Oct 192020
 

If one rates popularity or the reach of a brand by how many joyful fanboys post pictures of their latest acquisition on social media and chirp how lucky they are to have gotten it, surely Velier’s oeuvre leads the pack, followed by Foursquare, and after them come trotting Kraken and Bumbu and maybe an agricole or two from Martinique.  Nowhere in this pantheon (I use the term loosely) is Bristol Spirits to be found – yet, in the late 1990s right up to the mid 2010s, Bristol was releasing some very good juice indeed, including the near legendary 30 year old Port Mourant 1980 and some rums from the 1970s that were just joys to sample.

In fact, so popular were they, that the company even ventured out into blends and spiced rums, like the Caribbean Collection (Trinidad), Mauritius cane juice rhum, Bristol Black and so on. They released rums from Haiti, Mauritius, Peru, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Cuba, Barbados (Rockley 1986, lovely stuff) and raised the profile of the islands’ rums just as the wave of the rum renaissance was breaking. Not for them the single barrel approach – most of the time they followed Rum Nation’s ethos of mixing several barrels into one release.

Since then, Bristol has fallen somewhat out of favour —  I think Mr. John Barratt may be retiring, if not already withdrawn from the rum scene — and it’s rare to see their bottles for sale outside of an auction, where their prices vary directly with age, from £1800 for a 1974 Demerara to as little as £45 for a 2003 Cuban. This 1985 Versailles was bottled in 1998 at a time when nobody knew a damned thing about the stills, and back then probably sank without a trace – nowadays, it’ll cost you five hundred quid, easy.

The Versailles wooden single pot still is one of the three wooden heritage stills (the Savalle is a fourth but not of wood) now housed at Diamond estate where DDL has its headquarters.  It’s distillate is usually blended with others to produce blends with distinctive profiles, yet for years many bottlers have tried to issue them on their own, with varying results – and it is my contention that it takes real skill to bring the raw untrammelled ferocity of a cask strength wooden pot still hooch to some level of elegance sufficient to create a disturbance in the Force.

Bristol, I think, came pretty close with this relatively soft 46% Demerara.  The easier strength may have been the right decision because it calmed down what would otherwise have been quite a seriously sharp and even bitter nose.  That nose opened with rubber and plasticine and a hot glue gun smoking away on the freshly sanded wooden workbench.  There were pencil shavings, a trace of oaky bitterness, caramel, toffee, vanilla and slowly a firm series of crisp fruity notes came to the fore: green apples, raisins, grapes, apples, pears, and then a surprisingly delicate herbal touch of thyme, mint, and basil. Marius of Single Cask, who wrote a good evaluation of a number of Versailles 1985 vintages, commented on a marzipan hint, but I didn’t get that at all.

The taste, though, was where I think it really came into its own. It was just lovely: lots of fruit right off – pears, apples, peaches, guavas, kiwi, both ripe and unripe, crisp and fleshy and a contrast in opposites. The herbs remained, though somewhat muted now, and a delicately clear and sharp line of citrus ran in and out of the profile, like a really good dry Riesling punctuated by tart green grapes; and a drop or two of rather unnecessary water revealed a background touch of unsweetened yogurt to balance everything off. Really nice to taste, moving sedately to a finish no less impressive, but acting more or less as a summation of the entire experience, adding just a dry burnt sugar note that was very pleasing.

Overall its a very good Versailles, one of the better ones I’ve tried. Unlike Marius I thought the strength was not a negative but a positive (he felt it was excessively diluted), because otherwise other sharper and less savoury aspects might have taken precedence and upset the fragile balance upon which my personal appreciation of the rum rested.  Nowadays we consider the “low” ABV somewhat wussy, but remember, at that time in the nineties, to release a rum at 46% was  considered recklessly daring – even ten years later, people were still telling Foursquare not to release the ECS Mark I 1998 at more than standard strength. 

ABV aside, what I did feel was the barrel didn’t have enough of an effect, overall, and it could have rested for a few more years without harm, and indeed, been even better afterwards. Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind who wrote about the rum himself in 2014 and was the source of the sample, thought that much of the youthful freshness of the original distillate was maintained and could have been aged longer without harm.  But clearly, both he and Marius really liked the thing, as did I. It’s a wonderful expression from the year, and even if there are older Versailles rums out there (like Bristol’s own 1985 22 Year Old which I’d dearly love to sample one day), to try this one from the dawn of rum’s ascent to the heights, when the wooden stills were just rising to prominence and attention, is an experience not to be foregone.

