Jan 162020
 

Rumaniacs Review 0108 | 0692

This rum is a companion of the Lamb’s 70º Demerara Navy and other UK rums made by various merchants bottlers, e.g. Four Bells Finest Navy Rum, Mainbrace, Black Heart, Red Duster Finest Navy, Old Vatted Demerara rum, and so on.  It’s admittedly a treat to try them and trace their dusty, almost-forgotten companies of origin.

This Navy wannabe was made when the UK had moved beyond the degrees proof (in 1980) but 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, and if anything had a name-recognition factor, it was certainly “Demerara rum”, which this presumed to be. Alas, that’s all we really get – so while the label helpfully notes it is a blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad, do not hold your breath waiting for a dissertation or scholarly analysis of the proportions, the ageing, or even which stills or distilleries made up the blend. Such details are long lost or long buried.

Colour – Dark Amber

Strength – 40% ABV

Nose – Quite a bit different from the strongly focussed Demerara profile of the Navy 70º we looked at before – had the label not been clear what was in it, I would have not guessed there was any Jamaican in here. The wooden stills profile of Guyana is tamed, and the aromas are prunes, licorice, black grapes and a light brininess. After a while some salt caramel ice cream, nougat, toffee and anise become more evident.  Sharp fruits are held way back and given the absence of any kind of tarriness, I’d hazard that Angostura provided the Trinidadian component. 

Palate – Sweet, medium-thick and quite pungent, which is nice for a 40% rum. It’s mostly pears, anise and caramel that jockey for attention – everything else is a second order effect.  It’s briny off and on but not of sea water or an olive, more like butter or caramel. It’s nicely dry, with some dark fruits coiling restlessly around and about, all quite indeterminate.

Finish – Quite nice.  One does not expect a long denouement with a standard strength rum, of course, yet even by that low standard this isn’t bad, being dry, leathery, not very sweet or dark, and some prunes, dates, and blackberries.

Thoughts – It’s a rather tame blend, maybe aged a wee bit, lacking any kind of single-mindedness of taste or smell…which may have been the point, as the official Navy recipe was never a static thing, and (for example) the Jamaican portion kept varying based on the opinions of the day. It’s milder and not overwhelmed by either the funky Jamaican or the dour, wood-forward Demerara components, and that’s its selling point and strength.  I do like uncompromising Port Mourant based rums, but this one isn’t half bad for what it is.

(81/100)(#692 | R-0108)

Jan 132020
 

Photo (c) ModernBarCart.com

“White cane spirits are having a moment,” wrote Josh Miller of Inu a Kena in naming the Saint Benevolence clairin one of his top rums of 2019.  He was spot on about that and I’ve felt the same way about white rums in general and clairins in particular ever since I had the good fortune to try the Sajous in Paris back in 2014 and had my hair blown back and into next week – so much so that I didn’t just make one list of 21 good white rums, but a second one for good measure (and am gathering material for a third).

Given that Velier’s involvement has raised the profile of clairins so much, it’s surprising that one with the avowed intention of ploughing back all its profits into the community where it is made (see “other notes”, below) does not have more of a mental footprint in people’s minds.  That might be because for the most part it seems to be marketed in the USA (home of far too few rum blogs), whence its founders Chase and Calvin Babcock hail – and indeed, the first online write ups (from Josh himself, and Paul Senft on Got Rum), also stemmed from there.  Still, it is moving across to Europe as well, and Indy and Jazz Singh of the UK-based Skylark Spirits, couldn’t contain their glee at providing something to a ‘Caner Party in 2019 which we had not seen before and threatening dire violence if it was not tried right then and there.

They could well smile, because the pale yellow 50% “white” rum was an aromatic beefcake that melded a barroom brawler with a civilized Martinique white in a way that we had not seen before. It started rough and ready, true, with fierce and pungent aromas of wax, brine, acetones, and olives biffing the schnozz, and it flexed its unaged nature quite clearly and unapologetically.  There was a sprightly line of citrus/white sugar running through it that was pleasing, and after a while I could sense the sharpness of green apples, wasabi, unripe bananas, soursop mixing it up with softer scents of guavas and vanilla. Every now and then the salty, earthy notes popped back up as if to say “I exist!” and overall, the nose was excellent.

Unlike the overpowering strut of the Velier clairins, the taste here was quite restrained and less elemental, even at 50% ABV.  In fact, it almost seemed light, initially presenting a nice crisp series of sugar-water and lemon notes, interspersed with salted cucumber slices in sweet apple vinegar (and a pimento or two thrown in for kick).  Mostly it was crisp fruits from there – green grapes, red currants, soursop, unripe pears, and it reminded me of nothing so much as the laid back easiness of the Cabo Verde grogues, yet without ever losing a bit of its bad boy character, the way you can always spot a thug even if he’s in a tux, know what I mean?  Finish handled itself well – salt and sweet, some tomatoes (!!), a little cigarette tar, but mostly it was sugar water and pears and light fruits, a soft and easy landing after some of the aggro it presented earlier.  

