Dec 282020
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) has always had a peculiar turn when it comes to labels and tasting notes. The original bottlings didn’t always have permission to use the distillery names on the bottlings — at the time, blends were big, and distilleries did not always want their names to be associated with some off-the-wall, left-field bottle from a strange outfit, when this might shed a poor light on what they were more famed for…the consistency of their blends. This led the SMWS to the use of numerical identifiers for their outturns, and a whimsically titled name that had no relation to reality, really (almost every reviewer makes some reference to how they ignore those names, or don’t understand them).

What that does, though, is force the buyer / drinker / reviewer to actually pay attention to the product and discard preconceived notions at the door. Most will deny this to the heavens, but I firmly believe that few can divorce their expectations of a rum based on the label it sports, from the experience they expect to have, and then actually have. Which makes sense: if you see “Port Mourant” on a label, you expect to drink one, not some weird agricole or a Spanish style ron and your mind will bend that way. SMWS takes away this crutch – not completely, because by now everyone knows what the numbers mean – but enough so that the rums stands or falls upon your relatively clean experience.

So we walk into this rum, knowing only it’s from Panama. We don’t know if its from PILSA / Las Cabras or Don Jose / Varela Hermanos, the two main distilleries (my research suggests the latter); it has a 62% strength and 12 years of ageing in refill ex-bourbon barrels that resulted in 243 bottles. And that’s it.

But what these bare-bones notes don’t tell you is how impressive the dram actually is.  You’d think an industrial column still mass-produced swill can’t aspire to something greater than its origins, yet here it tries hard, it really does. The initial column-still blandness it starts out with is rescued by good barrel activity and some serious cask strength. Notes of coconut, caramel, some boot polish, licorice waft up from the glass, some blancmange, bon bons, chocolate mints and there’s even the hint of an old, well-loved and much-abused leather sofa.  After resting, it opens up to some nice truffles and chocolate notes, vanilla and florals, pineapples, oranges.  Pretty good for a region that has much fallen from favour in the last years as the New Jamaicans, Bajans and other distilling regions forge ahead.

In spite of the high ABV, which lends a fair amount of initial sharpness and heat to the tongue until it burns away and settles down, it’s actually not that fierce. It becomes almost delicate, and there’s a nice vein of fruity sweetness running through, which enhances the flavours of apples, cider, green grapes, citrus, coconut, vanilla, and candied oranges. There’s also some of that polish and acetone remaining, neatly dampened by caramel and brown sugar, all balancing off well against each other. It retains that delicacy to the finish line and stays well behaved: a touch sweet throughout, with caramel (a bit much), vanilla, fruits, grapes, raisins, citrus, blancmange…not bad at all.

I’ve been indifferent to Panamanian rums of late.  My initial enjoyment of their rums from the first years of this site’s reviews — of the Rum Nation 18 and 21 year old rums, the Abuelos (especially the Centuria) and the Panamonte XXV, none of which I would now score as high as I did back then — have given way to a more critical and rather impatient judgement as I see them treading no new ground, not issuing anything particularly interesting and staying with the same old song. These days I don’t buy many and the way Las Cabras has become a distiller-for-hire for small time brands who don’t themselves produce anything ground-shaking or innovative has done little to change that opinion.

Yet somehow the SMWS seems to have bucked the trend of milquetoast anonymous blends produced by the tankerload by equally anonymous brands and third parties. This 12 year old rum strikes me as a midpoint between the soft voluptuous sweetness of the Abuelo Centuria and the rather sterner and more focused AD Rattray, and is really a fine rum for anyone to try. Unless the great Panamanian distilleries up their game and go in different directions it’s unlikely they will every recover my unbridled affection from the early years – but this one gives me hope that the potential for good rums remains.  Even if it’s only in the occasional single barrel, ferreted out by some enterprising indie in Europe. We can hope, I guess.

(#789)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin of WhiskyFun didn’t dislike it, but wasn’t entirely blown away either and awarded it 78 points. Simon, over at TheRumShopBoy was more enthusiastic, to the tune of 88.
  • As usual, the name is a challenge.  Paddington is a bear beloved of British childrens’ books dating back from the 1950s, but his origin was clearly stated to be Peru, not Panama (though neither, as far as I know, have bears of any kind). So how the SMWS got from that to this is anyone’s guess…perhaps it’s his love of marmalade sandwiches, as Simon slyly pointed out.
Dec 232020
 

Here’s my personally imaginative take on how the (fictitious) Board of Blenders from Consorcio Licorero Nacional (CLN) presented their results to the good folks at Rum of Panama Corp (registered in Panama in 2016) about the rum they intended to make for them at Las Cabras in Herrera.

