Jun 242020
 

It’s a peculiar facet of That Boutique-y Rum Company (Master of Malt’s rum arm) and their marketing, that Pete Holland, their brand ambassador (he has some other title, but this is what he is) is so completely identified with the brand. As I’ve noted before, that’s largely because of his inclusion on the brightly coloured, easter-egg-filled, self-referential labels on the company’s rums, done by the talented Jim of Jim’ll Paint It.  And yet, he looms larger in memory than in actuality – when you go back and count, there are 33 releases to date and Pete is (to our detriment) only on four — Novo Fogo 1, Diamond 1, Diamond 3, and the relabelled Bellevue.

Well, our loss. Those pictures are bright, well done, artistically impressive and display a sly sense of humour (whether or not Pete is included), and remind me somewhat of the works of Michael Godard or Cassius Coolidge.  This one represents the Casa Santana bodega of Baranquilla, Colombia (they supplied the rum directly, though they are not a distillery), which in this instance has blended together rums from multi-column stills in Venezuela, Panama and Colombia (no proportions given).  The FB page says it’s been entirely aged “at source” but since that’s confusing, I checked and it was new-make spirit brought into the country, blended and aged in Colombia, and released at 58.4%. Outturn is quite large, 3,766 bottles.

Right, all that out of the way, what’s it like?  To smell, surprisingly…gentle, even at that strength. Firm yes, I just expected something sharper and more pissed off. It’s got really soft brown flavours, to me – chocolate, freshly ground coffee beans, toffee, ginger and a nice touch of salted caramel and cloves.  There’s some coconut shavings, tea, vanilla and molasses in the background, just not much, and overall smells creamy rather than tart or spicy.

The palate is where most of the action occurs on this rum (sometimes the reverse is true).  There’s that smooth, warm coffee, and chocolate note again, caramel, raisins, molasses, honey, as well as brine and olives.  The balancing off of these musky, deep flavours with something sharper and crisper is not well achieved – one can sense some vanilla, ginger, brine, but a more delicate floral or citrus note is absent (or ducking), and instead we get spicy tannic hint that perhaps was deemed sufficient. I should mention the finish, which is medium-long, spicy, redolent of nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and salted caramel, with a touch of rubber more felt than actually experienced…but nice anyway.

The literature remarks that there are no additives and the rum is not particularly sweet.  But it is gentle and creamy and tastes that way. I thought it was, on balance, okay, but not particularly challenging or original — an observation that attends many South American rums I have tried over the last years, irrespective of the stills they come off of. Nicolai Wachmann, my friend the Danish rum-ninja who was with me when I tried it, remarked it was “Too closed,” and what he meant by that was that you felt there was more…but never got the payoff, it hid itself a little too well, never came out and engaged with you the way a top-end rum would.  As an after-dinner digestif, this thing is pretty good, just unaggressive — and escapes being called placid by the firmness of its strength and the pleasantness of the experience.  As a rum an aficionado would cherish? … not so much.

(#739)(80/100)


Other notes

  • Rumtastic and MoM themselves, both mentioned pimento in the profile, but I didn’t get that at all, not did I sense the tar or engine oil that they wrote about.
  • In the picture you can see the ageing barrels of the bodega in the background; I’m sure the central figure is a play on Carlos Santana’s “Black Magic Woman;” the movies “Vertigo” and “Sound of Music” are in the small paintings left and right (referring to the character Maria, also from one of his songs); the condor is the national bird of the country and the number 20 is represented both in the winning hand and the box of matches (dunno why though); apparently the lady on the right is Jenny, a brand manager for the company, and I have no idea why a game Snakes and Ladders would be on the table.  That’s about all I can come up with.
Jun 112020
 

 

 

There are few people who tried the quartet of the Velier black-bottled Long Pond series that was released (or should that read “unleashed”?) in 2018, who didn’t have an opinion on the snarling beastie that was the 2003 NRJ TECA. That was a rank, reeking, sneering, foul-smelling animal of a rum, unwashed, uncouth, unafraid, and it blasted its way through each and every unwary palate on the planet.  If Luca Gargano, the boss of Velier, wanted to provide a rum that would show what a high ester beefcake could do, and to educate us as to why it was never meant to be had on its own, he succeeded brilliantly with that one.

And yet a year later, he produced another pure single rum, also from the double retort pot still at Long Pond, also a TECA, a year younger and a percentage point weaker, with fourscore or so more gr/hlpa esters – and it blew the 2018 version out of the water.  It was an amazing piece of work, better in almost every way (except perhaps for rumstink), and if one did not know better, just about a completely different rum altogether. Which makes it rather strange that it has not received more plaudits, or been mentioned more often (see “other notes”, below).

