Jun 222018
 

In early May 2018, following on from a much-envied and jealously-regarded Velier Port Mourant tasting, Nicolai Wachmann and Gregers Nielson busied themselves with some of the new rums issued for Velier’s 70th Anniversary.  These six full-proof rums – carefully chosen from well-known distilleries in Japan, St Lucia, Barbados, Mauritius, Marie Galante (Guadeloupe) and Jamaica – were distinguished by vivid and colourful artwork on their labels, done by a Singaporean artist named Warren Khong.  Strikingly visual in design, the series of rums immediately became known as the “Warren Khong” range, and have excited approbation in equal parts for their look, and their taste.

The following interview and notes are all from the two gentlemen’s efforts, in their own words. And so, the introduction being over, let’s hand off the flight to my Danish friends.


Last year Velier SpA celebrated its 70th anniversary, and if you’re reading this, my bet is that this would be old news to you. Nevertheless, Luca Gargano made certain that most of the rum community was, and still is, saving up money to buy all the exciting new rums that are being released during 2017 and 2018 in celebration of this milestone in the company’s history.

One of the releases is a series of six rums named after an artist from Singapore – Warren Khong.

But who is this Warren guy and how did he come about lending his name to such an awesome collection of rum?

Well we didn’t have a clue and our parents didn’t either, so we decided to do some research online and then write and ask him personally, in order to understand the connection.

W. Kong 2015 (c) Timeout.com

 

Warren Khong bio:

Warren was born in Singapore back in 1984, studied art in Singapore and has previously worked with LMDW on other spirits labels. So this is by no means the first time he has lent his name to the spirits world.

Warren Khong situates his practice primarily in the field of painting, researching its concepts and its relation to surface and materiality – from selected surfaces to light, colour and reflection, he also explores spaces and site specificity as well as the intangible or immaterial, proposing for material as Idea, as a methodology towards artmaking.

Khong graduated with a Master of Arts, Fine Arts from the La Salle College of the Arts, Singapore in partnership with Goldsmith’s College, University of London. He has had five solo exhibitions, the most recent being Light-Space (In collaboration with Urich Lau) at Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore and Whitewash at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, also in Singapore. Selected group exhibitions included In Praise Of Shadows at the Art, Design and Media Gallery at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Supernatural at Gajah Gallery, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, both in 2017.

Warren Khong’s Kuruizawa design

With regards to LMDW, Warren’s art works were used for their first Artist range of whiskies, as well as the Artifices range of Karuizawa whiskies.

How and when did you end up creating the artwork for this series of rum?

I was asked by Luca during Whisky Live Singapore 2016 if I would be willing to create a series of paintings to be used as rum labels. He was very enthusiastic about it, and I agreed. I started working on the paintings early of 2017.

Is there an underlying meaning or theme behind the artwork and choice of colours?

All Luca had asked for was that I used a brighter colour palette so as to reflect the Caribbean heritage of his rums for the bottlings, to which I agreed. As for any underlying meaning in the paintings, it happens through the execution of it. Let me further elaborate. I believe that in the distillation process, it is very controlled [and] exacting, without much room for mistakes; yet the end result is that you have rum, which is a wonderful, multi-layered drink with so many various notes that comes together in spectacular fashion. I draw a parallel there with how I approached the painting of these works. A number of colours, paint swirls, drops and the like, which appear as though somewhat random yet able to come together as a visual whole and the application of each drop of paint is controlled and exact, right where it is meant to be, non accidental.

Did you get to chose which rums got which artwork/colour?

Nope, nor would I have wanted that. I think it more fitting that Luca was the one who did the pairings!

Did Luca ask you to drink rum before painting the art?

Nope, nor would I have. I don’t drink when making my art, it would have affected my ability to create exactly what I had wanted to create. I drank after the works were done of course!

Do you enjoy rum yourself and have you tasted the rums from the Warren Khong series?

Yes, I enjoy rum myself. In fact, I am happy to say that Luca was the one who introduced it to me, and it was love at first taste. Unfortunately, I have not yet tasted any from the series.

Are you aware of the amount of hype the Warren Khong series has stirred within the rum community?

No, I am not. But I am very flattered to hear about it and am glad to have been a part of it!


And back to the tasting…

Why focus on the Khong Collection you may ask? Well, it’s been one the most hyped series of rum to be released the past year’s time and it seems that not many people have actually sat down and tasted the entire collection in one sitting. So we thought, why not make this happen and as we had access to the entire collection, we decided to do just that.

The facts:

  • The range consists of 6 different bottlings from 6 very different regions and distilleries.
  • In total, the Khong Collection officially boasts 4615 bottles.
  • The average abv of the Khong Collection is 60.31%
  • The average age is 7 years (mainly tropical)
  • The rarest is Nine Leaves Encrypted with 249 bottles
  • The largest outturn is Diamond <H> with 1659 bottles (but seems to be the most popular, so good thing it was “plentyfull”.

Nicolai preparing to do battle….

TASTING NOTES:

A word of note:

This tasting session did not set out to directly compare these six rums in order to find an overall winner. That would be like having six grandmothers compete in different disciplines of athletics and choosing the supreme winner – slow, not interesting and pointless in terms of style and origin.

What we’ve tried to do is taste the rums and rate them independently, while taking into consideration what we’ve previously tried from the various distilleries/regions, and how we found the quality and feel of the rum overall.

As such, we may have favourites amongst them, but we completely acknowledge that this is 100% subjective and therefore not necessarily something everyone else agrees upon (but you ought to agree with us, naturally!)

