Jan 192017
 

Photo (c) shopsampars.com

#337

Just about every rum junkie has heard of the J. Wray & Nephew 63% Overproof, Appleton’s flagship white lightning and that’s likely the variation that most people know about and have tried.  But since the 1990s, there’s been a local hooch, the Charley’s J.B. White Overproof (made by the Trelawny Rum Company which Appleton controls), primarily marketed in the backcountry…at that time it was aimed at rural farmers and considered a sort of 2nd tier tipple.  In 2015 the company decided to issue it to the urban market perhaps because people in the cities were getting annoyed at those wussy little forty percenters they had to suffer though, wondering why “dem lucky bredren in de backdam gettin’ all dat good bashwar”, and wanted to get something from near by Cockpit Country that would pack more animal in its jock.  And aside from actually stating that the Charley’s JB is a “Trelawny blend,” I’m not sure there’s much difference between it and the JW&N 63%.  Most people who’ve tried it just love the thing for its fiery, fruity and powerful taste.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Pietrek, the Cocktail Wonk

Like DDL’s High Wine, or the Rum Nation Pot still white 57% — and of course the Haitian clairins —  it channels a sort of barely contained ferocity. No easy lead up here: the rum puts you in the middle of the action immediately, with the very first sniff of the cap when cracked, so it’s probably a good idea to go easy for the first few minutes and let the alcohol burn off a mite.  Do that and you sense salty, fusel oil fumes, with sharp rubber, acetone, musty cardboard and leather vying to see which can skewer your schnozz the fastest. It stays sharp, and is like breathing the inside of a vulcanizing shop in hot weather, but it does develop well (if grudgingly), and aside from a weird glue aroma, a watery fruity punch of bananas, citrus, unripe green apples is also there, tied up neatly with the rich scent of new leather shoes still in the wrapping paper.

Tasting it more or less continues the experience and I am here to assure you that yes, to some extent, it really does smoothen out…just a little (well, it is 63% ABV, so you can’t expect too much).  Sweet watery pears, white guavas, watermelon, cucumbers, some dill and rosemary, squash segue their way across the tongue.  The crisp tartness of the nose mellows into something more akin to plums and blackcurrants with a flirt of gooseberries thrown in, if you can believe it, but just add a little water (coconut water might be better), and the feral beast goes quiescent in labba time.  The finish? Nothing shabby – nice, long, fruity, estery, sugar water and soursop ice cream, plus the faintest bit of rubber and smoke. Overall, it’s a crude iron axe, not a sword made from Damascus steel, and that’s apparent all the way through….but “little axe does chop down big tree” as my great aunty Sheila always used to tell me so sanctimoniously.

Frankly, I’m amazed that Quazi4Moto, my correspondent on reddit, agreed to spot me a sample (many, many thanks to the man for sending it along).  This isn’t the best white ever made by a long shot, and it shows its cheerful working class origins clearly…but it sure is a unique one, a taste bomb of savage, raw quality, and if it belonged to me and I knew I wasn’t going back for rice and peas any time soon, I’m not entirely convinced if I’d have shared it myself.

See, I’m aware it’s powerful and uncouth and needs some dialling down, and them crazies who quaff it neat are clearly purveyors of over-the-cliff machismo who are afraid of absolutely nothing; and to be sure, it proudly struts a massive codpiece of taste that falls this side short of a mess, and which will curl your toes without busting a sweat. But you know, in its own way it’s a really freakin’ cool white rum. So what if it’s untamed and maybe too sharp?  So what if it growls down our throats as if mixed with undiluted tiger blood? It’s in no way a bad hooch, and those who make it past their initial despite might find themselves – like me — breathing hard, grinning stupidly, and nodding that yeah, they’ll take another shot.  Maybe two.

(82/100)

Other Notes

According to the Cocktail Wonk’s informative post, in the good old days, such rural backwoods rums were undesirably-congener-rich heads and tails cuts pilfered from the distillery process, which gave rise to the humorous grumble that it tasted “like a John Crow batty” (in Jamaican creole it refers to a vulture’s ass…quite poetic, yes?).  I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the initials CJB of the rum are the same, if out of order.  I can’t find much data on who Charley was, or what J.B actually stands for.  Maybe I’ll have to go to Jamaica to find out.

Jan 172017
 

A new direction for the Japanese rum-maker, which has some flaws but is an interesting rum nevertheless.

#336

When researching the background for the Encrypted, I came across the website RumRatings, which is a place where people rate and comment on rums they have tried without going through the effort of, say, creating a website or putting their thoughts on a more formal basis (the way one sees on the /r/rum forum on reddit, for example, a site where fans can be even more rabid than on Facebook).

The comments were not inspiring. “Too young and harsh and chemical,” wrote one from Hungary whose tastes ran into the sweet of Dictador, Millonario and Zacapa; “This sh*t is a waste of time,” opined another from Romania, who headed his less than enthusiastic comment “Whisky Rum or something…” and who also (from the link to his “cabinet”) seemed to prefer softer soleras and sweeter rums and put the Jamaican RumFire and a Bristol Spirits 1996 Caroni close to the bottom.