Let’s see if we can’t redress that somewhat. This is a Jamaican rum from Longpond, double pot still made, 62% ABV, 14 years old, and released as one of the pot still rums the Habitation Velier line is there to showcase.  I will take it as a given it’s been completely tropically aged.  Note of course, the ester figure of 1289.5 gr/hlpa, which is very close to the maximum (1600) allowed by Jamaican law.  What we could expect from such a high number, then, is a rum sporting taste-chops of uncommon intensity and flavour, as rounded off by nearly a decade and a half of ageing – now, those statistics made the TECA 2018 detonate in your face and it’s arguable whether that’s a success, but here? … it worked. Swimmingly.

Nose first. Some of the lurking bog-monsters of the acetones, rubber and sulphur that defined the earlier version remained, but much more restrained – rubber, wax, brine, funk, plasticine, rotting fruits, pineapple, that kind of thing. What made it different was a sort of enhanced balance, a sweetness and thickness to the experience, which I really enjoyed. Much of the “wtf?” quality of its brother – the gaminess, the meatiness, the reek – was toned down or had disappeared, replaced by a much tastier series of fleshy, overripe fruit, pineapple and crushed almonds.

What distinguished the rum so much on the palate, I think, was the way that the very things I had shuddered at with the NRJ TECA were, when dialled down and better integrated, exactly what made this one so very good.  The spoiling meat and hogo danced around the background, but never overwhelmed the solid notes of mint, thyme, rubber, nail polish, acetones and bags of molasses and caramel and ripe fruits.  I particularly liked the way that the combination of ripe peaches and apricots versus the tart citrus-and-strawberry line stopped the whole “descent into madness” thing.  This allowed the rum to be extreme, yes, but not overpoweringly so…sweeter and thicker and sharper and better than one would be led to expect with that ester count, like they had all agreed to a non-aggression pact. The finish – which seemed to want to hang around for a while to show off – was redolent of molasses, mint, fruits, ripe peaches, pineapples, lemon peel and a weird little whiff of green peas, and I enjoyed it quite a bit as well.

So – good or bad? Let’s see if we can sum this up. In short, I believe the 2005 TECA was a furious and outstanding rum on nearly every level. But that comes with caveats. “Fasten your seatbelt” remarked Serge Valentin in his 85 point review, and Christoph Harrer on the German Rum Club page wrote shakily (perhaps in awe) that “the smell is […] brutal and hit me like a bomb,” — which leads one to wonder what he might have made of the original TECA, but he had a point: you can’t treat it like a Zacapa or a Diplo…therein lies madness and trauma for sure. Even if you like your Jamaicans and boast of your experiences with fullproof Hampdens and Worthy Park rums, this was one to be approached — at that strength and with that ester count — with some caution. 

Perhaps it would take a few more nips and sips to appreciate it more fully.  I tried it at the German rumfest in 2019, and while I knew right away that it was special and a true original, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it…and so filched a second sample to try more carefully, at leisure.  Normally I walk around a rumfest with four glasses in my hand, but that day I kept one glass with this juice on the go for the entire afternoon, and returned the very next day to get another two. And the conclusion I came to, then and now, is that while at the beginning it has all the grace of a runaway D9, at the end, when the dust settles, all the disparate notes come together in a rhythm that somehow manages to elevate its initial brutality to a surprising, and very welcome, elegance. 

(#735)(87/100)


Other Notes

Others have varying opinions on this rum, mostly on the plus side. Marius over at Single Cask Rum did the full comparison of the two TECA rums and came to similar conclusions as I did, scoring it 86 points. Le Blog a Roger was less positive and felt it was still too extreme for him and gave it 82.  And our old Haiku-style-reviewer, Serge Valentin noted it as being “not easy” and “perhaps a tad too much” but liked it to the tune of 85 points.

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)

Apr 272020
 

After more than a decade of sampling rums from around the world, Martinique remains one of those islands to whose myriad distilleries I keep returning. Yet sometimes, when I remark on my liking for them, it’s a 50-50 chance that people wonder what I’m talking about (or why). But no list of Key Rums could possibly be complete without examples from that island, and the real issue is not so much that there has to be one (because there are many worthy candidates), as which it could possibly be and which one to start with when there’s so much choice available. 

