Nov 252019
 

So here we have a white rum distilled in 2017 in Fiji’s South Pacific Distillery (home of the Bounty brand) and boy, is it some kind of amazing. It comes as a pair with the 85% Diamond I looked at before, and like its sibling is also from a pot still, and also spent a year resting in a stainless steel vat before Tristan Prodhomme of the French indie L’Esprit bottled the twins in 2018 (this one gave 258 bottles).

Still-strength, he calls them, in an effort to distinguish the massive oomph of the two blancs from those wussy cask-strength sixty percenters coming out of babied barrels periodically hugged and stroked by a master blender.  I mean, it’s obvious that he took one look at the various aged expressions he was putting out at 70% or so, shook his head and said “Non, c’est encore trop faible.” And he picked two rums, didn’t bother to age them, stuffed them into extra-thick bottles (for safety, you understand) and released them as was. Although you could equally say the Diamond at 85% terrified him so much that he allowed a drop of water to make it into the Fijian white, which took it down a more “reasonable” 83%.

Whatever the case, the rum was as fierce as the Diamond, and even at a microscopically lower proof, it took no prisoners. It exploded right out of the glass with sharp, hot, violent aromas of tequila, rubber, salt, herbs and really good olive oil. If you blinked you could see it boiling. It swayed between sweet and salt, between soya, sugar water, squash, watermelon, papaya and the tartness of hard yellow mangoes, and to be honest, it felt like I was sniffing a bottle shaped mass of whup-ass (the sort of thing Guyanese call “regular”).

As for the taste, well, what do you expect, right? Short version – it was distilled awesomeness sporting an attitude and a six-demon bag. Sweet, light but seriously powerful, falling on the tongue with the weight of a falling anvil.  Sugar water and sweet papaya, cucumbers in apple vinegar. There was brine, of course, bags of olives and a nice line of crisp citrus peel. The thin sharpness of the initial attack gave way to an amazing solidity of taste and texture – it was almost thick, and easy to become ensorcelled with it. Pungent, fierce, deep and complex, a really fantastic white overproof, and even the finish didn’t fail: a fruity french horn tooting away, lasting near forever, combining with a lighter string section of cucumbers and peas and white guavas, all tied up with ginger, herbs and a sly medicinal note.

Longtime readers of these meandering reviews know of my love for Port Mourant distillate, and indeed, the MPM White L’Esprit put out excited my admiration to the tune of a solid 85 points.  But I gotta say, this rum is slightly, infinitesimally better. It’s a subtle kind of thing – I know, hard to wrap one’s head around that statement, with a rum this strong and unaged – and in its impeccable construction, in its combination of sweet and salt and tart in proper proportions, it becomes a colourless flavour bomb of epic proportions…and a masterclass in how an underground cult classic rum is made.

(#679)(86/100)

Oct 142019
 

At the opposite end of the scale from the elegant and complex mid-range rum of the Appleton 12 year old – a Key Rum in its own right – lies that long-standing rum favourite of proles and puritans, princes and peasants — the rough ‘n’ tough, cheerfully cussin’ and eight-pack powerful rippedness of the  J. Wray & Nephew White overproof, an unaged white rum bottled at a barely bearable 63%, and whose screaming yellow and green label is a fixture in just about every bar around the world I’ve ever been in and escorted out of, head held high and feet held higher.

This is a rum that was one of the first I ever wrote about back in the day when I wasn’t handing out scores, a regular fixture on the cocktail circuit, and an enormously popular rum even after all these years.  It sells like crazy both locally and in foreign lands, is bought by poor and rich alike, and no-one who’s ever penned a rum review could dare ignore it (nor should they). I don’t know what its sales numbers are like, but I honestly believe that if one goes just by word of mouth, online mentions and perusal of any bar’s rumshelf, then this must be one of the most well regarded Jamaican (or even West Indian) rums on the planet, as well as one of the most versatile.

Even in its home country the rum has enormous street cred.  Like the Guyanese Superior High Wine, it’s a local staple of the drinking scene and supposedly accounts for more than three quarters of all rum sold in Jamaica, and it is tightly woven into the entire cultural fabric of the island. It’s to be found at every bottom-house lime, jump-up or get-together.  Every household – expatriate or homeboys – has a bottle taking up shelf space, for pleasure, for business, for friends or for medicinal purposes. It has all sorts of social traditions: crack a bottle and immediately you pour a capful on the ground to return some to those who aren’t with you. Have a housewarming, and grace the floor with a drop or two; touch of the rheumatiz? – rub dem joints with a shot; mek a pickney…put a dab ‘pon he forehead if he sick; got a cold…tek a shot and rub a shot. And so on. 

This is not even counting its extraordinary market penetration in the tiki and bar scene (Martin Cate remarked that the White with Ting is the greatest highball in the world). There aren’t many rums in the world which have such high brand awareness, or this kind of enduring popularity across all strata of society.  Like the Appleton 12, it almost stands in for all of Jamaica in a way all of its competitors, old and new, seek to emulate. What’s behind it? Is it the way it smells, the way it tastes? Is it the affordable price, the strength? The marketing? Because sure as hell, it ranks high in all the metrics that make a rum visible and appreciated, and that’s even with the New Jamaicans from Worthy park and Hampden snapping at its heels.

