Jan 242015
 

D3S_9097

Clean, clear, dry and old, with a lackluster finish that detracts from the excellent front end.

(#198. 73/100)

When I reviewed the Depaz Reserve Speciale a while back, I thought that the flavours seemed a shade sharp, too vague, and departed the scene with all the hurry of a street cur at which you threw a rock…or something to that effect.  Most of these issues were absent from the Cuvée Prestige, which was a better rhum in almost every way.  It is a blend of rhums aged between six and nine years, has a lovely outfit, and probably the top-of-the-line product from Depaz. I hesitate to recommend it at the higher price points I’ve seen, but must concede that I think it’s one of the better agricoles out there (bar the finish), and for those with deep pockets (or who can ferret out a more economical buy), it may be worth that kind of outlay…assuming their tastes bend in that direction.

Points should absolutely be given for the packaging (oh come on, lie to me and say you never bought a bottle of something purely on the way it looks).  The carafe-style bottle with gold etching (it shows the “castle” of Depaz and its date of founding, 1651) was surmounted with a gold-coloured cap and thick cork, and came in a wooden box with metal snaps, the design of which mirrored the bottle etching.  It all looked very impressive, which it was: it just exuded an air of expensive Savile Row suits. As I’ve remarked before, when you’re at this price range, you’re absolutely within your rights to ask for some spiff on the wrapping, otherwise what are you spoiling yourself for?  Who can you show off to? An unadorned barroom bottle can contain the elixir of the gods, sure, but who’d ever believe it does until they shell out the money, and who’d take the chance?

D3S_9099

Anyway, the Cuvée Prestige is an AOC agricole from Martinique, made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses, grown on the Depaz plantation at the base of Mount Pelee (which nearly ruined the joint back in 1902 when it last woke up and belched). As with other Martinique rhums, it is terroire specific, and since Depaz is located right close by La Montagne with both volcanic soil and varying weather, some of its distinctive profile can certainly be attributed to those factors.  The initial scents of this 45%, gold brown rhum certainly pointed in this direction. Initially very clean and dry, the vegetal green-grass aromas were to be expected, and did not disappoint – the rhum was extremely pungent, smooth and easy, even deep. It had some of the briny freshness of ocean spray. As it opened the scents moved to display more of that dry-ish, almost-salty profile – dates, figs, nuts and almonds, leather and toast, all nicely soft. No real fruity background to speak of here, just the shy promise of better to come

The taste on the palate did not take any sudden left turns or quick swerves.  It retained cleanliness and smoothness, which were endearing characteristics – I have to be honest, the medium bodied rhum had the smooth and relentless flow of a slow tidal wave of double cream.  And it also continued to display the warmth and aridity of the nose. It hinted at sea-salt and sawdust, still more nuts, nutmeg, hazelnut and almonds. Some caramel, cigar smoke, sandalwood.  It almost felt like one of Renegade’s rums, like, oh, the Guadeloupe 1998 11 year old; also the Cuba 11 Year Old, or even (shudder) the Coruba 12 year old. Letting it stand, and adding some water finally coaxed out the flavours I was hoping to have – figs, dates, some light vanilla and overripe black grapes, all bound together by the smell of crushed sugar cane stalks still weeping juice and drying in the hot sun.  The finish was a weak point for me – smoky and sharper than it should have been (it lasted a good while, I can’t deny that), with not much going on aside from some closing notes of vanilla, and salted peanut butter.

It had a good mouthfeel, nice body, good tastes around the edges, and the nose was heavenly, but I think that here, the slight dominance of the non-sweet brininess made the product falter as an overall experience for me (when related to the price – had it been cheaper, I dunno, I might have been more lenient).  It’s definitely better than the Reserve Speciale, and I could see its overall quality, feel its texture, and acknowledge that in my scoring. But I’m afraid it’s not my cup of tea, really, not entirely. Therefore, dear buyer, if money is an issue, it’s a rum that you might wish to taste first (if possible) and checking it fits in with your personal profile preferences, before shelling out.  It’s a very good rum in its own way, and just because that way meanders apart from my own path doesn’t invalidate the product on its own merits.

D3S_9104

Other notes:

Online cost shows wild variation.  I’ve seen everything from €80 to €250, with one reviewer remarking that it can be had for substantially less on the island itself. While I’m not privy to the sometimes obscure pricing mechanisms of web stores, I don’t think I’d shell out more than €100 for this one, both for the cool looks and lovely taste, and also because of the failed backend.  It would have to be a hell of a lot rarer and more in line with the personal preferences I have, to convince me to part with that much of my hard earned balles.

Nowadays it’s owned by Bardinet (who also make the Negrita line of rums I’ve never tried), but who, interestingly, make no mention of Depaz at all on their (poorly designed) site.  There are days I wonder how advertising is really done for products this good: maybe that’s what we reviewers are here for.  After all, if we shell out some cash to buy the thing and like it (which is a chance the makers seem to think is worth taking), then they don’t have to.  I’ve made my peace with that situation a long time ago, but there’s no doubt I still feel a twinge of annoyance about it – we should not be seen as a free resource, to act as a substitute for their reluctance to advertise properly on their own account.

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating on the above list is 73/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 86.5 points)

Jan 122015
 

D3S_9094

Complex, yes. Quality, not entirely.

(#197. 65/100)

***

Although the Depaz VSOP Reserve Speciale is noted as being a complex agricole, not much except perhaps the taste of the reddish brown rhum deriving from the Plantation de la Montagne Pelee really works for me as it should, which just goes to show that not every single spirit hailing from a part of the world supposedly making only top-end products can be as good as it is meant to be.  Part of the issue here (I hesitate to say “problem”) is that all sensations go by too fleetingly for any real impression to be left, and what was there just never came out the way it might have.  The Depaz agricole is a Tolkien elf running across the snow, and leaves few footprints worthy of remark.

