Ruminsky

Jul 222016
 

Sagatiba Pura 2

Great nose. Taste and finish don’t quite measure up.

(#288 / 78/100)

***

This was a cachaça I bought back in 2011 or thereabouts, and never bothered to open and review because I had zero experience with the spirit beyond getting smacked on caipirinhas a few times; I lacked sufficient background to rate it properly and it seemed to be unfair to score it when there were no fitting comparators.  Several years on, nearly three hundred reviews and quite a few Brazilian spirits later, plus available comparators and controls, and I felt better equipped to write something I can put my name behind.  

Sagatiba PuraSagatiba Pura is produced in the small town of Patrocinio Paulista in the state of São Paolo, Brazil.  The company was formed in 2004, and through adroit marketing and what must have been pretty good brand ambassadorship, became one of the first cachaças to be widely exported and known outside its country of origin (it claimed to hold a 90% market share of cachaças in Britain in 2007).  It was likely this exposure that caused Campari to buy it in 2011 for $26 million. The company also makes Velha and Preciosa variations, which are aged and brown rhums in their own right, unlike this clear one, which was (and remains as of this writing) the only one of the line to make it to Canada. Too, while the USA appears to have gotten the 38% ABV version introduced back in 2013, mine was 40%.

The clear, multi-distilled, unaged cachaça had a nose that was by far the best of the series I tried that day, and though it came from a column still, did a good imitation of being a pot still product.  Rich, briny, waxy and redolent of spanish lives and furniture polish, it also had some hints of woodiness lurking in the background (though of course it had not been aged).  What made it shine in my estimation was the way it developed – after standing for a few minutes – and started to provide smells of citrus peel, crushed sugar cane, a sweetish amalgam of cinnamon and nutmeg, and even the light perfume of flowers…a really nice aroma all round, light and clean.

It was too bad that this promise didn’t carry over as to how it tasted.  It was spicy, clear, clean and dry, not sweet at all, with (initially) little of the delicate perfume the nose suggested. There was a certain metallic taste to it, a mixture of tobacco and wet campfire ashes, almost mineral-y in nature, sufficiently aggressive to squash the lighter vegetals, wet grass, aromatic cigarillos, sugar water, florals, watermelon and sliced pears which came out (helped by some water). These clashing flavours did not, in my estimation, play well together. Exactly the same notes carried over into the fade, which was short and dry and warm and smooth enough, but still ruined by the ashy and smoky, background, which was far too dominant and all-encompassing for me to appreciate it. There was originality here, no doubt, but no adherence to one taste profile over the other – like gambolling puppies they were all allowed to do pretty much what they pleased, without discipline or imposed order.

It’s curious that the Sagatiba is marketed as some kind of premium top end cachaça – it sure doesn’t taste like one, though it is better than the Leblon I tried alongside it. It’s possible that since the majority of the rum drinking public outside Brazil knows little about the type, or because bartenders who nab a bottle or two of it frothed over its potential, that such claims can be made. As far as I’m concerned, it has a snazzy bottle, clean, clear design philosophy (so it looks real cool), and excellent marketing, which, when all is distilled down to what matters – the taste and how it drinks – just makes me shrug and move it to the mixers shelf.

***

Jul 202016
 

D3S_6187

The Rio Olympics will surely revive interest in cachaças. Let’s head into the Amazon for a few reviews, starting with this delicate but ultimately disappointing one from Leblon.

(#287 / 76/100)

***

Cachaças, the rhums of Brazil, remain among the most unrepresented rums in the world, both from a perspective of being written about in reviews or info-blogs, or of actual knowledge of their incredible variety outside their place of origin.  And yet supposedly some 1500 or so such rums exist (one writer says it’s 5000), far eclipsing the other cane juice minority of the agricoles, which get much more attention. Amazingly, a mere 2% of these rums ever get exported to the rum swilling public (most of them unaged whites), which makes Brazil the next great undiscovered country.

Leblon is a  cachaça produced at the Destilaria Maison Leblon in the Minas Gerias region of Brazil (it’s the huge territory north of Rio). The label speaks of light ageing, and the website says it’s in French oak barrels that once held XO cognac.  Although not mentioned I’d suggest “light” means less than six months because the brownish tint to the rhum is well-nigh imperceptible and it just doesn’t taste like anything left to rest for an extended period.

D3S_6186Like with most cachaças, the idea is not to drink it neat (though this was the basis of the review) but to mix it in the Brazilian national cocktail, the caipirinha, where, with their sunny optimism, the Brazilians usually remark “The worse the cachaça, the better the caipirinha.” Well, by that standard, this one must make a killer drink, because of the various cachaças I tried that day, this one came in picking up footprints.  In 2009. a writer from WineCompass said “We have tasted several excellent cachaças over the past two years and Leblon is easily the best,” but I guess he and his fellows were looking for different things than I was.

