Dec 302020
 

Hampden gets so many kudos these days from its relationship with Velier —  the slick marketing, the yellow boxes, the Endemic Bird series, the great tastes, the sheer range of them all — that to some extent it seems like Worthy Park is the poor red haired stepchild of the glint in the milkman’s eye, running behind dem Big Boy picking up footprints. Yet Worthy Park is no stranger to really good rums of its own, also pot still made, and clearly distinguishable to one who loves the New Jamaicans. They are not just any Jamaicans…they’re Worthy Park, dammit. They have no special relationship with anyone, and don’t really want (or need) one.

For a long time, until around 2005, Worthy Park was either closed or distilling rum for bulk export, but in that year they restarted distilling on their double retort pot still and in 2013 Luca Gargano, the boss of Velier, came on a tour of Jamaica and took note. By 2016 when he released the first series of the Habitation Velier line (using 2015 distillates) he was able to convince WP to provide him with three rums, and in 2017 he got three more.  This one was a special edition of sorts from that second set, using an extended fermentation period – three months! – to develop a higher ester count than usual (597.3 g/hLpa, the label boasts). It was issued as an unaged 57% white, and let me tell you, it takes its place proudly among the pantheon of such rums with no apology whatsoever.

I make that statement with no expectation of a refutation. The rum doesn’t just leap out of the bottle to amaze and astonish, it detonates, as if the Good Lord hisself just gave vent to a biblical flatus. You inhale rotting fruit, rubber tyres and banana skins, a pile of warm sweet garbage left to decompose in the topical sun after being half burnt and then extinguished by a short rain. It mixes up the smell of sweet dark overripe cherries with the peculiar aroma of the ink in a fountain pen.  It’s musty, it’s mucky, it’s thick with sweet Indian spices, possesses a clear burn that shouldn’t be pleasant but is, and it may still, after all this time, be one of the most original rums you’ve tried this side of next week. When you catch your breath after a long sniff, that’s the sort of feeling you’re left with.

Oh and it’s clear that WP and their master blender aren’t satisfied with just having a certifiable aroma that would make a DOK (and the Caner) weep, but are intent on amping up the juice to “12”.  The rum is hot-snot and steel-solid, with the salty and oily notes of a pot still hooch going full blast. There’s the taste of wax, turpentine, salt, gherkins, sweet thick soya sauce, and if this doesn’t stretch your imagination too far, petrol and burnt rubber mixed with the sugar water. Enough?  “No, mon,” you can hear them say as they tweak it some more, “Dis ting still too small.” And it is, because when you wait, you also get brine, sweet red olives, paprika, pineapple, ripe mangoes, soursop, all sweetness and salt and fruits, leading to a near explosive conclusion that leaves the taste buds gasping.  Bags of fruit and salt and spices are left on the nose, the tongue, the memory and with its strength and clear, glittering power, it would be no exaggeration to remark that this is a rum which dark alleyways are afraid to have walk down it.

The rum displays all the attributes that made the estate’s name after 2016 when they started supplying their rums to others and began bottling their own. It’s a rum that’s astonishingly stuffed with tastes from all over the map, not always in harmony but in a sort of cheerful screaming chaos that shouldn’t work…except that it does. More sensory impressions are expended here than in any rum of recent memory (and I remember the TECA) and all this in an unaged rum. It’s simply amazing.

If you want to know why I’m so enthusiastic, well, it’s because I think it really is that good. But also, in a time of timid mediocrity where too many rum makers (like those Panamanians I was riffing about last week) are afraid to take a chance, I like ambitious rum makers who go for broke, who litter rum blogs, rumfest floors and traumatized palates with the detritus of their failures, who leave their outlines in the walls they run into (and through) at top speed.  I like their ambition, their guts, their utter lack of fear, the complete surrender to curiosity and the willingness to go down any damned experimentative rabbit hole they please. I don’t score this in the nineties, but God, I do admire it – give me a rum that bites off more than it can chew, any time, over milquetoast low-strength yawn-through that won’t even try gumming it.

(#790)(86/100)


Other notes

  • Outturn unknown.  
  • The Habitation Velier WP 2017 “151” edition was also a WPE and from this same batch (the ester counts are the same). 
  • In the marque “WPE” the WP is self explanatory, and the “E” stands for “Ester”
Dec 172020
 

Hoochery Distillery’s name derives from, as you might imagine, the word “hooch”, a slang term for moonshine, or illegal liquor, popular during Prohibition. Some references place the word’s origin as even earlier, with the Hoochinoo Native American tribe of Alaska, who supposedly – and unusually – made their own liquor. Whatever the case, a hoochery is a now apparently trademarked word for a low-end small-scale distillery making (you guessed it) hooch, specifically in Australia, which has a long history of formalizing words from the vernacular in new and charming ways.  

The distillery itself was established in 1993 in north-western Australia’s remote Kimberly outback by Raymond “Spike” Dessert.  He had been in the area since 1972 and when in the 1990s the Ord River irrigation area permitted sugar cane to be grown, he figured that the tropical climate, sugar cane, and need to diversify suggested a distillery.  That’s the way the company legend runs, but maybe he just liked rum and couldn’t get any worth drinking there, who knows.  What’s clear is like many independent men in a frontier province, he went about it by making stuff himself and learning as he went along, an ethos his company’s website emphasizes quite strongly.