All in all, really interesting, though perhaps not to everyone’s taste – it is, admittedly, something of a challenge to sample if one is not prepared for its rough and ready charms. It may best be used as a mixer, and indeed, Josh did remark it would work best in a ‘Ti Punch or Daiquiri.  He said it would make “for a fresh take on an old favorite”, and I can’t think of a better phrase to describe not just the cocktails one could make with it, but the rum as a whole. It lends richness and variety to the scope of what Haitian clairins can be.

(#692)(84/100)


Other Notes

  • The source of the clairin is the area around Saint Michel de l’Attalaye, which is the second largest city in Haiti, and located in the central north of the country. There, sugar cane fields surround and supply the Dorcinvil Distillery, a third-generation family operation employing organic agricultural practices free from herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals. The cane itself is a blend of several different varieties: Cristalline, Madame Meuze, Farine France and 24/14. After harvesting and crushing, the juice is fermented with wild yeasts for five to seven days, then run through a handmade Creole copper pot still, and bottled as is (I suspect there may be minor filtration to remove sediments or occlusions). It is unclear whether it is left to stand and rest for a bit, but my bottle wasn’t pure white but a very faint yellow, so the supposition is not an entirely idle one.
  • The company also produces a blended pot-column still Caribbean five year old rum I have not tried, made from from Barbados molasses and cane juice syrup from the Dominican republic
  • Charity Work: [adapted from Inu A Kena and the company website] Saint Benevolence rum is made by Calvin Babcock, who co-founded Living Hope Haiti, a charity providing educational, medical, and economic services in St Michel de Attalaye in Northern Haiti.  He works with his son Chase, the other half of the team. Along with their partners on the ground in St Michel de Attalaye, Living Hope Haiti (LHH) has built five elementary schools, four churches, an orphanage, a medical clinic, and funded other critically necessary infrastructure including bridges and water wells. They also provide three million meals per year to those in need. The work of LHH is almost entirely funded by the Babcock family, but with the introduction of Saint Benevolence, a new funding stream has come online. Besides LHH, Saint Benevolence funds two additional charities: Innovating Health International (IHI) and Ti Kay. IHI is focused on treating chronic diseases and addressing women’s health issues in Haiti and other developing countries, while Ti Kay is focused on providing ongoing TB and HIV care.  Since 100% of the profits of the rum go straight back to the community of origin, this is certainly a rum worth buying to support such efforts, though of course you’re also getting quite a good and unique white rum for the price.
Jan 082020
 

No matter how many Guyanese wooden-still rums get bottled sporting the famed letters PM, VSG or EHP, none of them save perhaps the very oldest have anything near the mythical cachet of rums bearing the name “Skeldon”.  Even when I penned my original review of Velier’s Skeldon 1973 back in 2014 (when the company and Luca Gargano were hardly household names), it was clear that it had already become a cult rum. Nowadays the 1973 or 1978 rums sell for thousands of dollars apiece any time they come up for auction and that price and their incredible rarity makes them holy grails for many.

But for those who came to Velier’s rums late, or lack the deep pockets necessary to get one, there is an alternative, and that’s the very well assembled Skeldon 2000 that arrived on store shelves in late 2018 as part of the 3rd Release of DDL’s Rare Collection.  This collection supplanted and replaced the Velier rums (though both parties always insisted they were DDL rums from the get-go) when it was seen that they were no mere niche products, but full blown money-spinners in their own right that aimed at the very top end of the rum market. The dependable old faithfuls of Enmore, Port Mourant and Versailles were produced in 2016 and 2017, and in 2018 the fans finally got what they were lusting for — an Albion 14 YO from 2004 and this one.

The Skeldon SWR 200 is aged 18 years in Guyana, bottled at a very attractive 58.3%, and is a recreation of the SWR profile (as were the original two marks), since Skeldon’s distillery apparatus had long ago been scrapped and destroyed, way back in the 1960s when Bookers was rationalizing the many Berbice-based distilleries. Essentially it was made by combining old distillery records (and, one hopes, old samples), tweaking the continuous Blair column still , taking a deep breath and sending a prayer to the Great Master Blender In The Sky.

What came out the other end and got stuffed into a bottle was quietly stunning.  It exuded scents of deep and rich caramel, molasses, vanilla and anise (if the ED 21 YO had had less licorice and the ED 25YO no sugar, they would have come close to this). It developed into a damp mossy tropical forest steaming in the sun after a cloudburst, but this was mere background to the core aromas, which were cinnamon, molasses, cumin, salt caramel ice cream, licorice and a really strong hot chocolate drink sprinkled with, oh, more chocolate.

Its standout aspect was how smooth it came across when tasted.  As with the Albion we looked at before, the rum didn’t profile like anywhere near its true strength, was warm and firm and tasty, trending a bit towards being over-oaked and ever-so-slightly too tannic.  But those powerful notes of unsweetened cooking chocolate, creme brulee, caramel, dulce de leche, molasses and cumin mitigated the wooden bite and provided a solid counterpoint into which subtler marzipan and mint-chocolate hints could be occasionally noticed, flitting quietly in and out. The finish continued these aspects while gradually fading out, and with some patience and concentration, port-flavoured tobacco, brown sugar and cumin could be discerned.

