Jun 262019
 

The fourth and last of the four Dutch West Indies rums that I obtained solely to shed some light on the islands is a pale 35% shrug of indifference called the Palmera White Aruba rum. You know me, I have a thing for unapologetically barking-mad high-proofed white rums – but dis ain’ dat, as my bushmen squaddies would say back in the old days.

Were you to google it, you’d find that the Palmera Quality Products company produces several rums – notably the White and the Dark “authentic Arubian rums with a rich heritage flavour” at standard strength, and is at pains to mention on its About page that “…PQP produces many different beverages in its own processing plant…[and] produces products locally from carefully developed formulas that meet international standards.” No mention of a distillery, a blender, a sugar cane source, an ageing regimen. Call me a cynic, but it sure implies a mass-produced neutral-spirits-treatment operation to me, not a rum made by a dynamic master blender who knows his sh*t, let alone by a distillery that can be identified.  

And maybe that’s why I can never find out anything about these companies, and why the Dutch West Indian islands’ rums – the San Pablo Gold label and Platinum White from Curacao and the Carta Reserva from Aruba – have singularly failed to make any lasting impression on the rumisphere. That might also explain why nobody ever posts an ecstatic hosanna on FB saying “I got this!” and then basks in the glory of the hunt concluded, the find immortalized, the cheers of the envious crowd modestly acknowledged.

So then, what was in the glass that day? A white rum, 35%, supposedly from Aruba (I suppose otherwise), and very little to go on beyond that. As befitting its puny mouse-that-roared proofage, it didn’t give off much of an aroma – sugar water, grass, dill, the sweetness of laundry detergent and a tad of lemon juice.  It was marginally more assertive than the Carta Reserva, and maybe a shade better balanced between some sweet and lemony components.

The taste was mostly sodas: 7-Up or Sprite, cream soda.  Some vanilla, coconut, and vague herbaceous flavours, sugar water and pears, and believe me, that was reaching. Maybe it’s an island thing, to make rums this weak (the current rums listed on the website are similarly proofed, bar a pair of 151s), but all a rum like this one can do is juice up a cocktail or give you a headache in hot weather because you won’t think something so mild could affect you, when of course it can.

The Palmera is as unprepossessing as all the others from the region I’ve sampled (bar the untried overproofed 151s).  It’s light and white, weak and meek, and after the first three tries with its cousins, I approached it with distinct lack of enthusiasm, and finished the tasting exercise with relief. The rum just, I dunno, has this indifferent air of “good ‘nuff” that offends me for some reason, like barely enough effort was put into it to make it sell, and no more. Even the Curacao San Pablo rums at least had the courage to go to 40% instead of messing around with this underwhelming strength.

Socrates remarked that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Where I to apply that here and paraphrase, I’d add a codicil that the Palmera and its cousins makes inevitable – “Sometimes the examined rum is not worth drinking.”  Sorry, but here that’s God’s own truth, and the best I can say about it is that although it’s pointless and purposeless and near tasteless, let’s be grateful that at least it’s painless.

(#636)(64/100)


Other notes

The design of the modern labels is quite different from the one I bought, so I assume there’s been some changes over the years.  I don’t know if the blend or recipe was changed when the label did, nor am I aware when this happened

Jun 242019
 

This is one of those strange rums that clearly exists, but about which nobody seems to know anything, even though I was informed it remains on sale in Aruba to this day. Jazz Singh out of the UK couldn’t help – he rather witheringly remarked that the only local stuff he found on the island was “a lot of imported column rubbish” and that the one distillery Aruba used to have is definitely closed. And good luck with finding any info on the company whose name is on the label, Playa Liquor and Bottling Co, ‘cause that’s equally opaque and non-communicative. So for the moment I’ll treat is a sort of low rent tourist trap hooch. In fact, I’m not even sure what else the company does, so spare is Playa’s online footprint, on FB or elsewhere.

There is an air of “generic” about the rum. It has a title used before – “Superior Carta Reserva” was also a 1970s Puerto Rican rum made for E.F. Debrot Inc (a liquor merchant in Aruba), and it’s white, it’s 35%, and that’s about all you’re going to get here.  I’d hazard a guess it’s a column still product, and that it’s made elsewhere under contract by a third party…assuming it continues to be made at all, because there’s simply no way that any rum company would not advertise its own product, even locally, with this kind of promotional black hole. 