What I believe gets in the way of agricole rhums’ wider understanding and acceptance – especially in the USA – is a combination of price, low cost tabletop rum dominance (like Bacardi), that crazy distribution system they have over there (and an equally silly one in Canada), and a general unfamiliarity with the taste. These issues lead to a lack of experience with agricoles as a whole, a dissatisfaction with the (slightly higher) price, and that oft repeated sniff-and-grumble, about how they all seem to be the same. 

In response I usually point to Neisson, with that subtle, oily, oddly tequila-like profile of its rhums, or Saint James’s pot still white. And such rhums exemplify what I like about the wide, wild variety to be found on Martinique – Neisson, as described, Clement with its classical clean and almost austere profiles, and the solid and romantic quality of Saint James. There are others I’ve enjoyed over the years, of course – Trois Rivieres, Depaz, La Favorite, and others – but when casting around for the first candidate from Martinique to include as a Key Rum, it was to these that my mind turned, and eventually at Saint James that it halted.

Saint James makes four rums as part of its regular aged lineup: the 7, 12 and 15 year old aged rums, and the white Fleur de Canne.  They make many others – millesimes, special editions, XOs, etc, (and we should never forget that amazing pot still white which will remain a perennial favourite of mine) – but for the person who wants to dive in to an appreciation of the distillery’s heart, certainly the four regulars I mention deserve to be tried first, and for the price, I think they offer among the very value-for-money “suitcase rums” anyone could ask for. And when one has to somehow chose among them for the best intersection of utility, taste, price, quality and enjoyment, I believe, in my heart, that the Saint James 12 Year old is the one to get.

To some extent, it has a lighter nose than the luscious 7 year old we looked at recently (though both are made on a creole still from cane juice, and are of the same strength, 43% ABV, similarly aged in ex bourbon casks), and it seems a little more precise, more dialled in, each note clear and distinct.  There is the same deep fruity notes of ripe mangoes, peaches, vanilla, ripe cherries, and a prune or two. It manages that peculiar trick of smelling slightly sweet without actually presenting as cloying or overripe.  Indeed, lighter hints of flowers and white, watery fruit come out to balance the fleshy fruits very nicely with guavas and pears, to which, after some time, one can sense honey and wax and a dusting of coffee grounds.

The palate follows along from this profile, mixing light and deep tastes in a not-too-sweet and juicy parade of mutually supporting flavours: dried fruits, raisins, grapes, guavas, ripe apples and prunes. The secondary, clearer notes of flowers and aromatic tobacco integrate well with the darker ones, providing a little bit of each, nothing in excess.  In the review of the 7 year old I remarked that the grassy lightness we associate with agricole rhums was almost completely absent – here, it starts to be somewhat more evident, though still in the background and its real moment in the sun comes at the close: this ends the tasting with a surprisingly long, fruity and dry aromatic finish that somehow doesn’t brake the experience so much as goose the accelerator mischievously one last time, just to show you it can.

This is a rum that is a step up from the 7 year old but also, something of a different one. The extra ageing showed its influence, the blend is a bit better – actually, I’d love to see what a few extra points of strength might achieve with this thing.  But never mind.  It is a really good dram and the only surprise about it is why it’s not better known. What the 12 year old does so well, is press all buttons of our appreciation simultaneously.  The Coeur de Chauffe white is the most original rum of its kind Saint James makes (in my opinion at least); the 15 is the best in overall quality and taste, and the 7 year old is good quality for money since it’s also the cheapest….but it’s just that the 12 does them all so very well, at a level high enough to make it a must-have. 

You see, it’s in aggregate of the things we look for, that it comes into its own:  good enough to sip, distinct enough to mix, affordable enough to buy, and all-round good enough to give as a gift without shame or apology (or to keep, for the same reasons). By making this rum, Saint James takes agricoles in an interesting, slightly offbeat and distinctive-to-the-distillery direction, and demonstrates that with skill and experience and perhaps just the simple delight in making rhum, that high-grade magic for the masses can be made in a way that doesn’t break the bank.  Any rum that can do all these things at once is a keeper…and a Key Rum for sure. 

(#721)(85/100)

Feb 172020
 

Barceló has slipped somewhat in our mental map of rum companies to watch, which comes as no surprise to those noting the current dominance which the Big Countries and the Big Names have in defining what we “should” be drinking. But ⅓ of the “Three Bs” of the Domincan Republic has been around for a while, releasing their light Spanish-style rons day in and day out, and if their primary markets are elsewhere than the homes of the online commentariat who flog Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados almost without pause, then at least their level of expertise shows no sign of flagging.

