Jan 212018
 

#481

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

According to my email exchanges with the company, the rhum was produced from the harvest of 2005, which makes it a ten year old (though this is nowhere mentioned on the bottle itself – I’m taking that on trust) and is a blend of two rhums – pot still (30%) and column still (70%) deriving from cane juice aged in ex-bourbon barrels.  As a further note, although sugar was explicitly communicated to me as not being added, caramel and “natural aromas” were – so some variation from the pure is to be expected and I don’t doubt that hydrometer tests will show the dosage.

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

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

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

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

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

(83/100)

Jan 162018
 

#479

We’re on something of a Jamaican rum kick for a week or two, because leaving aside Barbados, they’re the ones getting all the press, what with Worthy Park and Hampden now putting out the juice, Longpond getting back in on the act, Monymusk and New Yarmouth lurking behind the scenes, and remember JB Charley with its interesting hooch? And of course behind them all, Appleton / J. Wray remains the mastodon of the island whose market share everyone wants a bite of.

While Worthy Park’s three new 2017 pot still offerings are definitely worth a buy, and Hampden is putting some big footprints into the sands of the beach, I still have a thing for Longpond myself – this comes directly from that famous and oh-so-tasty G&M 1941 58 year old I value so highly and share around so much.  Alas, the only place one is going to get a Longpond rum these days (until they reopen for business, for which many are waiting with bated and boozy breath) is from the independents, and Compagnie des Indes was there to satisfy the need: so far I think they have about twenty Jamaicans in the stable, of which three or four are from Longpond and I think they’re all sourced from Scheer or the Main Rum Company in Europe. (Note: The best online background and historical data on Longpond currently extant is on the site of that rabid Jamaican-loving rum-chum, the Cocktail Wonk, here and here).

Moving on to tasting notes, I have to say that when the bottle was cracked and I took a hefty snootful of the pale yellow rum, I was amazed at the similarity to (and divergence from) the G&M 1941 that was over four times older – there was that same wax and turpentine opening salvo which was augmented by phenols, rubber and some vague, musky Indian spices.  Honey and brine, olives, a few sharp red peppers (gone quickly), and a generous serving of the famous funk, crisp fruits and light flowers. It was well assembled, just a shade vague, as if not entirely sure what it wanted to be.

Never mind.  The palate was where the action was. Although the bottling at 44% ABV was not entirely enough to bring out all the subtleties, there was more than enough to keep the glass filled several times as I leaned back and took my time sampling it over an hour or so.  It began soft and warm with bananas, honey, whipped cream, a little salt caramel, and a little rye bread, aromatic wood chips (I hesitate to say cedar, but it was close).  Then the ester brass band came marching on through, providing the counterpoint – citrus, tart apples, cider, green grapes, and was that a flirt of cumin and curry I sensed? It came together in a nice tantara of a long, warm and spicy finish that wasn’t particularly original, just tried to sum up the experience by re-presenting the main themes – light fruity notes, some salt, olives and caramel, and a final leaf-blade of lemon peel holding it all together.

Longpond is known for its high ester count of its rums and that over-the-top funky flavour profile, so what I tasted, tamed as it was by the relatively unassertive proof point, came as no surprise and was a pleasant reminder of how very well properly-made, lovingly-aged Jamaican rums can be. This standard proof rum was issued for the general market with 384 bottles and as far as I know there’s no cask strength or “Danish market” edition floating around.  But that’s not really a problem, since that makes it something everyone can appreciate, not just the A-types who cut cask strength rums with cask strength whisky.  Whatever you preference in these matters, the CdI Longpond 12 remains a tasty, low key Jamaican that isn’t trying to rip your face off and pour fire down you throat, just present the estery, funky Jamaican rum in its best light…which this it does with delicacy, finesse, and no problems at all.  It’s a really good twelve year old rum.

(85/100)


Other notes

 

Jan 102018
 

#477

You’re going to read more about rums from the Monymusk distillery out of Jamaica in the next few years, I’m thinking, given how the island’s lesser-known products are emerging from the shadows; and distilleries other than Appleton are coming back into their own as distinct producers in their own right – Hampden, Longpond, Worthy Park, New Yarmouth, Clarendon/Monymusk are all ramping up and causing waves big time.  But aside from the Royal Jamaican Gold I tried many years ago (and was, at the time, not entirely won over by) and the EKTE 12 YO from a few weeks back, plus a few indies’ work I have yet to write about, there still isn’t that much out there in general release… so it may be instructive to go back in history a while to the near-beginning of the rum renaissance in 2009, when Renegade Rum Company, one of the first of the modern independent bottlers not from Italy, issued 3960 bottles of this interesting 5 year old from Monymusk.

