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 The rum is called “Austrian Empire Navy Rum” and originally made by Albert Michler, who established a spirits merchant business in 1863, four years before the Austrian Empire became the Austro-Hungarian Empire…so he had at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.
Dec 302019
 

Rumaniacs Review #107 | R-0688

Lemon Hart is known for their Navy rums and 151 overproofs, the last of which I tried while still living in Canada when it was briefly re-issued. But they did dip their toes into other waters from time to time, such as with this 73% Gluteus Maximus wannabe from Jamaica they released while the brand was still listed under the address and label of the United Rum Merchants — which, if you recall, was a 1946 combine of Lemon Hart (owned by Portal, Dingwall & Norris), Whyte-Keelings and Lamb’s. A year later, URM became part of sugar giant Bookers which had substantial interests in British Guianese plantations and distilleries, and was amalgamated into Allied-Domecq in the early 1990s.

This kind of torqued-up Jamaica rum was not particularly unusual for LH to make, since I found references to its brothers at similar strengths dating back to a decade or two earlier — but the labels from the 1950s and 1960s were much more ornate, with curlicued scrollwork and and older vibe to them which this does not have.  The Golden Jamaica Rum was also released at 40% — predating Velier’s habit of releasing the same rum at multiple proofs which drives accountants into hysterics — though at no point was the source estate or plantation or age ever mentioned. We must therefore assume it was a blend, very common at that time (we occasionally forget that single cask, single estate or even single still special releases from a particular year at cask strength are relatively recent phenomena).

Colour – Dark amber

Strength 73% ABV

Nose – Original, I’ll grant it that.  Hot, and very spicy. Crushed nuts and the sawdust of dried oak planks, plus a sort of dusty, mouldy room. Good thing that was just for openers. Dates, figs, olives and not-so-sweet fruits, bitter chocolate. I let it stand for a half hour while trying other rums and it became much more approachable – sweeter, darker fruits with a touch of licorice and low-level funk, bananas, spoiling mangoes and bananas, green apples, gherkins, peaches…not bad.  It’s kind of snappy, preppy, crisp, especially once the hogo-like aromas take on more prominence.

Palate – Waiting for this to open up is definitely the way to go, because with some patience, the bags of funk, soda pop, nail polish, red and yellow overripe fruits, grapes and raisins just become a taste avalanche across the tongue.  It’s a very solid series of tastes, firm but not sharp unless you gulp it (not recommended) and once you get used to it, it settles down well to just providing every smidgen of taste of which it is capable.

Finish – Long, sweet, fruity, briny and darkly sweet. Really quite exceptional and long lasting.

Thoughts – This reminds me more of a modern, proofed-up Appleton than anything else.  It lacks the pungent pot-still estate-specific originality of the New Jamaicans, which of course is completely proper since at the time it was made, tepid blends were all the rage. For anyone who desires a different rum from “modern standard”, this one ticks all the boxes.  

Too bad it’s out of production – I mean, Lamb’s and Lemon Hart and other such supermarket brands that have survived into the modern era get a bad rap for producing the same old boring blended blah these days, but when they were in their prime, issuing souped-up superrums that took no prisoners and tasted off the scale, it’s easy to see why the brands were so popular. It’s because they weren’t as timid, took their chances, and showed they knew their sh*t. As this rum proves, and their modern descendants so rarely do.

(83/100)

Dec 262019
 

Part of the problem with this “rum” is that the bottle itself doesn’t say who made it (the notations refer to the “Budapest Liquor Industry” and “Product of Hungary”) – after some sleuthing around I tracked it down to a company called Zwack, which is famed in the country for its high-alcohol herbal bitters called Unicum (one of the national drinks of Hungary), and a 60% once-it-was-a-rum-but-no-longer called Portorico, which is widely used for baking (like Stroh). Unfortunately its website doesn’t mention the Casino or have a picture, but since I located a Casino bottle label with Zwack printed on it, that cleared things up.

Figuring out what’s in it was harder, and here I drew a blank.  My thinking, however went like this: eastern European countries were famed – or at least reknowned – for their inländer (domestic) rums, which were usually ethanol or neutral alcohol that had spices and infusions added to them. Stroh, the Badel Domaci from Croatia and the Tuzemak from Czechoslovakia, and any amount of verschnitts from Germany (Flensburg in particular) followed this pattern, and Zwack itself as a company was noted for its work with alcohols and herbal infusions.  So even though I know little about Zwack’s production specifically — and I was told that some inländer producers are now importing bulk rum produced in the Caribbean — I assume they followed this trend of manufacture generally. That said, I can’t say with assurance whether the Casino was made from molasses or beets, though I suspect it’s the latter.

