Jun 192016
 

K&S 12 YO 1

Not a bah-humbug rum…more like something of a “meh”.

(#280 / 81/100)

***

I have an opinion on larger issues raised by this rum and others like it, but for the moment let’s just concentrate on the review before further bloviating occurs. Kirk and Sweeney is a Dominican Republic originating rum distilled and aged in the DR by Bermudez (one of the three Big Bs of Barcelo, Bermudez and Brugal) before being shipped off to California for bottling by 35 Maple Street, the spirits division of The Other Guy (a wine company).  And what a bottle it is – an onion bulb design, short and chubby and very distinctive, with the batch and bottle number on the label.  That alone makes it stand out on any shelf dominated by the standard bottle shapes. It is named after a Prohibition-era schooner which was captured by the Coast Guard in 1924 and subsequently turned into a training vessel (and renamed), which is just another marketing plug meant to anchor the rum to its supposed piratical and disreputable antecedents.

Dark orange in colour, bottled at 40%, the K&S is aged for 12 years in the usual American oak casks.  Where all that ageing went is unclear to me, because frankly, it didn’t have a nose worth a damn.  Oak?  What oak? Smelling it revealed more light vanilla and butterscotch than anything else, with attendant toffee and ice cream.  It was gentle to a fault, and so uncomplex as to be just about boring…there was nothing new here at all. “Dull” one commentator remarked. Even the Barcelo Imperial exhibited more courage, wussy as it was.

K&S 12 YO 2To taste it was marginally better, if similarly unadventurous. Medium bodied, with an unaggressive profile, anchored by a backbone of vanilla and honey.  There was a bit of the oak tannins here, fiercely controlled as to be almost absent; not much else of real complexity. Some floral notes, cinnamon, plums and richer fruits could be discerned, but they were never allowed to develop properly, or given their moment in the sun – the primary vanilla and butterscotch was simply too dominating (and for a rum that was as easy going as this one, that’s saying a lot).  The Brugal 1888 exhibited a similar structure, but balanced things off  a whole lot better. Maybe it was just me – I simply didn’t see where all the ageing went, and there was little satisfaction at the back end which was short, soft as a feather pillow, and primarily (you guessed it) toffee and cocoa and more vanilla. 

So the rum lacks the power and jazz and ever-evolving taste profile that I mark more highly, and overall it’s just not my speed.  Note, however, that residents in the DR prefer lighter, softer rums (which can be bottled at 37.5%) and its therefore not beyond the pale for K&S rum to reflect their preference since (according to one respected correspondent of mine) the objective here is to make an authentic, genuine DR rum.  And that, it is argued, they have achieved, and I have to admit – whatever my opinion of it is, it’s also a very affordable, very drinkable rum that many will appreciate because of that same laid back, chill-out nature to which I’m so indifferent.  Just because it doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean a lot of people aren’t going to like it. Not everyone has to like full proof rums, and not everyone will ever be able to afford indie outturns of a few hundred bottles, if they can even get them; and frankly not everyone wants a vibrating seacan of oomph landing on their palate.  For such people, then, this rum is just peachy. For me, it just isn’t, perhaps because I’m not looking for rums that try to please everyone, are too easy and light, and don’t provide any challenge or true points of interest.

Opinion: you can disregard this section

Years of drinking rums from across the spectrum leads me to believe that there’s something more than merely cultural that stratifies the various vocal tribes of rummies. It is a divide between rum Mixers and rum Drinkers, between bourbon fanciers moving into rums versus hebridean maltsters doing the same (with new rum evangelists jumping on top of both), all mixed up with a disagreement among three additional groups: lovers of those rums made by micro-distillers in the New World, aficionados of country-wide major brands, and fans of the independent “craft” bottlers. Add to that the fact that people not unnaturally drink only what they can find in their local likker establishment, and what that translates into is a different ethos of what each defines as a quality rum, and is also evident in the different strengths that each regards as standard, and so the concomitant rums they seemingly prefer.

