Ruminsky

Jun 282017
 

#376

With the advent of the Hampden and Worthy Park rums which pride themselves on high ester counts, it seems that one of the emerging trends in the rumworld may well be such tasty, clear, bags-of-fruit rums with not just a single sapling populating the salad bowl, but an entire damned orchard. Yet on the other side of the world, Savanna has been doing this for some years now with their “Intense” and “Grand Arôme” lines, of which the reigning porn queen might well be the HERR 10 year old that so impressed me.  That rum was startling and original, seemingly cut from wholly new cloth, bottled at a massive 63.8% and aged in cognac casks and my drool dripped into the glass almost continuously as I tried it (well…I exaggerate for effect….but not by much).  And yet, Savanna made one even better than that one – it’s this rum, a Grand Arôme, a rock solid full-proof 64.2% rumzilla that encapsulated all the amazing potential Reunion had to offer, and came in ahead of its own siblings by a country mile.  I’ve now tried about ten rums from Savanna, and it’s my firm belief that this is the best of them all (until I find the next one).

Speaking of Savanna and the stats.  I’ve written a small bio of the company, so won’t bore you with that again, so let’s just reel off the usual details so you know what you’re drinking if you ever try it. It was distilled in 2004 and bottled in 2016, with a strength as noted above, just north of 64%.  It was made on Savanna’s traditional column still (not the discontinuous one of the HERR), and Cyril, in his own excellent 2016 review, writes that it is made from the fermentation of vinasse and molasses, and for a longer period than usual – 5-10 days.  As before it was fully aged in ex-cognac casks.  

Photo stealthily purloined from DuRhum.com

Pause for a second and just look at all those production notes: they make no mention of additives, but for my money they didn’t add anything, and come on, why would they need to? It’s like they pulled out all the stops to make this thing a flavour bomb of epic proportions. Fermentation, distillation, ageing, the works, all that was missing was some pineapples dunked directly into the vat.  And when I tried it, the results spoke for themselves.

The hot, fragrant nose began with dusty cardboard, the nostalgic feel of old boxes in an attic, of a second hand bookshop crammed to the rafters with dry books of ages past nobody now reads.  Ahh, but then it changed – acetone and nail polish mixed with lots of honey and rich (but not tart) flavours of bubble gum peaches, prunes, vanilla, cinnamon and a light trace of brine and avocados drizzled with lemon juice.  Cocoa and some coffee, reminds me some of the Varangue Grand Arôme 40% white, but better behaved and much better constructed. My God this was rich — I spent perhaps half an hour just nosing the thing, and even called over my mother (who was annoyed I wouldn’t let her near my samples that day and was sitting in a huff in the kitchen) to give it a sniff.  Her reaction was so positive I feared for her health and the safety of my table, but never mind – the important thing to note is that even a rum novice loved it, even at that strength.

The real treasures came on the palate, which was firm, strong and intense, as befitted a rum brewed to a ripsnorting 64.2%.  Here the fruits – those amazing, full bodied fruits – blasted out front and center.  The intensity and variety were amazing, yet they lacked something of the single minded purity of the HERR, and somehow manage to create a melange without a mess, each note melding perfectly, combining the ongoing cereals and dusty book aromas with the sweet richness of the orchard without losing the best parts of either.  Some rubber and sweet caramel and honey, warm papaya, and then the fruits themselves – ripe mangoes, peaches in syrup, cherries, cinnamon, cloves, almonds and that yummy Pakistani rice pudding called kheer. There was aromatic tobacco, a faint citrus tang (candied oranges perhaps) and it all led up to a clean, biting finish, gradually winding down to close with green grapes, hard yellow mangoes, lemongrass, caramel and breakfast spices.  Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves something amazing here.

When The Wonk and I were discussing this rum, he remarked (rather disbelievingly) that it had to be quite a product to compare with the 89 points I gave to Velier’s 32 year old PM 1975 a few days ago.   It certainly is that, but really, the two aren’t strictly comparable, as they are quite different branches of the great tree of rum.  The Lontan lacks the dark heaviness of Demeraras generally and the Port Mourant specifically, doesn’t have that wooden still licorice background or its overall depth.  In point of fact The Lontan 12 has more in common with the Jamaicans and perhaps even agricoles, while being distinct from either one. In that observation lies the key to why it’s special.

I noted the other day that one of the unsung heroes of the subculture is likely the below-the-radar rums of St Lucia.  Here’s another company not many have heard of that’s making some pretty big footprints we should be tracking.  Because in summing up Savanna’s remarkable rum it’s clear that it’s a shimmering smorgasbord of extravagant and energetic and well-controlled tastes, melding a nose that won’t quit with a body that could make a metaphorical nuncio review his vows of celibacy.  It mixes a glittering clarity with excellent balance, strength with softness, is crisp and complex to a fault and what we’re left with after the fact is the memory of an enormous achievement. To say the rum is “not bad” is to undersell it.  To say it’s good doesn’t cut it. What we need to do is to admit it’s just about great, and oddly, part of that admission is also that it’s made by a relative unknown, without any of that emotional baggage we would bring to, say, a Velier or a Samaroli, a Rum Nation or a product from the Compagnie. I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I think it’s wonderful. It’s a gift to true rum lovers who want to try something they haven’t experienced before, in their ongoing (often lonely, sometimes thankless) search for the next new rum to treasure.