“We will make a true Panamanian Rum to represent the year the Canal was opened in 1914!” they say, high fiving and chest bumping themselves in congratulation at this perspicacious stroke of marketing genius.

“But CLN is originally from Venezuela, isn’t it?” comes the confused question.”Shouldn’t you perhaps pay homage to something from there?”

“The company is now registered in Panama, in San Miguelito, so, no.” The answer is confident. “The rum will be made at a Panamanian distillery. We will make it appeal to the masses by making it a column still light rum, but also appeal to the connoisseur crowd and beef it up to a higher strength.”

Ersatz Venezuelan patriotism is forgotten. This smells like sales. “Great!  How much?”

“41.3%” they reply, with the quietly confident air of “it’s settled” that Joe Pesci showed when he told Mel Gibson that a banker’s fee of 2% was standard, in Lethal Weapon II.

Brows knit. “Shouldn’t that be stronger?”

A twitch of moustaches, a shake of heads. This heresy must be swiftly extirpated. “That might scare away the masses, and they’re the ones we want buying the rum, as they’re the ones who move cases.”

“Ah.”

“And look, we will age it, a lot!” say the blenders brightly

Heads perk up. “Oh wonderful.  We like ageing.  How long, how old?”

“15 to 22 years.”

“That’s not bad. Except, of course, we’ve only been in business for four years, so…”

“Oh no worries.  Nobody will check. There’s that one reviewing doofus in the Middle East who might, but nobody really reads his blog, so you’re safe. And, on our website, we’ll say it’s a rum aged “up to 22 years”, so that will give you no end of credibility. People love rums aged more than twenty years”

“Isn’t that called…well…lying?”

“Not at all. It’s a blend of rums, we’ll have aged rums between those years in the blend, we’ll never say how much of each, so it’s completely legit. Better than saying 15 years old, don’t you think?”

“Well…if you say so.”

Paternal confidence is displayed. “You can’t lose: the rum is light, it’s old, the age is unverifiable but completely true, it has a cool name and date as part of the title, it’s sweet, and the production is so complex nobody will figure out who really is behind it, so nobody gets blamed…” More bright smiles all around, followed by toasts, handshakes, and the go-ahead is given.


Or so the story-teller in me supposes. Because all jokes and anecdotes aside, what this is, is a rum made to order. Ron 1914 touts itself as being a 15-22 YO blended rum,“Distilled in the province of Herrera and bottled at the facilities of CLN in Panama City.” CLN was formed in 1970 by five Venezuelan businessmen and deals with manufactured alcoholic products, though nowhere I’ve searched is there a reference to a distillery of their own. In this case it’s clear their using Las Cabras, proud possessor of a multi-column industrial still that churns out mucho product on demand. 

Now, that distillery has its own brand of rum, the Cana Brava, but also makes rum for clients: therefore brands like Zafra, Nativo, Grander note themselves as being from there – in that, then, the distillery operates like Florida Distillers who makes the completely forgettable Ron Carlos series of rums I’ve written about before.

And, unfortunately, made a rum equally unlikely to be remembered, because nosing it, your first thought is likely to be the same as mine: lights on, nobody home. There’s just so little going on here, and that’s not a function of the standard strength. There is basically some faint molasses, vanilla, a few unidentifiable fruits – not overripe, not tart, just fleshy and sweet – and an odd aroma of icing sugar. And a whiff of caramel and molasses, though don’t quote me on that – you might miss it.

The taste is also completely uninspiring. It’s so soft and easy you could fall asleep in it, and again, there’s too much vanilla, ice cream, sugar water and anonymous fruit here to lend any kind of spirit or style to the experience. Yes, there’s some caramel and molasses at the back end, but what good does that do when all it represents is a sort of “good ‘nuff” standard profile we’ve had a jillion times before in our journey? And the finish is just like that, short, breathy, a touch of mint, caramel, vanilla, anad again, just a snoozefest. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the Ron 1914 was a low end spiced rum, and, for those of you who may be in doubt, that’s not a compliment.