The grades given are a calculated average of our individual grades. This is simply because we couldn’t agree on a mutual score for each rum (hence why our individual scores are also stated), and therefore we thought, an average would demonstrate the final score more fairly.

In hindsight, we didn’t have a reference rum to kick start the tasting, so a re-tasting would be interesting at some point.

Anyway, enough talk and time for the results:

 


Chamarel Pure Single Rum Agricole 6 YO 2011-2017 55.5%

(Mauritius, 2 casks, ex-French Oak)

Nose – Citrus and grassy notes combined with an almost cake-like vanilla influence kicks off the experience. The alcohol is pleasant and almost subtle considering the strength. In the far back, hay begins to take form – thoughts of walking into a barn full of hay pallets and moist air springs to mind, with a basket of citrus fruits and green apples. Only brief whispers of lightly caramelised oak and vanilla seem to give evidence to the barrel ageing. After a good swirl, hints of lemon thyme , rosemary and perhaps white pepper, but only subtle. After some more time, elements of medicine cabinet (gaze and pills) emerge as well.

Mouth – Peppery spiciness, dry cake, fruity sweetness, orange zest

Finish – Mix of fresh herbs like thyme and rosemary, ripe apricots, Limoncello (sweet lemon liqueur) and anis. Cedar tree and light wood spice with mild white pepper and vanilla sugar. Bitter orange zest and light tannins finish off combined with a melange of the sweetness from all the fruity notes and dried cake.

Thoughts – Super charming and complex rum in its own right. We were both taken by surprise and fell in love with it’s charm, balance and super integrated alcohol. It passes quickly, but while it’s there, it’s a great acquaintance. Despite all the goodness, it remains just a tad to simple and easy, to make it truly exceptional. But for what it is, this could be a stable in our home bar any day.

Points:    84 (Gregers 86 / Nicolai 82)

 

Bielle Rhum Vieux Agricole 10 YO 2007-2017 55%

(Marie Galante, single cask, ex-Bourbon)

Nose – Cedar tree, cigar box, green grapes, hints of acetone, there’s an almost yogurt naturelle kind of acidity present; also toasted wood, vanilla, caramelised brown sugar and liquorice powder. The nose is super dry – you almost feel your mouth being rid of moisture just by smelling the rum.

After some time, it begins to develop “Matador Mix” aromas (Danish mixed sweets consisting of fruity wine gums, liquorice, caramelised sugar coatings and coconut in an elegant balance). Incredibly complex and just seems to develop new notes as time passes.

Mouth – Spicy, peppery, pungent alcohol, but not aggressive. It’s sweet and dry at the same time with a nice texture and feel. This rum caresses your tongue and mouth, it’s like a thai massage where you are crunched by a petite beautiful woman.

Finish – The wood spice, cedar tree. oak and tannins give way to more sweet aromas of acidic sweet fruit, liquorice and burned caramel. It lingers for a good time and keeps the flavours rolling in an ever complex plethora of sweet, spicy and dry elements.

Thoughts – Fantastic balance throughout. The dry impression in the nose loses ground to a wonderful sweetness, partly in the mouth yet most apparent in the finish.

Points:    90 (Gregers 91 / Nicolai 89)

Mount Gilboa Pure Single Rum 9 YO 2008-2017 66%

(Barbados, 3 casks, ex-French brandy)

Nose – The high alcohol itches the nostrils a little. Flat Coca Cola is the first thing that springs to mind (in Denmark back in the 80s and 90s, we had small cartons of coke flavoured juice, but without carbon dioxide); immediately afterwards, oak and woodspice appears with nutmeg, allspice, black pepper – one almost expects it to be a super dry sensation judging from the tannins. Dried apricots, dates, dried – almost roasted – coconut begins to emerge.

Mouth – Burnt treacle, oak and tannins, black pepper. Feisty alcohol burn.

Finish – The tannins and oak dominate the finish in a bitter way. A rich sweetness joins in and mellows out the dry bitterness, a sweetness difficult to define, leaving us wondering if it’s down to the high 66% abv. It’s a complex field of wood spice, pepper, tannins, spicy peppers, a cigar box, leather and a profound sweetness which to us resembles caramelised burnt treacle.

This sweetness lingers to the very end along with the rest of the spicy herbal and wooden notes.

Thoughts – We both agreed that this rum would have been incredible to try a year or two ago. The wood has made its appearance just a wee bit to dominant for our liking, with the bitter finish taking down the points. Having said that, it still beats the old Mount Gilboa bottlings by far, for which it deserves credit.

Points:    81 (Gregers 82 / Nicolai 80)

Nine Leaves Pure Single Rum “Encrypted” 3 YO 2014-2017 64.8%

(Japan, single cask, ex-wine)

Nose – Caramelised Bergamot and metallic citrus hints. Limoncello and an almost Sambuca-ish anise background. Elderflower and floral notes. The wine casks shine through with notes of apple vinegar and an oxidised sherry feel. It shows the young age, but incredibly complex and balanced nonetheless. So very different from what we expected. The metallic notes are very dominant – which may be an acquired taste?

Mouth – Perfumed, sweetness, tannin-ish dryness. Hot yet smooth and delicate.

Finish – Wow… this is a wave of floral notes: Elderflowers, rose water, rose pepper and a super balanced kick from the alcohol. The wine cask-notes are there again, with ripe green grapes and fresh oaky tannins. Only vague hints of vanilla seem to come through. The rum lingers in the mouth for some time and keeps reminding you of all the different flavours it’s thrown your way.

