Ruminsky

Feb 132016
 

Nine Leaves American 2

Little Lord Fauntleroy in a bottle.

(#256 / 84/100)

***

Back in 2014 I first encountered rums from the Japanese company Nine Leaves, and was impressed enough to not only write about the company in one of my Makers profiles, but resolved to not let Mr. Takeuchi’s work escape me a second year in a row.  So said, so done…I’ve tried four more of the company’s rums, and begin working through the resultant reviews with the American Oak version, bottled in Spring 2015.

As an aside, Mr. Takeuchi has certainly managed to elevate his company’s profile in 2014-2015.  Presenting in Rome, Berlin, UK and Miami (and I’m sure there are others), his rums have won prizes at various festivals, Europe remains an expanding market, and one can only wonder at what this company will be like in ten years. Production methods remain the same as before: Okinawan sugar cane, cane-juice basis, careful selection of cuts to bring out the best of the distillate, and six months ageing in either French oak or American oak.  There are stocks now laid down to age for longer periods, but it will be some years before we see these.  Let’s focus on what we have today.

The American release was a light gold rum aged for the requisite six months. That its initial nasal profile resembles a pot still agricole came as no surprise, because, well, it was. In fact, it immediately reminded me of a gelded clairin — and I mean that as a sort of compliment, because the fierce and raging “yo’ mama!” attitude of the Haitian popskull was transmuted here into a more genteel “May I take your coat sir?” primness that somehow worked out okay. In other words, the 50% ABV didn’t smack me or try to stab me, but came across as warm-to-hot, waxy, briny and olive-y, quite dry, light, with none of the intense pungent oiliness that so mark unaged pot still whites. That six months ageing worked reasonably well, and it developed very nicely with additional scents of cucumbers, sugar water and light flowers that served to tame the background notes of turpentine and floor polish. It really was quite well done

Nine Leaves American 1

On the tongue, more spice could be noted. After trying it carefully for a few minutes, I was, to be honest, left scratching my head – there were salt, bitter, and sweet components in evidence, all at once; and that same light sweetness and almost-but-not-quite anorexia of the nose came through in the mouthfeel, somewhat to its detriment.  Flowers, swank, vanilla, oak, cucumbers in a green salad (sans dressing), and then an amusing fanta and orange peel tango started going on at the back end.  It was a young, light, frisky and well behaved rumlet, which faded gently into an easygoing, warm finish that was a little dry, but kept the party going with orange zest, delicate white flowers and a lack of aggro I found impressive for a rum this young, bottled at such a relatively high strength.

Civilized is a word I suppose can be used to describe it. It lacks real deep solidity and maturity I prefer in my rums (y’know, like Jamaicans or Demeraras which land on your palate like an anvil dropped from ten feet up), but its construction is almost playfully elegant.  Yes there was a shade too little ageing, yes the French oak version is even lighter in texture, yes, perhaps it was too dialled down…but you know, I really don’t know that many producers who can take a rum this young and maintain a balance between the intensity of a full-out, pot-still, zero-year-old white, and something a little older…who can make something so interesting out of it.  Maybe it’s the double distillation, maybe it’s the pot still, the light ageing regime, the cuts, the casks or something, but I’m not complaining too loudly. This is a pretty damned good young rum, and I’m sure glad I tried it.

Feb 102016
 

D3S_3799

A fascinating introduction into the twists and turns an agricole rhum profile can take

(#255. 84/100)

***

To the extent that agricoles have their own flavour profile, they haven’t surprised me much yet.  My tastes were formed by products from Clemente, Rum Nation, Damoiseau, Depaz, J. Bally, Trois Rivieres and others, and there were always those herbal and grassy notes to them and displayed similar general characteristics. That was until I ran through four Neissons one after the other…and was forced to conclude that agricoles can be just as fascinating and unusual as any other sugar cane drink.  Seriously – Neisson may make some of the most distinctive agricole rhums I’ve ever tried. They’re demonstrably cane juice rums, sure…but then they happily head off into undiscovered country.

The Extra Vieux, which in the absence of better information I’m tentatively saying is 6-10 years old was bottled at 45% and was an amber-brown, which I tried with its siblings from the same company, and then added a Rhum Rhum Liberation and a CDI Guadeloupe 16 YO…just to be sure.

Follow me through the tasting and let me describe what I tried. The divergence from the norm began with the scents it gave off when poured.  Neither overly sweetly scented or too deep in profile, it was had solid fruity credentials, and had some of the muskiness I usually associated with tequila, combining that with the meatiness of salt beef.  So already, some interesting digressions. The rhum’s aromas went away surprisingly swiftly, so re-sniffing was in order, and it was a little less tamed, a little more raw than one would expect.  Once it opened up some more, it also manifested a certain lack of snap and crispness I sometimes associate with younger agricoles, yet one could not entirely fault the result, which was thick and creamy, very well rounded (perhaps I never quite understood the term before now), mixing in coconut shavings, butter and a nice Philadelphia.  Another odd thing was the absence of clearly identifiable grassy notes – others might disagree, but I hardly smelled any vegetals or herbaceous elements at all.

The palate continued in this provocative vein: it was warm, displaying characteristics of fleshy fruit rather than the cleanliness of freshly mown lemon-grass (though some of that crept through, now).  In a way it was quite winey, with tastes of sauternes, vanilla and sour cream mixed in with a fruit salad that had a few too many red grapes and currants.  Yet the smoothness and heft to the mouthfeel, the overall texture, were quite good, once I got past a set of divergent tastes and just went along for the ride without projecting my own expectations or preconceived notions on the thing. The fade was perhaps the most traditional thing about this rhum, being short and lush (not dry at all); sweetish, closing with scents of nuts, red grapes, butter (again)…and, weirdly enough, caramel (what was that doing here?).

D3S_3800

Neisson has existed in Martinique since 1922 when the Neisson family started the plantation (the distillery was started in 1931). Nowadays it is run by the son and daughter of the founder, and they hold almost 9000 acres of cane under cultivation close by Le Carbet in northwestern Martinique (Depaz is up the road, and Dillon a little further south east of it).  Cane is not burnt as it is in Guyana prior to harvesting, and the cane is crushed in a steam engine driven crusher.  Fermentation takes about three days before being distilled in a single column copper Savalle still: the 65-70% distillate is stored for about three months in a stainless steel vat while being regularly stirred to eliminate unwanted volatile elements, before being transferred to 180-200 liter French or American oak barrels for ageing — most for a minimum of four years, but some for only 18 months, the latter to produce what is known as “Elevé sous bois”, or stored in wood, rum.

So all that aside, does the rum work?  Well, yes and no. It’s nowhere near as fierce and individualistic as, say, the Clairins, and that does take some getting used to.  The integration of the taste components is done well, it’s not very sweet, and the mouthfeel isn’t bad at all.  Where it falls down a little, for me, is in that salty tequila-like undertone, and where it succeeds is in the gradual unfolding of character and complexity.

