Jul 092020
 

After having written on and off about Yoshiharu Takeuchi’s company Nine Leaves for many years, and watching his reputation and influence grow, it seems almost superfluous to go on about his background in any kind of detail. However, for those new to the company who want to know what the big deal is, it’s a one-man rum-making outfit located in Japan, and Yoshi-san remains its only employee (at least until July 2020, when he takes on an apprentice, so I am reliably informed).

Nine Leaves has been producing three kinds of pot-still rums for some time now: six month old rums aged in either French oak or ex-bourbon, and slightly more aged expressions up to two years old with which Yoshi messes around….sherry or other finishes, that kind of thing.  The decision to keep things young and not go to five, eight, ten years’ ageing, is not entirely one of preference, but because the tax laws of Japan make it advisable, and Yoshi-san has often told me he has no plans to go in the direction of double digit aged rums anytime soon…though I remain hopeful. I’ve never really kept up with all of his work – when there’s at least four rums a year coming out with just minor variations, it’s easy to lose focus – but neither have I left it behind.  His rums are too good for that. He’s a perennial stop for me in any rumfest where he and I intersect.

But now, here is the third in his series of Encrypted rums (Velier’s 70th Anniversary Edition from Nine Leaves was humorously referred to as “Encrypted 2½“) and is an interesting assembly: a blend six different Nine Leaves rums, the youngest of which is two years old. The construction is nowhere mentioned on the elegantly spare label (probably for lack of space) but it’s composed of rums aged or finished in in two different types of P/X barrels, in bourbon barrels, Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, Chardonnay barrels….and one more, unmentioned, unstated. And in spite of insistent begging, occasional threats, offers of adoption, even promises to be his third employee, Yoshi-san would not budge, and secret that sixth rum remains.

Whatever the assembly, the results spoke for themselves – this thing was good.  Coming on the scene as the tide of the standard strength forty percenters was starting to ebb, Nine Leaves has consistently gone over 40% ABVm mostly ten points higher,  but this thing was 58% so the solidity of its aromas was serious.  It was amazingly rich and deep, and presented initially as briny, with olives, vegetable soup and avocados. The fruity stuff came right along behind that – plums, grapes, very ripe apples and dark cherries, and then dill, rye bread, and a fresh brie.  I also noticed some sweet stuff sweet like nougat and almonds, cinnamon, molasses, and a nice twitch of citrus for a touch of edge. To be honest, I was not a little dumbfounded, because it was outside my common experience to smell this much, stuffed into a rum so young.

The rum is coloured gold and is in its aggregate not very old, but it has an interesting depth of texture and layered taste that could surely not be bettered by rums many times its age. Initially very hot, once it dialled into its preferred coordinates, it tasted both fruity and salty at the same time, something like a Hawaiian pizza, though with restrained pineapples (which is a good thing, really). Initially there were tastes of plums and dark fruits like raisins and prunes and blackberries, mixed up with molasses and salted caramel ice cream. These gradually receded and ceded the floor to a sort of salty, minerally, tawny amalgam of a parsley-rich miso soup into which some sour cream has been dropped and delicate spices – vanilla, cinnamon, a dust of nutmeg and basil.  I particularly enjoyed the brown, musky sense of it all, which continued right into a long finish that not only had that same sweet-salt background, but managed to remind me of parched red earth long awaiting rain, and the scent of the first drops hissing and steaming off it.  

I have now tasted this rum three times, and my initially high opinion of it has been confirmed on each subsequent occasion. The “Encrypted” series just gets better every time, and the sheer complexity of what’s in there is stunning for a rum that young, making a strong case that blending can produce a product every bit as good as any pure single rum out there, and it’s not just Foursquare that can do it.  I think it handily eclipses anything else made in Japan right now, except perhaps the 21 year old “Teeda” from Helios which is both weaker and older. But the comparison  just highlights the achievement of this one, and it is my belief that even if I don’t know what the hell that sixth portion in the blend is, the final product stands as one of the best Nine Leaves has made to date, and a formidable addition to the cabinet of anyone who knows and loves really good rum.

(#743)(88/100)

Jul 012020
 

As the memories of the Velier Demeraras fades and the Caronis climb in price past the point of reason and into madness, it is good to remember the third major series of rums that Velier has initiated, which somehow does not get all the appreciation and braying ra-ra publicity so attendant on the others. This is the Habitation Velier collection, and to my mind it has real potential of eclipsing the Caronis, or even those near-legendary Guyanese rums which are so firmly anchored to Luca’s street cred.

I advertise the importance of the series in this fashion because too often they’re seen as secondary efforts released by a major house, and priced (relatively) low to match, at a level not calculated to excite “Collector’s Envy”. But they are all pot still rums, they’re from all over the world, they’re all cask strength, they’re both aged and unaged, and still, even years after their introduction, remain both available and affordable for what they are. When was the last time you heard that about a Velier rum? 

