Jul 052018
 

Photo from Angostura website

What’s surprising about this white triple-filtered column-still overproof – which keeps company with 151s like the Bacardi or Cavalier and others – is that it is not a complete fail, though it does resemble a massive ethanol delivery system that forces you to consider whether a visit to your place of worship is required before it comes alive and does a chestburster on your mosquito physique. It has a few points of interest about it, in spite of its fiery heat and hard punch…and I say that grudgingly, because overall, I don’t see much to shout about.

Part of the problem is the indifference with which – to me – it seems to be made.  I blame the triple filtration for this state of affairs. No real effort appears to have been pushed into elevating it beyond a high proof cocktail ingredient, and one gets this impression right away when (very carefully) nosing it, where the lack of any real complexity is disappointing.  Oh sure, it’s hot and sharp and very intense, but what did you expect? And what do you get for your trouble? — not much beyond sugar water, a few briny notes, some red olives and a small amount of acetones and coconut shavings. And maybe a green grape or two. In short, as West Indians would say, mek plenty plenty noise, but ain’ got enuff action.

The palate is usually where such overproofs really get into gear, pump up the revs and start laying rubber on your face.  Certainly that happened here: as a lip-burn and tongue-scorcher, it’s tough to beat. It presented as very oily and briny and what sweet there was sensed on the nose vanished like a fart in a high wind. There were tastes of dates, figs, soya and vegetable underlain with a weird kind of petrol undertone (quite faint, thankfully). Some nail polish and new paint slapped over freshly sawn lumber – but very little in the way of fruitiness, or a more solid underpinning that might make it a more interesting neat pour.  And the heat just eviscerates the finish, which, although giving some more sweet and salt, sugar water, soya, watermelon (at last – something to praise!), is too faint and dominated by the burn to be really satisfying.

Of course, this is a rum not meant to have by itself – few rums boosted to 75% and over really are, they’re meant for bartenders, not barflies. Too, stuff at that strength is treading in dangerous waters, because there are really only two options open to it: don’t age it at all (like the Neisson L’Esprit 70° Blanc and Sunset Very Strong 84.5%) and showcase as much of the youthful vigour and original taste as one can; or age it a little – not the one or two years of the Bacardi 151, but something more serious, like the SMWS Longpond R5.1 81.3% or the Barbados R3.5 74.8% or the really quite good R3.4 75.3%.

As a puncheon, named after the oversized barrels in which they were stored, this was developed in the early part of the last century as a cheap hooch for the plantation workers and the owners.  It was never really meant for commercial sale – yet for some reason it turned out so popular that the Fernandes (the family enterprise which originally made it on the Forres Park estate) issued it to market, and even after Angostura took over the company, they kept it as the only entrant in the insane-level-of-proof portion of their portfolio.

Like all rums brewed to such heights of strength, it sustains a level of intensity that most full-proof rums can barely maintain for even five minutes, just without many (or any) of their redeeming features.  That’s part of the problem for those who want a neat and powerful drink that’ll fuel their car or blow their hair back with equal ease – because there’s a difference between an overproof that uses extreme strength to fulfill an artistic master blender’s purpose, as opposed to one that just issues it because they can’t think of anything better to do. Unfortunately, here, this is a case of the latter being taken a few steps too far.

(#525)(73/100)


Other notes

  • While the Forres Puncheon I review here is made by Angostura, its antecedents date back much further, to the original company that created it, Fernandes: and that was so fascinating that I have devoted a separate biography of the Angostura-acquired  Fernandes Distillery to it, as it was too lengthy for inclusion in this review.
  • Sample provided by my correspondent Quazi4moto, who’s turned into something of a rum fairy of samples these days.  Big hat tip to the man.
Jun 242018
 

Tasting the Mezan XO is best done by trying it in conjunction with other rums of its strength (about 40%) because it’s a deceptively mild and seemingly reticent sort of product – so if you taste it with some stronger drinks it falters. It coyly presents as a weak and diffident product, and it’s only after sticking with it for a while that its attributes snap more clearly into focus and you realize how good it really is. I started out thinking it was simply too mild and too little was going on there, but by the end of the session I was a lot more appreciative of its quality.

