May 312020
 

Rumaniacs Review #116 | 0732

Dry Cane UK had several light white rums in its portfolio – some were 37.5% ABV, some were Barbados only, some were 40%, some Barbados and Guyanese blends.  All were issued in the 1970s and maybe even as late as the 1980s, after which the trail goes cold and the rums dry up, so to speak.  This bottle however, based on photos on auction sites, comes from the 1970s in the pre-metric era when the strength of 40% ABV was still referred to as 70º in the UK. It probably catered to the tourist, minibar, and hotel trade, as “inoffensive” and “unaggressive” seem to be the perfect words to describe it, and II don’t think it has ever made a splash of any kind.

As to who exactly Dry Cane (UK) Ltd were, let me save you the trouble of searching – they can’t be found. The key to their existence is the address of 32 Sackville Street noted on  the label, which details a house just off Piccadilly dating back to the 1730s. Nowadays it’s an office, but in the 1970s and before, a wine, spirits and cigar merchant called Saccone & Speed (established in 1839) had premises there, and had been since 1932 when they bought Hankey Bannister, a whisky maker, in that year. HB had been in business since 1757, moved to Sackville Street in 1915 and S&S just took over the premises. Anyway, Courage Breweries took over S&S in 1963 and handed over the spirits section of the UK trade to another subsidiary, Charles Kinloch – who were responsible for that excellent tipple, the Navy Neaters 95.5º we have looked at before (and really enjoyed).

My inference is therefore that Dry Cane was a financing vehicle or shell company or wholly owned subsidiary set up for a short time to limit the exposure of the parent company (or Kinloch), as it dabbled in being an independent bottler — and just as quickly retreated, for no further products were ever made so far as I can tell. But since S&S also acquired a Gibraltar drinks franchise in 1968 and gained the concession to operate a duty free shop at Gibraltar airport in 1973, I suspect this was the rationale behind creating the rums in the first place, through the reason for its cessation is unknown. Certainly by the time S&S moved out of Sackville Street in the 1980s and to Gibraltar (where they remain to this day as part of a large conglomerate), the rum was no longer on sale.

Colour – White

Strength – 40% ABV

Nose – Light and sweet; toblerone, almonds, a touch of pears. Its watery and weak, that’s the problem with it, but interestingly, aside from all the stuff we’re expecting (and which we get) I can smell lipstick and nail polish, which I’m sure you’ll admit is unusual.  It’s not like we find this rum in salons of any kind.

Palate – Light and inoffensive, completely bland.  Pears, sugar water, some mint. You can taste a smidgen of alcohol behind all that, it’s just that there’s nothing really serious backing it up or going on. 

Finish – Short, dreary, light, simple. Some sugar again and something of a vanilla cake, but even that’s reaching a bit. 

Thoughts – Well, one should not be surprised.  It does tell you it’s “extra light”, right there on the label; and at this time in rum history, light blends were all the rage. It is not, I should note, possible to separate out the Barbadian from the Guyanese portions. I think the simple and uncomplex profile lends credence to my theory that it was something for the hospitality industry (duty free shops, hotel minibars, inflight or onboard boozing) and served best as a light mixing staple in bars that didn’t care much for top notch hooch, or didn’t know of any.

(74/100)

May 272020
 

Anyone from my generation who grew up in the West Indies knows of the scalpel-sharp satirical play “Smile Orange,” written by that great Jamaican playwright, Trevor Rhone, and made into an equally funny film of the same name in 1976.  It is quite literally one of the most hilarious theatre experiences of my life, though perhaps an islander might take more away from it than an expat. Why do I mention this irrelevancy?  Because I was watching the YouTube video of the film that day in Berlin when I was sampling the Worthy Park series R 11.3, and though the film has not aged as well as the play, the conjoined experience brought to mind all the belly-jiggling reasons I so loved it, and Worthy Park’s rums.

You see, Hampden catches a lot of kudos and eyeballs and attention these days – their publicity blitz for the last few years is second to none, and they are rightfully renowned for the quality of their pot still rums issued with and by Velier, the ones that fans collect with a sort of obsessive good cheer which perhaps Ringo Smith might admire (and plan a long con around). But this leaves the other New Jamaican distillery of Worthy Park and its own pot stills seeming to pick up footprints, when in fact its rums are equally good, just different. Their confidence is, in my opinion, not at all misplaced, since the SMWS R11.3 — fragrantly named “Crème Brûlée Flambé” — is the best of those first three WP rums (I own but haven’t tried the second trio so far).

