Jun 282020
 

On the first day and at the opening hour of the 2019 Berlin Rumfest, a motley collection of scruffy rum folks met at the back of the hall. Alex Sandu (the young Oxford-based Romanian barman who’s now making a name for himself on the Rum Barrel site) was talking with me about what it takes to manage and maintain a rum site. Indy and Jazz Singh of Rumcask and Skylark Spirits drifted by and sat down, and we all sighed rapturously with the memory of a rum session we had had at Lebensstern rum bar the evening before. Nicolai Wachmann, anonymous rum ninja from Denmark, having left us earlier to go look for junk food outside, rejoined us while still furiously chomping at the semi-masticated remains of his fifth burger, and we all amused ourselves shouting cheerful and childish insults at Gregers Nielsen, who was running the 1423 stand a few feet away. This is the way we soberly conscientious rum chums keep the flag of Rumdom flying high. People must know we take our duties seriously.

Things calmed down when Johnny Drejer approached, though, because in his fist he carried a bottle a lot of us hadn’t seen yet – the second in Romdeluxe’s “Wild Series” of rums, the Guyanese Enmore, with a black and white photo of a Jaguar glaring fiercely out. This was a 61.5% rum, 17 years old (2002 vintage, I believe), from one of the wooden stills (guess which?) — it had not formally gone on sale yet, and he had been presented with it for his 65th birthday a few days before (yeah, he looks awesome for his age).  Since we already knew of the elephantine proportions of the Wild Tiger Release 1, we all immediately tried to elbow each other out of the way in our hurry to thrust our glasses at him, and demanded our rightful shares. And to his credit, Johnny, gentleman to the last, shared generously without hesitation or charge before hastily retreating to more civilized areas of the ‘Fest where rabid aficionados would not assault his immaculate person or pinch his birthday prize, and might remember he was actually only 50.

Now, 61.5% might seem like a lot, and indeed — if you’re not ready for it —  it will try its best to take your face off. But nosing it with no more than the usual care suggests that it really is quite civilized…creamy, even.  Certainly one can inhale rich aromas of pencil shavings, butterscotch, sawdust and licorice, all standard for Enmore distillate. I can’t say I sensed much in the way of florals or citrus except as a brief background hint; most of the secondary wave consists of black bread, dark fruits, brie, cereals, almonds, anise and crushed walnuts. Maybe a whiff of mocha if you strain. 

All this is fairly common, even boilerplate. It’s on the palate that it rises to the occasion and shows some more chops.  Now the label notes it was primarily continentally aged so some tropical ageing can be inferred; it’s just shy of hot on the tongue, extremely robust, and very tasty indeed…yet also not rough or sharp.  You can taste unsweetened chocolate, anise, blancmange, salted caramel and coffee grounds to start with, and as it relaxes and opens up and you get used to its bold profile, musky, dark fruits like raisins, prunes, not very sweet but with a lot of body.  I like the damp sawdust and licorice, the way I always do in an Enmore-still rum, and the long, fragrant finish was pleasant to a fault.  Johnny, who had measured the strength of the rum and was mentioned on the label, had gotten himself a pretty nice dram.

Romdeluxe in Denmark is – or started out as – more a commercial rum club that makes private label bottlings and runs promotions, than a true independent bottler — but since they have issued several releases, I’ll call them an indie and move right on from there.  Their “Wild Series” of rums has evinced a lot of attention, not just because of its variety but because of the beauty of the stark black and white photography of the large cats with which they adorn their products.  

So far there is a tiger (R1 Hampden, Jamaica), jaguar (R2 Enmore, Guyana), puma (R3 Panama), black panther (R4 Belize), lion (R5, Bellevue, Guadeloupe) and leopard (R6 Caroni, Trinidad). I don’t know whether the photos are commissioned or from a stock library – what I do know is they are very striking, and you won’t be passing these on a shelf any time you see one.  The stats on some of these rums are also quite impressive – take, for example, the strength of the Wild Tiger (85.2% ABV), or the age of the Wild Lion (25 years).  These guys clearly aren’t messing around and understand you have to stand out from an ever more crowd gathering of indies these days, if you want to make a sale.

Still, perhaps because I’ve had so many of rums from the Enmore still, my impression is that this one doesn’t ascend to the heights. It’s a completely decent rum and at that strength you’re getting flavour and a reasonably complex profile. However, it isn’t really unique, and won’t wow your socks off – originality is not its forte, and it seems, rather, to be a restatement of much that has gone before. So it’s easy to like and appreciate, but conversely, leaves no lasting imprint on the mind.  A month from now, like just about everyone who was there that afternoon sampling this thing, you won’t recall many memorable characteristics of the rum itself, or much that made it stand out…except perhaps for the fact that it was nice. Oh yeah, and that boss design. If that’s what makes you buy it, then I guess its work is done. Me, I’m saving for some of the others.

