Nov 202014
 

D3S_8850

 

A rum potentially seventeen years old, undone by trying to be all things to all drinkers.

(#188 / 63/100)

***

Ocean’s Rum Atlantic Limited Edition 1997 is made (or at least aged) in the Canary Islands, not the first place you’d think about when considering a rum of any kind.  Probably thinking that less was not more, and more might be good enough, the makers came up with this rather startling combo of components hailing from seven (yes, seven) different rum-making locations, and trotted out the 43% result as the “Atlantic” Limited Edition (the meaning of the 1997 is unclear).  I imagine that this must have read really well on paper when it was being sold to the roneros in the front line.

The bottom-heavy, tapering bottle had a label with an astrolabe printed on it, harking back to the old maritime days of yore.  The rum itself was a blend of already-aged rums that were between 15-21 years old, and hailing from Bodegas Pedro Oliver (Domincan Republic – it’s not mentioned on the label in error), Foursquare (Barbados), DDL (Guyana), Trinidad Distillers (T&T), Worthy Park Distillers (Jamaica), Distilerie de Gallion (Martinique), and Travellers (Belize).  Quite an assortment, I thought.  The rums were blended and then aged for a further two years in barrels that held red wine from Spain (Somontano), blended some more, allowed to rest for a further year and then run off into 5,432 numbered bottles in June of 2013.  I’d like to point out that this is not a one-off either – Ocean’s has a similar limited edition “Pacific” rum (including stock from Fiji), and an “Indian” rum (with some rum from Swaziland added too), which suggests a company ethos of having at least one rum from out of left field included in their blends.

Now, having come at rums from a perspective of clearly defined styles as well as specific countries, I confess to being somewhat doubtful (if intrigued) about the philosophy of mixing the darker Guyanese rums with funkier Jamaican ones, the softer style of Barbados and Belize, mixing in a Dominican, throwing in Trinidad’s odd tang, and finally adding an agricole into the mix as well – it just flies in the face of experience, is all.  Intriguing, yes…but successful? I guess that depends on the drinker.

Take for example, the nose on this 43%, mahogany-red coloured rum. Caramel, peaches, brown sugar, rye bread and butter – a shade briny, pleasant. Further notes of faint honey, coffee and coconut presented after a while. All in all, while decent, it was not out-of-the-canefield special for a €75 purchase (I expected more) and frankly, I thought the aroma was undernourished, perhaps a shade thin, like Steve Rogers before he buffed up.

Which is not to say the whole experience was unpleasant; the palate was quite generous in this regard: caramel, peaches, brown sugar presented first, with more of that faintly briny undertone.  It’s smooth enough and sweet enough (perhaps too much so).  Here I could detect some of the components as well – licorice and raisins, more coconut and honey, a flirt of cinnamon, softer honey notes, a very tiny backend of citrus and oak.  At 43% some of the intensity of flavour was lost; and I should remark on the overall lightness and cleanliness of the taste.  The finish was reasonable, exiting with closing notes of cinnamon and caramel, and a bit of citrus peel. Yet somehow I was left feeling dissatisfied.  The softer flavours did not mesh well with the sharper ones of oak and citrus, and the coconut was a less than perfect match-up with the licorice.

D3S_8857

Ocean’s is a new outfit based in Zaragoza, Spain, beginning its life in 2012. As is common with relative newcomers, their website is long on products and marketing, and short on history (something I personally enjoy, others probably not so much).  Essentially they are an independent bottler, but with ambition: they have ageing warehouses the Ayala Valley (Basque Country, Spain) and La Palma Island  in the Canaries. They have various seven year old rums, the limited editions, and some craft stocks from Jamaica, Trinidad and other places.  So you can tell these boys mean business and want to be around for the long haul.

Anyway, my opinion: overall, on taste and nosing elements and on the finish, the rum will please a lot of people and it’s a decent all round drink that need not be mixed if you don’t want to. It works…to a point. As I noted above, the balance of the various components doesn’t really gel for me, though;  all the dancers were on the stage, yes…they just weren’t all doing the same ragtime, so to speak.

There’s no denying that Ocean’s, afire with enthusiasm and brimming with confidence, threw away the safety gear, took a deep breath, and ran full speed and headfirst into the wall.  You can’t help but admire that.  But admiration aside, a cold and unemotional taste of this premium-touted Atlantic edition leaves me wishing they had exhibited just a bit more restraint, been more ruthlessly selective. And not quite so heedlessly assembled such a smorgasbord of rums, which ended up being somewhat (and unfortunately) less than the sum of its parts.

 Posted by on November 20, 2014 at 7:34 am
Nov 062014
 

D3S_9071

Don’t bash the bat until you’ve given this rum a fair shot.  Because it’s damned good.

(#187 / 74/100)

***

Many – myself among them – believe that one of Bacardi’s more unappreciated rums is the 8-year-old, and I’d argue the Reserva Limitada joins the club…and even dials it up a few notches.

The company may sell more rum than anyone else, has enormous (and heavily criticized) tax breaks and subsidies to keep its costs down, is a global juggernaut of the entry-level rums, but at the upper end of the scale has a real bad rep with rum lovers who just disdain it. So if Bacardi wanted to break into the rarefied realms of stratospherically-priced premium rums lovingly issued by craft bottlers, they did well with this one.  And yet, many who taste this rum will express their “surprise,” and how “unexpected” it is.  But it shouldn’t be: one can’t be in the rum making business for over a hundred years and not pick up something, right.  The real mystery is what took so damned long, and why they can’t do better.