Even in the Scottish company it kept (and many such outfits remained after Renegade folded), Renegade was not a normal UK indie.  If one were to eliminate the dosing issue, they were actually more akin to Italy’s Rum Nation, because they married multiple barrels of a given distillate to provide several thousand bottles of a rum (not just a few hundred), and then finished them in various ex-wine barrels as part of their Additional Cask Evolution strategy. Alas, they seemed to have raced ahead of the market and consumer consciousness, because the rums sold well but not spectacularly, which is why I could still pick one up (albeit as a sample) so many years later. Moreover, as Mark Reynier remarked to me, finding the perfect set of aged casks which conformed to his personal standards was becoming more and more difficult, which was the main reason for eventually closing up the Renegade shop…to the detriment of all us rum chums.

But I think he was on to something that was at the time unappreciated by all but the connoisseurs of the day, because while agricoles aged five years can be amazing, molasses based rums are not often hitting their stride until in their double digits – yet here, Renegade issued a five year old Jamaican pot still product that was a quietly superior rum which I honestly believe that were it made today, aficionados would be snapping up in no time flat and perhaps making Luca, Fabio, Tristan, Daniel and others cast some nervous glances over their shoulders.

Anyway, let me walk you through the tasting and I’ll explain why the rum worked as well as it did.  It nosed well from the get-go, that’s for sure, with Jamaican funk and esters coming off in all directions.  It felt thicker and more dour than the golden hue might have suggested, initially smelling of rubber, nail polish, tomato-stuffed olives in brine and salty cashew nuts with a sort of creamy undertone; but this receded over time and it morphed into a much lighter, crisper series of smells – bananas going off, overripe oranges, cumin, raisins and some winey hints probably deriving from the finish. Tempranillo is a full bodied red wine from Spain, so the aromas coming off of that were no real surprise.

What did surprise me was that when I tasted it, it did something of a 180 on me — it got somewhat clearer, lighter, sweeter, more floral, than the nose had suggested it would.  Traces of Kahlúa and coconut liqueur initially, bread and salt butter, some oakiness and sharper citrus notes; this was tamed better with water and the fruits were coaxed out of hiding, adding a touch of anise to the proceedings.  Pears, cashews, guavas, with the citrus component quite laid back and becoming almost unnoticeable, lending a nice, delicately sharp counterpoint to the muskier flavours the fleshier fruits laid down.  It all led to a pleasant, tightly minimal and slightly unbalanced finish that was long for that strength, but gave generously (some might say heedlessly) of the few flavours that remained – cherries, pears, red guavas, a little more anise, and some salt.

In a word?  Yummy. It’s a tasty young rum of middling strength that hits all the high points and has the combination of complexity and assertiveness and good flavours well nailed down.  It has elements that appeal to cask strength lovers without alienating the softer crowd, and the tempranillo finish adds an intriguing background wine and fruity note that moderates the Jamaican funk and dunder parts of the profile nicely. Though perhaps the weak point is the finish — which did not come up to the high water mark set by both nose and taste and was a shade incoherent — that’s no reason not to like the rum as it stands, to me.

Anyway, in these days of the great movement towards exacting pure rums of distillery-specific,country-defining brands, it’s good to remember an unfinished experiment such as this Jamaican rum from Renegade, which pointed the way towards many of the developments we are living through now.  That may be of no interest to you as a casual imbiber, of course, so let me close by saying that it’s a pretty damned good Jamaican rum on its own merits — which, if you were ever to see it gathering dust somewhere on a back shelf, you could do worse than to snap it and its brothers up immediately.

(86/100)


Other notes

Compliments to Alex Van der Veer of Master Quill, an underrated resource of the rum-reviewers shortlist, who sent me the sample.  His own review can be found on his website and I’m nudging him gently in the ribs here, hoping he reads this and writes more, more often 🙂

Oct 112017
 

#394

Yeah, I’m chugging along behind the other reviewers, pulling late into the station on this one.  The Smith & Cross Jamaican rum has been on people’s radar for ages now, so it’s not as if this review will do much except to raise its profile infinitesimally.  Still, given its reputation, you can understand why, when I finally came across it – courtesy of a great bartender in Toronto who, by stocking stuff like this somehow manages to defeat the LCBO’s best attempts to dumb down the Canadian rum drinking public – both excitement and expectation warred in the cockles of my rum-soaked corpus as I poured myself a generous shot (and left Robin Wynne, bless his heart, ogling, billing and cooing at the Longpond 1941 which I provided as proof that I really do exist).

And my curiosity and enthusiasm was well-founded. Consider the geek-stats on the rum, to start with: Jamaican rum from the near-epicenter of ester-land, Hampden Estate (awesome); pure pot still product (oh yeah); growly 57% strength (damned right); unfrigged-with (now we’re talking); and overall amazing quality, (well brudderman, Ah wipin’ me eyes).  What more could any funk-bomb, ester-loving, rum-swilling aficionado on a budget possibly want? I mean, a juice like this beats the living snot out of, and then wipes the floor with, something like a Diplomatico, know what I mean? No soft Spanish style column still rum here, but an aggressive in-your-face spirit that’s itching for a dust-up. With style.