Which is somewhat odd for a spirit that is bottled at 45%: that strength alone would lead you to assume some intensity and heft in the profile.  But nope, not really.  At least not in this one, and it starts right away in the nose.  Unlike some really stellar exemplars of the craft (think Damoiseau 1980 or even the Karukera Millesime 1997) which wafted a cloud of deep, luscious scents into the room as soon as the bottle was cracked, the Depaz seemed thin and reedy as a hungry rice-eating mongrel’s ribs, and like such a pooch’s snarling attack, it was sharp and fast and over way too quick.  There were underlying aromas of grass, crushed cane and rosemary, some subdued hints of apricots, fruits, flowers and sweet bubblegum, followed by faint leather, and the damp musky smell of cheap cigarettes smoked in the midst of a tropical rainforest with high humidity (having done so in the past, I know whereof I speak).  But it was all too little, too sharp, and too scrawny for the schnozz of this reviewer, who openly prefers more aggressive fare.

The taste in the mouth on the other hand elevated the drink quite a bit, and made me check my glass to see if I had confused my samples.  It was stronger and more assertive, very nicely warm without the spiciness of the nose…a bit more body you might say, entering quite cleanly and clearly. Sweet and solidly fruity, it opened with sugars and some oakiness, chopped light fruits (green grapes, white guavas), licorice (odd in a Martinique AOC agricole), bleeding sap from a fresh cut cane stand, green leaves and even a flirt of vanilla and caramel.  The complexity was hinted at but seemed scared to come out and strut its stuff and therefore, while it was discernible, it never quite took centre stage.

I should however remark on the mouthfeel and texture, which wasn’t bad at all, coating the tongue well and warmly, allowing some of those tastes to take on greater prominence after a few minutes.  Here adding some water had to be done with some delicacy, as too much would have shredded an already unaggressive drink, and too little wasn’t enough to release the additional flavours that lay hidden.  The finish was an overall disappointment, by the way – there was a backtaste of cane juice on a cutlass blade (I kid you not – it had both metallic and vegetal notes), some sugar water, vanilla, a little oakiness, too quick and too sharp to appeal to me.

D3S_9095

Depaz hails from the eponymous estate in St. Pierre in Martinique, and is located at the foot of  Mount Pelée  itself: it’s been in existence for over three hundred years, sicne 1651 in fact, when the first governor of Martinique, Jacques Duparquet, created the plantation, and these days bears the AOC mark of terroire-based authenticity. Although the famous eruption of the volcano in 1902 decimated the island, Victor Depaz, who survived, reopened for business in 1917 and it’s been operational ever since.

The company also makes quite a few other rhums: the Rhum Depaz, a full proof 50% beefcake, a blanc variation, the Blue Cane Rhum Agricole (which are all a little down the evolutionary ladder), as well as an XO and the Cuvee Prestige (a little above quality-wise, a lot more price-wise). I’ve heard that the VSOP was made with a single column copper still (and was unfortunately unable to confirm it), aged for seven years in charred oak casks, from cane juice (of course) and without filtering or additives; it is presented in a bottle more reminiscent of wine or champagne, but you have to kind of admire such audacity – it sure sets it apart from the crowd.

Anyway, let’s pull it all together.  I tried this three times to see whether my opinion changed (and it didn’t), but my overall lack of passion should not entirely dissuade you: there were aspects of the rhum that worked well (the palate in particular).  My own predilection for more intricate, stronger and deeper flavours should not be seen as a blanket indictment of any rum that doesn’t conform, or which those persons with a liking for subtler, lighter rums would enjoy. This is where knowing your preferences comes in handy. Lovers of soleras, Bajan, Panamanian or Demerara rums are not likely to swoon here.  Trinis, maybe; Cubans and Jamaicans, quite likely. And people with a penchant for agricoles will probably like it – for the same reasons I couldn’t muster serious enthusiasm, in all likelihood.

Some might consider this to be like a black mongrel’s left leg – it ain’t right, and it ain’t fair – but that’s the way it is. And that’s also as it should be, because if we all agreed on everything, then all of you reading this would want to pilfer all my rums…and be in love with my wife.

Other notes:

In Europe this goes in the €60 range.  My own feeling is that if you can spare the change, go a step or three up the ladder for the Cuvee Prestige, which is a very good rhum indeed, and which I’ll look at in my next review.

 

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating on the above list is 65/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 82.5 points)

 

Jan 082015
 

D3S_9369

A rich, argicole rum of a depth and flavour I savoured for literally hours – it almost qualifies as the perfect comfort drink, and for sure it’s the best sub-10 year old rum I’ve ever tried.

(#196. 75/100)

***

Karukera in Guadeloupe is a distillery for whom I have grown to have a great deal of respect: I was not won over by their Vieux Reserve Speciale, but the 1997 Millesime was something else again, and I often drifted back to it when looking for an agricole baseline, or a control.  On the strength of that positive experience, I decided to step up and shell out for this one, partly because of the strength and partly due to the double maturation moniker, which piqued my interest.

Which is not to say that its presentation didn’t appeal to me also – I’m shallow that way, sometimes.  It may not be a top shelf super-premium rum, true, yet it did its best to raise the bar for any rum that purports to be a cut above the ordinary.  Just look at that wooden box printed with all sorts of interesting details, and the sleek bottle with its cork tip.  All very nice – it looked damned cool on my shelf. And so, my lizard brain having been catered to and placated, off I went into my tasting routine to see whether the implied quality inside the bottle was as interesting as what the outside promised.

