Oct 282018
 

Rumaniacs Review #85 | 0561

There are three operations making rum in Grenada – Westerhall, Rivers Antoine and Clarke’s Court, the last of which was formed in 1937, operating under the umbrella of the Grenada Sugar Factory (the largest on the island) and named after an estate of the same name in the southern parish of St. George’s.  This title in turn derived from two separate sources: Gedney Clarke, who bought the Woodlands estate from the French in the late 1700s, and a bay called “Court Bay” included with the property (this in turn was originally titled “Watering Bay” because of the fresh water springs, but how it came to change to Court is not recorded). The company sold rums with names like Tradewinds and Red Neck before the Clarke’s Court moniker became the standard and I’m still trying to find out when that happened.

References to Kalypso, a 67.5% white overproof, exist until the late 1990s when it was marketed concurrently with the 69% Pure White Rum, but I can find no trace subsequent to that, and the company website makes no mention of it in the current lineup of their rums.  So I am assuming (subject to further info becoming available) that the two were similar enough in profile and strength for the production of the Kalypso to be discontinued in favour of the better known and maybe better-selling Pure. The rum is unaged and column still produced (the current distillery was constructed in the 1970s and utilizes a John Dore two-column, continuous-distillation still).

Colour – White

Strength 67.5%

Nose – Sharp and very aggressive, not surprising for that strength.  Also quite aromatic – esters, and nail polish, strawberries, pears and sour cream, to begin with.  It smells rather lighter than it is, and sweeter than it tastes, which is nice.  Leaving it to open up results in additional smells of sugar water, nutmeg and the slight bite of ginger.

Palate – Whew.  Pungent is the word to use here.  Some plastic and furniture polish, a little brine.  Most of all the light clear sweetness from the nose comes through and remains firmly in place – pears, watermelon, white guavas, papayas, with the spiced notes of nutmeg and ginger also remaining in the profile.

Finish – Hot and long lasting of course, no surprises there. Mostly light fruit and some aromatic flowers.

Thoughts – The Kalypso lacks the fierce individualism of pot still whites and really doesn’t class with the same company’s Pure White Rum which is an order of magnitude more pungent.  But it’s not bad, and taken with coconut water, bitters, cola or whatever else, it’ll juice up a mix with no problems at all, which is hardly surprising since that’s precisely what it was made for. Too bad it’s no longer available.

(80/100)

 

Apr 252018
 

#505

On initial inspection, Rivers Royale Grenadian Rum – a white overproof – is not one of the first rums you’d immediately think of as a representation of its country, its style, or a particular type — perhaps Westerhall or Clarke’s Court are more in your thoughts.  It is made in small quantities at River Antoine on  the spice island of Grenada, is rarely found outside there, and even though it can be bought on the UK site Masters of Malt, it barely registers on the main bloggers’ review sites.

Yet anyone who tries it swears by it.  I’ve never seen a bad write-up, by anyone. And there are a several aspects of this rum which, upon closer inspection, reveal why it should be considered as part of the Grenadian pantheon and on any list of Key Rums, even if it is so relatively unknown.  

For one thing, there’s it’s artisinal production.  Almost alone in the English-speaking Caribbean, River Antoine adheres to very old, manual forms of rum making.  The sugar cane is free from fertilizers, grown right there (not imported stock), crushed with a water wheel – perhaps the oldest working one remaining in the world – and the source of the rum is juice, not molasses. Fermented for up to eight days without added yeast – natural fermentation via wild bacteria only – in huge open-air vats and transferred to an old John Dore copper pot still (a new one was added in the 1990s).  No additives of any kind, no filtration, no ageing. They are among the most natural rums in the world and the white, which is supposedly drawn off the still at a staggering 89% ABV and bottled at 69% to facilitate transport by air, is among the most flavourful whites I’ve ever tried, and thought so even back in 2010 when I first got knocked off my chair with one.

There’s also the whole business of heritage.  In the geek rumiverse, it’s common knowledge that Mount Gay’s paperwork shows it as dating back to 1703 – though it was almost certainly making rum for at least fifty years before that – and River Antoine is by contrast a relative johnny-come-lately, being founded in 1785. The key difference is that Rivers (as it is locally referred to) is made almost exactly the way it was at the beginning, never relocated, never really changed its production methodology and is even using some of the same facilities and equipment. So if your journey along the road of discovery is taking you into the past and you want to know more about “the old way” and don’t want to go to Haiti, then Grenada may just be the place to go.

