May 152018
 

Rumaniacs Review #078 | 0512

Tracing this rum takes one through three separate companies and dozens of tiny, offhanded remarks made on a score of obscure websites. While it’s tough to pin down a date of formation, Vaughan-Jones appears to have been a London-based spirits bottler very well known for its V-J branded gin, and the company was certainly in existence by the 1880s, likely incorporated by Edward Vaughan-Jones (the exact year remains uncertain).  According to the British Trade Journal of May 1882, Vaughan-Jones “Standard” spirits at that time were gins, whiskies, rum, Old Tom (a type of popular 18th century gin that was sweeter than London Dry but drier than Dutch Jenever), flavoured brandies, and bitters.

By the time this Jamaican rum came out in the 1960s (the date comes from an estimate of the Whisky Exchange website and I’ve got nothing better except from a tax stamp on the bottle which hints at the 1970s importation but not necessarily manufacture) another company called Hedges & Butler had taken over Vaughan-Jones, and registered various trademarks of V-J in 1957.  Following this down the rabbit hole provides the information that they themselves were wine and spirits merchants dating back to 1667, were granted a Royal Warrant by King George IV in 1830 which was renewed by Queen Victoria in 1837. They were and remain primarily (but not exclusively) in the wine and whisky business, and were taken over by The Bass Charrington Group in the 1960s.  Since 1998 they fall under the umbrella of Ian MacLeod Distillers which is where the story ends for now.

At all times, under whichever company owned the V-J brand, it appears that rum was very much an afterthought and not a major branch of the business. Some of the Vaughan-Jones family remain alive and remember their great grandfather Edward…it would be interesting to see what they know about the rums his company made. No data on the still, distillery or estate of origin is available. It is noted as being “pure” which suggests either no additives, or unblended and direct from a distillery which, from the taste, is what I chose to believe.

Colour – amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – It may just be a function of the age, but it does present somewhat oddly to those who have a bunch of modern Jamaicans to chose from. Not quite an ester bomb, this: still, it starts with brine, olives, citrus, some funk and miso soup, sweet soya, vinegar and herbs (dill, cilantro, rosemary).  Nothing off-putting, just different.

Palate – Oh well, this was lovely. Soft, well rounded.  Carmale, light molasses, herbs (dill and cilantro again), brine, tequila, olives, and a pinch of oregano and some old used coffee grounds left out in the sun too long.  It also has aspects that reminded me of the Paranubes, something of a minerally and agave background, added some light white fruits at the back end, and overall, it’s really not that sweet.  A shade thin, though.

Finish – Very nicely rounded and warm.  It all comes together here and the oddity of the nose disappears completely. Light caramel and funk, herbs, brine, with almost no fruitiness at all.

Thoughts – Drinking this next to an Appleton 12, say, or some of the newer Hampdens and Worthy Park stuff, and you could infer this was an earlier form of what they are now making. It’s not as cultured, a bit raw, and the tastes and smells are in a different (primitive?) form of what we now take for granted.  But it’s not bad, and if you’re a lover of historical artifacts from Ago, neither the background of the company nor the rum itself, is likely to disappoint.

(82/100)


Other Notes

Francesco from Lo Spirito dei Tempi, who I met briefly in April 2018, was the source of the bottle, and he noted that it was made for export to Australia from the 1880s to 1980s.  In his article he remarks that it was aged three years in Jamaica and then for a further undisclosed time underground at the London docks.

May 132018
 

#511

The El Dorado 12 Year Old is something of an econo-budget kind of rum, lacking both the price tag and the relative quality of its upscale brothers the 15 and 21 year old. It’s a rum often overlooked in people’s enjoyment of the those two, and with good reason – it lacks much of what makes the 15 worth drinking, and is only a minor step up from the 8 year old, or even the very nice 3 year old white, both of which are cheaper. Nowadays, I usually pass it by, but the thing is referred to so often by the young, the curious, and the newcomers, that I wanted to check it out again.

What makes it less of a drink than any of the other rums noted above yet better value for money than even DDL’s 25 Year Olds is its relative simplicity.  It derives partly from the Enmore wooden coffey still, and the dominant part is the SVW marque which implies the metal two column coffey still at Diamond, nothing too special there.  And while it’s been aged, it just doesn’t have any of the true complexity which we see lurking behind the dosage in the 15 or 21 — that adulteration does serious damage to the profile by muffling the flavours that do exist like a wet blanket. Add to that a drowsy sort of 40% strength and you’re not really left with much that a person who likes clean and distinct tastes would truly enjoy and recommend in these days of stern 60% behemoths.

Consider the way it begins, on the nose: it has aromas redolent of butterscotch, caramel, prunes and raisins, with very little edge or bite or sharpness.  It’s warm to inhale, and after opening up, it gets a little more heated and a little licorice and darker fruity notes emerge…or try to. It feels really muffled, somehow, and the thing is, while quite pleasant, it lacks real complexity and is almost simple; even here, at this preliminary stage, it doesn’t take much experience with “clean” rums to suspect that something has been added to make it this way.

