May 192018
 

#513

The question of why Velier would want to issue a well-endowed, claw-equipped high-test like this, is, on the surface, somewhat unclear.  Because my own opinion is that this is not a product for the general marketplace. It’s not aimed at beginners, 40% strength lovers or those with a sweet tooth who have two of every edition of the Ron Zacapa ever made. It’s an utterly unaged cask strength white with serious strength one point short of 60%, to which is bolted a massive 537.59 g/laa of esters…that puts in the realm of the Rum Fire Jamaican white, and that one packed quite a bit of gelignite in its jock, remember? Aside from serious rum-junkies, ester-loving deep-dive geeks and Demerara-rum fanboys (I’m all of these in one), I wonder who would buy the thing when there are so many great independent offerings of an aged Demerara out there (many of which are Port Mourant still rums themselves).

Let’s see if the tasting notes can provide some insight. At 59% ABV, I was careful with it, letting it open for a while, and was rewarded with quite an impressive and complex series of aromas: rubber and plasticene, nail polish remover, followed by a combination of sugar water, brine, watermelon, pears, roasted nuts, plus a firm, crisp-yet-light fruitiness which the strength did not eviscerate.  That’s always something of a risk with high proof rums, whose intensity can obliterate subtler nuances of flavour on nose or palate.

Unaged rums take some getting used to because they are raw from the barrel and therefore the rounding out and mellowing of the profile which ageing imparts, is not a factor.  That means all the jagged edges, dirt, warts and everything, remain. Here that was evident after a single sip: it was sharp and fierce, with the licorice notes subsumed into dirtier flavours of salt beef, brine, olives and garlic pork (seriously!). It took some time for other aspects to come forward – gherkins, leather, flowers and varnish – and even then it was not until another half hour had elapsed that crisper acidic notes like unripe apples and thai lime leaves (I get those to buy in the local market), were noticeable. Plus some vanilla – where on earth did that come from?  It all led to a long, duty, dry finish that provided yet more: sweet, sugary, sweet-and-salt soy sauce in a clear soup. Damn but this was a heady, complex piece of work. I liked it a lot, really.

Reading those tasting note and looking at the stats of the rum, I think you’d agree this is not your standard table rum; maybe even one that only a madman or a visionary would try to make money from, when it’s so obviously stuffed with sleeping leopards. Who on earth would make this kind of thing; and then, having been made, who is addled enough to buy it? Drink it?  And why?

To answer those questions, it’s useful to look at the man behind the rum.  Luca Gargano, whose Five Principles are now the source of equal parts merriment and respect, doesn’t often say it in as many words, but obeys another: I call it the Sixth Rum Principle, and it suggests that Luca believes that rum should be made pure, fresh, organic, without additives of any kind from cane through to still.  If he had a choice, I’m sure he’s prefer to have wild yeast do the fermentation of a wash gathered in the bark of trees hollowed out by the latest hurricane.

But a codicil to the Principle is simply that a rum need not necessarily be aged to be good…even fabulous. Now for a man who selected and popularized the extraordinary Port Mourant series of aged rums, that seems like bizarre thing to say, but look no further than the clairins from Haiti which have made such a splash in the rumiverse over the last four years, or any of the unaged French Island whites, and you’ll see that may really be on to something.

And that leads to the intersection of the Port Mourants and the Principle. I’m sure Luca was perfectly aware of the quality and reputation of the PM 1972, PM 1974 and PM 1975….to say nothing of the later editions. “What I wanted to do,” he told me recently in that utterly sure, subtly evangelic voice he uses in rum festivals around the world, “Is demonstrate how the rum everyone likes and appreciates – the Port Mourants, Foursquares, Jamaicans – started life.  Okay, they’re not for everyone. But for those who really know the profiles of the islands’ rums blind, they can now see what such rums were before any ageing or any kind of cask influence.”

Drinking this rum shows what results from applying that principle. There’s a whole raft of these whites out in the market right now, distinguished by lovely drawings of the stills from which they originate. I’m not sure how they sell, or who’s buying them, or even if they are making a splash in the perceptions of the larger rum world.  All I know is it’s an amazing rum that one should try at least once, even if it’s just to appreciate for the one time how the raging cataracts of a Port Mourant distillate started out, before the torrent of taste calmed down, evened out…and flowed into the ocean of all the other great PMs we have learnt to know and appreciate over the years.