Given I rated the company’s Anejo a rather dismissive 61 in 2011 and shrugged off the previous 38% Imperial edition (not the same as this one) with 78 a couple of years later, that last remark might sound strange.  But just because lighter column-still rons released at less-than-living-room-strength don’t turn my crank does not mean I don’t appreciate what they’re trying to do — I just wish they’d read the tea leaves and try harder and go stronger, if you catch my drift. 

Here we have a rum (or ron) that ticks all the usual boxes: it’s a molasses-based spirit run through a 5-column still, then aged 10 years in American oak and given a further two years’ ageing (I hesitate to use the word “finishing” for a secondary maturation that long) in French Château d’Yquem barrels. There are no additives according to their blurbs, which must be a recent thing, since it had been tested on initial (2011) release at 27g/L, but ok. When it first came out, the outturn was supposedly some 9,000 bottles annually, but the latest information I was given in 2017 was that it sold so well that this has now been upped to around 20,000.

There’s more details and notes which I’ll go into below, but this is enough to be going on with for the moment, let’s run through the tasting:

Nose first. Well, while conceding its soft warmth and easy languid charm, the truth is there’s not much really going on, nasally speaking: some citrus mixed up with deep caramel and brown sugar, and an intriguing scent of vanilla, charred barrels and burnt sugar and the ashiness of a dying coal fire.  Sweet, reasonably robust – better than the sub-40% stuff I’ve had from them before – but lacking real complexity that would enthuse me more.

The palate rewards rather more attention.  It’s warm and easy-going on the tongue, texture is nice. Great after-dinner sip to go with the ice cream. It tastes initially of caramel, ripe and mild yellow fruits without any aggro, raisins, prunes, and some faint licorice, ginger and vanilla. The 43% is a welcome boost from the milquetoast nonsense of the 37.5% expression, but in a way also serves to draw attention to its own limitations, because in a rum like this we’re looking for complexity, some punch, and a certain individuality that boosts the mildness of its light-distillate origins – and that simply isn’t here.  This is even clearer on the finish, which is soft, quick and puffs away like steam – it provides no additional insight into why you should buy the rum to begin with.

Without completely dissing the Barcelo – I know it is made for an audience who are completely dialled into, and in tune with, its laid-back profile, and they are the ones who provide its core audience and keep sales robust – let me just suggest that like many rums of its ilk, it doesn’t deliver enough. It lacks panache, oomph, a certain force.  It teases without coming through, and is too people-pleasing for real risk, too generic for specificity. That’s its downfall for the rum enthusiast, and, paradoxically, its raison d’être for those with more tolerant, inclusive and less exacting standards.

(#702)(81/100)


Other Notes

  • The Imperial has always been a 10 year old since I first tried it (and as far as I could tell, ever since it was first made back in 1980; but in 2011 Barceló brought together squirrelled-away casks of this 10 YO and matured them a bit further, to create the Imperial Premium Blend, later re-christened the 30 Anniversario, and started slapping the numeral “30” on the central circle of real estate on the bottle.  This does not intimate that it is 30 years old, but that it’s the 30th anniversary of the first issue of the Imperial. 
  • All Barceló rons are made in the Dominican Republic (not in Dominica – the two are separate nations), where the company shares the island with the other two “B”s – Bermudez and Brugal, both of which are older. Barceló Export Import has been in business since 1930, has always been a rum producer, and remains to this day a privately held company run by men who bear the name still.  Julian Barceló, the founder, hailed from Spain – the name is actually Catalan, though I read he was from Mallorca himself – and arrived in the DR in 1929. His company soon became a very large and profitable enterprise, expanding his line of products to differing rums starting in 1935. By the 1980s the company became one of the biggest in the country, and expanded its market base by aggressively promoting exports – Spain was and continues to be a prime market for the rums.
Feb 122020
 

What a difference the passage of years makes. In 2010, a mere year after my long rum journey began, I came across and wrote about the Cadenhead 12 YO and gave it a rather dismissive rating of 76, remarking that while I liked it and while it had some underlying harmony, the decision to mature it in Laphroaig casks led to “not a rum, but some kind of bastardized in-the-middle product that isn’t fish or fowl.”