This was partly because of the excessive woodinesss of the nose.  Cachaças may be aged in local timbers (and the Delicana rums, you will recall, indulged themselves in aging in some very peculiar woods indeed).  This one was not just woody, but excessively so – it was like I just bumped into Treebeard’s backside. Yet, this is a cane juice pot still rhum, which is then filtered three times, so obviously that was a deliberate choice to have the woodiness so initially dominant.  Anyway, pungent wax and resins and tree sap were the first scents I noted, a quick, sharp explosion of them…and then they were gone.  Sugar water, extremely light fruity notes (a melange rather than anything clearly individualized) and bright green grasses after a rain.  The smells got a little heavier over time developing an almost creamy heft of breadfruit and pumpkins and it was all a rather sharp, short experience, if intense for a 40% rhum.

Unlike the Jamel and the Sagatiba cachaças which I tried together with this one (I’m going in ascending order of my scores), the sugar water taste of swank was mostly absent when I tasted it.  It was again creamy warm solidity rather than light effervescence, medium bodied, hardly sweet at all (though I tasted something of a watermelon rind with some pink still clinging to it, and a lemon pip or two), and trended more towards a toned down tequila mixed up in an olive-based fruit salad from which most of the fruit had been removed.  I should note that the woody tastes that started off the party were not evident on the palate…but came back to a raucous goodbye on the fade, lots of tree bark and the slight acidic bitterness of sap, mixed up with sugar water and fresh fallen rain on hot wooden planks.

Summing up, all the markers of an agricole are here in this cachaça (although let me hasten to say I am not rating the Leblon against the white French island rhums) — the cane juice origin, pot still distillation; the spicy, sugar-water and watermelon tastes, but with that creamy taste which rubs up the wrong way against the lighter tartness of the barely perceptible fruit; and it demonstrates a peculiar Brazilian distinctiveness that marks it out as “not French.”  In fairness, all sources are adamant that this is a rum to mix, not drink as a sipping juice, and I’d recommend it that way as well.  It’s by no means a rhum you should try neat as your first sojourn into the spirit.  If you’re into French island rhums, and younger, rawer, more untamed spirits, and love your cocktails, well, sooner or later you’ll come to cachaças, yes.  But not necessarily this one.

Other notes

Josh Miller rated the Leblon at 7.5, and it was his fourth favourite of the fourteen he tried in his Cachaça Challenge in 2015. 

Leblon was acquired by Bacardi in 2015.

Jul 172016
 

Lost spirits Polynesian 1

Nope, this one doesn’t quite click either.  Too many clashing tastes, none enhancing any other, and overall, too untamed. Still not entirely a bad product though.

(#286 / 81/100)

***

Let’s just wrap up the third on in the initial rums made by Lost Spirits, the Polynesian-inspired.  For those who really are not into rums, have not been paying attention, or are wondering why this small company is gathering so much press, be it known that Bryan Davis out of California makes the claim that with his proprietary technology (a ‘molecular reactor’) he can not only emulate many years’ ageing in just a few days, but any country or region’s style. It’s as if by processing the baking grade molasses and yeast that form the basis of their distillate, they can – one day – use that to produce a Velier-style Enmore, or a FourSquare Port Cask, a Havana Club or Longpond Jamaican….all within a week.

Such claims are unlikely to impress many, least of all the grand old distillers and master blenders and guys who have spent decades learning the craft of blending and ageing in the old way, and who disdain unverifiable self-proclaimed magical methods of artificial ageing (concepts which are almost as old as aged spirits themselves and are seen to be in good company with snake-oil sellers hawking their wares outside a travelling  circus).  Still, I’m fairly certain there’s a sphincter or two that’s puckering out there, since technological progression is geometrical, and while the first batch of Mr. Davis’s rums didn’t and don’t come up to scratch or deliver on the promises that they were a Navy rum, or close to a Cuban, they weren’t quite as poorly made as some have made out – they still beat many multi-column-still industrial mass-produced hooch that people buy so blindly, in such quantities, and there’s potential in the process, if it can ever be made to work right, and consistently.

This rum is something like the Cuban-inspired in that it seeks to recreate the profile of the rums from another geographical region.  I’m not sure of the point of this – it’s not like the sample set from over there is large enough to have a decent baseline to begin with, and outside of Hawaii, how many Americans have ever or even tasted a Polynesian rum? Background reading points out the fact that it is made to fit the profile of a high-ester pot still product, and indeed it is made on a copper pot still, though of course no age statement is as yet, or can be, applied to it.  It’s in all respects an unaged rum, which leads me to wonder if they didn’t mess with it by adding anything, was it the reactor that created the colour?

Lost spirits Polynesian 2Anyway, the whole pot still origin at least conformed to the profile of the smells that hit me once I opened the 66%, dark amber rum.  The action got going right away, with solid, sharp notes of wax and turpentine and acetone and shoe polish, here one second, gone the next, morphing swiftly into rotten apples, peaches left in the sun too long, and a lingering background of salty-sweet tequila oiliness that had no business being there.  This is supposedly part of the process the reactor promotes, which produces a surfeit of long chained esters — these are the source of turpentine/paint thinner flavours in high concentrations, and fruity ones when dialled down, so as far as I’m concerned this one had the dial stuck too high, and I didn’t care for it.

