Ruminsky

Apr 072018
 

#503

If you’re looking at this title and muttering to yourself “What the hell is Rendsburger?” you’re certainly not alone.  Aside from Spirits of Old Man out of Germany or Norsk Cask from Denmark, they may be among the least known independent bottlers out there and before a bunch of samples drifted across my scope, I sure hadn’t heard about them either. Strictly speaking, Rendsburg is the north-west German town close to Flensburg in which the parent company Kruger – a small, family-run whisky and spirits specialist  mainly known for its large whisky auction house – has its home. Therefore they have much in common with the makers of White Cat, the eminently forgettable white rum I looked at some time back and share some of the same centuries-old trading DNA which made the history of the White Cat more interesting than the rum itself.

By now many of us still-specific rum nifflers more or less agree that the 1970s were very good years for rum, especially the period 1972-1975 which is the source of many amazing products made by independent bottlers in the first decade of the new millenium and which at the time of issue were pretty much ignored. Rums like the Velier PM 1972 and PM 1974, the Norse Cask PM 1975, BBR 1975 PM, Silver Seal 1974 28 YO Demerara…the honour roll is long and distinguished, even if we can barely source them any longer and they’re drifting into “unicorn” status.

That a small outfit like Kruger – which doesn’t really “do” rums – could bring out something as excellent as this says a lot for the heritage stills DDL now has dibs on, and how far back they go (and perhaps, how underutilized they were as marques in their own right until quite recently). Kruger named its rums after the town in which they operate, slapped the picture of various mayors on the line of outturns of whiskies and occasional rums…and somehow in the middle of all that, managed to pick up a barrel the likes of which Velier would have been proud, issued a 56.9% 32 year old PM in 2007 and met with exactly zero fanfare and almost total indifference.

How this aged rum created nary a ripple in the wider rum world – even back in 2007 – is mystifying. It’s a real Port Mourant beefcake in all the ways that matter. Sniff this dark brown monolith and just revel in the deep, dark aromas: slightly bitter chocolate, licorice, backed up with salt caramel ice cream, a thrumming undercurrent of molasses, and that was just in the first sixty seconds. It let forth billowing fumes of anise, dark fruits – prunes, plums, blackberries, overripe cherries, raisins, to which were added (over some hours) sweet soy with just enough salt to add some character, faint citrus, smoke, leather and even a touch of vanilla.  

As for the palate, man, I’m in heaven, because I just found another 1975 to add to the pantheon. That same growling, thick richness of the nose segued to the tongue with no pause, no hesitation and no detours.  The strength was near perfect – it gave strength without sharpness, allowing all the flavours to march solidly across the stage and present themselves one after the other: licorice, vanilla, caramel, bags of fruits, a little saltiness, biscuits and cereal.   The whole thing was warm and thick with dark flavours that never seemed to want to stop showing off and even the oak, which at first I thought started to take on an unhealthy dominance after some minutes (I was actually writing “Mozart just exited the scene and is replaced by Salieri!” before crossing it out), retreated into the background, chilled out, and was (to my relief) content to be a part of the troupe rather than a scene stealing hog.  The exemplary and traditional Port Mourant profile finished long, slow, voluptuously and with chocolate, coffee grounds, some oak, vanilla, raisins and anise, and overall, my take was it was simply one of the Grand Old Men of the plantation and the still.

Of course, when it comes to Guyana, Enmore and Port Mourant are the stars of the show, boasting well-known and oft-analyzed profiles, and name recognition nearly off the charts. Versailles rums, good as they are, often live in their shadow.  What this means for deep-diving rum nerds, is that the PM profile may be one of the best known of its kind, its variations endlessly dissected, the minutest deviations pondered over by PhD students in rumology. Here, I submit there’s no need — the rum is superlative.  It’s one of the best of the independent Port Mourants rums in existence and shows how high the bar has been set not only by the rums listed above, but by itself. It’s a bottle hungering to be cracked, has a cork demanding to be popped…an ambrosia begging to be sampled, drunk, enjoyed and, damnit, shared.  

As I unhurriedly went through this rum, leaving many others to await their turn another day, I thought of W. H. Davies, who wrote in “Leisure”

What is this life, if, full of care

We have no time to stand and stare?

Here we do need to stand and stare, I think: because rums like this need to be savoured, to evoke dreams of old days gone by; not hurried over, or guzzled quickly and moved away from as the next hot-snot new bottling comes on the scene. It rewards not only patience but slow appreciation, and about the only regrettable thing I can say about it is how rare it is, how unknown.  For rum junkies in general and Port Mourant lovers in particular, it conjures memories, exhilaration and, at the end, perhaps even a little sadness. It’s simply that kind of experience, and I’m glad I managed to try it.

(90/100)


Other Notes

  • Rendsburger also has single cask bottlings of Barbados and Caroni, which I’ll get to sooner or later.
  • Sharp eyed readers will be amused at the bottle picture – I sure was, and compliments to that great guy Malte who traded me the sample: for the effort he put in, the rum itself and his sly sense of humour. The real bottle label is below.

Photo (c) Whyskyrific.com

Apr 032018
 

#502

Asia may be the next region to discover for rummies.  Some companies from there already have good visibility – think Nine Leaves or Ryoma from Japan, Tanduay from the Phillipines, Amrut from India, Laotian from Laos and so on – and we should not forget Thailand.  So far I’ve only tried the Mekhong “rum” from there, and that was a while ago…but for the last few years I’ve been hearing about a new company called Chalong Bay, from the resort area of Phuket; and when John Go and I traded samples a while back, he sent me one of their interesting whites that for sure deserves a look-see from the curious who want to expand their horizons.

Chalong Bay is the brainchild of another pair of entrepreneurs from France (like those chaps who formed Whisper and Toucan rums) named Marine Lucchini and Thibault Spithakis.  They opened the company in 2014, brought over a copper column still from France and adhered to an all-natural production philosophy: no chemicals or fertilizers for the cane crop, no burning prior to harvesting, and a spirit made from fresh pressed cane juice with no additives.  Beyond that, there’s the usual marketing stuff on their site, their Facebook page, and just about everywhere else, which always surprises me, since one would imagine the history of their own company would be a selling point, a marketing plug and a matter of pride, but no, it’s nowhere to be found.

Be that as it may, it’s quite a nifty rum (or rhum, rather), even if somewhat mild. The 40% ABV to some extend gelds it, so one the nose it does not present like one of the proud codpieces of oomph sported by more powerful blancs out there.  Olives, brine, swank, generally similar to Damoiseau, J. Bally, Neisson, St Aubin blanc, or the clairins, just…less. But it is an interesting mix of traditional and oddball scents too: petrol, paint, wax, a little brie, rye bread, and just a touch of sweet sugar cane juice.  Faint spices, lemongrass, light pears…before moving on to hot porridge with salt and butter(!!). Talk about a smorgasbord.

