Mar 192014
 

D3S_8427-001

 

These three rums are aged curiosities. There’s one from the 60s, and two from the 70s. Information on their origins is maddeningly obscure. The labels are crap, and the corks aged and faded and cracked by decades of rough handling. There’s never been a review of any that I was able to find, and their makers are likely long gone. Yet these three bottles exist, and if for no reason than their history, I review them here, make what remarks I can, score them as best I’m able.

Italy in these days is no stranger to rums, of course. Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation is the name that springs immediately to mind, and Campari recently bought the brands of Appleton and Coruba. Yet in rum’s heydey of the forties and fifties, there were many small outfits that matured their own stocks and brought out limited craft spirits to tempt the palates of those living La Dolce Vita. Some of these were real spirits of the kind we know and enjoy today, but many were what were called “Fantasy rums” – products made from caramel syrup with industrial alcohol, to which various herbs and spices (and in other cases young Jamaican rums), were then added. They were used for baking additives, pastries, or even as digestifs, not so much as sipping rums. They certainly don’t taste like molasses based products.

This to many purists, and according to modern EU rules, disqualifies them from being called rums, and they share similar DNA, then, with Tanduay, Stroh and Mekhong – they edge close to the line without ever quite stepping over it. As before with those examples, I’ll call them rums just because they’re labelled that way and to give them a home.

Anyway, knowing all this, what are they like?

D3S_8436

  • Rhum Fantasia “Stravecchio” Masera 1974
  • Bottled by Seveso Milan
  • Amber coloured, 40%

Nose: Much more of a rum profile than the other two. caramel, brown sugar, peaches and apricots – nice. Soft on the nose, very easy going, with hints of vanilla

Palate: Pleasant and gentle on the tongue, no real spice going on here: medium bodied, a little dry. Vanilla comes out punching, without being overwhelming. Caramel and burnt sugar dominate the taste at the beginning, and then give way to peanut brittle. A shade salty, even buttery, with a pleasant background of walnuts and crushed almonds

Finish: Short. Doesn’t want to piss you off. Toffee and nuts on the close, without lasting long enough to make an impression.

Final score: 66/100

D3S_8441

  • Tocini Fantasia Rhum 1976
  • Bottled by Tocini Company
  • Brown black with ruby tints, 40%

Nose: Slightly sharp, heavy on red/black grape wine; tons of fruit aromas – prunes, blackberries. Reminds me a lot of grappa. Some chocolate, apples, apricots. Licorice comes through after it opens up. Pretty good sniffer, nice and rich.

Palate: Reasonably smooth to taste, a little spicy, not much – medium bodied rum (really love the colour). Loads of licorice – may be too much for some. Back end notes of vanilla and some blackberries, but they’re subtle against the black stuff, which doggedly holds on as if scared to let go.

Finish: Pleasant enough, once the licorice fades out. A bit rough and then stays for a long goodbye, with vanilla and brown sugar notes making a belated appearance.

Final Score: 72/100

 D3S_8439

  • Pagliarini Rhum Fantasia from the 1960s
  • Bottled by Pagliarini Distillery, Municipality of Romani di Lombardo
  • Dark ruby red, 40%

Nose: Thin, striking nose of red cherries, red grapes, and somewhat herbal, like freshly mown wet grass. No real rum profile here: would rate it higher if it had more oomph. Really taste the additional flavourings…pomegranates, some ripe oranges, more cherries, sorrel.

Palate: Soft and round on the tongue, provides comfort without anger. That redness reminds me of sorrel, and so does the taste: plus added notes of fennel, rosemary, cherry syrup. Damn but this is sweet, and not with brown sugar notes either – in fact, this has the least “rum-like” profile of the three. It’s a bit too much sugar: no driness or ageing evident here, and that sinks it for me.

Finish: will o’ the wisp, disappears the moment you look for it, much like the Cheshire Cat; though, like that feline’s grin, it retains a smile of sweet cherry syrup and rosemary to see you on your way home. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Final Score: 62/100

***

At end, it’s unlikely these rums will be easily acquired or even sought after – I may actually have bought among the last bottles extant (and given their shabby state when they arrived, that wouldn’t surprise me). They have been overtaken by other spirits that taste similar and don’t call themselves rum. It’s likely that I paid the price I did because of their age and rarity, which is fine ‘cause I’m interested in the subject and was curious — but if you’re a fanatic about these matters and prefer a more traditional rum profile, I’d suggest you only try any Fantasias that cross your path if you can get them for free. It’s an expensive indulgence any other way, especially if they’re as old as these, and you may not like them much.

Unless of course you’re baking with them, in which case, avanti!

***

 

Closing note: Thanks to Luca Gargano of Velier, Cyril of DuRhum and Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation, who very kindly provided background information I used to write this article.

 

 

 Posted by on March 19, 2014 at 7:46 am
Mar 312013
 

 

Here is another in my ongoing series of “favourite” lists.  This one focuses on the premium segment.

***

Make your enemies green with envy, please your friends, impress wannabe hangers-on and have an all-round good time with these expensive rums that will cheerfully excavate your wallet.  Mix not required, and what the hell, ditch the ice as well….you don’t need that either.  I know this is spouting Liquorature heresy, but I think even some maltsters might do well to sample some of these. Yeah Hippie, it’s you I’m lookin’ at.

This posting is meant to list (in no particular order) some decent rums that I thought were worth the hundred dollars or more yet two hundred or less which I paid for them. It’s not a “best” list (that would be futile).  It’s a list of rums that if you knew a bit about rums (and that you liked them), were looking to try sipping quality hooch, wanted to get something out of the ordinary and felt you needed to splash out the cash for a favoured relative or friend…well, you could use this as a reference on where to start.

Of course, once we move into (and upwards past) the three figure price range, a reviewer has a problem, because not every rum costing that much is actually worth it, and opinions vary widely as to what the perfect rum profile truly is – what to one person is a particularly fine example of the craft and worth every penny, is savagely put down by another who despises the very bottle that embraces it.  So, a note of caution.  The higher in price we go, the more objective price and perceived value diverge (this principle is exemplified in the US$5000 Appleton 50 year old).  In no case does the higher price confer practicality or utility to the average Joe, who’d get to work through morning rush hour just as quickly in his Ford as in a Ferrari. After all, I didn’t think the $300 Santa Teresa Bicentenario was worth it, and I know for sure the G&P 1941 58 year old Longpond, on a quality basis alone, doesn’t rank the four figures I shelled out – I could have gotten as much enjoyment out of a Potters, and probably better conversation.

We pay high prices for many reasons – status, narcissism, rarity, exclusivity, quality, angels share losses, or labour manhours that must be recouped by the makers (look no further than the St Nicholas Abbey for an example).  In that sense, uber-rums are something like precision swiss watches: you’re paying a premium for meticulous work (sometimes) done by hand over a long period (and, of course, brilliant marketing), irrespective of how the final result comes out – a Timex would tell more accurate time…it just doesn’t have the cachet of an Audemars, a Patek, or a Rolex.  And that too is part of the reason we pay so much.

I should also point out that at this level of expenditure, you’re absolutely within your rights to demand a better packaging of the product.  If you can blow more than a hundred bucks, why skimp at an extra few that the maker throws in for neat presentation?  Consider the sleek sexy bottle of the Mount Gay 1703, or the etched flagon of the St Nicholas Abbey 12.  Hell yes I want a great look to go along with the great price. Just about all my malt-swilling buddies disagree with me, but on this one I honestly think they’re barking up the wrong tree. When my Breitling chronograph arrives, I’d like it in a leather wrapped box, thank you very much, not a paper bag.

The rums I write about here are drawn from my experience of tasting them every single week for almost four years; my own personal preferences, and what I have been able to sample and find and buy in Canada – and more importantly, what I like.  Your mileage may vary, your availability and cost will almost certainly be otherwise, and you may disagree with the worth of any.  Let that, however, not stop you from trying these lovely products if you can spare the money and can find them.

(NB: All prices are Calgary Can$ and are correct for the amount I paid at the time)

***

St Nicholas Abbey 10 year old ($145) – ever since I had this one, I’ve made no secret of my liking for it. The 12 year old could be on this list as well: my opinion is simply that  the ten somehow gets it all righter and correcter — and is a complex, well rounded sipping rum that should be tried at least once. Apparently, you can get a 1/2 price refill of your bottle right at the Abbey, and get your name etched on it as well. Hmmm….

English Harbour 1981 25 Year old ($188 but trending above $200 these days). One of my all time top five, and the first review I ever wrote (shows by being the shortest too). I’ve never fallen out of love with it, and have given away at least four bottles to date…since two have gone to Central Asia to rave reviews, I may have the dubious distinction of being single-handedly responsible for turning an entire nation’s tastes away from vodka to rums as a consequence.  Well, I can dream, right?

 

Clemente Tres Vieux XO ($126) – I know this will surprise some, as I marked it down for a certain spiciness I felt was out of place in a product marketed as premium. Oh but that fruity burnt sugar nose, that fade…it’s just grown on me over the years.

