Mar 122019
 

Rumanics Review #93 | 0607

The Appleton Special is not yet a true Rumaniacs rum, since it’s still commonly available – it was, for quite a long time, one of the most common low-end starter rums available in North America and Europe, so it’s more than likely that one can still find a bottle.

However, in 2016 it was retired from active service and put out to pasture, to be replaced by the not-quite-as good J. Wray Jamaica Gold rum – I think they tweaked the blend somewhat since the taste is almost, but not quite, similar.  So, since it is no longer in production and gradually will disappear, I include it in this series rather than the main body of the reviews.

As far as I know, this is a blend of very young rums (less than five years old, and my own feeling is  two years and less), pot and column still blend, and an entry level rum made for mixing with whatever you have on hand.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – Funk and dunder, warm bordering on hot.  Bananas, brine, olives, plus citrus peel, flambeed bananas, some nuts, molasses and faint rubber. Sharp and light at the same time. I suppose one could add some water to bring out the nuances, but at 40% I didn’t bother.  It’s meant for cocktails, so that’s where it shines more.

Palate – All the hits come out to play: vanilla, orange peel, watermelon juice, brine, avocados.  Some apple cider and green grapes, plus light underlying notes of bitter salt caramel and molasses.  Weak and undernourished, really, but they’re there and the longer one sticks with it, the more pronounced they become.

Finish – Short, mostly caramel, brine, vanilla and funk

Thoughts – Oddly, I liked it better than the new J. Wray Gold.  It’s a subtle kind of thing. Some of the rough edges the Gold retained were less evident here.  It was slightly better integrated, and it could – with some effort – be had neat (though I would not recommend that).  In fine, it’s a fully competent mixing agent, with enough character to wake up a cocktail, yet possessing a fine edge of refinement that incrementally lifts it above its successor.

(74/100)

Mar 102019
 

In the previous review of the Florida Caribbean Distillers industrially-produced Florida Reserve 2 year old rum, it was treated and written about with some disdain, because as far as I was concerned, it had nothing to make it stand out at all.  It was a low rent mass-produced column-still rum that did exactly nothing to distinguish itself and could at best be used to spike a drink with alcohol, without leaving any trace of itself behind, not even a grin.

Move on now to another minimally aged rum marketed to the masses, cheaply priced, easily available (at least, in Toronto, which was where I sourced it), and you can see what a difference there is. I’m not talking about intrinsic quality so much as distinctiveness; nor do I contend that the J. Wray Gold is some kind of hidden masterpiece, because it rubs shoulders in the same sort of downmarket liquor store shelves where you might find the Reserve, and is a mass market rum just like it….but does have its points.

The J. Wray Gold is nothing particularly new – for years it was sold as the Appleton Special Jamaican rum, and this new version got issued in 2016 as a rebranding effort (though why they bothered escapes me – maybe it’s to distinguish it from the slightly more upmarket Appleton range of rums).  For what it’s worth, I tried them side by side, and felt they tasted somewhat similar, scored somewhat similar, but were definitely not the same – so the recipe was likely tweaked some in the rebranding. What is also peculiar is that there is actually not much information available on what makes it up: the most I can ascertain is that it’s a mix of pot and column still distillate, 40% ABV, and (my opinion) is probably very young – maybe two years old or so, maybe even less.

I make this last observation because of its unrefined nature. Even at standard strength, it noses rather raw and jagged, even harsh.  There are initial aromas of light glue, rotten bananas and some citrus, light in tone but sharp in attack. It also smells a little sweet and vanilla-like, with vague florals, apple cider, molasses, dates, peaches and dates, with the slightest rtang of burnt rubber coiling around the back there somewhere. But it sears more than caresses and it’s clear that this is not a lovingly aged product of any kind.

It is, however, somewhat more distinct on the taste.  The sharp and uncouth nature doesn’t abate, that’s a given, and funky notes persist – rotting fruit, ripe landfill steaming after a tropical rain (yeah, I know what that sounds like), overripe fruit and bananas, honey, brine, vanilla and some molasses and caramel.  It’s not very well integrated and though I mention these flavours, the truth is that they are still underwhelming (a function of the strength) and the roughness on the tongue makes it unsuited for any kind of sipping drink. The finish is unspectacular- short, salty, nutty with some citrus and vanilla thrown in, and overall, very faint, quickly gone.

This is not a ringing endorsement by any means — I can’t say I cared for it, really.  But for good or ill, it was a rum you couldn’t easily forget once you tried it because of those very same attributes. It excites opinion, not indifferent yawns. Sure it’s a rough ‘n’ ready backcountry bottom-feeder, perfect for a pick-me-up hip flask to be taken into the dodgy areas of Scarborough when you’re liming with your squaddies down at the local rumshop. It’s cheap, it’s raw, and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than an entry level hooch.