The taste on the palate takes a turn to the right and is actually quite pleasing. Thin of course (couldn’t get away from the anemic proof), a little sharp.  Sweet and tart fruity ice cream. A little oily, licorice-like, akin to a low rent ouzo, in which are mixed lemon meringue pie and clean grassy tastes. Not as much complexity as one might hope for, though well assembled, and the flavours at least come together well.  Citrus, pears and watermelon emerge with time, accompanied by those muffled softer tastes – cereal, milk and salted oatmeal – which fortunately do not create a mishmash of weird and at-odds elements that would have sunk the thing. Finish is short, thin, quite crisp and almost graceful.  Mostly sugar water, a little citrus, avocado, bananas and brine. Frankly, I believe this is a rum, like the Toucan No 4 or the El Dorado 3 Year Old White, which could really benefit from being ratched up a few notches – 50% would not be out of place for this rhum to really shine.

After all is done, the clear drink finished, the unemotional tasting notes made, the cold score assigned, perhaps some less data-driven words are required to summarize the actual feelings and experience it evoked in me.  I felt that there was some unrealized artistry on display with the Chalong Bay – it has all the delicacy of a sunset watercolour by Turner, while other clear full proofs springing up around the globe present brighter, burn more fiercely, are more intense…like Antonio Brugada’s seascape oils (or even some of Turner’s own).  It’s in the appreciation for one or the other that a drinker will come to his own conclusions as to whether the rum is a good one, and deserving a place on the part of the shelf devoted to the blancs. I think it isn’t bad at all, and it sure has a place on mine.

(80/100)


Other notes

  • Interestingly, the rum does not refer to itself as one: the label only mentions the word “Spirit”.  Russ Ganz and John Go helpfully got back on to me and told me it was because of restrictions of Thail law.  I’m calling it a rhum because it conforms to all the markers and specs.
  • Tried contacting the founders for some background, but no feedback yet.
  • The company also makes a number of flavoured variants, which I have not tried.
Mar 312018
 

#501

If there was ever a standard strength, filtered white rum that could drag the Bacardi Superior behind the outhouse and whale the tar out of it, this is the one.  I bought the thing on a whim, tasted it with some surprise and ended up being quietly impressed with the overall quality. I know it’s made to be the base for cocktails, and when it comes to badass white-rum-bragging-rights from Mudland the local High Wine is the Big Gun – but you know, as either a trial sipping experience, a cocktail ingredient or just to have something different that won’t rip your face off like Neisson L’Espirit 70⁰ … this rum is not bad at all.

Now according to the El Dorado site this rum derives from the Skeldon and Blairmont marques, which suggests the French Savalle still, not any of the wooden ones, or perhaps the same coffey still at Diamond that made the DDL Superior High Wine. Maybe.  I sometimes wonder if they themselves remember which stills make which marques, given how often the stills were moved around the estates before being consolidated at Diamond. Never mind though, that’s niggly rum-nerd stuff. Aged three years in ex-bourbon casks, charcoal-filtered twice — which to my mind might have been two times too many — and then bottled at a meek 40%.

Yeah, 40%.  I nearly put the thing back on the shelf just because of that.  Just going by comments on FB, there is something of a niche market for well made 45-50% whites which DDL could be colonizing, but it seems that the standard strength rums are their preferred Old Dependables and so they probably don’t want to rock the boat by going higher (yet). I can only shrug, and move on…and it’s a good thing I didn’t ignore the rum, because it presented remarkably well, punching above its weight and dispelling many of my own initial doubts.

Nose first: yes, it certainly reminded me of the High Wine. Glue, acetone and sugar water led off, plus some rubber, brine and light fruits.  Even at the placid strength it had, you could sense potential coiling around in the background, a maelstrom of apples, pears, vanilla, light smoke and unsweetened yoghurt, plus tarter, more acidic notes of orange peel, mangoes and a twirl of licorice. None of these was forceful enough to really provide a smack in the face or to elevate it to something amazing or original; they were just visible enough to be noticed and appreciated without actually emerging to do battle.  It smelled something like a low-rent Enmore, actually and kind of resembled El Dorado’s own 12 year old

Tastewise, there was certainly nothing to complain about.  It was reasonably hot, a little rough on the tongue, given to sharpness rather than smoothness. Vanilla, apples, green grapes, bitter chocolate, some indeterminate light fruits, sugar water, coconut shavings; and also a not-entirely-pleasant taste of almond milk, with the whole drink possessing the edge that made it more than a merely pleasant or bland or eager-to-please cocktail ingredient of no particular distinction. The finish, redolent of vanilla, brine, citrus and yoghurt, was actually quite good, by the way – short, of course, and faint, but nice and warm and with just enough edge to make it stand apart from similar whites.

Where the El Dorado white 3 year old succeeds, I think, is in having a certain element of character, for all its youth.  That was always the problem I had with the low end Bacardis or Lambs or other boring white stuff on sale in the LCBOs of Ontario (for example), with which this must inevitably be compared: they all felt so tamed and buttoned down and eager to please, that any adventurousness and uniqueness of profile — braggadoccio if you will — seemed squeezed out in an effort to appeal (and sell) to as many as possible. They had alcohol and a light taste, and that was it: bluntly speaking, they were yawn-throughs — and mixing them to juice up a cocktail was the best one could hope for.  

Not here. This rum has some uncouth street-tough edge, plus a bit of complexity from the ageing, and originality from the still which is lightly planed down by the filtration…yet retains the taste of something strange and barbaric. And it still doesn’t scare off those who don’t want a cask strength screaming bastard like, oh, a clairin. For any rum made at 40% to be able to tick all these boxes and come out the other end as a rum I could reasonably recommend, is quite an achievement, and makes me want to re-evaluate its stronger older brother immediately.

(80/100)

Mar 272018
 


Both of my eagle-eyed Constant Readers probably observed that I skipped the 400th review essay last year: I brought the 60+ Rumaniacs reviews into the numbering and so jumped right past it, but in any case, 500 seemed like a better number to be going on with.  Am I happy to reach this milestone? Oh yes. But that I have done so is a testament less to my own efforts, than those of readers, commentators and friends who continually provide encouragement and advice (and lots of corrections and criticisms). Even Mrs. Caner graces my work with an occasional nod of distant approbation in a “don’t let this get to your head, buddy” kind of way (which from her is a raving declaration of love) while suggesting I pass the glass so she can try the latest juice as well. And the 13-going-on-30, far-too-clever, hyper-intelligent Little Caner is now beginning to get curious about the whole thing himself, and tags along where he can, lending his nose if allowed. So that’s kind of cool too.

Still, if I had to do a pitch as to why I started and continue to run a free site, which costs me a lot in terms of both time and money, I’d be hard pressed to give you an answer that isn’t seen as either specious or self-serving bullsh*t. Certainly it provides no income, and I’ve taken a fair bit of flak in social media for some of my opinions, so what’s keeping things going?

Part of it is habit.  It’s a pleasant routine that I’ve fallen into, and I enjoy the writing, the tasting, the constant surprises and informational rabbit holes that any deep interest constantly reveals.  I like the people (on all sides of the divide), the honest curiosity of new entrants to the field. I like the fact that even such a niche interest makes me think and consider my opinions carefully, and enriches my store of knowledge. I like the whole forward-looking nature of the enterprise…it’s like I never get to the bottom of the rum glass, there’s always something new and different and obscure to research or find out or enjoy.