(88/100)

May 072018
 

#509

Plastic.  Lots and lots of plastic.  And rubber. The clairin “Le Rocher” is a hydrocarbon lover’s wet dream, and if you doubt that, just take a gentle sniff of this Haitian white.  It is one of the richest whites from Haiti I’ve managed to try, and the best part is, those opening notes of the nose don’t stop there – they develop into a well balanced combination of acetone, salt, soya, and a spicy vegetable soup, into which a cut of jerk chicken thrown in for good measure to add some depth (I swear, I’m not making this up).  And if that isn’t enough, half an hour later you’ll be appreciating the watermelons, sugar water and light cinnamon aromas as well.  This rum is certifiable, honestly – no unaged white should ever be able to present such a delightfully crazy-ass smorgasbord of rumstink, and yet, here it is and here it reeks.  It’s pretty close to awesome.

Sometimes a rum gives you a really great snooting experience, and then it falls on its behind when you taste it – the aromas are not translated well to the flavour on the palate.  Not here. In the tasting, much of the richness of the nose remains, but is transformed into something just as interesting, perhaps even more complex. It’s warm, not hot or bitchy (46.5% will do that for you), remarkably easy to sip, and yes, the plasticine, glue, salt, olives, mezcal, soup and soya are there.  If you wait a while, all this gives way to a lighter, finer, crisper series of flavours – unsweetened chocolate, swank, carrots(!!), pears, white guavas, light florals, and a light touch of herbs (lemon grass, dill, that kind of thing). It starts to falter after being left to stand by itself, the briny portion of the profile disappears and it gets a little bubble-gum sweet, and the finish is a little short – though still extraordinarily rich for that strength – but as it exits you’re getting a summary of all that went before…herbs, sugars, olives, veggies and a vague mineral tang.  Overall, it’s quite an experience, truly, and quite tamed – the lower strength works for it, I think.

Clairins no longer need much introduction.  Velier’s been promoting them up and around the world, people have been shuddering and cheering about their profiles in equal measure for years now.  We know what they are. What we don’t know is the producers and individual methods. Here’s what I know: Le Rocher (“The Rock”, named after Matthew’s injunction in 7: 24-27 not to build on sand) is the product of Bethel Romelus, whose little op is located in the village of Pignon, about an hour’s jouncing away from St Michel where Michel Sajous fires up the Sajous. Le Rocher is different from the other clairins I’ve looked at so far in that it is made from sugar cane juice from three different varieties of cane, which is boiled down to syrup.  It’s fermented naturally, with maybe a 1/3 of the syrup being made from previous vinasses, then run through a discontinuous pot still, before being bottled as is. No ageing, no dilution, no filtration, no additions. A pure, natural, organic rum for all those whole drool over such statistics.

Personally, I’m impressed with the rum as a whole, but if you disagree, I fully understand the source of your doubt – you gotta be into unaged, unhinged whites to be a fanboy of this stuff – for me, that’s catnip, for you, perhaps not so much. Still, If I had to rate the clairins which Velier is putting out the door, I’d say the Sajous remains the most certifiable, the Casimir the most elegant, the Vaval the easiest for its strength.  But the Le Rocher….it’s perhaps the most approachable for the average Joe who wants to know what the fuss is all about and is willing to try one, but is cautious about mucking around with the >50% sarissas of the first three. By going to a lower ABV, by taming a remarkable panoply of potent and pungent smells and tastes, by changing (slightly) the way it’s made, the Le Rocher is setting a standard as high as its creole-still cousins, and if your tastes bend in this direction, it’s definitely worth adding to your collection of whites, and clairins.

(85/100)


Other notes

  • In doing my research I found references to other varieties of the Le Rocher tried at various rumfests last year: one at 51%, another at 43.5%. 
  • Back label translation: “It is at Pignon, at the entrance to the plateau of St. Michael de l’Attalaye, that the Le Rocher clairin is produced using cane syrup, produced from natural juice, adding during fermentation about 30% vinasses from the previous distillations: an archaeological example of the method of production of the French colonies, influence of 1785 by the technique developed by the English in Jamaica, the “dunder-style.”
May 052018
 
Enmore 1988 1

Photo (c) Barrel-Aged-Mind

Rumaniacs Review # 077 | 0508

The 1988 Enmore vintage has quite a lot of siblings from the same year: Berry Brothers, Bristol Spirits, Compagnie des Indes, the Whisky Agency, Rum Cask and Silver Seal have all issued rums from that year, with varying ages and qualities — some more and better, some less and less.  But all are variations on a theme, that of the Enmore wooden still from Guyana now housed at Diamond, and perhaps only rum geeks with their laser-like focus bother to get them all in an effort to write a dense analysis of the finest, most minute differences. This one is, to my mind, one of the better ones…even though it’s likely that this is not from the Enmore wooden coffey still, but the Versailles single wooden pot still (see other notes below).

