Sep 212017
 

#388

Marco Freyr, in between his densely researched articles on Barrel-Aged-Mind, indulges himself with tasting independent bottlers’ wares, all at cask strength.  Marco does not waste time with the featherweight Bacardis of this world – he goes straight for the brass ring, and analyzes his rums like he was a Swiss watchmaker looking for flaws in the Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260.  Some time back he shipped me some Bajan fullproofs – being amused, perhaps, at my earlier work on Mount Gay’s XO, and feeling I should see what others did with their juice, both now and in the past.  This is not to diminish Richard’s or the Warren’s output – yeah, right – simply to call attention to decent rums made elsewhere on the island, which was the same line of reasoning behind my writing about the Banks DIH rums from Guyana to contrast against the DDL stuff.

Anyway, in that vein here’s the second of a few full proof rums from Little England I want to run past you.  This one is also from Cadenhead — not one of their M-for-massive iterations that knock you under the table and leave the weak-kneed trembling and crossing themselves, but from the Green Label collection.  A 2000-2010 ten-year-old bottling, issued at a relatively mild 46% and therefore much more approachable by those who prefer standard-proof rums. I’m not always a fan of the Green Labels – their quality is inconsistent, as the Laphroaig-aged Demerara implies and the 1975 Demerara emphatically refutes – but there aren’t that many Bajan rums out there made by the indies to begin with (aside from FourSquare’s juice), so we should take at least try one or three when they cross our path.

Nose first: for a ten year old aged in Europe, it was quite fruity and sweet and the first smells that greeted me were a mild acetone, honey and banana flambee, with spices (nutmeg and cloves), some fruitiness (peaches, pears) and caramel.  Allowing for the difference in power, it was similar to the BMMG we looked at last week, though its nasal profile whispered rather than bellowed and lacked the fierce urgency that a stronger ABV would have provided.  The fruits were overtaken by flowers after some minutes, but throughout the tasting, I felt that honey, caramel and bananas remained at the core of it all, simple and distinct.

To some extent this continued on the tasting as well. With a strength of 46% the Green Label didn’t really need water, as it was light and warm enough to have neat (I added some later) and the golden rum didn’t upend any expectations on that score. It was initially very sippable, presenting both some brine and some caramel sweet right away, right up to the point where – what just happened here? – it let go a series of medicinal, camphor-like farts that almost derailed the entire experience. These were faint but unmistakeable and although the subsequent tastings (and water) ameliorated this somewhat with green tea, a little citrus, more honey, caramel, and chocolate, it was impossible to ignore completely.  And at the close, the 46% resulted in a short, breathy finish of no real distinction, with most of the abovementioned notes repeating themselves.

I’ve had enough FourSquare rums, made by both them and the independents, to believe that Marco was correct when he wrote that he doubted this rum was from them, but instead hailed from Mount Gay – much more than Doorly’s or Rum66 or the more recent FS work, it shared points of similarity with the Cadenhead’s BMMG cask strength as well as the 1703 from Mount Gay itself.  And like him, I thought there was some pot still action coiling around inside it, even if Cadenhead obdurately refused to divulge much in the way of information here.  

At the end, though, whatever the source, I didn’t care much for it. With the BMMG I remarked it was too raw, perhaps too strong for its (continental) ageing and could use some damping down, a lesser strength – not something I say often.  Here, to some extent the opposite was true: it was mild and medium-sweet, floral and fruity and had it not been for that blade of medicine in the middle, I would have rated it quite a decent Bajan rum, a credit to Mount Gay (if not entirely rivalling the 1703). As it was, combined with the overall lack of punch and depth, it finishes as a rum I’d not be in a hurry to buy again, because it’s too deprecating to qualify as a fullproof bruiser and the taste doesn’t take up enough of the slack to elevate it any further.  

(82/100)

Marco’s unscored 2012 German-language review, from the same bottle as the sample he sent me, can be found on his wesbite, here.

Sep 142017
 

Photo (c) Barrel-Aged-Mind

 

#387

Mount Gay out of Barbados is somewhat in the background of Bajan rum-making these days, maybe feeling like Huzur in Satyajit Ray’s 1958 classic “The Music Room”.  Understandable, since all the headlines these days are about the 2006 ten year old, the Criterion, Triptych and all the other amazing FourSquare releases.  And that’s a shame because there are some interesting indie bottlings out there from the island, as well as Mount Gay’s own recent cask strength work which I’ll get to one of these days.

