Nov 042018
 

This whole week I’ll be looking at the quartet of stern, forbidding black and white bottles of the National Rums of Jamaica, which have excited a slowly rising conversation on social media as pictures get posted and more and more people try them.  Certainly, they’ve got all the Jamaican rum punditry in transports already (plus they are issued by Velier, which is clear from the minimalist label and box design). All four will be written about in a sequence, because there’s simply no way to speak to them individually at long intervals without missing the point, which is that they’re part of an integrated set, and to understand one means to try and understand all – each informs the other. Because there’s a fair bit of background involved in these rums, below each post will have a longer-than usual “Background notes” section detailing notes common to all, and defining some terms, below the review.

The Vale Royal is probably the most traditional rum of the NRJ series, and for the reasonably wide-tasting rum drinker, the best one to start with, as will become clear when we move through the four-rum series.  It also has the lowest ester-count among the set, which might give you an inkling of how they all progress (you’d think that….but no). Bottled at 62.5%, as they all are, it derives from a double retort pot still, is 12 years old, tropically aged (of course) and is made in the Wedderburn style, with an ester count of 150 grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol (g/hlpa) — out of a max of 250 for this classification — which is not the standard accepted one for Jamaicans as a whole, but Longpond’s own.  That makes it a very approachable rum, very tasty, yet paradoxically not entirely a rum I could immediately assign to Jamaica, the way one could, for example, a Worthy Park, an Appleton, or a Hampden — though admittedly we have more experience with those and therefore know them somewhat better (this is a personal opinion, though).

Consider first the nose.  Frankly, I thought it was lovely – not just because it was different (it certainly was), but because it combined the familiar and the strange in intriguing new ways. It started off dusty, musky, loamy, earthy…the sort of damp potting soil in which my wife exercises her green thumb.  There was also a bit of vaguely herbal funk going on in the background, dry, like a hemp rope, or an old jute sack that once held rice paddy. But all this was background because on top of all that was the fruitiness, the flowery notes which gave the rum its character – cherries, peaches, pineapples, mixed with salt caramel, vanilla, almonds, hazelnuts and flambeed bananas. I mean, that was a really nice series of aromas.

On the palate the strength showed its fangs and let’s face it, at 62.5% it’s got monster power hidden under the hood, and a little patience was required.  It was sharp, sweet, flowery and estery to a fault, and somehow that dry earthy note disappeared almost entirely, probably edged out by the sheer force of all the other flavours that took over – this is perhaps one of those rums where a little water is really required.  I didn’t get much without the addition, but with a few drops there was a cloudburst of flowery flavours and sharp fruits: pears, apples, cider, green grapes, raisins, unripe mangoes, tart yoghurt and sour cream, nuts, vanilla, anise and even some yeasty bread just to shake things up.  And the finish, well, that was excellent – long, flavourful, fruity, sweetly flower-like, and took forever to die down, coughing up a last note of bitter chocolate, crushed hazelnuts, vanilla and sharp unripe fruits just to show that even on the back end it meant business and had a bit ore to smack you down with..

For my money, this is a pretty great rum. It is well aged, well balanced, and has the funky note and that fruity estery profile – neither to excess – that drives lovers of Worthy Park and Hampden into orgasmic throes of onanistic ecstasy.  It also has originality and character in that it isn’t afraid to add a few extra things into the mix that might seem startling at first – these are new and original and yet not overdone. In fine, it has almost everything I want from a rum that purports to break the mould and show us something different – old tastes combined with new and intriguing flavours that somehow don’t call that much attention to themselves, all put together into something peculiarly its own.  What it presented was an interesting melange of both Jamaican and something else, with a sly wink and an arrow pointing at the other, more ester-boosted rums in the series…for both good and ill. And that will become clearer as we progress through the line.

(#563)(87/100)


Background notes

(With the exception of the estate section, all remarks here are the same for the four reviews)

This series of essays on the four NRJ rums contains:

In brief, these are all rums from Long Pond distillery, and represent distillates with varying levels of esters (I have elected to go in the direction of lowest ester count → highest, in these reviews). Much of the background has been covered already by two people: the Cocktail Wonk himself with his Jamaican estate profiles and related writings, and the first guy through the gate on the four rums, Flo Redbeard of Barrel Aged Thoughts, who has written extensively on them all (in German) in October 2018. As a bonus, note that a bunch of guys sampled and briefly reviewed all four on Rumboom (again, in German) the same week as my own reviews came out, for those who want some comparisons.

The various Jamaican ester marks

These are definitions of ester counts, and while most rums issued in the last ten years make no mention of such statistics, it seems to be a coming thing based on its increasing visibility in marketing and labelling: right now most of this comes from Jamaica, but Reunion’s Savanna also has started mentioning it in its Grand Arôme line of rums.  For those who are coming into this subject cold, esters are the chemical compounds responsible for much of a given rum’s flowery and fruity flavours – they are measured in grams per hectoliter of pure alcohol, a hectoliter being 100 liters; a light Cuban style rum can have as little as 20 g/hlpa while an ester gorilla like the DOK can go right up to the legal max of 1600 at which point it’s no longer much of a drinker’s rum, but a flavouring agent for lesser rums. (For good background reading, check out the Wonk’s work on Jamaican funk, here).

