Ruminsky

Nov 182017
 

Rumaniacs Review #059 | 0459

If we assume Luca found four thousand barrels at that legendary Caroni warehouse, and the average outturn from each was 250 bottles, a simplistic calculation suggests somewhere in the neighborhood of one million bottles of the Trini juice from Velier alone is waiting to be bought, and that doesn’t even count the other independents out there who are releasing their own.  Figuring out which Velier Caroni to buy is complicated by the bewildering array of aged expressions that have been released, some differing only by the proof point (years and age being the same) – but the general thesis I’m coming around to is that you can pretty much buy any of them and be assured of a really good rum.  This one from 1984 is no exception. Not sure how many barrels this came from, but 580 bottles emerged…so maybe two?

Colour – Amber (these things are all amber, more or less)

Strength – 54.6%

Nose – Wow, this is nice – deep caramel, petrol and tar aromas meld well with an undercurrent of burnt brown sugar, cream cheese, Danish cookies and licorice.  There’s some bitter chocolate in the background, and after some minutes a thin blade of citrus emerges and lends a really nice counterpoint to the heavier, muskier smells.

Palate – If it didn’t have tar and petrol it wouldn’t be a Caroni, right?  There’s bags of the stuff here, a Carnival jump-up of them, but so much more too – that dark unsweetened chocolate, green grapes, coffee grounds.  Some ash and minerals, and fruits kept way back, and also honey and nougat and an olive or two.  It’s actually somewhat salty, and the sharper oak bite is a bit dominant after ten minutes or so.

Finish – Dry, briny, tarry, sharp, with some caramel and raisins and prunes to give it depth.  Still too much oak and the chocolate disappears, leaving only the slight bitter aftertaste, like the Cheshire cat’s grin.

Thoughts – Great strength for what was on show. 1984 was a good year (and that was a memorable anno for me personally since I fell in love and got dumped for the first time then, so the period kinda sticks in my mind) and this rum is an excellent line into the past…a Trini in the best sense of the term, and a Caroni lover’s delight.

(88/100)


Other Notes

Check out Cyril’s 10-Day Caroni Challenge.  He tried this one on Day 2 and it was Luca’s own favourite from that day’s tasting.

Once the other ‘Maniacs have done their bit, you can find their differing opinions of this rum on the Rumaniacs site

Nov 152017
 

#400

Not enough has been written about the rhums of Dillon, a rum-maker in central Martinique whose origins stretch back many centuries and at the time when I was in Paris in 2016 I not unnaturally went for one of the better ones available (recommended by the estimable Jerry Gitany, who hosted me for a very pleasant three hour session in Christian de Montaguère’s shop, while the Little Caner concealed his boredom upstairs). I tried it twice, once there, and once at home and can confirm that it’s quite an interesting rhum.

Dillon traces its history way back to 1690 when the site of the distillery in Fort de France was settled by Arthur Dillon, a soldier with Lafayette’s troops in the US War of Independence. A colonel at the age of sixteen, he married a well-to-do widow and used her funds to purchase the estate, which produced sugar until switching over to rhum in the 19th century.  The original sugar mill and plant was wiped out in the 1902 volcanic eruption, and eventually a distillery went into operation in 1928, by which time there had been several changes in ownership.  In 1967 Bordeaux Badinet (now Bardinet / La Martiniquaise Group) took over, the mill closed and the original Corliss steam engine and the creole column still was sent up the road to Depaz…so nowadays Dillon has its cane, but the distillation and bottling is done by Depaz, which is owned by the same group. Dave Russell of Rum Gallery, who actually visited the distillery, remarked that the creole single column still is still in operation and is used specifically to make the Dillon marque, perhaps in an effort to distinguish it from Depaz’s own rhums which, by the way, are also quite good.

AOC compliant, the Dillon XO was made from cane juice fermented for two to three days and then run through the creole still, and bottled at 45% ABV.  Dark gold in hue, it presented itself well on the nose, showing off a peculiar divergence from the more forceful grassy, herbal smells we commonly associate with agricole rhums. It began with sweet caramel and honey notes (not what I expected, though I liked quite a bit), heated but not sharp, progressing desultorily to a lighter profile redolent of flowers – lavender, perhaps – ripe mangoes, a hint of acetone and vague lemon peel.  It was almost delicate in its way, and what grassiness there was, was kept way back – in fact, that honey smell remained quite distinct throughout, though fortunately not overbearing.

The palate was also somewhat at right angles to the standard, though the underlying DNA was quite clearly in evidence. This will sound strange, but what I tasted after the delicately sweet lemongrass, honey and pancakes, was something smoky and more muscular, salty, even beefy.  Flowers again, some cereals, anise, vanilla, nuts, white watery fruits (guavas and pears), peaches and apricots, and some citrus held way, way back.  Actually, I thought it was a shade too sweet, and even on the short and delicate finish (more lemongrass, peaches and indistinct vanilla and honey), this feeling persisted. So, a bit on the odd side, yet still a very nice agricole, and I should remark on the fact that there was almost no oakiness to be sensed at all throughout the entire tasting session.

Overall then, it was smooth and warm and sprightly, seeming (to me) not as much a Martinique rhum as one from Guadeloupe – it’s something in the way that heaviness and crispness mixed it up in the backyard which pointed in that direction.  That’s enough for me to remark on the way it differed from expectations, but by no means enough to make me dislike it. It’s quite a good agricole to add to the collection, and at its price point it’s unlikely you’ll have any major fault to find, if what you’re looking for is a representative rhum from a brand that could use some more exposure.  Neisson, HSE, St. James, Clement, Trois Rivieres, Bally and others are well known, of course, but let’s not forget this intriguing and delectable rhum either….because it’s certainly worth a try

(84/100)

 

Nov 122017
 

#399

For decades Mount Gay was considered the premium rum of Barbados, and rested its claim to fame, among other things, on being the oldest rum distillery in the Caribbean (there are papers stating its antecedents going back to the mid 1600s).  Its flagship 1703 was the halo rum of the island and the XO was perhaps the standard mid-priced high-quality Barbados rum with which everyone was familiar – and certainly Sir Scrotimus’s hating on anyone who didn’t champion that rum didn’t hurt (after all, why else would he be such a dick about it if it wasn’t good, right?).  Back when I started writing this was an ongoing situation, and while many extolled the virtues of Doorly’s or Cockspur, Mount Gay was firmly in the driver’s seat as it related to defining the Barbados rum brand.

