Jan 152017
 

Excellent young sherry-finished rum

#335

There’s a special place in my heart for English Harbour rums from Antigua, and always will be. The company’s masterful 25 year old 1981, while dropping some in my estimation over the years, remains a touchstone of my reviewing experience (it was also Review #001).  Their five-year- and ten year old variations were pleasing and decent drinks that were like a mix of Bajan and Spanish rums, yet distinct from either; and I’ve always felt they were good introductions to the spirit, even if I myself have moved on to purer, stronger rums, which was one reason I enjoyed their Cavalier Puncheon.

For years that was pretty much it for English Harbour, a company formed in 1932 from the pooled resources of five Portuguese businessmen. They branched out into other liqueurs and spirits to some extent, but the rum range which developed from the original Cavalier brand has remained essentially unchanged and it was for this they were best known internationally.  However, in 2016 they decided to rock the boat a little and on the festival circuit in that year, they introduced an interesting variation on their Five, a harbinger of things to come.

This particular rum is a blend that started life as the original column-still five year old (which my friends and I, back in 2009, really enjoyed); aged in ex-bourbon casks for the proper time, it was then finished for two months in sherry casks prior to bottling in March 2016 — there are plans to add oloroso, port and zinfadel finishes in the future, so they are taking some ideas from both FourSquare and DDL in this respect. Once the ageing and finishing process was complete, some ten year old was added into the blend (no idea how much) to create the final product.  What it is, therefore, is something of an experimental rum.  English Harbour has read the tea leaves and seen that there is money to be made and new customers to be won, in releasing rums as a higher proof point with some finishing: perhaps not cask strength, and perhaps not limited edition, just something to flesh out the staid brogues of its portfolio that may now be considered to be showing its age in a time of fast moving innovations in the rum world. Time to move into some sportier models. Nikes maybe, or Adidas.

Have they succeeded in boosting the original five year old into a new and exciting iteration?  I think so…it is, at the very least, better – retasting that venerable young rum in tandem with this one made me remember why I moved away from it in the first place – the 40%, the somewhat dominant vanilla and its rather simple I-aim-only-to-please profile.  There is a lot to be said for messing about, even with a previously winning formula.

Just take the aromas on the rum, for example – what the original five was all about was soft, easy vanillas and some caramels, with a few fruits dancing shyly around in the background, all cheer and warmth, simple and amiable, went well with a mix. This one was a few rungs up the ladder – part of that was the strength, of course (46%) and part was the finishing; there were immediate notes of sherry, smoke, blackberries, jam (I kept thinking of Smuckers), all of which pushed the vanilla into the background where it belonged (without banishing it entirely). There was simply more flavour coming through at the higher proof point, which showed in developing notes of cherries, pineapple and apples that appeared with some water. Nothing aggressive here, and it retained some of that laid-back softness which so marked out its cousin, while having a subtly more complex profile that snapped into focus more clearly as I tasted each side by side.

As for the palate, very nice for a five…in short, yummy.  The youthful peppiness was retained – there was some spiciness on the tongue here – buttressed by a kind of roundness and complexity, which I’m going to say carried over from the added ten year old.  Caramel, oak, vanilla, smoke, burnt sugar, a nice mix of softer fruits (those pineapple, pears and ripe cherries came over nicely) with those of a more tart character (green apples and orange zest) adding a nice filip.  It’s a great little rumlet, closing things off with a short and dry finish that I wish went on longer, even if it didn’t add anything new to the overall experience.  It’s a young rum, that much was clear – yet the blending was handled well, and I just wondered, as I always do these days when something this soft crosses my path, whether it was added to or not (I was told no).  

Thinking over the experience, I think this rum is really an essay in the craft, not yet the final rum English Harbour will release formally in the months (or years)  to come – for the moment it’s not even represented on their website.  EH are testing the idea out on the festival circuit, checking for feedback, positioning it as a development of pre-existing ideas into the market, to see whether riding the wave of newly-popular, higher-proofed, finished rums can carry the company’s sales into the new century.  I certainly hope they succeed, because this is quite a striking rum for its age, and will likely win over some new converts, while being sure to please old fans of the brand. For any five year old, that’s saying something.