I wasn’t totally enthralled, at first…yet kept getting pulled back to it, largely due to its queer and unique originality, which was like an almost-but-not-quite familiar face one sees in a party. The Neisson Extra Vieux does a right turn and then a twist on the standard conceptions of what an agricole should be, building up to an idiosyncrasy that requires both some adjustment, and some patience.  If you have those and are willing to meet it on its own terms, this AOC rhum is actually quite an experience.

 

Feb 072016
 

IMG_6351

Rum Cask makes a slightly better Fijian rum, of the four I’ve tried.

(#254. 82/100)

***

Rum Cask is another one of the smaller independent bottlers – out of western Germany in this instance, very close to the French border –  who do the usual craft bottling thing. They act as both distributors of whisky and rum, and at some point they fell to dabbling in their own marques, issuing cask strength rums from Belize, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Cuba Grenada, and more, including Fiji, which may be something of an afterthought. In what is probably a coincidence, they issued a ten year old rum from South Pacific Distilleries, and it was also made in 2003, and bottled in 2013, just like Duncan Taylor (or they used the same broker, or something). However similar the provenance, in this instance I felt that while they didn’t succeed in making a rum junkie’s must-have, they did succeed in raising the bar…just a bit.

Take for example the nose, which so disappointed me on the Duncan Taylor from last week. That one was 54.8%…this one dialled things up to a filthy-gorgeous growl of 62.9% and its intensity was right there from the get-go. Much of the same kerosene, fusel oil, wax, and turpentine jammed my sensory apparatus – the rum would cure the clogged nose of a sinus infection with no problems – but here there were also nuts, honey, vanilla, some burnt sugar, and switching back and forth between it and the DT (and the clairins), it suggested an overall better balance.

Unfortunately, it also required some taming. Since I have no particular issues with cask strength rums (how the worm has turned from the days when I despised anything stronger than 40%, right?) the ABV was not a factor: it was its unrefined character. The palate was raw and sharp enough to shave with, and exhibited an unrestrained force that seemed to want to scratch your face off.  So while I spread the tasting over several hours and wrote about salt beef in vinegar, cereal, brine, olives, some more vanillas and caramel, nuts and honey, plus a whiff of citrus and fresh paint in hot sunlight — and lots of oak — the fact was that the marriage just wasn’t working as well as it might.  Yes the finish was biblically epic, hot and long and lasting, shared more of the flavours of the palate (the citrus and wood really took over here) and made my eyes water and my breath come in gasps – but really, was that what it was all about?  The grandiose finish of a taste experience that might have been better?

In its own way this rum is as distinct from the other Fijians as they are from the mainstream, inhabiting a space uniquely its own, though still recognizable as being a branch from the same tree. The enormous strength works to its advantage to some extent, though I don’t think it’s enough to elevate it to the front rank of cask strength rums.  This may be where the concept barrels slumbering in Europe (as espoused by the Compagne) has its problems, because the evolutions are subtle and take place over a much longer period of time than the brutally quick maturation of the tropics.  European ageing, when done right, results in something like the Longpond 1941 which survived 58 years in a barrel without the oak eviscerating all other flavours.  Here, the reverse was true and ten years didn’t seem to be nearly enough – the rum shared the downfall of the others I tried, displaying sharp and jagged edges of flavour profiles that seemed to be not so much “married well”, but “raging into divorce.”

The Fijian rums I’ve tried so far all seem to have problems with the integration of their various components, and they need more work (and ageing) to be taken seriously by, and to find, a mass audience – this might be one of those rare occasions where less strength is called for, not more. So who is this particular rum for? It doesn’t really work as a sipping rum, and at its price point, would it be bought by a barman so as to make cool tiki drinks? Unless one is a cocktail fan, then, that doesn’t leave much, I’m afraid, unless you are, as one commentator remarked on the DT, a lover of whisky.  In which case, by all means have at it.

Other notes

This rum is very much about opinion. Cornelius of BarrelProof liked both of these quite a bit (he was the kind source of my samples, big “thank you” to the man), so keep an eye out for his reviews.

Comments on the Duncan Taylor Fijian rum suggested that the profile was quite Jamaican in nature, if not quite as good.  The same applies here. Most Jamaican rum I’ve tried are bit more obviously from molasses, and I didn’t really get that impression from the Fijians. Actually, they remind me more of cachacas and perhaps the clairins.

The outturn is unknown.

 

Feb 042016
 

IMG_6349

Nope, all apologies to the islanders, but Fiji still doesn’t ascend to the heights of a country whose rums we must have. Yet.

(#253. 81/100)

***

Let’s just dispense with two more Fijian products that crossed my path, provided by my friend Cornelius of Barrelproof, who, it should be noted upfront, liked them both a lot more than I did. We don’t see many products from that country anywhere – “Eastern” rums don’t make it west of the iron curtain very often, so it’s mostly in online emporia that we find find rums from Fiji, Australia, Indonesia or even Japan; these are sold primarily in Europe, not in North America. Bundie, Don Papa and Nine Leaves look to buck that trend but they are small potatoes, really, and you’re still gonna look hard to locate a Tanduay, or even the stuff out of India.

Anyway, independent bottlers Duncan Taylor, the Rum Cask, Compagnie des Indes, Berry Brothers and some others do take the single barrel route, and so perhaps we should be grateful that we do get the chance to try these unusual profiles whenever we can. The rum came from the same distillery as the BBR 8 year old and the Compagnie’s 10 year old: the Fijian South Pacific Distillery now owned by Fosters from Australia, and located in the northwest of the small island.

DT Fiji Label

I said “unusual” a moment ago…it was not a word I chose lightly.

I poured the 54.8% hay-blonde, pot-still spirit into my glass, and flinched as if I had found a roach in my soup (oh waiter…!)  Sharp, snarling smells of kerosene, sealing wax, floor polish emerged fast, like a pissed of genie out of his lamp, ungentle and clashing with each other in a most unbecoming fashion. I went back to the shelf and checked out the Clairin Sajous to see if it was me…nope, that was still better. Ten minutes rest period didn’t help much – turpentine, acetone, wet paint decided to come out now, joined by candle wax, green grape skins…and I was left thinking, if this was pot-still, unfiltered, and issued “as-was” from the barrel, maybe the barrel needed to be changed; and to be honest, if ever I tried a rum that made a strong case for either more ageing or some dosage, this was it.  The smell was simply too raw and unrefined. Most of what it displayed was liquid sandpaper only marginally improved  by some ageing.

To my relief, there was some compensation once I tasted the thing. Better, much better.  Heated and very spicy, medium bodied in texture, and all this was a welcome change from the initial attack.  It tasted of red olives in brine, with a sort of meaty background, like a plastic tub of salt beef just starting to go.  Then at last more familiar notes asserted themselves and stopped mucking about, and I sensed some green grapes just starting to go, vanilla and smoke (not much), a very herbal, grassy element, more brine, sweet soya, some citrus, ginger and a good Thai veggie soup.  Cornelius felt it displayed something the funky charm of the Jamaican style, so if you ever get around to trying it yourself, there would be something to watch out for. The finish, unsurprisingly for such strength, was long enough, and I couldn’t say it was either good or bad – it existed, it lasted, I got notes of lemongrass, vanilla, citrus and soya and brine again, but very little of a more comforting back end. Colour me unimpressed, sorry.