They make several spirits – whiskey, gin, liqueurs – and quite a few rum expressions (up to 15 years old) with Australian molasses, yeast, local water and a five-day fermentation period — the wash is then run through a self-made double pot still, which keeps things at a low alcohol percentage to keep as many flavours in play as possible.  There seems to be a lot of manual labour and hands-on work involved in the entire process, which may be why the annual output of the distillery remains low. This one, their overproof, is a 56.4% three year old rum, and it’s quite an unusual beast, let me tell you.

The nose begins with metallic, ashy notes right away, damp cardboard in a long-abandoned, leaky musty house.  Thankfully this peculiar aroma doesn’t hang around, but morphs into a sort of soya-salt veggie soup vibe, which in turn gets muskier and sweeter over time; it releases notes of bananas and molasses and syrup, before gradually lightening and becoming – surprisingly enough – rather crisp. White fruits emerge – unripe pears and guavas, green apples, gooseberries, grapes. What’s really surprising is the way this all transforms over a period of ten minutes or so from one nasal profile to another. It’s not usual, but it is noteworthy.

The palate is more traditional and harbours few surprises except for how different from the aromas it turns out to be. The strength is good at 56.4% ABV and starts out very spicy – in fact, this is one of those cases where it feels stronger than it is, instead of the other way around.  It’s a melange of tart fruit – strawberries, ripe mangoes, ginnip, apricots – together with brine, olives and bananas. Some molasses and vanilla and rotten oranges at the back end, as well as a slight bitterness, a tannic element, which may derive from the mahogany wood used for the filtration (either that or the barrels used for ageing were very active, or new).  The finish was pretty good, providing final touches of molasses, fleshy fruits, salt, and some citrus and tart soursop to close off the show.

The rum as a whole started off well, and the nose suggested a great new style of rum snapping into focus. But somehow it fails on the tongue: it retains a raw sharpness without ever calming down and some of that initial promise is lost; it tastes rough and uncoordinated, and not as pleasing as that nose (and the initial taste) suggested it might be. It remains, to the end, very dry and glitteringly sharp, and not in a good way.  The three years of ageing it had were not, I deem, entirely sufficient which makes me really interested in the 10 YO or 15 YO which they make, and how they managed to soften those.

It’s a measure of how much the Caribbean distilleries and their brands dominate the rum conversation that scant attention is paid to other lands which have a long rum tradition of their own. Part of it is that rums from, for example, Australia, don’t get marketed in the west very often, selling mostly in their own country and around Asia. I can’t say that this rum is a must-have, or that it should be on any Best-Of list made by every blogger under the sun – it’s really not on that level (or the one beneath that).  But I have to admit it’s interesting, it’s new, and it’s different. I haven’t had anything like it before. In a world where we’re seeing a different overpriced indie pop up every week, perhaps paying the same money for something offbeat and unusual from Down Under might just be the way to renew our sense of what a rum can be, or aspire to.

(#786)(82/100)


Other notes

  • Charcoal filtered through mahogany chips.
  • Seems to be only available in Australia for now
  • The tongue in cheek company profile says it’s the oldest legal distillery in Western Australia.  
  • Many thanks to Nicolai Wachman from Denmark, who, knowing of my desire to try more rums from Oz, spotted me this generous sample.
Nov 302020
 

It says “rum” on the label, but for all intents and purposes we should be calling it rhum. Chamarel made it out of cane juice on the island of Mauritius, and it’s an easy-going, sweet-smelling, good-tempered cane juice rhum that got wrung out of a pot still on the island and somehow didn’t turn into some foul-smelling, cantankerous harridan in the process.  That’s probably deliberate, because had they done so, while it might have enthused the fanboys of unaged white lightning made in the backwoods, it might also cost a sale or two among the less adventurously minded.

Suffice to say, the rhum derives from cane that is grown and harvested on their estate, crushed within the day and the juice fermented for around 36 hours; then it’s run twice through Chamarel’s small (20 hL) copper pot stills and that’s about it.  Into the bottle with you, at a workmanlike 44%, white as water. It presents demurely and innocently – nothing to see here, folks, move along.

What comes out of it and into your glass is, to say the least, surprising.  You know me, I like those feral white rums north of 60% that barely contain their untamed ferocity and wild screaming tastes, and strut around thumping their chests like King Kong in a glass.  This one isn’t anything like that.  It’s warm and firm, with a sort gentle complexity rising to the nose: brine, olives, wax, swank, and watery fruit like pears and white guavas.  There’s a nice snap of sugar cane juice here, coconut water, vanilla, and a bagful of fruits that aren’t aggrieved and pissed off so much as resigned to just chilling out. 

On the tongue it gets crisper, clearer: which is good in its own way, yet creates other problems, the most notable of which is that it becomes evident that there are just a few clean tastes here, and that’s all. Light vanilla, cereals, nuts, almonds and chocolate, developing gradually into some acidic yellow fruits (unripe mangoes, pears, apricots) and a subtle line of citrus that could have been stronger.  It’s pleasant and easy to drink, and the finish is short and breezy — fruits and vanilla and some white chocolate — with nothing substantially new to add.

Overall, it’s a perfectly nice drink, yet I’m left vaguely dissatisfied, since it started so well and then just kind of dribbled away into an anonymity from which I felt the pot still and lack of ageing should have saved it. Was it perhaps too well tended and planed away to appeal to the masses?  Maybe.

So, no, this isn’t Rumzilla, or a King Kong of the blancs.  But with some effort it might get close to that big bad boy, because you can sense the potential, were it to be stronger and babied less in the cuts, allowed to have its head to go (no pun intended) a little ape. Then it could be, at the very least, the Son of Kong.  In a nice little perfume box.  I could completely live with that.