Such criticisms serve a purpose in this instance, because there aren’t many reviewers who have yet taken to Nine Leaves, so even an opinion from the street is useful when we buy one…and just because I like ‘em personally doesn’t mean you will. So I don’t link to these negative remarks in an effort to diss the gentlemen in question or to sneer at their opinions, just to lay the groundwork for suggesting that if your tastes run into the more easy-going, softer Spanish style of rums – or those that are known by now to be sweeter than the norm — then this Company’s rums might not be in your wheelhouse. Nine Leaves aren’t as individualized as, say, unaged cask-strength agricoles from a pot still, but their rums do take some getting used to.

Nine Leaves, that one-man outfit from Japan makes very young rums (most six months or so), and they are closer in profile to a mashup of whites and Jamaicans with the leavening influence of Barbados thrown in, plus maybe a clairin or two for some fangs. Yoshiharu Takeuchi makes no attempt to be particularly unique, which is perhaps why his rums actually are. And of all those Clear and “Almost <<pick your season>>” French- or American-oak-aged six month old rums, I’d have to say he’s done something pretty interesting here, like nothing he’s attempted before. He’s thrown kaizen out the window and gone in a new direction.

Consider: normally Nine Leaves distills its rums, does the cuts, and then ages the result for six months, which is why there are a bewildering array of multi-years Almost Springs and Almost Autumns and Angel’s Half French and American Cask Aged rums in their portfolio; but with the Encrypted, he has gone in the “finishing” direction (much as English Harbour, DDL and FourSquare have done in the past year or two).  This is a blend of four rums, each two years old  – the four were aged in barrels of American oak, barrels that previously held oloroso, brandy…and one that remains unidentified, perhaps in an effort to tease Florent Bouchet of the Compagnie, who occasionally holds a distillery of origin to be “secret”, leading to tons of heated conjectures and endlessly entertaining commentary in the blogosphere.  The closest Nine Leaves has previously come to this concept is with their Sauvignon Blanc edition, but the ultimate intention is the same — to add to the flavour profile without actually adding anything, a tactic Zacapa, A. H. Riise and Don Papa could perhaps take note of.

Bottled at a firm 48% in 2016, the golden rum is certainly a step above their younger products.  All share a somewhat astringent, rather thin-but-intense nose (I’m trying hard not to think of my feared primary school teacher, the redoubtable Mrs. Jagan, with her sharp voice, pince-nez, bladed nose and ever-ready foot-long ruler but that’s almost impossible), and here that was only marginally ameliorated by the ageing period.  Sharp for sure, acerbic yes, intense without question – but the aromas weren’t half bad. Citrus, light florals, some earthiness and lavender doing an interesting tango, plus the vaguest hint of fruits and grassiness, all very crisp and distinct.  It presents far more like an agricole than a molasses based rum.

The two years of ageing was where to some extent the rum failed to deliver when tasted, however promising the nose had been. The crisp clarity was retained, yet it still presented as somewhat raw, a shade too uncouth, without any rounding that would have made the mouthfeel better.  Fortunately, that aside, the taste was excellent, and once I got used to it, I found myself appreciating its sprightliness and youth, and again I was left wondering how this was so much like an agricole.  Those same vegetal, grassy notes persisted, to which were added florals, red wine, orange zest, sultanas, and also a sort of cereal background that developed into the creaminess of cheese on black bread.  It was odd, but came together quite well, and I had no real complaints about the finish, which was somewhat spicy, but still exited with a cleanliness and clarity redolent of the spicier tartness of green apples and grapes.

Putting all these observations together, it was, in fine, a pretty decent two year old rum – the finishes certainly helped it attain a level that simple ageing never would have. When you consider Nine Leaves’s regular issuances of six month old rums, made pretty much the same way, aged in either in one barrel or another, it’s easy to grumble that they make the same rums on every go-around, so getting one is like getting them all.  By making the Encrypted, Nine Leaves has shown they are not bound to the way they have made rums before — and are quite willing to take their products into new and interesting directions that may not entirely work now, but hold great promise for their efforts in the future

(85/100)

Jan 152017
 

Excellent young sherry-finished rum

#335

There’s a special place in my heart for English Harbour rums from Antigua, and always will be. The company’s masterful 25 year old 1981, while dropping some in my estimation over the years, remains a touchstone of my reviewing experience (it was also Review #001).  Their five-year- and ten year old variations were pleasing and decent drinks that were like a mix of Bajan and Spanish rums, yet distinct from either; and I’ve always felt they were good introductions to the spirit, even if I myself have moved on to purer, stronger rums, which was one reason I enjoyed their Cavalier Puncheon.

For years that was pretty much it for English Harbour, a company formed in 1932 from the pooled resources of five Portuguese businessmen. They branched out into other liqueurs and spirits to some extent, but the rum range which developed from the original Cavalier brand has remained essentially unchanged and it was for this they were best known internationally.  However, in 2016 they decided to rock the boat a little and on the festival circuit in that year, they introduced an interesting variation on their Five, a harbinger of things to come.

This particular rum is a blend that started life as the original column-still five year old (which my friends and I, back in 2009, really enjoyed); aged in ex-bourbon casks for the proper time, it was then finished for two months in sherry casks prior to bottling in March 2016 — there are plans to add oloroso, port and zinfadel finishes in the future, so they are taking some ideas from both FourSquare and DDL in this respect. Once the ageing and finishing process was complete, some ten year old was added into the blend (no idea how much) to create the final product.  What it is, therefore, is something of an experimental rum.  English Harbour has read the tea leaves and seen that there is money to be made and new customers to be won, in releasing rums as a higher proof point with some finishing: perhaps not cask strength, and perhaps not limited edition, just something to flesh out the staid brogues of its portfolio that may now be considered to be showing its age in a time of fast moving innovations in the rum world. Time to move into some sportier models. Nikes maybe, or Adidas.