(90/100)

Other notes

  • Samples provided by two generous and great rum people, Nico Rumlover and Etienne S. who asked for nothing in exchange, but got something anyway.  Thanks guys. Wouldn’t have found this rum without you.
Jun 262017
 

#375

Velier rums have now become so famous that new editions and collaborations disappear from the shelves fifteen minutes before they go on sale, and the “classic” editions from the Age of the Demeraras are all but impossible to find at all.  Still, keeping one’s twitchy ears and long nose alert does in fact get you somewhere in the end, which is why, after a long drought of the company’s rums in my battered notebook (if you discount the legendary Caputo 1973), I managed to pick up this little gem and am pleased to report that it conforms to all the standards that made Velier the poster child for independent bottlers.  It’s one of the better Port Mourant variations out there (although not the best – that honour, for me, still belongs to the Velier PM 1974, the Norse Cask 1975, with the Batch 1 Rum Nation 1995 Rare PM running a close third), and drinking it makes me wistful, even nostalgic, about all those magical rums which are getting rarer by the day and which speak to times of excellence now gone by.

And how could I not be? I mean, just look at the bare statistics. Guyanese rum, check. Full proof, check – it’s 56.7%. Massively old, double-check…the thing is 32 years old, distilled in May 1975 (a very good year) and bottled in March 2008 (my eyes are already misting over), from three barrels which gave out a measly 518 bottles. The only curious thing about it is the maturation which was done both in Guyana and Great Britain, but with no details on how long in each.  And a mahogany hue which, knowing how Luca does things, I’m going to say was a result of all that king-sized ageing.  All this comes together in a microclimate of old-school badass that may just be a characteristic of these geriatric products.

How did it smell?  Pretty damned good.  Heavy and spiced. A vein of caramel salty-sweetness ran hotly through the fierce dark of the standard PM profile, lending a blade of distinction to the whole.  The first aromas were of anise and wood chips, tannins, leather, orange marmalade.  The wood may have been a bit much, and obscured what came later – herbs and molasses, raisins, raw untreated honey from the comb, with a bit of brooding tar behind the whole thing.  Lightness and clarity were not part of the program here, tannins and licorice were, perhaps too much, yet there’s nothing here I would tell you failed in any way, and certainly nothing I would advise you to steer clear of.

On the taste, the anise confidently rammed itself to the fore, plus a bunch of oak tannins that were fortunately kept in check (a smidgen more would have not been to the PM’s advantage, I thought).  There were warm, heavy tastes of brown sugar vanilla, caramel, bananas, and then a majestic procession of fruitiness stomped along by – raisins, prunes, blackberries, dark cherries, accompanied by nougat, avocado and salt, orange peel and white chocolate. All the tastes I like in my Demerara rums were on display, and with a warmth and power conveyed by the 56.7% that no 40% PM could ever hope to match, undone only – and ever so slightly – by the oaken tannins, which even carried over to the finish.  Fortunately, the anise and warmer raisins and salt caramel came along for their curtain call as well, so overall, all I can say is this is a hell of a rum, long lasting, tasty and no slouch at all. Frankly, I believe that this was the rum DDL should have been aiming for with its 1980 and 1986 25 year old rums.

So, how does it rate in the pantheon of the great Demeraras from the Age?  Well, I think the oak and licorice, though restrained, may be somewhat too aggressive (though not entirely dominant), and they edge out subtler, deeper flavours which can be tasted but not fully appreciated to their maximum potential – the balance is a bit off.  This is not a disqualification in any sense of the word, the rum is too well made for that; and in any case, such flavours are somewhat of a defining characteristic of the still, so anyone buying a PM would already know of it – but for those who like a more coherent assembly, it’s best to be aware of the matter.  

Just consider the swirling maelstrom of cool, of near-awe, that surrounds this product, not just for its provenance, or its age, but for lustre it brings to the entire Age’s amazing reputation.  It’s a rum to bring tears to the eyes, because we will not see its like again, in these times of increasing participation by the indies, and the <30 year aged output.  Who would, or could, buy such a rum anyway, at the price it fetches nowadays (I saw one on retail for €2000 last week)?

At this stage in the state of the rumworld, I think we should just accept that we can no longer expect to be able to source those original monsters with which the giants of the subculture made their bones.  Anyone who has one of these is holding on to it for resale or for judicious sharing among the hard core rum chums who have pictures of every Velier bottle ever made hanging on walls where the Lamborghini Countach or Pamela Anderson was once posted.  You can sort of understand why.  They are all a cut above the ordinary and this one is no exception. In its own way, it’s great. And even if it does not ascend to the stratosphere the way I felt the 1974 did, then by God you will say its name when you taste it, and all your squaddies will doff their hats and bow twice.  It’s simply that kind of experience.

(89/100)

Jun 222017
 

#374

Two bottles of  Secret Treasures St. Lucian rum came my way in early 2017, entirely unexpected and unannounced, and both were fascinating variations on a theme.  Did I say thanks to Eddie K?  I think so, but let’s just tip the trilby to the man one more time, because even next to its very sound brother, this baby from a John Dore pot still is no slouch either, and not much has been written about either one, and it’s entirely possible that they are among the most under-the-radar value-for-money indie rums around.

Since there’s not much more to say about the basic details of the originating bottler already noted in the Vendome Pot Still essay, here’s the additional background relevant to this rum: it is from St. Lucia Distillers, made on their John Dore pot still, aged nine years (same as its sibling) in ex-bourbon barrels, issued at 55% and gold in colour.  The outturn is not noted anywhere, and the Haromex website only speaks about “carefully selected barrels” so I have no idea how many bottles are out there (though coming from a single cask, around 300 bottles isn’t out to lunch); or even where the ageing process took place — from the profile I’d hazard a guess that it was done in St. Lucia. I also believe it’s from the same batch as the others in this series, so consider 2005 as the distillation date as reasonable.