Ron Millonario XO Reserva Especial ($110). Not everyone will like this rum, as it may edge too close to the sweetness and borderline liqueurishness of the El Dorado 25. I respectfully disagree. It’s a smooth, complex, well blended rum whose fade just keeps on giving.  Given a choice I’d buy three of these rather than one of the ED25. It is also, in my own estimation, better than both the Zaya 12 and the Zacapa 23. No, really.

mount gay 1703

Mount Gay 1703 (~$130).  I had to go back to this one a few times to appreciate it more – and although I won’t change my original review which honestly represented my feelings at the time it was written, there is no contesting the overall balance and convoluted taste profile of the rum. A shade spicy, yet mellow on the nose and dark on the finish, redolent of burning sugar cane fields smouldering in the tropical twilight.

English Habour 10 year old ($105) – this just barely made the cut in price terms: not that it’s cheap on what counts, mind you, and neither should it be overshadowed by its bigger, better known and more expensive sib.  It has a zen quality all its own. A solid, excellent all round rum.

Rum Nation 1985 Demerara 23 year old ($165). Fabio Rossi, take a bow.  In no uncertain terms, an Italian outfit takes on the big guns of the Highlands and takes its place among the boutique rum-makers. Big, flavourful, odd, smooth, dark, tasty and a tad rubbery, somewhere Batman is weeping into his cape with envy.

Rum Nation Panama 21 year old ($103).  What?  Another one?  Accidente a me, what are those Italians doing?  Ladies and gentles all, this rum is superlative.  Rum Nation somehow managed to get rid of the slight feinty notes that some will despise the Demerara for, and replaced it with raisins, dried fruit, leather and tobacco and an admirable driness that lifted my spirits just by sampling it. Could be stronger than 40% and still be superb.

Secret Treasures Demerara 14 year old: ($100 in Euros). This rum explains why I want to move back to Europe.  A Swiss concern named Fassbind has produced an enormously excellent dark amber rum with a nose, mouthfeel and finish that had me drain the bottle in labba time, and have to snatch it away from my mother’s grasping fingers after she was on her fifth shot and almost lost her teeth in the glass.

Rhum Vieux Domaine de Courcelles Grande Reserve 58% (~$180)
Although this hails from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, I hesitate to pronounce it an agricole (and the bottle sure doesn’t either)…it has a depth of taste and texture that strikes me more as a pot still product based on molasses.  Certainly it’s an awesome drink, if you can find it, though some might prefer it’s tamer twin (same age) bottled at 47%.  Not me. It’s amazing how the bite of 58% has been tamed into this excellent rum.

***

Closing notes.  So yes, I have not included the Appleton 21 (about which I’m unenthused), or any of the Plantation rums nor the Renegades (the last two are not widely available for purchase in Canada, I don’t have anyof the former and too few of the latter, and so cannot speak to them).  I probably missed one of your personal faves.  Sorry. And I know for sure that many superior rums available in Europe are not to be found on my shelf or in my local liquor emporia.  That’s my (and our) loss. Still, I’ve been at this for going on four years, and the subject remains fascinating and of interest, I still fork out for the privilege of sampling and reviewing, and I know there’s more out there that will eventually come this way.  Consider this list to be a complement to those already written, and one of others to come.

And enjoy the rums.  The products are pricey, yes – but they have worth that cannot always be measured in mere pieces of eight.

 Posted by on March 31, 2013 at 9:26 am
Mar 312013
 

(First posted December 2010)

*

Christmas is right around the corner, and soon, if not already, we’ll be having hair of the dog, doing the hearty party and drinking to excess on every possible occasion on our best friends’ dime.  We’ll be buying gifts, attending bashes and often will be tasked with chosing a decent rum for our West Indian friends or rum lovers in general.  What can we buy that is the perfect match of decent quality but won’t bust our slender wallet?  Here’s a list to get you started (in no particular order, and with Calgary prices).

1. Captain Morgan’s Private Stock (~$40). Simple, not complex, rich and dark, with a slight spice hint and more than enough sweet.  What classifies this as a sipper’s intro is the remarkable body and mouthfeel. Good way to get into higher priced premium rums. It’s easy to bash the Captain, but this rum is worth it, I think.

2. Young’s Old Sam Demerara Rum (~$26). I didn’t really care for this at first, but it grew on me.  A mixer not a sipper, it’s got powerful taste of burnt sugar, molasses and caramel that will perk up our cocktail for sure, and the cheap price means you can buy several, in order to double up on our enjoyment.

3. Cruzan Single Barrel Dark (~$45). Bloody brilliant rum: dark, silky, smooth and with tastes in great harmony, you can use this as either a sipper or a mixer and still have a great time.  Great for Grampy.

4. English Harbour 5 year old (~$28). Regular readers here will know that Liquorature went pretty nuts over this premium mixer. Soft, pungent, lightly spiced, its flavour simply explodes in a cola.

5. Tanduay Superior 12 year old. I don’t know the price of this Phillipine product in Western markets, but the local price there is dirt cheap, and man, is this one stellar rum for its price. Slightly dry, slightly sweet, with a great smooth finish and a lovely dark body. One of the best in its class.

6. Old Port Deluxe Rum (~$35). A new arrival from India, tawny, medium bodied and delicious. I liked it neat, but take it any way you want.  Decent, well priced and bang for your buck. According to the hippie, the Amrut Fusion produced by the same distillery in Bangalore ain’t half bad either.

7. Havana Club Cuban Barrel Proof (~$45). Golden, twice aged in differing oaken barrels, and smooth as all get out, with a taste and feel at once complex and long lasting. Damn this is good. Fill my glass, and pronto. Twice.

8. Bacardi 8 year old (~$40).  It’s considered an easy target for ridicule, but then, everyone hates the big kid on the block. Underservedly so, in this case, because this dry, well aged golden rum is a cut above the ordinary, a great body and flavour profile, and just enough of a whisky driness and lack of sweetness to broaden its appeal among the Maltsters as well as the Caners.

9. El Dorado 12 year old (~$45). Oh man, Guyana knows how to make ‘em. Heavy, dark, solid rum with a smooth fade that redefines the midlevel rums. I’m a fan of the 15 and 21 year old, but this one is a worthy younger sibling, believe me, in spite of the backstretch burn.

10. Bacardi 151 (~$35).  Fine, it’s an overproof with a muzzle velocity off the scale, but you know what? It isn’t half bad after you pick yourself off the floor, roll up your tongue, locate your rapidly dissolving nose and find your face.

I cheerfully concede that these are selections from my limited reviews thus far, and others will have their own opinions.  Well, let me know that they are…there are fifteen hundred rums in the world, there are gonna be others worthy of the name at a price we can all afford.

Have a great holiday season.

 Posted by on March 31, 2013 at 9:03 am
Mar 312013
 

 

Inspired by the amazingly refreshing (and original) website andabattleofrum which has a world cup of rums – well worth a look for sheer inventiveness and style – I decided to implement an idea that both that site and the ongoing whisky range tastings on allthingswhisky.com have done so well.

Having sampled the Flor de Cana 5 and the Juan Santos 5 at the same time, I resolved to make a go of two other five year olds in the larder, and run all four through their paces to see how they stacked up against each other: after all, trying them individually was one thing, but if I rated them all at the same time, would the scores change?  Now there was a challenge to the scoring system.  And anyone who has associated with me and my rum work for any length of time knows the despite in which I hold the whole business of scores to begin with, so perhaps I should try and see whether it was as consistent as I claimed it was.

Flor de Cana 5 year old

Nose: Faint rubbery notes coil among the darker flavours of caramel and burnt sugar and fleshy fruit. Spicy, yet not overpoweringly so.
Palate: Heavy bodied (competes manfully with the El Dorado), dark sugar notes with pineapple and peaches.  Quite dry and medium sweet. A shade harsh
Finish: Medium, heated finish with some softer billowing caramel and nutty flavours.
Assessment: Overall, it failed somehow.  On its own I ranked it at 52 points…here I didn’t think it did all that well.

El Dorado 5 year old

Nose: Dark, rich brown sugar.  White flower notes, caramel, slight molasses. Became almost creamy as it opened up.
Palate: Yummy.  Heated, a shade sharp. Arrived with burnt sugar and caramel nuttiness, just enough sweet.  Deep, dark, unshashamedly rough bushman of a rum, yet quite excellent for all that.
Finish: Long and lasting, with faint closing notes of almonds.
Assessment: The epitome of younger Demerara style rums, and a credit to DDL. This is like the rambunctious first born in your family, an A-type for sure.

Angostura 5 year old

Nose: Grapes, fleshy fruits, peaches. Strong heated nose redolent of burning canefields
Palate: A medium bodied melange of vanilla, burnt brown sugar, caramel. Thick and almost chewy, yet spicy and containing a certain grace as well.
Finish: long and lasting with a closing aroma of caramel
Assessment: Aggressive, forceful and straightforward, yet lacking some of the uncouth brawny cheeriness of the El Dorado.

 Juan Santos 5 year old

Nose: Light and delicate, yet heated spirits tickle your nose. Fruit and vanilla notes so well balanced it’s almost impossible to pick apart.
Palate: Gently assertive, extremely mild…barely passes the “is this a rum?” test at all, since none of the notes one would expect out of an entry-level  rum – the molasses, brown sugar, toffee etc – are present.
Finish: long, a shade brny, and quite dry, with almost no flavours poushing past to provide closure.
Assessment: passive aggressive problem child who prefers never to speak up in class

General conclusions

Having gone through this exercise and gotten quite high doing it, what were the results and how did they stack up against my posted scores?