Today, then, let’s discuss the mastodon of the Cadenhead BMMG 66.3% which was pot-still distilled in 2000 and bottled eight years later…consequently, it somewhat predates the Golden Age of Cask Bottlings through which it could be argued we’re living – no doubt that’s why few who don’t follow Marco’s work or aren’t Cadenhead fans have heard of the thing.  As is usual with Cadenhead, there’s no info on what the four letters mean, but since we’re all smart fellows here (anyone who braves my convoluted parenthetical phraseology almost has to be), I think we can hazard a guess that the “B” is for Barbados, the “MG” is for Mount Gay, which only leaves the mystery letter of the second “M” – and I’m going to suggest “Massive” as a reasonable identifier, because 66.3%, whew, that’s not exactly milquetoast now, is it?  Oh and as usual, one can infer zero additives or other mucking about – that’s standard for the Big C.

Photo (c) Barrel Aged Mind

That out of the way, let’s dive right into the nose without further ado.  At first sniff it was definitely not a Jamaican or a Guyanese rum – it was redolent of flambeed bananas, honey, nutmeg and peaches, rich and pungent…and that was a good thing, because at that strength it would otherwise have been way too serrated for anyone’s nose to take easily and even as it was, it really took some adjustment.  This was one of those occasions where I added some water even before tasting to see what would happen, and this coaxed out some additional salty caramel and cherries in syrup at the back end, plus oak and faint licorice, mangoes….and coffee, which surprised me, since it’s not an aroma I commonly associated with Little England.

As for the palate, well, sharp is sharp and this one carved its way down my gullet with intent to rearrange my insides.  There were bananas and caramel, vanilla, nutmeg and oak, those were easy takeaways – one had to get past the power to find more, and here again water did help.  Once it settled down (or I did), I sensed more coffee, fruits – mangoes, papayas, cherries for the most part, clear and distinct at first but then they took a backseat and caramel, almonds, nutmeg and slightly sweeter coffee notes took center stage.  Although it sort of worked, it just seemed, overall to be a bit too jagged, too raw – it was hard to decide whether dialling down the volts would have made it better, or ageing it for longer, because continental ageing for a “mere” eight years doesn’t exactly smooth out the rough notes, the way an equivalent in Barbados might have.  This was more clear on the finish, which one really had to be careful with because it was long, and quite intense, very hot, leaving us with vanilla, some oak, yet more coffee and some background off-key nuttiness which didn’t blend well, and was fortunately not there for a long time.

Lonely, austere and brutal as an Edward Hopper painting, this is not a rum for the weak-kneed, proof-challenged or saccharine inclined. It’s frenziedly, almost rabidly assertive, and though I am giving it a guarded recommendation, I must also point out that somewhere along the line the balance was a bit off and the tastes didn’t play that well together.  Part of the issue (surprisingly, for a cask-strength lover like me) is the strength – here 66.3% really is a bit much.  Intense and powerful for sure, with all that this implies — but we must guard against the notion that just because some 65-70% juggernauts are so great, that high proof automatically confers great quality without question. This is not a rum that walks up to you and then sits down for a chill on the beach waiting for your inevitable appreciation…on the contrary, it’s a furious frontal assault of proof on the senses, and afterwards, picking oneself off the floor, one might be left wondering whether something less strong, something slightly older, might not have been better, and more easy to come to grips with, after all.

(84.5/100)


Other Notes

  • Last time I checked this was retailing around €150 online.
  • This was a sample sent to me by that historian par excellence, Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged Mind when he wanted me to get exposure to some differing takes on the Bajan rums, some time back.
May 072017
 

Think of the great and noble Demerara rum marques and a few initials come to mind. PM.  EHP. VSG. ICBU.  PDW.

PDwhat?

I spent days trolling around trying to find out what those initials meant and came up dry. I was left thinking that if Cadenhead doesn’t get its act together, it’s going to be a running joke that they’re clueless as to how to name their rums, and maybe I’ll solicit lottery entries for best guess what these initials represent.

