Sep 262017
 

Rumaniacs Review #057 | 0457

Behind the please-don’t-hurt-me facade of this sadly underproofed excuse for a rum (or ron) lie some fascinating snippets of company and rum history which is a bit long for a Rumaniacs review, so I’ll add it at the bottom.  Short version, this is a German made rum from the past, distributed from Flensburg, which was a major rum emporium in north Germany that refined sugar from the Danish West Indies until 1864 when they switched to Jamaican  rum. But as for this brand, little is known, not even from which country the distillate originates (assuming it is based on imported rum stock and is not a derivative made locally from non-cane sources).

Colour – White

Strength – 37.5%

Nose – Unappealing is the kindest word I can use.  Smells of paint stripper, like a low-rent unaged clairin but without any of the attitude or the uniqueness.  Acetone, furniture polish and plasticine.  Some sugar water, pears and faint vegetable aromas (a poor man’s soup, maybe), too faint to make any kind of statement and too un-rummy to appeal to any but the historians and rum fanatics who want to try ’em all.

Palate – It tastes like flavoured sugar water with some of those ersatz pot still notes floating around to give it pretensions to street cred.  Maybe some light fruit and watermelon, but overall, it’s as thin as a lawyer’s moral strength. Quite one of the most distasteful rums (if it actually is that) I’e ever tried, and the underproofed strength helps not at all.

Finish – Don’t make me laugh.  Well, okay, it’s a bit biting and has some spice in there somewhere, except that there’s nothing pleasant to taste or smell to wrap up the show, and therefore it’s a good thing the whole experience is so short.

Thoughts – Overall, it’s a mildly alcoholic white liquid of nothing in particular.  About all it’s good for in this day and age of snarling, snapping white aggro-monsters, is to show how far we’ve come, and to make them look even better in comparison.  Even if it’s in your flea-bag hotel’s minibar (and I can’t think of where else aside from some old shop’s dusty shelf you might find it), my advice is to leave it alone. The history of the companies behind this rum is more interesting than the product itself, honestly.

(65/100)


Herm. G. Dethleffsen, a German company, was established almost at the dawn of rum production itself, back in 1760 and had old and now (probably) long-forgotten brand names like Asmussen, Schmidt, Nissen, Andersen and Sonnberg in its portfolio, though what these actually were is problematic without much more research.  What little I was able to unearth said Dethleffsen acquired other small companies in the region (some older than itself) and together made or distributed Admiral Vernon 54%, Jamaica Rum Verschnitt 40%, Nissen Rum-Verschnitt 38%, Old Schmidt 37.5%, this Ron White Cat 37.5% and a Ron White Cat Dark Rum Black Label, also at 37.5% – good luck finding any of these today, and even the dates of manufacture prove surprisingly elusive.

Ahh, but that’s not all.  In 1998 Dethleffsen was acquired by Berentzen Brennereien. That company dated back to I.B Berentzen, itself founded in 1758 in Lower Saxony in northwest Germany, and was based on a grain distillery.  It had great success with grain spirits, trademarked its Kornbrand in 1898, ascquired the Pepsi concession in 1960 (and lost it in 2014), created a madly successful wheat corn and apple juice drink called apple grain, and in 1988 as they merged with Pabst&Richarz wine distilleries. The new company went public in 1994 and went on an acquisition spree for a few years, which is when they picked up Dethleffsen. However, waning fortunes resulted in their own takeover in 2008 by an external investor Aurelius AG.

This is an informed conjecture — I believe the Black Cat brand is no longer being made.  Neither the Berentzen 2015 annual report nor their website makes mention of it, and it never had any kind of name recognition outside of Germany, even though the rum itself suggested Spanish connections by its use of the word “ron.”  So its origins (and fate) remain something of a mystery.

Sep 172017
 

Rumaniacs Review #056 | 0456

Strictly speaking this is not a true Rumaniacs rhum, since I got it through separate channels and it’s a mini-bottle insufficient to allow me to share it to everyone…so, sorry mes amis.  Still, it’s one of these delightful mystery rhums about which just about nothing turns up on a search, except an old French eBay listing which suggests this is a French West Indian rhum from 1953 (unconfirmed, but how cool is that year, right?) bottled at 44% ABV, so in that sense it conforms to all the reasons the ‘Maniacs exist in the first place – an old, out of production, heritage rhum, a blast from the past which only exists in memories and old internet pages (and now this one)….