That out of the way, what did it smell like.  Different from the Vendome, for sure. The nose was all  low key fruitiness, medium sweet. You could sense something of old furniture lovingly polished and floors well waxed, mingling delicately with a little oak and brine, but the gradually emergent breakfast spices, sugarcane sap, cinnamon, peaches, cherry and pineapple carried the day.  Overall, it’s a firm yet not overbearing, skirting delicacy by a whisker, and noticeably heavier than the Vendome (the comparisons are inevitable, of course, as they were tried in tandem).  As the rum opened up, there was also caramel and nougat and some tangerines, with muskiness and cardboard and dry breakfast cereal, coming together in a very good balance.

The palate was curiously indeterminate when initially tasted, before it settled down.  Yes there was coffee and chocolate with a little caramel drizzle, but the fruits seem reticent and initially took a back seat to muskier, heavier notes.  It was good, just not entirely distinctive.  It also tasted a little winey, possessing the qualities of a zinfandel or maybe even a dry (but not oversweet) Tokaji.  It’s only after waiting ten minutes that the fruits came out full force and became the dominant note – pineapples again, cherries, ripe peaches in syrup, papaya and licorice with vanilla and whipped cream tidying up the loose ends.  The finish summarized all of the preceding, being easy and warm, quite smooth, with chocolate, nougat, cloves and a hint of saltiness and citrus closing up the shop.

On balance, while I could tell them apart, figuring out which is better is a lost cause.  The Vendome pot still rum from last week was an excellent product by itself, with the crispness dialled down and a solid complexity married to individuality and balance in a way one can’t help but appreciate.  Its twin from the John Dore still evinced a somewhat cleaner, more fruity profile, with additional notes of coffee and cocoa forming a tasty synthesis that I enjoyed just as much.  This was why I spent a couple of  days with the two glasses (regularly recharged of course – I sacrifice my liver for the art), going back and forth from one to the other, but truth to tell, for all their individuality and heft, I can’t chose between them in terms of overall quality and don’t really want to.  

So I’m giving them both the same score, and no matter which one you end up with, if St. Lucian rums are your thing, or good quality unmessed-with fullproof rums of any kind turn your crank, you won’t feel shortchanged by either one. This rum and its brother are a useful counterweight
to the more distinctive Jamaicans, Bajans, Guyanese or Trinis. And they remind us all that there’s another type of profile – somewhat unsung, occasionally overlooked — that’s also a part of the already excellent British West Indian rum canon.

(86/100)

For an in-depth discussion of the production process and the stills, Marco Freyr has done his usual superb work in his own review of the rum, which he scored at 91.

 

 

Jun 202017
 

Two comments I came across in my reading last week stuck in my mind and dovetailed into conversations I’ve had with others over many years.  The first was from a reviewing website which stated (paraphrased) that they don’t review what they have nothing good to say about.  The other, from a high-end watch-review site called Hodinkee, quoted a journalism professor as saying “If you’re going to write about something bad, it needs to be bad in an important way. Just being bad isn’t enough.”

Which got me thinking.  Why write negative reviews at all?  They’re often depressing experiences, however easily the words flow, and I always wonder how some companies who claim to love the juice can make such bad swill at all.

Now, some sites I visit regularly rarely write serious (let alone scathing) criticisms of poor quality rums.  A few adhere to the above policy of if there’s nothing good to say, then not saying anything at all.  Serge Valentin, who scored one rum I liked 20 points wasn’t particularly negative in his review, just mentioned he didn’t like it (probably because he’s a true gentleman in such cases, and I’m not).  Others use temperate language that skates over any kind of negativity, and their disdain is muted.  Against such easy-going writers, others write clearly and angrily why they don’t like a particular rum (or aspects of it), as The Rum Howler did with the Appleton 30, for example, or Henrik of RumCorner did with the Don Papa rums, and for sure Wes of the Fat Rum Pirate has done the language of snark proud on many an occasion and caused me to nod in appreciation more than once, because his reasoning and preferences were clearly laid out (even if I disagreed).

Looking through all the reviews of rums I’ve written in the last seven-plus years, I note that I’ve published a few very savage critiques of rums that I felt were sub-par, many in the first few years. These days I pick more carefully and dogs rarely piss in my glass, so that may be part of why there are now less negative reviews than formerly. Still, while age has mellowed me, it’s not been by that much, and I still think the opinions expressed back then, and the ones I write now for stuff I don’t like, are relevant.  And there are many reasons for that, and why I wrote, and continued to write, as I did, and why I feel it’s necessary, even important, that we do so.

Firstly, it must be stated that I disagree with the quoted professor as applied to the subject of rums, because this is money being spent by me.  I’m not saying I’m a Ralph Nader style consumer advocate, but I do write for consumers, not for producers.  Having written a few hundred reviews, my concept of the site has tilted slightly away from merely writing a blog about rums I tried and enjoyed – though this aspect remains and always will — to writing about every rum I can lay hands on, as part of a desire to share the experience with those who share my passion. There are actually people who read these meandering essays, and importantly, some base buying decisions on the opinions I express. It implies an obligation on my part to write well and clearly where disappointments occur. Too, since this is my time and my money being expended (a lot of both, trust me), then if I find something that wastes either, I’m going to say so. The language may be tempered or furious, and I basically do it so you don’t have to.