Any plans for the future, over and beyond what’s already being done?  Nothing grandiose. Cachacas are getting a bigger slice of my attention (still quite a few to write about), and I want to spend some time researching and writing about rums from Africa and Asia.  Expanding the Makers lineup continues to be a work in progress, and for sure I intend to acquire and re-taste a number of rums in my mental list of the Key Rums of the World (the effort is not stalled, by the way, just requires samples which are not with me right now).  Some general non-fiction essays are in my mind, informational reference pieces of the sort Matt Pietrek and Josh Miller do better and more often than I do. All this keeps me interested and motivated and eager to go over the next hill and see that odd new distillery on the other side.  Which I’ll continue to do as long as the purse holds out and Mrs. Caner concurs.

Over the years, a few of my friends interested in getting into the writing game told me that when the sheer bulk of work is considered, the established “names” out there who get the lion’s share of the attention, the long term nature of it…well, they’re a little intimidated and it reduces their motivation.  And that’s a fair comment – when I started posting in January 2010 after months of personal writing, the blogging and review landscape was quite small, so the carving out of a personal niche was somewhat easier to do. But I tell them all to not worry about it — just begin. It’s for you, right? You’ve been on FB for four-plus years already, haven’t you? Think what could have been accomplished had you started then. All it needs is one small review at a time, month in and month out, never stop, do it because you like it, be as unkillable as a cockroach and just keep plugging away.  That’s what I did, and still do now, and here we are. At 500.

 


As always, some observations on the state of the rum world…

The Additives Issue

If we think the whole business of additives is going away, we should think again.  Oh sure, it’s been written to death and I think the public awareness is there now, in a way it was not five years back. But any time some new rum aficionado starts talking on FB about how she or he liked the Kraken, Pyrat’s, Don Papa et al, there is no shortage of vociferous responses that take umbrage and it starts all up again.  Personally, I don’t and never will believe undisclosed additives are a good thing (and I’ll say that until they plant me), but I also feel that too often the so-called “dude, let me tell you what you’re *really* drinking” conversation degenerates into a sort of genteel elitist superciliousness that puts the blame in the wrong corner – that of the consumer, not the producers; and ignores the fact that many people (even those who know their rums) sometimes simply prefer a sweet mishmash of sugar laden crap.  

On the other hand, from the producers side, two small label changes give me hope – Pyrat’s stopped calling itself a rum and the Kraken now clearly says it has sugar and is a spiced rum.  Maybe the fierce debates on Facebook have created this awareness on the part of those who make rums, but even with this light through the clouds, Wes’s and Richard’s observations remain on point – it’s not enough, the matter should never be dropped, and people should always be asking the hard questions, whenever they buy and at all the festivals. Producers in particular should have the honesty to declare additives in their rums and Governments should make that a requirement through regulatory enforcement; and if consumers have any responsibility at all, it’s to educate themselves on the matter and vote with their wallets if they feel strongly enough one way or the other.

Websites

Several new sites I now visit on a fairly regular basis popped up over the last couple of years (on top of the old stalwarts). One of the best of these may be Single Cask Rum out of Germany (writing in English), which doesn’t do scoring but tastes flights almost every time to offer comparisons and insights. Another now-not-so-new reviewer I like a lot (he appeared up just after I posted the 300th review update) is RumShopBoy from the UK, and if you have not already gone over to Simon’s site to check out his work, trust me, it’s worth it (I particularly recommend his series on the St. Lucia 1931 rums, the El Dorado 15 YO “fancy finish” rums, and the more recent SMWS bottlings). Other sites that attract my attention are Quebec Rhum and  A la Découverte du Rhum and Le Blog a Roger (all in French), Rumtastic from the UK (he doesn’t assign scores), Rumlocker from the USA (some interesting commentaries and essays) and several other magazine format sites, all of which I‘ve linked to. I’ve also been twigged to a Japanese-language site called Sarichiiii, which somehow managed to compile a tasting roster of over 350 rums without making a ripple and I think it’s worth a look, though Google translate does make reading a chore, and navigation is tedious because of the large photos.

A corresponding (and somewhat depressing) trend over the last couple of years is the drying up of review sites particular to the North American scene (though the absence or slow decline of sites from other parts of the world is just as bad).  In its place I’ve noticed that micro reviews are now springing up, primarily on Facebook and Reddit, and this for me personally, is an incremental contribution to the field, but not one with which I’m particularly happy. Facebook posts get buried in a day unless there are comments and constant likes, Reddit isn’t far behind, and neither really create a body of reference work which sites like those of Wes, Steve, Marco, Matt, Josh, Paul, Laurent, Cyril, Henrik, Dave and others, represent. There’s no background info on these micro-posts, no really well deliberated and expressed opinions (except by fleeting here-today-gone-tomorrow commentary by others), no understanding or sense of the evolution over time in the mind of the poster.  Just tasting notes, a score and that’s more or less it. Serge Valentin can get away with that kind of brevity, but not many others can. Few of these posts hold my attention, and none are ones I care to return to, the way I do for any of the websites run by the people noted above — because those writers provide information, not just data. So if a person can write a bunch of such mini-reviews, why not start a website? – it’s cheap and sometimes even free to do.

Lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that aside from Tiare (who doesn’t do rum reviews very often, to our detriment) and the Rum Wench out of Australia (now silent since May 2016), there are no female writers in our small club of whom I’m aware (I would like to be corrected on this if someone knows better), and really wish there were. And also, I live in hope that writers located in Africa and Asia begin to contribute to the body of knowledge we all share, since they’re the ones who know what’s going on in their backyard in a way western writers can’t match and don’t often try to.

Greater appreciation of white full proof rums

Remember that post about the 21 Great Whites?  Originally I had intended to stop at ten and thought this would be enough, but the list grew and grew and finally the brakes simply had to be applied before I hit fifty and lost my audience entirely.  But what that list and the response to it showed was that the release of the blanc rhums and clairins are no mere flash in the pan. Leaving aside filtered white mixing rums of no particular interest to me (I’m not a bartender or a cocktail guru, to whom such rums are almost like bread and butter staples), these rip snorting high-test white rums are young and often unaged, powerful tasty and of a quality out of all proportion to their age. Habitation Velier had quite a few of these, the clairins are still coming on strong, the French Islanders always had them, and perhaps now they are simply becoming better known and more appreciated than before.  I look forward to many more in the future.

The longform essay

As a lover of doorstopping histories, multi-kilo books, series in multiplicate and all forms of well-researched knowledge, how could I ignore the more frequent postings of long pieces exploring single topics? I’ve done a few of my own, Wes Burgin opined quite frequently, but for sheer consistency, Matt Pietrek of the Cocktail Wonk is the gold standard (he’s the opposite of WhiskyFun in his own way), together with Paul Senft of RumJourney, Cyril of DuRhum, and of course Josh Miller of Inu-a-Kena, who still doesn’t write enough and whose essay on the history of agricoles was one of my favourites of 2017.  Pieces I particularly liked since #300 are:

Flipping

Perhaps the most acknowledged and admired story in the last couple of years has been the emergence of Foursquare as a rum powerhouse, easily eclipsing Mount Gay, WIRD, El Dorado, Appleton and St Lucia Distilleries as the source of really good fullproof rum, turning what could have been a major impediment to growth (the strictures of Barbadian law regarding purity and additives) into a major selling point.  Intellectually partnering with Luca Gargano didn’t hurt either, of course.

