Dec 262019
 

Part of the problem with this “rum” is that the bottle itself doesn’t say who made it (the notations refer to the “Budapest Liquor Industry” and “Product of Hungary”) – after some sleuthing around I tracked it down to a company called Zwack, which is famed in the country for its high-alcohol herbal bitters called Unicum (one of the national drinks of Hungary), and a 60% once-it-was-a-rum-but-no-longer called Portorico, which is widely used for baking (like Stroh). Unfortunately its website doesn’t mention the Casino or have a picture, but since I located a Casino bottle label with Zwack printed on it, that cleared things up.

Figuring out what’s in it was harder, and here I drew a blank.  My thinking, however went like this: eastern European countries were famed – or at least reknowned – for their inländer (domestic) rums, which were usually ethanol or neutral alcohol that had spices and infusions added to them. Stroh, the Badel Domaci from Croatia and the Tuzemak from Czechoslovakia, and any amount of verschnitts from Germany (Flensburg in particular) followed this pattern, and Zwack itself as a company was noted for its work with alcohols and herbal infusions.  So even though I know little about Zwack’s production specifically — and I was told that some inländer producers are now importing bulk rum produced in the Caribbean — I assume they followed this trend of manufacture generally. That said, I can’t say with assurance whether the Casino was made from molasses or beets, though I suspect it’s the latter.

If we accept these data points, then of course the Casino is not, by all current definitions, a rum, and in point of fact, the entry might just as easily be listed in the Rumaniacs page since this version is no longer being made — the word “rum” was either replaced by “room” or dropped completely from the label when Hungary joined the EU in 2004, and that suggests a manufacture for the product I tasted of around 1988-2003 which actually makes it a heritage rum entry, but what the hell.

Tasting notes, then…

The nose is firm and distinct – the 50% ABV strength helps there, of course –  and quite sweet, almost like a Tokaji. Notes of brown sugar, black tea, and what stays the longest in both nostrils and memory is the sweet notes of gummi bears and lollipops and bubble gum.  There’s other more fruity aromas as well – prunes, rip apricots, peaches, in syrup, some orange peel and chocolate with rum in the centre; as it hangs around it gets flowery and perfumed. Quite a lot going on here, but in terms of a rum profile, not really – it’s all additive-derived, not a genuine rum note in sight.

Palate follows the theme of a spice driven rum with a better-than-usual strength: dry, crisp and quite sweet.  Candied oranges, icing sugar, ginger, no caramel or molasses notes here. It’s spiced for sure, but reasonably well done, and if tasted blind I’d suggest you might think it was a low-rent mid-ester-level Jamaican without the rubber and salt.  The finish is nowhere near to the level of either the nose or the taste – short, dry, harsh, unrelieved by any serious aromas or closing notes over and beyond sweet candies, chocolate oranges and light flowers, plus maybe a hint of cinnamon. 

The funny thing is, I quite liked it.  Not as a sipping rum – its artificiality is way to evident for that – but as a sweet dessert thing to have with or dribble into an ice cream dunked into a double espresso…oh yeah. It’s fine for that.  Unfortunately, not for much else.

(#687)(72/100)


  • My thanks to Tamas Gabor and Gergő Muráth who helped me with the background and research sections.
  • A hydrometer tested this at 46.77% ABV – that works out to about 15g/L additives
  • No information is available on how old the distillate might have been, if it even was aged at all.
Dec 222019
 

It’s been a long time since I’ve bothered to review a rum that isn’t – the Stroh comes to mind, the Czech Tuzemak, or the Mekhong from Thailand. I don’t really mind – these things are lonely, and need a home, need a review, so why not with us? It should also be noted that this product from Eastern Europe is not meant to be a drinking spirit, but one to add to teas and used in cooking, almost unknown outside the Balkans.

The Domaci – the “c” is pronounced “ch” and the word means “Domestic” – is not a spiced rum (i.e.,a rum with spices added), more like the reverse: a spiced concoction of some kind that has rum (or an essence of rum, whatever that might be) added to it. The Ultimate Rum Guide remarks it is “a spirit based on a special recipe and flavored with an extract of Rum. Its amazing aroma makes it a popular addition to many dishes.” Yeah, okay.  If it was a German thing I’d call it an inländer rum, or verschnitt.

Badel 1862, the company that makes it, is an alcoholic beverages company formed in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, headquartered in Zagreb (Croatia) and still chugging along, they make mostly regional spirits like brandies, vodkas and gins, while simultaneously acting as a distributor for international brands like Bacardi.  As part of the approval for their accession to the EU, they had to rename many of the spirits they were making which were not genuine: “rum” had to be changed to “room” and brandy became “bratsky;” so this provides a convenient dating regime – if your bottle says “room” then it was made after 2013. This one says “rum”, so it was made before.

Unsurprisingly it’s mostly for sale in the Balkans — Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, with outliers in Germany — and has made exactly zero impact on the greater rum drinking public in the West.  Wes briefly touched on it with a review of another Croatian product, the Maraska “Room” (similar issues with naming — the EU declined to allow it to be called “rum”), but both the Maraska and the Badel are made the same way. Since I knew none of this when initially tasting the thing, all I was aware of was its puling strength (35%) and its colour (yellow) and went on from there.  

Nose first.  Nope, not my cup of tea.  It reminded me of an eggnog Grandma Caner had made for me once, chock full of ethanol, nutmeg, cumin and cinnamon.  Also sour cream, strawberries, green grapes, and a raft sweet breakfast spices tossed in with the casual abandon of a louche rake distributing his questionable favours. It smelled thin and sweet and lacked any kind of “rumminess” altogether.

