Ruminsky

May 042016
 

Mana'o 1

Cool stoicism and subdued power, all in one rhum.

(#270. 84/100)

***

Standard “table” white rums have always been around, and perhaps appeal more to those mix them into gentle cocktails and go on to play Doom II  on “Please Don’t Hurt Me” difficulty.  In the main, the best known ones were — and are — filtered, light mixing agents which made to adhere to a philosophy best described as “We aim not to piss you off.” They excite a “ho-hum” rather than a “wtf?”

Not so the current crop of clear, unaged rums which have been making  an increasing splash in our small world and driving cocktail makers and barflies into transports of ecstasy.  They are more aggressive spirits in every way, often coming from pot-stills, with strong, assertive tastes that as often frighten as enthuse, and are admittedly tough to love.  French Island white agricoles, Cachacas (and clairins) are embodiments of this trend, which doesn’t stop other various makers from issuing variations from Jamaica, Guyana or Barbados (like the DDL High Wine, or Rum Nation’s Jamaican 57%, for example).

A new rhum aiming to break into this market reared its head in the 2016 Paris RhumFest – a product from, of all places, Tahiti, not the first country you would be thinking of as a bastion of the spirit.  The rhum was launched by Brasserie du Pacifique in late 2015, has a sleek looking website short on details, and when I drifted by Christian’s place in Paris a week or two back, he and Jerry Gitany insisted I try it. It aimed, I suspect, to straddle the mid-point of the white market – it was not so unique as the clairins, and not so filtered-to-nothing as the Lambs or Bacardis of the world.  In pursuing this philosophy, they’re channelling the French islands’ agricoles, carving themselves out a very nice niche for those who have a thing for such rums but would prefer less roughness and adventurousness than the clairins provide so enthusiastically.

Mana'o 2

Coming from first press sugar cane grown on the island of Taha’a (NW of Tahiti), it is made from a pot still (see my notes below), and presented itself as quite an interesting rhum. When gingerly smelled for the first time (at 50%, some caution is, as always, in order), you could see it had been toned down some – sure there were the usual wax and floor polish and rubber-turpentine leaders, they simply weren’t as potent as others I’ve tried. Vegetal, grassy, watery scents hung around the background, it was slightly more salt than sweet, and presented an intriguingly creamy nasal profile…something like a good brie and (get this) unsweetened yoghurt with some very delicate citrus peel.  

To taste it was, at the beginning, very robust, almost full bodied.  Just short of hot; and dry, dusty vegetals and hay danced across the palate immediately, accompanied by sweet sherbet and mint ice cream notes.  And that wax and polish stuff I smelled?  Gone like yesterday’s news.  As it opened up and water was added,it became very much more like a traditional agricole, with watery elements – sugar cane sap, white guavas, pears, cucumber, dill, watermelon – getting most of the attention, and lighter herbal and grassy tastes taking something of a back seat.  I said it started robustly, but in truth, after a while, it settled down and became almost light – it was certainly quite crisp and pleasant to drink, with or without water.  The fade was pretty good, long and lasting, salty and sweet at the same time, with some last hints of lemongrass, crushed dill, faint mint and olives finishing things off.

This was a well-behaved drink on all fronts, I thought.  It’s not terribly original, and my personal preferences in such whites run closer to more untamed, barking mad clairins and the higher-proofed French agricoles — but you could easily regard this as a decent introduction to the white stuff if you wanted more than a standard table tipple, but less than the deep pot still pungency coming out of Haiti. Sometimes we focus so hard on the Caribbean that we lose sight of new companies from other countries who are shaking things up in the rumworld and producing some pretty cool rums.  This looks be one of those, and I doubt you’d be displeased if you bought it.

Other notes

The website makes mention of the use of a “discontinuous pot still”. As far as I am aware, the term arose from a bad translation of the Spanish “alembique descontínuo” which is simply a pot still by another name.

It is unclear whether the Tahitian company Ava Tea, supposedly the oldest distillery in Tahiti, is directly involved in the making of this rhum, or just lent some technical expertise (and the pot still).

Mana’o means “to think” or “to remember” in Polynesian languages (including Hawaiian), and has many subtler shades of meaning. It’s probably a sly reminder that sugar cane originated in Asia.

rum-manao-rhum-blanc-051

Apr 282016
 

D3S_3879

A rum from Ago.  Perhaps only a Guyanese or a retired British Navy man could truly love it.

(#269. 77/100)

***

For the most part, over the last months I’ve concentrated on fairly well known rums, made by bottlers with whom we’re all reasonably familiar. Today, I’m going to reach into the past a bit, to the Guyana Distillers El Dorado Bonded Reserve. Sorry, what? I can hear you say, You mean DDL don’t you, Mr. Caner? Yeah…and no.  This rum was made in the early 1980s before DDL changed its name, and in it was one of those hooches like the King of Diamonds, now long gone and out of production…in it, we can see what local rum was like before El Dorado was launched to the overseas market in 1992.  