Consider how it opened, with a nose of pencil shavings, sawdust and wood chips in a sawmill, glue and bright sweet-sour acetones that made me look rather amusedly at the bottle to confirm it wasn’t an R2.x series Enmore or something. It developed real well from there: honey, cardamom, cloves and ginger to start, followed by a wave of tart fleshy pears and apricots.  There was a nice hint of avocados and salt and citrus juice, and when I let it stand for ten minutes (was watching the waiter training scene), I got last and light aromas of salt caramel ice cream, chocolate chip cookie, and butterscotch bon bons.

I remarked on the R 11.1 and R 11.2 that they were young and somewhat raw at times, not entirely cohesive, and Simon Johnson in his review of the R 11.2 also noted they lacked a certain elegance which the aged blends released by WP themselves displayed.  This was not an issue here at all – the palate was more approachable and rounded than its two predecessors – lots of both tart and ripe fruits, plus citrus, mint, salt caramel, rye bread, cream cheese and flowers in a good combination.  The taste is not quite as complex as the nose had been but it was close – at any rate it was both meatier and slightly thicker and sweeter than those, and for once, I think the SMWS had the title of the thing exactly right.  Finish was long, flavourful and zesty, mostly flowers, honey, fresh baked cheesecake, caramel, and some dry dusty notes of jute rice bags.

The distillation run from 2010 must have been a good year for Worthy Park, because the SMWS bought no fewer than seven separate casks from then to flesh out its R11 series of rums (R11.1 through R11.6 were distilled May 1st of that year, with R11.7 in September, and all were released in 2017).  After that, I guess the Society felt its job was done for a while and pulled in its horns, releasing nothing in 2018 from WP, and only one more — R11.8 — the following year; they called it “Big and Bountiful” though it’s unclear whether this refers to Jamaican feminine pulchritude or Jamaican rums.

Anyway, this is a rum that matches its siblings and goes a step beyond them. “Grace under pressure under a hot sun” wrote Richard Eder of the New York Times about the film “Smile Orange” in 1976, describing Ringo’s equanimity towards his travails.  The way the R11.3 cheerfully unfolds, without hurry, without bombast, taking its weaknesses and strengths in stride, suggests that the phrase could equally apply to the rum. After all, the best rums aren’t only the ones that are well made and taste good, but those which enrich and enhance life experiences, call back great memories of times gone by, allow you to skate past the problems and vicissitudes of reality. My experience and enjoyment the day I drank this rum, completely proved that point.

(#730)(88/100)

May 242020
 

No one these days needs any introduction to the Real McCoy series of rums, which Bailey Pryor released in 2013 in conjunction with Foursquare Distillery (another name requiring no elaboration). He was inspired, so the founder’s myth goes, to try his hand at rum after making a documentary on the Prohibition rum runner of yore for whom the phrase “The Real McCoy” is named, since said gent gave pure value for money and didn’t try to gyp his customers.  You could almost say that this is the first instance of a Barbados rum being given a name that supposedly touts its attributes, which is now ascending to the heights of polysyllabically pretentious ridiculousness…but never mind. 

Although Mr. Pryor initially released a 3YO and a 5YO and a 12 YO McCoy rum, somehow the gap-filler of an 8 or 10 year old was not addressed until relatively recently when the 10 year old started to go on sale in the USA (around 2017), issued as a limited edition of 3000 bottles. It was a blend of pot and column still Foursquare distillates aged for between 10-12 years in charred ex-bourbon and virgin oak (the proportions of pot:column and 10:12 years remain unknown, though it’s noted that a rather larger pot still component is present) and bottled at 46%.

You’d think that with that kind of mix-and-match combination of several elements – char, age, oak casks, stills – you’re in for a flavour rollercoaster, but you’re not, not really.  The nose was simply….less (and that’s not because of the 46%, as I was trying it with a set of equal-or-lesser-proofed rums). Basically, there was too much bitter woody smells in the mix, which elbowed out – or at least dominated – the softer aromas for which Barbados is better known. So while I could sense some vanilla, fleshy fruits (ripe mangoes, cherries, papaya), bananas, honey and some light cumin, the real problem was how little of that managed to crawl out from the rock of the woody foreground.

On the palate, the slightly higher strength worked, up to a point.  It’s a lot better than 40%, and allowed a certain heft and firmness to brush across the tongue.  This then enhanced a melded mishmash of fruits – watermelon, bananas, papaya – plus cocoa butter, coconut shavings in a Bounty chocolate bar, honey and a pinch of salt and vanilla, all of which got shouldered aside by the tannic woodiness. I suspect the virgin oak is responsible for that surfeit, and it made the rum sharper and crisper than those McCoy and Foursquare rums we’re used to, not entirely to the rum’s advantage. The finish summed of most of this – it was dry, rather rough, sharp, and pretty much gave caramel, vanilla, light fruits, and some last tannins which were by now starting to fade.  (Subsequent sips and a re-checks over the next few days don’t appreciably change these notes).