(#740)(83/100)

Jun 032020
 

It will come as some surprise to anyone reading this review, when I say that there is a certain pointlessness now, to reviewing a Velier rum from The Age.  After all, this is a very young rum, not considered one of the Legends like the Skeldon or Port Mourant series, it’s practically unfindable, quite expensive when you can, and nowadays you’re more likely to find an ounce of Unobtainium than one of these unicorns.  Also, 2007 was not noted for the richness of its releases — only the LBI 1998 and the Versailles 1998 were offered that year, both also nine years old, and neither of which ever gained cult status.

Yet for all that, to ignore it would be a mistake. There’s the irresistible pull of the Old Guyana Demeraras, of that legendary Enmore wooden Coffey still (also known as the “filing cabinet” by wags who’ve seen it), the allure of  Velier and their earlier releases which back in the day sold for a hundred or so and now pull down thousands easy (in any currency).  How can one resist that? Good or bad, it’s just one of those things one has to try when possible, and for the record, even at that young age, it’s very good indeed.

By now Velier is such a household name that we can be brief since the story, the history, the man and the bottlings are so well known. This is a true Enmore still rum (the label is clear about that and it was independently verified by Luca later); it was distilled in 1998 at Uitvlugt which was where the still was back then, bottled in 2007 at 64.9%, and came from a single barrel which provided 265 bottles.

Let’s get started then, with the nose, which was clear about its origins right away – pencil shavings, the sawdust of a busy lumber yard, rich spices (very Enmore-ish, one might say), starting sharp and furious as befits the strength, and then calming down to become remarkably docile, but still very firm. That’s when the good stuff starts to emerge: florals, caramel, toblerone, vanilla, coconut tobacco, prunes and a melange of fruits.  What’s nice about it is that for all its relative strength, it presents as almost elegant and can be smelled for ages.

Palate was just as good., but care has to be taken to get the most out of it, otherwise it feels like it’s just hammering your tongue and you lose something of the subtlety.  But it’s all there: a salty briny vegetable soup into which has been dumped (paradoxically enough) brown sugar, sweet soya, tobacco, olive oil, cloves and a few bars of white coconut chocolate. Dark fruits, a whiff of cloves and anise, cherries in sweet syrup. I mean, wtf? That’s a crazy sort of taste mashup, and it shouldn’t work, but somehow manages to salvage some elegance from all that rough stuff and the tastes meld well, shine through, and end up elevating the whole thing. Even the finish displays how disparate flavours you would not normally think could gel, can sometimes complement each other –  it’s sweet, long, dry, fruity, crisp and even provides a few new notes of molasses. Caramel, coconut, ripe fruits, smoke and spices.  

In many other rums, that kind of jumbled craziness would lead to an unfocussed mess of aggression without purpose or conclusion.  Here the individuality and quality are there, and in my notes I ask the puzzled question of how on earth this was achieved. But maybe I don’t need to know, just accept that I really like the thing.

It’s easy for me to be blase, even indifferent, about Velier’s rums, after having tried so many.  Surely the shine has to come off the rose sometime, right? But that would be doing them – and this rum – a disservice, neither earned nor merited. This is a quietly amazing rum for something so young. It may never gain the mythical renown of the PM 1972 or the Skeldons, or the UF30E, but consider how very good indeed it is, for what it is.  At less than a third or even a quarter of their ages, it presses all the right buttons, noses well, tastes lovely and finishes with a controlled bang that can barely be faulted. So although I don’t say this kind of thing often (if at all), here I think the statement is warranted, even deserved – the Enmore 1998 may be the best sub-ten year old Demerara I’ve ever tasted.

(#733)(87/100)

May 312020
 

Rumaniacs Review #116 | 0732

Dry Cane UK had several light white rums in its portfolio – some were 37.5% ABV, some were Barbados only, some were 40%, some Barbados and Guyanese blends.  All were issued in the 1970s and maybe even as late as the 1980s, after which the trail goes cold and the rums dry up, so to speak.  This bottle however, based on photos on auction sites, comes from the 1970s in the pre-metric era when the strength of 40% ABV was still referred to as 70º in the UK. It probably catered to the tourist, minibar, and hotel trade, as “inoffensive” and “unaggressive” seem to be the perfect words to describe it, and II don’t think it has ever made a splash of any kind.

As to who exactly Dry Cane (UK) Ltd were, let me save you the trouble of searching – they can’t be found. The key to their existence is the address of 32 Sackville Street noted on  the label, which details a house just off Piccadilly dating back to the 1730s. Nowadays it’s an office, but in the 1970s and before, a wine, spirits and cigar merchant called Saccone & Speed (established in 1839) had premises there, and had been since 1932 when they bought Hankey Bannister, a whisky maker, in that year. HB had been in business since 1757, moved to Sackville Street in 1915 and S&S just took over the premises. Anyway, Courage Breweries took over S&S in 1963 and handed over the spirits section of the UK trade to another subsidiary, Charles Kinloch – who were responsible for that excellent tipple, the Navy Neaters 95.5º we have looked at before (and really enjoyed).