Sampling this rum pulled back a curtain of the mind. As a young man, I had had it years ago, before DDL became what it now is, before craft rums and independent bottlers were up to their current stature, and way before the El Dorado line had established itself as one of the baselines of the rum world. You’re not going into the extreme past like with the G&M Longpond 1941, St Andrea 1939 or even the St James 1885, no…but the Bonded Reserve does demonstrate how fast the rum world has in fact evolved since those days – because I cannot remember trying anything quite like it in recent memory.

It was an old bottle.  The label was faded and old fashioned, the tinfoil cap spoke to different days.  Even the bottle glass looked worn and tired. Within it was a 40% rum that decanted a golden rum into the glass.  It smelled thin and dusty, with not much going on at the inception – some smoke and leather and vanilla, a touch of caramel and grapes, raisins, with some cumin and molasses to round things out, all quite subdued and tepid.

D3S_3880Tasting the Bonded Reserve raised all sorts of questions, and for anyone into Mudland rums, the first one had to be the one you’re all thinking of: from which still did it come?  I didn’t think it was any of the wooden ones – there was none of that licorice or fruity intensity here that so distinguishes them. It was medium to light bodied in texture, very feebly sweet, and presented initially as dry – I’d suggest it was a column still product. Prunes, coffee, some burnt sugar, nougat and caramel, more of that faint leather and smoke background, all rounded out with the distant, almost imperceptible murmuring of citrus and crushed walnuts, nothing special. The finish just continued on these muted notes of light raisins and molasses and toffee, but too little of everything or anything to excite interest beyond the historical.

To be honest, the rum was so divergent from the firm, crisp, well-known profiles of todays’ Demeraras that it suggested an almost entirely different product altogether.  It could just as easily have been a Trini or Bajan rum, or even (with some imagination) a softer spanish-style product.  Given that it won a double gold medal in Leipzig in 1982, one can only hazard that the competition that year was feeble, and the rum rennaissance through which we fortunate beings are currently living through had yet to gather a head of steam.

In fine, then, it’s almost, but not quite, an historical artifact.  It’s no longer for sale, isn’t being made, and it was by mere happenstance that I saw this on the Whisky Exchange in 2014 and had some spare cash left over . Rating it might do it an injustice, because you’ll look long and hard to ever find its twin…I might have bought the last one.  

So, how do I put this? Well, let’s see – it’s a rum, contains alcohol, and that’s nice; it’s not entirely bad, or undrinkable.  It will do good things to your cocktail, and there’s my recommendation for it, I guess, because at the end, assuming you ever see a bottle, you probably won’t ever enjoy it any other way.  

Other notes

Peter’s Rum Labels in Czech Republic have this exact label on file, but noted as being made by DDL. DDL was formed in 1983 when Diamond Liquors (Sandbach-Parker’s company) and Guyana Distillers (Booker McConnell’s) were merged.  So this rum had to be made between the time of the medal it won in 1982 and the creation of DDL in 1983.  That would explain how I was able to still find it to drink in 1985 in many shops in Georgetown and the countryside.

Guyana Distillers was based out of Uitvlugt, which goes a long way to clarifying the lack of a characteristic or familiar profile, since their still was a four column French Savalle still, producing several different kinds of rum. Based on my tasting, I’d suggest the rum is less than five years old…maybe three or so.

Apr 252016
 

D3S_5678

For me this is a rum that evokes real nostalgia, even though I’ve mostly moved past it.

(#268 / 82/100)

***

I enjoy storytelling, but if rambling background notes and local anecdotes are not your thing, skip three paragraphs.

It was a fact of life in Guyana in the 1980s and 1990s that as one moved up the income scale from poor to less poor, one upgraded from Lighthouse matches to bic lighters to zippos; from leaky, loosely packed Bristol cigarettes to Benson & Hedges (gold pack, preferably made in the UK, not Barbados), and stopped swilling the pestilential King of Diamonds (which nowadays has gained stature only by being long out of production), younger XMs and High Wine rums, in favour of the somewhat more upscale Banks DIH 10 year old.

Alas, as a young man just growing out of training wheels and nappies, my slender purse (and near nonexistent income) relegated me to matches, Bristols and XM five, which my best friend John and I smoked and swilled in quantities that makes me shudder these days.  We’d sit in the convival open-air tropical atmosphere of Palm Court, smoke up a storm (killing those butch Mudland-sized mosquitoes in their thousands), and call happily to our favourite waiter who knew us on sight “Double five, coke an’ a bowl a ‘ice, Prince!” followed by  “Keep ‘em comin’ bai! Me nah wan’ see de bottom o’ de glass.” I somehow suspect that were we to get together one of these years, John and I, this routine would not change appreciably, as long as Prince is still around.

D3S_5672Starting as “Demerara Ice House” (there really was an ice factory in Water Street, and yes, it’s still there) and now called D’Aguiar’s Industries and Holdings (hence the DIH) at the beginning of the 20th century, the D’Aguiar family built up a huge food and drinks conglomerate, of which rums remain a relatively small part – they were and remain one of the first and largest bottlers in the Caribbean. They have a huge facility right outside Georgetown in the fragrantly named “Thirst Park”, they make beer, soft drinks, distilled water (among many other consumer nibbles) and with respect to rums, act as blenders, not makers like DDL. Their best known rums back then were the 5, 10 and 15 year old, the Premium Blend, and to this has currently been added a VXO, 12 year old, a White and XM “Classic”. Legend has it they have a rum or two squirrelled away that’s 20 or 25 years old, but I never saw it myself.