Since there is such a wide range in the series, it goes without saying that variations in quality and diverse opinions attend them all – some are simply considered better than others and I’ve heard equal volumes of green p*ss and golden praise showered on any one of them. But in this instance I must tell you right out, that the EMB released in 2019 is a really good sub-ten year old rum, just shy of spectacular and I don’t think I’m the only one to feel that way.

The first impression I got from nosing this kinetic 62% ABV rum, was one of light crispness, like biting into a green apple.  It was tart, nicely sweet, but also with a slight sourness to it, and just a garden of fruits – apricots, soursop, guavas, prunes – combined with nougat, almonds and the peculiar bitterness of unsweetened double chocolate.  And vanilla, coconut shavings and basil, if you can believe it.  All this in nine years’ tropical ageing?  Wow. It’s the sort of rum I could sniff at for an hour and still be finding new things to explore and classify.

The taste is better yet. Here the light clarity gives way to something much fiercer, growlier, deeper, a completely full bodied White Fang to the nose’s tamer Buck if you will.  As it cheerfully tries to dissolve your tongue you can clearly taste molasses, salted caramel, dates, figs, ripe apples and oranges, brown sugar and honey, and a plethora of fragrant spices that make you think you were in an oriental bazaar someplace – mint, basil, and cumin for the most part.  I have to admit, water does help shake loose a few other notes of vanilla, salted caramel, and the low-level funk of overripe mangoes and pineapple and bananas, but this is a rum with a relatively low level of esters (275.5 gr/hlpa) compared to a mastodon channeling DOK and so they were content to remain in the background and not upset the fruit cart. 

As for the finish, well, in rum terms it was longer than the current Guyanese election and seemed to feel that it was required that it run through the entire tasting experience a second time, as well as adding some light touches of acetone and rubber, citrus, brine, plus everything else we had already experienced the palate.  I sighed when it was over…and poured myself another shot.

Man, this was one tasty dram.  Overall, what struck me, what was both remarkable and memorable about it, was what it did not try to be. It didn’t display the pleasant blended anonymity of too many Barbados rums I’ve tried and was not as woodsy and dark as the Demeraras. It was strong yes, but the ageing sanded off most of the rough edges. It didn’t want or try to be an ester monster, while at the same time was individual and funky enough to please those who dislike the sharp extremes of a TECA or a DOK rum – and I also enjoyed how easily the various tastes worked well together, flowed into each other, like they all agreed to a non-aggression pact or something.  

It was, in short, excellent on its own terms, and while not exactly cheap at around a hundred quid, it is – with all the strength and youth and purity – a lot of Grade A meat on the hoof. It stomped right over my palate and my expectations, as well as exceeding a lot of other more expensive rums which are half as strong and twice as old but nowhere near this good…or this much fun. 

(#741)(86/100)

Jun 112020
 

 

 

There are few people who tried the quartet of the Velier black-bottled Long Pond series that was released (or should that read “unleashed”?) in 2018, who didn’t have an opinion on the snarling beastie that was the 2003 NRJ TECA. That was a rank, reeking, sneering, foul-smelling animal of a rum, unwashed, uncouth, unafraid, and it blasted its way through each and every unwary palate on the planet.  If Luca Gargano, the boss of Velier, wanted to provide a rum that would show what a high ester beefcake could do, and to educate us as to why it was never meant to be had on its own, he succeeded brilliantly with that one.

And yet a year later, he produced another pure single rum, also from the double retort pot still at Long Pond, also a TECA, a year younger and a percentage point weaker, with fourscore or so more gr/hlpa esters – and it blew the 2018 version out of the water.  It was an amazing piece of work, better in almost every way (except perhaps for rumstink), and if one did not know better, just about a completely different rum altogether. Which makes it rather strange that it has not received more plaudits, or been mentioned more often (see “other notes”, below).

Let’s see if we can’t redress that somewhat. This is a Jamaican rum from Longpond, double pot still made, 62% ABV, 14 years old, and released as one of the pot still rums the Habitation Velier line is there to showcase.  I will take it as a given it’s been completely tropically aged.  Note of course, the ester figure of 1289.5 gr/hlpa, which is very close to the maximum (1600) allowed by Jamaican law.  What we could expect from such a high number, then, is a rum sporting taste-chops of uncommon intensity and flavour, as rounded off by nearly a decade and a half of ageing – now, those statistics made the TECA 2018 detonate in your face and it’s arguable whether that’s a success, but here? … it worked. Swimmingly.

Nose first. Some of the lurking bog-monsters of the acetones, rubber and sulphur that defined the earlier version remained, but much more restrained – rubber, wax, brine, funk, plasticine, rotting fruits, pineapple, that kind of thing. What made it different was a sort of enhanced balance, a sweetness and thickness to the experience, which I really enjoyed. Much of the “wtf?” quality of its brother – the gaminess, the meatiness, the reek – was toned down or had disappeared, replaced by a much tastier series of fleshy, overripe fruit, pineapple and crushed almonds.

