Mar 132017
 

Rumaniacs Review #30 | 0430

This rum is one of the reasons I love the spirits made so long ago – they shine a light into the way things were back in the day.  Alfred Lamb started making dark rum from West Indian bulk rum back in 1849, ageing his barrels in cellars below the Thames and laid claim to making “real” Navy rum.  These days the company seems to make supermarket rum more than any kind of serious earth-shaking popskull…but the potential remains, as this rum (almost) points out.  It’s issued by United Rum Merchants, who trace their own heritage back to Lyman “Lemon” Hart in 1804 (yes, that Lyman Hart).  Back during WW2 and the Blitz (in 1941) Keeling and Lamb were both bombed out of their premises and URM took them under their wing in Eastcheap. It’s a little complicated, but these days Pernod Ricard seems to own the brand and URM dissolved in 2008.

Put to rest in Dumbarton (Scotland), matured in three puncheons and 510 bottles issued around 1990, so it’s forty years old…with maybe some change left over. It’s from Jamaica, but I don’t know which distillery. Could actually be a blend, which is what Lamb’s was known for.

Colour – gold-amber

Strength – 40%

Nose – Well, unusual is a good word to describe this one.  The leather of old brogues, well polished and broken in with shoe polish and acetone, perhaps left in the sun too long after a long walk in the Highlands.  Old veggies, fruits, bananas, light florals, all perhaps overripe – kinda dirty, actually, though not entirely in a bad way – somehow it gels.  Vanilla, brine, a certain meatiness – let’s just call it funk and move on.  Wish it was stronger, by the way.

Palate – Ahh, crap, too damned light.  I’ve come to the personal realization that I want Jamaicans to have real torque in their trousers and 40% don’t get me there, sorry.  Oh well.  So…light and somewhat briny, citrus and stewed apples, some flowers again, some sweet of pancake syrup and wet compost, leather.  It seems to be more complex than it is, in my opinion.  Plus, it’s a bit raw – nothing as relatively civilized as another venerable Jamaican, the Longpond 1941.  Still, big enough, creamy enough for its age and strength.

Finish – Pleasingly long for a 40% rum, yay!.  Vanilla, leather, some brine and olives and fruits and then it slowly fades.  Quite good actually

Thoughts – A solid Jamaican rum, feels younger and fresher than any forty year old has a right to be, even if it doesn’t quite play in the same league as the Longpond 1941.  Makes me wish Lamb’s would stop messing around with “everyone-can-drink-it” rums, which are made for everyone, and therefore no-one.

(82/100)

Nov 252015
 
LP_Navy

Photo Courtesy of duRhum.com

Leave aside the hype and controversy, and try this without preconceptions. You may be surprised, intrigued and even pleased with the result.  I was, I was and I wasn’t, not entirely…but you might be.

(#242. 83/100)

***

If by now you are not aware that Lost Spirits out of California has developed a “molecular reactor” that supposedly mimics the ageing of a twenty year rum in six days, then you have not been paying attention (or aren’t that deep into rum geekdom).  The idea is not itself altogether new, and detractors have sniffed that snake oil sellers have been talking forever about using magical means, family recipes and all kinds of fancy methods to speed up ageing and the profile of old spirits, in products that aren’t actually aged.  Still, with the continual advances in modern tech, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that some smart guy in a garage somewhere can perhaps do such a thing. Certainly Lost Spirits makes that claim.  They have intense enthusiasm, hand built stills, and a good knowledge of chemistry and biology to assist in replicating more traditional methods of production without actually using many of them. The output is more important than the process, you might say.

The Navy Style rum they have made is a booming near-overproof rum that smartly elevates the North American drinking public’s perception of rum by issuing it at 68%, and which comes in a tall slim bottle that has an old fashioned label channelling the aesthetic design philosophy of both technology and 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery (that’s what Josh Miller called “steampunk” in his own recent review of the rum). Just to get the background out of the way, this thing is unadulterated, without additives of any kind, including colouring.  It is made from baking grade molasses and evaporated sugar cane juice (I suppose we could call that “honey”).

The nose was intriguing: an interesting fusion of very hot aromas, both familiar and strange.  Initially it presented with vanilla, prunes, black grapes, some molasses, a faint hint of anise, some oak, and a bit of clean citrus.  But sharper ethanol and less appealing mineral notes of wet charcoal and saltpetr emerged at the back end, and here I was left wondering where the meld of Jamaican dunder and fruitiness of the Demeraras and Bajans was hiding itself.

Similar thoughts came to mind as I tasted it. Yes it was bold and very heated – we could hardly expect less from a rum this strong – I just thought it was all a bit discombobulated.  There were salty, green-olive notes, some soy and grappa and red wine, all mixed up with an undercurrent of molasses.  It was quite rough, and stampeded across the palate without the finesse that other rums of that strength have shown is possible.  Adding water ameliorated that somewhat, and brought other flavours out of hiding – brown sugar, vegetals, dried grass, more undefined citrus zest, and a tang of more red grapes, caramel and molasses, all tied up with sharper oak tannins and ginger root.  The finish, as befits such a strong drink, was long and dry, with little that was new arriving onstage – oak, some wet coffee grounds, more of that strange mineral background, and a twitch of herbs.