Such thoughts continue on the palate, where the feeling becomes the obvious. So, it’s sweet, warm, yet oddly thin too (that’s the 40% talking, I suppose). Caramel, some weak molasses and butterscotch remain the core flavours, and the fruits (prunes, peaches, pineapple) are making a fast exit – what is left is mostly crisper spicy notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, plus oak and some leather and a last despairing gasp of anise.  The pervasiveness of caramel becomes a heavy blanket silencing all but the sharpest notes, and while this is precisely what makes it such an appreciated intro-rum to those on a shoestring and with an interest, for anyone who’s had more than ten decent rums, it falls down. The finish remains the weakest point of the rum, hardly worth remarking on – thin, quick, and you really have to concentrate to make out anything beyond caramel and damp brown sugar.  Perhaps a last shake from the spice jar, if you try hard.

Seen at a remove of nearly ten years, I still remember why I liked it and why new entrants to rum recommend it so often (there’s a recent review post on reddit that rates it 87).  But what it showcases is rather more potential and maybe even wishful thinking than reality. It teases without coming through, it bluffs with a lone pair and is upstaged by its brothers up and down the line.

I noted above that it may be better value for money than the 25 YO and 50th Anniversary old halo rums.  Leaving aside the pure price differential it’s primarily a matter of those rums being incremental quality increases per geometrically more bucks spent. For sure you can taste the underlying structural assembly of the 25s (1980, 1986 and 1988) in a way the 12 can’t hope to match, but the adulteration blunts the impact of all equally, and what’s left after that’s factored in is simply that the 12 is a better buy for the coin you shell out if you don’t have much of it.

Although I bought the 12 thinking of it as a candidate for the Key Rums series, now I don’t believe it belongs on that list – it does not stand as an honest blend on its own merits and too much back-end crap has been added to it. The rum rests on its laurels as a great rum of Yesteryear in the memories of its older adherents, rather than being a poster boy for innovation and quality in the Now.

However, let’s be honest — my disparaging notes here are made from the perspective of a person who has tried several hundreds of rums from across the spectrum, not as a guy who’s just starting out and has four or five little rumlets in the drinks cupboard.  On the basis of using the 12 as an introductory spirit, I’m equally – if paradoxically – comfortable asserting that for anyone who wants a cheap starter rum to get familiar with the Guyanese stills, which may one day ripen into a full blown love affair with PM, EHP, ICBU or VSG marques on their own (and at cask strength), then the 12 may just be a good place to start…and then move away from at top speed.

(72/100)


Other notes

Various measurements confirm 35-39 g/L of additives, probably caramel.

Apr 292018
 

Rumaniacs Review #076 | 0506

Ron Zacapa from Guatemala, now owned by Diageo, has been a poster boy for adulteration, over-sweetness and confusing (misleading?) labels for the entire time I’ve been reviewing rums.  The current late-2010s edition of the Centenario 23 (first introduced in 1976 and now dropping the “Años”) is still a crowd favourite…but here we have an older vintage, back when the wrapped bottle was still in vogue (Rum Nation copied it for the Millonario 15 when Zacapa discontinued it some years ago)…and if scuttlebutt is to be believed, this thing really is 23 years old, before they started solera-izing it in the current iterations. But about that I have my doubts – I respectfully submit it was always a solera, and it’s just that as everyone found out about it the label had to be changed.

Colour – Amber

Strength – 40%

Nose – Quite thick and rich, redolent of brown sugar, chocolate, molasses and coffee. Not overly complex, little in the way of additional flavours, except for some toblerone, vanilla, cinnamon and honey.  Some sherry and vague fruity notes.

Palate – Soft, very easy, almost no bite at all – I’d call it unadventurous. Walnuts and raisins mixing it up with chocolate and toffee with a little alcohol.  A faint bitterness of black tea, some honey, vanilla, a few raisins, brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon….overall, not so much tamed as simply easy, no effort required. However, note that it’s not as sweet as the current versions available on the market, just sweet enough to be noticeable.

Finish – Short warm and smooth, mostly caramel, a little (very little) fruit, coffee and liqueur. Gone in a heartbeat, leaving not even a smile behind.

Thoughts – I can see why it remains a crowd pleaser, but the decision to stop with this blend and go with the “modern” Zacapas now on sale was (in my opinion) a mistake. This slightly older version of the rum is marginally better, has at least some character and isn’t destroyed by additives or sweet quite as badly.  Even so, it remains a rum to appeal to the many rather than the few, and all it remains for the dedicated is a pleasant after-dinner digestif as opposed to something to place on the top shelf.

(75/100)

 

Apr 232018
 

#504

Two of my favourite metaphorical rum-terms are halo rums and unicorns, which are monikers coming to our awareness from opposing points on the spectrum.

A unicorn is a desperately sought-after personal wanna-have, usually characterized by rarity and only sometimes by a high price; Examples of unicorns would be the G&M 1941 58 year old, Velier Skeldon 1973 or Port Mourant 1972, first editions of the Rum Nation line issued in 1999 and 2000, Appleton’s 1960s decanters, or aged agricoles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (or earlier). A halo rum on the other hand is a massively hyped special edition rum, often quite old, almost without fail quite expensive, and of a limited edition, meant to commemorate a special occasion or anniversary in the mind of the producer.  They’re not personal and user-driven, but producer-defined, come with cool boxes, fancy designed bottles and and the best known of these is probably the Appleton 50 year old, still, after all these years, selling for a hefty five thousand dollars or so. The Havana Club Maximo is another, and you could make a case for The Black Tot and the Damoiseau 1953 among others. In some cases, of course, a rum can be both at the same time, though I argue a halo can be a unicorn but a unicorn is not always a halo.