(#781)(79/100)


Other Notes

La Rhumerie de Chamarel, located in a small valley in the south west of Mauritius, cultivates its own sugarcane, and has a history on the island going back centuries. The distillery takes the title of a small nearby village named after a Frenchman who lived there around 1800 and owned most of the land upon which the village now rests. The area has had long-lived plantations growing pineapples and sugar cane, and in 2008 the owners of the Beachcomber Hotel chain (New Mauritius Hotels, one of the largest companies in Mauritius), created the new distillery on their estate of 400 hectares, at a time of weakening demand and reduced EU subsidies. Rum really started taking off in post 2006 when production was legalized – previously all sugar cane had to be processed into sugar by law. 

The sugar cane is grown onsite and cut without pre-burning between July and December. The harvest is transported directly to the distillery and the crushed sugarcane juice filtered and taken to steel tanks for fermentation after which the wash is run through a copper Barbet-type plate still (for white rums), or the two-column 24-plate still they call an alembic (for aged and other rums). In all cases the rums are left post-distillation in inert stainless steel vats for three months before being transferred to ageing barrels of various kinds, or released as white rums, or further processed into spiced variations.

Nov 092020
 

Rendsburger is one of the last of the great old houses from around Flensburg, that north German / Danish town which once had a near hammerlock on the rum trade in northern Europe and the Baltic. The company is actually located in (guess?) Rendsburg, 66km due south of that famed entrepôt, in which the parent company Kruger has its home; they in turn are a small, family-run whisky and spirits specialist mainly known for being a large whisky auction house and while they have done some releases in the past, they don’t really “do,” and are not known for, rums.

To me, of far more interest is the true rationale behind WIRR’s bulk rum exports in 1986, which nobody has ever explained to my satisfaction — for some reason that was the year of the Rockley Still, and just about every indie and its dog put out an expression from that year, and with that name.  Bristol has at least two I know of, Samaroli another two, SMWS did a single one with a codpiece of 64.4%  Duncan Taylor and Berry Bros & Rudd both tossed their hat in the ring, Cadenhead did a Green Label 18 YO and another 12 YO at a massive 73.4%; and even unknown outfits like Caribbean Reserve and Rendsburger got in on the act with their own pilferings of the barrels, and every time they get reviews of praise and adulation, you can just hear the purse-lipped disapproving harrumphs of bah-humbug radiating from over in St. Phillip.

There’s a reason for the Rockley distillate to have the reputation it does, and that’s because it’s one of the few all-pot-still rums to ever come out of the island (the Habitation Velier Foursquare and Last Ward rums are others), and its uniqueness is not to be sneezed at…except that it’s not quite as clear cut as that, since the actual pot still from the Rockley Estate is unlikely to have made it given its long retirement. Marius over at Single Cask, in what may be the seminal essay on the matter, strongly suggests it was a triple chamber Vulcan still (something like an interlinked series of pot stills, according to Wondrich). However, whether made by the actual still, some other pot or the Vulcan, the fact is that few who have ever had any of that 1986 expression remain unmoved by it.

So let’s try it and see what the fuss is all about. Nose first. Well, it’s powerul sharp, let me tell you (63.8% ABV!), both crisper and more precise than the Mount Gay XO Cask Strength I was using as my control. Flowers, rosemary, fennel, a little carmel, vanilla and florals really carry it through. Seems like you walked into a cool aromatic flower shop on an off day….kinda.  But weak on the ruminess, alas.  Red currants, raspberries add to the fruitiness (which I like), and there’s an intriguing mustiness and straw, sawdust vibe down at the back end.

It does stay sharp on the tongue, too. Sharp, and a little jagged, leaving one to wonder, is this what 18 continental years gets you?  The aromatic flavours remain, quite flowery and fruity: orchids, citrus peel and sharp, tart, sweet fruit. A mix of vanilla, strawberries, pineapple and very ripe purple cherries, with some brine and olives bringing up the rear.  It’s quite potent, and the fierce strength makes it very rambunctious, as it careens heedlessly around the palate from side to side with all the grace of a runaway truck…somewhat to its detriment, I’m afraid. I did, in point of fact, enjoy the  finish quite a bit, it was nice and pungent, yet also aromatic and firm, redolent of brine, muskiness, some salt fish and steamed rice into which someone chucked a few ripe guavas. 

While I enjoy the pot-column blends that others make with such skill, after a while they seem to be just two sterling variations on the concept, one aged-and-finished, the other just aged, and lack a certain element of singularity that Luca tapped into with his 2013 and 2015 HV series, or the Rockleys themselves do, no matter which year they were made.  

I’m in a minority in preferring an element of pot still brutality in my rums, something that heedless and carelessly – magnificently, even – goes for the boundary instead of always patiently stroking along with a bye here, a single there, a quick flick to the mid-on.  Even when such things fail, at least they do so with authority.  They will never surpass, in overall sales, the more carefully tended rums that appeal to larger audience – they remain a rumgeek pastime, I sometimes think – but I know that there are crazies, like me, who would not care to have the progeny of the Rockleys (or the Vulcan) become just an input into a series of blends.  They’re far too good and individualistic for that, whether they soar or fall flat, and this is one of those that prove the point very nicely

(#776)(85/100)


Other notes

  • Sharp eyed readers will be amused at the bottle picture – I sure was, and compliments to that great guy Malte Sager who traded me the sample: for the effort he put in, the rum itself and his sly sense of humour. The real bottle label is below.
  • Marcus Eler’s article draws on useful information from other sources which he references, and it’s worth reading and following the links for. He has also run several 1986 rums against each other, in a fascinating flight.
  • Rendsburger has also released a Port Mourant, a Caroni, a Jamaican and another Barbados rum titled “Black Rock”.  Not much else, though. Malte Sager is the only guy I know who has them all.