Lost Spirits have made a rum that they want to show off as a poster boy for their technology: whether they succeeded in creating a Navy rum is questionable. There are quite a few variations of the type – Lamb’s, Pusser’s, Wood’s 100, Potter’s, the Black Tot to name but a few – so much so that true or not, right or wrong, those are the profiles that the consuming public sees and expects to be represented by the sobriquet “Navy”.  On that level, the Lost Spirit rum doesn’t come up to snuff.  And while other reviewers have remarked on the esters they sensed (which is part of the selling point of the rum, that genuflection to old-style dunder pits), I didn’t find there were that many complex spicy, fruity and floral notes that would give any of the more traditional rum makers cause to choke into their tasting glasses.

Recently mon ami Cyril of DuRhum took apart three Lost Spirits rums, and flat out declared that in his estimation they could not possibly class with the very rums they were seeking to supplant.  Both Josh at Inu-a-kena and Tiare over by A Mountain of Crushed Ice were much more positive in their evaluations, as was Serge at Whiskyfun. I am neither as displeased by Lost Spirits as Cyril was, nor as enthusiastic as my other friends – to my mind the company and its tech still have quite some way to go if they intend to take on really aged big guns made by master blenders with many generations of experience backing them up. Western nations are great proponents of the notion that technology can conquer everything, and maybe they’re right…but only sometimes.

However, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, and give Lost Spirits credit for what they have achieved. I liked the strength and intensity, for example – LS has had the balls to take American rums past the 40% that dominates their market.  The taste was intriguing, original, not entirely bad, and there were many aspects of the profile I enjoyed. Where it fails is in its resultant product, which wanders too far afield while failing to cohere.  And therefore it falls short on its promise: the promise that they could produce a profile of any aged rum without actually ageing it. That simply didn’t happen here.  

I’m a firm believer in technology and its potential – but as with many brand new ideas and their execution, the hype so far is greater than the reality. The subtleties of a great aged rum are so multi-faceted, so enormously complex, and so chaotically intertwined with age and barrel and distillate and fermentation and even terroire, that while one day I have no doubt a combination of physics, chemistry and biology (and chutzpah) will fool a taster into believing he’s got an undiscovered masterpiece on his hands, this rum, for today, isn’t quite it.

Other notes:

Control rums this time around were a few old Demeraras, the BBR Jamaica 1977, Woods 100 and of course the Black Tot. It’s in the comparison that the LS Navy 68% snaps more clearly into focus and you see where it both succeeds and falls short.

Note that Navy rums, according to Mr. Broome’s informative booklet on the ‘Tot, only had a small percentage of the blend come from Jamaica (sailors didn’t like it).  Yet most of the online literature on Lost Spirits places great emphasis on how they are recreating the resultant profile of dunder pits and high ester counts (more or less associated with Jamaica), when in fact this was not the major part of the navy style of rum.

Also… just because I don’t (thus far) endorse or highly praise this line of rums, doesn’t mean others don’t.  North Americans are quite positive in their assessments, while European writers thus far remain silent (perhaps due to availability). So some references for your research, should you be curious:

Oct 222015
 

Black tot 1

Bottled history.  Nothing more, nothing less.

(#237. 87/100)

***

“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,” remarked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I remembered that bit of wisdom before embarking on our tryst with this rum.  And to ensure that my long anticipation for the Tot wasn’t bending my feeble mind (I bought the bottle 2014, and tasted it for the first time almost a full year later) I tempered my judgement by trying it three times, with the Skeldon 1973 32 year old, BBR 1977 36 year old, a Velier Caroni and the Samaroli Barbados 1986.  Just to be sure I wasn’t getting too enthusiastic you understand. I had to be sure. I do these things so you don’t have to.

As much as the G&M Longpond 1941, St James 1885 or the J. Bally 1929, to name a few, the near-legendary Black Tot Last Consignment is one of the unicorns of the rum world.  I’m not entirely convinced it should be so – many craft makers issue releases in lots of less than a thousand bottles, while some 7,000 bottles of this are in existence (or were).  Nor is it truly on par with some of the other exceptional rums I’ve tried…the reason people are really willing to shell out a thousand bucks, is that whiff of unique naval pedigree, the semi-mystical aura of true historical heritage.  A rum that was stored for forty years (not aged, stored) in stone flagons, and then married and bottled and sold, with a marketing programme that would have turned the rum into one of the absolute must-haves of our little world…if only it wasn’t quite so damned expensive.

I don’t make these points to be snarky. After all, when you taste it, what you are getting is a 1960s rum and that by itself is pretty nifty.  But there’s an odd dearth of hard information about the Tot that would help an average drinking Joe to evaluate it (assuming said Joe had the coin). About all you know going in is that it come from British Royal Navy stocks left over after the final rum ration was issued to the Jolly Jack Tars on Black Tot Day (31st July, 1970 for the few among you who don’t weep into your glasses every year on that date), and that it was released in 2010 on the same day. No notes on the rum’s true ageing or its precise components are readily available.  According to lore, it supposedly contains rums from Barbados, Guyana (of course), Trinidad, and a little Jamaica, combining the dark, licorice notes of Mudland, the vanillas and tars of the Trinis and that dunderesque whiffy funk of the Jamaicans.  And, the writer in me wants to add, the fierce calypso revelry of them all. Complete with mauby, cookup, doubles, rice and peas, pepperpot and jerk chicken.