Well, not too bad.  Side to side rankings came up with this result:

Last was was the Juan Santos,third came the Flor, second the Angostura, and first (somewhat to my surprise) came the El Dorado 5.  Scores in my reviews bore this out: in order, 48, 52, 54 and 56, and all variations came in nose, the palate and finish, with little difference in the intangibles.  So all in all, I see this as an initial  vindication of the system, if you could call it that and however miserly it might be.  Other rankings of this nature will inevitably follow because I feel (as others do) that tasting single rums in isolation can be a sterile exercise, and gives no reference baseline which a multiple sampling would enhance.

Just as a side note, I really am impressed with Angostura’s product.  It has real character and a certain elemental brutality about it that I liked a lot…two point separation or not, it is in many respects on par with the El Dorado, which perhaps supercedes it in just that slight smidgen of smoothness and depth that pulled it ahead.

Anyway, please note that (of course) these scores reflect my tastes, not necessarily yours.  You will undoubtedly have your favourites, as I have mine, and concordance is unlikely.  And this is without even considering how many five year old rums out there, of which this is a miniscule sampling at best. That said, have fun trying them out anyway. I know I did.

 Posted by on March 31, 2013 at 8:48 am
Oct 042012
 

As has now become a pleasant routine every six months or so, I attended the second Kensington Wine Market Raucous Rums tasting of 2012 on Thursday 4th October, and as has also become my habit, I brought along a guest. Previously, before my rum-loving friend The Bear bailed for the Maritimes (for his health and a better job he claims, but I think he was just tired of Calgary weather), he and I made it a point to always go together. What has happened since his departure is that I always buy two tickets, and ask someone to come along with me. On this occasion it was Gordon “Pogo-san” Pogue, whom I had converted to the dark side about a year or so ago at a now-legendary rum-soaked jerk-chicken cookoff, when he (to his own everlasting astonishment I’m sure) realized that top end rums were…well, utterly fantastic.

There’s a sort of comforting routine to these tastings, which vary little from occasion to occasion. The ill-named host “ScotchGuy” (yup, I have to comment on this every time I write about KWM’s Raucous Rums) always has the glasses all poured (not Glencairns, alas), welcomes everyone, has his powerpoint dissertation on the history of rum ready to go (complete with the odd photo from Liquorature), and as always, there are new faces, different faces, all interested and curious and enthusiastic. Last time there was a cheerful crowd of Chileans that caught my eye; on this occasion a group of four beautiful ladies off to the front, a well dressed couple in the middle, and what I later came to know as a father-son tag-team together with Pogo-san and me in the rear. Snacks were low key and tasty and as you can imagine, I nibbled the evening through.

These days, I take a perverse kind of sneaky delight in trying to anticipate what Andrew would present on any given evening. I must confess to being a little ahead of most attendees, since I have been involved in these tastings for three years now (not really as impressive as it sounds given there are two a year versus maybe fifteen or so for whiskies) and since I knew he had some new variations in, I had a sense of what would be on offer. Can’t always bet on that, though: sometimes we get new stocks not yet available, like the Rum Nation series back in 2011; on other occasions it’s older wares that aren’t moving off the shelves and about which we are reminded, like the Santa Teresa Bicentenario. And sometimes Andrew just happily mixes it all up and simply puts out a series he thinks would be interesting (I occasionally get asked for a suggestion). I think he takes delight in pulling a fast one on me.

As before, the six rums were blind. Andrew had us nose and try the first rum right away before launching into the presentation. Gordon sniffed and wrinkled his nose. The light toffee-coloured rum stung the schnozz a little, and had a slight smokiness to it, toffee craminess and some vanilla, perhaps bananas, trending towards the floral. “Caramel and burnt sugar,” he opined “Maybe flowers, some fruitiness.” “Bananas?” I asked, hoping to get a confirmation. He sniffed, tasted and nodded. The two gentleman at our table tried it but didn’t offer an opinion, and with five more to go, I couldn’t blame them. I suspected this was a Bajan rum because of its soft nose and them bananas, but it was also a little more spicy than I recalled from Barbados products…I thought it might be the Mount Gay 1703 (the XO is a shade harsher than this one).

Moving on, Andrew answered a few questions from a more-than-usually vocal audience (I always like that since I’m a firm believer in audience participation), remarked that he would have liked to do a country-specific tasting one of these days (not on this occasion, but maybe soon…) and launched into the presentation, and then we tried the second rum, which was darker, gold, with a shade of red. “Nice,” I said, and it was. “How do you think it compares?” “Oh better than the first for sure,” replied Gordon. “Spices, nuts, fruits on the nose. Chocolate on the taste.” That lined up with what I thought, and mentally added roses and some winey notes, marzipan and molasses as well.

The older gentleman at our table, Michael by name, looked over at us. “You’re obviously an aficionado,” he said. “Me, I couldn’t tell the difference between one rum and the next like that. Love rums, just don’t dabble very much on the farm.” I smiled and said “Yeah, but you could probably tell one cow from the next just by asking its name and checking the pats, right?” We all laughed. “Yup,” he confirmed. “Smell the poop and know its state of health right away.” I liked him on the spot.

“Well, I’m going to suggest this is a Rum Nation product, maybe the Jamaica 25 or the Demerara 23, more than likely the former,” I hazarded, little knowing the hole I just dug for myself. But I did like the rum a lot. It was heated, yes, spicy without doubt, yet also earthy and softly flavoured, with a long finish I enjoyed.

Moving on to rum number three, a dark mahogany coloured lass. Oh this was just fine, I thought, nearly having an attack of the vapours myself. This one was awesome: breakfast toast and chocolate on the nose, a creamy, soft arrival with a balanced taste of fruits, molasses, pecan, apples. Oily finish, deep and long lasting and did this rum ever love me. “Comments?” asked Gordon, wanting to know which one I thought this was. “I honestly don’t know for sure,” I had to admit. “The only rum I know that’s this good at 40% is the St Nicholas Abbey 12 year old.” But would Andrew trot this $200 baby out, having already done so in a previous tasting? Maybe. “I guess I’ll hang my hat there,” I concluded, however doubtfully.

If I thought #3 was good, #4 ratcheted the ante up a shade. Rusty, dark rum, almost El Dorado-like. A nose of licorice, plums, dark dried fruit, and a lovely winey background on arrival. Smooth, heated, warm, with an arrival redolent of freshly sawn lumber, biscuits and a shade of cinnamon. “You know,” I whispered to Michael and Gordon and the other younger gentleman with a magnificent King George beard I secretly envied (his name was Colin and he turned out to be Michael’s son), “I honestly think this is the 25 year old Jamaican Rum Nation, but that cedar hint makes me wonder whether it isn’t the Longpond 58 year old.” “How can you tell?” asked Michael. “It’s those cedar notes that are the problem…that’s what I get from the Longpond, but if this is the J25, then Rum #2 has to be something else,” I grumbled in confusion – the others were enjoying my discomfiture.

The deep gold of Rum #5 concealed a nose of real power. Man, this sucker stood up and biffed me on the hooter with rubber, plasticine and wood, big time, devolving into floral notes as it settled, and a slight minty background. The arrival was strong and powerful: brown sugar, caramel, toffee, soggy biscuits, fruity notes…and a strong woodsy scent of cedar. “Okay,” I said, sure at last. “This one is the Longpond 58 year old. The cedar is too clear and the rum is too strong to be anything else.” “You sure? So what does that make #2 and #4?” asked Colin. “Still on the fence about #2,” I was forced to admit, “But #4 should be the Jamaican 25.” “Why are you so sure of this one?” asked Pogo-san. “Well, Andrew advertised it would be one of the selections, and I know he has it because I lent him my bottle.” I laughed. “Damn but this is strong. It’s like a porn star on a performance bonus…the finish just won’t stop.” (I was quoting one of my own reviews, to be honest). Colin and Michael could barely contain their laughter, and so did the rest of the crowd when Andrew repeated it.

Andrew had some nice things to say about the Liquorature site – I imagine our table’s relatively talkative crowd was drawing some attention and he wanted to explain why my name occasionally popped up in the presentation – and then we moved on to the last rum of the evening

Well, if I thought #5 had cojones, I was utterly unprepared for Rum #6, which was the lightest rum of the tasting. Holy crap but this was stratospheric. Glue, PVC, plastic, spicy as all hell. And then the flavours started coming: grapes, fruits, wine, mint, acetone. And a finish that simply would not stop. “Porn star?” I gasped, reaching for the water, “This thing is like a rampaging rhino on crack,” and that just dissolved the table. We were certainly having a great time over in our corner. This was like school days, where I constantly “ketch lash” for talking in the back while “Sir” or “Miss” was lecturing. “This, without doubt, is the SMWS Longpond 9 year old 81.3%, guys. Tread lightly or you’ll really get hammered.” And of course I took another sip.

As usual, we were asked to rank our #1 and #2 rum of the evening and the big reveal was as follows:

#1 was the Renegade Rums Barbados 2003 6 year old, bottled at 46%. Nobody picked this as either their #1 or #2. Hey, I got the country right, didn’t I?

#2 was (to my extreme embarassment), the Renegade Rums St Lucia (I forget the year). I excuse my inexcusable gaffe here by noting that although I have it, haven’t gotten around to doing the review on it. Yeah, sure. 2 people picked this one

#3 was picked by 13 persons, and it was the Panamonte XXV. Another rousing failure by your not-so-humble reviewer to discern the difference between a superlative Bajan product, and one from Panama. This was my own #3 pick of the evening.