Well, frankly, this is not a rum that turns my crank.  While respecting the proficiency and heritage of their long history of rum production, I’ve not cared overmuch for Barbados rums as a whole – too many are just “okay,” lacking unique individuality in too many instances, and it takes a rum like the Plenipotenziario or the 2006 10 Year Old or the Criterion or the Mount Gay Cask Strength to excite my interest…which isn’t much given how many rums are made on the island. 

There’s also the odd fixation with blends that remains puzzling to me since it would seem that in today’s climate of rum appreciation, more aged 100% pot still rums from Fousquare or Mount Gay or WIRD would lend lustre to the island and enhance its variety and terroire to a greater extent than a series of recurring and juggled-tweaked blends would — because right now it’s just the skill and rep of the master blenders that keeps bored yawns of “I’ve had this before” at bay (this is a cruel but true observation about human nature). Fortunately, there are indicators that this is changing – Mount Gay has pot still rum on its current lineup, Foursquare and WIRD both have some on the to-do list, and the Habitation Velier Foursquare pot still rum showed off the potential, so this sub-category is not being ignored completely. 

But for now, this rum doesn’t really work for me. It’s a lesser son of greater sires, a minor Foursquare rum in all ways that matter – nose, taste, finish, the works. It’s one of the few instances where, for all its greater-than-usual pot still makeup and ten years of ageing, I have to ask in some puzzlement What were they thinking? And if I were to give it one of those facile latin names that seem to be gaining traction these days, I’d call it Tantum Odiosis, because that’s really all it is. Now that’s a veritas for you.

(#729)(79/100)

May 202020
 

Rumaniacs Review #115 | 0728

This rum is a companion of the various UK merchant bottlers’ rums which were common in the 1970s and 1980s. Examples are Lamb’s 70º Demerara Navy, Four Bells Finest Navy Rum, Mainbrace, Red Duster Finest Navy, Old Vatted Demerara rum, and so on.  Many are made by now defunct companies and were Navy wannabes, or traded in on the name without being anything of the kind.

This one is an oddity since it was made by United Rum Merchants, that conglomerate which had swallowed up Lamb’s, Keelings and Dingwall Norris: they did supply rums to the navy at one point, and this rum, made from a blend of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad rums, lacks only the proof to be considered a Navy rum. Except it is clearly not labeled as such, so we’ll just accept it as a blended rum and move on.

Dating: Made when the UK was still trying to go beyond the degrees proof (in 1980) but while this process was still not complete; and while United Rum Merchants was still located in Tooley Street, London and not yet taken over by Allied Domecq in the early 1990s. At this stage in the recent history of rum, blends were still the way to go – so like the Lamb’s 70º “Navy” it is a blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad.  The proportions and distilleries are, of course, unknown.

One further point: the rum is extremely dark, so colouring is involved, and since the hydrometer notes the strength at 36.48% ABV, we can assume about 13g/L of added something-or-other.

Colour – Very dark brown

Strength 40% ABV (36.48% ABV as measured)

Nose – Meaty, gamey, salty.  Are we sure this is 40% ABV?  Feels more robust than that.  Great aromas, though – molasses, caramel, brown sugar, raisins.  Also some acetones and light tart fruits like gooseberries, soursop, to which is added a sort of bitter herbal note, and dark fruits going bad.

Palate – Much softer, one can relax here. Woody notes, molasses, brown sugar.  What acidity and tartness there was on the nose is here much subdued, and not sweet, but thick and dusty and a bit ike sweet soya.

Finish – Adjectives jump off the page: short dry, dark, thick, salty, not-sweet, redolent of molasses, brown sugar, caramel, nuts. That’s a fair bit, but let’s face it, it’s all somewhat standard.

Thoughts – It’s a surprise that a blend of four different countries’ rums — which I usually view with some doubt if not skepticism or outright dislike – works as well as it does.  It’s not a world beater and displays rather more ambition than success.  But it isn’t half bad, coming as it does from a time when indifferently made blends were all the rage. 

Other – There’s some Guyanese Enmore or Port Mourant in there, I’d say, Bajan WIRD is logical for the timeframe and Jamaicans, well, who knows. I’d almost hazard a guess the gaminess in the nose comes from Caroni not Angostura, but I have no evidence outside my senses. That might work for empiricist philosophers like Locke and Hume, but won’t budge the rationalists on whose side I come down on here…so we’ll leave it as unanswered for now.

(78/100)

May 172020
 

It sounds strange to say it, but the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, aside from ushering in changes in the whisky world, had its impacts on rums as well. What made the Society stand out back in the day and initially made its name, was the focus on single cask fullproof bottlings, which at the time was only sporadically addressed by other whisky makers (and hardly at all with rums, except perhaps by the Italians like Samaroli and Velier, who were practically unknown outside Italy). At the time I wrote about the Longpond R5.1 and the WIRD R 3.4 and R 3.5, 46% was about the most I ever saw outside of the 151s, so juice that went for broke at cask strength was eye opening.