Black Tot 1

All that aside, the rum’s presentation is exceptional. A wooden box of dark wood (walnut? oak?). A booklet written by Dave Broom on the background to the rum. A copper plated tot container. A tot ration card facsimile. And a bottle whose cork was covered with a hard, brittle wax sealant that Gregers, Cornelius and Henrik laughed themselves silly watching me try to cut off. The bottle itself was a stubby barroom style bottle with a good cork.  No fault to find on the appearance, at all.  Believe me, we were all raring to try this one.

The aromas first: at 54.3%, I expected more sharpness than the Tot exhibited, and enjoyed the deep and warm nose. Initially, anise and slightly chocolate-infused fumes billowed out of our glasses in well controlled balance.  Cardboard, musty hay, caramel and some tar and tobacco juice (maybe that was the Trinis speaking up?) followed swiftly.  The official literature suggests that the Jamaican part of the blend was minimal, because sailors didn’t care for it, but what little there was exerted quite a pull: dunder and a vaguely bitter, grassy kind of funk was extremely noticeable.  Here was a rum, however, that rewarded patience, so it was good that our conversation was long and lively and far-reaching.  Minutes later, further scents of brine and olives emerged, taking their turn on the stage before being replaced in their turn by prunes, black ripe cherries, leavened with sharper oak tannins, and then molasses, some caramel, smoke, and then (oddly enough), some ginger and dried smoked sausages snuck in there. It was very good…very strong with what we could term traditional flavours.  Still, not much new ground was broken here. It was the overall experience that was good, not the originality.

Good thing the palate exceeded the nose.  Here the strength came into its own – the Tot was a borderline heavy rum, almost mahogany-dark, quite heated on the tongue, with wave after wave of rich dark unsweetened chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, oak deftly kept in check.  Thick meaty flavours (yeah, there were those smoked deli meats again). It was a bit dry, nothing to spoil its lusciousness.  We put down our glasses, talked rum some more, and when we tried it again, we noted some salty, creamy stuff (an aggressive brie mixing it up with red peppers stuffed with cheese in olive oil, was the image that persisted in my mind).  Nuts, rye bread, some coffee. And underlying it all was the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore straight out of a gothic novel.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the finish failed a little – it was dry, quite long, so no complaints on that score – it just added little more to the party than the guests we had already seen. Smoke, tannins, aromatic tobacco, some molasses again, a little vegetal stuff, that was about it.  Leaving aside what I knew about it (or discovered later), had I tasted it blind I would have felt it was a rather young rum (sub-ten-year-old), with some aged components thrown in as part of the blend (but very well done, mind).

Which may not be too far from the truth. Originally the rum handed out in the 18th and 19th centuries was a Barbados- or Jamaican-based product.  But as time went on, various other more complex and blended rums were created and sold to the navy by companies such as Lamb’s, Lemon Hart, C&J Dingwall, George Morton and others. Marks were created from estates like Worthy Park, Monymusk, Long Pond, Blue Castle (all in Jamaica); from Mount Gilboa in Barbados; from Albion and Port Mourant in Guyana; and quite a few others. Gradually this fixed the profile of a navy rum as being one that combined the characteristics of all of these (Jamaica being the tiniest due to its fierce pungency), and being blended to produce a rum which long experience had shown was preferred by the sailors. E.D.&F. Man was the largest supplier of rums to the navy, and it took the lead in blending its own preferred style, which was actually a solera – this produced a blend where the majority of the rum was less than a decade old, but with aspects of rums much older than that contained within it.

The problem was that the depot (and all records about the vats and their constituent rums) was damaged, if not outright destroyed during the 1941 Blitz.  In effect this means that what we were looking at here was a rum, blended, and aged solera style, that was in all likelihood re-established in the 1940s only, and that means that the majority of the blend would be from the sixties, with aged components within it that reasonably date back to twenty years earlier. And that might account for the taste profile I sensed.

So now what?  We’ve tasted a sorta-kinda 1960s rum, we’ve accepted that this was “the way rums were made” with some serious, jowl-shaking, sage nods of approval. We’ve established it has a fierce, thick, dark taste, as if a double-sized magnum of Sunset Very Strong ravished the Supreme Lord VI and had a gently autistic child. It had a serious nose, excellent taste, and finished reasonably strong, if perhaps without flourish or grandeur.  The question is, is it worth the price?

Now Pusser’s bought the recipe years ago and in theory at least, they’re continuing the tradition.  Try their Original Admiralty Blend (Blue Label), the Gunpowder Strength or the fifteen year old, and for a lot less money you’re going to get the same rum (more or less) as the Jolly Jack Tars once drank. Why drop that kinda cash on the Tot, when there’s something that’s still being made that supposedly shares the same DNA?  Isn’t the Pusser’s just as good, or better? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s better, no (not least because of the reported 29 g/l sugar added). But at over nine hundred dollars cheaper, I have to wonder whether it isn’t a better bargain, rather than drinking a bottle like the Tot, with all its ephemeral transience. (Not that it’s going to stop anyone, of course, least of all those guys who buy not one but three Appleton 50s at once).

So this is where your wallet and your heart and your brain have to come to a compromise, as mine did. See, on the basis of quality of nose and palate and finish – in other words, if we were to evaluate the rum blind without knowing what it was – I’d say the Black Tot last Consignment is a very well blended product with excellent complexity and texture.  It has a lot of elements I appreciate in my rums, and if it fails a bit on the back stretch, well, them’s the breaks. I’ll give what I think is a fair score that excludes all factors except how it smells, tastes and makes me feel. Because I have to be honest – it’s a lovely rum, a historical blast from the past, and I don’t regret getting it for a second.