D3S_9373D3S_9376

Which it was. Aged for six years in bourbon and then two more in french oak cognac casks, only 2000 or so bottles of honey/amber coloured rum came out at the other end, and mine presented a very interesting aspect, in spite of my having wrestled with mostly full proof pachyderms over the last few months (so 44.6% can almost be considered “standard strength” for me, these days).  Let’s just agree it was…gentler.

 Sleek salt butter, cream cheese and some brininess led right off. To say I was not expecting that would be understating the matter: the rum is made from blue cane grown on the plantation itself, and I was looking for a more standard nose of vegetal notes and some citrus.  But after letting the spirit rest in my glass for a bit, ah, there they were.  Apricots, black grapes, cloves and orange rind sidled shyly forward, to be replaced by hay and freshly mown grass.  There were some spicier oaken aromas at the back end, nothing unpleasant – in fact the whole experience was really quite excellent – a firm mix of salt, sweet, sharp, and pungent smells.

Tasting it was a rewarding experience. It was a medium bodied rum, quite smooth and warm, opening up with white flowers, and soft tanned leather.  As the nose did, some patience rewarded me with mild caramel, smoke, more leather, which in turn morphed easily into mellow tastes of mango, pears, pineapple, cinnamon, cumin, even marzipan and flavoured port-wine cigarillos (used to love those as a young man). And I was also quite impressed with the finish, which lasted quite long, warmly dusting itself off with white guavas, caramel, and half ripe pears. The rum may have caused north of a hundred Euros, but man, it was a pretty awesome drink. My mother and I shared it in her dacha in north Germany on one of the last sunny days of autumn in 2014 as my son ran barefoot on the grass blowing soap bubbles, and it was the perfect accompaniment to a really great afternoon laze-in.

D3S_9371

Karukera continues to be made by the Espérance distillery (founded in 1895) a distillery down by the Marquisat de Saint Marie in Guadeloupe, doesn’t chill filter or add anything to its rums, and proudly wears the AOC designation. I’ve been fortunate to climb the value chain of its products and each one I try raises the bar for its rums. You can be sure I’ll buy others they make in the years to come.

Personally, I’m not sure a rum so warm and friendly, yet also firm and tasty, is suitable for mixing (it was all I could do to see what a few drops of water could do, just to be complete about it) – I know I wouldn’t, on balance.  There’s a remarkable softness and overall quality to the Karukera, which, while excelling at no one thing, came together so sweetly that I honestly can’t imagine what a mix could do to enhance it. The rum is excellent as it is, and whether you like molasses spirits or agricoles (or both), there’s no doubting that here is a rum that sneaks past your defenses, hits the sweet spot of your desire for a good rum, and gives you all the love and comfort you could ever ask for. That alone may be worth all the euros I paid.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame. This one might have scored higher with a heavier body, I think (but that’s just me).
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.


(LC rating is 75/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 87.5 points

Jan 032015
 

D3S_9377

Velier has created a heated, tasty, toasty Demerara rum that in my opinion takes its place alongside the UF30E and the Skeldon 1973 as one of the best rums they have ever made.

***

(#195. 85/100)

More than “42”, here’s the answer some of the great and grand questions of the universe.  When asked by the inquiring, “What makes anything you say worth hearing?” or “Why should I sleep with you?” or “Why’s the front door smashed in?”, all you need to do is smile, shrug, and point to this rum.

Velier’s rums sometimes seem similar when described (look how many Caroni rums they’ve put out the door, for example): but their lines are unique, each one depending on its own specific characteristics, closely observed, exactingly made, powerfully executed. Any serious sojourn into the world of rum sooner or later arrives here. And this Diamond estate rum from Guyana is no exception.

As before, Velier adhered to their starkly minimalist presentation, and continued their admirable practice of providing a fair bit of information on the stiff cardboard box: fifteen years ageing in situ, metal-coffey-still distillate set to age in 1999 and bottled in 2014, with an outturn of 1137 bottles from four barrels, and a 72% angel’s share loss.  Note that the barrels in this case where charred new oak, which might be an effort to impart more and intense flavours to the distillate, in a shorter time period.

D3S_9379

If that was their intention, they sure as hell succeeded.  I thought the UF30E and the Skeldon had deep and intense aromas, but they had been aged for a century in rum years, were bottled at greater than sixty percent, and it was to be expected.  Here we had a 53.1% ABV rum aged for half as long, and yet the scents just poured and billowed out of the bottle even before I had a chance to tip some in my glass. The dark, smooth and heavy nose (which mirrored the dark, smooth and rather heavy liquid) was immediately redolent of plums and apricots, vanilla and nutmeg.  No notes of citrus here, but pineapple, and cloves, then backed up by raisins and some very faint licorice, coffee and a whiff of mocha. It had the rich, plush nasal glissades akin to the soft crumpling of your disposable income, and was the kind of nose one just wanted to continue savouring.

As for the taste, oh man, this dark red-mahogany rum jiggled the jowls and rattled the rump like a revel dancer tramping down Vlissengen Road on Mash day. It was smooth with some spice and heat (both proof and oak showed their biceps here), thick, oily, tarry, full bodied.  Licorice, smoke, vanilla (not much), raisins, black grapes, rounded out with lighter floral notes started off, darkly sweet and all-round excellent, displaying a kind of exquisite zen-like brutality I couldn’t help but appreciate. And it didn’t stop there either, but continued providing flavours of dark chocolate, coffee, hibiscus and poinsettias in full bloom, as if you were at some kind of tropical Starbuck’s. I think Velier’s tamping down the volts on this rum was the right decision – I don’t believe that a higher proofage would make this as good a dram as the current strength does…more intense, yes, but not necessarily as memorable. And closing things off, the finish was fittingly long, warm, providing that last fillip of leather and oak, smoke, red wine, licorice and anise.

