accomplish if they really try, spring some pieces of eight for what Velier is making, if even just the once.

Or try getting a taste of mine, if you’re ever in my neighborhood.  I’m almost sure I’d share it with you.

***

Other notes

Distilled in Coffey still in August 1973 and bottled in April 2005

There is a slightly younger version of Skeldon distillate, the 1978 edition – also bottled by Velier – which I have not managed to source as yet. It is selling on Ebay as of September 2014, for €800.

Velier, in 2004, bought a stake in DDL (per their website) – Luca notes in his interview with Cyril of DuRhum that it was in 2003.

A:8/10 N:22/25 T:22/25 F:21/25 I:14/15 TOT: 87/100

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat. Here, of course, you can.
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on May 10, 2014 at 10:21 pm
Apr 172014
 

 

A worthy addition to the Port Mourant canon. A magnificent, excellently rich and fruity full-proof rum. 

(#180. 81/100)

***

Allowances should be made for my personal palate: I do believe that rum deriving from the Port Mourant still in Guyana may be among the very best available, largely because the distillate runs through the only wooden still in the world. This provides the rum with a depth of flavour and richness that I have consistently scored high in all its iterations: Berry Brothers & Rudd 1975, the El Dorado 21 and 25 (PM forms part of the blend), Bristol Spirits PM 1980 and Rum Nation’s Demerara 1989 are examples (and I think Wood’s Navy rum has some PM lurking in there, as well as some Enmore, but never mind).

Velier, much like other European rum bottlers, hews to a rather starkly minimalist ethos in presentation, similar across the range (though nowhere near the aggressive consistency of SMWS’s offerings in their camo green). An opaque, black bottle with variations across the line only coming from the label design. “Menacing”, I wrote in my Albion 1994 review, and I haven’t seen much since then to change my mind about that…these things look like they want to assault you with a nail studded club.

By now, anyone who has read my or others’ reviews of Velier products will know that they don’t muck around with standard strength 40% offerings, but give you a massive pelvic thrust of proofage that has sheep in Scotland running for cover: this one is no different, if milder, being bottled at 54.5%, which is almost weak by Velier’s standards. That strength impacts the deep and heavy nose in stunningly searing fashion: there were immediate notes of licorice and dark chopped fruits (lots of raisins there) ready for a West Indian black cake, cherries and ripening mangoes, intermingled with lighter floral notes, all held together with honey and crushed walnuts. Strength and subtlety in the same sniff.

The ruby-brown (or amber-red, take your pick) rum was dark and thick in the glass, like a boiled down soup of brown sugar. It was full bodied, spicy, syrupy, even a shade salty, hinting somewhat of maple syrup. Backing that up came wave upon wave of molasses, apples, citrus rind, prunes, sultana grapes. The rum turned a shade dry in the mouth, and continued to pump out notes of caramel, toffee, and the faint resinous aftertaste of black cardamon. Man this was quite something – it showcased what rums were back in the day. I thought that the BBR PM 1975 might be the oldest and perhaps best rum of this particular still I’d ever see, but this baby, in my opinion, is as good or better, which I attribute mostly to its increased strength. The finish was lovely as well, though a tad on the spicy side: lingering notes of sweet molasses, citrus, and even here some of that heaviness persisted into a long finish that made the entire experience one to savour.

A recent comment on this site made the rather startling statement that “Rum in general is not meant to be sipped neat, like a Whisky or a Scotch.” Naturally, I rebutted that, and, in writing this review, offer the Velier PM 1974 as proof positive that here is a rum which it makes no sense to drink any other way. Take it neat or don’t take it at all. You can of course mix it, but I – and I’ll go out on a limb and speak for the makers – simply don’t get the point. This is a rum to luxuriate in, to treasure…and to mourn once it’s gone.

***

Other notes not strictly pertinent to the review:

364 bottles made from two barrels, aged between September 1974 and March 2008. I’m going to be conservative and call it a 33 year old.