Back in the day, the British classified Jamaican rums into four major styles, and many estates took this a few steps further by subdividing the major categories even more:

Standard Classification

  •  Common Clean 50-150 gr/hlpa
  •  Plummer 150-200 gr/hlpa
  •  Wedderburn 200-300 gr/hlpa
  •  Continental Flavoured 700-1600 gr/hlpa

Exactly who came up with the naming nomenclature, or what those names mean, is something of a historian’s dilemma, and what they call the juice between 301 to 699 gr/hlpa is not noted, but if anyone knows more, drop me a line and I’ll add the info.  Note in particular that these counts reflect the esters after distillation but before ageing, so a chemical test might find a differing value if checked after many years’ rest in a barrel

Long Pond itself sliced and diced and came up with their own ester subdivisions, and the inference seems to be that the initials probably refer to distilleries and estates acquired over the decades, if not centuries.  It would also appear that the ester counts on the four bottles do indeed reflect Long Pond’s system, not the standard notation (tables.

RV                        0-20
CQV                    20-50
LRM                    50-90
ITP /LSO            90-120
HJC / LIB         120-150
IRW / VRW    150-250
HHH / OCLP    250-400
LPS                  400-550
STCE             550-700
TECA            1200-1300
TECB            1300-1400
TECC            1500-1600

The Estate Name:

Vale Royal was a distillery located in Trelawny Parish, just like Longpond, and has a history covered in great depth by BAT, here. The long and the short of it is that it was founded in 1776 under the name of “Walky Walk” (poetic,yes?) before being retitled Vale Royal in the early 1800s. The estate managed to survive after the abolition of slavery, but a combination of falling sugar prices and a movement of consolidation led to the sale of the estate to Longpond in 1959, with the marque of VRW remaining as a memento of its glory days when it stood for “Vale Royal Wedderburn” – though as noted above, this edition, produced at Longpond’s facilities, should rightly be called a Plummer under Standard Notation, since it has 150 g/hlpa, not the required 200-300, but evidently decided to go with its own system.

Note: National Rums of Jamaica is not an estate or a distillery in and of itself, but is an umbrella company owned by three organizations: the Jamaican Government, Maison Ferrand of France (who got their stake in 2017 when they bought WIRD in Barbados, the original holder of the share Ferrand now hold) and Guyana’s DDL.

Oct 302018
 

My friend Henrik from Denmark told me once that he really dislikes the rums of WIRD. “There’s just something off about them,” he grumbled when we were discussing the output from Little England, the development of the Foursquare Exceptionals, and the Velier collaborations.  On the other hand, another rum-kumpel from Germany, Marco Freyr, has no problems with them at all, and remarked that he could absolutely pinpoint any Rockley Still rum just by sniffing the glass (I have since come the the conclusion that he’s absolutely right).  Coming to this Bristol Spirits rum after a long session of Bajan bruisers made by the Compagnie, Cadenhead and Foursquare themselves, I can sort of see both points of view, but come down more on the positive side, because I like the variety of tones and tastes which indie WIRD rums provide.  And this one? I liked it quite a bit.

We hear so much about the rums of Mount Gay, St. Nicholas Abbey and Foursquare, that rums made by/from WIRD often get short shrift and scant mention.  It’s not even seen as a true distillery of the sort that makes its own name and marks its own territory (like Foursquare, Hampden, Worthy Park or DDL do, for example). But WIRD does exist, even if the majority of its rums come to us by way of the European independents (most of its output is sold as either bulk stock to brokers, goes into the Cockspur brand, or to make the coconut-rum-liqueur Malibu which for some obscure reason, Grandma Caner simply can’t get enough of).  

The brief technical blah is as follows: bottled by Bristol Spirits out of the UK from distillate left to age in Scotland for 26 years; a pot still product (I refer you to Nikos Arvanitis’s excellent little essay on the Rockley still if you want to do more research), distilled in 1986 and bottled in 2012, finished in sherry casks for an indeterminate period. The strength remains at the Bristol Spirits standard 46% ABV, which makes it very approachable to the mainstream who want to explore further into how rums from Barbados can differ from each other. 

And differ it does. No smooth, well-constructed melange of pot and column still product here, redolent of spices and soft fruits.  Oh no. For openers, this rum’s nose was meaty: like licking a salty maggi cube dropped into a pot of chicken stock liberally dosed with sweet soy sauce.  All of this develops over time (fortunately, because I had soup for lunch and didn’t want any in my glass as well) into waxy pungency leavened with a sort of sweet rich fruitiness (cherries, ripe peaches, apples) which then further combined with a forceful sherry/madeira finish that at times verged on being overdone….even medicinal.  The nose was so at odds with everything I had alongside it, that one could be forgiven for thinking this was not a Bajan rum at all…it nosed that different.

Still, it was much better to taste than to smell.  It was warm and reasonably smooth, though with a bite here or there to remind you it wasn’t fully tamed; its tastes were of caramel, dollops of thick dark honey on fresh toasted dark bread, camomile, thyme and cough drops. Iodine and medicinals are thankfully held way back (a pencilled-in line, not a brightly coloured oil by Frazetta, you might say).  Also burnt sugar, stewed apples and some ripe cherries and the tart tastiness of soursop, ginnip and sour cream rounded things off, before lapsing into a relatively short, fruity, and honey-like finish that breathed easy fumes and then hurriedly exited the scene.

Overall, it was a rich rum, full bodied, a little oaky, quite fruity after opening up, and that sherry influence — perceptible but in no way overwhelming — was enjoyable.  In fact, the overall integration and balance of this thing is really quite good, and it provides a pleasing counterpoint to more popular and better known rums from the island, which by itself makes it worth a try.  One does not have to be a deep-dive Bajan rum aficionado, parsing the minutest details of different vintages, to appreciate it for what it is, a well made Bajan rum that dares to go off on a tangent.