Later I began searching for it again, having in the interim gained rather more respect for what Cadenhead was doing.  The Campbelltown-based company of course doesn’t need an introduction these days – famed more for its whiskies, it has for decades also dabbled in limited edition rum releases as part of its “Green Label” line, the best of which might be the near-legendary Guyanese editions of the 1975, the 1972 and the as-yet unsourced but highly-sought-after 1964. Over the years they have released many editions of several countries’ rums, always unfiltered and unadded-to, and it’s become something of a recent running gag that they always put three- or four-letter character codes on their rums’ labels, of which even they no longer recall all the meanings.

Anyway, this was a 12 year old, continentally-aged Guyanese rum (no still is mentioned, alas), of unknown outturn, aged 12 years in Laphroaig whisky casks and released at the 46% strength that was once a near standard for rums brought out by AD Rattray, Renegade, Cadenhead and others. The brevity and uninformativeness of the label dates the rum somewhat (modern iterations provide quite a bit more), but let’s just run with what we have here.

Nose first: short version, it’s interesting, a very strange amalgam of Demerara rum, agricole and a peaty whisky. It smells of rubber and wax, vaguely medicinal and iodine-like, is slightly sweet, quite light and there are more than a few yellow fruits parading around – pineapple, crisp Thai mangoes, green apples drizzled with lemon juice and tartly unsweetened yoghurt. After resting it goes a little nutty and leathery, but the real effects of ageing are minimal, and vanilla and oaky notes are to all intents and purposes, absent.

The taste was better, and again there’s that peculiar agricole-ness to the initial experience – sweet sugar water, lemonade, brine, olives, and a lot of crisp white fruits.  It feels somewhat thin and rough on the tongue even with a “mere” 46% of proof, and could perhaps have used some additional ageing to round things off. The medicinal and peaty tastes were faint and walked off the stage after a while, to be replaced by aromatic tobacco, cheap wet coffee grounds used one too many times, cereal, all tied together by some cereal-like tastes, cinnamon and nutmeg.  That said, if you’re hunting for traditional Demerara rum flavours like molasses, licorice and caramel, search elsewhere – they sure aren’t here. Finish was great though – hot, creamy and chewy. Very tasty, a good blend of yoghurt, pears, apples, lychees, grapefruit and fruit loops cereal.

So, what did I think? At the risk of boring you to tears, permit me this digression. When he was younger and we were discussing such matters, the Little Caner could never understand why I reread books (often several times) which I’d read before (often several more times).  “You know what you’re getting,” he argued, with all the eloquence and conviction of a ten year old, “You know the plot, the background, everything. So why?” And then he would favour me with that pitying look that only young teens can master, which they save for their apparently doddering and drooling older relatives, would shake his head at my self-evident stubborn obtuseness, and then add his coupe-de-grace: “Do you expect the book to change or something?”

I bring up the matter because he was sitting beside me as I went through this sample, and asked me the same question.  Given I had several dozens more to go through and the hourglass was running short, he wanted to know why I was wasting time. “Because, young zygote,” I responded, in that characteristically obscure way all the Caner Clan boys have of speaking to one another, “I’m not the same person who tried the original sample. I’m curious whether I’d like it less, more or the same as the first one, the first time.” I glanced slyly at him – “Sort of like the way, nowadays, you react differently to books you once enjoyed, but now don’t.”

He laughed, and acknowledged the point at last, and to cut further reminisces short, let me note that I appreciated the rum more than the one from all those years ago…but much of my initial opinion on its schizoid nature persists. I wasn’t entirely won over by the whisky cask ageing – rums have quite enough character of their own not to need such additional enhancement, thank you very much – but it was well assembled, well-integrated, and the Laph background enhanced rather more than detracted.  It was just that it presented at odds with what we perhaps might prefer in a Demerara rum, lacked the distinct clarity of the wooden stills…and that medicinal peatiness?…well, I’m not convinced it works completely. 

It will be up to each individual reading this review, however, to make up his or her own mind what they think of the rum; and perhaps, if they’re lucky, to come back to it a few times and see if their tastes evolve into an increased or decreased appreciation of what is, at end, quite a decent and interesting product. The way my boy has done with so many of his books.

(#700)(84/100)


Other Notes

The dates of distillation and bottling are unknown, but I’d suggest 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.
Nov 142019
 

Three years ago I tried and later wrote a review of the 8-year-solera Cihuatán rum from El Salvador (bottled at 40%), and noted rather disappointedly that “this was a remarkably quiet rum.”  Essentially, I regarded it with some indifference. At the time, Paul Senft of Rum Journey and I were trading notes and he told me they had a 12 year solera variation slated to be released, and Cihuatán themselves told me they were working on some more limited editions of their own.