The purpose of a rum like this escapes me.  No, honestly.  What’s it for?  In this day and age, why make something so soft and anonymous?  It doesn’t work well as a mixer (a Bacardi white or gold could just as easily do the job for less, if a cost-effective alcoholic jolt was all you were after) and as a sipper, well, come on, there’s way better value out there.

It’s always been a thing of mine that a good Spanish-style ron doesn’t have to enthuse the cask strength crowd with a wooden still in its DNA, or by squirting dunder and funk from every pore – because knowledgeable drinkers of its own style will like it just fine.  They’re used to standard strength and get that subtlety of tastes imparted almost solely by barrel management and smart ageing. But I submit that even they would take one taste of this thing, put down the glass, and walk away, the way I wanted to on the day I tried it in a VIP tasting. I couldn’t do that then, but you can, now. See you.

(#788)(70/100)

Dec 212020
 

The Cuban-made Vacilón brand was launched in 2016 (as a relaunch of an apparently very popular brand from the 1950s) and has been making the rounds of the various rum festivals off and on.  It’s part of the brand’s “luxury range” of 15 / 18 / 25 year old rums, which is fine, except that  as usual, there’s very little to actually go on about the production details – which remains one of the more annoying things about latin rons in general, hardly unique to Cuba. 

Suffice to say, it is made by Destilería Heriberto Duquesne attached to the local sugar mill located in Remedios in the north-central coast of Cuba under the overlordship of Cuba’s government entity Tecoazúcar. Founded in 1844 and previously known as Santa Fe, this is a distillery that produces pure alcohol as well as export rum, and makes the Vigia and the Mulata rum brands — so consolidating the information we have from those (here and here) we can say with some assurance that it’s a column still light rum, aged in ex-bourbon barrels…and that barrel strategy, coupled with skilful blending by the roneros, is behind its taste profile, not any kind of terroire or pre-distillation techniques or pot still component. 

How does that all come together when it’s time for the theory to take a backseat? Judge for yourself. Personally, I found the strength to be anemic at 40%.  It allowed aromas of caramel, nuts, flowers, coffee and cocoa to come through, just not with any kind of punch or assertiveness. Some light fruits — watermelon, papaya, guava, nothing too bold — shyly tiptoed on to the stage but at the first sigh of appreciation they panicked and ran back off again.

Tasting it made it clear this is a soft, warm sipping rum to be had by itself, and savoured that way – even ice might destroy its fragile and delicate construction.  That’s both its appeal and (for me) it’s downfall – I tasted caramel, butterscotch, bon bons, a bit of hazelnut, lemon zest, cumin and dill, a touch of ripe pear and that was it. The finish…well, it trailed off like an unfinished sentence, trending towards silence without ever having drawn attention to itself.  Which is, I must concede, about what I had expected (though not what I had hoped for) and which defined the rum as a whole.

Let me be clear – the Vacilón is a perfectly “nice” rum. On the surface, based on the label, it hits all the high points. It’s from Cuba, home of a long and proud tradition of rum making stretching back centuries. It is fifteen “true” years old.  And if it’s only 40% well, cask strength isn’t the rumiverse and standard strength rums should not be looked down upon just because they lack the spirituous equivalent of Ahnold’s biceps in his prime. 

Except that that was not the way the experience unfolded. I can live with the faint, quiet, wispy proof, I just needed to focus more, and harder, to tease out the tasting notes.  But it was simply unexciting, lacking appeal, not making any kind of serious statement for its own uniqueness and quality. It could have been five years younger and not been appreciably different. Why in this day and age they didn’t at least try to jolly it up to maybe 43% or 46% remains one of those unanswered questions to which rons have yet to respond.  Maybe it’s because they sell quite enough of what they do already and see no reason to change.

That of course is their privilege – rums like this do have their fans and markets. But as long as rons’ makers only keep trotting along the same old track at the same old pace, they’re only ever going to end up getting dismissive reviews like this one, and placing themselves in the “also-ran” finishing spot. Or even further back in the listings, which is something of a shame for an otherwise decent product on which maestros roneros expend so much time and effort. I think they can do better for today’s audiences, and they should at least give it a try, instead of recreating blends that were popular the 1950s but which are no longer as much in fashion now as they were back then.