Yet at the same time you can sense the nascent quality it has, which emerges more fully as you work up the line of the company’s products. It has something, some small spark of artistry, of appeal, of uniqueness. Poor as it rates next to pricier upscale rum from J. Wray / Appleton, it does show what some distillation chops and blending ability can bring to the table with a set of people who know what they’re doing, even at the bottom end of the range. Oh sure it won’t class with an aged Hampden or Worthy Park, and I think even the V/X exceeds it. So okay, it fails, maybe….but to me, it fails with authority. And that’s why, though scoring them almost the same,  I would prefer an honestly made piece of dreck like this, over something more smoothly anonymous like the FCD Florida Reserve.

(#606)(73/100)

Feb 022019
 

Rumaniacs Review #090 | 0595

We’re all familiar with the regular roundup of major Appleton rums like the Reserve, the 12 YO, the 15 YO, 21 YO and 30 (old version or new), as well as their halo rum du jour, the 50 YO. But the company also had and has distinct and not so well known brands for sale locally (or niche export markets), such as Edwin Charley, Coruba, Conquering Lion, JBW Estate and Cocomania.  And as the years turned, the company outlived some of its own brands – for example the previously well-known One Dagger, Two Dagger and Three Dagger rums which went out in the 1950s.  Another casualty of the times was the C.J. Wray Dry White Rum, which was launched in 1991 as a broadside to Bacardi; at the time there weren’t many light whites out there and the Superior was the market leader, so Wray & Nephew decided to take lessons from the very successful premium vodka campaign of Absolut (against Smirnoff) and launched their own, supposedly upscale, alternative.

But by the early-to-mid 2000s, the Dry was discontinued.  The reasons remain obscure: perhaps on the export market, it couldn’t compete with the vastly more popular poor man’s friend and bartender’s staple, the 63% overproof, being itself a meek and mild 40%.  Perhaps there was some consolidation going on and it was felt that the Appleton White was enough.  Maybe it just wasn’t deemed good enough by the rum drinkers of the day, or the margins made it an iffy proposition if it couldn’t sell in quantity.

Technical details are murky. All right, they’re practically non-existent. I think it’s a filtered column still rum, diluted down to standard strength, but lack definitive proof – that’s just my experience and taste buds talking, so if you know better, drop a line.  No notes on ageing – however, in spite of one reference I dug up which noted it as unaged, I think it probably was, just a bit.

Colour – White

Strength – 40%

Nose – Light, mild and sweet.   Dry?  Not for this guy’s schnozz.  Initial aromas narrow in on vanilla, nougat, white toblerone and almonds, with a little salt and citrus peel to liven up the party.  It’s very soft (no surprise), gentle, and warm, and going just by the nose, is perfectly acceptable to have neat, though I saw some fans posting back in 2008 who were itching to try it in a daquiri.

Palate – Not as interesting as the nose, really, but every bit as nice.  Tinned cherries and pineapples in syrup was the first thought that ocurred to me as I sipped it; a trace of salt and brine, with perhaps half an olive, vanilla, almonds, and – if you crease your brow, sweat a bit and concentrate – citrus, raisins, cinnamon and maybe a shaving of fresh ginger.

Finish – Short, mellow, slightly fruity, a little herbal.  Nothing to write home about.

Thoughts – For a low-end white, it’s actually quite an interesting drink.  Sales must have been low, margins too scrawny, reactions too muted, and it was put down as an act of mercy (or so the storyteller in me supposes).  That’s too bad because while the profile does suggest that it was doctored (entirely a personal opinion – it lacks something of the punch and edge of a clean and unmessed-with rum, though this may simply be over-enthusiastic filtration), it’s a neat little rumlet if your expectations are kept low and you like easy.  Maybe, had it been left in place to gather a head of steam, it might have found some legs — these days, good luck finding any outside an estate sale or an old salt’s collection.

(80/100)

 

May 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #039 | 0439

A rum like this makes me want to rend my robes and gnash my teeth with frustration because there’s no information available about it aside from what’s on the label, and that’s hardly very much.  Still, it’s Jamaican, it’s a J. Wray (Appleton) and it’s from the 1970s and that alone makes it interesting.  Imported by another one of those enterprising Italian concerns, age unknown.  From the colour I can only hope it was a real oldie.