Which brings us to the El Dorado 50th Anniversary offering, with 600 produced bottles selling for a muscular US$3500 or so (each), and bottled at a less beefy 43%, meant to celebrate Guyana’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2016, just as the Appleton 50 did a few years earlier.  It is not, as some websites state, a fifty year old rum (the bottle itself notes “50 years” in bold writing which doesn’t help) — by strict definition it is a 33 year old. The Whisky Exchange, which I have no reason to doubt, notes it as being a blend of rums: 65% from 1966, 25% between 1966 and 1976 and another 10% from 1983….so the idea that each of these aged components is from a specific still is likely to be a reasonable assumption (I’ve cobbled together various sources on the parts of the blend in “other notes” below).

Trying the rum gives one the initial impression that most of the oversugared nonsense of the various 25 year old expressions (1980, 1986 and 1988) has been dispensed with, and subject to my comments below, this may even be one of the best regular-proofed El Dorado rums ever made – it’s certainly richer and better balanced than the 15 and 21 year old rums in the standard lineup. The nose gives great promise from the start – deep aromas of molasses, licorice, raisins, dark grapes, coffee grounds, cherries and a flirt of acetones, coming together nicely in such a way that they both commingle well, and are individually specific. Trying it on and off over a couple of days allows other smells of musty books, sawdust, pencil shavings, salted caramel, peaches and ripe apples to emerge over time, and that’s pretty cool too, right?

Indeed it is, and on the palate it starts well – salty sweet caramel ice cream, sweet soy sauce, pencil shavings, tart apples, red guavas, ripe apples, bags of licorice (of course), dark chocolate, more coffee, a fine line of citrus and vanilla and smoke.  All the hits are playing, all the right notes are being sounded…but underneath it all is a sort of disturbing sweetness, a thickness that dampens down the crispness the nose suggested would continue and deflates the overall experience, moving the taste profile closer to the ED 15 year old.  It left me…uneasy, and a little disappointed. The finish of course was reasonable without being exceptional in any way, primarily as a consequence of the living room strength, but that was to be expected, and in any case there’s orange peel, licorice, dark fruits, a little tartness and smoke, so not entirely bad.

But man, that sweetness bugged me, it was a splinter lodged in my mind, and I’m sorry but DDL is known for undeclared dosage, so since I was for once in a position to borrow a hydrometer, I tested it…and the results are what’s shown below:

Well, perhaps I should have expected it. That measurement works out to about 20g/L of additives (whatever they are, let’s assume it’s caramel or sugar and if you convert, that’s about 5 sugar cubes per 750ml bottle).  But seriously, what on earth was the addition for? This thing is a super premium, costs four figures, is more than three decades old, is a blend of famous marques everyone knows about…so why? Tradition? Lack of confidence in the original blend?  Appeal to the deep-pocketed non-knowledgeable rummies who’ll buy it with petty cash?

I think that the key to understanding the dosing decision is the target audience: this rum is not made for poor-ass rum-snorting bloggers, or newbies now starting out, or the masses of rum aficionados with corpulent tastes and slender purses (or purse-loving wives).  It’s aimed at people who want to show off affluence and power, who know little about rum and a lot about expensive things. Politicians, banana-republic jefes, titans of industry, retired jillionaires, trust fund babies. For such people, this rum, like the Appleton 50, is 100 points easy.  Others will see it going down in history as a great hundred-buck rum selling for thirty times that much. My own feeling is that DDL does its premium street cred no favours at all when messing around with their rums at this level and that makes the 50th anniversary a let-down – too well made to leave behind, too old to ignore … and too messed-with to love.

When assessing the Foursquare Criterion in a somewhat differing context, I wrote “my work is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy.”  Here, the same rule has to apply, so I must score it as I see it and give a grudging endorsement, because it really is quite decent…but only within its frustrating and unnecessary limitations. And while it may be a halo rum for DDL, for us rum lovers it’s unlikely to ever become a unicorn – which probably makes it a good thing it’s out of our financial reach, because at least that way we won’t be tempted to buy it and shed sweetened ethanol tears after the fact.

(84/100)


Other notes

  • Most sources agree that ⅔ of the blend is from the Port Mourant Still (from 1966 – that’s the true 50 year old). Remaining ⅓ is from (variously) the decommissioned John Dore still (laid to age in 1983), the VSG wooden pot still (age unknown) and the French Savalle still (marque ICBU, age unknown). Charred Barrel noted it was a blend of 5 rums so we can only assume the last component is the Enmore wooden coffey still.
  • The El Dorado website makes no mention of this rum, perhaps because it’s not part of their standard lineup.
Mar 112018
 

#495

Some time ago I called Mount Gay XO one of the Key Rums of the World, and observed that it longevity, decency and general all-purpose usefulness created a shadow in which all subsequently issued Bajan rums to some extent had to live.  Times moved on and other profiles started to take precedence in the rumiverse, but Mount Gay, however delinquent in moving into the limited edition or cask strength landscape so effectively colonized by Foursquare, did not entirely rest on its laurels, and did try to experiment here and there to see what else they could pull out of their trousers (their recent foray into flavoured categories like the Mauby is a case in point).

