Mar 212018



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

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

Photo courtesy of Barrel Aged Mind

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

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


Other notes

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


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

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

Mar 192018


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

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

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

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

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


Summing up the First Release of the Rare Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Other Notes

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


Mar 142018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Mar 112018


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

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

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

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

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

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


Mar 072018


The Avuá brand of cachaça has a slightly different pedigree from independents in Europe who buy from brokers, and is closer to that of small new rum companies who buy selected stock direct from distilleries (e.g.Whisper, Toucan, and Real McCoy, for example).  Two New Yorkers – one a former brand manager for Red Bull, Pete Nevenglosky, the other a businessman and lawyer, Nate Whitehouse – developed a liking for the spirit and sensed (or thought they could exploit) a rising appreciation for craft spirits in the US – rum generally, cachaça specifically.  After some searching and sampling around, they settled on Fazenda da Quinta Agronegócios, a distillery just outside Rio dating back to 1923 which produces the trio of the da Quinta cachaças — an Amburana-aged, an oak-aged and a white. Starting with the Aburana and the white, these were rebranded for sale in the US as Avuá Amburana and Avuá Prata but I have not been able to establish anything particularly original about them that would set them apart from the da Quinta line

Never mind. Quite aside from these biographical details, I’m always on the lookout for interesting white rums, and so made it a point to check out the Prata just to see how well it fared.  Which was, for a 42% rested-but-not-aged pot still rum, not shabby at all, if not quite as feral or in-your-face as some of the French island blancs, or, for that matter, the clairins.  In fact, nosing it, the Prata presented as a rather genteel variation of such more elemental whites, and for that reason may actually be preferred by people who are put off excessive expressions of crazy and are more middle of the road.  It was redolent of sugar cane juice freshly pressed, oily, briny and with some olive action in the background, but also herbal notes of dill and a little sage, some faint rubber hints, and subtle acetone and florals rounding out the profile.  

The palate was not overly aggressive – at that strength it would have been surprising if it had been – and while quite dry, it reminded me somewhat of the unaged column still clairins, just gentler.  It was warm, sweet, and almost delicate, and also contained some of Neisson’s tequila and briny notes. Sugar water (and that’s white sugar, by the way), more dill, sage, rosemary and a little cinnamon, but what distinguished it after a few minutes was an unique (for cachacas) taste of musty earth and wet tropical vegetation that bordered on the funkiness of a Jamaican without ever actually being so.  The mouthfeel was rather light, warm and relatively smooth, so certainly the initial cuts and the resting period had their impact. As for the finish, nothing original there – just warm, aromatic sweet spices, and a vague mustiness that was far from unpleasant and made the rum stand out in its own way.

As a white rum the Prata cachaça carves out some interesting territory for itself: it’s not so crude and jagged as to be off-putting to the greater public; its tastes are pleasant, yet distinct enough not to be confused with other whites; and overall, one weakness (much like the Toucan No. 4) is that for the complexity that it does exhibit, it could easily be stronger and lose no adherents.  One is left with rather more titillating sensations and vague sensory memories than an explicit and clear-cut profile, and it showcases emergent potential rather than a solid current achievement. It’s interesting to note that the company is now also producing a Still Strength version (45%) to maybe address precisely this issue, and if they are doing that, we should be keeping an eye out for what else they’re doing in the next few years.  Because if they ever have the bolas to issue this white rum’s same profile at 50% or greater, I’d probably grin, take a deep breath, and dive right in.


Mar 042018


The other day I read that there are supposedly forty thousand cachaça producers in Brazil ¹ — if that statistic is actually true, then most are probably from small ops like the 500+ or so in Haiti – backyard moonshineries, rather than medium to large commercial operations. But there is no doubting that they represent a significant slice of the global volume of cane-derived spirits and it’s too bad that so few reviews of them exist (perhaps the lack of exports is to blame – most is drunk in-country; or maybe we need some Brazilian spirits bloggers).

A major characteristic of cachaças, when aged, is the resting in barrels made of local hardwoods. That peculiarity of local ageing is, to me, rather crucial when it comes to distinguishing an aged cachaca from any other rum. It’s what makes aged cachaças unique — most of us are so used to our hooch being decanted from ex-bourbon barrels, that to address a Brazilian rum for the first time can come over as a startling experience (note – I am using the term rum and cachaça interchangeably).