Colour – Dark blonde

Strength – 51.9%

Nose – Yummy. Surprisingly light at first nosing, then develops some heft and complexity after a few minutes, so don’t rush into it. Coffee, petrol, wax notes at first, opening up into oak, fruits, anise, olives, prunes, dates and not-so-sweet fruits and molasses.  It’s deceptive, because at first it doesn’t seem like much, and then it just keeps coming and providing more and more aromas. Just because it starts quiet and unobtrusive sure doesn’t mean it ends up that way.

Palate – Coffee, oak, fruitiness, some toffee, wax and shoe polish open the show, as well as being briny and with olives galore plus a little bit of sour cream – these come out a little bit at a time and meld really well.  Lemon zest, coconut and background anise notes develop as it opens up (this is definitely one you want to take your time with).  It’s crisp and clear, skirting “thin” by a whisker, yet even so, satisfactorily rich, tart, creamy and flavourful.  There’s a even a wisp of molasses lurking in the background which is quite pleasant.  It’s warm, well-balanced, and pretty much under control the whole time.

Finish – 51.9% is a good strength: it allows the finish to go without hurry, as it heads for a creamy, briny, lemony and licorice-like exit, with perhaps some coffee grounds and bitter chocolate wrapping up the whole experience in a bow.

Thoughts – Two years ago I rated it 89 points in Paris.  This time around, trying it with a few other Enmores (including the DDL Rare First Batch Enmore 1993), I felt it remained an excellent product, even though it slipped just a little in the company it kept.  But just a smidgen, within the margin of error, and it remains a great exemplar of the wooden stills and the country that no-one would ever be ashamed to own, and to share.

(88/100)


Other Notes

  • The label states the rum derives from the Single Wooden Pot Still – but that’s not the Enmore (which is the “filing cabinet” shaped wooden coffey continuous still) but the Versailles.  Luca has confirmed elsewhere that it is Versailles (which means the label is a misprint), and I’ve been told that several of the 1988s share this confusion…which likely arose because while this still originated in Versailles, it was moved variously to Enmore and Uitvlugt, before finding its final home in Diamond (DDL Website)
  • The translation of the Italian on the back label notes that the rum is aged in Europe (continental).
Mar 212018
 

 

#499

Velier’s 1997 Port Mourant expression announces its presence with the sort of growling distant rumble of an approaching storm system, igniting emotions of awe and amazement (and maybe fear) in the unwary.  It’s 65.7% of fast-moving badass, blasting into a tasting session with F5 force, flinging not just bags but whole truckloads of flavour into your face.

You think I’m making this up for effect, right?  Nope. The nose, right from the start, even when just cracking the bottle, is ragingly powerful, shot through with lightning flashes of licorice, blueberries, blackberries, off-colour bananas, citrus, pineapple slices in syrup.  And as if that wasn’t enough, it apparently decided to include sheeting rainstorms of anise, coffee, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg…just because, y’know, they were there and it could. It was heavy, but not too much, and it made me think that while the ester-laden Savanna HERR or Hampdens and Worth Parks have similarly intense aromas (however unique to themselves), the darker heavier notes from Port Mourant definitely have their place as well.

Photo courtesy of Barrel Aged Mind

Physically tasting the rum is an experience in itself, largely because of its weight, its heft, and its tropical intensity – yet amazingly, it’s all controlled and well balanced.  It’s hot-just-short-of-sharp, smooth, buttery, dark, licorice-y, caramel-y and coffee-like, and while you’re enjoying that, the additional notes of blackberries, unsweetened black tea, citrus and raisins (and more anise) descend like black clouds casting ominous shadows of oomph all over the labial landscape. The assembly of the vanilla, salt caramel, fruity spices and anise notes of the PM is really quite impressive, with no overarching bite of tannins to mar the experience – they were there, but unlike the El Dorado Rare Collection PM 1999, they kept their distance until the end. And even the finish held up well: it was long, dry, deep, with those heretofore reticent tannins finally making their presence felt,causing the fruits to recede, flowers to step back, and it all stays alive for a very, very long time.  

