Aug 242016
 

St Nicks 5 yo single cask (a)

Might be heresy to say so, but I thought it better than the same company’s eight year old.

(#297 / 82/100)

***

One of the reasons why the St. Nicholas Abbey Five year old gets the full etched-bottle treatment of the 8, 10, 12, 15 and 18 year olds (which are all remarkably good for 40% rums and earned good reviews from across the spectrum, including mine), is because the company is justifiably proud of this being the first rums they made from entirely their own matured stocks.  Previously they were ageing Foursquare rums to make the originals noted above — the ten may be one of the best mid-range 40% rums I’ve tried — but the five is entirely their own juice, as will be all other aged rums they produce in the years to come (once the 4Sq stuff runs out for the really old rum, of course…already the abbey has run out of 15, or so I’ve been told).

I’ve gone into the bio of the company before and they themselves have great info about the plantation on their website, so I won’t rehash that, except to make one observation: if you have an empty bottle of St. Nick’s, and you take it to Barbados on a distillery visit, they’ll refill it for you for half price with whatever age of their rum you want….and add some more etching to personalize it, for free, if you ask. It’s on my bucket list for that. My wife just wants to visit the place and walk around, it’s so pretty.

St Nicks rums

Anyway, a 40% golden coloured rum, coming off a pot still with a reflux column (from notes I scribbled while Simon Warren was talking to me about it, though the company website says pot only), aged five years in used oak barrels, so all the usual boxes are ticked.  It displayed all the uncouth, uncoordinated good-natured bumptiousness we have come to expect from fives: spicy, scraping entry of alcohol on the nose — the edges would be sanded off by a few years of further ageing, of course — with aromas of flowers, cherries, licorice, a twitch of molasses, a flirt of citrus peel and vanilla, each firm and distinct and in balance with all the others. 40% made it present somewhat it thin for me, mind, but that is a personal thing.

And, thin or not…that taste.  So rich for a five. It was a medium bodied rum, somewhat dry and spicy, redolent of fleshy fruits that are the staples of a good basket – the soft flavours of bananas, ripe mangoes and cherries mixing it up with the tartness of soursop and green apples and more of that sly citrus undercurrent.  With water (not that the rum needed any), the heretofore reticent background notes of molasses, toffee, vanilla, smoke and oak emerged, melding into a very serviceable, woody and dry finish. 

Again, I noticed that it was not a world beating exemplar of complexity – what it did was present the few notes on its guitar individually, with emphasis and without fanfare. It’s a five year old that was forthright and unpretentious, a teen (in rum years) still growing into manhood, one might say.  And in that very simplicity is its strength — it can go head to head with other fives like the El Dorado any time.  It’s quite good, and if it lacks the elemental raw power and rage of unaged pot still products, or the well-tempered maturity of older, higher-proofed ones, there’s nothing at all wrong with this worthwhile addition to the Abbey pantheon.


Other notes

The business about the ‘single cask’ requires some explanation: here what the Abbey is doing is not blending a bunch of barrels to produce one cohesive liquid and then filling all their bottles from that blend, but decanting barrel to bottle until one barrel is done and then going to the next barrel in line and decanting that….so if this is indeed so, there’s likely to be some batch variation reported over time (the bottles have no numbering or outturn noted).  My notes were scribbled in haste that day when Simon was telling me about it almost a year ago, and the website makes no mention of it, but Simon confirmed this was the case.

The 5 year old rum is dedicated to Simon’s newborn twins, who, in a nice concurrence of art and work and life (or cosmic fate), were the first Warrens to be born into the Abbey … just as the Abbey was releasing a new generation of rum. That’s pretty cool by any standard.

Apr 132016
 

D3S_3647

A tasty, unaged, pot-still white rum, which St. Nicholas Abbey seems to have made while in a playfully experimental phase.

(#266. 83/100)

***

So there I was last week, reading through my notes and writing unenthusiastically about the 3 year old “Real McCoy” white rum from Barbados, which found little favour with me.  But consider this unaged counterpart made right up the road from St. Nicholas Abbey, also issued at 40%, also a white and in just about every way a superior product.  What could account for such a difference? Well, part of it is the lack of filtration, another is the source – it is a full pot still product, not a blend of pot and column. Double distilled and with a longer than usual fermentation period (5 days plus two more of “resting”).  

