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.
Jun 072018
 

#518

The Velier Port Mourant 1972 is the Demerara rum from further back in time than anything else they’ve ever put out the door, beating out the legendary Skeldon 1973 by a year, and is a stunning 35 year old rum.  Given its age and how long ago it came out the door (2008) it would seem to be a better fit for the Rumaniacs series, but I felt it raised two issues that perhaps made a full-fledged review essay more appropriate. Plus, I really liked the damned thing.

Quite aside from my personal admiration for these older Velier rums, what also piqued my interest was that two of my barking mad viking friends rated it as high as they did in their Velier PM blowout some months ago.  I was surprised as well: here was a rum bottled on the drowsy side of 50% and not even fully tropically aged, and it scored that well? This seriously enagaged the gears of my curiosity, and in April of 2018 I was able to put it into an eight-rum mashup…just to see what the fuss was all about, and if I could perhaps poke a hole in their assertion that it was that good. This is the sort of cheerful one-upmanship we indulge in, in our spare time, when we aren’t posting pictures of our latest acquisitions.

Those who have read the recent post about the 8 Demerara rums from DDL and Velier (spoiler alert! read no further if you are that person) will find few surprises here, since they’ll know it rated at the top. Let’s go deeper and see if we can explain how and why it got there.

The nose made an immediate and emphatic response: “Here’s how.”  I had exasperatedly grumbled “OFFS!” with the El Dorado 1988 25 YO — with the PM 1972 I leaned back, sighed rapturously and said “Oh yeah.”  Sweet deep raisins, licorice, soya (very light saltiness, really nicely handled), coffee, bitter chocolate leather and smoke  The balance of the components and the way they segued one into the other, and re-emerged just as you thought it was all done, is nothing short of outstanding.  And even when I thought the show was over and then went to wash the dishes, do the laundry, kiss the snoring wife and return, there was more waiting – prunes, blackberries, nougat, anise, chocolate-covered dates, molasses, aromatic tobacco and a fine blade of almost imperceptible citrus.

A rather more traditional and solid PM backbone of licorice and molasses was in evidence once the tasting began, acting as a clothes horse upon which were hung other elements of flavour – that chocolate and coffee again, muscovado sugar, white pepper, vanilla…and that was just the beginning.  I went out grocery shopping, cleaned the house, made brunch for Mrs and the Little Caner, came back, tasted again, got hit by oak (not much), orange peel, flowers, sawdust, raisins, black grapes, ripe mangoes…I held the bottle up to the light in some perplexity, wondering, where was all this stuff coming from?  Even the finish displayed that remarkable richness of profile, and rather than go into detail, I’ll just repeat what I said in the mashup essay: “All of the above…plus some mint”. Because that was exactly it.

The balance and complexity and overall richness of this rum is extraordinary.  It is aromatic to a fault, and so generously endowed with tastes and flavours that if they were physical attributes, somewhere John Holmes would be weeping with envy. And all of that is in spite of — or because of — two issues.  

For one thing, the PM 1972 is not a particularly strong rum (“firm” might be the best word to describe it).  You’d think that at 47.8% it would be a laid back, slow-’n’-easy kind of product, with a lot of complexity but not too many rabbits squirming around in its jock.  But somehow it succeeds. It shines. It’s strong enough to make a statement for its quality without wimping out at some low-ass strength that would make it a dilettante’s wet dream but not completely delivering on its promise (like the Cadenhead Demerara 1975 at 40.6%, perhaps) .  I’ve made many comments about my evolving preference for cask strength bruisers, yet I cannot fault the low-power engine that drives this thing, because it’s so seamlessly constructed, samples so well.

