Sep 302016
 
2015-selection

The selection from last year….

September 30th, 2016

Having settled the masterclasses and being in a lull right now, it’s time to start making serious arrangements for the so-called Caner AfterParty.  This is just a get-together of a few rum chums, people I correspond with and am happy to call friends – though admittedly, friends or not, they would stampede through a wall and over my spine if they knew I had a Velier Caputo 1973 in stock, and ensure they got their sample before I even cracked the only bottle in existence.

The list of friends has to remain small, because the place is quite tiny, and my experience with the Liquorature crew suggests that any group of more than seven people harbours the danger of side conversations derailing our discussions (and tastings).  So far I know that the Danish contingent will come for sure; the agricole boyos are a maybe; one Italian might make it and there’s a German or three in the offing; too bad none of the Brits are coming but they have their own party a week later so that’s understandable.  The Fair Lady of Sweden has to be checked with (later she tells me that alas, she can’t make Berlin this year). Others have already said no for timing reasons. I love modern social media.  There is no way I could get in touch with these people all at once back in the day, short of writing a telegram. Now it’s a matter of minutes.

Reviewing the list of rums (not samples, but real bottles) is daunting.  Have I really bought this much?  I cast a guilty look around, but Mrs. Caner is busy looking around the Louis Vuitton website for (you guessed it) more purses.  But it’s a great selection (rums, not purses) — it’s from all over the world, from unaged bathtub white lightning to 1970s era cask strength mastodons (and I have no idea what the Chums are bringing).  Martinique, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, Japan….Nothing quite as impressive as last year when I had the Black Tot and Chantal Comte rums, plus Trois Rivieres, Veliers, Bristol Spirits and so many others, but I’m not complaining this year either – even among all the good stuff, I have something special waiting for them.  I just shudder at the effort that will be required to schlepp them all out of the basement, and up four flights of stairs.  And glassware, need to get that organized too. I’ll get Oma Caner cracking on that, she helped out big time last year (and was generous with her sampling too which is why some of my bottles are suspiciously low right now).

Sep 292016
 

masterclass-002September 23rd, 2016

The Berlin Rumfest list of master classes is out.  Looks like they listened to some of the complaints from last and prior years. Previously, attendance to masterclasses could only be registered (for free) on the day of the fest itself. This created a long lineup every year, right by the entrance, and – not unnaturally – a lot of people who sauntered in late were s.o.l. because the early birds got all the seats.  I doubt that the issue will ever go away entirely because certain presenters will always be sought after (like Richard Seale, for example; and if Luca was to ever show up, prepare for a rock-star level riot in the aisles) and therefore there will sometimes be more interest than available places.

However, on this occasion 50% of the seats will be sold online for €5 each, while the other 50% will still be available at the door for nothing.  Since I’m a firm believer that one of the purposes of money (if and when you have it) is to buy back one’s time (which otherwise would be wastefully spent standing too damned long in a line waiting for a freebie or a sale, or squeezing into a cheap airline seat at risk to both blood pressure and patience), I decide to take the hit and shrug it off as the price of my peace of mind. And given the legendary bad tempers of the Caner Clan (or so the sweet and demure Mrs. Caner says) that’s probably a wise investment on my part.

The question is, which ones? Here’s the list in no order: the full listing by day can be found on the ‘Fest website

  • The two “Rarities” tastings which I’ve already decided (not without some regrets) to skip
  • Nine Leaves with Yoshiharu Tkeuchi
  • The Real McCoy with Bailey Pryor
  • Santa Teresa & Soleras with master ronero Nestor Ortega
  • “How to taste like a professional” and “Rum Versus Whisky” run by Bernhard Schäfer
  • Don Q with Roberto Serrallés
  • Tres Hombres with Andres Lackner
  • Rhum Agricole “The Other Style” with Benoît Baile
  • Rums of Venezuela
  • Ron Origines with Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez
  • Ron Botucal with Gilberto Briceno
  • The Art of Artisan Rum production in Europe with Santi Bronchales
  • Ron Brugal with Tanja Bempreiksz
  • Rum’s Place in the spirit’s World with Richard Seale
  • Five “rum and cigars” pairing sessions over the two days