What distinguished the rum so much on the palate, I think, was the way that the very things I had shuddered at with the NRJ TECA were, when dialled down and better integrated, exactly what made this one so very good.  The spoiling meat and hogo danced around the background, but never overwhelmed the solid notes of mint, thyme, rubber, nail polish, acetones and bags of molasses and caramel and ripe fruits.  I particularly liked the way that the combination of ripe peaches and apricots versus the tart citrus-and-strawberry line stopped the whole “descent into madness” thing.  This allowed the rum to be extreme, yes, but not overpoweringly so…sweeter and thicker and sharper and better than one would be led to expect with that ester count, like they had all agreed to a non-aggression pact. The finish – which seemed to want to hang around for a while to show off – was redolent of molasses, mint, fruits, ripe peaches, pineapples, lemon peel and a weird little whiff of green peas, and I enjoyed it quite a bit as well.

So – good or bad? Let’s see if we can sum this up. In short, I believe the 2005 TECA was a furious and outstanding rum on nearly every level. But that comes with caveats. “Fasten your seatbelt” remarked Serge Valentin in his 85 point review, and Christoph Harrer on the German Rum Club page wrote shakily (perhaps in awe) that “the smell is […] brutal and hit me like a bomb,” — which leads one to wonder what he might have made of the original TECA, but he had a point: you can’t treat it like a Zacapa or a Diplo…therein lies madness and trauma for sure. Even if you like your Jamaicans and boast of your experiences with fullproof Hampdens and Worthy Park rums, this was one to be approached — at that strength and with that ester count — with some caution. 

Perhaps it would take a few more nips and sips to appreciate it more fully.  I tried it at the German rumfest in 2019, and while I knew right away that it was special and a true original, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it…and so filched a second sample to try more carefully, at leisure.  Normally I walk around a rumfest with four glasses in my hand, but that day I kept one glass with this juice on the go for the entire afternoon, and returned the very next day to get another two. And the conclusion I came to, then and now, is that while at the beginning it has all the grace of a runaway D9, at the end, when the dust settles, all the disparate notes come together in a rhythm that somehow manages to elevate its initial brutality to a surprising, and very welcome, elegance. 

(#735)(87/100)


Other Notes

Others have varying opinions on this rum, mostly on the plus side. Marius over at Single Cask Rum did the full comparison of the two TECA rums and came to similar conclusions as I did, scoring it 86 points. Le Blog a Roger was less positive and felt it was still too extreme for him and gave it 82.  And our old Haiku-style-reviewer, Serge Valentin noted it as being “not easy” and “perhaps a tad too much” but liked it to the tune of 85 points.

May 272020
 

Anyone from my generation who grew up in the West Indies knows of the scalpel-sharp satirical play “Smile Orange,” written by that great Jamaican playwright, Trevor Rhone, and made into an equally funny film of the same name in 1976.  It is quite literally one of the most hilarious theatre experiences of my life, though perhaps an islander might take more away from it than an expat. Why do I mention this irrelevancy?  Because I was watching the YouTube video of the film that day in Berlin when I was sampling the Worthy Park series R 11.3, and though the film has not aged as well as the play, the conjoined experience brought to mind all the belly-jiggling reasons I so loved it, and Worthy Park’s rums.

You see, Hampden catches a lot of kudos and eyeballs and attention these days – their publicity blitz for the last few years is second to none, and they are rightfully renowned for the quality of their pot still rums issued with and by Velier, the ones that fans collect with a sort of obsessive good cheer which perhaps Ringo Smith might admire (and plan a long con around). But this leaves the other New Jamaican distillery of Worthy Park and its own pot stills seeming to pick up footprints, when in fact its rums are equally good, just different. Their confidence is, in my opinion, not at all misplaced, since the SMWS R11.3 — fragrantly named “Crème Brûlée Flambé” — is the best of those first three WP rums (I own but haven’t tried the second trio so far).

Consider how it opened, with a nose of pencil shavings, sawdust and wood chips in a sawmill, glue and bright sweet-sour acetones that made me look rather amusedly at the bottle to confirm it wasn’t an R2.x series Enmore or something. It developed real well from there: honey, cardamom, cloves and ginger to start, followed by a wave of tart fleshy pears and apricots.  There was a nice hint of avocados and salt and citrus juice, and when I let it stand for ten minutes (was watching the waiter training scene), I got last and light aromas of salt caramel ice cream, chocolate chip cookie, and butterscotch bon bons.

I remarked on the R 11.1 and R 11.2 that they were young and somewhat raw at times, not entirely cohesive, and Simon Johnson in his review of the R 11.2 also noted they lacked a certain elegance which the aged blends released by WP themselves displayed.  This was not an issue here at all – the palate was more approachable and rounded than its two predecessors – lots of both tart and ripe fruits, plus citrus, mint, salt caramel, rye bread, cream cheese and flowers in a good combination.  The taste is not quite as complex as the nose had been but it was close – at any rate it was both meatier and slightly thicker and sweeter than those, and for once, I think the SMWS had the title of the thing exactly right.  Finish was long, flavourful and zesty, mostly flowers, honey, fresh baked cheesecake, caramel, and some dry dusty notes of jute rice bags.