Now, nearly ten years later, it is Mount Gay which is playing catch up.  They, like DDL and many other national-level brands, misread the tea leaves and came late to the party initiated by the nimble, fast-moving independent bottlers – aged, cask strength bottlings, fancy finishes, single barrel or millesime expressions…all this must have caught them so off guard that it wasn’t until 2016 or so that an effective response could be mounted with the XO Cask Strength (a very good rum, by the way).  

Be that as it may, even for those coming to the rum scene now with so many other options on the table (Foursquare being the largest and best from the island), one cannot simply ignore the XO.  It remains widely available, very affordable, and pretty much the same as it used to be — the 8-15 year old blend has undergone alterations over the years, sure, but the taste remains recognizably the same; the bottle is now the sleek ovoid one introduced some years ago; and in the Caribbean and the Americas it is remains a perennial best seller.  Many new writers and emergent rum junkies cut their baby rum teeth on it, even if in Europe most indulgently pass it by in favour of more exciting rums to which they have access.  And while its star may be fading in the heat of increased competition, this in no way diminishes what it is – a key rum of Barbados, setting the standard for a long time, almost defining the style for an entire region.  All current rums from there to some extent live in its (waning) shadow.

Is it still that good, or, was it ever as amazing as the wet-eyed hot zealots claimed?  I didn’t think so back in the day (as I’ve noted, my preferences don’t always run to indeterminate Bajans, really), but as this series grew shape in my mind and the mental list of candidates grew, I knew it was due for a re-taste and a re-evaluation, and Robin Wynne of that fine Toronto bar Miss Things stepped forward to provide a hefty sample a few months ago when I came sniffing around (and as an irrelevant aside, you could do worse than drop into the joint, because it’s a great bar to hang out in and Robin loves to help out with an interesting pour for the rabid).

Much of my seven year old mental tasting memory of the 43% rum remained the same: the nose began with a smoky sort of butterscotch and toffee flavour, quite soft and easygoing, underlain with a gentle current of coconut shavings and bananas.  Its softness was key to its appeal, I thought, and as it stood there and opened up, some brine, avocado, salty caramel, dates and nutmeg crept out. It was just complex enough to enthuse without losing any balance or being too sharp.

Palate-wise it was also reasonably well put together. Seven years ago I thought it somewhat sharp, but by now, after imbibing cask strength juggernauts by the caseload, I’m a more accustomed to heftier beefcakes and here, then, the XO faltered somewhat (which is a factor of my palate and its current preferences, not yours).  Much of the nose returned for an encore: vanilla, nutmeg and a delicious caramel smokiness, more nougat, toffee, and some salt crackers.  Bananas, papayas and some cinnamon made themselves known, with a little nuttiness and coffee grounds and molasses providing some depth, all leading to a short, warm and (unfortunately) rather bland finish that merely repeated the hits without presenting anything particularly new. It lacks something of an edge of aggressiveness and clarity of expression which might make it rank higher, but in fairness, its overall quality really can’t be faulted too much.

Anyway, so there we have it.  A perfectly well-made, well-assembled, mid-tier rum with really good price-to-value ratio for anyone who wants a very decent rum to add to the shelf, good for either mixing or some sallies into the sipping world. That I remain only mildly enthusiastic about it is an issue for me to deal with, not you, though I honestly don’t know if we can expect off-the-scale magnificence from a Key Rum, since then it would likely fall foul of the Caner’s “3-A” Rule: it must be Available, Affordable, and Accessible.  The Mount Gay XO not only ticks each of those boxes but has something else that has never really lost its lustre in all the years – a reputation for consistent quality and worldwide brand awareness.  Those attributes combined with its pleasing taste profile may well be priceless, and give it a solid place in the pantheon, as one of those rums which any rum aficionado should try at least once in his long journey of rum appreciation.

(83/100)


Other Notes

If it wasn’t so pricey and hard to lay paws on (3000 bottles issued), I would have said the Mount Gay Cask Strength 63% should have dibs on this entry. That’s an outright exceptional Bajan rum.

Nov 082017
 

Rumaniacs Review #058 | 0458

If there ever was a rival to the famed and fabled Demerara rums issued by Velier, it is surely the Trinidadian Caroni line, which is wept over by aficionados and considered the Port Ellen of rum (my personal belief is that Port Ellen is the Caroni of whisky, but anyway…).  They hail from the long-shuttered Trinidadian distillery which closed in 2002, and it has now passed into legend how Luca Gargano found thousands of barrels of ageing rum on the estate in a forgotten warehouse, and managed to buy most of them.

Points have to be awarded for resisting the urge to blend the lot into a homogeneous, equally-aged mass and selling that in the jillions.  What in fact happened is that dozens of expressions of hundreds – or, in many cases, a few or several thousand – bottles apiece exist, just about all greater than ten years old, and many, like this one, over twenty.  It’s a treasure trove the likes of which we will probably never see again.

We have six Caroni rums from the cellars of Velier to look at over the next weeks.  Not a huge amount given my master list so far has 36 entries (and I may have missed a few), but good enough to be going along with. Let’s begin.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 59.2%

Nose – Rich and generous, with aromas of tar, rubber, party balloons.  Letting it stands allows some evolution to occur, moving towards slight sweetness, bubble gum, acetones, flowers, a little chocolate and honey.  In comparison with some of the other Caronis it almost seems delicate, but it isn’t, not really.