I tried the PM 1974 blind in conjunction with several other rums so as not to permit my natural enthusiasm for the vintage to cloud my scoring judgement. I’m still as miserly with my scoring as before, of course, and tried to put the brakes on scoring high just because it was what it was. But guys, gals…this thing is enormously impressive, it’s a brilliant rum, and deserves what from me is a very high rating.

A:8/10 N:21/25 T:22/25 F:18/25 I:12/15 TOT: 81/100

Rating system
40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat. Here, of course, you can.
71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on April 17, 2014 at 4:30 am
Mar 312014
 

Poor rums. They always get a bad rap. That piratical background, the snootiness of the whisky world (and my friends, who cast me the pitying glances reserved for congenital defectives, every time I trot out a new and favoured libation). The classiness perceived of all things British. The purported complexity of the Scottish brew, the Russian tipple, or the Mexican hooch. We who sing of the pleasures of the cane just don’t get no respect. Sometimes I feel like a go-player in a chess world.

But you know, for a long time whiskies, tequilas, vodkas et al, took back seat to rums, and were merely regional and not global favourites. Rums were for a long time more popular than whiskies (but that may be because whiskies were all crap at the time, or cheap blends for the proles before they woke up and realized everyone was speaking Jamaican or Guyanese patois, and this had to stop). Washington supposedly rolled in a keg or two for his first inauguration. Rums were among the most smuggled and traded goods in the West Indian trade. Hemmingway immortalized them, trumpeting his favourite cocktails.

And then the Scots started to make standardization and rigid rules the name of the game, upped their ante a jillion-fold, appealed to the nouveau riches and freshly affluent middle classes, and suddenly it became chic, genteel, well bred – even cultured – to be into whisky, specifically the single malts. Or, for yuppies these days, craft vodkas, at which I kind of scratch my head and say okay, whatever. Like a strumpet past her prime, rum was relegated to a dismissive back corner with a dunce cap on its head. Even Larry Olmstead, when he wrote for Forbes some years ago, made it sound like rum was undergoing a resurgence, as if they had ever been away. It’s gotten so bad that when I can convince a dedicated and committed Scotch guy like the Hippie to even try an aged and powerful expression of the cane, I consider this a major victory in my undending battle against the forces of Mordor (where, as we all know, the orcs swill tequila, and the Nazgul are really into Scotch).

But whatever the case, rums have always been glorious creations, avatars of mankind’s seemingly inexhaustible desire to get hammered in new and inventive ways.

And therefore I present my favourite reasons why I think rums are a preferably drink to all the others. This of course comes to you courtesy of a famously impartial judge who would never dream of introducing bias of any kind. Or, for that matter, of convincing my friends to switch their allegiance….’cause you know, that ain’t ever gonna happen.

1. They are cheaper. Oh come on, is this even in doubt? I can pick up ten-, twelve-, twenty-year old rums for a few hundred each (maximum), while an upscale tequila-taster or single-malt-loving schlub who wants to have his collection dandified will drop five hundred a pop easy on some of the better ones. Poor Hippie, who did a Moonlight Graham on the G4, mournfully had to concede that while his palate was up to scratch, his wallet sure wasn’t. Come to the dark side, Hippie.

2. More sites with rums escape the censors’ net. Okay, I’m a little biased that way. ATW, Liquorature, various whiskey fora and all the online shops, are blocked not only in the sere desert where I work (tell me again what the hell am I doing here?), but from far too many company servers these days. But The Lone Caner? The Howler, duRhum, Inu a Kena, Ministry of Rum? They’re all up and sparkling and easily accessible in a way too many other likker based sites specializing in other drinks, are not.

3. They display all the hallmarks of great drinks in any of the other categories. Insanely aged, single barrel expressions. Port finished, wine finished, whisky finished, double aged, soleras. Terroire specific, national or regional styles. Sweet or dry or salty, briny or rubber-laden, floral, fruity, and just spanning the gamut of any palate whatsoever. You got a peculiar taste of any kind, there’s guaranteed to be a rum for you out there.