Still,  let’s just move away from any preconceptions we might have regarding the brand, and simply address what I tasted that day: a dark amber rum in a standard bottle (I didn’t see a box, but a quick search confirms it comes with one) bottled at — what is now, for me — a mild 40%. (Interestingly enough, while I meant it when I said dark amber, some photographs online suggest a lighter colour, almost honey-like).  The nose demonstrated a solid, creamy nose of coconut, some fruit, burnt sugar, even nougat… and a touch of mischief thrown in via a flirt of lemon peel.  Some clove and cinnamon danced around there after opening up.  It was well done: there was nothing truly exciting or freakishly adventurous about it — it probably wouldn’t be a Bacardi if it exhibited such traits — just seamless quality.

Same for the taste. Soft, smooth, sweet, it was a baby’s drowsy kiss to your palate.  It was a really good melange of coconut shavings, banana, almonds, caramel, raisins, honey, some allspice and cinnamon; even some freshly baked bread.  Barely any smoke and leather or tannins from the ageing. I’m hoping that they didn’t cram sugar into the thing to smoothen it out – that would be a real shame (yet I can’t rid myself of the thought). The mouthfeel at 40% held to that unwarlike temper to which I had become accustomed in my recent enjoyable battles with full-proofs – gentle and easygoing, almost creamy, with merely a nip of the alcohol bite, far from unpleasant.  As for the fade, pretty decent for a mere 40% offering – soft and lasting, with all those rich scents taking their bow before departing.

D3S_9072

Bacardi does this so very well: they don’t seek the edge of the envelope, they don’t shoot for the stars, they don’t go off the reservation.  They simply, day in and day out, make rums that are cut above the ordinary for their age, type and price point. Okay, the cost for this rum is pushing it for the masses that drink and move the brand by the tankerload, yet it must be conceded that it’s being marketed as a premium rum, and so perhaps a different audience is being sought.

This rum apparently hailed from stocks which were reserved for the founder’s family, and were released rarely – commercial production began in 2003, and one supposedly had to go to Puerto Rico to get any, up until 2010 when it began to be released more widely.  Varying online sources mention that the age of the blends comprising the rum is 12-18 years and averaged 16 years (one noted that this average is now 12 years, another said 15) and aged in lightly charred American oak.  The 2010 press release noted 10-16 years. I found it enormously irritating that the Bacardi website itself didn’t mention a damned thing about it. What does it say about a marketing strategy in today’s world, that you get the most information from re-sellers, online shops and hobby sites, rather than from the actual manufacturers?

In the end, whatever the background material (or lack of it) says, I must confess that Bacardi’s Reserva Limitada is quite something: it’s neither a cult object, nor a brave miss nor even a “flawed masterpiece”.  It is, indeed, a solidly excellent rum, well made, carefully put together, showing real care and attention —  I enjoyed it a lot. And if it is, at 40%, a little to weak for my own personal taste these days, it sure won’t let down legions of its drinkers, who might just be encouraged by this review to pony up the coin which the bottle will cost them – or at least for the cost of a shot in a bar somewhere.  In that case, I honestly don’t think they’ll be disappointed.

 D3S_9071-001

Other notes

Bacardi’s strategy mystifies me.  The rum is a blend limited to 8,000 bottles per year, which many boutique makers would be proud to issue: and as noted, it’s a very good rum, great for sipping. My question is, why blend it at all?  Why not issue an age-specific or even a year-specific rum and ratchet up the advertising to tout its uniqueness?  What’s with the anaemic 40% – this thing could easily be a shade stronger and deliver more punch. And then really earn its “premium” cachet.

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Raw, brutish, unsubtle. Deficient in nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 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, as your tastes go
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. Almost nothing wrong here, and good for many things.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch this. It’s great.
  • 90+ Succeeds n every level – aesthetic, appearance, nose, taste, finish, the lot. Phenomenal, top-of-the-line. Almost guaranteed to be pricey.
 Posted by on November 6, 2014 at 1:16 am
Oct 292014
 

D3S_8870

This is the first review in a set of about six which deals with Caroni rums.  I’m unabashedly starting with the oldest, which is a top-notch rum with few disappointments and flashes of greatness underpinning a rock solid performance. 

(#186 / 78/100)

***

Even before heading to Europe in October 2014, I resolved to sample what I could from the now-defunct Caroni distillery in Trinidad which regrettably closed in 2002.  Part of this is simply curiosity, mixed with a collector’s avarice…but also the high opinion I formed years ago when I tried the A.D. Rattray 1997 edition, and was an instant convert.  Alas, in these hard times, the only place one can get a Caroni is from boutique bottlers, most of whom are in Europe…and that’ll cost you.  I can’t actually remember a single example of the line I ever saw in Calgary, aside from the aforementioned ADR.

Bristol Spirits is one of the craft makers whose products are usually worth a try — remember the awesome PM 1980 that even the Maltmonster liked, much to his everlasting embarrassment? They have a series spanning many islands and lands, and so who can blame me for buying not only an impressively aged rum, but one from a distillery whose auctioned-off stocks diminish with each passing year.

It must be said I enjoy – no other words suffices – the labelling of Bristol Spirits’ beefy barroom bottles. That cheerfully psychedelic colour scheme they use is just too funky for words (as an example, note the fire engine red of the PM 1980). This rum may be one of the oldest Caronis remaining in the world still available for sale, joining Velier’s similarly aged full proof version from the same year.  And as with that company’s products, Bristol maintains that it was entirely aged in the tropics. It was a mahogany rum, shot with hints of red, quite attractive in a glass.