The Black Barrel, introduced in 2013, was one of these.  It was never quite a mainstream MG rum like the XO – which can be found practically everywhere and is known around the world – but it was and remains an interesting variation on the core concept of a pot and column still blend bottled a few points above the norm (43%).  Its claim to distinction (or at least difference) was to have a secondary ageing in heavily charred ex-bourbon barrels, and it was specifically created, according to Master Blender Allen Smith, to provide a versatile best-of-both-worlds rum – a better than average near-premium that could just as easily be used in a cocktail, and particularly to appeal to bourbon drinkers.

That might be the key to its profile, because unlike caskers and single barrel rums which almost demand to be sipped (so as to extend the enjoyment you feel you deserve after forking out three figures for one), the Black Barrel was designed to both do that or be mixed, and whether that duality and the lack of an age statement helps or not, well, that’s for every individual drinker to decide for themselves.

For me, not entirely.  For all its appearance of small batch quality (label has each bottle individually numbered and Mr. Smith’s printed signature on it), there was little to mark it out as being something exceptional – though admittedly it did diverge from the XO in its own way.  It presented an initial note of light acetones and nail polish, 7-Up and a lemon meringue pie, delicately creamy with citrus, tart apples, and a lot of vanilla, under which could be sensed some ripe bananas. “Light and frothy,” my notes went, “But where’s the exceptionalism?”

Exactly, and that was also the issue with the taste.  It came on somewhat sharply, and with some salt and very light olive-y profile (that was good), and as it opened up and I came back to it over time, further hints of apples, pears, salt caramel, almonds, coconut and bananas made their presence known.  Molasses, somewhat surprisingly, took a back seat, as did the citrus notes, both of which could be sensed but were so light as to almost disappear into the background altogether. The vanilla, on the other hand, was right there, front and center, and it all faded out fast in a rather short finish that coughed up a few last tastes of a citrus-flavoured yogurt, some woody and smoky notes, more vanilla and a final touch of caramel.  

The Mount Gay Black Barrel, then, was well made and nicely assembled – but originality was not exactly its forte. The balance tilted too heavily to the influence of the char (maybe that was the intent?), and wasn’t quite up to scratch for me.  The whole experience was also not so much light as underperfoming … more than a youngish rum (it’s actually a blend of rums aged 7-12 years) could have been expected to present. In that respect, the makers were absolutely right – the rum could just as easily be taken neat as mixed up with something to create a cool cocktail with an evocative name, redolent of Barbados.  What it meant to me when I was sorting out my thinking, was that it was mostly another rum to round out the overall portfolio of the Mount Gay line than anything so original that it would supplant the XO in the opinion of its adherents. Perhaps it would have been better off trying to be one or the other, sipper or mixer, than uneasily straddling the divide between them both.  Rums that fail at this balancing act tend to have very long shelf lives, as this one will probably have on mine.

(82/100)

Feb 262018
 

#0491

Don’t get so caught up in the Velier’s 70th Anniversary bottlings, their dwindling Demeraras or the now flavour-of-the-month Caronis, that you forget the one-offs, the small stuff, the ones that don’t make waves any longer (if they ever did).  Just because the Damoiseau 1980, Courcelles 1972, Basseterre and Rhum Rhum lines don’t make headlines while the aforementioned series do, is actually a good reason to try and find them, for they remain undiscovered treasures in the history of Velier and are often undervalued, or even (gasp!) underpriced.

One of these delightful short form works by La Casa di Gargano is the Basseterre 1997, a companion to the Basseterre 1995, which I thought had been an excellent agricole (scored 87), if, as I mentioned in the review, somewhat overshadowed by other aspects of Luca’s oevre.  I had sourced them both, but for some reason got sent two of the 1995 and none of the 1997, and was so pissed off that it took me another two years to grudgingly spring the cash for another 1997 (if you’re interested, I gave a Danish friend the extra 1995, unopened).

The two Basseterre rhums have an interesting backstory.  Back in the mid 2000s, Velier had its relationship with Damoiseau in place and Luca, as was (and is) his wont, struck up a friendship with Sylvain Guzzo, the commercial director of Karukera, and asked him to sniff around for some good casks elsewhere in Guadeloupe. In these cynical and pessimistic times we cast the jaundiced eyes of aged streetwalkers at remarks like “he did it for me entirely out of friendship, not money” but knowing Luca I believe it to be the unvarnished truth, because he’s, y’know, just that kind of guy. In any event, some barrels from Montebello were sourced, samples were sent and a deal struck to issue them under Velier’s imprimatur.  Luca is by his own admission a lousy painter, and therefore worked with a young architectural student from a university in Slovenia to design the labels with their abstract artwork and was going to use the Montebello name on them…before that company saw the Velier catalogue, had a lawyer issue a cease and desist order, and that plan had to change on the spot.  So after considering and rejecting the name “Renegade” (maybe that would also have created problems) the label was quickly amended to “Basseterre” and so it was issued.

Anecdotes aside, what have we got here? A Guadeloupe column-distilled 49.2% ABV rhum from the Carrere distillerie more commonly called Montebello, located just a little south of Petit Bourg and in operation since 1930.  Curiously, it’s a blend: of rhum agricole (distilled from cane juice) and rhum traditionnel (distilled from molasses).  Aged…well, what is the age?  It was put in oak in 1997 then taken out of the barrels in 2006 (again, just like the 1997 edition) and placed in an inert vat until 2008 for the two divergent strains to marry.  So I’m calling it a nine year old, though one could argue it sat for 11 years even if it was just twiddling its thumbs for two. And as noted above, there’s a reason why Sylvain’s name is on the back label, so now you know pretty much the same story as me.