Well, there’s no question but that I have to go to Seale’s session, and with my current interest in agricoles, missing Benoît’s makes no sense. I have detailed notes and unpublished essays on Aldea rums, so Bronchales’s class tickles my fancy. I’ve written a bio on Nine Leaves and always say hello to Yoshi-san whenever I see him, and will be content with that. Rums of Venezuela and the Origines and Botucal classes are tougher to decide on.  I’ll think about those. Actually, I’ll buy the ones I want and make up my mind about the others when I walk in — and that includes the Rarities, which I cannot entirely dismiss; and that, my friends, is how I get snookered into buying some very expensive rums indeed, from time to time.

Sep 272016
 

minionSeptember 19th, 2016

Damn but I’m busy.  People keep quitting at my office and their work comes to me.  And I have to plan my Berlin visit in somewhat more detail. Where do I find the time?

Bottle pictures are often an overlooked aspect of the review, and I take all my own. My cameras are strewn over the floor as I decide which lenses to take with which camera body.  Finally settle on my small and trusty D7000, ‘cause it has its own flash and the D3S is too heavy. 50mm 1.4 lens. I’m looking with longing at the 105mm 2.0 Defocus Control lens which provides amazingly creamy soft bokeh, then regretfully put it aside.  Charger. Memory cards.  Little Caner is right next to me, he’s taking his rig as well, because he wants to take some night shots in the city. “No, you can’t come to the RumFest and take bottle shots” I tell him, but he’s cool with that since he prefers street photography himself, and thinks my hobby is utterly stupid. (“Why would you enjoy something where the object of your interest disappears over time?” is his not-illogical question. Can’t fool that boy.)

Mrs. Caner wanders over. She could care less what I bring, since I’m going to have to carry it, not her, and she has other self-imposed duties at the Fest.  She’s the self-annointed, self-appointed Producer, you see.  She directs me to each booth in turn — “You haven’t tried any of those yet, dolt,” she’s fond of saying to me, and gives sharp and crisp orders to exhibitors when I talk to them and do the sampling, notes and photos. “Move aside, you’re in the frame!” “No not that bottle, a full one.” “You there, please give the man some space!” “Why are your bottles dusty? Why is this place such a mess?” “Your tie is crooked, here, let me fix it.” “I want to try that rum too, please, why is he the only one who gets any?” There’s some Guyanese in that woman somewhere, honestly. Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation, who’s met her twice now, always treats her with wide-eyed nervousness, trembles a little, and makes sure she gets some chocolates as soon as we appear.

Being a Somebody now cuts me exactly zero slack, mind you…I’m not exempt in the slightest: “You speak German, take me to the sandwich counter and get me two. Quickly now, there’s more rums to try.”  She’s gentle like that.  Somehow I’m absolutely convinced a Prada purse is her price for helping me out, since I bought a Chantal Comte rum last year with funds she had privately earmarked for it.  She maintains a studied indifference to my press credentials, just to ensure I don’t get too full of myself.

Sep 252016
 

press-pass-cartoon-1

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September 1st, 2016

Hey lookie here, Rum Depot sent me an email telling me I’m one of the cool kids and get a press ticket. I guess that passes for credentials. Can pick them up at the press booth on the day. I feel very important all of a sudden.  Yes, I’m Somebody (in my own mind). A ping comes in from Henrik…he just got his too.  We strut around importantly on FB messages like we’re Big Ones, giving each other high fives and chest bumps (figuratively speaking). He pours two glasses of an older Velier to celebrate over there in Denmark, and scarfs them for both of us.

Damn, this means I might actually have to write real press coverage.  Hmm.  Okay.  Better get started. Let’s see…”Full of hope and glory, I set forth one misty morning to do battle with the hordes of the sodden, drunken, monstrosities bestalking our fair land…” — No that won’t work, that’s for some other event. This is about rums, and as all whisky drinkers readily (and enviously) acknowledge, we are sober, serious and industrious people who take our tipple neat and get it for half the cost of the malty stuff. 