There’s a reason I want WIRD rums to continue to make it to the public glassware, even if it’s just second hand, via the independents (now that Maison Ferrand has taken over, it’s only older rums from European brokers they’ll get, I’m thinking).  They’re different, very different, existing in some kind of joyous parallel universe where mothballs, fruits and cloves mix it up in a dusty spice cupboard and the result is peculiarly drinkable. They are, in their own way and possibly because of their relative obscurity, fascinatingly off-base. I haven’t met many so far, but those I’ve tried I’ve liked, and sure hope more will turn up in my glass in the years to come.

(#562)(86/100)


Other notes

Oct 092018
 

L’Esprit, if you recall, is that little independent bottler in Brittany which is run by Tristan Prodhomme, and has the peculiar distinction of usually issuing the same rums in two iterations – a diluted, more numerous version at a lower proof for the general market, and another more limited one at cask strength (from the same barrel(s) for those who prefer a rum with some fangs.  They don’t range too far afield and stick with the regular rums of the pantheon – from Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Panama and so on, with an occasional divergence to Nicaragua and Belize and Haiti.

In the sense that L’Esprit is an independent bottler, they conform to most of the markers of the European indie scene – they regularly buy a few barrels from Scheer, issue a limited bottle set, and have an annual outturn.  They’re not out to reinvent the wheel, just to sell good quality hooch. What (to me) distinguishes them is the quality of what they push out the door, and even with the young rums, like this 8 Year Old Jamaican from Worthy Park, the quality of what they selected is self evident.

Speaking of Worthy Park: it is located in the parish of St. Catherine, and, like other Jamaican estates, is having something of a renaissance as the wave of tropically-aged, estate-made rums gathers steam – leaving aside Habitation Velier’s rums, they themselves have made quite a few interesting ones of their own (I have detailed files…).  Much like Hampden, they pride themselves on cool ester counts and their Forsythe’s double retort pot still delivers in spades when it comes to good rums. Like other Caribbean rum companies, they sell bulk rum abroad (mostly to Scheer), which is something of a double edged sword – other companies capitalize on the WP name and take the value-added revenue for themselves, but on the flip side, it allows WP to have a revenue stream, and introduces a far wider public to the qualities of their rums in a world where distribution arrangements can be a pain for a local company to negotiate.

So, given how many Jamaicans are on the scene these days, how does this young, continentally aged 55.9% golden rum fare?  Not too shabbily. It’s strong but very approachable, even on the nose, which doesn’t waste any time getting started but announces its ester-rich aromas immediately and with authority: acetone, nail polish and some rubber plus a smell of righteous funk (spoiling fruits, rotten bananas, that kind of thing).  Its relative youth is apparent in the uncouth sharpness of the initial aromas, but once one sticks with it, it settles into its own special groove, calms itself down and does a neat little balancing act between sharper scents of citrus, cider, apples, hard yellow mangoes and green grapes, and softer ones of bananas, cumin, vanilla, marshmallows and cloves.

The palate was rich as well, no surprises, though again, it started out quite sharp, almost jagged, spicy and hot.  The rum developed from sharp to soft much as the nose did, with many of the same flavours – brine, furniture polish, herbs, brine and olives to start with, green grapes, apple cider, aromatic tobacco and unsweetened dark chocolate, which gradually relaxed into a fruity cornucopia of overripe bananas and mangoes and apricots and guavas and pineapples, all bound up with vanilla, sugar water, a little caramel (very light), crackers, fanta and sprite.  As for the finish, that was very good, very long, very fruity, very soft…the slow meandering of a river that started out as a torrent of raging white water but was now serenely pushing out to sea without haste.

Overall, I was quite surprised at how much there was going on here.  For a rum this youthful and aged in Europe to boot, I expected more savagery and less control, fewer softened edges and more from the sharper side of the barrel.  Yet the oak remained in the background the whole while, the fruitiness and funk danced across the senses, and while the complexity and balance were both very well handled, it’s the development of the rum over two hours that held my attention.  It started off like a boss and then just…well, it just chilled and showed you a good time. In that it exceeded the Mezan WP 2005 which was older, while falling short of the exceptional Compagnie des Indes Jamaica WP 2007, which was younger.

Of the Jamaican rums now gaining greater appreciation, I must confess to my own liking for Hampdens – they’ve consistently scored higher (when taken in aggregate) than Appleton or Monymusk or Worthy Park, of which I have not had that many.  That this single rum could make me both discover and re-evaluate that unconscious preference, and encourage me to buy more from the estate – whether independently made or from WP itself, tropically aged or continental – is to the credit of both Tristan who released it, and Worthy Park who made it. It’s a quietly amazing rum that’s really a blast to try.

(#557)(86/100)


Other notes

  • A really good intro to Worthy Park comes from the pen of Steve James, here, as well as the Cocktail Wonk, here.
  • Most of the Worthy Park rums that have garnered attention of late have been the Habitation Velier expressions there are also Worthy Park’s own rums which were issued in 2017 to really positive feedback.  Transcontinental Rum Line, Mezan, Rum Nation, Bacardi (Single Cane brand), and some other smaller indies from around Europe have bottled rums from there as well.
  • L’Esprit’s presentation cases of small square 100ml bottles can’t be beat.  I’ve seldom seen any minis so sleekly attractive.