Thoughts – This is just a massive surprise! So young, yet superbly integrated. The mix of flavours are completely new and different, yet insanely appealing, delicious and juicy. Who the hell saw that coming? Without doubt, the best rum Yoshiharu has produced so far – huge kudos for this rum, Yoshi!

Points:    88 (Gregers 89 / Nicolai 87)

 

St. Lucia Pure Single Rum 7 YO 2010-2017 58.6%

(St. Lucia, single cask, ex-bourbon)

Nose – Pot still… this is dirty, full of everything you’d expect from the John Dore 2. It’s a plethora of fusel notes – motor oil, acetone, varnish and rubber with small whiffs of smoke (but in a good way). Oak and woodspice is present with fragrances of thyme and rosemary. But at the same time, you are met with baskets full of dried pineapple, mango and papaya, juicy raisins, dried apricots and hints of lime. In the far back menthol and fresh pepper notes.

Mouth – Dry…tannin-rich, sweet, spicy, hot and wonderfully dirty.

Finish – Woaaa… Minerality, motor oil, acetone, fusel notes and smoky aromas from the ageing in barrels. Sweetness in terms of preserved prunes, raisins, star anis, treacle. The oak and woodspice lingers on in the background, but balanced and submissive compared the rest of the flavours. After some time, sweet pipe tobacco, leather and cedar tree notes appear in a bizarre mix with fresh green grass and herbs.

Thoughts – This is filthy good rum. It’s insanely complex, throwing fusel notes, fruits, minerals, herbs and spices at you while wrapping it all up in dry tannins and alcohol, making sure everything is kept in balance. It’s concentrated, complex end requires your attention if you’re to enjoy it fully, yet allows for a mellow drink as well. Beautiful! And at last, a rum we agreed on, and scored exactly the same.

Points:    91 (Gregers 91 / Nicolai 91)

<H> Pure Single Rum 7 YO 2010-2017 62%

(Hampden, Jamaica, 5 casks, ex-bourbon)

Nose – Hampden, no doubt about it. This is much richer and thicker in the nose than for instance the HLCF, but almost just as pungent.  Overripe banana, succulent pineapple and mango, funky esters, acetone and varnish. The fruity elements are all overripe, on the verge of decomposing (vaguely reminding us of the Savannah’s HERR). There’s also a buttery richness to it with cinnamon and peach. Lavender soap/oil.

Mouth – Acidity, spicy sweetness (almost like the asian ginger sweets) pungent alcohol

Finish – Overripe bananas, pineapple, ester funkiness, fruit candy, dry tannins, toasted oaky vanillins. Ginger candy is back with the sweet and peppery hot touch – and with that, it fades out incredibly quick, makes a Houdini and disappears. Only a residue of the overripe bananas and some esters linger behind, and with that ciao ciao, no more.

Thoughts – Perhaps we had too high expectations of this rum, being huge fans of high ester Hampden rums. And although you cannot compare the <H> mark with HLCF from the Habitation Velier series, the HLCF just delivers so much more. In fine, this is far from the best Hampden out there in our opinion. Other Hampden fans will no doubt like it, but for us, it’s just not quite there.

Points:    87 (Gregers 86 / Nicolai 88)


Summary of scores

  • Chamarel 84
  • Bielle 90
  • Mount Gilboa 81
  • Nine Leaves 88
  • St. Lucia 91
  • Hampden <H> 87

Conclusion

So what exactly do we have here and should Mr. Khong be proud of this rum collection carrying his name? The answer is to the later is hell yes!

What we have here is a remarkable portrayal of (mostly) pure single rums. Each a fantastic example of the region and distillery it derives from and demonstrates yet again that neither age nor region is a definitive marker for quality – and that with judicious selection and decanting at just the right age, young rums can just as easily be superlative.

Are they the best of the best? In some cases perhaps, but this is very much in the eye of the beholder. What we’ve experienced since this tasting, is just how diverse feelings are towards each of these expressions. Encrypted surprised us in an immensely positive way, St Lucia was as anticipated and fully lived up to our high expectations. Chamarel was the charming sweetheart that you could venture back to every day. Bielle hit the spot, for both of us, and just delivered, period. Mount Gilboa, not our favourite of the lot, but after trying it with some added water and letting it stand for a good 30-60 minutes, this rum developed into something much more complex and fruity – alas, this is not taken into consideration here. Hampden, it’s a good rum by any account, but for us, far from the best of its kind out there. Then again, not sure how many <H> Hampdens we’ve actually tried before, so this of course should be taken into consideration as well.

At the end of the day, this series is worth every penny and showcases a diverse series of locally aged rums from exceptional producers and countries. How can you not appreciate something like that?

Gregers & Nicolai

Feb 232018
 

Some days are just harder than others, especially when we put our lives and livers and family time on hold, just say f**kit and do a deep dive into rums that are insanely expensive, excrutiatingly rare and that makes ethanol leak from the eyes of every Velier fan and exiled Mudlander who ever lived. While I would not go so far as to say we suffer for our art (drinking rum unicorns like this? are you kidding?), there is no question that when two of the cool kids in the rumworld – Gregers and Nicolai – managed to put together a Velier Port Mourant session, I went into my bedroom and shed bitter tears of envy and ignored my wife for three days straight (though admittedly it helped that she was away scouring for a Prada purse at the time). 