D3S_9382

Honestly folks, I was impressed as hell. Just to be sure, I ran the Diamond 1999 past four other Veliers in my stash, and still it stood up damned well. It was somewhat like the Diamond 1996 (but better), and, as with the Blairmont 1991, it developed over subsequent sampling.  It rewards re-tasting and comparisons, astounds and amazes, and like my wife, grows better with time and experience.  It growls and gurgles and purrs hard love down your throat, never crosses over to malignant sharpness and bite, shows the heights to which rums can aspire when made with verve and flair and daring, and is simply one of the most phenomenal rums I’ve tried in the last two years. If after two minutes of sampling this thing you aren’t jumping around the room rocking your air guitar like my nine-year-old son and looking for online big-hair wigs, carefully peruse the mail from your insurance carrier. It might have “Deceased” stamped on it.

***

Other notes

Velier has dropped the “Full Proof Old Demerara Rum” from the labelling for some reason.

The <S> on the label relating to the marks on the barrel is obscure. Marco’s phenomenal essay on the Guyanese distilleries speculated it might be related to the diamond logo <> surrounding the single initial of the plantation’s previous 18th century owner, Samuel Welch. Or maybe that of M. Steele, another 19th century proprietor. The question remains open.

This was the second of four samples Luca Gargano sent to me personally in September of 2014 when he heard I would be in Europe in October of that year. Next time I’m out in the real world I’ll pick up a couple of bottles of my own, I think. Maybe even three or four.

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating is 85/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 92.5 points)

 

Dec 282014
 

D3S_9458

A surprising, dry, sharp and flavourful rum, yet somewhat missing of the high bar set by the Caronis made by other Italians. It’s got too many conflicting components, good in themselves, failing to cohere.

(#194. 71/100)

***

Readily available, cheaper and often excellent “everyone has one in his bar” rums dot the North American reviewing landscape, and every blogger usually begins his or her writing with such standards (European bloggers like Cyril, Marco and Henrik do not, for other reasons). Just like all film lovers eventually come to Ozu, sooner or later all us web scriveners move towards the craft bottlers, and with good reason. These makers take a select set of barrels from a particular country, a favoured distillery — even a specific still — and then lovingly tend the result without the problems of mass producing massive amounts of rum for an export market. These are almost always – and probably always will be – somewhat niche products, created for the rabid, not the mainstream, and alas, they tend to be pricey, if available at all. I think it’s a crime that more of this craft stuff doesn’t come over the water…even Renegade Rums are a vanishing breed over the pond. Add to that that this is a Caroni, and that says all that needs to be said as to why I bought it (for €80).

Depending on how you order the words on the label, this rum is called “Silver Seal Fine Caroni Heavy Rum 1997” with an additional moniker “Wildlife series No. 2” which relates to the label illustration of “Red, Blue and Yellow Macaws” by Harro Maas (several other Silver Seal rums have such designs). Given that it was marked as being bottled in 2011 on the label, then it is a 14 year old rum, even if it is not stated outright as being such; and like many other independent bottlers, they diluted the rum with distilled water down to 46%.  Black tipped cork on a standard barroom bottle, which held a golden-brown rum inside.

As I noted before with the Bristol Spirits and Barangai Caronis, there were certain things I expected from the rum, and here I found some of them returning like well-regarded, familiar friends on holiday, others not.  The nose started off somewhat lightly, with cherries and white flowers, but after just a few minutes the heavier flavours began to marshall their attack: tar, leather and smoke began, with estery wax and rubber notes of squishing wellies charging in later.  It was hot and spicy throughout – somewhat surprising for a rum of such relatively modest proofage.  And yet, as I stuck with it (and re-tasted later), the sweet flowers returned, accompanied by aromatic soap, citrus and – get this! – bubble gum.  A bit light, overall, and very rich in complexity and flavour.

No milquetoast rum this, it displayed real heft and weight to the taste.  Salty, briny and spicy, with tar, jute rice bags and heavy burnt sugar notes present, without the rum ever actually becoming sweet. Oak and smoke abounded, plus black dripping engine oil from a leak under your car, cooking on the asphalt on a really hot day.  Alas, these notes on the palate did not reach the high standard set by the initial scent. Adding some water didn’t quite rescue it, but did allow other flavours of vanilla and green olives to emerge.  The rather lacklustre finish of salted peanuts, butter and caramelized sugar was more of a question mark than an exclamation point on a unique rum which didn’t come together properly – I think too many interesting and complex flavours were at work (and querulously interfering with each other) for me to really love it. The nose was great, the palate pretty good and the finish just…meh. In a way it was a kinda crazy amalgam of taste impressions, not all of it succeeding as it should.

D3S_9459

Silver Seal is a bottler much in the vein of Velier, Rum Nation and others, if perhaps older (they were formed in 1979 and named “Sestante” before being renamed in 2001 after a ten year operational hiatus): like them, it bottles casks sourced and aged with attention to detail, from all over the world; like them, it is based in Italy; unlike Velier it does dampen down the natural exuberance of the cask, perhaps to appeal to a broader audience.  Its website gives equal, if not more prominence, to whisky (drat!), which I have to admit may not be all bad – love of the product does not blind me to the fact that flogging rums in the shops of the world can be an uphill slog, so if their whisky sales allow them to continue producing rums, well, that’s all good.

Summing up, I enjoyed the rum, just not as much as other Caronis I went through in series that day. This one is a shade too dry and salty – and maybe harsh – in comparison to those.  Oh, it’s a country mile ahead of cheaper and more available Trini rums, and there’s no denying its complexity (and the taste which single malt Islay lovers will really drool over) — so points for its technique there.