To taste it was a sharp sarissa of intense heat, just like any full proof rum.  That part didn’t disturb me, I just put it to one side to open up a bit and came back a few minutes later.  Well now: this was like another rum entirely, remarkably different from what the nose had advertised – quite a bit more balance here, with the waxy turpentine kept way back; overripe peaches (no real citrus tartness evident), brine, black olives, that oily tequila sweet-salt note again, dates, figs and other non-sweet ‘fruits’.  The absence of more traditionally expected tastes was somewhat surprising, and it gave the rum a distinctiveness that may become its maker’s identifying, defining signature, but the problem was that this uniqueness did not particularly translate into a quality rum that I cared for, where a central core of one flavour carried lighter and medium intensity elements of others that blended well together; the Polynesian cannot truly be termed ‘traditional’ by any stretch.  Even the finish – long and dry, redolent of (get this) olive oil soaked bell peppers as well as more dates and soya – didn’t really work well together. I like crazy for the most part, I enjoy originality and reaching for the brass ring, but there has to be a bedrock of underlying quality, of texture and taste and aromas that gels somehow: Mr. Davis is still working on that part.

So.  Good things are strength and heft and an original taste.  Bad things are those very same tastes and the way they do not come together to form a cohesive, enjoyable whole, plus a nose of too many uncontained, uncontrolled esters which allow the wrong ones to dominate. It’s also more than a little jagged to try, and little real smoothness in the mouthfeel.  It’s a mixer for sure, for the moment, and that’s how most will try it and drink it.

Matt Pietrek, commenting in the post on the Lost Spirits Cuban inspired rum, advised me that all three of the rums I’ve written about were from the initial reactor outputs, which have since been tweaked to various settings and routines in a specified order, which we can call Version  2.0. (my bottle with was bought back in early 2015, just when the process was gathering some steam). So there are new products – even whiskies, now — coming out from Lost Spirits, and the technology is beginning to spread to other companies who see either potential to bypass the Caribbean nations, or to make a fast buck, or really produce some cool rums of their own (or all at once).  Based on these three rums, it’ll still be many years before any of the old rum houses, or the European cognoscenti, need to worry that their favourite tipple will be replaced by technology that promises much, but so far, has not delivered.

Other notes

Just because I don’t (thus far) endorse or highly praise this line of rums, doesn’t mean others don’t.  North Americans are quite positive in their assessments, while European writers remain silent for now (perhaps due to availability). So some references for your research, should you be curious:

 

 

Jul 132016
 

 

Richland 1*

By itself with nothing else around, it’ll do just fine as a light and casual sipper. It chips along easy, dances pretty around your palate, and has delicate notes that are quite enjoyable. In conjunction with others, it kinda chokes.

(#282 / 75/100)

***

This review has been sitting, waiting, gathering dust, for many months now, and the bullet, so to speak, had to be bitten. If I had never tasted a raft of rums from around the world the day the Richland crossed my path, I might have liked it a lot more. But what did happen is that my friends and I did a deep field sample of maybe fifteen rums in a six hour session, and this one suffered in comparison. Not so much because it failed in and of itself, but because during that extended sampling exercise, it was compared and contrasted to many other rums…and that really allowed us to get into it in a way that more casual imbibers probably wouldn’t. And sank it to the bottom of my pile.

Richland 2It’s a US entry into the agricole world, distilled from locally grown sugar cane rendered down into “honey” in a copper pot still, aged around four years or so in charred American oak barrels, bottled at 43%, and on that basis it certainly has all the proper boxes ticked. Fascinatingly enough, future plans are to have each bottle  numbered so the exact barrel from which it came is traceable.  I refer you to Dave Russell’s in-depth essay on the rum (which he liked much more than I did), which saves me the trouble of regurgitating it all here. One surprise – are there really no other rum producers in the USA who use a pot still and sugar cane honey in a single pass?  Surprising, but interesting all the same.  Kudos.

Now, nose and taste wise, the rum, a gold one, was pretty good: easy-going, delicate, light and very sweet. Behind a rather surprising rubber opening smell, lurked the florals, a lot of them. It was like being in an airconditioned flower shop just after a delivery came in, redolent of lavender and perfumed soap and shampoo (I guarantee, no other reviewer will mention that), 7-up and bubble gum.  It tiptoed around the nose, and other, equally light notes of sugar water and lemon grass and a little vanilla, coconut, came through.

Sipping it resolved some issues, created others and circled back to the original. The nose did provide the promise of some complexity but the palate didn’t deliver quite as much: it was warm and more basic, and the hint of agricole-profile that might have been expected was not distinctively there.  What indeed it tasted like was an uneasy mixture of bananas, sugar water and air-freshener, mixed with potpourri and cooking herbs (dill and rosemary) and even a stick of licorice. After some time the sweet took a back seat, some tartness of apples and oak took over, caramel and vanilla and smoke became more readily discernible, to dominate the rest of the extended tasting.  And underlying it all, throughout the session from start to finish, that travelling-bag scent refused to go away — although honesty compels me to admit I was the only one who seemed to notice it. Thank God it was faint.  Finish was perfectly serviceable, warm and not too spicy, more rubber, more air freshner, more flowers, more vanilla, more oak…and if that doesn’t sound pleasing, well, it was, quite light and airy and melded reasonably well.