 

 

Sep 052018
 

DDL kinda snuck behind our backs and released another set of rums from the Rare Collection back in 2017, and the mere fact that I would have to mention this fact in my opening remarks shows how quietly the whole thing was handled, to the probable mystification of many.  The DDL and El Dorado Facebook pages don’t mention them, the El Dorado web page is out of action (either by itself or as a redirect from the DDL page) and even the big FB rumclubs hardly make mention of it – except a couple of days ago when some questions came out regarding the Diamond 1998 on the Global Rum Club.

For the benefit of those who are interested, Release II of the Rares consists of the following rums (to the best of my knowledge):

  • Diamond DLR 1998-2017 20YO 55.1% (CBH 20th Anniversary Edition)
  • PM+Diamond PM<SVW> 2001-2017 16YO 54.3% (Velier 70th Anniversary Edition)
  • Port Mourant PM 1997-2017 20YO 57.9%
  • Enmore EHP 1996-2017 20YO 57.2%

Today we’ll look at the Port Mourant, because of all the wooden stills’ outturns, that marque remains my favourite – Enmore is usually good though somewhat hit or miss depending on who’s making it, Versailles takes real skill to elevate to the heights, and the Savalle still makes a different profile from the wooden ones….but the PM is consistently top class (even if only in my personal estimation). This one, bottled in a dark green bottle, is 20 years old and 57.9% with an unknown outturn, and not the best of the Release II set, but still a very good drink when compared with the first editions that came out with such fanfare (and opprobrium) in early 2016.

The way it smells seems like a more elemental, “cleaner” version of the Port Mourant-Diamond PM<SVW> which was Velier’s 70th Anniversary edition – in that purity of focus may reside a quality that is slightly higher. It represented PM’s standard profile in fine style, perhaps because it wasn’t trying to make nice with another still’s divergent (if complementary) profile. Bags of fruit came wafting out of course, sweet dark prunes, dates, raisins, vanilla, and of course anise.  It was deep and dark and rich, offset somewhat by a lighter line of flowers and faint citrus, bitter chocolate and coffee, and I make no bones about enjoying that familiar series of aromas which has become almost a standard for the PM still.

Even at 57.9%, the strength was well handled, excellently controlled – the depth and warmth of the rum, its heaviness, muted any overproofed bitchiness that sometimes sneaks through such rums, and made it taste dark and warm rather than light and sharp.  The palate led off with the caramel-infused (strong) coffee, more bitter chocolate and licorice — but there were intriguing notes of aromatic sawdust and pencil shavings lurking in the background as well. To that, over time, were added fruity flavours of sweet plums, blackberries, peaches, and a little orange peel and perhaps a flirt of cinnamon, and they were well integrated into a cohesive whole that was really a treat to sip, all leading into the finish which summed up most of the preceding flavours – cinnamon, oak, sawdust, coffee grounds, chocolate and anise, long and lasting.  It was definitely a level above the original PM.

When Release I of the Rares appeared in early 2016, Velier lovers went quietly apesh*t, evenly split between those who hated on DDL for replacing what were already seen to be rums that it would be heresy to mess with, and those who felt the prices were out to lunch.  The situation hasn’t appreciably changed between then and now, except in one respect – Release II is, in my opinion, better. The R1 PM 1999-2015 16YO garnered a rather lackluster 83 points from me and other writers were not particularly chuffed about it either. This one is a few points better, and shows that DDL has definitely worked on upping their game, so if it comes down to decision time, it’s the R2 version that would get my bucks — because it demonstrates many of the hallmarks of quality for which I and others search so assiduously when selecting a cask strength rum. That, and the fact that it’s just a damned fine example of the Port Mourant still itself.  So even if we don’t have the Velier Demeraras any longer, at least the replacements are right up there too.  What a relief.

(#546)(86.5/100)


Other notes

This rum was one of the eight Demeraras from DDL and Velier I ran past each other a few months ago.

Aug 062018
 

There’s a story I heard years ago, that of the many rums from his company, Silvano Samaroli’s own personal favourite was one of the first ones he bottled, the West Indies 1948.  Who am I to rain on a story like that, speaking as it does of a man currently residing in the Great Distillery in the Sky, and a rum from so far back in time that most of us weren’t even a twinkle in our Daddy’s eyes, made when the world was an utterly different place?  But for my money, of all the rums I’ve tried from this Italian outfit and from Jamaica (and that’s quite a few), this one is among the very best. To cut straight to the chase and save you all a lot of reading time, I think it is a sublime drinking experience for anyone who treasures Jamaican rums.

That might sound like a startling assertion, but it has a lot to do with the assembly, much with the balance, and for sure the overall complexity: and that started right with the initial nosing, which started slow, gathered momentum, and turned what we initially and indulgently thought was VW Beetle into a growling Veyron wannabe. 

Although the initial scents wafting easily from the glass are of paint thinner, acetones, rubber and some pencil shavings, for once these didn’t overwhelm or detract, but acted as a counterpoint to the rest of the nasal riches which followed – warm unsweetened chocolate, nougat, hibiscus flowers in full bloom, dust, dried coffee grounds, more light flowers with clear, delicate notes of something remarkably akin to freshly done laundry drying in the sun. Cedar, aromatic woody notes, honey tobacco.  God, was this thing ever going to stop? Nope, there was more – a light dusting of brown sugar soaked in molasses, and vanilla. If you’re looking for funk, well, it’s there, but for once content to be a bit player and not chew the scenery.