Take for example the Cachaça Avuá Amburana, made by Fazenda da Quinta, a small 3rd generation outfit founded in 1923, located just outside Rio de Janeiro. Their cachaça is made from two types of sugar cane, has a 24 hours fermentation period, and is pot still distilled.  As the name implies, it is aged in barrels made of amburana wood (which supposedly imparts an intense colour and flavours of sweetish vanilla) for up to two years and is bottled at 40%.

Does the amburana make for a uniquely different taste profile?  Yes and no.  It certainly presented aspects that were similar to young agricoles – fresh and crisp aromas of watery pears, sugar cane sap, swank and watermelon just to start with, clear without real sharpness.  It’s after opening up for a few minutes that it shows its antecedents more clearly, because other smells, somewhat more unusual, begin to emerge – cinnamon, nutmeg, bitter chocolate, sawn lumber, wet sawdust, freshly baked dark bread.  Not your standard fare by any means.  

The palate was quite firm for a 40% rum, stopping just short of sharp and marrying complexity with a variety of flavours in decent balance with each other. It had both red wine and muskier whisky notes, and bags of the aforementioned spices – cinnamon and nutmeg. Vanilla, ginger, sugar water, gherkins, cucumbers, a sharp cheddar, sawdust…and also a weird line of sweet bubble gum.  And, of course, some herbal grassiness – but overall the defining taste was mostly the cinnamon and swank with that slight bitter background.  This continued smoothly into a longish finish that again brought out the bubble gum, some Sprite (or 7-Up, take your pick), faint citrus, more cinnamon and vanilla, and a bit of sugar cane sap. A little dry, overall, but pleasingly complex and tasty for all that. I just wish it had been bumped up in proof a few notches – at ~45% it might just be amazing.

Tasting the Avuá Amburana blind, without some experience or comparators around, you’d be hard pressed to identify the country of origin (though the slight bitterness, woodsy taste and cinnamon background would likely give it away), and might even confuse it with an agricole – probably to the displeasure of any Brazilian. Be that as it may, I quite liked it, and since its introduction in 2013 it’s made a quiet splash in North America, as well as winning awards in 2015 (Berlin Rumfest) and 2016 (Madrid Congreso del Ron).

Brazilians involved in the production of cachaças are at pains to distinguish them from agricoles, but any casual rum aficionado would have some difficulty following the logic – after all, both derive from cane juice, distilled on either pot or column stills, the cane juice has a short fermentation time and is processed soon after harvesting.  Regulations are specific to each region: for example, a cachaça can only be called so if it derives from Brazil and at least 50% of the blend is aged for a minimum of one year, and for me that’s a naming and production convention and not a serious departure from agricoles (to use another example, calling only a rum made in Guyana a “Demerara” does not make it any less of a rum).  Also, as briefly noted above and more applicable to Brazil, a cachaça can (but does not have to) be aged in local woods like jequabita, amburana, carvalho etc, and not the more “traditional” oak barrels like ex-bourbon, ex-cognac, limousin oak, and so on – however, since the type of wood of the ageing barrel is not a disqualifier for any rum or ron or rhum anywhere in the world (except perhaps Cuba), this again seems more a local peculiarity, not a fundamental difference between the two types of rum.

So in other words, given the cane juice origin, then either cachaça is a Brazilian agricole, or agricoles are French cachaças.  To me such distinctions are geographical, not fundamental. Irrespective of the pride that the producing countries bring to their indigenous rums, production philosophies and heritage, both have interesting products that are cool to drink and make killer cocktails. That the French island rhums currently get more good press than cachaças do is no reason to ignore the latter – taken with their uniqueness and taste and wide applicabilty, something like the Avuá Amburana is good to experience if you want to go a little off the beaten track without heading into the jungle altogether.  It’s a pretty nifty cachaça that’s well worth checking out.


Other notes

  • ¹ Messias Soares Cavalcante, A verdadeira história da cachaça. São Paulo 2011 page 608
  • Uncoloured, unfiltered.  Small batch production.  Each bottle is numbered
  • Ralfy gave the Avua an in-depth look on his video in May 2017.
  • Matt Pietrek, the Cocktail Wonk, used this rum to provide an introduction to cachaças, back in 2015. It’s also got some good historical notes on the founders.
Mar 032018


Rumaniacs Review #075 | 0492

Revisited over nearly three years, the seemingly underproofed 43% 2005 Neisson has grown in my estimation; indeed, it wasn’t until I was doing up my tasting notes that I recalled the initial review (R0273 / 86 points) done back in 2015, and realized that it was even better than I recalled, back when Neisson was still too strange, too new to my agricole experience, for its qualities to shine through.  Good thing the Sage sent us some more to try, then, because perhaps now I can be more enthusiastic about it.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Starts off by being a traditional Neisson nose, all tequila, olives, brine, caramel and citrus, very well handled, nothing excessive, all in harmony.  Then things start to get interesting. Pears and hard yellow mangoes (the sort Guyanese like having with salt and a really hot pepper), chocolate, some soya.  Also tobacco, peaches, fennel and rosemary, and the thick scent of a bouquet of roses on Valentine’s Day.