Oct 192020
 

If one rates popularity or the reach of a brand by how many joyful fanboys post pictures of their latest acquisition on social media and chirp how lucky they are to have gotten it, surely Velier’s oeuvre leads the pack, followed by Foursquare, and after them come trotting Kraken and Bumbu and maybe an agricole or two from Martinique.  Nowhere in this pantheon (I use the term loosely) is Bristol Spirits to be found – yet, in the late 1990s right up to the mid 2010s, Bristol was releasing some very good juice indeed, including the near legendary 30 year old Port Mourant 1980 and some rums from the 1970s that were just joys to sample.

In fact, so popular were they, that the company even ventured out into blends and spiced rums, like the Caribbean Collection (Trinidad), Mauritius cane juice rhum, Bristol Black and so on. They released rums from Haiti, Mauritius, Peru, Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Cuba, Barbados (Rockley 1986, lovely stuff) and raised the profile of the islands’ rums just as the wave of the rum renaissance was breaking. Not for them the single barrel approach – most of the time they followed Rum Nation’s ethos of mixing several barrels into one release.

Since then, Bristol has fallen somewhat out of favour —  I think Mr. John Barratt may be retiring, if not already withdrawn from the rum scene — and it’s rare to see their bottles for sale outside of an auction, where their prices vary directly with age, from £1800 for a 1974 Demerara to as little as £45 for a 2003 Cuban. This 1985 Versailles was bottled in 1998 at a time when nobody knew a damned thing about the stills, and back then probably sank without a trace – nowadays, it’ll cost you five hundred quid, easy.

The Versailles wooden single pot still is one of the three wooden heritage stills (the Savalle is a fourth but not of wood) now housed at Diamond estate where DDL has its headquarters.  It’s distillate is usually blended with others to produce blends with distinctive profiles, yet for years many bottlers have tried to issue them on their own, with varying results – and it is my contention that it takes real skill to bring the raw untrammelled ferocity of a cask strength wooden pot still hooch to some level of elegance sufficient to create a disturbance in the Force.

Bristol, I think, came pretty close with this relatively soft 46% Demerara.  The easier strength may have been the right decision because it calmed down what would otherwise have been quite a seriously sharp and even bitter nose.  That nose opened with rubber and plasticine and a hot glue gun smoking away on the freshly sanded wooden workbench.  There were pencil shavings, a trace of oaky bitterness, caramel, toffee, vanilla and slowly a firm series of crisp fruity notes came to the fore: green apples, raisins, grapes, apples, pears, and then a surprisingly delicate herbal touch of thyme, mint, and basil. Marius of Single Cask, who wrote a good evaluation of a number of Versailles 1985 vintages, commented on a marzipan hint, but I didn’t get that at all.

The taste, though, was where I think it really came into its own. It was just lovely: lots of fruit right off – pears, apples, peaches, guavas, kiwi, both ripe and unripe, crisp and fleshy and a contrast in opposites. The herbs remained, though somewhat muted now, and a delicately clear and sharp line of citrus ran in and out of the profile, like a really good dry Riesling punctuated by tart green grapes; and a drop or two of rather unnecessary water revealed a background touch of unsweetened yogurt to balance everything off. Really nice to taste, moving sedately to a finish no less impressive, but acting more or less as a summation of the entire experience, adding just a dry burnt sugar note that was very pleasing.

Overall its a very good Versailles, one of the better ones I’ve tried. Unlike Marius I thought the strength was not a negative but a positive (he felt it was excessively diluted), because otherwise other sharper and less savoury aspects might have taken precedence and upset the fragile balance upon which my personal appreciation of the rum rested.  Nowadays we consider the “low” ABV somewhat wussy, but remember, at that time in the nineties, to release a rum at 46% was  considered recklessly daring – even ten years later, people were still telling Foursquare not to release the ECS Mark I 1998 at more than standard strength. 

ABV aside, what I did feel was the barrel didn’t have enough of an effect, overall, and it could have rested for a few more years without harm, and indeed, been even better afterwards. Marco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind who wrote about the rum himself in 2014 and was the source of the sample, thought that much of the youthful freshness of the original distillate was maintained and could have been aged longer without harm.  But clearly, both he and Marius really liked the thing, as did I. It’s a wonderful expression from the year, and even if there are older Versailles rums out there (like Bristol’s own 1985 22 Year Old which I’d dearly love to sample one day), to try this one from the dawn of rum’s ascent to the heights, when the wooden stills were just rising to prominence and attention, is an experience not to be foregone.

(#770)(87/100)

Oct 122020
 

Every now and then you come across a rum in its nascent stages which you just itch to write about — even if it’s not (yet) for sale. The Mim from Ghana was one such, an aged St. Aubin was another, and last year, Reuben Virasami (currently tending bar in Toronto) passed on a new Vietnamese rhum that I felt really deserved rather more attention than it got (even from those who made it). 