Have they succeeded in boosting the original five year old into a new and exciting iteration?  I think so…it is, at the very least, better – retasting that venerable young rum in tandem with this one made me remember why I moved away from it in the first place – the 40%, the somewhat dominant vanilla and its rather simple I-aim-only-to-please profile.  There is a lot to be said for messing about, even with a previously winning formula.

Just take the aromas on the rum, for example – what the original five was all about was soft, easy vanillas and some caramels, with a few fruits dancing shyly around in the background, all cheer and warmth, simple and amiable, went well with a mix. This one was a few rungs up the ladder – part of that was the strength, of course (46%) and part was the finishing; there were immediate notes of sherry, smoke, blackberries, jam (I kept thinking of Smuckers), all of which pushed the vanilla into the background where it belonged (without banishing it entirely). There was simply more flavour coming through at the higher proof point, which showed in developing notes of cherries, pineapple and apples that appeared with some water. Nothing aggressive here, and it retained some of that laid-back softness which so marked out its cousin, while having a subtly more complex profile that snapped into focus more clearly as I tasted each side by side.

As for the palate, very nice for a five…in short, yummy.  The youthful peppiness was retained – there was some spiciness on the tongue here – buttressed by a kind of roundness and complexity, which I’m going to say carried over from the added ten year old.  Caramel, oak, vanilla, smoke, burnt sugar, a nice mix of softer fruits (those pineapple, pears and ripe cherries came over nicely) with those of a more tart character (green apples and orange zest) adding a nice filip.  It’s a great little rumlet, closing things off with a short and dry finish that I wish went on longer, even if it didn’t add anything new to the overall experience.  It’s a young rum, that much was clear – yet the blending was handled well, and I just wondered, as I always do these days when something this soft crosses my path, whether it was added to or not (I was told no).  

Thinking over the experience, I think this rum is really an essay in the craft, not yet the final rum English Harbour will release formally in the months (or years)  to come – for the moment it’s not even represented on their website.  EH are testing the idea out on the festival circuit, checking for feedback, positioning it as a development of pre-existing ideas into the market, to see whether riding the wave of newly-popular, higher-proofed, finished rums can carry the company’s sales into the new century.  I certainly hope they succeed, because this is quite a striking rum for its age, and will likely win over some new converts, while being sure to please old fans of the brand. For any five year old, that’s saying something.

(83/100)

Jan 112017
 

A white rhum from Laos, which comes out punching at 56%

#334

The rums we see and drink share a certain geographic commonality. On the shelves are rums from the various Caribbean islands, those old British, Spanish and French (and Dutch, and yes, Danish) colonial possessions. Next to them are South and Central Americans tipples which are the inheritors of the Spanish traditions brought over centuries ago…no shortage of their products either. Then there are those from micro-ops from Canada and the USA, few of which make any sort of big splash but which gain an audience from the communications infrastructure of those developed nations. And of course there are independent bottlers in Europe who take 90% or more of their stock from the Caribbean and further south. We hear about these all the time. But it’s possible that the future undiscovered variations of the rum world lie not west of Greenwich, or close by…but east.

Bar the odd exception like the Fijians, Old Monk, Bundaberg and Nine Leaves (or CDI’s Indonesians), how often do we hear about other rums from Australia, from India, from Africa, from the Far East? I’m not saying they make ninety-point masterpieces of rum which would make a pilgrimmage necessary, but if we consider ourselves Evangelists of the Cane, perhaps some attention should be paid to the outliers as much as the more familiar and popular mastodons of our world.

The problem lies in getting one’s paws on any.  The rum makers of the east (or south) usually lack good distribution networks or agents to bring their products to the western markets, which is why Capo Verde off Senegal makes grog like the clairins but nobody ever heard of them, or why Osakawara and Ryomi are relatively unknown outside Japan.  In other situations, the domestic market is large enough to swallow all the output, so again, unless you’re there it’s not likely you’ll hear much about, for example, Ord River, Substation No. 41 or Beenleigh’s 5 year old, all of which are made in Oz.  Old Monk and Amrut are ginormous sellers in India but not always that easy to find one in your local hoochery, and then there are the Asian nations which make ersatz rum their own way, like Tanduay, Chalong Bay, Mekhong…or this Laotian one, which we’ll poke our snoots into today.

Information on the rhum is as maddeningly hard to find as the product itself. What little I’ve been able to cobble together from mon ami L’homme à la Pousette (the source of the sample, big thanks to the man) and some diligent googling, is that it derives from Vientiane, Laos, and is an organically made agricole bottled at a hefty 56%.  The company that makes it — Lao-Agro Organic and Distillery Inc — has a brand called Laodi which is primarily liqueurs, and they also produce a lower proofed white variation of this rhum, and a slightly aged one.  I gather that it is mostly for local consumption, not export (which may be why few of us ever heard of it before).  But in terms of the production methods, source of cane, filtration etc, there’s not much to go on, sorry.  We have to take it on its merits alone.