All joking aside, both Gregers and Nicolai are long-time correspondents of mine from Denmark, and have a lot of fun at my expense laughing at all the good moonshine they get up there while I bake in the desert.  We share samples and bottles and commentary constantly – it was Gregers who introduced me to the Jamaican 1977 Ping 9, and Nicolai who provided a massive set of Savanna Lontan Grand Arômes to me a year or so ago – and because neither have a website (yet) or do writeups (yet), when I heard of their Velier PM session, I offered to host their tasting notes here…because stuff like this needs some broadcasting, given how rare these rums now are.  Caroni is the Velier outturn du jour at the moment (some might argue it’s the 2017 70th Anniversary Collection) but we must never forget the concussive blast which their Demeraras made on the world all those years ago when only Serge Valentin was writing about them at all.

So, here’s their report.  All tasting notes are theirs, all conclusions are theirs, all scorings are theirs. It’s a shame they didn’t manage to lay paws on the 1982 and 1985 versions as well – that would have made it a complete Velier PM set – but enjoy, anyway, and if you ever get any of these rums, treasure them.  They really are pretty damned good.


Velier Port Mourant 1972-2008 36 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 47.8% 175 bottles

Nose: What the… this is just pure sex in a glass. Fruity yet peppery hot notes kick off the party. Wood spice, aniseed, liquorice – but not the heavy English type, dried overripe prunes, raisins, dried figs & dates, tannins and roasted oak/wood and vanilla. In the far back dried rosemary and thyme which, shortly after, lingers into an almost floral note. Menthol notes develop a little later followed by leather and tobacco, along with cigar box / cedar tree after additional time in the glass. Did anybody say complex?

Mouth: Spicy without being too strong, fruity sweetness and a perfect oily texture – not too thin or thick.

Finish: Fruity elements to start with, then wood spice and aniseed followed by…well, more fruit. Wood spice kicks in along with complex floral notes and a fruity sweetness combined with roasted oak and vanilla. The menthol notes awaken a bit more. Tannins and a smooth and pleasant dryness cleans up the the bountiful party. The finish just keeps going and continues to be balanced yet complex, fruity and meaty in an almost feminine style – if that’s not straining your imagination too far.

Comments: Amazing! The balance, flavour and texture! The complexity! Superb rum! The alcohol is subtle and well integrated. The balance becomes even more apparent after a little time in the glass. This is super complex and wonderfully integrated. Harmonious and sexy! We need more of this stuff on the shelves – if only…

Points: 94/100


Velier Port Mourant 1974-2008 34 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 54.5% 364 bottles

Nose: Dried raisins, prunes, dates and figs, warm sweet spices (cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla), menthol, wood spice, tannins and oak. In the background lurk liquorice, aniseed, much more pungent than the 1972. Deep, earthy, meaty notes,  leading on to thick treacle, molasses, dark chocolate combined with the dried stone fruits from earlier.

Mouth: In the mouth it’s got a peppery and warm spicy kick which quickly transfers on to a fruity sweetness in the back – is it the dried stone fruits again? Who cares, we loved it anyway.

Finish: The fruitiness is rather quickly subdued by oak tannins, aniseed and other warm spices and woodspice. This is super dry, the dried stone fruits remain lingering in the far back though. Tobacco, leather, oak, tannins and strong aniseed come back again and everything lingers there for a long time.

Comments: Much more assertive than the 72. Dry and earthy, the sweetness is kept far in the background. Balance is super beautiful, but in a very different way than the ‘72 – much deeper, much more meaty, pungent, dry. There is a slight bitterness that comes lingering at the very end, which cleans up and dries your mouth. This is a great Demerara rum, one of the best.

Points: 92/100


Velier Port Mourant 1975-2008 32 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 56.7% 518 bottles

Nose: Wood spice, aniseed and hot pepper hits you straight away, like hammer to the glass. Dried prunes, raisins and menthol in the background supported by heavy notes of treacle and English licorice. Oak, tannins and vague notes of vanilla from the cask linger in the far background. It’s much more aggressive and in your face compared to the ‘72 and ‘74 which is surprising given it’s not too far removed in strength from either of those.

Mouth: Oily rich, sweet, light tannins, oaky wood spice and pepper.

Finish: Heavy, dark/burnt sweetness, aniseed and licorice dominate, dried figs and prunes return, wood spice, cinnamon and cardamom. The meaty feel is prominent but somehow things are not completely balanced…there’s something slightly off here. The bitterness comes in at the end and “cleans up” the goodness. Would have loved the sweetness and warm spices to have lasted a little longer, but the bitterness swipes it away, which takes this rum down several points.

Comments: The ‘75 is just a bit too heavy on the wood. It’s that guy in class who has all the necessary stats to succeed big time, comes close…but just doesn’t get the girl. It’s good, no doubt about it, but after the ‘72 and ‘74, it just falls behind. Having said that, there are a lot of other 75’s on the market, which redeem the year’s output of PM rums.

Points: 84/100


Velier Port Mourant 1993-2006 13 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 65% 2994 bottles

Nose: My God this is a monster. The alcohol just slaps you, hard, twice, and this is a bottle that has been opened for some time now. Aniseed, heavy wood spices, peppery notes, sweet and rich fruity notes. Licorice and burnt treacle, flambeed prunes, pungent vanilla, raisons, menthol notes. It has a freshness to it, unlike the continentally aged versions. It is somewhat chaotic, a freak show in the middle of a circus stage.

Mouth: The alcohol hits the palate fiercely, then develops into a difficult-to-define partly-fruity sweetness along with peppery notes and an oily texture.

Finish: Fusel notes quickly dominate any of the fruit we were expecting, along with any mineral or floral notes. Tannins, hot spices, wood spices, oak. It has this dry, tannin-rich meatiness to it, but not bitter as such. The beast just hangs on, but not in a harmonious balanced kind of way, more a fight for dominance – where the 93’ is determined to win.