My inference is therefore that Dry Cane was a financing vehicle or shell company or wholly owned subsidiary set up for a short time to limit the exposure of the parent company (or Kinloch), as it dabbled in being an independent bottler — and just as quickly retreated, for no further products were ever made so far as I can tell. But since S&S also acquired a Gibraltar drinks franchise in 1968 and gained the concession to operate a duty free shop at Gibraltar airport in 1973, I suspect this was the rationale behind creating the rums in the first place, through the reason for its cessation is unknown. Certainly by the time S&S moved out of Sackville Street in the 1980s and to Gibraltar (where they remain to this day as part of a large conglomerate), the rum was no longer on sale.

Colour – White

Strength – 40% ABV

Nose – Light and sweet; toblerone, almonds, a touch of pears. Its watery and weak, that’s the problem with it, but interestingly, aside from all the stuff we’re expecting (and which we get) I can smell lipstick and nail polish, which I’m sure you’ll admit is unusual.  It’s not like we find this rum in salons of any kind.

Palate – Light and inoffensive, completely bland.  Pears, sugar water, some mint. You can taste a smidgen of alcohol behind all that, it’s just that there’s nothing really serious backing it up or going on. 

Finish – Short, dreary, light, simple. Some sugar again and something of a vanilla cake, but even that’s reaching a bit. 

Thoughts – Well, one should not be surprised.  It does tell you it’s “extra light”, right there on the label; and at this time in rum history, light blends were all the rage. It is not, I should note, possible to separate out the Barbadian from the Guyanese portions. I think the simple and uncomplex profile lends credence to my theory that it was something for the hospitality industry (duty free shops, hotel minibars, inflight or onboard boozing) and served best as a light mixing staple in bars that didn’t care much for top notch hooch, or didn’t know of any.

(74/100)

May 072020
 

Rumaniacs Review #114 | 0724

These days, the only way to get some of the lesser-known rums from the last century that were made by small merchant bottlers in vanishingly small quantities, is to know an old salt, be friends with a collector like Steve Remsberg, bag an estate sale, have an elderly relative who was into rum but isn’t any longer, find a spirits emporium that forgot about their inventory, or — lacking all these as I do — troll around the auction sites.

It’s in this way that you find odd rums like the Red Duster Finest Navy rum, bottled in the 1970s by the company of J. Townend & Sons. That company officially got its start in 1923, but if you look at their filings you’ll realize they took over the assets of spirits merchant John Townend, which is much older.  That company was formed in Hull around 1906 by John Townend, and over four successive generations has become a fairly substantial wine and spirits distributor in England, now called The House of Townend. Unsurprisingly, they dabbled in their own bottlings from time to time, but nowadays it would appear they are primarily into distribution.  Rums like the Red Duster have long been discontinued, with this one gone for thirty years or more.

The rum itself, created just after the Second World War by Charles Townend (grandfather of current company’s Managing Director, also named John) is a blend of Guyanese and Jamaican rum, not further specified – so we don’t know the proportions of each, or the source distilleries (or stills)  Perusing the paperwork suggests it was always and only for sale within the UK, not export, and indeed, they were kind enough to get back to me and state that “As the company was unable to expand its five-strong off licence chain due to licensing restrictions, he [Charles Townend] concentrated on establishing spirit brands that he could sell to the pub and restaurant trade.  He shipped large quantities of old rum which he blended himself in the cellars at Cave Street, Hull, from where the company traded at the time. He then broke down the rum before bottling it.”

And in a neat little info-nugget, the label notes that the name “Red Duster” came from the house of that name wherein the company once had its premises in York Street, Hull (this address and a red brick industrial-style building still exists but is taken up by another small company now).  But that house in turn was named after the Red Ensign, or “Red Duster” which was the flag flown by British Merchant ships since 1707.

Colour – Reddish amber

Strength – 70° / 40% ABV

Nose – All irony aside, it smells dusty, dry, with red and black cherry notes and some wood shavings.  Molasses, plums going overripe and – if you can believe it – sorrel and mauby (these are a red plant and a bark used for making infused drinks in parts of the West Indies).  This gives the rum an amazingly peculiar and really interesting taste that resists easy categorization.

Palate – Sweet, dry, dusty, spicy. Fruity (dark stuff like prunes and plums) with a touch of lemon.  There’s some more cherries and overripe blackberries, but overall it  tastes thin and weak, not aggressive at all.  Some mild licorice brings up the back end, like me ambling late to a meeting I don’t want to be in.

Finish –  Surprise surprise, it’s a long and fruity finish with a good dollop of vanilla and molasses, and it presents a deep, sweet and slightly dry conclusion. Not thick and solid, a little wispy, really, but still nice.

Thoughts – Blunt force trauma is not this rum’s forte, and why they would feel it necessary to release a rum with the sobriquet of “Navy” at 40% is a mystery.  It was just and always a tipple for the eating and pubbing public, without pretensions to grandeur or historical heritage of any kind.  Just as well, because it lacks the character and force of today’s rums of this kind, and attempting to disassemble the origins is pointless.  If they had pickled Nelson in a barrel of this stuff, he might well have climbed out and thrown his own self overboard before making it halfway home…but the humourist in me suggests he would have had a last sip before doing so.