All that aside, this was quite some rhum – it reminded me of the clairins, the Rum Nation Pot Still Jamaican, the DDL High Wine (sadly discontinued), oomphed-up French Island unaged blancs, or, for that matter, even some of  those new whites Velier put out last year.  The raw pot still style was right there up front when one sniffed it – salty, vinegary notes, crisp cool cucumbers, rubber and acetone and nail polish and freshly varnished furniture.  Yeah, it was sharp, and quite stabbing, and there was an odd developing odour of commingled fish sauce, citrus juice, and coconut water nosing around the back end…fortunately, that was controlled and not excessive, and the whole aroma was underlain by that herbal swank and sugar water that so characterizes agricoles.  In that sense it was both similar to and different from, “regular” agricoles with which most of us are more familiar.

Palate wise, the agricole origin was much more evident.  Tons of sweet sugar water and juicy pears, white guavas, grass, lemon juice and also — somewhat to its detriment, because these did not enhance the balance or integrate properly — some wax, brine and red olives.  To the end, it remained harsh and sharp, quite raw, nowhere near as cultured as, say, the Nine Leaves Clear or even the Appleton (Wray) overproof, which was stronger.  Still, say what you will – it was unique, with an enormously long, hot finish, redolent of wax paper and olive oil, more brine, more herbals and grass, and yes, more swank.  

On balance this is a cocktail maker’s dream, I think, and would make a mix that would blow your hair off, but as a sipper it fails, which is no real surprise — much as I like agricoles, white rums and unaged rhums for their sheer machismo and balls-to-the-wall aggro, this one isn’t up in my wheelhouse. That’s because the way the flavours intermingle isn’t quite right, and the sandpaper rawness of the experience is off-putting.  However, I have to concede that I’m somewhat partial to rhums that swing wildly for the boundary, go for a six instead of a safe one, and miss with grandeur, rather than never bothering to come up to the batting crease at all. Is this Laotian rhum a success?  No, not really (or not yet) – but it’s never somnolent, never moribund…never boring.  It runs smack into the wall at full speed, and fails with authority, know what I mean? And that, to me, is something that matters.

(75/100)

Jan 052017
 

Laid-back, but not lazy

#333

The dodo, as most of us are well aware, is the subject of such well known epigrams as being dead as one; it remains a fixture of popular culture and language, often seen as a symbol of obsolescence, stupidity and (naturally) extinction. It is therefore something of an odd emblem for a rum company to use as its name and symbol, unless it’s considered so firmly associated with Mauritius that bird and island are seen as synonymous (which I don’t believe for a moment). So aside from the officially stated purpose of the logo raising awareness of endangered species, perhaps what we see here is also a sense of humour at work, especially since modern scientists suggest that the dodo was actually quite well adapted to its ecosystem, and it was invasive species and humans that ended up wiping it out – the bird was nowhere near as dumb as we are given to think.

Anyway, as a marketing strategy, that name works like a charm, since, as soon as I saw it in Berlin in 2016, I beelined straight over to try it, because come on, with a title like that, how could I possibly resist? It’s like telling any Guyanese male that there really is a vodka brand called IPR – all of us would instantly buy a case.

Lazy Dodo Single Estate Rum (to give it the full name on the label) is made by the Grays of New Grove Rum fame (run by the Harel family that I wrote about in the New Grove 8 Year Old review) and the Milhade family who are wine makers out of Bordeaux.  What background literature exists suggests that the collaboration is more in the way of knowledge sharing than strict apportioning of labour, since the cane and harvesting and processing and ageing all take place on the Pampelmousses estate in Mauritius, though perhaps the sales network in France owes something to the efforts of the Millhades who have a stronger prescence in Europe. The amber-coloured 40% ABV molasses-based, column-still product is a blend of rums aged 5, 8, and 12 years and aged in both new and used American and French oak barrels (hence the moniker “double maturation” on the label).  Oh, and no additives, so I was informed. It had its coming out parties 2016 in the rum festival circuit and seemed to be quite popular, if one were to judge from the “Sold Out” sign posted up on the second day of the Berlin RumFest.

That didn’t necessarily mean it was a top tier rum, just one that was popular and very easy to drink. Nose-wise it actually presented as rather sweet and had notes of green grapes and pineapple and ripe mangoes, which I thought may have been a little over the top – there was very little of a “standard” profile here, though what was available to smell was in no way unpleasant, just rather mild, even understated.

Similar thoughts passed through my mind on the tasting.  At 40% it was a defanged sort of rum, medium bodied, and the sweetness was retained, with that and the blending rounding off any rough edges it may have started life with.  There were the same grape-like tastes, less pineapple here, and as it opened up (and with some water) vaguely crisper flavours emerged – citrus, red grapefruit, cider, apples, followed by some vanilla, creme brulee and soft toffee notes. It closed off short and warm, with little of the tartness carrying over into the finish, just caramel, some light citrus and nuts, and a touch of vanilla.

While I can’t rave about it, at the end of the day it’s a relaxed, laid back, unaggressive (dare I say “lazy”?) sort of sundowner, nothing earthshaking – at best it made my glass wobble a bit. Aside from enjoying its placid nature I’m merely left curious as to which market it was made for.  The Europeans with their penchant for more forceful drinks and robust profiles trending towards the agricole market? Tourists? Denmark, home of the cask-strength-loving vikings? The North Americans who mostly consider standard proof to be the rumiverse? Connoisseurs, barflys, cocktail makers?  Hard to say.  I consider it a pretty good day-to-day sort of rum, well made and reasonably complex, if lacking anything that specifically screams “Mauritius” about it.  But whatever the case, it probably won’t go the way of its namesake any time soon…it’s too decent a rum for that, and will likely be the bees’ knees for those who succumb to its light and languorous charms.