Although the aromas and tastes suggest a cane juice base distillate, the Ministry of Rum and Fiji Rum Co. pages both say molasses.  Which makes the profile I describe even odder, because it was so much like the clairins, but lacking their fierce commingling of the same tastes into a synthesis that worked.  The nose was too jagged and too raw, the palate worked (up to a point) and the finish was nothing to write home about. In my opinion, this rum should have been left to sleep some more. The outturn was 284 bottles from a single cask, and it was aged in an oak cask for ten years, yet honestly, you might think it was no more than a three year old (or even younger) from the way it fended off any efforts to come to grips with it.

IMG_6350

I’ve now tried four or five Fijian rums, and admittedly, that’s hardly a huge sample set; still they do all exhibit a kind of right turn from reality that takes some getting used to, for those of us more accustomed to Caribbean traditionals or agricoles (which is most of us).  They may be proof positive that terroire is no mere subtly abstract concept which is insouciantly bandied about but lacking real meaning, and I believe that rums from other parts of the world do indeed provide their own unique tastes and smells and sensations.  The flip side of that, is that I have yet to acquire a real taste for some of them.  I’m not going to write Fijians off like yesterday’s fish…but thus far I haven’t met any (out of the few I’ve tried) that blow my socks off either. Certainly this rum doesn’t.

Other notes

Aged April 2003 to September 2013

Yes, if I see more Fijians, I’ll buy.  Still really curious about them.

Marco Freyr has put together a short bio of the company (in German)

The tasting notes above are my own.  I didn’t see the back label until Cornelius kindly sent me some pictures of the bottle. 

Feb 012016
 

caroni 1982Rumaniacs Review 017

We’re down to the last sample of the old Velier rums I’ve got, this one from Caroni, and like the 1985, also bottled in 2006, though two years older. My background notes say 4600 bottles issued from 15 barrels and handsomely issued at 58.3%.  What else can I tell you about Caroni you don’t already know? Probably nothing, so let’s move on.

Colour – Dark amber

Strength – 58.3%

Nose – The 1985 was great, and this one raises the bar a smidgen. With these old, bold rums, sometimes the oak takes charge too aggressively…not here. Toasted nuts, almonds and caramel lead off.  Raisins and black grapes shoulder those aside after a while.  There’s a chirpy little citrus note coiling in the background, plus more fruits and some tar…but I was oddly reminded of the UF30E, for some reason, as I sampled this rum

Palate – Yeah, here comes the flexing musclebeach of the Caroni profile kicking sand in your face. Warm and pungent and heavy; thick, almost chewy to taste, coats the mouth very well.  Caramel, molasses and tar trumpet their arrival.  All the hits are playing, loudly.  With water, more raisins and grapes, vanilla beans, chopped dark dried fruit, ginger, unripe mangos, that citrus again…and over the half hour or so I spent with this rum, it got slightly crisper, even cleaner, in a way that enhanced, not detracted from, the overall sensation.

Finish – Long, heated, deep, a little dry.  Invites savouring. Closing notes of tar, some teriyaki and ginger, vanilla, leather and molasses.

Thoughts – I’ve had quite a few Caronis now, and they are all sprigs off the same tree. These are rums that benefit from higher proofs – the tastes are brought out in a way that diluting down to 40% would harm, rather than improve.  Whatever the case, this is one of the better ones for sure, and with that many bottles in issue, it’s likely that it can still be found somewhere. if one searches. At least we can hope so.

(89/100)

Jan 272016
 
LUCA-900x411

Photo (c) 2013 congresodelron.com

Luca sounds tired.  The boss of Velier has just returned from Cape Verde off the coast of Senegal, where he was investigating small rum producers like in Haiti, has been caught up in the online discussions of the “Rare” issues, gave an interview to DuRhum (in French), and is now on his way to Morocco to attend some business and help shoot a documentary, before heading off to Cape Verde again.  I catch him in the back of a taxi, but he’s willing to talk a little.  Truthfully, when it comes to rums, the man is always ready to talk, and it’s never just a little.  Maybe that’s one reason he and I get along.

We discuss his interview with Cyril, but my own interest is much more focused, and gradually we get to what I want to talk about — DDL’s new Velier replacements, called the “Rare Collection” and I had opined that premature news of their introduction could have been handled better. Commercial considerations had prevented Luca from going on record before this, but apparently DDL have now given him their blessing, and he knows I want facts rather than speculations.

“I honestly wanted to tell you back in December, when your “Wasted Potential” article came out,” he says. “But we (DDL and myself) had agreed nothing would be said about the Rare Collection until the time for official press releases and introductions came around.  So I had to be quiet.”

“It happens,” I shrug, stifling my rush of petty irritation, since, like most people, I hate being wrong. “Why don’t you step me through the sequence of events regarding the issue?”

He settles into what I call his ‘presentation’ voice and talks nonstop for several minutes. Much to my surprise, the conception of these three rums goes back to January 2015, a full year ago.  Following the retirement of Yesu Persaud, the new CEO of DDL (Komal Samaroo) met with Luca and told him they were going to make ‘Gargano-style’ rums themselves following the full-proof, single-still, limited-edition principles, and as such the ability of Velier to bottle from DDL’s stocks would cease. “But I have to be clear,” Luca said. “Aside from the Skeldon, I never ever just walked into the warehouse and sampled at random and said I wanted this barrel or that barrel – I always and only got shown a limited selection by DDL and chose from them. And the vintages were getting younger all the time – I was hardly ever seeing stuff younger than the early 2000s any more.”

He’s admitted it before, and confirmed that initially the situation made him sad – it was something like seeing your own child grow up and move out of the house – but proud as well.  It showed that there was real potential by a major distiller to go in this direction, and that the full-proof concept was a viable commercial proposition. And it made sense for DDL to fold these rums into the larger el Dorado brand.

“Which would in any case always be associated with you,” I cut in. “For the foreseeable future, DDL’s full proofs will live in your shadow.”

“That’s not important,” he says earnestly. “It’s not about ego for me.  It’s about rum: authentic, honest, tropical aged, full proof rum. If DDL makes them, the rumworld is just as well served, because good rums are being made and sold.”

“One could argue that DDL let you take the risk and open the market and then moved in to capitalize on your success,” I point out.  I’m not on anyone’s side on this matter and I know business is business (it’s not personal, right?).  DDL didn’t get to be what it was without some very sharp people at the top, and while I am surprised it took this long for them to get in on the action, they are finally doing something.

I can almost see him shaking his head. “No. Because it’s their rum. I always insisted that DDL was mentioned on our labels – because I never felt it was ‘mine’…the name of Velier was only ever in the fine print at the back. I found a few diamonds, sure, but never pretended to own the mine, you know?  And I did the same for the Clairins.”  I think he’s being just a bit disingenuous here, personally, because one does not become a successful businessman without at least a little talent, aggro and braggadocio, and I suspect he knows perfectly well how synonymous his name has become with full proof rums in general, and Demeraras in particular.  But I let it pass, and he continues.

rare-mads-1

Photo (c) Mads Heitmann, Romhatten

“So by November of 2015 a lot of the work was done – the selection of the vintages, the label mockups.  Some samples went out to Europe –“

“Hang on,” I interrupt. “Exactly how much were you involved in all this?”