Well, I moved on, liking but not completely won over by the brand at that point, and while I never did source the 12 year solera, I kept a weather eye open for anything they made that might pop up in years to come.  Then in 2019, I caught wind of the special Nikté limited release — though one would perhaps be forgiven for asking what is so terribly limited about 17,914 bottles — and resolved to try it for a number of reasons. One, it was a follow-up to the 2017 review to satisfy my own curiosity; two, it was made by a maestra ronera, Gabriela Ayala, and that deserves respect and more than just a passing acknowledgement; three, it was issued at north of standard, stronger than the usual Latin rums I’ve tried in the past made by primary producers; and four, I just wanted to see if it really was special. Marketing works on impressionable young minds like mine.

The name of the rum (or ron, if you will) relates back to the Mayan motif that has been part of the brand from the inception: Cihuatán comes from the name of an ancient Mayan settlement that once existed very close to where the distillery is currently located.  It translates into “next to the woman”, referring to a mountain nearby which looks like a sleeping woman in silhouette.  The original glyph on the label (Tlaloc, the Mayan god of water) has been replaced by the moon goddess (Ix Chel), and a feminine version of the flower known as Sac Nicté in Nahuat (“sac” means white) as her stylized floral twin, all in homage to Kay Nikté, the Mayan festival of flowers. And I have to concede, that’s one really pretty label, colourful and well laid out – if the intention was to get me to see it on a shelf and stop, stare and maybe buy it, yeah, they succeeded pretty well there.

Based on its tasting, however, the case of unquestioning purchase is harder to make for those who have been part of the rum renaissance over the last ten years, and who prefer something more powerful and distinct (although not for those for whom it was made, perhaps). The ron is decidedly Spanish/Latin in style and influence and the strength — 47.5%, unusual for a rum from Central  America — only marginally raised it in my estimation. Consider first the nose – it was quite sweet, with scents of marshmallows, caramel, vanilla, ice cream and flowers (really light jasmine), and the warmth and depth of a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. What it was, was soft, and easygoing – quite an achievement for a rum dialled-up as this was. I had expected something a bit fiercer, but no…

Anyway, the taste was firm, but the soft easiness did not go away and to some extent that lessened the experience for me. It presented little in the way of aggression and was like chomping down on a freshly laundered feather pillow – there were sweet floral notes (jasmine again), the crisp smell of laundry detergent, delicate spices – dill, nutmeg – some lemon zest, cumin, tempered and somewhat eclipsed by heavier flavours of butterscotch, toffee, bitter chocolate and caramel, ending with the soft exhaling sigh of a finish that didn’t give much more, mostly caramel, nutmeg, sweet delicate flowers and a touch of light white fruits. 

Overall, this rum is a soft sipper’s dream, but won’t do much for a hogo-lover or wooden-still worshipper.  I’ve been warned by many in the past not to decry rums made for palates different my own, so I’ll simply make note of the matter and leave you to make up your own mind.  Personally, I think it’s better than the 8 year solera, and has more going on in its jock, but remains too soft and even too sweet and even the strength can’t entirely make up for that. Yet kudos have to be given for taking the brand in these directions to begin with – for anyone who likes the soporific, relaxed charms of the Spanish style rons, this is a step up the ladder that is a few orders more interesting, more complex and plain out better than its 8 year solera counterpart. 

(#675)(80/100)


Other notes

  • The Nikte is a blend of rums uniting 12 and 14 year old rums aged in ex-bourbon casks with a 15 year old rum aged in first-fill american oak barrels.  Cihuatan confirmed later that all components were true aged, not solera, and later told Ivar de Laat of Rum Revelations that it was also a cane juice/molasses rum blend.
  • Made by Licorera Cihuatan, a subsidiary of Ingenio La Cabaña, one of the larger sugar concerns in the country (established in around 1920).  It is a diversified company located north of San Salvador, and its main business is based on a sugar cane plantation, a sugar mill and a modern alcohol plant (built in 1999) with a multi-column still that produces various alcohols and liqueurs for both the leisure and industrial market.  Sometime in the early 2000s the company initiated their own brand, consulting with Luis Ayala (publisher of Got Rum? magazine) in the process. They began releasing the Cihuatán brand in 2015 and have added to its brand portfolio ever since. There are currently five rums in the portfolio, two stated soleras (8 and 12), an aged rum “Obsidian” and two special editions, the Nikte and the Nahual which are aged blends.
Oct 302019
 