Tropical ageing can’t be faulted when it produces a rum as good as this one.  Balance is phenomenal, enjoyment off the scale, and it just doesn’t get much better than that. The endurance of the aromas and tastes hearkens back to the neverending-smell-story of the Skeldon 1973. It’s just about epic, and I mean that. Consider: I had a generous sample of this rum and played with it for some hours;  I had dinner; had a bath, brushed my teeth; I went to bed; I woke up; did all the “three-S” morning ablutions, dressed, had coffee, and as I went out the door and got kissed by the wife, she frowned and asked me “What on earth have you been drinking?” Kissed me again. And then, after another sniff. – “And why the hell didn’t you share any?”  I’ll drink a rum like that any day of the week.  Maybe even twice.

(90/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn 1094 bottles.  Wooden double pot still.  Velier needs no introduction any more, right?
  • Compliments to Laurent Cuvier of Poussette fame, for his generous sharing of this gem among rums from the Lost Age of the Demeraras.
  • Two Danish squaddies of mine, Nico and Gregers, detailed their own experiences with the PM 1997 in the recent Velier PM Blowout.
  • The most detailed review of this I’ve ever seen is Barrel Aged Mind’s 2013 write up (sorry, German only). And if you want to know how far we’ve come, consider that a mere six years ago, he paid 118€ for it.

Postscript

It was instructive to note the reactions to the El Dorado Rare Collection (First Edition) reviews in general, and the Port Mourant 1999 in particular. Many people felt the ED PM took pride of place, variously calling it a flavour bomb of epic proportions, “huge”, “brutal” and “immense”. Clearly the Port Mourant rums have a cachet all their own in the lore of Demeraras; and if one disses them, one had better have good reasons why. Saying so ain’t enough, buddy – state your reasons and make your case, and it had better be a good one.

My rebuttal to why the El Dorado PM got the score it did from me is quite simply, this rum.  If you ever manage to get it, try them together and reflect on the difference. Hopefully your mileage doesn’t vary too far from mine, but I honestly think the Velier PM 1997 is the superior product.

Feb 262018
 

#0491

Don’t get so caught up in the Velier’s 70th Anniversary bottlings, their dwindling Demeraras or the now flavour-of-the-month Caronis, that you forget the one-offs, the small stuff, the ones that don’t make waves any longer (if they ever did).  Just because the Damoiseau 1980, Courcelles 1972, Basseterre and Rhum Rhum lines don’t make headlines while the aforementioned series do, is actually a good reason to try and find them, for they remain undiscovered treasures in the history of Velier and are often undervalued, or even (gasp!) underpriced.

One of these delightful short form works by La Casa di Gargano is the Basseterre 1997, a companion to the Basseterre 1995, which I thought had been an excellent agricole (scored 87), if, as I mentioned in the review, somewhat overshadowed by other aspects of Luca’s oevre.  I had sourced them both, but for some reason got sent two of the 1995 and none of the 1997, and was so pissed off that it took me another two years to grudgingly spring the cash for another 1997 (if you’re interested, I gave a Danish friend the extra 1995, unopened).

The two Basseterre rhums have an interesting backstory.  Back in the mid 2000s, Velier had its relationship with Damoiseau in place and Luca, as was (and is) his wont, struck up a friendship with Sylvain Guzzo, the commercial director of Karukera, and asked him to sniff around for some good casks elsewhere in Guadeloupe. In these cynical and pessimistic times we cast the jaundiced eyes of aged streetwalkers at remarks like “he did it for me entirely out of friendship, not money” but knowing Luca I believe it to be the unvarnished truth, because he’s, y’know, just that kind of guy. In any event, some barrels from Montebello were sourced, samples were sent and a deal struck to issue them under Velier’s imprimatur.  Luca is by his own admission a lousy painter, and therefore worked with a young architectural student from a university in Slovenia to design the labels with their abstract artwork and was going to use the Montebello name on them…before that company saw the Velier catalogue, had a lawyer issue a cease and desist order, and that plan had to change on the spot.  So after considering and rejecting the name “Renegade” (maybe that would also have created problems) the label was quickly amended to “Basseterre” and so it was issued.

Anecdotes aside, what have we got here? A Guadeloupe column-distilled 49.2% ABV rhum from the Carrere distillerie more commonly called Montebello, located just a little south of Petit Bourg and in operation since 1930.  Curiously, it’s a blend: of rhum agricole (distilled from cane juice) and rhum traditionnel (distilled from molasses).  Aged…well, what is the age?  It was put in oak in 1997 then taken out of the barrels in 2006 (again, just like the 1997 edition) and placed in an inert vat until 2008 for the two divergent strains to marry.  So I’m calling it a nine year old, though one could argue it sat for 11 years even if it was just twiddling its thumbs for two. And as noted above, there’s a reason why Sylvain’s name is on the back label, so now you know pretty much the same story as me.