Secondly, Luca is known for his fierce proselytization on behalf of tropical ageing – his oft-stated opinion, proudly displayed on so many of the rums he slaps Velier’s name on (and which has been adopted by many other producers) is “Fully Aged in the Tropics”.  But here that’s not the case: the PM 1972 was partly aged in Guyana, and partly in Europe. To some extent that may be the exception proving the rule, but to my mind what it demonstrates rather more subtly is that we should not be so quick to dismiss continental ageing just because it’s becoming some sort of conventional wisdom.  The fact is that other independents like the Compagnie, Rum Nation, Transcontinental, Samaroli, Duncan Taylor, Hunter Laing etc have long shown that continental ageing can work if done right, and perhaps appeal to rum drinkers who like or prefer a different kind of aspect to their aged-rum profiles. The sweet spot of dual ageing as opposed to one place or the other may just be demonstrated – in spades – by this old and almost forgotten rum, of which only 175 bottles ever came to the world from the original two barrels.

But wherever it slept and whatever the proof, somehow the Port Mourant 1972 finds an intersection of strength and ageing to present a profile that is almost without flaw.  I went in to the tasting, rather snidely hoping to disprove its purported brilliance. I was unable to do so. Simply stated, the rum is phenomenal. It’s one of the best Guyanese rums at its strength, from any still, at any age, ever made. It hurts that it is so rare and that the new crop of rum drinkers are unlikely to ever try it, because you can bet that anyone who still has one is holding onto it as tight as Mrs. Caner to the dream of a Gucci purse.  Given my appreciation and respect for this rum, I have to admit that if a bottle ever landed in my grubby paws, then my grip would be pretty fierce as well. 

(92/100)


Other notes

  • Assuming 2 barrels of 500L each, with an outturn of 175 bottles at 0.7L each (122.5 Liters total), we can estimate something like a 90% angel’s share.
  • Distilled August 1972 bottled March 2008.
May 242018
 

#515

Two independent bottlers out of Europe which I have not done much with are Mezan and Duncan Taylor, though I have samples and a plethora of notes of rums from both. Let’s try to remedy that this week with a quick look at the current subject, which presses many of my buttons at once: it’s from Enmore estate but the single wooden Versailles pot still (which alongside Port Mourant is one of my favourite stills from Guyana), distilled in 1985 and bottled in 2012 so a hefty 27 years old, and it has a no-nonsense strength of 52.5%. Need I say continental ageing? No additives or messing around? Probably not. You could tell that as one of the first rums they issued, they probably figured that they’d release a 27 year old Hulk to the market and reap all the glory therefrom.

Did they succeed? Not quite.The nose was fine, mind – very light, thin and sharp, redolent of glue, acetones, pencil shavings, the rich aroma of a brand new leather jacket, oak, a little anise and a raft of light and indeterminate fruits (apples, orange peel and pears) that were difficult to pick apart.  It had a musty sort of smell too…like aged, dust-covered old books in a stuffy library. Odd, but by no means unpleasant.

Thinness of the nose aside, the palate took something of a ninety degree left turn. It felt thicker, richer, with the glue and furniture polish notes receding, yet what emerged was a rum that seemed over-oaked, and very dry, very crisp.  What fruits there were – and there were some, mostly raisins, pears, unripe apples and green mangoes – were of the mouth puckering kind, quite tart, accompanied by orange peel, nutmeg, cardboard or drywall, and something that reminded me of the dustiness of a drought-stricken backyard. The strength was fine for what it was – not low enough to make it a mild crowd-pleaser, not so strong as to make it an assault on the tongue, so on that level it succeeded just fine. The finish gave up more of those tart fruity sensations, oak notes, some pepper and cooking herbs (thyme and parsley)…yet overall, it somehow failed to cohere really well, and the whole experience was deflated by its relative lack of voluptuousness that either some more ageing or some time in tropical climes might have ameliorated.

Duncan Taylor started life in 1938, formed by Abe Rosenberg and his two brothers, who had a sales license for major states in the US which allowed for rapid growth in the post-war years (especially with the J&B brand). It was a company that dealt in whiskies, both as a merchant and as a broker in Glasgow, and over time they acquired what was one of the largest privately-held collections of rare malt whisky casks in the world. The partnership was sold in 1980, but the collection of whiskies owned by Duncan Taylor was not part of that sale. Euan Shand and his partner Alan Gordon bought it in 2002 and moved the company to Scotland. At that point they made a conscious decision to cease operating as a broker and tread down the road of being an indie bottler of its own branded whiskies.  In 2012 they expanded the portfolio into rums as well, although thus far it seems that those who have been fortunate enough to review some of their work (mostly Wes and Steve), feel that it’s a bit hit or miss.