But you see, when people want to know about a particular rum, they’re after something quite specific. They never ask questions like, “Is the bouquet transcendent?” Or “is the palate sublime?” Or “is this a rum to share with friends, to show my personal sophistication?”

What they do want to know is, “Is it any good?” That’s what they always ask. And what they really mean by that, is “Is it good for the price?”

So for what I paid, I can’t tell you with a straight face that the Silver Seal Caroni 1997 is extraordinarily remarkable, an undiscovered masterpiece, a da Vinci among rums.  But I can make the case that for the money you spend, you’ll have a fascinating and intriguing time…as long as you accept that the overall profile is less that of a well balanced rum than that of a smorgasbord of great individual bits and pieces, that somehow fail to communicate with the mothership.

***

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating is 71/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 85.5 points)

Dec 132014
 

D3S_8931

A tasty, svelte, supple rum like this brings home the point of how widespread the world of rum is, how we are too often satisfied with too little, and why should demand more. Even at 40%, this rum is quite a drinking experience.

(#193. 70/100)

Réunion? Quick, place that on a map.

Casting around for something to look at to close out 2014, I settled on this sprightly and supple forty percenter.  This was not just because I wanted to cast a geographically wider net (though this is also true) – but because when you see a good rum, you really want to toot its horn a bit. While I’m no longer as stuck with loving only 40% rums as I used to be, there’s no reason for me to deny this rum its rightful plaudits.  It’s good.

Appearance wise, I had no objections. Stiff cardboard box, round shouldered bottle, plastic tipped cork, all holding within them a golden-brown spirit with tints of red. It certainly smelled great, when I poured it out. For a rum as relatively lacking in oomph (compared to some of the Tiger Bay toughs I’ve been getting mugged by over the last months), the 40% ABV was really kind of fun.  It was…well, zippy.  Happy.  It was zesty, light, clear and vegetal.  I don’t know why, but I kept thinking of daisies, spring picnics on a green sunlit meadow somewhere.  The rum felt like it was frolicking over the nose.  Nothing heavy here, only scents of orange peel, sweet fresh sap, vanilla, light white flower petals dried between the leaves of an old book; guava and sugar cane and fresh mown grass after a light rain.

That same cheerful sprightliness was also evident on the palate.  There were a few references that stated the core distillate was made from molasses, yet it is remarkable how the overall taste was light, and what clarity it displayed: it seemed to be more of an agricole than anything else. Those same easy-going floral notes carried over, and here the ageing was more evident – baked candied apples, ginger, baking spices, vanilla and sweet wooden notes, very well done.  Adding anything to this is pointless because it has a delicacy to it that would be rent apart by anything but the mildest of mixing agents – even water dilutes it too much.  As for the fade, it was medium long, pleasantly aromatic, and tickled your tonsils rather than trying to skewer them.  All in all, a lovely très vieux with a little bit of bite to let you know it was there, and not to be taken as an underproof. You could almost imagine it wearing shades and a Hawaiian shirt on a beach somewhere, watching the tide come in.

The Grande Réserve is a blend of rums aged six years or more in Limousin barrels, and well put together – one hardly tasted smoke and tannins and leather of any kind. It hails from the island of Réunion, which is located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar.  Although originally settled by the Portuguese, by the 16th Century, it was taken over by the French, and these days is a French Department. Because of that, it is considered part of France, as if it was right on the mainland, and therefore also part of the Eurozone.

Réunion has quite a pedigree with respect to rum.  Sugar has always and traditionally been the chief agricultural export crop, and the first stills were brought by the French to the Island as far back as 1704; in 1815  the first modern distillery set up by Charles Panon-Desbassyns and coincided with the start of large-scale sugar-production, which took up just about all the sugar-cane harvested.  The production of local ‘arack’ (or ‘sugar brandy’, produced from sugar-cane juice) was limited to production from the residue of sugar manufacture. The number of distilleries fluctuated from six in 1842 to thirty one in 1928, down to one during the second world war, and three presently: Savanna, Rivière du Mât and Isautier. All three produce the most famous brand of the island: Rhum Charrette. The other well-known brands of these distilleries are Savanna rums, which is a brand that consists of more than 12 different rums (and there I was, grumbling about the seven rums in Ocean’s Atlantic edition, remember?), the Rivière du Mât, Isautier, Chatel, Varangues and Belle-Vue rums.

All in all, then, this is a rum that is light, easygoing and an absolute pleasure to drink neat. As an entry level vieux, it may be a tough ‘un to beat.  I can’t wait to write about the XO by the same company: that one is also good, but also more pricey.  If you’re looking for something off the beaten track, with a taste all its own, not too expensive, with aromatic, clear and slightly fruity notes, then this is as good a rum to buy as any others…others which may be more available and perhaps better known in the bars of the west than Rivière-du-Mât’s rum — but not necessarily better.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating is 70/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 85 points)

 

Dec 092014
 

D3S_8858

This is the second in a series of about six Caroni rums which I bought in mid-2014. It’s a solidly impressive rum, and quite a sophisticated, tasty bruiser.

(#192. 73/100)

Barangài?  What the hell is this? I asked myself, when scouring the online shoppes to come up with another Caroni perhaps worthy of purchase.  I found out that the word is not a title or the maker’s name (as I had initially surmised) but refers to an old descriptor used by the islanders for ships of medium capacity: I suppose a caravel, or a carrack, or a ballinger would be as good a title.  But never mind: it had a nice ring to it, a whiff of salt and seaspray and yohohos, and for that I gave in and bought it. On such small matters do the purchase of rums sometimes hang.

Caroni’s older, pre-1990s stocks are the stuff of legend and tall tales: I often joke that you’re more likely to find a unicorn than one of those.  However, in the past years, I noted that a number of bottlers are now issuing 1990s-era rums, so we may be entering into something of a golden age for this mothballed estate, where availability and price aren’t too far divergent (though they are still pricey, I hasten to add, since just about all are made by independent bottlers).