Palate – Here’s where it comes into its own.  It glides on the tongue (that strength is near perfect), giving earthy notes, salty, caramel, cherries, pralines, and some dark bread and cream cheese.  A little tar sticks to the back end, and a nice counterpoint of molasses (not much).  Also some bitter chocolate and cloves, and the oak is somewhat excessive here, leading to some sharp spiciness that’s not perfectly integrated, yet in no way poorly enough to sink this as a sipping dram.

Finish – Long, dry and salty (think maggi or knorr cubes), olives, some herbs, more cloves and coffee grounds, and a last bit of caramel sweetness and nougat.

Thoughts – A rich and tasty Caroni, very solid in all the ways that count.  Water helps but is not really needed, it’s delicious all its own, if a little sharp. That nose though…really good.

(85/100)

Other notes

 

Nov 062017
 

#398

Everyone has a favourite Foursquare rum and the nice thing is, like most large large brands, there’s something for everyone in the lineup, which spans the entire gamut of price and strength and quality. For some it’s the less-proofed rums still issued for the mass market, like Rum 66 or Doorly’s; for others it’s the halo-rums such as the Triptych and 2006 ten year old.  However, it my considered opinion that when you come down to the intersection of value for money and reasonable availability, you’re going to walk far to beat the Exceptional Cask series. And when Forbes magazine speaks to your product, you know you’re going places and getting it right, big time.

The Criterion 2007 ten year old (Mark V) released this year is the fifth and latest of these rums, following from the Bourbon Cask 1998-2008 10 YO (Mark I), Bourbon Cask 2004-2015 11 YO (Mark II),  Port Cask 2005-2014 9 YO (Mark III), and the Zinfadel Cask 2004-2015 11YO (Mark IV).  It’s quite a step up from the Port Cask, without ascending to the heights of the 2006 10 year old or other rums of its kind.  For those who don’t already know, the Criterion is a pot-still and column-still blend, and while the ageing regime (three years in ex-bourbon casks and seven years in very old Madeira casks) is fine, it also subtly change the underlying DNA of what a pure Bajan rum is.

Let me explain that by just passing through the tasting notes here: let me assure you,the Criterion is pretty damned good – actually, compared to any of the lesser-proofed Doorly’s, it’s amazing.The sumptuousness of a Louis XIVth boudoir is on full display right from the initial nosing.  Even for its strength – 56% – it presented with the rich velvet of caramel, red wine (or a good cognac).  Oaky, spicy and burnt sugar notes melded firmly and smoothly with nutmeg, raisins, and citrus peel, cardamon and cloves, and there was a glide of apple cider on the spine that was delectable.  The longer I let it breathe, the better it became and after a while chocolates, truffles and faint coffee emerged, and the balance of the entire experience was excellent.

Tasting it, there was certainly no mistaking this for any other rum from Barbados: the disparity with other rums from the island which my friend Marco Freyr remarked on (“I can detect a Rockley still Bajan rum any day of the week”) is absolutely clear, and as I taste more and more Foursquare rums, I understand why Wes and Steve are such fanboys. The rum is a liquid creme brulee wrapped up in salt caramel ice-cream, then further mixed up with almonds, prunes, cherries, marmalade, cider and nutmeg, remarkably soft and well-behaved on the tongue. Coffee and chocolate add to the fun, and I swear there was some ginger and honey floating around the back end there somewhere.  It all led to a finish that was long and deeply, darkly salt-sweet, giving last notes of prunes and very ripe cherries with more of that caramel coffee background I enjoyed a lot.  

So, in fine, a lovely rum, well made, well matured, nicely put together.  No wonder it gets all these plaudits.  My feeling is, retire the Doorly’s line – this stuff should absolutely have pride of place.

Here’s the thing, though. Purists make much of ‘clean’ rums that are unmessed with, exemplars of the style of the country, the region and the estate or maker.  By that standard this rum and its brothers like the Zinfadel and the Port are problematical because none of these are actually ‘pure’ Bajan rums any longer… all this finishing and ageing and second maturation in second or third-fill barrels is watering down and changing what is truly “Barbados” (or perhaps Foursquare). What these rums really are, are a way of getting around the adulteration prohibitions of Bajan law….adding taste and complexity without actually adding anything that would qualify as obvious adulteration (after all, what is ex-bourbon barrel ageing but the same thing with a more “accepted” cask?).  So for the pedant, one could argue that the series is more a high end experiment and what comes out the other end is no longer a pure Barbadian hooch but a double or triple matured blended rum based on Bajan/Foursquare stocks….a subtle distinction and so not quite the same thing.

Maybe.  I don’t care.  My work here is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy: and the bottom line is, I enjoyed the experience and liked it, immensely – it blew the socks off the Doorly’s 12 year old I also tried that day, and makes me want to get all the Exceptional Cask series, like yesterday, and put dibs on all the ones coming out tomorrow.  The Criterion is drinkable, sippable, mixable, available, accessible and all round enjoyable, and frankly, I don’t know many rums in the world which can make that statement and still remain affordable.  This is one of them, and it’s a gem for everyone to have and enjoy.

(88/100)

Nov 012017
 

*

All apologies to those who like the Bacardi Superior, Lamb’s White and other filtered, smooth, bland (dare I say boring?) 40% white rums in their cocktails, or who just like to get hammered on whatever is cheap to get and easily available – but you can do better.  For anyone who likes a massive white rum reeking of esters and funk and God only knows what else, one of the great emergent trends in the last decade has surely been the new selection and quality of white rums from around the world.  Almost all are unaged, some are pot still and some are column, they’re usually issued at north of 45%, they exude badass and take no prisoners, and in my opinion deserve more than just a passing mention.