“Not at all.”

“Seriously?”

“No.  I did not select the barrels, I did not choose the vintages, I had nothing to do with advertising or label design. All I knew was that there would be an Enmore, a PM and a Versailles. By the time I received samples in December, it was all complete, and my only involvement was as the distributor for Italy.”

“Why are they only being sold only Europe?”

He hesitates a moment and I can sense him choosing his words with some care. “DDL is a Guyanese company,” he says at last. “And I think their information gathering and knowledge relate and are geared more to the North American market than the European one.   In North America it’s always been difficult to introduce new spirits into their states-segmented markets; and there has never been a really strong movement or tradition or knowledge of craft full-proofs.  It was only lately — with Samaroli and a few others becoming available, with online media like Facebook, with the reviews of English language rum bloggers — that the profile of such rums has increased and the potential more fully understood. But in Europe full-proofs have always sold well and been widely appreciated – indeed that has always been my primary market. So it made sense to start there.”

“With the potential to cross the Atlantic in the future?”

He shrugs.  “That’s for DDL to decide.  I hope so.”

“So we’re in December now. My own article on the missed opportunities of DDL came out around that time.”

“Yes, and a lot of people read it.  And I wanted to contact you to advise you that there were indeed new single-still rums coming out.  But my arrangement with DDL forbade that, so…”

I’m still a little miffed about the matter, but it’s water under the bridge and there’s nothing I can do except admit I got it wrong and move on.

“Why do you think DDL never responded to my article, or contacted me?”

“I have no idea.”

“Because it strikes me as strange that a major new bottling is being issued to the market, and there was no advance knowledge, no teasers or sly hints or even massive advertising to stimulate interest.”

“Well, they did send some samples to one of the Rumfests late in the year – I believe to Belgium – “

“And it received almost no publicity at all.”

“It was just for evaluation purposes, I think, not an advertising campaign to kick off the release. That was supposed to come in this year.”

Well, DDL is run by some smart people, and I suppose they have reasons for what they do and how they do it.  However,  I also believe they are underestimating the force-multiplying power of social media in a big way and maybe my mind just works differently since I’m a consumer as well as a writer, not a company marketing guru.

It occurs to me that with respect to communication, the premature release of information on the Rares must have caught everyone off guard. “So now we come to 2016,” I say, following that thought. “Your company somehow issued a webpage link to show these rums as becoming available, on January 13th.  Then it disappeared.  What happened?”

His embarrassment is palpable over the long distance telephone line. “That was a mistake,” he says ruefully.  “My graphics people worked so fast that the mockup and catalogue update were all done ahead of time.  They didn’t bother to check with me before posting it up, because they didn’t see anything special about a new item on the catalogue…we do, after all, add stuff constantly. I was in Cape Verde then, away from communications, and as soon as I came out and realized what had happened, I pulled the link immediately.  By then the news was all over the place.”

rare-mads-2

Photo (c) Mads Heitmann, Romhatten.

“And then?”

He lets out a deep breath. “The story went viral in the online rum community.  You know this, you followed it.”

Indeed I had. The story flashed around the world in less than a day. Wes at the FatRumPirate pushed out an article on the three rums on the 15th; a Danish blogger, Mads Heitmann, was able to get a complete set of the three bottles and reviewed the PM 1999 ln the 19th. And on top of that, he posted prices on his site and on Facebook, which went viral as fast as the original post from Velier’s site, and changed the entire direction of the story. The news was well and truly out there and could not be called back, which demonstrates what I mean about the power of Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and all the rest.

“But none of it had any more to do with me,” Luca argues. “I made my sincere apologies to DDL, explained to them that the initial, unpriced, posting was an error I tried to correct and not a leak of any kind.  I was waiting for a green light from them to make a public announcement and start publicizing.”

I suppose I can accept that, since all my notes and private discussions support it. “The story now started to get bigger than just you, because aside from the annoyance of the rum community about the releases just popping out of nowhere, which is a minor matter, they now had to contend with the pricing.  And that was no small thing – it was deemed exorbitant.”

“Your article didn’t help,” he says, half laughing, half accusing, referring to the essay I then wrote on January 20th, where I both complained about the introduction and expressed my hopes for their quality.

The conversation seems to have come around to the point where I’m the one answering questions instead of him; still, the point is valid. “I wasn’t trying to. At the time I was pretty put out. DDL should have read the tea leaves and done damage control immediately, gotten ahead of this story.  Back then, I solicited their input without response.  Okay, I’m small fry, a small blogger in a wide world of them, and it was an opinion piece, and yet I don’t think I was wrong; and this was now an issue affecting consumers all over the map – somebody should have stood up, posted online, gotten involved, calmed the waters.”

“I can’t speak to that,” he responds, with a note of finality.

The cost per bottle is of interest to us as consumers, so I persist. “What can you tell me about the price, on the record?”

PM 1999 Romhatten

Picture crop (c) Romhatten.dk

“I think the Danish numbers are high,” he admits. Privately, I had thought so too, and the KR6500+ (~€870) initially quoted on January 19th for all three bottles together has in fact been reduced in some online shops in Denmark.  Factor in the very high alcohol taxes in that country, and the base shop prices (before markups) to consumers are probably closer to expectations.  Still high, but relatively more affordable.

“The price in Italy will likely be around the level of equivalent Veliers, plus maybe 10-15%.  But I can’t say that for sure across Europe, because I sell only in Italy, to shops, not to individuals, and taxes and markups vary.  But they are not as expensive as you made out to be.”

Since I’ve argued that price is a function of brand awareness and exclusivity as well as production costs, I ask the question that’s been bugging me all this time.  “What’s the outturn of the range?”

“About 3,000 bottles for each expression is my guess. I’m not entirely sure of the exact numbers”

“And future issues?”

“I can’t say: I’m hearing that maybe an annual release of two bottlings, with about the same quantity as these.”  Which gives us all hope, I think.  Two is not as good as four or five, yet I don’t know that many full-proof rum lovers who would complain too much. At least they’re getting something.

The answers are getting shorter, and I sense we may be coming to the end of this conversation.  I only have one more. “You’re distributing the rums in Italy, and have had a long association with DDL.  You’re hardly a disinterested party. But as a simple lover of rum, putting aside any bias as much as you can, what do you think of the Rare Collection?”

There’s a smile in his voice as he notes the care of my phrasing. Or maybe he’s just thinking of these rums, his now-grown children, with fondness, and delights at an opportunity to speak of them. “I received samples in December 2015, and Daniele (Biondi) and I tried them together with five or six other Enmores, Port Mourants and Versailles rums we had from previous years.  And I am telling you, these are every bit as good.  They lost nothing, and preserve everything in my principles – tropically aged, no additives, single-still, cask strength.  The taste is amazingly good, and I think they are great additions to the full proof Demerara lineup.  It may be too early to tell, but if they continue to issue such rums in the future, these first editions may one day be worth quite a bit, the same way my first bottlings appreciated on the secondary markets.”