Trawling around suggests that “Negresco” was not an uncommon label, used rather more commonly, it would seem, for Martinique rhums; there are references with that title from several bottlers, including Bruggeman out of Belgium, and my little sampler has “R.C Gand” as the company of make – about which there is exactly zero info – so unless a Constant Reader can contribute a nugget of information, we’ll have to be content with that.

Colour – Mahogany

Strength – Assumed 44%

Nose – Reminds me somewhat of the old E.H. Keeling Old Demerara rum (R-019): prunes gone off, bananas just starting to go, plus vinegar, soy and caramel.  Quite a “wtf?” nose, really.  There’s a musty air about it, like an old cupboard aired too seldom.  After a while, some sawdust, old dried-out cigars, a bit of anise, and indeterminate fruits and herbs

Palate – Not bad at all, perhaps because it displays no single island’s characteristics, making it something of a Caribbean rhum, maybe a blend (which I suspected was the case anyway); oddly, though labelled as a “rhum” it has faint hints of anise and deep woody and fruity flavour points in the direction of some Guianese components. With water there are plums, anise, prunes raisins and a salty bite of tequila, coffee, caramel and soya.  I’m convinced the strength is around 50-55%, by the way, though the bottle doesn’t mention it. (Note that I saw a very similar label on rum.cz — a rum label collector in Czecheslovakia — which suggests it is actually 54%, and that makes sense).

Finish – Medium long, warm, coffee, licorice and caramel, very pleasant and easy going.

Thoughts – Quite liked this one, wish I could have had a bottle to take a real long pull at it and take it apart some more.  It’s certainly a decent rhum from Ago, which, if one were to ever find it again, and at a reasonable price, is worth getting.

(85/100)

  • No other Rumaniacs have sampled this rhum, so no links this time.
  • Many thanks to Etienne, who sent this to me.
Oct 302016
 

blackjoeRumaniacs Review 025 | 0425

In spite of the recent (2015-2016) resurgent charge of Jamaicans on the world rum scene, an older rum like this reminds us that for a long time they were actually rather quiescent, and exported a lot for rebottling overseas – to Italy in this case, where a small outfit named Illva Saronno produced the Black Joe in the 1980s. The company, founded in 1922, primarily produces Amaretto, bitters and Sicilian wines (“Illva” is an acronym which stands for Industria Lombarda Liquori Vini e Affini – they are located just north of Genoa).  I imagine that they were into “fantasy rums” such as were popular in Italy before rum exploded as a spirit in its own right, and bottles dating from the 1950s thorugh to the 1980s are available online, after which the trail ceases – I could not begin to tell you which estate the rum hails from.

Colour – Light Gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – Yep, very Jamaican, redolent of musty earth, funk, rotting bananas, pineapples in syrup, brine and olives, morphing into cardboard and cereal notes. Plus plastic and turpentine, just a bit.

Palate – Did I just pass a roadworking crew with bubbling tar in it? Fortunately, I pass it quick. It’s a bit soft (at 40%, no surprise), briny, grape-y, with phenols and more sweet – but watery – syrup, and star anise.  It’s all very quiet, in spite of the clarity of the tastes

Finish – Sharp and short, with light honey and cereals, some vague fruits. Modern stuff is better, fiercer.

Thoughts – It’s recognizably Jamaican, but unspectacular in any fashion. The 1957 edition sells for nearly a thousand euros online, this one for substantially less.  Not much point to getting it, as it appeals more to collectors and hunters of rarities than someone who actually might want to drink it. If nothing else, it shows us something of the evolution of Jamaican style rums, though.  And I still wish I knew which estate produced it.

(80/100)

NB – Other Rumaniacs reviews of this rum can be found here.

May 042016
 

Mana'o 1

Cool stoicism and subdued power, all in one rhum.

(#270. 84/100)

***

Standard “table” white rums have always been around, and perhaps appeal more to those mix them into gentle cocktails and go on to play Doom II  on “Please Don’t Hurt Me” difficulty.  In the main, the best known ones were — and are — filtered, light mixing agents which made to adhere to a philosophy best described as “We aim not to piss you off.” They excite a “ho-hum” rather than a “wtf?”