Tasting notes, then, because what else can we do? Nose: a thin, watery, a slightly salty cream soda and Angostura bitters…what we used to call a “rockshandy” when I was a boy.  Plus vanilla and a whiff of citrus. There’s not much more – it’s like light alcoholic water and no aroma of any distinctiveness whatsoever.

Palate? Nope, not a whole lot there either. 35% ABV excites little beyond my indifference.  Even having it first thing in the morning with nothing else before, so that the strength would be less of a factor than later, achieved nothing.  A splash of salt water and an olive or two, vanilla again, a short, faint bite of a very ripe apple, and maybe a pear…or was that a cucumber? Who cares?  The thing is so dim, so bland, so lacking anything resembling character, that you be forgiven for thinking it was in witness protection. The best part is the short, sweet, slightly salty, slightly dry finish, because, you know, it finishes. 

So there we are. Probably molasses based, filtered, an uninspirational, boring, flaccid excuse for a rum, distinguished only by its remarkable lack of anything in particular. It’s a hollow rum, a watery alcohol delivery system, eliciting nothing in the rum drinker except perhaps a big yawn. I’ll just leave it there.

(#635)(65/100)

Mar 132019
 

By today’s standards, Brugal, home of the very good 1888 Gran Reserva, made something of a fail in the genus of white rums with this Blanco.  That’s as much a function of its tremblingly weak-kneed proof point (37.5%, teetering on the edge of not being a rum at all) as its filtration which makes it bland to the point of vanilla white (oh, wait….). Contrast it with the stern, uncompromising blanc beefcakes of the French islands and independents which blow the roof off in comparison: they excite amazed and disbelieving curses — this promotes indifferent yawns.

To some extent remarks like that are unfair to those who dial into precisely the coordinates the Blanco provides — a light and easy low-end Cuban style barroom mixer without aggro or bombast, which can just as easily be had in a sleepy backroad rumshop someplace without fearing for one’s health or sanity after the fact. But they also encapsulate how much the world of white rums has progressed since people woke up to the ripsnorting take-no-prisoners braggadocio of modern blancs, whites, clairins, grogues and unaged pot still rhinos that litter the bar area with the expired glottises of unwary rum reviewers.

Technical details are actually rather limited: it’s a rum aged for two years in American oak, then triple filtered, and nothing I’ve read suggests anything but a column still distillate.  This results in a very light, almost wispy profile which is very difficult to come to grips with.

Take the nose – it was so very faint. Being aware of the proof point, I took my time with it and teased out notes of Sprite, Fanta, sugar water, and watermelon juice, mixed up with the faintest suggestion of brine.  Further sphincter-clenching concentration brought out hints of vanilla and light coconut shavings, lemon infused soda water, and that was about all, which, it must be conceded, didn’t entirely surprise me.

All this continued on to the tasting.  It was hardly a maelstrom of hot and violent complexity, of course, presenting very gently and smoothly, almost with anorexic zen-level calm.  It was thin, light and lemony, and teased with a bit of wax, the creaminess of salty butter, coconut shavings, apples and cumin — but overall the Blanco makes no statement for its own quality because it has so little of anything.  Basically, it’s all gone before you can come to grips with it. Finish? Obviously the makers didn’t think we needed one, because there wasn’t really anything there.

The question I ask with rums like the underproofed Blanco is, who is it made for? – because that might give me some idea of why it was made the way it was. I mean, the Brugal 151 was supposed to be for cocktails and the premium aged anejos were for sipping, so where does that leave something as milquetoast as this?  Me, if I was hanging around with friends in a hot tropical island backstreet, banging the dominos down with a bowl of ice, cheap plastic tumblers and this thing, I would probably enjoy having it on the rocks. On the other hand, if I was with a bunch of my fellow rum chums, showing and sharing my stash, I’d hide it out of sheer embarrassment.  Because compared with the white rums which impress me so much more, this isn’t much of anything.