Secondly, I believe that by not writing about mediocre or badly made products – and thereby assuming or hoping somebody else will – I’m essentially giving substandard table-tipple a free pass.  That’s a cop-out, and I am firmly opposed to this philosophy. We are bombarded every day with hysterically positive targeted mass-marketing, meant to entice us to buy the latest new “premium” juice, and without a skeptical and jaded eye, it all fades into a dronish mass of boring sameness, without anyone trusted enough to pay attention to writing a dissent.  Ignoring bad stuff is therefore not the solution. It has to be confronted, whether it is bad in a big or small way, and not just in commented Facebook posts that disappear in a week.  This is especially important when new rum drinkers are entering the fold and are casting around for more than the Diplomaticos, Bacardis, Don Papas or Krakens to which they are accustomed. As writers and opinion shapers, there is a duty of care upon knowledeable bloggers to say when a product doesn’t come up to snuff, and why. Our websites are not facebook pages, but repositories of information and opinion going back many years and are consulted regularly – so why shouldn’t we call out crap when it exists? It detracts from our street cred if we don’t, is what I’m thinking.

Thirdly, there’s the matter of comparability.  When there is a large data set of products about which nothing but good things are written, then there is no balance.  People have to know what is disliked (and why) so they can evaluate the stuff a writer does appreciate (and why).  In other words, an understanding by the reader of the writer’s preferences – it’s not enough to ignore or leave out the stuff one don’t like and expecting the reader to understand why, and where else will one gain that comprehension except by reading a negative review?  This is not to say that I think anyone who disagrees with me is a fool (as Sir Scrotimus evidently does about anyone who disses his pet favourites) – I’m just pointing out that agreements and disagreements over any writer’s opinions exist, and given the wide and varying spread of preferences in the rumworld, one should take encomiums, even my own, with a pinch of salt, with the criticisms as a useful counterweight.  Far too many buyers do no boots-on-the-ground, rum-in-the-glass research of their own and simply go with somebody else’s opinion…and if that’s the case, that opinion had better be one that has at least a modicum of credibility.

Does a negative review have to be “bad in an important way”?  Not at all.  A bad rum is a bad rum, people pay money for it, whether five bucks or five hundred, and if we as writers don’t say so, the consumer is left with marketing hoopla, vague word of mouth, brief social media comments, and the click bait of ill-informed online journalists who know little about the subject they are writing about. One good example was the Downslope Distilling’s wine aged rum, where, when I did my research, I was appalled to find writers rhapsodizing about how it compared so well with top end Martinique rhums. I can only wonder how many bought the rum on that basis, and how many switched off rums immediately afterwards. Robert Parker, in his essay on “The Role of a Wine critic” stated that as far as he was concerned, good wines should be singled out for praise, and bad ones made to account for their mediocrity.  I feel the same way about rums, whether made by old and proud houses which have been in existence for centuries, or by new outfits who’re trying to break into the business with small batch production. That’s why I wrote a negative about Doorley’s XO and a positive about the FourSquare 2006, and can stand by each.

Also, who defines what “bad in a big way” is?  What is important and big to me is less important and much smaller to Joe Harilall down the street, or even a different reviewer.  Is it taste, additives, design, mouthfeel, price, availability, overinflated marketing? For instance, some love the Millonario XO for the very same sweetness others so passionately hate, so what one considers a catastrophe may to others (or me), be inconsequential.  To attempt to stratify negativity into stuff that matters and stuff that doesn’t is to attempt to rate what’s important to the larger public; and I lack that kind of omniscience, or arrogance.  Better to lay it all out in the open, present the facts, justify the opinion, express the annoyance, and let the inquiring reader or buyer or taster make up their own minds.  To me, that goes as much for a cheap ten dollar spiced rum as it does to a thirty year old rum costing two hundred.

The argument was made to me some years back that I should not embarrass or shoot down small producers who are now starting out, who need good word of mouth and positive feedback in order to grow and improve over time.  They are, after all, employing people, paying taxes and “doing their best, while you, buddy, what the hell are you doing?” We should support them by buying their rums and providing cash flow which they will use to create better products over time. This line of reasoning is fallacious on several levels.  One, it’s my damned money, sweated for, hard earned; purchasing and then giving a pass mark to a substandard product is encouraging the maker to continue making the same product, since it’s clear nothing is wrong with it – so where exactly is the incentive to change coming from? Second, it’s a straightforward conflict of interest, because then I would be supporting not the consumer (on whose behalf I write, given I’m one myself), but the producer with what amounts to free and fake advertising. Thirdly, people aren’t fools and never more so than now where social media allows them to communicate dissatisfaction faster than ever before – my credibility would be shot to hell were I to say, for example, that Don Papa is one of the best rums ever made. Lastly, I think every producer has an obligation of their own not to rest on their laurels or produce low level crap that passes muster among the less-knowledgeable, but to go for the brass ring: if they tart up a neutral spirit with additives up to the rafters and try to sell it as a premium product for a high price, why on earth would I want to be a party to that? Or if they are really a small outfit and are making a poor-quality rum, why would I want to be less than honest and tell them where they are failing, when that’s the very impetus that might make them try harder, do better, push the envelope?

So, for laser-focused sites concentrating on a very small portion of their market like Hodinkee does, their editorial policy of writing only about good stuff can perhaps be justified.  From mine, where all rums in the world are the reviewing base (though they’ll never all be tried, alas), it’s simply untenable because I do my best to try everything that crosses my path.  I write about any and all of them.  And that means taking the good with the bad, the high end and the low end — in fact, I actively search out the younger and cheaper stuff (which is not always the same thing as “bad”) just to ensure I don’t get too caught up with the old and pricey stuff (which is not always the same thing as “good”).