The distillation run from 2010 must have been a good year for Worthy Park, because the SMWS bought no fewer than seven separate casks from then to flesh out its R11 series of rums (R11.1 through R11.6 were distilled May 1st of that year, with R11.7 in September, and all were released in 2017).  After that, I guess the Society felt its job was done for a while and pulled in its horns, releasing nothing in 2018 from WP, and only one more — R11.8 — the following year; they called it “Big and Bountiful” though it’s unclear whether this refers to Jamaican feminine pulchritude or Jamaican rums.

Anyway, this is a rum that matches its siblings and goes a step beyond them. “Grace under pressure under a hot sun” wrote Richard Eder of the New York Times about the film “Smile Orange” in 1976, describing Ringo’s equanimity towards his travails.  The way the R11.3 cheerfully unfolds, without hurry, without bombast, taking its weaknesses and strengths in stride, suggests that the phrase could equally apply to the rum. After all, the best rums aren’t only the ones that are well made and taste good, but those which enrich and enhance life experiences, call back great memories of times gone by, allow you to skate past the problems and vicissitudes of reality. My experience and enjoyment the day I drank this rum, completely proved that point.

(#730)(88/100)

May 172020
 

It sounds strange to say it, but the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, aside from ushering in changes in the whisky world, had its impacts on rums as well. What made the Society stand out back in the day and initially made its name, was the focus on single cask fullproof bottlings, which at the time was only sporadically addressed by other whisky makers (and hardly at all with rums, except perhaps by the Italians like Samaroli and Velier, who were practically unknown outside Italy). At the time I wrote about the Longpond R5.1 and the WIRD R 3.4 and R 3.5, 46% was about the most I ever saw outside of the 151s, so juice that went for broke at cask strength was eye opening.

Well, fast forward some years and what I saw as groundbreaking in 2012 is now standard practice, and while the Society has expanded its rum selection to 50+ (all at fullproof), its lustre has been eclipsed somewhat in the competing glare of the many other rum makers (indies or producers) who are doing the same thing, and who, let’s face it, specialize in rum – they don’t see it as an adjunct to their main business. That and the SMWS’s pricing model, of course, which many can’t or won’t pony up for (full disclosure: I’m a member of the Society and buy my bottles).

But anyway, preamble aside, let’s keep on disassembling the R-11.x series of rums released by the Society, with the second release from Worthy Park distillate, which is called, without irony and perhaps tongue-in-cheek, “Absolutely Fabulous!”  Like the R11.1, it is 57.5% ABV, distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2017, 309-bottle outturn from ex-bourbon barrels.  And like that one, it’s nice and original.

The nose – sweet, fruity, subtly different from the R11.1. Orange zest, papaya, pineapple, ripe yellow mangoes, plus toblerone, white pepper, honey, cereals, and again that sly hint of glue coiling around the background.  It remains dusty, but also laden with spices like cinnamon, massala, crushed black peppers and there’s a subtle oily iodine-like smell wafting around that really makes the thing original. There’s a slight suggestion of rubber, not so much like a vulcanizing shop in hot weather as an old basketball’s air leaking out.  Like I said – original. I guess it takes all kinds.

The palate presents as hot and quite dry, a little wine-y, and also salty – brine and olives, and even salt fish with a few good ‘obstacles’ of cassava and eddoes.  It’s funky and a bit off the reservation, I grant, but there’s more: well-oiled leather, aromatic tobacco, sweet chilis and cucumbers and apple cider – I really didn’t know what to make of it, except that it sort of makes you smile and try some more, see if there’s any other element of crazy hanging around waiting to ambush your tongue. Here I did add some water and it quietened down and other flavours crept out, including the fruit that the nose had promised: pineapple, mangoes, unripe peaches, caramel, nutmeg, toffee and the acrid smoke of water-doused fire, if you can believe it. Finish was nice and long, somewhat bitter, mostly tobacco, leather, smoke, not too much in the way of sweetness or fruits except for a whiff of Fanta that permeated the entire experience.

This rum is clearly from the same tree as the R11.1 but seems like a different branch…and good in the same way, and its own way. That musky salt fish and iodine was odd to say the least (if not entirely unpleasant)…and what it shows is that rums made at the same time and aged for the same period – probably in the same place – can have discernibly different profiles.  Worthy Park sold the SMWS a number of barrels (none of the SMWS bottlings come from Scheer) so there’s both tropical and continental ageing in these things. And what it demonstrates is that like for all other indie bottlers, getting several barrels means one has the opportunity (takes the risk?) of having one barrel be different than its neighbor but both showing something of the character of the source estate. For my money, the R11.1 worked, and made my ears perk up, and my nose twitch. The SMWS took a chance with the R11.2 and it paid off, because this one, happily, does the same thing…not fabulously, perhaps, but with originality, and very nicely indeed.