Cutting to the chase, my opinion is that it’s decent, without being particularly spectacular.  The taste is an uneasy marriage of competing individual notes that hearken back to almost different profiles altogether, like a sharp agricole trying to be a Bajan.  Doesn’t really work.  Plus, over a long time, going back to it every half hour or so, the metamorphosis from light and tasty sipping rum into some weird sweet air-freshener-like liquid also sank it for me.  It may be a batch thing, since this is a pot still, small batch artisinal rum, and some variations of quality are to be expected.

Comparison might be the key here. Taste it alone, you’re fine.  You’ll like it, as long as light-bodied, unaggressive tamped-down 40% agricoles are your thing. Try it as part of an extended range of good rums, let the thing stand and aerate for a while, put aside any preconceived notions and you’d be surprised how much changes in both the rum, and your estimation of it.  In my case, that wasn’t for the better. 

 

Jul 072016
 

Neisson XO 1

Trying the last of the four Neisson I bought in 2014-2015 made me happy I saved it for last, because it was, I felt, the best of them all.

(#284 / 87.5/100)

***

“The race does not always go the swift, nor the battle to the strong,” goes that old aphorism; to which some wag added “…but that’s the way to bet.” I feel the same way about older rhums versus younger ones – the best score doesn’t always go to the oldest (the Trois Rivieres 1975 and 1986 are proof of that), it’s just that more often than not that actually is the case.  As it is, here, with Neisson’s excellent XO, one of the really delicious sipping rhums from the domaine Thieubert on Martinique.

The Neisson XO 3me Millesime was begun in 1999 to mark the entry into the third Millenium, and is pretty much Neisson’s top of the line rhum, limited to two thousand bottles a year.  It is a blend of Neisson’s ten best barrels of any given year which already underwent a minimum of six years’ ageing prior to assembly, and one blended, aged for at least another six years (I have seen posts dating back from 2007 suggesting fifteen years total). And unlike the rectangular round-edged standards of editions further down the price ladder, here the company provided an etched decanter with a glass stopper, gold leaf printing, all looking very spiffy.

Neisson XO 2I’ve remarked before on that odd oily tequila-like note I sensed on all the Neissons (e.g  the 2005, Tatanka and Extra Vieux).  In this instance it had been dialled way down from even the 2005 edition, and began with rubber and overripe fruit mixed up with acetone and brine (the last gasp of a tamed post still, maybe?).  It was smooth, heavy, easy, just a little spicy (45%, very well handled).  As I went between it and all its siblings I got back to it ten minutes later to find it had developed really well – pears, red roses (not too overpowering or over-dominant), a few apples just beginning to go, and orange juice, all leavened by a shy shade of coconut. It was a really very nicely assembled nosing rhum…I could have gotten lost in it.

It was on the palate that the gold-brown AOC rhum really shone, though.  The texture and mouthfeel were extraordinarily well-balanced, neither too hot nor too reticent, smooth and just heavy enough, as rounded as John Cena’s biceps.  None of that overripe fruit or rubber/acetone flavours carried over from the nose – instead, what I got was a kind of perfumed teriyaki, salt and sweet, backed up with florals and a cornucopia of light fruits – Indian mangoes, kiwi fruit, white guavas, a little Lebanese grapes, bananas, coconut, cocoa, brown sugar and vanilla, all tied up in a bow with a flirt of light acidity carrying over from some orange or ripe lemon peel.  If the finish was not as complex as the taste (the palate really was the best part about the whole experience), well, at least it was long for a 45% rhum, and provided me with closing hints of white sugar soaked in lemon juice, reminding me of all the times I dosed my stepmother with that exact mixture when she had a bad cold.

If I had to make some criticisms, it would be to say the nose isn’t entirely up to the excellence of the taste, though even with its relatively subdued nature (relative to the other Neissons) it’s damned good.  And the finish, aromatic as it might be, could have been beefed up some.  But really, these are minor quibbles in a rhum that is all-round yummy and does its company and younger brothers no dishonour at all.  While not everyone is into agricoles – Lord knows it took me long enough to learn to appreciate them – if you can get a sample of this XO, by all means give it a shot.  Different it may be. Tasty it definitely is. Deficient? Absolutely not. It is the best of the Neissons I’ve tried so far.

Jul 032016
 

Lost Spirits Cuban 1

Not quite there.  Yet.

(#283 / 83/100)

***

Lost Spirits, if you recall, is the company that produced a set of rums of varying strengths last year – polynesian, navy, colonial, and this one – which are processed by their proprietary “reactor” to emulate the taste profile of rums aged for many years, while only being days old.  This is one of the three I bought, the “Cuban Inspired” version, bottled at a growlingly powerful 75.5% and properly labelled “151”.  151s are generally mixers (unlike, say, the SMWS beefcakes), which strikes me as an odd choice to produce – because if one is trying to showcase the ageing potential of the reactor, why make a rum that people have never seen as an aged product? Perhaps it is to try and recreate the taste markers of the style as well – if that’s what was attempted, I stand here before you telling you that the system still needs more work.