Even now I remember being enthused about the 1995, though it had issues with how it opened.  That level of uncouth seemed to be under greater control here – it was somewhat sharp, sweet and salty at the same time, just not in a messy way.  The lighter sweet started to become more noticeable after it began to morph into honey and floral notes, plus anise, a little cumin, and softer, riper fruits such as bananas.  Under that was a nice counterpoint of well-behaved (if the term could be applied without smiling) acetone and rubber and an odd ashy kind of smell which was quite intriguing.  In fine, the nose was a really nice and complex to a fault, quite impressive.

I also had no fault to find with the palate which reminded me right off of creamy Danish cookies and a nice Guinness.  A little malty in its own way. It was very clear and crisp to taste, with brine, aromatic herbs (dill, parsley, coriander), spices (cumin leavened with a dusting of nutmeg), honey, unsweetened yoghurt, and a light vein of citrus, out of which emerged, at the end, some coffee grounds and fleshy, ripe fruits, all of which was summed up in a really good fade, dry and well balanced, that went on for a surprisingly long time, giving up gradually diminishing notes of anise, coffee, fruits and a little citrus.

The rum really was quite a good one, better than the 1995, I’d suggest, because somehow the complexity was better handled and it was faintly richer. It’s great that they are not well known, which keeps them available and reasonably priced to this day, but it’s too bad there were only two of these made, because unlike the Demeraras or Caronis there is not a great level of comparability to go on with.  Be that as it may, the fact remains that these smaller editions of more limited bottlings — which don’t have the hype or the glory of the great series for which Velier is justly famed — are like Stephen King’s short stories tossed off between better known doorstopper novels like “It”, “Duma Key”, “The Stand” or The Gunslinger Cycle. Yet can we truly say that “Quitters Inc” “The Ledge” or “Crouch End” are somehow less?  Of course not. This thing is a sweet, intense song on the “B” side of a best selling 45 – perhaps not as good as the bestseller which fronts it, but one which all aficionados of the band can justly appreciate. And speaking for myself, I have no problem with that at all.

(88/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn is unknown
  • Background history of the company can be found at the bottom of the 1995 review
Jan 282018
 

#483

The History Collection 1715 “Isle de France” Cuvée Spéciale, in spite of being made from cane juice, reminded me rather more of an El Dorado rum than a true agricole, and with the History Collection’s 1814 “Mauritius” Cuvée Grande Reserve we’re looking at today, similar thoughts occurred to me…albeit about a different country. Perhaps that’s the marker of a rum that lingers in the mind and titillates the senses – it reminds you of something, but pinning it down proves elusive…and then it turns out to be quite a distinct product in its own right, as this one is.

So, that said, and similarities aside, it’s instructive to assess the achievement of St. Aubin in producing a rhum that — even at 40%  — was no slouch to sample: it had the same rich and fruity aromas of the Isle de France, brown sugar, cherries in syrup, pineapple, peaches, apricots, vanilla, and to distinguish it from its sibling (perhaps), also a series of coffee and musty, sawdust-y, cereal-y back-end notes.  Sprinkled with raspberries.  What with a hint of chocolate in there someplace, I was actually moving away from comparing the nose to an El Dorado, and relocating myself to Colombia, know what I mean?  This thing was like a crisper Dictador 20 with just enough of the agricole background shimmering through to provide a clue as to its origins.

The nose told a tale that would be repeated right down the line, and what I smelled was pretty much what I tasted, with a few variations here and there.  It was light and clean, yet displaying darker, muskier spicier notes as well: vanilla, coffee, licorice and some sharp tannins, with the musty long-disused-attic tastes remaining.  Some fruits – peaches and cherries for the most part – stayed in the background.  The core was anise and sawdust and unsweetened chocolate, and overall it presented as somewhat dry.  Quite nice — if it fell down at all it was in the finish, which was more licorice and chocolate, thin tart fruits (gooseberries perhaps) and after a few hours, it took on a metallic tang of old ashes doused with water that I can’t say I entirely cared for.

Some background. The date on the bottle (1814) relates to the the Treaty of Paris signed at the end of the Napoleonic Wars by the warring nations of Europe, and it was this treaty which gave Guadeloupe back to France (it had been ceded to Sweden (!!) for a while), but which also formally confirmed Mauritius to be a colony of Great Britain (who had held it since 1810). I was informed that the rhum is cane juice based, 30% pot still 10 year old from 2004, and 70% column still (stored for six years in an inert inox tank), — which therefore does not makes the rum a 10 year old in spite of the bottling in 2014, and so I have had to retitle and amend this post, after checking with St. Aubin directly. Oh and there are 5218 bottles in the outturn, so probably enough for anyone who wants one to get one.