(#608)(68/100)


Other notes

Company background: Not to be confused with Dominica, the Dominican Republic is the Spanish speaking eastern half of the island of Hispaniola…the western half is Haiti.  Three distilleries known as the Three Bs operate in the DR: Bermudez in the Santiago area, the Santo Domingo distillery called Barcelo, and Brugal in the north coast. Brugal, founded in 1888, seems to be the largest, perhaps as a result of being acquired in 2008 by the UK Edrington Group (they are the makers of Cutty Sark, and also own McCallan and Highland Park brands), and perhaps because Bermudez succumbed to internecine family squabbling, while Barcelo made some ill-advised forays into the hospitality sector and so both diluted their focus, to Brugal’s advantage.  

There are other blancos made by Brugal: the Ron Blanco Especial, Blanco Especial Extra Dry, the 151 overproof, and the Blanco Supremo.  Only the Supremo is listed on their website (accessed March 2019) and seems to be available online, which implies that all others are discontinued. That said, the production notes are similar for all of them, especially the 2 year minimum ageing and triple distillation.

Mar 262013
 
***

A low proof rum that is impressive right out of the gate, suggests quality and subtlety past compare, and then gives up and runs full tilt into the wall. What this rum might have been with some extra strength….    

First posted 6th January 2012 on Liquorature. 

(#099. 77/100)

***

Right off the bat I have to state my preferences: I am not a fan of underproofs. They have a fake air of smoothness that has less to do with a blender’s art than with a low alcohol content. Spirit imparts depth and character to a rum (as I have observed with overproofs from time to time), and the lack thereof forces the distiller all too often to make up for the shortfall with additives.

With the Colombian Ron Viejo de Caldas 8 anos (bottled at 35% according to the label), however, I may have to revise this assumption, since not only did the Colombianos age this for eight years as if in defiance of all conventions for a rum less than 40%, but the thing is actually quite a decent drink which, because of its relative weakness, can be had as is without embellishment. I can’t say this makes me an instant convert…but it does make me less of a detractor.

Ron Viejo de Caldas is made by the Industria Licorera de Caldas from Colombia. It started small, as a little known artesinal rum from the provinces, but clever marketing and its own quality have made it a more internationally known brand than heretofore. It was created by a Cuban Don Ramón Badia at the behest of the Caldas Fine Perfume and Rum company in 1926 (not as unusal as it may sound, since a good nose is key to both) and in 1959, boosted by good sales, a distillery was set up; in 2009, the company produced 25 million bottles of various rums. Nowadays, the brand is produced in Manizales, the provincial capital of Caldas, 7,200 feet above sea level. Located in the shadow of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, the distillery is now equipped with column stills and sources its sugar cane syrup from the Cauca River Valley, where sugar cane is cultivated all year round.

On the nose the first impression one gets is a kind of supple fruitiness: peaches, citrus, nectarines and maybe a ripe mango or two. Raisins and cinnamon and maybe nutmeg can barely be made out. The aroma is rich and deep and actually reminds me a bit of a good bourbon, or a rye (just a sweeter one). And upon opening up, the brown sugar notes start to dominate in a very pleasant burnt sugar I always love.

The dark copper liquid has a pleasantly heavy body, and is smooth and a shade sere: there is less sugar and and molasses on the taste than the nose suggested, and this might be because the rum is not made from molasses, but from sugar cane syrup. The ageing in bourbon barrels certainly left its mark in a slight woodsy note at the back end, and this was not unpleasant, just distinctive…a bit of character added to the gene pool, so to speak

The fade might be the weakest part of the rum, and this is where the low alcohol content shows its true colours and abandons your snoot — just as you expect a lingering smooch from what you may have thought was a lovely undiscovered gem you alone have sampled, it…disappears. No seriously. It has one of the shortest finishes of any rum I’ve ever had, and that’s something of the character that’s missing along with the true 40% or greater ABV content.

All things considered, I just don’t get why this rum had to be an underproof at all (unless I got a variant that’s not commonly exported). It has a lovely body, a terrific nose, a good tart and tasty palate, and then, just like Dick Francis’s horse all those years ago, it just falls flat on its belly and skids to a sudden sharp stop without explanation or apology. The 40% variation I did not have won a bronze medal in 2007 and a gold in the 2009 Ministry of Rum tasting competition for premium rums, but fellas, all I can say is that good as that may make it, ensure you check the label for the proof before you buy this in a duty free shop someplace, or you might be a little disappointed

I’m giving this baby 77 points on the strength of its great opening act, and had it not been for the weak conclusion, it would surely have topped 80. It reminds me of unadorned rums, subtle, complex and not too burdened with noticeable additives of any kind. I just wish I knew what the real forty percenter was like – on the strength of this one, it must be quite something.