How about “It was a dark and stormy night over RumLand, where the terrifying spectre of undeclared sugar stalked the trembling peasantry…”. Not bad. Sounds a lot better.

Of course the Berlin Fest is into its sixth year, and so might require something more serious. Maybe. It’s hard to do with a sense of humour like mine.  Until I get there, I’ll just amuse myself with little updates like these.

Sep 232016
 

July 15th 2016

Still waiting.  No response from Rum Depot on credentials, which is my driven office existence demanding results in five minutes.  What the hell, it’s summer holidays, would you respond?  Not likely.  Hope the guy is having a good vacation, cause y’know, one of us should.

rum-pix

My list of rums in storage in Berlin keeps mounting.  Seventeen rum from France (including some very interesting agricoles I wanted). Two sets of Rumaniacs samples.  Stuff from Africa, the Far East, Japan…India is coming too. White lightning from a half dozen islands…I’m getting a real liking for those. Some local non-export hooch from the Caribbean. Surinamese rums few know anything about – not even me, and I used to live right next door. The purchases I make are usually more high-end rums, more rare, since it’s unlikely my friends will have those (I’m often the source for them). Still, I buy just as many mid- and low-tier rums online as I can, because it’s needed to provide balance.  The flip side of that is my storage space is creaking under the strain. 

Hard to keep track of all this, or who sent me which samples (and there a lot of those), but I have to say this – rumfolks, even those who don’t write, are extraordinarily generous.  My list of people who I have to send samples to is also getting longer, since I want to share, and anyway, this is the mechanism for building the network and maintaining goodwill. Fortunately, my pockets are deep, and the stuff I have to send is not only low-end table tipple but some real good juice, so there’s no shortage.

50℃ outside and still no rum. My palate is dessicating right in front of my eyes. I write a few more reviews from my notes taken on a recent trip to Paris, just because I need to stay sane, and the memory of a good rum is better than no rum at all.  I publish them and site visits take a nosedive.

Sep 202016
 

June 17th 2016

dsc_0064Henrik of the RumCorner did something I wish I had thought of first: he applied for Press Credentials with the ‘Fest…how cool is that?  He wrote a really readable online diary of his Berlin experience last year and I guess either they approached him or he saw the menu option on the webpage and went with it.  We talked it over.  Unclear whether it gets him anything concrete, like free entry to the Fest, immediate entry to the Master Classes or such like. But who cares? It’s a step up from being a mere participant, right?  You get a fancy looking badge to string around your neck and people might even look at you different…you are Somebody (yeah, right).

I came up with a brilliant idea of my own.  I love rum, I’ve been writing since 2009, publishing my work since 2010, I love rum, I’ve attended a few tastings, master classes, rumfests, my collection is nothing to sneeze at, I love rum, so hell, why not apply for credentials too? I’m as close to a real rum journalist as anyone else…and better than most of the magazine hacks who write fillers, blurbs, clickbait and idiotic articles displaying a monumental ignorance about and indifference to, rum. Plus (did I mention this?) I love rum.

So I fire off an email to the Depot, glowingly listing my few accomplishments (I write, I have a website, I like rum, y’know, the high points of my disputed magnificence), and settle down to wait.  I wish I had a few rums to sample.  It’s 47℃ outside, my family is enjoying themselves in Canada while I’m under the stern discipline of Ramadan, RumFest is still four months away, and I had a hard day.

It’s sundown. There’s an apple in the fridge.  I’m giving serious thought to fermenting the thing.

Sep 192016
 

May 15th 2016

This was when I started more seriously planning for the 2016 rumfest.  Why not?  Tickets are cheaper from a long time out and my planning horizon is a year or more into the future.  Always had fun at the ‘Fest.  People are helpful and the natives are friendly.  Nobody really has a clue who I am, me with my big ass notebook and dorky hat. My wife loves the snacks, and my mother raves over the cocktails.  Mom primly talks about having a “discreet buzz” after “a few” (which means all she can lay hands on), but let’s be honest, the woman gets looped and loaded after three umbrella drinks, and becomes even more loudly cheerful than usual, bless her…  I’m sure there’s a Bourda market fishwife hiding under her starch-spined German self-control.