At the end, though, what really made it stand out in my mind, was the pleasure I had in sharing such a piece of rum heritage with my friends.  I have cheaper rums that can do the trick just as easily.  But they just wouldn’t have quite the same cachet. The same sense of gravitas. The overall quality. And that’s what the money is for, too.

Other notes:

I’m aware this review is a bit long. I tend to be that way, get really enthusiastic, when a rum is very old, very pricey or very very good. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one applies here.

Sep 032015
 

D3S_8920

It’s all a little bit, well, funky.  There’s an element of crazy about, it, perhaps deliberately created, perhaps not, which is almost in defiant contrast to more traditional PMs.  All things considered, this rum raises my ire and hurts my heart, both at the same time.  In it I see all that craft makers aspire to, while somehow failing to realize both its and their own potential.

(#230 / 84/100)

***

Last time around I looked at the quietly impressive PM 1990, which I tasted in conjunction with the PM 1999.  You’d think that with core distillate being the same, and with the same port finishing, the results would differ only in the details.  Yeah.  No.  The 1999, too well made to ignore, turned out so different from its sibling that I spent ages with it just to make sure I wasn’t being taken for a ride. It’s an illustration of how similar origins, combined with some chaos theory, leads to a remarkably divergent outcome

As before, the Port Mourant wooden double pot still supplied the core distillate; it was aged until 2013 in oak, and like the 1999-2010, and the 1990-2007, it was left to rest in port pipes for an extra finish, at that same unadventurous 46% that just makes me shrug my shoulders.  When I inquired about the Peru 8 Year Old strength, they responded, “40% suits the rum well, in our opinion,” and I think they have the same opinion here. To their own detriment, maybe.  One or two rums at less than cask-strength I can accept, but when the entire range never varies between 40-46%, I have to question the logic (beyond trying to sell as many as possible to more conventional purchasers). If other independent bottlers can take their barrels out for a spin and crank them up a shade just to see where they can take their audience, I see no reason why an outfit that made the magnificent PM 1980 can’t occasionally break out of their own self-imposed corsets.

Anyway, so, we had a reddish bronze rum here, nicely aged, affordably priced.  On the pour some of the expected notes came out immediately: what made me retreat a metaphorical step was its unexpected aggressiveness.  The thing lunged out of the glass with an attitude, was sharp and unlike its other brothers (and other PMs I’ve been fortunate enough to try)…it did not display heavy, brooding notes of enchanted forests, but instead the harsh spearing glares of desert sunlight.  Initial notes of dusty hay, chopped fruits, some mangoes and papayas were there, gone very fast, a little smoke, some tannins from the oak.  Leaving the rum to open some more brought out secondary scents of anise, smoke, leather, some dark chocolate, green grapes, and it was all nowhere near as deeply luscious as the 1990…no idea why.  There was a shimmering clarity to the rum which was intriguing, yet not entirely appealing. The mix of light and heavy components wasn’t working for me.

The taste moved on from there…not nearly as full bodied as the other PMs in my experience, at all.  More of that light sharpness, a rapier compared to the more elemental battleaxes of even the 1990 variation.  Some of the richness of the others (even made by Bristol themselves) was missing here, and I really was not that impressed with the result.  Tastes were decent, can’t complain too much about that – there were raisins, black grapes, prunes, figs and some dark chocolate to contend with, all interlaced with some sharp bitterness of oak which thankfully was not predominant.  With water, the chocolate started to assert some biceps, as did a slightly drier element, plus fresh brewed black tea and vanilla, and even a flirt of feintiness and some other more winey notes from the port finish.  I seem to remember reading somewhere that a smidgen of sugar had been added to this rum, but I didn’t really sense any – if true, it couldn’t have been much.  On the fade it was dry and spicy, with some crushed walnuts, anise, more fruit and a sly background of molasses and brown sugar: that and the nose were the two best parts of the rum, for me.

My dissatisfaction with this rum stems from what appears to be two differing characteristics marrying uneasily – the dour, anise-led, brown-sugar profile of a PM, and something lighter and sharper, younger, friskier.  It’s like an old fart in his Bentley trying to make nice with a coed driving a 370Z. So, is it, or will it be, a successful commercial rum?  I think so.  It suggests an ironic future for Bristol – they bring a well known, well-loved distillate to the stage, age it decently, make it reasonably, price it well, issue it at an agreeable strength, and I’m sure if it hasn’t already flown off the shelves, it will – and yet, this very success might prevent them from making any more of those genuinely fantastic PM-1980-style rums of which I am convinced they are capable.  What a shame.

 

Other notes

For a much more positive review of the 1999, read Marco’s take, with all his usual and remarkable historical detail, here.

There is another 1999 bottled in 2010 and yet another bottled in 2014 (the latter without the port finish).

May 212015
 

D3S_1673

When you drink full proof and overproof rums for a long time, many forty percenters can seem, well…a shade pusillanimous.  No such issue afflicts the 62.7% full proof of Albion 1989, ‘cause that thing looks and  feels and samples like it’s about to father a nation.