#4 Yeah baby: I thought it might have been the 58 year old but then settled on the J25, and so it was. My #2 pick of the evening

#5 On a roll, I correctly assessed the 1941 Longpond 58 year old for what it was. When I can get around to saying which cask it was (#76 in this case) and what year it was bottled (1995), then I can call myself a true expert, but until then, I’ll take the kudos I can for merely identifying it. My #1 choice of the evening, but only one other person concurred

#6 And yes, this was indeed the behemoth of all rums, the 81.3% Longpond 9. No way I could mistake that. Would you believe that three people were mesmerized enough (or battered into insensibility by its mere prescence) to choose it as their first or second fave? Good for them. “They probably drink cask strength whiskies on the side,” I muttered. “I like whiskies a lot,” noted Colin, breathing a little hard. “But I’ve never had one like this.” Gordon concurred after exhaling gently. I imagine he was searching for his tonsils in Albania.

Not the most artistic photo of a lineup I ever took…blame it on the Longpond 9

And that was that. I am going to award myself 3½ points out of six – three correct guesses and one half mark for at least figuring the country right, as if this somehow means something.

But you know, it’s all a guessing game, and what of it if I get it wrong? — these things are fun. I always meet interesting people, I always have a good time, always find something new. The evening was given an even better fillip by having such a great vocal, questioning set of participants (not least of which were the four pretty ladies in the front and the well-dressed couple a table over). And I met Michael Monner and his son Colin, who graciously allowed me to use their names in this review, and hailed from a small town called Milo, just SE of Calgary (“Mike Monner from Milo” I said, rolling that around “…that sounds too cool to be true.”). Not surprisingly, given Mike’s appreciation for rums, I think I’m going to have him over or pass by Milo to see him one of these days, and bring some of my own stocks for him to try. I’d like to think my good squaddie Pogo-san enjoyed himself, will come once more if I ask him, and once again, I’ll be waiting for the next one to see what good stuff our host has to surprise us with on that occasion.

Having written this, I have a feeling I may go back to give that Longpond 9 another try: I’m having trouble falling asleep you see…

See you next time.

 

 Posted by on October 4, 2012 at 8:42 am
Sep 272012
 
The Raucous Rums of the evening

Tuesday 27th September 2011 was one of those days in which I participated in an event about which, even though absolutely nothing went terrifically wrong, I have mixed feelings: of both appreciation and disappointment.  I speak, of course, for the few of us who were there and know whereof I speak, of KWM’s second rum tasting event, rather euphemistically termed “Raucous Rums.”

I suppose by this time I should come to terms with the fact that we Lovers of the Cane are second class citizens n the spirits world.  I can’t speak for the vodka lovers, since most are Slavs or flavour-of-the-month-tipplers with all the insecurities and arrogance this implies; and cognac aficionados, brandy sippers and those who drink other relatively marginal spirits all speak to the excellence of their own preferences, however minor the sales of their preferred hooch may be on the world stage.  But I can’t help but feel a little aggrieved: the first rum tasting session had had somewhere around 20 people in it, with six very decent rums to be tried; this time, a mere seven months later, though eleven had signed up, only nine attended.  And yet the various whisky tastings around the city are doing great guns with loads of people crowding the stores which host them.  Like I said, I feel rather, well, second class.  An emperor penguin in a sea of elephant seals.

The “Scotch Guy” makes a point about rums

But there you have it.  The world is the way the world is, and having observed this, I shrugged my shoulders, comforted myself with the fact that rums are excellent value for money and no opprobrium is attached to (what to others is a shameful act of) mixing the low-enders; and the lack of appreciation for the extract of cane merely keeps prices down.  I should be grateful.  Disgruntled, maybe, but gratified nevertheless

As before, the Bear and I attended together, he being the only rum aficionado I know in cowtown who likes them enough to really make appreciating them a hobby (as opposed to buying a few different Bacardis and an Appleton, and saying he’s a “rum lover”).  Andrew Ferguson, who for such nights should really drop that inappropriate moniker of “The Scotch Guy,” started matters off at seven pm, and didn’t waste time with a blind testing this time around, but showed us front and center what he had on the table…some eight rums in all, with a possible ninth to come (if we wuz all good pickney and behave weself).

Showing he had polished up his speakers credentials in the intervening nine months, he didn’t give us the whole spiel and presentation of rums first, but a little at a time, interspersed with the rums about which he spoke – which was definitely a good way to go about business.

Much to my pleasure, the first two rums were recent favourites of mine: the St. Nicholas Abbey 8yr old and 12 year old.

The first 4½ rums

The 8 had a sweet nose of apples, fruit and caramel, light and somewhat floral; on the palate it was spicy at first, but mellowed like a blushing bride, presenting flavours of vanilla, apples and citrus, tempered with oak.  Short and smooth finish with just a brush of spice to remind you it was an eight year old, not quite housebroken yet and still had some rambunctiousness and dotishness left in its DNA.

The 12, made from the remains of the highly rated (by me) ten year old, was still a dark, deep, warm rum that only got better as it opened up.  Heavy, rich, dark and creamy nose, it mellowed even further into a lush and warm rum about which I simply cannot say enough good things. On the palate you get dark molasses, liquorice, pecan and nary a hint of oak.  Smooth as velvet.  Every time I taste this thing I feel like a Victorian paramour swooning over his lady love while spouting atrocious verse.

The remainder of the rums came from a relatively young outfit,  Rum Nation.  Details about the company and its antecedents and modus operandi will have to wait until I can both do more research and snag some of their products for real.  Suffice to say, this is the rum division of the Italian whisky bottler Wilson & Morgan, and founded in 1999 as the emergence of independent bottlers of premium rum gathered steam (following on the unheralded success, I suspect, of the El Dorado line of DDL from the early nineties). Rum Nation products have been around for a while, of course – various reviewers have been waxing rhapsodic about them for years – and finally they are coming to Alberta (or so Andrew says).

RN Panama 18 year old.  Eighteen year old to start with?  Holy age statement, Batman, is this for real?  It’s a 40% rum which it was unclear was blended or not – whatever the case, it came from one distillery. Nose assaulted with a Muscatel reek that was somewhat shocking after the soft and genteel gentlemanly sophistication of the St Nick’s 12, and reminded me of the Legendario.  Mellowed into tobacco and fruity hints.  Palate – nice.  Not overly sweet, smooth and fruity, with  a slightly salty tang and traces of tobacco and leather. Not entirely sold on this ‘un myself, but it’s so smooth that I want me a bottle.

RN Martinique “Hors D’Age”.  A 43% beefcake wannabe agricole, which normally would turn me off since I think most agricoles are simply too lacking in body (my opinion).  Light, pale appearance, like a white wine, and a nose to match; presents scents of fennel, liquorice and fruits.  Palate of nutneg, cinnamon, orange and liquorice, a tad dry – it really is more like a cognac than a true rum.  Short and spicy finish – did not rank high with me overall.

RN 12 year old Anniversario.  Shared my Number 1 spot with the St. Nick’s 12 and the Demerara 23 year old.  It’s from Martinique, again 43%, and 12 years old, issued to celebrate RN’s 12th anniversary (duuh).  Nose is coganc-like, sweet, smooth, soft and grapy, with traces of dark citrus and tangerine.  The taste was phenomenal: soft chocolate, fruity caramel, fruits, nuts and candy and breakfast spices.  The texture was clear and light for such seemingly heavy flavours, yet none overwhelmed the other, and all somehow remained in balance.  Finish is long and lasting.  Awesome product, nicely done, in a box I like a lot.

~60% of the audience. Who’s the Bear in this picture?

RN Solera No. 14.  An odd nose of musty grapes, ginger and liquorice, soft and billowy and smooth on this one, and it opened up into dusty molasses and brown sugar.  Continuing its right turn on the palate, it arrived with a salty tang, caramel and a trace of nutmeg.  Very whisky like, smooth and spicy at the same time, with the oak coming forward to assert its prescence firmly.   Short and dry fade.  It’s instructive to nose this rum and immediately go back to the Panama 18 year old for a wild contrast…the muscatel from that one disappears entirely and is replaced by the sweet tobacco of a good briar pipe.

RN Jamaica 25 year old.  I must admit this was in many ways the most original (I don’t say the best) rums of the night, not merely because of its age.  I inhaled the scents of (seriously) tire rubber at the start (wtf?) which faded and were replaced with the smells of autumn that remind me of the leisurely walks I used to take in Berlin and London when the days grew cool and sharp, and ravens perched on fences to preside like mourners of the demise of summer.  Fallen leaves, damp earth and a cooling nip in the air that always makes me vaguely sad. Fleshy fruits and heavier floral hints round out a soft nose.  Yet the palate is caramel and lighter fruits (apples and green grapes), merging with a delicate hint of tobacco.  Fade was smooth and long lasting, and while this wasn’t the best rum of the evening, I think I’m going to try and get this one also when it arrives.