In brief, two expat Frenchmen, Jérémy Marcillaud and Nicolas Plesse, seeing all that lovely cane growing in Vietnam, were looking around for something to do with it and decided – without a lick of experience or any concept of the difficulties – to start a small distillery and make some juice.  Perhaps they were inspired by the new Asians like Mia, Vientiane, Laodi, Issan, Chalong Bay or Sampan — who can tell? — and got their little outfit L’Arrangé off the ground; designed and had an inox stainless steel pot still built locally (they call it “The Beast”); contracted local farmers to supply cane, and proceeded through trial and error and many attempts over 6-8 months, to finally get some cane-juice agricole-style rhum that was actually worth bottling, and drinking (in December 2016). 

Their aim was always to make a white rhum but they found rather more immediate success using the spirit for fruit infusions and arrangés (hence the name), and, as Jeremy told me when I contacted him, to export a good white requires a rather more scaled-up enterprise (and better economies of scale) than they were capable of doing at that time.  As such, they sold their spiced rhums and arrangés to local bars and tried to raise visibility via the Saigon Rum Club and the city’s rum festival…but for my money, it’s that base white rhum they made that captures my interest and hopefully one day can be a commercially successful endeavour for these guys.

L’Arrange Company Logo

So, no fancy label or bottle pic to go with the article this time – as I said, it’s not for sale. That said, these are the basics: it’s a cane juice rhum, pot still, rested for four months (sorry, ye detail-mongers, I forgot to ask about the yeast, though it seems to be a combination of locally available and wild yeast), squeezed off the still at 70% ABV then diluted to 55%. After that it goes into whatever products they’re playing with that day. Me, I tried my sample neat.

The smell is definitely suggestive of pale pot still rumstink: salt, wax, glue, olives and a trace of peeling rubber on a hot day on the highway.  It turns sweet later, though it remains rough and sharp, and provides aromas of watermelons, papayas, ripe mangoes, and just a touch of passion fruit. While it’s not quite as civilized to sniff as some of the other Asian whites mentioned above, it isn’t far behind them either.

The same thing goes for the palate. It’s rough and jagged on the tongue, but has a delicious and oily thick sweet tang to it: papaya, pineapple, mangoes, sugar water, strawberries, more watermelons. There is a sort of crisp snap to it, combining sugar, flowers,citrus peel, brine — even some very faint hints of vegetable soup.  Finish was short, intense, sharp and redolent of flowers, citrusd, sugar water and thyme.

Overall, this rhum is not one you would, on balance, rate as highly as others with more market presence.  You would likely try it blind, shrug and remark as you walked away “Meh – it’s just another white rhum. I’ve had better” And that makes sense, for its shortcomings haven’t all been ironed out yet – it’s rough and sharp, the balance is a bit off (tilts rather more to the sour and salt than co-existing harmoniously with the sweet and umami). But I feel that might simply be inexperience at making a pure single white rhum and their being okay with producing one made for adding fruit and spices to, not to drink by itself.

Myself I don’t drink spiced rums or arrangés. I don’t have to, with all the other juice out there. Under normal circumstances, I’d just walk away from this one.  But that white…it was pungently original, yes, rough and unpolished, sure…it lacks some of the polish and sure confidence that marked, say, Mhoba (after their years of tinkering), and yet it stayed with me. Underneath was a real potential for something even better, and that’s why I am drawing attention to this little company that few outside Asia have ever heard of.  Jérémy and Nicolas might one day be successful enough to market a white, maybe even export a bit around Asia, attend a rumfest to show it off. I can hope, I guess.  And all I’m saying is that if you ever see them demonstrating their work, and one of their bottles is an unaged 55% white, you could do a whole lot worse than giving it a try, because I honestly believe it’ll be one of the most interesting things in the neighborhood that day.

(#769)(79/100)


Other notes

  • I drew on the very interesting 2018 Saigoneer interview (timestamp 00:25:14) for some of the supplementary details, and the company kindly filled in the remainder. 
  • It may be just my imagination, but the company logo reminds me of the jungle scenes of the French artist Henri Rousseau.  I quite like it.
Sep 302020
 

In spite of rums from various 1970s years having been issued throughout that period (many are still around and about and surfacing every now and then at wallet-excavating prices), it is my contention that 1974-1975 were the real years that disco came to town.  No other years from the last century except perhaps 1986 resonate more with rumistas; no other years have as many Demeraras of such profound age, of such amazing quality, issued by as many different houses.  I’d like to say I’ve lost count of the amount of off-the-scale ‘75s I’ve tasted, but that would be a damned lie, because I remember them all, right back to the first one I tried, the Berry Brothers & Rudd PM 1975. I still recall the rich yet delicate solidity of the Norse Cask, the inky beauty of the Cadenhead Green label 40.6%, the black licorice and sweet tobacco of the Rendsburger, Velier’s own 1975...and now, here is another one, dredged up by another Italian outfit we never heard of before and which, sadly, maybe we never will again. Unlike Norse Cask, it has not vanished, just never bothered to have a digital footprint; in so doing it has left us only this equally overlooked and forgotten bottle of spiritous gold, and some more recent bottlings known only to ur-geeks and deep-divers.

For the kitch, I’m afraid there is not much. Thanks to my impeccably fluent lack of Italian, I can tell you it’s a 1975 Port Mourant that was bottled in 2007, and it appears to be one of those single barrel releases often indulged in by importers – this time an Italian outfit called High Spirits, which doesn’t exist beyond its odd one-page website that leads nowhere and says nothing – see below for some notes on this.  The rum is 56.1%, dark red brown….