Coming back at it after so many years made me remember something of its fierce and uncompromising nature which so startled me back in 2010. It’s a pot and column still blend (and always has been), yet one could be forgiven for thinking that here, the raw and rank pot-still hooligan took over and kicked column’s battie. It reeked of glue and acetones mixed up with a bit of gasoline good only for 1950s-era Land Rovers.  What was interesting about it was the pungent herbal and grassy background, the rotting fruits and funky pineapple and black bananas, flowers, sugar water, smoke, cinnamon, dill, all sharp and delivered with serious aggro.

Taste wise, it was clear that the thing was a mixing agent, far too sharp and flavourful to have by itself, though I know most Islanders would take it with ice and coconut water, or in a more conventional mix.  It presented rough and raw and joyous and sweaty and was definitely not for the meek and mild of disposition, wherein lay its attraction — because in that fierce uniqueness of profile lay the character which we look for in rums we remember forever.  Here, that was conveyed by a sharp and powerful series of tastes – rotten fruit (especially bananas), orange peel, pineapples, soursop and creamy tart unsweetened fresh yoghurt. There was something of the fuel-reek of a smoky kerosene stove floating around, cloves, licorice, peanut, mint, bitter chocolate.  It was a little dry, and had no shortage of funk yet remained clearly separable from Hampden and Worthy Park rums, and reminded me more of a Smith & Cross or Rum Fire, especially when considering the long, dry, sharp finish with its citrus and pineapple and wood-chip notes that took the whole experience to its long and rather violent (if tasty) conclusion.  

So maybe it’s all of these things I wrote about – taste, price, marketing, strength, visibility, reputation.  But unlike many of the key rums in this series, it remains fresh and vibrant year in and year out. I would not say it’s a gateway rum like the Pusser’s 15 or the Diplo Res Ex or the El Dorado 21, those semi-civilized drinks which introduce us to the sippers and which we one day move beyond.  It exists at the intersection of price and quality and funk and taste, and skates that delicate line between too much and too little, too rough and almost-refined. You can equally have it in a high-class bar in Manhattan, or from cheap plastic tumblers with Ting while bangin’ down de dominos in the sweltering heat of a Trenchtown yard. In its appeal to all the classes of society that choose it, you can see a Key Rum in action: and for all these reasons, it remains, even after all the years it’s been available, one of the most popular — even one of the best — rums of its kind ever made, in Jamaica, in the West Indies, or, for that matter, anywhere else.

(#665)(83/100)


Other notes

  • Unaged pot and column still blend
  • The colours on the label channel the colours of the Jamaican flag
Sep 092019
 

Usually, I don’t worry about not acquiring all those aged, rare or otherwise amazing rums that make the social headlines, since I know that most exceed the reach of my scrawny purse, my ability to beg, or the extent my nonexistent wheedling skills.  Too, after ten years of this, I’ve been fortunate enough to try so many rums that many of my personal unicorns have been tried and written about. Therefore I know it will strike many as rather peculiar that for the last two years I’ve been hunting for two very special rums issued by Tristan Prodhomme – and this one was the one I wanted most

Why?  Because L’Esprit, in making the great white shark of the Diamond 2017, did Velier one step better, creating a rum whose stats would make just about every writer reflexively haul out the word “beast” and be correct to use it, whose profile not just encourages but demands adverbial density — and which I’m convinced will stand the test of time to become a baseline for all the makes-no-sense-but-by-God-we’re-glad-to-have-tried-it white rums that will be issued from now until the Rapture.  It’s nobody’s unicorn but my own, and I’ve been looking for it since the day it got issued.

The Diamond white was confirmed to me as being a Port Mourant unaged pot still rum; it sat there, dissolving a stainless steel tank between 2017 and 2018, until Tristan, in a fit of madness, joy, bravery or unbridled enthusiasm (maybe all these at once) engendered by the birth of his son Edgar in 2017, decided to commemorate the event by releasing 276 bottles at 85% – and I don’t know what happened, but they seemed to sink without a trace. But with the rise of white rums as taste-stuffed forces in their own right, I certainly hope others will get a chance to try something as torqued-to-the-max as this one is.

I’ll get straight to it, then, and merely mention that at 85% ABV, care was taken – I poured, covered the glass, waited, removed the cover, and prudently stepped way back.

Which was the right thing to do because a rapidly expanding blast wave of rumstink assailed me without hesitation.  An enormously pungent cloud of wax and brine and tequila notes hit me broadside, so hot and fierce that somewhere in the basement I heard the Sajous weep. It was a massively powerful, sharp and meaty nose, squirting aromas with the cheerful abandon of a construction haul truck which knows nobody is likely to argue with it for the command of the road. Brine, olives, dates and figs and some sort of faintly rank meat was what I got straight off, batted aside by the smells of licorice, light molasses, sugar water and flowers, before bags and bags of fruit took  over. Ripe yellow guavas, mangoes, papaya, avocado, overripe oranges, pears…the rum just wouldn’t stop spitting out more and more as time went on.