That, in my opinion goes a far way to explaining why a rum like the K&S is praised by many in the New World fora as a superb rum…while some of the Old World boyos who are much more into cask strength monsters made by independent bottlers, smile, shrug and move on, idly wondering what the fuss is all about.  Because on one level the K&S is a perfectly acceptable rum, while on another it really isn’t…which side of the divide you’re on will likely dictate what your opinion of it and others like it, is.

Other notes

  • I actually think it’s closer to a solera in taste profile – the Opthimus 18 was what I thought about – but all online literature says it is really aged for twelve years.
  • Bottle purchased in 2013…I dug it out of storage while on a holiday back in Canada in 2016
  • K&S also produces an 18 and 23 year old version.

 

Sep 062013
 

D7K_2901

 

A subtle, supple rum, undone by a lack of courage

(#178. 78/100)

***

Consider for a moment my score on the Barceló Imperial. A 78 rating for me is a decent rum, if nothing to write home about. For a premium product, it’s something of a surprise – so here I should state straight out that that score reflects primarily its lesser proof and maybe excessive ladling in of sugar, not any other intrinsic quality. Frankly, it could have been higher.

When I originally read the Barceló Imperial review from Josh Miller at Inu A Kena, I immediately fired off post on his site to ask him whether he got the 38% version I had been avoiding for over a year in Calgary, or whether he had something a shade more torqued up. Because when I’m springing for something that is being touted as a premium (even if I didn’t in this case), I’d rather have a rum that’s…well, a real rum. As it turns out, his was indeed 40%, while the one that Jay of Liquorature trotted out on my last meeting of the Collective prior to absconding, was the lesser proofed bottling.

You’d think that this 2% difference is minimal, but nope. It really isn’t. Consider first the nose on this attractively packaged, sleek looking bottle. Soft as sea breezes, sweet with scents of molasses, cashews (white ones), caramel, prunes and almonds…but all very quiet, slumbering almost, as delicate as the frangipani and white flowers which it called to memory. No intensity here at all, which is where it went south for me, trying to be attractive and pleasant to nose, but somewhat emasculated by a vague cloying sweetness.

This gentleness was mirrored in the taste and the feel on the palate as well. It was soft, warm, billowy, aromatic. It loved me and wanted to share its feelings. Toffee, slight citrus notes, apples and pears led off, with slowly emerging caramel and almonds following on. The mouthfeel was surprisingly “thick” — that’s the added sugar again — and that lesser alcohol content also made it somewhat (disappointingly) bland. Still, I must concede that the balance of the muskier, smokier, deeper sugar tones with the slightly acidic citrus and faint astringency was rather well done. The finish, which came as no surprise, was short, providing a closing sense of nuts and molasses.

D7K_2896

So all in all, a decent product, as I said, perhaps a shade too sweet for some, too damped down for others, even though there is some complexity hiding underneath. People who go in for softer rums, perhaps soleras or liqueurs, would have no problem drinking this one, I think. Those preferring a more aggressive disposition will disagree (I am one of these). I mean, this is touted as a premium rum, and its sexy shape and packaging reflect that, even if its price (around $50 in my location) seems somewhat low. Part of this might be its ageing, which is uncertain – I’ve read claims of components in the blend being as much as 6 or as much as 10 years, but since the official website makes no statement on the matter at all, I’d suggest that Barceló may still be tinkering with it and aren’t ready to make a definitive statement…yet.

One characteristic of underproofed products is that you get the taste without the strength; with added sugar you get thickness without complexity;  and this is like gorging on white bread, or a cheap hamburger – a few minutes later the taste is gone, you’re hungry again, there’s no buzz in sight, and you’re unfulfilled, wanting more. If that’s what Barceló are trying to do, all I can say is that they’ve succeeded swimmingly, ‘cause that bottle of yours is going to be finished in no time. Still, I wonder what my malt swilling amigos would make of this rum, those gentlemen who inhale aged cask-strength whiskies by the caseload and can barely sniff standard proof drinks without being snooty about it. I think they would probably make similar comments to mine – interesting notes, some delicacy harnessed to artistry in service of a fine sipping dram. But I’m sure they’d also say, sorry Ruminsky, we like you and all, but there’s just not enough buxom in the bodice and backside in the bustle, to make this rum worth lusting after.