Colour – Dark red-brown

Strength – 43%

Nose – “Dirty” might be the est way to describe the nose.  I’ve mentioned “rotting bananas and veggies” before in a review once or twice, and here it’s real.  Quite intense for a standard proof drink – wine, bitter chocolate and black rye bread.  Then molasses and bananas and a lot of compost (wet leaves in a pile) and a lot of fruit way past their sell-by date.  Oh, and anise, strong black tea and some smoky, leathery aromas backing things up.  Fantastic nose, really.

Palate – Smoothens out and is less aggressively crazy as the nose, though still quite assertive, luscious and rich.  Molasses, caramel and dark fruits (prunes, plums, stewed apples, raisins) with the off notes held much more in check.  Then chocolate, black tea and some citrus oil, a flirt of sugar cane juice and the bitterness of some oak.  Some spices noticeable here or there, but nothing as definitive as the nose had suggested.

Finish – Short and easy, mostly caramel, wood chips, more tea, plums, a little brine and a last hint of veggies in teriyaki, odd as that might sound.

Thoughts – I really liked this rum, which didn’t present itself as an Appleton, but more like a unique Jamaican carving out its own flavour map.  I seriously doubt it’ll ever be available outside a collector’s shelves, or perhaps on an auction site somewhere, but if it can be found I think it’s worth picking up, both for its history and its taste.

(85/100)

Jan 192017
 

Photo (c) shopsampars.com

#337

Just about every rum junkie has heard of the J. Wray & Nephew 63% Overproof, Appleton’s flagship white lightning and that’s likely the variation that most people know about and have tried.  But since the 1990s, there’s been a local hooch, the Charley’s J.B. White Overproof (made by the Trelawny Rum Company which Appleton controls), primarily marketed in the backcountry…at that time it was aimed at rural farmers and considered a sort of 2nd tier tipple.  In 2015 the company decided to issue it to the urban market perhaps because people in the cities were getting annoyed at those wussy little forty percenters they had to suffer though, wondering why “dem lucky bredren in de backdam gettin’ all dat good bashwar”, and wanted to get something from near by Cockpit Country that would pack more animal in its jock.  And aside from actually stating that the Charley’s JB is a “Trelawny blend,” I’m not sure there’s much difference between it and the JW&N 63%.  Most people who’ve tried it just love the thing for its fiery, fruity and powerful taste.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Pietrek, the Cocktail Wonk

Like DDL’s High Wine, or the Rum Nation Pot still white 57% — and of course the Haitian clairins —  it channels a sort of barely contained ferocity. No easy lead up here: the rum puts you in the middle of the action immediately, with the very first sniff of the cap when cracked, so it’s probably a good idea to go easy for the first few minutes and let the alcohol burn off a mite.  Do that and you sense salty, fusel oil fumes, with sharp rubber, acetone, musty cardboard and leather vying to see which can skewer your schnozz the fastest. It stays sharp, and is like breathing the inside of a vulcanizing shop in hot weather, but it does develop well (if grudgingly), and aside from a weird glue aroma, a watery fruity punch of bananas, citrus, unripe green apples is also there, tied up neatly with the rich scent of new leather shoes still in the wrapping paper.

Tasting it more or less continues the experience and I am here to assure you that yes, to some extent, it really does smoothen out…just a little (well, it is 63% ABV, so you can’t expect too much).  Sweet watery pears, white guavas, watermelon, cucumbers, some dill and rosemary, squash segue their way across the tongue.  The crisp tartness of the nose mellows into something more akin to plums and blackcurrants with a flirt of gooseberries thrown in, if you can believe it, but just add a little water (coconut water might be better), and the feral beast goes quiescent in labba time.  The finish? Nothing shabby – nice, long, fruity, estery, sugar water and soursop ice cream, plus the faintest bit of rubber and smoke. Overall, it’s a crude iron axe, not a sword made from Damascus steel, and that’s apparent all the way through….but “little axe does chop down big tree” as my great aunty Sheila always used to tell me so sanctimoniously.

Frankly, I’m amazed that Quazi4Moto, my correspondent on reddit, agreed to spot me a sample (many, many thanks to the man for sending it along).  This isn’t the best white ever made by a long shot, and it shows its cheerful working class origins clearly…but it sure is a unique one, a taste bomb of savage, raw quality, and if it belonged to me and I knew I wasn’t going back for rice and peas any time soon, I’m not entirely convinced if I’d have shared it myself.