It’s a personal belief of mine that the past decade of amazing, thoughtful writing by so many bloggers has engendered a relationship between the Writers and the Readers based on some level of trust. Therefore I contend that writing a negative review of a rum on which I spend my money, and one day, you might spend yours, is not lazy journalism or a fun way to let off some steam and bile with witty and eviscerating language, but an important aspect of the overall business of critical thinking and writing abut rums — and maintaining that trust.  My own feeling about duty of care towards the audience for which I write may be in a minority, but that feeling is rooted in a desire to provide the best information and opinion possible to an increasingly educated and curious public.  As such, I honestly don’t think that a negative review, in any form, if supported by the weight of evidence and clearly-expressed thought, should ever be considered as something to avoid.


Note: In this opinion piece I am merely expressing my reasoning in support of the thesis that published takedowns of poor quality product serve a useful purpose.  No negative connotation towards any of my fellow rum bloggers is meant or implied.


 

Jun 192017
 

#373

In recent years, St Lucia and its eponymous distillery has been inching towards its own understated cult status: pot still rums, no additives, a finish-variation here or there, good barrel strategy, all round good stuff, and somehow (don’t ask me why) still lacks the cachet of the big four (Trini Caronis, Guyana’s DDL, Bajan FourSquare and, of course, dem Jamaicans).  Many of my rum chums swear by their rums, however, whether made by independents or issued on the island, and I can tell you, they deserve the plaudits, because they’re good.

Assuming you’ve already gone through various batches of the Admiral Rodney, Chariman’s Reserve, Forgotten Casks, and any of the 1931 series made by St. Lucia Distillers — or have given Ed Hamilton’s 9 year old 2004 cask strength a whirl — and are still hankering after something with equal or greater impact, I’d strongly recommend you go to the full proof offerings in general, and this one in particular.  Why?  Because independent bottlers are not blenders and only satisfy themselves with a single barrel (usually) that conforms to their standards.  They’re not trying to move huge quantities of rum and stock the shelves of supermarkets for purchase by the lowest common denominator, they’re trying to sell small outturns of exactingly chosen rums.  And when you smell and taste something like this, you can see why they’re so good and why they command both cachet and price.

If you doubt me, please sample Secret Treasures’ take on a golden nine year old 53% beefcake from St. Lucia Distiller’s Vendome pot still.  The opening aromas are heavenly – old leather shoes, lovingly polished (and without any sweaty socks inside), combined with acetone, glue and nail polish remover that were present but not overbearing and gracefully retreated over time, giving over the stage to fruitier parts of the nose.  These consisted of delicate florals, vanilla, raisins, prunes and a little anise and oak.  Nine years was a good age, I thought, and kept the tannins present and accounted for, but not dominant – that part of the nose simply melded well and at no point was it ever excessive.

As for the palate, well now, that was relatively thick, smooth, warm, a little sweet, and all-over pleasant to try.  What made it succeed is the balance of the various components, no single one of which dominated — though that in turn was at the expense of some crispness and a feeling that things were dampened down, perhaps too much. Here, citrus and apple cider were the opening notes (unlike the John Dore 9 year old variation by the same maker, where other flavours were at the forefront).  These were followed by green peas and avocados (seriously!), some brine, vanilla, nutmeg, pineapples and cherries, with some smoke and oaken flavours which remained where they should, in the background.  It deserves some patience and careful sipping to bring out the full panoply of what was available, so don’t rush.  The finish was surprisingly short for a rum bottled at this strength, and here the tart notes take a step back and the softer stuff is more noticeable – aromatic tobacco, wine, grapes, cinnamon, and just a bare whiff of tannins and lemon peel.  

Overall, it was a really well made product and I liked it enough to try it several times over a period of two days just to nail down the finer points, but eventually I just put away my notebook, and enjoyed it on the balcony by itself with no other motive beyond having a pleasant, tasty, neat shot of rum.

Secret Treasures, a brand originally from an indie out of Switzerland called Fassbind, has been on my radar since 2012 when I tried their amazing Enmore 1989 rum and initially thought it was “okay”, before it grew on me so much over a period of days that I polished the entire thing off on my own (while fending off my mother’s grasping hands, ‘cause she liked it too damned much herself). Fassbind was acquired in 2014 by Best Taste Trading GMBH, yet curiously neither old nor new company website makes mention of the rum line at all – and the label on this bottle speaks of a German liquor distribution company called Haromex as the bottler, which some further digging shows as acquiring the Secret Treasures brand name back in 2005: perhaps Fassbind or Best Taste Trading had no interest in the indie bottling operation and sold it off.

Whatever the case, the changes in ownership and always small outturn even in Europe meant that the Secret Treasures line are something like Renegade or Murray McDavid rums, and exist in the shadows cast by the Scots, Bristol Spirits, Rum Nation, Velier, Samaroli, the Compagnie, etc (and the new bloods like Ekte and so on).  But it seems that no matter who the owner is, they continue to bottle small batches of single barrel rums, and let me tell you, they’re worth having. This rum and its twin, all by themselves, have made me enthusiastic about cask strength St. Lucian rums all over again.

(86/100)


Other notes

According to Maco Freyr, who reviewed this rum in his customary and exacting depth of detail back in early 2016, date of distillation is 2005.