(#770)(87/100)

Oct 152020
 

The Reddit /r/rum forum gets far too little attention and kudos for what it accomplishes.  It acts as a useful backup for (and provides a deeper well of knowledge than) the fleeting one-sentence commentary on Facebook from which I have gradually withdrawn more and more.  Most of the really intelligent and literary rum discussions take place here, and that’s not even counting the witty short-form text-only reviews of T8ke and Tarquin_Underspoon, LIFO_Accountant and all the others who post here. 

In 2018 one of the moderators suggested to the redditors that perhaps we all, as a collective, get a cask and bottle it as a “Reddit-only” edition, to be sold at a minimal markup. He would look after cask purchase, bottling and labelling and then put it up for sale on FineDrams for us – our involvement would be in the selection of which casks.  Redditors were also asked to put some names in a hat to form a small tasting committee and, full disclosure, I was asked to be one of them – to my disappointment, I had to decline due to my geographical difficulties (I was pissed, let me tell you). Samples from barrels of rum from several countries (Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana) which matched the price criteria were sent around, blind, and eventually the tasting committee picked this one from Foursquare, a nice sharply chubby little 13 year old. Unsurprisingly, I sprung for a bottle (as I have for all subsequent editions — the reddit rum forum seems to have turned into a tiny indie all by itself) which was around €75 or so.

Briefly, it’s a pot-column blend, continentally aged, single cask, 266 bottles, not chill-filtered, no fancy finishing as far as I’m aware, red gold, and a muscular 63% ABV.  I particularly liked the label, which the designers (yet other redditors) put together with a sort of stark simplicity that clearly suggested they thought Velier was far too overdecorated with fripperies of baroque ostentation and should be shown what “minimalism” really meant.  Not sure what was behind the XXX (hush, ye snickerers) but whatever, and the “One” was a neat touch, suggesting other editions to come much like the Danish indie Ekte, and it’s No. 1 and No. 2 and so on.  It’s a cool looking bottle, unlikely to be available any longer given its small outturn — if you can find it, it’s a decent addition to the canon, though it won’t supplant the ECS or 4S-V Collaborations in people’s affections any time soon, fans being who they are.

All right, so let’s dive right in. Nose first. Musty, dark and fruity notes right off the bat, sweet and tart, very intense (no surprise, given that strength). It had a touch of brine, balanced off by vanilla, coconut shavings and a nice creamy mocha, freshly ground coffee beans, plus brie with dark peasant bread.  Perhaps it was mean to be breakfast alternative, a sort of all-in-one experience: I mean, you were getting a real balanced start-your-morning diet here – fruit, toast, cheese, coffee. The aroma was very deep and intense, but also rather sharp initially, and it took time to calm down and open up the kitchen.

Tastewise, a 50-50 combo of salty elements (brine, olives, a maggi cube) and sweet ones – fruits (bananas, soft yellow mangoes, some overripe citrus), caramel, honey, fudge, plus a strong latte and bitter chocolate. More wood on the taste than had been sensed on the nose, and with the heat and sharpness carrying over, it made for a sip to have with caution, not abandon. This was one rum I would have preferred a little less powerful and indeed, with water it settled down and coughed up some raisins, dates, and pancake syrup notes. The finish was long on fruits, sweet, hot and aromatic, but added little to what had come before – mostly vanilla, chocolate, ripe sharpish bubble gum and pineapple that suggested (but did not speak loudly about) funk.

To be honest, I’m surprised it worked as well as it did. The vanilla was too dominant for me, the citrus peel note kicked in too late, and the flavours seemed somewhat uncoordinated, lacking a coherent through-line – it jumped haphazardly from one note to another in a sort of playfully chaotic jumble that somehow and pleasingly worked. In a way it reminded me of a low-rent ECS bottling (the 2004 or 2005 maybe, it shares some DNA with the former for sure), but at end, it must be judged on its own, for what it is. In that vein, not bad. It adheres to Foursquare’s blending philosophy, while daring to be occasionally different, haring off on a tangent like a not-quite-housebroken puppy let off the leash once or twice, before docilely returning to the profile that makes it recognizably a product of its famed distillery of origin.