(#215 / 91/100)

***

 

The Albion 1994 was power and passion and style all wedded together in a remarkable fusion, and my only regret has always been that I couldn’t get more. It was preceded by a version from 1983, 1986, and this one from 1989. These days, the only place you’ll find either is from a collector or on the secondary market.  And that wasn’t helped by the paucity of output for the 1989 either.

I’m always whining about craft makers bottling too few rums in their single barrel or cask strength issues, yet this one is bordering on the ridiculous – Velier only issued 108 bottles of the Albion 1989. Still, points must go to Luca Gargano, who resisted the temptation to blend this miniscule output with something else, and simply took what he could from the single barrel in 2008, added nothing, took away nothing, diluted nothing, tampered with nothing.  And there you are.

When I poured the dark amber rum into my glass in Paris a while back (I was shamelessly pilfering tasting notes on anything in grabbing range, nearly knocking over poor Serge Valentin in my haste to get my grubby paws on this one), it was like coming home. Nosing it, I was struck anew how amazing it was that a rum can be made at that kind of strength and yet still maintain a smoothness of profile that doesn’t do a rabid dog imitation on your senses. The rum’s nose was immense – it smelled thick, creamy, like a melting licorice waterfall; black grapes, anise, caramel, burnt sugar billowed up, being chased by the sweet fresh honey from a cracked comb.  I thought I’d get some wax or rubber notes, but nope, none here.

The taste of the 1989 was wired up, juiced up, and electrified like the Tokyo downtown, and you got into it immediately. I remember just shaking my head with admiration, even awe, after the first sip. The palate was full bodied, without equivocation.  Thick and creamy, surprisingly sweet, and not dry or briny – but there was tobacco and rubber floating around in the background, some furniture polish and tar (actually quite similar to a Caroni).  Dried fruits emerged, mango and papaya, some salt in the back taste.  I added some water and it continued providing new, strong notes of vanilla, nuts, aromatic pipe tobacco and smoke, leading to a long, long finish, with rubber, melting tar, more smoke, more caramel, more vanilla.  I kept a glass charged with this stuff for literally an hour, always coming back to it, always finding something else and still probably missed something.

Albion 1989

I’ve always enjoyed experiments in the craft like this, where the makers change just a single coordinate in the standard equation of the rum universe just to, I dunno, mess with it and see what’ll happen. Here, that’s a hell of a lot.  Even with the overall excellent stable of rums Velier makes (and that’s plenty), there are rums and then there are rums. This, in my opinion, is one of the latter.

See, a rum like, oh, a Bacardi for instance, sells so much that it creates its own weather system in the spirits world.  The Albion 1989 is nowhere near that league – at best it’s an intense, localized twister with a shard of lightning thrown in.  Can you see yourself rushing out to experience that?  Not likely.  But if you’re a person looking at the world through slightly askew lenses, the phenomenal power and quality of something this spectacular cannot be overstated and after you’ve experienced it, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever worry too much, in rum terms, about another cloudy day, threatening rain.


Other notes:

  • Like the 1994, it is remarked as being from a wooden continuous still, about which I have my doubts.
  • Distilled 1989, bottled 2008, 108 bottles.
Aug 052013
 

D7K_2782

 

Rich, simply flavoured, overproofed Navy-style rum that has a skinnier corpus than expected

(#176. 80/100)

***

There’s nothing much I can tell you about Wood’s Rum Distillery itself because there’s not much online about it (and my books barely speak to the big names so what hope is there for the small ones?), but the brand did exist for over a century before being acquired by William Grant in 2002 – these are the boys who also own Sailor Jerry and the OVD rum brands and supposedly dabble in minor whiskies like Glenfiddich and Balvenie (or so rumour has it). I wish, on the strength of what I tasted here, that I knew more about the company’s origins and how it got into the Navy rum market in days of yore. It’s perhaps kind of appropriate that I bought it at Heathrow, Britain’s largest modern equivalent to the old ports.

The first noticeable, unmistakeable aromas that billowed forth as I cracked the cheap tinfoil cap, were huge, in-your-face biffs of molasses, licorice and coffee. They were deep and dark and rich and had it not been for the rather raw profile overall, I could be forgiven for thinking the rum was an old Demerara from Enmore, or even a Dictador 20 on steroids. Which is not too surprising, because Woods made a rum here which took the characteristic dark pot still distillates from DDL in Guyana (one source suggests some column distillate is used as well, about which I have my doubts, but okay), aged them in oak for up to three years and then bottled the result without gelding the poor thing to 40%…but remained at a chest-hair-curling 57%. Drink this neat and you’ll feel like a hobbit drinking with Treebeard. So good for them, methinks. The intensity remained, the darkness persisted, in any kind of cocktail the tastes stayed true, and frankly, Navy rums should be a tad more oomphed up than the norm, otherwise they wouldn’t (to my mind anyway) be Navy rums.

D7K_2783

What about the taste? Well, pretty much what you would expect, all in all (come on, were you really expecting a swan to emerge from an eighteen-quid duckling?). Woods 100 was a dark red, almost black rum — which had been part of the initial attraction for me — poured inkily into the glass, and when sipped conformed as closely to the anticipated profile as one James Bond movie does to another: spicy, rich, dark melange of flavours promised by the nose. And these were the same molasses, burnt sugar, coffee and licorice overtones, which buried the subtler elements as completely as an alpine avalanche. Sure, I found sly and supple hints of chopped fruits, cinnamon, vanilla, ripe cherries and cashews, but not enough to really stand out…the balance was all towards the dominant notes. The finish was, as befitted an overproof, long and lasting, giving more of the molasses and burnt sugar, quite heated and a shade dry. But, of course, with claws.