It certainly did not disappoint.  When you smell this, it’s like Air Traffic Control didn’t just clear me for takeoff, but for blast-off – scents burst out of the bottle and the glass in a rich panoply of rumstink (I mean that in a good way), matching just about any good Jamaican I’ve ever had, and exceeding quite a few. Although initially there was cream and unsweetened yoghurt or labneh, there was also the light fruitiness of esters and flowers, and absolutely no shortage of the righteous funk of rotting bananas and a garbage pail left in the sun (and I swear to you, this is not a bad thing).  It was not, I judged, something to hurry past in a rush to get to the next one, so I let it stand, and indeed, additional aromas timidly crept out from behind the elephant in the room – some rough and jagged molasses and burnt sugar, crushed strawberries in unsweetened cream, and some dark bitter chocolate…in other words, yummy.

While the smell and aroma were one step removed from awesome, the taste is what told the tale – it was, surprisingly enough, clean and clear, and quite spicy, redolent of olives, citrus, masala spice and a good whallop of burnt sugar.  And it didn’t just exude these flavours, it seethed with them, with a sort of rough intensity that was remarkably well controlled.  It also developed really well, I thought – over time (and with some water), it kept on adding to the menu: hot black tea, a combination of earthiness, of dry and musty sawdust that one might use the word “dirty” to describe without any negative connotations, and even to the very end (an hour later…I had that glass on the go for quite some time), there was still nougat and chocolate emerging from the glass.  Oh and the finish? Just excellent – long, crisp, funky, with salt and vinegar chips, creaminess and driness all fighting to get in the last word. I have just about zero complaints or whinges about this one.

So a few other tidbits before I wrap up the show.  Strictly speaking, this is a blend of two styles of pot-stilled rum, Plummer and Wedderburn. These are not types of still (like John Dore and Vendome, for example) but two of the four or five main classifications the British used to type and identify Jamaica rums in the late 19th and early 20th century – Longpond, for example, was much known for the Wedderburn profile, a heavier bodied rum somewhat distinct from the more medium bodied Plummer style.  Both have massive dunder and esters in there, so for Smith & Cross (who have been around in the UK in one form or another since the 1780s) to have brought this kind of style back out into the market several years back, when easier column-still sipping fare was more the norm, deserves quite a few accolades. The rum, as noted above, is a blend of almost equal parts Wedderburn and Plummer, with the Wedderburn aged for less than a year, and the Plummer portion split between parts aged 18 months and parts for 3 years, in white oak. Frankly, I’d love to see what a really (tropical) aged version of this rumzilla would be like, because for now the youth is apparent…though fortunately it’s neither distracting nor disqualifying on that score.

The Smith & Cross reminded me a lot of the Compagnie des Indes’s 2000 14 year old, also from Hampden, but not as good as the CDI Worthy Park 2007.  There was much of the same sharp richness matched against something of a ghetto bad boy here, like an educated gentleman who knows just when to stop being one and belt you a good one. If you’re not into full proof Jamaican rums showcasing  heavy dunder and funky flavours that batter the senses and skewer the palate, then this is likely not a rum for you.  But for those who are willing to weather its force and scalpel-like profile, it is one that reminds us what Jamaicans used to be like and what they aspire to now…and points the way to a re-emergence of a style that has for many years been hidden from view and is now getting the praise that always should have been its right.

(88/100)

Sep 062017
 

#386

Let’s be honest – 2017 is the year of FourSquare.  No other company since Velier’s post-2012 explosion on the popular rum scene, has had remotely like this kind of impact, and if you doubt that, just swim around the sea of social media and see how many references there are to Triptych and Criterion in the last six months.  Which is admittedly an odd way to begin a review of a competing product, but I wanted to mention that for all the (deservedly) amazing press surrounding the latest hot juice in the rumiverse, there remain equally solid names as well, who may not be as glitzy but have great products nevertheless, reliably issued year in and year out.

One of these is Rum Nation, which remains — after all the years since I first came across them in 2011 — among my favourites of all the independents. Their entry level rums, which usually sell for under a hundred dollars, are relatively standard proofed and are pretty good rums for those now getting into something different from mass-produced “country-brands” (even though they suffer from the dosage opprobrium that also on occasion sullies Plantation’s street cred). And because they are made from several barrels, usually have outturn in the thousands of bottles so there’s always some left to buy.  But the real gems of the Rum Nation line are — and always have been — the Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the aged Demeraras, all over twenty years old, and all bottled at an approachable strength of under 50% (dosing remains a fierce bone of contention here and is somewhat inconsistent across the line).  At least, they were at that strength, because Rum Nation, never being content to rest on their laurels, decided to go a step further.