(78/100)


Other Notes:

  • My hydrometer tested this out at 40.59% ABV, so on that basis, it’s “clean”.
  • The age is unknown, and it is a blend
  • My thanks to the House of Townend’s Hanna Boyes, who provided welcome information on the historical section of the post.
Apr 162020
 

Photo (c) Henrik Kristoffersen, RunCorner.dk

1974 was clearly a good year for barrel selection by the Scottish whisky maker Gordon & MacPhail.  So good in fact that they were able to release several exceptional rums from that year – one was in 1999, the near spectacular 25 year old, which my Danish friends kicked themselves for missing when it came up for a tasting one year in Berlin. They got their own back at me by locating this slightly older version that was laid to sleep in the same year, emerged 29 years later (in 2003), and which is also a quietly amazing aged Demerara rum — every bit as good as its predecessor. 

It’s too bad we don’t know enough about it.  Oh, there’s all the usual labelling information that would have been satisfactory a short time back: 50% ABV, distilled in 1974, bottled in 2003 from two casks (#102 and #103), and that’s certainly better than what I grew up having to be satisfied with back in the day.  But we’re greedy wretches, us rum writers, and now I want to know where it slumbered and which still it came from, what the total bottle-outturn was, and how much time it spent ageing where. That I don’t have such info is something of a minor irritant, but we forge ahead with what we have.

Where the still is concerned, we can certainly guess from the profile.  I mean, just nose the thing – heaven. Deep, fruity, wooden-still action all the way. Anise, blackberries, oak, ripe tart apples and overripe cherries, apricots and prunes.  This is followed by molasses, dust, hay, well-polished leather upholstery, aromatic tobacco…and coffee grounds, lots of ‘em. An excellent nose, very rich, very pungent, very dark. 

It tastes as good as the nose leads one to expect, and may even exceed the nose.  The rum is a very dark brown, bottled at 50% ABV, just about the perfect strength for something so old and thick: enough to bring the flavours out with authority and some kick, not so strong as to burn you in the process. Here, the dark fruit panoply continues: blackcurrants, cherries, overripe mangoes. That’s joined by coffee, unsweetened chocolate, licorice, molasses, nougat, nuts and caramel. And then there’s a subtle third layer, very delicate, hinting of cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel and a freshly baked load of rye bread. The balance of the thing among these three components is really quite something, and if I had a whinge, it’s that the dry and warm finish, flavourful as it is – tobacco, leather, caramel, coffee, anise and breakfast spices – feels somewhat…less. It sums up everything that came before quite well, but brings nothing new to the party for a rousing encore, and is a. A minor point, really.

My first guess would be that the rum is from the double wooden PM pot still, because it lacks the rough wildness of the Versailles, or the slightly more elegant nature of the Enmore (which also tends to have a bit more lumber — at least a few pencils — in the jock, so to speak).  But really, at this age, at this remove, does it really matter except for us who want every single detail? I call it a Demerara, as G&M do, and am happy to have been given the opportunity to try it.

Henrik Kristofferson, who runs that somnolent and suspirant site Rum Corner (and the source of the sample) remarked in his own review that with rums this old, from that far back and for this rarity, price-to-value calculations are meaningless, and he’s right.  This is a rum that’s available now probably only through sample networks, which makes it unlikely that anyone will ever get a complete bottle (let alone a complete set of all the 1974s G&M have released) unless it pops up for auction again. But I must admit, it’s good. In fact, it’s as good as the other one I tried, nearly on par with some of the Velier Demeraras from the Age, or Cadenhead’s 33 YO or Norse Cask’s amazing 32 YO (both from 1975). I wouldn’t go so far as to tell anyone who sees a bottle for many hundreds of pounds, Euros, dollars or whatever, to go drain the back account immediately and buy the thing…but if you can get a taste, get it.  Get it now, and get fast, because rums like this are a dying, vanishing breed, and it’s an experience worth savouring, to see how the rums of today compare against hoary geriatric whitebeards of yesteryear, like this one. We may not see their like again any time soon.

(#719)(89/100)


Other notes

There was a third G&M 1974 bottled released in 2004 that went for auction at around £600 in 2017 which gives you some idea how these three-decade-old vintages are appreciating, and yet another one released in 2005.

Feb 122020
 

What a difference the passage of years makes. In 2010, a mere year after my long rum journey began, I came across and wrote about the Cadenhead 12 YO and gave it a rather dismissive rating of 76, remarking that while I liked it and while it had some underlying harmony, the decision to mature it in Laphroaig casks led to “not a rum, but some kind of bastardized in-the-middle product that isn’t fish or fowl.”

Later I began searching for it again, having in the interim gained rather more respect for what Cadenhead was doing.  The Campbelltown-based company of course doesn’t need an introduction these days – famed more for its whiskies, it has for decades also dabbled in limited edition rum releases as part of its “Green Label” line, the best of which might be the near-legendary Guyanese editions of the 1975, the 1972 and the as-yet unsourced but highly-sought-after 1964. Over the years they have released many editions of several countries’ rums, always unfiltered and unadded-to, and it’s become something of a recent running gag that they always put three- or four-letter character codes on their rums’ labels, of which even they no longer recall all the meanings.