Palate? No relief here for the rumistas, though plenty of joy for the sweet toothed. I mean, anyone with even a bit of experience with rums would see that it’s a doctored mess thrown like bread to the masses who know no better, and lasting long enough (over a hundred years, remember) to become a local institution defended with becoming zealotry as “traditional”.  Ethanol, soda pop, fantas and again, bags and bags of spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon for the most part). Vague, meek and mild, with the slightest twinge of sharpness, leading to a short, light and fruity finish of no real distinction

I wrote rather impatiently in my notes “Weak nonsense…but okay, it’s not meant to be a rum, right?” Maybe, but that might let this local Eastern European plonk off the hook.  It used to be called rum, was noted as being domestic, but frankly, they should have named it something else entirely, created its own unique category, rather than associate it with a more rigorously defined spirit with a long tradition of its own. 

There are 40% and 60% variations of this thing floating around and one day if I’m in the neighborhood I might try them. The important thing is that I know what it is, and by writing this essay, now, so do you.  Feel free to try it if it ever crosses your path, but know what it is you’re getting, and what it’s good for.

(#686)(65/100)

May 092019
 

Like most rums of this kind, the opinions and comments are all over the map.  Some are savagely disparaging, other more tolerant and some are almost nostalgic, conflating the rum with all the positive experiences they had in Thailand, where the rum is made. Few have had it in the west, and those that did weren’t writing much outside travel blogs and review aggregating sites.

And that’s not a surprise. If you exclude the juice emerging from new, small, fast-moving micro-distilleries in Asia, and focus on the more common brands, you’ll find that many adhere to the light latin-style column-still model of standard strength tipple…and many are not averse to adding a little something to make your experience…well, a smoother one; an easier one. These rums sell by the tanker-load to the Asian public, and while I’m sure they wouldn’t mind getting some extra sales, restrict themselves to their own region…for now.

One of these is the Thai Sang Som Special Rum, which has been around since 1977 and has supposedly garnered a 70% market share for itself in Thailand.  This is a rum made from molasses, and apparently aged for five years in charred oak barrels before being bottled at 40% ABV. Back in the 1980s it won a clutch of medals (Spain, 1982 and 1983) and again in 2006, which is prominently featured in their promo literature…yet it’s almost unknown outside Thailand, since it exports minimal quantities (< 1% of production, I’ve read).  It is made by the Sang Som company, itself a member of Thai Beverage, one of the largest spirits companies in the world (market cap ~US$15 billion) – and that company has around 18 distilleries in the region, which make most of the rum consumed in and exported by Thailand: SangSom, Mangkorn Thong, Blend 285, Hong Thong, and also the Mekhong, which I tried so many years ago on a whim.

The rum doesn’t specify, but I’m going out on a limb and saying, that this is a column still product.  I can’t say it did much for me, on any level – the nose is very thin, quite sweet, with hints of sugar cane sap, herbs, dill, rosemary, basil, chopped up and mixed into whipped cream.  Some cinnamon, rose water, vanilla, white chocolate and more cream. Depending on your viewpoint this is either extremely subtle or extremely wussy and in either case the predominance of sweet herbal notes is a cause for concern, since it isn’t natural to rum.

No redemption is to be found when tasted, alas, though to be honest I was not really expecting much here.  It’s very weak, very quiet, and at best I can suggest the word “delicate”. Some bright ripe fruits like ripe mangoes, red guavas, seed-outside cashew nuts.  Cocounts, flowers, maybe incense. Also lighter notes of sugar water, watermelon, cucumbers, cinnamon, nutmeg – Grandma Caner said “gooseberries”, but I dispute that, the tartness was too laid back for that rather assertively mouth-puckering fruit. And the finish is so light as to be to all intents and purposes, indiscernible. No heat, no bite, no final bonk to the taste buds or the nose.  Some fruit, a little soya, a bit of cream, but all in all, there’s not much going on here.

All due respect for the tourists and Asians who have no issues with a light rum and prefer their hooch to be devoid of character, this is not my cup of tea – my research showed to to be a spiced rum, which explains a lot (I didn’t know that when I was trying it).  It’s light and it’s easy and it’s delicate, and it requires exactly zero effort to drink, which is maybe why it sells so well – one is immediately ready to take another shot, real quick, just to see if the next sip can tease out all those notes that are hinted at but never quite come to the fore. The best thing you can say about the matter is that at least it doesn’t seem to be loaded to the rafters with sugar, which, however, is nowhere near enough for me to recommend it to serious rumhounds who’re looking for the next new and original thing.

(#622)(68/100)

Nov 142016
 

Photo copyright (c) Henrik Kristoffersen of RumCorner.dk

Impossible to forget, traumatic to recall. 

#316

I don’t know why they bothered. This is three years’ additional ageing, pretty much wasted.  It’s Don Papa 7 version 2.0, and just about the whole experience is the same, except the raspberries from the younger variation, which are now dark grapes. Everything else – and I mean everything else, mouthfeel, taste, finish, smell, the works – remains the same, without even some additional oakiness or complexity to make the extra expense worth it.

All right, so by now it’s clear that I’m late to the party here and all the discussions and post mortems have been done on this industrial grade spiced Phillipine rum, which it doesn’t admit to being, but which I say it is. And while there was a firestorm of online vituperation which greeted the release of the rum, making you believe that the majority of the rumworld absolutely hates this thing, the truth is actually more prosaic. Reviewers hate the rum…but most casual imbibers at whom the Don Papa is aimed are actually quite tolerant of the rums they scarf down, and the amount of people in the world who truly want a more detailed sense what they’re drinking — or have access to and desire for what we term top class hooch —  is still a minimal part of the rumiverse in spite of all us bloggers’ doing our best to raise the bar.  But everyone agrees on one point: bad or good or in-between, the makers of the Don Papa should absolutely have disclosed its adulteration. Maybe they thought the age statement would allow them to skate around such petty concerns

If so, they were mistaken. Even bumping it up to 43% for some added bola ng bakal didn’t do much. It had the same nasal profile of sour cream, yogurt, some sweetish fruits, and over-generous helpings of vanilla, bubble gum and yes, there it was again, that distasteful excess of soda pop sprite and fanta and pepsi masquerading as “rumminess”. And no tart raspberries this time, but some dampened down dark grapes, overripe ones, plus a twist of licorice. Oh joy. My glass runneth over.

