Ruminsky

May 182016
 

Nine Leaves French 2

A love note to the concept of kaizen

(#274 / 84.5/100)

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kampei!

Other notes

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

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

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

Colour – hay blonde

Strength – 40%

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

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

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

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

(72/100)

May 152016
 

D3S_3819

There are few (if any) weaknesses here: conversely, not many stellar individual components either.  It’s just an all-round solidly assembled product that missed being greater by a whisker.

(#273 / 86/100)

***

So here we are, gradually inching up the scale of the Neissons, with a rum I felt was slightly better than the Tatanka I looked at some weeks ago.  Now, that one had a bright, colourful label to catch the eye (Cyril from DuRhum did a review of the lineup, here), and yet appearance aside, this one was, in my estimation, a smidgen better. It’s a subtle kind of thing, having to do with texture, taste, aroma and a quiet kind of X-factor that can’t be quite precisely quantified, merely sensed and noted.  But yes, I felt it was better.  In fact, it was the second best of the raft of Neissons I tried in tandem, and only the XO exceeded it.

Issued at a sturdy if uninspiring 43%, the Neisson Rhum Agricole Vieux 2005 is a nine year old rhum, an amber-red liquid sloshing around the standard slope-shouldered rectangular bottle which came in a sturdy, nicely done cardboard box. As with all Neisson products, it was AOC certified, self-evidently and agricole, and like its siblings up and down the ladder, had its own take on the way a rhum should be put together.

D3S_3822I speak of course of that oily, sweet salt tequila note that I’ve noted on all Neissons so far.  What made this one a standout in its own way was the manner in which that portion of the profile was dialled down and restrained on the nose – the 43% made it an easy sniff, rich and warm, redolent of apples, pears,and watermelons…and that was just the beginning.  As the rhum opened up, the fleshier fruits came forward (apricots, ripe red cherries, pears, papayas, rosemary, fennel, attar of roses) and I noted with some surprise the way more traditional herbal and grassy sugar cane sap notes really took a backseat – it didn’t make it a bad rhum in any way, just a different one, somewhat at right angles to what one might have expected.

I had few complaints about the way it tasted.  Again the strength made it an easy sipping experience, very smooth and warm and oily.  One thing that I always look for in a rhum is points of difference and originality, a divergence between smell and taste, for example, and the way one blends seamlessly into the other, with some elements disappearing, new ones appearing, and the way they dance together over time — the Neisson 2005 was very nice on that score, presenting as dry, yet also luscious, and just sweet enough.  In fact, that teriyaki style profile had almost totally been subsumed into a tangy, tart texture wound about with half-ripe yellow mangoes, lemon peel, the creaminess of salt butter on dark peasant bread, more fruits, nuts, florals, and some white guavas.  And all of that segued pleasantly into a medium length, velvety fade that gave up last notes of peaches, pecans, and more of that tartness I enjoyed.

There’s very little I disliked here – the texture might have been better, the strength might have been greater (Rhum Rhum Liberation 2012 Integrale did the job exceedingly well, for example though the Neisson really felt thicker to me in comparison).  Nothing major. What it did not do was excite any real passion aside from a rather clinical series of observations on my voluminous notes, like “Good!” and “Nice!” and “Tastes of…” and “Balance well handled” and so on.  I liked it and I would recommend it to you, no sweat, and my essay here provides all the technical notes one might require for an evaluation of its merits.

D3S_3821But I also didn’t get much in the way of wonder, of amazement, of excitement…something that would enthuse me so much that I couldn’t wait to write this and share my discovery.  That doesn’t make it a bad rhum at all (as stated, I thought it was damned good on its own merits, and my score reflects that)…on the other hand, it hardly makes you drop the wife off to her favourite sale and rush out to the nearest shop, now, does it?

Other notes

290 bottle outturn

Cyril wrote a much more positive 92-point review of the same rhum (in French), so you can compare his point of view and mine.

May 112016
 

D3S_3667

A wonderfully sippable AOC agricole from J.M. in Martinique

(#272 / 86.5/100)

***

The unquantifiable quality of the J.M. 1995 Très Vieux 15 Year Old has stayed with me ever since I first tried it.  Some aspects of the rhum did not entirely succeed, but I could never entirely rid my memory of its overall worth, and so deliberately sought out others from the stable of the company to see if the experience was a unique one.  And I am happy to report that the Millesime 2002 10 year old is a sterling product in its own way, and perhaps slightly exceeds the 1995…though with such a small difference in scores, you could just as easily say they are both excellent in their own ways and let it go at that.  

For all the enthusiasm of the above paragraph, it should be noted that sampled side by side, the two rhums are actually quite distinct products, each good in their own way, but not to be confused with one another.  Consider first the aromas hailing from this 46.3% orange gold rhum – they presented as quite fruity and aromatic, quite rounded and mellow, not always a characteristic of agricoles. As it opened up over the minute, flavours of cherries, red grapes, herbals, dill, sugar cane and grass rose gently out of it….and, if you can believe it, a sort of weird and persistent bubble-gum and Fanta melange that took me somewhat unawares, though not unpleasant by any means.