Now, because aged rums get all the press and are admittedly somewhat better tasting experiences, white (or ‘clear’ or ‘blanc’) rums aren’t usually accorded the same respect, and that’s fair – I’d never deny their raw and oft-uncouth power, which can be a startling change from softer or older juice.  They aren’t always sipping quality rums, and some are out and out illogical and should never see the light of day. Yet we should never ignore them entirely.  They are pungent and flavourful beyond belief, with zesty, joyful profiles and off-the-reservation craziness worthy of attention, and many compare very favourably to rums costing twice or three times as much.

So let me just provide the curious (the daring?) a list of some white rums I’ve tried over the last years.  It’s by no means exhaustive, so apologies if I’ve left off a personal favourite – I can only list what I myself have tried. And admittedly, not all will find favour and not all will appeal – but for sheer originality and gasp-inducing wtf-moments, you’re going to look far to beat these guys.  And who knows?  You might even like a few, and at least they’re worth a shot.  Maybe several.

(Note: I’ve linked to written reviews where available.  For those where the full review hasn’t been published yet, some brief tasting notes. Scores are excluded, since I’m trying to show them off, not rank them, and in any case they’re in no particular order).


[1] Clairin Sajous – Haiti

If creole still haitian white rums not made by Barbancourt had a genesis in the wider world’s perceptions, it might have been this one and its cousins. In my more poetic moments I like to say the Sajous didn’t get introduced, it got detonated, and the reverbrations are still felt today.  There were always white unaged popskulls around – this one and the Vaval and Casimir gave them respectability.

[2] J. Bally Blanc Agricole – Martinique

What a lovely rum this is indeed.  J. Bally has been around for ages, and they sure know what they’re doing. This one is aged for three months and filtered to white, yet somehow it still shows off some impressive chops.  The 50% helps for sure.  Apples, watermelon, some salt and olives and tobacco on the nose, while the palate is softer than the strength might suggest, sweet, with fanta, citrus, thyme carrying the show. Yummy.

[3] St. Aubin Rhum Blanc Agricole Extra Premium – Mauritius

New Grove, Gold of Mauritius and Lazy Dodo might be better known right now, but Chamarel and St Aubin are snapping at their heels.  St. Aubin made this phenomenal pot still 50% brutus and I can’t say enough good things about it. It has a 1960’s-style Batman style salad bar of Pow! Biff! Smash!  Brine, grass, herbs, salt beef and gherkins combine in a sweaty, hairy drink that is amazingly controlled white rhum reminiscent of both a clairin and a Jamaican.

[4] DDL Superior High Wine – Guyana

Nope, it’s not a wine, and it sure isn’t superior.  I’m actually unsure whether it’s still made any longer – and if it is, whether it’s made on the same still as before. Whatever the case, Guyanese swear by it, I got one of my first drunks on it back in University days, and the small bottle I got was pungent, fierce and just about dissolved my glass. At 69% it presents as grassy, fruity, and spicy, with real depth to the palate, and if it’s a raw scrape of testosterone-fuelled sandpaper on the glottis, well, I’ve warned you twice now.

[5] Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca – Brazil

Fair enough, there are thousands of cachacas in Brazil, and at best I’ve tried a couple of handfuls.  Of the few that crossed my path, whether aged or not, this one was a standout for smooth, sweet, aromatic flavours that delicately mixed up sweet and salt and a nice mouthfeel – even at 40% it presented well. Josh Miller scored it as his favourite with which to make a caipirinha some time back when he was doing his 14-rum cachaca challenge. Since it isn’t all that bombastic or adversarial, it may be one of the more approachable rums of its kind that is – best of all – quite widely available.

[6] Neisson L’Espirit 70° Blanc – Martinique

Breathe deep and easy on this one, and sip with care.  Then look at the glass again, because if your experience parallels mine, you’ll be amazed that this is a 140-proof falling brick of oomph – it sure doesn’t feel that way. In fact there’s a kind of creaminess mixed up with nuts and citrus that is extremely enjoyable, and when I tried (twice), I really did marvel that so much taste could be stuffed into an unaged spirit and contained so well.

[7] Rum Fire Velvet – Jamaica

Whew!  Major tongue scraper. Massive taste, funk and dunder squirt in all directions. Where these whites are concerned, my tastes tend to vacillate between clairins and Jamaicans, and here the family resemblance is clear.  Tasting notes like beeswax, rotten fruit and burnt sausages being fried on a stinky kero flame should not dissuade you from giving this one a shot at least once, though advisories are in order, it being 63% and all.

[8] Charley’s JB Overproof (same as J. Wray 63%) – Jamaica

A big-’n’-bad Jamaican made only for country lads for the longest while, before townies started screaming that the boys in the backdam shouldn’t have all the fun and it got issued more widely on the island. Very similar to the J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof with which it should share the spotlight, because they’re twins in all but name..

[9] Nine Leaves Clear 2015 – Japan

If Yoshiharu Takeuchi of the Japanese concern Nine Leaves wasn’t well known before he released the Encrypted for Velier’s 70th Anniversary, he should be. He’s a Japanese rum renaissance samurai, a one-man distillery operation, marketing manager, cook and candlestick maker – and his 50% unaged whites are excellent.  This one from 2015 melded a toned down kind of profile, redolent of soap, cinnamon, nutmeg, apples and other light fruits, and is somewhat better behaved than its Caribbean cousins…and a damned decent rum, a velvet sleeve within which lurks a well made glittering wakizashi. (the 2017 ain’t bad either).

[10] Cavalier Rum Puncheon White 65% – Antigua

Same as the 151 but with little a few less rabbits in its jock.  Since the Antigua Distiller’s 1981 25 year old was review #001 and I liked it tremendously (before moving on) I have a soft spot for the company…which shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying this raging beast, because in it you can spot some of those delicate notes of blackberries and other fruit which I so enjoyed in their older offerings.  Strong yes, a tad thin, and well worth a try.