By now you should have few illusions left: the palate offered no redemption, leading any reasonable tippler to ask in genuine bewilderment, “What on earth was the rum doing for three additional years?” I mean sure, there was some bite and bitter in the mix (which initially gave me hope), just too little.  And the few aromas of peaches and cream were bludgeoned into insensibility in labba time by wave upon wave of more vanilla, soda pop, the syrup in canned peaches (minus the peaches), cola…it was all just too much, too sweet, too cloying, and with few discernible differences from its younger sibling, and a finish that was to all intents and purposes the best thing about it, because at least now the experience was drawing to a close.  

You know, if they had honestly called it a spiced or flavoured rum I would have nodded, smiled, passed it by and never bothered to write a thing. But they didn’t…and so I did. And my evaluation is simply that Don Papa 10 is a hollow rum. Age or no age, it’s column still industrial spirit that’s been tarted up, where no such embellishment was required if they took some time and care and blending mastery to the task.  It takes its place proudly with the Whaler’s, Kraken and Pyrat’s XO and the AH Riise Navy 57% on the bottom of any reviewer’s shelf, and with good reason — it’ll get you drunk no problem, and at a reasonable price, but if you wake up the next morning wondering what camel voided its bowels in your mouth and why you have a tattoo of “Don Papa” on your left buttock in hieroglyphs, don’t come crying saying I and all the others didn’t warn you.

(61/100)

Other notes

  • It gives me no pleasure to write reviews like this.  Oh the words flow easily, the rum really isn’t worth it and I can stand by the opinion. I just don’t understand why, in this day and age, I should have to. We’ve been hearing for years how rum is in its new golden age.  So why would anyone who loves rum enough to actually make one, create something that is so clearly not?  In my more generous moments, I say it’s because they want to make what sells to the tippling masses and will do better as their skills improve; in my blacker moods, I think it’s a full-proof money grab adulterated with the cloying additive of indifference.
  • Compliments to Henrik of RumCorner, who provided both a large sample and the photo.
  • For an enthusiastic and uncritical perspective by a “lifestyle writer” (I will not use the term “journalist” because that would be like saying Don Papa is a real rum) I direct you to this Forbes article from May 2017.  It’s just another in a spate of recent rum-themed articles that are written by people who seem to want to advertise that they really know nothing at all about the subject.
Oct 242016
 
don-papa-7-ans

Photo shamelessly cribbed from and copyrighted to Henrik Kristoffersen of RumCorner.dk

Caner’s Rum Quality Inverse Square Conjecture: quality of rum is inversely proportional to the square of the sum of [ glitziness of website plus design of the label ].

#311

The presentation and advertising and marketing of this rum is all about fancy bottle and label design, gorgeous visuals, and words to make you giddy with anticipation.  It nails all aspects of those. Everything else is secondary, except the rum itself, which is tertiary.  

Just to set the stage: I honestly thought my amigo Henrik, in his savage takedown of the rum, was exaggerating his despite. However, intrigued, I begged him for samples to save me buying them, and he was prepared to gift me the whole bottle except that his luggage was already full of stuff he was bringing to Berlin (for me).  And just to see if its claim to being a “premium aged small batch rum” held up, I tried the Don Papa 7 year old (and its brother the ten year old) four  times: once with a flight of eight Jamaicans, then with a flight of seven Demeraras, a third time with a raft of agricoles and then with yet another one of nine Bajans.  

Lord Almighty, this thing was annoying. I don’t think I’ve been this irritated with a rum since the Pyrat’s 1623. It’s appalling lack of profile compared to the comparators is only matched by its self evident desire to emulate a soda pop. When I think of the elegant construction of something like the FourSquare 2006 and its years of development, I want to rend my robes, gnash my teeth and weep bitter tears of despair for the future of the rumiverse. It may be the bees knees in the Phillipines, where different rules for rum production are in force and different palates and tastes rule – but maybe it should stay there and not afflict real rums.

Think I’m being unjust?  Unseemly vicious? That I jest?  Not at all.  The 40%, American-oak-aged amber rum reeked — that’s the only word I can come up with that describes the cloying, thick aroma of yoghurt emanating from the glass, a sort of sour cream and curds kind of smell, leavened with some raspberries and cherries.  It makes the A.H. Riise Navy Rum seem like a masterpiece of blending assembly. And then there was the overdone saccharine citrus smell of fanta, bubble gum, vanilla (gobs of that), and sprite and cream soda…what the hell, maybe they tossed some coke in there too. Rum? I dunno – it smelled like a mixing agent to which one adds rum.

And it was on the palate that its true adulterated nature became fully apparent.  The mouthfeel is where it started – it literally felt like a soda, complete with the slight scrape of what could charitably be called bite but which I’ll call chamberpot-brewed rubbing alcohol.  Again that yoghurt taste was there, this time without the creaminess, the raspberries being replaced by a peach or two…and the vanilla and sprite and coke were still there in abundance, finishing the job of ruining what had been an unremarkable, unprepossessing liquid that wasted too much of my time.  There was no finish to speak of, which was unsurprising, given how dosed and choked up this thing is with so much that isn’t rum.  Even Pyrat’s XO would probably shudder at what the company did here (while taking notes).