Is it like the more famous Velier Skeldons I’ve tried?  Yes…and no. There were differences, as is inevitable over such a span of years.  What is important that the rum is a good one, noses well, tastes better, and its real failing may not be how it drinks, but how much it costs relative to other Demerara rums made by the independents…because really, not many can afford this kind of rum, and DDL’s dosage reputation would hinder easy acceptance of such a pricey spirit on its merits (a problem Velier would likely not have). In any event, there are few, if any, alive now who could even tell you what an “original” Skeldon rum tasted like, given that so much time has flowed past, that the distillery was closed so long ago, and that Skeldon’s distillery output even then was folded into other companies’ blends (remember, estate- and still-specific branding is a very recent phenomenon). 

What is a quiet miracle, though, is that DDL managed to adhere with such fidelity to the Skeldon profile map (as currently understood) that I’m not sure I could pick the three SWR rums apart from each other if tried blind – though I think the thick richness of the multi-decade ageing of the 1973 and 1978 might give them away. That is quite an achievement for the 2000 DDL incarnation, and allows many new rum aficionados who want to know what the hooplah over Skeldon is about, to get an inkling of why there’s a fuss at all.

(#691)(87/100)


Other Notes

  • In a situation that does not surprise me in the slightest, neither Release 2 nor Release 3 Rares are listed on El Dorado’s own website.
  • That “Blair” still reference has caused some confusion, but I’m reasonably confident it’s the French Savalle continuous still brought over from Blairmont estate to Uitvlught back in the 1960s and to Diamond in late 1990s/early 2000s.
Jan 062020
 

In early 2016 when the first Rares from El Dorado hit the market, there was a lot of mumbling and grumbling in the blogosphere.  Most of that was the feeling that Velier (which was to say, Luca Gargano, whose star was in rapid ascent back then) had been inconsiderately evicted from his privileged access to DDL’s barrels in a cheap shot to muscle in on the market niche he had almost singlehandedly built, for tropically-aged ultra-old full-proof still-specific Guyanese rums.  But almost as loud was the squealing about the prices, higher than Velier’s and the prevailing indies’ rates, which were seen as exorbitant for an untried first release by a company long known for dosage and lack of customer engagement. When the first reviews rolled out, many pundits ranked them lower than the Veliers from the Age which they replaced.

Three years later on, the Rare Collection is an established fact, though DDL continues to refuse to speak about them in open social media fora, and it’s gotten to the stage that many people were not even aware the Second Release had hit the stores in late 2017. By the time 2018 drew to a close, however, just about everyone knew of the Third Release, because two of the most hallowed marques in the Velier canon were being issued – an Albion and a Skeldon. Arguably, the three wooden stills of Versailles, Port Mourant and Enmore have always had greater name recognition, but the sheer rarity of the Albions and the near mythical status of the Skeldon just about guaranteed them serious attention.

Whether any rum can stand up to the weight of such expectations is an open question. Albion has not had a functional distillery apparatus since at least 1969 when Bookers’ rationalization of several Berbice distilleries into Uitvlugt was completed.  So an educated guess says that the rum (and all others with the marque) is a recreation built up from the Enmore still (not the French Savalle still) housed at Diamond, based on what we can reasonably assume is old distiller’s notes and still settings and a rigorous attempt to copy a profile from perhaps existing old samples (I’d ask DDL directly, but since they don’t answer I’ve stopped trying, since my patience, like my outhouse, has finite limits for b.s.).

With or without information, however, it must be said that I liked the Albion, a lot. It sported 14 tropical years of age, a ripped bod screaming in at 60.1% ABV and when I tried it for the first time, I was transported back to that time I tried the 1994 version that started me off on the Velier kick way back in 2012.  It was a dark amber rum, enormously, deeply, wonderfully fragrant – of cedar wood, eucalyptus, sandalwood, evocative woody notes one might even have thought came from a wooden still (but didn’t) to which were added red wine, vanilla, caramel, toffee, candied oranges, and crushed nuts. And then dissatisfied, the wheels were turned and even more was cranked out – molasses and brown sugar, plums, prunes, blackberries and other dark fruits.  It was actually somewhat sweeter than I had been expecting, but fortunately the bite of sharper fruits and tannins of the barrel kept things crisp and balanced and it made for a seriously ba

dass olfactory experience.

The palate was executed at a similarly high level. Like many of the very best rums made at high proof points, I hardly felt the proof searing across the tongue or carving divots in the throat.  In fact, while strong and hot, it never exhibited the scratchy harshness of a harridan’s nagging and could best be described as powerful, with tastes to match. There were the wooden lumber notes again (cedar), some vaguely bitter wooden tannins and nutmeg spice which went well with the dark fruits (blackcurrants, prunes), sweet red olives, brine and concentrated black cake. It was not quite sweetish and maintained a sort of musky and earthy profile throughout, but I liked that, and the finish – dry, long lasting – was quite good, redolent of prunes, coca-cola, faint licorice, nuts, toblerone, almonds and dark triple-chocolate.  All said and done, just yummy. I’ll take two.