These points segue neatly into an emerging (if still small) movement of fair trading, organic ingredients and eco-friendly production methodologies.  By those standards, and bearing in mind the points above, Rivers must be a poster child for the eco-movement, like Cape Verde, Haiti and other places where rumtime seems to have slowed down to a crawl and nobody ever saw any reason to go modern.

But is it any good?  I thought so eight years ago, and in a recent, almost accidental retasting, my initially high opinion has been reconfirmed.  At 69%, unaged, unfiltered, untamed, I knew that not by any stretch of the imagination was I getting a smooth and placid cocktail ingredient, and I didn’t – it was more like getting assaulted by a clairin.  It started out with all the hallmarks of a Jamaican or Haitian white popskull – glue, acetone, vinegar, olives and brine exploded across the nose, pungent, deep and very hot. And it didn’t stop there – as it rested and then opened up, crisper and clearer notes came out to party – watermelons, pickled gherkins and sugar cane sap, married to drier, mustier aromas of cereal, old books, fresh baked bread, light fruits and even some yeast.  Weird, no?

As for the taste, well…whew! The palate did not slow down the slightest bit from the jagged assault of the nose but went right in. Although the initial entry was just short of crazy – “like drinking ashes and water and licking an UHU glue stick” my notes go – this offbeat profile actually developed quite well. It turned dry, minerally, the fruitiness and citrus zest took something a back seat, and it took some time to recalibrate to this. Once that settled down the fruits emerged from hiding — cherries, some guavas and yellow mangoes, orange peel, light florals…but the crazy never entirely went away, because there were also hints of gasoline and a salt lick, and the sort of binding adhesive you can occasionally smell in brand new glossy magazines (I know of no other way to describe this, honestly).  And of course the exit is quite epic – a long, searing acid fart that blows fumes of acetone, citrus, brine and deeper fruits down your throat.

This rum is like a lot of very good whites on the market right now: Rum Fire, the Sajous, Toucan, J.B White, to name just a few. Quite aside from the heritage, the history, the production and eco-friendly nature of it, the rum is simply and powerfully an amazing original even when rated against those on the list of 21 Great Whites.  It’s not a rum that apologizes for its sense of excitement, or attempts to buffer itself with a standard profile in an effort to win brownie points with the larger audience.  It is maddeningly, surely, simply itself — and while I admit that strong whites are something of a thing for me personally (and not for people who like quieter, simpler or sweeter rums), I can’t help but suggest there’s so much going on with this one that it has to be tried by rum lovers at least once.

Luca and others have told me that River Antoine are having some issues maintaining the old water wheel and the open-air vats, and repairs are continuously being made. There are rumours of upgrading the equipment, perhaps even modernizing here or there.  I’m selfish, and I hope they manage to keep the old system going – because yes, they can make their rums faster, more easily, and issue more of them. But given the old-school quality of what I tried, the sheer force and fury and potency of what they’re already doing, I somehow wonder if anything modern they do will necessarily be better…or be regarded as a Key Rum. The way I regard this one.

(85/100)

Mar 262013
 

First posted 12 March 2011 on Liquorature

One of the acclaimed limited edition bottlings from Bruichladdich, it will remind you of a dry rye, and is a rum worth your buck; deep, tasty with complex flavour and taste.  It’s long lasting on the palate, but not in the company of your friends.

(#068. 84.5/100)

***

A few days ago I was on the Ministry of Rum, and a guy there proudly announced that he had just bought all twenty bottles of the current Renegade line.  All twenty!!? I’ve only ever seen four in this whole country.  You can imagine with what envy I regarded that little announcement.  I mean, I have relatives in Deutschland and I suppose I can get a few that way, but it just strikes me as wrong somehow that I can’t get a larger selection of these intriguing rums in the only unregulated province in Canada.