It should be pointed out that I felt the rum teetered on the edge of being medium bodied, because it was harsher on the tongue and one the fade than I had anticipated, thinner (perhaps I’ve been spoiled by El Dorados)…there’s an element of rawness to it, a lack of refinement and couth which points to the short maturation. Still, it’s young, it’s brawny, it’s cheap, it’s not like I should expect a miracle: like any young stud, strength is the selling point, not staying power or finnesse.

There are many rums like Wood’s on my shelf, which says a lot for my affections when it comes to sweaty, prole-centric, cane-cutter rums I don’t necessarily sip. Cabot Tower 100, Favell, Young’s Old Sam are the first that spring to mind, but also Robert Watson, some of the old Enmores (better made, older and smoother but not quite as cheerily nutso as this ‘un), Pusser’s or Lamb’s. I’d place this one about on par with the Cabot’s (which scored 78).

D7K_2784

But y’know, Demerara rum seem to be good no matter what, and that is particularly true of the wooden pot still products. Whether they are made to sip and savour (like BBR’s Port Morant 1975 or Bristol Spirits PM 1980) or to get one hammered (all the others named above), they all have that deep, rich fruity molasses note within their variations, and this one stands forward to take its place loudly and proudly (even obnoxiously) among all the others. The fact that many online shop-commentaries resound with the plaudits of ex Royal Navy men who esteem Woods above just about any other Navy rum says all, I think, that needs to be said about this cheerful, powerful, unpretentious cask-strength rum.

 

Other notes

In passing, why name it “100” when it’s actually 114 proof? Well, here I’d refer you to my essay on poofage, but in fine, in the old maritime days, 100 proof was a measure of the least (most diluted) ratio of alcohol to water which would still support the combustion of gunpowder. And that equated to about 57% ABV.

 

 

 

Mar 242013
 

First posted 01 October 2010 on Liquorature.

(#038)(Unscored)

***

Lemon Hart is an instructive case study in how one can chose a rum without knowing a damned thing about it. As I’ve noted on more than one occasion, if you go into a store without a blessed clue, you are down to three bases for your decision and only three: the price; the look; and knowledge you have when you enter the joint. Anything different is somebody else choosing for you.

So here, what did I have? Well, the price for a flattie, which was less than twenty bucks; the look, which was simple and unadorned and referred to Demerara – perusers of my writing will know I have a soft spot for the old sod; and my knowledge.  Admittedly, I do have a bit of a larger base of knowledge than some, and so I had certain advantages there.

Knowing the history of the brand though, doesn’t mean anything.  It’s how good the rum in this brand is, in this bottle, that counts.  And I had never had any of Lemon Hart’s variations before, so I couldn’t tell whether any of its cousins were any good and extrapolate up or down, and therefore…well, in the end, I guessed.  How disappointing is that?

Lemon Hart owes its making to the Navy Rums of yore.  I’ve covered this in more depth in my review on the Pusser’s, but to recap, the British Royal Navy, as far back as 1655 until they abolished the practice in 1970, regularly issued a tot of rum to all hands in order to ward off scurvy (they added lime juice to the mix which is why I mentioned before that rum has been mixed since the beginning of its existence, and why Jack Tars are called limeys even today).  Navy rum by tradition is not heavily sugared or added to, which is also part of its distinctive cachet: Lemon Hart, Pusser’s and Lamb’s all pretend to this inheritance (for my money, the Pusser’s makes the strongest case, but that’s just me). Lemon Hart was one of the original suppliers of rum to the Navy, beginning in 1804; Alfred Lamb came a few decades later with his London Dock rum.  Both used raw rum stock that came from the Caribbean, mostly the dark, full bodied rums of Guyana.  Indeed, Lemon Hart states this quite specifically on the bottle I have: Demerara rum product of Guyana. But it is bottled in either Ontario or England.

Lemon Hart is a dark rum, brown with reddish tints, and has the characteristic thickness and full body of Demerara rums.  When you swirl the liquid in the glass, it has slow fat legs sliding languorously back in. The nose, what there is of it, hints at straightforward rum without embellishment. You can tell it’s young from the harsh burning and medicinal reek, but this is swiftly gone, to be replaced with a powerful molasses overlay. Behind that is a slightly salty tang, just a hint of bitterness as if from some sort of citrus rind. On the tongue it demonstrates its youth with the rawness of the taste.  Yes it’s a bit oily and coats the mouth very nicely, but behind the molasses taste (which is quite overwhelming) and brown sugar, caramel and some fruit, there’s not much here: on the other hand, if simplicity is your thing, LH will definitely shine for you.  The finish is medium long and not very smooth, but since I wasn’t expecting much, it wasn’t too disappointed.

In summary then: a mixer’s rum for sure. Lemon Hart is dense and viscous enough to need only a reasonable addition of cola or ale or Christmas drinks or whatever else your poison is, but it does need it.  Once that is done, you have a decent drink you can enjoy at length without worrying too much about the overall price tag.  And if you have guests, you may even get some brownie points for taking the time to hunt out what appears, in other parts of the world, to be a drink somewhat harder to obtain there than it is here.