Well, fast forward some years and what I saw as groundbreaking in 2012 is now standard practice, and while the Society has expanded its rum selection to 50+ (all at fullproof), its lustre has been eclipsed somewhat in the competing glare of the many other rum makers (indies or producers) who are doing the same thing, and who, let’s face it, specialize in rum – they don’t see it as an adjunct to their main business. That and the SMWS’s pricing model, of course, which many can’t or won’t pony up for (full disclosure: I’m a member of the Society and buy my bottles).

But anyway, preamble aside, let’s keep on disassembling the R-11.x series of rums released by the Society, with the second release from Worthy Park distillate, which is called, without irony and perhaps tongue-in-cheek, “Absolutely Fabulous!”  Like the R11.1, it is 57.5% ABV, distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2017, 309-bottle outturn from ex-bourbon barrels.  And like that one, it’s nice and original.

The nose – sweet, fruity, subtly different from the R11.1. Orange zest, papaya, pineapple, ripe yellow mangoes, plus toblerone, white pepper, honey, cereals, and again that sly hint of glue coiling around the background.  It remains dusty, but also laden with spices like cinnamon, massala, crushed black peppers and there’s a subtle oily iodine-like smell wafting around that really makes the thing original. There’s a slight suggestion of rubber, not so much like a vulcanizing shop in hot weather as an old basketball’s air leaking out.  Like I said – original. I guess it takes all kinds.

The palate presents as hot and quite dry, a little wine-y, and also salty – brine and olives, and even salt fish with a few good ‘obstacles’ of cassava and eddoes.  It’s funky and a bit off the reservation, I grant, but there’s more: well-oiled leather, aromatic tobacco, sweet chilis and cucumbers and apple cider – I really didn’t know what to make of it, except that it sort of makes you smile and try some more, see if there’s any other element of crazy hanging around waiting to ambush your tongue. Here I did add some water and it quietened down and other flavours crept out, including the fruit that the nose had promised: pineapple, mangoes, unripe peaches, caramel, nutmeg, toffee and the acrid smoke of water-doused fire, if you can believe it. Finish was nice and long, somewhat bitter, mostly tobacco, leather, smoke, not too much in the way of sweetness or fruits except for a whiff of Fanta that permeated the entire experience.

This rum is clearly from the same tree as the R11.1 but seems like a different branch…and good in the same way, and its own way. That musky salt fish and iodine was odd to say the least (if not entirely unpleasant)…and what it shows is that rums made at the same time and aged for the same period – probably in the same place – can have discernibly different profiles.  Worthy Park sold the SMWS a number of barrels (none of the SMWS bottlings come from Scheer) so there’s both tropical and continental ageing in these things. And what it demonstrates is that like for all other indie bottlers, getting several barrels means one has the opportunity (takes the risk?) of having one barrel be different than its neighbor but both showing something of the character of the source estate. For my money, the R11.1 worked, and made my ears perk up, and my nose twitch. The SMWS took a chance with the R11.2 and it paid off, because this one, happily, does the same thing…not fabulously, perhaps, but with originality, and very nicely indeed.

(#727)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin scored this 88 points and felt that were it not for two off notes it would have hit 90
  • RumShopBoy, the only other person in the rumisphere who has written about the SMWS bottlings, rated it 74/100 on a 0-100 scale, so his evaluation is about the same as mine.  His comments are worth noting: “This is not as good as Worthy Park’s Single Estate Rums that are commercially available. Although those editions do not carry age statements, they are more refined blends that are easier to drink. That leads me to my biggest problem with this rum… it is a real challenge to enjoy it properly. There is no doubting the quality of the rum and its production but it is hard to really enjoy it. Unusually for me, I found it needed some water to make it more enjoyable.”
May 142020
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is no longer, as outlined in the brief biography of the organization, quite any of those things, not really.  It has offices way beyond Scotland, it’s not restricting itself to bottling malts, has moved past releasing only whiskies, and can just barely be considered a society (more of an independent bottler). This is especially so since they have begun to not just buy aged casks from whisky producers but also new-make spirit so they can age their own.

This last development has not yet occurred in the fields of their rums, though it wouldn’t really influence my purchasing decisions – I’ve been a fan for years, ever since I was fortunate enough to snap up three of their rums in Canada in 2013. That’s around the time when they started to take rums even marginally more seriously than before, and now in 2020, they have 13 different distilleries’ rums, of which the R 11.1 represents one of the New Jamaicans many fans are currently salivating over.