Not so the current crop of clear, unaged rums which have been making  an increasing splash in our small world and driving cocktail makers and barflies into transports of ecstasy.  They are more aggressive spirits in every way, often coming from pot-stills, with strong, assertive tastes that as often frighten as enthuse, and are admittedly tough to love.  French Island white agricoles, Cachacas (and clairins) are embodiments of this trend, which doesn’t stop other various makers from issuing variations from Jamaica, Guyana or Barbados (like the DDL High Wine, or Rum Nation’s Jamaican 57%, for example).

A new rhum aiming to break into this market reared its head in the 2016 Paris RhumFest – a product from, of all places, Tahiti, not the first country you would be thinking of as a bastion of the spirit.  The rhum was launched by Brasserie du Pacifique in late 2015, has a sleek looking website short on details, and when I drifted by Christian’s place in Paris a week or two back, he and Jerry Gitany insisted I try it. It aimed, I suspect, to straddle the mid-point of the white market – it was not so unique as the clairins, and not so filtered-to-nothing as the Lambs or Bacardis of the world.  In pursuing this philosophy, they’re channelling the French islands’ agricoles, carving themselves out a very nice niche for those who have a thing for such rums but would prefer less roughness and adventurousness than the clairins provide so enthusiastically.

Mana'o 2

Coming from first press sugar cane grown on the island of Taha’a (NW of Tahiti), it is made from a pot still (see my notes below), and presented itself as quite an interesting rhum. When gingerly smelled for the first time (at 50%, some caution is, as always, in order), you could see it had been toned down some – sure there were the usual wax and floor polish and rubber-turpentine leaders, they simply weren’t as potent as others I’ve tried. Vegetal, grassy, watery scents hung around the background, it was slightly more salt than sweet, and presented an intriguingly creamy nasal profile…something like a good brie and (get this) unsweetened yoghurt with some very delicate citrus peel.  

To taste it was, at the beginning, very robust, almost full bodied.  Just short of hot; and dry, dusty vegetals and hay danced across the palate immediately, accompanied by sweet sherbet and mint ice cream notes.  And that wax and polish stuff I smelled?  Gone like yesterday’s news.  As it opened up and water was added,it became very much more like a traditional agricole, with watery elements – sugar cane sap, white guavas, pears, cucumber, dill, watermelon – getting most of the attention, and lighter herbal and grassy tastes taking something of a back seat.  I said it started robustly, but in truth, after a while, it settled down and became almost light – it was certainly quite crisp and pleasant to drink, with or without water.  The fade was pretty good, long and lasting, salty and sweet at the same time, with some last hints of lemongrass, crushed dill, faint mint and olives finishing things off.

This was a well-behaved drink on all fronts, I thought.  It’s not terribly original, and my personal preferences in such whites run closer to more untamed, barking mad clairins and the higher-proofed French agricoles — but you could easily regard this as a decent introduction to the white stuff if you wanted more than a standard table tipple, but less than the deep pot still pungency coming out of Haiti. Sometimes we focus so hard on the Caribbean that we lose sight of new companies from other countries who are shaking things up in the rumworld and producing some pretty cool rums.  This looks be one of those, and I doubt you’d be displeased if you bought it.


Other notes

The website makes mention of the use of a “discontinuous pot still”. As far as I am aware, the term arose from a bad translation of the Spanish “alembique descontínuo” which is simply a pot still by another name.

It is unclear whether the Tahitian company Ava Tea, supposedly the oldest distillery in Tahiti, is directly involved in the making of this rhum, or just lent some technical expertise (and the pot still).

Mana’o means “to think” or “to remember” in Polynesian languages (including Hawaiian), and has many subtler shades of meaning. It’s probably a sly reminder that sugar cane originated in Asia.

rum-manao-rhum-blanc-051

Mar 032016
 

Old Demerara rumRumaniacs Review 019 | 0419

So this is a rum from British Guiana in pre-Independence days, distilled for E.H. Keeling & Son in London.  These days such rums are not strictly unicorns, because that would suppose we know something about them – here, their makers have long since been forgotten, the bottles drained, the labels faded, and they were not made for a discerning audience.  Yet the rums still turn up here and there like old-fashioned, tarnished gems in your late Grandmother’s Edwardian jewellry box, whose story and origin have been lost because no-one ever thought to remember.  Sad really. Perhaps here we can recall their memories from the days of receding empire.