But that’s just me and somewhat irrelevant, so let’s just rewind to the beginning. Caribbean Distillers Limited was and is not a distillery of any kind, merely a now-dormant subsidiary of DDL (Yesu Persaud and Komal Samaroo were/are its officers), incorporated in the UK in 1986 with £100 share capital.  It seems reasonable to assume it was the distribution arm for DDL in Europe, or a vehicle for financial transactions which would have been difficult to carry out from Guyana, where extremely stringent exchange controls existed at that time.  So by the time Cadenhead bought their barrel(s) it was from this company which in turn had access to all of DDL’s exported aged rums.

The most common geriatrics one can still find (and, perhaps, afford) are those from the 1970s made in limited runs by the whisky makers – we’re not all like Uncle Serge, who just reviewed the Samaroli 1948 Longpond the other day.  And, yes, of course even older ones do exist — the Saint James 1885 proves that — but they’re usually far too pricey and in many cases just made in some far away time, and are not normally thirty or forty years old.  So it was with some appreciation that I sprung some of my hard earned cash to buy a sample of this hoary 29 year old Cadenhead, dating back from 1972, and bottled at a whopping 60.9%.  You gotta love those Scots – as far back as 2002, way before us writers were even out of rum-diapers and we all and only loved living room strength, they were out there pushing fullproof mastodons.

Is it worth it, if one can find it?  I suggest yes, and for those of you who are shrugging (“Ahh, it’s just another strong rum”), well, I’ll just dive straight into the tasting notes and maybe that’ll hold your waning attention.  Certainly nothing else would express my appreciation quite as well.  Starting with the nose, it was aggressive and spicy but without any serious damage-inducing sharpness redolent of massive pot still crazy – in fact, it presented almost creamily, with coconut shavings, vanilla, exotic baked fruit in a cream pie (think a steroid infused lemon meringue), and the vague delicacy of flowers rounding out the backend.  With water it opened up spectacularly: it went all citrusy, tartly creamy, very fruity, tacking on some licorice – I was left looking wonderingly at the amber liquid in the glass, wondering what on earth this really was: a Port Mourant? Emore? John Dore?  For my money it’s the single wooden pot still (VSG marque), because it lacks some of the depth of the PM and I had enough Enmores to believe it wasn’t that. But that’s only a guess really, since nobody knows what the PDW stands for.

Anyway, I was equally pleased (enthused might be a better word) with the taste, which was, quite frankly, an edged weapon of dark rum magic.  Everything I liked in a Demerara rum was here, and in great balance without excess anywhere. First there were prunes and other dark fruits – raisins, blackberries, blackcurrants.  To this was added licorice, slightly bitter-and-salty burnt sugar and caramel.  Oakiness was kept way back – it was a breath, not a shout.  These core flavours were circled by sharper citrus notes, as well as some of that lemon meringue again; faint green grapes, some apples, and a pear or two, nothing serious, just enough unobtrusive small flavours tucked away in the corner to garner appreciation for the rum as a whole.  And while forceful, the 60.9% was really well handled, leading to a heated finish redolent of much of the above (and nothing markedly different, or new) that went on for so long I nearly feel asleep waiting for it to stop.  In short, this was a magnificently aged rum.  Maybe I should be genuflecting. 

So far, just about all rums from the disco decade I’ve tried have been very old ones (not necessarily very good ones in all cases), aged two decades or more, bottled at the beginning of the rum renaissance in the 2000s.  There’s Velier’s PM 1974 and Skeldon 1973, Norse Cask 1975, Cadenhead’s own Green Label 1975 Demerara, and a few others here or there….and now this one.  The PDW is a big, growly, deep, tasty rum, and if you’re tired of Veliers, go see if you can find it.  It’s a triumph of the maker’s imagination and the difficulties of ageing that long.  It couldn’t have been easy to make, or decide when to stop, but Cadenhead seems to have kept at it and at it, and waited to bottle the thing only when they were sure, really sure, they had it absolutely right. And they did.