Plus, I need the get at my samples which have been slowly building up in Berlin…to say nothing of all the rums I’ve been buying.  Man that collection is getting big….how will I ever get them all to Canada? A thought for another day.  Right now I’m just taking inventory. Tasting all this is going to be a major undertaking.  I figure it’ll be ten rums a day over ten days.  No more, and maybe even less, because even ten over several hours might be excessive. Plus I lose the first day, which is all about recalibrating my nose and palate (to a suite of rums I often use as controls); I lose two more for the Fest itself (no problem, will taste stuff there too), and one day at the end when I do some cross checking and retasting of dubious stuff I need to confirm my opinion about. Hmm.  Sounds a lot like a job.

Sep 082016
 

300

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I feel like a literary flea next to someone like Serge Valentin on Whisky Fun, who just published his 12,000th whisky tasting note.  But you know, given the slender reach of my purse, the way I write and the time available to do it all, I’m not displeased with reaching this little milestone.

“About two or three years,” the Last Hippie (who now runs the site AllThingsWhisky) and I remarked to each other many moons ago, when we were discussing longevity. “Maybe a hundred or so rums.”  That’s how long it was thought I’d be able to write for our origin site Liquorature.  I had counted all the rums available in our local stores, and never seriously imagined it could get beyond that. I started writing in mid-2009, began posting in early 2010, and with one break, have kept on ever since.  The hundred rums passed by the wayside, and now, if you can believe it, reviews are into their seventh year, the ‘Caner is passing the three hundredth essay (more if you count the Rumaniacs) and the whole exercise has thrown off branches in all kinds of directions unforeseen at the inception.

Wow.  300 reviews.  I still stand back in astonishment every now and then when I see a number like that.  Such a miniscule output will never impress Serge (640+ rums and counting) or Dave Russell (~380), or whisky sites which boast hundreds, if not thousands of reviews.  Yet I can’t help but thump my scrawny mosquito-physique chest a little, because even though I’m small-fry compared to those guys, I still recall that time when I thought a hundred would be cool to do…and the idea of this many seemed beyond comprehension.

What accounts for it? Well, all kinds of things – a genuine love and interest in the subject, of course.  It’s not a job, really, or anything remotely resembling the drudgery of work.  I don’t have a boss (always nice).  Unlike employment, I actually get (mostly) positive feedback that shows others share this interest, this passion.  People communicate.  And it’s not just enthusiasts, but producers, other writers, bartenders…I’m not a very sociable individual, but I now have more friends, in more countries around the world, then I ever imagined possible, and most are unstinting with advice, samples, corrections, assistance, background materials, commentary, photographs, or just plain old conversation.  It was no accident that Henrik of Rum Corner, Cornelius of Barrel Proof, Gregers and I, were able to talk for six straight hours without repeating ourselves back in 2015, while damaging the hell out of some rums that for their age and price were utterly unobtainable for me back in 2009.  Engagement with the broader community is alternately exasperating or educating.  Most of the time it’s simply fun.

I always have this vision of some guy on a cold winter night, looking at a rum on a shelf, breaking out his phone to scan for a review, reading about it here, sighing at my long-windedness, but then maybe doing a double take, perhaps laughing, and then mumbling to himself, “This s.o.b. ain’t bad.” (Well, okay…I can dream, right?)

So a big thank you for all of you who have taken the time to read along, and who touch base from time to time. It’s not only because of you all, but for you all, that this site keeps running.  

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2015 Germany spread

***

Everything below is a review of what’s been happening on the site, some thoughts of my own, and some statistics for those who are curious:

1. Most viewed reviews

The Bacardi 151, which I still think is the funniest, followed by the Velier biography, the latter of which remains the fastest climbing post, ever…it hit a thousand views in under an hour the day I put it up.  The other two highly viewed articles which always surprise me are the Austrian Stroh 80 and the Cuban Guayabita del Pinar, neither of which are sterling standouts or on anyone’s must-have list, yet they keep chugging along, day after day.  Quite astonishing for such niche products.