His tone has that evangelical fervor, the ring of utter personal conviction, that always characterizes his public presentations, and I gotta admit, the enthusiasm is infectious. He may or not be right, and others may disagree with his assessment in the months and years to come – but there’s no doubt he really believes they’re that good.  I’ve heard him speak that way about his other rums and rhums as well, and we know Velier’s track record, so perhaps we should just take it at face value.  Until shops actually start selling them and we start seeing reviews out there, not much more to be said.  I think we’re just about done here.

I scratch my head, look at my notes and questions, and realize an hour has gone by. Luca is now buying organic apples for his pretty wife through the taxi window, waiting to see if there’s anything else, but he’s covered it all for me, filled in most of the blanks.  What little information I have from DDL confirms most of this. So I give him my regards and thanks, we exchange notes on our movements around the world in 2016 and agree to see if we can meet up somewhere, have a relaxed session and maybe drink a sample or ten.  And, of course, as always, to talk rums.

***

Other notes

This was not a formal interview.  It was a discussion between the two of us, which is why I wrote it the way I did. From his perspective, it was to some extent also publicity.  It’s no coincidence that this and Cyril’s more formal interview came out so close together.  Had I not written the two other essays about DDL already, I would not have bothered, but this wraps things up and substitutes such opinions and guesses as I have expressed, with more factual information.

The formal release of these rums for sale with all the marketing blitz, brass bands and bunting is supposed to be the end of January / early February  2016.

 

 

Jan 262016
 

cdi-logo

***

For a company in existence for such a short time, it’s quite impressive what a wide range of rums Compagnie des Indes (which translates as the East India Company, hereinafter referred to as CDI) has managed to put out the door.  As of the 2015 release season, fourteen separate countries are represented (2 from east of Greenwich).  Unlike the trend in the USA and Canada, where creating one’s own new distillery and brand  is more common, in Europe it’s always been more about being an independent bottler (or re-bottler, I suppose).  Such enterprises don’t want to reinvent the wheel or invest in technology – though this does in fact happen as well, of course (e.g. Severin Simon in Germany).  Their strategy is to exhaustively seek out barrels from either source or broker, maybe age them a little more somewhere, and then issue them under their own label, usually in limited quantities of less than a thousand bottles per release.

While it could be argued that this hardly makes them cradles of innovation, it’s tough to fault the results when we can so rarely find the source distillers daring to go in the full-proof direction.  Until very recently, when was the last time you saw St. Lucia Distillers, FourSquare, Appleton, Mount Gay, Angostura, Travellers, Abuelo, Bacardi, Flor de Cana or other major brands, go the cask strength route in anything but their overproof 151s?  So smaller companies, whose founders often emerge from a whisky background, tend to be more into the full proof concept which has only recently started to gain great recognition in the rum world.

Such a person is Florent Beuchet, who pursued international business studies with a specialization as an International Trade Master of wine and spirits in Dijon, France.  After working part time for his father, who himself was a winemaker and ran a small distillery making absinthe and aniseed, Florent became the brand manager for Banks in New York in 2011 (his family owned shares in the company, and Florent’s father acted as a consultant for it).  This lasted for close on to two years, after which he bought a small spirits trading company he named “Diva Spirits” in 2013. This outfit dealt with the import and export of wines and spirits between Europe and the USA, and built on a network his father had created over the previous thirty five years.

cdi logo 2

Photo (c) L’homme a la poussette

While his studies had focused primarily on wines, Florent realized after working with Banks that rum interested him rather more: partly this was its versatility (read: absence of rules) but also because he saw that the concepts of terroire, distillation, ageing and blending were readily applicable to rum just as they were to wine.  More, he sensed that while the Europeans had a rather more sophisticated view of rums than Americans did, many still labored under the impression that it was a disreputable sort of drink, cheaply made, good only for a mix, and very sweet. The potential of exactingly made rums from single casks issued at full proof was still gathering steam (online reviews of rums made to precisely those specs were just beginning to appear at this time, if you discount Serge Valentin, who’d been issuing notes on them since 2010, and modesty be damned, some of them were mine).  So he saw an opening in the field that to this point had been dominated by Samaroli, Rum Nation, Velier, Moon Imports and others, few of which had the visibility and cachet they acquired in the subsequent years.

Seeking to put his ideas into practice, he formed CDI in March of 2014, in France. He sourced the rums he wanted via a broker, chose only unadulterated rums, and eschewed Rum Nation and Velier’s practice of going directly to the original distilleries in person to root around the warehouses seeking the perfect barrel.  The label design, with its old fashioned seal and fancy stylistic touches at the top was a calculated decision on his part – he wanted to provide something of the atmosphere and heritage of old times, sailing ships and galleons and parchment (one wonders how the famous aphorism of rum, buggery and the lash figured in his thinking, but never mind). It’s noteworthy that he had taken a sense of the room, and understood the need for providing clarity and information – and so each label also had a Velier-style section at the bottom on age, source, strength and barrel.

He also doesn’t hide that he is a disciple of honesty in rum making. He disdains rectified column-still spirit that is added to with flavourings and sugars and fancy backstories to disguise the fact that it is a commercial low end “rum”…and is then sold to an unsuspecting public as a real rum, when its artificiality is self-evident.  In that he is a follower of Richard Seale and Luca Gargano (among others), who have long championed pure rums and label disclosure.

cdi rums

Photo (c) Whiskyleaks.fr

His initial offerings from that year into the market were modest: first a Caribbean blend, then two Belize rums (same source, different strengths), a Cuban, a Guadeloupe and an 18 year old Caroni.  From the outset he knew he was going after unadulterated, pure rums, but felt that to make any kind of initial splash he perhaps had to compromise the principle, and so has added 15g/L of organic liquid cane sugar to the Caraibes blended rum and the 2015 release of the Latino, as well as 10g/L to the “Calbar” Jamaican (but to none of the others). To his credit, this information is disclosed and he makes no secret of it.  (And given the RumDiaries take on the Caraibes, I think Florent may have been right). Age is also exactly what it purports to be — meaning the true age of the rum in barrels; and even in the blends, it is never the oldest, but always the youngest portion of the blend which is noted.

Issued to the European market, sales were positive and encouraging.  In April 2015 I tried the Cuban 15 YO in Paris, and was mightily impressed, scoring it at 88 points, and remarking that “…If this is anything to go by, CDI is going to take its place among the craft makers whose rums I want to buy. All of them.” My purse and my time are limited so I have not been able to try as many as I would have liked, but certainly the customer response was gratifying enough for CDI to expand into a larger selection in 2015, when they added rums from Martinique, Barbados, Fiji, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, St. Lucia and Indonesia to the mix.

The Haitian rhum is intriguing with the recent upsurge in interest in clairins issued by Velier, Fiji has some tongues wagging…but the Indonesia rum in particular excited quite a lot of interest because it was so unusual (and because the distillery was not disclosed) – Florent wanted to recreate something of the flavor of Batavia Arrack, one of the progenitors of rum, an whether or not he succeeded, I don’t know – I just know I liked it quite a bit. Jamaica was also a good issue, because most lovers of the funky style are more familiar with Appleton’s work, not Hampden or Worthy Park.  So certainly CDI is putting some interesting footprints into the sand of the rum world, and showing that while the trailblazers like Samaroli, Rum Nation and Velier provide many amazing rums for the consuming public, there remains space for new companies with a slightly different ethos to make their mark and provide greater variety of rums for us all to try.