But an unanticipated side effect of this success has been the explosion of flippers — speculators who buy as much of a new release as they can and then turn around and sell it on secondary markets (which are now a real feature on Facebook as well as eBay).  We first noted this when all of the 2006 10 Year Old disappeared from online shelves five minutes after becoming available and then turning up on eBay a day later at highly inflated prices.  So bad did this become that Richard Seale, in an impressive and direct effort at damage control, arranged for personal couriers all over the world to deliver bottles at standard prices to those who were fortunate enough to get one. To say I was astounded at a major primary producer taking on what must have been incredible personal inconvenience, would be to understate the matter.

The whole business of flippers strikes rum lovers as distasteful, since they do not regard rums as an investment but as something to treasure and enjoy, a social lubricant, a matter for scoring brownie points with friends when measuring their collections — and most buy rums for the sheer love of the spirit (believe me, they share generously too).  So to have them disappear and require sourcing at twice the price is seen as extortionate. This however obscures the fact that flippers have existed for years – I bought the Skeldon 1973 from one of them – and they will remain a fixture of the landscape, so unless marketing and sales distribution rules change, we may just have to suck it up if we can’t get the juice through regular channels.  That’s capitalism for you.

A further unanticipated – and perhaps more welcome – development following right along, is what I call micro flipping – the sale of samples online (so far I’ve only seen this on Facebook).  I believe this will likely become a major source of samples for curious people who are interested in checking out new rums, but not entirely willing to part with major money for all rums bottled for an entire line.  So certainly I see this as a better  situation than whole-bottle flipping, like that post about some joker buying six Principias the other day which had Steve James go practically nuclear. But perhaps it’s too early to see if this is a temporary thing, or something that will cause online and other stores to reconsider their marketing strategy.

Minor Statistics

Here are some stats for those who, like me, are into their numbers:

  • This site represents over five thousand man-hours utilized in buying, sourcing, talking, tasting, noting, writing, thinking, attending rumfests and other tastings, as well as paying attention to the larger rumworld on FB and website postings by others, responding to comments and emails. For a comparison, note that a working year (52 weeks of five 8-hour days and no vacation) is about 2000 hours annually.
  • An expense bill that’s long past five figures. That includes not only rum purchases, but books, postage, travel time and entrance fees. Because Mrs. Caner is probably reading this, you’ll forgive me if I don’t give you the precise number.
  • Almost half a million words when all essays, musings and meanderings are added to the reviews themselves.  For a numerical (but not literary quality) comparison, War and Peace has around 600,000, Gone with the Wind has a shade over 410,000
  • Post with the lifetime highest hits: the Velier biography beat out the previous #1, the Bacardi 151 (which slipped to #4) probably due to an updated reposting last year; #2 and #3 remain equally consistent and surprising – the Stroh 80 from Austria (not really a rum)  and the Cuban La Occidental Guayabita del Pinar (also a somewhat debatable spirit). The least read rum review ever remains the Canadian Momento, a mere handful of views after many years of being available. I have honestly given up wondering what drives a review to be popular.  Is it a hot-snot new bottle review, is it quality of language, rarity, age, style, FB caches not reporting visitors? Who knows? Maybe it’s just dumb luck.
  • Fastest climbing post ever was the divisive and somewhat controversial selection of the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva as one of the key rums of the world, followed by 9 Bajans and 21 Great whites and a biography of Renegade Rums. If nothing else, it shows that the interest in the diversity of rum and its background is in no danger of diminishing.

My list of rum discoveries and appreciated rums in between #300 and #500.  So as to keep this short I’ve just linked to the reviews and provided a small blurb for each. Not all are high scoring rums, but my appreciation for what they tried to do and accomplished remains undiminished, and the remain in my memory long after I wrote the review and moved on (which may be the perfect criterion to determine a good rum). In no order:

  • Rum Nation Small Batch Port Mourant 1995 21 Year Old
    • Yes, I like Port Mourant.  They’re all so rich, fruity, pungent, dark and all-round delicious. This one takes it up a level or two and is a worthy successor to the various twenty something year old Demeraras Rum Nation used to issue and which I also liked back in the day. This one is better, and not just because of its cask strength.
  • Foursquare (Velier) 2006 10 Year Old Barbados Rum
    • A simply amazing rum from Barbados. Absolutely gorgeous. I haven’t tasted the Principia or the newer Exceptionals, but they’ve got to be really damned good to beat what this rum does so casually, as if it was no bodderation at all.

 

  • L’Esprit Guadeloupe 1998 12 Year Old Rhum
    • L’Esprit is the little engine that could and may be one of the future collectors’ grails, if they continue this way.  This rhum from Bellevue operates on several levels at once, just about all of them firm and tasty.

 

  • Savanna HERR Millésime 2006 10 Year Old Rum
    • Brutal, sharp, ripe with bags of fruits and esters and happy to show every single one of them off at the same time. It takes some time to come to grips with it and identify all the stuff going on under the hood.

 

  • Savanna Lontan Grand Arôme Vieux 2004 12 Year Old
    • The HERR was a smorgasbord of everything Savanna could throw into a rhum: this one was softer, more muted, but no less complex. And I argue it’s even better because it just wants to showcase a proportion of its potential really well, rather than everything at once and dilute your focus

 

  • Bristol Spirits Jamaica 1974 30 Year Old Rum
    • Not as much funkiness as one might expect from a Jamaican.  It’s just dark, deep and rich, thick with mouth watering flavours, in spite of what at first sight might seem like a doubtful 43% ABV. A wonderful rum from Ago.

 

  • Velier Courcelles 1972 31 Year Old Rhum Vieux
    • The original Courcelles was magnificent, and this one is just as good.  Flavours come and go, and the complexity and overall balance were as good as what I remembered. Hard to get a hold of, of course – most of the older Veliers are, nowadays – but if you can, absolutely worth it.

 

 

 

  • Rum Nation Small Batch Jamaica 1986 30 Year Old
    • It’s probably been dosed, but this is one of those cases where the results still rise above that: this is one lovely Jamaican, bottled at a warm 48.7%, three special years’ rums from Longpond.

 

 

 

 

  • Toucan No. 4 Rum
    • A new rhum from French Guiana.  Simple, straightforward, mild at 40%, really well put together.  Does itself proud by not trying to be too much, or all things to all people.

 

  • Rum Fire “Velevet” Jamaican White Rum
    • Fierce, uncompromising, full-proof white rum bursting with esters and power from every pore. Flavourful and searing, and may be best for mixing, but trying it on its own is also quite an experience

 

  • Whisper Antigua Gold Rum
    • Just a sweet, humble little rumlet.  Doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, and is a nice starter spirit that does everything right in a low-key, unassuming manner. In fact, it’s grown in my estimation and tasting memories since I first tried it

 

Honourable mention has to go to the following who could just as easily have made this list

 


So, there we have it, a roundup of the rumworld and one reviewer’s place in it as best as I can summarize the situation. Most likely there’ll be another one at #750, if I last that long.  Probably, since I don’t see the exercise ceasing any time soon.  After all, it’s still fun, right?