The quality of the Albion 2004 is high and self evident on even a casual tasting — even though, good as it is, it doesn’t quite make it into the meadow of rarefied unicorn territory.  What is clear is that the Albion dispels any doubts that the Rares are now worthy inheritors of Velier’s reputation built up during the Age.  It’s among the very best rums DDL have ever issued (edged out only by the Enmore 1996 20 YO from R2…at least, so far), and if one yearns to try something that’s close as dammit to one of the more legendary Albions like the Velier editions of 1983, 1984, 1986, 1989, or 1994 – then this is as near as you’ll get without breaking the bank…it’s as good as most, and perhaps even better than some.

(#690)(88/100)


Other notes

  • The label states the rum derives from the “Continuous Coffey Still.” Given the French Savalle is never mentioned and the other Enmore rums in the Rare collection are also referred to as being made on the continuous still, as well as the woody taste profile, it stands to reason this is actually an Enmore wooden continuous still rum, tweaked to resemble the Albion.
  • Outturn is unclear – Wes suggested it was ~2000 bottles, while Ivar commented with more assurance in his review that it was 4500.
Jan 022020
 

The actual title of this rhum is Chamarel Pure Sugar Cane Juice 2014 4 YO Rum, but Mauritius doesn’t have license to use the term “agricole” the way Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion and Madeira do.  And while some new producers from the Far East and America seem to have no problem casually appropriating a name that is supposedly restricted to only those four locations, we know that Luca Gargano of Velier, whose brainchild these Indian rums are, would never countenance or promote such a subversion of convention.  And so a “pure sugar cane juice” rum it is.

Now, Mauritius has been making rhums and rums for ages – companies like New Grove, St. Aubin, Lazy Dodo are new and old stalwarts of the island, and third parties take juice from International Distillers Mauritius (IDM) to make Penny Blue, Green Island or Cascavel brands, mostly for sale in the UK and Europe.  But there’s another distillery there which has only recently been established and come to more prominence, and that’s Chamarel, which was established in 2008 (see historical and production notes below). I hesitate to say that Velier’s including them in their 70th Anniversary collection kickstarted their rise to greater visibility – but it sure didn’t hurt either.

Brief stats: a 4 year old rum distilled in September 2014, aged in situ in French oak casks and bottled in February 2019 at a strength of 58% ABV.  Love the labelling and it’s sure to be a fascinating experience not just because of the selection by Velier, or its location (we have tried few rums from there though those we tried we mostly liked), or that strength, but because it’s always interesting to see how such a relatively brief tropical ageing regimen can affect the resultant rum when it hits our glasses.

In short, not enough.  It sure smelled nice – peaches in cream to start, sweetly crisp and quite flavourful, with lots of ripe fruit and no off notes to speak of; waves of cherries, mangoes, apples, bubble gum, gummi-bears bathed in a soft solution of sugar water, cola and 7-up.  It’s a bit less rounded and even than Velier’s Savanna rum from the Indian Ocean still series, but pleasant enough in its own way.

It’s on the palate that its youth – with all the teenage Groot this implies – becomes more apparent.  There’s peanut butter on rye bread; brine and sweet olives, figs, dates, leavened with a little vanilla and caramel, but with the fruits that had been evidenced on the nose dialled severely back.  It’s dry, with slightly sour and bitter notes that come forward and clash with the sweet muskiness of the ripe fruits.. This gets to the point where the whole taste experience is somewhat derailed, and while staying relatively warm and firm, never quite coheres into a clear set of discernible tastes that one can sit back and relax with – you keep waiting for some quick box on the ears or something.  Even the finish, which was dry and long, with some saltiness and ripe fruits, feels like a work in progress and not quite tamed, for all its firm character.

So somehow, even with its 58% strength, the Chamarel doesn’t enthuse quite as much as the Savanna rhum did. Maybe that was because it didn’t allow clear tastes to punch through and show their quality – they all got into into a sort of indistinct alcohol-infused fight over your palate that you know has stuff going on in there someplace…just not what. To an extent that it showed off its young age and provided a flavourful jolt, I liked it and it’s a good-enough representative of what the distillery and Mauritius can do. I just like other rhums the company and the island has made better — even if they didn’t have any of Luca’s fingerprints over it.

(#689)(81/100)


Other Notes

La Rhumerie de Chamarel, located in a small valley in the south west of Mauritius, is one of the rare operational distilleries to cultivate its own sugarcane, which itself has a history on the island going back centuries. The distillery takes the title of a small nearby village named after a Frenchman who lived there around 1800 and owned most of the land upon which the village now rests. The area has had long-lived plantations growing pineapples and sugar cane, and in 2008 the owners of the Beachcomber Hotel chain (New Mauritius Hotels, one of the largest companies in Mauritius), created the new distillery on their estate of 400 hectares, perhaps to take on the other large rum makers on the island, all of whom were trying to wean themselves off of sugar production at a time of weakening demand and reduced EU subsidies. Rum really started taking off in post 2006 when production was legalized – previously all sugar cane had to be processed into sugar by law. 

The sugar cane is grown onsite and cut without pre-burning between July and December. The harvest is transported directly to the distillery and the crushed sugarcane juice filtered and taken to steel tanks for fermentation after which the wash is run through a copper Barbet-type plate column still (for white rums), or the two-column 24-plate still they call an alembic (for aged and other rums). In all cases the rums are left post-distillation in inert stainless steel vats for three months before being transferred to ageing barrels of various kinds, or released as white rums, or further processed into spiced variations.