A peculiar divergence from the norm is the rums issued only in the Danish market.  These are some of the rums certain to pique the interest of the cdigreater rum loving public – especially the aged Guyanese rums and the cask strength 60% Panamanian, which is surely quite an unusual product (I honestly can’t remember when was the last time I saw a full proof Panama rum).  Henrik of RumCorner, as helpful as always, and who had spotted me the CDI Guadeloupe from there which I have to write about soon, informed me that “…those releases were done in collaboration with the Danish distributor. Denmark is one of the fastest growing markets for premium and ultra premium rums, so they asked CDI for some limited cask strength products and voila. In my opinion the Barbados FourSquare 60% rum [for example] really shows what is possible at high strength in comparison with the standard issue 40% horde.”  Florent confirmed that, remarking “Once I started selling single cask to Denmark, my importer and his team told me that they’d like to know if I could bottle rums at cask strength. I told them that I could but due to duties, the prices in France would be too expensive and they wouldn’t sell so that they would have to buy the whole cask. [They did.] That’s why I decided to mention on the label that it was only bottled for Denmark…[Denmark] has quite an educated brown spirit clientele that are willing to pay a lot for pretty exclusive bottles. That’s mostly the story.

So where to now? Promotion and marketing will be a big focus.  Florent thinks traditional magazine space is too expensive, and prefers to engage with the public at festivals (which is where I met him and bored him to tears – twice), as well as using social media to interact with his customers.  That’s usually where he can be found lurking.  He will continue to have all his packaging, corking, labelling etc, done in France.  Ageing of his selected barrels is primarily in Europe, though some tropical ageing does take place.  In that he departs from Velier, who championed in-situ tropical ageing because of the accelerated maturation and richer flavour profiles they so preferred; Florent believes that wood takes on an dominance under such conditions, which replaces subtler, fruitier notes which he likes better. (Steve James’s review of the Barbados 16 YO made mention of this difference which he attributed to the ageing regime.)

CDI Florent

Florent in Berlin RumFest, 2015. He looks so happy because I was leaving, after bugging him for half an hour straight.

It’s likely that the current stable of countries will not be much expanded upon, though of course there will continue to be releases from each.  And just to say “Martinique” is an oversimplification, since the particular rhum from there that CDI issued was from Dillon, and that is a small percentage of the distilleries over there.  So while they are more expensive than rums from the English and Spanish Caribbean, they can’t be entirely ruled out for more releases, and of course there will always be rums from Barbados, Trinidad, St. Lucia, Guyana and Jamaica out there.

My own hope is that he will sleuth out little known islands and distilleries and geographical regions and do what Luca has done – bottle and promote rums we haven’t seen in a while, or ever, which we’d like to try and which exemplify the global reach of the spirit.  They may not all be the best available (Fiji did not find much favour with me, sorry), but you have to give points to the new kid on the block, who’s really doing something interesting for rum.  That’s worth ten truckloads of Don Papa right there.

***

References:

  1.       Personal conversations and emails and messages with Florent Beuchet
  2.       Interview with FB by whiskyandco.net
  3.       ReferenceRhum.com
  4.       Posts on CDI Facebook page
  5.       Tiare’s post on A Mountain of Crushed Ice
  6.       Rumporter
  7.       Rumconer.dk
  8.       4FineSpirits.de interview with FB

 

A list of rhums issued by CDI as of january 2016 is below.  This is one of those times I really think I’ve got them all, but as always, if you know more, send me a correction with the specs.

  • Barbados 12 YO 2003-2015 45% #BD 92 (FourSquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #BD 24 (FourSquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #BD 36 (FourSquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #BD 47 (FourSquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 45% #MRS 236 (FourSquare)
  • Barbados 16 YO 1998-2015 60% #MRS xxx (FourSquare)(Denmark only)
  • Belize 8 YO 2005-2014 44% #B86 (Travellers) 
  • Belize 8 YO 2005-2014 44% #SF17 (Travellers)
  • Belize 8 YO 2005-2014 64% #SF48 (Travellers)
  • Boulet de Canon No. 1 2015 46% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)
  • Caraibes 2014 40% (blend Guy/Bar/T&T)(15g/L sugar)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2014 43% #GM 21 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2014 43% #GM 32 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guadeloupe 16 YO 1998-2015 43% #CG 91 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guadeloupe 17 YO 1998-2015 43% #CG 14 (Damoiseau/Bellevue)
  • Guyana 10 YO 2005-2015 58% #WPM 75 (PM Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 13 YO 2002-2015 59% #WPM 36 (PM Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 21 YO 1993-2015 51% #GU 4 (Uitvlugt Still, Denmark only)
  • Guyana 24 YO 1990-2015 58.1% #MEY 04 (EHP Still, Denmark only)
  • Haiti 11 YO 2004-2015 43% #BMH 18 (Barbancourt)
  • Haiti 11 YO 2004-2015 59.4% #BMH 32 (Barbancourt)
  • Jamaica 14 YO 2000-2015 58% #HP 98 (Hampden)
  • Jamaica 5 YO 2010-2015 43% “Calbar” (blend of 3 Jamaican rum)(10g/L sugar)
  • Jamaica 5 YO 2010-2015 57% Navy Rum (blend of 3 Jamaican rum)
  • Jamaica 7 YO 2007-2015 53% #WP 27 Cask Strength (Worthy Park)
  • Jamaica 7 YO 2007-2015 43% #WP 31 (Worthy Park)
  • Jamaica 7 YO 2007-2015 53% #WP 42 Cask Strength (Worthy Park)
  • Jamaica 7 YO 2007-2015 43% #WP 8 (Worthy Park)
  • Latino 5 YO 2010-2015 40% (15 g/L sugar)
  • Martinique 13 YO 2002-2015 44% #MA 56 (Dillon)
  • Martinique 13 YO 2002-2015 44% #MA 67 (Dillon)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2015 60% #MRS 255 (Distillery unknown)(Denmark only)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2015 44% #MRS 263 (Distillery unknown)
  • Panama 11 YO 2004-2015 44% #MRS 322 (Distillery unknown)
  • St. Lucia 13 YO 2002-2015 56.3% #SLD 46 (St. Lucia Distillers)
  • St. Lucia 13 YO 2002-2015 43% #SLD 84 (St. Lucia Distillers)
  • Trinidad 18 YO 1996-2014 43% #SC 2 (Caroni) 456
  • Trinidad 18 YO 1996-2014 43% #SC 3 (Caroni) 456
  • Trinidad 18 YO 1996-2015 61% #SCT 9 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 19 YO 1996-2015 53.2% #SC 1 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 21 YO 1994-2015 57.8% #SC 707 (Caroni)
  • Trinidad 24 YO 1991-2015 56.3% #SC 2 (Caroni)

 

Jan 252016
 

C de I Fiji 1

A well assembled rum made by someone who knows his business, yet, as with the BBR I tried some years ago, not entirely to my taste.