(#727)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin scored this 88 points and felt that were it not for two off notes it would have hit 90
  • RumShopBoy, the only other person in the rumisphere who has written about the SMWS bottlings, rated it 74/100 on a 0-100 scale, so his evaluation is about the same as mine.  His comments are worth noting: “This is not as good as Worthy Park’s Single Estate Rums that are commercially available. Although those editions do not carry age statements, they are more refined blends that are easier to drink. That leads me to my biggest problem with this rum… it is a real challenge to enjoy it properly. There is no doubting the quality of the rum and its production but it is hard to really enjoy it. Unusually for me, I found it needed some water to make it more enjoyable.”
May 142020
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is no longer, as outlined in the brief biography of the organization, quite any of those things, not really.  It has offices way beyond Scotland, it’s not restricting itself to bottling malts, has moved past releasing only whiskies, and can just barely be considered a society (more of an independent bottler). This is especially so since they have begun to not just buy aged casks from whisky producers but also new-make spirit so they can age their own.

This last development has not yet occurred in the fields of their rums, though it wouldn’t really influence my purchasing decisions – I’ve been a fan for years, ever since I was fortunate enough to snap up three of their rums in Canada in 2013. That’s around the time when they started to take rums even marginally more seriously than before, and now in 2020, they have 13 different distilleries’ rums, of which the R 11.1 represents one of the New Jamaicans many fans are currently salivating over.

The Society is no stranger to Jamaica – the very first release R1.1 was a Monymusk, and thereafter they added R5 (Longpond, from 2012), R7 (Hampden, from 2016) and in 2017, they scored with Worthy Park as R11. And since I’ve unconscionably ignored the ‘Park for quite some time, I think I’ll begin the slow accretion of SMWS rum reviews with them – also because they’re pretty damned good. This one is a relatively young 7 years old, bottled in 2017 at a firm 57.5% (308-bottle outturn) and has the evocative title of “Spicy Sweet Goodness”, which is very much in line with the Society’s equally amusing and puzzling label descriptions that many have drunk themselves in to stupors trying to understand or follow.

Nose first. Yep, it’s definitely a Worthy Park and a pot still rum, such as I remember with such fondness from the Compagnie des Indes’s two 2007 WP editions, the 7YO and the 8YO, both of which were really good. It’s sweet and crisp and snaps across the nose with a light and sharp esteriness: my first written notes are “fruits, flowers and honey on white bread, wow!” But there’s also a light glue background, some cereals, ginger, cumin, lemon peel and pineapple all coming together in a very precise amalgam where each note is completely distinct. It has the freshness of a newly sun-dried white sheet with the sunshine still aromatic upon it.

This is one of those rums where the taste is even better than the nose. What it does is settle down a bit, and if it loses something of the initial clean clarity that nose displayed, well, it gains a bit in depth and overall complexity. The white bread has now been toasted, the cereal is almost like Fruit Loops, but the honey (thankfully) remains, golden and tawny and thick. These core notes are joined by brown sugar, toblerone, almonds, fleshy fruits like papaya, peaches, apricots and ears, as well as a peculiar background of beef bouillon, maggi cubes and crackers and (if you can believe it) powdered laundry detergent, y’know, like Tide or something. The light citrus (it really does remind me of Fanta at times) is there to balance everything off, acting as something of an exclamation point to the palate. The medium-lasting finish is surprisingly simple in comparison to the smorgasbord we just waded through, but it is elegant and has the main food groups well represented – fruity, sweet, salty and tart, all at the same time. 

Well, this was quite something. I liked it a lot. I have no idea how so much was stuffed into the ex-bourbon barrel the rum was aged in, especially given such a young age and what was (I believe) a continental ageing regimen. There are discordant bits here and there (minor ones) in the way the flavours don’t always harmonize completely; and sure, you can taste the youth in its brash liveliness and the initial sharply crisp attack – yet I’m not convinced that a few more years would have done much more than enhance it marginally. 

Most of the rums I’ve tried from WP are relatively young, and relatively good — it seems to be a real peculiarity of the estate to produce rums that other companies ageing their rums for twice as long would have been proud to bottle. In fine, the SMWS R11.1 is a jaunty young rumlet, made with verve and style by an outfit which seems somehow to regularly put out single-digit aged rums – for themselves and for others – which are consistently and uniformly better than conventional wisdom says they should be. To do that is to Worthy Park’s credit. To recognize it and bring it to us, is that of the SMWS.

(#726)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Inadvertent loss of my original photo required me to make some adjustments which I’ll replace when I retake that picture.
Apr 162020
 

Photo (c) Henrik Kristoffersen, RunCorner.dk

1974 was clearly a good year for barrel selection by the Scottish whisky maker Gordon & MacPhail.  So good in fact that they were able to release several exceptional rums from that year – one was in 1999, the near spectacular 25 year old, which my Danish friends kicked themselves for missing when it came up for a tasting one year in Berlin. They got their own back at me by locating this slightly older version that was laid to sleep in the same year, emerged 29 years later (in 2003), and which is also a quietly amazing aged Demerara rum — every bit as good as its predecessor. 