Anyway, this was a 12 year old, continentally-aged Guyanese rum (no still is mentioned, alas), of unknown outturn, aged 12 years in Laphroaig whisky casks and released at the 46% strength that was once a near standard for rums brought out by AD Rattray, Renegade, Cadenhead and others. The brevity and uninformativeness of the label dates the rum somewhat (modern iterations provide quite a bit more), but let’s just run with what we have here.

Nose first: short version, it’s interesting, a very strange amalgam of Demerara rum, agricole and a peaty whisky. It smells of rubber and wax, vaguely medicinal and iodine-like, is slightly sweet, quite light and there are more than a few yellow fruits parading around – pineapple, crisp Thai mangoes, green apples drizzled with lemon juice and tartly unsweetened yoghurt. After resting it goes a little nutty and leathery, but the real effects of ageing are minimal, and vanilla and oaky notes are to all intents and purposes, absent.

The taste was better, and again there’s that peculiar agricole-ness to the initial experience – sweet sugar water, lemonade, brine, olives, and a lot of crisp white fruits.  It feels somewhat thin and rough on the tongue even with a “mere” 46% of proof, and could perhaps have used some additional ageing to round things off. The medicinal and peaty tastes were faint and walked off the stage after a while, to be replaced by aromatic tobacco, cheap wet coffee grounds used one too many times, cereal, all tied together by some cereal-like tastes, cinnamon and nutmeg.  That said, if you’re hunting for traditional Demerara rum flavours like molasses, licorice and caramel, search elsewhere – they sure aren’t here. Finish was great though – hot, creamy and chewy. Very tasty, a good blend of yoghurt, pears, apples, lychees, grapefruit and fruit loops cereal.

So, what did I think? At the risk of boring you to tears, permit me this digression. When he was younger and we were discussing such matters, the Little Caner could never understand why I reread books (often several times) which I’d read before (often several more times).  “You know what you’re getting,” he argued, with all the eloquence and conviction of a ten year old, “You know the plot, the background, everything. So why?” And then he would favour me with that pitying look that only young teens can master, which they save for their apparently doddering and drooling older relatives, would shake his head at my self-evident stubborn obtuseness, and then add his coupe-de-grace: “Do you expect the book to change or something?”

I bring up the matter because he was sitting beside me as I went through this sample, and asked me the same question.  Given I had several dozens more to go through and the hourglass was running short, he wanted to know why I was wasting time. “Because, young zygote,” I responded, in that characteristically obscure way all the Caner Clan boys have of speaking to one another, “I’m not the same person who tried the original sample. I’m curious whether I’d like it less, more or the same as the first one, the first time.” I glanced slyly at him – “Sort of like the way, nowadays, you react differently to books you once enjoyed, but now don’t.”

He laughed, and acknowledged the point at last, and to cut further reminisces short, let me note that I appreciated the rum more than the one from all those years ago…but much of my initial opinion on its schizoid nature persists. I wasn’t entirely won over by the whisky cask ageing – rums have quite enough character of their own not to need such additional enhancement, thank you very much – but it was well assembled, well-integrated, and the Laph background enhanced rather more than detracted.  It was just that it presented at odds with what we perhaps might prefer in a Demerara rum, lacked the distinct clarity of the wooden stills…and that medicinal peatiness?…well, I’m not convinced it works completely. 

It will be up to each individual reading this review, however, to make up his or her own mind what they think of the rum; and perhaps, if they’re lucky, to come back to it a few times and see if their tastes evolve into an increased or decreased appreciation of what is, at end, quite a decent and interesting product. The way my boy has done with so many of his books.

(#700)(84/100)


Other Notes

The dates of distillation and bottling are unknown, but I’d suggest late 1990s early 2000s.

Feb 092020
 

Rumaniacs Review #110 | 0700

Lemon Hart needs no further introduction, since the brand is well known and reasonably regarded – I’ve written about quite a few of their products.  Their star has lost some lustre of late (though one of their recent 151 releases from 2012 or thereabouts found much favour with me), and it’s interesting that Ed Hamilton’s own line of 151s was specifically introduced to challenge the equivalent LH, if not actually supplant it.  With so much going on at the high end of the proof-list these days, it’s good to remember what Lemon Hart was capable of even as little as 40-50 years ago, and revel in the courage it takes to crack a bottle released at 75.5% ABV.

(The bottle is from the late 1960s / early 1970s based on label design, the “40 fl ozs” volume descriptor (switched over in mid 1970s) and the spelling of “Guyana” which was “British Guiana” until 1966.  I’ve elected to stick with 1970s as a reasonable dating.)

Colour – dark amber

Strength 75.5%.