Even now I remember being enthused about the 1995, though it had issues with how it opened.  That level of uncouth seemed to be under greater control here – it was somewhat sharp, sweet and salty at the same time, just not in a messy way.  The lighter sweet started to become more noticeable after it began to morph into honey and floral notes, plus anise, a little cumin, and softer, riper fruits such as bananas.  Under that was a nice counterpoint of well-behaved (if the term could be applied without smiling) acetone and rubber and an odd ashy kind of smell which was quite intriguing.  In fine, the nose was a really nice and complex to a fault, quite impressive.

I also had no fault to find with the palate which reminded me right off of creamy Danish cookies and a nice Guinness.  A little malty in its own way. It was very clear and crisp to taste, with brine, aromatic herbs (dill, parsley, coriander), spices (cumin leavened with a dusting of nutmeg), honey, unsweetened yoghurt, and a light vein of citrus, out of which emerged, at the end, some coffee grounds and fleshy, ripe fruits, all of which was summed up in a really good fade, dry and well balanced, that went on for a surprisingly long time, giving up gradually diminishing notes of anise, coffee, fruits and a little citrus.

The rum really was quite a good one, better than the 1995, I’d suggest, because somehow the complexity was better handled and it was faintly richer. It’s great that they are not well known, which keeps them available and reasonably priced to this day, but it’s too bad there were only two of these made, because unlike the Demeraras or Caronis there is not a great level of comparability to go on with.  Be that as it may, the fact remains that these smaller editions of more limited bottlings — which don’t have the hype or the glory of the great series for which Velier is justly famed — are like Stephen King’s short stories tossed off between better known doorstopper novels like “It”, “Duma Key”, “The Stand” or The Gunslinger Cycle. Yet can we truly say that “Quitters Inc” “The Ledge” or “Crouch End” are somehow less?  Of course not. This thing is a sweet, intense song on the “B” side of a best selling 45 – perhaps not as good as the bestseller which fronts it, but one which all aficionados of the band can justly appreciate. And speaking for myself, I have no problem with that at all.

(88/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn is unknown
  • Background history of the company can be found at the bottom of the 1995 review
Dec 232017
 

Photo (c) WhiskyAntique

Rumaniacs Review #066 | 0473

The Velier Albion 1983 bottled at standard strength shares space with others of the original Velier rum lineup bottled by Breitenstein such as the Enmore 1987 and LBI 1985; it comes complete with colorful box which was discontinued some years later, and in tasting it you can see, even from so far back, the ethos of the company’s founder start to shine through…but only faintly. Five casks of origin, no notes on tropical vs continental ageing or the final outturn, sorry.  I’d suggest that these days finding one of the original Velier bottlings from nearly twenty years ago is next to impossible, and probably at a price that negates any sense of value it might come with given the paltry ABV…but never mind.  Let’s try it, because I love the products of the First Age and history is what we’re after in the series anyway.

Colour – Amber-gold

Strength – 40%

Nose – A nose like this makes me gnash my teeth and wish better records had been kept of the various stills that were moved, swapped, cannibalized, dismantled, repaired, tossed around and trashed in Guyana’s long and storied rum history. Maybe a Savalle still or some now disappeared columnar still — certainly not one of the wooden ones. It was a rich, deep Demerara rum kinda smell, presenting with admirable force and clarity even at 40% – butterscotch, a little licorice, nuts, molasses, molasses coated brown sugar. To which, some patience and further snooting will add flowers, squash, pears, cumin and orange peel.  Oh, and also some brine and red grapes topped with whipped cream.  Yummy.

Palate – Very soft and restrained, no surprise.  Some of the nasal complexity seems to fade away … but not as much as I feared. Blancmage, creme brulee, vanilla, caramel toffee, brown bread and herbal cream cheese.  Leather and some earthier, muskier tones come forward, bound together by rich brown sugar and molasses, white chocolate and coffee grounds. There’s a little citrus, but dark-red grapes, raisins, prunes and blueberries carry off the Fruit Cup.

