Nov 192020
 

Recently I was observed to be writing more reviews of obscure rums nobody ever hears about (or can get) than the commonly favoured tipple and new releases favoured by the commenterati.  That’s a completely fair thing to say, because I do. Not because I want to be behind the times — I’m gutted I couldn’t try the three new pot-still Appletons from Velier so many people are waxing rhapsodical about, for example —  it’s more a factor of my current location, and inability to travel and the cancellation of the entire 2020 rumfest season.

It’s also as a somewhat deliberate choice. After all, there are loads of people rendering opinions on what’s out there that’s and new and interesting, so what more could one blogger really add? And so I take advantage of these admittedly peculiar circumstances to write about rums that are less well known, a bit off the beaten track, but no less fascinating. Because there will always be, one day, years from now, questions about such bottles — even if only by a single individual finding a dust-covered specimen on some back shelf someplace, written off by the store or owner, ignored by everyone else.  

One such is this Samaroli rum sporting an impressive 22 years of continental ageing, hailing from Grenada – alas, not Rivers Antoine, but you can’t have everything (the rum very likely came from Westerhall – they ceased distilling in 1996 but were the only ones exporting bulk rum before that). You’ll look long and hard before you find any kind of write up about it, or anyone who owns it – not surprising when you consider the €340 price tag it fetches in stores and at auction.  This is the second Grenada rum selected under the management of Antonio Bleve who took over operations at Samaroli in the mid 2000s and earned himself a similar reputation as Sylvio Samaroli (RIP), that of having the knack of picking right. 

I would not suggest, however, that this is entirely the case here.  The rum noses decently enough (it clocks in at 45% ABV) and smells pungently sweet, akin to a smoked-out beehive dripping honey into the ashes. There’s caramel toffee, bon bons, cinnamon, white chocolate and a kind of duskiness to the aroma that isn’t bad. After some time additional smells of vanilla and salted caramel ice cream can be detected, but on the whole it’s not very heavy in the fruits department.  Some plums and dark berries, and a bare minimum of the tart notes of sharper fruit to balance them off.

The palate is, frankly, something of a disappointment after a nose that was already not all that exciting to begin with. Many of the notes that are present when I smell it return for a subtler encore when sampled: salted caramel ice cream, a dulce de leche coffee, more white chocolate with some nuttiness, honey, caramel, cinnamon, and very few crisp fruits that would have livened up the experience some.  Raisins, dates, dried plums is more or less it and I really have no idea what the back label is on about when it refers to “typical Spanish style.” The finish is similarly middle of the road, as if fearing to offend, and gives up a few final notes of cinnamon, chocolate, raisins, plums and toffee, dusted with a bit of vanilla, and that’s about all you’re getting.

So what to make of this expensive two-decades-old Grenada rum released by an old and proud Italian house? Overall it’s really quite pleasant, avoids disaster and is tasty enough, just nothing special. I was expecting more. You’d be hard pressed to identify its provenance if tried blind. Like an SUV taking the highway, it stays firmly on the road without going anywhere rocky or offroad, perhaps fearing to nick the paint or muddy the tyres. 

The problem with that kind of undistinguished anonymity which takes no chances, is that it provides the drinker with no new discoveries, no new challenges, nothing to write home in shock and awe about. To some extent, I’d suggest the rum is a product of its time – in 2005, IBs were still much more cautious about releasing cask-strength, hairy-chested beefcakes that reordered the rumiverse, and were careful not too stray too far from the easy blends which was what sold big time back then. That’s all well and good, but it also shows that those who don’t dare, don’t win … and that’s why this rum is all but forgotten and unacknowledged now (unlike, of course, the Veliers from the same era). In short, it lacks distinctiveness and character, and remains merely a good way to drop two hundred quid without getting much of anything in return.

(#778)(80/100)


Other Notes

  • 320 bottles of the 0.7 liter edition appeared….and another 120 bottles of a 0.5 liter edition
  • The first Grenada rum selected by Bleve was the 1993-2011 45% with a blue label.
Sep 072020
 

Cadenhead just refuses to depart the rum scene, which is probably a good thing for us.  We see rums too rarely from Berry Bros & Rudd, Gordon & MacPhail or AD Rattray, who were among the first introductions many of us ever had to fullproof single cask rums (even if they were sadly misguided whisky bottlers who didn’t know where or what the good stuff truly was). And there’s Cadenhead, persistently truckin’ away, releasing a bit here and a bit there, a blend or a single cask, and their juice goes up slowly but steadily in value (e.g. the fabled 1964 Uitvlugt which sold on RumAuctioneer a few months back for a cool three grand).

Cadenhead has always marched to its own tune and idiosyncratic, offbeat bent.  They never really created a consistent feel for their rums, and had a number of different rum lines, however small, however similar (or peculiar). There’s the blended one-off of the Classic Green Label rum, there is the whole “standard” Green Label range with their cheap-looking, puke yellow/green labelling design and occasional playful experimentation; there’s the green box and more professional  ethos of the 1975 Green Label Demerara, and then there’s the stubby yellow- label “dated distillation” bottlings of the single casks, which carries three- or four-letter marques on them, about which I have always joked they themselves never knew the meanings.