Nose – Holy hell, this thing is intense.  Blackcurrants, molasses, raisins, licorice, dark ripe fruits galore, and even more molasses.  It’s like they poured the deepest darkest flavours imaginable from some kind of rum gunk residue into a barrel, let it steam for a while, and then grudgingly decided this might be a mite too powerful for the unwary, and added some flowers and crisp white unripe fruits – sharpish pears and green apples, that kind of thing. Then, still dissatisfied, found a way to soothen the final nose with some additional vanilla, caramel, light briny aromas and some musty-dusty scents of long unopened books

Palate – Even if they didn’t say so on the label, I’d say this is almost completely Guyanese just because of the way all the standard wooden-still tastes are so forcefully put on show – if there was anything else in there, it was blattened flat  by the licorice, plums, prunes and cloves bearing down like a falling Candy of the Lord.  It remains musky, deep and absolutely massive right to the end, and even adds some salted caramel ice cream, Danish butter cookies, almonds, cloves and crushed nuts to the mix, plus maybe a bit of citrus.

Finish – Suitably epic for the strength. Hot, long, fruity, wi th molasses, vanilla, caramel and licorice, a bit of floral lightness and aa closing whiff of lemon peel.

Thoughts – It’s unclear how much the rum has been aged — I’d suggest 2-3 years, unlikely to be more than five. Stuff this young and at this kind of strength is (or was) commonly used for mixed drinks, but the truth is that with the amount of glute-flexing, teeth-chomping action going on here, nobody would blame you if you cracked a bottle, poured a shot, and started watching 1980s Stallone or Schwarzenegger movies – what my irascible father would call “dem akshun-pakshun film” – in between pretending to work out with your long disused barbells.

(85/100)

Jan 262020
 

Rumaniacs Review #109 | 0696

It may be called a Navy rum but the label is quite clear that it’s a “Product of Guyana” so perhaps what they were doing is channelling the Pussers rums from forty years later, which also and similarly restricted themselves to one component of the navy rum recipe. The British maritime moniker has always been a rather plastic concept – as an example, I recall reading that they also sourced rums from Australia for their blend at one point – so perhaps, as long as it was sold and served to the Navy, it was allowed the title. Or maybe it’s just canny marketing of an un-trademarked title, which is meant to describe a style of rum as it was commonly understood back then.

It’s unclear when this particular rum was first introduced, as references are (unsurprisingly) scarce. It was certainly available during the 1970s, which is the earliest to which I’ve managed to date this specific bottle based on label inclusions. One gentleman commented on the FRP’s review “This was the Rum issued to all ships up until the demise of the Merchant Navy (British Merchant Marine) in 1987. We didn’t receive a tot of rum like the Royal Navy, instead we had our own run bars (officers bar, crew bar). The label with the bells was changed sometime in the early/mid 80’s to a brown coloured label with a sailing ship.” Based on some auction listings I’ve seen, there are several different variations of the label, but I think it is safe to say that this red one dates back from the late 1970s, early 1980s at the latest.

An older label: note the HMS Challis under the bells, which I was unable to trace

Challis, Stern & Co. was a spirits wholesaler out of London that was incorporated back in 1924 –  like many other small companies we have met in these reviews, they dabbled in occasional bottlings of rum to round out their wholsesaling business, and were making Four Bells rum since the 1960s at least (I saw a label on Pete’s Rum Pages with “product of British Guiana” on the label, as well as a white from post-independence times), and in all cases they used exclusively Guyanese stock. There are glancing references to an evolution of the rum in the 1980s primarily based on how the labels looked and the auctioneers’ info listings – but it seems clear that by then it was in trouble as it ceased trading in 1989 and were taken over in 1991 by the Jackson family who run wine dealers Jackson Nugent Vintners, and they then wrapped it up without fuss or fanfare in 2006 (Challis had been classified as “dormant” for their entire tenure). It remains unclear why they bothered acquiring it unless it was to gain control of some tangible or intangible asset in which they were interested (I have an email to them to check).

Colour – Amber

Strength – 42.9% (75 proof old-style)

A “half” of Four Bells, what Guyanese would call a “flattie”. Fits nicely into a hip pocket

Nose – Quite definitely a Guyanese rum, though with odd bits here and there. Caramel, salt, butter, rye or sourdough bread with a touch of molasses and anise and flowers and fruits, none of which is very dominant. Prunes, dates, overripe cherries and the musky softness of fried bananas.  Also pencil shavings and sawdust at the back end.

Palate – Dry, with a most peculiar aroma of sweet rubber.  I know how that sounds, but I like it anyway, because there was a certain richness to the whole experience.  Sweet red wine notes, backed up with caramel, dark chocolate, nougat and nuts. Quite a solid texture on the tongue, slightly sweet and rounded and without any bitterness of oak (the age is unknown).

Finish – Short and dry, but enjoyable.  Mostly caramel, toffee, sawdust and pencil shavings,

If I had to guess, I’d say this was an Enmore or the French Savalle still.  Be that as it may, it goes up well against modern standard-strength DDL rums because it presents as very restrained and toned down, without every losing sight of the fact that it’s a rum.  Nowadays of course, you can only get a bottle from old salts, old cellars, grandfathers or auctions, but if you find one, it’s not a bad buy.