All right, so much for the reminiscing.  What we had here was a tubby bottle quite different from the slim one I recall, containing a dark orange-gold rum bottled at 40%.  The XM in the title stands for “eXtra Mature” and has always been a sort of informal title for the rums, since nobody ever refers to them as “Banks” – that moniker refers to the company’s beer. It was aged for close on to ten years in bourbon barrels, and then finished for another six months or so in cognac barrels, which allows the company to wax rhapsodic in its marketing materials about this being “a cognac of rums”.

Smelling the XM 10 made me wonder whether there wasn’t some Enmore or Port Mourant distillate coiling around inside, even if it’s true they don’t buy anything from DDL.  It was warm and not too sweet, pungent with wet cardboard, cereal, vanilla, licorice, dried fruits and some faint rubbery, waxy undertones stopping just short of medicinal.  It lacked heft, which was not too surprising given the standard strength, though most casual drinkers would have little to find fault with here – it was perfectly serviceable, if ultimately not earth-shaking in any way.

To taste it was quite good, and demonstrated some agreeable heft for a 40% rum (it reminded me somewhat of the Pusser’s 15 in that regard).  Medium bodied, soft and quite warm, there was also a queer kind of thin-ness to the overall profile, which fortunately did not transmute into any kind of unpleasant sharpness.  It entered with a sort of dusty driness, started with tart flavours of mango and anise and ginger cookies, then softened to flavours of red olives, vanilla, caramel, some light toffee, overripe cherries and bananas – overall, after some minutes the lasting impression it left on my mind was one of light sweetness and licorice, and the finish followed gently along from there, being warm and pleasantly lasting. It did not provide anything new or original over and beyond the taste, simply placed a firm exclamation point on the easy going profile that preceded it.  

D3S_5677My own opinion was that it lacked body and needed a firmer texture…the XM 10, while not exactly anorexic, gave the impression of having rather more potential than actuality, and the flavours, decent and tasty enough by themselves, suffered somewhat from dumbing things down to standard strength (this may be my personal preferences talking — I’ve gone on record many times in stating that 40% is just not good enough for me anymore — so take that bias into account).  On the other hand, maybe it’s like the DDL 12 year old, a bridge to the better rums in the XM universe like the 12 and the 15…and since I obtained those the other day, once I review them I can tell you whether this paucity of character is a characteristic of this rum only, or some sort of preference of the master blender that permeates the line. Honestly, I hope it’s the former.

Other notes:

I find the cheap tinfoil cap to be somewhat surprising for a ten year old rum.

As far as I know, Banks DIH no longer buy their bulk stock from Diamond and have no sugar cane fields or processing facilities of their own, which leads to rather more questions than answers, but one thing is clear – if they don’t use Guyanese sugar, molasses or rum stock, it can’t rightly be called a Demerara rum (and in fact, they don’t).  But let’s see if they answer an email I shot their way to settle the question.

I was treated with extreme courtesy by Jerry Gitany and Christian de Montaguère at the latter’s eponymous shop in Paris last week: after selecting a raft of rums – about seventeen altogether –  I plundered ten of their opened stocks, of which this was one.  The Little Caner might have been bored out of his mind for the three hours it took me to work my way through those ten samples (it was meant to be only six…Jerry kept opening new bottles for me to try and my resistance was weak),  but I had a wonderful time.  Merci beaucoup, mes amis.

Apr 222016
 

Enmore

It is a rum of enormous taste and great breadth of profile…and if it had been a little less serious, a little more forceful, I would have called mine Falstaff.

(#267. 89/100)

***

In spite of its light blonde colour, there has always been something dark and dour, almost Heathcliff-ish, about the Enmore rums, including this 1988 variation (maybe it’s the bottle design of black-on-dark-red). It’s a brilliantly done piece of work, a drone-quality delivery system for ensuring your taste buds get every bit of nuance that can be squeezed out.  And that, let me tell you, is quite a bit.

So many people have written about Velier and its products (myself among them), in particular the Demeraras which made the company’s reputation, that I won’t rehash the background, as there are sufficient reference materials out there for anyone to get the details. With respect to this rum, however, some additional information is necessary.  According to the label, it was continental aged, not the more heavily hyped tropical ageing that Velier espouses these days.  Also, since it was distilled in November 1988 and bottled in March of 2008 it’s actually a nineteen year old rum, not twenty (which is why I’ve titled the review that way).  And lastly, it  was not one of those rums Velier selected in situ in Guyana and then bottled, but originally shipped to Europe in bulk and then chosen for bottling there.  So in these respects it is somewhat at a tangent to more famous rums from the Italian company.

Does this matter to me?  Not really.  I like the wooden stills’ outputs as a whole, and have tried several Enmores, including the too-weak EHP issued by DDL itself in 2007.  Overall, rare as they are, they are all worth (mostly) the coin, and if my love is more given to Port Mourant rums, this one does the brand no dishonour.  In fact, it’s a very good product, adhering to many of the pointers we look for in rums from Guyana in general, and Velier in particular.