Usually I go after the single casks, which seem to be made with more serious intent.  But the lower-end Green Labels have some interesting ones too, like that Laphroaig finished Demerara 12 YO, or the Barbados 10 YO (no it’s not a Foursquare).  Even the Panama 8 YO had its points for me, back when I was still getting a handle on things. So to see a 25 year old “Guyanan” rum (that term irritates me no end) is quite enough to get my attention, especially since this is the top end of a small range-within-a-range that also has an 8 and a 15 year old. Alas, age aside, there are few details to be going on with – no still, no year of distillation or bottling, no outturn.  It is 46% and non filtered, not added to, and I think we can take it for granted that it’s continentally aged.

As with all Guyanese rums where the provenance is murky, part of the fun is trying to take it apart and guessing what’s inside when it’s not mentioned.  The nose gives a few clues: it’s warm and fruity, with ripe prunes and peaches right up front.  Some nuttiness and sweet caramel and molasses the slightest bhoite of oak.  But none of the distinctive wooden-still glue, pencil shavings, sawdust and anise are in evidence here. Actually I find the smell to be rather underwhelming – hardly the sort of power and complexity I would expect from a quarter century in a barrel, anywhere.

Perhaps redemption is to be found when tasting it, I mutter to myself, and move on actually drinking what’s in the glass. Mmmm….yeah…but no. Again, not quite spicy – initial tastes are some toffee, toblerone and gummi bears, dark fruits (prunes, plums and raisins for the most part, plus a slice of pineapple, maybe an apple or two).  Molasses, smoke, leather, a touch of licorice, brine, olives.  With a drop of water, it gets drier and a tad woody, but never entirely loses the thinness of the core profile, and this carries over into the finish, which is sharp and scrawny, leaving behind the memory of some fruits, some marshmallows, some softer white chocolate notes, and that’s about it.

Leaving aside the paucity of the labelling, I’d say this was not from any of the wooden stills, and very likely an Uitvlugt French Savalle still rum.  There seems to be quite a bit of this washing around Cadenhead in the late 1990s, so I’ll date it from there as a sort of educated guesstimate. 

But with respect to an opinion, I find the rum something of a disappointment.  The deeper notes one would expect from a Guyanese rum are tamped down and flattened out, their majestic peaks and valleys smoothened into a quaffable rum, yes, but not one that does much except exist.  Part of the problem for me is I honestly don’t think I could tell, blind, that this thing was 25 years old, and therefore the whole point of ageing something that long (no matter where) is lost of the drinker can’t sense and enjoy the voluptuous experience and rich complexity brought about by chucking something into a barrel until it’s old enough to vote. With this 25 year old, Cadenhead implicitly promises something that the rum just doesn’t deliver,  and so it is, while drinkable, not really one of their stellar must-haves.

(#758)(82/100)


Other notes

It’s surprising how there is almost no reference to this rum online at all.  It suggests a rarity that might make it worth getting, if the taste was not a factor.

Apr 162020
 

Photo (c) Henrik Kristoffersen, RunCorner.dk

1974 was clearly a good year for barrel selection by the Scottish whisky maker Gordon & MacPhail.  So good in fact that they were able to release several exceptional rums from that year – one was in 1999, the near spectacular 25 year old, which my Danish friends kicked themselves for missing when it came up for a tasting one year in Berlin. They got their own back at me by locating this slightly older version that was laid to sleep in the same year, emerged 29 years later (in 2003), and which is also a quietly amazing aged Demerara rum — every bit as good as its predecessor. 

It’s too bad we don’t know enough about it.  Oh, there’s all the usual labelling information that would have been satisfactory a short time back: 50% ABV, distilled in 1974, bottled in 2003 from two casks (#102 and #103), and that’s certainly better than what I grew up having to be satisfied with back in the day.  But we’re greedy wretches, us rum writers, and now I want to know where it slumbered and which still it came from, what the total bottle-outturn was, and how much time it spent ageing where. That I don’t have such info is something of a minor irritant, but we forge ahead with what we have.

Where the still is concerned, we can certainly guess from the profile.  I mean, just nose the thing – heaven. Deep, fruity, wooden-still action all the way. Anise, blackberries, oak, ripe tart apples and overripe cherries, apricots and prunes.  This is followed by molasses, dust, hay, well-polished leather upholstery, aromatic tobacco…and coffee grounds, lots of ‘em. An excellent nose, very rich, very pungent, very dark. 

It tastes as good as the nose leads one to expect, and may even exceed the nose.  The rum is a very dark brown, bottled at 50% ABV, just about the perfect strength for something so old and thick: enough to bring the flavours out with authority and some kick, not so strong as to burn you in the process. Here, the dark fruit panoply continues: blackcurrants, cherries, overripe mangoes. That’s joined by coffee, unsweetened chocolate, licorice, molasses, nougat, nuts and caramel. And then there’s a subtle third layer, very delicate, hinting of cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel and a freshly baked load of rye bread. The balance of the thing among these three components is really quite something, and if I had a whinge, it’s that the dry and warm finish, flavourful as it is – tobacco, leather, caramel, coffee, anise and breakfast spices – feels somewhat…less. It sums up everything that came before quite well, but brings nothing new to the party for a rousing encore, and is a. A minor point, really.