In 2016, bowing to the emerging trend for cask strength, Rum Nation introduced the small batch “Rare Rums”.  These are much more limited editions of rums north of 50% and so far hail from Jamaica (Hampden), Reunion (Savannna) and Guyana (Enmore, Diamond and Port Mourant) – they are much closer to the ethos of Samaroli, Silver Seal, Ekte, Compagnie des Indes Danish and Cask Strength series, and, of course, the Veliers.

This also makes them somewhat more pricey, but I argue that they are worth it, and if you doubt that, just follow me through the tasting of the 57.4% 2016 Batch #2 Port Mourant, which started off with a nose of uncommonly civilized behavior (for a PM) – in a word, arresting.  With a spicy initial attack, it developed fleshy fruit, anise, licorice, spicy to a fault, adding prunes, plums, yellow mangoes, deep deep caramel and molasses, more licorice…frankly, it didn’t seem to want to stop, and throughout the exercise.I could only nod appreciatively and almost, but not quite, hurried on to taste the thing.

I am pleased to report that there were no shortcomings here either. It was warm, breathy and rich.  It may have come up in past scribblings that I’m somewhat of an unredeemed coffee-swilling chocaholic, and this satisfied my cravings as might a well-appointed Haagen-Dasz store: dark unsweetened chocolate, a strong latte, caramel, anise and burnt sugar, which was followed – after a touch of water – by dark fruit, raisins, figs and a touch of salt and bite and harshness, just enough to add character.  I was curious and wondered if it had been tarted up a mite, but honestly, whether yes or no, I didn’t care – the rum was still excellent. Rum Nation took two casks and wrung 816 bottles out of them, and I can assure you that not a drop was wasted, and even the finish – long, warm, breathy, piling on more chocolate and creme brulee to a few additional dark fruits – was something to savour.

This rum (and the Small Batch Rare Collection 1995 21 year old I tried alongside it)  exemplifies what I like about RN.  Honestly, I don’t know how Fabio Rossi does it.  Back to back, he issued two rums which were years apart in age, and their quality was so distinct, they were so well done, that I scored them both almost the same even though they were, on closer and subsequent inspection, appreciably different sprigs from the same rum branch.  No, it’s not the best PM ever (or even from RN itself), and is eclipsed by its own brother issued in the same year…but it’s a variant in quality not many other makers could have put out the door.  It’s a rum that is quite an experience to drink, and if I like the 21 better, well, it’s only a quarter-second, half a nose and a single point behind…and that’s no failure in my book.  Not by a long shot.

(89/100)

Aug 102017
 

#382

Renegade rums continue to hold a peculiar sort of fascination for me, because they were the first rums made by any outfit other than the big island producers or major corporations with which I came into contact.  They made it into Canada just as I was starting my rum scribbles, and were the only ones I saw for many years. Given our current familiarity with unadulterated rums made by independents, and adding to that something of a nostalgia factor, perhaps this Port Mourant succeeds better than it should, but I guess by the end of this review you can decide for yourself.

The bio of the company that got posted earlier this week provides most of the details of Renegade itself, so I won’t rehash them here.  This rum adheres to all the usual markers of the range: distilled in 2003, bottled in 2009 at the standard 46%, sourced from casks of juice from DDL’s Port Mourant wooden still (which raises certain expectations, naturally enough), and there’s that finish in Temperanillo casks for a few months (for the curious, Temperanillo is a rather full bodied red wine made from blue-black grapes in Spain). Also, and this is important, what we have here is not a single cask bottling, but many casks married together as part of Renegade’s production philosophy, and that’s is why the outturn is 6,650 bottles, and why, just maybe, you might still be able to get one with some judicious rumhounding.

And I think that would be a good thing, because this was a rum that channeled the spirit of the Port Mourant profile without entirely bowing to it, and provided an interesting twist on a well-known rum marque. That’s no idle fancy of mine either: when I nosed it for the first time I was looking for some of those deep woody, fruity and anise notes – none appeared. In fact the first aromas were of glue, rubber, brine, lemon-pepper…and beef stock (no, really).  Then came the olives, gherkins in vinegar and more brine, leather and smoke, coffee grounds, some vague caramels, pencil shavings, vanilla, oak…but where was the fruity stuff? I mean, it was good, it was intriguing, it had character, but it did depart from the norm, too, and not everyone will like that.