Dec 302019
 

Rumaniacs Review #107 | R-0688

Lemon Hart is known for their Navy rums and 151 overproofs, the last of which I tried while still living in Canada when it was briefly re-issued. But they did dip their toes into other waters from time to time, such as with this 73% Gluteus Maximus wannabe from Jamaica they released while the brand was still listed under the address and label of the United Rum Merchants — which, if you recall, was a 1946 combine of Lemon Hart (owned by Portal, Dingwall & Norris), Whyte-Keelings and Lamb’s. A year later, URM became part of sugar giant Bookers which had substantial interests in British Guianese plantations and distilleries, and was amalgamated into Allied-Domecq in the early 1990s.

This kind of torqued-up Jamaica rum was not particularly unusual for LH to make, since I found references to its brothers at similar strengths dating back to a decade or two earlier — but the labels from the 1950s and 1960s were much more ornate, with curlicued scrollwork and and older vibe to them which this does not have.  The Golden Jamaica Rum was also released at 40% — predating Velier’s habit of releasing the same rum at multiple proofs which drives accountants into hysterics — though at no point was the source estate or plantation or age ever mentioned. We must therefore assume it was a blend, very common at that time (we occasionally forget that single cask, single estate or even single still special releases from a particular year at cask strength are relatively recent phenomena).

Colour – Dark amber

Strength 73% ABV

Nose – Original, I’ll grant it that.  Hot, and very spicy. Crushed nuts and the sawdust of dried oak planks, plus a sort of dusty, mouldy room. Good thing that was just for openers. Dates, figs, olives and not-so-sweet fruits, bitter chocolate. I let it stand for a half hour while trying other rums and it became much more approachable – sweeter, darker fruits with a touch of licorice and low-level funk, bananas, spoiling mangoes and bananas, green apples, gherkins, peaches…not bad.  It’s kind of snappy, preppy, crisp, especially once the hogo-like aromas take on more prominence.

Palate – Waiting for this to open up is definitely the way to go, because with some patience, the bags of funk, soda pop, nail polish, red and yellow overripe fruits, grapes and raisins just become a taste avalanche across the tongue.  It’s a very solid series of tastes, firm but not sharp unless you gulp it (not recommended) and once you get used to it, it settles down well to just providing every smidgen of taste of which it is capable.

Finish – Long, sweet, fruity, briny and darkly sweet. Really quite exceptional and long lasting.

Thoughts – This reminds me more of a modern, proofed-up Appleton than anything else.  It lacks the pungent pot-still estate-specific originality of the New Jamaicans, which of course is completely proper since at the time it was made, tepid blends were all the rage. For anyone who desires a different rum from “modern standard”, this one ticks all the boxes.  

Too bad it’s out of production – I mean, Lamb’s and Lemon Hart and other such supermarket brands that have survived into the modern era get a bad rap for producing the same old boring blended blah these days, but when they were in their prime, issuing souped-up superrums that took no prisoners and tasted off the scale, it’s easy to see why the brands were so popular. It’s because they weren’t as timid, took their chances, and showed they knew their sh*t. As this rum proves, and their modern descendants so rarely do.

(83/100)

Dec 262019
 

Part of the problem with this “rum” is that the bottle itself doesn’t say who made it (the notations refer to the “Budapest Liquor Industry” and “Product of Hungary”) – after some sleuthing around I tracked it down to a company called Zwack, which is famed in the country for its high-alcohol herbal bitters called Unicum (one of the national drinks of Hungary), and a 60% once-it-was-a-rum-but-no-longer called Portorico, which is widely used for baking (like Stroh). Unfortunately its website doesn’t mention the Casino or have a picture, but since I located a Casino bottle label with Zwack printed on it, that cleared things up.

Figuring out what’s in it was harder, and here I drew a blank.  My thinking, however went like this: eastern European countries were famed – or at least reknowned – for their inländer (domestic) rums, which were usually ethanol or neutral alcohol that had spices and infusions added to them. Stroh, the Badel Domaci from Croatia and the Tuzemak from Czechoslovakia, and any amount of verschnitts from Germany (Flensburg in particular) followed this pattern, and Zwack itself as a company was noted for its work with alcohols and herbal infusions.  So even though I know little about Zwack’s production specifically — and I was told that some inländer producers are now importing bulk rum produced in the Caribbean — I assume they followed this trend of manufacture generally. That said, I can’t say with assurance whether the Casino was made from molasses or beets, though I suspect it’s the latter.

If we accept these data points, then of course the Casino is not, by all current definitions, a rum, and in point of fact, the entry might just as easily be listed in the Rumaniacs page since this version is no longer being made — the word “rum” was either replaced by “room” or dropped completely from the label when Hungary joined the EU in 2004, and that suggests a manufacture for the product I tasted of around 1988-2003 which actually makes it a heritage rum entry, but what the hell.