My first guess would be that the rum is from the double wooden PM pot still, because it lacks the rough wildness of the Versailles, or the slightly more elegant nature of the Enmore (which also tends to have a bit more lumber — at least a few pencils — in the jock, so to speak).  But really, at this age, at this remove, does it really matter except for us who want every single detail? I call it a Demerara, as G&M do, and am happy to have been given the opportunity to try it.

Henrik Kristofferson, who runs that somnolent and suspirant site Rum Corner (and the source of the sample) remarked in his own review that with rums this old, from that far back and for this rarity, price-to-value calculations are meaningless, and he’s right.  This is a rum that’s available now probably only through sample networks, which makes it unlikely that anyone will ever get a complete bottle (let alone a complete set of all the 1974s G&M have released) unless it pops up for auction again. But I must admit, it’s good. In fact, it’s as good as the other one I tried, nearly on par with some of the Velier Demeraras from the Age, or Cadenhead’s 33 YO or Norse Cask’s amazing 32 YO (both from 1975). I wouldn’t go so far as to tell anyone who sees a bottle for many hundreds of pounds, Euros, dollars or whatever, to go drain the back account immediately and buy the thing…but if you can get a taste, get it.  Get it now, and get fast, because rums like this are a dying, vanishing breed, and it’s an experience worth savouring, to see how the rums of today compare against hoary geriatric whitebeards of yesteryear, like this one. We may not see their like again any time soon.

(#719)(89/100)


Other notes

There was a third G&M 1974 bottled released in 2004 that went for auction at around £600 in 2017 which gives you some idea how these three-decade-old vintages are appreciating, and yet another one released in 2005.

Feb 032020
 

The Okinawan Helios Distillery came to greater attention (and reknown) of the western rum scene in 2019, when they presented a white rum and a 5 Year Old that were impressive right out of the gate.  Perhaps we should not have been surprised, given that the company has been in the business since 1961 – it is supposedly the oldest such distillery in the country. Then, it was called Taiyou, and made cheap rum blends from sugar cane, both to sell to the occupying American forces, and to save rice for food and sake production. In the decades since, they’ve branched out, but always continued making the good stuff, and you can’t be in rum for nearly sixty years and not pick up a thing or two. To me, the only question is why they waited so long to move west make a splash.

Aside from beers and awamori, for which they are better known in Japan, rums make up a good portion of the portfolio, with the 5YO and white leading the charge – both, as noted, are pretty good.  But in the back room skunkworks there was always the desire to go further, and age longer, as I was told in Paris in 2019 when a commercially-complete but as-yet-officially-unbottled sample was passed over the counter for me to try.  Most distillers would go in easy increments up a graded “age-curve” – you know, 10 years old, maybe 12, or 15 or something like that. Not these boys. They went right up to 21 and planted their flag firmly there.

And they had reason to. The rum was a noser’s delight, soft and yet firm, with a remarkably well balanced amalgam of caramel, ripe (but not overripe) fruits, cola, fanta, citrus…and that was just in the first thirty seconds. I stared at in some wonder – I’d never seen or tried a Japanese rum this old, and had thought that perhaps the company’s experience in making aged whisky would make it more malt-like than rum-like – but no, this thing was uniformly all round excellent. As if to prove the point, when I left it standing and came back to it there were also notes of bitter chocolate, Danish butter cookies, sweet aromatic tobacco, leather, and smoke. And behind all that, like a never-materializing thundercloud, there was a vaguely rank and hogo-y meatiness, sensed rather than directly experienced, but rounding out the nasal profile nicely.

Clearly twenty one years of careful maturation in ex-bourbon barrels had had its effect, and had sanded off the rougher edges evident on the aromas of both the Teeda 5YO and the white.  Did this continue when tasted?  

Photo (c) Nomunication website.

Yes indeed. Granted 43% was hardly cask strength (the 48% official version would likely be more emphatic), but the tastes were as smoothly crisp as anyone could hope for, with a creamy, salt-buttery lead-in that was almost silky.  The wood influence was clear – vanilla, smoke, leather – yet not overbearing; the bitter tannins run which could have run amok in something this old were tamed well. Standard and well-defined notes of an aged Caribbean molasses-based rum paraded across the palate one after the other – stoned ripe fruits, caramel, toffee, strong black tea, port-infused tobacco – and bags of delicately handled spices like cinnamon and cumin jeteed around them.  These were set off by cola, and light licorice and meaty hints, just enough to make themselves known, before the whole thing came to an end in a gentle finish of all these flavours coming on to the stage for one last bow in a sort of integrated unison that had me asking for seconds and thirds and vowing to get me a bottle when it finally became available.