…and smells absolutely magnificent. The aromas are, in a word, loaded. The distinctiveness of the PM still comes through in a wave of aromatic wine-infused cigarillos’ tobacco, coffee, bitter chocolate and, yes, licorice. You pause, enjoy this, sniff appreciatively, dive in for Round 2 and brace for the second wave.  This emerges after a few minutes: and is more musky, darker in tone shot through with jagged flashes of tarter sharper notes: muscovado sugar, molasses, plums, blackberries, ripe black cherries, bananas, all the best part of, oh, the Norse Cask, of which this is undoubtedly the equal.  And then there’s a bit extra for the fans, before the taste: cinamon, vanilla, herbs, and (I kid you not) even a touch of pine resin.

And the profile, thank God, doesn’t let us down (think of what a waste that would have been, after all this time). People like me use the nose a lot to tease out flavour-notes but the majority of drinkers consider only the taste, and here, they’ll have nothing to complain about, because it continues and underlines everything the smells had promised. Again, thick and pungent with bark and herbs and fruit: plums, dark ripe cherries, ripe mangoes, bags of licorice, and an interesting combo of mauby and sorrel. Caramel and toffee and chocolate and cafe-au-lait dosed with a generous helping of brown sugar and whipped cream, each flavour clear and distinct and outright delicious – the balance of the various soft, sharp, tart and other components is outstanding.  Even the finish does the rum honour – it’s long, fragrant and lasting and if it could be a colour, it would be dark brown-red – the hues of licorice, nuts, raisins, dates, stewed apples and caramel.

There’s just so much here.  It’s so rich, smooth, warm, complex, inviting, tasty, sensual and outright delicious. Just as you put down the glass and finish scribbling what you optimistically think is the final tasting note, you burp and think of yet another aspect you’ve overlooked. Yes, High Spirits probably bought the barrel from a broker or an indifferent Scottish whisky maker who passed it by, but whoever selected it knew what they were doing, because they found and teased out the muscular poetry of the core distillate that in other hands could (and in its knock-offs sometimes does) turn into a schlocky muddled mess.

At end, over and beyond how it tasted, I find myself coming back to that age. Thirty two years. Such rums are getting rarer all the time. Silver Seal and Moon imports and Cadenhead and G&M occasionally upchuck one or two in the twenties, and yes, occasionally a house in Europe will issue a rum in the thirties (like CDI did with its 33YO Hong Kong Hampden, or those 1984 Monymusks that are popping up), but the big new houses are mostly remaining in the teens, and tropical ageing is the new thing which further suggests a diminution of the majority of aged bottlings. To see one like this, with the barrel slowly seeping its influence into the rum over three decades from a time most rum lovers were unborn and the rumworld we live in undreamt, is an experience not to be missed if one ever has the chance.

(#766)(91/100)


Other Notes

  • My thanks to Gregers, Pietro and Johnny for their help on this one, the pictures and background, and, of course, for the sample itself.
  • If I read the label right, it’s possible that as few as 60 bottles were issued.
  • For a recap of several 1975 Port Mourant rums, see Marius’s awesome flight notes on Single Cask.
  • High Spirits is a small Italian importer of whiskies and rums and moonlights as an occasional bottler. It is run by a gentleman by the name of Fernando Nadi Fior in Rimini (NE Italy), and he is an associate and friend of Andrea Ferrari and Stefano Cremaschi of Hidden Spirit and Wild Parrot respectively. High Spirits has quietly and primarily been dealing in whiskies and very occasional limited bottlings of rum since the formation of the company after the dissolution of the previous enterprise, Intertrade Import in the 1970s, but is still mostly unknown outside Italy.
  • I’ve often wondered about the prevalence of 1974 and 1975 Guyanese rums, so many of which were Port Mourant, We don’t see 1970s PM rums that often to begin with (Velier has a 1972, 1973 and other years as well, but they’re an exception), yet for some reason these two years seems to be unusually well represented across the various companies’ lines, and I doubt that’s a coincidence.  Somehow, for some reason, a lot of barrels from Guyana went to Europe back then and yet for few other years from that decade. Hopefully one day we’ll find out why.

Sep 222020
 

Let’s start at the beginning.  Skotlander rum is not made in Scotland, but in Denmark, for the very good reason that the founder, Anders Skotlander, is a Dane with the name. Denmark has long been known (to me, at any rate) as home of some of the most rum-crazy people in Europe, and Anders decided to walk the walk by actually creating some of his own, in 2013. He purchased a Müller copper pot still, sourced sugar cane molasses and in 2014 released 1000 bottles of RUM I, a white, at 40%. It promptly won a gold medal at the Miami rum festival that year; and in 2015, where both RUM I and an infused RUM III were entered, the former won Best in Class White Rum, and the latter a gold for Premium White (alongside Plantation 3 and Nine Leaves Clear, which says something about the categorization of whites in those more loosely defined times). 

In the year since then, Anders Skotlander has pushed to stay not only relevant but original.  He has sourced molasses and cane juice from around South America, experimented with different barrels, has used unusual storage places (like a bunker, or a century old schooner) to chuck those barrels, and has expanded the range to include spiced and botanical rums, whites, aged rums, agricole rums and even high ester rums. He’s up to Skotlander 10 right now (a 59.5% blend) and the website provides an enormous amount of information for each. And the labels, informative as they are, are masterpieces of Scandinavian minimalism which make some Velier labels seem like over-decorated roccoco indulgences in comparison.