    Photo (c) Master Quill

The taste of the pale-yellow rum was also quite engaging: it was clear and clean, quite dry, and seemed stronger than it actually was (perhaps because it was so relatively young, or because it presented as ‘light’ – again, not what one would normally associate with a PM). Initial tastes were of fruit – white guavas, green apples, anjou pears and papaya, plus a tiny twist of lemon – before other background flavours emerged, mostly leather, smoke, pencil shavings, musty hay, cardboard and vanilla.  With water some more fruit crept out, nothing specific (maybe a grape or two), and the impression I was left with was more brandy than rum.  Frankly, this did not resemble a Port Mourant at all.  A note should also be made of a sort of minerally, ashy thing going on throughout, faint but noticeable and thankfully it was too feeble to derail the overall experience. The finish, though oddly short, was excellent – warm, easy, with citrus and raisins, some very weak molasses, and (finally!!) a flirt of licorice.

The profile as described above is exactly why I’ve always scratched my head about Renegade. I believed then (and now) that their finishing philosophy was hit-or-miss and sometimes detracted from what I felt would be an exceptional rum if left to its own devices. I imagine Mr. Reynier would disagree since this departure from the norm was exactly what he was after, and indeed, there were aspects of the overall experience here that proved his point – this rum may have originated from a set of PM barrels as modified by Temperanillo finishing, but what went into the bottles at the other end was a fascinating synthesis that might be difficult to define or even identify as a PM rum.  Which is both a rum geek’s attraction and a newbie’s despite.

On balance, I liked it a lot for its originality and daring, perhaps not so much for the final assembly and integration — a little more ageing might have done well, maybe a little less tinkering.  Still, the wine finish, however polarizing, was worn with panache and verve, and if the rum ran headlong into the wall in its desire to show off new ways to present old workhorses, well, y’know, I can respect that – especially since the rum as tasted wasn’t half bad to me. It may have lacked the dark brooding Port Mourant cask-strength menace to which Velier accustomed us, it may be a rum made by and for whisky makers…but I honestly believe that it was too well made to ignore entirely. Then and now.

(84.5/100)


Other notes

Alex over at Master Quill, who hails from somewhat more of a whisky background than I do, knowing my liking for the brand, very kindly sent me the sample, which in turn he did not like as much as I did. His review is definitely worth a look.

 

Aug 022017
 

#381

Novo Fogo is the first cachaça I’ve ever tried that went off the reservation and hammered me in the face even at a relatively staid 40%.  It was so different from the regular run of sugar-water-plus-local-wood flavours to which I had become accustomed in my (as yet) brief acquaintanceship with the Brazilian national spirit, that I literally pulled my face back from the glass, muttered a disbelieving “wtf?” and spent another five minutes closely perusing the label to make sure I had not been taken for a ride.  But no, it had been an unopened bottle, it had some tasting notes on the label not a million miles removed from what I was sensing, and it all seemed quite legit…except that it was about as subtle as a bitchslap from Ser Gregor Clegane on a bad hair day. And I mean that in a good way.

The producer of this interesting cachaça is a company called Agroecologia Marumbi SA, from Morretes PR (Parana) which is located in the south of Brazil, not Minas Gerais where supposedly the best and most traditional cachacas are made.  Novo Fogo (“New Fire” in Portuguese) is derived from sugar cane grown without herbicides or pesticides, and the organic nature of the operations is a major point of pride and quality, according to the distillery founder Fulgencio Viruel who started the operation in 2004. The cane is manually harvested and taken to an onsite press that extracts the pure juice, with the leftover bagasse recycled as fuel and fertilizer. Fermentation takes around 24 hours using wild yeast and the 7%-9% wine is then passed through a copper pot still (another point of departure, since most of the well known cachacas are done on column stills), and then rested – not aged – for one year in a stainless steel vat before being bottled without any filtration or additions.  So there. Aged variations exist, but I didn’t get a chance to try any.  Given the impact this one had on me, I should really try some more.

I say impact not so much because of great beauty of construction or masterful subtlety of assembly, but because the thing is startlingly good for a standard strength Brazilian table tipple, if perhaps somewhat at right angles to others I had tried before – it’s something like a concussive Delicana’s Jequitiba, or an amped-up Thoquino.  Nothing demonstrated this more clearly than the initial nose (the very first note in my battered notebook was “Damn – this thing is serious!”) where I immediately sensed an intense vegetal aroma of rotting fruits, bananas, overripe red wiri-wiri peppers in vinegar (but without the heat). It was followed up by strong, distinct brine and olives, salt, wax, sugar cane sap and lemon zest, and frankly, what it reminded me more than anything else was a Clairin Sajous, if perhaps not as powerful.

Thankfully it did not sample as sharp as the aroma suggested and that might make it somewhat more approachable than those who took flight from the Sajous and its cousins (assuming one’s tastes bend that way, mind you – and that’s not a given).  It was quite heated, firm and crisp, rather rich and solid, with a more characteristic sugar water taste coming forward now, not entirely displacing the wax and salt and olives which persisted quite strongly (along with the peppers).  More lemon zest was here, some black pepper, apples, vegetals and some fleshy fruit like overripe pineapples.  The balance was a bit off – the brine and olives never really let go, which made the fruitiness recede somewhat and reduced my enjoyment, but overall it was a pretty good cachaça — if one keeps in mind my predilection for clairins, which this one closely resembled.  Finally, it closed off, rapidly, leaving behind nothing much more than the memories of swank, fresh mown grass and that lemon-pepper salt which my wife complains I overuse in what little cooking I can be persuaded to do.