That said, let’s just get the stats and background out of the way: the Cuban Inspired is made from baking grade molasses — much like, I guess, Pritchards’ — water and yeast, some interesting tricks with nitrogen deprivation, no additives or colouring, some ageing in charred and toasted American oak barrels, and filtration through a coconut husk filter. So as 151s go, something of a diversion.  I was therefore quite curious whether a Cuban-style profile could be made via technology instead of actually in Cuba.

The light bronze rum nosed quite kinetically, of course, which at that strength was to be expected. Sharp, hot scents of brine, figs, olive oil and tequila led things off with some of the waxy, glue and petrol notes of some serious pot still action.  I set it aside to let the spicy alcohol fumes evaporate, and when I went back to it ten minutes later, things settled down a bit and the scents were much more interesting: huge molasses and burnt sugar, cocoa and vanilla notes were the backbone, upon which rested a sharper, less intense secondary aromas of coarse dry breakfast cereal and stale orange peel that’s been sitting in the sun for too long. Interesting and quite intriguing, for sure, though there’s something lacking here, a sort of middle section to bridge the gap between the sharp higher notes and the deeper and more solid underpinnings.

Putting aside the sheer oomph of this thing – for sure, given its intensity at that strength, I sipped very carefully – I was surprised how much there was on the palate: molasses soaked brown sugar, butterscotch (way too much of these three elements), salt butter, fresh baked dark russian bread (I used to buy one daily for a year straight back in my working days in the ‘Stans).  Too hot and untamed to sip really well, it was damned rough on the tongue.  With water, matters settled down, and additional flavours of overripe plums and peaches, more tequila and olives in brine emerged, weirdly mixed with hot black tea and yes, that stale orange peel made a comeback, all finishing off with a very long exit as befits an overproof, and last hints of wood and sawdust and an old, lovingly polished leather bag.

Lost Spirits Cuban 2So there’s the tasting notes.  Opinion? Well, it has quite a lot of action, that’s for sure.They sort of whirl around in a melee of unfocussed aggression, like a war-movie battle scene where the director is too much in love with his shaky-cam, making nonsense of any attempt to come to grips with an underlying structure.  Tastes just exist, and they do not come together in any kind of layering or synthesis, and where each one should be informing, supporting and melding with others, here what we have is a bunch of rabid individualists who do not know the meaning of teamwork. And honestly, there’s over-dominance by molasses and vanilla and butterscotch – it’s deep and it’s nice and it’s pervasive…perhaps too much so.

Plus – where’s the Cuban by which it was supposedly inspired? I’ve had a few from the island in my time, and the Spanish style, which so many in Central and South American rum-makers have copied over the centuries, was not particularly self-evident in this rum.  Usually, rectified column still spirit further amended by careful barrel ageing is a defining marker; but I didn’t get any of that clean, dry, light, flowery profile with coy hints of molasses and citrus dancing their own little tango, bound together by easy fruitiness – quite the contrary, this was a rapier turned into a fruit-smeared butterscotch bludgeon, not all of which worked. 

Whether we like it or not, when a rum is labelled as something, we expect from our past experiences of similar rums for the promise implicitly made on that promo to be honoured.  As with the Navy 68% I tried before I didn’t feel that really occurred (I sampled alongside the Navy and the Polynesian, and the Cuban resembled the former quite a bit) .  There’s little of the Santiago de Cuba or Havana Club here, to me. I’m giving it the score I do because of originality, some very interesting tastes, and then taking away some points for lack of coherence (but not for not being a Cuban – that one is an irrelevancy and I mention the matter only because the label does).  I like what Bryan Davis is doing, admire his dedication and passion and love of  technology which he is bringing to bear on a very old process, but still feel the process needs work.  From that perspective, it was real smart to call this a “Cuban Inspired” rum.

***

Other notes

I know this review will be somewhat divisive (it’s not meant to be dismissive), so here are some references to give you more positive points of view, if you’re interested:

Jun 302016
 

CDI Jamaica 2000 14yo 2

 

A rum that’s frisk to a fault.

(#282 / 86.5/100)

***

Ever notice how many new Jamaicans are on the market these days?  At one point you’d be lucky to see a few Appleton V/Xs chatting boredly on the shelf with an occasional dusty Coruba, and if your shop was a good one, maybe an indie or two.  For over a decade, few knew better.  Now, it’s not just J. Wray stuff that one can find with some diligent trawling: one can’t go online without banging into rums from Hampden, Monymusk, Worthy Park, Clarendon, Longpond…which is all great. The rum resurgence is a long-established fact (disregard the ill-informed journos constantly harping on the way it is “happening now” every year), but methinks that Jamaica is just building up a major head of steam and there’s lots more and much better to come.  

