Sep 212020
 

Photo courtesy of and (c) Mads Heitmann of romhatten.dk

One of the interesting things about the Compagnie des Indes Dominican Republic rum we’re looking at today, is that we don’t often see rums from the half island go into anything except a mild standard strength blend.  It’s rare to see a single cask version and even rarer at this kind of power – 64.9%. Here is a rum that at that level of oomph had to be a special edition for Denmark only (see other notes), probably because nobody back in the day wanted to take a chance on a rum and a country not known for individualistic excess of any kind.

In 2020, of course, when new indies are popping up everywhere and cask strength is considered almost a new standard, such a thing is the sort of amusing tale we relegate dismissively to “them old days”, but it’s instructive to note how recently the situation actually was – the rum was released in 2016.  Another peculiarity about it is the lack of information about who made it – none of this “Secret Distillery” business, just a cryptic note of “various” distilleries – this tells us that it was likely procured from either one or more of the “Three B’s” – Bermudez, Barcelo or Brugal – or Oliver & Oliver (who produces such indeterminate blends).  The assumptions this also forces us to make are that it is from column stills, a blend, and blended prior to ageing, not after. Knowing the Compagnie, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest ageing was continental.

Still, I do appreciate the extra intensity the 64.9% brings and the ageing of fifteen years is nothing to sneeze at. The nose bears this out in some ways – it’s powerful, yes, but very light and clear, with a clean and somewhat sweetish nose. Fruits like peaches, cherries, a slice of pineapple and a red grapefruit are present, though oddly muted.  To this is added tannins, oak, shoe leather, citrus, and aromatic port-infused cigarillos, which nose well but seem tamped down, even tamed, not as furiously pungent as might have been expected.

Photo courtesy of and (c) Mads Heitmann of romhatten.dk

The palate is pretty good, though.  The tart and sweet nose gives way to a more musky, nutty and coffee-like flavour, with chocolate and mocha, a bit bitter. The sweetness noted on the aromas was less prominent here, while, with some water, the fruity component went up, and developed hand in hand with an interesting salty tang, nuts, dates and teriyaki sauce (go figure). Finish is good but not exceptional: medium long, fruity aromas of ripe mangoes, pineapple and sweet soya sauce, and a whiff of salt caramel.

A single cask full-proof rum from the Dominican Republic is harder to find nowadays, even from an independent, and my impression is that CdI (or Florent – to speak of one is to speak of the other as is the case with most small indies) found it uneconomical to release such a rum which in any event lacked precision – it had been blended before it went into the cask in 2000, and then aged for 15 years, releasing a mere 293 bottles.  It’s likely that though it sold and he didn’t lose money, he found it more efficient to go more seriously into blended rums, like the well-received Dominidad series of Dominican/Trinidadian hybrids which did away with the limited outturn of the DR 2000 and expanded his sales (he has remarked that blends outsell the single cask offering by quite a margin, an experience shared by 1423 in Denmark).

Well, whatever. Moving away from this single-country, multi-distillery type of rum was probably the right decision – because although CDI has made a few others from the DR, younger ones, they are not well known, probably for the same reason this one has faded from our senses: overall there’s something indeterminate about it, and it lacks an element of real distinctiveness that might make you run to find your credit card. In other words, while the CdI DR 15 YO is too well made to ignore completely, there’s also nothing specific enough here to recommend with real enthusiasm.

(#763)(82/100)


Other Notes

  • On FB, others gently disagreed with my assessment. Nico Rumlover commented it was the best DR rum, for him (of the 14 DR rums I’ve written about, only two score higher, so I’d suggest he has a point); and Mikkel Petersen added that he felt it was one of the best gateway rums for people who wanted to get into cask-strength additive-free juice. I hadn’t considered that, but do agree.
  • Florent has told me it’s definitely not Oliver & Oliver, and identified at least one of the distilleries in the blend. I respect his reticence and therefore will not mention it either.  
  • The rum has no additives and is not filtered. Interesting then, why it tastes sweet.
  • Back in 2014-2016, Danish bars and importers liked the Compagnie’s bottlings but having a bunch of rabid rum fans clamouring for stronger juice, asked Florent to sell them some at cask strength.  Florent told them he could do that, but for tax and other reasons could only sell them the entire outturn from a whole barrel, and this is why there are various older bottlings with the “Bottled for Denmark” on the label.  By 2016 others got into the act, these releases became more popular and more common and distribution was widened to other countries – so the label was changed to “Cask Strength” and after another year or two, the matter was dropped entirely.