(#252 / 84/100)

***

Florent Beuchet, the man behind the independent bottler Compagnie des Indes, really likes to go off the beaten track in his search for proper casks of rum to release: either that or he has access to some broker or other with some cool geographically dispersed stocks.  Think about the rums he has in his young portfolio so far – from Guyana, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Panama, Jamaica, Trinidad, Belize and Barbados, all the old stalwarts.  But show me another maker who in a single two year period can also claim to have added St. Lucia, Haiti, Fiji and Indonesia to the mix. St. Lucia alone should draw nods of approval.  But Haiti? Fiji? Indonesia?  

Therefore, yes, I’m a little impressed, more than a bit intrigued, and follow his issues closely, though thus far I don’t have that many…yet.  I was fortunate enough to try several samples of the Fijian 10 year old bottled at 44% in my ongoing effort to draw attention to obscure corners of the world where rums are made (but receive too little attention), and where unsung treasures may be found to the aspiring, perspiring rum collector.

So, this one: it was one of two 2015 Fijian releases CdeI made (each from a separate barrel), and it’s from the South Pacific Distilleries distillery – Florent didn’t tell me, but come on, it’s right there on the label…and anyway, even if it wasn’t, how many other distilling ops are there on the small island? This in turn is controlled by the Carlton Brewery (Fiji) Ltd, and that itself has the parent company of the Australian group Foster’s.  They make the popular Bounty rums (not the same as St. Lucia’s) and so far as I can tell, only BBR, Duncan Taylor and Cadenhead have released any bottlings from there. And full disclosure, I didn’t care much for the BBR Fiji 8 year old.

Still, things started out okay: the yellow rum was spicy and dry to sniff, with sugar water and delicate floral scents.  Watery is a good term for the sort of smells it exhibited – and by that I mean watermelon, juicy white pears, diluted syrup from a can of mixed fruit, grass after a rain.  This was all to the good.  What happened after a while was that waxy notes crept in, black/red olives in too-sour brine, and that C de I Fiji 2palled my enjoyment somewhat.

The taste of this light bodied, column-still-made rum was the best thing about it. Hot, freshly brewed green tea, no sugar, was my initial thought.  Brine again, more white flowers, guavas, sugar cane sap oozing out after you chop a stalk down.  Overall the lightness was somewhat illusory, because the rum displayed a good warmth and firm delicacy (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms), and demonstrated why there remains no “perfect” rum strength – a higher proof would have shredded this Fijian, while 44% was exactly right. In fact, it showed off a lot of characteristics of an agricole, more than a rum coming from molasses (it was confirmed that it did indeed derive from molasses, not cane juice).  The finish was short, smooth,heated and elegant, but nothing really extra was added to the party over and beyond what I noted above…perhaps some faint vanilla, gherkins in weak vinegar, swank, not much else.

 

I thought it was a decent rum, made by a company which knew what they was doing when they selected it, and you could sense the assembly was done well – the mouthfeel, for example, was excellent.  Where it fell down for me was in the snarly disagreement between the individual sweet versus sour/salt components – they didn’t mesh well, and the wax and turpentine notes kept interrupting like annoyingly plastered gate-crashers at your daughter’s wedding. This is quite a bit better than the BBR 8 Year old I reviewed back in 2013, which had similar issues, just more of them, and there I attributed it less to terroire and more to  insufficient ageing.  

Now, I’m not so sure – the clear and somewhat jagged profile may be characteristic of the area, and if so, we who love rums should try a few more before rushing to condemn and criticize – it’s not like there’s a historically huge sample set out there to compare with.  Suffice to say, for the moment, this isn’t quite my cup of tea. It’s a technically well made rum whose individual components, delicious on their own, aren’t quite cohering the way they should to make the experience a sublime one. Or even a better one.

Other notes

Florent advised me the barrel was bought through a broker, and no sugar was added.

 

Jan 212016
 
Photo courtesy of velier.it

Photo courtesy of velier.it

Slow, not entirely promising beginning, with a strong development and finish.

(#251 / 87/100)

***

In between its major releases from Trinidad, Guyana and Damoiseau where it made its bones, Velier occasionally took time off to travel the more traditional route of the indie bottler, and issue one-offs like this one (and the 1997).  I consider it a curious addition to the oevre, and not entirely a rum so good that it rates admittance to the pantheon, though nevertheless deserving of praise.

I call it “curious”: it was distilled in October 1995 and bottled in January 2008…but in between those dates, it was, like Velier’s own Damoiseau 1980, stored in dead vats to cease the ageing, from 2006 on.  So it’s up to us to decide whether the resting vat had any residual influence which would make it 12½ years old…or whether it didn’t and it’s just around ten.

(That’s something that seems to be coming up more often in relation to older agricoles I’ve tried – a millesime (the year of distillation) is trumpeted to the heavens, but in some cases the makers aren’t nearly as forthcoming about the date of bottling, and one has to have the sleuthing nose of a Poirot to ferret out these little nuggets.  Fortunately, Velier has always been pretty good about providing the info we need on its labels, and now you know what I do, so let’s move on.)

Presentation was the usual bottle, enclosed in a dour blue box with bright abstract art on it. What I liked about it was that it didn’t just say “Guadeloupe,” as most independents would do on their labels, but “Basseterre”, and further along, a notation of Distillerie Carrère in Petit-Bourge – that allowed me to delve more deeply into the history, which is further down for those who are interested in the provenance and background.

Right, tasting notes. The opening aromas were crisp and sharp, even a little uncouth, a little undisciplined – lovers of smooth and easygoing fare are likely to be disappointed here. Both salty with red olives, and sweet at the same time, yet also lightly perfumed with the scent of delicate florals (not much), mixed in with a nice white wine…a good Riesling, perhaps. As the minutes wore on it developed into a light and clear smell, the sharpness wore off and gave over to tree sap, green leaves, wet grass, some vanilla and faint smoke.  It was all pleasantly tied off into a bow with additional cherries and hard yellow mangoes.

D3S_3751

The Basseterre was an amber coloured rum, medium bodied, and bottled at 58.2%, and it hesitated not at all before skewering the tongue.  I was a little surprised at its unrestrained aggressiveness, to be honest (I was tasting it in conjunction with the Velier Damoiseau 1980, Chantal Comte 1977 and two Neissons, all of which were slightly smoother), and while I immediately tasted honey, walnuts and almonds, I put it away for a while to let it open up some more. This was the right approach, because it gentled out more after five minutes, and the shy flavours of flowers, tree sap and aromatic tobacco emerged, behind which coiled sharper notes of tannins, fresh-sliced unripe peaches, citrus and ginger.  In fact, the pendulum swung just a shade too much in the other direction as time wore on, and canned fruit syrup, yoghurt and whipped cream (I kid you not) started to take away from the initial freshness I liked.

The fade was long and spicy and complemented the palate very well.  Not much new going on except for some cereal and milk, more honey and nuts (cheerios?), and that lovely aromatic pipe tobacco finished things off with perhaps some ginger and citrus hanging in there.  

