Sep 102020
 

It’s been many years since the first of those blended dark-coloured UK supermarket rums dating back decades crossed my path – back then I was writing for Liquorature, had not yet picked up the handle of “The ‘Caner”, and this site was years in the future.  Yet even now I recall how much I enjoyed Robert Watson’s Demerara Rum, and I compared it positively with my private tippling indulgence of the day, the Canada-made Young’s Old Sam blend — and remembered them both when writing about the Wood’s 100 and Cabot Tower rums.

All of these channelled some whiff of the old merchant bottlers and their blends, or tried for a Navy vibe (not always successfully, but ok…).  Almost all of them were (and remain) Guyanese rums in some part or all. They may be copying Pusser’s or the British heritage of centuries past, they are cheap, drinkable, and enjoyable and have no pretensions to snobbery or age or off-the-chart complexity.  They are a working man’s rums, all of them.

Watson’s Trawler rum, bottled at 40% is another sprig off that branch of British Caribbean blends, budding off the enormous tree of rums the empire produced. The company, according to Anne Watson (granddaughter of the founder), was formed in the late 1940s in Aberdeen, sold at some point to the Chivas Group, and nowadays the brand is owned by Ian McLeod distillers (home of Sheep Dip and Glengoyne whiskies). It remains a simple, easy to drink and affordable nip, a casual drink, and should be approached in precisely that spirit, not as something with pretensions of grandeur.

I say “simple” and “easy” but really should also add “rich”, which was one of the first words my rather startled notes reveal.  And “deep.”  I mean, it’s thick to smell, with layers of muscovado sugar, molasses, licorice, and bags of dark fruits.  It actually feels more solid than 40% might imply, and the aromas pervade the room quickly (so watch out, all ye teens who filch this from your parents’ liquor cabinets). It also smells of stewed apples, aromatic tobacco, ripe cherries and a wedge or two of pineapple for bite. Sure the label says Barbados is in the mix, but for my money the nose on this thing is all Demerara.

And this is an impression I continue to get when tasting it. The soft flavours of brown sugar, caramel, bitter chocolate, toffee, molasses and anise are forward again (they really wake up a cola-based diet soda, let me tell you, and if you add a lime wedge it kicks).  It tastes a bit sweet, and it develops the additional dark fruit notes such rums tend to showcase – blackberries, ripe dark cherries, prunes, plums, with a slight acidic line of citrus or pineapple rounding things out nicely.  The finish is short and faint and wispy — no gilding that lily — mostly anise, molasses and caramel, with the fruits receding quite a bit. A solid, straightforward, simple drink, I would say – no airs, no frills, very firm, and very much at home in a mix.

It’s in that simplicity, I argue, lies much of Watson’s strength and enduring appeal — “an honest and loyal rum” opined Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun in his review. It’s not terrible to drink neat, though few will ever bother to have it that way; and perhaps it’s a touch sharp and uncouth, as most such rums aged less than five years tend to be. It has those strong notes of anise and molasses and dark fruit, all good.  I think, though, it’s like all the other rums mentioned above — a mixer’s fallback, a backbar staple, a bottom shelf dweller, something you drank, got a personal taste for and never abandoned entirely, something to always have in stock at home, “just in case.” 

Such rums are are almost always and peculiarly associated with hazy, fond memories of times past, it seems to me.  First jobs, first drunks, first kisses, first tastes of independence away from parents…first solo outings of the youth turning into the adult, perhaps. I may be romanticizing a drink overmuch, you could argue…but then, just read my first paragraphs again, then the last two, and ask yourself whether you don’t have at least one rum like that in your own collection.  Because any rum that can make you think that way surely has a place there.

(#759)(82/100)

Mar 262013
 

First posted 15th January 2011 on Liquorature

(#063)(Unscored)

I’ve never hidden my affection for the Young’s Old Sam Demerara rum: for its rich dark character, thick nose and excellent mixing qualities.  Here’s a variation which simply blows it out of the water, because, unlike that simple mixer, Watson’s is in better balance overall, and is equally good as a sipper or a cocktail base.

***

People, I think are entirely too disbelieving of coincidences: when you consider that there are six billion plus people on the planet, I am actually amazed that there aren’t more coincidences.  One of the best in recent memory was the appearance of a rum named after one of our members: the Robert Watson Demerara dark rum, “a product of Guyana.”

Initial maturation is indeed done in Guyana, but final blending and bottling is done in Scotland by the company that owns the brand, Ian MacLeod distillers.  Established in 1933 by Ian MacLeod, the company was acquired in 1963 by the Russell family, who were primarily whisky brokers. In 2000, the company acquired the Watson’s Demerara and Trawler rum brands, but I cannot yet ascertain from whom, or where the marques originated.

Fine. After we finished grinning and congratulating Bob (Mr. “A-is-A”) on his product and his suitable modesty in naming it after himself, we took stock.  Straightforward bottle, red metal cap. My picture, much affected by the five shots of various Ardbegs I had already consumed (my arms were twisted, honest) doesn’t really do it justice, but it glinted a deep red-brown colour, like burnished copper.

Watson’s is distilled to 40% in pot stills, and aged in oak casks for an unknown period – I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest at least five years, and possibly, just possibly, as long as ten (I hate not knowing this stuff). It filmed the side of the glass and had plump but barely discernible legs as the rum sheeted slowly down, which boded well for the body.

The nose was the first pleasure of the day.  Almost no bite or sting or medicinal burn, though some faint alcohol fumes were there for sure…just well masked and toned down.  And almost instantly I got sweet, rich fumes of molasses. Deep fumes.  Actually, Watson’s, like Old Sam’s, positively reeked of the dark sticky stuff and brown sugar from a freshly opened bag.  After we let it sit for a while, liquorice, nutmeg and something spicy curled around these strong and assertive scents. An excellent, uncomplicated snoot, in my opinion: no fancy additives or little thises or thatses, just the bare bones, well blended.

On the palate, it was full bodied and rich – a real Demerara rum.  It was smooth and deep, tasting faintly of chocolate, but I’d be lying to you if I pretended it had some sort of more complex flavour profile which it didn’t possess…because it doesn’t, and that’s okay, really. The molasses and sugar, with a bit of caramel and maybe vanilla, were the dominant flavours and you won’t get more than that (though the rum does exhibit a pleasing slight driness after a few minutes in the glass).  And the fade is lovely, enveloping and smooth, a dark slow burn that to me marks excellent rums.  The crazy thing I liked so much about Watson’is that I barely caught any real snarl and claw and bite of alcohol throughout – it really is surpisingly smooth. If in taste and nose this thing exceeded the Young’s Old Sam, then in the finish it simply blasted way beyond it.

It’s a pleasure to find a rum bearing the name of one of our members: you might say that’s quite enough by itself.  But to have it married to a deep and rich taste, a great balance and finish…well now, that’s an unforeseen delight, like my wife giving me a Christmas present in July. I do not believe others will share my genuine liking for this straightforward, cutlass-waving, boot-stomping Demerara rum (though I have made no secret over the years of my predilections in this direction). And while I’ve had my issues with Scottish distillers taking rum stock from the West Indies and making their own rum variations – not always successfully – with Watson’s I have so such problems. The thing is great.

Robert Watson’s rum is a phenomenal, strong tasting rum with no time for friggin’ around on the subtleties, equally good alone or in company – and if I ever see it in any store I visit, I’m pouncing on it like a hungry vulture spotting his first lame impala of the day. Count on it.

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