Here, I’d have to say that the Enmore 27 YO is rather more miss than hit, and it copied the form of the Veliers without the underlying passion that served Luca so well in his own Enmores. Which is surprising because even in continental climes, twenty seven years is twenty seven years and I somehow felt there should be more on display here.  But it just doesn’t gel for me – there’s a thin kind of hardness to the experience which I did not like, a sort of cold, austere, uncompromising lack of warmer flourishes and tastes which I see in tropically aged rums that slept many years less. Essentially, it tastes like it’s not quite ready to be decanted, and in summary, I conclude by noting that Duncan Taylor might have thought, when they issued this well-aged rum, that they were channelling the Hulk…but in reality, after all that time, only succeeded in growing a green fingernail.

(84/100)


Other notes

Thanks and a hat-tip to Maco Freyr of Barrel Aged Mind, who not only wrote the definitive biography of the company, but sent me the samplewhich he also reviewed, more positively than I did. He also wrote that the rum was not from the Enmore wooden coffey still, but the Versailles single wooden pot still which was housed at Enmore before being moved to Diamond.  The word “pot” on the bottle label makes that clear.

 

 

 

May 192018
 

#513

The question of why Velier would want to issue a well-endowed, claw-equipped high-test like this, is, on the surface, somewhat unclear.  Because my own opinion is that this is not a product for the general marketplace. It’s not aimed at beginners, 40% strength lovers or those with a sweet tooth who have two of every edition of the Ron Zacapa ever made. It’s an utterly unaged cask strength white with serious strength one point short of 60%, to which is bolted a massive 537.59 g/laa of esters…that puts in the realm of the Rum Fire Jamaican white, and that one packed quite a bit of gelignite in its jock, remember? Aside from serious rum-junkies, ester-loving deep-dive geeks and Demerara-rum fanboys (I’m all of these in one), I wonder who would buy the thing when there are so many great independent offerings of an aged Demerara out there (many of which are Port Mourant still rums themselves).

Let’s see if the tasting notes can provide some insight. At 59% ABV, I was careful with it, letting it open for a while, and was rewarded with quite an impressive and complex series of aromas: rubber and plasticene, nail polish remover, followed by a combination of sugar water, brine, watermelon, pears, roasted nuts, plus a firm, crisp-yet-light fruitiness which the strength did not eviscerate.  That’s always something of a risk with high proof rums, whose intensity can obliterate subtler nuances of flavour on nose or palate.

Unaged rums take some getting used to because they are raw from the barrel and therefore the rounding out and mellowing of the profile which ageing imparts, is not a factor.  That means all the jagged edges, dirt, warts and everything, remain. Here that was evident after a single sip: it was sharp and fierce, with the licorice notes subsumed into dirtier flavours of salt beef, brine, olives and garlic pork (seriously!). It took some time for other aspects to come forward – gherkins, leather, flowers and varnish – and even then it was not until another half hour had elapsed that crisper acidic notes like unripe apples and thai lime leaves (I get those to buy in the local market), were noticeable. Plus some vanilla – where on earth did that come from?  It all led to a long, duty, dry finish that provided yet more: sweet, sugary, sweet-and-salt soy sauce in a clear soup. Damn but this was a heady, complex piece of work. I liked it a lot, really.

Reading those tasting note and looking at the stats of the rum, I think you’d agree this is not your standard table rum; maybe even one that only a madman or a visionary would try to make money from, when it’s so obviously stuffed with sleeping leopards. Who on earth would make this kind of thing; and then, having been made, who is addled enough to buy it? Drink it?  And why?

To answer those questions, it’s useful to look at the man behind the rum.  Luca Gargano, whose Five Principles are now the source of equal parts merriment and respect, doesn’t often say it in as many words, but obeys another: I call it the Sixth Rum Principle, and it suggests that Luca believes that rum should be made pure, fresh, organic, without additives of any kind from cane through to still.  If he had a choice, I’m sure he’s prefer to have wild yeast do the fermentation of a wash gathered in the bark of trees hollowed out by the latest hurricane.