E.H. Keeling was a spirits broker and merchant who sold rums under their own labels – this one is supposedly from around 1955. Records show Edward Keeling starting his business in 1825 in partnership with Matthew Clark but when he retired in 1844 his inheritors formed their own company. During WW2, the premises (close by those of Alfred Lamb) was destroyed in the Blitz. Rum importers Portal, Dingwall & Norris offered them space in their premises to continue their business. Subsequently a partnership was formed and, after the war, Booker McConnell (who ran Guyana’s sugar estates for a while) merged with them, giving birth to a new company – United Rum Merchants Ltd, now part of Allied Domecq Spirits & Wine (UK) Ltd.

Colour – Dark Amber

Strength – 45%

Nose – Something of a wooden still wafts through here, soft, not sharp, quite deep. Licorice, bananas, citrus, apricots.  Also (get this!) new leather shoes still squeaking, and a sort of bitter cooking chocolate. So…PM, EHP, VSG?  Who knows. At that time there were still so many of the old stills in Guyana, and DDL wasn’t even a thought in anyone’s mind.

Palate – Thick, heavy, dark, heated, rich.   Vanilla starts the party, then oak and tannins (too much again); dusty hay notes, then dark rye bread, prunes, pears, blackcurrants and figs, with very little spice or anise coming through (some does, just not much).  It was lusciously made, reminds me of the mid range full proofs like Cabot Tower, Woods, or Watsons. Then at last comes the dark burnt sugar and some caramel notes, black cake and fruit, to swell the taste buds.

Finish – Warm, fruity, with salt and that squeaky new leather of a pair of not-quite-broken-in Grenson Albert brogues. Tannins again, a little bitter, followed by the aromatic smoke of port infused cigarillos.

Thoughts – Did they really make rums that different sixty years ago? Yeah, I think so. Still, that oak is too dominant, it distracts from the core flavours — and those were lovely.  Mouthfeel was excellent. Might only be six to ten years old (I don’t think massive ageing was in vogue in dem dere ole days) but damn, it’s still quite fine.

Rest easy and be comforted, Keelings.  Your rum is not forgotten after all.

(84.5/100)

Old Demerara rum-001

 

 

Feb 152016
 

rhum-st-gilles-1960s-rumRumaniacs Review 018 | 0418

This is a tough rhum to track down, so there’s not much I can tell you aside from noting that the brand no longer exists…I don’t even know when they went belly up.  If my searches are any good, an ex-Carmelite priest called Reverend St. Gilles opened the small plantation in the 17th century (the company itself published a book about him in 1948). In their time prior to the 1980s, La Compagnie du Rhum Saint Gilles exported several varieties of rhum from Martinique to France and Italy, for distributors like Stock and Raphael.  My sample was neither the 45% Reserve Speciale 10 year old, or any of the 44% reserves…this one was much milder.

Colour – Hay yellow

Strength – 40%

Nose – Crisp and light, with light  olives in vinegar, brown sugar and some citrus being leavened by softer scents of fried bananas.  As it opened it up it exhibited the snap and zest and clarity of a really good Riesling.  Really too light, though.

Palate – Light bodied, even thin. Too sharp, really, needs some more ageing. Very precise notes of white flowers, vanillas, some oakiness, leather.  It took a while to settle down after which some sugar and light fruits emerged, to be overtaken in their turn by crisp and clear vegetals.  I could swear there were some basil leaves in there somewhere.  Maybe not.

Finish – Short, dry, indifferent and fast, like an aged shady lady of the night who just wants to be gone after doing what she came for. Last notes of citrus zest (lemon, I’d say), some grass, sweet sugar water and a bit of vanilla.

Thoughts – Not really my speed, this one, it’s too unaggressive and far too thin and meek.  It takes too much effort to detect even a good standard agricole profile.  We talk a lot about how rhums were made in the good old days of yore (as if they were always better, “back then”) but occasionally we realize that rums in general and agricoles in particular, are also pretty damned good today. This one fails in comparison with its descendants.

(76/100)

Jan 072016
 

Casimir 3

This rum is like Hooters: delightfully tacky, enjoyable as hell, and unrefined to a fault.  And once you’ve given it a shot, it’s like you have a sneaking suspicion you’ll soon be back, grumbling all the while Poukisa rum nan toujou fini?”