Few except deep-diving, long-lasting rum geeks now remember Murray McDavid, the scotch whisky bottler that acquired Bruichladdich in 2000, and created a rum label of the same name at the same time. Most who spot the distinctive slender bottles with the steel-gray enclosures and red-patterned labels just see an older independent bottler and move along (some might stop for a taste, especially if they pay attention to the dates on the bottles). The MM line is long defunct, folded into the Renegade line in 2006 – Mark Reynier, the man behind it all, put into practice some of the ideas he had had regarding rum releases but liked the idea of creating a completely separate brand for rums…and therefore MM as a rum brand was discontinued. Renegade Rum Company was formed to take its place and continued the evolution of Mr. Reynier’s ideas before itself disappearing in 2012 (temporarily – there’s more info in the company bio, here).

What we see with Murray McDavid rums is an idea in embryo.  Renegade to some extent gave a better-known foundation to the emergent single barrel, finishing, limited edition rum releases, but a simpler form of such an indie bottling ethos was already in play years earlier by MM, just around the same time as Velier’s Demeraras were being issued over in Italy. MM releases are hard to find now after so many years (there are only five as far as I could determine) but they do exist, remaining unsold or popping up for auction, largely because few know what they are, or if they deserve their price tags.

Briefly, the facts: it’s a tawny gold rum, from Hampden as noted on the very informative label (another thing MM/Renegade started to provide concurrently with Velier), distilled 1992 and bottled 2005.  Ageing was in ex bourbon casks, with additional finishing in port casks but without any indication of how long – subsequent practice with Renegade suggests some months only. And it was 46%, the standard to which MM/Renegade adhered throughout their short lives.

Tasting notes: definitely Jamaican, that hogo and funk was unmistakable, though it seemed more muted than the fierce cask strength Hampdens we’ve been seeing of late. It smelled initially of pencil shavings, crisp acetones, nail polish remover, a freshly painted room and glue.  After opening up, I went back some minutes later and found softer aromas – red wine, molasses, honey, chocolate, and cream cheese and salted butter on fresh croissants, really yummy. And this is not to ignore the ever-present sense of fruitiness – dark grapes, black cherries, ripe mangoes, papayas, gooseberries and some bananas, just enough to round off the entire nose.

No surprises on the palate, just variations on the Hampden theme: it wasn’t harsh or super sharp or powerful (at 46% we could hardly expect that).  I tasted glue, sweet honey, very ripe red grapes, a really nice initial attack. It developed over time, presenting molasses, salt caramel, cream cheese on toast, coffee grounds, and the sharp lightness of green apples and hard yellow fruit kept pace with all the others. The finish was short but it was at least aromatic, mostly ripe fruits, some flambeed bananas, and that peculiar mix of hogo, fruit going off and sharp-sweet acidic notes that to me characterize Jamaican pot still expressions. As an observation, the influence of the port casks seemed quite minimal to me and didn’t detract from, or derail, the core Jamaican profile in any significant way.

Reading this, a jaded and experienced Jamaican rum lover might suggest it’s more of the same old thing, differing only in the details. True. However, I think that seen at a remove of so many years from when it was made, its originality — that singular distinctiveness of the pot still distillate in particular, as ameliorated by the finishing — is harder to make out, because we’re so used to it. It’s not the best Hampden rum ever released, but it’s a perfectly serviceable and drinkable version on its own merits, and for its strength, quite good.

We are in the middle of a golden age of rum making experimentation, where pot and column still blends, multiple maturations and fancy finishes are much more common and much more sophisticated…and much better, perhaps. Mr. Reynier’s “Additional Cask Evolution” — which he pioneered with the five MM releases and then took further with Renegade — was ahead of its time and never really caught on with the greater rum public.  My own feeling is that when one has a good distillate and uses the finishing judiciously to enhance rather than overwhelm, then it doesn’t matter how long ago the rum was bottled – it’s a fine rum to sample.  

This rum, showing off a Hampden HLCF years before the estate became more famous, is worth trying (or buying) whether you’re into Jamaicans specifically or rums from the past generally.  It shows how good the lesser-known pot still estate-Jamaicans always were, and how fortunate we are that they remain available and affordable and approachable to this day.  On both a historical and practical basis, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to taste it.