Finish – Surprisingly, unexpectedly robust and long lived.  The closing aromas of deep dark grapes, burnt sugar, light citrus, licorice, molasses and caramel is not dazzlingly complex, simply delicious and doesn’t try to do too much

Thoughts – A very good forty percenter which showcases what even that strength can accomplish with some imagination and skill; observe the difference between a Doorly’s XO or 12 YO and something like this and you will understand my whinging bout the former’s lack of profile.  There’s just so much more going on here and all of it is enjoyable.  There’s a 45.7% 25 year old version issued (also from 2003) which I’m dying to try — and of course, the masterful 1986 25 Year Old (R-013) and 1994 17 Year Old, which kicked off my love affair with Veliers — but no matter which one you end up sourcing by bottle or sample, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

(86/100)


Link to other Rumaniacs’ reviews will be posted later….

Dec 192017
 

Rumaniacs Review #065 | 0471

There are, as far as I am aware, three 1982-2005 23 year old Caronis issued by Velier. The  “Light” issued at 59.2% (R-058), the “Heavy Full Proof” which is a ripsnorting 77.3% (R-063), and now this “Heavy” one, the last of my Rumaniacs samples from Trinidad, which clocks in between those two, at 62% and a 1360-bottle outturn.   Unsurprisingly, this presents casual buyers with quite a chellenge. I know Luca felt that each iteration and individual expression of the various Caronis highlights some kind of distinct point of interest he wanted to share, but to be honest, I don’t know how the average rumhound is supposed to pick which one to buy, given the multitude available — they are all good, and in places quite similar.  It would take a dedicated and committed post-doc rumologist to unravel all the variations, even assuming the wallet held out. Nevertheless, we should be grateful that we have so many sterling expressions to choose from at all, living as we are in the belated discovery of Velier’s Second Age (the first being, of course, the Demeraras).  So you’re not hearing me whinging too loudly.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 62%

Nose – Quite distinct and very Caroni-like in all aspects. Somewhat less rubber, but more tar than the 59.2% R-058, extremely firm and lively.  Caramel, vanilla and toffee keep the road-surfacing crew nourished, and a dusting of cinnamon provides some entertainment.  When they stop for a break, there are also lime leaves, cumin and some muskier spices like sweet paprika and tumeric. Brown sugar and molasses, blackberries, red currants, and raspberries round out the ensemble. A very good nose indeed.

Palate – The clear and growly Caroni profile continues uninterrupted from the nose, with petrol and tar taking the stage up front and never entirely relinquishing their dominance.  Dry, sharp and quite oaky here (different from both the 59.2% and 77.3% versions), bitter chocolate, salty soy sauce, brine, olives and a touch of (get this) menthol and marzipan.  It has surprising heft and thickness in the mouthfeel, yet remains sharp to the end.  With water, more caramel, some citrus, dark fruit (black grapes, prunes, blackberries), and these stay mostly in the background as bit players, which I’d say was a pity as the integration could have worked better with a little more force from these flavours.

Finish – Nice and long, with fruits and toffee, tar and petrol remaining the core of it all.  It remains somewhat salty, and dry

Thoughts – A good Caroni, but then, aren’t they all?  I think it’s a bit too spicy at the back end, which is a minor observation, not a complaint.  I particularly liked the citrus ad spices on display.  On the other hand, were I asked to chose between this and the other two iterations, I’m not entirely sure this would be my first pick.  Close, but no cigar compared to, say, the 77.3%.

(85/100)


  • After all these Caronis, I need hardly mention (but I will) that Serge Valentin looked at this one in his multi-Caroni lineup in mid November 2017.  The boys in France, Olivier Scars and Jean-Paul Bouwyn, also covered it in their epic two-part Caroni session on DuRhum in August 2017 (in French, Day 10)
  • One of the Caronis from the first batch Luca issued in 2005
  • This really is the last Caroni I have.  I’ll be moving on to a Neisson session soon, though, for the curious who want to know what’s next.

Dec 152017
 

Rumaniacs Review #064 | 0469

When sampling yet another Caroni from the glory years of the 1980s, it’s something like opening a long-shut box redolent of the past, and maybe one can be forgiven for – in these times – rhapsodizing about the way hard honest rums were supposedly made by sweaty proles who had no patience for fancy finishes, plate manipulation or barrel strategy.  So in a way it’s ironic that Caroni was not considered a particularly good rum back then – it was not that well known, it certainly wasn’t the estate’s prime focus, its signature taste was disapprovingly considered a mark of poor production methodology, and few outside of Trinidad cared much about it.  But look what the passing of less than two decades since its closure has done: transmuted what we once lovingly referred to as humdrum gunk, into a definitively-profiled country-specific must-have, a treasure to be dissected and talked over like few others, whose minutest nuances of taste are endlessly debated in the cafes, lounges, clubs and elegant online drawing rooms of the rumworld.  Here’s another one to add to the trove of our knowledge, then.