Rums made from scratch by some small new micro-distillery in a country other than the norm are often harbingers of future trends and can bring – alongside the founders’ enthusiasm – some interesting tastes to the table, even different spirits (<<cough>> ‘Murrica!!). But Skotlander, to their credit, didn’t mess around with ten different brandies, gins, vodkas, whiskies and what have you, and then pretended they were always into rum and we are now getting the ultimate pinnacle of their artsy voyage of discovery. Nah. These boys started with rum, bam! from eight o’clock, day one. 

Which, after this long preamble, brings us to the very interesting Skotlander RUM V Batch #1 (1400 sømil), a rum made from molasses sourced in Brazil which are fermented for thirty days (in Denmark), pot still distilled (also in Denmark), aged in four PX barrels onboard the schooner “Mira” for about a year during which it sailed 1400 nautical miles (get it?) and then 704 bottles were unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 2016 a muscular 61.6% ABV. 

At that proof point you can expect, and you get, serious intensity. The nose is really hot and spicy – clearly it spend the entire voyage happily  sharpening its fangs.  It is clean and snarly, presenting a profile nothing like a Cuban, Bajan, Mudland, or Jamaican rum.  It has fruits, yes, deep, dark orange and red-purple ones: black and red grapes, apples, unripe prunes and apricots, red grapefruits, though sorting them out is a near-impossibility. It also smells of smoke, dusty hay, a touch of vanilla and brown sugar, molasses, salted caramel – if I had to guess blind I’d say it resembles a pot-still, jacked-up St. Lucian or Saint James more than anything else.

After the near-hysterical clawing of the aromas, the palate calms down somewhat.  It remains sharp – at that strength, how could it not? – and drips with the winey, sherry-influenced flavours.  Red grapes, grapefruit again, tart apples.  There is also some caramel, candied oranges and truffles (!!), with crisp cider and citrus notes dominating…but not entirely successfully. Really, I wrote with some amused bewilderment, “…this is like a barely aged seriously overproofed agricole mixing it up with a Guyanese High Wine”.  It does have a lot going on — subsequent sips at the glass, with and without water, evidences stewed apples, fruit salad, watermelons, pineapples, strawberries, so a fair bit of esters in here. This is also evident on the close, which, while long and fragrant with candied oranges, salt caramel, smoke, vanilla and pineapples, lacks neat balance between the salt, sweeet, musky, crisp and tart elements.

I write a lot about “distinctiveness” and “uniqueness” in assessing both familiar and unfamiliar rum houses’ offerings. This has it – to an extent. You can sense an really cool and original product coming into focus, even as it takes care not to skate too far to the edges of what is known and understood. But it does kind of mash untidily together, and the complexity it could be showcasing more successfully gets lost, even muddled as it careens heedlessly from one profile to the next.  You could taste it several times and each time your interpretation would be slightly different, which in this case is both a recommendation and a cautionary heads-up. It’s a bold and interesting rum by my standards, however, and on that basis, even if I’m late to the party, I think I’ll keep my eye on the company, and go find me some more to try.

(#764)(82/100)


Other notes:

  • The Rum Renaissance gold medal awarded in 2014 was second prize (platinum is first), and was won for being “Best In Class” for white rum.  At the time white rums were not stratified between aged or unaged, filtered or not, pot or column, and there are no records how many other rums were judged in that category.  Still, for a rum not even in existence a year before, that’s not a bad showing given it was up against all other white rums, and not a subclass.
  • Skotlander V Batch #2 is slightly older, about two years, released around 2018, aged on the same schooner while it sailed for 2200 nautical miles.  The same emptied ex-sherry ex-Batch 1 barrels were reused. 
  • Here’s a chocolate-voiced promo video about Skotlander
  • Thanks to Gregers and Henrik, the Danes who twigged me on to this company and their rums.
Aug 172020
 

Mauritius is another one of those rum producing areas that flits in and out of our collective rumconsciousness, and seems to come up for mention mostly (and only) when a blogger checks out a new indie expression (SBS and Velier spring to mind). Cognoscenti might recall Penny Blue, New Grove, Chamarel or Lazy Dodo rums from the graveyard of reviews past, but honestly, when was the last time you saw one yourself, tried one, or even bought one?

St. Aubin is one of the Indian Ocean island distilleries that have been gathering some goodwill of late and should not be left out of anyone’s purchasing calculations, and with good reason: they taste pretty damned good, and they have a long history of both pot and column still production stretching back two centuries. If distribution can be sorted out beyond Europe, and there’s a resumption of the rum festivals where one can find their products, then we can hope their reputation ticks up more than it has so far.  This particular rum is the top of their line, being a limited edition of not only a set number of bottles (2,080) but from a particular harvest (2003), cane juice source, completely copper-pot-still distilled, aged a solid ten years and aimed at a wider audience by tamping it down to 43%.  Based on those specs it’s practically a must-have, 

Certainly the 2003 10 YO does its next-best relative the St. Aubin Grande Reserve (which is itself a combo of 30% pot still 10YO from 2004 and 70% rested 7YO column still juice) quite a bit better, simply by not diluting its own core fully-pot-still essence. This is key to understanding how good the 2003 smells, because it noses cleaner, crisper, even a shade lighter…and quite a bit more is going on under there.  What was, in the other aged expressions, a sort of sweetness is more delicate here, closer to sugar cane sap and sugar water than the slight heaviness often attendant on molasses based rums. There are aromas of flowers, masala spice, cloves and a dash of cinnamon. And leaving it standing to open up, one gets additional hints of coffee grounds, unsweetened chocolate, and a nice delicate vein of vanilla and citrus. 