Other Notes

Barceló hails from the Dominican Republic, where it shares the island with the other two “B”s – Bermudez and Brugal. They have been in business since 1930, when Julian Barceló (a Mallorcan emigre) founded the company, and Spain remains one of its primary markets, though they ship rum to some fifty countries these days.

 

Jun 252013
 

D3S_6879

A subtle, complex, tasty sipping rum

(#170. 85/100)

***

You don’t see many of the Brugal rums here — I’ve only ever reviewed one of them, years ago when I was starting to populate the site: that one got a review, a shrug and a meh (which in retrospect may have been a touch condescending, as was my initial scoring), and I remember it principally because of its really lovely finish. The 1888 Ron Gran Reserva Familiar is something else again, and perhaps it’s sad that we don’t get to see more shops carrying it, ‘cause it’s a pretty nifty drink, and deserves its accolades.

The Brugal 1888 is a fascinating synthesis of odd subtleties and traditional strengths that displays a solid character when matched against the other bottles I had on the table that day (the BBR Fiji 8 year old and the Plantation Barbados 5 year old, both of which it outclassed). Right off I admired the blue cardboard box, the elegant tall bottle and the metal tipped cork, because unlike my friend the Bear, I always did enjoy nifty presentation, and feel that special editions or top end products deserve no less even if it does mean a few extra pesos tacked on to the price (note that said Bear does not object to the extra pesos as long as he’s not forking out the dinero himself, and smiles like a cherubic Buddha whenever I do, as he helps himself to a taste).

The first thing I noted on the nose of this mahogany red rum was its clean lightness, redolent of coffee grounds, cocoa and dark chocolate, vanilla (not quite as evident as the Plantation), all mixed up with light floral hints, and a touch of blue or black grapes, apricots and nuts. And a dusting of cinnamon so light it almost wasn’t there. At 40% I wasn’t expecting a rampaging series of flavours to reach out and scratch my face off, and I didn’t get that, just a pleasant, orderly parade of notes, one after the other, which gracefully made themselves known before bowing out to permit the next one in line to have its moment.

 D3S_6877

The medium light body was warm, but in no way overly spicy, more like a verbal dig in the ribs from a friend, spoken without malice – in fact it was smooth, and dry, but not briny or astringent in any way. Light chopped apples mixed it up with vanilla, kiwi fruits and freshly sliced papaya. And it was smooth, very nicely so, delivering further notes of white flowers, pears, some burnt sugar, caramel (not much), butterscotch wound about with a touch of oak. All in all it was a cornucopia of subtle flavours coming together really well, with a clean exit, a little astringent and dry, lasting well and providing a last creamy breath of all the pleasant rum notes described above. No, it doesn’t have the growling power of darker, stronger (or older) Jamaicans or Guyanese rums, but I don’t think that’s how they envisaged it to begin with. It just was (and is) a really well put together sipping rum of some…calmness.

The source of its rather rich set of flavours of the Brugal 1888 derives from its double maturation, once in the standard American white oak casks that once held bourbon, the second in European oak casks once used for maturing sherry (that’s where all those fruity notes come from): if Brugal’s marketing is to be believed, McCallan’s own Master of Wood was instrumental in handpicking the casks, and the end product is a blend of rums aged five to fourteen years – that would, to purists who insist that any blend be age-labelled based on the youngest part of the blend, make it a five year old, but y’know, even if Brugal themselves make no such distinction…man, what a five year old it is.

 D3S_6876

Brugal is one of the 3 B’s of the Dominican Republic (eastern half of Hispaniola island…the west is Haiti) – Brugal, Bermudez and Barcelo – and probably the largest. The company was formed in 1888 by Don Andres Brugal, and is now considering itself the #3 rum maker in the world by volume…again, if promo materials are to be believed. However, when you consider that #1 is Bacardi, #2 is probably the Tanduay, then that leaves Havana Club, Captain Morgan and McDowell scrabbling for the next three places…Brugal is somewhat of a lesser player compared to these behemoths, in my opinion, so you’ll forgive me for taking that remark with some salt.