D3S_8873

In crude terms of overall profile, Bajans can be said to have their bananas, Guyanese licorice and dried fruit, Jamaicans citrus peel;  and Caronis too are noted for a subtly defining characteristic in their rums: tar.  This was apparent right upon opening the bottle (plastic tipped cork on a two hundred euro purchase…oh well) – it wasn’t just some unripe guavas, tobacco and softer floral aromas, but an accompanying undertone of said tar that was a (fortunately unobtrusive) mixture of brown cigarette residue and the way a road smells in really hot weather after having been freshly done with hot top by the road crew.  After opening up for several minutes, while this core remained (and it was far from unpleasant, really), it was replaced by an overarching toffee and nougat background.  A very pleasant nose, with not enough wood influence to mar it.

On the plate, superb.  Smooth and pleasant, some spiciness there, mostly warm and inviting – it didn’t try to ignite your tonsils. BS issued this at a we’re-more-reasonable-than-Velier strength of 46% which seems to be a happy medium for the Scots when making rum – but intense enough, and quite a bit darker and more intense than the Bristol Spirits 1989 version I had on hand. Salty, tarry, licorice and burnt sugar. Black olives. More tar – yeah, a lot more like hottop, but not intrusive at all. About as thick as some of the Port Mourants and Enmores I’ve tried recently.  As with other Caroni rums I sampled in tandem that day, while a lot more seemed to happen on the nose, it was actually the overall taste and mouthfeel that carried the show. After the initial tastes moved on, I added some water and made notes on caramel and crackers, dried raisins, and a little nuttiness I’d have liked more of. Perhaps a little unexceptional exit, after the good stuff that preceded it: it took its time, giving back more of that caramel and nutty aftertaste I enjoyed. Honestly, overall? – a lovely sipping experience.

Every now and then, I run across a rum that for its maker, its age, its provenance, and my feeling (or hope) for its quality, I just gotta have, sometimes beyond all reason.  The first was the English Harbour 1981 25 year old. The near legendary Skeldon 1973 comes to mind, and the G&M Longpond 58 year old was another. This one, from 1974 and with only 1500 bottles made, from a distillery I remembered with appreciation?  Oh yeah.  (“I’m just off to the online store, honey…”) And I’m glad I shut my eyes and dived right in…because even costing what it does, even rare as it is, this rum has the kind of profile that makes a man want to be a better person, just so he can deserve to drink it.

***

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.
 Posted by on October 29, 2014 at 9:24 pm
Oct 242014
 

 

D3S_9559

 

You’ll want to coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, because once you start, the Uitvlugt 16 year old grows fangs, the liquid attacks your face like a junked-out xenomorph, and life gets a whole lot more precious.

(#185. 64/100)

***

Curiosity.  That’s what got me here: simple curiosity.  I’ve never tried anything by Old Man Spirits, but man, I thought, how can you even begin to argue with that cool distillery, and the strapping libido of 62.9%, which is powerful enough to make Cadenhead and A.D.Rattray take a respectful step backwards and cross their knees. And I loved the Spartan, zen-like simplicity of the bottle, which resembled nothing so much as a production prototype before some marketing genius started tartin’ her up.  So yeah, when I was contemplating my purchasing decision, I took a flyer.  What the hell, right? It’s not like you get a chance to check out tasting notes on a relative newcomer every time to see if there’s value for money here.

Old Man Spirits is a craft maker based in the north of Germany, around Schleswig, and is a new entrant to the field, I think.  They have a Panama rum, a Guyanese rum (this one), one from Belize, a Caribbean blend (including a spiced version), and a gin. There will be others. Their website is still very much a work in progress because while it has good notes on the products’ profiles (plus some plugs for how good they are), none at all on the sourcing or making of these products, or the company’s stated philosophy.

Getting back to the review: as noted, extremely simple presentation; wood tipped cork, nice; hay-honey coloured spirit, bottled at cask strength.  All good.  It was medium bodied, even light in the glass, and I loved that yellow colour.

The aromas on the nose were intense, of course – couldn’t get away from that, not at 62.9%. Bread and butter, salt crackers whiffed over with white pepper and a very spicy burn started things off. The rum was quite raw, even searing – as unexpectedly severe as my schoolmaster’s ruler (“Pay attention Mr. Caner!” whap!).  I’ve had my share of cask-strength monsters that had been in oak barrels for many many years, but this one definitely left a few shavings from the bark in there. Some softer notes tremulously crept out after ten minutes or so: faint white flowers, powdered sugar, unsweetened dark chocolate, not enough to make a real difference.

On the rather dry palate, a little sweetness began to be noticeable, and little of the salt cracker aroma carried forward, thank heaven; yet the burning lack of couth persisted – vanillas, tannins, florals, all the stuff I’d expect from an Uitvlugt distillate, were so muted as to be virtually absent.  Even adding some distilled water didn’t save it. And man, was it ever fierce. Holding on to this rum was like grasping a live grenade. The finish, long as it was, exhausted me.  It was all heat and spice burn and little in the way of closing scents (very faint chocolate and vanilla). By the time I was done sampling, I was left feeling dissatisfied, a shade undernourished and perhaps even underwhelmed: I’d been on a so-so ride with something, just not one that added up to much of anything.