RN Demerara 23 Year Old.  Yup, I have a soft spot for the old country.  So what?  When a rum like this arrives, you have to give it kudos, and with it, it’s clear that Rum Nation is looking to do what Bruichladdich is – to take rums in a direction, and along avenues, not previously considered. A 23 year old 43% with a surprisingly pleasant nose made up of notes you wouldn’t think could come together well – baked biscuits a bit soggy in rain, musty tobacco and aged leather, like a laird’s stable, perhaps…a weird hint of of rubber.  It arrived as a solid, dark, just-sweet-enough savoury rum, carrying traces of caramel and orange peel.  It was so well constructed and balanced that it was hard to pick out anything else. Brooding, dark and slow finish that just didn’t want to go.  What a great rum this was. It shared the pedestal for the number one spot in my estimation, and yes, I’m gonna get me one of those as well.

Lastly, to approve of the fact that we were all such a spiffing bunch of chaps, liked what he had offered and hadn’t burdened him with any snarky questions he couldn’t answer, Andrew came out with the ninth rum: a Juan Millenario Reserva Especial from Peru, and the second solera of the night.  Sweet, light and fruity nose on a amber coloured rum.  Surprisingly thick and shade too sweet on arrival, I would judge, but nevertheless a pretty good rum with a reasonably long lasting finish.  I didn’t jot down the details of what years make up the backbone alas.  I thought it was a pretty decent mid-level rum nevertheless.

Let’s just review this line up as a whole.  Three makers and six countries were represented (that might be more variety than the audience composition).  Leaving aside the first two and the last one, it was clear that the core of it all was the aged Rum Nation products.  I’m not altogether sold on making a rum tasting comprise of rums to come so that marketing and word-of-mouth can be drummed up for future sales – but then, I’m a reviewer and a buyer, not a business, and so my focus on such matters would have been to introduce others to the variety of the top enders — to make them appreciate the quality and effort that goes into rums that are out there.  And indeed, this is what I do in my own house when friends express curiosity (and on every Liquorature night that was ever mine to host).  If I had to make any kind of generalized comments beyond that, it would be to note the odd sulphury notes in some of the RN rums (which comes out as a rubbery aspect of the nose), as well as the feinty and woody/tobacco scents.  This is somewhat unusual and may turn some people off – myself I found them intriguing.  St Nicholas Abbey, of course, I had tried already and perhaps I learned to appreciate the 8 yr old a bit more than formerly.

Dale’s excellent snacks didn’t last long

So there you have both my appreciation and my disappointment.  I mourn the lack of rum lovers in my city, when so many great brands are available (and I honestly believe this province may have the best selection in the country).  And I’m a shade miffed that we basically only had three makers’ selections (two, really) on display when we could have gone with more variety.  A Renegade or Cadenhead or AD Rattray selection to leaven the crowd might have been nice.  But then, I’ve tasted a fair bit of rums on my own, and so I may be just a bit elitist in arguing for breadth.  For the crowd that was there, for the rums that we had, all I can say is thanks to KWM for not only putting on a show with some real top end rums, but for having the second one in one year – and they didn’t stint on what they put out.  Oh yeah – and thanks to Dale whose catering of the snacks was first rate and (as with all good stuff) not enough.

Now if only The Scotch Guy could turn into the Rum Dude in the future (at least until midnight, when he turns back into the pumpkin of the malts) then my Glencairn runneth over, so to speak.  But then, I’ve been known to let optimism get the better of me, so I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I’m gonna look forward to the next one.

*

Update 2013: by now, all the rums tasted here reviewed and on the site.  It was on the basis of this tasting that I bought the entire line of Rum Nation which Andrew had, and I think it was a good buy.

 Posted by on September 27, 2012 at 7:59 am
Jun 052012
 

 

The latest KWM’s Raucous Rums tasting was held in the KWM shop tasting room in Calgary on June 5th, and as usual I squirreled myself (and on this occasion, my grown-up daughter) off into a back corner – she had evinced an interest in the tasting process and I wanted to show her what it was I was interested in and why (though my own feeling is she might have more wanted to cross something off her personal bucket list or something). We nibbled a bit and watched the Scotchguy do his intro. Note that I have given up — after two years of concerted and fruitless effort — trying to convince him that he should rename himself for such occasions and it’s become a running gag that I always mention it in my subsequent write up.

I have few romantic illusions about the nature of tastings: while I use sessions in my house to illustrate to the dabblers and the curious about the sheer variety and scope of top ended rums (and to show that they can hold their own against any other drink, a claim which my malty friends would dispute to their dying shot), a commercial establishment wants to show what they have for sale that’s worthy of the buck. And I don’t fault that for a moment – that’s the nature of capitalism and salesmanship. I just wish there were more. But as I have been informed on more than one occasion, high end rums not only lack cachet (except among the cognoscenti) – they simply don’t sell as well as equally priced or similarly aged cognacs, brandies or scotches. Which is why good hooch all too often remains on the shelves forever, unsold and gathering cobwebs…a loss leader. The battle continues – and perhaps I should be grateful: RumVictoria down in BC, run by a Calgary exile I wish I knew better, was shocked to find that there were no tastings at all down there, and the selections he could get were shabby at best. I can only imagine how bad the situation is elsewhere in Canada.

But I digress.

As before, Andrew kept things down to six blind choices. I had a suspicion Rum Nation’s products would be one or two of them, but beyond that, I was in the dark (as it should be). As is standard for him, our host had his slideshow presentation detailing something of the history of rum and its production, for the benefit of the audience who came for a combination of curiosity and interest (there was a small tribe of cheerful Chileans on this occasion) – it’s an odd thing, but aside from myself, I never see the same people twice in a row at these tastings. Too bad, because since KWM is a relatively boutique kind of store, they never put cheap stuff in front of you, so what better place to start?

Rum #1

A light golden rum whose nose darkened a shade as it opened up. The initial scents were light honey, licorice and a very slight dark sugar tang, attended by a certain n spiciness. On the palate we noted a medium body, some molasses and vanilla, and the continuation of sharp heat that was not all that warmly received. Later the rum evinced a smokiness which was quite appealing, and overall smoothness was okay without being exceptional – the lighter body mitigated against that. Finish was medium, light and heated, but far from unpleasant. I hazarded a guess it was an agricole just because of the overall delicacy (but also clarity of flavours – a Doorly’s this was not).

Rum #2

In comparison with #1, Rum #2 was more assertive in announcing itself. A dark gold rum, it presented a nose of some strength, quite fruity with green apples, grapes, raisins and a hint of molasses. As for the arrival, it came over as quite spicy (though not nastily so – this rum liked you), heavier in body, and dry; as it opened up there were some light floral notes which carried over into the finish in a mélange of flavours so subtle I was quite at a loss as to what this baby really was. What I’m saying was that I sensed a good blend of tastes…I just couldn’t pick anything out individually. A pretty good aged rum, smooth and warm to the embrace.

Rum #3

This gold rum was an excellent piece of work, and from the faint rubbery notes on the snoot, I pegged it squarely as a Rum Nation product (but nothing beyond that), whose characteristics it seemed to embody. Smoky scents, followed by fleshy fruits (peaches, apricots, a ripe mango) and red roses (no, seriously). On the palate, excellent all round: deep, intense, warm, yet soft as well; fennel, licorice and some oak, faint molasses. The finish was lasting and darkly spicy, and carried the flavours to a long completion. Mouthfeel on this one was silky as a baby’s cheek. Me likee, seriously.

Rum #4

Another confusing problem child I couldn’t place. Dark amber rum with a nose redolent of toffee, caramel, light flowers and yet the heavier touch of bananas was there too. Smooth, medium body which somehow failed to be assertive enough, tasting of caramel, raisins and perhaps dark chocolate. It heated up a bit on the fade, which was short and intense, yet overall the rum seemed just a bit too wussy for my taste – I wasn’t sure that was because it was it was a tad underproofed, or because the blending lacked something. This didn’t stop others from smacking their lips, I should note. I thought it was a Mount Gay because of the bananas in the nose.

Rum #5

Oh, well now, here was one I knew right off the bat: the dark sweetness, the fruity vanilla, and coconut shavings on the nose gave it away, as did the smooth sweet passage across the tongue, what with the touch of candy and licorice and molasses. Smooth as all get out, sweet and soft, and the Zacapa 23 for sure. Not the best of the soleras in the world, but one of the touchstones of the genre, as I remarked in my original review…and one of the best known, of course.

Rum #6

Where had this one been all my life? Dark gold medium bodied rum trending towards the heaviness of a middle aged athlete gone to seed. Soft shades of brandy on the bouquet, slight rubbery notes, cherries, citrus and maybe a hint of dustiness as well (and I mean that in a good way). The arrival was soft and irresistible, with chopped dark fruits of Guyanese Christmas black cake, peaches and aromatic pipe tobacco. Leather and driness on the fade, accompanied by a hint of bad boy oak and an overall smoothness that was simply delectable. Aged product for sure — I once again suspected Rum Nation, and from the medium body and sweetness, I initially considered it the Panama 18 (just because I knew Andrew and what he had in stock)…but not enough to bet the farm on it.

So what were the scores and the rums?

 

Well, the system in use here is that people were asked to select which of the six rums were their #1 and #2 favourites.

Rum #1 – Haitian Barbancourt 15 Agricole. Didn’t get any votes. No-one liked it enough to give it the top spot. About all I got right on this one was that it was an agricole

Rum #2 – Juan Santos 21 year old, and it got five votes. I felt humiliated: I loved the brand and yet I missed it entirely, though it was my #3 pick.