EHP_2

Getting right into it, I loved the nose…it was just short of spectacular, opening with coffee, toffee, and anise.  Rich thick petrol and wax and shoe polish aromas developed rapidly, but they were well dialled down and in no way intrusive. Newcomer to rum who read this may shake their heads and ask “How can anyone taste crap like that and like it?” but trust me on this, the melding of these smells with the emergent molasses and fruity background, is really quite delicious, and I spent better than fifteen minutes coming back to it, over and over again,

Hay blonde (or light gold) in colour, one might think this meant a wussie little muffin of a rum. Nope. It was bottled at a mouth watering 51.9%, tasting it was a restrained kinetic experience – not on the level of the >60% beefcakes Velier occasionally amuses itself with (you know, the kind of rums where you can hear the minigun shells plinking on the ground as you drink) but sporting a taste vibrant enough to shake the shop I was in, if not so fiery as to require tongs to lift and pour. Medium-to-full bodied, the initial attack was straw, cedar, hay, dust and very little sweet of any kind.  The wax and petrol, and smoky flavours were all there, yet not at all dominant, more a lighter counterpoint to others, which, after a few minutes, began a slow and stately barrage across the palate: dried dates, raisins, tart ripe mangoes, cloves, papaya, flowers, dark chocolate and a slight briny sense underlying it all. It was, I must stress, quite a powerful overall drink, in spite of it not being as strong as others I’ve tried over the years. “Firmly intense” might describe it best.

The finish was one to savour as well. It was of medium length, a little dry, and gave up no particularly new notes to titillate, merely developed from the richness the preceded it.  Some additional sweet came forward here, a vague molasses and caramel, more chocolate – the best thing about it was a lovely creaminess at the back end, which did not detract in the slightest from dark fruits, more freshly sawn wood, a little smoke, brine and chocolate.

Velier was bottling rums since around 2000, and for my money their golden years occurred when they issued the best of the Demeraras, around 2005-2010 – that’s when the 1970s editions rolled out (like the Skeldon and PM, for example). And if, good as it is, the Enmore 1988 doesn’t ascend quite to the heights of many others, no lover of Demerara rums can fail to appreciate what Luca did when he issued it. The Enmore falls right into that band of remarkable Velier offerings, and the romantic in me supposes that it was made at a time when Luca was mature enough in his choices to pick well, but still young enough to remember the reasons why he loved rums in the first place.  All the reasons he loved them. This rum is one of the showcases of the still, the country, and the man.

Other notes

419 bottle outturn from two barrels.

Personal thanks and a big hat tip go to Pietro Caputo of Italy, who sent me the sample gratis.

Top and bottom pictures come from Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged-Mind, who also reviewed this rum.

Enmore 1988 1

 

Apr 132016
 

D3S_3647

A tasty, unaged, pot-still white rum, which St. Nicholas Abbey seems to have made while in a playfully experimental phase.

(#266. 83/100)

***

So there I was last week, reading through my notes and writing unenthusiastically about the 3 year old “Real McCoy” white rum from Barbados, which found little favour with me.  But consider this unaged counterpart made right up the road from St. Nicholas Abbey, also issued at 40%, also a white and in just about every way a superior product.  What could account for such a difference? Well, part of it is the lack of filtration, another is the source – it is a full pot still product, not a blend of pot and column. Double distilled and with a longer than usual fermentation period (5 days plus two more of “resting”).  

Whatever the case, unaged white pot still rums are getting quite a bit of attention these days, moving the rum world away from dependable silver mixing agents whose name everyone knows, to something a bit more…well, adventurous. Clairins and agricoles have always been around and are leading the charge, but cachacas are making some waves too, and if more makers like Nine Leaves, St. Nicks and Rum Nation and others are spending time and money on making them, the next few years will be quite interesting on that front.

This particular rum tried very hard to walk the line between too much and too little, and succeeded pretty well: not for St. Nicks’s was the dumbing down of their product to appeal to a mass market by making a rum that wouldn’t offend anyone; and yet dialling up the volts to something that would be polarizing was not for them either.  They issued it in a smart looking bottle, at a tolerable 40%, and it was soothing enough to appeal without entirely disguising the potential and tamed wildness of its antecedents.

A rum like the White can only really be appreciated by trying it in tandem with rums like it up and down the scale.  For example, take the aromas: wax, olives, paraffin wax, floor polish and brine leaped out of the glass, and I know how unappetizing that sounds (I was fortunate in that I’ve tried more potent popskull and so I kinda knew what to expect).  But if you compare it with the DDL  Superior High Wine,  Rum Nation Pot Still 57%, or the Clairin Sajous, (or the Vaval, or the Casimir) which all packed more punch, you could make a reasoned argument that 40% really works for a larger drinking audience with rums like this. The character of the rum might be dampened a bit, yet it’s still there, singing as chirpily as a cageful of canaries. And be comforted…after some minutes the nose does even out a bit, bringing forward more floral notes, the light sugariness of candyfloss, papaya and sugar water…even a flirt of light honey.  However, it should be noted that there were few signs of any of that vegetal, grassy smell which is so prevalent in agricoles.