(#761)(83/100)


Other notes

  • For the avoidance of all doubt, I am not advocating having this rum for breakfast for any who might inadvertently misinterpret my remarks above. Diner for sure, though.
  • I would link to T8ke and Tarquin’s and others’ reddit profiles, but they post other stuff on other fora so that it’s not really feasible.  But trust me.  What they write is worth it.
  • After this went up, T8ke commented that the XXX was not meant to be salacious or speak to any kind of multiple distillation: “The ‘XXX’ was another exercise in stark simplicity. General zeitgeist and cartoons are loaded with ‘moonshine: XXX’ bottles to convey that “hey, this has alcohol in it”. Same idea with XXX bottlings. This is rum. It’s alcoholic. Here’s everything you need to know and nothing you don’t. Drink up.”
Oct 052020
 

Although just about every conversation about the Hamilton 151 remarks on its purpose to replicate the Lemon Hart 151 as a basic high proof bar-room mixer, this is a common misconception – in point of fact its stated objective was to be better than Lemon Hart. And if its reputation has been solidly entrenched as a staple of that aspect of the drinking world, then it is because it really is one of the few 151s to satisfy both rum drinkers and cocktail shakers with its quality in a way the LH did not always. 

Back in the late 2000s / early 2010s Lemon Hart — for whatever reason — was having real trouble releasing its signature 151, and it sporadically went on and off the market, popping back on the scene with a redesigned label in 2012 before going AWOL again a couple of years later. Aside from Bacardi’s own 151, it had long been a fixture of the bar scene, even preceding the tiki craze of the mid 1930s (some of this backstory is covered in the History of the 151s).  Into this breach came Ed Hamilton, the founder of the Ministry of Rum website and its associated discussion forum, author of Rums of the Eastern Caribbean and an acknowledged early rum guru from the dawn of the rum renaissance.  As he recounts in a 2018 interview (from around timestamp 00:41:50), he decided to create his own line of Demerara rums, both 86 and 151 proof and while barred from using the word “Demerara” for trademark reasons, he did manage to issue the new rums in 2015 and they have been on the market ever since. 

Whether Hamilton 151 has replaced or superseded the Lemon Hart is an open question best left to an individual’s personal experience, but to compare them directly is actually apples and oranges to some extent, because the LH version blends Guyanese, Jamaican and Barbados rums while Hamilton’s is Guyanese only – though likely a blend of more than one still.  But certainly there’s at least some significant element of the wooden stills in there, because the profile is unmistakable.

It is, in short, a powerful wooden fruit bomb, one which initially sits and broods in the glass, dark and menacing, and needs to sit and breathe for a while.  Fumes of prunes, plums, blackcurrants and raspberries rise as if from a grumbling and stuttering half-dormant volcano, moderated by tarter, sharper flavours of damp, sweet, wine-infused tobacco, bitter chocolate, ginger and anise. The aromas are so deep it’s hard to believe it’s so young — the distillate is aged around five years or less in Guyana as far as I know, then shipped in bulk to the USA for bottling. But aromatic it is, to a fault.

It’s also hard to see the Hamilton 151 as “only” a bar-based cocktail mixer when one tries it like I did, neat. The taste is very strong, very powerful — given the 75.5% ABV, caution is of course in order —  yet not sharp so much as firm, a flavoured cricket bat stroking the tongue, tasting thirty proof points lower. There’s the piquance of ginger, red wine, raisins, dark fruits, followed by vanilla, caramel, cloves, licorice, pencil shavings, and cedar planks, melding an initially simple-seeming rum profile with something more complex and providing a texture that can be both coked up or had by itself.  Me, I could as easily sip it as dunk it into a double espresso, and then pour that over a vanilla ice cream.  Even the long lasting finish gives up a few extra points, and it closes the experience with dark red cherries, plums and prunes again, as well as coriander, cumin, cloves and toffee. Pretty good in comparison to a lot of other 151s I’ve tried over the years.

Frankly, I found the rum revelatory, even kind of quietly amazing.  Sure, it hit on all the expected notes, and the quality didn’t ascend to completely new heights (though it scaled several rises of its own).  But neither did it collapse and fall like a rock. In its own way, the rum redefined a good 151, moving it away from being a back-alley palate-mugger, to more of a semi-civilized, tux-clad thug. It might not be as good as a high-proofed ultra-aged Velier from the Age….but it wasn’t entirely removed from that level either. Drinking it, standing on the foothill of its taste, you can see the mountaintop to which it could aspire.