Whatever the case, unaged white pot still rums are getting quite a bit of attention these days, moving the rum world away from dependable silver mixing agents whose name everyone knows, to something a bit more…well, adventurous. Clairins and agricoles have always been around and are leading the charge, but cachacas are making some waves too, and if more makers like Nine Leaves, St. Nicks and Rum Nation and others are spending time and money on making them, the next few years will be quite interesting on that front.

This particular rum tried very hard to walk the line between too much and too little, and succeeded pretty well: not for St. Nicks’s was the dumbing down of their product to appeal to a mass market by making a rum that wouldn’t offend anyone; and yet dialling up the volts to something that would be polarizing was not for them either.  They issued it in a smart looking bottle, at a tolerable 40%, and it was soothing enough to appeal without entirely disguising the potential and tamed wildness of its antecedents.

A rum like the White can only really be appreciated by trying it in tandem with rums like it up and down the scale.  For example, take the aromas: wax, olives, paraffin wax, floor polish and brine leaped out of the glass, and I know how unappetizing that sounds (I was fortunate in that I’ve tried more potent popskull and so I kinda knew what to expect).  But if you compare it with the DDL  Superior High Wine,  Rum Nation Pot Still 57%, or the Clairin Sajous, (or the Vaval, or the Casimir) which all packed more punch, you could make a reasoned argument that 40% really works for a larger drinking audience with rums like this. The character of the rum might be dampened a bit, yet it’s still there, singing as chirpily as a cageful of canaries. And be comforted…after some minutes the nose does even out a bit, bringing forward more floral notes, the light sugariness of candyfloss, papaya and sugar water…even a flirt of light honey.  However, it should be noted that there were few signs of any of that vegetal, grassy smell which is so prevalent in agricoles.

The taste was also quite intrguing.  I was expecting that oily, paraffin bedrock to continue, and indeed, this was there, just not that dominant.  The profile, which began with some heat, was reasonably smooth, sweet, light and clear, presenting anise, flowers and ripe cherries that kept what most would call unpleasant off-notes in the background, where they contributed a note or two — the floor polish was noticeable, for example — without overwhelming the taste outright.  With water additional cinnamon, whipped cream and crushed walnuts could be discerned, and the finish, while short, was very crisp and clear, without any driness at all.  Considering that I walked up to the St. Nick’s not expecting much of anything, it was a very pleasant surprised to be pampered by the overall worth of what I initially took to be just another throwaway white mixer.

Summing up, then, I think this is a very good all purpose white rum, and if it does not ascend to the heights of crazy as exemplified by the stronger rums noted above, you can see it had the potential to do so had they decided to beef it up some more.  It retained enough character and zest to stand by itself and possesses sufficient off notes to enhance whatever cocktail you’re thinking of dunking it into.  In that sense, it’s a great “bridge” rum —  it can be for both drinking neat or mixing, and would neither alienate those who despised the more elemental pot still whites, nor piss off the guys who prefer something that gives more bassa-bassa.  When you think about it, for any clear rum to pull off that trick is quite a feat, and that’s part of why the St. Nick’s product (and many agricole white rums) succeeds, when the white McCoy three year old, or other industrial white mixing fodder like Bacardi Superior so sadly don’t.  And it also succeeds, for my money, because it had the guts to actually go somewhere new.

Other notes

The source distillate in this case is not FourSquare, but St. Nick’s own stocks, from their own sugar cane.

Oct 262015
 

St. Nick's 15 3

An expensive, luxurious, silky, almost-heavy, near-masterpiece of assembly. This dethrones the $400 Panamonte XXV as maybe the best 40% rum I’ve ever tried. For half the price.

(#238. 88/100)

***

It’s been just over four years since I reviewed the St. Nicholas Abbey’s 8, 10 and 12 year olds, and I liked them all, a lot. They were soft, warm, well-made Bajan rums (initial distillate provided by R. L. Seale of Four Square), redolent of much history and heritage — the plantation itself is as much of interest as the rum they make. Ever since then I’ve been trying to get my hands on the other products I knew were coming: alas, the additional products the Warrens told me about never arrived in Calgary, and they came too late to other markets for me to obtain them before I moved away.