Palate – Interesting three card trick here: it’s both solid and light and creamy all at the same time, and that’s not something I see often.  Salt butter, more mangoes, papayas, watery pears, citrus peel (lemon rather more than lime, I’d say), flowers, aromatic cigars and coconut dusted white chocolate.  The briny aspect takes a back seat, which is good because it allows a faint note of caramel to emerge as well.  Just lovely.

Finish – 43% isn’t going to give up much, and so the fade is short…but also quite aromatic.  Citrus, salty caramel ice cream, ripe green apples and pears.  And a hint of coffee again. It doesn’t come to an end with either a bang or a whisper, but sort of a quiet, easy lingering fade that makes you want to savour the experience.

Thoughts – After running past nine Neissons blind, it came as somewhat of a surprise to me to appreciate that this one, with the weakest ABV of the lot (by a small margin), was also the best.  There’s something about the way the bits and pieces of its profile meld and merge and then separate, giving each a small and defined moment of sunshine on nose and palate, that is really quite lovely. It’s tasty, it’s complex, it’s smooth, it’s all ’round good. It’s one of those rums I bought on a whim, was excellent then…and has grown in stature for me ever since.  Rightfully so.


  • WhiskyFun reviewed this rhum a few months back in a multi-rum session, here….he scored this one at 92. Future Rumaniacs reviews of the Neisson line, when others get around to them, will be posted here. Also, Laurent “The Man with a Stroller”, gave it a French language, unscored review (part three his four-part Neisson roundup, see Parts [1][2][3][4]), which is well worth a read.
Feb 262018


Don’t get so caught up in the Velier’s 70th Anniversary bottlings, their dwindling Demeraras or the now flavour-of-the-month Caronis, that you forget the one-offs, the small stuff, the ones that don’t make waves any longer (if they ever did).  Just because the Damoiseau 1980, Courcelles 1972, Basseterre and Rhum Rhum lines don’t make headlines while the aforementioned series do, is actually a good reason to try and find them, for they remain undiscovered treasures in the history of Velier and are often undervalued, or even (gasp!) underpriced.

One of these delightful short form works by La Casa di Gargano is the Basseterre 1997, a companion to the Basseterre 1995, which I thought had been an excellent agricole (scored 87), if, as I mentioned in the review, somewhat overshadowed by other aspects of Luca’s oevre.  I had sourced them both, but for some reason got sent two of the 1995 and none of the 1997, and was so pissed off that it took me another two years to grudgingly spring the cash for another 1997 (if you’re interested, I gave a Danish friend the extra 1995, unopened).

The two Basseterre rhums have an interesting backstory.  Back in the mid 2000s, Velier had its relationship with Damoiseau in place and Luca, as was (and is) his wont, struck up a friendship with Sylvain Guzzo, the commercial director of Karukera, and asked him to sniff around for some good casks elsewhere in Guadeloupe. In these cynical and pessimistic times we cast the jaundiced eyes of aged streetwalkers at remarks like “he did it for me entirely out of friendship, not money” but knowing Luca I believe it to be the unvarnished truth, because he’s, y’know, just that kind of guy. In any event, some barrels from Montebello were sourced, samples were sent and a deal struck to issue them under Velier’s imprimatur.  Luca is by his own admission a lousy painter, and therefore worked with a young architectural student from a university in Slovenia to design the labels with their abstract artwork and was going to use the Montebello name on them…before that company saw the Velier catalogue, had a lawyer issue a cease and desist order, and that plan had to change on the spot.  So after considering and rejecting the name “Renegade” (maybe that would also have created problems) the label was quickly amended to “Basseterre” and so it was issued.