Rum #3 – Rum Nation Martinique hors d’age (which supposedly means aged for around 4-6 years) – 6 votes, and it was my #2 pick of the evening.

Rum #4 – Ron Barcelo 10 year old Imperial. Note the rum is 38% so I was right about the possible underproof nature of it…but was I ever wrong about the brand. 9 votes.

Rum #5 – Yup, the Ron Zacapa 23, 8 votes.

Rum #6 – Rum Nation: yes it was a Panama, but not the 18 – it was the 21 year old. My best of the evening, and nine others thought so too, and so this was the undisputed champion.

So what did I take away from this, aside from my daughter’s snickering at my inability to separate the brands, four of which I had tried already and should have known?

Well, I’m nowhere near good enough to blind taste a rum and instantly know which country it comes from – I have to bone up on my regional characteristics. On the other hand, my preferences seem to be very stable: I loved Juan Santos and Rum Nation products when I reviewed them, prefer slightly darker rums with good body, have noted that excess sweet is off-putting (Zacapa is too much of a good thing, I’m coming to realize) and underproofs simply underwhelm me. In fact, if nothing else, I want rums to be stronger, and stop restraining themselves to being a standard 40%.

Another point this leads to is that my personal tastes are not just running towards more heavily proofed offerings that deliver an intensity of flavor which forty per-centers are straining to maintain, but that there aren’t enough new and intriguing outside-the-box thinkers out there. Maltsters will laugh, but the most imaginative expressions I’ve had in a while are those made by Bruichladdich, Cadenhead and AD Rattray, scotch makers all – as well as newer and more aggressively original single-domain makers like Rum Nation. The likes of Appleton, Bacardi, Mount Gay, El Dorado et al seem to be bedding down for the long haul, happy with their aged or general offerings, without trying for something seriously old and unique. Tough for us as drinkers.

Anyway, a good evening, nice snacks (if not by the inimitable Dale) and good rums. Kudos to KWM for doing more than anyone else in this regard, and not cheaping out either. Look forward to the next one later in the year.

 Posted by on June 5, 2012 at 8:06 am
Mar 312012
 

I really don’t like the rums listed here.

It’s appreciated that if there ever was a list to piss people off, this is it. Maltsters will snicker into their sporrans to see one of their pet peeves taken down a few notches. Rum pundits will in turns be offended or delighted, depending on their viewpoint and their own predilections for rums. Others will nod (I hope). We do ten best lists, or top ten lists or “best of whatever” lists – not often that you see a list of the bottom feeders (although I’m definitely not the first).

The genesis of this list is actually not in any kind of rabid and face-melting dislike – more in my snarkiness at being taken for a ride with overpriced crap, or with crap period. Some of these should come with advisories.

It’s kind of anticipated that the (actually rather short) list presented here will raise some eyebrows, please a few, and incur the wrath of others, and that’s okay. As I’ve mentioned before, a review of any kind involves – as it must – an element of personal opinion and subjectivity. This is mine. You can take it as seriously as you like, or laugh at it. Hopefully a bit of both

1. Pyrat’s – both the XO and the Cask 23. Not deserving to be called rums, these drinks are more like liqueurs. The orange nose and forceful taste overwhelms all others. The greatest disappointment must be the Cask 23, supposedly originating from DDL’s high ester still, but at end is just a well dressed tart with sweaty armpits, costing way over her true value. That’ll teach me to buy something just ‘cause it’s in a glass case.

Nose: Orange. Lots of orange. We’re talking Florida on steroids here.

Taste: Orange with an orange hint and tangerine citrus cricket bat to the face

Fade: Short and bitchy for the XO; smoother and longer for the Cask 23. Hints of orange

Assessment: just a shade too much citrus in there

Why I dislike it: overpriced, overhyped, and I really hate the orange. Telling me it comes from a high ester still with unique flavour profile doesn’t help me, unfortunately…it still tastes like…ummm…an orange.

2. Doorlys XO. Didn’t get this the first time, and after three more tries, I still don’t. Weak, pussilanimous wuss of a rum. It’s so low key that its piano seems to lack keys altogether. No yohohos, cutlasses or pistols here – at best you might say it’s the effete cabin boy in Captain Morgan’s galley, and to this day, I’ve never heard Clint’s comment bettered – this thing is the Prince Myshkyn of rums. For those who like delicate bouquets and subtle whiffs it may be the cat’s meow – me, I like my rums to be rums, and this ain’t it.

Nose: Huh? Oh yeah…some alcohol and sugar water

Taste: Faint caramel; after straining for half an hour, I might sense a seam of molasses in the bedrock of nothing-in-particular

Finish: Short, pointless, dreary

Assessment: Waste of my money. Too delicate and weak for a real rum. Any kind of mixer would be like a Buxton mosquito landing on a Bajan mosquito net…which is to say, too bad for the net.

Why I dislike it: simply too weak at everything. It doesn’t even work as a mixer, because anything you add to Doorly’s shreds it utterly. If I wanted anything this gentle or subtle, I’d take a glass of water and chuck a drop of Bacardi 151 into it.

3. Bundaberg. Even Aussies seem to frothingly despise the rum from Queensland. My friend Keenan said he’d rather eat curried dingo sh*t that try it again, and while I’m not quite that in hate with this raw, pestilential hooch, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m glad I didn’t have to shell out for it, but he did. As I understand it, it’s still sitting on his shelf three years later…he may be waiting to paint his house and use it for a thinner, or feed to me on my next visit.

Nose: Curried dingo. Just kidding. Alcohol reek, rotting grapes, peeling cardboard

Taste: Horrible. A reek of cloying fly-infested sugar water left to stand in the outback for a day

Finish: sharp, crabby, disapproving – like my mother-in-law’s face after a two night pub crawl

Assessment: A rum only a mother could love.

Why I dislike it: taste is just too far in the outback for me

 

The Kraken Black Spiced Rum

4. Kraken. Oh my God, what is it about this inky overproof that makes people go into transports of ecstasy over it? The excessive vanilla and flavourings, the sweetness, what passes for texture? The 46%? I’m at a loss to understand it. This is as commercial a rum as it’s possible to make from a base of alcohol to which additives are poured with the reckless abandon of a leaping base jumper. It’s neither fish nor fowl – you can’t really class it as a sipper since it’s too raw, and it’s too adulterated to be a mixer of any kind, so why even bother?

Nose: vanilla. That’s it

Taste: more vanilla, some liquorice, with a molasses background struggling vainly to emerge before being eviscerated by the spice

Finish: dark and strong and raw. This rum does not like you.

Assessment: mix if you must, enjoy over ice if you can. I’m avoiding it

Why I dislike it: cheap, hollow rum sold at a premium it doesn’t earn or deserve. It’s simply spiced itself out of existence without regard for true quality.

5. Momento. For a company that makes the much better Potter’s which has no pretensions to being anything but a cocktail base and a pub mixer (and a good one at that), this golden rum just doesn’t work for me. Bar rums are easy to make: this one achieves a kind of dizzying grandeur of badness even though it is rather cheap – and that may be its sole redeeming feature aside from the nifty bottle.

Nose: herbal, grassy, light fruits

Taste: Light, slightly dry, undistinguished. Not smooth.

Finish: short sharp jab to the schnozz.

Assessment: it’s too light to mix well, and therefore shares my main reasons for generally avoiding agricoles, which Momento seems to want to emulate (poorly) with this product.

Why I dislike it: just fails on all levels and even as a mixer I can’t really say it does anything for me. I tried it with just coke (how can anyone or anything mess up a simple Cuba Libre?) and even that didn’t work.

6. Ron Barcelo Anejo. Ron Barcelo makes some nice products – this, to me, isn’t one of them, and I can trace it right back to the 37.5% strength, which simply does not impart or share flavour that even a smidgen extra proof would. Sure it’s only $25 or so. But so what?

Nose: Faint caramel, bananas and a barely perceptible hint of coffee

Taste: Thin at best with molasses and some citrus that wasn’t sure it wanted to be there. It ended up bailing just as I managed to identify it.

Finish: Short, weak and seemed to be ashamed to be there at all: vanished like a fart in a hurricane.

Assessment: If you’re going to make a rum, for God’s sake make one. Don’t dumb it down or dilute it to catatonia: what on earth is the point of 37.5%?

Why I dislike it: I can’t get drunk fast enough, it does nothing for me neat, it can’t be properly mixed, it’s insulting to call it a chick rum, and it just doesn’t duel with your palate the way anything stronger would, should, and does.

7. XM Five year old. “‘Arry, ‘it ‘e ‘pon ‘e ‘ead wit’ a ‘ammer!!” I can hear my old time bush squaddies roar to a particularly large compadre we all shared (called “Biggers”) so he can donk me for my impertinence. Sorry guys, but it’s true. Drink this – neat or in a mix – and then switch to Bacardi or Appleton V/X or others. You feel the difference.

Nose: As scrawny and savage as an alley cat that found no mice. Sharp, searing nose of orange peel and maybe some burnt sugar

Taste: Vanilla, caramel, some kind of fruit jam (but not the kind your mommy made with such love, let me assure you)

Finish: The cat still doesn’t like you, and them claws is sharp on the back end.

Assessment: Cheap backdam hooch made for the bush is all it is. If you don’t care what you get drunk on, maybe this one will do you just fine. I know whereof I speak on this one, trust me.