This is the kind of rum which drives reviewers into transports of rage, because it gives all rum a bad name, and frankly, with all due respect to the nation of origin which makes the much better Tanduay 12 year old, it’s barely a rum at all.  And yet it sells briskly, calmly splashing around in the great urinal of low-to-mid-level adulterated rum sales, which just goes to show that spice and sugar will always move product.  What most of those don’t do is slap lipstick on a pig with quite the abandon and disdain for quality this one does. It truly has to be drunk to be believed, and trust me, unless you love your dentist, that’s not something I would recommend.

(59/100)


Other notes

  • I might have been less snarky if they had simply labelled it as a spiced rum (which it is) instead of some kind of aged artisinal product (which it isn’t).
  • Cyril at DuRhum had this run through a lab test and that evaluated it with 29g/L sugar, 2.4 g/L glycerol and a massive 359 mg/L of vanilla.
  • Who makes this? Well, the Bleeding Heart Rum Company, to be exact, and this link will answer most other questions about the product. BHRC is in turn a subsidiary of Kanlaon Limited a small single-director, 100-share company registered in a business village in Middlesex, listing Mr. Stephen Carroll as the man in charge, and he apparently worked for Remy Cointreau for some years before striking out on his own (he has other directorships in companies involved in film and video production).  Since I don’t trust much of anything the website says, I won’t rehash its blurbs here.
  • For an enthusiastic and uncritical perspective by a “lifestyle writer” (I will not use the term “journalist” because that would be like saying Don Papa is a real rum) I direct you to this Forbes article from May 2017.  It’s just another in a spate of recent rum-themed articles that are written by people who seem to want to advertise that they really know nothing at all about the subject.
May 312016
 
ampleforth

Picture (c) Ocado.com

Too much spice, too much sugar, too little interest.

(#276 / 72/100)

***

The name is almost Dickensian in its imagery.  Professor Cornelius Ampleforth could be straight out of the Pickwick Papers…you know, some chubby, benevolent older fellow in half-specs and a faded waistcoat, with rather limited mental capacity, down on his heels, but possessing a good heart. Whatever – the name evokes a certain good humour and indulgence from us, and at the very least is evocative.  That, unfortunately, doesn’t make the Professor’s Rumbullion a rum worth drinking, unless you are into spiced rums and like to have that in your drink (which I’m not and I don’t, so be aware of my personal preferences in this review).

Whether there really is a Professor Cornelius Ampleforth is subject to intense and spirited debate by all the same people who can tell you the middle name of the runner up of the 1959 Tiddlywinks Championship in Patagonia.  The UK company which releases the Rumbullion is called Atom Supplies and under its umbrella of e-commerce and business consultancy, also runs the online shop Master of Malt, and the brand is their independent bottling operation. They certainly have a sense of humour, as evinced not only by the Professor’s name, but the “Bathtub Gin” they also sell.

Bottled at 42.6% and darkly coloured within an inch of the Kraken, what we had here was a rum that assaulted the nose immediately with enormous and instant nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon notes, caramel and toffee and chocolate, all of which rushed and jostled and ran heedlessly together like a mob entering a Black Friday sale where everything is  90% off. It was also rather thick and almost chewy, and while back in 2010 I appreciated the Captain Morgan Private Stock for precisely those reasons (no longer, mind you), here it was simply excessive, and there was no order to any of it, no gradual progression from one series of well-blended, coherent smells to another…and that made the whole experience something of a disorganized mess.

And by the time I got around to tasting it, those spices really became too much, which led to flagging interest, waning ardour and a lot of grumbling and head shaking.  So there was cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sweet dark chocolate – these were somewhat better behaved now – to which, with some water, were added scents of cloves, marzipan (I liked that) and candied oranges, at which point the party was over and I was blatted into near catatonia by just wave upon wave of cloying sweetness (quick Prof, pass the insulin!). So yeah, there were additional elements of taste that weren’t bad, just so strong and so much that it was like having seven incidences of coitus in one night – one wakes up the next morning with an utterly blank brain and no desire to do anything meaningful. Even the warm, short fade exhibited this oversweet sense of warm syrup, without adding any new notes – there was the incessant hammer of cinnamon, caramel, vanilla, and to me it was just overkill.

To its credit, as I don’t hide my preferences, the makers don’t hide anything either: it is a spiced rum, it’s trumpeted as such, and they’re proud of it. But as always, it’s mostly marketing that one gets when one checks: a secret recipe (hate those), fancy wrapping and no information on components or ageing, if any. I guess for less than thirty quid we shouldn’t be asking for more.  This rum is squarely aimed at the casual imbibers who just want a tasty, tarted up, adulterated drink with a little bit of oomph and no hassle, and so although I acknowledge that spiced rums sell briskly for precisely those reasons, they really aren’t my tot of grog.


Other notes

  • For the record, I disapprove of an online shop not disclosing in its listings that it is itself the maker of a rum whose tasting notes (by its own staff) are rabidly enthusiastic.
  • The RumShopBoy posted a truly funny and apropos review of this and the Navy Strength variation, and despised the ground it walked on…largely due to measured 43g/L of additives.
Mar 192014
 

D3S_8427-001

 

These three rums are aged curiosities. There’s one from the 60s, and two from the 70s. Information on their origins is maddeningly obscure. The labels are crap, and the corks aged and faded and cracked by decades of rough handling. There’s never been a review of any that I was able to find, and their makers are likely long gone. Yet these three bottles exist, and if for no reason than their history, I review them here, make what remarks I can, score them as best I’m able.

Italy in these days is no stranger to rums, of course. Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation is the name that springs immediately to mind, and Campari recently bought the brands of Appleton and Coruba. Yet in rum’s heydey of the forties and fifties, there were many small outfits that matured their own stocks and brought out limited craft spirits to tempt the palates of those living La Dolce Vita. Some of these were real spirits of the kind we know and enjoy today, but many were what were called “Fantasy rums” – products made from caramel syrup with industrial alcohol, to which various herbs and spices (and in other cases young Jamaican rums), were then added. They were used for baking additives, pastries, or even as digestifs, not so much as sipping rums. They certainly don’t taste like molasses based products.