That bottle has now been released. One of 2500, says Nomunication, and they mention a price tag of 28,000 yen, which is about ‎€240. I imagine it’ll be a bit more expensive by the time it gets over to America or Europe when taxes, tariffs and transport are tacked on — but I think it’s really worth it, especially since it’s stronger, and older than anything we’re likely to see from Japan that isn’t a whiskey. Tasting it, I was reminded of a well-made Damoiseau, or other rums from Guadeloupe – with it’s own quirks and originality, not adhering to a regimen or a strictly enforced code, but simply made with passion and without additives and with a whole lot of skill, in a country that keeps making ‘em better al the time.

(#698)(90/100)


Other Notes

  • The official release of the  21 Year Old Rum is 48% ABV, while the sample I tried was 43%, one of three bottles made for the festival circuit in 2019.  I was told back then that no changes were envisaged to what I was sampling – the blend had been “locked” – aside from tinkering with the strength; so I’ll take it on faith that any difference between what I based my notes on and what’s out there for sale, is minimal.
  • The 5 Year Old review has a brief background on the distillery and some notes on its methods of production. As far as I know this is a rum from molasses, and comes from a stainless steel pot still.
Oct 172019
 

Although it’s older, Samaroli is somewhat eclipsed these days (by Velier), and is sometimes regarded as being on the same tier as, say, Rum Nation, or L’Esprit (though the comparisons are at best inexact).  With the passing of its eponymous founder, there is no single person around whom aficionados can rally, no-one to show the flag, to enthusiastically promote its rums and excitedly show off the best and newest thing they have going (not that he was doing much of that in the years immediately prior to his passing, but still…). It survives in the regard of many – myself among them – on the basis of the heritage and reputation Sylvano left behind, beautiful label design, and some really kick-ass selections.

Still, good selection or not, at the top end of the single-barrel, limited-outturn value chain, picking barrels can be a hit or miss proposition by minute increments of quality or preference. Although it’s a good rule of thumb, it does not necessarily follow that just because one release in one year is good, that all others from the same year would be of a similar level of excellence. The lesson was brought home the other day when a bunch of us tried the 2016 Samaroli 24 YO from Jamaica, which was distilled in the same year – 1992 – as the near-sublime Samaroli 25 year old 2017 edition we’d had just a few months before (and which was used as a control in subsequent tastings).

Let me just run you through the tasting notes, because this really was quite an impressive dram in its own right. Quiet and almost sleepy, it was dusty, dry, sweet and tart to begin with, like a long-unaired spice cupboard. Gradually the fruity notes of peaches, pineapple, gooseberries and cherries built up force until they took over, combining well with licorice, citrus peel aromatic tobacco, even a hint of sherry; and behind all that was the restrained funk of rotting bananas, a sort of quiet gaminess, and the medicinal sweetness of cherry-flavoured cough syrup.  

The palate was where the action really was, and fortunately it didn’t display any kind of brute force, or the sort of over-oakedness that more than two decades sometimes provides. In fact, it was remarkably drinkable, and there was a lot going on: brine, olives, flowers, licorice, peaches in syrup, cherries were the main components, backed up by citrus, mint, lemongrass, green grapes, stewed apples, bananas going off, earthy and meaty … and there was a weird salty gaminess carrying over from the nose that was vaguely like a sausage starting to spoil. How all that integrated with the fruits and flowers is a mystery, yet somehow it did, though I have to confess, the balance wasn’t quite as neat as the nose suggested it would be.  The finish was a bit sharp, but elegant and complex, with fruits, nuts and some salt lasting nicely and then fading.

This was really well put together. There was absolutely nothing intrinsically wrong with the 2016 24 YO, and it didn’t fail: it was a strong, tasty rum in its own right, represented Hampden like a boss, and it scored high (with me, as well as with Marius, who looked at earlier in 2019 and awarded it 87 points, while remarking he felt it should have been decanted earlier).  But good as it was, the general consensus was that the 1992 25 year old was simply better. Better balanced, better integrated, better tasting, smelling, the whole nine yards. The 2016 lacked a little something, an extra fillip of integration and overall enjoyment that was subtle, yet noticeable when sampled in conjunction with its brother. 

In short, the 2017 had us searching our thesaurus for suitable adjectives (and expletives) and was one of the best Jamaican rums we’d ever tried. The 2016 — distilled the same year, and bottled a year and 2% ABV apart — made us nod appreciatively, mark it up as a really good rum to have, and one to recommend…but also move on to the next one in our session. 

(#666)(88/100)


Other notes

  • The label doesn’t state it, but as far as I know it’s pot still.
  • 240 bottles released. This is #29
  • 54% ABV, European ageing

 

Sep 162019
 

Going back to familiar rums we liked back in the day is something in the nature of revisiting the comfort food of our youth. The memories are strong and consoling, recalling a time of less snark, less cynicism and a whole lot more enjoyment. Surely such positively-associated, fondly-remembered rums deserve a place on the high-scorers list? The problem is, that’s all some of these are – memories.  The reality, informed by a more discerning palate and more varied experience, tends to deflate such candidates and show us both what we liked about them then, and maybe don’t so much, now.