(#248 / 86.5/100)

***

The Clairin “Casimir” white rum, the third of the Haitian Clairins, is maddening and strange if you are not in tune with it, mesmerizing if you are. I noted in a comment on the Vaval that it’s tough to love, and the same applies here, only more so. If you have not thrown the thing away in disgust after ten minutes, it’s very likely that thereafter, you will never entirely get it out of the mental arsenal of your tasting memories.  

Does that make it a good rum? Not necessarily for all people, in all places…although it does make it an original, cut from wholly different cloth.  And as with any such thing, we must be ready for strange detours, waves of difference and surreal experiences without clear analogues in our minds…except perhaps other Clairins.  I first sampled the Sajous back in Paris in April 2015 and was enthralled on the spot; my love affair continued with the Vaval, and I felt it was only fair to get the review of the Casimir out the door just so the full set was available for those who don’t mind straying not only off the beaten path, but into another country entirely.

Casimir

I make these points to prepare you for the massive pungency of the Casimir’s initial attack. As I’ve mentioned before for the other two, I recommend approaching it with care (maybe even trepidation) especially if this is your first sojourn into the world of these organic, traditionally-made, pot-still, unaged white full-proofs. Because while it initially presented to the nose very prettily, this was just a way to lure you into the same smack in the face. Powerful, pungent scents of boot polish, fusel oils, freshly lacquered wooden floors lunged smoothly out of the gate, skewering the unwary sniffer. I felt the sugar to be stronger here than on either the Vaval or the Sajous, with additional notes of soy sauce, teriyaki chicken with loads of green vegetables, Knorr packet soup, thick, heavy and my God, it didn’t ever let up. Even at a “mere” 54% it handily eclipsed the 57% Rum Nation Jamaican white pot still rum in sheer potent olfactory badassery. The Casimir quite simply makes you rethink what ageing means – nothing this young and unrefined should be this remarkable.

On the palate, I remember thinking, Man this is great. It had the smooth, hot body of an energetic and buxom porn star, and took a sharp left turn from the nose, starting out with sweet sugar water and cucumber slices in diluted vinegar…it sported a mouthfeel that alternated between silk and steel.  Mint, marzipan, more floor polish, faint olive oil notes drummed on the tongue.  It had less of the fusel oil that so marked the Sajous, with dill, coriander, lemon pepper, fennel, fish sauce, and some weird mineral/vegetal component that reminded me of peat for some reason. I don’t know how it managed that trick, but somehow it walked the delicate line between tongue-in-cheek titillation and overt sleaze. Really quite a lovely taste to it, the best of the trio.  And the finish, no major complaints from me there either, it was long, sweet and oily, with just a note of kerosene in the background to mar what was otherwise a great drinking experience, and I gotta tell you, I really liked this one (different though it was).

The Casimir is made by those friendly Haitian folk down by Barradères, which is a small village in the commune of Nippes Department in the southwestern leg of the half-island. It’s not far from Port-au-Prince, but still needs a tough-ass 4×4 to get to since it is (to use West Indian parlance) “way down dere behine Gad back.” Not much going on in the village, it’s subsistence farming all the way – but this small place has more distilleries than Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana and Jamaica combined – thirteen in all, though admittedly these are small-shack Mom-and-Pop operations for the most part and not industrial powerhouses in the business of stocking global shelves.

Faubert Casimir is a second generation distiller (his father began making the white lightning back in the late 1970s), and is considered by some to be the local maestro of Clairins. The rum derives from Hawaii White and Hawaii Red sugar cane grown on the 120-acre “plantation” out back, and, in a peculiarity of the region, the makers add some herbs or vegetable matter to pure cane juice in fermentation, to enhance the flavors. M. Casimir himself adds leaves of citronella, cinnamon, and in some batches, ginger, and some of that evidently carried over into the final product.  Does that make it an adulterated rhum?  Maybe.  But for something this rich and powerful and bat-bleep-crazy, I’m willing to let it pass just to observe how joyously these guys run headfirst into a wall in making a rhum so distinct. 

Of course, if you have already tried the Sajous or the Vaval (or read my notes on them both), none of this will come as news to you.  And you might think, “Bah! They’re all the same, so why buy three when one can tell the tale?” You’d be right, of course…but only up to a point. They are variations on a theme, each with a subtle point of difference, a slightly different note, making each one similar, yes….and also unique. Perhaps you have to try all three to get that…or simply be deep into rums.