(79/100)

 

Dec 302016
 

A spectacular rum from FourSquare (and Velier), perhaps the best Bajan they’ve ever made.

#332

***

This is a rum that screaming aficionados were waiting for like fans at a Justin Bieber or Beyonce concert (or the Rolling Stones, maybe), and no write-up of the thing could be complete without mentioning the unbelievable sales pattern it displayed…in my entire rum-purchasing experience, I’ve never seen anything like it. The Velier/FourSquare collaboration was making the rounds of various masterclasses in festivals around the world for almost a year before actually going on sale, and then, when it became available in August 2016 (primarily in Europe), it sold out in fifteen minutes.  All this without a single formal review being issued, just word of mouth.

The only comparator in recent memory that I can think of might be the Panamonte XXV, which also flew off the shelves, and which also illustrates how far along the rum world has come in less than five years.  When I got that one, it was considered one of the best rums of its kind, receiving raves across the board – and indeed, for its age (25 years), strength (40%) and price ($400) it was well positioned at the top of the food chain…back then.  But even in 2012 many of us aficionados had moved on past the self imposed 40% limitation, and while the Panamonte was certainly a good product, it was also, perhaps, a high water mark for standard proof rums – people who know enough and have enough to want to drop that kind of coin, have by now migrated past that anemic proofage and demand cask strength, definitively pure rums which are made by trusted sources.  This is why Arome’s five hundred bottle outturn of their new Panamanian 28 year old, about which not much is known aside from the marketing campaign and some FB dustups, is likely to be met with indifference from those who actually know their rums (though not from those with money), while 2400 bottles of FourSquare’s ten year old have become unavailable faster than you can say “wtf” in Bajan.

And once the bottle gets cracked, you can understand why.  Because it’s an amazing rum, sold at a (low) price that would be an insult if it wasn’t so good, for something that ticks all the boxes: cask strength, check; no additives, check; issued in collaboration with one of the most famous names in the pure-rumworld, check; by a distillery long known for championing a lack of additives, check; by being trotted out at exclusive masterclasses where word of mouth made it a must-have, check.  This thing is like an exquisite small foreign film that gains accolades in the filmfest circuit  before heading off to the oscars and cleaning up there and at the box office.

Can any rum really live up to such expectations?  I don’t know about you, but it sure upended mine, because my first reaction when I opened it and sniffed was a disbelieving “what the f…?” (in Bajan).  It banged out the door with the kinetic energy of a supercar popping the clutch at 5000 rpm, blowing fierce fumes of briny olives and caramel and oak straight down my nose and throat, before someone slammed on the brakes and eased off.  What I’m trying to put over in words is something of the power of the experience, because it blasted off fast and furious and then settled down for a controlled, insane smorgasbord of nasal porn – nougat, white toblerone, peaches, citrus peel, chocolate, coffee grounds, cinnamon, enough to drive a Swiss confectioner into hysterics.  The creaminess of the nose was simply astounding – it was almost impossible to accept this was a 62% rum, yet it purred smoothly along without bite or bitchiness, scattering heady aromas of fruity badass in all directions – prunes, plums, blackcurrants and dark olives.  

And meanwhile, the taste of the rum, its glissading force across the palate, simply had to be experienced to be believed.  Not because it was all sound and fury and stabbing tridents of Poseidon, no (although it was powerful, one could not simply ignore 62% ABV), but because it was such a controlled strength.  And what emerged from within the maelstrom of proof was amazingly tasty – apricots, plums, raisins, blueberries, cinnamon, rye bread with butter and honey, all creamy and chewy to a fault (and that was just the first five minutes).  With water even more came boiling to the surface: dark grapes and an enormous array of fruity and citrusy notes, tied up in a bow with more caramel, coffee grounds, black unsweetened chocolate paprika…man, it was like it didn’t want to stop.  Even the finish upended expectations, being neither short and fleeting, nor overstaying its welcome, but almost perfect, with some floral hints, an interesting driness, and some nuttiness to accompany all that had come before, pruned down to a fierce minimalism emphasizing both heft and subtlety at the same time.

It would be arrogant in the extreme for me to say this is the best rum ever made in Barbados, since I haven’t tried every rum ever made in Barbados.  But I can and must say this – the rum points the way to the future of top-class Bajan popskull just as surely as the Velier Demeraras did for the Guyanese, and is, without a doubt, the very best Barbados rum I’ve ever tried. It’s a magnificent rum that leaves all its forebears, even those from the same distillery, limp and exhausted. This rum’s titanic flavour profile satisfies because it gets right what its previous (and lesser) earlier versions from FourSquare failed to come to grips with. It is impossibly Brobdignagian, a subtlety-challenged brown bomber, and to fully savor the current rum’s character, we as drinkers must first connect with its predecessor’s lesser-proofed antecedents.  That’s why I went through other rums from the company before cracking the 2006.  Somehow, after years of 40% milquetoast from  Barbados, here, finally, two giants of the rum world came together and got this one absolutely right.  It deserves every accolade that rum drinkers and rum writers have given it.