Colour – Gold

Strength – 55%

Nose – Compared to some of the others in the last weeks, this one is rather light – all the expected hits are playing, but in a lesser, almost minor key. Tar, rubber, acetone — these notes never get old and I never get tired of finding ’em — segueing into softer (but still delicate) dates, fruits, molasses, more tar, brown sugar, some caramel. Delicious.  I could eat this thing.

Palate – The light profile continues,  with some muskier, spicier tastes adding to the party: ginger, maybe cumin; honey, salt caramel, lemon meringue pie, an olive or two, tar and cigarette filters.  The tar and furniture polish gradually bleed away, giving pride of place to nougat, white chocolate. Not overly complex…it’s almost simple in a way, though what flavours are there are crisp, clear and elegantly expressed and come together harmoniously.

Finish – Medium long, not very dry, nice and warm.  Last notes of honey, citrus, salt caramel, and fresh green herbs from Jamie Oliver’s kitchen garden.

Thoughts – More than most of Velier’s Caronis, this one made me think, because the conclusions to walk away with are that (a) Caroni cannot be pigeonholed so easily into some kind of heavy rum reeking of tar and fruits – it’s got far more than that up its sleeves across the range, and (b) ‘light and simple’ as a descriptor (Serge called it “shy” which is just as good) conceal depths heretofore unsuspected. This is a pretty good Caroni, issued somewhat at right angles to most others from Velier and are from Luca’s first batch, which came on the market in the mid-to-late-2000s.

(86/100)


Other notes

 

 

 

Dec 132017
 

#468

Velier’s Last Ward is an elegaic and haunting rum that evokes memories of old times and old places, yet is brought smack bang up to date for the modern connoisseur and rum lover.  It is a summing up of all things Mount Gay that matter if you’re in tune with it, just a really good rum if you’re not, and is one to savour and appreciate and enjoy no matter what your state of mind or preference in rum.  One can only wonder, with all the great distilleries that are represented in the independent bottlers’ more popular and better-known wares, how a small batch production like this one was ever conceived of, let alone made it out to the general marketplace.  It is one of the best rums from Mount Gay not actually sold under the brand.

The “Last Ward” is about as evocative a title for a rum as I’ve ever come across.  It breathes of Barbados, of history and of rum. It speaks to the Ward family who ran Mount Gay for over a century (Aubrey Ward acquired it in the early 1900s) and still appear to have involvement with the company which was officially in existence since 1703 (unofficially much before that) and acquired in 1989 by Remy Cointreau. Frank Ward started producing a brand called Mount Gilboa in 2007, naming it after the original plantation and distillery before it had been renamed in 1801 after Sir John Gay Alleyne, whom John Sober had inveigled to manage the new company when he had bought it in 1747.

Did all that history and age and heritage translate into a rum worth drinking?  It’s not always the case, of course, but here the answer is a firm yes. It started with the nose, where the very first word of my notes is “Wow.” It was smooth and heated, handling the 59% ABV quite well, smelling of furniture polish, leather, light flowers, bags of white chocolate, nougat, toblerone, coffee grounds and salt caramel.  It was aromatic enough to make me think of a warmer, softer Savanna Lontan, to be honest, and continued with almonds, pecans and vanilla, all of which harmonized into a nose one might not initially pick out as specifically Bajan, but which was definitely worth spending some time with.

The palate developed with somewhat more force, being sharp and intense without losing any of the aromatic character I liked so much on the nose.  Oak took more of a leadership role here, and behind it coiled flavours of flowers, citrus and marzipan. Letting it stand for some time (and later adding some water) cooled it down and allowed other components to emerge – bon bons, more caramel, coconut shavings, bananas, white chocolate, tied together with a vague complementary sweetness which made the whole experience a very approachable one. The sharpness and intensity which began the taste was almost totally morphed to something quieter and by the time the finish arrived.  And that was very pleasant indeed, long lasting, sweet, with caramel and vanilla walking a fine line next to orange peel and nuttiness.

Almost everything about the production details is stated clearly on the label in a fashion that shames brands who indifferently genuflect to the concept (like for instance the Dictador Best of 1977, remember that?): double retort pot still origin; triple distilled in 2007, aged ten years in Barbados with an angel’s share of 65%, no sugar, issued at a robust 59% ABV. About the only thing missing is in what kind of barrels it was aged in, but those are ex-bourbon, so now you know as much as I do. (As an aside for those who like such details, the still is made by McMillan from Scotland, who are still in business making copperware for distilleries the world over, and have been ever since their founding in 1867).