This to many purists, and according to modern EU rules, disqualifies them from being called rums, and they share similar DNA, then, with Tanduay, Stroh and Mekhong – they edge close to the line without ever quite stepping over it. As before with those examples, I’ll call them rums just because they’re labelled that way and to give them a home.

Anyway, knowing all this, what are they like?

D3S_8436

  • #489a
  • Rhum Fantasia “Stravecchio” Masera 1974
  • Bottled by Seveso Milan
  • Amber coloured, 40%

Nose: Much more of a rum profile than the other two. caramel, brown sugar, peaches and apricots – nice. Soft on the nose, very easy going, with hints of vanilla

Palate: Pleasant and gentle on the tongue, no real spice going on here: medium bodied, a little dry. Vanilla comes out punching, without being overwhelming. Caramel and burnt sugar dominate the taste at the beginning, and then give way to peanut brittle. A shade salty, even buttery, with a pleasant background of walnuts and crushed almonds

Finish: Short. Doesn’t want to piss you off. Toffee and nuts on the close, without lasting long enough to make an impression.

Final score: 80/100

D3S_8441

  • #489b
  • Tocini Fantasia Rhum 1976
  • Bottled by Tocini Company
  • Brown black with ruby tints, 40%

Nose: Slightly sharp, heavy on red/black grape wine; tons of fruit aromas – prunes, blackberries. Reminds me a lot of grappa. Some chocolate, apples, apricots. Licorice comes through after it opens up. Pretty good sniffer, nice and rich.

Palate: Reasonably smooth to taste, a little spicy, not much – medium bodied rum (really love the colour). Loads of licorice – may be too much for some. Back end notes of vanilla and some blackberries, but they’re subtle against the black stuff, which doggedly holds on as if scared to let go.

Finish: Pleasant enough, once the licorice fades out. A bit rough and then stays for a long goodbye, with vanilla and brown sugar notes making a belated appearance.

Final Score: 82/100

 D3S_8439

  • #489c
  • Pagliarini Rhum Fantasia from the 1960s
  • Bottled by Pagliarini Distillery, Municipality of Romani di Lombardo
  • Dark ruby red, 40%

Nose: Thin, striking nose of red cherries, red grapes, and somewhat herbal, like freshly mown wet grass. No real rum profile here: would rate it higher if it had more oomph. Really taste the additional flavourings…pomegranates, some ripe oranges, more cherries, sorrel.

Palate: Soft and round on the tongue, provides comfort without anger. That redness reminds me of sorrel, and so does the taste: plus added notes of fennel, rosemary, cherry syrup. Damn but this is sweet, and not with brown sugar notes either – in fact, this has the least “rum-like” profile of the three. It’s a bit too much sugar: no driness or ageing evident here, and that sinks it for me.

Finish: will o’ the wisp, disappears the moment you look for it, much like the Cheshire Cat; though, like that feline’s grin, it retains a smile of sweet cherry syrup and rosemary to see you on your way home. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Final Score: 79/100

***

At end, it’s unlikely these rums will be easily acquired or even sought after – I may actually have bought among the last bottles extant (and given their shabby state when they arrived, that wouldn’t surprise me). They have been overtaken by other spirits that taste similar and don’t call themselves rum. It’s likely that I paid the price I did because of their age and rarity, which is fine ‘cause I’m interested in the subject and was curious — but if you’re a fanatic about these matters and prefer a more traditional rum profile, I’d suggest you only try any Fantasias that cross your path if you can get them for free. It’s an expensive indulgence any other way, especially if they’re as old as these, and you may not like them much.

Unless of course you’re baking with them, in which case, avanti!

***

 

Closing note: Thanks to Luca Gargano of Velier, Cyril of DuRhum and Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation, who very kindly provided background information I used to write this article.

 

 

Mar 302013
 

 

A spiced Rumzilla. Interesting taste, lacking the cheer and laughter of the 151 proofers, and has nothing of the insane charm of the SMWS Longpond 81.2%

(#135. 75/100)

***

Few “rums” scare me like the Stroh 80 does. It’s like a Tuzemak on steroids, with much of the same obscurely vegetal and spiced choice of flavour profile, boosted by the resident blast bunny to a massive 160 proof that’s as comfortable on the nose and tongue as a prostate exam given by Captain Hook. Stroh’s drone-delivered plastique of an overproof has always has been, to me, as self-aggrandizing as the suicide wings served with waivers I have to sign at my local bar. It is an absurdly large proof driving a rum that is to sophisticated tippling as a sledgehammer is to stone-carving — a tool way too crude to do anything more than destroy everything in its path.

It fails as a sipping rum of course, entirely because of its strength (even though that’s is how I had to try it). In fact, some argue it fails as a rum period, because it’s not made directly from sugar cane juice or molasses. Mixing this rum is not only recommended, but encouraged, because if you have it by itself, it’s a bit like choosing a triple espresso instead of a single latte. It makes your drink just a shade … savage.

The Stroh 80 is a spiced, unaged spirit and not a spiced, aged rum – therein lies something of my disdain for it as a rum. One could reasonably ask what’s the difference, my response being that a rum is not made from sugar beets (as Stroh is reputed to be), is aged (even if only for a year), and Stroh’s lacks anything of the character all rums possess. I mean, observe the nose – after the initial blast of characteristic overproof plastique and plasticine and rubberized fumes dissipate and you recover some of your sanity (and find your nose again), what you’ll get is not caramel or burnt sugar or anything remotely resembling what you may be used to – but cinnamon, root beer, ginger and christmas cake spices, wrapped up in a hellacious burn.