As noted on the Ile de France, by the way, you should expect some dosing here (caramel and “natural flavours”, not sugar, I was informed), and that’s evident after some switching back and forth between a true agricole and this one…not enough to mess it up, but noticeable enough after a while.  On the plus side it gentles the whole experience down a mite, makes it smoother and quieter and more sippable for those who like softer profiles to their rums (plus of course, sweeter ones); on the negative side it dampens and mutes a profile which doesn’t really need that kind of tampering – it’s good enough as it stands.  Underneath the muffling effect of the caramel addition, you can sense what it was and what was there, but it’s like listening to music underwater…the full impact and effect of the symphony is lost. And that’s a shame because I’d be much more interested to see what it was like when pure – based on the quality of what I was sampling, that was probably quite something.

(84/100)


Other notes

As stated above, current versions of the rum are only partly 10 years old, although the components remain the same as older ones – the 10 YO pot still component replaces the 7 YO portion. The label on the bottle I was sold was an older one which is now being changed to eliminate the age statement.  So even if your label says 7, you’re not precisely getting that.

Jan 212018
 

#481

The current focus on the Caribbean’s rums to some extent obscures interesting developments taking place elsewhere – for example the new Madeira rum from Rum Nation, French Guiana’s Toucan…and rums from St. Aubin in Mauritius, which are not particularly new, but certainly lack wider appreciation, perhaps because they don’t make it to the festival circuit as much as others do.  Anyway, this rum, the Isle de France 1715-2015 is part of their “History Collection”, bottled at 40% for a wider commercial market, and commemorates the year of establishment of French rule over Isle de France for the French East India Company — prior to that it was named L’Ile Maurice, and was a haven for pirates, smugglers and the all-round lawless (in which it parallels the Caribbean, maybe) from whom all of us low-rent rum reviewers claim descent when in our cups.

According to my email exchanges with the company, the rhum was produced from the harvest of 2005, and is a blend of two rhums – pot still (30%) aged ten years aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and column still (70%) stored in inert inox tanks; both distillates deriving from cane juice .  As a further note, although sugar was explicitly communicated to me as not being added, caramel and “natural aromas” were – so some variation from the pure is to be expected and I don’t doubt that hydrometer tests will show the dosage.

Certainly the caramel component was noticeable, and not just in the colour, which was quite dark – almost mahogany. The nose presented with sweet toffee notes almost immediately, and what was remarkable about it was also the surprising richness of it all – fruity to a fault, licorice, brown sugar, pineapple and peaches, balanced off (not entirely successfully) with oak and bitter chocolate.  The rhum smelled sweet, like overripe oranges and bubble gum and that to some extent was intriguing…just somewhat overpowering after a while.

Fortunately it smelled more saccharine than it tasted.  The palate was quite good, rather dry, and much more robust than I had been expecting from a standard strength product – sweetish, yes, also containing coconut shavings, pineapple, more peaches, light citrus, caramel and chocolate, coffee grounds, nougat, and – this is where I felt it faltered – also too much vanilla.  The oak took a backseat here, the bitterness of the nose not so much in evidence and the finish was warm, short with bubble gum, licorice and dry, woody notes that were pleasant, just disappeared too swiftly.

Overall, this is quite a pleasant rhum, and strangely enough, given its cane-juice antecedents, it reminded me a lot of the El Dorado rums, particularly the 12 year old, where the dosage was also quite obvious; and it’s somewhat of a kissing cousin to the El Dorado 15 year old with respect to its panoply of flavours, specifically the licorice and chocolate.  I think that attempts may have been made to emulate some of the high ester profile of the Savanna rums without blatantly ripping them off, and the dosage smoothened things out and provided some balance.  At end, it’s a perfectly respectable mid-tier rum which is likely to find great favour in North America, perhaps less so in Europe.

History always fascinates me, so a few details here: the Domaine de St. Aubin, named after the first sugar cane mill established by Pierre de St. Aubin in 1819 or thereabouts, is located in the extreme south of Mauritius in the Rivière des Anguilles, and has been cultivating cane since that year – however the date of first distillation of spirits is harder to pin down – it’s likely within a few decades of the original opening of the sugar factory (there are records of the Harel family starting a distillery which is now New Grove in the 1850s; they also make the Lazy Dodo brand which I waxed lyrical about last year). In the late 1960s the Franco-Mauritian Guimbeau family – who made their fortune in the tea trade for which Mauritius is also renowned – acquired the estate and retained the name, and gradually developed a stable of rums produced both by a pot still (which produces what they term their “artisanal” rums) and a relatively recent columnar still for larger volume agricoles.

It’s a personal opinion of mine that alongside St. Lucia and Reunion, Mauritius is another one of those undiscovered countries we should be watching. Every day we read about the Jamaicans, Guyanese and Bajans; we regularly get another release from the famous rhum makers out of Martinique and Guadeloupe; and we kinda wish we could get more from St. Vincent and Grenada and other smaller Caribbean islands to round out the area, sure. However, let that not blind you to treasures made on the other side of Africa, on this small, rather-off-the-beaten-track island.  Chamarel, New Grove, Penny Blue and Lazy Dodo rums are all good products, enlarging the scope of what rums are — but my advice is, don’t ignore the St Aubin rums either, because however middling my notes are, they have some pretty interesting wares, and deserve a good hard look by those who want something different and tasty, yet also not too far removed from the profiles of better known rums. It’s just close enough to more familiar products to evince a nod of appreciation and vague recall, while being a memory that remains tantalizingly elusive  “Tastes oddly familiar,” I wrote after sampling the Cuvée Spéciale, “But damned if I remember precisely which one.”  And that’s exactly as it should be.