Ever since I saw the first sand-blasted bottle of the Renegade line with its metal dog tag, I’ve admired the product line.  Not always appreciated it as much as I should have (chalk that down to lack of experience).  But definitely admired the concept: a whisky maker with a great reputation making rums. And pretty interesting rums at that – rums that strike a newbie rum lover raised on the Bacardis and Appletons as dry and not as sweet as he’s used to, perhaps…but rums that grow on you after a bit, like this one and all its brothers, sisters and cousins did.

The maturation in bourbon casks is only part of the equation, because the Grenada 1996 is then finished in Haute Brion casks, and it shows. The nose was just heavenly: toffee, pineapple, caramel, come first, with – what was that? cheddar? – citrus and burnt sugar emerging later to mix gently with a marshmallow softness that tamped down the spirit burn of a 46% spirit.  I’ve never been convinced that a spirit should be 46% or greater, though I’ve had my share of cask strength rums, and the occasional whisky: still, I might want to make exceptions here or there. The extra strength imparted a deeper and more complex flavour to the aroma than I had expected, and you’d probably like it as long as you’re prepared to tolerate a little more heat and spice than normal at the inception. I seem to recall I made a similar observation about overproofs once or twice.

Spice or not, heat or not, I simply could not complain about the flavour and feel on the tongue. The thing felt like a rye, though a bit drier, just enough sweet, and it leaves a coating on the tongue that is oily and long lasting (this is probably a direct result of the policy of un-chill filtering which leaves the taste-enhancing oils intact in the spirit) . There’s leather, a hint of cedar wood and always, that slightly floral and cherry hint descending from the Haut Brion casks (I may be reaching here).  And I got breakfast spice, cinnamon, caramel and chocolate; yes it’s spicy and burning on the fade and even before, but in a good way.  Curt and I had a long discussion on what heat, spice or burn actually mean in the context of a review, how it should be rated and to what degree it impacts on one’s enjoyment. In this case, I’ll just say that it was mellow and deep and not remotely reminiscent of my wife giving me a hard time after an all night bender when I pour myself through the door and can’t remember the names of the kids. Seriously.

Cask finishing seems to be an upcoming thing right now.  Of course, whiskies have always had variations which were matured in (for example) sherry casks, and rums have a few courageous souls here and there who do a double ageing, once in oak and once in something else (Ron Zacapa 23 is a good example of this idea). But Murray MacDavid of Bruichladdich may have taken the concept a few notches further up the scale by buying up very specific estates’ rums and then enhancing them in some pretty awesome wine casks. This Grenada variant was completed in Haute Brion casks; it comes from the Westerhall distillery, active since 1766, and which these days makes only 3 barrels a day from a copper pot still. The stock was bought and then the casks shipped to Islay for ageing and final completion (and I’m still kinda pissed that the Hippie, when he was there, utterly ignored this aspect of Bruichladdich’s production and brought back no info on their philosophy regarding it). It’s pretty damned good, is a one line summary.

I think a sweet-toothed rum lover such as I has to grow into the Renegade rums. A year or two back, I reviewed two other variations, sniffed rather snootily and said the rums were too much like whiskies.  What a difference experience and the passing of time makes. The Renegade Grenada edition has shown me something of how different a rum can be from my own preconceptions, and yet still be enjoyable.  At ~$60-80 Canadian, it isn’t really for beginners wanting their first intro (my opinion).  But it – and its nineteen relatives in the line – may be the bridge for the truly interested person to broaden his palate to more interesting and offbeat variations…to the point where whiskies actually start to look really appealing and worth an occasional try.

Oh crap…Maltmonster and the Hippie are going to hang me with that.


Other Notes

In 2017 I wrote a biography of Renegade Rums which is useful background to this review

Mar 242013
 

First posted 2nd November 2010 on Liquorature.

(#046) (Unscored)

***

My trip to Toronto last October permitted me to taste rums that never would have made it to Calgary (one or two would never have made it anywhere), and since my circle of friends is admittedly small, and few of those travel to rum producing states, it’s not as if I would have gotten any of the last five subjects of my reviews from them either.  So kudos and thanks one last time to John, who opened his cabinet to my inquiring snoot, and let’s get to the review of the last rum in this decidedly odd series.