Yon gran mèsi, Faubert

Other notes:
I love those bright, hectic, almost primitive labels — as an attention-getter, the bottle this rum comes in ranks somewhere between running naked through your dronish cubicle farm and throwing a brick through a shop window. The Haitian artist Simeon Michel provided the paintings for the Casimir and the Sajous (but alas, I have no clever story for this one).

Casimir 2

Dec 202015
 

Sant' Andrea 1939Rumaniacs Review 014 | 0414

The idea was to continue along with Velier’s Caroni 1985 and 1982 this week, but then I figured it was close to Christmas, so let’s go with something a little older. Perhaps a rhum from an age before ours, or even that of our fathers.

Issued by the house of Fratelli Branca, which is akin to Rum Nation, Samaroli or even Velier: an old 19th century Milanese spirits maker (they created a liqueur of their own in 1845 which led to the formation of the company) and distributor, that rode the wave of “Fantasy Rhums” which were popular in Italy in the first half of the 20th century.  This may be one of them – except I don’t know where it originates, or how truly aged it is. There are several St. Andrews’s parishes dotted around the Caribbean, and Lo Spirito dei Tempi suggested it was more a brand name than a location, since a variation with similar bottle design was issued as ‘Saint Andrew’s Rhum.’ The Sage thought it was Jamaican, but I dunno, the profile doesn’t really go there. We’ll leave it unsettled for the moment – perhaps it’ll remain lost in the mists of history.

Colour – Dark Mahogany. (Maybe this is like the St. James 1885, and got darker with age, even in the bottle; or maybe in those days they dumped more caramel in there).

Strength – 45%

Nose – Slightly overripe darker fruit; prunes, blackberry jam, ripe blueberries. For all that colour, it presents quite light and easy going. Pears, almonds, rye bread and cream cheese develop over time.

Palate – Sharp and a little thin, settles down to a quiet heat after some minutes. Prunes, dark red grapes, chocolate, vanilla, and the sugar is obvious here. Still, not bad, if thin.  A little water brings out molasses, chocolate eclairs, nougat, toffee, and more jammy notes. And some musty background, almost undetectable.

Finish – Warm, sweet, firm, a little dry.  Prunes and raisins again, with some last brown sugar.

Thoughts – Relatively simple yet elegant, a little weak on nose and finish but mouthfeel and texture and taste can’t be faulted.  If it showcases anything, it’s how differently rhums/rums must have been made just two generations ago…I’ve never had a “modern” rum quite like this. We may have gained rules and regs and consistency and safety measures (and a better idea of how rum is made) – maybe we lost a little something too.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

(83/100)

 

 

 

Oct 222015
 

Black tot 1

Bottled history.  Nothing more, nothing less.

(#237. 87/100)

***

“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,” remarked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I remembered that bit of wisdom before embarking on our tryst with this rum.  And to ensure that my long anticipation for the Tot wasn’t bending my feeble mind (I bought the bottle 2014, and tasted it for the first time almost a full year later) I tempered my judgement by trying it three times, with the Skeldon 1973 32 year old, BBR 1977 36 year old, a Velier Caroni and the Samaroli Barbados 1986.  Just to be sure I wasn’t getting too enthusiastic you understand. I had to be sure. I do these things so you don’t have to.

As much as the G&M Longpond 1941, St James 1885 or the J. Bally 1929, to name a few, the near-legendary Black Tot Last Consignment is one of the unicorns of the rum world.  I’m not entirely convinced it should be so – many craft makers issue releases in lots of less than a thousand bottles, while some 7,000 bottles of this are in existence (or were).  Nor is it truly on par with some of the other exceptional rums I’ve tried…the reason people are really willing to shell out a thousand bucks, is that whiff of unique naval pedigree, the semi-mystical aura of true historical heritage.  A rum that was stored for forty years (not aged, stored) in stone flagons, and then married and bottled and sold, with a marketing programme that would have turned the rum into one of the absolute must-haves of our little world…if only it wasn’t quite so damned expensive.