Mezan is an independent bottler out of the UK, formed by a gent named Neil Matthieson who ran a spirits distribution company since the 1980s and used it as the parent company for Mezan in 2012 (he is the managing director of both). Following the usual route for an independent, they source barrels of various rums from around the world and bottle them in limited editions.  However, in the XO they have opted for issuing a blend of rums from Jamaica – not from single distillery, but from several, and The Fat Rum Pirate notes it as having two components from Worthy Park and Monymusk (there are others, unidentified) and Steve James over at the Rum Diaries blog wrote that he heard that the youngest part of the blend is four years old. I myself was told by a rep that all components of the blend were in the 18-24 months range, but that might have been just for the rum from my batch number (#4997).  I’d suggest ageing is continental.

According to Matt in his longform essay about the XO, Mr. Matthieson prefers to bottle at a strength in the low forties.  This has both positive and negative aspects – it becomes more accessible to people not used to cask strength rums, but at the price for the enthusiasts of weakening its clarity.  The nose of the XO makes this clear – it’s nice and aromatic…but thin, very thin. Sure, there are notes of pot still funkiness, brine, olives, dunder, rotten fruit, some plastic – it’s just that they’re faint and light and too wispy. That delicacy also permits the alcohol forward note to be more dominant than would otherwise be the case, and it presents more as something spicy and raw, than a delicate and nuanced rum.

The palate permits the low strength to come into its own, however.  Once one waits a while and allows oneself to get used to it, the flavours become quite a bit more distinct (though they remain light). Esters, overripe bananas and some nail polish to begin with, moving into a smorgasbord of rather light sweetness, plastic, brine, citrus and green apples – a sort of combination of fruits both fresh and “gone off”. Somehow this all works. And I think that the rum deserves a second and a third sip to pry out the nuances.  The finish is no great shakes, short and sharp and spicy with more crisp fruits and brine, but so quick that the memory one is left with is more of a young and feisty rum than a seriously aged one.

Certainly the overall impression one is left with is of a young blend, possessing enough complexity to warrant more careful consideration. No need to mix this if you don’t want to, it’s decent as is, as long as chirpy young Jamaicans are your thing.  As a Jamaican representative rated against the pantheon of better known and perhaps more impressive rums, though, it reminds me more of young and downmarket Appletons or J. Wray offerings than anything more upscale.

What makes the rum a standout is its price. Retailing in the UK at around £30 and of a reasonably plentiful outturn, it’s clear that the XO is an inexpensive way to get into the Jamaican style. There’s a lot of noise online the estate-specific rums like Monymusk, Clarendon, New Yarmouth, Worthy Park and Hampden (and that’s aside from Appleton itself), but not everyone always wants to pay the price for cask strength bruisers or indie bottlings that are so distinctly focused.  When it comes to an affordable, living-room strength blended rum that is middle-of-the-road funky and estery and works well as both a sipping drink or an ingredient into something more complicated, the Mezan Jamaican XO may be a very good place to start, no matter how you like drinking it. And at the very least, it won’t unduly dent your wallet if your own opinion turns out to be less than stellar.

(#523)(82/100)

Jun 172018
 

#521

Somehow, after a big splash in 2015-2016, Indonesian rums came and left the scene with equally and almost startling suddenness.  Although Haus Alpenz has been making a Batavia Arrack Van Oosten for many years (even decades, perhaps), it is a niche spirit, really, and not many know of it, and no, I haven’t tried it. My first encounter with the arracks came when I bought the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia rum in 2015 (and quite liked it), and within the year By The Dutch put this fascinating product out the door and then occasional photos began making the rounds on FB of Naga and Nusa Cana rums.  Shortly thereafter Matt Pietrek wrote one of his deep dives into the By the Dutch rum, and yet after all that, somehow they have almost vanished from the popular consciousness.

Perhaps it’s the renaissance of Bajan and Jamaican rums in those same years that stole the show, I don’t know – certainly over the last years the various social media are fuller of Bajan and Jamaican rum pictures and commentaries than just about anything else. Maybe it’s physical distribution, festival absences, word of mouth, Facebook posts (or lack thereof).  Whatever the case for its lack of mindshare, I suggest you give it a try, if only to see where rum can go…or where it has already been.