[11] Rum Nation Pot Still White 57% – Jamaica

One of the first Independents to go the whole hog with a defiantly unaged white.  It’s fierce, it’s smelly, it’s flavourful, and an absolute party animal. I call mine Bluto. It’s won prizes up and down the festival circuit (including 2017 Berlin where I tried it again) and with good reason – it’s great, attacking with thick, pot still funk and yet harnessing some delicacy and quieter flavours too.

[12] Kleren Nasyonal Traditionnal 22 Rhum Blanc – Haiti

Moscoso Distillers is the little engine that could – I suspect that if Velier had paused by their place back when Luca was sourcing Haitian clairins to promote, we’d have a fifth candidate to go alongside Sajous,Vaval, Casimir and La Rocher. Like most creole columnar still products made in Haiti, it takes some palate-adjustment to dial in its fierce, uncompromising nature properly. And it is somewhat rough, this one, perhaps even jagged. But the tastes are so joyously, unapologetically there, that I enjoyed it just as much as other, perhaps more genteel  products elsewhere on this list.

[13] Toucan 50% Rhum Blanc Agricole – French Guiana

This new white only emerged in the last year or two, and for a rum as new as this to make the list should tell you something.  I tried it at the 2017 Berlin rumfest and liked it quite a bit, because it skated the line between brine, olives, furniture polish and something sweeter and lighter (much like the Novo Fogo does, but with more emphasis)…and at 50% it has the cojones to back up its braggadocio. It’s a really good white rhum.

[14] Rum Nation Ilha de Madeira Agricole 2017

Lovely 45% white, with an outstanding flavour profile.  Not enough research available yet for me to talk about its antecedents aside from it being of Madeira origin and “natural” (which I take to mean unaged for the moment).  But just taste the thing – a great combo of soda pop and more serious flavours of brine, gherkins, grass, vanilla, white chocolate.  There’s edge to it and sweet and sour and salt and it comes together reallly well.  One of those rums that will likely gain wide acceptance because of being toned down some.  Reminds me of both the Novo Fogo and the St. Aubin whites, with some pot still Jamaican thrown in for kick.

[15] A1710 La Perle

A1710 is a new kid on the block out of Martinique, operating out of Habitation Simon.  This white they issued at 54.5% is one of the best ones I’ve tried.  Nose of phenols, swank, acetones, freshly sawn lumber, bolted onto a nearly indecently tasty palate of wax, licorice, sugar water, sweet bonbons and lemongrass.  It’s almost cachaca-like…just better.

This list was supposed to be ten but then it grew legs and fangs, so what the hell, here are a few more Honourable Mentions for the rabid among you…

[16] Marienburg 90% – Suriname

This is Blanc Vader. With two light sabers. Admittedly, I only included it to showcase the full power of the blanc side.  It’s not really that good.  However, if you have it (or scored a sample off me) then you’ve not only gotten two standard proofed bottles for the price of one but also the dubious distinction of possessing full bragging rights at any “I had the strongest rum ever” competition.  Right now, I’m one of the few of those.

[17] Sunset Very Strong Overproof 84.5%)

The runner up in the strength sweepstakes. Even at that strength, it has a certain creamy delicacy to it which elevates it above the Marienburg.  Overall, it’s not really suited for anything beyond a mix and more bragging rights — because the hellishly ferocious palate destroys everything in its path. It’s a Great White, sure…like Jaws.

[18] St. Nicholas Abbey Unaged White – Barbados

This is another very approachable white rum, unaged, a “mere” 40% which blew the Real McCoy 3 year old white away like a fart in a high wind. Part of it is its pot still antecedents.  It’s salty sweet (more sweet than salt) with a juicy smorgasbord of pretty flavours dancing lightly around without assaulting you at the same time.  A great combo of smoothness and quiet strength and flavour all at once, very approachable, and much more restrained (ok, it’s weaker) than others on this list.

[19] Vientain Loatan – Laos

Probably the least of all these rhums in spite of being bottled at 56%, and the hardest to find due to it hardly being exported, and mostly sold in Asia. On the positive side is the strength and the tastes, very similar to agricoles.  On the negative some of those tastes are bitter and don’t play well together, the balance is off and overall it’s a sharp and raw rhum akin to uncured vinegar, in spite of some sweet and citrus.  Hard to recommend, but hard to ignore too.  May be worth a few tries to come to grips with it.

[20] Mana’o Rhum Agricole Blanc – Tahiti

Not so unique, not so fierce, not so pungent as other 50% rums on this list, but tasty nevertheless.  Again, like Rum Nation’s Ilha de Madeira, it’s quite easily appreciated because the 50% ABV doesn’t corner you in an alley, grab you by the glottis and shake you down for your spare cash, and is somehow tamed into a more well-behaved sort of beast, with just a bit of feral still lurking behind it all.

[21] La Confrérie du Rhum 2014 Cuvée Speciale Rhum Blanc – Guadeloupe

A hot, unaged, spicy 50% blanc, with an estery nose, firm body and all round excellent series of tastes that do the Longueteau operation proud.  It’s lighter than one might expect for something at this strength, and overall is a solid, tasty and well-put-together white rhum. La Confrerie is a quasi-independent operation run by Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany and they do single cask bottlings from time to time – their focus is agricoles, and all that knowledge and promotion sure isn’t going to waste.


So there you have it, a whole bunch of modern white rums spanning the globe for you to take a look at (as noted above, I’ve missed some, but then, I haven’t tried them all).  

I used to think that whites were offhand efforts tossed indifferently into the rum lineup by producers who focused on “more serious work” and gave them scant attention, as if they were the bastard offspring of glints in the milkman’s eye. No longer.