Rivers Royale is from the Spice Island, as is the Clarke’s Court, though River Antoine Estate Distillery is in Saint Andrew’s Parish on the Northeast coast of Grenada, while Clarke’s is from the south…apparently there is healthy competition for bragging rights on the island as to which is stronger (both are white overproofs), or simply better. Because I had the “bush” variation of the Clarke’s (which was, by the way, quite good), and because Antoine’s white lightning has a surpisingly robust flavor profile for an overproof, I’m not going to get in the middle of that particular dispute except to make this observation: Rivers is made the same way as it was way back in 1785 when the place was founded.

On the smaller islands like Grenada, commercial cane production is a thing of the past (partly this is a space issue, partly it’s the economics of world sugar trade), and most distilleries import molasses or raw rum stock from other places with more space available for economical cane cultivation (like Guyana)…except for River Antoine. These local lads don’t muck about.  They cultivate their own cane, reap it, process it and make the rum like they always made it, crushing the cane with a press whose motive power is drawn from an old waterwheel, concentrating the juice in open vats (John, who’s been there, noted rather sourly that it’s not impossible for bat guano to be a part of the mix, but I digress) then boiling it down in cast iron pots over an open fire fed by the cane remnants.

After fermentation, the resultant is distilled in an ancient copper pot still (copper supposedly imparts better (and subtler) flavours to the distillate than stainless steel)…the entire process takes abut ten days from cane to finished product.

It’s perhaps the only remaining distillery in the Caribbean that can make the boast of using such old fashioned technology, and it’s quite a tourist draw. What you get if you go to the estate-cum-distillery in person (and at factory prices, apparently) is the local version, bottled straight out of the still, at about 75-80% alcohol (stories vary), which is to say 150-160 degrees proof. I won’t swear to it, but I think John had the real McCoy, not the watered down version sold to western homeys so they can get through customs, and I say that because it was an overproof for sure, complete with the deep burn and raw sting of real moonshine…though I gotta tell you, surprisingly robust flavours came through.

The clear liquor I tasted that night had a medium body, with middling legs in my glass. The claws struck at my nose without hesitation, but after my eyes stopped watering and I rolled my medium rare tongue back off the floor, what I got was a rather welcome waft of…well, schnapps. A slightly floral hint.  Salt, brine, olives. As I’ve noted before, I don’t spend too much time trying to taste test an overproof, neat or otherwise, because the spirit burns out anything I might think I’m tasting (or which my imagination conjures up for me as my stomach ties itself up in complex knots and I try to turn myself inside out): on the other hand, I have to say that I don’t know what they did down there in Granada, but if you stick with Rivers Royale, you will taste cherries, fruit, maybe some orange peel.  Quite amazing.  And as for the finish, well, come on…who’re you kidding?  On an overproof?  It’s a potent likker with real power behind dem claws, and it sears deeply, and farts acid, but not in a way that makes you scream: it sure ain’ smooth like a more commercial rum, and that’s the best I can do for you.

There’s something about the overall interaction of all elements of this overproof that works for me, though. I liked the hand drawn, unpretentious label.  I liked the title itself, that air of old time creole French, and the old-fashioned way it was made. I liked the rum. It’s potent likker, and will singe your throat (and eyebrows if you’re not careful). It’s absolutely an island product and I don’t care what anyone says, for me it’s not really a true commercial export product that will one day show up in Calgary (import, strength and quality regulations probably won’t allow it) – I consider it one of those backwoods bashwars you’ll find as you tour the Caribbean, locally made and locally consumed, unpretentious and not giving a damn, rude and cheerful and unsophisticated, and quite simply, one of the best rums you’ve ever tried…one those rums you’ll be happy you’ve had once you’ve had it and will remember with a smile forever.

Mar 242013
 

 

Clarke's Court Pure White Rum, Clarke's Court

First posted 21 October, 2010.

(#041)(Unscored)

A strong white overproof, of which not much can be said, since I had an adulterated version: but that “bush” is one of the most evocative, crazy experiences I’ve ever had, and if you brave the Spice Island to get some, more power to you.

***

I have never had a rum like this one, and I know that 99.99% of the people reading this (even if you’re from the Caribbean) haven’t either.  No, really.  When was the last time you a had a 138 proof rum with what looks suspiciously like a worm floating in it?  I know for damn sure I’ve never even seen one like it (and maybe never will again).