Part of what makes arrack interesting is the way it is fermented. Here some fermented red rice is mixed into the yeast prior to addition to the molasses and water (up to 5%), which undoubtedly impacts the final taste.  I was told by a By the Dutch rep that this particular spirit derives from sugar cane juice and fermented red rice cake, and is then twice distilled: once in a pot still, producing a distillate of about 30% ABV, and then again in another pot still to around 60-65%.  At that point it is laid to rest in barrels made of teak (!!) in Indonesia for a number of years and then shipped to Amsterdam (Matt implies it’s to Scheer) where it is transferred to 1000L oak vats. The final arrack is a blend of spirits aged 8 months, 3, 5 and 8 years, with the majority of the spirit being 3 and 5 years of age and bottled at 48% ABV.

A production process with so many divergent steps is sure to bring some interesting tastes to the table. It’s intriguing to say the least.  The nose, even at 48%, is remarkably soft and light, with some of that pot still action being quite evident in the initial notes: rotting banana skins, apples gone off and some funky Jamaican notes, if perhaps not as intense as a Hampden or worthy Park offering.  This then slowly — almost delicately — released light citrus, watery fruit and caramel hints, chamomile, cinnamon, green tea and bitter chocolate and a sort of easy sweetness very pleasing to smell.

It got better when I tasted it, because the strength came out more clearly – not aggressive, just very solid and crisp at the same time, sweet and clear, almost like an agricole with some oak thrown in for good measure.  The pot still origins were distinct, and taste of sweet fruits gone over to the dark side were handled well: apples, citrus, pears, gherkins, the very lightest hint of olives, more tea, green grapes, with cooking spices dancing around everything, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon.  Even the finish was quite aromatic, lots of esters, bananas, apples, cider and a sort of grassiness that was more hinted at than forcefully explored.

As an alternative to more commonly available rums, this one is good to try at least once. It doesn’t smack you in the face or try to damage your glottis – it’s too easy or that – and works well as both a sipping drink (if your tastes go that way), or something to chuck into a mai-tai or a negroni variation. One of the reasons why it should be tried and appreciated is because while it has tastes that suggest a Jamaican-Bajan hybrid, there is just enough variation here to make it a fascinating drink on its own merits, and shows again how rum is simply the most versatile, varied spirit available.   Plus, it’s quite a nifty rum by itself, sweet enough for those who like that, edgy enough for those who want more.

Now, with respect to the rum news all being about the western hemisphere’s juice: I don’t begrudge the French, Spanish or English Caribbean rum makers their glory — that would be deeply unpatriotic of me, even if one discounted the great stuff the islanders are making, neither of which is an option. There’s a reason they get just about 75% of the press, with the independents and Americans (north and south) getting the remainder.  But I just want to sound a note of caution about the blinkers such focus is imposing on our rumsight, because by concentrating on nothing but these, we’re losing sight of great stuff being made elsewhere – on the French islands, St Lucia, Grenada, Mexico, Japan…and Indonesia. From companies like By the Dutch. A stern and forbiddingly solid cask-strength rum this is not – but it’s original within its limits, eminently sippable for its strength, it’s an old, even ancient drink made new, and even if one does not immediately succumb to its languorous charms, I do believe it’s worth taking out for a try.

(84/100)


Other notes

The bottle clearly says “aged up to 8 years”.  Understand what this means before you think you’re buying an 8 Year Old rum.

May 292018
 

#517

Writing about the Milroy Jamaican 26 year old, I rather sourly remarked that there was absolutely nothing to go on regarding the provenance of the rum.  No such issue afflicts the 1988 edition of the El Dorado 25 year old rum, which is one of the most recognized premiums ever made. Even increased competition from  other Caribbean (or independent) makers has done little to dull its lustre….except among the cognoscenti, who wouldn’t rinse their glencairns with it.