(#767)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • You’ll note the careful use of the word “Demerara” on the label. This was to get around the trademark issue which prevented the use of the term “Demerara Rum.” The rum is trademarked…the river is not.
  • Thanks and a tip of the trilby to Cecil, old-school ex-QC squaddie, for sending me a more-than-generous sample.
Sep 212020
 

Photo courtesy of and (c) Mads Heitmann of romhatten.dk

One of the interesting things about the Compagnie des Indes Dominican Republic rum we’re looking at today, is that we don’t often see rums from the half island go into anything except a mild standard strength blend.  It’s rare to see a single cask version and even rarer at this kind of power – 64.9%. Here is a rum that at that level of oomph had to be a special edition for Denmark only (see other notes), probably because nobody back in the day wanted to take a chance on a rum and a country not known for individualistic excess of any kind.

In 2020, of course, when new indies are popping up everywhere and cask strength is considered almost a new standard, such a thing is the sort of amusing tale we relegate dismissively to “them old days”, but it’s instructive to note how recently the situation actually was – the rum was released in 2016.  Another peculiarity about it is the lack of information about who made it – none of this “Secret Distillery” business, just a cryptic note of “various” distilleries – this tells us that it was likely procured from either one or more of the “Three B’s” – Bermudez, Barcelo or Brugal – or Oliver & Oliver (who produces such indeterminate blends).  The assumptions this also forces us to make are that it is from column stills, a blend, and blended prior to ageing, not after. Knowing the Compagnie, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest ageing was continental.

Still, I do appreciate the extra intensity the 64.9% brings and the ageing of fifteen years is nothing to sneeze at. The nose bears this out in some ways – it’s powerful, yes, but very light and clear, with a clean and somewhat sweetish nose. Fruits like peaches, cherries, a slice of pineapple and a red grapefruit are present, though oddly muted.  To this is added tannins, oak, shoe leather, citrus, and aromatic port-infused cigarillos, which nose well but seem tamped down, even tamed, not as furiously pungent as might have been expected.

Photo courtesy of and (c) Mads Heitmann of romhatten.dk

The palate is pretty good, though.  The tart and sweet nose gives way to a more musky, nutty and coffee-like flavour, with chocolate and mocha, a bit bitter. The sweetness noted on the aromas was less prominent here, while, with some water, the fruity component went up, and developed hand in hand with an interesting salty tang, nuts, dates and teriyaki sauce (go figure). Finish is good but not exceptional: medium long, fruity aromas of ripe mangoes, pineapple and sweet soya sauce, and a whiff of salt caramel.

A single cask full-proof rum from the Dominican Republic is harder to find nowadays, even from an independent, and my impression is that CdI (or Florent – to speak of one is to speak of the other as is the case with most small indies) found it uneconomical to release such a rum which in any event lacked precision – it had been blended before it went into the cask in 2000, and then aged for 15 years, releasing a mere 293 bottles.  It’s likely that though it sold and he didn’t lose money, he found it more efficient to go more seriously into blended rums, like the well-received Dominidad series of Dominican/Trinidadian hybrids which did away with the limited outturn of the DR 2000 and expanded his sales (he has remarked that blends outsell the single cask offering by quite a margin, an experience shared by 1423 in Denmark).

Well, whatever. Moving away from this single-country, multi-distillery type of rum was probably the right decision – because although CDI has made a few others from the DR, younger ones, they are not well known, probably for the same reason this one has faded from our senses: overall there’s something indeterminate about it, and it lacks an element of real distinctiveness that might make you run to find your credit card. In other words, while the CdI DR 15 YO is too well made to ignore completely, there’s also nothing specific enough here to recommend with real enthusiasm.