If we accept these data points, then of course the Casino is not, by all current definitions, a rum, and in point of fact, the entry might just as easily be listed in the Rumaniacs page since this version is no longer being made — the word “rum” was either replaced by “room” or dropped completely from the label when Hungary joined the EU in 2004, and that suggests a manufacture for the product I tasted of around 1988-2003 which actually makes it a heritage rum entry, but what the hell.

Tasting notes, then…

The nose is firm and distinct – the 50% ABV strength helps there, of course –  and quite sweet, almost like a Tokaji. Notes of brown sugar, black tea, and what stays the longest in both nostrils and memory is the sweet notes of gummi bears and lollipops and bubble gum.  There’s other more fruity aromas as well – prunes, rip apricots, peaches, in syrup, some orange peel and chocolate with rum in the centre; as it hangs around it gets flowery and perfumed. Quite a lot going on here, but in terms of a rum profile, not really – it’s all additive-derived, not a genuine rum note in sight.

Palate follows the theme of a spice driven rum with a better-than-usual strength: dry, crisp and quite sweet.  Candied oranges, icing sugar, ginger, no caramel or molasses notes here. It’s spiced for sure, but reasonably well done, and if tasted blind I’d suggest you might think it was a low-rent mid-ester-level Jamaican without the rubber and salt.  The finish is nowhere near to the level of either the nose or the taste – short, dry, harsh, unrelieved by any serious aromas or closing notes over and beyond sweet candies, chocolate oranges and light flowers, plus maybe a hint of cinnamon. 

The funny thing is, I quite liked it.  Not as a sipping rum – its artificiality is way to evident for that – but as a sweet dessert thing to have with or dribble into an ice cream dunked into a double espresso…oh yeah. It’s fine for that.  Unfortunately, not for much else.

(#687)(72/100)


  • My thanks to Tamas Gabor and Gergő Muráth who helped me with the background and research sections.
  • A hydrometer tested this at 46.77% ABV – that works out to about 15g/L additives
  • No information is available on how old the distillate might have been, if it even was aged at all.
Dec 222019
 

It’s been a long time since I’ve bothered to review a rum that isn’t – the Stroh comes to mind, the Czech Tuzemak, or the Mekhong from Thailand. I don’t really mind – these things are lonely, and need a home, need a review, so why not with us? It should also be noted that this product from Eastern Europe is not meant to be a drinking spirit, but one to add to teas and used in cooking, almost unknown outside the Balkans.

The Domaci – the “c” is pronounced “ch” and the word means “Domestic” – is not a spiced rum (i.e.,a rum with spices added), more like the reverse: a spiced concoction of some kind that has rum (or an essence of rum, whatever that might be) added to it. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it is “a spirit based on a special recipe and flavored with an extract of Rum. Its amazing aroma makes it a popular addition to many dishes.” Yeah, okay.  If it was a German thing I’d call it an inländer rum, or verschnitt.

Badel 1862, the company that makes it, is an alcoholic beverages company formed in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, headquartered in Zagreb (Croatia) and still chugging along, they make mostly regional spirits like brandies, vodkas and gins, while simultaneously acting as a distributor for international brands like Bacardi.  As part of the approval for their accession to the EU, they had to rename many of the spirits they were making which were not genuine: “rum” had to be changed to “room” and brandy became “bratsky;” so this provides a convenient dating regime – if your bottle says “room” then it was made after 2013. This one says “rum”, so it was made before.

Unsurprisingly it’s mostly for sale in the Balkans — Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, with outliers in Germany — and has made exactly zero impact on the greater rum drinking public in the West.  Wes briefly touched on it with a review of another Croatian product, the Maraska “Room” (similar issues with naming — the EU declined to allow it to be called “rum”), but both the Maraska and the Badel are made the same way. Since I knew none of this when initially tasting the thing, all I was aware of was its puling strength (35%) and its colour (yellow) and went on from there.  

Nose first.  Nope, not my cup of tea.  It reminded me of an eggnog Grandma Caner had made for me once, chock full of ethanol, nutmeg, cumin and cinnamon.  Also sour cream, strawberries, green grapes, and a raft sweet breakfast spices tossed in with the casual abandon of a louche rake distributing his questionable favours. It smelled thin and sweet and lacked any kind of “rumminess” altogether.