And on the palate, it’s so strong it’s like getting a tattoo done on your tongue with a rusty set of needles by a guy who’s already high on this stuff. Your tongue will numb and turn into pterodactyl hide on the spot and your throat will feel it’s been savaged by a velociraptor. Sure you’ll get strong, amazingly intense sensations of black tea, ginger snaps, Tanti Merle’s christmas spices, some dried fruit (raisins and cherries for the most part), and a blast of cinnamon off the scale. It’s also oddly buttery, creamy, which is kind of interesting, and unusual. You may enjoy this. But at end, the titanic nature of the drink just overwhelms: as I also noted in the SMWS Longpond 9 year old, 160 proof is simply excessive and serves no sane purpose beyond bragging rights (though the Sunset Very Strong 84.5% seemed to have found a way to work around that). The finish is about all I find truly epic, because, like with all overproofs, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, and is surprisingly pain free (perhaps because I had already completed my writhing pain dance and had nothing left to scream about) – it’s heated and so long that one sip did me for ages. I kept thinking I’d been pilfering Santa’s cookies an hour later.

Stroh is an Austrian spirit, made by the Klagenfurt company since 1832, and available in variations ranging from 38% through to 80%. It was probably made from sugar beets deriving from an ethanol base to which spices were added because Austria-Hungary had no tropical colonies of its own to provide the raw stock. I’ve read that currently they use sugar-cane derived ethanol, yet when I was doing the Stroh 54 review some time back, I was advised by a reader that it’s still sugar beet based, so there may be some clarification required here. In any event, Stroh is sold as such and meant primarily as a cocktail ingredient to make Flaming B-52s, jagertee, traditional Austrian pastries, and other strong punches where some oomph is required. And of course, it’s great for chest puffing exercises by all Austrians.

The great thing about rums is that there is a real lack of agreed-upon international standards and classifications (and enforcement of those standard that do exist), and so just about anyone can make something from molasses or sugar cane or what have you, call it a rum, and who is to say different? The really bad thing about rums is that there is a real lack of agreed-upon international standards and classifications (and enforcement of those standard that do exist), and so just about anyone can make something from molasses, sugar cane and what have you, call it a rum, and who is to say different? That’s part of the problem with the 80, which is so far off the scale that all the unprepared can do is shudder, retch yesterday’s breakfast onto the dog, and reach for the Doorly’s. Stroh’s – probably feeling they wanted to take the crown of the overproofs – distilled a drink for the Junkers class as a test for their manhood, meant to render any besoffner comatose on the spot.

What do I think on balance? Well, I sure wouldn’t drink this sucker neat for anything except to write this review: it could be weaponized with too little additional effort. On the other hand, I do like that creamy, spiced up profile for its uniqueness, yes; and the finish is biblical. And to be fair, Stroh’s is quite clear that they don’t make this as a sipping, er, rum. But if you’re feeling like you need to impress the fraulein over in the ecke, and try drinking it that way, be warned: Stroh 80 really does dislike you, does not want to be taken solo, and it will hurt you. My recommendation is simply to leave it in the punch bowl for which it was made, and not risk damage to your liver by guzzling it on its own.

**

Mar 262013
 

First posted 11 July 2011 on Liquorature and the Rum Connection

(#080)

***

This review first appeared in two parts on the Rum Connection website, here.  It is reposted here with minor corrections and amendments. It’s a bit of a rant, I’m afraid, and somewhat overlong…it speaks to my disappointment in what has been touted as an ultra-premium, but isn’t.

I enjoy the Pyrat’s XO rum about as much as I do the leisurely explorations of my favourite proctologist: the thing is a perennial dust-gatherer on my shelf, and I finally traded it away to the Arctic Wolf in Edmonton. And when one considers the abysmal regard I have for its enormous tangerine nose, one could reasonably ask what business I had shelling out four times as much to buy the brand’s top-end product, the Cask 1623.  Truth is, it was like a splinter lodged in my mind for over a year, and no matter how many times I passed it squatting smugly there behind a glass case, I could never get rid of the impression it was sneering at me and calling me a puling, whining cheapskate.  So the other day when I had some disposable income, I finally said to hell with it, and got ‘er.

Pyrat’s is a product of the Anguilla Rums company.  This is an establishment with its own origin story (whether true or not, it’s still fun reading) regarding a travelling seaman called CJ Planter who fell in love with an island girl who may have been the illegitimate daughter of a plantation owner and a local lady who dabbled in witchcraft.  CJ eventually began a rum-making concern which, it must be emphasized, did not create rums from scratch, but blended rums from elsewhere (which continues today – I imagine this is because Anguilla, a beautiful but tiny speck in the Caribbean which if you sneezed at the wrong time you’d miss as you flew over it, lacks the resources to have full blown sugar cane plantations on the available land).  Subsequent digging suggests that the Pyrat brand is actually owned by a Nevada outfit called the Patron Spirits Company, and they have a line of spirits products that extends from Patron tequila, to Ultimat vodka, to liqueurs, and rums. So do they own the Anguilla company?  Don’t know…probably they are acting as marketing and distribution agents for the factory, which, as  Ed Hamilton of the Ministry of Rum notes, was shut down in 2010. Note that the rum is now made from DDL’s rum stock from Guyana, and given the shutdown in Anguilla, it’s very likely that the blending takes place in Guyana as well (I was not able to definitely confirm this beyond the anecdotal, but Arctic told me they definitely bottle it there, so it seems reasonable).