(#763)(82/100)


Other Notes

  • On FB, others gently disagreed with my assessment. Nico Rumlover commented it was the best DR rum, for him (of the 14 DR rums I’ve written about, only two score higher, so I’d suggest he has a point); and Mikkel Petersen added that he felt it was one of the best gateway rums for people who wanted to get into cask-strength additive-free juice. I hadn’t considered that, but do agree.
  • Florent has told me it’s definitely not Oliver & Oliver, and identified at least one of the distilleries in the blend. I respect his reticence and therefore will not mention it either.  
  • The rum has no additives and is not filtered. Interesting then, why it tastes sweet.
  • Back in 2014-2016, Danish bars and importers liked the Compagnie’s bottlings but having a bunch of rabid rum fans clamouring for stronger juice, asked Florent to sell them some at cask strength.  Florent told them he could do that, but for tax and other reasons could only sell them the entire outturn from a whole barrel, and this is why there are various older bottlings with the “Bottled for Denmark” on the label.  By 2016 others got into the act, these releases became more popular and more common and distribution was widened to other countries – so the label was changed to “Cask Strength” and after another year or two, the matter was dropped entirely.

Jul 162020
 

The Rum Nation Panama 2009 edition exists in a peculiar place of my mind, since it’s the unavailable, long-gone predecessor of the 18 YO Panamanian which RN released in 2010; this in turn was one of the first Panamanian rums that I had tried that wasn’t an indifferently blended bland blah, that possessed more years  and complexity than I had heretofore experienced, and was an all round lovely drink…or so I thought at the time. Nearly a decade later, my opinions of Panamanian rums is no longer so stellar: but in all honesty, to see a rum from Rum Nation that predates the current age of rum we’re living in is reason enough sometimes, to just grab the bottle, whip out the notebook, and spend an hour or so putting the pour through its paces.

Rum Nation itself needs no introduction, though you can read the bio of the company Fabio Rossi founded in 1999 and sold in 2018 here if you’re interested. They have always had three kinds of rums: [i] the ‘starter’ rums [ii] the multi-decade-old Demeraras and Jamaicans, and [iii] the Rare Collection of upscale limited releases.  Especially in the starters, there have always been justified grumbles and accusations about dosage, however minor, but of late this practice has been discontinued.  I was unable to test this one, unfortunately, but based on how it profiled, I would suggest that yes, it had a little something extra, just not enough to make it a competitor for AH Riise.

That dealt with, let’s get right into the rum. Considering the nose and the smell, the first word I wrote was “light.” It had a nice mixup of bitter tree bark, strong black tea, crushed walnuts, and a nice layering of butterscotch, vanilla and salted caramel. It developed with further hints of leather, some smoke, light molasses and seemed to be a completely decent exemplar of the lighter latin column-still style that was so in favour when it was made and now so disregarded, by so many.  For its strength, 40%, I quite liked it.

That was the smell, but what did it taste like?  Eighteen years in a barrel must, after all, show its traces. To some extent, yes: again, light is the operative word, though gentle can work too. Nuts, leather and butterscotch, a bit of brine and molasses started the party going. The other band members joined in later – vanilla, white guavas, figs papaya, watermelons, watery pears, and even coconut shavings, cloves, white chocolate, almonds and molasses.  But in spite of these good beginnings, they just started big…and then dropped rapidly off a cliff.  All those tastes literally disappeared in seconds, and made a mockery of the finish, which only displayed a short, briny aftertaste of peanut butter, almonds and caramel. Essentially, not much action in the jock and you can see how far the rum world has progressed when you compare something like this to today’s solid offerings.

In fine, the 40% strength is part of the problem, and it’s it’s too thin, too wispy, too fleetingly easy.  I suppose it can be classed as a soft evening sipper but even within that quiet profile there’s too little going on, and I remember liking the 2010 edition much more – but then, those were more innocent times and we had experienced less.  The Rum Nation 2009 says rather more about my changing tastes than about itself. Up to about 2014 I liked 40% blends and the smooth slinky Central American rums from Panama and Nicaragua quite a bit.  For example, Rum Nation’s own 21 YO Panamanian scored 89 points in early 2013; another high point came with the Panamonte XXV, to which I awarded what would be a now-unthinkable 87 points that same year; and the last one I remember scoring that well was the Peruvian Ron Cartavio XO at 88 a year later.  But by then I had started gravitating towards stronger, clearer and more forceful rums that tasted off the scale and gradually moved away from the somnolent ease of the Spanish style. 

Had I tried this Rum Nation product back at the beginning, I believe 84-86 points would have been its lot: now, with so many years of trying, tasting, and thinking about rums from all points of the compass, it ranks higher for providing a window to the world of Ago than purely for taste and enjoyment (although I did like it enough, let me be clear about that).  It’s a rum from those uncritical uncynical times at the dawn of the rum renaissance and deserves to be written about in that vein…but alas, the big-eared, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed newb who should do that has left the building…and his successor is a little harder to please.