Why I dislike it: It smacks of laziness and good-enough that offends me for some reason. We must move beyond such crap and demand that Banks DIH make better. If DDL can, why can’t they?

8. Whaler’s. This is a variation of the Kraken above, and when I say that the Kraken is marginally better, it edges out this one because the Whaler’s is just a liquid ethanol to which the mad scientists at their lab drunkenly added spices with the abandon of the Emeril on crack, without even the decency to pump up the volume with some oomph to maybe 45% or so.

Nose; Vanilla, as powerful as if it wanted to mug you with a brick-hard tub of Hagen-Dasz.

Taste: Raw, searing, oversweet, thin, vanilla-stoked, butterscotch-infused liquid vaguely tasting like it should be a rum, but wasn’t sure.

Finish: Short and harsh…I think I swallowed a dried stick of vanilla and it scraped my throat to shreds.  My tonsils demanded a condom if I was to have more.

Assessment: This is a hollow rum, the first I’ve ever tried. “Rare, Reserve Dark Rum” the label describes it. Are you kidding me?

Why I dislike it: it seems crassly commercial to just buy some rum stock, run it through an industrial facility to add spices in an effort to beat out Captain Morgan, and sell it as some kind of classy product on that basis, with minimal ageing of any kind.

***

So there you have it. My list of eight peeves. Each reviewer, I think, has his own list of rotguts which he either felt he paid too much for, or which was advertised as something it was not, or was simply bad. Here are the ones I feel a dark burning resentment about. You may disagree, and that’s perfectly cool. I’m sure you have your own list of private dislikes.

A last word (and I feel it important that I say this, so bear with me)

I term myself a reviewer on the strength of tasting a whole lot of rums and writing about them in the best prose I can – some justification can be found in that my hard earned dollars are going into this exercise and that being the case, why shouldn’t I? My purpose is – in between other aspects of my life that take precedence – to entertain, educate, amuse, share my passion and perhaps put some facts out there in the public domain that others may use. (The fact that Liquorature doesn’t garner a whole host of daily hits suggests not many people really care, but them’s the breaks).

Thomas Hardy said, in the field of literature, that “Compared to the dullest human being actually walking about on the face of the earth and casting his shadow there, the most brilliantly drawn character in a novel is but a bag of bones.” Same for reviews. And just because it is easy (and fun) to skewer a company’s rum does not invalidate their achievement in putting a product out there at all. Their money, time, effort and entrepreneurship are on the stand, every day, being judged. So it doesn’t matter how well I describe what I tasted, or how snarkily – what matters is that there are physical products out there that someone made, the making of which employs people, gives others some enjoyment, and affords writers like me the license to write our own bags.

Liking the rums or not, that achievement should be recognized. I may dislike the products listed here. This does not mean they are not worth more than my words designating them so.

 

 Posted by on March 31, 2012 at 9:39 am
Mar 312012
 
*

In late 2010, for Christmas, I posted a list of my favourite rums under fifty dollars.  It’s proved to be quite a hit: for a modest little site like ours, that list keeps getting decent hits.  I’ll probably put out another one this year.  My intention  here is to drift into more expensive waters.  Oh, I know that when one talks about whiskies worth this kind of money, you’re still in crap territory – every time I go into KGM or WP or any of the boutique-wannabes, the really nice stuff is almost always north of three figures.  I see that as the beauty abut rums, though – their lack of what I call street cred in the coinnoisseur’s world keeps prices low enough that riff raff like me can afford them.  So when I post a list of ten good rums that you can get (in Canada) for under a c-note, my take is that you are really getting good quality for money.

I should also point out that when you are getting into this somewhat more exclusive atmosphere, you are also heading away from mixing bases or black cake ingredients, and into sipping territory – stuff that can and should be enjoyed on its own.  Almost all of these rums are sippers and should be approached as such – at least at the inception.  I don’t hold with the concept my northern friend has, that there ain’t a likker that can’t be enhanced in a cocktail…but I leave that thorny decision up to you: you now know my opinion on the matter.  Go thou and choose for thyself.

1. The first and maybe even the best on this list has to be the El Dorado 21 year old ($90). Deep, dark, warm and slightly dry, this is the epitome of the Guyanese rums.  It’s not as sweet as the 25 year old, and has a body, a mouthfeel, a palate and a nose that combine molasses, old leather and fruits in a way that it simply sublime. If this was a girl I’d have married it long ago, and as the epitome of grace and strength and loveliness, I can only say she’s called Amallie.

2. A.D. Rattray Caroni 13 year old ($70). I called this rum a rum lover’s secret discovery, a prime number of a rum, indivisible by anything except you and itself.  It’s rare, it’s going to be gone soon (Caroni closed many moons ago), and it’s lovely.  Bottled at 46%, this relative beefcake of a sipper is a shade spicy, yes, and wussies need not apply: but let it sit for a minute and observe how all flavours deepen and concentrate.  I don’t often re-buy liquors once I’ve finished what I bought the first time (and written about it) – here I already have another two unopened on my shelf. (Note: many bottlers bought Caroni stock prior to its dissolution, so you can expect others beyond AD Rattray to come out with variations.)

3. Ron Zacapa 23 Solera.  I honestly don’t know how much this costs, since this excellent solera is currently not to be had in Alberta– I paid $80 for mine.  I have sampled a few soleras and didn’t care much for them as a whole (too thin for the most part, not robust enough), but this one blew my socks off and I have to reastrain myself from taking it out every weekend.  Just sweet enough, voluptuous body, a truly stunning nose, and a mouthful of flavours combining cherries, cinnamon, vanilla, orange, nuts…wow.  No wonder it’s considered a touchstone. A must on your shelf and a gift no-one should refuse.

4. Zaya Gran Reserva 12 year old ($70).  These days it’s controversial to like this baby.  Ever since production moved out of Guatemala(home of the Zacapa) to Trinidad, the grumbling has not ceased: too sweet, too adulterated, too spiced and (horrors!) no mention is made on the label about any additives, though clearly, in the opinion of many, there must be.  I have to take it on its merits and just say I like it: soft, fruity, sweet, excellent mouthfeel and like the first and longest real kiss of your teenage life.  About as different from the El Dorado 15 as you can get, and worth the money if you’re willing to ignore the disdain of the purists.

5. There are too many Renegade Rums from Bruichladdich which I have not yet tried, so I’ll just pick my favourite of the few I’ve managed to sample: Renegade Trinidad 1991 16 year old (port barrel finish, about $70).  Not all will enjoy its overproof nature (46%) and attendant spiciness.  Man up there, dude.  You’ll get traces of oak, port, tobacco and caramel, and maybe burnt apples.  A lot of people have commented on its whisky-like taste and finish, including me.  You want to see what  whisky maker can do for (or to) a rum when experimenting a little?  Here’s your answer. It’s my ambition to one day be able to have the entire line, but I keep running into the El Dorado Problem.

6. El Dorado 15 year old ($60).  My pappy’s favourite (or so he says –  he may be lying in order to get me to spring for the 21 year old).  This rum is the bridge to the 21 and 25 for sure, but forgets none of its heritage of the 12 year old  and less, and is still all teenager, bouncy and sprightly, flexing its glutes, full of life and vitality. Nose and palate are redolent of molasses (though not as much as you’d think), smoke, charcoal hints, all leavened with a delightfully light fruitness, cinnamon and orange peel.  Here’s a rum I suppose you could mix, but why would you?

7. Flor de Cana Centenario 21 15 year old ($90) A very solid if oddly different rum from a Nicaraguan distiller also responsible for the phenomenal 18 year old. This is a lovely, dry, lighter-than-normal rum aged 15 years in oak barrels.  A shade sere and not quite as sweet as Cana’s other offerings, it caresses your taste buds with a delicate yet assertive scent of floral and herbal traces wound about with caramel and honey.  Fine, clean and smooth exit: definitely a rum I was happy to have shelled out for.

8. Rum Nation Martinique Hors D’age (~$80).  I haven’t reviewed this yet, just had it at the last KGM Rum Tasting, but should sound the trumpets for those North of 49: this thing is brilliant for its price, exceeded only by the more expensive 12 year old Anniversario (which costs three figures and doesn’t therefore count here).  43% budding musclebeach from Martinque rum stock.  Soft, smooth and well rounded, well balanced. Sweet, grape-like, with notes of dark citrus, tangerine, caramel, candy and chocolate.  A clear and relatively light rum in a really cool box that will lighten your wallet to show it’s no accident and is worth (in my own opinion) every peso you pay.

9. Juan Santos 21 year old ($90).  My discovery for this year and it was too long in coming.  I think this baby is called Ron Santero in Colombia, but it’s a rose by any other name…and is a liquid bottled symphony.  Relatively light, medium sweet, and with one of the best balances of flavours I’ve had – toffee, cofee and caramel, with hints of soft spices and flowers.  Smooth on entry and exit. I simply cannot say enough good things about this product of South America, and recommend it highly.  Note that its younger siblings are also above average for their ages and if you want to dip your toe in cautiously to this unknown brand, the 9 yr old and 12 yr old are excellent first tries to get you hooked.