But a codicil to the Principle is simply that a rum need not necessarily be aged to be good…even fabulous. Now for a man who selected and popularized the extraordinary Port Mourant series of aged rums, that seems like bizarre thing to say, but look no further than the clairins from Haiti which have made such a splash in the rumiverse over the last four years, or any of the unaged French Island whites, and you’ll see that may really be on to something.

And that leads to the intersection of the Port Mourants and the Principle. I’m sure Luca was perfectly aware of the quality and reputation of the PM 1972, PM 1974 and PM 1975….to say nothing of the later editions. “What I wanted to do,” he told me recently in that utterly sure, subtly evangelic voice he uses in rum festivals around the world, “Is demonstrate how the rum everyone likes and appreciates – the Port Mourants, Foursquares, Jamaicans – started life.  Okay, they’re not for everyone. But for those who really know the profiles of the islands’ rums blind, they can now see what such rums were before any ageing or any kind of cask influence.”

Drinking this rum shows what results from applying that principle. There’s a whole raft of these whites out in the market right now, distinguished by lovely drawings of the stills from which they originate. I’m not sure how they sell, or who’s buying them, or even if they are making a splash in the perceptions of the larger rum world.  All I know is it’s an amazing rum that one should try at least once, even if it’s just to appreciate for the one time how the raging cataracts of a Port Mourant distillate started out, before the torrent of taste calmed down, evened out…and flowed into the ocean of all the other great PMs we have learnt to know and appreciate over the years.

(88/100)

May 102018
 

(c) liquor-store-europe.com

#510

The Ping No. 9 is a private / independent bottling done by the Danish liquor store Juuls and I first came across it in 2016 when one of those anonymous mad vikings (thanks Gregers!) brought it to a truly epic Caner Afterparty session, where it was promptly run past (what else?) the G&M Longpond 1941 and the BBR 1977 itself, to which we then added a Albrecht Trewlawny 1993 17 YO (Longpond, 2nd Release) and the EKTE No 2 (Monymusk) to cross reference .  We had nothing else on hand that was the right age or from the right island, so this had to do, but even that comparison allowed us to come to grips with its structure and assembly in a way that made its strengths (and weaknesses, such as they were) somewhat clearer.

Let that pass for the moment and simply sigh with envy at whoever sprang over a thousand euros in early 2018 (on one of the FB sales pages) for a bottle of this juice – not because it’s superlative (I didn’t think it was, not entirely), but simply because we don’t see rums from the 1970s coming on the market any longer and even the 1980s are fast becoming a vanishing breed, and so to try one that geriatric, and issued at a snorting 61%? Rum heaven.

All right, so a bourbon-cask aged expression, costing four figures, continental ageing, Danish bottler buying from a Speyside outfit, 221-bottle outturn. What did it taste like? In a word, lovely. It was smooth to smell and a pleasure to inhale, largely because the huge strength was under control the whole time, presenting heat instead of crude sharpness.  It began quietly with bananas, vanilla, mead, honey, cream cheese and a little caramel, almost no citrus (and if there was any, it kept way the hell back). As we came back to it over a period of some hours, crisper notes of green apples, candied oranges, cinnamon and ginger cookies came forward as the softer ones receded.

Say what you will about tropical ageing, there’s nothing wrong with a good long continental slumber when we get stuff like this out the other end. Again it presented as remarkably soft for the strength, allowing tastes of fruits, light licorice, vanilla, cherries, plums, and peaches to segue firmly across the tongue.  Some sea salt, caramel, dates, plums, smoke and leather and a light dusting of cinnamon and florals provided additional complexity, and over all, it was really quite a good rum, closing the circle with a lovely long finish redolent of a fruit basket, port-infused cigarillos, flowers and a few extra spices.