And the taste, the palate, the way it comes together, it’s masterful.  At 52% it’s downright near damned perfect – the the balance between mouth puckering citrus plus laid back funk, and easier, softer flavours is unbelievably well done.  Soda pop, honey, cereal, red currants, raspberries, fanta and orange zest dance exuberantly cross the tongue, never faltering, never allowing any one piece to dominate. Like an exquisitely choreographed dance number, the molasses, vanillas and fruits (peaches, yellow plums, pears, ripe yellow Thai mangoes) tango alongside sharper notes of citrus, lemon zest, overripe bananas, sandalwood and ginger. Even the finish is spectacular – just long enough, just sharp enough, just mellow enough, allowing each of the individually discerned flavours of fruits, toffee, chocolate and citrus to come out on stage one last time for a bow, before fading back and making way for the next one

It seems almost superfluous to go through the factoids surrounding it so let’s be brief: it is from Hampden , though this is nowhere evident on the label (I picked that up online); pot still, continentally aged, bottled at 52% in 2017 from a single barrel (Cask #19, which means nothing to most of us) of 1992 stocks, 228 bottles issued, and there you are.

I don’t know what they did differently in this rum from others they’ve issued for the last forty years, what selection criteria they used, but I must be honest – the 1992 came close to blowing out my circuits. It’s restrained but powerful, and the sometimes-overdone flavour profiles of other high ester rums, has been toned down and handled with real attention and care.  I can’t remember the last rum that excited me so much, that enthused me so much, right off the bat.  Okay, that’s crap, there was the UF30E and the Sajous and the BBR 1977…but you get the point. I had to try it several times in the course of a single evening trying to poke holes into it, trying to find a flaw that would unravel the experience, make it more mundane, bring it to the level of other rums, but no, it stayed as spectacular at one in the morning, as it was six hours earlier when my friends and I cracked it.

These days, with independent bottlers proliferating as they have, each one trying to outdo the other with a remarkable rum from yesteryear, and with Scheer’s old hoards being plundered like King Tut’s personal rum chamber, with old rums becoming impossible to find and harder to buy, I honestly believed my days of finding an undiscovered treasure were over.  After trying the Samaroli 1992, I knew I was dead wrong…and happy to be so. There are still amazing rums out there to be found, often flying beneath the radar, teased out with a little luck, delving deep trenches in your wallet. This is one of them, a rum that shows what can be done when a bottler’s great selection crosses paths with a rum sleuth’s dogged persistence…and results in me writing about a rum that is made with what — in my opinion — is more than a small dose of pure magic.

(#535)(92/100)

Jul 072018
 

These days Jamaican rums which were previously and mostly blending fodder are getting not only a new lease on life but a resurgence of their reputation that is so massive and enthusiast-driven that it’s led to the re-emergence of names like Longpond, Worthy Park, Clarendon, Inswood, Monymusk, New Yarmouth, Hampden Estate (and others),  that might be giving Appleton some sleepless nights. Lovers of the style can’t seem to get enough of them, which goes a long way to demonstrating public boredom with pallid blended meh-rums that have suffused much of the consuming landscape for the last decades. People were and are simply looking for something more exciting, more distinctive…and Jamaicans are filling that niche very nicely indeed.

In 2017 the French company Compagnie des Indes issued a New Yarmouth rum which excited raves across the Jamaican rum loving cognoscenti (I have yet to try it myself), and in 2018 Velier issued two Hampdens themselves – both lit up Facebook like the Fourth of July.  And that’s not even counting the other Worthy Park and Hampdens which have come to market in the last few years. The Hampden I’m looking at today is a bit more modest, however – it is one Compagnie edition of about twenty from the island that were released up to 2017 (of which four were from Hampden).

In terms of background, it’s a 43% rum, pot still origin, barrel #JH46, distiilled in 2000 and bottled in 2016, 339 bottles, sourced in Europe (probably Scheer) – and if you’re really interested I dragged some others from the island to act as controls: the Mexan XO, the Mezan WP 2005, another two Compagnie rums – the Longpond 12 YO (44%) and the Worthy Park 7 YO (53%). Because I was curious how well the Hampden would fare against both other estates, and other strengths.

There was no mistaking the lemon-yellow Hampden for anything but a Jamaican, that was for sure. The nose was slightly sweeter than the Mezans and the CdI Longpond, very clear, redolent of cherries, tart fruits, green apples, rotting banana funk, overripe mangoes, together with a fine line of citrus carving through the whole thing – a medium ester rum, I hazarded, and very crisp and clean to smell.

On the palate, I didn’t think it could quite beat out the CdI Worthy Park (which was half its age, though quite a bit stronger); but it definitely had more force and more uniqueness in the way it developed than the Longpond and the Mezans. It started with cherries, going-off bananas mixed with a delicious citrus backbone, not too excessive. After ten minutes or so it opened further into a medium sweet set of fruits (peaches, pears, apples), and showed notes of oak, cinnamon, some brininess, green grapes, all backed up by delicate florals that were very aromatic and provided a good background for the finish.  That in turn glided along to a relatively serene, slightly heated medium-long stop with just a few bounces on the road to its eventual disappearance, though with little more than what the palate had already demonstrated. Fruitiness and some citrus and cinnamon was about it.