Tasting notes, then…

The nose is firm and distinct – the 50% ABV strength helps there, of course –  and quite sweet, almost like a Tokaji. Notes of brown sugar, black tea, and what stays the longest in both nostrils and memory is the sweet notes of gummi bears and lollipops and bubble gum.  There’s other more fruity aromas as well – prunes, rip apricots, peaches, in syrup, some orange peel and chocolate with rum in the centre; as it hangs around it gets flowery and perfumed. Quite a lot going on here, but in terms of a rum profile, not really – it’s all additive-derived, not a genuine rum note in sight.

Palate follows the theme of a spice driven rum with a better-than-usual strength: dry, crisp and quite sweet.  Candied oranges, icing sugar, ginger, no caramel or molasses notes here. It’s spiced for sure, but reasonably well done, and if tasted blind I’d suggest you might think it was a low-rent mid-ester-level Jamaican without the rubber and salt.  The finish is nowhere near to the level of either the nose or the taste – short, dry, harsh, unrelieved by any serious aromas or closing notes over and beyond sweet candies, chocolate oranges and light flowers, plus maybe a hint of cinnamon. 

The funny thing is, I quite liked it.  Not as a sipping rum – its artificiality is way to evident for that – but as a sweet dessert thing to have with or dribble into an ice cream dunked into a double espresso…oh yeah. It’s fine for that.  Unfortunately, not for much else.

(#687)(72/100)


  • My thanks to Tamas Gabor and Gergő Muráth who helped me with the background and research sections.
  • A hydrometer tested this at 46.77% ABV – that works out to about 15g/L additives
  • No information is available on how old the distillate might have been, if it even was aged at all.
Dec 222019
 

It’s been a long time since I’ve bothered to review a rum that isn’t – the Stroh comes to mind, the Czech Tuzemak, or the Mekhong from Thailand. I don’t really mind – these things are lonely, and need a home, need a review, so why not with us? It should also be noted that this product from Eastern Europe is not meant to be a drinking spirit, but one to add to teas and used in cooking, almost unknown outside the Balkans.

The Domaci – the “c” is pronounced “ch” and the word means “Domestic” – is not a spiced rum (i.e.,a rum with spices added), more like the reverse: a spiced concoction of some kind that has rum (or an essence of rum, whatever that might be) added to it. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it is “a spirit based on a special recipe and flavored with an extract of Rum. Its amazing aroma makes it a popular addition to many dishes.” Yeah, okay.  If it was a German thing I’d call it an inländer rum, or verschnitt.

Badel 1862, the company that makes it, is an alcoholic beverages company formed in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, headquartered in Zagreb (Croatia) and still chugging along, they make mostly regional spirits like brandies, vodkas and gins, while simultaneously acting as a distributor for international brands like Bacardi.  As part of the approval for their accession to the EU, they had to rename many of the spirits they were making which were not genuine: “rum” had to be changed to “room” and brandy became “bratsky;” so this provides a convenient dating regime – if your bottle says “room” then it was made after 2013. This one says “rum”, so it was made before.

Unsurprisingly it’s mostly for sale in the Balkans — Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, with outliers in Germany — and has made exactly zero impact on the greater rum drinking public in the West.  Wes briefly touched on it with a review of another Croatian product, the Maraska “Room” (similar issues with naming — the EU declined to allow it to be called “rum”), but both the Maraska and the Badel are made the same way. Since I knew none of this when initially tasting the thing, all I was aware of was its puling strength (35%) and its colour (yellow) and went on from there.  

Nose first.  Nope, not my cup of tea.  It reminded me of an eggnog Grandma Caner had made for me once, chock full of ethanol, nutmeg, cumin and cinnamon.  Also sour cream, strawberries, green grapes, and a raft sweet breakfast spices tossed in with the casual abandon of a louche rake distributing his questionable favours. It smelled thin and sweet and lacked any kind of “rumminess” altogether.

Palate? No relief here for the rumistas, though plenty of joy for the sweet toothed. I mean, anyone with even a bit of experience with rums would see that it’s a doctored mess thrown like bread to the masses who know no better, and lasting long enough (over a hundred years, remember) to become a local institution defended with becoming zealotry as “traditional”.  Ethanol, soda pop, fantas and again, bags and bags of spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon for the most part). Vague, meek and mild, with the slightest twinge of sharpness, leading to a short, light and fruity finish of no real distinction

I wrote rather impatiently in my notes “Weak nonsense…but okay, it’s not meant to be a rum, right?” Maybe, but that might let this local Eastern European plonk off the hook.  It used to be called rum, was noted as being domestic, but frankly, they should have named it something else entirely, created its own unique category, rather than associate it with a more rigorously defined spirit with a long tradition of its own. 

There are 40% and 60% variations of this thing floating around and one day if I’m in the neighborhood I might try them. The important thing is that I know what it is, and by writing this essay, now, so do you.  Feel free to try it if it ever crosses your path, but know what it is you’re getting, and what it’s good for.

(#686)(65/100)

Dec 182019
 

Without bombast or any kind of major marketing push, without hype or hurry, Savanna on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean quietly built up its reputation over the last decade with the Grand Arôme series of rums deriving from their high ester still, and probably gave the new high-ester Jamaicans serious conniption fits. Yet for all its burgeoning street cred, it remains something of a relative unknown, while much more attention is lavished on the New Jamaicans and other companies around the Caribbean who are jacking up their taste levels. 