(91/100)

Other notes

  • To tell the complete story of its disappearance from the online and physical shelves, some subsequent observations: the 4S 2006 began turning up on ebay shortly thereafter, and aside from the bitterness of pure rum aficionados who could not get any without liquidating their retirement fund, I’ve heard it bruited about that the its disappearance was because speculators bought every bottle for resale on the secondary market…and even more pernicious rumours about how general public wasn’t even the target market – bars and bulk buyers were.  Whatever the real story is, it would be a useful case study in how to move new product in a hurry.
  • Distilled 2006 in copper double retort pot still, aged three years in bourbon barrels and seven years in cognac casks and bottled in 2016. 62% ABV, 2400 bottle outturn. The “single blended rum” appellation is derived from the proposed Gargano classification system where the origin still is given prominence over the material or country/region of origin. Here it is a single still’s blended  product (based on double maturation).
  • Whose rum is this, Velier or FourSquare?  Velier’s Demeraras, I felt, were always Veliers, because DDL gave Luca some barrels to chose from and he bottled what he felt was right without much further input from them.  Here, my impression is that Richard Seale and Luca Gargano worked closely together to make the rum, and so I attribute it to both.
Dec 282016
 

A rum that comes together in unexpected but ultimately satisfying ways

#331

Finishing remains a hit or miss proposition for rum makers. Rum Nation’s finished Demeraras are pretty good, El Dorado’s 15 year old expressions in various wine finishes kinda work (in spite of the sugar adulteration), while neither the Legendario’s muscatel reek or the Pyrat’s orange liqueur nonsense ever appealed to me (and never will).  So what’s there to say about the port finished 2005 issued by FourSquare as part of their “Exceptional” series?

A few good things, a few not-so-good ones.  FourSquare is far too professional, too competent and too long-lived an outfit to make a really bad rum, though of course they do make some rums to which I’m personally indifferent.  Here the good stuff lies in the preparation and core stats, the less than good comes from the proof and a bit of what comes out the other end. But all that aside, I believe it’s a waypoint to the future of FourSquare, when taken in conjunction with the Zinfadel finished 11 Year Old (43%), the 2004 Cask Strength (59%), and the 2013 Habitation Velier collaboration (64%).

The stats as known – column and pot still rum, nine years old, distilled at FourSquare in 2005, bottled in June 2014, having spent three years in bourbon casks, and then another six in port casks, some caramel added for colouring, with an outturn of around 12,000 bottles, issued at 40%.  One wonders how ⅔ of total ageing time in port barrels can possibly be interpreted as a “finish” of any kind, because for my money it’s a double-aged rum, something akin to the Dos Maderas 5+3 or 5+5 rums – but all right, maybe it’s merely an issue of terminology and I’m not a total pedant in these matters, so let’s move on.

Starting out, the smell suggested that it was made at right angles to, and amped up from, the more traditional FourSquare rums like Rum 66, the R.L. Seale’s 10 Year old or even the Doorley’s. To my mind it was a lot of things that those weren’t, perhaps due to the unconventional (for FourSquare) ageing and cask regimen – everything here was more distinct, clearer, and a cut or two above those old stalwarts.  Initially there were some faint rubber and acetone notes, after which the fruit basket was tossed into the vat – black grapes, citrus zest (orange or tangerines, not lemon), prunes, plums, vanilla, toffee and a dusting of earthy grassiness, cinnamon and maybe nutmeg.  Not as forceful as a cask strength monster, no, yet pleasant to experience.

Most drinkers take their spirits at living room strength and won’t find any fault with 40% but for me the decision to bottle such an interesting rum at that ABV suggests a lack of confidence in whether to taking the plunge by stepping over the full proof cliff, or continue with tried and true profiles, tweaking just a bit to sniff out the market reaction. The downside to that decision is that some of the awesome promise of the nose was lost.  The smorgasbord of the fruit remained, dialled down, delivering prunes, dark ripe cherries, plus bananas, coconut shavings, nuts, brine, and the deep sugar cane aromas from fields that have just been burnt, all in well controlled balance and warming the tongue without assaulting it, leading to a quiet, short finish that lingered without presenting anything new.  So – good…but still underwhelming.

What is perhaps surprising is that the rum works as well as it does at all – 6 years in port casks would normally be excessive since it’s less a finishing than an entire profile switcheroo – WhiskyFun, tongue in cheek as always, remarked it might better be called a bourbon start than a port finish. In fine, it all comes together well, and it is a lovely rum, which is why the encomiums roll in from all points of the compass.  But since I know FourSquare has more up its sleeves than just its arms, I also know they can do better…and in the years between this rum’s issue and now, they have.

The 2005 is therefore not a rum I have problems recommending (especially for its very affordable price point). I simply posit that it’s a scout to the beachhead, a precursor, an exercise in the craft, not the ultimate expression — and scoring it to the stratosphere as many have done, is giving consumers the impression that it’s the best buy possible….which it isn’t.  

Because, like its zinfadel cask finished brother, what this rum really is, is the rum equivalent of John the Baptist, not trying to garner any of the laurels for itself, just waiting and preparing the way for the extraordinary rum that was yet to come. 

In August 2016, it did, and that’ll be the subject of my last review for 2016.

(82/100)

Other notes

I let my glass rest overnight, and it developed a milky, cloudy residue after several hours.  Maybe it was not filtered?  I’d like to know if anyone else had a similar experience with theirs.

Dec 262016
 

When a rum makes you want to try its stronger brother, you are left asking whether it has failed or succeeded.