As for the taste, well, wow.  My tongue was battered hard and fast with the sheer range of what was on display here. Being unaged and issued as a white didn’t hurt it or diminish it in the slightest, I assure you, because the integration was so well done that it actually tasted twenty proof points lower. It was redolent of brine.  Of salt fish with Guyanese chilis (ask Gregers about those, I dare ya). Of wax, floor polish, olives. Of licorice. Of fresh scallions in a vegetable soup (I know, right?). Only when these dissipated did more regular flavours timidly come out to let me know they existed…flowers, fruits, lemon meringue pie, raisins, pears, oranges, bitter chocolate, cucumbers and watermelon.  I had this glass going for two hours and it was every bit as pungent at the end as it had been at the beginning, and the finish – epic, long-lasting, hot, spicy – was similarly strong, diminished itself not one bit, and provided closing memories of sweet soya, brine, swank, pears and other light fruits. It was almost a disappointment when the experience was finally over. And lest you think my own experience is a little over-enthusiastic, Jazz Singh from Skylark got poured a shot of this thing at 4pm, and was still tasting, mumbling and drooling rapturously about the profile five hours later when we shoehorned him into an Uber. It’s that kind of rum.

The best thing about it may well be that it reminds us of the sheer range of what rums are, how over-the-top and off-the-scale they can be, even as so many rum makers try to inhabit the inoffensive centre. There are few indies or producers out there who would dare bottle something this feral as single mindedly as Tristan has done here – only the Habitation Velier whites immediately spring to mind.  It’s an unaged white badass that boasts an impeccable pedigree from one of the most famous stills in the world, it has a proof nearly off the scale, and is not for the meek, the beginner, or the careful. One either dives in and takes the entire shot, or not at all — because the Diamond white is a stunner, a slayer, a majestically vulgar shot of pure canecutter sweat, proofed and jacked to the max, and if it’s not one of the best rums I’ve had all year, I can absolutely assure you it will always rank among the most memorable.

(#655)(85/100)


Other notes

I keep score, and the Diamond takes its place among the growliest overproofs ever issued.  I’ve tasted the following:

Jun 132019
 

Photo (c) Romdeluxe

Romdeluxe in Denmark is more a commercial rum club that makes private label bottlings and runs promotions around the country, than a true independent bottler — but since they do several releases, I’ll call them an indie and move right on from there.  Earlier, in May 2019, they lit up FB by releasing this limited-edition high-ester funk-bomb, the first in their “Wild Series” of rums, with a suitably feral tiger on the label. I can’t tell whether it’s yawning or snarling, but it sure looks like it can do you some damage without busting a sweat either way.

This is not surprising.  Not only is this Jamaican bottled at one of the highest ABVs ever recorded for a commercially issued rum – growling in at 85.2%, thereby beating out the Sunset Very Strong and SMWS Long Pond 9 YO but missing the brass ring held by the Marienburg – but it goes almost to the screaming edge of Esterland, clocking in, according to the label, at between 1500-1600 g/hlpa (the legal maximum is 1600)….hence the DOK moniker. Moreover, the rum is officially ten years old but has not actually been aged that long – it rested in steel tanks for those ten years, and a bit of edge was sanded away by finishing it for three months in small 40-liter ex-Madeira casks.  So it’s a young fella, barely out of rum nappies, unrefined, uncouth and possibly badass enough to make you lose a week or two of your life if you’re not careful.

Knowing that, to say I was both doubtful and cautious going in would be an understatement, because the rum had a profile so ginormous that cracking the cap on my sample nearly lifted the roof of of the ten-storey hotel where I was tasting it (and I was on the second floor). The nose was, quite simply, Brobdingnagian, a fact I relate with equal parts respect and fear.

The crazy thing was how immediately sweet it was – a huge dose of fleshy fruits bordering on going bad for good, creme brulee, sugar water, honey, raisins and a salted caramel ice cream were the first flavours screaming out the gate (was this seriously just three months in Madeira?). It was huge and sharp and very very strong, and was just getting started, because after sitting it down (by the open window) for half an hour, it came back with vegetable soup, mature cheddar, brine, black olives, crisp celery, followed by the solid billowing aroma of the door being opened into a musty old library with uncared-for books strewn about and mouldering away. I say it was strong, but the nose really struck me as being more akin to a well-honed stainless-steel chef’s knife — clear, and glittering and sharp and thin and very very precise.