Savanna has of course been making rums its own way for ages, and by releasing this little gem with them, the Genoese concern of Velier might just be the one to catapult them to the next level and greater renown outside Europe.  After all, they did it for Caroini and DDL, why not here? 

The “Indian Ocean Still” series of rums have a labelling concept somewhat different from the stark wealth of detail that usually accompanies a Velier collaboration.  Personally, I find it very attractive from an artistic point of view – I love the man riding on the elephant motif of this and the companion Chamarel rum (although I must concede that my all time favourite design is the architectural-quality drawings of the various stills of the Habitation line). In any event, most of the info is on the back label (repeated in the copperplate-style narrative on the front): distilled November 2012, aged on Reunion in French oak casks, bottled February 2019.  It’s a column still product, but not, as far as I’m aware, of the HERR still.

It’s been said on many occasions of Velier’s rums, especially with the Jamaicans and Demeraras, that “the rum doesn’t feel like it’s X%”.  Perhaps nowhere is that more true than here, where the Savanna clocked in at 61% ABV, but nosed — and later tasted — like it was no more than standard strength. I mean, it started with a truly lovely, sweet, soft, warm nose.  Peaches in syrup and cream melded well with sugar water, ripe yellow mangoes, red grapes,and sweet red olives. Delectable in a good way, and I particularly enjoyed the lemon and cumin background, plus the yoghurt and sour cream with dill.  

The palate was also an amalgam of many good things, starting off tasting of sweet and very strong black tea with milk.  It developed fruity, sweet, sour and creamy notes which all met and had a party in the middle. There was lime zest, bags of ripe, fleshy fruits, cereals, red grapes, apples, cashews – it’s a smorgasbord of ongoing flavour porn, both sharp and crisp, and later one could even taste fanta and bubbly soda pop mixed in with a clean Riesling.  The strength was more discernible than it had been when I smelled it, just not in a bad way, and it was really well tamped down into something eminently drinkable, finishing off with a flourish of olive oil and brine, a touch of sweetness from the fanta, and more crisp almost ripe fruits.

Man, this was a really good dram.  It adhered to most of the tasting points of a true agricole — grassiness, crisp herbs, citrus, that kind of thing — without being slavish about it.  It took a sideways turn here or there that made it quite distinct from most other agricoles I’ve tried. If I had to classify it, I’d say it was like a cross between the fruity silkiness of a St. James and the salt-oily notes of a Neisson.

It’s instructive that although Savanna has been making high ester rums for at least the last two decades, their reputation was never as sterling or widespread as Hampden and Worthy Park who have been getting raves for their new branded rums from almost the very first moment they appeared on the stage. Perhaps that says something about the need in today’s world to have a promoter in one’s corner who acts as a barker for the good stuff. That could be a well known importer, it could be the use of a deep-pocketed secondary bottler with a separate rep of their own (think Rum Nation’s 2018 Reunion rum as an example), or a regular FB commentator.  

These forces have all now intersected, I think, and the rum is a win for everyone concerned. Savanna has greater exposure and fantastic word of mouth dating back to its seminal HERR 2006 10 year old; Velier has shown that even with the winding down of the Demeraras and Caronis they can find tasty, intriguing rums from around the world and bring them for us to taste; and I can almost guarantee that if this rum finds its way into enough hands, there will be no shortage of positive online blurbs and opinions from across the commenterati, many of whom will be happy to say that they knew it all along and are happy to be proved right.

(#685)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Habitation Velier has released a Savanna HERR Unaged 2017 white rhum, which is a good companion to this one, though it’s a bit more energetic and rambunctious and displayed less refinement…yet perhaps more character. 
  • I heard a rumour that Velier intended to release three Indian Ocean rums in this 2019 series, and indeed, around 2018, there were photos of Luca in India that surfaced briefly on FB.  However, nothing seems to have come of it and never responded to my queries on the matter.
Dec 152019
 

After all these years, there isn’t an average imbiber who hasn’t tried the Venezuelan Santa Teresa Ron Antiguo de Solera 1796 (to give its full and somewhat unwieldy title) at least once.  It’s a solera rum which usually sets alarm bells ringing for those who want both more disclosure and less additives, but somehow Santa Teresa has managed, through all the years, to navigate the treacherous shoals of too much or too little and remained a consistent, if not top tier, favourite of the entire tippling class. Given the rancour and fury that often attends such rums by the social media commentariat, that’s no mean achievement.

Consider: there are nine separate micro-reviews on reddit for this thing, and on the RumRatings site, it has 437 ratings, of which more than 80% rate it 7 points or higher. Online magazines and aggregators like Distiller, Flaviar, Tastings, WineMag, Got Rum, Drink Hacker and Proof 66 have written extensively about its voluptuous charms. Even the blogosphere has always looked at it, always reviewed it, sometimes as one of their first rum reviews. Alex of the Rum Barrel, The Fat Rum Pirate, myself, the Rum Howler, Refined Vices, Ralfy, All At Sea, Rum Shop Boy, Rum Diaries Blog, Rum Gallery, Inu A Kena…all of us between 2006 and 2019 have, at some stage, tried the thing, and its popularity shows no sign of fading. If there was ever a gateway rum for the Latin style that isn’t from Panama or Cuba, then this is it (the Diplo may be another).