Now, I’ve read online notes that talk about the easy entry, how it is smooth and soft, and then wax rhapsodic about its various competing flavours (the last of which I believe), but I stand here telling you that it’s not really as easy as all that: this thing is a dirty, off-kilter little dragon that seems to be just waiting for an opportunity to jump down your throat and toast your chest to medium-rare – but it’ll do it with finesse, with some style. It’s quite a fire-breathing, smoke-exhaling cachaça, and is in my limited experience the most original and interesting spirit of that kind I have tried to date. Admittedly I have an obnoxious love for obscure and powerful tastes that borders on the masochistic, so I liked the fact that here there was a rum — charged-up, drinkable, original and in its own way, quite remarkable — made in that same vein. It’s worth trying it, I believe, just to see where the whole experience goes, to spend a lot of time figuring out…and, perhaps, just perhaps, to savour.

(83/100)


Other notes

This review is quite late to the party since Novo Fogo has been available in the States for years (the first review I found dates back to 2011). And, as ever one step ahead of me, Josh Miller at Inuakena had run it through his 14-sample Cachaça Challenge back in early 2015 and rated it….wait for it…as his #1.

Jul 162017
 

#377

Bottled in 2004 at a lukewarm 43%, Bristol Spirits have somehow transcended the living room strength of this classic 30 year old rum and produced one of the best Jamaicans of its kind.  Even under some time pressure, I still had that glass on the go for two full hours, smelling it over and over, tasting it in the tiniest of sips again and again, comparing, retasting, rechecking, making more and more notes, and in the fullproof company of Guyanese and Jamaicans I was trying alongside it, it was a standout of no mean proportions.  We simply do not see rums of this kind any longer – we can with some effort get 15-20 year olds, we may be able to source a few rums in their twenties, but when was the last time you were fortunate enough to try a thirty year old rum?

Bristol Spirits are no stranger to old stocks, of course.  There was the masterful Port Mourant 1980 and that sublime Caroni 1974, to name but two.  These days, they’ve sort of settled into a groove with more sober-minded middle-aged rums, and while I would never say that what they produce now is not up to scratch — what they put out the door is both imaginative and interesting — none of them have that aura of gravitas mixed up with a ballsy “looky here!” middle-finger-to-the-establishment braggadocio…or yes, the restrained majesty, which three decades of ageing confers on this rum.

Because it was clear that every aspect of that age was wrung out and lovingly extracted from the single originating barrel.  No attempt was made to hold a thing back, and this was evident right away on the aroma, which dumbfounded me by being much more complex and even pungent for what – let’s face it – is not the world’s most badass rum strength.  It was just so deep. It started out with the richness of burnt leaves and charred canefields after the ritual firing, smouldering in a tropical twilight; caramel, toffee, nutty nougat, almonds, burnt brown sugar, tied together with oak and slightly bitter tannins that did not detract but enhanced. What fruits there were — raisins, prunes, plums for the most part — kept a cool kind of distance which supported the aromas noted above without supplanting them, and around them all was a weird amalgam of melons, squash and citrus zest that I was at a loss to pin down at first…but trust me, it worked. Anyone who loves rums (and not just Jamaicans) would go ape for this thing.

The taste was similarly top-notch, and while I would be hard-pressed to tell you the profile screamed “funk” or “dunder” or “Jamaican”, I must also tell you that what was presented had so much to offer that the rum skated past such concerns. It started out with traditional dark caramel, a little glue and warm dark fruit – raisins, black cake, tamarind – and then went for broke.  Over two hours it developed tastes of honey, cherries, flowers, charred wood, ashes and hot damp earth after a rain, underlain with a sort of laid back but crisp flavours of green apples, lemon zest and nuts, and finished off with a surprisingly long fade redolent of raspberries and ripe cherries and vanilla.  Quite frankly, one of the reasons I kept at it for so long was simply that I found myself more and more impressed with it as time went on: to the very end it never stopped developing.

As with many really good rums – and yes, I call this one of them – there’s more to it than simple tasting notes.  The mark of a rum / rhum / ron which transcends its provenance and age and goes for something special, is one that either makes one ponder the rumiverse while drinking it, or one that brings up clear associated memories in the mind of the reviewer – to some extent both were the case here. It was not clearly and distinctively a Jamaican rum, and I wondered how the distinctive profile of the island was so muted here….was it the long ageing in Europe, the original barrel, a peculiarity of the distillate, or the still itself? And as time went on I stopped worrying about it, and was drawn back into my memories of my youth in the Caribbean, the scent of burning canefields, fresh pressed cane juice on shaved ice sold by a snow-cone vendor outside Bourda, and the first taste of a local hooch in a beergarden down the coast served neat with a bowl of ice.  Such things are in themselves irrelevant, but also part and parcel of what makes this rum, to me, quite special, the more so since it happens so rarely.