Comments. The tropical ageing is very apparent. The alcohol, balance and flavours are by no means well integrated, true, more a mad maelstrom of everything but the kitchen sink — but the chaos is charming (and scary) at the same time. Unfortunately it’s miles behind its brothers.

Bearing in mind that this was a bottle that had been open for some time, we can only imagine how it was when newly opened and our thoughts steered towards a bodybuilder on steroids (and crack) with a serious need of a dental appointment.

Points  80/100


Velier Port Mourant 1997-2012 15 YO Full Proof Old Demerara Rum 65.7% 1094 bottles

Nose: Holy moly… this just says “I love you” as soon as it’s poured. The tropical ageing throws a complex plethora of rich treacle, heavy dried fruits, sweet spices, cinnamon, vanilla, and pungent alcohol at you – in that laid back island way.

Mouth: On the palate, you are greeted by a sweet, spicy, oily rich and pungent juice. Slightly lighter than the 93, despite the alcohol difference but so much better and pleasant.

Finish:  The tropical ageing wins dominans now for certain. Dark liquorice, caramelised treacle, fruits – candied prunes and figs, warm spices, wood spice, vanilla, oak, stringent tannins. It closes off with a slight bitterness, but pleasantly so and seems to last forever.

Comments: The tropical ageing is much better integrated in the 97 compared to the 93. The complexity and sweetness is just so utterly well balanced and charming that it wins you over despite the high abv. The balance is generally astounding throughout and the perceived sweetness is second to none. This is pretty much how you would want your wife – tropically sweet, firm but soft, fierce but sexy, mature but also young and beautiful. If only it could have your kids.  We’d name them all for plantations in Guyana.

Points:   90/100


IN CLOSING, THE BONUS ROUND

What an evening… Our senses were boggled from the amount of flavours and alcohol we’d just exposed them to, and trying to get an overview of the entire experience seemed somewhat unnatural considering what we’d just tried.

In an attempt to step away from it all and try to let the experience sink in, we agreed another glass of rum might do the trick. I remembered that I was all out of the Caputo 1973 (I was one of the mob who had descended on poor Ruminsky’s garret in Berlin to get my sample before the police dispersed us all), but I did have something else he sent me a few years ago and thought this would make a great blind sample for Nicolai – so went and found it. As this had a decent kind of pedigree, we agreed after trying the thing, that our tasting notes should be included here as well:

Blind sample:

Nose: This is just sickeningly beautiful (Nicolai’s eyes now seemed wide open and alert again). Starts off with a profound dark caramel, deep rich treacle, warm sweet spices, vanilla, roasted oak, wood spice, burnt molasses, tannins, coconut oil, tropical fruits like papaya, mango and lychee, white pepper, “brunkager/pebernød” (Danish Christmas cookies) insanely complex and rich.

Mouth: Warm, spicy, sweet, velvet texture, buttery scotch richness and enough alcohol to keep it all in control. Nicolai was fast losing his cool by this point.

Finish: The sweet spices and alcohol was our initial thoughts. Then black liquorice, caramelized treacle, dried fruits like figs, plums, raisins, sultanas in an insanely good mix with sweet spices, oak, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon. I could see Nic casting restive and possessive glances at my sample bottle, and so hurriedly removed it from his reach.  He nearly wept.

Comments: This beautiful beast lingers forever. The balance is outstanding!! What a plethora of complex flavours. Oak, heavy rich caramel, dried fruits, spices and herbs in a beautiful balance. Unicorn tears would be shamed if placed next to it. Points were given and it was time to reveal what Nicolai had just tasted.

Velier Skeldon 1973 (!!!)

Points:  95/100


[The authors paused to catch their breath for a week at this point, before continuing…..]

So how do you wrap things up from here?

Well, to start of with, we both agreed that it was properly annoying that the PM 1972 was the best of the lot, considering it’s the only bottle we didn’t have any more of (what we tasted was a sample from Thomas Caque). It completely took us off guard…and just about blew our minds. Who would have thought that the “feminine” profile of the Port Mourant 1972 would take the lead (The Skeldon obviously not part of the equation).

It was equally interesting that the difference between tropical vs. continental ageing didn’t appear to give an overwhelming advantage/disadvantage to any one of these rums either, though of course it was clear that the ageing regime makes for very different flavour profiles.

Having said that, it is also worth noting that there are other continentally aged Port Mourants out there, which are in close competition and may in fact even take the lead. These are rums like the Norse Cask 1975, Rendsburger Bürgermeister Guyana 1975, Silver Seal 1974, which in our opinion, deserve spots next to these PM giants from Italy. Mind you, they all have similar costs to those from Velier, so not exactly something you just pick off the shelves anymore. 

Regardless, this had been one hell of an evening we are not likely to have again any time soon. 


 

Nov 012017
 

*

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

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

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

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


[1] Clairin Sajous – Haiti

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

[2] J. Bally Blanc Agricole – Martinique

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

[3] St. Aubin Agricole Rhum Blanc  – Mauritius

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

[4] DDL Superior High Wine – Guyana

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

[5] Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca – Brazil

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

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

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

[7] Rum Fire Velvet – Jamaica

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

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

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

[9] Nine Leaves Clear 2015 – Japan

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

[10] Cavalier Rum Puncheon White 65% – Antigua

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

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

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

[12] Kleren Nasyonal Traditionnal 22 Rhum Blanc – Haiti

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

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

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

[14] Rum Nation Ilha de Madeira Agricole 2017

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

[15] A1710 La Perle

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

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

[16] Marienburg 90% – Suriname

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

[17] Sunset Very Strong Overproof 84.5%)

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

[18] St. Nicholas Abbey Unaged White – Barbados

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

[19] Vientain Loatan – Laos

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

[20] Mana’o Rhum Agricole Blanc – Tahiti

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

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

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


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

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

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

And bored?  No chance.