4. Yes, they also have long defunct distilleries producing rums off the scale. So please stop weeping about Port Ellen and shed a tear for Caroni instead. You’ll feel better and may even have some success in re-opening it.

5. Are produced around the world, and always have been. Whiskies are now in Japan, and Bangalore and a few other places, but rums? Friggin’ everywhere. The variety this introduces is simply astounding. I won’t go so far as to say all varieties are great or even pleasing, but the fact that there are as many kinds as there are is reason to cheer. Nobody has a lock on rum, and nobody gets to set the tone.

6. Nobody looks at you as if you were a moron (or should be guillotined), were you to add a rum to a cocktail. In fact, I posit that soft drinks were invented to add to rum cocktails. Rums can be had neat or mixed or dandified, all depending on palate preference and peculiarity. The only other spirit to which this can really apply is vodka.

7. No rules (bit of a double edged sword, this one) and therefore easier to make. Sugar, yeast, maybe molasses, wooden barrels and off you go. And it’ll even be legal!!! And you can call it a rum!!. Try doin’ that with a tequila or a scotch whisky and the claymores will be out in Caledonia before you can say “Maltmonster likes rum.”

8. Few excellent, lovely, massively aged rums ever got poured into a mixing vat to make “just another blend” (an accusation often hurled at conglomerates who make, oh, Johnny Walker). Hippie once grumbled that far too much excellent tipple of his preference got made into cheap blends rather than being issued on its own…I feel for you buddy.

9. You’ll always be at home in any tropical clime, and maybe all the cold ones, and have loads of new friends, the moment you crack a bottle, yours or his. It won’t even be the best, but maybe some high wine or white lightning made in the man’s backyard. He’ll offer you his sister and be your friend for life. Plus, you’ll get hammered. I simply can’t praise this attitude enough.

10. If you’re a writer on alcohol like me, you won’t have to compete with ten thousand other websites dedicated to your passion, but merely a few ten or so. Instant recognition! You’ll be well known, faster! Girls will like you, wives will leave you. Against that, you have gimlet eyed lawyers making sure you don’t infringe some obscure cocktail’s trademark, or idjits who always think they know more than you taking pot shots, but whoever said public websites were problem-free?

I’m aware I’ll never swing lovers of other drinks to the side of the good stuff. I mean, like, ever. Gents who have their favourite tipples are as fanatic about their drinks of choice as fundamentalists biting the heads off snakes while speaking in tongues. I’m more likely to find the English Harbour 25 year old selling for twenty five bucks (though there was this one time…). I expect my fellow Liquorites and their malty friends (who may also be my friends) to take up arms here and post long winded, sarcastic diatribes about how I’ve lost my mind, my senses and maybe even my friends if I continue to spew such twaddle. Sorry guys. I miss my drinks over here. I’d even drink a Glen Muddy 1957 if I could ever find one, I’m that down about the whole situation (this may be punishment enough for the sedition and heresy I’m peddling, so spare a sad thought for me when not thinking about the Caroni).

Did I mention my last point?

11. Yeah…they do taste better

(NB: The author wishes to state categorically that he does indeed drink all the other spirits mentioned here, and has no special beef for or against any of them, except in so far that rums are the best).

 

 

 

 

 Posted by on March 31, 2014 at 9:23 pm
Mar 192014
 

D3S_8427-001

 

These three rums are aged curiosities. There’s one from the 60s, and two from the 70s. Information on their origins is maddeningly obscure. The labels are crap, and the corks aged and faded and cracked by decades of rough handling. There’s never been a review of any that I was able to find, and their makers are likely long gone. Yet these three bottles exist, and if for no reason than their history, I review them here, make what remarks I can, score them as best I’m able.