So, yeah, I’m a drooling fanboy (was it that obvious?).  But how could I not be? You have to experience the emphatic boom trapped within the otherwise standard proof to understand my enthusiasm.  Muted yes; quiet yes; not as intense – of course.  One cannot outrun one’s shadow and get out from under 43%.  But just smell the thing, taste the thing, savour the thing — like some of the Compagnie’s rums, it makes a great case for Continental ageing. You could almost imagine some half-crazed, giggling bottler, half-in and half-out the barrel with a tiny teaspoon and clean white cloth, trying to get the very last drop out just to make sure that nothing was wasted.  Given what was achieved here, assuredly none of it was. It’s just half a shot shy of great.

(90/100)


Other notes

There is no data on the originating estate.  I’m guessing here, but believe it’s either a Longpond or a Monymusk, just on the taste.  If anyone has more info, feel free to correct me on this one.

Jun 262017
 

#375

Velier rums have now become so famous that new editions and collaborations disappear from the shelves fifteen minutes before they go on sale, and the “classic” editions from the Age of the Demeraras are all but impossible to find at all.  Still, keeping one’s twitchy ears and long nose alert does in fact get you somewhere in the end, which is why, after a long drought of the company’s rums in my battered notebook (if you discount the legendary Caputo 1973), I managed to pick up this little gem and am pleased to report that it conforms to all the standards that made Velier the poster child for independent bottlers.  It’s one of the better Port Mourant variations out there (although not the best – that honour, for me, still belongs to the Velier PM 1974, the Norse Cask 1975, with the Batch 1 Rum Nation 1995 Rare PM running a close third), and drinking it makes me wistful, even nostalgic, about all those magical rums which are getting rarer by the day and which speak to times of excellence now gone by.

And how could I not be? I mean, just look at the bare statistics. Guyanese rum, check. Full proof, check – it’s 56.7%. Massively old, double-check…the thing is 32 years old, distilled in May 1975 (a very good year) and bottled in March 2008 (my eyes are already misting over), from three barrels which gave out a measly 518 bottles. The only curious thing about it is the maturation which was done both in Guyana and Great Britain, but with no details on how long in each.  And a mahogany hue which, knowing how Luca does things, I’m going to say was a result of all that king-sized ageing.  All this comes together in a microclimate of old-school badass that may just be a characteristic of these geriatric products.

How did it smell?  Pretty damned good.  Heavy and spiced. A vein of caramel salty-sweetness ran hotly through the fierce dark of the standard PM profile, lending a blade of distinction to the whole.  The first aromas were of anise and wood chips, tannins, leather, orange marmalade.  The wood may have been a bit much, and obscured what came later – herbs and molasses, raisins, raw untreated honey from the comb, with a bit of brooding tar behind the whole thing.  Lightness and clarity were not part of the program here, tannins and licorice were, perhaps too much, yet there’s nothing here I would tell you failed in any way, and certainly nothing I would advise you to steer clear of.

On the taste, the anise confidently rammed itself to the fore, plus a bunch of oak tannins that were fortunately kept in check (a smidgen more would have not been to the PM’s advantage, I thought).  There were warm, heavy tastes of brown sugar vanilla, caramel, bananas, and then a majestic procession of fruitiness stomped along by – raisins, prunes, blackberries, dark cherries, accompanied by nougat, avocado and salt, orange peel and white chocolate. All the tastes I like in my Demerara rums were on display, and with a warmth and power conveyed by the 56.7% that no 40% PM could ever hope to match, undone only – and ever so slightly – by the oaken tannins, which even carried over to the finish.  Fortunately, the anise and warmer raisins and salt caramel came along for their curtain call as well, so overall, all I can say is this is a hell of a rum, long lasting, tasty and no slouch at all. Frankly, I believe that this was the rum DDL should have been aiming for with its 1980 and 1986 25 year old rums.

So, how does it rate in the pantheon of the great Demeraras from the Age?  Well, I think the oak and licorice, though restrained, may be somewhat too aggressive (though not entirely dominant), and they edge out subtler, deeper flavours which can be tasted but not fully appreciated to their maximum potential – the balance is a bit off.  This is not a disqualification in any sense of the word, the rum is too well made for that; and in any case, such flavours are somewhat of a defining characteristic of the still, so anyone buying a PM would already know of it – but for those who like a more coherent assembly, it’s best to be aware of the matter.  