A somewhat irrelevant aside:

Aide from diversifying one’s collection, there are very good reasons why passing around one’s acquisitions generously, without reservation and irrespective of the rarity, is a good thing – it builds goodwill, it shares the good stuff around among true aficionados, it cuts down on costs for others not so fortunate, and most of all, the reciprocity of people who are on the receiving end of your geriatric jolly juice can often be off the scale.  I’ve shared most of my Skeldon 1973, PM 1974, Chantal Comte 1980, Trois Rivieres 1975, and actually given away a full bottle of a Velier Basseterre 1995 and a Longpond 1941 (with the admonition that the happy recipients in their turn should pay it forwards, as they have).

It’s precisely because of such an attitude that I got sent two of the most interesting bottles in months, if not years: two Secret Treasures St. Lucia rums, both nine years old: this one, and the other (which I’ll look on in the next review) from a John Dore pot still, both at cask strength. To Eddie K., who sent them without warning, advertising, fanfare or expectations, a huge hat tip. You da man, amigo.

Jun 182017
 

Rumaniacs Review #050

St. James has taken its place as the source of the most ancient rhum I’ve tried in my life (the 1885), and to this day they continue to make some very good agricoles.  But you’ll forgive me for yearning for their old, out-of-production rhums, made in times that predate my own grandfather; and I like trying them not just because they’re so old and so appeal to the collector in me, but because I find it fascinating how different they are to what’s made nowadays with the appurtenances of modern technology and skill.  Such dinosaurs don’t always appeal to the modern palate, true, yet they remain intriguing and beguiling signposts on the road that describes how we got to be where we are now.

Colour – Red-amber

Strength – 47%

Nose – Wow – talk about a rum going off at right angles to expectations. Starts off with old, damp, musty cellars and rotting newspapers paper granny stored there with her preserves; bananas and light oranges, plus the vegetal saltiness of a bouillon into which she dumped one too many maggi cubes.  Also pickled gherkins in vinegar, molasses and peaches in syrup straight from the can.

Palate – Smooth and easy, quite warm.  Opens with a vein of thin honey, to which additional flavours of caramel and bonbons are added; leaving it to open up then provides anise, prunes, more molasses and peachess (less syrup this time), and burnt sugar.

Finish – Short and warm, very pleasant, mostly cocoa, raisins, nuts and again that thin vein of honey.

Thoughts – Well, this is quite some rhum.  Though I like it, I’m also not too sure what to make of it – surely this is not a contemporary agricole, let alone a standard, present-day St. James.  Lekker, one might say…yet much of what conforms to modern sensibilities and ideas of what an agricole is (the grassy, clean profile) is missing. It’s also rather thick – fortunately without being cloying – and that makes one wonder whether it was doctored, messed with or dosed (it’s likely because they boiled the cane juice in the old way as a sort of quasi-pasteurization process).  In any event, when anyone tries a rum made this long ago, it’s a window into a different time and a different rum-making mentality.  It might be worth sampling for that reason alone.

(84/100)

Jun 142017
 

#372

It’s always a pleasure to circle back to the now-established independent bottlers, especially those with which one has more than a glancing familiarity; they are the outfits who have carved themselves a niche in the rumiverse which for us consumers is composed of one part recognition, one part curiosity and eight parts cool rum.  The Compagnie des Indes is one of these for me, and while everyone is now aware they have started to issue the cask strength series of rums alongside lesser proofed ones (much like L’Esprit does), there will always remain a soft and envious green spot in my heart for the now-famous, Denmark-only, cask-strength editions.

This particular Danish expression is a Bellevue rum from Guadeloupe, and here I have to pause for a moment, stand back, and happily observe that in this day and age of rising prices, lowering ages and instantly sold out Bajan rums (did someone say Triptych? … sure you did), we can still get a rum aged for eighteen years.  I am aware that a simple calculus of years does not always confer quality – look no further than the Chantal Comte 1980 for an emphatic refutation of that idea – but when made properly, they often do.  And bar some hiccups here and there, this one is exceedingly well done.

As always, let’s start with the details before getting into the tasting notes. It’s a French West Indian rhum which does not adhere to the AOC designation, bottled at a crisp 55.1%, gold in colour, and with a 265-bottle outturn.  It was distilled in March 1998 and bottled in April 2016, aged in American oak barrels, in Europe – this is, as most will recall, a personal standard of the Compagnie, which does not favour tropical ageing (or cannot spare the time and expense to source them direct from Guadeloupe, take your pick).

Wherever it was aged, there was no fault to find with how it smelled: the nose was creamy caramel and cream cheese with only the very faintest hint of wax and rubber, and in any event, such traces vanished fast, giving way to dark fruits, not particularly sweet, like almost-ripe plums and cashews. At this stage such tannins and wooden hints as came later were discreet, even shy, and there were some light, playful notes of flowers, peaches, apricots, grasses and cinnamon.

Tasting it delivered a crisp, firm mouthfeel that was hot and salty caramel, plus a touch of vanilla.  Here the tannins and pencil shavings became much more assertive, suggesting an oaken spine as whippy and sharp as the cane my house-master used to bend across my backside in high school with such unfortunate frequency. In spite of the attendant orange peel,vanilla, cashews, raisins and lemongrass that could be sensed, it was also somewhat sharp, even bitter, and not quite as tamed as I might personally have wished (with perhaps some more aging it would have been? Who knows).  Behind all that, the additional flavours had their work cut out for them, not entirely successfully, and so I had to concede after a while that  it was well done…but could have been better.  The finish, however, was quite exceptional, showing more clearly the difference between an AOC-determined profile versus a more laid back Guadeloupe “let’s see what we can do here” kind of insouciance – it’s remarkably clear, offering for our final inspection caramel, nuttiness, toffee, with avocado, cumin and a hint of ginger.