I don’t make these points to be snarky. After all, when you taste it, what you are getting is a 1960s rum and that by itself is pretty nifty.  But there’s an odd dearth of hard information about the Tot that would help an average drinking Joe to evaluate it (assuming said Joe had the coin). About all you know going in is that it come from British Royal Navy stocks left over after the final rum ration was issued to the Jolly Jack Tars on Black Tot Day (31st July, 1970 for the few among you who don’t weep into your glasses every year on that date), and that it was released in 2010 on the same day. No notes on the rum’s true ageing or its precise components are readily available.  According to lore, it supposedly contains rums from Barbados, Guyana (of course), Trinidad, and a little Jamaica, combining the dark, licorice notes of Mudland, the vanillas and tars of the Trinis and that dunderesque whiffy funk of the Jamaicans.  And, the writer in me wants to add, the fierce calypso revelry of them all. Complete with mauby, cookup, doubles, rice and peas, pepperpot and jerk chicken.

Black Tot 1

All that aside, the rum’s presentation is exceptional. A wooden box of dark wood (walnut? oak?). A booklet written by Dave Broom on the background to the rum. A copper plated tot container. A tot ration card facsimile. And a bottle whose cork was covered with a hard, brittle wax sealant that Gregers, Cornelius and Henrik laughed themselves silly watching me try to cut off. The bottle itself was a stubby barroom style bottle with a good cork.  No fault to find on the appearance, at all.  Believe me, we were all raring to try this one.

The aromas first: at 54.3%, I expected more sharpness than the Tot exhibited, and enjoyed the deep and warm nose. Initially, anise and slightly chocolate-infused fumes billowed out of our glasses in well controlled balance.  Cardboard, musty hay, caramel and some tar and tobacco juice (maybe that was the Trinis speaking up?) followed swiftly.  The official literature suggests that the Jamaican part of the blend was minimal, because sailors didn’t care for it, but what little there was exerted quite a pull: dunder and a vaguely bitter, grassy kind of funk was extremely noticeable.  Here was a rum, however, that rewarded patience, so it was good that our conversation was long and lively and far-reaching.  Minutes later, further scents of brine and olives emerged, taking their turn on the stage before being replaced in their turn by prunes, black ripe cherries, leavened with sharper oak tannins, and then molasses, some caramel, smoke, and then (oddly enough), some ginger and dried smoked sausages snuck in there. It was very good…very strong with what we could term traditional flavours.  Still, not much new ground was broken here. It was the overall experience that was good, not the originality.

Good thing the palate exceeded the nose.  Here the strength came into its own – the Tot was a borderline heavy rum, almost mahogany-dark, quite heated on the tongue, with wave after wave of rich dark unsweetened chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, oak deftly kept in check.  Thick meaty flavours (yeah, there were those smoked deli meats again). It was a bit dry, nothing to spoil its lusciousness.  We put down our glasses, talked rum some more, and when we tried it again, we noted some salty, creamy stuff (an aggressive brie mixing it up with red peppers stuffed with cheese in olive oil, was the image that persisted in my mind).  Nuts, rye bread, some coffee. And underlying it all was the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore straight out of a gothic novel.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the finish failed a little – it was dry, quite long, so no complaints on that score – it just added little more to the party than the guests we had already seen. Smoke, tannins, aromatic tobacco, some molasses again, a little vegetal stuff, that was about it.  Leaving aside what I knew about it (or discovered later), had I tasted it blind I would have felt it was a rather young rum (sub-ten-year-old), with some aged components thrown in as part of the blend (but very well done, mind).

Which may not be too far from the truth. Originally the rum handed out in the 18th and 19th centuries was a Barbados- or Jamaican-based product.  But as time went on, various other more complex and blended rums were created and sold to the navy by companies such as Lamb’s, Lemon Hart, C&J Dingwall, George Morton and others. Marks were created from estates like Worthy Park, Monymusk, Long Pond, Blue Castle (all in Jamaica); from Mount Gilboa in Barbados; from Albion and Port Mourant in Guyana; and quite a few others. Gradually this fixed the profile of a navy rum as being one that combined the characteristics of all of these (Jamaica being the tiniest due to its fierce pungency), and being blended to produce a rum which long experience had shown was preferred by the sailors. E.D.&F. Man was the largest supplier of rums to the navy, and it took the lead in blending its own preferred style, which was actually a solera – this produced a blend where the majority of the rum was less than a decade old, but with aspects of rums much older than that contained within it.

The problem was that the depot (and all records about the vats and their constituent rums) was damaged, if not outright destroyed during the 1941 Blitz.  In effect this means that what we were looking at here was a rum, blended, and aged solera style, that was in all likelihood re-established in the 1940s only, and that means that the majority of the blend would be from the sixties, with aged components within it that reasonably date back to twenty years earlier. And that might account for the taste profile I sensed.