The Society is no stranger to Jamaica – the very first release R1.1 was a Monymusk, and thereafter they added R5 (Longpond, from 2012), R7 (Hampden, from 2016) and in 2017, they scored with Worthy Park as R11. And since I’ve unconscionably ignored the ‘Park for quite some time, I think I’ll begin the slow accretion of SMWS rum reviews with them – also because they’re pretty damned good. This one is a relatively young 7 years old, bottled in 2017 at a firm 57.5% (308-bottle outturn) and has the evocative title of “Spicy Sweet Goodness”, which is very much in line with the Society’s equally amusing and puzzling label descriptions that many have drunk themselves in to stupors trying to understand or follow.

Nose first. Yep, it’s definitely a Worthy Park and a pot still rum, such as I remember with such fondness from the Compagnie des Indes’s two 2007 WP editions, the 7YO and the 8YO, both of which were really good. It’s sweet and crisp and snaps across the nose with a light and sharp esteriness: my first written notes are “fruits, flowers and honey on white bread, wow!” But there’s also a light glue background, some cereals, ginger, cumin, lemon peel and pineapple all coming together in a very precise amalgam where each note is completely distinct. It has the freshness of a newly sun-dried white sheet with the sunshine still aromatic upon it.

This is one of those rums where the taste is even better than the nose. What it does is settle down a bit, and if it loses something of the initial clean clarity that nose displayed, well, it gains a bit in depth and overall complexity. The white bread has now been toasted, the cereal is almost like Fruit Loops, but the honey (thankfully) remains, golden and tawny and thick. These core notes are joined by brown sugar, toblerone, almonds, fleshy fruits like papaya, peaches, apricots and ears, as well as a peculiar background of beef bouillon, maggi cubes and crackers and (if you can believe it) powdered laundry detergent, y’know, like Tide or something. The light citrus (it really does remind me of Fanta at times) is there to balance everything off, acting as something of an exclamation point to the palate. The medium-lasting finish is surprisingly simple in comparison to the smorgasbord we just waded through, but it is elegant and has the main food groups well represented – fruity, sweet, salty and tart, all at the same time. 

Well, this was quite something. I liked it a lot. I have no idea how so much was stuffed into the ex-bourbon barrel the rum was aged in, especially given such a young age and what was (I believe) a continental ageing regimen. There are discordant bits here and there (minor ones) in the way the flavours don’t always harmonize completely; and sure, you can taste the youth in its brash liveliness and the initial sharply crisp attack – yet I’m not convinced that a few more years would have done much more than enhance it marginally. 

Most of the rums I’ve tried from WP are relatively young, and relatively good — it seems to be a real peculiarity of the estate to produce rums that other companies ageing their rums for twice as long would have been proud to bottle. In fine, the SMWS R11.1 is a jaunty young rumlet, made with verve and style by an outfit which seems somehow to regularly put out single-digit aged rums – for themselves and for others – which are consistently and uniformly better than conventional wisdom says they should be. To do that is to Worthy Park’s credit. To recognize it and bring it to us, is that of the SMWS.

(#726)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Inadvertent loss of my original photo required me to make some adjustments which I’ll replace when I retake that picture.
May 112020
 

Saint James. It’s not a name that’s unknown, since it’s the source of one of the oldest surviving rums in the world (the mud-black 1885), the place where rum-swami Luca Gargano started working all those years ago, and where Marc Sassier now hangs his hat. They’ve been around — and have been among the largest Martinique agricole makers — for so long, that they sometimes get passed over in people’s estimation in favour of younger or more exciting or more innovative Martinique operations (like, oh, A1710, or the new parcellaires).  Yet year in and year out, their standard lineup continues to enthrall and impress and demonstrate they’re not laggards by any means.

Saint James divides its range of rums – and they make quite a few – into three main categories.  First, there’s the cocktail fodder, mostly whites like the Imperial Blanc Agricole, Royal Blanc Agricole, Blanc Agricole 55°, Fleur de Canne and that extraordinary pot-still Coeur de Chauffe, plus the Rhum Paille and Rhum Ambre which are young and standard strength low-end blends. At the top of the food chain lie the special “exceptional” editions, the millesimes, single casks, special blends and anniversary editions in fancy bottles which will set you back a pretty penny and provide a handsome adornment to your home bar.  But when it comes to value for money, it’s the mid-level “tasting rhums” in their stable that give most bang for the buck – the Rhum Vieux 3 Ans, the 4-5 YO blend of the Fleur de Canne Vieux, the 7 Year Old, 12 year old, and the best of this series, I think, the 15 year old…which, were it slightly cheaper, might have made it a Key Rum of the World instead of the 12