 

2. Least read article ever

The Jamel cachaca review (quite recent, so no surprise) and also the Canadian Momento Amber rum, which few would ever have found, let alone bought…it really wasn’t that good, more a backyard rotgut in my opinion. The Renegade Jamaica 2008 is also on the list (and that’s been around for ages), which kinda confirms my opinion that they were ahead of the curve all those years ago, and should have stuck with their special edition rum lines. With the rise of indie bottlers in the last years, they could have maybe been not only one of the pioneers, but in the lead.

 

3. My favourite rums of these 100, and new discoveries.

Leaving aside all the Velier rums (we all know they’re good, so let’s give somebody else a moment in the sun), here’s what I liked or which enthused me:

D3S_3789Norse Cask Demerara 1975

An expensive purchase but worth every penny. Over thirty years of ageing of a Demerara rum, leading to a magnificently rich and pungent dark behemoth.  I now wish I had bought the full bottle instead of the smaller (but cheaper) version.  If it had been no more than a raving taste monster dive bombing the palate, that would have been good enough, but when tried in conjunction with the Cadenhead from the same year (at <41%), it became clear why full proofs should be made more often.

 

D3S_3715Rhum Rhum Liberation 2012 Integrale

If there is ever a choice between the standard strength 2012 and the Integrale 2012, get the Integrale. This thing is an amazing agricole, so good that even regular rummies will have little too complain about. It may be among the best, if not the best, five year old rhum that I’ve been fortunate enough to sample, and proves once again that age is no indicator of quality.

 

 

Clairins

Like my father, I mix erudition and peasantry in my character in equal and cheerful doses.  The clairins unabashedly appeal to the lizard brain of the latter. They’re big, brutish, nasty taste hammers, unrefined and uncouth, yet, once we get past all that acetone and paint thinner, we remember something quite remarkable coiling around underneath. Some call that a “unique flavour profile”…I call it pretty damned good, and yes, I know I’m in a minority on this one.

 

Chnatal 1980 2Chantal Comte 1980

Without a doubt, the best sub-ten year old rhum I’ve ever tried.  Ever. At nine hundred euros, it was pricey — okay, it was more than pricey, it was near-divorce-level-pricey (the conversation started “I gave up a Prada purse for this s**t?” at overproof decibel levels, and went rapidly downhill from there).  But man, that combination of sumptuousness and complexity was amazingly tasty, and showcased all the reasons why agricoles are great products we should never ignore just ’cause we never found one we liked.

 

Black Tot 1The Black Tot

I appreciate this rum not because of its intrinsic quality – though that wasn’t half bad – but because of its history and heritage.  Sometimes you just get a rum because you want it, and I wanted this one for a long time.

 

 

 

Epris 1L’Espirit Epris Bourbon finished Brazilian Rum

For a small outfit that is practically unknown outside of France, they certainly make some good hooch, these guys.  This one might not have been a true cachaca, yet it exhibited markers of taste and style that was a cut above the ordinary.  Purely on my appreciation of this one rum (provided to me gratis by Cyril of duRhum), I contacted the company to get more, just to see if they were as good as I thought they were.

 

 

Compagnie des Indes: Indonesia and Guadeloupe

Undoubtedly my new maker of choice for this one hundred reviews is CDI. I looked at Prichard’s, Nine Leaves, a raft of agricoles, and rums from around the world, and somehow the Indonesia stood out in my memory; and the Guadeloupe, issued at 43% was an excellent and affordable 16 year old rhum. While I may never get all of CDI’s products, I’m sure glad I managed to try these two.

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4. Other bloggers’ articles

Like any serious interest, writing about rums requires keeping up with the news and issues of the day.  More and more we are seeing bloggers put out informative and thought-provoking essays which enrich our understanding of the subculture.  Here are some of the best articles I read while putting out my own hundred reviews.  The quality of the thinking behind each heightens my appreciation for the writers who take the time to go beyond mere tasting notes and into informative corners of the rumworld which amuse, inform and educate:.

The Cocktail Wonk’s article on E&A Scheer

Matt Pietrek’s essays on the Jamaican distilleries were exercises in depth and detail, and I enjoyed them a lot, not least for the information they provided, but it was the one about E&A Scheer I found the most enlightening.  All of us hear about independent bottlers buying casks from “brokers” without ever going further.  Matt pulled back the curtain on what that actually meant, and how a very old company still provides stock for many of the small companies whose rums we appreciate. An enormously informative and entertaining read.