(83/100)

Jan 032018
 

#475

“A few years ago, these rums [Zacapa and Diplo Res Ex] were seen as the baseline for all other rums to be judged.  No longer.”  Thus wrote Wes Burgin over at the Fat Rum Pirate in an excellent July 2017 post suggesting that with social media and education, enthusiasts were becoming more knowledgeable and less apt to accept adulterated rums than ever before.

Yet in spite of that ideal, in spite of the ever-expanding knowledge-base of rums the world over, the Diplo remains enormously popular. It’s unlikely that there’s any rum drinker out there – junkie or not – who didn’t at some point have a fling with this plump Venezuelan señora.  Just about all rum writers have done a thing on it. Like the Bacardis, El Dorados and Zacapas, it’s one of those rums one can find just about anywhere, and for the new people coming to rum cold, it remains a staple, if not always a favourite.  

That is, of course, due to both its very affordable price, and because of is sweet placidity.  You don’t want expensive indie aggro? A light, easy-going drink? Something to relax with? Complex enough for Government work? No thinking required? Here’s your solution. That’s also the reason why it drops off the radar of those people who grow to take their rums seriously (if it doesn’t drive them into transports of righteous rage).  Diplomatico – marketed as Botucal in Germany, named after one of the farms from which the cane comes, though it’s exactly the same product – never bothered to punch it up, never worried about cask strength, never deigned to lose the dosing or adulteration, and sells briskly day in and day out.  The deep-diving rum chums just shake their heads and head for the exits to buy the latest indie casker, and discussions on Facebook about the matter are more likely than any other to end up in verbal fisticuffs.

Yet consider for a moment the page of this rum in the populist-driven, crowd-sourced “review” site RumRatings.  A top-end, well-known, mid-priced unadulterated rum issued at full proof like, say, the Foursquare Criterion has 13 ratings on that site. The Triptych has 11. The 2006 10 Year Old has 4, and the most popular Foursquare rum is the 9 year old 2005 Port Cask Finish with 71.  The Diplomatico in contrast has over 1,200, with most rating it between 8 and 9 out of 10 points. 

Surely neither longevity, nor rank please-as-many-as-possible populism are solely responsible for such a disparity. There’s got to be more to it than just that, a reason why it regularly appears on people’s answers to the constant question “What to start with?” — and I’m sorry but not everyone drinks a few hundred rums a year like us writers and festival junkies, and it isn’t enough to simply shrug, sniff condescendingly and say “some people just don’t know good rums.” If it is – as I suggest – a rum worth revisiting, then such popularity and esteem requires a cold, beady-eyed re-consideration.  We have to understand whether it has something more in its trousers, something subtle, that excites that kind of appreciation. It was in an effort to understand what lay behind the popularity of the Diplo that I deliberately sourced a bottle in Berlin in late 2017, and while my controls were a few stronger, purer rums from the Latin side, to my surprise the Diplo didn’t entirely choke even when ranked against them (I shall now pause for the incredulous expressions of indignation to pass), though for sure it never came close to exceeding any and raced to the bottom in fine style.

Part of all this is its relative simplicity compared to fierce and pungent rums now taking centre stage. The nose was a straightforward sweet toblerone, toffee, vanilla, butterscotch and caramel, very light and easy and butter-smooth, with what complexity there was being imparted by spices aimed at the sweet side – rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg – and a little nuttiness, and a hint of light fruit, all of which took real effort to separate out.  Hardly the most complex or intriguing smell ever to waft out of a rum bottle, and the vanilla and caramel were really too dominant to provide the sort of excellence the maker trumpets for itself.

Similar issues affect the palate.  Smooth – yes, warm – yes, comfortable – undoubtedly.  There was a little oak mixing things up here, but mostly the taste was muscovado sugar and caramel, vanilla, light fruits of indeterminate nature, and those same spices from the nose (cinnamon being at the forefront) with nothing particularly new or adventurous leading one into undiscovered territory.  Overall, even on the finish, and then judged overall, it had little beyond a pleasant, warm sort of sweet unaggressive nature only marginally redeemed by a light tart fruity note here or there, and the edge imparted by a little oak. Beyond that, it was way too sweet for my palate as it stands right now, and in conjunction with the controls it actually sinks even further because the dampening effect of the additions becomes self evident.

So, that adulteration. It’s been measured at 30-40 g/L of whatever-it-is, which puts it in the same league as The El Dorado 12 and 15, Rum Nation Millonario and the Cartavio XO, all of which, back in the day, I enjoyed, and all of which have subsequently slipped in my estimation in the years between then and now, and been relegated to what I refer to as “dessert rums.” But what exactly are they adding to their rum?  Back in 2010 when I wrote my original unscored review, the Distilleries Unidas website made tangential mention of flavouring additives (“Only…rich aromas and flavours are used to manufacture rums…” — this comment no longer appears); and Rob Burr remarked on the 2012 Inuakena review that a Venezuelan rum liqueur called Haciendo Saruro is added to the blend, but without corroboration (it was assumed he was speaking from insider knowledge).  So I think we can take it as a given that it’s been tarted up, and it’s up to each person who tries this rum to make up their own minds as to what that means to them. Personally, I no longer care much for the Diplomatico and its ilk.  It presents no real challenge.  It simply isn’t interesting enough and is too sweet and easy. That, however, obscures the key point that people like it precisely for those reasons. It sells well not in spite of these deficiencies (as they are, to me), but because of them…because the majority of drinkers consider these very same drawbacks as points of distinction, and if you doubt that and the unkillability of sweet, check out the hundreds of comments in response to “Don’t treat people like snobs because they like sweet rums” post on FB in December 2017. Since I’m not arrogant enough to believe that my tastes and my palate matter more, or should take precedence over others, I can simply suggest that people try more rums to get a feel for more profiles before praising it to the high heavens as some kind of ur-rum of the Spanish style.