I think part of that is because there’s nothing excessive about it.  Nor is there anything overly modest. It certainly evades the trap of turning into an over-sugared mess, or one where that’s all you taste, because the sweet, such as it is, is kept completely in the background.  An August 2019 hydrometer test – mine – rates it as 36.96% ABV, which translates into 12g/L – not good, but hardly earth shaking when compared to other latin rums which have twice or three times that much, and many earlier reviews and tests actually showed none at all (this suggests either batch variation or an evolution in production philosophy); a Santa Teresa rep as recently as 2018 in an interview with Simon Johnson, stated flat out they don’t adulterate their rum.  So, if you accept that, the only complaint that could be raised against it is that it really should be a few points stronger.

The nose is different from my admittedly fading tasting memories of ten years ago, when I first sampled it at a Liquorature get together in Calgary. Then I felt it had mostly standard South American aged rum components – vanilla, caramel, honey, light fruits, all rather low key.  Now the blend presented otherwise: I was tasting glue, sugar cane sap, floor polish, varnish right up front, and I know that wasn’t any part of what I was smelling before.  The 40% ABV still makes it too weak to mount an effective and aggressive nasal assault, and that is an issue they will have to address sooner or later – but at least, with some effort I also sensed very ripe apples, apricots, cherries in syrup, plus a dusting of cinnamon, molasses, caramel, and a little bite from oak, unsweetened dark chocolate and light orange peel.

It’s inoffensive in the extreme, there’s little to dislike here (except perhaps the strength), and for your average drinker, much to admire.  The palate is quite good, if occasionally vague – light white fruits and toblerone, nougat, salted caramel ice cream, bon bons, sugar water, molasses, vanilla, dark chocolate, brown sugar and delicate spices – cinnamon and nutmeg.  It’s darker in texture and thicker in taste than I recalled, but that’s all good, I think. It fails on the finish for the obvious reason, and the closing flavours that can be discerned are fleeting, short, wispy and vanish too quick.

When rated against other rums of its type, the main competitors are the Zacapa, Zafra, Diplomatico Res Ex, the Kirk and Sweeney, or even the Millonario XO or Dictador. But I always found K&S to be too fixated on a particular “cinnamon-lite” profile; Diplo, Zafra and Zacapa were oversugared in comparison; and the Millonario XO was too excessive in both areas, as was Dictador with that coffee note it likes so much. Other producers of rums similar to the 1796 — solera or otherwise — are simply too small and lack market share, and impinge hardly at all in the larger popular consciousness (Don Q and Bacardi are different for other reasons). 

But I believe that after all the years since 1996 when it was introduced (for Santa Tersa’s 200th Anniversary), there are good reasons it remains a fixture in the global rumscape and a perennial popular seller.  As noted above, it can be found just about everywhere in a way that other Caribbean rums aren’t always; it’s extremely well known, and remains affordable to this day (around US$40 or so) — which is good for any average Joe who can’t always get or afford a New Jamaican or Barbadian or St. Lucian or Guyanese rum. Moreover, it just tastes good enough for most and can be used as a gateway rum for Latin/Spanish style rums in general and Venezuelan ones in particular.  Of course, like most gateway rums, if you stick around long enough you’ll inevitably think one day that it’s too weak, too easy and too simple and move smartly along to the next milestone on the journey…but for anyone now starting and not looking to go anywhere, this is as lovely a Key Rum of the World as any on the list before it.

(#684)(78/100)


Other Notes (adapted from 2010 review)

Santa Teresa distillery is located in Venezuela about an hour east of the capital, Caracas, on land given by the King of Spain to a favoured count in 1796. The estate ended up in the hands of a Gustavo Vollmer Rivas, who began making rum from sugar produced on nearby estates – owned by other Vollmerses –  in the late 1800s. The Santa Teresa 1796 was produced in 1996 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the estate land grant, and, produced by the solera method.

In the solera process, a succession of barrels is filled with rum over a series of equal aging intervals (usually a year). One container is filled for each interval. At the end of the interval after the last container is filled, the oldest container in the solera is tapped for part of its content (say, half), which is bottled. Then that container is refilled from the next oldest container, and that one in succession from the second-oldest, down to the youngest container, which is refilled with new product. This procedure is repeated at the end of each aging interval. The transferred product mixes with the older product in the next barrel.

No container is ever drained, so some of the earlier product always remains in each container. This remnant diminishes to a tiny level, but there can be significant traces of product much older than the average, depending on the transfer fraction. In theory traces of the very first product placed in the solera may be present even after 50 or 100 cycles. In the Santa Teresa, there are four levels of ageing. And the final solera is topped up with “Madre” spirit, which is a young blend deriving from both columnar and pot stills.  Seems a bit complicated to me, but sherry makers have been doing it for centuries in Spain, so why not for rum? The downside is, of course, that there’s no way of saying how old it is since it is such a blend of older and younger rums. The marketing for the 1796 says the rum has components of between 4 to 35 years of age in it.