(#787)(76/100)

Dec 072020
 

In spite of being better known for the exceptional single cask line that made the name of the Compagnie des Indes (at least, with this writer), it was the later blends that sold a lot better and moved off the shelves with more alacrity. Independent bottlers are businessmen, and while sentiment may have them prefer the tuxedo-crowd snoot-rums, it’s the low-end tanker loads that keep the company afloat (a matter not restricted to the Compagnie) and therefore get made.

Compagnie des Indes has a whole lot more blends than is immediately apparent: the Darklice, Dominidad, Kaiman, Latino, Caraibes and Boulet de Canon series spring to mind (the Boulet is into its 9th iteration already), and more recently the West Indies, Jamaica and the Oktoberum series, and the subject of today’s review, the Veneragua.

This last is a blend of Venezuelan and Nicaraguan distillate (3 barrels from the former, 2 from the latter), with all the usual mystery behind the mashup.  That’s hardly a problem for the Nicaraguan component since that’s the Flor people, but Venezuela is a tad bigger and has a few more distilleries, so I’m not sure who provided that part. The outturn is 1911 bottles, making it a small- to mid-sized release (a single barrel release is usually 300 bottle or so).  We can assume it’s a light distillate, column still, and the label informs us it’s 13 years old, which I’m going to say was continental ageing all the way.  

More than that I don’t have so let’s move right along.  Nose first: it’s delicate fast-dissipating sugar-cane juice, grass and herbals, with a more solid core of caramel drizzled over condensed milk and shave-ice by the sno-cone man. Left standing for a while, it develops aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, licorice, white chocolate, ice cream and some light fruits – pears and raisins, mostly, and some lychees.

The palate is pretty nice to sip – the strength of 45% makes it warm and silky, with light tones and accents.  The tastes are primarily flowers and fruits and spices – nougat, almonds, grapes, raisins, and the crisp snap of ginger.  All underlain with caramel, tobacco, coffee grounds and red wine hints, some burnt sugar, but little in the way of tart acidic fruitiness that would balance these off. The finish was relatively short, with clear-cut vanilla, crushed walnuts, almonds and port-infused tobacco and a last bit of salted caramel. 

So, thoughts. I liked it…kind of. Nothing super exciting here, just a well done rum.  It lacked specificity, which has always been blended rums’ strength and weakness as a category, because a rum made for everyone in general is also one made for nobody in particular. Blends remain the same for long periods and are geared towards mass audiences, which may say something about the Compagnie’s strategy and long term marketing aims. It’s not often appreciated that erudite reviews of single barrel or limited releases, high points scores and fanboy partisanship may raise awareness and appreciation of a rum company’s halo products, but those are bought by a very tiny sliver of the purchasing public. They don’t shift the needle of the bottom line appreciably – in other words, there’s a reason why Bacardi and Tanduay and McDowell’s are the behemoths they are and smaller companies renowned for their single barrel cask strength rums are not.

I think Florent gets this very well.  Without making a big point of it, he continues issuing his limited editions from specific distilleries, just like IBs the world over do; but in the meantime, he has his eye on what pays the bills. The rums he blends do that and are, happily, quite good enough to please many.

Therefore, for anyone who wishes to just have a decent low strength sipping rum without a lot of complex and aggressive tastes and scents jostling and demanding attention, who desires a good drink with enough complexity at an affordable price to chase the evening away, the Veneragua is perfectly fine.  It simply chooses not to play in those rarefied regions inhabited by more limited and more exclusive drinks extolled by the never-silent uber-commentators. The Compagnie has other rums that live there.  This one happily moves in a more approachable, less exacting stratum.

(#783)(81/100)

Oct 192020
 

If one rates popularity or the reach of a brand by how many joyful fanboys post pictures of their latest acquisition on social media and chirp how lucky they are to have gotten it, surely Velier’s oeuvre leads the pack, followed by Foursquare, and after them come trotting Kraken and Bumbu and maybe an agricole or two from Martinique.  Nowhere in this pantheon (I use the term loosely) is Bristol Spirits to be found – yet, in the late 1990s right up to the mid 2010s, Bristol was releasing some very good juice indeed, including the near legendary 30 year old Port Mourant 1980 and some rums from the 1970s that were just joys to sample.