So now what?  We’ve tasted a sorta-kinda 1960s rum, we’ve accepted that this was “the way rums were made” with some serious, jowl-shaking, sage nods of approval. We’ve established it has a fierce, thick, dark taste, as if a double-sized magnum of Sunset Very Strong ravished the Supreme Lord VI and had a gently autistic child. It had a serious nose, excellent taste, and finished reasonably strong, if perhaps without flourish or grandeur.  The question is, is it worth the price?

Now Pusser’s bought the recipe years ago and in theory at least, they’re continuing the tradition.  Try their Original Admiralty Blend (Blue Label), the Gunpowder Strength or the fifteen year old, and for a lot less money you’re going to get the same rum (more or less) as the Jolly Jack Tars once drank. Why drop that kinda cash on the Tot, when there’s something that’s still being made that supposedly shares the same DNA?  Isn’t the Pusser’s just as good, or better? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s better, no (not least because of the reported 29 g/l sugar added). But at over nine hundred dollars cheaper, I have to wonder whether it isn’t a better bargain, rather than drinking a bottle like the Tot, with all its ephemeral transience. (Not that it’s going to stop anyone, of course, least of all those guys who buy not one but three Appleton 50s at once).

So this is where your wallet and your heart and your brain have to come to a compromise, as mine did. See, on the basis of quality of nose and palate and finish – in other words, if we were to evaluate the rum blind without knowing what it was – I’d say the Black Tot last Consignment is a very well blended product with excellent complexity and texture.  It has a lot of elements I appreciate in my rums, and if it fails a bit on the back stretch, well, them’s the breaks. I’ll give what I think is a fair score that excludes all factors except how it smells, tastes and makes me feel. Because I have to be honest – it’s a lovely rum, a historical blast from the past, and I don’t regret getting it for a second.

At the end, though, what really made it stand out in my mind, was the pleasure I had in sharing such a piece of rum heritage with my friends.  I have cheaper rums that can do the trick just as easily.  But they just wouldn’t have quite the same cachet. The same sense of gravitas. The overall quality. And that’s what the money is for, too.

Other notes:

I’m aware this review is a bit long. I tend to be that way, get really enthusiastic, when a rum is very old, very pricey or very very good. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one applies here.

Jul 142015
 

Nicholson 42,8°

Rumaniacs Review 007 | 0407

Bottled by J&W Nicholson of Clerkenwell, London, back in the 1970s. Base stock is unknown – it might be from Caroni, yet somehow I doubt that – it lacks something of the tarry background.  No information is available on age or blend of ages. Bottled at 42.8%.

J&W Nicholson was a gin maker which opened its doors in the 1730s. They ceased UK gin production in 1941 (wartime rationing made it impractical) and sold their facility there in 1966, eventually selling the remaining business to the Distillers Company Ltd in the 1970s…at first I thought this rum seems to be an effort to diversify production as a consequence of the economic hardship which forced the sale, but further reading shows the company had been issuing rums for more than a century before. Distillers Company sold out to Guinness in 1986, and the DCL brand was in turn consolidated by Diageo in 1997.

Colour – dark brown

Nose – Fairly soft and warm. Initial aromas of butterscotch and eclairs.  Salty butter.  Caramel. Faint whiff of meatiness, a musky taint of mushrooms, and fruit starting to go.

Palate – Medium heavy, still warm and a little sharp, not unpleasantly so. Creamy and also a little musty, like a room left unaired for too long.  Coconut shavings, caramel, brown sugar predominate.  With water, coconut recedes, and smoke and dry leather come forward, along with cloves and a bit of cinnamon. That salted butter and musky background never entirely disappears.  Odd mix of tastes, all in all. No tar and asphalt notes make themselves known, supporting my contention this was unlikely to be a Caroni.

Finish – Short and smooth, heated….some crushed walnuts and toffee there, with a last flirt of mustiness and smoke.

Thoughts – Nothing special.  At best it’s a five-to-eight year old. It’s not really complex or world beating, and not a sipper’s dream by any stretch.  The nose is the oddest thing about it since it seems to stand quite separate from the way it tastes when you drink it.  But overall, a decent enough rum, quite pleasant. I liked the history of the company almost more than the rum.

 

(81/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

 

 

Nicholson Rum