Anecdotes aside, what have we got here? A Guadeloupe column-distilled 49.2% ABV rhum from the Carrere distillerie more commonly called Montebello, located just a little south of Petit Bourg and in operation since 1930.  Curiously, it’s a blend: of rhum agricole (distilled from cane juice) and rhum traditionnel (distilled from molasses).  Aged…well, what is the age?  It was put in oak in 1997 then taken out of the barrels in 2006 (again, just like the 1997 edition) and placed in an inert vat until 2008 for the two divergent strains to marry.  So I’m calling it a nine year old, though one could argue it sat for 11 years even if it was just twiddling its thumbs for two. And as noted above, there’s a reason why Sylvain’s name is on the back label, so now you know pretty much the same story as me.

Even now I remember being enthused about the 1995, though it had issues with how it opened.  That level of uncouth seemed to be under greater control here – it was somewhat sharp, sweet and salty at the same time, just not in a messy way.  The lighter sweet started to become more noticeable after it began to morph into honey and floral notes, plus anise, a little cumin, and softer, riper fruits such as bananas.  Under that was a nice counterpoint of well-behaved (if the term could be applied without smiling) acetone and rubber and an odd ashy kind of smell which was quite intriguing.  In fine, the nose was a really nice and complex to a fault, quite impressive.

I also had no fault to find with the palate which reminded me right off of creamy Danish cookies and a nice Guinness.  A little malty in its own way. It was very clear and crisp to taste, with brine, aromatic herbs (dill, parsley, coriander), spices (cumin leavened with a dusting of nutmeg), honey, unsweetened yoghurt, and a light vein of citrus, out of which emerged, at the end, some coffee grounds and fleshy, ripe fruits, all of which was summed up in a really good fade, dry and well balanced, that went on for a surprisingly long time, giving up gradually diminishing notes of anise, coffee, fruits and a little citrus.

The rum really was quite a good one, better than the 1995, I’d suggest, because somehow the complexity was better handled and it was faintly richer. It’s great that they are not well known, which keeps them available and reasonably priced to this day, but it’s too bad there were only two of these made, because unlike the Demeraras or Caronis there is not a great level of comparability to go on with.  Be that as it may, the fact remains that these smaller editions of more limited bottlings — which don’t have the hype or the glory of the great series for which Velier is justly famed — are like Stephen King’s short stories tossed off between better known doorstopper novels like “It”, “Duma Key”, “The Stand” or The Gunslinger Cycle. Yet can we truly say that “Quitters Inc” “The Ledge” or “Crouch End” are somehow less?  Of course not. This thing is a sweet, intense song on the “B” side of a best selling 45 – perhaps not as good as the bestseller which fronts it, but one which all aficionados of the band can justly appreciate. And speaking for myself, I have no problem with that at all.


Other notes

  • Outturn is unknown
  • Background history of the company can be found at the bottom of the 1995 review
Feb 202018

Rumaniacs Review #074 | 0490

Almost the last of the Neissons in the current Rumaniacs lineup – and nothing at all wrong with this one either, because Neisson’s overall quality has been remarkably consistent throughout the various samples, and while there are variations in minor points throughout, the bottom line is that aged or young, strong or easy, they are all – all – of a high standard.  My love for French Island rums trends more towards Guadeloupe, but if I ever saw a Neisson from Martinique sitting on the shelf, it would always be one I gave serious consideration to buying, because I know it’ll be a cut above the ordinary, every time, no matter which one it happens to be.

Colour – Dark Gold

Strength – 45.8%

Nose – It’s hot on the initial nose, this one, quite spicy, with bitter chocolate, coffee grounds and salt caramel notes to lead in with. As is normal, resting for a few minutes allows the secondary aromas to come forward – peaches, apricots, ripe red cherries, anise and a background line of citrus and unsweetened yoghurt.  Some tequila, salt and dark damp Demerara sugar, just a bit

Palate – Umm, I like this one.  More chocolate, a little sweet – it’s warm to taste, but the spice and sharp has been dialled down some.  Sweet soya, orange peel, also coke and fanta (a kind of soda pop taste), more coffee grounds, and very little of the more herbal, grassy flavour, though some of that does poke its head up here or there like a shy gopher from its hole.  There’s also some camphor like medicine to be noted, leavened with softer hints of coconut cream and maybe bananas.

Finish – Short and easy, caramel and citrus that remind me of those chocolate oranges.  It’s a little sharp, adding a few extra fruits and lemon grass to round out the experience.

Thoughts – Some issues with the assembly here.  Not entirely enthused about the way all the various flavours careen off each other instead of holding hands and coming together. It may also be the brashness of high-spirited youth where heat and spice and integration are still being worked on.  But what the hell.  It’s still a pretty decent and complex dram for anyone who enjoys the style.