The taste was also quite intrguing.  I was expecting that oily, paraffin bedrock to continue, and indeed, this was there, just not that dominant.  The profile, which began with some heat, was reasonably smooth, sweet, light and clear, presenting anise, flowers and ripe cherries that kept what most would call unpleasant off-notes in the background, where they contributed a note or two — the floor polish was noticeable, for example — without overwhelming the taste outright.  With water additional cinnamon, whipped cream and crushed walnuts could be discerned, and the finish, while short, was very crisp and clear, without any driness at all.  Considering that I walked up to the St. Nick’s not expecting much of anything, it was a very pleasant surprised to be pampered by the overall worth of what I initially took to be just another throwaway white mixer.

Summing up, then, I think this is a very good all purpose white rum, and if it does not ascend to the heights of crazy as exemplified by the stronger rums noted above, you can see it had the potential to do so had they decided to beef it up some more.  It retained enough character and zest to stand by itself and possesses sufficient off notes to enhance whatever cocktail you’re thinking of dunking it into.  In that sense, it’s a great “bridge” rum —  it can be for both drinking neat or mixing, and would neither alienate those who despised the more elemental pot still whites, nor piss off the guys who prefer something that gives more bassa-bassa.  When you think about it, for any clear rum to pull off that trick is quite a feat, and that’s part of why the St. Nick’s product (and many agricole white rums) succeeds, when the white McCoy three year old, or other industrial white mixing fodder like Bacardi Superior so sadly don’t.  And it also succeeds, for my money, because it had the guts to actually go somewhere new.

Other notes

The source distillate in this case is not FourSquare, but St. Nick’s own stocks, from their own sugar cane.

Apr 102016
 

Barbancourt Reserve Speciale

Rumaniacs Review 021

Here’s a pretty decent, if somewhat anorexic, rhum from Haiti, courtesy of the House of Barbancourt.  The name “Réserve Spéciale” is still in use, and refers these days to an eight year old, but so scarce is any kind of information on the sample I was provided (even getting a photo was problematic hence the lousy quality of the one you see here), that for me to say it was an eight year old back then is an educated guess, not a fact.  Still, info or no info, a sample was sent, and there it is and here we are. It’s not something a rum junkie can ignore.

Colour – dark amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Thin and yet still very aromatic.  Lots going on here – light cherries, and dark prunes, fried bananas and french bread covered over with green grape skins and dark chocolate (I know how that sounds, believe me) – the way it all comes together is tailor made for leisurely sniffing.

Palate – For a rum this dark, it’s surprisingly delicate…y’know, like a sumo wrestler wearing heels.  Heated with a sly citrus sharpness to leaven it all. More plums and ripe cherries carrying over from the nose, to which is added grapes, black olives, vanilla, cinnamon and some cardamon as it develops.  With water not much changes, some vague grassier hints round things out.  It’s actually quite a smooth product, once it settles down. Still lacks real body though.

Finish – Short and easy, warm and fragrant.  Florals, lemon zest, grass, vague but unidentifiable fruitiness plus some vanilla. A bit too thin, really, but I concede that what it does present is nothing to sneeze at.

Thoughts – Nothing much to say.  A decent agricole all the way through.  The modern Barbancourt series are not very far away from this, which says a lot about the overall consistency of the line through the decades.

(83/100)

Opinion

Sometimes even a short series of notes like those above illustrate larger points about the rum universe.

What is becoming clearer as I do these reviews, is that while independent bottlers take care to keep track of and list every one of their offerings — including from which country, from what year and at what strength — more commercial “country-based” makers (like DDL, Barbancourt, Mount Gay, Angostura, St. Lucia Distilleries, Flor de Cana, the Travellers, the Jamaicans etc etc) who keep a single line of rums stable for many years, never really bother.  That’s why Carl Kanto could mourn the passing of older DDL rums marketed in the pre-El-Dorado days, of which no trace, no list, no photograph, no profile, and no sample remains.

I believe that in these cloud based internet days, every rum maker owes it to the generations to come to preserve a complete set of every rum they have ever made, are making, and will make — in writing and in photographs, and maybe with a few cases squirrelled away in a vault someplace.  It may seem like a waste now, but in fifty years it would be a treasure beyond price.  And as we all get older ourselves, haven’t we all noted that the years are passing more quickly? That fifty years will be gone in a heartbeat.

 

 

 

Apr 092016
 

D3S_3629

Bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts will get more out of this than I ever will. It redefines the word “understated.”

(#265. 74/100)

***

Knowing how I have never been entirely satisfied with rums from Barbados, I decided to buy a few about which many have waxed rhapsodic, followed that up with trying as many as I could at the 2015 Berlin rumfest, and continued on the theme by begging my friends in Europe for samples of their personal stocks of independent bottlers’ Bajans.  Let’s see if I can’t get to the bottom of why — with just a few exceptions — they don’t titillate my tonsils the way so many others have and do.