The Fat Rum Pirate: The World of Independent Bottlings

Wes Burgin from the UK has put out quite a few essays regarding sugar, quality in rums and other issues of the day. I don’t always agree with his arguments, yet that doesn’t invalidate the points he makes, and they always engender valuable discussions.  This one was more factual than opiniated and pulled together many strands of the available information on who and what independent bottlers are.

Josh Miller at Inu A Kena: “Plugging into the Rum World” and the “Cachaca Challenge

Josh and I are in contact off an on through social media, and I usually give him a good-natured ribbing about how he doesn’t write enough.  That’s because I like what he writes, and what he does write is always worth a read.  Two pieces he put out over the last year and a bit are worthy of mention (again): the summary of online websites dedicated to rums and cocktail culture, and the one where he pulled together fourteen cachacas at once to see how they stacked up in a caipirinha. I wrote to him after he published the latter and bemoaned my inability to get that many Brazilian rums at all, at which he laughed and told me his bar is always open to my tasting glass, if I ever get over to San Francisco.

5. Site focus in the next hundred

1. Continuing emphasis on agricoles

Moving into the French-style rumworld opened up huge vistas of enjoyment for me. Like many who started with the usual stuff, I disdained the clear, grassy profiles of agricoles, yet I plugged away and found that they grew on me.  I found more quality rums here than I suspected.  Of course, since I’m closer to Europe than to North America, it’s also easier to find them, and practically the entire French blogging community — many of whom I’m happy to know on a personal basis — is happy to chip in and point me to samples, overlooked gems  and provide information.

2. Leaving the West Indies Behind

Naah…just kidding. The Caribbean will always remain the bastion of the spirit – more rums come from there than anywhere else.  Yet it was and remains intriguing how many local rums there are from other parts of the world. I enjoyed CDI’s Indonesia, didn’t care for the Fijians, and I know there’s stuff from Africa, Australia and Polynesia that many of us have never even heard about. Everyone’s heard of Mount Gay or El Dorado….but it’s the weird ones from, oh, Mozambique, that I want to write about. So for the next few years I’ll be casting a much wider net than before, to see what I can come up with that some might have an interest in.

3. More cachacas

Just as with agricoles, I felt it was time to see what was going on in Brazil.  I’ll likely not have the facility to pick up very many, but I’m trying to buy more than usual, and they will remain a focus of mine for the next few years.  Also, as initially with agricoles, I currently don’t care for them much, so the only way to see whether I’m full of Kraken is to try as many as possible.  Maybe I’ll find the gold nuggets in the mud which I’m absolutely convinced lurk in the backdam, awaiting only a persevering nose to ferret out.

4. More Essays

Maybe.  This is a time issue more than anything else.  Good essays have to express a cogently argued point of view and require a depth of research which takes a lot of time.  But I’ll keep at it.  The Makers section, if nothing else, needs to have more.

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6. Trends in the rum world I continue to follow

Sugar/Additives

This is an issue that just won’t subside, and never should. It engenders enormous passions on all sides of the divide.  I dislike the hysterical adamance of the purists who sneer at and denounce anyone who likes a sweetened rum, but I’m equally at war with those producers who refuse to disclose additives of any kind under the guise of it being legal.  Legal or not, the consuming class is a far cry from the sheeple who accepted everything as little as five years ago, and it’s vocal proponents of disclosure who are making raising awareness a problem that new entrants to the field cannot afford to ignore.  I can hope, I guess.  Sugar will never go away — it’s too tightly interwoven with the culture of rum — but maybe we can look forward to a day when people get a full brief on what they’re pouring into their glass. People are welcome to like whatever they like, and if we have our way, at least they’ll know why.