What is both good and to some extent a let-down about the rum is its control. At no point did any of us ever feel that we were getting a 61% beefcake in our glasses.  It was not a cream puff milquetoast, no, but in comparison to the gleefully manic proctological probing that clairins subject us to, this thing is like a lover’s gentle yet firm caress – and on the level described, it’s all good, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But it also, I have to concede, lacked a real edge and bite of the sort a more funky profile would have provided, which leads me to my main point of contention.

There was little that was distinctly Jamaican in the rum – no, really – and it actually reminded me more of a combo of a Bajan and a Guyanese, taken to cask strength. If the measure of a rum is the extent to which its maker conforms to the standards of the place of origin or alignment with the expected style, then you’d be hard put to really place it as being from the island. The Ping No. 9 presents a profile somewhat at odds with those characteristic tastes we associate with the newer Jamaican bottlings of late – dunder, funk, hogo, esters, pick your term – little of this was in evidence.  Whether this is a matter of how and where it was aged, or the simple fact that it was made in a different era, is debatable. But it did make me feel somewhat disappointed.

I know there’s one person who’s reading this who’s muttering “Bullsquirt!” to himself and running to get his two bottles out of the triple-locked safe where he has them stashed behind a couple of flash-bangs and a collection of nasty toys meant to cause any would-be pilferer immense discomfort (he takes his juice seriously, and they’ll get his rums when they pry them out of his quivering hands, I suspect). He’s going to re-test it, no question, then post a rebuttal for me to ponder. The thing is, I know he liked the Ping 9 more so than I did, just as he disdained the Velier 1972 Courcelles and I didn’t.  And because our tastes and palates run apart from each other, it’s very likely that others will too. Therefore, interesting as I believe the Ping 9 to be, lovers and potential purchasers might want to sample before they buy. It’s very good but it’s also different…and that makes it something of a tricky purchase, no matter what the score, the age or the price.

(86/100)


Other notes

  • The rum is actually five days under 36 years old: for once I think I’ll just note it and move on and keep calling it a 36 YO. Such a tiny variation doesn’t trouble me much at such an age.
  • For what it’s worth, it makes me suspect that the BBR 1977 also came from Longpond.  My own opinion was that the BBR was better, and the Albrecht Trelawny and the EKTE also exceeded it.
  • Both Roger Caroni (who writes in French), and Wes Burgin over at the FatRumPirate tried a brother of this rum, the Old Jamaique Long Pond 1977 35YO (at 50%), which was a collaboration between the Belgian bottler Corman-Collins and the Scots bottler Ian MacLeod, the latter of whom was also the source of this barrel for Juuls. Roger liked it a lot (without a score), and Wes also commented on the lack of funkiness; still, from his 4.5-star score, I think it’s safe to say he liked the rum from his barrel a bit more than I did the rum from mine.
  • So what’s with the name “Ping”? I asked around and was told that “Ping” was the humourous nickname given to Michael Madsen (the owner of Juuls, the 30th anniversary of which this edition commemorates) in his youth….because he looked something like a penguin, or “pingvin” in Danish.  That’s so funny it almost has to be true, though I must emphasize it’s just something of a Danish urban rum-legend.

May 072018
 

#509

Plastic.  Lots and lots of plastic.  And rubber. The clairin “Le Rocher” is a hydrocarbon lover’s wet dream, and if you doubt that, just take a gentle sniff of this Haitian white.  It is one of the richest whites from Haiti I’ve managed to try, and the best part is, those opening notes of the nose don’t stop there – they develop into a well balanced combination of acetone, salt, soya, and a spicy vegetable soup, into which a cut of jerk chicken thrown in for good measure to add some depth (I swear, I’m not making this up).  And if that isn’t enough, half an hour later you’ll be appreciating the watermelons, sugar water and light cinnamon aromas as well.  This rum is certifiable, honestly – no unaged white should ever be able to present such a delightfully crazy-ass smorgasbord of rumstink, and yet, here it is and here it reeks.  It’s pretty close to awesome.