The clear and fruity sweet was also quite noticeable when tasted, combining badly with much more mucky, mouldy, dunder-like notes: think of a person with overnight dragon’s breath blowing Wrigley’s Spearmint gum into your face on a hot day.  It was oily, sweaty, earthy, loamy and near-rank, but damnit, those fruits pushed through somehow, and combined with vanilla and winey tastes, breakfast spices, caramel, some burnt sugar, prunes, green bananas and some very tart yellow mangoes, all of which culminated in a very long, very intense finish that was again, extremely fruity – ripe cherries, peaches, apricots, prunes, together with thyme, mint lemonade, and chocolate oranges.

Whew!  This was a hell of a rum and we sure got a lot, but did it all work?  And also, the question a rum like this raises is this: does the near titanic strength, the massive ester count, the aged/unaged nature of it and the final concentrated finish, give us a rum that is worth the price tag?

Me, I’d say a qualified “Yes.” On the good side, the Wild Tiger thing stops just short of epic. It’s huge, displaying a near halitotic intensity, has a real variety of tastes on display, with the sulphur notes that marred the TECA or some other DOKs I’ve tried, being held back.  On the other hand, there’s a lack of balance. The tastes and smells jostle and elbow each other around, madly, loudly, without coordination or logic, like screeching online responses to a Foursquare diss. There’s a lot going on, most not working well together. It’s way too hot and sharp, the Madeira finish I think is too short to round it off properly – so you won’t get much enjoyment from it except by mixing it with something else – because by itself it’s just a headache-inducing explosive discharge of pointless violence.

Then there’s the price, about €225. Even with the outturn limited to 170 bottles, I would hesitate to buy, because there are rums out there selling at a lesser cost and more quaffable strength, with greater pedigree behind them.  Such rums are also completely barrel-aged (and tropically) instead of rested, and require no finishes to be emblematic of their country.

But I know there are those who would buy this rum for all the same reasons others might shudder and take a fearful step back. These are people who want the max of everything: the oldest, the rarest, the strongest, the highest, the bestest, the mostest, the baddest.  Usefulness, elegance and quality are aspects that take a back seat to all the various “-estests” which a purchaser now has bragging rights to. I would say that this is certainly worth doing if your tastes bend that way (like mine do, for instance), but if your better half demands what the hell you were thinking of, buying a rum so young and so rough and so expensive, and starts crushing your…well, you know…then along with a sore throat and hurting head, you might also end up knowing what the true expression of the tiger on the label is.

(#632)(84/100)


Other notes

  • It’s not mentioned on the label or website but as far as I know, it’s a Hampden.
  • Like the Laodi Brown, the Wild Tiger Jamaican rum raises issues of what ageing truly means – it is 10 years old, but it’s not 10 years aged (in that sense, the label is misleading).  If that kind of treatment for a rum catches on, the word “aged” will have to be more rigorously defined.

Comment

These days I don’t usually comment on the price, but in this case there have been disgruntled mumbles online about the cost relative to the age, to say nothing of the packaging with that distinctive “10” suggesting it’s ten years old.  Well, strictly speaking it is that old, but as noted before, just not aged that much and one can only wonder why on earth people bothered to arrest its development at all by having it in steel tanks, for such an unusually long time.

So on that basis, to blow more than €200 on a rum which has truly only been aged for three months (by accepted conventions of the term) seems crazy, and to set that price in the first place is extortionate. 

But it’s not, not really. 

At that ABV, you could cut it by half, make 340 bottles of 42% juice, and sell it for €100 as a finished experimental, and people would buy it like they would the white Habitation Veliers, maybe, for exotic value and perhaps curiosity.  Moreover, there are no reductions in costs for the expenses of advertising, marketing and packaging for a smaller bottle run (design, printing, ads, labels, boxes, crates, etc) so the production cost per bottle is higher, and that has to be recouped somehow.  And lastly, for a rum this strong and obscure, even if from Hampden, there is likely to be an extremely limited market of dedicated Jamaica lovers, and this rum is made for those few, not the general public…and those super geeks are usually high fliers with enough coin to actually afford to get one when they want one. 

I’m not trying to justify the cost, of course, just suggest explanations for its level.  Not many will buy this thing, not many can, and at end maybe only the deep-pocketed Jamaica lovers will. The rest of us will have to be content with samples, alas.

 

Feb 112019
 

Rumaniacs Review #091 | 0598

Overproof rums started out as killer cocktail ingredients, meant to boost anything they were put into by, I dunno, a lot. For many years they were pretty much the bruisers of the barflies — low-life, lightly-aged mixers (or occasionally unaged whites) which only islanders drank neat, largely because they had the least amount of time to waste getting hammered.  Still, as time passed and cask strength rums became more fashionable (and appreciated), the gap between the strength of a cool aged casker and an overproof shrank, to the point where a 75% bottling of a “regular” rum that’s not labelled as an overproof is not out of the realms of possibility – I know several that stop just a bit short of that.  