Classification

The old standard of grading or classing rums by colour is more or less dead, yet the influential “styles” of Mr. Broome is proving a tougher nut to crack.  As with many things, it’s the adaptation to exceptions that show how good the rules are.  Here, not so much.  More and more we are seeing agricoles issued in other places than the French islands; blends of rums from multiple regions make their appearances more often than before; additives are nowhere to be found; and the difference between pot still and column still rums continue to confound many. Luca Gargano’s system is a step in the right direction, though I still think it does not address outliers satisfactorily, and by ignoring the immediate source of the distillate – molasses, sugar cane juice or “other” – an opportunity may have been lost to win wider acceptance. Still, no matter how it ends up, the issue is definitely getting the attention it deserves.

New Entrants

It’s an old joke that “rum is the next big thing … and always will be”.  Yet nothing suggests the acceptance of the spirit as a class act in its own right as the explosion of smaller micro-producers, especially in the US and Canada, and the surge of independent bottlers in Europe. People are getting fed up with the high price of scotch, maybe, and constant blogging has made everyone aware that rum takes second place to no spirit at the top end. Rum Nation, Plantation, Samaroli, Velier, Moon Imports, Berry Bros., Fassbind…these are decades-old companies who are finding their place in the sun courtesy of a new crop of writers and bloggers who champion their work, but others are muscling into the market as well: L’Espirit, Ekte, Compagne des Indes.  The sheer variety is astonishing and there’s something for every taste, from brute force mastodons at 60% to milder palate pleasers at 40%.

Cask Strength

Nothing pleases me more than the move at the top end to move past 40-43%.  The indies mentioned above were always issuing such rums, of course, in a bottle here and there, and Renegade, who perhaps were ahead of the curve but then dropped out, created one of the first “lines” of rums that took this to 46% in their limited editions.  But perhaps it is Velier we should thank for kicking off the trend, because not only are the majority of independent bottlers now issuing rums at strengths between 50-65% but the big guns like FourSquare, Mount Gay, and DDL are catching on and doing the same.  I look forward to the day when all standard strength rums made by big companies are issued alongside their premium beefcake brothers so consumers can pick one or the other depending on taste.

Truth in Advertising and Disclosure

Too many makers are stuck in the pre-social-media world.  It seems to escape many of them that there is a vocal and knowledgeable community out there that disseminate information faster that was ever possible before. Agreed, most people who like rum simply want an opinion they can rely on (hence the rise of bloggers and online reviewers, since only a fool trusts a company website touting its own quality), but what annoys the Twitterati and Facebook Faithful more than anything else is (a) the lack of disclosure on labels or online materials as to what is actually in the rum, i.e. additives and (b) what the rum is made of, and how, what still, from what raw stock, aged for how long.  Like it or not, people want to know this stuff, which is why Arome (which I have not tried) got an online faceful for being not only evasive but outright condescending.  This of course traces its genesis to the sugar imbroglio from above.

***

And so there you have it.  One person’s ramblings about rum, the rum universe and our place within it. I realize with every passing year that not only will I never taste them all, but can only ever scratch the surface of the sometimes bewildering variety available to us fortunate souls (at a still reasonable cost compared to that obscure Scottish drink). If I were to give a single piece of advice to anyone regarding rum – especially those now getting interested – it’s to never stop with just one, but try many, just to understand how wide an area the rumiverse actually covers. I learn something new every week, make new discoveries and it remains a remarkable experience.

So, walk a little further down the rum road with me.  There’s more coming.  There’s always more coming.

Thanks to all of you who have read not only this far in this essay, but overall.  Your comments and visits are valued, and welcome, and appreciated.

All the very best

 

The Lone Caner

Jan 272016
 
LUCA-900x411

Photo (c) 2013 congresodelron.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rare-mads-1

Photo (c) Mads Heitmann, Romhatten

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

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

“Not at all.”

“Seriously?”

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

“Why are they only being sold only Europe?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have no idea.”

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

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

“And it received almost no publicity at all.”

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

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

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

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

rare-mads-2

Photo (c) Mads Heitmann, Romhatten.

“And then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PM 1999 Romhatten

Picture crop (c) Romhatten.dk

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

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

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

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

“And future issues?”

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

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

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

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

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

***

Other notes

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

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

 

 

Jan 202016
 

Rare Collection

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

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

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

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

Consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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