Sometimes a rum gives you a really great snooting experience, and then it falls on its behind when you taste it – the aromas are not translated well to the flavour on the palate.  Not here. In the tasting, much of the richness of the nose remains, but is transformed into something just as interesting, perhaps even more complex. It’s warm, not hot or bitchy (46.5% will do that for you), remarkably easy to sip, and yes, the plasticine, glue, salt, olives, mezcal, soup and soya are there.  If you wait a while, all this gives way to a lighter, finer, crisper series of flavours – unsweetened chocolate, swank, carrots(!!), pears, white guavas, light florals, and a light touch of herbs (lemon grass, dill, that kind of thing). It starts to falter after being left to stand by itself, the briny portion of the profile disappears and it gets a little bubble-gum sweet, and the finish is a little short – though still extraordinarily rich for that strength – but as it exits you’re getting a summary of all that went before…herbs, sugars, olives, veggies and a vague mineral tang.  Overall, it’s quite an experience, truly, and quite tamed – the lower strength works for it, I think.

Clairins no longer need much introduction.  Velier’s been promoting them up and around the world, people have been shuddering and cheering about their profiles in equal measure for years now.  We know what they are. What we don’t know is the producers and individual methods. Here’s what I know: Le Rocher (“The Rock”, named after Matthew’s injunction in 7: 24-27 not to build on sand) is the product of Bethel Romelus, whose little op is located in the village of Pignon, about an hour’s jouncing away from St Michel where Michel Sajous fires up the Sajous. Le Rocher is different from the other clairins I’ve looked at so far in that it is made from sugar cane juice from three different varieties of cane, which is boiled down to syrup.  It’s fermented naturally, with maybe a 1/3 of the syrup being made from previous vinasses, then run through a discontinuous pot still, before being bottled as is. No ageing, no dilution, no filtration, no additions. A pure, natural, organic rum for all those whole drool over such statistics.

Personally, I’m impressed with the rum as a whole, but if you disagree, I fully understand the source of your doubt – you gotta be into unaged, unhinged whites to be a fanboy of this stuff – for me, that’s catnip, for you, perhaps not so much. Still, If I had to rate the clairins which Velier is putting out the door, I’d say the Sajous remains the most certifiable, the Casimir the most elegant, the Vaval the easiest for its strength.  But the Le Rocher….it’s perhaps the most approachable for the average Joe who wants to know what the fuss is all about and is willing to try one, but is cautious about mucking around with the >50% sarissas of the first three. By going to a lower ABV, by taming a remarkable panoply of potent and pungent smells and tastes, by changing (slightly) the way it’s made, the Le Rocher is setting a standard as high as its creole-still cousins, and if your tastes bend in this direction, it’s definitely worth adding to your collection of whites, and clairins.

(85/100)


Other notes

  • In doing my research I found references to other varieties of the Le Rocher tried at various rumfests last year: one at 51%, another at 43.5%. 
  • Back label translation: “It is at Pignon, at the entrance to the plateau of St. Michael de l’Attalaye, that the Le Rocher clairin is produced using cane syrup, produced from natural juice, adding during fermentation about 30% vinasses from the previous distillations: an archaeological example of the method of production of the French colonies, influence of 1785 by the technique developed by the English in Jamaica, the “dunder-style.”
Apr 252018
 

#505

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(85/100)

Apr 072018
 

#503

If you’re looking at this title and muttering to yourself “What the hell is Rendsburger?” you’re certainly not alone.  Aside from Spirits of Old Man out of Germany or Norsk Cask from Denmark, they may be among the least known independent bottlers out there and before a bunch of samples drifted across my scope, I sure hadn’t heard about them either. Strictly speaking, Rendsburg is the north-west German town close to Flensburg in which the parent company Kruger – a small, family-run whisky and spirits specialist  mainly known for its large whisky auction house – has its home. Therefore they have much in common with the makers of White Cat, the eminently forgettable white rum I looked at some time back and share some of the same centuries-old trading DNA which made the history of the White Cat more interesting than the rum itself.