On the palate the texture was phenomenal, smooth and warm and assertive all at once.  There was little of the aridity of the 1995: it presented a sort of restrained spiciness to the senses; some vanilla and tannins were discernible, but very well controlled and held way back so as not to unduly influence what was a very well balanced drink. 46.3% was a good strength here, and allowed firm traditional vegetal and grassy notes to take their place, before gradually being replaced – but not overwhelmed – by citrus zest (that was the Fanta doing a bait-and-switch, maybe), mint, cucumbers, watermelon, papaya and rich, ripe white pears.  And then there was more…rye bread, salt butter, very delicate notes of coffee and chocolate…just yummy. It was an enormously well assembled rhum, luscious to taste and with walked a fine line between Jack Sprat and his wife…one could say it was like the last thing Goldilocks tried, being just right.  Some of the dry profile I had previously sensed on the 1995 was evident on the finish, but again, nothing overwhelming – it was warm and aromatic with light tangerines, spearmint gum, more ripe cherries and those delectable grapes I had noted before.  All in all, just a great sipping agricole, with similarities to the Karukera 2004, la Favorite Cuvée Privilège and maybe, if I stretched, even Damoiseau’s products.

D3S_3668

J.M. is located in northern Martinique at the foot of Mount Pele, and I’ve written a company summary in my review of the 1995, if you’re interested.  One fact that came to my attention afterwards was that JM char the inside of their barrels by setting fire to some high proof rum distillate, and then scraping the char off, which may have something to do with the fruity character of the aged rhums they put out.  The rhum itself was distilled on a creole copper pot still to 72% before being set to age and then diluted to “drinking strength.”  I wonder what would happen if they ever decided to take a chance and leave it cask strength.

Most people I speak to about agricoles, especially those who have tried just a few (or none), comment in a way that suggests they are considered pretty much all the same — grassy, herbal, watery, a trifle sweet maybe, and (horrors!) more expensive. A lot of this is true, but after having tried the marvellous variety of rhums from Martinique and Guadeloupe, the sharp industrial chrome of the whites versus softer aged products, I can say with some assurance that there is an equally dazzling variety within cane juice rhums as there is in the molasses based products. And this is one reason why in the last year I’ve really tried to write about as many of them as I could lay hands on. Trying the JM 2002 with its complex, layered and warm profile makes me glad the adventure still has some kinks in the road, and that I began it in the first place.

Other

  • Aged in Limousin oak
May 082016
 

D3S_3801

A lovely, light rum , as elegant as a Viennese waltz: it’s missing something at the back end, but nothing that would make me consider telling anyone to steer clear. 

(#271 / 85/100)

***

Compagnie des Indes so intrigued me when I first came across their Cuban rum back in early 2015, that I’ve already looked at two of their more offbeat products (from Fiji and Indonesia), and have detailed notes on five more commercially minded ones, which I’ll try to deal with in the next weeks and months (in between every other rum I want to write about).  This one hails from Guadeloupe and is a solid entry to the genre without breaking too much new ground or attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Bellevue is actually a subset of Damoiseau, and is separated from its better known big brother in order to distinguish its molasses rums from the cane juice products Damoiseau more commonly produces.  It’s located NE of Grand Terre (not Marie Galante…the other Bellevue which provided several iterations from Duncan Taylor and Cadenhead is there) . In 2015 CDI got in on the act when the issued this sixteen year old rum (it’s a whisker short of seventeen), but have made no effort to distinguish the two Bellevues (except to me, because I asked to clear up my confusion…thanks Florent.)

D3S_3802

It’s always useful to know ahead of time where an aged rum was in fact aged, because as many writers before me have pointed out, tropical maturation is faster than Continental ageing, and the resultant qualities of the final product diverge: Velier, for example, has always favoured the tropics and ages there, which goes somewhat to explaining the intensity of its rums; while CDI prefers more subtle variations in its rums deriving from a prolonged rest in Europe. Knowing that helped me understand the staid elegance of a rum like this one. The nose, easy and warm at 43%, presented soft and fruity without hurry, with some driness, cardboard, and pickles (yeah, I know, I know…). Pears, ripe apples and white guavas, with a hint of zest, something like tangerine peel mixed up with some bubble-gum, plus an undercurrent of burnt sugar lending a very pleasing counterpoint.

At 43% the texture of this golden rum was medium bodied trending to light, and pleasant for all that. It was unusually dry and a bit too oaky, I felt – the tannins provided a dominance that somewhat derailed the other parts of the profile. It started out a little soft — bananas, kiwi fruit and white flowers — before nectarines and fresh cucumber slices on rye bread emerged, which in turn gave way to ginnip and unripe apples and mangos. It took time to get all this and the integration of all these elements was not perfect: still, overall it was a perfectly serviceable rum, with a short, crisp, clear finish redolent of caramel, sugar cane juice, vanilla and more fruitiness that was light and sweet without ever getting so complex as to defy description.

There’s a certain clear delicacy of profile that has run through the Compagnie’s rums I’ve tried thus far. They do not practice dosing, which is part of the explanation – the European ageing is another – but even so, they are uniquely distinct from other independent bottlers who also follow such practices.  This and the relatively low strength makes their rums possess an unhurried, easygoing nature that is not to everyone’s taste (least of all full proof rummies or cask strength whisky lovers).  This one in particular lacks overall development, but makes up for it with interesting tastes you have to work at to discern, and at end it was a rum you would not be unhappy to have shelled out for. At under sixty euros (if you can still find it) it’s pretty good value for money, and gives a really good introduction to the profile of a Guadeloupe outfit with which not everyone will be familiar and whose rums are nothing to sneeze at.

 

Other notes

  • Distilled March 1998, bottled February 2015
  • 281 bottle outturn
  • The label information is as comprehensive as always
  • No additives, filtering or adulteration.
  • Masters of Malt remarks this is made from molasses, not cane juice. Florent, when contacted, said: “Yes indeed it s a molasses rum. There are two Bellevue distilleries in Guadeloupe. One on Marie Galante producing cane juice rums. Another one at Le Moule producing molasses sometimes.”
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.

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