Never mind. That’s what RumFests are for. After being poured a glass or three, I spent a most convival half hour in Berlin in 2015 irritating an enormously helpful Mr. Simon Warren with endless questions and remarks about his rums, and finally gave the poor chap some peace by first calibrating on the five year old, trying some ten, and then launching into the golden-hued fifteen for which I had waited so long.

These rums were a sequence of very similar products, each a little bit different and perhaps better than its predecessor, and each certainly more complex than the one that preceded it. That’s not entirely a surprise, since the remains of the 8 and 10 were what comprised the 12, and the 12 was aged even further into the 15 (the five year old can’t be brought into this discussion since it was made completely in-house). The 10 was very much like I remembered. Soft, warm,some interesting stuff going on under the hood, and if I wished they were stronger (as I usually do these days), there was very little fault to find with what was presented.

St. Nick's 15 1

The 15 ratcheted things up a notch. At 40% ABV, I wasn’t expecting any kind of hurricane-force F5 taste bomb, and I didn’t get one. What I did get was a nose of uncommon warmth and softness, where lush, deep flavours gently swirled around and released themselves over the half hour I spent letting it breathe. Soft molasses and bananas started things off, as dense as an El Dorado that decided to take the day off. A little spiciness, not enough to matter, followed up by some nuttiness of almonds in chocolate, raisins, ripe black grapes and raisins, some orange peel…and was that coconut, a flirt of cinnamon at the back end? Yes it was.

The taste continued on very pleasantly from the nose. Here some more heat was evident, well toned down (well, it is only 40%), a velvet blanket drawn across the taste buds. Bananas and molasses and raisins started the party, followed by smokier, drier hints of aromatic pipe tobacco and an old leather satchel, more almonds, vanilla, caramel, nougat. A bit of coffee and a last bit of citrus became detectable after a while. It was, in fine, a rum that encouraged leisurely appreciation, a languorous conversation, fond memories. And the finish was very much in line with all that – as well as the softer caramel, vanilla and toffee (again, there was that vague spiciness of orange peel), it honestly felt like I was having a weird mocha-infused eclair. Sweet? Yes – but all held very carefully in balance, not overwhelming, and certainly not taking over the show. It was a rum I enjoyed thoroughly, and thought it a worthy addition to the pantheon.

The bottle adhered to the same ethos as produced previous younger editions, being the marvellously etched, squarish flagon surmounted by a mahogany enclosed cork. Apparently you can get custom etching and a cut rate price on refills, if you take your own bottle to the Abbey, up in St. Peter’s parish of Barbados. The rum is completely aged on the premises in used bourbon barrels – research shows it is initially aged for eight years at a high proof strength (65%), and then the barrels are batched and rebarrelled for an additional seven years to make the fifteen. The bottles themselves are individually filled from each barrel – it’s not like the entire output is married and then used to fill the bottles all at once…so some variation is likely to occur here.

St. Nick's 15 2

Tastes aside, the St. Nicholas Abbey 15 year old is not a raw, brawny, uncouth monster that jumps out to assault you with a roaring plethora of screaming-sharp, precise and intense flavours from the moment you uncork the bottle. It is, rather, a gentle, warm drink to have with a cigar, the evening papers and in the warm afterglow of a kiss from the wife. Its genius arises from the way the tastes that do exist meld together into an firm melange of uncommon complexity, with just enough heat to remind you it’s a rum, accompanied by a texture and mouthfeel that was silk and velvet and spice all at once.

I remember thinking that day, finalizing my detailed notes and giving the harried-looking (but still polite) Mr. Warren a chance to escape, that I really wish I knew what the eight year old 65% tasted like prior to rebarrelling for the next seven years – I have a feeling it would be exceptional. But given that few rum makers could make a 40% rum this good at all, I concluded, perhaps comfort could be found by merely having another substantial dram poured into my glass, walking off to the corner, and enjoying it in an overstuffed armchair as restful as the rum while watching other aficionados walk past.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Other Notes

The history of the Abbey is covered in my initial essays on the younger rums, and can also be found on their excellent website.

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