Which brings me to the Zafra 21 Master Reserve which is almighty peculiar in that I tried it a lot in the early years, yet never took notes on it…and almost nobody else in the current rum-reviewing landscape has either.  Back then, I really liked Panamanian rums, before their overall placid sameness eroded my enjoyment and other, more exciting, forceful, original rums came to dominate my pantheon. Taste-wise, I always associated and linked the Zafra — perhaps subliminally — to Diplomatico, Zaya and Zacapa – and (to a lesser extent) to Dictador and Santa Teresa.  They all share certain similarities…a smooth velvety mouthfeel, sometimes solera production, with an oft-accompanying sweetness so characteristic of the type…and a kind of amazing longevity and popularity. I mean, just take a gander at the notes on Rum Ratings – almost 80% of the 201 respondents give it a score of 8 or better. That’s far from the massive 1,472 ratings of the Zacapa 23 or the 1,721 of the Diplo Res Ex, but it shows something of the way popular opinion bends for these soft Latin-style rums.

Still, it’s been many years, so has anything except my hairline and chubbier corpus changed in any significant way here? For example, is it still made the same way?  Does it still taste as easy-going and slickly-smooth as my recollections suggest? 

Based on research I had done at the time, and again for this essay, I’d say it is.  It remains a rum whose original blend dating back to 2009 when it was first released, has not appreciably changed.  It’s a Panamanian column-still rum created by Francisco “Don Pancho” Fernandez who is better known for both his moniker “The Minister of Rum” (not to be taken seriously, since there is no such position), and a true 21 year old aged in bourbon barrels – though trust issues such as those which afflict other aged Panamanians in these sadly suspicious times might make one take that with a pinch of salt.  In yet another odd thing about the rum, nobody has ever done a hydrometer test on it and post-2010, good luck finding a reviewer who’s written anything (back then the reviews were mostly positive, but of course Johnny Drejer had yet to upend the rumiverse for us).

Yet for its adherents the Zafra 21 YO remains a popular — if faded — star, and people like it, and trying the gold-brown rum makes it clear why this is the case.  At 40% it’s hardly going to blow your socks off, and when inhaled, there was nothing I wasn’t already expecting: caramel, creme brulee, dark fruit, leather, sawdust.  There were subtler notes of cinnamon, vanilla, brown sugar and ginger. The problem with it – for me at any rate – was that it was just too faint – it smelled watered-down, weak, with hardly any kind of serious enjoyment available for the nose, and complexity of any kind was just a vanished dream.

Nothing about the palate and mouthfeel greatly impressed me either, though I must admit, it was nice. Inoffensive might be the kindest word I can come up with to describe the faint driness, saltiness and sweetness, too vague to make a serious impression (and I was trying this first thing in the morning before a single rum greater than 45% had crossed my glass).  Caramel, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon led off, with some additional brown sugar, treacle, molasses. Trying to elicit and identify the fruity notes was as pointless as sniffing an orchard shut down for the winter. It simply had no edge, and stayed light, warm and smooth, with a finish that was short, sweet and light, with light oak, vanilla, pancake syrup and some peanut butter.  Big yawn. How 21 years of ageing in the tropics can impart so little character is the great weakness of the rum, and raises all kinds of flags to the wary.

Look, the Zafra 21 is a completely comfortable drink, like a worn pair of familiar slippers and if that lights up your wheelhouse, go for it, you won’t be disappointed.  The thing is, that’s all you get – it’s something of a one-trick pony, lacking in excitement or oomph of any kind. Thinking I was being unduly critical, I sampled nothing but 40% rums all day and then returned, but it still failed to impress. It’s one of those rums we enjoy for its unaggressive nature and decent profile, but sooner or later, when we have moved on and come back to it, we realize that the nose is anemic, the taste boring, the complexity a let down and the finish lacking any kind of fire.  Then we sit back and wonder how we ever loved it so much at all.

(#657)(75/100)

Jul 142019
 

It’s been some time since a current production Cuban rum not made by a third party crossed my path.  Among those was the Santiago de Cuba 12 YO, which, at the time, I enjoyed a lot, and made me anxious to see how older versions from the Cuba Rum Corporation’s stable would work out.  So when the 25 YO became available, you’d better believe I snapped it up, and ran it past a bunch of other Latin rums: a Don Q, two of the Diplomatico “Distillery Collection” rums, a Zafra 21 and just because I could, a Kirk & Sweeney 18 YO.

The Cuba Rum Corporation is the state owned organization located in the southern town of Santiago de Cuba, and is the oldest factory in the country, being established in 1862 by the Bacardi family who were expropriated after the Cuban Revolution in 1960. The CRC kept up the tradition of making light column-still Cuban rum and nowadays make the Ron Caney, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba lines, the last of which consists of an underproof blanca and sub-5YO anejo, and 40% 12 YO, 20 YO and this 25 YO. The 25 YO is their halo product, introduced in 2005 in honour of the 490th anniversary of the city of Santiago de Cuba’s founding and is lavish bottle and box presentation undescores the point (if the price doesn’t already do that).