Such as this white three year old from the “Real McCoy” company, which is using stocks from FourSquare. Others have written about Bill McCoy, a Prohibition era rumrunner who never adulterated his stocks (some of which came from, er, FourSquare, according to a documentary made by Bailey Pryor).  Apparently Mr. Pryor was so enthused by what Bill McCoy had done that he approached Richard Seale with a view to creating a modern equivalent: and after some time, the 3 year old white, a 5 year old and a 12 year old were out the door in 2014.  This one is a blend of copper pot and column still distillate, 40% ABV, aged in American ex-bourbon oak, and an offering to bartenders and barflies and mixologists everywhere.

D3S_3629-001

Part of my dissatisfaction with filtered white rums meant for mixing was demonstrated right away by the aromas winding up through my glass: I had to to wait around too long for anything to happen. The nose was warm and faintly rubbery, with some faint tannins in there, sugar water, light cream,and a green olive hanging around with maybe three marshmallows.  A flirt of vanilla loitered around in the back there someplace but in fine, I just couldn’t see that much was going on. “Subtle” the marketing plugs call it. “Pusillanimous” was what I was thinking.

To be fair, a lot more started jumping out of the glass when the tasting started.  It was crisper and clearer and firmer than the nose, a little peppery, more vanilla, cucumbers, dill, ripe pears, sugar cane sap.  It’s not big, it’s not rounded, and the range of potential tastes was too skimpy to appeal to me.  Skimpy might work for a bikini, but in a rum it’s a “Dear John” letter, and is about as enthusiastically received.  The finish?  Longish – surprisingly so, for something at 40%, though still too light. More sugar and dill, guavas and pears, and that odd olive made a small comeback. I’m sorry, guys, but this isn’t my thing at all. I want more.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to kick off the Barbados tour with a filtered white 3 year old.  It was thin, watery, too weak, and the tastes struggled to get out and make themselves felt.  Maybe it’s the charcoal filtration that takes out some of what I like in my rums.  The profile is there, you can sense it, just not come to grips with it…it’s tantalizingly just out of reach, and like the Doorley’s XO, it lacks punch and is simply too delicate for my personal palate.  For its price point and purpose it may be a tough rum to beat, mind you, but my personal preferences don’t go there. And having had white rums from quite a few makers who revel in producing fierce, joyous, in-your-face palate shredders, perhaps you can understand why something this easy going just makes me shrug and reach for the next one up the line.

 

Mar 302016
 

D3S_3715

One of the best five year old rhums ever made, and a showcase for the wonderful directions the profile of a rhum can take.

(#264 / 89/100)

***

If I was underwhelmed by the “standard” 45% 2012 Liberation, and shrugged at the 2010 version (both rated around low eighties scores), let me assure you that the 2012 “Integrale”, bottled at a mouth watering 59.8%, is a beast of an entirely different colour. If your sojourn into agricoles ever takes you to Guadeloupe rhums, you could do a lot worse than stop a while at Marie Galante, where Gianni Capovilla makes his home. Because this five year old blasts even its own siblings right out of the water.

The bottle and its cardboard enclosure – which boast the picture of a lobster and other creepy crawlies in a reference I’m sure I’m not  clever enough to understand – make no notes on the age statement, but running around the internet assures me it’s a five year old (as if the title didn’t already suggest it), aged in white oak barrels that once held sauternes white wine…Chateau d’Yquem from the domaine of Leflaive for those of you who are interested in such things.  The rhum derived from undiluted cane juice fermented for around ten days, which is quite a long time, relatively speaking – most distillers don’t ferment for more than five days, and many for less.  Double distillation took place in Bielle as part of a collaboration between Gianni Capovilla and Luca Gargano (a new distillery was built right next to Bielle with sugar coming from there), using small copper pot stills before being set to age. And of course, it was utterly unmessed with – no sugar, no dilution, no additives of any kind.

Because Guadeloupe has never sought the AOC certification, they seem to feel a childlike enthusiasm for going in any direction they feel inclined to on any particular day.  Here that succeeded swimmingly.  The nose presented an amazingly strong, fruity and clean profile right off the bat…plums and rich elderberries (of the kind Mrs. Caner doses me with every time I get a cold), crisp apples and pears, very little citrus of any kind, grassy and vegetal and almost perfumed.  Very mildly heavy, well balanced to the senses. To say I was impressed might be understating matters: it was something like  a slinky black cocktail dress mixed up with a Viennese ball gown, leavened with a helicopter gunship in full combat mode: three parts sensuality, two parts aggro and one of prurient decorum. Right out of the gate, this rhum was simply ludicrous: nothing this young should be this good.  And while it was younger then the Compagnie des Indes Guadeloupe, it was rounder, fruitier and more complex…in point of fact, it reminded me more of the J.M. 1995 which was three times older.

D3S_3718This amazing mix of class and sleaze and style continued without missing a beat when I tasted it.  Sure, 59.8% was something of a hammer to the glottis but man, it was so well assembled that it actually felt softer than it really was: I tried the Liberation on and off over four days, and every time I added more stuff to my tasting notes, becoming more impressed each time. The dark gold rhum started the party rolling with plums, peaches and unripe apricots, which provided a firm bedrock that flawlessly supported sharper tangerines and passion fruit and pomegranates.  As it opened up (and with water), further notes of vanilla and mild salted caramel came to the fore, held together by breakfast spices and a very good heat that was almost, but not quite, sharp – one could barely tell how strong the drink truly was, because it ran across the tongue so well.  