Other notes

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

Aug 162015
 

Want a rum that says a big FU to your opinion? Here’s one, and then eight more. 

***

It annoys me no end, seeing the same boring rundown of standard table rums extolled by journalists who don’t bother to do the most elementary research on what a good rum actually is, and make no effort to take the subject seriously.  Earlier in 2015, in response to yet another vanilla listing of same-old-blah-blah-blah-rums-you-should-try written by someone who “discovered” rums on a weekend Caribbean safari (or was that the one put together by a hack who only now realized rum was a drink worth checking out?), I asked rather peevishly why a list of crazy rums you’ve never heard about wasn’t issued by some enterprising writer for an online rag someplace.  After waiting around for a while, getting older, with no response, I realize maybe they were waiting for one of us real writers.  Oh. Okay. For my rag, then…

Note – just because they are listed here, does not mean I entirely love these rums…just that they are really at odds with more standard rum profiles. You can buy them, sure. However, let’s not pretend they’ll entirely be to your tastes. They showcase all the illogic and weirdness and wonderful breadth of rum, though, and there’s nothing at all bad about that.

1. D3S_1657Clairin Sajous

Come on, was this ever even in doubt? This friggin rum is utterly nuts, impractical to a fault, unaged, white and simply flat out amazing.  The Casimir and the Vaval clairins are sprigs cut from the same tree, and just about as weird. That gunpowder and wax nose, the amazing taste. Gave it points for sheer originality. 

 

D3S_89692. Rum Nation White Pot Still 57%

Jamaican badassery in a sleek sexy bottle. Pungent, strong and estery, Rum Nation took a deep breath, threw the dice, ran with it, and I think it paid off.

 

 

D3S_7054

3. SMWS 3.4 Barbados 10 Year Old

All right, I admit it, this is tough to find even if you’re a member of the SWMS. And not that many of it were made.  But heavens above what a great, snarling, amazing rum for its strength.  It got the highest score I ever gave a drink that powerful. Wish I could find the “Marmite” 3.5.

 

D7K_12984. La Occidental Guayabita del Pinar

Leaving aside the issue of whether this Cuban softie is a rum or not (I said it was), here is one of the few flavoured rums I ever tasted that I liked…perhaps because it is made differently rather than having spices chucked into it like Emeril was having a bad hair day.  It remains (somewhat to my surprise) one of the most re-visited posts on this site. I wonder why.

 

Cadenhead5. Cadenhead’s Classic Green Label Demerara 12 Year Old

The peat is strong with this one, I grumbled when I sampled this rum, and still don’t care much for it.  Whatever. If you ever wanted to see a the result of a tussle between an Octomore and Port Mourant, here’s your chance.  There are many anoraks who swear by it, mind you.

 

 

bundie6. Bundaberg Reserve

Quiet, all you there in the peanut gallery. I know that Bundie is seen as a balm to exiled Aussies, and a butt of constant jokes from, about and by the residents of Oz.  The question is not whether you like it neat…more of what a rum can be when it takes not a sharp left turn, but a hundred and eighty about-face, and then smacks you a good hard one on the schnozz. Honestly, I think it’s more tequila than rum. Still, you can’t deny its originality, and you’ll not mistake it for many others.

 

D3S_68467. BBR Fiji 8 Year Old

The one Berry Bros. & Rudd rum I didn’t care for. Was like a paint thinner, unbalanced, weird to taste, and a rum that can only be approached with head-scratching, jowl-quivering perplexity, wondering how a minor god does not rise up and smite it stone dead.  That said, I felt that way about it because it simply, defiantly, obnoxiously said “I shall not conform to your expectations of me.”  That alone might warrant a taste or two.

 

D3S_90748. JM 15 Year Old

I’m still coming to grips with what exactly was it about this rum that made it so memorable, so strange, so intriguing.  It was off-kilter, sure, but not batsh*t crazy different…just enough for me to keep it in my taste memory bank and recall it with bewilderment from time to time, still, after all these months, trying to pin down its haunting and elusive weirdness. Yeah, I liked it.

 

clark's9. Clarke’s Court Pure White Rum – Bush Variation

You will never find this rum in the bars of the east or west or anywhere except its own squat. The already odd white pot still rum was added to by some enterprising bushman-wannabe in Grenada, who cheerfully dumped in bark, twigs, berries and a plump worm (I kid you not), and then sold it to my crazy friend in Toronto.  And mad as this may seem, all that crap made the rum even better.  Every time I see myself starting to get snooty about additives in rum, here’s one that jogs my memory and makes me laugh, and realize that sometimes, it isn’t all a bad thing.

****

A postscript: I do not necessarily recommend that you go after these rums just because I’ve written about them (or because you have a kink in your own mind that such rums would appeal to).  What I am saying is that they are rums which go their own way; have a screw loose somewhere; they do not adhere those more familiar tastes to which we are accustomed.  Some are good, some not so much, at least one is just a rampage of laughably ridiculous insanity, and all are absolute blasts to drink.  

Now that’s how a list should be written, dammit.