Overall, a solid, tasty Jamaican rum, presenting somewhat younger than its physical years.  It was continentally aged, so the rich voluptuousness of a tropically-aged rum was not its forte. Some of its rough edges were sanded away while leaving enough to give it some character: its strength was right, I think, and it lacked some of the furious brutality of younger ester bombs from the estates, without losing any of its elemental character.  Not all high-ester, funk-driven, dunder-squirting rums are meant for such neat sipping (as has been remarked on before, such intensely flavoured Jamaicans are often used as flavouring agents in other blended rums). But as a rum by itself, tasted and evaluated on its own, this fifteen year old is a very pleasant sipping dram that retains just enough edge to make it a very good experience to have by itself, or to perk up whatever cocktail you feel like adding it to.

(#526)(86/100)


Other notes

For a pretty good historical and production-level rundown on Hampden estate, the Cocktail Wonk’s 2016 article covers just abut everything.

Jul 022018
 

The question that arises when drinking a rum that is 10 years old is whether the relatively placid 40% strength helps or hurts given our rather more discerning palates these days. The blended Jamaican XO from last week’s review, with its indeterminate age and provenance, succeeded modestly in spite of its wispiness because somehow the tastes still came through and provided a showcase for the style…and for its price it was a strong low-end contender that punched above its weight.  While the 2005 10 YO we’re looking at today is also bottled at that strength – subsequent editions are a bit stronger – it is quite a few rungs up the ladder. In fact, it’s a quietly successful offering from Mezan, and should not be passed over by those who disdain anything except cask strength juice.

Speaking immediately about the nose, even though the strength was the same, the 10 year old presented as much more emphatic and distinctive than the XO.  Bananas and lemons, brine, olives, vague sweetness. Time helped to some degree and after a while one could sense cherries, a little funkiness, unsweetened chocolate and a continual background of orange peel, all of which remained light and relatively unaggressive, but quite clear.

The taste was the part I liked this most, because it was light and clear…kinda flirty chirpy, even sprightly.  The 40% does no damage to the palate and is actually quite pleasing in its own understated way. Green grapes, apples, cider, raspberries, tart unsweetened yoghurt, chocolate and nuts underscored by the thin line of citrus peel, and supported by a faint but noticeable set of fleshier fruits (not-quite-ripe apricots and peaches and mangoes) – the funkiness of esters was there, just dialled down, which distanced it somewhat from more traditional hard-core Jamaicans that are getting all the press these days. The weakness of the rum as a whole was probably the finish, which was really too short and fine, and added nothing particularly new to the fruit basket or the tastes – some citrus, cherries, green apples and that’s about it.

Overall, I liked it but the distinctiveness of the estate profile refused to come through that general mildness, which is, of course, something of a fail mark for a country whose rums have been getting a lot of attention in the last few years.  A few extra points of proof would have helped a lot, I think — and indeed, Mezan have issued a 46% version of the Worthy Park 2005 in 2017 which I have not tasted, but which is likely to address the issue (this one was a 2015 bottling).

The finish and aftertaste of the Mezan 2005 (though not the nose and palate) to some extent suggest why some people do not entirely go for softer proof and continental ageing, which is what I believe this is. That final part of the experience is simply too nondescript and inconspicuous and over far too quickly.  But we should not be too quick to trumpet “tropical ageing only!” like it was some kind of universal truth, because we should keep in mind the sterling Worthy Park 7 YO 53% from the Compagnie des Indes, which was a better rum in every way and was also aged in Europe (note also Wes’s admiration for the 2015 10 YO Worthy Park from Kill Devil).  Also the fact that overall for its price, this is a pretty good rum for those who want to know more about the Jamaican style of Worthy Park without getting their faces ripped off by a hot blast of esters bolted to a cask strength bitch slap. On that level, I’d say it’s a qualified success.

 

(#524)(84/100)


Other notes

  • Worthy Park re-opened for business in 2005 after not having produced any rum since the sixties, so this is from the first year of issue.
  • Distillate comes from molasses and a Forsythe copper pot still.  Actual place of ageing is unknown, but I’m thinking it’s the UK, or maybe partial in both UK and Jamaica.
Jun 172018
 

#521

Somehow, after a big splash in 2015-2016, Indonesian rums came and left the scene with equally and almost startling suddenness.  Although Haus Alpenz has been making a Batavia Arrack Van Oosten for many years (even decades, perhaps), it is a niche spirit, really, and not many know of it, and no, I haven’t tried it. My first encounter with the arracks came when I bought the Compagnie des Indes Indonesia rum in 2015 (and quite liked it), and within the year By The Dutch put this fascinating product out the door and then occasional photos began making the rounds on FB of Naga and Nusa Cana rums.  Shortly thereafter Matt Pietrek wrote one of his deep dives into the By the Dutch rum, and yet after all that, somehow they have almost vanished from the popular consciousness.

Perhaps it’s the renaissance of Bajan and Jamaican rums in those same years that stole the show, I don’t know – certainly over the last years the various social media are fuller of Bajan and Jamaican rum pictures and commentaries than just about anything else. Maybe it’s physical distribution, festival absences, word of mouth, Facebook posts (or lack thereof).  Whatever the case for its lack of mindshare, I suggest you give it a try, if only to see where rum can go…or where it has already been.