D3S_9558

While it may have been unfair to compare this to Velier’s Uitvlugt 17 year old from last week, I did have them both at the same time and the comparison was inevitable…to the detriment of OMS, I’m afraid.  OMS was strong and from a source distillery I like a lot – hell, from a country whose spirits I like a lot.  Yet, for a product this expensive (€90 via Rum&Co) that wasn’t enough…I wanted and expected more.  It therefore only gets points for intensity and some interesting moments on the palate, and in my earlier days, gotta be honest folks, it would not have cracked 60.

Producing a quality, aged, cask-strength feral feline requires more than merely a draw-off from an old barrel somewhere – in order to make the product create vibes, generate word of mouth and really sell, attention has to be paid in ensuring that the thing tastes like more than just fuel for an Abrams tank, and this is something Old Man Spirits could perhaps take note of. After drinking this full-proof rum, I felt like the lady from Riga.  Old Man Spirits Special Cask No. 3 62.9% has done its best to tame the raging tiger trapped in the bottle, but somewhere along the line, it faltered, and now I know what it feels like when the tiger gets loose and bites back.

Other remarks (you can ignore this section)

A point of note was this particular bottle was an out-turn from one barrel, and it yielded 28 (yes, 28) bottles – it was this, among other things, that led me to drop them an as-yet-unanswered email for additional information. Because when you think about it, it’s unclear how a splash can be made in the market with something this limited – it would have to walk on water in an extraordinarily competitive sea to accomplish that, and that’s without considering the marketing outlay and samples that have to go all over the map to rustle up some excitement.  My take – until they get around to responding to me – is they’re doing this on an exceedingly small and limited scale…sort of a single spy to sound out the market, if you will. Expect profit to be elusive.

Also: why are two Uitvlugt rums which are so close in age, and so similar in proof, so different?  Why is one demonstrably better, smoother, tastier?  I can only hazard that — if we assume a similar distillate and a similar fermentation process — that it comes down to the barrels. Somehow, possibly, OMS got dinged with, or utilized, older, already much-used, almost-dead casks which had little but moral support  to impart to a rum which needed a much firmer dose of authority. It’s also possible that the single barrel from which the 28 bottles were made was not aged in the tropics, as Velier is adamant theirs are. Or it could be that the agent/taster/buyer for OMS actually liked it this way, preferred something more savage, and it was issued as it was because of that personal opinion (which is reasonable – can’t expect everyone to like what I do). Velier is equally clear it doesn’t add anything to its products, and while OMS makes no such statement, I don’t think the profile suggests additives (rather, the reverse).

All of this aside, it will be intriguing to see how other and future products of OMS shape up, because one product does not sink a brand (or define it), and for sure I’m not done buying their stuff just yet, if they continue to make it. Unfortunately, the next pass is a year down the road so it’ll be a while before I’m back to the company’s wares. I’d really like to see what they did with the Panama.

There’s a tamed 46% variation on sale as well, but I didn’t buy it.  From the write up, it appears to be a diluted version of this rum, not anything especially different.  A castrated tiger, perhaps.

Distilled January 1998, bottled April 2014.

 Posted by on October 24, 2014 at 9:33 pm
Oct 162014
 

D3S_9388

An exceedingly well-made, clean, relatively light rum with remarkable depth of flavour and beautiful mouthfeel.

(#184; 78/100)

***

Velier, as its barrels mature in Guyana, issues annual releases when they feel they are ready, much as Rum Nation and other craft rum makers do.  This presents a particular and peculiar problem to rummies, because there is no consistency to any of them: in other words, while a DDL El Dorado 21 Year Old will be more or less the same no matter when you buy it, a Velier PM 2013 release will not be the same as a Velier PM 2014 release, even if they are both fifteen years old. This, to my mind, highlights a great strength and great weakness of craft bottlers, because while it allows for amazing creativity and variety, it also limits the issuance of a particular bottling to a few thousand bottles at best, and it forces consumers to shell out a lot more money for favoured companies’ products – as I have.

That aside, let’s start at the beginning with some core facts about the subject under review here. Velier issued this new (2014 year) release in July, with 1404 bottles deriving from five barrels; it was distilled on a Savalle still, it’s an experimental version – a lighter distillate from a still which can produce both light and dark variations, hence the “ULR”, which stands for Uitvlugt Light Rum (thanks, Cyril).  The labelling on bottle and cardboard case is excellent, by the way: no fancy frippery or outlandish graphics, just pertinent facts about the rum (including evaporation losses of 77%), as brief and stark as a haiku.  Just about everything you might want to know is there.

D3S_9390

Nose?  Wow.  Just lovely.  The ULR 1997 was a darkish-honey colour in the glass, and emitted heated vapours of soft clarity that was reminiscent (if not quite as spectacular) as the that McLaren that was the UF30E. Vanilla, herbal tea and white flowers right off the bat, not fierce on the attack, just clean and strong, and persistent to a fault.  Vague caramel and salt biscuits followed on, and easy notes of fruit jam and sweet, ripe black grapes closed off the nose – it was so succulent that I felt I had just roped in Monica Bellucci in a teddy.

You can tell a masterful rum when, as you sip the thing down, 59.7% doesn’t really feel like it.  It was as exciting and well made as a Gibson guitar, with notes that hummed and vibrated in harmony…I honestly don’t know how this is accomplished so well.  The white chocolate, cafe-au-lait, pastries, and creamy buttery notes slid smoothly past my taste buds and there were some oak tones winding their way around the palate, though not enough to spoil the drink. Nougat and hazelnuts shimmered around the edges, moving to a lingering, warm finish with final fumes of raspberries in cream.