Now let’s be clear about one thing.  The real Clarke’s is a legitimate overproof white lightning made in Grenada by the Grenada Sugar Factory since 1937, and is apparently the most popular rum on the Spice Island, best had with some Angostura bitters (the 43% darker rums made here are supposedly for the ladies, who “prefer gentler rums”).  Local wags claim it’ll add hair to your chest, strip the paint off anything, and can run your car if you don’t have any petrol. Older ladies use it as a rub. The commercial rums of this distillery have actually won several awards for excellence. However, what *I* had was – how do I put it – a refined variant of the standard recipe.  In a word, I had the “bush” (and that’s why I’m also not scoring it). How it got into the kitchen of one of my oldest long-distance friends is a question best left unaddressed.

Note the additives…

 

Bush of course has a long and honoured tradition in the West Indies.  We called it “bashwar” in the jungle camps I used to work in, always had a 45-gallon drum fermenting somepace, and as I noted in the Newfoundland Screech review, backyard variations are a fixture in the remoter areas of The Rock. You take your life in our hands when you drink some of this stuff, I told John, as he poured me a generous shot of a clear purple-brown rum. He grinned and turned the bottle, which no longer had a white rum in it, but a coloured liquid in which floated additional ingredients: leaves, bark, twigs, berries, and, yes, that plump worm.  I said a heartfelt prayer that the thing was dead, and knew right away that there was exactly zero point in attempting to review the rum the way I dealt with more commercial wares that actually pass a certification process of some kind.

The tasting of some new, as-yet-untasted rum of the cheaper type, no matter how it started life or ended up in my glass, is more an exercise in zen than anything else (hush, ye snickerers). It’s about feeling, about memory, about what it brings into your mind when you taste it (even if you immediately throw up afterwards). It’s about who you are and what  brought you to this place.

By that criteria, Clarke’s delivered in spades. After waving away the spirit fumes which evidently wanted my wife to collect on the insurance, I got a powerful scent of chemicals, and was transported to my boyhood in a flash.  It was the exact scent of the orange lye soap I grew up bathing with at a small stand pipe in the overgrown backyard of a small house we moved to in Georgetown’s Charles Street when I was nine. It was my aunt Sheila cutting up a tableful of fiery hot peppers at four in the morning to make into hot sauce. It was “It’s A Fact” at 645 in the morning on Radio Demerara, black pudd’n’ with plenty sour,  a hot curry with roti, a cookup with nuff nuff chili ‘pon  it.

And the taste, wow: sweet, brandy-like, fiery as all hell, and yet dusty too…old, aged, like a sleepy pre-Independence Georgetown dreaming in the sun under the Union Jack.  It was the memory of the dingy beer gardens my brother and I haunted on Broad Street, with bob-pieces given to us by our uncle Ronald to play pool with.  It was the smell of too many old pool tables with dead rails and old balls that barely bounced.  It was the smell of rum and stale beer and cigarette smoke and guys with no clear occupation playing cards or dominos in these places at ten in the morning while Roger and I shot a rack.  It was the deep smell of the old drugstore right down the street, now long gone, with chico sweets in rows of huge glass jars, plastic revolvers with rolls of caps from China, all mixed up with the odours of Limacol, drugs and prescriptions and memories of childhood when life looked sunny and summer holidays went on forever.

At 69%, you aren’t getting subtlety on the finish and I won’t pretend you will, or that Clarke’s bush variant even approximates that. But you know, all those herbs and crap in the bottle seem to have smoothened it out somewhat, taken the edge off, because the burn is deep and warm — and still with that elder dusty air wafting around in the back of your throat, like the times of our youth in a small town that you now no longer remember clearly, except in your dreams and fading memories.

I sort of likened the Bacardi 151 to a race car and wrote a good humoured review in that vein.  Clarke Court’s Pure White Rum (the bush variation) is not like that at all.  It’s strong and crazy and unique, and I didn’t think of speed or racing thunder at all when I tasted it — instead, the cars I got were the old taxis of Georgetown: Hillmans, Austins, and Morris Oxfords, with cracked vinyl upholstery and purring engines, and my brother and I jouncing around on a Saturday morning going with our mother to Bourda market to shop for fresh stuff. The rum may be raw, smelly, one-of-a-kind home-adapted hooch , and commercially unavailable in this iteration.  But the memories it evokes in this long departed Mudlander are priceless.