Part of what makes arrack interesting is the way it is fermented. Here some fermented red rice is mixed into the yeast prior to addition to the molasses and water (up to 5%), which undoubtedly impacts the final taste.  I was told by a By the Dutch rep that this particular spirit derives from sugar cane juice and fermented red rice cake, and is then twice distilled: once in a pot still, producing a distillate of about 30% ABV, and then again in another pot still to around 60-65%.  At that point it is laid to rest in barrels made of teak (!!) in Indonesia for a number of years and then shipped to Amsterdam (Matt implies it’s to Scheer) where it is transferred to 1000L oak vats. The final arrack is a blend of spirits aged 8 months, 3, 5 and 8 years, with the majority of the spirit being 3 and 5 years of age and bottled at 48% ABV.

A production process with so many divergent steps is sure to bring some interesting tastes to the table. It’s intriguing to say the least.  The nose, even at 48%, is remarkably soft and light, with some of that pot still action being quite evident in the initial notes: rotting banana skins, apples gone off and some funky Jamaican notes, if perhaps not as intense as a Hampden or worthy Park offering.  This then slowly — almost delicately — released light citrus, watery fruit and caramel hints, chamomile, cinnamon, green tea and bitter chocolate and a sort of easy sweetness very pleasing to smell.

It got better when I tasted it, because the strength came out more clearly – not aggressive, just very solid and crisp at the same time, sweet and clear, almost like an agricole with some oak thrown in for good measure.  The pot still origins were distinct, and taste of sweet fruits gone over to the dark side were handled well: apples, citrus, pears, gherkins, the very lightest hint of olives, more tea, green grapes, with cooking spices dancing around everything, mostly nutmeg and cinnamon.  Even the finish was quite aromatic, lots of esters, bananas, apples, cider and a sort of grassiness that was more hinted at than forcefully explored.

As an alternative to more commonly available rums, this one is good to try at least once. It doesn’t smack you in the face or try to damage your glottis – it’s too easy or that – and works well as both a sipping drink (if your tastes go that way), or something to chuck into a mai-tai or a negroni variation. One of the reasons why it should be tried and appreciated is because while it has tastes that suggest a Jamaican-Bajan hybrid, there is just enough variation here to make it a fascinating drink on its own merits, and shows again how rum is simply the most versatile, varied spirit available.   Plus, it’s quite a nifty rum by itself, sweet enough for those who like that, edgy enough for those who want more.

Now, with respect to the rum news all being about the western hemisphere’s juice: I don’t begrudge the French, Spanish or English Caribbean rum makers their glory — that would be deeply unpatriotic of me, even if one discounted the great stuff the islanders are making, neither of which is an option. There’s a reason they get just about 75% of the press, with the independents and Americans (north and south) getting the remainder.  But I just want to sound a note of caution about the blinkers such focus is imposing on our rumsight, because by concentrating on nothing but these, we’re losing sight of great stuff being made elsewhere – on the French islands, St Lucia, Grenada, Mexico, Japan…and Indonesia. From companies like By the Dutch. A stern and forbiddingly solid cask-strength rum this is not – but it’s original within its limits, eminently sippable for its strength, it’s an old, even ancient drink made new, and even if one does not immediately succumb to its languorous charms, I do believe it’s worth taking out for a try.

(84/100)


Other notes

The bottle clearly says “aged up to 8 years”.  Understand what this means before you think you’re buying an 8 Year Old rum.

Jun 132018
 

#520

Since we’re talking about Nine Leaves again, let me just issue this brief review of another of the 2016 editions, the American Oak 2 year old.  This was something of a departure for the company and its genially low-key one-man owner, master blender, accountant, chief salesman, procurement officer, distiller, bottler, secretary, and maybe even floor cleaner, and the departure is in that it’s aged for so long.  

Most of the time Yoshiharu Takeuchi (who holds all of the positions noted above plus maybe a few others) releases rums in a six month cycle for the Angel’s Half expressions, and annually for the unaged “Clear” ones. This one is, however, aged for two years – it was the first “real” aged edition he made, and it was put to rest almost at the same time Nine Leaves opened for business.  Why two years? Because it’s the maximum a rum can be aged in Japan, he told me, before heavier taxes start to kick in, noting also that this is why for the moment older rums will not be part of the Nine Leaves’ stable.

Be that as it may, the 50% 2YO pot still rum should be seen as a companion piece to the Encrypted, which came out in the same year, and was also two years old.  However, the Encrypted was a two year old finished blend (of four rums), and this rum was a straight two year old without any other barrels aside from the American oak. I tried it together with the that and the Angel’s Half 6-month from last week, at the same time… and somewhat to my surprise, I liked this one best.

The nose rather interestingly presented hints of a funky kind of fruitiness at the beginning (like a low rent Jamaican, perhaps), while the characteristic clarity and crisp individualism of the aromas such as the other Nine Leaves rums possessed, remained.  It was musky and sweet, had some zesty citrus notes, fresh apples, pears and overall had a pleasing clarity about it. Plus there were baking spices as well – nutmeg and cumin and those rounded out the profile quite well.

Palate, short version, yummy. Some sugar water, vanilla, cereals and those spices again, cider and apple juice.  No brine here, no olives, more like a kind of tartness, akin to unsweetened fresh yoghurt. And a minerally iodine peat-bog taste lurked in the background, which fortunately stayed there and wasn’t so aggressive as to derail the experience.  It was quite smooth, with some edge and rawness, but well controlled, closing things off with a finish that was quiet, clear and relatively easy, redolent mostly of acidic fruits, apples, cider, oranges and a bit of vanilla.  That’s a rather brief set of tasting notes, but I assure you, the experience was well worth it.