Looking back and considering the experience dispassionately, I must concede that this might actually be one of the few Veliers that didn’t ascend to the peaks of their other (more popular, better known and higher-scored) rums…y’know, like the UF30E. It feels younger than ten years old, somehow. Still, the Basseterre got better as it glared around and opened up: it is a solid, strong, agricole, which started off a little poorly but came up to the finish line with good credentials.  Luca still hasn’t replied to me with what the outturn was, and I paid €190 for mine – for the quality I got, I’d suggest it’s a borderline purchase. If you’re not into agricoles, it’s unlikely this one will turn you into an aficionado…however, if you are, it surely won’t disappoint.

History

Guadeloupe is comprised of three main areas: the butterfly shaped conjoined landmasses of Grand Terre and Basseterre making up Guadeloupe proper, with the small island of Marie Galante to the south east. Petit Bourge is on the eastern side of Basseterre, and serves the Montebello distillery — when it was founded by the Dolomite family in 1930 it was called Carrere (named after an even smaller village nearby) but in 1968, after many years of declining revenues it was sold to a Jean Marsolle (whose brother owned the Séverin distillery a little to the north west). He in turn sold it to his sons Alain and Emamanuel in 1974 – they renamed it Montebello in 1975. It remains in the family to this day, and produces 500,000 liters of rum annually. They have the curious practice of not only casking their rums in oak, but then dunking the filled barrels into heated steel containers to accelerate the maturation.  Whether that works to enhance the resultant rhum I can’t say, since I never bought or managed to try any.

Other notes

This is not an AOC certified rhum.

Basseterre 1

 

Jan 202016
 

Rare Collection

“I hope for them that the rums are good,” muttered Cyril darkly, as a bunch of us exchanged comments on the newest DDL offerings.  We should have been happy, but we weren’t, not really.  Few of us rum watchers were.

Back in December 2015, I read the tea leaves spectacularly wrong and suggested that DDL would not be issuing single-still Velier-style full proofs any time soon.  A month later they did: an Enmore 1993, Versailles 2002 and PM 1999.  I’m actually kinda surprised nobody ragged my tail about my utter inability to forecast what might even have been a foregone conclusion after the age of Velier’s Demeraras abruptly ended. So yeah, I munching a big crow sandwich right now.

Still: if you’re not deep into rums, perhaps the way the blogosphere erupted at the news of DDL’s full-proof “Rare Collection” might have taken you aback. A link to an article on Velier’s site went viral almost immediately on the FB pages of la Confrere, Global Rum Club, Ministry of Rum; even some blogs made mention of it. People who loved Velier’s Demeraras, and who snapped up indie bottlings of Guyanese rums for ages, were happy as a Caner who fell into the vat, that DDL had finally started to “tek front.”

But as time went on, it became clear that there were several issues with the three bottlings named above, and all of them pointed to what I maintain are deficiencies in DDL’s strategic (or marketing) arm.  They misread the public sentiment and displayed no real current knowledge of what drives purchases of upscale “super-premium” rums.  They came at the wrong time, at the wrong price, with too little information and with the wrong fanfare.

Consider:

There was absolutely no forewarning at all (see footnote 1).  The picture and a brief notation in Italian went up on the Velier website (it has now disappeared) and that was it. And not even in time to make the Christmas season, where traditionally liquor sales peak.  As of this writing (January 20th) they are still not represented on El Dorado’s own website (although the deceased Mr. Robinson remains as a valued member of the team). DDL’s Facebook page has nothing, and questions I raised in private messages to them went unanswered.  Wow. Who on earth is in charge of getting the message out over there?

Along with the lack of warning, there was no mention of three key points that anyone selling a rum about which there is great anticipation should reasonably consider:

    1. Where were these to be distributed/sold?
    2. What would the price be?
    3. How many bottles were issued?

So essentially, until the Danes at Romhatten got their hands on a set and started writing about them (the PM received a 96 rating), few people knew where they could be had.  Most online stores still don’t carry them. It was later established they would not be sold in North America. And when it was understood that they averaged out at €290 a bottle in Denmark and Germany, whereas most independent bottlings of the same ages cost between a €100-200 on the primary market, the grumbles got louder.

Leaving out production costs and taxes, two things drive a bottle’s price way up – age (to some extent, though I have paid an arm and a leg for a seven year old from 1980), and more than that, rarity.  The two together create monsters like the Appleton 50 year old ($4500/bottle) for example.  One of the reasons a Velier Skeldon 1978 pushes prices past the thousand euro mark on the secondary market, is because there are so few out there.

However, DDL has not marketed the rums with indie-bottler-level pricing to titillate the market and grab initial market share and establish their own reputation for great full proof rums, separate from that of Velier; they gave no hint of how many bottles were issued; they advertised not at all, and to add insult to injury, are staying mum on the fora where they can engage their fans and the general public. All of this suggests that we are being asked to pay very high prices for an unproven product of uncertain commonality. If a hundred bottles had been issued that would be one thing….ten thousand would be quite another matter.

Consider this key point also – Luca was the recipient of a decade of goodwill for his full proof lines, aided and abetted by issuing rums that were very very good.  The man had an enviable track record, made almost no dogs, and had no dishonour or disrepute attached to his product (like DDL got when hydrometer tests began to show the inclusion of unreported sugar to their standard aged rums), and as a result, people were willing to buy his products blind, almost at any price, knowing they would get something that had a good chance of being an excellent drink and a worthwhile investment. And to his credit, Luca provided all the info up front, and never priced his rums to the point where this kind of essay became necessary.

DDL maybe felt that “if we issue it they will come.”  Given the explosion of interest in the new line, they were certainly correct there, and they themselves have many decades of goodwill of their own to tap into, deriving from the El Dorado line of rums (if not the Single Barrel expressions).  So I’m not saying DDL makes bad rums (quite the opposite in fact).  And believe me, I’m not pissy because I read the future wrong.  In fact, I have already bitten the bullet, put my money where my mouth is, and bought all three of these releases at those crazy prices.  I look forward — keenly — to reviewing them.  

What I am is annoyed with the stumbles of a company for which I have great regard, and which should know better. You don’t issue expensive rums after the holiday season, when purses are scrawny and credit card bills are due. The pricing and the lack of information are sure to piss off more serious rum lovers (and writers) who make purchasing decisions carefully.  One spends twenty bucks on a whim…not three hundred. And think about this also: when bloggers to whose opinions people attend say they will not buy these rums because they are too pricey or difficult to get (as several have already told me), their audience gets turned off too, and sales will inevitably diminish. If this happens and DDL believes there’s no market for full proofs, well, then, what do you think they will do? Cancel the entire line, maybe?

So yeah, I’m a little miffed with DDL’s new rums, much as I applaud the fact that they’re issued at all.  Only time will tell whether the price they’ve set is justified.  In the meantime, they’d better start providing us consumers with more information, not less.  And those rums had better be damned good. 

Notes

  1. Inadvertently, I’m sure, the Guyanese daily Stabroek News actually mentioned these three rums…back in November 4th, 2015. It is clearly stated in that article that they would only be sold in Europe.
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