Nowadays they are not only made seriously but taken seriously, and I know several bartenders who salivate at the mere prospect of getting a few of these torqued up high-tension hooches to play with as they craft their latest cocktail.  I drink ‘em neat, others mix ‘em up, but whatever the case, it is my firm belief you should try some of the rums on this list at least once, just to see what the hell the ‘Caner is ranting on about.  I almost guarantee you won’t be entirely disappointed.

And bored?  No chance.


Other notes

Consider this a companion piece to Josh Miller’s excellent rundown of 12 agricoles, taken from his perspective of how they fare in a Ti Punch.

Oct 282017
 

#397

In late 2010 an interesting rum crossed my path, one of my first from Asia, the Phillipine Tanduay Superior 12 year old, which I thought was quite a nice rum at a time when double-digit aged rums were often beyond the reach of my slender purse (or the interest of importers).  Re-reading that review after a seven-year gap I wouldn’t change much…maybe the word “excellence” in the final summing-up is a bit to enthusiastic (blame it on my youth and inexperience if you wish).  What’s interesting about the review is the observation about the sort of oiliness displayed by the DDL aged expressions which subsequent tests (unavailable at the time) showed to be locally-traditional, profile-pleasing, unacknowledged adulteration – but that 84-point score for the  T-12 remains, I believe, quite reasonable for its time. These days I’d probably rank it somewhat lower.

To this day Tanduay remains generally unavailable in the west, in spite of being one of the major brands in Asia, the most popular in the Phillipines, and among the top five by volume of sales in the world.  Yet they are one of the older concerns in Asia, being formed back in 1854 when some local Spanish entrepreneurs in the Phillipines formed Inchausti Y Cia – the company was mostly into shipping and fibre production and acquired a pre-existing distillery in 1856 so as to vertically integrate their sugar export business with distilled spirits. Tanduay rums have been around, then, for a long time (one of them won a gold medal in the Exposition Universal in Paris in 1876) and like many national brands as they grew, they came to dominate their local market with a large swathe of alcoholic beverages (including brandy, vodka and gin). While there are some US sales, not many bloggers have written about these rums, which may be too low-key or hard to find, to attract much interest.  Most comments I see are by people returning from the Phillipines, or who live(d) there.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to remedy this shortfall: in late 2017, a new FB aficionado and occasional commentator called John Go offered to send me some samples from around the region in exchange for some of my own, and the Tanduay 1854 was one of them. The cheerfully sneaky gent numbered his six unlabelled samples, so I had no clue what I was getting and that means that the notes below are my blind ones.

“Thin and somewhat sharp on the nose,” my notes on this 15-year old blended, golden rum go, “But very interesting…could have been a bit stronger.” It was indeed an intriguing aroma profile – briny and a little vinegary, like salt biscuits smeared with a little marmalade, plus musty sawdust and spicy notes – tumeric and cardamon and cumin – redolent of a disused pantry left unattended for too long.  What may have been the most interesting thing about it was that there were surprisingly few real molasses or “rummy” smells, though some caramel emerged after a while: overall it was far simpler than I had been expecting for something this aged.

That changed on the palate, which was better (the reverse of the situation with many Caribbean rums where the nose is often richer and more evocative) – I had few complaints here aside from the feeling that 43-46% might have done the rum more favours. Mostly caramel, vanilla, some breakfast cheerios with milk lightly sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon, some cumin, citrus and oak.  Mildly sweet, a little dry, some pineapples and bananas, with additional late-blooming flavours of brine, sweet soya, and finished quickly, without fuss, short, thin, sharp and just more citrus, vanilla, caramel to wrap things up.  

Overall it was workmanlike, not overly complex – it is well constructed, flavours are distinct, balance is fine…but there just isn’t much of anything to really write home about, no singular point of excellence. It’s simply a good 15 year old bottled at 40%, and could easily have been better with some beefing up or imaginative barrel strategy or finishing regime, and I think for a rum this old and at the top of the food chain for the company, that’s not an unreasonable critique to make. Sure it may be primarily for the East where softer fare is de rigueur…but one can always seek to raise the bar too.

Still, let’s give Jack his jacket: compared to the high-test-swilling elephant in the rum room right now (the Don Papa 7 and 10 year old, which I and others excoriated for being mislabelled spiced and oversugared syrups), the 1854 is quite a bit better. Johhny Drejer calculated 5g/L of additives, which is right on the margin of error (0-5 g/L is considered to be effectively zero) and that is evident in the way it goes down.  I think for all its relative simplicity and unadventurousness, it is tasty and straddles an interesting line between various different rum profiles; and has not only real potential but is an affordable, decent product that gives other fifteen-year-old standard-proof rums a run for their money..

(81/100)

Many thanks to John Go…FWIW, the Tanduay is #5

Oct 252017
 

#396

Since 2013 when I first wrote about the A.D. Rattray Panama rum from Don Jose, the lack of any real effort by Panamanian rum makers like Origines or Varela Hermanos (among others) to go full proof, issue single barrel, well-aged, or year-vintage bottlings has made me lose a lot of my initial appreciation for that country’s rums and I don’t seek them out with the enthusiasm of previous years.  There’s just too much mystery and obfuscation going on with Panamanian distillate, and other rums which crossed my path more recently, like the Malecon 1979, Canalero, and Ron Maja were relative disappointments.  

That leaves the independents to carry the flag and showcase some potential, and there aren’t many of those, compared to the tanker-loads of juice coming to the market from Jamaica, Guyana or Barbados.  One of the last I tried was Dirk Becker’s Rum Club Private Selection Panamanian 15 year old issued in 2016 (it hailed from Don Pancho’s PILSA facilities), which I thought gave the country’s rums a much needed shot in the arm and showed that a rum aged for fifteen years and bottled north of 50% was a really good product.  That same year I tried this one: Christian Nagel’s 11 year old rum which was sourced from Varela Hermanos (home of Abuelo), distilled on a column still in May 2004, aged in Panama and then bottled at 52.7% in Germany in June 2015 — and came with an outturn of a measly 247 bottles.  