Velier left the island alone, which is somewhat of a shame, really – can you imagine what might have happened if Luca had discovered a Caroni-style warehouse of some of these old distilleries? Few independents outside of Murray McDavid or G&M did much with Jamaican rums – perhaps the style was too different for popular consumption (sailors apparently didn’t care for the Jamaican component of their grog so its percentage in the navy blend kept dropping). One gent who bucked the trend and has been bottling superlative Jamaican rums for ages is Fabio Rossi (his first 1974 Supreme Lord 0 was bottled as far back as 1999 and we all know of the fiery white 57% baby from last year).  And now Mr. Florent Beuchet of the Compagnie des Indes aims to capture some of the glory with this cask strength bad boy, sold exclusively on the Danish market, ‘cause they asked for it, and nobody else in Europe would pay the taxes on something so feral.  The Danes smiled, shrugged, said “Okay da, så tager vi den,”¹ and walked off laughing with the entire output of the barrel for their market, and the rest of us proles have been trying to get some ever since.

CDI Jamaica 2000 14yo 3Good for them all.  I love those big bad bold Demeraras (who doesn’t?) yet I have true  affection for the bruisers from Trenchtown as well – in a somewhat more tasteful and restrained way, it’s like they’re channelling the soul of Marley via a dunder pit and a decomposing guitar.  I mean, just smell this 58% amber-gold full proof: esters, funkiness, herbaceous matter and a smorgasbord of rich ripe (almost too ripe) cherries, mangoes, apricots, sapodilla and tart white guavas.  It’s not really that heavy: it presents with a sort of sweet, laid-back clarity and cleanliness that reminded me more of a Spanish style rum having a dust up in the yards with something fiercer and more elemental. But things didn’t stop there: minutes later molasses, vanilla and sugar bedrock emerged upon which rested yet other hints of squished strawberries (I know of no other way to express that), dead grass and some slightly off wine.  Come on, you gotta admire something like this, 58% or no.

In a way that was both disappointment and relief, the twisty flavour bomb settled down after the initial attack of the nose.  It was a medium bodied, clean, almost crisp rum, which is where I suggest Florent’s personal thing about continental ageing usually ends up (similar remarks are jotted down in almost all my notes).  That was both this rum’s strength and its weakness, I thought, because the 58% coupled with that almost-but-not-quite lightness of the labial profile felt perhaps a bit too sharp.  Still, get past it and suck it up, as the Danes would say, and indeed, once I did, the rotting vegetals of dunderous funk (or should I say the funky dunder?) surfaced once more, dialled down, clashing good-naturedly with some winey notes, green olives, rye, leather and a bit of caramel and molasses here and there.  There was no way to confuse this with any Demerara rum ever made, or even an Appleton, and even on the finish there were points of difference from profiles we are more used to: marshmallows, molasses, apricots and brown sugar dominated, but that sly vegetal background still lurked in the background like a thief waiting for another chance to pick the pockets of your tonsils. Whew.  Quite an experience, this. It handily showed any 40% Jamaican the door.

What else do we have? Well, the rum was Hampden stock, the outturn was 254 bottles, and as noted it was made exclusively for Denmark, bottled and released in 2015.  No additives or adulterations of any kind, and for my money it’s a joyous riot of a drink, too badly-behaved to be anything but a whole lot of fun as you either quaff it with your friends or mix it into some kind of killer cocktail that calls for lots and lots of Jamaica sunshine, a spliff or two, and maybe some reggae tunes belting away to help it go down more easy. Not a great rum, but one that’s worth the coin any day.

I don’t know what the Danes are up to, honestly.  Not too long ago they weren’t on anyone’s map of the rum appreciating nations of the world (was anyone, outside of France and the UK and the Caribbean itself?), yet these days they have one of the most active and vibrant communities of rum anywhere, and prices to match.  Daniel’s new company Ekte just started making some waves last year (as if his rum bar didn’t already do that), my rum chums Henrik (of RumCorner reknown) and Gregers call it home, there’s an expanding rum fest, they all tell me it’s pedal to the metal all the way…and now the establishment  commissions a rum like this? Hell, maybe I should move, just so I can get some more.

***

Other notes:

¹ “Sure, we’ll take it.”

The events behind why there is a special edition of CDI rums for Denmark is covered in the company bio.  It’s a bit more prosaic than I recount above, but I can’t resist embellishments in a neat story.

Those same two sterling Danish gents, Gregers and Henrik, were kind enough to provide not just a sample of this rum for me to try in 2015, but the entire bottle. We’ll argue over who got the best of the exchange when we meet again this year as we demolish another set.

Jun 232016
 
saint-james-vintage-1986 crop

Photo copyright (c) lagourmandinerhumerie.com

Rumaniacs Review 023

Supposedly the 1970s and 1980s are the rarest vintages of many Martinique rhums – nearly thirty years later, that’s as little as makes no difference, since any and all rhums from that era are now collector’s items, irrespective of the country.  Many have been lost forever and aren’t even remembered.  This one from 1986 deserves to be rescued from the pit, however, because it’s pretty good.

Saint James on the north east coast of Martinique has been around since 1765 when Father LeFebure of the Brothers of Charity first devised a cane spirit, which he began shipping to the British colonies up north.  Initially he named the rhum Saint Jacques after a gent who actually bought the island in the 1630s (from the Compagnie des Îles d’Amérique) and developed it into a successful French colony – but not one to let sentiment (or his faith, apparently) get in the way of sound commercial bastardization, he renamed it Saint James to sound more english and thereby increase sales.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Wow!  What a lovely, deep, fruity nose.  Is this an AOC agricole?  Nope, the island adopted it only in late 1996, so all kinds of weird stuff was going on before then…and thank heavens for that.  This nose is lovely – vanillas and oaken tannins, white flowers, sweet peaches in syrup, but held at bay by a crisp driness almost like a Riseling, and ending up with (get this) fanta soda pop and bubble gum.  Don’t ask me how, I just smell this thing and call it as I see it – but it’s great.