Be that as it may, I must commend them for the mere look of the package.  I’m a sucker for a good presentation; it’s part of the overall aesthetic, I argue, much to the disgust of the various maltsters of my acquaintance, who refuse to be sidetracked by such mundane matters and make no bones about chucking wrapper, box and bunting as soon as they buy a bottle of anything. Here, Pyrat’s delivers, and this is as it should be for a self-annointed “ultra-premium” rum costing north of two hundred bucks. The hand blown bottle is encased in a wooden box (the Pyrat homepage says cedar, but I notice one reviewer says walnut, and from the lack of an aroma, walnut is my take also), and around its neck is a medallion with the patron saint of fortune tellers and bartenders, Hoti.  And there’s a hand lettered label signed by the master blender.  Pretty cool.

The rum is a dark amber colour, and has a heavy look to it. The cork is a real cork, no extras or plastic anything. And as soon as I opened the stopper, I knew I’d been had. Well, perhaps not – perhaps I’d allowed myself to be had in my eagerness to try something new at the supposed top end of the scale. The nose wafted out and it was immediately clear that customers of the XO had written in and started a campaign to assure Pyrat’s that the citrus they had sensed in the XO — the very thing I had disliked so much about it – was for wussies and they demanded something with just as much or more orange heft: and Pyrat’s complied.  Open the botle and the waft of an orange grove comes right at you.

There’s a sullen, sulky heaviness to it when it pours into your glass that reminds you of a lighter-coloured El Dorado – and the legs were relatively slow and fat as they slid down the sides, so that part was good. But nosing it was about as subtle as the grapefruit scene with Mae Clark in 1931’s “Public Enemy”.  Yes, I got vanilla (and I had to strain for that); yes there were subtler hints of cherries and flowers here (more strain), under which moved the darker scent of burnt brown sugar – but there was nothing overly dramatic that grabbed my snoot, no I-see-Vishnu moment, no heavenly chorus of angel who should attend the opening of such a purportedly premium product. What was self evident was, as I’ve noted, that damned scent.

The citrus background was more muted than in the XO, but still far too prevalent and bashed the others into a sort of torpid insensibility – it’s like an orange Chuck Norris came through the joint, belted out a roundhouse kick to the face, and all the other smells fell down, twitching feebly.

***

The palate?  No redemption, I’m afraid, and by now I was wondering – what the hell was going on? Did some disgruntled vet pop a few hundred rinds into the still? The liquid was thicker and oilier than other rums I’ve tried, and coated the tongue like it wanted to be a delivery system for a few fascinating flavours the master blender had pulled out of his hat; there was a sweet and lasting flavor, but what the hell was it? A liqueur?

I was tasting a smoothly sweetish spirit and a commingled taste of various almost impossible-to-discern elements dominated by orange marmalade flavor.  Again I got the annoyingly faint background tastes the nose had hinted at, without any of them having the courage to tek front and show us who was boss. The floral scents dimmed more than shimmered, the caramel-molasses and burnt sugar taste faded almost entirely, and what I was left with was something that wasn’t sure what it wanted to be…too sweet for a rum, not complex enough for a high-end. Excuse me fellas. I thought there was supposed to be rums here. This was what two hundred drops of my sweat had bought?

And don’t believe I was entirely mollified by the excellent fade, the only thing I don’t have a whinge about. The 1623 goes down very well, without serious burn or scratch, and even a non-rum-drinker might like that part: my 72 year old father-in-law took a sniff, smacked his gums, sipped it down and allowed it may even eclipse the standard Russian rotgut he preferred (talk about damning with faint praise there), while observing it had too much sugar, as if I should shoot off to Anguilla immediately and take them to task about the matter. In fact, I did send an email down there (and to Patron) asking about the taste and the sugar, which has thus far remained unanswered.

Pyrat’s Cask 1623, also known as Cask 23 for people who can’t be bothered to write the whole thing, is a blend of rums aged up to 40 years.  Note the careful phrasing on the Pyrat website: “We distill the dark amber spirit in limited quantities, ageing its smooth distinctive blend of premium Caribbean rums in oak barrels for up to 40 years.” What that means to me is that the oldest rum in the blend is 40 years old (not the youngest) and there’s no information regarding what proportion is that old.  About all I’ve read online is that the average age of the blends of pot-still and column-still rums that make the 1623, is 23 years. Even the barrels are a bit dodgy – I’ve heard of the usual bourbon barrels, of course, and rumours of barrels that once held orange liqueur. So maybe that’s what it is. Caveat Emptor.

Honesty compels me to note that Pyrat’s 1623 won the 2007 Ministry of Rum tasting competition, but speaking for this puppy, I can only wonder how on earth that happened. Let me put it to you this way: if you were handing out prizes for distinctiveness, then Bundie, Old Port, Pyrat’s XO and maybe Legendario would come out top – you could taste them blind and know what you were getting because they are so unique in taste, so different: but that difference does not translate into real quality, and frankly, I think Pyrat’s is teetering on the edge of not being a rum at all, what with all that extra stuff they must be chucking into the ageing barrels with such languid insouciance.

So there we have it. Unimpressive.  I know I sound a little miffed, perhaps even a shade snarky. But I’m feeling let down, more than a little annoyed.  Actually, I’m plenty mad.  This rum is such a disappointment – it’s a forty dollar rum in a hundred dollar package, selling for two hundred.  Some might argue that I like the sugar-caramel-molasses taste in my rums, and just as I like that taste, so there are others out there who prefer peats, and others who will like orange or sherry or what have you.  No harm no foul.  Yet, I disagree: the whole selling point of Islay whiskies is that unmistakeable peatiness; with rums it’s the core of caramel and burnt sugar enhanced by the varying notes imparted by climate (Bundie or Old Port spring to mind immediately), distillation techniques, ageing and the barrels used.  In the top end of rums, there is an underlying harmony, a sort of zen marriage of all good things that come together like a Porsche 911 GT3.  Sure it blasts off with you, but in a good way. All is in balance. You don’t mind getting your faced ripped off at 6500 rpm and 200mph because you are utterly ensorcelled by the sheer unbridled harmony of the components meshing together like they were lubricated in distilled angels’ tears.