(#745)(80/100)


Other Notes

As far as I know, the rum stock comes from Varela Hermanos, who make the Abuelo brand, and aged in American oak ex-bourbon barrels.  Awaiting some feedback from Fabio Rossi, and will update the post if needed.

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 082020
 

Part of the problem The major problem I have with this rum is that it simply tastes artificial – “fake,” in today’s updated lexicon – and that’s entirely aside from its labelling, which we’ll get into in a minute.  For the moment, I’d suggest you follow me through a quick tasting, starting with a nose that reminds one disconcertingly of a Don Papa – oak, boatloads of vanilla, icing sugar, honey, some indeterminate fleshy fruits and more vanilla. This does not, I’m afraid, enthuse.   

In spite of its 46.5% strength (ah, the good old days when this was considered “daring” and “perhaps a shade too strong”), the taste provided exactly zero redemption.  There’s a lot going on here — of something —  but you never manage to come to grips with it because of the dominance of vanilla. Sure there’s some caramel, some molasses, some ice cream, some sweet oatmeal cookies, even a vague hint of a fruit or two (possibly an orange was waved over the spirit as it was ageing, without ever being dropped in) – but it’s all an indeterminate mishmash of nothing-in-particular, and the short finish of sweet, minty caramel and (you guessed it) vanilla, can at best be described as boring. 

So, some background then. The rum is called “Austrian Empire Navy Rum” and originally made by Albert Michler, who established a spirits merchant business in 1863, four years before the Austrian Empire became the Austro-Hungarian Empire…so he had at best four years to create some kind of naval tradition with the rum, which is unlikely. Since the company started with the making of a herbal liqueur before moving into rums, a better name for the product might be “Austro-Hungarian Navy Rum” – clearly this doesn’t have the same ring to it, hence the modern simplification, evidently hoping nobody cared enough to check into the datings of the actual empire. For the record, the company which had been based in Silesia (in Czechoslovakia) limped on after WW2 when the exodus of German speaking inhabitants and the rise of the communists in 1948 shuttered it. The new iteration appears to have come into being around 2015 or so.

There are no records on whether the Austrian or Austro-Hungarian Navy ever used it or was supplied by the Michler distillery.  Somehow I doubt it – it was far more likely it followed in the tradition of rum verschnitt, which was neutral alcohol made from beets, tarted up with Jamaican high ester DOK, very popular and common around the mid to late 1800s in Germany and Central Europe. The thing is, this is not what the rum is now: a blended commercial product, it’s actually a sort of hodgepodge of lots of different things, all jostling for attention – a blended solera, sourced from Dominica, aged in french oak and american barrels “up to 21 years,” plus 12-16 months secondary ageing in cognac casks …it’s whatever the master blender requires. It cynically trades in on a purported heritage, and is made by a UK based company of the same name located in Bristol, and who also make a few other “Austrian Navy” rums, gin, absinthe and the Ron Espero line of rums. 

That anything resembling a rum manages to crawl out of this disorganized blending of so many disparate elements is a sort of minor miracle, and I maintain it’s less a rum than the cousin of the Badel Domaci, Tuzemak, Casino 50⁰ and other such domestic “Rooms” of Central Europe….even if made in Britain. It is therefore very much made for its audience: it will likely find exactly zero favour with anyone who likes a purer experience exemplified by modern Caribbean rums and new micro distilleries the world over, but anyone who likes sweet supermarket rums (possibly spiced up) will have no issue with it at all.  I’m not one of the latter, though, since I personally prefer to stick with reputable houses that make, y’know, real rums. 

(#734)(70/100)


Other notes

The company website makes no mention of additives or spices.  My sense that it is a rum with stuff added to it is my interpretation based on the taste profile and not supported by any published material.