Palate? No relief here for the rumistas, though plenty of joy for the sweet toothed. I mean, anyone with even a bit of experience with rums would see that it’s a doctored mess thrown like bread to the masses who know no better, and lasting long enough (over a hundred years, remember) to become a local institution defended with becoming zealotry as “traditional”.  Ethanol, soda pop, fantas and again, bags and bags of spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon for the most part). Vague, meek and mild, with the slightest twinge of sharpness, leading to a short, light and fruity finish of no real distinction

I wrote rather impatiently in my notes “Weak nonsense…but okay, it’s not meant to be a rum, right?” Maybe, but that might let this local Eastern European plonk off the hook.  It used to be called rum, was noted as being domestic, but frankly, they should have named it something else entirely, created its own unique category, rather than associate it with a more rigorously defined spirit with a long tradition of its own. 

There are 40% and 60% variations of this thing floating around and one day if I’m in the neighborhood I might try them. The important thing is that I know what it is, and by writing this essay, now, so do you.  Feel free to try it if it ever crosses your path, but know what it is you’re getting, and what it’s good for.

(#686)(65/100)

Dec 012019
 

Rumaniacs Review #106 | 0681

Mainbrace Rum is a Guyanese and Barbados blend released by Grants Wine and Spirits Merchants of London, one of many small emporia whose names are now forgotten, who indulged themselves by selling rums they had imported or bought from brokers, and blended themselves. It is unknown which still’s rums from Guyana were used, or which estate provided the rum from Barbados, though the balance of probability favours WIRR (my opinion). Ageing is completely unknown – either of the rum itself, or its constituents.

The Mainbrace name still exists in 2019, and the concept of joining two rums remains. The fancy new version is unlikely to be associated with Grants however, otherwise the heritage would have been trumpeted front and centre in the slick and one-page website that advertises the Guyana-Martinique blended rum now – in fact, the company that makes it is completely missing from the blurbs. 

So what happened to Grants? And how old is the bottle really?

The “Guyana” spelling sets a lower post-independence date of 1966. Grants also released a Navy Rum and a Demerara Rum – both from Guyana, and both at “70º proof”.  The address is written differently on their labels though, being “Grants of Saint James” on the Demerara label (Bury Lane is in the area of St. James, and a stone’s throw away from St. James’s Street…and BBR). Grants was still referring to itself as “of St. James” first (and until 1976 at least), but I think it’s the 40% ABV that’s key here, since that only came into effect in the mid 1980s in the UK.  

Lastly, a new Grants of Saint James was incorporated in 1993 in Bristol, and when I followed that rabbit run, it led me to Matthew Clark plc, a subsidiary of C&C Group since 2018, and there I found that they had acquired Grants around 1990 and at that point it looks like the brand was retired – no references after that date exist. And so I’ll suggest this is a late 1980s rum.

Colour – Dark Amber

Strength – 40% ABV

Nose – Very nice indeed, you can tell there’s a wooden still shedding its sawdust in here someplace.  Cedar, sawdust, pencil shavings, plus fleshy fruits, licorice, tinned peaches, brown sugar and molasses. Thick and sweet but not overly so. That Guyanese component is kicking the Bajan portion big time in this profile, because the latter is well nigh unnoticeable…except insofar as it tones down the aggressiveness of the wooden still (whichever one is represented here).

Palate – Dry and sharp. Then it dials itself down and goes simple. Molasses, coca-cola, fruit (raisins, apricots, cashews, prunes).  Also the pencil shavings and woody notes remain, perhaps too much so – the promise of the nose is lost, and the disparity between nose and palate is glaring.  There is some salt, caramel, brown sugar and anise here, but it’s all quite faint.

Finish – Short, sweet, aromatic, thick, molasses, brown sugar, anise, caramel and vanilla ice cream.  Nice, just too short and wispy.

Thoughts – I could smell this thing all day, because that part is outstanding – but the way is tasted and finished, not so much. I would not have pegged it as a blend, because the Guyanese part of it is so dominant.  Overall, the 40% really makes the Mainbrace fall down for me – had it been dialled up ten proof points higher, it would have been outright exceptional.

(#681 | R0106)(82/100)


Historical Note

Anyone who’s got even a smattering of nautical lore has heard of the word “mainbrace” – probably from some swearing, toothless, one-legged, one-eyed, parrot-wearing old salt (often a pirate) in some movie somewhere. It is a term from the days of sail, and refers to the rope used to steady – or brace – the (main)mast, stretching from the bow to the top of the mast and back to the deck. Theoretically, then, “splicing the mainbrace” would mean joining two pieces of mainbrace rope – except that it doesn’t.  Although originally an order for one of the most difficult emergency repair jobs aboard a sailing ship, it became a euphemism for authorized celebratory drinking afterward, and then developed into the name of an order to grant the crew an extra ration of rum or grog.

Other

Hydrometer rates it 36.24% ABV, which works out to about 15 g/L additives of some kind.

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