Note: There is also a Lemon Hart Jamaican rum somewhat more commonly sold and distributed down there, but I have been unable to ascertain whether it is the same maker of the Demerara variety or not.  It seems not to be, but if anyone reading this review can shed light on the matter, please feel free to comment below.

Mar 242013
 

First posted 22 June 2010 on Liquorature.

(#026)(Unscored)

***

“The spice must flow,” said the Padishah Emperor in Dune. I agree, because I do love my cheap-ass spiced rums. My sweet tooth and plebian background make having a rum with no stratospheric price or ostentatious pedigree such a pleasant experience, truly.  And I could tell, that day when I trotted out the Renegade 1991 for my Newfie squaddie (who snatched it happily out of my hand with a speed his corpulent frame does not begin to hint at), that even if I was a snob with pretensions to the peasantry, he had more grandiose notions of what kind of rum he liked to drink (or deserved to be poured).

Which is not to say Lamb’s is a bad rum, or even particularly limited in quality. Alfred Lamb, who started making this dark rum from West Indian raw stock in 1849 in London — his factory was bombed out during the London Blitz and subsequently rebuilt — simply added spices, aged it in cellars below the Thames (hence the original title of London Dock Rum) and made pretensions to the Royal Navy cachet by stating his product was made with that recipe.  Pusser’s did the same, as readers of that review may recall. In the years since, Lamb’s has become more of a tipple than a refined drink, and not – to my knowledge anyway – any kind of top tier rum; though I know a few who swear by its 151 proof offering. One can find it pretty much anywhere in Calgary for under thirty bucks.

When I’m drinking with a good friend, I like a good grog, but the point is not the drink but the conversation that the drink enables.  Of course, if the conversation is about the drink, that’s another matter (for example, the higher priced stuff which I like company to taste with) – but for the most part, when I talk I just like a good little mixer on hand, and this is why SDRs (single digit rums) are always good…one never worries about how much money is being pissed away, only what a good time you’re having with it.

The rum is dark reddish in colour and has a very decent, almost heavy body. Lamb’s is a blend of rums from all over the Caribbean (up to 18, or so my research suggests), and has a virulent nose that I should warn you against taking a deep sniff of, if you don’t want to go crying to your mommy about how the bad rum bottle biffed you on the hooter.  The spirit burn on the nose fades fast and leaves the brave and persevering soul with an overwhelming sniff of caramel, with vanilla and cherry undertones.  The spices are harder to pick out – nutmeg and licorice come through at the tail end.  The taste is strong with the spice, and the spirit burn from those nose hasn’t gone anywhere, just grabs you by thre throat and holds on – yet it can be tolerated and even adjusted to (as I did), at which point it transmutes into a sweet and caramelized almost-sipper that I quite enjoyed. The finish is hard to gauge because you’re being assaulted by the admittedly harsh spirit burn, which lasts long after the taste has vanished.  Lamb’s is about as subtle as a charging brontosaurus, really.

I’ll concede that the rum is better as a mixer, but I would caution against coke or (god forbid) pepsi.  Some kind of cola with a little less sugar would probably enhance it better, otherwise you get a syrupy mess that you either like or toss away.  For the record, I had only coke on hand so that was what I used, but as I got drunker that evening in Keenan’s house, I found that it got progrsssively better over ice.  Maybe that was my throat being sanded away, or something.

In summary, I liked its simplicity and taste, even as I acknowledge how devoid it is of real complexity – a connoisseur would probably never buy one of these except as a reference point. If I were to wax metaphorical, I’d say Lamb’s is the hot country chick with a heart of gold, the one who can rope a steer or take apart a John Deere tractor, who’s on the square-dance floor at Ranchman’s giving you the eye, who you really can’t go wrong with if you don’t expect too much, treat her right, don’t tread on her toes and give her a kiss when the night is over.

That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure as hell is mine.

Mar 232013
 

Photo (c) up-spirits.com

First posted 25 February 2010 on Liquorature.

(#012)(Unscored)

***

There’s surprisingly little hard information about Pusser’s “Nelson’s Blood” Navy Rum aside from the bare bones history and some folklore about the rum itself. For example, the bottle I bought said nothing about the age, nor did any catalogue or webpage discuss it at length except to refer to its origins.  And when, as noted before, there is a scarcity of expert salespeople to discuss your selection with, well, I guess I had to take a flier and buy it based on rarity – I had never seen it before – and how much it cost.  This is one of those odd times when I bought a smaller bottle simply because I didn’t know enough to make a determination of quality. The 1L bottle went at $95 and I decided to go for the 200mL at one fifth the price.

Pusser’s – the company hails from the British Virgin Islands – stakes its claim to fame on the fact that they are the inheritors of the Royal Navy tradition (this tradition is an essay all by itself and would include snippets on wets, sips, gulps and tots, grog, the scuttle butt, how rum was served to sailors and why, and how the traditon changed and was then abandoned…fascinating stuff). According to them, they use the same methods and ingredients and distil to the same strength, as the Royal Navy did for some three centuries (until the practice was abandoned in 1970). Pusser’s bought the original recipes and wooden pot-stills from the Navy in 1979 and have an extremely limited range; they seek to distinguish themselves by sticking with the old Navy method of not adding anything to the final distillation (like caramel, sugar, or other flavouring agents). This enhances the intense flavours imparted by the wooden pot-stills, which are hundreds of years old…but has the downside of making the rum less sweet, which makes mixing it a must for some.