Like Rum Club’s offering, it wasn’t bad, being a solidly built piece of work, light in the manner of the Panamanians generally, the strength adding more intensity to the profile.  There was a clear sort of white wine fruitiness on the nose – pineapples, pears, some tartness, a little caramel – wound around with a thread of citrus, all in a very good balance. To call it “easy” might be to undersell it – it edged towards the crispness of a dry Riesling without ever stepping over and that made it a very good experience to smell.

There’s nothing to whinge about the palate: it started out with the big players of lemon peel, caramel, and vanilla, with some spiciness of oak well under control. It feels and tastes a mite heavy, somewhat sweet, which suggesting some dosing — however, I was unable to confirm this, and neither was the bottler, Christian Nagel, who was emphatic that he himself had added nothing and expressed his frustration to me at his inability to find an unmessed-with rum from Panama, or a rum where the chain of production-evidence is clear and unambiguous. The finish was short and a little sweet, with crisp fruitiness, more lemon peel, pears, and cherries, all very low key and over quickly.

Christian Nagel, who founded Our Rum & Spirits, is not exactly an independent bottler in the normal sense of the word (or, he didn’t start out that way back in 2014 when he bottled his first one), because the rum business is, for him, a sideshow to his restaurant which serves rums as part of the menu.  Yet he keeps cropping up at the Berlin Rumfest, and has multiple bottlings from Guyana, Barbados, Panama and Jamaica, and in 2017 carted off a few medals to add to his stash and burnish his reputation as someone who knows how to pick his casks….so my opinion is that he’s becoming more of a bottler than he started out as, which is good for all of us.

Overall, the rum presented as perfectly serviceable, very drinkable, but I felt it lacked originality and real top-notch quality. Certainly cask strength Panamanian rums like this one are a step above the wussy forty percenters which corner the market in North America, because by being that way they are more assertive, and allow smells and tastes to be more clearly defined and appreciated. So they are, overall, somewhat better. Still, when it comes right down to it they continue to lack…well, adventure, character. A particular kind of oomph. I always get the impression the distillers are stuck in the fifties, when light Spanish column-still distillate was the rum profile du jour. When one considers the rip-snorting island products coming off the estates these days, the mad-scientist ester-squirting power bombs that get issued, each racing to see which can be more original, Panamanians just fizzle. This one is better than most, but it still doesn’t entirely make me rush to go out and buy a whole raft more.

(84.5/100)

Oct 202017
 

#395

Velier’s star shone brightly in 2017, so much so that if you were following the October 2017 UK rumfest on Facebook, it almost seemed like they took over the joint and nothing else really mattered.  Luca’s collaboration with Richard Seale of Foursquare over the last few years resulted the vigorous promotion of a new rum classification system, as well as the spectacular 2006 ten year old and the Triptych (with more to come); and for Velier’s 70th Anniversary – marked by events throughout the year – a whole raft of rums got issued from Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, Mauritius, Japan….So much happened and so much got done that I had to re-issue an updated company biography, and that’s definitely a first. The Age of Velier’s Demeraras might be over and the Caronis might be on a decline as the stocks evaporate…but company is in no danger of becoming an also-ran anytime soon.

Still, all these great rums aside, let us not forget some of the older, lesser known, more individual rums they put out the door, such as the Damoiseau 1980 and the Basseterre 1995 and 1997, some of the Papalins and Liberation series, the older Guyanese rums distributed at lesser proofs by Breitenstock…and this one which is on nobody’s must-have list except mine.  It holds a special place in my heart – not just because it was issued by Velier (thought this surely is part of it), but because the original Courcelles 1972 is the very rum that started my love affair with French island rhums and agricoles…so for sure this one had some pretty big shoes to try and fill.

It filled them and then some. Reddish gold and at a robust 54% ABV (there’s another 42% version floating around) it started off with a beeswax, honey and smoke aroma, heavy and distinct, and segued into treacle, nougat, white chocolate and nuts.  Not much of an agricole profile permeated its nose, and since it’s been observed before that since Guadeloupe – from which this hails – is not AOC controlled and uses molasses as often as juice for its rhums, the Courcelles could be either one. No matter: I loved it. Even after an hour or two, more scents kept emerging from the glass – caramel and a faint saltiness, aromatic flower-based hot tea, and just to add some edge, a fine line of mild orange zest ran through it all, well balanced and adding to the overall lusciousness of the product.

The palate, which is where I spent most of my time, was excellent, though perhaps a little more restrained…some attention had to be paid here. The brutal aggro of a rum bottled at 60%-plus had been dialled back, pruned like a bonsai, and left a poem of artistry and taste behind: more honey, nougat, nutmeg, brown sugar water, and calming waves of shaved coconut and the warmth of well-polished old leather, cumin, and anise, with that same light vein of orange peel still making itself unobtrusively felt without destabilizing the experience.  At the close, long and aromatic aromas simply continued the aforementioned and quietly wrapped up the show with final suggestions of rose tea, almonds, coconut and light fruit in a long, sweet and dry finish.  Frankly, it was hard to see it being the same vintage as the Velier Courcelles 42% which was tried alongside it, and was better in every way – the 54% was an excellent strength for what was on display and I enjoyed every minute of it.

There’s a streak of contrariness in my nature that seeks to resist flavour of the month rums that ascend to the heights of public opinion to the point where their makers can do no wrong and every issuance of a new expression is met with chirps of delight, holy cows and a rush to buy them all. But even with that in mind, quality is quality and skill is skill and when a rum is this good it cannot be ignored or snootily dismissed in an effort to provide “balance” in some kind of perverse reflex action good only for the personal ego.  Velier, even when nobody knew of them, showed great market sense, great powers of selection and issued great rums, which is why they’re just about all collector’s items now.  The Demeraras and Caronis and collaborations with other makers showed vision and gave us all fantastic rums to treasure…but here, from the dawn of Luca’s meteoric career, came a now-almost-forgotten and generally-overlooked rum that came close to breaking the scale altogether.  It is one of the best rums from the French islands ever issued by an independent, a cornerstone of my experience with older rums from around the world…and hopefully, if you are fortunate enough to ever try it, yours.