See, I’m aware it’s powerful and uncouth and needs some dialling down, and them crazies who quaff it neat are clearly purveyors of over-the-cliff machismo who are afraid of absolutely nothing; and to be sure, it proudly struts a massive codpiece of taste that falls this side short of a mess, and which will curl your toes without busting a sweat. But you know, in its own way it’s a really freakin’ cool white rum. So what if it’s untamed and maybe too sharp?  So what if it growls down our throats as if mixed with undiluted tiger blood? It’s in no way a bad hooch, and those who make it past their initial despite might find themselves – like me — breathing hard, grinning stupidly, and nodding that yeah, they’ll take another shot.  Maybe two.

(82/100)

Other Notes

According to the Cocktail Wonk’s informative post, in the good old days, such rural backwoods rums were undesirably-congener-rich heads and tails cuts pilfered from the distillery process, which gave rise to the humorous grumble that it tasted “like a John Crow batty” (in Jamaican creole it refers to a vulture’s ass…quite poetic, yes?).  I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the initials CJB of the rum are the same, if out of order.  I can’t find much data on who Charley was, or what J.B actually stands for.  Maybe I’ll have to go to Jamaica to find out.

Mar 242013
 

Raw white overproof, fun to drink mix or celebrate with…as the Jamaicans have long since known.

First posted 01 November, 2010.

(#045)(Unscored)

***

To be honest, I’m not entirely clear why people – aside from binge drinkers, students and serial alcoholics, whose motives are clearer — bother to drink white overproofs straight on a regular basis.  The taste is simply too raw for real appreciation, in my opinion (though I have had several “full proof” rums which avoid this sharp stiletto to the palate, so it’s by no means a hard and fast rule).  But I suppose they’re like those long distance runners who believe that twenty six miles is for sissies, and run ultra marathons instead. Tail end of the bell curve, or something like that. Or maybe they got used to in their youth in an old-country beer garden, or some trading post-cum-rumshop in the backdam; or believe it makes them more macho; gets them high faster; mixes better.  Who the hell knows? If it’s one thing I’ve discovered in writing these reviews, is that there is as wide a variety of tastes as there are rums, and what is derided by one may be equally praised (fulsomely so) by another.

Whatever the case, there is actually a pretty good market for overproof rums among drinkers: overproofs are supposedly for cocktail bases and cooking purposes, but that never stopped anyone I ever met, male or female: one of my most enduring memories of working (and boozing) in the bush is a young Amerindian girl, passed out dead drunk on the Baramita airstrip, a bottle of Brazilian 99% alcool clutched tight in her left hand, and I know men who simply pace themselves better with strong spirits than with weak ones.  That said, as I was researching and reading online readers’ fora about Stroh 54 (and 80), Bacardi’s 151 and the Clarke’s Court Pure White, knowing what I knew about Guyanese “High Wine” and now writing about the J. Wray & Nephew White Overproof, it seems to me that some people simply prefer it. And that’s perfectly proper.

The white I discuss here is bottled at a relatively mild 63%, which would make scotch drinkers quite happy, I suppose.  It is, as any rum aficionado can immediately tell you, manufactured by the Jamaican boys who make Appleton Estate rums: and while the Appletons are easily purchased the world over, I get the impression that this white lightning is not easily or commercially available outside the Caribbean – which is indeed where my Torontonian squaddie John had picked it up on one of his sojourns to the Islands.  It may be the single most popular rum in Jamaica, and mostly drunk mixed.

Therein lies the rub.  Drinking an overproof of any kind is not a matter of sipping it neat, or even on ice.  The J. Wray variant in this review is pretty strong, searing stuff without question: a massive, raw, ethanol delivery system that could knock a platoon out by breakfast time with one quick inhale.  At the inception the white has almost no taste: it’s pretty flavourless beyond some kind of smoky, oil-fire kero tang coiling behind the nasty burn, which means that it’ll take on the flavours of whatever you chose to mix into it. Sure you might get some hints of orange peel, licorice and a peppery kind of spiciness at the back end (nose?  what nose?), but truly, the only way to get any enjoyment at all out of something like this is to mix it, because all tastes are burned to a crisp by the spirit fire fairly fast (and in the distance I can hear the sneers of the Maltmonster as he delicately noses his favourite Ardbeg, neat).

Do that and this transparent medium body rum fares rather well, I thought (not without a little surprise). It makes a mean bastard of a Cuba Libre, a deep and strong Mai Tai that kicks the crap out of you in labba time, and I can almost guarantee that there isn’t a household of Jamaicans – expatriate or homeboys – who don’t have a bottle of this stuff kicking around.  Like Guyanese with their XM five, it has all sorts of social connotations: crack a bottle and immediately you pour a capful on the ground to return some to those who aren’t with you; have a housewarming, and grace the floor with a drop or two; touch of the rheumatiz? – rub dem joints with a shot; mek a pickney…put a dab ‘pon he forehead if he sick; got a cold…tek a shot and rub a shot.  And so on.  Of course, it must be noted that all the usual safety advisories are in order as well, given the flammability of something this close to pure ethanol.