The fade was similarly impressive, lasting as long as the wait of an errant child for a father’s inevitable punishment: here the soft, firm roundness of the taste gave way to something drier and more assertive, yet this was not unpleasant by any stretch, and gave me final gifts of lemongrass, light brine, teriyaki, and more of those prunes, well dialled back.  In fine, a wonderful rhum all ‘round, and for its price, I think it’s a steal, five years old or not.  It adheres to all the style markers of the French West Indies, and then goes just a little bit further.

It’s just about impossible to get away from Velier and Mr. Gargano these days.  This is not to take anything away from Gianni Capovilla, by the way, because he’s the architect who understood and built on the dream that Luca espoused with this remarkable agricole rhum and so real credit is due to him also. But think about it: a decade ago just about nobody outside Italy ever heard of Velier or Luca, and yet today you can’t get into a discussion of pure rhums without his name popping up. 

That may be the key to why he has become so synonymous with pure rhums.  It’s not that he makes anything, produces anything, or distils anything.  What he does is choose.  He chooses the best of what’s out there in service to his personal values and and ideals, collaborates with the roneros and producers to share that vision…and then he brings the results to the attention of the world.  More, he articulates what is possible for everyone else.  Not all of his work succeeds, of course, but much of it does.  

And as we followed the man’s outturn through the years, we all saw the signposts: markers on the road of rhum discovery,  making our own sojourn that much more exciting, that much more interesting.  Offhand, I think of the dead serious Skeldon 1973 and PM 1974, the dour Caronis, the fine depth of the Damoiseau 1980, joined by the ribald insouciance of the Clairins…and now, by this lovely exemplar of Capovilla’s art.  I think I’ll linger here for a while, if you don’t mind, just to savour it some more.

Other notes

  • Outturn 1420 bottles
  • The “Liberation’ in the name refers to the liberation of the spirit from the barrels, and according to Cyril of DuRhum, the “Integrale” means “fullproof”.
Mar 242016
 

D3S_3795

A youngish agricole with slightly loopy tastes that makes one intrigued enough to take another sip….and another two or three after that.

(#263 / 83.5/100)

***

Cheap tinfoil cap aside, this may truly be one of the most original and striking bottle labels I’ve ever seen.  Painted right on, colourful, bright, lovely, and if I was still scoring such things, it would be tempting to add an extra point or two just to show how much it appeals.  The bottle shape was the same as the Extra Vieux I wrote about some months back, but man, the design was as jazzed up as the Tokyo downtown at rush hour, and it’s not alone: there are others in the company lineup sporting this kind of chirpy west indian vibe — Le Corsaire, Le Carbet, Le Galion, L’Amarreuse, and La Distilerie — all appear to be special editions of one kind or another.

This rhum was one of four Neissons I tried alongside each other (the Extra Vieux, the Vieux and the Cuvee 3me Millesime were the others), with two Rhum Rhum Liberations and a CDI Guadeloupe as additional controls; what struck me more than anything else about them was the overall consistency the Neissons shared.  And here’s the thing: though (barely) recognizable as an agricole, the rhum didn’t seem to be entirely sure it wanted to be one, something I already noted with the previous iteration.

D3S_3798Okay, I jest a little, but consider the nose on the 46% orange-gold spirit.  It displayed that same spicy, musky and almost meaty scent of salt butter and olives and tequila doing some bodacious ragtime, sweat and stale eau-de-vie going off in all directions.  It was thick and warm to smell, mellowing out into more fleshy, overripe (almost going bad) mangoes and papayas and pineapples, just not so sweet.  Spices, maybe cardamon, and some wet coffee grounds. At the back end, after a while, it was possible to detect the leather and smoke and slight bitter whisper of some wood tannins hinting at some unspecified ageing, but where was the crisp, clear aroma of an agricole? The grasses and herbaceous lightness that so characterizes the style?  I honestly couldn’t smell it clearly, could barely sense it – so, points for originality, not so much for recognition (though admittedly, that was just me, and your own mileage may vary; mon ami Cyril of DuRhum, for example, is probably shaking his head in disgust, since I know he likes these a lot…it was a conversation we had last year on the subject of Neisson agricoles that made me run out and buy it for us).

D3S_3797Still, there was little to find fault with once I actually got around to tasting the medium-going-on-heavy rhum.  Once one got past the briny, slightly bitter initial profile, things warmed up, and it got interesting in a hurry. Green olives, peppers, some spice and bite, sure, but there was softer stuff coiling underneath too: peaches, apricots, overripe cherries (on the verge of going bad); salt beef and butter again (the concommitant creaminess was quite appealing), and I dunno, a chutney of some kind, stuffed with dill and sage.  Like I said, really interesting – it was quite a unique taste profile. And the finish followed along from there – soft and warm and lasting, with sweet and salt and dusty hay mixing well – I am not reaching when I say it reminded me of the mingled dusty scents of a small cornershop in Guyana, where jars of sweets and medicines and noodles and dried veggies were on open display, and my brother and I would go to buy nibbles and maybe try to sneak into the pool hall next door.