(83/100)

Mar 222013
 

*

This was for me, for many years, one of the top five commercially available rums in the world, and quite frankly, the makers should sue Disney for claiming they are the happiest  place on earth: ’cause when I drink this, I am.  Not to be missed, even for the price. Four stars, triple A, I don’t care what you call it, this thing is simply awesome.

First posted on Liquorature, January 2010.

(#001/Unscored)

***

After gathering a ton of notes on rums from all points if the compass for almost a year, it seemed appropriate to begin my official rum reviews with what is arguably the best – and the second-most expensive – rum I’ve ever tasted to this point. Now I cheerfully admit to being something of a peasant and have no compunctions about using an expensive rum to dilute my cheap-ass coke if I think it a bit harsh, but for something this exclusive it almost seemed like sacrilege to let anything dilute it.

My friend Keenan and I were doing a rum run at Willow Park to stock up for a wings night (he who gets the largest raise buys the wings).  For those who have never heard of it, Willow Park in Calgary may just be as Curt has described it – the best liquor store in Western Canada.  Now Curt speaks from the misguided perception of his whisky-love (for which I have found the strength to forgive him), but there is little doubt that I have found more and better vintages of God’s water, more consistently, here than anywhere else. Browsing around, I saw this pricey bottle, read the label, hesitated and then, overcome by a fit of madness, bought the thing.  It was all I could do not to wince as the price rang up (and if you think this is dumbass, just read my review of the Appleton 30 year old)

It was well that I parted with the bucks, I think, because even a lifetime of boozing didn’t prepare me for the quality of this baby…packaging, bottle, appearance, legs, colour, drink – all were uniformly top of the scale.  I reverently cracked the sealed wax over the cork (Keenan’s wife laughed at us and our seriousness), bared our pates and bowed our heads, and took a neat sip each. And sat still, a little awed. This was, without question, the smoothest rum I’ve ever had in my life, one of the very few I’ve had without ice, and, at $200 for that bottle, it’s really pricey, but worth every penny. I’d have to say Keenan’s appreciation wasn’t far behind mine.

English Harbour 1981 is distilled by Antigua Distillery Limited from fermented molasses and bottled in 2006. It’s aged 25 years in used whisky and bourbon barrels and the subtle notes come through in the nose and taste. The copper and dark cedar color is sealed in with a wax-seal cork stopper that, when sniffed, gives a gentle nose of smoky wood followed by black cherry and currants. The initial taste doesn’t disappoint with more dry wood, caramelized dark fruit and roasted cashew in the body. And so, so smooth, it’s unbelievable – first rum I have ever had without even a smidgen of bite on the way down. The finish is dominated by smoky wood balanced with cinnamon and soft nutmeg tones. It’s like a liquid Hagen-Dasz caramel ice cream. If I ever get another one and feel like parting with that much money for the benefit of the peat-lovers, it’ll make the club for sure.

Highly, highly recommended if you can afford it (it runs into the El Dorado Problem, unfortunately, but in a pinch, the English Harbour 5-year isn’t half bad either at one-eighth the cost – I’ve got the review here as well). If only to apprise one’s palate of what rums can be at the top of the scale, buying this 25 year old is something a rum-lover should do at least once in his life.


Other notes:

This is totally irrelevant but in 2011 I snagged four more of these babies because a local shop mislabelled them at the price of the 5-Year Old. I can virtuously claim to have shared three of those bottles with others over the years.

The core of this rum is the Cavalier 1981 rum made by the same company. In 2014 I asked a brand rep about it and he admitted that they had underestimated how good the Cavalier was – when they did, they had enough left for the 5712 bottles that made up this rum.

750ml of 40%. Bottle #552 of 5712.

Update March 2013: This rum has, of course, been superceded in my affections and appreciation of quality, which was inevitable given how many rums I’ve tried and written about. I still think, though, that if one was to make any list of the top five rums in the world, this one should be somewhere on that list.

Update October 2014: tasted this again at the Berlin Rumfest and scribbled some notes.  Even given the evolution of my tastes to stronger and more intricate, original profiles, I’d still give this a solid 89 points. It loses two for lack of intensity at 40%, but the complexity of what is there remains stellar.

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