10. Pusser’s 15 year old (~$60).  A solid, powerful man’s rum that assaults your palate with tiny hammers of Thor.  It’s not stronger or more flavourful than others, yet manages to leave an impression of being big, brawny and cheerfully uncouth.  Spicy, earthy nose that mellows fast into a smoother note, and a taste that at once attempts to brain and seduce you.  A barbarian in leotards, to paraphrase my own review, and I’ve got a kind of love-hate relationship with it.  Most of my friends have an opinion for good or ill on this one, so I’ll leave you to come up with your own…my take is you’ll remember it no matter what your impression.

***

So there we have it, ten decent rums that herd you into sipping territory, will dent your wallet somewhat, but reward the patience and effort.  Every few weeks on the Ministry of Rum I see some newcomer to the rum world asking for advice in what to start with.  Between this list and the other one about those under $50, I’d like to think a good intro has been made.

There are other rums in this price range, of course there are. I can only scrape off the top of the iceberg, and recommend those that I have tried. I’ve found all these rums in Calgary and they appear regularly on many review sites, so in terms of commonality, I think I’ve come up with a good representative sample that won’t disappoint.

Enjoy. And drive safely, please. Winter is coming.

 Posted by on March 31, 2012 at 9:12 am
Feb 092012
 
***

 

Thursday February 9th restored some of my faith in the future of rums here in Calgary. The third Raucous Rums tasting event which I have now attended — hosted by Kensington Wine Market’s Andrew Ferguson — did not have the rather embarassing nine people in it, but was sold out for the full complement of tickets…in fact, several people I recommended it to who took me at my word and tried to get in, told me in the week leading up to the event that it had already been sold out prior to that. Good for KWM, then.

Andrew The Occasional Rum Guy (as I shall call him for reasons related to his email address) has now held perhaps four of these gatherings, and while hamstrung by the general indifference to rums in this city (if you doubt that, feel free to go to any whisky tasting and then speak to me about the difference) there is no doubt he puts out a good selection that covers a wide gamut of styles and tastes, and they are usually at the middle to top end of the scale. No Bacardis for this gent…though I would personally take a snarky kind of pleasure in seeing one sneaked in there one of these years just to see how it matched up.

Unlike the September 27th session, where we knew right up front what we were getting (mostly Rum Nation products plus two excellent St Nicholas abbey rums), here Andrew went back to the tried and true blind test variation, which suited me just fine. Seven rums were up for consideration, and in between the history and background of rums which Andrew probably knows by heart now, we went through the lineup. For the sake of this article, I’ll simply write about the tasting notes we made, and then I’ll do the big reveal.

The Occasional Rum Guy makes a point

Rum #1.

Colour: Lightest colour of the night, gold and sunlight.

Nose: Full burnt sugar, caramel, vanilla and nuts. Chocolate, marzipan and licorice edged out towards the end

Palate: Medium body verging on light; toffee, honey, vanilla, cherries and white flowers. Bite of spice and citrus.

Finish: Medium long, pungent, toffee and honey

Notes: Seemed young, but vibrant and strong, lovely balance of flavours. Panamanian, Nicaraguan, Colombian? The slight sweet suggests it.

 

Rum #2

Colour: Dark amber

Nose: Sweet, sugar, grapes, prune juice and the scent of fleshy darker fruits. Some spicy oak background

Palate: Sweet honey, nuts, creamy vanilla notes wound around with a smooth, viscous mouthfeel. Vague tannins and some spice to the taste.

Finish: Soft, creamy finish with toffee and grapes

Notes: It’s aged, but by how much? Quite an excellent rum.

 

Dale’s snacks were as good as always and disappeared fast

Rum #3

Colour: Dark gold

Nose: Initial arrival reminds me of a Riesling; sweet and grapy; this dissipates into a fruity, floral scent, with marzipan, licorice and green grapes mixing well with subtle whiffs of burnt sugar I really liked a lot.

Palate: Somewhat thin with a spicy taste to it; brown sugar for sure, caramel just a bit. Very hard to pin down and disassemble. Has the deeper bite of an overproof

Finish: Smoky feel of burning sugar cane fields; light floral background

Notes: Thought this was an aged Cadenhead due to its strength feeling greater than 40%. Really liked the nose, taste not as much.

 

Rum #4

Colour: Dark

Nose: Chocolate, soft maple syrup notes, with a hint of spices, vanilla and burnt sugar

Palate: Medium body; spicy and oaky, extremely dry and not very sweet; some honey, dark sugar and candied notes

Finish: Long and pungent, quite spicy

Notes: Unimpressive. Couldn’t make up my mind whether this was a Cuban or a Jamaican rum, but that driness on the tongue made me wonder whether I wasn’t just barking up the wrong tree

 

Rum #5

Colour: Dark gold

Nose: Dark fruit and jam; floral notes contested with red grapes; vanilla, grapefruit, honey and leather with pipe smoke brought up the rear. Nice

Palate: Spicy, a shade dry, sweet and smooth; creamy and full-bodied with an excellent mouthfeel; dark sugar and allspice, and very smooth. Good one.

Finish: Gentle and smooth, with dark sugar notes and caramel and oak.

Notes: Something about this reminded me of a Rum Nation product, and this is where I hung my hat…not sure which one…just not the really aged varieties.

 

Rum #6

Colour: Gold

Nose: Vanilla, honey, blancmange, toffee and all the good stuff from your childhood parties. Smelled this and saw balloons and pinatas.

Palate: Sweet, dark, yet not too overloaded with caramel or other baking spcies to piss me off

Finish: An odd, port-like finish of dark grapes and vanilla

Notes: This was almost definitely the Zacapa 23 formerly out of Guatemala, I thought.

 

Rum #7

Colour: Rusty red brown

Nose: Rubbery, feinty right off the bat; Nav, who sat on my table, hated it right off. Muscatel grapes, burnt sugar and no real edgy spice to it.

Palate: Aged leather and slightly dusty scent; chocolate, cinnamon and well-cured tobacco leaves; yet smooth for all that. The most distinctive rum of the night.

Finish: Slow and fruity; dark heat with a slightly dry back end on exit.

Notes: I really enjoyed this for its distinctiveness and ranked it high on my personal pantheon (if not that of the rums of the night). I hazarded a guess this was the Jamaican 23 year old aged rum from Rum Nation…that rubbery note gave it away.

 

Dan concentrates fiercely….

At the end, the Occasional Rum Guy asked for our votes for which rums we liked in order, and then asked us to raise hands for our first and second picks of the series as he went through the list and named what we had tasted

Rum # 1 was the Traveller’s 1 Barrel from Belize. 8 people picked this as either their #1 or #2 of the evening

Rum #2 was the Ron Abuelo 12 year old from Panama. 6 people picked this as their #1 or #2 of the evening

Rum #3 was the Clemente XO Tres Vieux from Martinique. 3 people picked this one as their #1 or #2.

Rum #4 was the $300 Santa Teresa Bicentenario solera, which nobody picked for their #1 or #2.

Rum #5 was picked by 5 people as their #1 or #2 of the night (I was one of them), and turned out to be the Rum Nation Martinque 12 year old

Rum #6 was without question the most popular of the session, garnering 12 nods for best or second best…and turned out to be the Zaya 12 year old, made by the same outfit that makes the Zacapa in Guatemala, before Angostura from Trinidad took things over.

Rum #7 was the 23 year old Demerara (not Jamaica) from Rum Nation, and while I ranked it #3 for distinctiveness, nobody else except Andrew himself ranked this anywhere close to the top.

 

***

So what does an exercise like this tell us?

Well, for one thing, there’s a definite separation between the crowd-pleasers and those rums that move beyond such ephemeral and fleeting opinions and achieve true value for their price; look no further than the rapturous reception of the Zaya 12, which, when you brutally disassemble it is simply a pleasant sipper without the complexity of something like, oh, the Rum Nation Martinique 12.

Secondly, there is no correlation between quality and price: the cheapest rum of the night, the Traveller’s 1 Barrel, got 40% of the votes for being either #1 or #2 of the evening; or, in reverse, the ultra-premium $300 Santa Teresa, which was roundly dissed, and came in at #5 overall, followed only by the Rum Nation Demerara 23 and the Clemente XO (for what it’s worth, my rankings before I knew the names were the Abuelo 12, RN Martinque 12, RN Demerara 23, Zaya 12, the Clemente XO (good for nose, not so much on taste), Traveller’s 1 Barrel and Santa Teresa Bicentenario).

Thirdly, guessing what you’re drinking is not easy, and I’m no expert, in spite of having sampled as many rums as I have: look how I got the first one wrong (couldn’t even get the country right), mixed up a Scottish Cadenhead with a Martinique agricole with Rum #3 (lots in common, but still…) and confused #7 between Demerara and Jamaica.  It points out something of the subjective nature of any review, done at the time the review is performed, versus a more leisurely one-at-a-time exercise, and how the surrounding rums in a blind tasting can sway one’s opinion of others to the left and right.

Lastly, it’s clear that one need not relegate oneself to the easy rums and cheaper prices to get a good drink. I acknowledge that most rum drinkers in this province are part timers whose real love and affection is given to the whiskies (and forgive them for this lapse, but never mind) – yet when one considers the sheer variety and range of rums we had that night, ranging from dry to sweet to dusty, from cask strength to standard 40%, light to dark, there is no doubt in my mind that there’s something for everyone to be had in the rum world.

Kudos to Kensington Wine Market for taking the lead in getting that to people’s attention.

 

 Posted by on February 9, 2012 at 8:04 am