By now many of us still-specific rum nifflers more or less agree that the 1970s were very good years for rum, especially the period 1972-1975 which is the source of many amazing products made by independent bottlers in the first decade of the new millenium and which at the time of issue were pretty much ignored. Rums like the Velier PM 1972 and PM 1974, the Norse Cask PM 1975, BBR 1975 PM, Silver Seal 1974 28 YO Demerara…the honour roll is long and distinguished, even if we can barely source them any longer and they’re drifting into “unicorn” status.

That a small outfit like Kruger – which doesn’t really “do” rums – could bring out something as excellent as this says a lot for the heritage stills DDL now has dibs on, and how far back they go (and perhaps, how underutilized they were as marques in their own right until quite recently). Kruger named its rums after the town in which they operate, slapped the picture of various mayors on the line of outturns of whiskies and occasional rums…and somehow in the middle of all that, managed to pick up a barrel the likes of which Velier would have been proud, issued a 56.9% 32 year old PM in 2007 and met with exactly zero fanfare and almost total indifference.

How this aged rum created nary a ripple in the wider rum world – even back in 2007 – is mystifying. It’s a real Port Mourant beefcake in all the ways that matter. Sniff this dark brown monolith and just revel in the deep, dark aromas: slightly bitter chocolate, licorice, backed up with salt caramel ice cream, a thrumming undercurrent of molasses, and that was just in the first sixty seconds. It let forth billowing fumes of anise, dark fruits – prunes, plums, blackberries, overripe cherries, raisins, to which were added (over some hours) sweet soy with just enough salt to add some character, faint citrus, smoke, leather and even a touch of vanilla.  

As for the palate, man, I’m in heaven, because I just found another 1975 to add to the pantheon. That same growling, thick richness of the nose segued to the tongue with no pause, no hesitation and no detours.  The strength was near perfect – it gave strength without sharpness, allowing all the flavours to march solidly across the stage and present themselves one after the other: licorice, vanilla, caramel, bags of fruits, a little saltiness, biscuits and cereal.   The whole thing was warm and thick with dark flavours that never seemed to want to stop showing off and even the oak, which at first I thought started to take on an unhealthy dominance after some minutes (I was actually writing “Mozart just exited the scene and is replaced by Salieri!” before crossing it out), retreated into the background, chilled out, and was (to my relief) content to be a part of the troupe rather than a scene stealing hog.  The exemplary and traditional Port Mourant profile finished long, slow, voluptuously and with chocolate, coffee grounds, some oak, vanilla, raisins and anise, and overall, my take was it was simply one of the Grand Old Men of the plantation and the still.

Of course, when it comes to Guyana, Enmore and Port Mourant are the stars of the show, boasting well-known and oft-analyzed profiles, and name recognition nearly off the charts. Versailles rums, good as they are, often live in their shadow.  What this means for deep-diving rum nerds, is that the PM profile may be one of the best known of its kind, its variations endlessly dissected, the minutest deviations pondered over by PhD students in rumology. Here, I submit there’s no need — the rum is superlative.  It’s one of the best of the independent Port Mourants rums in existence and shows how high the bar has been set not only by the rums listed above, but by itself. It’s a bottle hungering to be cracked, has a cork demanding to be popped…an ambrosia begging to be sampled, drunk, enjoyed and, damnit, shared.  

As I unhurriedly went through this rum, leaving many others to await their turn another day, I thought of W. H. Davies, who wrote in “Leisure”

What is this life, if, full of care

We have no time to stand and stare?

Here we do need to stand and stare, I think: because rums like this need to be savoured, to evoke dreams of old days gone by; not hurried over, or guzzled quickly and moved away from as the next hot-snot new bottling comes on the scene. It rewards not only patience but slow appreciation, and about the only regrettable thing I can say about it is how rare it is, how unknown.  For rum junkies in general and Port Mourant lovers in particular, it conjures memories, exhilaration and, at the end, perhaps even a little sadness. It’s simply that kind of experience, and I’m glad I managed to try it.

(90/100)


Other Notes

  • Rendsburger also has single cask bottlings of Barbados and Caroni, which I’ll get to sooner or later.
  • Sharp eyed readers will be amused at the bottle picture – I sure was, and compliments to that great guy Malte 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.

Photo (c) Whyskyrific.com