Palate – On a medium-to-light bodied, deliciously warm mouthfeel, the Fruit Express continues to romp: dark red cherries, apricots, wound about with light and chirpy citrus peel; dates and raisins, lime juice soaked brown sugar…yet somehow the rhum remains light and sprightly, not heavy at all and without any kind of overbearing sweetness. Last tastes with water add white chocolate, some weak coffee grounds and grasses wet in the rain, all very very nice.

Finish – more a summing up of the preceding than anything new, and quite short, perhaps to be expected from 43%.  Warm, a little bite, clean and very clear, with more leather and oak, some citrus (a little), and fruits. Only complaint is I wish it was longer.

Thoughts – The AOC is something of a double edged sword to rummies – drinkers and makers both.  Many appreciate the standards, others chafe under the restrictions. It’s always interesting to see how different the old ways are from the new, just by comparing any modern aged Saint James with this one rhum from a generation ago. The 1986 may be long out of production, costs upwards of €500 and rare as a negative Velier review, but that doesn’t mean the ways of the old masters were in any way bad ones.

(86/100)

 

Jun 222016
 

SMWS R3.5 1

A big ‘n’ badass Bajan rum, brutal enough to be banished to Netflix, where Jessica Jones and Daredevil occasionally stop by Luke Cage’s bar to have some.

(#281 / 86/100)

***

“They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts,” I remarked once of one of the 151s with which I amused myself.  The SMWS on the other hand, does this stuff with the dead seriousness of a committed jailbird in his break for freedom.  They have no time to muck around, and produce mean, torqued-up rum beefcakes, every time. So be warned, the “Marmite” isn’t a rum with which you good-naturedly wrestle (like with the 151s, say) – you’re fighting it, you’re at war with it, you’re red in tooth and claw by the time you’re done, and afterwards you’re somehow sure that the rum won.  You may feel exhilerated just surviving the experience

Behind the user-friendly façade of the muted camo-green bottle and near-retro label of unintended cool, lies a rum proudly (or masochistically) showcasing  74.8 proof points of industrial strength, the point of which is somewhat lost on me – because, for the price, who’s going to mix it, and for the strength, who’s going to drink it?  It’s eleven years old, aged in Scotland, and hails, as far as I’ve been able to determine, from the Rockley pot still owned the West Indies Rum Distillery, making it a cousin of the Samaroli Barbados 1986 and the SMWS R3.4 10 year, old and thereby setting the stage.

SMWS R3.5 2The hay blonde rum oozed intensity right from the moment it was cracked. It was enormous, glitteringly sharp, hot, strong and awesomely pungent – the very first scents were acetone, wax, perfume and turpentine, so much so I just moved the glass to one side for a full ten minutes.  That allowed it to settle down into the low rumble of an idling Lambo, and gradually lighter notes of flowers, lavender, nail polish, sugar water and olives in brine came through, though very little “rummy” flavours of caramel and toffee and brown sugar could be discerned. It was clear nothing had been added to or filtered away from this thing.

Having experienced some rums qualifying as brutta ma buoni (which is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good” and describes such overproofs perfectly) I was very careful about my initial sip.  And with good reason – it was hellishly powerful. Incredibly thick and coating on the tongue. Massive, razor-sharp flavours of brine, cherries, more olives, some dried fruits, watermelon, and that weird combination of a cucumber sandwich on rye bread liberally daubed with cream cheese.  Christ this was hot – it was so over the top that were you to drink it in company, you wouldn’t be able to hear the guy next to you screaming…he’d have to pass you a note saying “OMFG!!!”.  Yet that’s not necessarily a disqualification, because like the 3.4, there was quite a bit of artistry and complexity going on at the same time. I have never been able to follow the SMWS’s tasting notes (see the label), but concede I was looking for the marmite…it was just difficult to find anything through that heat.  Once I added water (which is a must, here), there it was, plus some nuttiness and sweetness that had been absent before.  

All of this melded into a finish that was, as expected, suitably epic….it went on and on and on, holding up the flag of the overproofs in fine style, giving up flavours of hot black tea, pears, more florals, and a final hint of the caramel that had been so conspicuously absent throughout the tasting. I had it in tandem with the 3.4 (and the R5.1, though not strictly comparable), and liked the earlier Bajan a bit more.  But that’s not to invalidate how good this one is – about the only concession I have to make is that really, 74.8% is just a tad excessive for any kind of neat sipping. Overall?  Not bad at all – in fact it grew one me.  There was a lot more going on over time — so quietly it kinda sneaks up on you — than the initial profile would suggest, and patience is required for it.