Just consider the swirling maelstrom of cool, of near-awe, that surrounds this product, not just for its provenance, or its age, but for lustre it brings to the entire Age’s amazing reputation.  It’s a rum to bring tears to the eyes, because we will not see its like again, in these times of increasing participation by the indies, and the <30 year aged output.  Who would, or could, buy such a rum anyway, at the price it fetches nowadays (I saw one on retail for €2000 last week)?

At this stage in the state of the rumworld, I think we should just accept that we can no longer expect to be able to source those original monsters with which the giants of the subculture made their bones.  Anyone who has one of these is holding on to it for resale or for judicious sharing among the hard core rum chums who have pictures of every Velier bottle ever made hanging on walls where the Lamborghini Countach or Pamela Anderson was once posted.  You can sort of understand why.  They are all a cut above the ordinary and this one is no exception. In its own way, it’s great. And even if it does not ascend to the stratosphere the way I felt the 1974 did, then by God you will say its name when you taste it, and all your squaddies will doff their hats and bow twice.  It’s simply that kind of experience.

(89/100)

Jun 222017
 

#374

Two bottles of  Secret Treasures St. Lucian rum came my way in early 2017, entirely unexpected and unannounced, and both were fascinating variations on a theme.  Did I say thanks to Eddie K?  I think so, but let’s just tip the trilby to the man one more time, because even next to its very sound brother, this baby from a John Dore pot still is no slouch either, and not much has been written about either one, and it’s entirely possible that they are among the most under-the-radar value-for-money indie rums around.

Since there’s not much more to say about the basic details of the originating bottler already noted in the Vendome Pot Still essay, here’s the additional background relevant to this rum: it is from St. Lucia Distillers, made on their John Dore pot still, aged nine years (same as its sibling) in ex-bourbon barrels, issued at 55% and gold in colour.  The outturn is not noted anywhere, and the Haromex website only speaks about “carefully selected barrels” so I have no idea how many bottles are out there (though coming from a single cask, around 300 bottles isn’t out to lunch); or even where the ageing process took place — from the profile I’d hazard a guess that it was done in St. Lucia. I also believe it’s from the same batch as the others in this series, so consider 2005 as the distillation date as reasonable.

That out of the way, what did it smell like.  Different from the Vendome, for sure. The nose was all  low key fruitiness, medium sweet. You could sense something of old furniture lovingly polished and floors well waxed, mingling delicately with a little oak and brine, but the gradually emergent breakfast spices, sugarcane sap, cinnamon, peaches, cherry and pineapple carried the day.  Overall, it’s a firm yet not overbearing, skirting delicacy by a whisker, and noticeably heavier than the Vendome (the comparisons are inevitable, of course, as they were tried in tandem).  As the rum opened up, there was also caramel and nougat and some tangerines, with muskiness and cardboard and dry breakfast cereal, coming together in a very good balance.

The palate was curiously indeterminate when initially tasted, before it settled down.  Yes there was coffee and chocolate with a little caramel drizzle, but the fruits seem reticent and initially took a back seat to muskier, heavier notes.  It was good, just not entirely distinctive.  It also tasted a little winey, possessing the qualities of a zinfandel or maybe even a dry (but not oversweet) Tokaji.  It’s only after waiting ten minutes that the fruits came out full force and became the dominant note – pineapples again, cherries, ripe peaches in syrup, papaya and licorice with vanilla and whipped cream tidying up the loose ends.  The finish summarized all of the preceding, being easy and warm, quite smooth, with chocolate, nougat, cloves and a hint of saltiness and citrus closing up the shop.

On balance, while I could tell them apart, figuring out which is better is a lost cause.  The Vendome pot still rum from last week was an excellent product by itself, with the crispness dialled down and a solid complexity married to individuality and balance in a way one can’t help but appreciate.  Its twin from the John Dore still evinced a somewhat cleaner, more fruity profile, with additional notes of coffee and cocoa forming a tasty synthesis that I enjoyed just as much.  This was why I spent a couple of  days with the two glasses (regularly recharged of course – I sacrifice my liver for the art), going back and forth from one to the other, but truth to tell, for all their individuality and heft, I can’t chose between them in terms of overall quality and don’t really want to.  

So I’m giving them both the same score, and no matter which one you end up with, if St. Lucian rums are your thing, or good quality unmessed-with fullproof rums of any kind turn your crank, you won’t feel shortchanged by either one. This rum and its brother are a useful counterweight to the more distinctive Jamaicans, Bajans, Guyanese or Trinis. And they remind us all that there’s another type of profile – somewhat unsung, occasionally overlooked — that’s also a part of the already excellent British West Indian rum canon.

(86/100)

For an in-depth discussion of the production process and the stills, Marco Freyr has done his usual superb work in his own review of the rum, which he scored at 91.

 

 

error: Content is copyrighted. Please email thelonecaner@gmail.com for permission .