The rum I bought, the Blue Label “Nelson’s Blood” is a slightly overproof rum at 47.5% and as I said, I have absolutely no idea how old it is, though their slightly stronger (54%) and more expensive relative is fifteen years old, so I hazard a guess based on tasting and what little experience I have,  that this one may be around eight.  Now further research says that the rum I had is a blend of various aged rums, matured in used whiskey or bourbon barrels, but this would fly in the face of what Pusser’s themselves claim: all concede, however, that this about as close to standard Royal Navy rum – the way it used to be – as you are likely to get in this day and age.

Is it any good for the price?  Well, yes.  The nose is fairly pungent of the molasses used in its making (and all the sugar hints underneath that), but the practice of adding just about nothing to the mix makes it a stronger, more spirit-laden nose than one might expect. It’s smooth over ice – a bit too harsh neat, I think – with a shade of bite on the way down: though at 47% ABV that isn’t surprising. It lacks the richness of flavour and texture on the tongue of a better Mount Gay or Appleton 12, and this may come from the claimed lack of additives: but the thing is, there are flavours of vanilla and nutmeg to be found, and if the blenders  add nothing and use the same centuries-old pot stills the Navy used, then it must be coming from generations of stills themselves.  An interesting notion. The finish is medium long and of middling bite.  Nothing special there, unfortunately

In summary, it’s a good sipping rum for sure, but not really sweet enough for my taste – I have a feeling whiskey lovers are going to appreciate it more than I would.  I absolutely concede that for smoothness and intriguing, original taste (with or without an additive of one’s own), it deserves a place on anyone’s shelf, but if the price of a standard bottle is a bit steep, the 200ml peewee pictured above should do you just fine until you make up your own mind.

NB: “Pusser” is a bastardization of the word “Purser”, a position on ships akin to a quartermaster in the army. It was the Purser in the Royal Navy who was responsible for acquisition and distribution of the good stuff.

Mar 222013
 

First posted 25th February 2010 on Liquorature;

(#004)(Unscored)

Young, rambunctious and strong of nose and taste.  It is the epitome of a low ranking Demerara rum, with powerful scents and tastes lacking in anything remotely resembling complexity: and yet, I really kinda like it.  Perhaps because it’s a simple creation of such primary flavours.  It’s not meant for taking neat, but as a mixer? Yummo.

***

The bottle of Old Sam I tasted is a “single digit rum” whose ingredients come from the Old Country, where the primary distillation takes place in DDLs facilities — these are the gentlemen who make the excllent El Dorado 21 year old also reviewed on this site —  but is matured and blended in Newfoundland.  There it is made by the same company responsible for making Screech, the much-loved, equally-derided traditional Newfie tipple –  also deriving from a Caribbean raw stock –  and which I have to check out one of these days.

The history of the rum revolves around parts of the old “Triangular Trade” (from Europe with trade goods, to Africa for slaves, over to the West Indies for sale of slaves and goods and loading of fruit, fish, sugar and rum, and then back to Europe – over time stops in North America were added).  Howard Young and Company introduced Old Sam to England in 1797 – why they would ship it to Newfoundland for blending is a mystery, since rum was already being made in commerical quantities in the Caribbean at that time: perhaps it was because back then, Guiana was vacillating between being a Dutch colony and an  English one, and often used as a bargaining chip in the wars of the time between these two powers.

Old Sam is a Demerara Rum, dark and rich, redolent of molasses and bunt sugar. It is aged for a minimum of two years in oak barrels, and then blended with various other 12-year old rums. “Navy” rum is a much bandied-about term — Pusser’s, Lamb’s, Screech and Old Sam all like to make claims to the title, but this low end stuff is nowhere near the much better, smoother Pusser’s, and even the Old Sam website recommends it as a mixer, or a base for cocktails and food requiring a rum ingredient.

Having said that, I have to say that the nose, while sharp, is rich, and develops good hints of caramel, brown sugar – a lot of brown sugar – and a shade of fruity vanilla.  Nothing out of the ordinary, and being relatively young, is not particularly smooth.  Note that I still get all pissy when rums don’t mention their age even if it’s two years old or something, since to me, age and price and word of mouth are the three pieces that go together in assessing whether to buy a rum or not. For this one I have one out of three – price, and since that is quite low (about $22), and since I’ve never heard of this one mentioned, or lauded, it seems reasonable to suppose it’s a young ‘un, not particularly special, and indeed, the tasting pretty much confirmed that. Harsh on the way down, has a burn and kick that would make a smarter man swear off low-end rums for good, and not much of a finish.  About par for a low end rum – it’s definitely not for sipping. As a mixer, it’s pretty good, but not everyone will enjoy that very rich burnt sugar and molasses taste.

Rereading this, it sure looks like I am dissing the rum. That’s unintentional, and perhaps results from me treating it like an upscale sipper, and judging it that way. So let me be clear: it’s disappointing as a sipping spirit….but in a mix, it’s excellent. Brown sugar, molasses, caramel, vanilla and coke.  Fine, just fine.  It kind of proves the point that you don’t have to have a premium sipper to enjoy a rum. Unsuspected riches exist for the diligent trawler and tireless taster, and if you’re into deep, dark Demerara rums, you can do worse than this unpretentious product. Personally, I’ll keep searching for better, knowing that another rum equivalent of Cibola is probably waiting for me out there, somewhere…but that doesn’t mean I don’t like this one.

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