So, in fine, a Guadeloupe rhum with lovely notes dancing around a great nose and fade, and quite a decent palate within its oaky limitations (which did admittedly cause it to slide down the rankings).  Fortunately that in no way sank the rhum, which, on balance, remained a lovely drink to savour neat….it just needed a softer comma of oak, so to speak, not the exclamation point we got.  I concede, however, that this was a minor blemish overall.

Although at the top end we are seeing a move towards pot still rums done up in interesting finishes, complete with fully tropical maturation, I believe there is still a place for longer European ageing without any finish at all.  Florent Beuchet, the maitre of CDI, has always championed this quiet, more patient route for his rums, which is perhaps why much of his aged hooch works so well – there’s a subtle, delicate richness to the experience that is not so much as odds with, as a counterpoint to, the badass in-yer-face brutality of those rums which slept for a shorter but more intense period in the Caribbean.  Both such types of rums have their place in our world – the issue does, after all, depend entirely on our preferences – and when a Guadeloupe rum presses so many of the right buttons as this one does, one cannot help but simply appreciate the quality of what makes it into the bottle at the other end.  This is a rum like that — it’s vibrant Caribbean sunshine issued for a colder clime, and I’m damned glad I managed to pilfer some from my snickering Danish friends from up north before they finished it all themselves.

(86/100)


Other notes

Jun 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #049

Even now, years after I acquired one of the 220 bottles of this phenomenal 36 year old rum, it retains its power to amaze and, yes, even awe. It still retails in the UK for over six hundred quid, reviews are rare as sugar in a Velier rum, and to this day it is unclear whether it is a blend — or if not, from which estate or distillery it hails.  Whatever the case, it is a great bit of Jamaican rum history and should be tried by any who get the opportunity.

Colour – Amber-orange

Strength – 60.3%

Nose – Pungent, bags of fruits resting on a firm and almost sharp initial aromas.  Vanilla, coconut, aromatic tobacco, and – at least at the beginning – very little in the way of true ‘Jamaican-ness’.  Where’s the funk?  Oak is well handled for something this old – so likely it was aged in the UK.  After some minutes coffee, raisins, bitter chocolate, parsley (!!) bananas, cherries, and faint dunder starts to creep out, before developing into something much more aggressive.  Definitely a rum that gives more the longer it stays open so don’t rush into this one.  There’s also a musty, damp-cellar background to it all that combines well with the wood, and somewhat displaces the fruitiness the esters are trying to provide.

Palate – Whew, hot hot hot.  Started slow, worked up a head of steam and then just barreled down the straight looking neither left nor right. Dusty cardboard and cereals, more of that earthy mustiness, plus some brine, avocados, cumin and maybe ginger.  Adding water is the key here, and once this is done, ther is caramel and cinnamon, more cumin, hay, tobacco and chocolate, veggies, and yes, rotting bananas and fleshy fruit gone off – so apparently it may not start out Jamaican, but sure finishes like one.

Finish – Long and warm and very very aromatic.  Wood shavings, some more citrus (lemons, not oranges), ginger, cumin, those ‘off’ fruits and even (what was this?) some cigarette tar.

Thoughts – Still an excellent, amazing rum.  Honestly, I’m helpless to justify 60.3% and 36 years old and near to a four figure price tag.  How can anyone?  For the average rum drinker, you can’t.  You wouldn’t share it with your card-playing buddies, your kids had better not go near it, you wouldn’t give it away as a gift, and there are so few of these bottles around that it might even never be opened because the event to do so would never be special enough.  But all that aside, we need s**t like this.  Without such rums we would be a lesser people (and cede pride of place to the maltsters). And that’s why it’s a rum to cherish, if you can ever get it.

(90/100)

Jun 112017
 

#371

While SAB, the only real commercial rum producer in Suriname, makes competent blends and some very nice aged work (like the 8 year old from last week), it suffers, if the word can be used, from the following: a competitor to up the ante and push them harder within their own country; higher proof offerings as part of a connoisseur’s cabinet; a range of true single cask rums that highlights a particular point of interest in an overall oevre; and most of all, as I noted way back in the Extra Gold, that particular note of terroire that would mark it out and set it apart from, and over, more common table tipple.

Which is not to say they’re bad – far from it.  The Borgoe 8 year old was a nice step up from the earlier, younger editions, and now the 40% 15 year old takes it to its own new level, even adding a filip of individuality, because it is stated to be a single barrel aged rum — although unfortunately I’m unable to ascertain what the outturn was,or even if it is issued on a semi-regular basis.  The fact that no year is mentioned on the label – single barrel rums by their nature tend to extol a year of make and a volume of bottles issued as a bare minimum – suggests that the moniker may either be totally incorrect or it’s poor  advertising / quality control…because you can be sure that no independent bottler would ever make such an error.

Anyway, beyond those issues, let’s take things at face value and simply accept it as a column still blend based on non-Surinamese molasses, blended from various barrels of fifteen year old reserves, issued at a milquetoast 40%, and if you’ll forgive my rampant and  unconfirmed speculation, with some pot still juice mixed in there for a little edge and torque.  The question is, was it any good?