#330

It must be a preference thing.  My son the Little Caner (rapidly becoming the Big Caner) loves chocolate ice cream but detests the salted caramel Haagen-Dasz I scarf by the bucketload (before being noisily sick in the outhouse). My father (Grampy Caner) can’t get enough of El Dorado 15 year old yet I can’t get him to touch a full proof without shuddering. As for me, while I enjoy rums from around the Caribbean, have never been able to get a grip on Bajan rums as a whole – Mount Gay and FourSquare in particular – in spite of all the other critical plaudits that these companies garner from other corners of the rumiverse.  

With that in mind I picked up a bunch of Bajans back in 2015 and put them through an exhaustive wringer then, and again in 2016, just to see whether the passage of years changed anything. To some extent, the experience dispelled a few preconceptions, while confirming others.  In fine, it’s a decent 40% sipping rum that breaks no new ground and could, I think, be pushed to higher strength without losing anything in the process.(And indeed, there is a recent series of 2016 releases of the 66FR which are both cask strength (50%) and slightly stronger than mine here (42%) as well as a new 6 year old, so for sure I’m not done trying FourSquare’s offerings any time soon.)

FourSquare Distillery was the last remaining family owned outfit in Barbados until St. Nicholas Abbey opened up for a business nearly a decade ago.  The “66” in the moniker refers to the Barbados Independence Act of 1966, when Little England severed its colonial ties with Britain, while the “Family Reserve” reflects its origins in that small part of the company’s production which had heretofore been reserved for the Seale family (or so the marketing materials suggest).  The rum is a blend of column and copper pot still distillate, with a 65% ABV spirit set to age in white oak barrels for twelve years when already married – in other words, the blend is not done after ageing, but before…the reverse of the process most other makers follow when producing blended rums.

Certainly the blending regimen and the age did their work reasonably well. The nose was very smooth and warm, with light, almost delicate notes of wax, brine and paint leading off, which  disappeared quickly. A solid blast of brown sugar took their place, plus slightly off tastes of overripe fruit, smoke and dusty cardboard. After some minutes, the final smells emerged – lilacs and other flowers, a very faint fruitiness, with nuts and more smoke at the back end. Reading this might make it sound like a cornucopia of olfactory bliss, but the fact is that it was all really really faint – it took ages to pick them out, and there’s simply not enough going on here to make it memorable in any meaningful way.

Still, the palate of this copper brown rum was decent.  A spicy lead-in presenting immediate flavours of vanilla, toffee, butter, and yes, that salted caramel ice cream I always liked, offering bitter, salt and sweet in equal proportion. Some peaches and whipped cream, nuts, more flowers and an interesting coconut undercurrent that emerged slowly, almost grudgingly after adding some water.  The oak was there, but well controlled and not overbearing. The best thing about the rum was the smooth creaminess of the otherwise rather thin profile, vaguely salty and estery at the same time, leading to a good finish for a 40%, medium long, with peanut butter and delicate flowery notes.  There was a sort of clean elegance to the whole thing, reminding me somewhat of a Glendronach, or a Speysider, and has much in common with the Cockspur 12 year old. But, in the main, for me, it lacked oomph and assertiveness which I preferred more.  That makes it better for those who don’t care for cask strength rums, I would suggest, or long drinks for those in the cocktail circuit.

Summing up the experience, then, I felt then (and now) that for a 12 year old, it presented as far too restrained, even somewhat underwhelming.  Just doesn’t seem to push any buttons, being content to stay in the middle of the road and not piss anyone off by going off the reservation.  It has an element of okay, of settling for the middle, of “let’s leave it there, then” that is surprising for a rum aged this long.  Part of it is the 40%, of course which the market preferred back in the day when it was first released, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a rum for those who like their sipping drinks easier, with less aggro, not for today’s more demanding or discerning drinkers who might want and prefer a more robust and aggressive cask strength Bajan bruiser.

In the past, as little as ten years ago, where nobody was talking about sugar or additives and producers across the board were dosing with enthusiasm and without declaration, the Jamaicans and Bajans were forced by their countries’ laws to eschew additives of any kind.  This made many of their rums appeal to a minority who understood and appreciated purity, while the majority got their taste buds hacked and cultivated by adulterated products.  But that couldn’t last. The clamour for disclosure blew up when ALKOL, Johnny Drejr and others started posting their statistics and showed the Emperor was buck naked for all to see.  Suddenly those makers who had always been bound to make pure rums became the belles of the ball, and were lauded for their honesty and adherence to tradition.

That was all fine, but somewhere in all this brouhaha the whole issue of whether all of their products were good drinks got lost…in other words, the pendulum swung a little too far the other way, and to my mind, this rum and some others too often got a free pass. You’ll search long and hard to find a review – any review – of Bajan products that is in any way short of simpering adoration. But the fact is that there are better rums from the island out there and frankly, it’s the cask strength version of this rum that I think will be the new standard for Rum 66 in the years to come — it won’t be this exemplar of a pre-sugar, pre-fullproof time, no matter how bright it shines in the memories of those who remain wedded to that more innocent and less discerning era.

(80/100)

Just as some of my fellow reviewers make no secret of both their admiration and enjoyment of Bajan rums, I had to be clear about my personal ambivalence. So for those who want other opinions, here are two of them.

 

Dec 222016
 

 

***

A grand old PM. Best of the three Small Batch selections from 2016.