The oak influence takes on a more dominant note on the palate, which is initially sweet, dry and intense.  There’s bitter chocolate, caramel, cinnamon and a vague grassiness more sensed than actually experienced, plus citrus peel, chocolate oranges, cumin and the slightest hint of cilantro.  Plus some Fanta and 7-up, which I was not expecting, but no entirely unhappy to taste.  The whole drink is clean, crisp and dry, and the gradually emergent and assertive herbals and tart notes make it a pretty nifty neat pour.  Finish is not too shabby – medium long, mostly bon-bons, caramel, light flowers and lemon meringue pie.

The cost of this ten year old rum released in 2014 is in the €140 range (when it can be tracked down – I found that price in the Mauritius duty free, but not much elsewhere) and this is one of those instances where even with the modest strength, I think it worth picking up if you’re in funds.  Because on top of how well it noses and tastes, those stats are impressive – pot still, ten years tropical ageing, cane juice distillate, its own peculiar terroire, something not from the Caribbean….that’s pressing a lot of buttons at once.  Too often we uncritically and unthinkingly fork out that kind of coin for regularly issued blends, just because of the associated name. The new and the unknown needs to be tried on its own terms as well, and here, I think that for what St. Aubin provides us with and what we get out of it, it’s well worth pausing to try, to share, and to buy. 

(#753)(86/100)


A brief history

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, which also makes the Lazy Dodo brand). 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. 

Aug 052020
 

The Cadenhead 1964 Port Mourant is one of the great unicorns of our time, a rum whose 36 years of ageing sail majestically across the senses, impervious and indifferent to the up-and-coming claimants for the crown of “oldest” and “strongest’ and “bestest” and “mostest”.  Not since the Age of Velier have we seen anything like this and in some ways it supersedes even those behemoths we had all ignored back in the day, because they were “too expensive.”

And expensive this is: in June 2020 a variant bottle of this thing (bottled in 2000, 70% ABV) was bid up past all reason on Rum Auctioneer until it went under the hammer for a cool £3,000, which makes it pricier than rums from the 1930s and 1940s sporting amazing pedigrees of their own (though still less than a Velier Skeldon 1978). There’s another one now available in the August auction (the one I’m writing about here, bottled in 2001). Such prices dissuade all but the most foolhardy, the deep-pocketed or those who “clan-up” — and rightfully so, for surely no rum is worth that kind of coin, and who in this day and age has it anyway? 

And those stats, whew! 36 years old, pre-independence 1964 distillation (this, when finding anything from as recently the 1980s is already a problem fraught with the potential susurration of rapidly emptying wallets), Port Mourant distillate at a time when it was still at Uitvlugt, 69.3% of turbo-charged thrust – these things suggest an extraordinary rum, which usually fills me with dread as a reviewer: for, how could any rum live up to that kind of hype? Yet somehow, against my fears,  Cadenhead has indeed released something exceptional.  

Consider the nose: I loved it. It smelled like it was reared in an ultramodern Swiss lab and fed a diet of woodchips from DDLs stills and given only liquid molasses runoff to drink to dilute the raw caramel. It was a smoothly powerful rush of wood, well-polished old leather, smoke, licorice peas, stewed apples, prunes, and oak tannins. No rubber, no acetone, no paint stripper, just controlled thick ferocity. Some salted caramel, and molasses, flowers and as I stayed with it the subtler aromas of fennel, rosemary, masala and cumin and a twist of lemon zest all emerged. 

Clearly unsatisfied with just that, it toughened up something serious when tasted.  It showcased less a sense of shuddering sharpness aiming only to inflict careless pain, than the surefooted solidity of a Mack truck piloted high high speed by a really good stuntman.  It’s creamy, hot, redolent of caramel, sweet bon bons and molasses.  Anise.  Whipped cream in a fruit salad of raisins, prunes and caramelized apples.  Just a flirt of salt, and also some pine-sol mixing it up with soft flowers, coffee grounds and macadamia chocolate cookies. None of the ageing was wasted, and it did exactly what it meant to, no more, no less, with grace and power and the sense of complete control at all times. Even the finish demonstrated this: it was enormously long lasting, coming together at the last with a sort of burly, brutal rhythm of toffee, toblerone, almonds, coffee and citrus that shouldn’t work, but somehow manages to salvage real elegance from all that rough stuff and full, firm tastes.  It’s a great conclusion to a seriously well aged rum.

The Cadenhead Uitvlugt 1964 followed all the traditional ways an indie has of producing a rum, except then it proceeded to dial it up to 11, added steroids, horse tranqs and industrial strength factory cleanser, and released it to just about zero acclaim (I mean, have you ever herd of it?).  It’s excellence lay in how it came together over time, I think – it started at a low idle, then gained force as it moved along. The early tasting notes and impressions could come from any one of a dozen rums, but as it developed we see a great original product coming into focus, something we have perhaps tried before, and which remains buried in the recesses of our tasting memories, but which we rarely recall being done this well.

So, circling back to the original point, is it worth the money?  If you have it, yes, of course.  If you don’t, maybe you can dream, as I did, of scoring a sample. “To me this is the Holy Grail” remarked Gregers Nielsen when we were discussing the bottle, and now, having tried it, I can completely understand his unrequited love (or should that be lust?) for it.  Maybe, if I could, I’d pawn the family silver to get it as well — but in the meantime, for now, I was simply happy to have received the generosity of Alex Van Der Veer, and toasted him happily as I drank this really quite superlative piece of rum history.

(#750)(91/100)


Other notes

It goes without saying this is continentally aged,  The outturn is unknown.

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