In passing this personal milestone, I’d like to thank all the rum-loving people who come by here and read, whether agreeing with my assessments, writing style, opinions, verbosity, or not.  Gratitude also goes out to the many correspondents and commentators who engage in thoughtful, heated and passionate discourse on the many Big Questions, or even just one small one. And, of course, a big hat tip the producers – primary or independent – who keep upping the ante in terms of what they make and the way in which they make it, and provide a rich lode of material for us writers to mine and discuss with like-minded folks. It takes all of us together to make up the rumiverse.

All the best

The Lone Caner

Mar 252018
 

#500

In one of those odd coincidences that crop up from time to time, I was polishing up my essay for one of Damoiseau’s ultra-premium halo rums – a 31-year-old inky bad boy from 1953 which is usually too rare or too pricey for most to bother with – when Single Cask posted his own in-depth evaluation.  We had a good laugh over that one, but in a way it’s good too, because while one person’s review of a single rum is fine, a better opinion can be formed with several people putting their snoots and their pens in.

Age-wise, the 1953 from Guadeloupe does not class with the ur-rum of the Aged Canon, the Longpond 1941 58 year old from Jamaica. Yet it is nearly as old as the 1972 37 year old Courcelles which was the first to truly switch me on to French Island rhums, and which is the oldest such aged product I’ve yet found – others, such as the Bally 1929 and Clement 1952 and the St James 1885 were made before 1953, but are younger. Whatever the case, it is a blast from the past, something we should try if we can just to get a sense of the evolution of rum and rhum and ron over the decades. And yes, also because it’s so damn cool to have something from the fifties.

So what was happening in 1953? The Cold War was in full swing, of course, Eisenhower was inaugurated as #34, Mossadegh was overthrown, Stalin died, Kruschev lived. The Kenyan Mau Mau uprising was going on while the Korean conflict “ended.” Everest was conquered.  Watson and Crick announced DNA, Ian Fleming published the first James Bond novel, the first Playby came out, and Jacques Tati released the whimsical classic M. Hulot’s Holiday (a favourite of mine, along with Playtime). The rationing of cane sugar in the UK came to an end. The Brits suspended the British Guiana constitution and occupied the country militarily so as to make it safe for democracy.  And this rum came off the still in Damoiseau’s facilities.

I have no idea whether it was pure cane juice distillate or molasses – Guadeloupe has a history of mixing things up, which is part of their attraction for me – but just based on the way it nosed and tasted when run past other aged dinosaurs (the Courcelles, Damoiseau’s own 1980, the Cadenhead Green Label 1975 among others) I’m going to say it had at least some molasses-based spirit in the bag. It was a sort of mud brown opaque liquid that immediately made me remember the St James 1885, and poured thickly into a glass, even at its relatively low ABV of 42%.

But it smelled very nice for all that low power. Really. It had deep fruity flavours of blackberries and prunes, plus a lighter note of strawberries and orange peel, and it reminded me somewhat of a Bajan Black Rock rum, what with that underlying series of crisper smells.  Candied oranges, a flirt of caramel, some faint licorice, very ripe cherries added to the fun. However it was deeper than any of those, richer, smokier, and developed over time into a plump and rotund nose that steered you between the darkness of a crazy old fellow like the 1885, and the clarity of Damoiseau’s 1989 20 year old.  Which perhaps says something for bottles that have sat waiting their turn for many many decades.

The palate is perhaps where people will pause and look at the glass a second time.  That it was pungent and warm was beyond question: even at the rather anemic strength, one could easily appreciate the relative smooth profile, pick out some weak brine, prunes, chocolate covered dates, strawberries and honey; and to that, over time, was added a few lighter balancing elements of unripe strawberries, maybe a stalk of lemongrass. Overall, what fruitiness there was, was dialled way back and became almost imperceptible, to be overtaken by something more like a mix between tannins and some much-too-strong unsweetened black tea, both a good and a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint.  As for the finish, not much could be said – warm, short and unfortunately weak. That said, here perhaps more could be discerned which were missing from the palate – black tea, honey, raisins, faint chocolate, plenty of crushed walnuts, if too little of the fruitiness I was looking for.

Taking all these aspects together, one must concede that it started well, it’s just that as it opened up, there emerged a sort of woody, smoky, nutty background: this gradually overwhelmed the delicate balance with the fruit which the rhum needed (my opinion), and that to some extent derailed the experience. Too, the flavours melded into each other in a way that a stronger strength might have separated, creating a somewhat indeterminate melange that was tasty, yes, just…indistinct. And not entirely successful.

After the fact, looking at the rhum coldly and practically and assessing it on price alone, I can’t tell you this is a must-have.  It’s the kind that relies on the numbers “5”, “3” and “1” to be taken seriously, but when it comes down to a tasting, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype of the halo…and the numbers become just that, numbers.  As with rums like the Black Tot (or even the St James, Clement or Bally rhums mentioned above), we’re buying to touch the past and reconnect with a sense of real heritage, back when the Cuban style of rum dominated the market, to see how what we drink now came from what was made then. It absolutely is a major product in that sense — just not exceptional, compared to what it costs, compared to what we might expect.

So, the Damoiseau 1953 nails the historical value and cool presentation ethos just fine, and it is different, fascinating, old, pretty good, and if that’s what you want, you’re good to go. You’ll be the belle of the ball showing it off, and all the stares and envious plaudits will surely be yours for the taking (unless someone trots out a Bally). The best thing to do — when you’re in the store looking at it, with your bonus cheque twitching in your pocket — is to ask yourself some very honest questions as to why you want to buy it and then proceed purely on that basis.  I ignored that advice myself, and that’s why you’re reading this review.

(85/100)


Other notes

The Single Cask review is really worth a read.  Also, he noted that it came from some “lost casks” but Herve Damoiseau, when confirming the age as 31 years for me (the rhum was bottled in 1984), didn’t know anything about that.

Mar 212018
 

 

#499

Velier’s 1997 Port Mourant expression announces its presence with the sort of growling distant rumble of an approaching storm system, igniting emotions of awe and amazement (and maybe fear) in the unwary.  It’s 65.7% of fast-moving badass, blasting into a tasting session with F5 force, flinging not just bags but whole truckloads of flavour into your face.

You think I’m making this up for effect, right?  Nope. The nose, right from the start, even when just cracking the bottle, is ragingly powerful, shot through with lightning flashes of licorice, blueberries, blackberries, off-colour bananas, citrus, pineapple slices in syrup.  And as if that wasn’t enough, it apparently decided to include sheeting rainstorms of anise, coffee, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg…just because, y’know, they were there and it could. It was heavy, but not too much, and it made me think that while the ester-laden Savanna HERR or Hampdens and Worth Parks have similarly intense aromas (however unique to themselves), the darker heavier notes from Port Mourant definitely have their place as well.