One of the old style overproofs is this rum from the Takamaka Bay rum company located on Mahe, the main island of the 115-island archipelago comprising the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. The company is of relatively recent vintage, being formed in 2002 by the d’Offay brothers, Richard and Bernard d’Offay, and sourcing sugar cane from around the island – they are, according to their website’s blog, one of the few distilleries in the world that make rum from both juice and molasses.  They have two copper pot stills and a columnnar one, and this white rum, now discontinued and replaced with the 69 Rhum Blanc, is an unaged, unfiltered column still distillate with possibly a touch of high ester rum from the pot still. I’ve read on a Czech site that the rum is triple distilled from cane juice and then diluted, which was later confirmed by Bernard d’Offay.

Colour – White

Strength – 72% ABV

Nose –  Sweet and light soda pop, like a 7-Up…with fangs. Tons of herbs here, grass, thyme, mint, light lemon zest. Sugar water.  Light fruity esters. Bananas, nutmeg, cardamom.

Palate – Fruit juice poured into my glass, clean and light.  There’s the crispness of green apples, cane juice and red cashews, melding well with the tart creamy sweetness of ginips and soursop.  Herbs remained – parsley, dill and mint. It was hot and delicately sweet, presenting with force, yet it also reminded me somewhat of a tequila, what with a background of brine and olives and a faint oily texture on the tongue

Finish – Quite good. Long, dry, spicy, fruity, redolent of bananas, red currants, blackberries, watermelon and sugar water.  

Thoughts – It’s really quite a good rum, and I’m sorry to see it’s no longer being made. Before I got a response from Takamaka Bay, I thought the column still produced this from cane juice spirit (this proved to be the case). It’s a mixer for sure, though anyone who finds it and tries it neat won’t be entirely disappointed.  It’s a fiery, flavourful white which may now no longer be made, but lives on in its slightly lesser-proofed brother…which I have a feeling I’ll be looking for quite soon.

(84/100)

Jan 202019
 

The Jack Iron rum from Westerhall is a booming overproof issued both in a slightly aged and a white version, and both are a whopping 70% ABV. While you can get it abroad — this bottle was tried in Italy, for example — my take is that it’s primarily a rum for local consumption (though which island can lay claim to it is a matter of idle conjecture), issued to paralyze brave-but-foolhardy tourists who want to show off their Chewbacca chests by drinking it neat, or to comfort the locals who don’t have time to waste getting hammered and just want to do it quick time. Add to that the West Indian slang for manly parts occasionally being iron and you can sense a sort of cheerful and salty islander sense of humour at work (see “other notes” below for an alternative backstory).

Truth to tell, the Jack Iron is not strictly a Grenadian rum – even back in the 1990s and probably for long before, it was distilled and slightly aged (three years) at Angostura’s facilities in Trinidad, before being shipped to the Spice Island for final blending and bottling. It had its antecedents in local moonshine brewed in the Grenadines to between 70% and 90%, sometimes spiced up, sometimes not, with water used as a chaser, and was usually referred to as “Jack”. (Apparently there is a 99% version of this rum called “Carriacou 99%!” floating around as well, available only on the eponymous island).

Since we’re talking about an overproof column still product made in an industrial facility with minimal ageing, the pale straw colour is understandable, and one does not go in expecting too much. This makes the initial aromas of the Jack Iron somewhat surprising, because they’re actually quite good. It smelled light, sweet and almost delicate, like raspberries dumped into pear-infused water. However, this is deceptive: it lures you into a false sense of security, and actually it’s the fin of the shark that gotcha. Much more heated and forceful aromas become noticeable after the alcohol burns off – olives, brine, gherkins, some relatively mild fruit (watermelons, pears, papaya) but none of the heavy fleshy ones.

Everything turns on a dime when it’s tasted, where the full force of the proof is brought to bear. It’s hot, fiery, fierce. Alas, that heat also takes much of the taste away as well, so all you get is sharp bite without soft taste (the Neisson L’Esprit 70⁰ Blanc found a way around this, somehow, but not here). Essentially almost all the tastes bar a few that slip through, are killed cold stone dead and it takes some real effort to discern candy floss, very light fruits (same as the nose), vague vanilla, some florals, and even the Angostura 5 YO is better than this (while being much weaker). This does not appreciably change even when water is added, by the way, and while the finish is suitably epic, and you can pick out some marzipan and vanilla and watermelon juice (and that’s if you reach), at the end it’s just long and hot and sharp. And, I confess, boring.

To some extent this rum reminds me less of Angostura’s lightly aged offerings were they to be beefed up, than of the the Marienburg 90 from Suriname, and also St. Vincent’s Sunset Very Strong. The nose is really kind of nice – delicate, herbal, floral, like a velvet-wrapped stilletto; unlike the palate, which is just a sledge, simple, bludgeoning, direct, without subtlety or complexity of any kind. Of course it’s a mix, not a sip, and it would certainly ratchet up anything into which you dump it, so there’s that I suppose.

Like many overproofs, complexity is not what it’s about — it’ll never be an international festival favourite, being the sort of rum best had in the local backcountry or on a bartender’s back shelf. It goes down much better only after a couple of shots (with chaser), when just about everything somebody says becomes a masterpiece of scintillating wit or a blindingly intelligent insight. Just be aware that such a state of affairs doesn’t last into the next morning’s headache, which is really not the rum’s fault, but your own, if you had gone late into the night with your squaddies, daring to drink it like a Grenadian.