(81/100)


Other Notes

  • Taken literally, the “four bells” name is an interesting one. In British Navy tradition, the strikes of a ship’s bell were not aligned with the hour. Instead, there were eight bells, one for each half-hour of a four-hour watch – four bells is therefore halfway through any one of the Middle, Morning, Forenoon, Afternoon, Dog or First watches (good that someone knew this, because eight bells would have been an unfortunate term to use for a rum, being used as it was to denote end of watch” or a funeral). All that said, the design of the four bells on the label could equally be representative of four founders, or be something more festive, so maybe this whole paragraph is an aside that indulges my love of historical background.
  • Proof and ABV – In 1969 the UK government created the Metrication Board to promote and establish metrification in Britain, generally on a voluntary basis. In 1978 government policy shifted, and they made it mandatory in certain sectors. In 1980 that policy flip-flopped again to revert to a voluntary basis, and the Board was abolished, though by this date just about all rum labels had ABV and the proof system fell into disuse – and essentially, this allows dating of UK labels to be done within some broad ranges.
Jan 082020
 

No matter how many Guyanese wooden-still rums get bottled sporting the famed letters PM, VSG or EHP, none of them save perhaps the very oldest have anything near the mythical cachet of rums bearing the name “Skeldon”.  Even when I penned my original review of Velier’s Skeldon 1973 back in 2014 (when the company and Luca Gargano were hardly household names), it was clear that it had already become a cult rum. Nowadays the 1973 or 1978 rums sell for thousands of dollars apiece any time they come up for auction and that price and their incredible rarity makes them holy grails for many.

But for those who came to Velier’s rums late, or lack the deep pockets necessary to get one, there is an alternative, and that’s the very well assembled Skeldon 2000 that arrived on store shelves in late 2018 as part of the 3rd Release of DDL’s Rare Collection.  This collection supplanted and replaced the Velier rums (though both parties always insisted they were DDL rums from the get-go) when it was seen that they were no mere niche products, but full blown money-spinners in their own right that aimed at the very top end of the rum market. The dependable old faithfuls of Enmore, Port Mourant and Versailles were produced in 2016 and 2017, and in 2018 the fans finally got what they were lusting for — an Albion 14 YO from 2004 and this one.

The Skeldon SWR 200 is aged 18 years in Guyana, bottled at a very attractive 58.3%, and is a recreation of the SWR profile (as were the original two marks), since Skeldon’s distillery apparatus had long ago been scrapped and destroyed, way back in the 1960s when Bookers was rationalizing the many Berbice-based distilleries. Essentially it was made by combining old distillery records (and, one hopes, old samples), tweaking the continuous Blair column still , taking a deep breath and sending a prayer to the Great Master Blender In The Sky.

What came out the other end and got stuffed into a bottle was quietly stunning.  It exuded scents of deep and rich caramel, molasses, vanilla and anise (if the ED 21 YO had had less licorice and the ED 25YO no sugar, they would have come close to this). It developed into a damp mossy tropical forest steaming in the sun after a cloudburst, but this was mere background to the core aromas, which were cinnamon, molasses, cumin, salt caramel ice cream, licorice and a really strong hot chocolate drink sprinkled with, oh, more chocolate.

Its standout aspect was how smooth it came across when tasted.  As with the Albion we looked at before, the rum didn’t profile like anywhere near its true strength, was warm and firm and tasty, trending a bit towards being over-oaked and ever-so-slightly too tannic.  But those powerful notes of unsweetened cooking chocolate, creme brulee, caramel, dulce de leche, molasses and cumin mitigated the wooden bite and provided a solid counterpoint into which subtler marzipan and mint-chocolate hints could be occasionally noticed, flitting quietly in and out. The finish continued these aspects while gradually fading out, and with some patience and concentration, port-flavoured tobacco, brown sugar and cumin could be discerned.

Is it like the more famous Velier Skeldons I’ve tried?  Yes…and no. There were differences, as is inevitable over such a span of years.  What is important that the rum is a good one, noses well, tastes better, and its real failing may not be how it drinks, but how much it costs relative to other Demerara rums made by the independents…because really, not many can afford this kind of rum, and DDL’s dosage reputation would hinder easy acceptance of such a pricey spirit on its merits (a problem Velier would likely not have). In any event, there are few, if any, alive now who could even tell you what an “original” Skeldon rum tasted like, given that so much time has flowed past, that the distillery was closed so long ago, and that Skeldon’s distillery output even then was folded into other companies’ blends (remember, estate- and still-specific branding is a very recent phenomenon). 

What is a quiet miracle, though, is that DDL managed to adhere with such fidelity to the Skeldon profile map (as currently understood) that I’m not sure I could pick the three SWR rums apart from each other if tried blind – though I think the thick richness of the multi-decade ageing of the 1973 and 1978 might give them away. That is quite an achievement for the 2000 DDL incarnation, and allows many new rum aficionados who want to know what the hooplah over Skeldon is about, to get an inkling of why there’s a fuss at all.