It’s too bad we don’t know enough about it.  Oh, there’s all the usual labelling information that would have been satisfactory a short time back: 50% ABV, distilled in 1974, bottled in 2003 from two casks (#102 and #103), and that’s certainly better than what I grew up having to be satisfied with back in the day.  But we’re greedy wretches, us rum writers, and now I want to know where it slumbered and which still it came from, what the total bottle-outturn was, and how much time it spent ageing where. That I don’t have such info is something of a minor irritant, but we forge ahead with what we have.

Where the still is concerned, we can certainly guess from the profile.  I mean, just nose the thing – heaven. Deep, fruity, wooden-still action all the way. Anise, blackberries, oak, ripe tart apples and overripe cherries, apricots and prunes.  This is followed by molasses, dust, hay, well-polished leather upholstery, aromatic tobacco…and coffee grounds, lots of ‘em. An excellent nose, very rich, very pungent, very dark. 

It tastes as good as the nose leads one to expect, and may even exceed the nose.  The rum is a very dark brown, bottled at 50% ABV, just about the perfect strength for something so old and thick: enough to bring the flavours out with authority and some kick, not so strong as to burn you in the process. Here, the dark fruit panoply continues: blackcurrants, cherries, overripe mangoes. That’s joined by coffee, unsweetened chocolate, licorice, molasses, nougat, nuts and caramel. And then there’s a subtle third layer, very delicate, hinting of cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel and a freshly baked load of rye bread. The balance of the thing among these three components is really quite something, and if I had a whinge, it’s that the dry and warm finish, flavourful as it is – tobacco, leather, caramel, coffee, anise and breakfast spices – feels somewhat…less. It sums up everything that came before quite well, but brings nothing new to the party for a rousing encore, and is a. A minor point, really.

My first guess would be that the rum is from the double wooden PM pot still, because it lacks the rough wildness of the Versailles, or the slightly more elegant nature of the Enmore (which also tends to have a bit more lumber — at least a few pencils — in the jock, so to speak).  But really, at this age, at this remove, does it really matter except for us who want every single detail? I call it a Demerara, as G&M do, and am happy to have been given the opportunity to try it.

Henrik Kristofferson, who runs that somnolent and suspirant site Rum Corner (and the source of the sample) remarked in his own review that with rums this old, from that far back and for this rarity, price-to-value calculations are meaningless, and he’s right.  This is a rum that’s available now probably only through sample networks, which makes it unlikely that anyone will ever get a complete bottle (let alone a complete set of all the 1974s G&M have released) unless it pops up for auction again. But I must admit, it’s good. In fact, it’s as good as the other one I tried, nearly on par with some of the Velier Demeraras from the Age, or Cadenhead’s 33 YO or Norse Cask’s amazing 32 YO (both from 1975). I wouldn’t go so far as to tell anyone who sees a bottle for many hundreds of pounds, Euros, dollars or whatever, to go drain the back account immediately and buy the thing…but if you can get a taste, get it.  Get it now, and get fast, because rums like this are a dying, vanishing breed, and it’s an experience worth savouring, to see how the rums of today compare against hoary geriatric whitebeards of yesteryear, like this one. We may not see their like again any time soon.

(#719)(89/100)


Other notes

There was a third G&M 1974 bottled released in 2004 that went for auction at around £600 in 2017 which gives you some idea how these three-decade-old vintages are appreciating, and yet another one released in 2005.

Apr 062020
 

I should begin by warning you that this rum is sold on a very limited basis, pretty much always to favoured bars in the Philippines, and then not even by the barrel, but by the bottle from that barrel – sort of a way to say “Hey look, we can make some cool sh*t too! Wanna buy some of the other stuff we make?”. Export is clearly not on the cards…at least, not yet.

But most of it is blended with the same company’s middling rum called the Very Old Captain, which wasn’t “very” anything, not all that old, and had nothing to do with a Captain.  The reason why I review it — in spite of this kind of limited availability — is because the title pushes two of the buttons that appeal to the lizard brains of all modern rumistas — “Single cask” and “Pot Still.” And, even with its rather indifferent ageing and milkmaid-level strength, it shows that when they want to, companies over there can in fact do more than just issue nonsense like the Don Papa 7 year old, or play with labels the way Tanduay did with their “1854”.

Limtuaco makes some supposedly decent rums, mostly column still, from molasses. The Captain mentioned above is one, and there’s 8 and 12 year olds that look quite interesting, but all the background reading I’ve done on the company (which has been around since 1852) says that they have a pot still, and they use it – not for really strong and stern bastards of power and originality in their own right, but to make more flavourful rum that they then use to blend with everything else…sort of like a locally made DOK wannabe.