Which, for the uninitiated, seems somewhat extreme.  After all, just look at the stats: bottled at 43%, and it’s a true 25 year old rum – nobody has ever put a dent in DDL’s age statements – made by one of the most famous brands in the rumiverse, using the near legendary stills in a masterful assembly: various sources note that the marques of EHP (wooden coffey), PM (double wooden pot still), AN (French Savalle Still) are all part of the blend, and while there is some variation from batch to batch, overall the rum remains remarkably consistent.

So what’s the issue? Well, by now, anyone who has read about DDL’s El Dorado rums is – or should be – aware that they practice dosing.  That is, the addition of caramel syrup or sugar or whatever, in order to smoothen it out and make it more sippable, more elegant, more rounded. This is of course never acknowledged or noted on the label, and it took private hydrometer tests to ascertain that the El Dorado 25 YO 1980 version had around 50g/L of adulterants, and the El Dorado 25 YO 1986 around 39 g/L (I don’t have specs on the 1988).  These additions certainly do their duty admirably – the rum is smooth, quiet, an awesome after-dinner sip. But there’s no free lunch in this world, and the price that is paid for that sippability is a muted profile – a muffled, muddled, addled, over-sweetened mess that obscures the high points of a rum that old.

Nosing it makes it clear right off the bat.  It’s slightly heated, fat and rounded – almost thickly aromatic. The dusky notes of anise and caramel, molasses, coconut and bananas are evident, but just barely. With some effort and concentration, raisins, apricots and prunes can be sensed…almost.  It feels toned down, and that’s not just a function of the relatively low strength, but also the suppressive nature of the dosage. And even on the nose the sweetness is self-evident.

This leads to a palate that is, at best, indeterminate – at worst it’s a travesty of what a rum aged for twenty five years should be. I spent half an hour sipping this rum in an attempt to take it apart, provide better tasting notes…and at the end, all I came up with was vanilla, toffee, molasses and licorice. There were some white chocolate and coffee notes.  Vague flowers. Fleshy fruits, very ripe oranges, faint faint faint. And over it all was the sweetness and liqueur-like nature of the whole tasting experience which was simply too much. What this also did was to make the finish practically nonexistent. It was blattened flat by a sort of cloying syrupy-ness, and no subtle tastes really emerged to make the close an enjoyable one.  

If you think that this review of the ED-25 is relatively moderate and temperate – or even bland – you’re quite right, so let me provide some extra personal details: the day I tasted this thing I was hopping mad with it inside of five minutes, and the very first notes in my book started out “Oh for f**k’s sake!!”  I wanted to write an R-rated review.  I wanted to eviscerate it with foul language that would make a Mudland porknocker cringe. And eventually, I had to write this review four times from scratch lest my disappointed fury bleed too much into the narrative.

And I’ll tell you why I was so pissed off – because I know there’s better under the hood of this deliberately triple-locked supercar. Because you can sense the quality, the brilliance of what could have been, lurking underneath the dreck — but are kept away from it by a freakin’ wall of additives neither asked for nor wanted, but which it was felt necessary to inflict. Because I’ve eaten labba and drunk creek water and want more out of the country.  Because I know DDL can do, and has done, better. It’s like the Little Caner dumping on a school test because he was too lazy to study even though he knew the material inside out. And like his results when he pulls this crap, were they to be given, the ED-25 (1988) doesn’t deserve to be rated. I’m that incensed.

So I’m not going to score this rum.  What’s the point? Those who want a five hundred dollar hooch with a cool presentation and excellent age won’t care enough to read this; those who despise dosage and adulteration in any form will never spring the coin, and the more knowledgeable folks in the middle know there’s better out there for less – sometimes even from El Dorado – and will be neither surprised nor appreciative. I’m going to suggest that if you want a smooth, sweet, well-aged rum and can get it for free as part of a tasting or a sample set, then by all means, go for it. Want to impress people who know nothing about rum, here’s one to wow their socks off. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

(Unscored)


Other notes

In the days after this post got shared on FB, it got a remarkable amount of traction in the comment section, especially in Rum Club Canada and The Ministry of Rum.  Most agreed, and others were, I imagine, amused by the idea of the Caner losing his temper.

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 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 (any one, 1980, 1986 or 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