Anyway, clearing away the cutlery: the Tatanka “Le Coupeur” is a limited edition, like all the other similarly designed products Neisson put out (it was distilled in 2010), and had an outturn of a mere 120 bottles, which explains something of the price differential with more standard rhums made by the company.  Aged in a single 190 liter bourbon barrel, Le Coupeur had a fascinating aroma, original taste, and is absolutely a rhum to experience when there is time on one’s hands.  I felt there was not that much difference between this rhum and the Extra Vieux, and my delight at its appearance aside, that one appealed a smidgen more. It’s a subtle kind of thing, having to do with texture, complexity, the way the tastes sidled up, had their moment and then crept away. There’s a great rhum in here someplace, and while it showcased potential more than true over-the-top quality, I’d suggest you can still take it to your best friend’s house for a special occasion without shame, because trust me, this is a five-year old that might just set his johnson on fire.

Other notes

  • Exclusive bottling for La Maison du Whisky
  • Age is unknown but given I bought mine in early 2015, it isn’t more than a five year old
  • Some background to the company is given in the write up of the Extra Vieux
  • This is an AOC rhum, conforming to all the regs required by the designation
  • Some have noted it is a whisky-like rhum, but I think it’s actually closer to a rhum-like tequila.
Mar 222016
 

D3S_3652

*

The yin to Velier’s yang approaches its own pit stop on the road to the end of the Age of Demeraras, with a worthy entry to the genre.

(#262. 89/100)

***

Because I have a thing for Demerara rums (and not just because I used to live in the neighborhood), I’m always interested in finding new ones…or old ones issued anew, take your pick.  The RN 1990 is a sad sort of milestone for the company, because it is one of the last of the deeply aged Demeraras the company will issue for some time, nearly depleting its stock of PM distillate which hail from 1990 and before.  I tried this in the 2015 Berlin Rumfest, and liked it so much that I indulged myself in multiple glasses at Rum Nation’s booth every time there was a lull in the action, earning me some rather frosty glares from the booth attendants (I picked up a bottle some time later).

As with other old top end rums Rum Nation issued in the past, these are at the summit of their food chain, and while I sort of miss the older wooden boxes and burlap packing that were used in the Jamaican and Demerara >20 YO series, I liked the new box design too.  Cool black cardboard enclosure, silver lettering, very elegant.  The old style bottle was retained (not the tubby one introduced in 2014) and it looked like what it was, a pricey old boy made by Italian stylists

D3S_3654

Let’s move right into the facts.  The rum was mahogany shot through with flashes of gold, 25 years old and bottled at a reasonable 45%, as most Rum Nation top enders have been. It originated from five casks bought in 2003 in the UK, transferred to oloroso sherry wood barrels in May 2004, and bottled in early 2014 (as a 23 year old which seems to be missing from my master list) and the remainder ended up in this run of 2015, of 850 bottles

Tasting notes….well, that PM profile is so very distinctive, that I must confess to some bias here just because, y’know, I like it. Licorice, ripe black cherries and chopped fruits led the way. The smell was deep and bordering on rich (the 45% held it back), and after settling down exhibited wood, vanilla, leather and some of the weird smell of light rain falling on coals, mineral and smoky and musky all at once – not unpleasantly so, more like a counterpoint to the main theme.

Somewhat spicy to the initial taste; that took a few minutes to settle down to a pleasing warmth. The solid notes of the familiar licorice and anise crept out, dominating, the slightly lighter acidity of green grapes and citrus peel which swirled around yet more hints of black olives, tannins and some brine.  There were some aromas of fleshier fruit – peaches, ripe apricots – faintly hanging around, not enough to nudge my opinion one way or the other, really, just nice to notice. The rum exhibited a driness and woody character that was more prevalent than I recalled from others sharing this kind of taste (like Rum Nation’s own 1985 or 1989 editions, the Cadenhead 1975, or the Norse Cask 1975, let alone Velier’s 1974 PM, the last three of which are admittedly something of a cheat, being so much older). Still, I enjoyed it a lot – the rum was warm, heavy, not too jagged, and even provided additional black cake and molasses to the taste buds, once some water was added. At 45% there was very little aggressiveness which needed to be tamed here, leading to a fade that was medium long, not too shabby (certainly not sharp) – dry, pungent, aromatic, displaying mostly cloves, licorice, molasses, vanilla, smoke, dill and maybe some black tea, freshly made.

I’m not entirely sure it needed the additional filip of sherrywood finishing, but that did provide an additional complexity to the more traditional profile of the PM which made up the rum, and it took its place as a worthwhile companion to all the Demeraras that had preceded it from that company. It’s a well made, professionally assembled, delectable sipping spirit, if the profile and strength are in line with what you demand from a Demerara rum aged for a quarter century.  Buyers will have little desire to quibble over how and what it delivers.  And that’s quite a bit..

 

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