Yes, and it’s very much the best of the lot, even edging out the Banks DIH Supreme 15 year old, with which it shared several points of similarity.  Even at 40% the difference between the various standard rums I was trying was quite impressive – creamy cereals and milk, oranges and caramel, all emerged to waft around the nose, at once.  There were the scents of walnuts, coconut, tobacco, and the fruitiness of cherries and peaches in cream, with a few flower petals and nougat thrown in for good measure.  And behind it all, barely noticeable, a queer clean sheen of something clear and bright and metallic, almost agricole-like….that’s the edge I was talking about, the point of distinction I liked.

Tasting it was also a pleasant experience, warm and smooth and with a fine texture – it actually presented with somewhat more heft than one would expect.  It was fruity, flowery and musky, all at the same time, redolent of aromatic cigarillos (those port-infused ones I used to like at one point in my life).  Leading off were ripe cherries and tart yellow mangos, apricots, plums and vanilla, with enough of the sharper oak influence to give it some kick.  It was vaguely (but in no way overbearingly) sweet, and with a drop or two of water provided some additional sage and nutmeg, burnt brown sugar, molasses and caramel, plus that faint but clear metallic brightness. Full proof it might not have been, but I had few complaints about what they had managed to achieve.  Only the finish was somewhat of a let-down, being rather short and quick, if easy and warm and without anything new being added to the experience…sort of like an ex-girlfriend’s cheerful goodbye kiss – she knows you well enough to give you a good one, but doesn’t care enough to give you the full treatment, know what I mean?

So all in all, a reasonably complex, well balanced rum which is nice to sip, a decent and very competent product by any standard. I want to make clear that as the top of the line, the Borgoe 15 year old is not a common bathtub hooch which plays it safe and doesn’t go anywhere spanking new – it’s too well made for that. But in the end, it remains a column still blend, it retains that unadventurous strength (not 46% or even 43% both of which can almost be seen as the evolving standards), and has only some of the force and uniqueness and intensity about it that would immediately mark it out as something special. Something special like a rum specifically Surinamese. Something special like a rum we must have.  And that’s a shame, because with some effort and courage — some more oomph, so to speak —  I would surely have marked it even higher, and liked it even more, than I actually ended up doing.

(85/100)


Other notes

  • I deliberately included the word “blended” in the title even though it’s not on the label, in order to not give the misleading impression that it is a true Single Barrel rum (as defined by common useage).
Jun 082017
 

 

#370

SAB is a Surinamese conglomerate that is very much like Banks DIH and DDL in Guyana – they have several different kinds of businesses in the portfolio, including various spirits, mostly sold on the local market.  Rums are among the few of its offerings which are exported, primarily to Holland, which comes as no surprise given their historical affiliation with the Netherlands.  At the time when I bought these bottles I was unaware of their availablity in Europe (which says rather more about my miserable googling skills than their advertising) and bought the entire line straight out of Suriname: to this day I’m still wondering how the Marienburg 90% made it past customs in Germany when the rather more tame ~55% Nasyonal from Mascoso nearly caused them a conniption fit.

Anyway, after the uncomplicated and placid experience that was the Borgoe Extra and 5 Year Old, I am happy to report that the 8 year old is an emphatic step up the quality ladder.  This is a rum aged a mere three years more than the five, but tastes and smells like a totally different product. Even at 40%, which readers are probably tired of hearing me whinge about, the Grand Reserve manages to produce a complex little tap dance that had me hastening back to all the other glasses to see if it was just me.  To say that about a standard proof product these days is making a rather interesting statement about what it delivers.

Take first the nose, which alleviated many of my issues with the previous rums from the company.  It started off warm and spicy, offering salty caramel ice cream, molasses, raisins, and bananas just starting to go off.  It didn’t burst out of the bottle to overwhelm and cudgel you in the face – it wasn’t that kind of drink; it more like tip-toed out, to slyly coil its way around the nose, gentle and easy, but each note initially distinct, before melting into a pleasant mélange.  It also developed well, because after some minutes, one could sense a thin line of citrus-like tartness, like gooseberries, unripe mangos leavened with some nuts, perhaps some vanilla, and smoke and leather.

This all took some time and concentration, to be sure, because its very mildness required some effort.  The palate was somewhat more assertive and less difficult to analyze.  First there were waves of caramel and candied oranges, more pronounced molasses, plus a musky background of cumin and masala spices which were not overwhelming but simply stayed in the background with an occasional wave to show they were still there.  With water (not really required, but it’s part of the system, so I tried it anyway), cherries, dark chocolate, some cloves and orange peel were noticeable, and after maybe half an hour the molasses was very much a part of the profile.  It also finished well, being remarkably dry, warm, with mostly citrus, leather and caramel winding up the show.

Trying to come to grips with the 8 year old was hindered by the very gentleness and kinks that made it interesting.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a massively sophisticated sub-ten-year-old (I believe that that particular crown belongs for the most part to agricoles), and it certainly did not have the rough-hewn elemental brutality of a cask strength bruiser, but it was a nice, easy drink, soft enough to please, with just enough edge on it to provide a slightly askew drinking experience.  Dave Russell of the Rum Gallery (who tried it at least three times), remarked in his review that it had a “soft polite touch”, and I think he pretty much called it as it was — so rather than indulge my windy vocabulary, I think I’ll let this write-up rest with that pithy and appropriate conclusion.

(83/100)

Other notes

  • Column still blend, aged in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels.  I remarked in the review of the 5 year old that there’s a pot still floating around SAB’s premises, and I can’t rid myself of the feeling that there’s some of that in this rum.  It’s just an opinion, though.
  • Adheres to the Authentic Caribbean Rum (ACR) standard, so we can assume no colouring, additives or sugar.
  • I’ll wrap things up for Borgoe line with the 15 year old next week.

 

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