SMWS R3.5 3

In trying to explain something of my background to my family (a more complicated story than you might think), I usually remark that no West Indian wedding ever really wraps up before the first fistfight erupts or the last bottle of rum gets drained.  The question any homo rummicus reading this would therefore reasonably ask, then, is which rum is that? Well…this one, I guess. It’s a hard rum, a tough rum, a forged steel battleaxe of a rum. It maybe should be issued with a warning sticker, and I honestly believe that if it were alive, it would it could have Robocop for lunch, yark him up half-chewed, and then have him again, before picking a fight in Tiger Bay.  It’s up to you though, to decide whether that’s a recommendation or not.

Jun 192016
 

K&S 12 YO 1

Not a bah-humbug rum…more like something of a “meh”.

(#280 / 81/100)

***

I have an opinion on larger issues raised by this rum and others like it, but for the moment let’s just concentrate on the review before further bloviating occurs. Kirk and Sweeney is a Dominican Republic originating rum distilled and aged in the DR by Bermudez (one of the three Big Bs of Barcelo, Bermudez and Brugal) before being shipped off to California for bottling by 35 Maple Street, the spirits division of The Other Guy (a wine company).  And what a bottle it is – an onion bulb design, short and chubby and very distinctive, with the batch and bottle number on the label.  That alone makes it stand out on any shelf dominated by the standard bottle shapes. It is named after a Prohibition-era schooner which was captured by the Coast Guard in 1924 and subsequently turned into a training vessel (and renamed), which is just another marketing plug meant to anchor the rum to its supposed piratical and disreputable antecedents.

Dark orange in colour, bottled at 40%, the K&S is aged for 12 years in the usual American oak casks.  Where all that ageing went is unclear to me, because frankly, it didn’t have a nose worth a damn.  Oak?  What oak? Smelling it revealed more light vanilla and butterscotch than anything else, with attendant toffee and ice cream.  It was gentle to a fault, and so uncomplex as to be just about boring…there was nothing new here at all. “Dull” one commentator remarked. Even the Barcelo Imperial exhibited more courage, wussy as it was.

K&S 12 YO 2To taste it was marginally better, if similarly unadventurous. Medium bodied, with an unaggressive profile, anchored by a backbone of vanilla and honey.  There was a bit of the oak tannins here, fiercely controlled as to be almost absent; not much else of real complexity. Some floral notes, cinnamon, plums and richer fruits could be discerned, but they were never allowed to develop properly, or given their moment in the sun – the primary vanilla and butterscotch was simply too dominating (and for a rum that was as easy going as this one, that’s saying a lot).  The Brugal 1888 exhibited a similar structure, but balanced things off  a whole lot better. Maybe it was just me – I simply didn’t see where all the ageing went, and there was little satisfaction at the back end which was short, soft as a feather pillow, and primarily (you guessed it) toffee and cocoa and more vanilla. 

So the rum lacks the power and jazz and ever-evolving taste profile that I mark more highly, and overall it’s just not my speed.  Note, however, that residents in the DR prefer lighter, softer rums (which can be bottled at 37.5%) and its therefore not beyond the pale for K&S rum to reflect their preference since (according to one respected correspondent of mine) the objective here is to make an authentic, genuine DR rum.  And that, it is argued, they have achieved, and I have to admit – whatever my opinion of it is, it’s also a very affordable, very drinkable rum that many will appreciate because of that same laid back, chill-out nature to which I’m so indifferent.  Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean a lot of people aren’t going to like it. Not everyone has to like full proof rums, and not everyone will ever be able to afford indie outturns of a few hundred bottles, if they can even get them; and frankly not everyone wants a vibrating seacan of oomph landing on their palate.  For such people, then, this rum is just peachy. For me, it just isn’t, perhaps because I’m not looking for rums that try to please everyone, are too easy and light, and don’t provide any challenge or true points of interest.

Opinion: you can disregard this section

Years of drinking rums from across the spectrum leads me to believe that there’s something more than merely cultural that stratifies the various vocal tribes of rummies. It is a divide between rum Mixers and rum Drinkers, between bourbon fanciers moving into rums versus hebridean maltsters doing the same (with new rum evangelists jumping on top of both), all mixed up with a disagreement among three additional groups: lovers of those rums made by micro-distillers in the New World, aficionados of country-wide major brands, and fans of the independent “craft” bottlers. Add to that the fact that people not unnaturally drink only what they can find in their local likker establishment, and what that translates into is a different ethos of what each defines as a quality rum, and is also evident in the different strengths that each regards as standard, and so the concomitant rums they seemingly prefer.

That, in my opinion goes a far way to explaining why a rum like the K&S is praised by many in the New World fora as a superb rum…while some of the Old World boyos who are much more into cask strength monsters made by independent bottlers, smile, shrug and move on, idly wondering what the fuss is all about.  Because on one level the K&S is a perfectly acceptable rum, while on another it really isn’t…which side of the divide you’re on will likely dictate what your opinion of it and others like it, is.

Other notes

  • I actually think it’s closer to a solera in taste profile – the Opthimus 18 was what I thought about – but all online literature says it is really aged for twelve years.
  • Bottle purchased in 2013…I dug it out of storage while on a holiday back in Canada in 2016
  • K&S also produces an 18 and 23 year old version.

 

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