Photo courtesy of Barrel Aged Mind

Physically tasting the rum is an experience in itself, largely because of its weight, its heft, and its tropical intensity – yet amazingly, it’s all controlled and well balanced.  It’s hot-just-short-of-sharp, smooth, buttery, dark, licorice-y, caramel-y and coffee-like, and while you’re enjoying that, the additional notes of blackberries, unsweetened black tea, citrus and raisins (and more anise) descend like black clouds casting ominous shadows of oomph all over the labial landscape. The assembly of the vanilla, salt caramel, fruity spices and anise notes of the PM is really quite impressive, with no overarching bite of tannins to mar the experience – they were there, but unlike the El Dorado Rare Collection PM 1999, they kept their distance until the end. And even the finish held up well: it was long, dry, deep, with those heretofore reticent tannins finally making their presence felt,causing the fruits to recede, flowers to step back, and it all stays alive for a very, very long time.  

Tropical ageing can’t be faulted when it produces a rum as good as this one.  Balance is phenomenal, enjoyment off the scale, and it just doesn’t get much better than that. The endurance of the aromas and tastes hearkens back to the neverending-smell-story of the Skeldon 1973. It’s just about epic, and I mean that. Consider: I had a generous sample of this rum and played with it for some hours;  I had dinner; had a bath, brushed my teeth; I went to bed; I woke up; did all the “three-S” morning ablutions, dressed, had coffee, and as I went out the door and got kissed by the wife, she frowned and asked me “What on earth have you been drinking?” Kissed me again. And then, after another sniff. – “And why the hell didn’t you share any?”  I’ll drink a rum like that any day of the week.  Maybe even twice.

(90/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn 1094 bottles.  Wooden double pot still.  Velier needs no introduction any more, right?
  • Compliments to Laurent Cuvier of Poussette fame, for his generous sharing of this gem among rums from the Lost Age of the Demeraras.
  • Two Danish squaddies of mine, Nico and Gregers, detailed their own experiences with the PM 1997 in the recent Velier PM Blowout.
  • The most detailed review of this I’ve ever seen is Barrel Aged Mind’s 2013 write up (sorry, German only). And if you want to know how far we’ve come, consider that a mere six years ago, he paid 118€ for it.

Postscript

It was instructive to note the reactions to the El Dorado Rare Collection (First Edition) reviews in general, and the Port Mourant 1999 in particular. Many people felt the ED PM took pride of place, variously calling it a flavour bomb of epic proportions, “huge”, “brutal” and “immense”. Clearly the Port Mourant rums have a cachet all their own in the lore of Demeraras; and if one disses them, one had better have good reasons why. Saying so ain’t enough, buddy – state your reasons and make your case, and it had better be a good one.

My rebuttal to why the El Dorado PM got the score it did from me is quite simply, this rum.  If you ever manage to get it, try them together and reflect on the difference. Hopefully your mileage doesn’t vary too far from mine, but I honestly think the Velier PM 1997 is the superior product.

Mar 192018
 

#498

By the time we get to the third Rare Collection rum issued by DDL to the market in early 2016, we have to move on from our preconceived notions of how these rums were issued: okay, so they booted Luca out and us rum junkies were pissed, but from a purely business perspective, perhaps we should have seen it coming.  And anyway, the world didn’t come to an end, did it? Life continued, taxes got paid, rums got drunk, and civilization endured. Time to move on. It was surely nothing personal, just business, caro amico.  Lo capisci, vero?

Which brings us to the Port Mourant 1999, which some say is a fifteen year old and I say is sixteen (just because of the years), bottled at ferocious 61.4% ABV, and deriving from the double wooden pot still which produces (along with the Enmore wooden Coffey still) what I think are the best Guyanese rums available. You’ll forgive me for mentioning that my hopes were high here. Especially since I never entirely got over my feeling that it cost too much, so for that price, I wanted it to be damned good.

For a sixteen year old (or fifteen, if others write-ups are to be taken) made from one of my favourite stills, I felt it was remarkably light and clear for a Port Mourant, and even this early in the assessment, dominated by the sharpness of tannins that had been left to go nuts by themselves for far too long. It was dry and leathery on the nose and, as for both the Enmore 1993 and particularly the Versailles 2002, my personal feeling was and remains that the oak had too much of an influence here – the rum equivalent of sucking on a lemon.  Fortunately, this calmed down after a while and allowed other aromas to be sensed: lemon peel, raisins, pears, black cherries, an olive or three, cloves, freshly sawn lumber, a little brine, and lastly those dense, solid anise and licorice notes that basically danced with the oak and took over the show from there on forwards.

The copper coloured rum was surprisingly citrus-forward when tasted, a little sweet and quite dry on the first sip.  Also musky, with leather and smoke and wooden tannins, very assertive, lots of oomph – it really needed some water to bring it back down to earth.  With that added, the fruitiness came to the fore – tart green apples, cherries, pears, red guavas, raisins, plus of course the solid notes of licorice.  It really was a bit too much though – too sharp and too tannic, and here I truly felt that it could have been toned down a shade and provided a better result.  The finish, though – long, warm, dry, redolent of licorice, hot black unsweetened tea and lighter fruity nuances – was quite good, for all of the concussive nature of what went before.

Looking at The PM 1999 in conjunction with the other two, I’d suggest this was not one of my all-time favourite expressions from the still…the ever-present oakiness was something of a downer, and the lack of real depth, that aridity and bite, kind of derailed the experience, in spite of the redeeming fruitiness and intense heat that normally would earn my favour.  I can’t entirely dismiss it as a lesser effort, or even a failure, because it isn’t, not really – too much still went right (the intensity gave as much as it took away). It’s just that if DDL wanted to own the Demeraras, they dropped the ball with this one.  Partly that’s because the Port Mourant and Enmore profiles are so well known and endlessly revisited by all and sundry, so deficiencies are more clearly (and more quickly) noted and argued over; and the real stars shine right from the get-go, and are known.  But for me it’s also partly because there’s better out there and in fine, I guess I just have to wait until the next releases come my way, because for its price, this is not one of the better PMs in the rumiverse. I wish it were otherwise, but it just isn’t.

(83/100)


Summing up the First Release of the Rare Collection

Overall, I think that DDL — in this First Release — captured the spirit of the Velier Demeraras quite well without entirely ascending to their quality.  Yet for all that qualification, against the indie competition they hold up well, and if they are batting against a behemoth, well, I call that teething pains.

Keep in mind that not all the Velier’s were stratospheric scorers like the UF30E, the Skeldon 1973 or the PM 1972 and PM 1974: there were variations in quality and assessment even for this company.  But perhaps more than any other currently fashionable independent bottler, or the ones that preceded it, Velier placed full proof Demeraras squarely on the map by issuing as many as they did, with many of them being singular deep dives into tiny Guyanese marques nobody else ever bothered with, like Blairmont, LBI, Albion. Which is not a niche I see DDL wanting to explore yet, to our detriment.

What this situation created for DDL was a conceptual competitor for their own single barrel or full proof rum lines like the Rares, which perhaps nobody could have lived up to right off the bat. Yet I submit that Serge’s glowing review of the VSG (90 points) and the FatRumPirate’s satisfaction with the Enmore (5 stars out of 5), as well as my own reviews of the three, gave DDL all the street cred it needed as an inheritor of the Demerara full proof lines. Say what you will, they’re good rums.  DDL has shown they can do it. Perhaps they’re lacking only the global mindshare to sell better, perhaps a more stringent quality review…and maybe for the halcyon memories of the Demeraras Velier made before to fade a little in people’s fond remembrances.