In fact, so popular were they, that the company even ventured out into blends and spiced rums, like the Caribbean Collection (Trinidad), Mauritius cane juice rhum, Bristol Black and so on. They released rums from Haiti, Mauritius, Peru, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Cuba, Barbados (Rockley 1986, lovely stuff) and raised the profile of the islands’ rums just as the wave of the rum renaissance was breaking. Not for them the single barrel approach – most of the time they followed Rum Nation’s ethos of mixing several barrels into one release.

Since then, Bristol has fallen somewhat out of favour —  I think Mr. John Barratt may be retiring, if not already withdrawn from the rum scene — and it’s rare to see their bottles for sale outside of an auction, where their prices vary directly with age, from £1800 for a 1974 Demerara to as little as £45 for a 2003 Cuban. This 1985 Versailles was bottled in 1998 at a time when nobody knew a damned thing about the stills, and back then probably sank without a trace – nowadays, it’ll cost you five hundred quid, easy.

The Versailles wooden single pot still is one of the three wooden heritage stills (the Savalle is a fourth but not of wood) now housed at Diamond estate where DDL has its headquarters.  It’s distillate is usually blended with others to produce blends with distinctive profiles, yet for years many bottlers have tried to issue them on their own, with varying results – and it is my contention that it takes real skill to bring the raw untrammelled ferocity of a cask strength wooden pot still hooch to some level of elegance sufficient to create a disturbance in the Force.

Bristol, I think, came pretty close with this relatively soft 46% Demerara.  The easier strength may have been the right decision because it calmed down what would otherwise have been quite a seriously sharp and even bitter nose.  That nose opened with rubber and plasticine and a hot glue gun smoking away on the freshly sanded wooden workbench.  There were pencil shavings, a trace of oaky bitterness, caramel, toffee, vanilla and slowly a firm series of crisp fruity notes came to the fore: green apples, raisins, grapes, apples, pears, and then a surprisingly delicate herbal touch of thyme, mint, and basil. Marius of Single Cask, who wrote a good evaluation of a number of Versailles 1985 vintages, commented on a marzipan hint, but I didn’t get that at all.

The taste, though, was where I think it really came into its own. It was just lovely: lots of fruit right off – pears, apples, peaches, guavas, kiwi, both ripe and unripe, crisp and fleshy and a contrast in opposites. The herbs remained, though somewhat muted now, and a delicately clear and sharp line of citrus ran in and out of the profile, like a really good dry Riesling punctuated by tart green grapes; and a drop or two of rather unnecessary water revealed a background touch of unsweetened yogurt to balance everything off. Really nice to taste, moving sedately to a finish no less impressive, but acting more or less as a summation of the entire experience, adding just a dry burnt sugar note that was very pleasing.

Overall its a very good Versailles, one of the better ones I’ve tried. Unlike Marius I thought the strength was not a negative but a positive (he felt it was excessively diluted), because otherwise other sharper and less savoury aspects might have taken precedence and upset the fragile balance upon which my personal appreciation of the rum rested.  Nowadays we consider the “low” ABV somewhat wussy, but remember, at that time in the nineties, to release a rum at 46% was  considered recklessly daring – even ten years later, people were still telling Foursquare not to release the ECS Mark I 1998 at more than standard strength. 

ABV aside, what I did feel was the barrel didn’t have enough of an effect, overall, and it could have rested for a few more years without harm, and indeed, been even better afterwards. Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind who wrote about the rum himself in 2014 and was the source of the sample, thought that much of the youthful freshness of the original distillate was maintained and could have been aged longer without harm.  But clearly, both he and Marius really liked the thing, as did I. It’s a wonderful expression from the year, and even if there are older Versailles rums out there (like Bristol’s own 1985 22 Year Old which I’d dearly love to sample one day), to try this one from the dawn of rum’s ascent to the heights, when the wooden stills were just rising to prominence and attention, is an experience not to be foregone.

(#770)(87/100)

Oct 152020
 

The Reddit /r/rum forum gets far too little attention and kudos for what it accomplishes.  It acts as a useful backup for (and provides a deeper well of knowledge than) the fleeting one-sentence commentary on Facebook from which I have gradually withdrawn more and more.  Most of the really intelligent and literary rum discussions take place here, and that’s not even counting the witty short-form text-only reviews of T8ke and Tarquin_Underspoon, LIFO_Accountant and all the others who post here. 