Could a rum tropically aged for that long be anything but a success? Certainly the comments on the crowd-sourced Rum Ratings site (all thirteen of them, ten of which rated it 9 or 10 points out of ten) suggest that it is nothing short of spectacular. 

The nose was certainly good – it smelled richly of leather, mint, creme brulee, caramel, raisins, cherries, and vanilla.  The aromas were soft, yet with something of an edge to them as well, a bit of oak and tar, some citrus peel and lemon juice (just a little), plus a whiff of charcoal and smoke that was not displeasing. Even at 40% (and I wish it was more) it was enormously satisfying, if unavoidably light.  Good thing I tried it early in the session – had it come after a bunch of cask strength hooligans, I might have passed it by with indifference and without further comment.

The challenge came as it was tasted, because this is where standard strength 40% ABV usually falls flat and betrays itself as it disappears into a wispy nothingness, but no, somehow the 25 year old got up and kept running, in spite of that light profile.  The mouthfeel was silky, quite smooth and easy, tasting of cinnamon, aromatic tobacco, a bit of coffee. Then came citrus, nuts, some very faint fruits – raisins again, ripe red grapes, kiwi fruits, sapodilla, yellow mangoes – that was impressive, sure, it’s just that one had to reach and strain and really pay attention to tease out those notes…which may be defeating the purpose of a leisurely dram sipped as the sun goes down somewhere tropical.  Unsurprisingly the finish failed (for me at any rate – your mileage may, of course, vary): it puffed some leather and light fruits and cherries, added a hint of cocoa and vanilla, and then it was over.

The Santiago de Cuba brand was supposedly Castro’s favourite, which may be why the Isla del Tesoro presentation quality rum retails for a cool £475 on the Whisky Exchange and this one retails for around £300 or so.  Personally I find it a rum that needs strengthening. The tastes and smells are great – the nose, as noted, was really quite outstanding – the balance nicely handled, with sweet and tart and acidity and muskiness in a delicate harmony, and that they did it without any adulteration goes without saying. It would, six years ago, have scored as good or better than the 12 year old (86 points, to save you looking). 

But these days I can’t quite endorse it as enthusiastically as before even if it is a quarter of a century old, and so must give it the score I do…but with the usual caveat: if you love Cubans and prefer softer, lighter, standard proofed rums, then add five points to my score to see where it should rank for you.  Even if you don’t, rest assured that this is one of the better Cuban rums out there, tasty, languorous, complex, well-balanced….and too light.  It’s undone – and only in the eyes of this one reviewer – by being made for the palates of yesteryear, instead of beefing itself up (even incrementally) to something more for those who, like me, prefer something more forceful and distinct.

(#641)(82/100)


Other notes

Pierre-Olivier Coté’s informative 2015 review on Quebec Rum noted the outturn as 8,000 botles.  One wonders whether this is a one-off, or an annual release level.

Jul 112019
 

Photo (c) 1423.dk

There’s another S.B.S rum from Trinidad I should really be writing about, tried on that magical evening in Paris when I ran heedless and headfirst into the Mauritius 2008 and the Jamaican DOK 2018, but naah – there’s this other one they made back in 2016, probably long sold out and gone, which I remember equally well.  And that’s the S.B.S. Enmore, distilled in 1988, bottled twenty seven years later, with the sort of solid 51.8% ABV strength that would make the near legendary Bristol Spirits PM 1980 nod approvingly and dab a single ethanol tear from its metaphorical eye.

1423, the parent company making the Single Barrel Selection series laboured in obscurity in Denmark for years, it seems to me, before coming to the attention of the larger world with startling suddenness.  All this time – ever since 2009 when they released their first rum from barrel #1423 – this small concern founded by four friends (now five) expanded. And although they were primarily into distribution, they never ceased sourcing and bottling their own rums on the side – this culminated around 2016 with the formation of the more exclusive SBS brand, which, as the name implies, does rums from single barrels.  The first year they bottled juice from Panama, Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, Fiji and Guyana, and haven’t stopped running since.

You’ll forgive me for having a soft spot for Guyanese rums.  The profile of the wooden stills’ output appeals to me more than most, when it isn’t dumbed down and tarted up with the sweet stuff (I move off fast when that happens because if I wanted a Tiger Bay strumpet I’d go there to get rolled, thank you very much).  Anyway SBS follows the indie maxim of not messing with what’s in the barrel, so we have something clean here, as I’d expect.

It smells perfectly fine.  It reeks of well polished leather, aromatic tobacco smoke, prunes and unsweetened dark chocolate, and that’s just for openers.  There’s also raisins, salted caramel, brine, an olive or two, some mild coffee and some moist brown sugar that still has the whiff of molasses in it. And behind all that is damp black earth, rotting bananas and a darkness that makes you think perhaps it’s trying to channel a HP Lovecraft or something.