Uitvlugt was a West Coast Demerara sugar plantation which Bookers McConnell mothballed decades ago: it means “outflow” in Old Dutch (yes, like New York, Guyana was once a Dutch colony), and it usually has marques of ICB/U, ICB/C and ICB associated with it (most notably by DDL itself), possibly by reference to the original owner of the plantation, Iohann Christoffer Boode; it’s unclear when this new moniker of ULR began. Its rums, made from a metal Savalle still, are usually characterized by a distillate which is not so heavy as the dark brooding machismo of, oh, Port Mourant.  This one may be even more so.

D3S_9389

Summing up, the Uitvlugt 1997 is immensely enjoyable…I went through three tasting glasses of it in next to no time, it was so pleasant.  It’s cleaner and lighter than other Veliers (like the Albion 1994), has perhaps more in common with the Blairmont 1991, and stands singularly apart from the remarkable Diamond 1999 (2014 edition); it’s a UF30E in waiting, maybe. It might not be the most charismatic or powerful exhibit in this sub-universe of the equine-endowed full-proofs, but it isn’t a shrinking violet in the greenhouse either, and compares exceedingly well with all its other siblings.

***

NB: This was one of four samples provided by Luca Gargano to me personally when he heard I would be in Europe in October 2014.  I stand by my sterling review because it really is that good (see the review for Old Man Spirits’s Uitvlugt 16 year old next week for an interesting counterpoint).  I have outstanding query from my email to him…I’ll get into that when I deal with the Old Man.  See you next time.

D3S_9392

 

A:8/10 N:20/25 T:19/25 F:20/25 I:11/15 TOT: 78/100

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.
 Posted by on October 16, 2014 at 10:06 pm
Oct 122014
 

D3S_9334

 

***

A deeply rich and remarkable rum – 1980 was a damned good year for this company

(#183. 83/100)

***

When one buys a raft of intriguing aged rums and then samples several dozen more (especially after a protracted absence), the issue is which rum to start reviewing first. Since my intention on this go-around was to run through several Caroni rums from Trinidad, as well as to give more weight to agricoles from the French West Indies, I decided that one of the best of the latter deserved some consideration.  And that’s this sterling Damoiseau.

The Bellevue au Moule estate and distillery was established at the end of the 19th Century by a Mr Rimbaud from Martinique, and was acquired by Mr Roger Damoiseau in April 1942…since then it has remained within his family (the estate and distillery are currently run by Mr Hervé Damoiseau).  They claim to be the market leader in Guadeloupe — 50% market share, notes the estate web page — and their primary export market remains Europe, France in particular.

D3S_9338

Forget all that, though: this 1980 edition would be enough to assure their reputation as a premium rum maker by any standard. Damoiseau themselves obviously thought so too, because it’s not every day you see a polished wooden box enfolding a bottle, and costing as much as it did. And once open, bam, an immediate emanation of amazing aromas greeted me. Even with my experience of full proof rums clocking in at 60% and over, this one was something special: plums, dark ripe cherries and cinnamon blasted out right away.  The rum was impatient to be appreciated but then chilled out, and crisp, clean and direct notes of white flowers and the faintest bit of brown sugar and fresh grass came shyly out the door.  I’d recommend that any lucky sampler to get his beak in fast to get the initial scent bomb, and then wait around for the more relaxed aftersmells.

What also impressed me was how it arrived in the palate: you’d think that 60.3% strength would make for a snarling, savage electric impact, but no, it was relatively restrained: heated, yes, but also luscious and rich. (The closest equivalent I could come up with when looking for a comparative to this rum was the 58% Courcelles 1972 which also had some of the loveliness this one displayed). Fleshy, sweet, ripe fruit were in evidence here, pineapple, apricots, crushed grapes, apricots – it was so spectacular, so well put together, and there was so much going on there, that it rewarded multiple trips to the well.  It’s my standard practice to add some water when tasting to see how things moved on from the initial sensations: here I simply did not bother.  It was hard to believe this was an agricole, honestly – it was only at the back end that something of the light cleanliness and clarity of the agricoles emerged, and the fade was a pleasant (if a bit sharp), long-lasting melange of white fruit (guavas, I’m thinking), a twist of vanilla, and light flowers.

D3S_9341

Guadeloupe as a whole has never been overly concerned about the AOC designation, and creates both pure cane-juice and molasses-based rums, in light and dark iterations of vieux, très vieux, hors d’age and (not as common) the Millésimé – that’s where we head into rarefied territory, because it denotes a particular year, a good one. From the taste of this rum, the heft and the richness, 1980 outturn must have been phenomenal. For a very long time I’ve not been able to give enough attention to the products of the French West Indies (to my own detriment) – but even the few steps I’ve made have been worth it, if only to see diamonds like this one washed up on the strand at the high water mark.

 

Other notes

Aged for 18 years in 180 liter ex-bourbon barrels.

A:7½ /10 N:22/25 T:23/25 F:17½ /25 I:13/15 TOT: 83/100

 

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 

 Posted by on October 12, 2014 at 8:05 am
Jul 152014
 

D3S_8380

 

Rich sipping rum of remarkable complexity and flavour, one of the best I’ve ever had out of Jamaica.

(#182. 80/100)

Rum Nation’s Supreme Lord VI (the Jamaican 26 year old 2012 edition by any other name) is as good as its 2010 brother, if not actually surpassing it. It shows what can be done with an aged rum if time and care and patience – and some artistry – is brought to bear.  I loved the Supreme Lord V, which I reviewed a while back – and I must say, the VI does dial it up a few notches.  (Full disclosure – Fabio Rossi, the man behind Rum Nation, was having so many troubles working out the complications of me buying a single bottle from him, that he finally just lost patience, sent me the one, and said it was on the house.  So this one was a freebie, which happens rarely enough these days).