Still, if we expect dunder and funk and sweaty fruits oozing out of the glass when we pour it, well, that’s not going to happen. In point of fact, it noses with a standard profile, if a weak one.  It has some briny notes, an olive or two, mostly reminding one of sucking a maggi cube; and some really faint rubber action, some acetones, nail polish, baking spices, sorrel drink, even a bit of molasses and ginger.  Which is nice, but the fruits that would balance off the firmer notes are missing.

That said, I liked the nose somewhat better than how it tasted. It presented as dusty and dry, and very very light – it didn’t glide or flow across the tongue, it breathed on it (and not for long, either). There was a panoply of easy-going fruitiness here – guavas, watermelon, papaya, a red grape or two and another olive, and overall the strength did not permit anything more forceful and distinct to emerge.  The finish continued this downward spiral by being practically nonexistent – it was sweet it was thin, it was watery, there were some pears and papaya sprinkled with salt, and it was over before you could say “where’s the pot still?” in Togalog.

And that’s pretty much the problem.  A pot still, that simple batch apparatus so beloved of Rum Geekdom, is supposed to give off some distinct flavours, at any strength.  Too little of that was in evidence here, and the ageing – however minimal – did not seem to have had much of an effect. In fact, I was told that the ex-bourbon casks were not that great to begin with (and really well-used), and the colour derived from an over-enthusiastic hand with the e150.

But if nothing else, what this over-the-counter, oddly-distributed, standard-proofed rum-for-blending-only shows, is that there is some potential here, and that Limtuaco really should try to do better with what they have to work with. I honestly didn’t think it was a complete wipeout — it was just not a stellar product, and if they ever got better barrels, put some decent ageing on it and dispensed with the caramel colouring, then we wouldn’t be confusing it with a cheaply-made and indifferent booze sold by the gallon on some small tourist-trap local island.  Then we might think it’s a real rum…one worthy of searching for, and buying.

(#716)(77/100)

Mar 122020
 

The Cor Cor “Green”, cousin to the molasses-based “Red” (both are actually white – the colours refer to their labels’ hues) is an order of magnitude more expensive than its scarlet labelled relative, largely because it is made from cane juice, not molasses, and therefore rather more seasonal in production.  The question is, how does the cane juice white compare when run up against its intriguing (if off-beat) molasses-based white. Both are, after all, made by the same master blender who wanted to apply an awamori sensibility to making rum.

Tasting the Red and Green side by side, then, is an instructive experience, akin to doing a flight of white Habitation Veliers. Given that everything else is constant – sugar cane, the pot still distillation apparatus, the resting in steel tanks (neither is “aged” in the classical sense), the lack of any additives or filtration – then the only thing that should make a difference in the taste is the molasses versus cane juice, and the length and method of the fermentation cycle.

But even that is quite enough to make a clear difference, I assure you.  The Green is most definitely not the Red, and is discernibly an agricole style cane juice rum with all this implies, filtered through the mind of the Japanese culture and love for their own spirits.  However, let it also be noted that it is not a standard agricole by any means…and therein lies both its attraction to the curious, and potentially its downfall to the masses.

To illustrate the point, consider how it noses: it’s intriguing and pleasantly flinty, and has the initial tang of mineral water into which have been dunked some salt and olives, a sort of poor man’s martini.  There is a background of sweet and light florals and white fruit, and if you stick with it, also something more maritime – seaweed and iodine, I suggest. It’s mild, which is a function of the living room strength at which it’s issued (40% ABV), and the memory you’ll carry away from smelling it, is of the sea: brine and iodine and herbaceousness, only partially balanced off by sweeter and lighter components.

The taste is where the resemblance to a French island agricole comes more clearly into focus. Sweet sugar water, fresh-cut grass, citrus peel, some eucalyptus and gherkins in pimento vinegar, and a very nicely balanced series of light fruit notes – papaya, guavas, pears, watermelon.  As I said above, it’s different from the Red (to be expected – the sources are Montague and Capulet, after all) yet some minor family resemblance is noticeable; and although the rum tastes a little watery, the finish lasts so long and it coats the mouth and tongue so well, it allows it to skate past such concerns, leaving behind the fond memories of miso soup, pimento, apple cider and some citrus…and, of course, an olive or two.

Even though the Green was offbeat in its own way, I liked it more than the Red. It’s not really a true agricole (comes off a pot still, for example, produced with a different distillation philosophy) and lacks something of that feral nature of those whites bottled in the Caribbean that have spoiled me.  Clairins and blancs are a take-no-prisoners bunch of badass 50% rowdies, and I like them precisely for that air of untamed wild joy with which they gallop and spur across the palate — and the Green is not at that level.

So, it’s unusual, and decent, and complies with some of the notes we want and look for in a cane juice rum.  It’ll excite some interest in the regular rum world for sure. But to my mind it’s not yet aggressive enough, strong enough, good enough, in a way that would make a bitchin’ daiquiri or a ti-punch, or cause a drinker to wake up, sit up, and say wtf in Japanese. Not yet. Though admittedly, if they stick with it and continue developing juice like this, then they’re getting close to making a rum that does precisely that.