I enjoyed the nose for sure, but it’s the taste that makes or breaks a wooden still rum.  Here, it was excellent – thick, dark, and almost creamy, like Irish coffee. Some licorice and mint chocolate led off, a bit of raisins, toffee, nougat, a twitch of ripe apples.  And then it opened up and out came the coffee, the leather, salt caramel, prunes, plums, blackberries, molasses … and was that ripe avocados with salt I was getting in the background?  Quite possibly – the richness of the rum, both in taste and in texture, could hardly be faulted. And the finish was excellent, solid and breathy, not giving anything new, but sort of summing things up – so, some leather, tobacco, stale coffee grounds, caramel and those fruits again, fainter this time.

Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that this was as Guyanese as pepperpot and DDL – the real question is, which still made the rum?  The label says it’s an Enmore from a pot still, all of SBS’s records (here and here) say “Enmore” and “pot” but the Enmore still itself is a wooden coffey, so that only leaves two options – either the label is wrong, or it’s one of the two other stills, the Port Mourant wooden double pot, or the Versailles wooden single pot. And since Marco makes no mention of the PM still ever going near Enmore (it was moved to Albion, then to Uitvlugt and then to Diamond), and since the Versailles still was in Enmore in 1995 (the last year that estate’s distillery made rum) then the balance of probability says it’s a Versailles, as Marius of Single Cask Rum stated without attribution in his own rundown of the SBS rums. 

Assuming my line of reasoning is correct, then it’s a Versailles-still rum (SBS are digging to clear this mystery up on my behalf after I contacted them about the discrepancy), but maybe this is all just pedantry and anal-retentive detail mongering.  After all, it tastes a lot like the Moon Import Enmore 1988-2011 which supposedly was a coffey still rum from there, and even if it was (or wasn’t), who that drinks this thing really deep-down cares? I thought that the rum was more solid and “thicker” than a true — and usually more elegant — Enmore, yet more civilized than the Versailles rums tend to be. It was deep, dark, and delicious, a very good rum indeed for those who like that profile, and if we can’t identify its origins with precision, at least we can drink it, enjoy it, love it — and thank SBS for bringing it to our attention.  We just don’t see enough of such rums any more and that’s reason enough to appreciate what they did, even without the business about which still it came off of.

(#640)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Distilled November 1988, bottled October 2016.  For my money that’s a 28 year old
  • Many thanks to Nicolai Wachmann, who sourced me the sample quite a while back. I seem to have lost my glass-and-sample-bottle picture, hence my using stock photos
  • The rum is red brown in colour, very pretty in a glass.
Apr 072019
 

When a bunch of the rum chums and I gathered some time back to damage some rums and show them who was boss, one of them remarked of this rum, “Easy drinking” — which initially I thought was damning it with faint praise until I tried it myself, and continued with it three or four more times after they all staggered back to their fleabag hotels, surprised by its overall worth.  It’s not often you get to try (or be really pleased by) an indie bottling from the USA, given how much they are in love with starting whole distilleries rather than sourcing other people’s juice.

Which is not to say that Smooth Ambler, the West Virginia outfit that made it (and then never made another) isn’t a distillery – it is.  But like most American spirits makers, they are into whiskies, not rums, and one can only speculate that given the components of this thing are reputed to date from 1990 and earlier, that to make it at all they must have gotten a pretty good deal on the distillate, and it’s to our regret that they themselves commented that it was a one time deal for them, as “we don’t make rum.”  

That out of the way, tasting notes. Nose first: take your pick on the terms — rancio, hogo, dunder, funk — it’s all there.  Rich and sharp fruits. Red currants, pomegranates, rotten bananas and a milder form of fruits thrown on the midden that haven’t completely spoiled yet.  Caramel, vanilla. I actually thought it was a muted Hampden or Worthy Park, and it was only after it opened for a bit that other aspects came forward – vanilla, caramel and some tannics from the oak, which is not surprising since part of the blend comes from (what is assumed to be) 75% Appleton’s column distilled 1990 stock (so 23 YO, given this was bottled in early 2014) and another 25% from a pot still dating back, according to them, 1985. No idea where it was aged, but for its richness, I’d almost say tropical.

Palate and nose diverged rather markedly in one key aspect – the characteristic Jamaican funk took a serious back seat when I tasted it, and became much more balanced, really quite approachable, if losing somewhat of its individuality and craziness that so characterizes Jamaican high-ester screamers.  Some of the acidic fruits remained – green apples, sultanas, cider, bitter chocolate, vinegar — but with some attention one could easily discern soy, olives and brine as well, to say nothing of sweeter, softer fruits like tinned peaches and apricots in syrup. Plus maybe a bit of cumin, smoke and lemon peel.  There is a layer of nuttiness, caramel and toffee underneath all that, but it serves more as a counterpoint than a counterweight, being too faint to catch much glory. Much of this stayed put on the finish which was soft yet spicy, just on the rough side of being tamed completely, with cumin, nuts and fruits closing things off, perhaps without bombast, but at least with a little style.