Mount Gay has now started producing its cask strength series of the XO (63%) which I thought was very good, a German indie called Rendsburger made a 1986 Rockley Still 18 year old rum I quite liked, and we’ve been trying WIRD rums for years now — these demonstrated with emphasis and aplomb what could be done even if you didn’t hail from Foursquare…and this rum is as good as almost all of them. Just about everything works here, comes together right – it finds the intersection of a name redolent of memory, a presentation in quiet pastels, all married to a profile of strength, reasonable complexity, and, dare I say it? – even beauty.  

If I had any note of caution to sound about the matter, it’s that those who like fierce and brutal purity in their cask strength rums might not entirely appreciate one which is firm rather than sharply distinct, and rather more diffuse and melded together in a way that makes individual notes lack a certain clarity; and the pot still heritage is not as evident as I might have liked – but to me that’s a minor whinge….overall, this thing is good. The Last Ward is a like a WIRD rum taken out to left field and torqued up to just about the max, and represents a triumph of the imagination as much as the better known Foursquare Exceptional Cask series or Mr. Seale’s collaborations with Velier. It may not entirely beat the Foursquare 2006 10 year old, but believe me when I say that that is no reason to leave it on any shelf where you see it.

(89/100)


Other notes

Both The Fat Rum Pirate and Single Cask Rum, whose reviews are also available, noted that it derived from 19 of the oldest barrels remaining. Luca got back on to me and aside from confirming the 19 barrel number, said the actual outturn was 4,746 bottles.

 

Dec 102017
 

Rumaniacs Review #063 | 0467

Having tried several of the ur-proofed rums of the rumiverse (Sunset Very Strong 84.5% and Marienburg 90% come to mind) I must confess that while stronger stuff exists, trying high-test like this makes me think I’ve run out of steroidal fortitude. It’s a shattering experience, not just because of its strength but because somehow it pushes all the boundaries of a very precise Caroni profile – it’s like getting hit with the spirituous equivalent of a fully boosted luxury freight train (assuming Louis Vuitton made one).  And it is to its credit that it not only makes a bold statement for cask strength, but also adheres to all the markers that make Caroni a must-have rum to try if one can get it.  Which may be problematic because here’s one that only got issued at a measly 123 bottles…so if you have dibs on one, treasure the thing.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 77.3%

Nose – Initially somewhat indistinct before the clouds clear and the forked lightning of specific aromas lights up the firmament.  Phenols, acetone, furniture polish get things rolling.  Salty, olives, some caramel, tar, licorice and caramel, even a touch of vegetable soup.  It’s fierce and sharp and should be savoured. The smells are quite distinct and at this strength are easy to pick apart.

Palate – Whew! Taste carefully, young padawan, for this juice be hot.  Oily and mouth coating in the best way – toffee, salty caramel ice-cream, flambeed bananas. and that’s just the beginning.  Once it builds up a head of steam, there’s tar and pretrol, creme brulee, molasses, ripe peaches, prunes, cherries, dark grapes, and some brine and sweet red olives.  Really good stuff, once you get past the sharp edge it displays – some water is highly recommended here, but just a little.

Finish – Long, dry, hot, fruity, tarry, with last notes of anise and toffee.  Like a guy who makes the best jokes at your evening soiree, you just don’t want him to leave so you can enjoy the fun some more.

Thoughts – Not the best Caroni ever, but it’s good, very good.  The strength to some extent works against it since lower proofed Caronis are every bit as tasty and easier to come to grips with (and much more available) and so perhaps more approachable than this brontosaurus.  This rum is a brutal, ascetic skewer that doesn’t try to please everyone but does one thing really remarkably well – it showcases one single slice and aspect of Caroni in a way that perhaps a softer one might not have been able to do.  And I suspect that was what Luca intended all along.

(86/100)


  • Olivier Scars and Jean-Paul Bouwyn posted a major two-day Caroni session on DuRhum in August 2017 (in French), well worth a look through.  They tried this one on Day 10
  • Serge of course dealt with this rum in his 11-Caroni lineup back in mid-November 2017
  • Rumaniacs link to be posted once other have put up their reviews.
  • Luca remarked in the addenda to DuRhum’s tasting that this was among the first of the Caronis he issued, back in 2005, and he took a deep breath and a real chance to issue it full proof, which was not considered a good selling proposition back then.  The Caronis sold out instantly, thereby solidifying his idea and proving it was a viable sales concept.  Thank goodness 🙂