Pellegrini SA, a craft bottler out of Italy about which I have heard nothing much before now (mea culpa, not theirs), sourced this 52% full proof from 1997 stocks – which, given the big fat “16” on the label, meant that it was bottled in 2013.  They made a point of noting it had no additives, no filtration, and less than seven hundred bottles exist.  Now, they also mentioned that it was aged  and imported by them, but I was unable to find out how much of the ageing was done in situ, and how much in Europe – though I suspect at the very least, the final sherrywood cask finish was done in Italy.

D3S_8866

Sixteen years of ageing in two kinds of barrels certainly had its influence: the rum poured out in a dark-brown, almost-but-not-quite mahogany, and displayed the thick, slow legs of a sweaty steel band player banging away up Laventille Hill. The initial aromas were excellent, complex to a fault: cedar, oak, flowers, some fruitiness, orange peel, baking spices were right in the forefront, intense but not a liquid sword to the nose. In fact, for a 52% rum, I felt it to be impressively soft after the initial alcohol sting faded away – that sherry cask influence muting and smoothening things out, perhaps. I should also note that here was a rum rewarding some patience – it got better as it rested and opened up, showing off further musty and tarry scents, some smoke and leather, and I kept thinking of old-time sealing wax burning on paper.  In its own special way it reminded me somewhat of the Bristol Spirits 1974 Caroni, though not quite at that level of quality.

On the palate – heaven. Here’s a rum (one of many) displaying what I’ve liked about Caronis from the get go: it was medium bodied, both lightly sweet and briny, like crackers covered in honey, or toast and cream cheese: a liquid breakfast, if you will.  Again, fruity sherry notes, citrus zest, flowers, hyacinth, licorice and hot black tar.  And dry.  It is actually (and surprisingly) more intense in the mouth than the nose would lead you to expect, a bit more spicy than those accustomed to rums bottled at standard strength might prefer – but by no means unpleasant, just something to watch out for.  The fade was as good as the beginning, pleasantly long, a bit dry, with honey, corn flakes and some burnt notes of both tar and brown sugar. The “Barangài” moniker may have little to do with the rum, and may have been named for a medium sized ship, but I’ll tell you, title aside, the rum had the mad grace of a clipper with a full spread of sails, doing the transatlantic run in record time.  I really enjoyed it.

A few notes on the maker: the Italian company Pellegrini S.A. has been around since the very early 1900s (if not even before that), located close to Milan, and has been primarily known for wines, both as a distributor and a producer.  However, as well as being a general spirits distributor, they do indulge in their own rum bottling, and their private stock has several of the Barangai Caronis, as well as Demerara, Jamaican and Bajan rums.  In this sense they act much as Samaroli, Silver Seal, Fassbind, Velier and Rum Nation do – as independent bottlers who are so commonly found in Europe, but hardly so in North America (to that regions’s detriment).

I’ve remarked before on how good the Caroni distillate is.  If a slightly heavier, clear and tart mixing rum is your thing, this one might in fact work better for you than the somewhat more elemental Veliers, or even Bristol Spirits.  Perhaps it’s something to do with the Italian sunshine, or its age.  Still, with this particular Caroni rum and its sherry finish, I believe I can say with some justification, that it’s an excellent purchase, and won’t disappoint for the seventy five Euros or its equivalent that you would shell out to snag it.

 

Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

 

(LC rating = 73/100; conversion to “standard” scoring = 86.5 points)

Dec 052014
 

D3S_8985

A Japanese pot still rum of clout and flavour, perhaps needing some more ageing to score better and reach a wider audience.

(#191. 65/100)

***

In five years of writing about rum, I’ve seen quite a few new rum-making enterprises come across my radar: Elements, Koloa, Downslope, Ocean’s readily spring to mind.  Now they are joined by a new outfit called Nine Leaves, which may be unique in that it’s a distillery, a bottler, and a distributor, all run by one person: Mr. Yoshiharu Takeuchi, who operates in the Shiga Prefecture of Japan (the company was formed in 2013).

At this point in time in their existence, Nine Leaves makes three rums: a white (called “Clear”), and two “Angel’s Half” rums – perhaps so named because Mr. Takeuchi takes half of his distillate and ages it for six months in fresh American oak barrels, and the other half for the same period in French oak.  It was the latter which I tried, largely because I was quite enamoured of the golden colour and its viscosity as it rolled down the tasting glass (not the best reason for trying a new rum, but I’ve done worse for really stupid reasons, so this almost classes as sober judgement on my part).

Speaking to Mr. Takeuchi revealed the following facts about him and his rum, which, much like the Ocean’s Atlantic edition 1997 I looked at not too long ago, is something of a labour of individual love: he’s a one man operation, who brought the distillery to life when nothing in his past (or that of his family) would suggest such a thing.  The sugar originated from Okinawa, the water used came from an underground spring in Shiga.  The barrels came from the US and France, and a Forsythe copper pot still was bought in Scotland.

So once again I was sampling a pot still product, bottled at a full proof 50%, and the theory of terroire having a detectable impact on the final product was put through its paces. Now pot stills preserve a large part of the flavour of the distillate and this bleeds over even after substantial ageing which itself adds extra layers of complexity – but with only a six month period, was it all enough?

D3S_8989

I thought so…to a point. Consider the aromas hailing from the golden-hued rum: sharp and estery, light raisins and figs, salt biscuits, butter…and all those attendant scents of rubber and wax polish, even some fresh sawn woodchips, like one was entering a brand new house fresh from the builders and still in the plastic wrapper. There were some faint background notes of caramel and vanilla, but these were waiting for a turn on the stage that didn’t materialize until the actual tasting.