Reading around, it’s instructive to see how popular the El Dorado series is, with what genuine anticipation the Rares were awaited, even when prematurely announced.  People might have been miffed at DDL’s strategy and the relatively high prices, but they were willing to cut DDL a huge break…and for evidence of that, think about this: when was the last time you saw so many reviewers review all three of a new rums’ issue, all within months of them coming out? Aside from the current Foursquare and Velier releases, that was well-nigh unprecedented.

And if, as has been bruited about, the second release is better than the first, then while we may no longer be living in a Golden Age of full proof Demeraras, well, perhaps we’re living in a highly burnished Silver one which may with luck become aurus in its own good time. We can certainly hope that this will turn out to be the case.  In which case both DDL and the buying public will be well served.


Lastly, for some perspectives on the PM 1999 from the other writers out there: all the big guns have written about it by now so….

  • WhiskyFun scored it 82, remarking on its oak-forward nature
  • RumCorner felt it was only worth 79
  • Barrel Aged Mind rated it at 82, and called it “burned”, suggesting the use of charred casks may have been partly responsible.
  • The Fat Rum Pirate called it “a big flavourful menace” and gave it 3.5 stars out of 5
  • The RumShopBoy gave it 54/100, which could roughly equate to around 80-82 points on a Parker scale, and thought it could have been issued at a lower ABV.  He really didn’t like the price.
  • Cyril of DuRhum also weighed in with a dismissive 83 points, thinking that something was missing and it was bitter, with less balance.
Mar 162018
 

#0497

“A cheap shot,” muttered Henrik, referring to DDL stopping Velier’s access to their rums in 2015, and surely channelling the feelings of many. And it was therefore perhaps unavoidable that the initial DDL Rare Collection rums issued in early 2016 were instantly compared to the Age of Demerara Veliers upon whose success they wished to capitalize and whose street cred they sought to supplant.  That’s hard cheese and perhaps unfair to the rums, but it was and remains DDL’s cross to bear and they must have known that going in. The question was whether they maintained the standard and kept the bar as high as Velier left it.

Luca, in a long and rambling conversation with me early the following year, totally felt they had, but I had a somewhat less exalted opinion after taking apart the the 2002 VSG, where the tannins retained a dominance that made a merely positive experience out of a potentially great one.  However, I’m a sucker for Enmore and Port Mourant rums too and dived into this one with somewhat more enthusiasm, ignoring the dictum that madness is described as doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. One never knows what the result is going to be with these bottlings, after all.

Let’s dive right in without further fanfare. The nose was lovely, perhaps a bit light after the 63% of the VSG.  In most Enmores, the licorice is up front and in your face as a hockey goalie’s mask, but here it took a back seat for some time, and a righteously enormous fruity nose presented first: pineapple chunks, peaches, apricot, candied oranges, lemon zest, to which was added caramel, oak (too much wood, I thought), a little brine and a detectable but submissive line of licorice in the background that never quite came forward. There’s a sort of lightness to the overall smell that reminded me of an agricole to some extent, which is quite a feat for a Guyanese rum.  Anyway, it was a pleasure to savour in a snifter or a glencairn and my opinion is that if you’re trying it, take your time, especially if you dropped a couple of hundred bucks on the drink to begin with.

Tasting the Enmore showed that DDL, when they want to put their shoulder to the wheel and stop farting around with dosage and 40%, can produce something quite good (as if we did not already know that from the Three Amigos issued a decade ago). The lightness of the nose disappeared like it was never there: thick and dark and quite warm, even smooth, compared to the other fullproof Guyanese rums I had on the table as controls.  It presented fleshy fruits as before (peaches, apricots, pineapple), as well as lemon peel, anise, and a peculiar sort of mouth-puckering dryness that made me think of gooseberries and five-finger. Fortunately there were some balancing tastes of caramel, nougat, a little vanilla, white toblerone and coffee to keep things in bounds, and even more fortunately the oak which I had feared would be over dominant (like with the VSG), was kept under much tighter control and didn’t derail the drink as a whole…although it came close. I’d have to say the finish was interesting – ginger, black tea, aromatic tobacco, caramel and coffee grounds, and a bit of fruitiness and citrus closing up the shop. Overall?  Pretty good. The oak may have been a tad much: the rum may be sporting wood but while that’s a good thing for a Buxton badass, it is somewhat less popular in a rum of this kind.

The famed stills have gotten so much press over the years that I hardly need to go into detail: suffice to say while the Versailles is a wooden pot still, the Enmore is a wooden continuous Coffey (column) still, looking, in Dave Broom’ wry opinion, like a huge filing cabinet.  The rums coming off the still have always been among my favourites, and for this Tiger Bay street hood, 22 years old and bottled at 56.5%, no adulteration and old enough to vote, it upheld the rep of the marque extremely well – it does the Enmore “brand” no disrepute or dishonour at all.  It stacks up well against the Duncan Taylor Enmore 1985, Silver Seal 1986 and the Velier 1988, does not exceed the Compagnie’s 1988 (that one was masterful and a near impossible act to beat) and I’ve heard DDL’s second release is even better. Based on the result of DDL’s attempt here, I can only say that I’ve steered my purchasing decisions for 2018 in that direction, because this I really have to see. If DDL can make the Enmores that take on and defeat the independents, I think we need have no fear for the marque or the brand dipping in quality any time soon.

(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Just to keep the perspective:  Rumcorner scored this 82, remarking with some disappointment that “it still had a few steps to take before it is on par.” And Serge over at WhiskyFun, of course, felt the VSG just killed it and this one could not come up to snuff, scoring it at 81.  The FatRumPirate on the other hand, noting that it was “equally as good as some of the Velier Demeraras” gave it the full monty – five stars, as did RumShopBoy, who scored it around 94 (Parker scale converted).  And never forget Cyril of DuRhum, who liked it enough to give it 87 solids.
  • The age seems to be a bit confusing: my bottle says distilled in 1993, bottled in 2015 so a 22 year old, but a number of my compatriots say it’s a 21 year old, possibly to line up with the standard bottlings of 12-15-21.  DDL as usual did not bother to comment. Honestly, their reticence is really getting annoying.
  • No adulteration noticed or recorded.

 

Mar 142018
 

#496

It’s been two years since the furore created by the inadvertently premature publication of the Velier catalogue entries for the El Dorado Rare Collection ignited in the minds of the Velier lovers, and I’ve been sitting on the three bottles almost since that time, waiting to get around to them. One of the reasons the reviews were not written immediately was simply that I felt the dust needed to settle down a bit, so that they could be approached with something resembling objectivity.  Two years might have been just about enough for me to forget the original reviews that came out that year…and then The Little Caner was glancing through the Big Black Notebook #2 and pointing out that here were notes I took – twice! – and still not written about, so what’s your malfunction, Pops? Move along already.

Yes well.  Leaving aside the young man’s disrespect for his geriatric sire, let’s review the stats on this rum, the Versailles, made from the near legendary wooden single pot still, marque VSG.  First of all, no information on the outturn was ever made available, so I’m forced to go with Luca’s comment to me of “about 3000 bottles,” which DDL never felt it necessary to nail down for us. Distilled 2002, bottled in 2015, so a 13 year old rum. Strength was a beefy 63% and for that you could expect some seriously intense flavour when coupled with full tropical ageing. There are some other facts which I’ll go into in more depth below the tasting notes, but let me address these first, so you get the same impressions I had without anything else clouding your mind.