Like its predecessor, this rum was dark red-amber in hue, and gave evidence of good viscocity, what with its chubby legs slowly draining back into the glass.  It was also richly pungent to a fault: when I opened that bottle and decanted into my glass the aromas were all over the room in no time: a fragrant nuttiness with a faint tawny, perhaps herbal tinge, and cloves and nutmeg, a little pepper, vanilla, cherries.  I noted in my review of the 2011 edition that there was that slight turpentine, plastic tinge to it – none of that was in evidence here.  This rum has esters flexing their biceps all over the place.

The feel and taste on the palate was similarly excellent.  There was a sense of fruit teetering on the edge of over-ripeness, without actually falling over.  Leather, and the dry mustiness of a closed stable full of tack.  Aromatic tobaccos mixed it up with (I kid you not) a freshly opened packet of loose black tea. Even at 45%, it was smooth and easy, with a peaches and cream texture on the tongue that quite subdued the normally sharp citrus tinge Jamaican rums have.  And after adding a smidgen of water and waiting a while, there was even a tease of unsweetened dark chocolate and molasses winding its way through there – I just loved this rum, honestly.

And like the nose and the arrival, the exit was warm, a little aggressive, not too long, not too sharp and quite satisfying – one might even say it was chirpily easy-going, sauntering out the door with the casual insouciance of a person who knows he doesn’t have to tout his ability.  That last twitch of molasses, orange zest and nutmeg was just heavenly.  The Supreme Lord VI was quite a step up the evolutionary ladder from the last one I tried, I think (though I still love that one as well, don’t get me wrong – it had an aggro I found pleasing, in its own way).  All in all, this may have been one of the best Jamaican rums I’ve ever tried, and speaks volumes about why I’m a fanboy of Rum Nation.

When asked, Fabio noted to me that he produced 760 bottles of this nectar.  It was distilled in a pot still out of Longpond (home of the rampaging rhino that is the SMWS 81.3%) back in 1986, aged in ex-Bourbon american oak barrels, but also finished for another eight years in Oloroso sherry butts – that would be where the amazing panoply of flavours got a helping hand, I’d say.  Rums like this one explain something of why I am prepared pay the extra coin for small batch creations – it’s a bit hit and miss, I concede…but not here.

Occasionally I go on a real multi-hour bender (usually out of boredom) – these days somewhat more rarely, of course. Still, with most rums I polished off a standard bottle in a few hours…this one is so smooth, so tasty, so complex — so good — that the experience (were I ever to perpetrate such a discourtesy with such a gem) would take half the night, yet feel like it’s over in five minutes.  There are some words I always hesitate to use in a review because it sounds so much like mindless genuflection or commercial shilling, but here I have to be honest and say, from the heart, that I think this rum is exquisite.

A:8/10 N:20/25 T:21/25 F:18/25 I:13/15 TOT: 80/100

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion. In this case, for sure.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on July 15, 2014 at 8:29 am
May 102014
 
Photo Courtesy Ministry of Rum

Photo Courtesy Ministry of Rum

 

It’s official.  Velier has raised the bar for super premium rums, with an extraordinary 32-year old blast from the past that will excavate a punt-wide trench in your wallet if you ever find one.

(#181. 87/100)

The 544-bottle run of the Skeldon 1973 Old Demerara Rum has, since being released in 2005, become something of an object of cult worship.  In 2012 a single bottle went for sale on eBay for close to  €500. I searched for three years before I found a gent in France willing to part with his (and at a cost I’m glad my wife never found out about).  It isn’t very well known, except among rabid collectors, and the only reviews I’ve ever seen were in Italian and French.  It is without doubt a rum from further back in time than anything else Velier has ever made, or perhaps will ever make.  And it is worth every penny. Yes, I love Rum Nation, yes I have soft spots for Cadenhead, Berry Brothers, Secret Treasure, Plantation, El Dorado, Pussers, Young’s Old Sam and a score of others. But this thing is a cut above the crowd, and part of that is the way Velier mastered and balanced the subtleties trapped within the enormous tastes of a 32-year-old beefcake.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside Guyana who knows about Skeldon, or where it is. It’s a plantation on the far east of the country, right close by the Corentyne River — I visited the area many times in my youth — and not, as some have mentioned, on the Demerara (all Guyanese rums are often noted as being Demeraras, but the pedant in me disputes the moniker).  The original distillate was made in Skeldon before the still was shut down, and I’ve heard that the barrels were transferred to Uitvlugt before finding their final home in Diamond Estate, where Luca Gargano found the last four barrels from that year ageing quietly away in DDL’s warehouses, perhaps even forgotten by them: he snapped them up, and from that stock, made an old, bold bastard of a rum, eschewing the softness of a standard strength and allowing it to be issued at a mouth ravaging 60.5%.

The Skeldon 1973 was remarkably dark, molasses brown, deeper in hue than the PM 1974 I looked at not too long ago. Such was the skill of the makers that almost no time needed to be spent waiting for the spirit to open up in my glass: almost as soon as I poured it out, rich, powerful fumes of coffee, burnt cocoa, and smouldering sugar cane fields billowed out. Mellow aromas of peaches, nuts and licorice provided exclamation points of distinction, and these were followed by notes of honey, pecans and toast. And it wasn’t over yet: after half an hour, when I went back to it, I detected yet other traces of cherries, blackberries, and even a sly waxy taste that was far from unpleasant.  And each component was clear and distinct, crisp and vital as tropical morning sunshine.