 

Mar 232013
 

First posted February 27, 2010 on Liquorature.

(#014)(Unscored)

Holy antipodean molasses, Batman: what the hell is this? Years from now, old farts will be discussing their first great love or hate of rum, and this one will surely make the short list. You either embrace this vile sipper or despise it for its difference,  but you’ll never be indifferent, that’s for sure.

***

Full of hope and expectations, Keenan and I traded rums over the table yesterday – in his direction went the El Dorado 21 year old (I had really wanted him to sample it since his snoot is more highly attuned to quality than my more pedestrian schnoz), and in mine went the Bundie (plus a few others, in case you’re thinking that the exchange was not an equal one).  Ever since we had had this at Bauer’s place some months ago when dodging his dog and scarfing pizza, I had wanted to write a review of this antipodal hooch, and to refresh my memory as to whether it was truly as bad a sipper as I recall.  Or had I been too tipsy and despoiled by the whisky that night to have a clean palate?

The answer? Yes, no and no.

Bundaberg Rum is made in Bundaberg, Southern Queensland, Australia, and is something of a cult favourite down under – it’s said this is what coke and weekends were invented for. “Bundie’ as it’s called there, is practically a cultural institution and supposedly the most popular rum in Australia.  I first heard of this 37% underproof when I read Wilbur Smith’s Hungry as the Sea (“Listen to me, you Bundaberg swilling galah” says the hero at one point to an Aussie engineer) and have kept it in the back of my mind ever since. It has been made since 1888 when local sugar plantations were trying to figure out what to do with their leftover molasses. With some interruptions, the rum has been in production ever since.  In 1961 the polar bear was added to the labelling as a mascot to imply how well the rum could ward off the coldest chill. The Bundie that makes it over here is not the more expensive Reserve, Red or Overproof, but just the standard low-end stuff. Even so, I think it costs in the $40-$50 range (which may be transport costs factored in).

One has to be clear that this is not meant to be a sipping rum.  It’s absolutely meant to be mixed (preferably with ginger beer to create a highball known as the “Dark and Stormy”), and every review I’ve read says so, though one Aussie who commented here disputed the point and suggested it was more commonly mixed with coke.  I agree. This is a cocktail base and not something to tempt the nose and the palate to indulgent, leisurely sips.

The problem was, I approached like I had all the others. Sniff, a sip neat and another one over ice.  And I shuddered and just about knocked Keenan out of his chair in my haste to reach the coke. Keenan himself was blanching. “Turpentine,” he managed to squeak as he reached for the smelling salts.

Christ.  This is not a rum.  This is a tequila masquerading as a rum. It smells different from any rum I’ve ever tasted, harsher and cloyingly musky-salt-sweet (the very thing I hate about tequila) and the taste is sharp, violent on the tongue and is redolent of methylated spirits, match sulphur and new paint (I exaggerate for effect…but not by much).  There’s no oak, no caramel sweetness, just hurt.  As a sipper this may be the single vilest drink I’ve had since I made the mistake of trying my Uncle Ronald’s DDL five year old neat and lost my voice and sight for a fortnight (admittedly, some suggested it was an improvement and rushed to buy a few extra bottles). It certainly will warm the cockles of your tum, but my advice is to use it for what it was meant for: comforting exiled Aussies, mixing it with coke at least 3:1 in favour of the coke and appreciating that here is something that really is different. Keenan’s attitude was distinctly unflattering: “I’d rather eat a curried dingo sh*t than try that straight again.”

It may appeal to some who like drinking a rum that is off the reservation (and is as distant from the Caribbean caramel and fruit taste as it’s possible to get), and maybe with ginger beer (or coke) it really does lift your socks off.  All I can say is that it doesn’t work for me, and after I helped The Bear back to his feet, we “ketch sum sense” and moved back to the safer ground of the West Indian nectars, rather than indulging further armchair sojourns to the south.