(#591)(74/100)


Other notes

When I listed the Jack Iron as one of the 21 strongest rums in the world, Vaughn Renwick on Facebook made this comment: “The history of Jack Iron is murky, but as far as I know from the mid 1900s at least and probably earlier, it was originally a ‘cask rum’ or ‘puncheon rum’ of high but indeterminate strength, shipped directly from Trinidad to Carriacou, a dependency of Grenada. Certainly it was the only place it was available until recently. I believe it was called ‘Jack Iron’ because if you were brave enough to drink it, it was akin to being hit by the iron handle used to turn a car ‘jack’. Because it was shipped in wooden casks it had a light straw colour. Possibly it spent some time in casks in storage after distillation.”

Dec 042018
 

Ten years ago, the 151s were regarded with the sort of wry caution with which one approaches a crazy old uncle who may lash out with either invective or drool at any moment, depending on the circumstances.  They encouraged adverbial density, were the strongest rums available to the rumworld, and used exclusively as cocktail bases and mixing agents. Myself, I was always a little amused by their ferocity and used their elephantine profiles as an excuse to write reviews that didn’t take themselves too seriously (like the BacardiLemon HartCavalier, or Appleton 151 reviews, for example).  But what else to do? I mean, back then we had no access to or real knowledge of the cask strength rums that now so dominate the upper echelons of quality rums, and to consider a 151 as anything else but a throwaway effort made to bag the overproof crown and/or to concoct crazy strong cocktails would be to mis-state what they meant to us.

As the years passed, overproofs more or less fell out of the mainstream, even out of favour, replaced by exactingly made full proof rums, some of which are approaching that kind of strength, though comparatively rarely. I can’t remember the last time I saw a review of a 151 aside from Habitation Velier’s new white (not that there were that many to begin with) and mention of any is passing rare.  But me, I never forgot them, and still hold fond memories of their harsh fury, and when I saw a Tilambic 151 sample for sale, well, what’s a reviewer to do?

Cracking it, you’d certainly exercise all the usual cautions, as one would with the SMWS Long Pond 5.1 (81.3%), the Sunset Very Strong (84.5%) or the Marienburg White (90%).  Because like all of those, the Tilambic is frenetic, unapologetic and massively alcoholic – it smokes, it seethes, it exudes badass from every pore: you can almost hear the tinkling plink of minigun shell casings piling up around your feet as you pour. To smell, it’s sharp and extremely hot, spicy and slightly sweet, redolent of raw molasses and sweet corn in a can (weird, I know), to which some light lemon zest and caramel has been mashed in with an oaken club wielded by The Rock. Which – you might be surprised to discover – is actually not bad at all.  I was certainly expecting less.

As for the palate, well, it’s a monster (yeah, big surprise). Briny with olives, pimentos, hot hot hot.  A lot carries over from the nose, but there’s more too, once you adjust to the force with which it attempts to tattoo “151” on your tongue. It has, both before and after a few drops of water, some strawberries, green apples, sawdust, light pencil shavings, licorice, mustard, vanilla and a ton of oak ameliorated by a sly little citrus line.  But it also doesn’t attempt to do too much; and unlike some indie caskers at this level, is not that complicated – in that relative simplicity lies much of its appeal, if your taste runs into high proof drinks. It all gets summed up very nicely on the finish, which is oaky, spicy, briny, dry, with a little fruit and some licorice, vanilla, caramel, and then it’s gone. Probably leaving you gasping.

So who makes this thing? We know about St. Aubin, Lazy Dodo, New Grove and Chamarel, all of which channel the old rum making traditions of the island. But the company that makes this one, Green Island, is actually a UK company which licenses International Distillers Mauritius to provide their rums – IDM also makes marks like the Flamboyant,Cascavel and the well known and positively regarded Penny Blue rums, as well as a number of Green Island starter rums.  So not so much an artisanal rum maker as a local spirits conglomerate, like DDL in Guyana or Angostura in Trinidad. The Tilambic 151 is made on a column still, aged for varying times (“up to seven years”) and has no additives, flavourings, colourings or filtrations.

That puts the it squarely into the mixing category, as are most lightly aged rums of this kind.  That it has more qualities than defects is to its everlasting credit, and our relief. I mean, this thing could take out two defensive linemen in full pads just by cracking the seal – but it was surprisingly light and flavourful too, especially after resting for a while to burn off the alcohol.  And even if it wasn’t genetically enhanced by a team of imported Swiss scientists who had seen King Kong one too many times, I can’t dismiss it out of hand – because for all its coarse and brutish power, it really was quite an interesting rum, with some positives and very few negatives. For a 151, that’s really quite an achievement.