If the nose was extraordinary, so was the palate:  intense without sharpness, heated without pain, and not so much full bodied as voluptuous.  Cumin, tannins and a certain muskiness attended the initial tasting, with a briny undertone, all in balance. As these receded, other flavours came to the fore: coffee again, unsweetened cocoa, walnuts, some caramel, burnt sugar cane (as from the nose), almonds, hazelnuts and at the very bottom a wink of eucalyptus oil. Many rums I have tried often seem to come from the recycle bin: reblends, a new finishing regime, a little tweak here or there, but with the venerable core formula always intact. The Skeldon 1973 does a difficult thing: it feels original, cut from new cloth and yet structured around  blending basics so seamlessly that it samples phenomenally well.  It’s got a certain sumptuousness to it, a sense of extravagance and out of sight quality, as rich as the silk in the lining of a Savile Row suit.

As for the finish, well, its persistence may be as unique as, oh, the Albion 1994, or the SMWS Longpond 9. Fumes and final flavours continued to make their prescence felt for minutes after a taste, as if unwilling to let go. Coffee was prevalent, toasted hazelnuts, some caramel, all melded together into a fade that was a function of 60.5%, and lasted a very very long time, none of it wasted.  So good was the overall experience that I must have had four or five tasting glasses of the stuff, just so that I could savour and sample and extract the very last nuance, and even then I’m sure I missed something.

Everything works in this rum.  Nose, palate, mouthfeel, exit, the whole thing. Usually I’m ambivalent about one point or another in a review – good points in one area are marred by small disappointments in others and this is why the “intangible” part of my scoring goes down and not up like all the others – but here there is such a uniformity of excellence that it made me feel re-energized about the whole business of reviewing rums (and, as an aside, that I may have underrated even the phenomenal UF30E which is about on par, and which I used as a control for this review).

What an amazing, fulfilling rum Velier has produced, indeed.  Yes it’s extraordinarily hard to find, and yes its damned pricey.  Good luck finding one in the States or Canada (or even in Europe, these days).  I’m remarkably fortunate in that I was able to source an unopened bottle given its rarity.  Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, has a track record with his bottlings that many can only envy, and is used to dealing lightning with both hands; and for no other reason this is why sourcing his products, old or new, is recommended. If you want to see what the industry can accomplish if they really try, spring some pieces of eight for what Velier is making, if even just the once.

Or try getting a taste of mine, if you’re ever in my neighborhood.  I’m almost sure I’d share it with you.

***

Other notes

Distilled in Coffey still in August 1973 and bottled in April 2005

There is a slightly younger version of Skeldon distillate, the 1978 edition – also bottled by Velier – which I have not managed to source as yet. It is selling on Ebay as of September 2014, for €800.

Velier, in 2004, bought a stake in DDL (per their website) – Luca notes in his interview with Cyril of DuRhum that it was in 2003.

A:8/10 N:22/25 T:22/25 F:21/25 I:14/15 TOT: 87/100

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat. Here, of course, you can.
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on May 10, 2014 at 10:21 pm
Apr 172014
 

 

A worthy addition to the Port Mourant canon. A magnificent, excellently rich and fruity full-proof rum. 

(#180. 81/100)

***

Allowances should be made for my personal palate: I do believe that rum deriving from the Port Mourant still in Guyana may be among the very best available, largely because the distillate runs through the only wooden still in the world. This provides the rum with a depth of flavour and richness that I have consistently scored high in all its iterations: Berry Brothers & Rudd 1975, the El Dorado 21 and 25 (PM forms part of the blend), Bristol Spirits PM 1980 and Rum Nation’s Demerara 1989 are examples (and I think Wood’s Navy rum has some PM lurking in there, as well as some Enmore, but never mind).

Velier, much like other European rum bottlers, hews to a rather starkly minimalist ethos in presentation, similar across the range (though nowhere near the aggressive consistency of SMWS’s offerings in their camo green). An opaque, black bottle with variations across the line only coming from the label design. “Menacing”, I wrote in my Albion 1994 review, and I haven’t seen much since then to change my mind about that…these things look like they want to assault you with a nail studded club.

By now, anyone who has read my or others’ reviews of Velier products will know that they don’t muck around with standard strength 40% offerings, but give you a massive pelvic thrust of proofage that has sheep in Scotland running for cover: this one is no different, if milder, being bottled at 54.5%, which is almost weak by Velier’s standards. That strength impacts the deep and heavy nose in stunningly searing fashion: there were immediate notes of licorice and dark chopped fruits (lots of raisins there) ready for a West Indian black cake, cherries and ripening mangoes, intermingled with lighter floral notes, all held together with honey and crushed walnuts. Strength and subtlety in the same sniff.

The ruby-brown (or amber-red, take your pick) rum was dark and thick in the glass, like a boiled down soup of brown sugar. It was full bodied, spicy, syrupy, even a shade salty, hinting somewhat of maple syrup. Backing that up came wave upon wave of molasses, apples, citrus rind, prunes, sultana grapes. The rum turned a shade dry in the mouth, and continued to pump out notes of caramel, toffee, and the faint resinous aftertaste of black cardamon. Man this was quite something – it showcased what rums were back in the day. I thought that the BBR PM 1975 might be the oldest and perhaps best rum of this particular still I’d ever see, but this baby, in my opinion, is as good or better, which I attribute mostly to its increased strength. The finish was lovely as well, though a tad on the spicy side: lingering notes of sweet molasses, citrus, and even here some of that heaviness persisted into a long finish that made the entire experience one to savour.