It’s a tough call, what to think of something like this.  The balance is good, and oddly enough it reminds me more of a Jamaican and Cuban blend than a meld of two Jamaican houses.  The strength at 49.5% is also spot on, residing in that pleasant area that is more than standard strength without tearing your tonsils out as a cask strength sixty-percenter might. There’s a lot here that a bourbon fancier might enjoy, I think, and while it won’t take on the big Jamaican players we now know so well, it’ll give a good account of itself nevertheless. I thought it an interesting rum and a very sippable dram for those who want to try something a little different, and as I finished my fifth glass, I could only think that yes, my friend was right when he said I had to try it; and that it was a crying shame Smooth Ambler didn’t care enough about rums to follow up with what they had achieved on their first go through the gate.

(#614)(84/100)


Other notes

Both the Rum Barrel (on Facebook) and The Fat Rum Pirate commented on its excessive oakiness, but I felt it was just fine myself.

Apr 032019
 

It’s entirely possible that in 2004 when this rum was released, just before the movement towards accuracy in labelling got a push start, that a label was hardly considered to be prime real estate worthy of mention. That might be why on this Moon Imports rum from 1974, Port Mourant is spelled without a “U”, the date of bottling and ultimate age of the rum is not mentioned and it’s noted as a “rum agricol – pot still.” Hang on, what….?

So the search for more info begins. Now, if you’re looking on Moon Imports’ own website to find out what this rum is all about and what’s with the peculiarity of the label, let me save you some trouble – it isn’t there. None of the historical, old bottlings they made in their heydey are listed, and in an odd twist, no rums seem to have been released since 2017. It’s possible that since they took over Samaroli in 2008 (Sr. Silvio was reported not to have found anyone within his family to hand over to, and sold it on to a fellow Italian in Genoa…no, not that one) they realized that Samaroli had all the rum kudos and brand awareness of single barrel rums, and disengaged the Moon Imports brand from that part of the business and shifted it over. My conjecture only, however.

Samaroli had been around since 1968 and Moon Imports from 1980, and shared the practice of doing secondary finishes or complete ageings of their continentally aged stock in other barrels. In this case they took a PM distillate from (gasp!) 1974 and either aged it fully or finished it in sherry casks, which would create a very interesting set of flavours indeed. The double wooden pot still from Port Mourant is one of the most famous stills in existence, after all, and its profile is endlessly dissected and written about in rum blogs the world over, so to tamper with it seems almost like heresy punishable by burning at the stake while doused in overproof DOK. But let’s see how it comes out at the other end….

Rich. Great word to start with, even at 46%. Those sherry barrels definitely have an influence here, and the first aromas of the dark ruby-amber rum are of licorice, dusty jute rice bags stored in an unaired warehouse, overlain with deep smells of raisins, dark grapes, sweet red wine. If you want a break from light Latins or the herbal clarity of the agricoles, here’s your rum. Better yet, let it open for some time. Do that and additional soft notes billow gently out – more licorice, molasses, cinnamon, and damp brown sugar, prune juice. There is a slight undercurrent of tannic bitterness you can almost come to grips with, but it’s fended off by (and provides a nice counterpoint to) flowers, unsweetened rich chocolate, cedar and pine needles. I could have gone on smelling this thing for hours, it was that enticing.

With respect to the palate, at 46%, much as I wish it were stronger, the rum is simply luscious, perhaps too much so – had it been sweeter (and it isn’t) it might have edged dangerously close to a cloying mishmash, but as it is, the cat’s-tongue-rough-and-smooth profile was excellent. It melded leather and the creaminess of salt butter and brie with licorice, brown sugar, molasses and butter cookies (as a hat tip to them barking-mad northern vikings, I’ll say were Danish). Other tastes emerge: prunes and dark fruit – lots of dark fruit. Blackberries, plums, dates. Very dense, layer upon layer of tastes that combined really really well, and providing a relatively gentle but tasteful summary on the finish. Sometimes things fall apart (or disappear entirely) at this stage, but here it’s like a never ending segue that reminds us of cedar, sawdust, sugar raisins, plums, prunes, and chocolate oranges.

Well now. This was one seriously good rum. Sometimes, with so much thrumming under the hood, only a stronger strength can make sense of it, but no, here is a meaty, sweetie, fruity smorgasbord of many things all at once…and while I acknowledge that the sherry influence is responsible for a lot of that – some may consider it a bit overbearing – I enjoyed this thing thoroughly. 1974 was definitely a good year.

It gets the the score it gets because I thought that even for a 46% rum and the maturation philosophy, the excellence and panoply of its tastes was exceptional, and it deserves the rating. But can’t help but wonder if it had a little extra something stuffed into its shorts, or whether the sherry casks weren’t a bit livelier than expected (or not entirely empty). Not all such maturations, finishings or double ageings always work, but I have to admit, the Moon Imports 1974 succeeded swimmingly.  And while the rum is admittedly not cheap, I maintain that if you’re into deep dark and rich Demerara variations of great age from Ago, here’s one that’s playing your tune and calling you to the floor, to take your turn with it…and see if you’re a fit.

(#613)(90/100)


Other notes

  • For a brief history of Moon Imports and their bottlings, Marco of Barrel Aged Mind did his usual exemplary job.
  • No data on outturn exists.
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