(#575)(78/100)


Other Notes

  • The name “Tilambic” is a creole name for the local farmers’ stills, which they use, much like the Haitians do, to make their own personal hooch.
  • Steve James over at the Rum Diaries took a look at the rum back in 2014, which gives you some idea how long it’s been knocking around.
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.
Apr 252018
 

#505

On initial inspection, Rivers Royale Grenadian Rum – a white overproof – is not one of the first rums you’d immediately think of as a representation of its country, its style, or a particular type — perhaps Westerhall or Clarke’s Court are more in your thoughts.  It is made in small quantities at River Antoine on  the spice island of Grenada, is rarely found outside there, and even though it can be bought on the UK site Masters of Malt, it barely registers on the main bloggers’ review sites.

Yet anyone who tries it swears by it.  I’ve never seen a bad write-up, by anyone. And there are a several aspects of this rum which, upon closer inspection, reveal why it should be considered as part of the Grenadian pantheon and on any list of Key Rums, even if it is so relatively unknown.  

For one thing, there’s it’s artisinal production.  Almost alone in the English-speaking Caribbean, River Antoine adheres to very old, manual forms of rum making.  The sugar cane is free from fertilizers, grown right there (not imported stock), crushed with a water wheel – perhaps the oldest working one remaining in the world – and the source of the rum is juice, not molasses. Fermented for up to eight days without added yeast – natural fermentation via wild bacteria only – in huge open-air vats and transferred to an old John Dore copper pot still (a new one was added in the 1990s).  No additives of any kind, no filtration, no ageing. They are among the most natural rums in the world and the white, which is supposedly drawn off the still at a staggering 89% ABV and bottled at 69% to facilitate transport by air, is among the most flavourful whites I’ve ever tried, and thought so even back in 2010 when I first got knocked off my chair with one.

There’s also the whole business of heritage.  In the geek rumiverse, it’s common knowledge that Mount Gay’s paperwork shows it as dating back to 1703 – though it was almost certainly making rum for at least fifty years before that – and River Antoine is by contrast a relative johnny-come-lately, being founded in 1785. The key difference is that Rivers (as it is locally referred to) is made almost exactly the way it was at the beginning, never relocated, never really changed its production methodology and is even using some of the same facilities and equipment. So if your journey along the road of discovery is taking you into the past and you want to know more about “the old way” and don’t want to go to Haiti, then Grenada may just be the place to go.

These points segue neatly into an emerging (if still small) movement of fair trading, organic ingredients and eco-friendly production methodologies.  By those standards, and bearing in mind the points above, Rivers must be a poster child for the eco-movement, like Cape Verde, Haiti and other places where rumtime seems to have slowed down to a crawl and nobody ever saw any reason to go modern.

But is it any good?  I thought so eight years ago, and in a recent, almost accidental retasting, my initially high opinion has been reconfirmed.  At 69%, unaged, unfiltered, untamed, I knew that not by any stretch of the imagination was I getting a smooth and placid cocktail ingredient, and I didn’t – it was more like getting assaulted by a clairin.  It started out with all the hallmarks of a Jamaican or Haitian white popskull – glue, acetone, vinegar, olives and brine exploded across the nose, pungent, deep and very hot. And it didn’t stop there – as it rested and then opened up, crisper and clearer notes came out to party – watermelons, pickled gherkins and sugar cane sap, married to drier, mustier aromas of cereal, old books, fresh baked bread, light fruits and even some yeast.  Weird, no?

As for the taste, well…whew! The palate did not slow down the slightest bit from the jagged assault of the nose but went right in. Although the initial entry was just short of crazy – “like drinking ashes and water and licking an UHU glue stick” my notes go – this offbeat profile actually developed quite well. It turned dry, minerally, the fruitiness and citrus zest took something a back seat, and it took some time to recalibrate to this. Once that settled down the fruits emerged from hiding — cherries, some guavas and yellow mangoes, orange peel, light florals…but the crazy never entirely went away, because there were also hints of gasoline and a salt lick, and the sort of binding adhesive you can occasionally smell in brand new glossy magazines (I know of no other way to describe this, honestly).  And of course the exit is quite epic – a long, searing acid fart that blows fumes of acetone, citrus, brine and deeper fruits down your throat.

This rum is like a lot of very good whites on the market right now: Rum Fire, the Sajous, Toucan, J.B White, to name just a few. Quite aside from the heritage, the history, the production and eco-friendly nature of it, the rum is simply and powerfully an amazing original even when rated against those on the list of 21 Great Whites.  It’s not a rum that apologizes for its sense of excitement, or attempts to buffer itself with a standard profile in an effort to win brownie points with the larger audience.  It is maddeningly, surely, simply itself — and while I admit that strong whites are something of a thing for me personally (and not for people who like quieter, simpler or sweeter rums), I can’t help but suggest there’s so much going on with this one that it has to be tried by rum lovers at least once.