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 302020
 

By the time this review is read, digested and (incredulously) sniffed over and dismissed, somebody out there might well be sharpening pen, tablet or iphone and getting ready to verbally off me online.  And no surprise – were I to repeat the hosannas of my original 2012 review of the Millonario XO, which scored what would now be considered a near-unbelievable, is-the-Caner-out-of-his-friggin’-mind? 88 points, I would never be taken seriously again.  The rum has become a lightning rod for rum purists, on par with the Diplo Res Ex, Dictador, Zacapa 23 or the Zaya 21, all of which are from South America, feature big numbers and small type and fine print, are almost all soleras (named so or not) and worst of all, are all tarted up with additives of one kind or another to a degree that is off putting in the Age of Foursquare, New Jamaicans and the big Indies.

Such matters in any adulterated rum would itself wouldn’t be all that problematic if (a) these things were spelled out clearly and (b) the labelling wasn’t so self-evidently deceptive and (c) the marketing wasn’t so heavy on the bullsh*t.  Rum Nation, which until recently produced and distributed the Millonario (which is made from facilities in Peru), didn’t escape such opprobrium, but since the original XO came out more than ten years back, and since so much of what RN did since then was so well received, I’m guessing some slack was granted for lesser knowledge and expertise back in the day; and as time passed reviews dried up…and the Millonario brand, while it sold extremely well, fell into a sort of limbo.

But Fabio Rossi has sold off the Rum Nation name and portfolio to concentrate on this line of rums, which he evidently prefers (he remains in a consultancy capacity for the RN brand) or which sells a whole lot better. This deserves some consideration since he does know his spirits and has been in the game of rum for over two decades, and undoubtedly picked up a thing or two. And so, when he handed me the 2018 release (which had been matured in 2nd fill sherry casks and was actually stated to have 20g/L of added sugar), although I initially backed off and mumbled something about this not being my cup of tea any longer, honour and curiosity demanded I give it a shot anyway…so later I snuck back and tried it.

Let’s be clear, this is not in any sense one of the headliners of the various FB fora where people boast about scoring one. The nose is, bluntly, rather blunt. It’s like sucking a fruity snickers bar. It has a solid, smooth and aromatic nose in which the sweet has – somewhat surprisingly – less omnipresence than I would have expected. With that also comes something of a darkish tone to the experience – chocolate, toffee, molasses, coffee, nougat, vanilla and some fleshy fruit – prunes and plums and blackberries I’d say, which lend a certain light citrus element that was unlooked-for and quite surprising. It’s demonstrably not a Demerara, though the resemblance is there…but a newcomer to rum might not see much difference between an ED 12 and this, were they both at the same strength.

What distinguished the taste of the rum then, and again now, through all the years, is its thick firmness which feels akin to having a solid weight brush across the tongue.  The original 40% of the XO fails it nowadays (my opinion) but the intriguing thing about pushing the strength up to 50% which this has, is that it kind of works.  The tastes on the palate, are, for one, much clearer: there are marshmallows, toblerone, almonds, nuts, coffee, bitter chocolate, caramel, anise, well balanced, melding pleasantly. To this are added berries, watermelon, vanilla and some breakfast spices and cumin if you focus, with a feather bed of a finish closing things off – apples, chocolate, bitter coffee grounds, and again, some fruits and vanilla.

A 50% ABV rum like this, a solera (I assume – there is no age statement), sweet, fruity, heavy, firmer than the XO, less elegant than the Solera 15…well, it’s not as brutal as a Caroni or New Jamaican, softer than the pot column blends of the Bajans (but not as good, sorry – Barbados still gets my coin in a head-to-head)…this rum is not as bad as detractors may feel, and reminds me a lot of what I’ve often said in defense of the XO – “there’s a lot more under the hood of this thing than most admit.” But that said, there’s no denying it’s not for everyone, for the same reasons. 

I make no apologies for this, offer no excuses, no defense – it is what it is. It’s been sweetened, it feels sticky, it leaves a residue of aromatic sugar in your glass that any insect would happily swim and drown in, and that’s the rum’s cross to bear.  Every person who reads this review and is thinking of buying or trying it, has to make their peace with that, to walk away, or give in and accept. What I maintain though, is that it’s not half bad for what it is (and as long as you come to it knowing that), which is why I score it at 79 and not below the median of 75, beneath which a rum is not at all to my taste.  I wouldn’t have it in quantity and some wouldn’t have it at all; others would quaff it by the bottle, and still more would have it after dessert only, perhaps with a cigar.  I don’t know all of you and what you would do. But you each know who you are.  Hopefully this rambling review helps you make up your mind one way or another.

(#722)(79/100)

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