When I posted the Angel’s Half notes last week on reddit, one person asked me whether what I described was typical for Nine Leaves.  Based on these three Nine Leaves rums from 2016, I’d have to say yes – but even with rums so relatively similar and from the same tree, there were points of individuality that made them distinct in their own right.  Of the three, this one was my favourite – it provided reasonable complexity, clarity, enjoyment, retained its sprightly youth and vigour, while suggesting how the ageing sanded off the rough edges.  For a two year old rum made on the other side of the world, this thing is quite an achievement, and demonstrates yet again that a rum doesn’t have to be aged up to wazoo or come from a famed Caribbean estate to make a solid and favourable impression on anyone who tries it.

(86/100)


Other notes

The rum’s label could use some work.  It states it’s an Angel’s half but neither the year nor the ageing are clearly noted, which inevitably leads to some confusion.  Also, the only way to tell it’s different from the 6 month old is the yellow label for the 2YO, as opposed to the white one on the 6-month. I think Yoshi has corrected this in subsequent releases, though one remains perennially unsure what the release quantity is.

Jun 112018
 

#519

Ever since Yoshiharu Takeuchi began his one-man Japanese rum-making outfit called Nine Leaves, I’ve kept a weather eye on his work, and think his two-year-old rums and the Encrypted – both the original and the one issued for Velier’s 70th Anniversary in 2017 – have been remarkably good rums for juice under five (and in some cases under one) years old.

Arguably the aspects of Mr. Takeuchi’s work that have brought him to the attention of a greater audience in the Americas — though he’s been well known, and moving around, in the European festival circuit since 2014 — is the release of the Encrypted as noted above, and his current attendance at the Miami Rum Renaissance in 2018…from where Juan Marcos Chavez Paz, a correspondent of mine and a member of the Consumers Jury for the last couple of years, sent me a note yesterday expressing his amazed admiration for the quality of what Nine Leaves does with such short ageing periods.

Aside from the occasional two-year-old, Nine Leaves’ bread and butter is the regular outturns of rums which he puts to rest for a mere six months before bottling, in either American oak or Limousin casks. He calls them “Angel’s Half”, which I think is a understated and humorous play on the strength, the ageing and the pilferage of the angels. What this brief stint in the barrels accomplishes is to preserve much of the unaged fire of a white spirit, while also getting the benefit of what Martin Cate would call “light ageing.”  However, since these are coming out twice a year, it’s a tough task to try and get them all…the distillery opened in 2013 and while it may not seem to be a problem to get a “mere” twenty or so expressions, trust me, it is.

The rum under discussion today is the light yellow Nine Leaves ‘Angel’s Half’ (American oak aged) pot still rum issued in 2016 – not messed around with, bottled at a robust, throat-clearing 50% and as with all the rums from the company I’ve tried so far, it’s a solid, tasty piece of work for something aged less than a year.

And that’s the part at which I kind of marvel.  I honestly don’t know how he stuffs as much into these rums as he does.  The nose, for example, gave an initial sensation of a wet stone and minerals (!!), salt, sweet peas (I’m not making this up, honest), before relaxing with the weird stuff and presenting something a tad more traditional – sherry, brine, an olive or two, watermelon, pears and a light kind of sweetness that’s quite pleasing.  And quite assertive, but without actually crossing over into rough.

The palate was deceptive, because although the dominating flavour at first sip was swank and a freshly sliced watery pear, it evolved subtly over time, in spite of what appeared to be a certain light delicacy behind which reticent flavours hid and never wanted to emerge. Wait a while and take your time, as I did – since, once it opened up, crisp, solid tastes were to be found. Brine, olives, gherkins, cucumbers to start, mellowing out into light fruits, a bit of lemon zest, nutmeg (very faint), guavas and just a suggestion of creaminess I could not nail down more precisely.  Surprisingly, the finish was rather short for something bottled at 50%, and was quite dry, somewhat less than nose and palate suggested could be found. Some watery fruits, a bit of brine, the sweet line of citrus and spice, and that was that.

Thinking about the rum as I jotted down my notes, I think the key to the experience is in understanding its rather unstudied and deliberate eschewing of off-the-wall complexity.  That’s not its intention, because there’s not that much going on here, no kaleidoscopic taste-attack to the senses as defined by some of the unaged white rums I’ve written about; in a way it’s a tamed version of those, with more than enough subtlety imparted by the time spent in the barrel to elevate it (now that I consider the matter, in a way it reminded me of the unaged Kōloa Kaua’i Hawaiian Rum I tried back in 2012).  In other words, it’s two steps above merely “simple”; it’s clear and crisp and has the notes it plays, and plays those exceedingly well. I quite enjoyed it.

Conversations like the one I had with Juan makes me glad I invest the time into doing company biographies that provide background for the aficionados, because it’s clear that the interest is there and it’s really just the rums that aren’t always available.  Fortunately Yoshi-san is not slowing down and keeps the quality of his juice very high (Velier would hardly have asked him to contribute to the 70th Anniversary collection otherwise). The chance that one day boredom will set in and I stop trying Nine Leaves’ “sincerely made rums” is small indeed, especially when there’s a range of young stuff like this to be savoured. Here’s a company that will hopefully gain even greater recognition, acclaim and plaudits in the years to come than those they have already earned.

(83.5)


Other notes

  • Unsure whether this one is the Spring or Autumn release, since the label doesn’t mention it. Since I tried it in October, I’m going to suggest it’s Spring.