A bright orange brown in hue, the nose that billowed out as soon as the bottle was cracked, was deep and lush, and I liked it right off.  Coffee and candied oranges, nougat and caramel, quite soft for a 63% beefcake, and quite rich, to which were added, over time, additional notes of furniture polish, muscavado, anise, florals and some light paint thinner.  Having had a few El Dorados quite recently, I remember thinking this actually presented quite close to the 12 Year Old “standard” rum (at 40%), which, while stupefied to the point of near imbecility in terms of both strength and adulteration, also had Versailles pot still rum as a major portion of the blend.

That wooden pot still taste profile really comes into its own on the palate (much as the 12 year old did), and this was no exception.  The whole taste was anise, pencil shavings and oak forward, and this became the bedrock upon which other, warmer and subtler flavours rested – fruits like apricots, pears, plums, raisins and ripe apples for the most part – but the tannins were perhaps a bit too dominant and shoved the caramel, molasses, herbs (like rosemary and mint) and lighter fruity elements into the background.  I added water to see what would happen and the fruits displayed better, but it also allowed a certain sweet syrup (the kind canned fruits come with) to become noticeable, not entirely to the rum’s benefit. It tasted well, was intense and powerful beyond question: I just felt the balance between the elements was weighted too heavily in favour of the woods and bitter chocolate notes…at the expense of a more tempered rum that I would appreciate more.  As for the finish, it really was too tannic for my liking, once again pushing soft fruits into the background and not allowing much except caramel, lemon zest, raisins and acetones to close off the show.

Overall, the rum displayed rather less of the hallmarks of careful and judicious balancing of the tastes to which Velier’s aged mastodons had accustomed us, and while it was not a shabby rum by any means, it also had components that subtly clashed with each other, in such a way that the showcasing of a wooden still’s profile was downgraded (though not entirely lost, thank goodness). More to the point, it feels…well, dumbed down. Straightforward. Edging close to simple.

Now, according to Henrik over on the Rumcorner, who reviewed this very same rum before passing it over to me, it was tampered with – some 14g/L of adulteration was present, and the Fat Rum Pirate noted 8 g/L himself.  That’s not enough to disqualify it from the running – you have to go way over 20 g/L to start seriously degrading the taste of a rum this powerful – but the question is and will always remain, why bother? At the price point and relative rarity, for the purpose of the issue – to take over from Velier and make a mark on the full proof rarities of the world – only die-hards would buy it and they’re the ones who knew best, and know now, what they’re buying, so why piss them off (and worse yet, omit the disclosure)? Tradition? Gimme a break.  (On the other hand, it is possible DDL merely mismeasured the true ABV and it’s actually not 63% and thereby fooled the hydrometers and calculations…but I chose to doubt that).

That said, this is one of those times when I think that if there was dosage and not an ABV misreading (which some still maintain and DDL as usual says nothing about either way), then the addition served a purpose, and DDL were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.  The sugar (or caramel or whatever the additive was – remember, a hydrometer measures changes in density, it does not identify the source – we just assume it’s sugar) allowed the sharper bite of tannins to be tamed somewhat and made the rum a powerful, brutal drink with the jagged edges toned down…but this came at a price: it also masked the subtleties that the hardcore look for and enjoy.

Serge of WhiskyFun scored this 90 points, Cyril of DuRhum gave 86, and Henrik gave it 83 and RumShopBoy about 84, and they all made it clear what they experienced — me,  I sort of fall in the middle of the Serge’s enthusiasm and Henrik’s despite, and can call it a good rum without embarrassment – but alas, it’s not a game-changer, not a must-have, not a scene-stealer. It comes off as being just another limited edition bottling from a new independent bottler, featuring a marque that still has some lustre and shine, but not one which this rum burnishes to a high gloss.

(84.5/100)


 

 

 

Mar 112018
 

#495

Some time ago I called Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World, and observed that it longevity, decency and general all-purpose usefulness created a shadow in which all subsequently issued Bajan rums to some extent had to live.  Times moved on and other profiles started to take precedence in the rumiverse, but Mount Gay, however delinquent in moving into the limited edition or cask strength landscape so effectively colonized by Foursquare, did not entirely rest on its laurels, and did try to experiment here and there to see what else they could pull out of their trousers (their recent foray into flavoured categories like the Mauby is a case in point).

The Black Barrel, introduced in 2013, was one of these.  It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XO – which can be found practically everywhere and is known around the world – but it was and remains an interesting variation on the core concept of a pot and column still blend bottled a few points above the norm (43%).  Its claim to distinction (or at least difference) was to have a secondary ageing in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, and it was specifically created, according to Master Blender Allen Smith, to provide a versatile best-of-both-worlds rum – a better than average near-premium that could just as easily be used in a cocktail, and particularly to appeal to bourbon drinkers.

That might be the key to its profile, because unlike caskers and single barrel rums which almost demand to be sipped (so as to extend the enjoyment you feel you deserve after forking out three figures for one), the Black Barrel was designed to both do that or be mixed, and whether that duality and the lack of an age statement helps or not, well, that’s for every individual drinker to decide for themselves.

For me, not entirely.  For all its appearance of small batch quality (label has each bottle individually numbered and Mr. Smith’s printed signature on it), there was little to mark it out as being something exceptional – though admittedly it did diverge from the XO in its own way.  It presented an initial note of light acetones and nail polish, 7-Up and a lemon meringue pie, delicately creamy with citrus, tart apples, and a lot of vanilla, under which could be sensed some ripe bananas. “Light and frothy,” my notes went, “But where’s the exceptionalism?”

Exactly, and that was also the issue with the taste.  It came on somewhat sharply, and with some salt and very light olive-y profile (that was good), and as it opened up and I came back to it over time, further hints of apples, pears, salt caramel, almonds, coconut and bananas made their presence known.  Molasses, somewhat surprisingly, took a back seat, as did the citrus notes, both of which could be sensed but were so light as to almost disappear into the background altogether. The vanilla, on the other hand, was right there, front and center, and it all faded out fast in a rather short finish that coughed up a few last tastes of a citrus-flavoured yogurt, some woody and smoky notes, more vanilla and a final touch of caramel.  

The Mount Gay Black Barrel, then, was well made and nicely assembled – but originality was not exactly its forte. The balance tilted too heavily to the influence of the char (maybe that was the intent?), and wasn’t quite up to scratch for me.  The whole experience was also not so much light as underperfoming … more than a youngish rum (it’s actually a blend of rums aged 7-12 years) could have been expected to present. In that respect, the makers were absolutely right – the rum could just as easily be taken neat as mixed up with something to create a cool cocktail with an evocative name, redolent of Barbados.  What it meant to me when I was sorting out my thinking, was that it was mostly another rum to round out the overall portfolio of the Mount Gay line than anything so original that it would supplant the XO in the opinion of its adherents. Perhaps it would have been better off trying to be one or the other, sipper or mixer, than uneasily straddling the divide between them both.  Rums that fail at this balancing act tend to have very long shelf lives, as this one will probably have on mine.

(82/100)