Aug 302020
 

Rumaniacs Review #120 | 0757

Each of the 1931 series has some sort of tweak, a point of uniqueness or interest, to make it stand out. The first two, in my estimation at least, were fairly conservative pot-column blending experiments (but very well done). The Third Edition added some sugar to a blend of all four stills and upped the complexity some. By the time they got to 2014, it was clear there was a gleeful maniac running free and unsupervised in the blending area, and he used a bit of just about everything he had in the lab (including agricole rhum, the first made from sugar cane juice at SLD since the 1930s), in an effort to create the ultimate complex blend that only a 9-Dan Master Blender from some insanely intricate solera system could possibly unravel. But oh man, what he created was stunning for a rum bottled at such a quiet 43%.

Brief background: there are six releases of the 1931 rums, one per year between 2011 and 2016, each with its blend of aged pot and column still distillates. In 2017 the 1931 moniker was folded into the Chairman’s Reserve part of the portfolio and it effectively ceased production as a brand in its own right. For the historically minded, the “1931” refers to the year when the Barnard family’s Mabouya Distillery was founded near Dennery – it merged with the Geest family’s Roseau distillery in 1972 to create the modern St Lucia Distillers.

Once again, the St. Lucia distillers site gives zero info on the blend, but direct communication with them provided everything we might want. The blend breakdown is below the tasting notes, and I should note a smidgen of sugar (about 4-6 g/L according to Mike Speakman, who also provided the breakdown). 

Colour – Gold

Strength – 43%

Nose – Damn, but here, the brine and licorice notes are so distinct it’s almost sweaty. Brine and olives, salty caramel ice cream, some vanilla.  Honey, leather, some smoke, molasses-soaked brown sugar.  I particularly liked the light twist of lime and mint which offset thicker aromas of bananas and peaches. 

Palate – The balance of the various flavours permeating this thing s really very good.  The tart acidity of sour cream and fruit melds deliciously with softer, creamier flavours — think lemon meringue pie but with bags more apricots, peaches, green grapes, lime and apples. The salt caramel and molasses is present but unobtrusive, and while the agricole element remains faint, it is there, and maybe just shy. A flirt of vanilla and aromatic tobacco round off a very satisfying profile.

Finish – Shortish, mostly vanilla, lemon zest, light chocolate, and whipped cream.

Thoughts – Whoever made this blend is a genius.  Of the six St. Lucians I had on the go that day, only one eclipsed it (and not by much).  It’s admirable and amazing how much flavour got stuffed into a rum released at a strength that too often is seen as its own disqualifier. I can’t speak for the 1931 #5 and #6, but of the first four, this is, for me, undoubtedly the best.

(86/100)


The components of this blend are as follows:

89% molasses-based.

46% Column still, of which:

  • 6% Aged 11 years (Bourbon cask)
  • 9% Aged 9 years (Bourbon cask)
  • 9% Aged 7 years (Bourbon cask)
  • 9% Aged 9 years (Bourbon cask)
  • 7% Aged 7 years (Bourbon cask)
  • 3% Aged 9 years (Port cask)
  • 3% Aged 9 years (Port cask)

11% from a Pot/Column blend:

  • 50% from John Dore 1. Aged for 10 years (Bourbon cask)
  • 50% from a Column still. Aged for 10 years (Bourbon cask)

32% from a pot still of which:

  • 13% Aged for 15 years, from John Dore 1 (Bourbon cask)
  • 5% Aged for 9 years, from John Dore 2 (Bourbon cask)
  • 7% Aged for 10 years, from Vendome (Bourbon cask)
  • 7% Aged for 9 years, from John Dore 1 & Vendome (50% each) (Bourbon cask)

11% Sugar cane juice based (Agricultural rhum).

  • Aged for 6 years from John Dore pot still (Bourbon cask)

Summary of blend

  • 13% Aged for 15 years
  • 6% Aged for 11 years
  • 18% Aged for 10 years
  • 36% Aged for 9 years
  • 16% Aged for 7 years
  • 11% Aged for 6 years.
  • 94% aged in Bourbon casks
  • 6% aged in Port casks.
  • 51.5% Column Still
  • 33.0% Pot Still John Dore 1
  •   5.0% Pot Still John Dore 2
  • 10.5% Pot Still Vendome

The six editions of the range are colour coded and reviewed as follows:

  • 2011 1st edition – pale yellow [Rumshop Boy] [Fat Rum Pirate]
  • 2012 2nd edition – lavender [Rumshop Boy] [Fat Rum Pirate]
  • 2013 3rd edition – turquoise [Rumshop Boy] [Fat Rum Pirate]
  • 2014 4th edition – black [Rumshop Boy] [Fat Rum Pirate]
  • 2015 5th edition – magenta [Rumshop Boy] [Fat Rum Pirate]
  • 2016 6th edition – coral [Rumshop Boy] [Fat Rum Pirate]

A complete flight of all six at once was done and written about by Phil Kellow of the Australian blog Philthy Rum in 2018. 