Jul 222015
 

Severin Simon

(#223)

Germany has a number of home-grown rum makers out there.  Oh, they’re not world beaters by any means, but in a country that never really had any tropical colonies, no real culture of rum, no background in sugar cane production, it’s surprising to find any at all. And I’m always curious about these relatively small companies – after all, some small ones become big ones through sheer blending skill and mastery of craft bottlings and great word of mouth, right? Maybe this will be one of them, who knows, let’s take a look, I always tell myself. And let’s never pretend that a background in making other spirits does not have its positive side.

I’ve looked at two other German companies’ rums before (Old Man Spirits and Alt-Enderle), and today I’ll turn my attention to Severin Simon, a small distillery out of Bavaria, which has been, in one form or another, open for business since 1879. Severin Simon made and make gin, schnapps, brandy and whisky, and are now turning their attention to rum, which kicked off into high gear when they installed new distillery apparatus in 2012.  As with the other two companies mentioned above, their primary market remains Germany.

An interesting point of their production methodology is that they use fair trade organic molasses deriving from the Dominican Republic: Tres Hombres ship it to Germany in their sailing ship, and I appreciate that Severin Simon doesn’t use industrial grade alcohol and tart it up to make a throwaway paint-stripper.  Ageing is done in oak barrels made of local Spessart oak, some of which have been charred, some not. Two of the three rums I tried were aged eighteen months, and the current 2015 crop of rums is edging to just over two years, with single-cask and longer aged, higher-proofed rums on the horizon.

Valkyrie

Valkyrie (“Nordic”)

Notes – Pale gold. Pot still. Aged for 18 months in new barrels whose staves and floor were hand toasted.  Non-chill-filtered.  No additives or inclusions.40% for 0.5 L, costing ~€53

Nose – Sharp, even thin. Too much oak here.  Leather, smoke, caramel, some vague dried fruits and rosemary.

Palate – Light to medium bodied.  Unappealingly raw.  This thing should be aged more, I think.  Maybe it’s that local oak used in the barrels. Some raisins, dried prunes, plums, burnt sugar.  Water doesn’t help. It’s that smokiness, the sharper tannins of the oak, asserting too much influence.

Finish – Short and dry. Musty leather, charcoal-fire smoke, raisins and some toffee and caramel, all over rather quickly.

Thoughts – Should be aged for another few years, which I believe is the intention anyway. Given the price tag, do they consider it their premium rum? It’s complex enough, and a decent rum, just too much smoke and ash, not enough of the other stuff I enjoy. Plus, the sharpness needs some toning down, I think.

(79/100)

Kalypso

Bavarian Sweetened Rum (“Kalypso”)

Notes – Colour: amber. Pot still, flavoured rum.  Aged about two years. Darkest rum of the three.  40%, costs ~€48. Simon Severin noted the rum has 50g/L sugar.  Points to them for not dissembling on the matter.

Nose – Why is this thing so spicy at 40%? Oh, okay, it dies down after a few minutes.  Massive and simple taste bomb, this one, mostly vanilla and mocha, with prunes and some raisins at the back end.

Palate – Medium bodied. Spiciness of the nose gives way to thicker warmth. Sweet and redolent of more vanilla, raisins, coconut shavings, molasses, brown sugar, and red cherries in syrup. If you know what you’re looking for (or have good comparators) you can tell this is a young rum, still too uncouth in spite of the inclusions, which help mask – but not eliminate – a lack of well-cut underlying base distillate.

Finish – None too long, nothing special. Mostly more vanilla and some caramel here. Some lemon zest, if you strain a bit.

Thoughts – I’ll stick with unflavoured rums.

(74/100)

Konig

Royal Bavarian Navy Rum (“Königlisch”)

Notes – Colour: light amber. Two-tier solera system rum, molasses based, oldest component aged eighteen months.  Initial distillate from pot still. Dark straw coloured, 40%. Around €35.

Nose – Rather whisky-like, salty, oaky and herbal.  Smoothest of the three, which may be damning it with faint praise.

Palate – Medium bodied. Citrus emerges from out of the musky background; smoke and woody notes, not altogether masking some burnt sugar, salty caramel and black olives.  Rather spicy, turns arid after a while.

Finish – Short and dry.  Fennel and toasted walnuts, some non-too-sweet toffee.

Thoughts – To my mind this one is – by a narrow margin – the best of the three, and the cheapest.  The absence of clearly identifiable sugar inclusions, and the eschewing of charred barrels somehow allows a shade more complexity to sneak in there. It’s a toss-up between this one and the Valkyrie for those who like their smoky background more.

(80/100)

Summing up

Like Old Man Spirits and their interesting – if ultimately not quite successful – Uitvlugt 16 year old, what we have here is a company still finding its legs in the rum world. Pot still and molasses source notwithstanding, a few more years and tweaking their cuts, ageing profile and barrel selection, and they’ll really have something here.  I’d like to see if they ever come out with a white rum made from cane juice…have a feeling the Spessart oak they use would work some interesting effects there.

Let me just close by repeating something I’ve said before – you have to give points to people who actually make a product and jump through all the hoops to get a company off the ground in a field like rum, in a highly regulated region like the EU; and who provide employment and pay taxes and contribute to the larger rum world. I always and sincerely wish these outfits well, no matter what my rating of their products might be.

May 132015
 

D3S_9068

 

(#214)

***

Although a huge market for cachaça exists in Brazil where it is the national tipple they sometimes call pinga, very little of it makes it to other countries in comparison to agricoles (let alone more popular molasses based rums). For rummies, it’s something like an undiscovered country. A cane-juice-based spirit, it has certain basic similarities to agricoles and has been referred to as a type of brandy, of the aguardente family.  Cachaças are often unaged and like clairins in Haiti, run the gamut from underproof to overproof drinks, and are often bottled clear. I should mention, however, that many aged varieties of cachaça do in fact exist – the three I look at below are examples – but it seems like they stay in-country for the most part. I should also point out that Brazilians don’t worry overmuch about sourcing oak barrels for their aged versions, and just as easily use local woods – and that gives them profiles that are unusual to say the least.