(#691)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • In a situation that does not surprise me in the slightest, neither Release 2 nor Release 3 Rares are listed on El Dorado’s own website.
  • That “Blair” still reference has caused some confusion, but I’m reasonably confident it’s the French Savalle continuous still brought over from Blairmont estate to Uitvlught back in the 1960s and to Diamond in late 1990s/early 2000s.
Jan 062020
 

In early 2016 when the first Rares from El Dorado hit the market, there was a lot of mumbling and grumbling in the blogosphere.  Most of that was the feeling that Velier (which was to say, Luca Gargano, whose star was in rapid ascent back then) had been inconsiderately evicted from his privileged access to DDL’s barrels in a cheap shot to muscle in on the market niche he had almost singlehandedly built, for tropically-aged ultra-old full-proof still-specific Guyanese rums.  But almost as loud was the squealing about the prices, higher than Velier’s and the prevailing indies’ rates, which were seen as exorbitant for an untried first release by a company long known for dosage and lack of customer engagement. When the first reviews rolled out, many pundits ranked them lower than the Veliers from the Age which they replaced.

Three years later on, the Rare Collection is an established fact, though DDL continues to refuse to speak about them in open social media fora, and it’s gotten to the stage that many people were not even aware the Second Release had hit the stores in late 2017. By the time 2018 drew to a close, however, just about everyone knew of the Third Release, because two of the most hallowed marques in the Velier canon were being issued – an Albion and a Skeldon. Arguably, the three wooden stills of Versailles, Port Mourant and Enmore have always had greater name recognition, but the sheer rarity of the Albions and the near mythical status of the Skeldon just about guaranteed them serious attention.

Whether any rum can stand up to the weight of such expectations is an open question. Albion has not had a functional distillery apparatus since at least 1969 when Bookers’ rationalization of several Berbice distilleries into Uitvlugt was completed.  So an educated guess says that the rum (and all others with the marque) is a recreation built up from the Enmore still (not the French Savalle still) housed at Diamond, based on what we can reasonably assume is old distiller’s notes and still settings and a rigorous attempt to copy a profile from perhaps existing old samples (I’d ask DDL directly, but since they don’t answer I’ve stopped trying, since my patience, like my outhouse, has finite limits for b.s.).

With or without information, however, it must be said that I liked the Albion, a lot. It sported 14 tropical years of age, a ripped bod screaming in at 60.1% ABV and when I tried it for the first time, I was transported back to that time I tried the 1994 version that started me off on the Velier kick way back in 2012.  It was a dark amber rum, enormously, deeply, wonderfully fragrant – of cedar wood, eucalyptus, sandalwood, evocative woody notes one might even have thought came from a wooden still (but didn’t) to which were added red wine, vanilla, caramel, toffee, candied oranges, and crushed nuts. And then dissatisfied, the wheels were turned and even more was cranked out – molasses and brown sugar, plums, prunes, blackberries and other dark fruits.  It was actually somewhat sweeter than I had been expecting, but fortunately the bite of sharper fruits and tannins of the barrel kept things crisp and balanced and it made for a seriously ba

dass olfactory experience.

The palate was executed at a similarly high level. Like many of the very best rums made at high proof points, I hardly felt the proof searing across the tongue or carving divots in the throat.  In fact, while strong and hot, it never exhibited the scratchy harshness of a harridan’s nagging and could best be described as powerful, with tastes to match. There were the wooden lumber notes again (cedar), some vaguely bitter wooden tannins and nutmeg spice which went well with the dark fruits (blackcurrants, prunes), sweet red olives, brine and concentrated black cake. It was not quite sweetish and maintained a sort of musky and earthy profile throughout, but I liked that, and the finish – dry, long lasting – was quite good, redolent of prunes, coca-cola, faint licorice, nuts, toblerone, almonds and dark triple-chocolate.  All said and done, just yummy. I’ll take two.

The quality of the Albion 2004 is high and self evident on even a casual tasting — even though, good as it is, it doesn’t quite make it into the meadow of rarefied unicorn territory.  What is clear is that the Albion dispels any doubts that the Rares are now worthy inheritors of Velier’s reputation built up during the Age.  It’s among the very best rums DDL have ever issued (edged out only by the Enmore 1996 20 YO from R2…at least, so far), and if one yearns to try something that’s close as dammit to one of the more legendary Albions like the Velier editions of 1983, 1984, 1986, 1989, or 1994 – then this is as near as you’ll get without breaking the bank…it’s as good as most, and perhaps even better than some.

(#690)(88/100)


Other notes

  • The label states the rum derives from the “Continuous Coffey Still.” Given the French Savalle is never mentioned and the other Enmore rums in the Rare collection are also referred to as being made on the continuous still, as well as the woody taste profile, it stands to reason this is actually an Enmore wooden continuous still rum, tweaked to resemble the Albion.
  • Outturn is unclear – Wes suggested it was ~2000 bottles, while Ivar commented with more assurance in his review that it was 4500.
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