Aug 032020
 

The three wooden stills now all gathered at DDL’s Diamond facility are called Heritage stills, their wooden greenheart components regularly serviced and replaced, and the questions they pose about the matter of Theseus’s ship are usually ignored. That’s not really important, though, because they may be the three most famous stills in existence, and the taste profiles of the rums they create are known by all dedicated rumistas, who enjoy nothing more than relentlessly analyzing them for the minutest variations and then bickering about it in a never-ending cheerful squabble.

My own preference has always been for the stern elegance of the Port Mourant, and the Enmore coffey still produces rums that are complex, graceful and sophisticated when done right.  But the Versailles still is something of an ugly stepchild – you’ll go far and look long to find an unqualified positive review of any rum it spits out.  I’ve always felt that it takes rare skill to bring the rough and raw VSG pot still profile to its full potential…none of the familiar indies has had more than occasional success with it, and even Velier never really bothered to produce much Versailles rum at the height of the Age.

This brings us to the Danish company 1423: it makes many mass-market rums for the broader supermarket shelves in Europe, but is perhaps better known worldwide for its boutique rum arm the Single Barrel Selection, which specializes in single cask, limited bottlings. These aim squarely at the connoisseurs’ palates and wallets, and have gained a quiet reputation (and a following) for their quality rums and geographical range.  The Diamond 2003 is a case in point – it’s 12 years old (bottled in 2015), has a finish in marsala casks, comes off the Versailles single wooden pot still and is bottled at a completely solid 62.8% with an outturn of 264 bottles. And it’s quite a hoot to drink, let me tell you

“Something is rotten in the State of Diamond,” I wrote cheerfully after a good deep sniff, “…and just enough to make it interesting.” Which was quite true – it smelled of fruits and vegetables starting to go off, and added some deep oak tannins which thankfully did not get overbearing but receded rapidly.  To this was added almonds, peaches, prunes, anise, strawberries, some light vanilla and raisins, all tied together in a neat bow by a briny note and some zesty citrus.  

The palate was also quite good, irrespective of how much (or how little) additional taste the finish provided.  It had the creaminess of salted caramel ice cream, the dark fruitiness of raisins and prunes and black cake and overall struck me as a deceptively simple, very solidly-constructed rum. The good stuff came from around the edges – you could sense some fennel and licorice and vanilla, and perhaps some nuttiness, red wine, indian spices and cloves, all dancing around that central pillar without taking center stage themselves. The finish didn’t try for anything new or exotic, but was content to sum up all that had gone before, and gave last notes of toffee, cumin, masala spice, caramel, dark fruits and brine, a nice sweet-salt amalgam, without any sharpness or bite on the exit at all.  Nice.

There has been occasional confusion among the stills in the past: e.g. the SBS Enmore 1988 which I am still convinced is a Versailles; but this is (in my opinion) neither a PM nor an Enmore and if there’s any further confusion it may derive from the marsala cask whose influence is faint, but enough to skew one’s mind away from a pure VSG kind of aroma.

And it’s good, very good indeed. Even Duncan Taylor with their 27 YO 1985 couldn’t better it, DDL’s own Rare Release wasn’t significantly better (I’ve heard the Mezan and Samaroli variations are excellent but have not tried them). But it seems to me that the VSG marque is really not meant to be a standalone except for purists and deep divers – it works much better as part of a blend, which is indeed what DDL uses it for in its aged releases, rarely issuing it on its own.  

Summing up then, with all those difficulties in trapping the best profile out of a notoriously temperamental still, it’s completely to its credit that 1423 managed to wring as much flavour and class out of a relatively young Versailles distillate aged in Europe as they did.  Perhaps their 1988 Enmore was in fact from that still also, but this one is no slouch on its own terms, has less ambiguities about its origins to boot and is an all ’round fine drink to have on the shelf.

(#749)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • The length of finish in marsala casks is unknown, if SBS responds to the query I sent, I’ll update.
  • Thanks to Nicolai Wachmann for the sample.
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. “The provenance is dodgy,” Rum Revelations commented in a September 2020 review, noting that he did not feel it was completely – if at all – a Colombian rum, given the multiple-country sourcing. 
  • 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.
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