Because that 15 year old rhum is, to my mind, something of an underground, mass-produced steal.  It has the most complex nose of the “regular” lineup, and also, paradoxically, the lightest overall profile — and also the one where the grassiness and herbals and the cane sap of a true agricole comes through the most clearly.  It has the requisite crisp citrus and wet grass smells, sugar came sap and herbs, and combines that with honey, the delicacy of white roses, vanilla, light yellow fruits, green grapes and apples.  You could just close your eyes and not need ruby slippers to be transported to the island, smelling this thing.  It’s sweet, mellow and golden, a pleasure to hold in your glass and savour

The taste is a similarly striking combination of depth, lightness and flavour. White guavas and pears mix it up with gooseberries and tartly ripe white soursop; there’s caramel, vanilla, dried fruits held in delicate check by some florals and mint, without any becoming overbearing and hogging the show.  There’s so much going on here that it’s difficult to stop and just pick out the highlights.  Salted butter, dates and caramel, almost tequila-like at times, a touch of brine and olives here and there, but it’s all extremely well integrated, leading to a finish that is not particularly long, but quite fragrant with all the flowery and fruity notes of a tropical isle that perhaps exists not so much in reality, as in our fond remembrances and imaginations.

What these tasting notes describe is a top-end, well-aged rhum of a standard lineup. But these words don’t do justice to exactly how — when compared with and against the 7 and 12 YO — it rises above them, and in our esteem. I think Marc Sassier has created a masterful example of a blender’s art that somehow moves beyond being something standard or regular or “same old same old”.

You see, it’s almost received wisdom that rums showing  off any company’s possibilities and street cred, those that build the brand by demonstrating the amazing quality of which they are capable, are the flagships, the uber-expensive halo-rums, the single barrel or single year’s offerings — look no further than the El Dorado 25, Abuelo Centuria, Appleton 50 or even Saint James’s own 250th Anniversary to see that principle in action. But to my mind, the full measure of a producing company is better found in the sometimes unloved mass-market mid-level offerings, made in quantity, priced to move…the aged blends which so often are sadly lacking in any kind of lore or romance. Any run-of-the-mill rum, of any age, that emerges from this kind of assembly-line mentality and process, yet still retains fires of lust, of allure, of sheer quality, is a kind of industrial miracle. As this one is.

(#725)(88/100)

May 072020
 

Rumaniacs Review #114 | 0724

These days, the only way to get some of the lesser-known rums from the last century that were made by small merchant bottlers in vanishingly small quantities, is to know an old salt, be friends with a collector like Steve Remsberg, bag an estate sale, have an elderly relative who was into rum but isn’t any longer, find a spirits emporium that forgot about their inventory, or — lacking all these as I do — troll around the auction sites.

It’s in this way that you find odd rums like the Red Duster Finest Navy rum, bottled in the 1970s by the company of J. Townend & Sons. That company officially got its start in 1923, but if you look at their filings you’ll realize they took over the assets of spirits merchant John Townend, which is much older.  That company was formed in Hull around 1906 by John Townend, and over four successive generations has become a fairly substantial wine and spirits distributor in England, now called The House of Townend. Unsurprisingly, they dabbled in their own bottlings from time to time, but nowadays it would appear they are primarily into distribution.  Rums like the Red Duster have long been discontinued, with this one gone for thirty years or more.

The rum itself, created just after the Second World War by Charles Townend (grandfather of current company’s Managing Director, also named John) is a blend of Guyanese and Jamaican rum, not further specified – so we don’t know the proportions of each, or the source distilleries (or stills)  Perusing the paperwork suggests it was always and only for sale within the UK, not export, and indeed, they were kind enough to get back to me and state that “As the company was unable to expand its five-strong off licence chain due to licensing restrictions, he [Charles Townend] concentrated on establishing spirit brands that he could sell to the pub and restaurant trade.  He shipped large quantities of old rum which he blended himself in the cellars at Cave Street, Hull, from where the company traded at the time. He then broke down the rum before bottling it.”

And in a neat little info-nugget, the label notes that the name “Red Duster” came from the house of that name wherein the company once had its premises in York Street, Hull (this address and a red brick industrial-style building still exists but is taken up by another small company now).  But that house in turn was named after the Red Ensign, or “Red Duster” which was the flag flown by British Merchant ships since 1707.

Colour – Reddish amber

Strength – 70° / 40% ABV

Nose – All irony aside, it smells dusty, dry, with red and black cherry notes and some wood shavings.  Molasses, plums going overripe and – if you can believe it – sorrel and mauby (these are a red plant and a bark used for making infused drinks in parts of the West Indies).  This gives the rum an amazingly peculiar and really interesting taste that resists easy categorization.

Palate – Sweet, dry, dusty, spicy. Fruity (dark stuff like prunes and plums) with a touch of lemon.  There’s some more cherries and overripe blackberries, but overall it  tastes thin and weak, not aggressive at all.  Some mild licorice brings up the back end, like me ambling late to a meeting I don’t want to be in.