Which was pleasantly intense, as befitted a 50% rum, and this is where I think some more time in the barrels might have improved the product. It was a firm, medium-bodied-verging-on-light rum, which retained some of that sharp peppery consistency of the nose; the caramel notes now came forward, incense sticks, biscuits, vanilla, coffee; and yes, the waxy, rubber tastes were there, as well as green herbs – dill, maybe (no, really). A very very original palate, fading well into a clean exit of some length, redolent of cane juice, a touch of vanilla, and a last mischievous wink of coffee grounds.

Still, unlike the Rum Nation Jamaican White Pot Still 57%, the Angel’s Half French Oak Cask somehow missed the mark of having all these flavours blend together seamlessly (and that other one, you will recall, was utterly unaged); plus, it still feels a little too raw, which I imagine further ageing would iron out.  Yet I must concede the overall experience was pretty good, which speaks well for Nine Leaves’s expertise here.

The question that occurred to me was, for whom and for what is this rum made? I’d suggest it’s not for freshly press-ganged sailors in the Navy of Rum Appreciation, who are only now beginning their journey, or those who prefer more standard profiles – it really is too different for that. I think it’ll make a cocktail that’ll blow your socks off, and taken neat, with its heft and remarkably different, fresh profile, aficionados who drink a lot of rum would really enjoy it (as might maltsters).

Nine Leaves is worth keeping an eye on. Mr. Takeuchi is clear about his intention of keeping his distillery going for the long term, ageing the rums for longer periods, and developing his blending skills, his market, and his entire product range. He sees his enterprise as something of a constantly tweaked, incrementally refined project. That’ll surely be something to watch, in the years to come, for a rum maker who seems to enjoy running apart from the mainstream. Because already he has a made a good rum right out of the gate — one you will assuredly not mistake for any other.

 

Other notes

Forsythe copper pot stills are made in Scotland by the eponymous company, and while it’s now a smaller part of their overall business, they still handcraft them (as they have since 1890).  Nine Leaves’s model is supposedly similar to the one in business at Glenmorangie.

LC Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

LC Score = 65/100. Conversion to “standard” scoring = 82.5 points)

Dec 012014
 

D3S_8969

 

If strength and atavism are your things, the Jamaica Pot Still 57% won’t disappoint; a shot or two of this, and you’ll feel your nostrils dilate as you search around for a stone to bash a rhino with, before eating a freshly-caught, still-twitching deer. It’s that intense.

(#190. 72/100)

The 57% pot still Jamaican rum from Rum Nation represents a departure for the company in a number of ways (not including the bottle shape, introduced for the 2014 season).  It is the first rum the company has produced that is over 100 proof, and it is the first white rum they’ve ever made.  Long accepting that the Supreme Lord series from Jamaica is one of their best made rums, I was intrigued to see where this one was coming from, and what it was like. Though if experience has taught me anything, it’s that any white full- or over-proof rum should be approached with some caution…no matter who makes it.

Presentation was fine: cork, plastic tipped, solid, all good. I liked RN’s new fat squat bottle with broad shoulders, and appreciated the simple label design (always loved those British Empire stamps – I used to collect them in my boyhood, much as Fabio did).  And in the bottle, that clear liquid so reminiscent of DDL’s Superior High Wine, J. Wray’s white overproof, or any local white lightning made for the backdam workers, innocent looking, inviting…and appropriately well-endowed. I can just see the boys in Trenchtown (or my father’s friends in Lombard Street) sipping this neat in cheap plastic tumblers, calling for a bowl ‘ice, the dominos and taking the rest of the week off.

This rum was absolutely in a class of its own, for good and ill. It snarled. It growled on the nose, as if it had been stuffed with diced sleeping leopards; it packed a solid punch, even on the initial sniff. Yes I’d been on a full proof bender for some time, but this rum’s nasal profile was something way out to lunch. It was so…full. Full of grass, lemon peel, fresh sap bleeding from a mango tree.  It didn’t stop there, but opened into tar, licorice, cinnamon…and then did a radical left turn and dived into the smells of aniseed oil, fresh furniture polish…even glue, like an UHU stick. I mean…wtf?

At 57% you could expect it to be strong, spicy, peppery…and it was.  Sweet, too (I wasn’t expecting that). The mouthfeel was remarkable, not entirely smooth, yet not a blast of sandpaper either – in fact, rather pleasant in its own way, if you factor out the proofage, and heavier bodied than you’d have any right to expect. Cinnamon, crushed leaves, that wood polish again, followed by a briny note akin to black olives, and the scent of a capadulla vine bleeding watery sap. As for the fade: excellent, long lasting, flavourful – it was the gift that kept on giving, with closing notes of green tea and glue and unripe bananas. This is a rum that you absolutely should try on its own just to see how nutso a pot still rum can be when a maker lets the esters go off the reservation.  I mean, I drank it at the RumFest and bottles trembled on their shelves and drinkers’ sphincters clenched involuntarily. The rum is badass to a fault.

D3S_8971

The thing is, for all its eccentricity, the thing is damned well made. I liked it a lot.  I always got the impression that in the main, white rums – the really strong ones, the 151s, not the tame Bacardi mixers and their ilk – are really lesser efforts, indifferently tossed off by their makers in between more serious work, and often not widely or aggressively marketed internationally, known more to barkeeps than barflies.  Rum Nation in contrast, and judging by this one, took the same time to develop this rum as they have in many of their other products, and with the same seriousness.  That’s what makes the difference, I believe, and why I score it rather well.