In 2018 one of the moderators suggested to the redditors that perhaps we all, as a collective, get a cask and bottle it as a “Reddit-only” edition, to be sold at a minimal markup. He would look after cask purchase, bottling and labelling and then put it up for sale on FineDrams for us – our involvement would be in the selection of which casks.  Redditors were also asked to put some names in a hat to form a small tasting committee and, full disclosure, I was asked to be one of them – to my disappointment, I had to decline due to my geographical difficulties (I was pissed, let me tell you). Samples from barrels of rum from several countries (Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana) which matched the price criteria were sent around, blind, and eventually the tasting committee picked this one from Foursquare, a nice sharply chubby little 13 year old. Unsurprisingly, I sprung for a bottle (as I have for all subsequent editions — the reddit rum forum seems to have turned into a tiny indie all by itself) which was around €75 or so.

Briefly, it’s a pot-column blend, continentally aged, single cask, 266 bottles, not chill-filtered, no fancy finishing as far as I’m aware, red gold, and a muscular 63% ABV.  I particularly liked the label, which the designers (yet other redditors) put together with a sort of stark simplicity that clearly suggested they thought Velier was far too overdecorated with fripperies of baroque ostentation and should be shown what “minimalism” really meant.  Not sure what was behind the XXX (hush, ye snickerers) but whatever, and the “One” was a neat touch, suggesting other editions to come much like the Danish indie Ekte, and it’s No. 1 and No. 2 and so on.  It’s a cool looking bottle, unlikely to be available any longer given its small outturn — if you can find it, it’s a decent addition to the canon, though it won’t supplant the ECS or 4S-V Collaborations in people’s affections any time soon, fans being who they are.

All right, so let’s dive right in. Nose first. Musty, dark and fruity notes right off the bat, sweet and tart, very intense (no surprise, given that strength). It had a touch of brine, balanced off by vanilla, coconut shavings and a nice creamy mocha, freshly ground coffee beans, plus brie with dark peasant bread.  Perhaps it was mean to be breakfast alternative, a sort of all-in-one experience: I mean, you were getting a real balanced start-your-morning diet here – fruit, toast, cheese, coffee. The aroma was very deep and intense, but also rather sharp initially, and it took time to calm down and open up the kitchen.

Tastewise, a 50-50 combo of salty elements (brine, olives, a maggi cube) and sweet ones – fruits (bananas, soft yellow mangoes, some overripe citrus), caramel, honey, fudge, plus a strong latte and bitter chocolate. More wood on the taste than had been sensed on the nose, and with the heat and sharpness carrying over, it made for a sip to have with caution, not abandon. This was one rum I would have preferred a little less powerful and indeed, with water it settled down and coughed up some raisins, dates, and pancake syrup notes. The finish was long on fruits, sweet, hot and aromatic, but added little to what had come before – mostly vanilla, chocolate, ripe sharpish bubble gum and pineapple that suggested (but did not speak loudly about) funk.

To be honest, I’m surprised it worked as well as it did. The vanilla was too dominant for me, the citrus peel note kicked in too late, and the flavours seemed somewhat uncoordinated, lacking a coherent through-line – it jumped haphazardly from one note to another in a sort of playfully chaotic jumble that somehow and pleasingly worked. In a way it reminded me of a low-rent ECS bottling (the 2004 or 2005 maybe, it shares some DNA with the former for sure), but at end, it must be judged on its own, for what it is. In that vein, not bad. It adheres to Foursquare’s blending philosophy, while daring to be occasionally different, haring off on a tangent like a not-quite-housebroken puppy let off the leash once or twice, before docilely returning to the profile that makes it recognizably a product of its famed distillery of origin.

(#761)(83/100)


Other notes

  • For the avoidance of all doubt, I am not advocating having this rum for breakfast for any who might inadvertently misinterpret my remarks above. Dinner for sure, though.
  • I would link to T8ke and Tarquin’s and others’ reddit profiles, but they post other stuff on other fora so that it’s not really feasible.  But trust me.  What they write is worth it.
  • After this went up, T8ke commented that the XXX was not meant to be salacious or speak to any kind of multiple distillation: “The ‘XXX’ was another exercise in stark simplicity. General zeitgeist and cartoons are loaded with ‘moonshine: XXX’ bottles to convey that “hey, this has alcohol in it”. Same idea with XXX bottlings. This is rum. It’s alcoholic. Here’s everything you need to know and nothing you don’t. Drink up.”
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.
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