Let us also concede that a rum like this has its place. On the negative side are all the issues raised above.  On the plus side of the ledger, for those who like these things, there is sweetness, smoothness and a stab at complexity.  It works fabulously as a standalone sipping drink when concentration and thought is not desired or required.  It’s not entirely an over-sugared mess like, oh, the A.H. Riise Navy rum. It makes a decent introduction to neat rums for those raised on over-spiced, over-flavoured rums or who came up through the ranks trying rums like Kraken, Captain Morgan, Sailor Jerry or Don Papa.  As one of the first steps in the world of rum, this ron remains a tough one to beat, and that’s why it should be on the list of anyone who is assembling the first home bar, and should be considered, for good or ill, one of the Key Rums of the World…even if, sooner or later, all true rum fans will inevitably move beyond it.

(74/100)

Dec 212017
 

#472

The question that arises in my mind when I try something from Foursquare at standard strength is whether it would be better stronger, or whether it succeeds on its own merits as it stands.  Long time readers of this site (both of you, ha ha) will know of my indifference to the Doorly’s XO, the R.L. Seale’s 10 YO and the Rum 66 12 Year Old, but ever since Alex over at Master Quill glowingly endorsed the Doorly’s 12 YO (and noted he didn’t buy the XO because of my review), I’ve been curious how it would fare – especially when compared with the Exceptional Cask series like the Zinfadel, Port and Criterion, let alone those amazing Habitation Velier collaborations.

The Doorly’s brand was acquired by Foursquare in 1993, and it’s possible that the emergence of the El Dorado 15 YO the year before (it was one of the first aged premium rum brands regularly and plentifully issued by a major house) might have had something to do with that; and much of Mr. Seale’s blending philosophy and barrel strategy made famous by Foursquare’s more recent rums is still  demonstrated in the Doorly’s lineup, though I feel it’s currently being overshadowed by the Exceptionals, relegating it to something of an also-ran in a connoisseur’s cabinet. It’s a blend of pot and column still rum, some 90% of which was aged in ex-bourbon barrels, and 10% in Madeira casks (12 years in each). The final result is married for a short time (no details on how long) and then bottled.

I think that a lot of how you approach this rum and finally rate it will depend on where you stand regarding rums as a whole, and where you are in your personal journey.  You like the Jamaican and Guyanese, or high power whites, or 55% agricoles?  This might strike you as subtler, quieter, perhaps even bland.  Prefer cask strength rums made by the indies, or Foursquare themselves? This one is likely to leave you frustrated at the untapped potential that never quite emerges. On the other hand, if growling ABV monsters and fierce pungency are not your thing, it would probably appeal in spades, be deemed a damned fine rum — and indeed, it is well regarded and held in high esteem by many, as a result of dialling into precisely those coordinates.

Well, let’s taste it and find out, then.  Nose first: it was a clear, quiet smelling experience, a stripped-down blunted Swiss army knife of almost-sharp twittering flavours led by a buttery salt caramel, burnt sugar, a bit of soft citrus (oranges rather than lemons), unripe cherries, pomegranate, cinnamon and nutmeg.  What sharpness there was seemed to be more imparted by the wood, as it listed towards some oak influence, and maybe vanilla.  Overall aromas were well integrated, and while for me it presented some of the same issues as the XO — too thin, too faint, too delicate — it wasn’t totally derailed by them either.

Having observed a frailty of the nose, I was prepared for something similar on the palate.  Sampling it confirmed the matter: it remained weak and that seriously impaired the delivery of both texture and taste.  Yet hang on, hold up a minute…it was reasonably complex and tasty too.  It led off with clear caramel notes, vanilla, some brine, faint molasses, an olive or two. Also chocolate, bananas, indeterminate fruits, creamy salted butter, toffee, some oakiness for bite and finally the nutmeg and cinnamon returned for a quick twirl on the dance floor. So that part was pretty good.  However, I was utterly unenthused by the quick finish, which seemed to be as wispy as a debutante’s handkerchief and provided nothing of consequence – oak, leather, a little tobacco and straw, more caramel and a vague winy note that intrigued but was gone way too quick. Sorry, but that finish was a big yawn-through….I blinked and it was gone.

Everything about the rum seems to showcase the dialled-down approach that was in vogue ten years ago but has now been overtaken by events and developments in the larger rumworld. That it’s a well-made, serviceable, standard-proof rum for those who have never gone further (and don’t want to), I concede, no issues.  It’s 12 years old, it has some subtleties and interesting tastes (the taste is quite good), goes well in a cocktail or solo, piques the interest and the palate nicely.  What it lacks is panache, style, heft, clarity, intensity….it misses the mark on real character. It remains a rum of enduring popularity, of course, but leaves a deep core rum fun wondering wistfully what it might have been. And then turning to the Criterion to find out.

(81/100)


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