Italy in these days is no stranger to rums, of course. Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation is the name that springs immediately to mind, and Campari recently bought the brands of Appleton and Coruba. Yet in rum’s heydey of the forties and fifties, there were many small outfits that matured their own stocks and brought out limited craft spirits to tempt the palates of those living La Dolce Vita. Some of these were real spirits of the kind we know and enjoy today, but many were what were called “Fantasy rums” – products made from caramel syrup with industrial alcohol, to which various herbs and spices (and in other cases young Jamaican rums), were then added. They were used for baking additives, pastries, or even as digestifs, not so much as sipping rums. They certainly don’t taste like molasses based products.

This to many purists, and according to modern EU rules, disqualifies them from being called rums, and they share similar DNA, then, with Tanduay, Stroh and Mekhong – they edge close to the line without ever quite stepping over it. As before with those examples, I’ll call them rums just because they’re labelled that way and to give them a home.

Anyway, knowing all this, what are they like?

D3S_8436

  • Rhum Fantasia “Stravecchio” Masera 1974
  • Bottled by Seveso Milan
  • Amber coloured, 40%

Nose: Much more of a rum profile than the other two. caramel, brown sugar, peaches and apricots – nice. Soft on the nose, very easy going, with hints of vanilla

Palate: Pleasant and gentle on the tongue, no real spice going on here: medium bodied, a little dry. Vanilla comes out punching, without being overwhelming. Caramel and burnt sugar dominate the taste at the beginning, and then give way to peanut brittle. A shade salty, even buttery, with a pleasant background of walnuts and crushed almonds

Finish: Short. Doesn’t want to piss you off. Toffee and nuts on the close, without lasting long enough to make an impression.

Final score: 66/100

D3S_8441

  • Tocini Fantasia Rhum 1976
  • Bottled by Tocini Company
  • Brown black with ruby tints, 40%

Nose: Slightly sharp, heavy on red/black grape wine; tons of fruit aromas – prunes, blackberries. Reminds me a lot of grappa. Some chocolate, apples, apricots. Licorice comes through after it opens up. Pretty good sniffer, nice and rich.

Palate: Reasonably smooth to taste, a little spicy, not much – medium bodied rum (really love the colour). Loads of licorice – may be too much for some. Back end notes of vanilla and some blackberries, but they’re subtle against the black stuff, which doggedly holds on as if scared to let go.

Finish: Pleasant enough, once the licorice fades out. A bit rough and then stays for a long goodbye, with vanilla and brown sugar notes making a belated appearance.

Final Score: 72/100

 D3S_8439

  • Pagliarini Rhum Fantasia from the 1960s
  • Bottled by Pagliarini Distillery, Municipality of Romani di Lombardo
  • Dark ruby red, 40%

Nose: Thin, striking nose of red cherries, red grapes, and somewhat herbal, like freshly mown wet grass. No real rum profile here: would rate it higher if it had more oomph. Really taste the additional flavourings…pomegranates, some ripe oranges, more cherries, sorrel.

Palate: Soft and round on the tongue, provides comfort without anger. That redness reminds me of sorrel, and so does the taste: plus added notes of fennel, rosemary, cherry syrup. Damn but this is sweet, and not with brown sugar notes either – in fact, this has the least “rum-like” profile of the three. It’s a bit too much sugar: no driness or ageing evident here, and that sinks it for me.

Finish: will o’ the wisp, disappears the moment you look for it, much like the Cheshire Cat; though, like that feline’s grin, it retains a smile of sweet cherry syrup and rosemary to see you on your way home. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Final Score: 62/100

***

At end, it’s unlikely these rums will be easily acquired or even sought after – I may actually have bought among the last bottles extant (and given their shabby state when they arrived, that wouldn’t surprise me). They have been overtaken by other spirits that taste similar and don’t call themselves rum. It’s likely that I paid the price I did because of their age and rarity, which is fine ‘cause I’m interested in the subject and was curious — but if you’re a fanatic about these matters and prefer a more traditional rum profile, I’d suggest you only try any Fantasias that cross your path if you can get them for free. It’s an expensive indulgence any other way, especially if they’re as old as these, and you may not like them much.