Luca and others have told me that River Antoine are having some issues maintaining the old water wheel and the open-air vats, and repairs are continuously being made. There are rumours of upgrading the equipment, perhaps even modernizing here or there.  I’m selfish, and I hope they manage to keep the old system going – because yes, they can make their rums faster, more easily, and issue more of them. But given the old-school quality of what I tried, the sheer force and fury and potency of what they’re already doing, I somehow wonder if anything modern they do will necessarily be better…or be regarded as a Key Rum. The way I regard this one.

(85/100)

May 252017
 

#367

In my own limited experience, Neisson has been one of the most distinctive Martinique agricole makers I’ve come across.  There’s something salty, oily, tequila-ish and musky in those of their rums I’ve tried, and while this might not always be to my liking, the quality of their work could never be denied.  To date, I’ve stuck with their aged rums, but back in 2016 L’homme à la Poussette (I’m thinking his poussette should be retired soon as his kids grow up but I hope he never changes the name of his site) passed along this ferocious white rhino, perhaps to gleefully observe my glottis landing in Albania.  

Now, this rum is something of a special edition, initially released in 2002 for the 70th Anniversary of the distillery, and annually without change thereafter – it is rested for six months in steel tanks after being taken off their Savalle still, but it is not aged in any way.  Although the resolutely family-owned distillery is now 85 years old, the rum retains the original title, perhaps because of its popularity among the rabid cognoscenti, who enjoy its 70⁰ ABV and the 70cl square bottle  Maybe some enterprising mathematician could work out how the sums of the corners and angles on the thing added up to or produced 70 — for my money, I’m more interested in whether the company releases more than 70 bottles a year or not, because for anyone who likes white lightning – whether for a cocktail or to brave by itself – this unaged rum is definitely up there with the best (or craziest).

You could tell that was the case just by smelling it: clearly Neisson felt that the subtle, light milquetoasts of the independent full proofs or the clairins (who bottle at a “mere” 60% or so) needed a kick in the pants to get them to up their game and join the Big Boys. The sheer intensity of the nose left me gasping – salt, wax, paraffin and floor polish billowed out hotly without any warning, accompanied by the sly note of well-worn, well-polished leather shoes (oxfords, not brogues, of course).  Nothing shy here at all, and the best thing about it – once I got past the heat – was what followed: coconut cream, almonds, olives, fruits (cherries, apricots, papaya, tart mangoes), all bedded down in a bath of sugar water and watermelon, and presenting themselves with attitude. If I was telling a story, I’d wax lyrical by saying the ground moved, trees shook, and an electric guitar solo was screaming in the background…but you kinda get the point already, right?

Oh, and that’s not all – the tasting was still to come. And so, be warned – 70 degrees of badass carves a glittering blade of heat down your throat, as surgically precise and sharp as a Swiss army knife.  A hot, spicy, and amazingly smooth sweet sugar water — spiked with stewed prunes, lemon zest, wet grass and gherkins in brine — roared across the palate.  With its brought-forward notes of polish and wax and grassiness, I felt like it was channelling the gleeful over-the-top machismo of a clairin, yet for all that enormous conflation of clear and crisp tastes, it still felt (and I know this is difficult to believe) smoother, creamier and more tamed than lesser-proofed whites like the Rum Nation 57%, Charley’s J.B. Jamaican white, the Clairin Sajous or the Klérin Nasyonal….which says a lot for how well the L’Esprit is actually made.  And the finish was no slouch either, long and very warm, salt butter and cereals mixing it up with some citrus, red grapefruit, more grass and even a hint of the smooth salty oiliness of a well-made tequila.

“How the hell did they stuff so much taste into the bottle?” I asked myself in wonder. Perhaps the unwritten, unspoken codicil is “…and not muck it all up into an unfocussed mess?”  Well, they did provide the profile, they didn’t muck it up, I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it was only later that I realized that in a world where Ringling Brothers can fit fifteen fat clowns into a Mini, I should not have been so surprised, when it’s obvious that in the rumiverse just about anything is possible.  Certainly Neisson proved it here.

You know how we hear the old joke about “Rum is the coming thing….and always will be”? This kind of statement is regularly and tiresomely trumpeted by all the know-nothing online drinks magazines who have their lazy hacks attempt to pen a few words or make up a click-bait list about a subject on which they are woefully ill-equipped to speak.  Still…take that statement a bit further.  I honestly believe that as the stocks of old and majestic 20+ or 30+ rums run out or are priced out of existence, it will soon become the turn of unaged, unfiltered white rums to take center stage and become De Nex’ Big Ting.  I accept that for the most part these will be cocktail bases — but for the enterprising, for the slightly addled, for the adventurous among us, for those who are willing to step off the path and enter Mirkwood directly, the real next undiscovered country lies with these white mastodons which showcase much of the amazing talent that remains in our world, needing only the bugling of an enthusiastic drinker or an enthusiastic writer, to bring them to a wider audience.  

(86/100)


Other notes

I should mention that Josh Miller of Inu A Kena ran the Neisson 70 through a 12-rum agricole challenge a while back.  If you’re not into neat drinks so much but love a cocktail, that article is worth a re-visit.