Still, sales volume and their place in the rankings is not my concern. My issue is the character of this rum from the perspective of a consumer, and which in this case I enjoyed and liked and appreciated. Anniversary offerings are traditionally good rums with an extra fillip of quality: the Brugal 1888 succeeds on many levels, is a very good sipping rum, and a worthwhile addition to any rum lover’s cabinet. I’d buy it again without hesitation, to drink when I’m not on top of the world, perhaps (I have the full-proof Demeraras for that), but certainly when I’m feeling a little more relaxed and at ease with the state of my life.

Other Notes

Since 2008, Brugal has been owned by the Edrington Group, the same parent company as MacCallan’s and Highland Park. That might account for the sherry maturation philosophy and the source of the barrels I noted above.

The company’s literature remarks that this is a rum for whisky lovers (which I assume would be the bourbon boys, not the Hebridean maltsters).

 

Apr 072013
 

D7K_6415-001

38% weakling, of pleasant taste approaching real complexity, but with no real assertiveness.

(#153. 78/100)

***

Originating in the Dominican Republic (home of the Brugal, Bermudez and Barcelo brands), the Opthimus 18 artestinal rum is a solera rum, quite good, but too weak for me. It’s made, like the excellent Solera 25 whisky-finished version, by the firm of Oliver and Oliver, a company in existence since the mid 19th century and founded by the Cuban family of Juanillo Oliver, a Catalan/Mallorcan emigre. Abandoning Cuba in 1959, members of the family re-established the company in the early nineties in the DR after finding the supposed original recipe for their forebears’ rum. They also produce the Opthimus 15 (which may be the best of the lot simply because it is a shade younger and has therefore not been smoothened out so much as to eviscerate its more complex nature). The 18 I tasted was bottle 4 of 316 in the 2011 production run, and cost €65 for the 500ml bottle pictured above.

The 18 twitches all too feebly. The nose, in spite of the rum’s relatively weak knees, did try its best to kick a bit, and evinced notes of cinnamon and breakfast spices, together with a faintly musty air, like biscuits and straw; a vegetal sort of nose, deepening gradually into caramel and burnt sugar notes. Quite gentle, all in all, with no heat or burn to turn one off, yet also lacking in a strong kind of aroma that would have made it score more highly.Want to know why I disdain underpfoof rums? Look no further, as this is a good example of the thinness and overall wussiness I don’t care for in rums (but full disclosure – my preferences run more to beefcakes greater than 40% these days, so your mileage may vary)..

The palate offered no real redemption. What struck me as sad about it was simply that while it tasted pretty good, had a scintillating background complexity that strove to emerge and recall the potential of both the 25 and the 15, it was too scrawny on the body and too weak on the taste buds to really tug at the senses; and therefore it could not offer a strong, assertive profile that would have made me appreciate it more. Caramel, sweet brown sugar, bananas and softer, riper fleshy fruits, some nutmeg and cinnamon and lemon grass, quite faint. Finish was short, aromatic, but like a one night stand, gave too little and was gone too quickly, taking your hard earned money with it.

D7K_6414

Opthimus 18 is aged by ex-Cuban master blenders via a solera process for eighteen years in total (so the oldest part of the blend will be that old, not the youngest). Oliver & Oliver uses rum stocks bought elsewhere, and ages them in oak barrels prior to final issue: they also have brands like Cubaney, Quohrum and Unhiq in the stable, though I have yet to try any of them, and they act as third part blenders to other companies as well. Given the plaudits they’ve received from other reviewers, all I can conclude that this is the runt of the litter, and somewhat of an aberration.

Summing up, a rum like this leaves me with too little. Those of you who bemoan my verbosity and essays that never end will love this one, because beyond the bare bones tasting notes, and my personal opinion, there’s not much I can give you. This solera rum shows all the evidence of being well made and well crafted, yet sinks itself at the end by not having the strength to go with its potential. In essence, then, this is an Opthimus that has yet to develop into a Prime.

***

 In this case, drinking it neat is recommended, it’s good enough for that. My relatively low score reflects a dissatisfaction with intensity and firmness of the tasting elements.

 

 

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