I have gained a sort of sneaking appreciation for overproofs, including this one, because while it lacks the subtlety of a more refined 40% variation (subtlety? don’t make me laugh…the thing is like a charging brontosaurus on steroids at rutting time), it makes an intense, strong, powerfully tasting mix with whatever you decide to chase it. Try adding cola to a 40% low-ender and then to the White Overproof and try and tell me this one doesn’t have more character, more taste, more…well, cojones. It absolutely is not afraid to charge the gates and get the hell off the reservation.  When you drink J. Wray’s clear hooch, reader, there’s no ifs, ands or buts — you know Elvis has left the building; and didn’t just exit, he took off with rocket-powered, turbo-charged steel-toed boots. And a jet pack.

So if you believe that major rum producers have pussied out and are producing too many high end, over-sugared, liqueur-tasting sweet drinks (like spiced rums, underproofs or Pyrat’s) for the masses of the unwashed and the hordes of the rabble (like myself); and if you think your chest lacks sufficient cylindrical, keratinous filaments; and that you are swinging a pair of weighty ones that should be addressed by a man’s drink — well, then it’s entirely possible that you are just waiting to buy a gallon or three of this popskull, made by one company that remembers its roots and continues to distil a real rum.

Always assuming, of course, that you do not already own some.

Mar 232013
 

First posted 25 February 2010 on Liquorature.

(#011)(Unscored)

Short, sharp sword to the guts when had neat, this rum is without question something to use as a mix and not to risk taking alone.  Needs refinement to be taken seriously, but since it’s cheap as all get-out, it does have a perverse attraction on that basis alone. Go for it if you’re feeling a bit brave today.

***

This is another one of those reviews that I wrote in order to give some weight to the Single Digit Rums.  Having tasted it, shuddered and reached for the coke, I can understand both why it costs so little, and why it’ll probably never make the table of the Club.

SDRs are in the main the bottom end of the ranking scale, and part of that is because they represent what I term the tipple for the masses – it’s the sort of thing I grew up on, had many a good conversation over, and eventually moved away from as my tastes became more snooty (and hence, expensive).  The Jamaica distillery of J. Wray & Nephew, home of  Appleton makes this low end rum – using 30 marks to create it utilizing the solera method – primarily as a mixer and a base for cocktails and other drinks.  Given that the age is unmentioned anywhere on the label, and taking into account its somewhat raw searing taste, I venture to suggest it’s five years old or less.

The thing is, a rum this dark, I kinda expected just a tad more…a strong molasses taste maybe, a burnt-sugar kind of nose.  Something that was rude, vulgar and overpowering, that happily booted and spurred across the palate and would never see the tables of the rich but which at least had some kind of obnoxious character all its own (say what one will about the Bundie, no-one can deny it has a taste and prescence not readily ignored). None of that is really in evidence in the Coruba, because the spirit fumes overpower everything fast. Now, if one flexes one’s snoot and gives it a long and decent snort, one may be able to separate the fruit and perhaps some whiskey: certainly the taste is there – I detected some apricot and sugar on the way down.

The problem is that the finish is too short and harsh, and you know me: I really have an issue with that damned whiskey burn.  So neat and on the rocks, I’d stay away from it, since this is clearly not a sipping rum.  Even when mixed, alas, it lacks the release of flavour that characterizes the aristocrat of the working class tipple, the EH5 (which has become a low-end baseline all its own, by the way). Which is a shame, because once the burn goes away and you manage to swallow, you do actually taste something of the toffee and caramel at the back of the throat. Unfortunately, that’s more than likely just the coke or ginger beer.

In summary then, Coruba really fails as a sipper either neat or on the rocks. On the assumption that it’s a mixer, I’d put it on the bottom shelf.  If I was desperate for a drink I’d take it, but it’s got so much competition at the same price point that it’s probably best to just use it in one’s cooking without giving it pretensions to your liquor cabinet…unless a favoured enemy is dropping in for a visit, in which case, be generous.

Update 25 Oct 2010: I just reviewed an article on Wikipedia which states that Coruba is not marketed in Jamaica, but primarily in New Zealand, where it has held the top selling rum spot since the 1970s. If anyone from NZ can comment on that I’d appreciate it, since it sure is news to me, and it’s curious that I found a Kiwi rum in Alberta.