And that’s not the case here. We’ve been sold on a marketing gimmick. We’ve been fed on rarity, a carefully parsed age statement, and price (and a really odd dearth of online reviews I have difficulty comprehending – what, has no-one tasted this thing?). When I tried the English Harbour 1981, the Appleton 30 and Master’s Blend, the El Dorado 21 and 25, the G&M Longpond 1941, I could taste the underlying structural complexity and efforts to both smoothen and balance off the competing flavours.  Here, we have an inexplicable central taste of citrus that advertises its ego from the get go, practically drowns out all other flavours, and to my mind is only marginally redeemed by an extraordinary smoothness.  Ultra-premium? Yeah, it’s about as ultra-premium as a garage sale with one good item in it.

For a rum this expensive and positioning itself at the top of the rum chain, I’d suggest that they stop messing about with the Hoti medallion…and replace it with one that bears the imprint of the patron saint of shell games and snake oil sellers.

 

Mar 262013
 

First posted 16 April 2011 on Liquorature

(#074) (Unscored)

A homunculus of a rum, this – it’s got all the hallmarks of a rum – the background taste, the nose, a bit of bite; but at end, you’ll either think it’s a strong liqueur or a weak rum, and in either case it works better as a dessert drink than a true sipper in your glass.

***

“Bloody mouthwash!” my esteemed and geriatric sire sneered years and years ago, as I sipped a Crème de Menthe in the days when I was still searching for a drink to call my own and clutch to my post-pubescent chest. I fear that since his tongue is the only instrument I know which gets sharper with constant use, he would take one shot of the Juan Santos café 34% and bugle “Nescafe!” with that same note of relish at having won an obscure point (I will note he is a rabid aficionado of the El Dorado 15, which he says he can barely afford, even as he counts his many properties and makes jokes – admittedly very funny – about my lack of an inheritance…but I digress).

So what to make of Juan Santos’s entry into the flavoured undeproof rum segment?

The café infused rum is, to me, an exercise in diminution which Juan Santos made in order to break into a smaller niche, widen its appeal and maybe grab some market share from, oh, Kahlua. Diminution is the quality or process of being reduced in size, extent or importance. It’s a cousin to words like “diminutive” or “diminished” and for a serious rum drinker, neither word does this rum any favours. To be diminutive is to be small and preciously sized, wee and wondrous, like a dwarf pony, or my five year old (or my wife, but never mind). When you consider that Juan Santos has made full strength offerings like the under-the-radar 9 year old, a very quietly impressive (but a bit bland) 5 year old, and a 12 and 21 year old still awaiting my written attentions but which I have liked a lot, then I have to say the impolitic thing and tell you straight out that the underproof under discussion is suffering from an identity crisis. It may even be a chick’s rum. No rum or whisky drinker I know would watch me drink this thing without asking solicitously abut the state of my hormone shots. Yes, I know this is sexist, but come on: we are designed by a jillion years of evolution to equate large with male, small with female, strong likker for men and liqueurs for women, with the possible exceptions of RuPaul, and Grenada, where forty percent hooch is considered mild and for the fairer sex only

And yet, like many small things, the baby rum is pretty good if you’re prepared to take it on its own terms. You open it, and because of the lower alcohol content, you don’t get the spear of spirit skewering you right off.  It presents with a smooth, soft nose, a bit like Irish coffee, really.  Coffee – for which Columbia is justly famed – is right in the middle, with caramel butterscotch undertones, and the alcohol lending it the slightest bit of heft. On that level, it works swimmingly.

On the tongue, the lack of alcohol bite works entirely to your advantage, because it gives you a chance not to wince, and merely appreciate the flavours: and those flavours are some dark sugar, some currants and berries, perhaps a nut of some kind and an overwhelming taste of coffee.  It’s sweet, very sweet, more like a liqueur than a real rum, light and a bit creamy. Delicious, truly.  On the flip side, that taste – while nowhere near as unpleasant as the orange of the Pyrat’s XO was to me – will be the second deciding factor in making you decide whether you like it or not (the other being the sub-par strength).

So here is where I add the caveats: as long as you’re prepared to accept that this is a rumlet, not a “real” rum (in the sense that it is weaker than the standard 40% just about everyone is used to); as long as you really do have a sweet tooth; and as long as you don’t have a real rum nearby (like another Juan Santos) – so long as these things hold true, you’ll like this cafe infused variation.  It’s these things that will make it work for some, not for others, since it is thicker and more sugary than any other rum I’ve ever tried, coats the tongue well and doesn’t so much sting as caress your taste buds. Not all will like that, and for me, having had it off and on for six months, I have to say it’s what Guyanese would call “sometimish.”  Inconsistent, and not always serious.  The finish, as we might expect from a weaker cousin of the older and brawnier relatives, is smooth, gentle and not in the slightest bit assertive.

The thing about such underproofs is that they are meant to be had as after dinner, dessert likkers.  If I wanted to go on a bender, there’s no way I’d touch an underproof (any of them).  I started this review by suggesting I’m not really a fan of liqueurs or underproofs. I still feel that way. I won’t open the Café variation too often. But it’s more a question of when and where than of what. No, I won’t drink it often, but I will open it on a cool evening when I’m out on the veranda after a good meal, when something standard-strong won’t cut it, and a nice, soft after-dinner rum that soothes instead of bites is called for. Something not as thick as Bailey’s. A variation on an Irish coffee, maybe. Something that complements and completes the meal, that my wife can share and enjoy while next to me, and which I can take pleasure in as the city goes quiet, night falls and the breezes blow and we talk of nothing in particular. Something, in point of fact, exactly like the Juan Santos.