Unless of course you’re baking with them, in which case, avanti!

***

 

Closing note: Thanks to Luca Gargano of Velier, Cyril of DuRhum and Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation, who very kindly provided background information I used to write this article.

 

 

 Posted by on March 19, 2014 at 7:46 am
Feb 252014
 

D3S_8412

 

A paradox of rum, marrying a lighter than expected profile with a stunningly intense full proof taste, compliments of the House of Luca

(#179. 81/100)

 ***

When I first poured a shot of the Velier Blairmont 1991 15 year old rum into my glass (after having waited over a year and a half for the privilege), I immediately remarked its colour: a straw coloured light amber rum. After sampling five other Veliers in the past year, all of which were dark, brawny, bearded beefcakes, this came as something of a surprise.

According to the literature on the bottle, seven barrels of the rum were distilled in Blairmont on a French Savalle still in 1991, and 1,913 bottles resulted in March 2006. Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, seems to have unprecedented access to old and mouldering barrels of rums from DDL’s warehouses, judging from the variations he keeps putting out, and one thing is clear – the man knows how to put a rum together. This is no slight against that other Italian whose products I enjoy enormously (Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation), but the two men are not really comparable except in so far as they both issue superlative rums, since they follow differing philosophies in how they make them.

This difference is most clearly discerned in the strengths of Velier’s rums – all of them are bottled at a proof greater than 50% (the Blairmont was 56%). And this was immediately evident as I nosed it: yes it had strength, but in no way was it either sharp or nasty or an assault on the senses. The initial scent was one of freshness and zest, of honey, deep, softer to nose than the strength would suggest. This was followed by orange peel and some sharper fruits…half ripe mangoes, green grapes, apples, with a flirt of softer peach in there somewhere, mixed up with a faint nuttiness. Nice. It was more herbal than one would imagine a rum from Demerara to be (although Blairmont Estate is actually on the immediate west bank of the Berbice River).

D3S_8421

The palate was similarly excellent, being medium bodied, golden and having a clarity of taste that reminded me of a good green tea. Crisp and snappy, a bit sweet, something like a Riesling on steroids; orange and cinnamon notes crept out to have their moment in the sun, followed by more green tea and some lighter honey notes. The depth and intensity of flavours was well handled, and even at 56%, I felt that here was rum I would sip neat with no issues at all. And as could be expected, the finish took its time, was clear and well balanced, leaving me with the memories of flowers, caramel (just a bit), fresh grass and newly sawn wood.

Velier is a company formed by the Italian Luca Gargano, and he’s made nothing I haven’t liked so far. He began life as a brand rep for St James in Martinique, but eventually formed his own company to market odd variations of the agricoles he found in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Once he discovered Guyanese rums he bottled as many as he could find (it’s possible that his greatest find has been the Skeldon 1973 32 year old), and while this may be anecdotal, I think they have all attained cult status among die-hard aficionados. He’s been fortunate to have an excellent relationship with Yesu Persaud, the (now retired) chairman of DDL, who provided him with unprecedented access to their warehouses.

It’s become sort of a personal crusade for me to find these odd and rare rums that are issued (or not) on a regular basis, not least because finding something like the Blairmont, buying it and tasting it and writing about it, adds to the store of reviews available in the world. I think it’s a spectacular rum, noses well, tastes phenomenal and is, at end, both terrific and leaves me wanting more. I don’t often issue hagiographies, but in this case, my advice is to try anything you can find by this company, because Luca sure knows what he’s doing, and he isn’t bottling a whole lot.

A:8/10 N:21/25 T:22/25 F:18/25 I:12/15 TOT: 81/100

Mon ami Cyril of DuRhum.com, has done a two part interview with Luca which I promised to help translate, and have not yet done. However, both French parts and a decent English version exist in the links below

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.
 Posted by on February 25, 2014 at 9:39 am