(#671)(84/100)

Sep 302019
 

People are paying very close attention to the new Renegade distillery being constructed in Grenada, largely because of the reputation of its founder, Mark Reynier, and the endorsement which his project of making pure rums has gotten from other luminaries on the rum scene. Josh Miller has written about the status of construction, Luca Gargano of Velier and Richard Seale of Foursquare have both remarked on his anticipation of what Grenadian rums will eventually emerge from it, and there are regular updates on the company’s FB page on how things are going over there on the Spice Island.

Not many now recall the line of Murray McDavid rums Mr. Reynier pioneered in the early 2000s while he was at Bruichladdich, though I imagine quite a few more know of the frosted glass bottles of the Renegade Rums that followed them. Excluding whisky makers who occasionally but irregularly released a cask strength rum (Cadenhead might have been the most consistent of these) Renegade did much to promote the concept of both higher-proofed rums (46%, when the standard was 40%), really spiffy bottle design, amazingly informative labelling, and that of finishes in other casks, which they called Additional Cask Evolution. In the six years starting in 2007, they released a scant 21 limited edition rums (in 53,650 bottles for my fellow retentives) and then, with a combination of imminent company sale and a dissatisfaction with available rums and casks, the whole show folded in 2012 and that was all we got.

In 2019, a “mere” seven years after the company dissolved, finding one of those distinctive bottles is something of a challenge.  They very occasionally turn up on auction sites and sample exchanges, but my own feeling is that they’re almost all gone after so many years, and those that aren’t empty are being hoarded. Which is hardly surprising for bottles with such a pedigree, and a rarity conferred by not being available for so long.  This one, for example, is a 1300-bottle outturn from the Port Mourant wooden double pot still when it was located at Uitvlugt (hence the name), aged 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels, and then finished in French oak Château d’Yquem casks.

As with all such finished Guyanese rums, the two questions one always asks are “Is it representative of the source still?” and “What kind of impact did the finishing have?” I can report that with respect to the first, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” Even without knowing it was a PM distillate, the nose presented wooden pot still action right away, with a deeper, darker, muskier profile than the somewhat more elegant Enmore or Uitvlugt columnar stills might have provided.  It smelled of fresh wet sawdust, a little glue, and both meat and fruit beginning to go off. There was a subtly sweet background aromas, which was likely the wine casks’ influence, but too faint to derail the more powerful influence of ripe peaches, mangoes, apricots, raisins. What I particularly liked was the occasional whiffs of brine, olives, saltfish, dill and avocados which was integrated really well with all the others.

Tastewise the rum did something of an about turn, and initially the sweeter elements took a back seat.  Not too sharp, a bit salty, started off with brine, olives and herbs (dill and rosemary). It developed with fruity flavours – stoned yellow fruit for the most part – gradually asserting their presence, to be joined by salt caramel ice cream, dates in honey and figs, and a touch of molasses and anise rounding things out.  Finish was somewhat indeterminate, mostly caramel, licorice, brine, raisins, none too long, which one could expect from the strength. 

Certainly the wooden still component was there; the wine finish was a little less noticeable, quite subtle, and it had the sense to stay back and let the major flavours “tek front” and carry the show, enhancing them but staying well out of the limelight.  I liked the rum quite a bit, though overall it suggested the whisky-making ethos of its makers more than it did that of rum itself. I suggest that they were still experimenting at this stage, and the coherent quality of the rums issued in 2008 and 2009 was still to be locked in, but for all its whisky character, it succeeded well on its own terms

Renegade’s rums in the range were always a bit hit or miss to me: some were better than others and the finishes sometimes worked as enhancers, at others as distractions (in my opinion, anyway).  Here it was all pretty good, and while I would have preferred something a bit stronger, deeper and more voluptuous as a whole – the sort of dark full-proof PM profile I enjoy – there’s no denying that the Uitvlugt 1995, for those who manage to get one, is likely to please devotees of the malt world, as well as lovers of rum who like to see how things could be made when the gears and levers are tweaked a bit, and the rum takes a gander at the dark side without actually staying there.

(#660)(84/100)


Other notes

  • Velier was a greater pioneer of informative labelling and full proof rum strength, and did so much earlier in the 2000s than Renegade.  But at the time (2007-2012) they were known mostly in Italy and relatively unknown in the larger rum world, while Renegade had somewhat better awareness in both Europe and North America.
  • I was and remain fortunate to know Cecil, a fellow QC squaddie from Guyana days, who had this bottle (from the first year of Renegade’s issuing anything) a hefty sample of which he was able to get to me…so a big hat tip and many thanks to the man for sourcing and holding on to one for so very long.
  • I’ve looked at 11 of the company’s rums so far, for the historically curious.
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