(#710)(82/100)


Other Notes

The label is a stylized map of South Borodino island (the Russians named it so in the 19th century after the ship Borodino surveyed it – the Japanese name is Minamidaito) where the distillery is, overlaid with a poem I’ll quote here without comment:

Bats, dancing in the night sky
Suspended magic, falling in drops
These are the things
That make men and women covet love
This is the magic of rum,
a sugarcane love potion

Mar 052020
 

Given Japan has several rums which have made these pages (Ryoma, Ogasawara, Nine Leaves, Helios, Seven Seas), by now most should be aware that just about all of them source their molasses out of the southern islands of Okinawa, if not actually based there themselves. The Grace distillery, who make the Cor Cor line of rums, conforms to that informal rule, yet is unusual in two ways – first, it is still very much a manual operation, somewhat surprising for a nation with a massive technological infrastructure; and it produces rums from both molasses (the red labelled rum we’re looking at today) and cane juice (the green labelled one). 

Cor Cor as a title has no deep transliterative meaning — it is derived from English (the opposite is true for games maker Atari, as a counter-example) and uses the first letters of the words “coral” (the island where it’s made is formed from a coral reef) and “corona” (which the island resembles). Grace Distillery itself was formed in 2004 in a building that used to be a small airport terminal, on the tiny Okinawan island of Minamidaito, and use a steel pot still, and do not practice ageing – another point of departure. Instead, their rum is rested in inert tanks and after a suitable period determined by their master blender, it’s bottled at 40%, as-is, unfiltered, uncoloured, un-added-to.

Some of my research shed some interesting light on the profile of the rum, but I think I’ll leave that for the end: suffice it to say that this was both normal with respect to other Japanese rums, and abnormal with respect to what we in the west are used to. The nose was sweet, light and faintly briny, with a metallic medicinal hint to it.  I knew there was more to come, and so set it aside and came back to it over time, and picked out black pepper, vegetable soup, biryani spices, seaweed. And, later, also dry cereal, butter, olives and flowers. Frankly, I found it a little confusing – it was nice and a ways better than the rank meatiness of the Seven Seas which had shuddered and put away – but nosed at a tangent from the norm of “regular” rums I’ve had more often.  

Palate – oh, much nicer.  Dry dusty citrus-infused sugar water, peas, salty cashews. There was a dusting of salt and cooking spices and miso soup, with lemon grass and sour cream somewhere in there.  I liked the development better, because what had been confusing about the nose gelled into a better harmony. Still a little off-base, mind you…but in a nice way. I particularly enjoyed the herbal and iodine background (not overdone, more a hint than a bludgeon) which set off the light fruit and brine in a way that complemented, not distracted.  Finish was long and dry, sugary and watery, redolent of delicate flowers and fruit. It was surprisingly durable, for a rum at 40%.

The Cor Cor Red was more generous on the palate than the nose, and as with many Japanese rums I’ve tried, it’s quite distinctive. The tastes were somewhat offbase when smelled, yet came together nicely when tasted.  Most of what we might deem “traditional notes” — like nougat, or toffee, caramel, molasses, wine, dark fruits, that kind of thing — were absent; and while their (now closed) website rather honestly remarked back in 2017 that it was not for everyone, I would merely suggest that this real enjoyment is probably more for someone (a) interested in Asian rums (b) looking for something new and (c) who is cognizant of local cuisine and spirits profiles, which infuse the makers’ designs here. One of the reasons the rum tastes as it does, is because the master blender used to work for one of the awamori makers on Okinawa (it is a spirit akin to Shochu), and wanted to apply the methods of make to rum as well.  No doubt some of the taste profile he preferred bled over into the final product as well.

The Cor Cor duo raised its head in the 2017 and 2018 rum festival circuit, and aside from a quick review by Wes in the UK – he commented that it was a pair of rums that engendered quite some discussion – it has since sunk almost completely from public consciousness.  I have to give it a cautious endorsement just because it’s so damned interesting, even if I couldn’t entirely find it in my heart to love it. Years from now Japan may colonize the rumisphere, the same way they have made themselves space in the whisky world. For now, this probably won’t get them there, however intriguing it might be to me personally.

(#708)(80/100)


Other Notes

  • I reached to to several friends in Japan for background: thanks in particular to Yoshi-san, who managed to get in touch with Grace directly on the question of the still and the master blender.
  • Grace also releases a Cor Cor Premium and Koruroru 25 rum variations, but I have never seen them for purchase.
  • Yuko Kinjo is the CEO and founder of Grace Rum. She was introduced to rum whilst sitting in a friend’s bar in the early 2000s, and asked herself “Why not make rum right here, a unique spirit made completely of local ingredients?” Cor Cor Rum is made only of sustainable local sugarcane and is a joint effort between Kinjo-san and the Minamidaito Island Chamber of Commerce. 
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