With the increasing interest in cane juice rhums, and a simultaneous uptick in all-natural spirits, cachaça may be due to have its exposure grow. Certainly Bert Ostermann, the man behind Delicana out of Germany, feels that way.  He has been producing cachaças for many years now, always with small sales primarily in Europe.  When I met him in 2014, he was exhibiting his 5 and 10-year old products, and I tried all three he had, which were so new that he didn’t even have labels for them yet (he got some by the time the Fest ended, and those are the ones in the pics below). Unfortunately, ebbing time and the many more rums to sample did not permit me to get into the history of his company, or his production techniques — so aside from noting their source in sugar cane juice distilled in a pot still and production in the state of Minais Gerais Brazil (just north of Rio), I can’t tell you much more until he responds to the email I sent a few weeks ago, or the message I left for him on FB.

With that paucity of information, I decided to just run them together as a single essay on the tasting notes, the results of which are below.

Delicana 10 Year Old Balsamo – 40% blonde spirit, aged in Balsamo wood.

  • Nose: Light and clear.  Vegetal. Fresh stripped cane stalks.  Peaches. Sugar water, cinnamon, faint whiff of white flowers and sap from a cut banana plant.
  • Palate: First guia was untamed and raw.  Anise, licorice, lemongrass and fresh lime zest. Opens up into some more unripe firm green fruit like mangos.  New-mown grass.  Very little sign of the ageing I’m used to…hard to believe this is a 10 year old.
  • Finish: Short. Grassy notes mixed up with banana peel
  • Thoughts: Not unbalanced, per se…just untamed. Ten years of ageing seem to have done little to smoothen this one out, and it could easily be mistaken for a much younger product. But not an entirely bad one.

(79/100)

Delicana 5 Year Old Jequitibá – 40% clear spirit, aged in Jequitibá.

  • Nose: Holy <bleep>. Enormous for a 40% rum. Salt and pepper…a lot. Unripe green apples. Spicy, coming in just short of sharp.  Like licking an iron bar.
  • Palate: Hot, yet once you get over that, it mellows well. Clear metallic tastes predominate at the inception; saltpetr, firecrackers and gunpowder explode in the mouth and then disappear; some salt butter, black olives, more pepper. I can honestly say I’ve never tried anything like this. Tried it three more times, with and without water, same result.
  • Finish: Medium long, more salt, and pimento-stuffed olives in brine
  • Thoughts: points for originality and texture, but that initial taste really threw me.  Maybe not a drink to have pura.

(74/100)

Delicana 5 Year Old Umburana (artesinal premium) – 40% blonde spirit, aged in Umburana (or Amburuna)

  • Nose: Nice, remarkably gentle after the first two. Vegetal, apples, some grass in there, all pungent and deep. Some musty cardboard (seriously!)
  • Palate: Soft, easy-going, warm to try. Cinnamon, marzipan, then emerging tastes of olives and green grass, lemon juice and some creamy salt butter; sugar water and a whiff of plasticine and rubber. Brine kept in check here.
  • Finish: long and sweet, a little bite at the back end from a vagrant citrus peel; better than the Balsamo.
  • Thoughts: Best of the three (for my palate, anyway).  Bert and I tried all three together a second time, and as far as he was concerned, I had it bass ackwards, and the Balsamo was definitely better.

(82/100)

***

As I also remarked in the Clairin Sajous write-up, these are rums not for everyone.  They are very different from most, partly because of the aforementioned ageing in Brazilian woods that imparted such distinct and unusual tastes to each one. That alone might make lovers of traditional rums (whether mixers or sippers) cast a dubious eye on these, or relegate them to cocktails like the famous caipirinha.

I liked them for their originality, but overall, as a person who generally drinks rums neat, I can’t pretend I cared for these to the point where they become must-haves on my shelf…Brazilians with differently adjusted palates would probably vocally and violently disagree.  So if you’re curious, you should try them yourself, especially since they are all quite affordable. Also, having tried many caipirinhas over the years, I can enthusiastically recommend them that way, at least. After all, Quanto pior a cachaça, melhor a caipirinha, right?

Sooner or later I’m going online and ordering a bunch of the Boys from Brazil, that’s a given; I’m on a bit of an agricole kick right now, though, so it’ll have to wait. For the moment, these three micro-reviews give some inkling of what’s in store for those of us who venture into Brazilian waters to see what white kill-divil lies in wait to ravish our palates and liquify our kidneys.

Other notes

I was about halfway into writing this essay when Josh Miller of Inuakena pipped me with his excellent little series where he briefly compared not three or five or even ten, but fourteen separate cachaças, all from different companies (from the perspective of whether they made good caipirinhas).  So hats off to the man, and if your interest in Brazilian cachaças has been piqued, go right over to his short and informative comparisons.

 

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

  • #489a
  • 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: 80/100

D3S_8441

  • #489b
  • 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: 82/100

 D3S_8439

  • #489c
  • 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: 79/100

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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.

 

 

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. Well, yes – but I argue there’s more here to appreciate than is commonly acknowledged. 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.

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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.

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. As one grows in rum knowledge, it’s likely this one will be cast aside at some point.

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 growly 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. Perhaps because it’s so affordable.

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 (I’ve only been at it for a couple of years), 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.

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 76 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, 74, 76, 77 and 78, 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.