(91/100)


  • The Courcelles distillery in Grande Terre (one of the two “wings” of Guadeloupe island) was established in the 1930s and closed way back in 1964 when the then owner, M. Despointes, transferred the inventory and equipment to another distillery, that of Ste Marthe. They continued using Courcelles’s pot still and distilled this rum in 1972.  This is probably the last year any Courcelles was made – I’ve never been able to find one made more recently.
  • Distilled in 1972 and set to age in 220 liter barrels until 2003 when it was decanted into “dead” vats, and then bottled in 2005.  I chose to call it a 31 year old, not a 33.
  • The profile does not suggest an agricole, and since Guadeloupe is not AOC compliant, it may derive from molasses…or not.  If anyone has definitive information or a link to settle the issue, please let me know.

Oct 112017
 

#394

Yeah, I’m chugging along behind the other reviewers, pulling late into the station on this one.  The Smith & Cross Jamaican rum has been on people’s radar for ages now, so it’s not as if this review will do much except to raise its profile infinitesimally.  Still, given its reputation, you can understand why, when I finally came across it – courtesy of a great bartender in Toronto who, by stocking stuff like this somehow manages to defeat the LCBO’s best attempts to dumb down the Canadian rum drinking public – both excitement and expectation warred in the cockles of my rum-soaked corpus as I poured myself a generous shot (and left Robin Wynne, bless his heart, ogling, billing and cooing at the Longpond 1941 which I provided as proof that I really do exist).

And my curiosity and enthusiasm was well-founded. Consider the geek-stats on the rum, to start with: Jamaican rum from the near-epicenter of ester-land, Hampden Estate (awesome); pure pot still product (oh yeah); growly 57% strength (damned right); unfrigged-with (now we’re talking); and overall amazing quality, (well brudderman, Ah wipin’ me eyes).  What more could any funk-bomb, ester-loving, rum-swilling aficionado on a budget possibly want? I mean, a juice like this beats the living snot out of, and then wipes the floor with, something like a Diplomatico, know what I mean? No soft Spanish style column still rum here, but an aggressive in-your-face spirit that’s itching for a dust-up. With style.

It certainly did not disappoint.  When you smell this, it’s like Air Traffic Control didn’t just clear me for takeoff, but for blast-off – scents burst out of the bottle and the glass in a rich panoply of rumstink (I mean that in a good way), matching just about any good Jamaican I’ve ever had, and exceeding quite a few. Although initially there was cream and unsweetened yoghurt or labneh, there was also the light fruitiness of esters and flowers, and absolutely no shortage of the righteous funk of rotting bananas and a garbage pail left in the sun (and I swear to you, this is not a bad thing).  It was not, I judged, something to hurry past in a rush to get to the next one, so I let it stand, and indeed, additional aromas timidly crept out from behind the elephant in the room – some rough and jagged molasses and burnt sugar, crushed strawberries in unsweetened cream, and some dark bitter chocolate…in other words, yummy.

While the smell and aroma were one step removed from awesome, the taste is what told the tale – it was, surprisingly enough, clean and clear, and quite spicy, redolent of olives, citrus, masala spice and a good whallop of burnt sugar.  And it didn’t just exude these flavours, it seethed with them, with a sort of rough intensity that was remarkably well controlled.  It also developed really well, I thought – over time (and with some water), it kept on adding to the menu: hot black tea, a combination of earthiness, of dry and musty sawdust that one might use the word “dirty” to describe without any negative connotations, and even to the very end (an hour later…I had that glass on the go for quite some time), there was still nougat and chocolate emerging from the glass.  Oh and the finish? Just excellent – long, crisp, funky, with salt and vinegar chips, creaminess and driness all fighting to get in the last word. I have just about zero complaints or whinges about this one.

So a few other tidbits before I wrap up the show.  Strictly speaking, this is a blend of two styles of pot-stilled rum, Plummer and Wedderburn. These are not types of still (like John Dore and Vendome, for example) but two of the four or five main classifications the British used to type and identify Jamaica rums in the late 19th and early 20th century – Longpond, for example, was much known for the Wedderburn profile, a heavier bodied rum somewhat distinct from the more medium bodied Plummer style.  Both have massive dunder and esters in there, so for Smith & Cross (who have been around in the UK in one form or another since the 1780s) to have brought this kind of style back out into the market several years back, when easier column-still sipping fare was more the norm, deserves quite a few accolades. The rum, as noted above, is a blend of almost equal parts Wedderburn and Plummer, with the Wedderburn aged for less than a year, and the Plummer portion split between parts aged 18 months and parts for 3 years, in white oak. Frankly, I’d love to see what a really (tropical) aged version of this rumzilla would be like, because for now the youth is apparent…though fortunately it’s neither distracting nor disqualifying on that score.

The Smith & Cross reminded me a lot of the Compagnie des Indes’s 2000 14 year old, also from Hampden, but not as good as the CDI Worthy Park 2007.  There was much of the same sharp richness matched against something of a ghetto bad boy here, like an educated gentleman who knows just when to stop being one and belt you a good one. If you’re not into full proof Jamaican rums showcasing  heavy dunder and funky flavours that batter the senses and skewer to palate, then this is likely not a rum for you.  But for those who are willing to weather its force and scalpel-like profile, it is one that reminds us what Jamaicans used to be like and what they aspire to now…and points the way to a re-emergence of a style that has for many years been hidden from view and is now getting the praise that always should have been its right.

(88/100)

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