A recent comment on this site made the rather startling statement that “Rum in general is not meant to be sipped neat, like a Whisky or a Scotch.” Naturally, I rebutted that, and, in writing this review, offer the Velier PM 1974 as proof positive that here is a rum which it makes no sense to drink any other way. Take it neat or don’t take it at all. You can of course mix it, but I – and I’ll go out on a limb and speak for the makers – simply don’t get the point. This is a rum to luxuriate in, to treasure…and to mourn once it’s gone.

***

Other notes not strictly pertinent to the review:

364 bottles made from two barrels, aged between September 1974 and March 2008. I’m going to be conservative and call it a 33 year old.

I tried the PM 1974 blind in conjunction with several other rums so as not to permit my natural enthusiasm for the vintage to cloud my scoring judgement. I’m still as miserly with my scoring as before, of course, and tried to put the brakes on scoring high just because it was what it was. But guys, gals…this thing is enormously impressive, it’s a brilliant rum, and deserves what from me is a very high rating.

A:8/10 N:21/25 T:22/25 F:18/25 I:12/15 TOT: 81/100

Rating system
40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat. Here, of course, you can.
71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.

 

 Posted by on April 17, 2014 at 4:30 am
Feb 252014
 

D3S_8412

 

A paradox of rum, marrying a lighter than expected profile with a stunningly intense full proof taste, compliments of the House of Luca

(#179. 81/100)

 ***

When I first poured a shot of the Velier Blairmont 1991 15 year old rum into my glass (after having waited over a year and a half for the privilege), I immediately remarked its colour: a straw coloured light amber rum. After sampling five other Veliers in the past year, all of which were dark, brawny, bearded beefcakes, this came as something of a surprise.

According to the literature on the bottle, seven barrels of the rum were distilled in Blairmont on a French Savalle still in 1991, and 1,913 bottles resulted in March 2006. Luca Gargano, the maitre of Velier, seems to have unprecedented access to old and mouldering barrels of rums from DDL’s warehouses, judging from the variations he keeps putting out, and one thing is clear – the man knows how to put a rum together. This is no slight against that other Italian whose products I enjoy enormously (Fabio Rossi of Rum Nation), but the two men are not really comparable except in so far as they both issue superlative rums, since they follow differing philosophies in how they make them.

This difference is most clearly discerned in the strengths of Velier’s rums – all of them are bottled at a proof greater than 50% (the Blairmont was 56%). And this was immediately evident as I nosed it: yes it had strength, but in no way was it either sharp or nasty or an assault on the senses. The initial scent was one of freshness and zest, of honey, deep, softer to nose than the strength would suggest. This was followed by orange peel and some sharper fruits…half ripe mangoes, green grapes, apples, with a flirt of softer peach in there somewhere, mixed up with a faint nuttiness. Nice. It was more herbal than one would imagine a rum from Demerara to be (although Blairmont Estate is actually on the immediate west bank of the Berbice River).

D3S_8421

The palate was similarly excellent, being medium bodied, golden and having a clarity of taste that reminded me of a good green tea. Crisp and snappy, a bit sweet, something like a Riesling on steroids; orange and cinnamon notes crept out to have their moment in the sun, followed by more green tea and some lighter honey notes. The depth and intensity of flavours was well handled, and even at 56%, I felt that here was rum I would sip neat with no issues at all. And as could be expected, the finish took its time, was clear and well balanced, leaving me with the memories of flowers, caramel (just a bit), fresh grass and newly sawn wood.

Velier is a company formed by the Italian Luca Gargano, and he’s made nothing I haven’t liked so far. He began life as a brand rep for St James in Martinique, but eventually formed his own company to market odd variations of the agricoles he found in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Once he discovered Guyanese rums he bottled as many as he could find (it’s possible that his greatest find has been the Skeldon 1973 32 year old), and while this may be anecdotal, I think they have all attained cult status among die-hard aficionados. He’s been fortunate to have an excellent relationship with Yesu Persaud, the (now retired) chairman of DDL, who provided him with unprecedented access to their warehouses.

It’s become sort of a personal crusade for me to find these odd and rare rums that are issued (or not) on a regular basis, not least because finding something like the Blairmont, buying it and tasting it and writing about it, adds to the store of reviews available in the world. I think it’s a spectacular rum, noses well, tastes phenomenal and is, at end, both terrific and leaves me wanting more. I don’t often issue hagiographies, but in this case, my advice is to try anything you can find by this company, because Luca sure knows what he’s doing, and he isn’t bottling a whole lot.

A:8/10 N:21/25 T:22/25 F:18/25 I:12/15 TOT: 81/100

Mon ami Cyril of DuRhum.com, has done a two part interview with Luca which I promised to help translate, and have not yet done. However, both French parts and a decent English version exist in the links below

 

Rating system

  • 40-50 Hooch. Deficient in either nose, body, flavour or finish (or all of them), barely worth a mix.
  • 51-60 Decent for a cocktail but not much else. Not meant as a sipping spirit. May make a brilliant cocktail.
  • 61-70 You might want to experiment with drinking this one neat..
  • 71-75 Good sipping rum with a few discordant notes that can still make a good cocktail.
  • 76-80 Really excellent, top tier drink. May be unique in some way that goes against the prevailing opinion.
  • 81-90 No additive or ice should ever touch such a superb offering.
  • 90+ Marriage material. Sell the Benz, ‘cause you’ll have to.
 Posted by on February 25, 2014 at 9:39 am