(91/100)

 

May 022017
 

#361

The Sancti Spiritus distillery in Central Cuba, also known as Paraiso, has been making rums since 1946, and other than its history (see “other notes” below) there is remarkably little hard information about its operations, its size, volume or exports on hand. Aside from what must be substantial local production which we don’t see, they may be better known for the relatively new Ron Paraiso brand, as well as from the labels of independent bottlers like Compagnie des Indes, Kill Divil, Bristol Spirits, the Whisky Agency, and, here, W.M.Cadenhead.  Based on what one sees for sale online, barrels seem to have begun hitting Europe somewhere around the mid 1990s, with the one I’m looking at today coming off the (columnar) still in 1998 and bottled at a firm 59.2% in 2013.  Cadenhead, as usual, have amused themselves with putting the abbreviation “ADC” on the label, which could mean variously “Aroma de Cuba,“ or “Acerca de caña” or, in my patois, “All Done Cook” – any of these could be used, since Cadenhead never discloses – or doesn’t know itself – what the initials denote, and I’m tired of asking and getting “Ahhhh…duuuuh….Cuba?” in response.

A number of people who like the heavier, thrumming British West Indian rums (from Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados for example) have sniffed disparagingly to me about Spanish rons recently, especially the column still ones, which are most of them.  I suspect this has to do with their despite for Bacardi and the light Panamanian stuff that’s been slipping in the ratings of late.   Nothing wrong with that, but my own feeling is that they’re casting too wide a net, and if one throws out an entire region’s worth of bathwater based on a few sampled rums, then one misses the baby that washed out the door as well.  Maybe it’s the occasional lack of verifiable ageing, maybe it’s the lightness, maybe it’s the palate of the drinker. Don’t know. But this Cuban ron does deserve a closer look.

Consider first the nose on the pale yellow ron: it was a sparkling, light dose of crisp, clean aromas, starting off with rubbery, sweet acetones all at once.  In its own way it was also quite tart, reminding me of gooseberries, pickled gherkins, cucumbers and lots of sugar water, stopping just short of presenting an agricole profile.  I don’t think I could have sipped it blind and known immediately it was from Cuba.  At a whisker shy of 60% it attacked strongly, but was too well made to be sharply malicious, and was simply and forcefully intense, which was to its credit and made the experience of smelling it a very good one, especially once some soursop, citrus and baking spices were coaxed out of hiding a few minutes later.

The taste fell down somewhat – there was dry wood, a lot of strange and almost-bitter tannins at the start; which was fortunately not a disqualification, because these tastes balanced off what might otherwise have been an overabundance of light sweetness represented by watermelon and papaya and Anjou pears.  Gradually it unfolded like a flower at dawn, producing additional faint notes of orange zest, almost-ripe yellow mangoes and apricots, balanced by iodine, menthol (!!), tumeric and some strong black tea, all of which led to a conclusion that was suitably long, clear and spicy, closing off the show with nutmeg, more of that tartness, and a flirt of orange zest.

Briefly, Cadenhead’s ADC stacked up well against a raft of agricoles, Spanish and Surinamese rums that were on the table that day. It did make me think, though: reading around others experiences with Cuban rums generally, one thing that strikes me as consistent is that the demonstrably older a Cuban rum is, the more commonly it is scored high.  Now pot still rums made with some skill can be good right out of the gate, and creole column-still juice out of the French islands prove all the time that higher age does not necessarily confer higher praise (or scores).  But with column still rums made in the Cuban/Spanish style, the usual easy 40% young stuff or blended rons of some age just don’t have that sizzle which Cadenhead somehow extracted out of their barrel here. In other words, for such traditionally light rums, additional ageing is a better deal, it would seem.

So, in fine, I believe that this rum is better than the Havana Club Barrel Proof (and the Seleccion de Maestros that succeeded it), better than the Renegade 11 year old (but maybe I should retaste since I tried that one ages ago); it edges out the Santiago de Cuba 12 year old, though is perhaps not quite as good as the CDI Sancti Spiritus (also from 1998).  Those dour Scots took the sunshine of the tropics, doused it with some cold salt sea-spray and foam-lashed rocks, and produced an amalgam of both that’s better than either, and just falls short of remarkable – it’s worth a try by anyone, if it can still be found.

(86.5/100)

Other notes

A few words on the distillery history: called variously the Paraiso or Sancti Spiritus distillery, the founding family, the Riondas, began their sugar business in 1891 with a company called the Tuinucú Sugar Company in the province of Sancti Spiritus (which was also near to the original Bacardi distillery). In 1946 the Paraiso Distillery was created and in 1951, the Tuinucú Sugar Company was consolidated into both plantation and distillery operations. Since the revolution, the Government took over the entire operation not long after and has run the show ever since.

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