So, summing up, then: a shudderingly original piece of work from La Casa di Rossi.  A set of strong, clear tastes and scents. It’s a white, clear, savage, full proof which is redolent of new furniture and fresh chopped cane, and which can be drunk on its own without inflicting permanent damage.  I think we should appreciate this one. Because the Jamaica Pot Still is an absolute riot of a drink — a rum to have when you want something that marries the sumptuousness of Italian art to the braddar fun-loving insouciance of a West Indian at a really good, and very loud, bottom-house party.

 

Other notes:

  1. Capadulla is an arm-thick jungle vine, which, if you chop it, spouts an enormous amount of watery sap, and is used by bushmen in Guyana as a source of water. Of course, it has its reputation as an aphrodisiac too.
  2. The rum originates from the parish of St Catherine in south eastern Jamaica, which likely means the Worthy Park Estate.  No ageing at all. The profile suggests where the core distillate of the 26 Year Old Supreme Lord originates.
  3. Rum Nation intends to issue future iterations of the rum that will be progressively aged.
  4. Fabio Rossi’s intent here was to make a high ester spirit that was specifically not a grappa.

LC Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating = 72/100.  Conversion to “standard” scoring = 86 points)

Nov 262014
 

D3S_8929

A remarkably well balanced and tasty rum from the Indian Ocean

(#189. 75/100)

***

In spite of the prevailing belief that rums are Caribbean almost by definition, it’s axiomatic that many other nations and regions produce them.  Over the years I’ve found that the most readily identifiable and distinctive (I don’t say “best”) products, products that have a flavour profile all their own, usually hail from some distant part of the world where climatic and soil conditions are far removed from the norm: consider, for example the Bundaberg, the Old Monk, or even the Tanduay.  Now sure, flavourings are sometimes added to the mix with the heedlessness of Emeril chucking spices…but not always.  Sometimes it’s just the terroire.

Such a one is the Rhum Vieux Millésimé 1998 ten year old, made and bottled in Madagascar from locally grown cane and molasses, offered at 45% in a bottle that is rather amusingly wrapped in a banana leaf (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).  This is a rhum that won a gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in 2012, and is one lovely piece of work.

Take for starters, the initial nose: brown sugar, coffee and mocha, straight off, very smooth and inviting – 45% was a good strength for this rum.  I looked at the labelling again with some surprise – was this a spiced rum and they forgot to mention it?  Nope.  What you got was it. It was followed by vanilla, cloves, nutmeg and a soft background of bananas, all quite unaggressive and easygoing.  There was even some vague vegetal note there after a bit, almost imperceptible.

The palate broke little new ground, simply built on that excellent lead-in: more vanilla (not enough to make me suspicious about flavouring, yet I couldn’t dismiss the thought entirely), coffee, burnt sugar, nougat.  Fried sweet bananas (I loved those as a kid), nuts, peaches.  This rum was lovely, just lovely – soft and warm and exactly strong enough for what it was – a higher proof might have made it too spicy.  There was even, after a few minutes and a drop of water, leather and the sweet perfume of aromatic cigarillos.  Some ground walnuts rounded out the profile.  The finish was surprisingly short, yet still that warmth persisted, and closing notes of white pepper, smoke and those walnuts again.

These tasting notes sound utterly conventional, don’t they? Yet they’re not, not really – the balance of the vegetal notes and vanilla and nuts and sweetness of bananas popping in oil is not at all like the Caribbean rums with which many of us are familiar; I imagine some of this taste profile comes from the Pernod Ricard barrels shipped to Madagascar to age this rum the requisite ten years; but perhaps equal credit comes from the cane itself and the environment in which it is made.

Dzama rum is made by Vidzar, one of those local companies like Banks DIH in Guyana, or Clarke’s Court in Grenada, which have a rather larger visibility in their home country than they do abroad (this may change as they expand their markets). The company was formed in 1982 due to the efforts of Mr. Lucien Fohine, who noted that the small sugar factory on the tiny island of Nosy Be produced a distillate that had distinctive flavours which persisted into the final distilled products…mostly low level rum for local consumption, to that point. After some investigation, he concluded it came from the ylang-ylang plant (also known as the macassar oil plant, or the perfume tree) whose roots intermingled with that of the cane. (If this rum is an example of the flavour holdover, he may be on to something, though I’m ambivalent about the science behind that).

In an attempt to distill a decent rum to elevate the craft of his island, he formed a company Vidzar (a contraction of Vieux Rhum de Dzamandzar), located close to the sugar cane fields of Nosy Be, by a village called Dzamadzar. The company makes a range of rums for sale, including the Dzama Club, 3 YO and 6 YO, the Dzama XV 15 year old and Cuvée Noire (untried by me) and is starting to sell in the European market. This particular ten year old was aged in the aforementioned Pernod Ricard barrels and was distilled in 1998 but the date itself is just a marker, not a commemoration of anything special (the current ten year old on the company site is the 2000 Millésimé) – I’ll hazard a guess that it was a series of barrels set aside by the master blender as simply being of higher quality.

I’ve remarked before that one rum does not sink a brand, or define it – yet I have to be honest and say that a bad one tends to make me leery about approaching others in the range, while conversely, a good one makes me enthusiastic to do so – that’s human nature.  With this excellent rum hailing from a region I’ve not tried before, whose profile is remarkably distinctive and far from unpleasant, I’m pretty stoked to see what else Dzama has in the larder the next time I get a chance to buy one.  You could do worse than trying some yourself…and this one would be an excellent place to start.

***

LC Rating system (0-100)

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them).  Avoidance may be recommended.
  • 51-60 Not meant as a sipping spirit. Makes a good cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat, or mix it up, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant (or original) notes that can still make a good cocktail. Can be shared without shame.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things. Could be awesome for reasons of originality alone.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds on every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey. Never seen one myself.

(LC rating = 75/100.  Conversion to “standard” scoring = 87.5 points)