Finish –  Surprise surprise, it’s a long and fruity finish with a good dollop of vanilla and molasses, and it presents a deep, sweet and slightly dry conclusion. Not thick and solid, a little wispy, really, but still nice.

Thoughts – Blunt force trauma is not this rum’s forte, and why they would feel it necessary to release a rum with the sobriquet of “Navy” at 40% is a mystery.  It was just and always a tipple for the eating and pubbing public, without pretensions to grandeur or historical heritage of any kind.  Just as well, because it lacks the character and force of today’s rums of this kind, and attempting to disassemble the origins is pointless.  If they had pickled Nelson in a barrel of this stuff, he might well have climbed out and thrown his own self overboard before making it halfway home…but the humourist in me suggests he would have had a last sip before doing so.

(78/100)


Other Notes:

  • My hydrometer tested this out at 40.59% ABV, so on that basis, it’s “clean”.
  • The age is unknown, and it is a blend
  • My thanks to the House of Townend’s Hanna Boyes, who provided welcome information on the historical section of the post.
May 042020
 

There was a very good reason why I took this bottle off a shelf and tried it, even when surrounded by many other rums from equally proud old houses, better made, stronger, of greater quality, produced to more exacting standards, with less kerfuffling oin the label. And that was because I was evaluating Flor de Caña’s entry-to-mid-level rum to see whether it could or should be named to the Key Rums series. The price was attractive, and I retained good memories of an epic bender with my Newfie squaddie Keenan, where we polished off a bottle in labba time on his deck while discoursing on method, critiquing pure reason and waxing poetical on ethical conundrums.

At the time, I had long been a fan of the Flor rums, and they were among my favourite of the first 100 reviews written here, including the original 7 year old I had cut my baby rum teeth on. But back in 2010, they were not the same rums I was drinking now, nor was the same person doing the drinking. Ten years ago, for example, they really did say “7 años” on the label, and not just the deceptive looking numeral 7 without any elaboration at all. The completely meaningless, clueless, pointless and useless — but evocative — “slow aged” and “handcrafted” monikers was on both bottles, but now they had gone a step further and trademarked the former, just to make sure, I guess, that somebody else didn’t come up with the time dilation effects of being around a glass of the stuff. These days, I just pass that kind of stuff with some impatience and get right into the glass.

The nose started decently enough – warm, fruity, welcoming.  It was a bit too sharp for easy sniffing, and the burn of cheap acetone and furniture polish denigrated the experience some. Still, what came after was pleasant – blancmange, bananas, cigar smoke, raisins and some molasses, a bit of tinned peaches, nothing too out of left field, or too aggressive. For a column still product pushed out at 40% ABV, it was all right, and didn’t blow the roof off, or fade into tasteless bland listlessness that sometimes characterizes such bottom shelf products.

The palate really needed work.  There was quite a bit more than the nose, mind — bitter chocolate, almonds, orange peel, stale cigar smoke (in an unventilated bar the day after a late close – ever been in one of those?), black tea, some brown sugar and brine, sweet soya, molasses, and the further bitterness of wet charcoal and ashes.  The problem was, the whole palate was unbalanced and weak.  I don’t say that entirely because of the strength, though that didn’t help, but because there everything was so dialled down and faint that it took me the best part of an hour to dissect it…and worse, the discordant pieces clashed and banged against each other without harmony, and instead of leading to the quiet glide of a smooth finish, it shoved brine and caramel and vanilla roughly down the gullet and pronounced itself satisfied it had given what had been paid for.

So, after trying it and feeling a distinct sense of being let down, I had to concede that the passage of ten years had changed me and my profile preferences, as well as, probably, the company.

It’s possible that the now-famous 2015 Vice magazine hit piece (about Flor’s purported responsibility for Chronic Kidney Disease which was killing workers at an alarming rate, which was long on inconvenient truths and short on contradictory evidence or Big Picture, but that nevertheless caused a partial bartender’s boycott of their rums in North America) took Flor by surprise.  And in their scrambling to retain market share and recover from the mountain of bad press, they started to cut corners to save money.  Or maybe they just misread the tea leaves, completely ignored the head of steam that pure single rums were just starting to make and went cheap and mass market and standard strength, instead of to the niche top end where real profits lie.

Whatever the case for the devolution of the rum from its progenitor, it cannot be considered as being an undiscovered steal. It’s not the same rum I had back then. Is it younger?  No way to tell — it’s a blend now, and some of the trust the company had once possessed has now evaporated, so who’s to tell? The important take-away is that drinking it didn’t make the hours fly faster, just slower, enough to get the tasting over and done with, and with less enjoyment.  A decent rum this was. A good mixing agent, yes, surely.  A key rum, though? Not really – it is, in point of fact, quite a bit less.

(#723)(76/100)


Other notes

My low-to-middling opinion here is something of a minority.  Several others quite liked it, so if you want some balance to my snark, check these guys out:

Apr 302020
 

By the time this review is read, digested and (incredulously) sniffed over and dismissed, somebody out there might well be sharpening pen, tablet or iphone and getting ready to verbally off me online.  And no surprise – were I to repeat the hosannas of my original 2012 review of the Millonario XO, which scored what would now be considered a near-unbelievable, is-the-Caner-out-of-his-friggin’-mind? 88 points, I would never be taken seriously again.  The rum has become a lightning rod for rum purists, on par with the Diplo Res Ex, Dictador, Zacapa 23 or the Zaya 21, all of which are from South American feature big numbers and small type and fine print, are almost all soleras (named so or not) and worst of all, are all tarted up with additives of one kind or another to a degree that is off putting in the Age of Foursquare, New Jamaicans and the big Indies.

Such matters in any adulterated rum would itself wouldn’t be all that problematic if (a) these things were spelled out clearly and (b) the labelling wasn’t so clearly deceptive and (c) the marketing wasn’t so heavy on the bullsh*t.  Rum Nation, which until recently produced and distributed the Millonario (which is made from facilities in Peru), didn’t escape such opprobrium, but since the original XO came out more than ten years back, and since so much of what RN did since then was so well received, I’m guessing some slack was granted for lesser knowledge and expertise back in the day; and as time passed reviews dried up…and the Millonario brand, while it sold extremely well, fell into a sort of limbo.

But Fabio Rossi has sold off the Rum Nation name and portfolio to concentrate on this line of rums, which he evidently prefers (he remains in a consultancy capacity for the RN brand) or which sells a whole lot better. This deserves some consideration since he does know his spirits and has been in the game of rum for over two decades, and undoubtedly picked up a thing or two. And so, when he handed me the 2018 release (which had been matured in 2nd fill sherry casks and was actually stated to have 20g/L of added sugar), although I initially backed off and mumbled something about this not being my cup of tea any longer, honour and curiosity demanded I give it a shot anyway…so later I snuck back and tried it.

Let’s be clear, this is not in any sense one of the headliners of the various FB fora where people boast about scoring one. The nose is, bluntly, rather blunt. It’s like sucking a fruity snickers bar. It has a solid, smooth and aromatic nose in which the sweet has – somewhat surprisingly – less omnipresence than I would have expected. With that also comes something of a darkish tone to the experience – chocolate, toffee, molasses, coffee, nougat, vanilla and some fleshy fruit – prunes and plums and blackberries I’d say, which lend a certain light citrus element that was unlooked-for and quite surprising. It’s demonstrably not a Demerara, though the resemblance is there…but a newcomer to rum might not see much difference between an ED 12 and this were they both at the same strength.

What distinguished the taste of the rum then, and again now, through all the years, is its thick firmness which feels akin to having a solid weight brush across the tongue.  The original 40% of the XO fails it nowadays (my opinion) but the intriguing thing about pushing the strength up to 50% which this has, is that it kind of works.  The tastes on the palate, are, for one, much clearer: there are marshmallows, toblerone, almonds, nuts, coffee, bitter chocolate, caramel, anise, well balanced, melding pleasantly. To this are added berries, watermelon, vanilla and some breakfast spices and cumin if you focus, with a feather bed of a finish closing things off – apples, chocolate, bitter coffee grounds, and again, some fruits and vanilla.

A 50% ABV rum like this, a solera (I assume – there is no age statement), sweet, fruity, heavy, firmer than the XO, less elegant than the Solera 15…well, it’s not as brutal as a Caroni or New Jamaican, softer than the pot column blends of the Bajans (but not as good, sorry – Barbados still gets my coin in a head-to-head)…this rum is not as bad as detractors may feel, and reminds me a lot of what I’ve often said in defense of the XO – “there’s a lot more under the hood of this thing than most admit.” But that said, there’s no denying it’s not for everyone, for the same reasons. 

I make no apologies for this, offer no excuses, no defense – it is what it is. It’s been sweetened, it feels sticky, it leaves a residue of aromatic sugar in your glass that any insect would happily swim and drown in, and that’s the rum’s cross to bear.  Every person who reads this review and is thinking of buying or trying it, has to make their peace with that, to walk away, or give in and accept. What I maintain though, is that it’s not half bad for what it is (and as long as you come to it knowing that), which is why I score it at 79 and not below the median of 75, beneath which a rum is not at all to my taste.  I wouldn’t have it in quantity and some wouldn’t have it at all; others would quaff it by the bottle, and still more would have it after dessert only, perhaps with a cigar.  I don’t know all of you and what you would do. But you each know who you are.  Hopefully this rambling review helps you make up your mind one way or another.

(#722)(79/100)