#329

It’s reasonable to wonder whether there isn’t some self-cannibalization going on here.  Since their inception back in 1999, Rum Nation’s flagship products were always the old-enough-to-vote Jamaicans and Demeraras, all issued at around 43-45%.  The old wooden box and jute packing gave way to sleeker, modernist boxes, but the ethos remained the same, and happily for the aficionados, there were always several thousand of these floating around, as Fabio Rossi never bottled just one cask, but several. (As an aside, something of the evolution of our world can be found in how long it took for anyone to even notice the original selections from the 1970s, which took years to sell…a situation which simply cannot occur today).

Fast forward to 2016, and the company sprang this surprise on us – in the same year that DDL pushed out its Rare Collection, RN raided its slumbering cask stash to produce three limited edition Demerara rums of their own, called the “Small Batch Rare Rums” (and I hear — in the muttered corners of the smoking area out back where the rum-hoodlums hang around — that others from Reunion and Hampden may be in the works).  Yet, because of their more limited outturn, these rums may be cutting into the sales of, or appreciation for, the top end rums that have won so much acclaim over the past decade or two, since what is made into a Small Batch cask-strength rum won’t be made into a twenty-something year old in the Supreme Lord or Demerara series.

Well, whatever.  We’re lucky to get these rums at all, I sometimes think.  And this one is right up there with the 45% Demeraras of made with such care in Rum Nation’s youth, perhaps even a smidgen better because of the extra oomph that was generously ladled out for us.

As usual, let’s get the known facts out of the way: Port Mourant distillate from the double wooden pot still in Guyana; the single cask was bought via a broker, and aged in Europe, first in the Bristol Spirits warehouse and in Italy after 2007.  The ageing was done from 1995 to 2005 in ex-bourbon barrels and transferred into a second-fill sherry cask in 2005 until final release in 2016 (Fabio told me he didn’t know whether it was first or second fill, but my own feeling after the tasting was that the sherry had an effect on the final product that was not strong enough after so many years to justify the first fill possibility, but that’s just my opinion).  The outturn was 170 bottles, bottled at that so-very-lekker strength of 57.7%, and I have bottle #002, which is almost as cool as having bottle #001.

Was it any good?  Oh yes.  Just opening it up and smelling straight out of the bottle hinted at olfactory impressions to come – some rubber, wax and floor polish, which swiftly dissipated, followed by licorice, bags of raisins and dried fruit, prunes, dates, cedar wood shavings, and a lovely aromatic tobacco and lemon peel smell behind all of those.  There were some well integrated caramel and vanilla notes, a sniff or two of red wine, but in the main, as was to be expected, it was the trio of anise, raisins and wood that were the core of the nose. It showcased all the markers of traditional excellence that I have always enjoyed about the Port Mourant distillate, all in balance and as harmonious as a zen garden.  

57.7% was also an almost perfect strength for it to be issued: over 60% it might have been too raw, under 50% and maybe too easy.  Not that it really mattered, because between the ageing and the sherry influence, the rum demonstrated a powerful but restrained mouthfeel which gave you the heat and the strength without ripping any part of your corpus to shreds. Sharp it was not…forceful might be a better appellation. And then the flavours came through, big and bold: licorice, oak, more of those aromatic cedar and cigarillos acting as the central core, upon which were hung the lesser tastes like apricots, more lemon peel, grapes, brown sugar, red wine and strong black tea, leading up to a masterful finish that lays it all out on the table so your senses get one last whiff before it all gradually dissipated.

The balance of the rum is exceptional – many of the elements are so flawlessly constructed and built into the profile that you want them simply continue, yet they create a sort of emotional, labial vortex drawing you into another sip, another glass…maybe that’s why half my bottle is already gone. What it really is, is a delivery system for ensuring you get every bit of nuance that can be squeezed out of a barrel. I felt that way about Rum Nation’s Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the 57% white, and yes, about the Demeraras.  To make a series like that, of such consistent quality is something of a minor miracle.  To crank up the volts and issue a small batch version of the PM alone and have it be this good is surely another.

So, if you like Guyanese rums as a whole, cask strength rums generally and Port Mourant rums in particular, well, you really can’t go wrong here.  It’s ambitious, luscious, and delicious, providing a rum profile where drinker engagement and enjoyment is 100%.  As for the quotient of appreciation?  My friends, that may actually be off the chart.

(90/100)

Note:

This rum is the first release.  The 2nd Release, also from 2016, is a 17 year old bottled at 57.4% from two casks resulting in 816 bottles.  I tried that one at the 2016 Berlin Rumfest and can confirm it’s also quite good (though I liked this one more).

Dec 202016
 

rn-enmore-rare-1

***

#328

It really is amazing how many different ways there are to express the outturn from a single Guyanese still, Enmore or Port Mourant or any of the others  We might have to approach them like James Bond movies (or Sherlock Holmes short stories)…enjoying the similarities while searching for points of variation, which gives us the rare rum equivalents of  masterpieces like Skyfall versus occasionally indifferent efforts like A View to a Kill.

Rum Nation’s first serious foray into multiple-edition small-batch cask strength rums probably deserve to be tried as a trio, the way, for example, DDL’s three amigos from 2007 are.  Each of the three is unique in its own way, each has points that the others don’t, and if one is weak, it’s made up for with strengths of another and they work best taken together.  Of course, that’ll cost you a bit, since rums made at full proof are not cheap, but to have rums like this at 40% is to do a disservice to those famous stills from which Demerara rums are wrung with such effort and sweat.  Even DDL finally came around to accepting that when they issued their own Rare Casks collection earlier in 2016.

Of the three Rum Nation rums I tried (in tandem with several others), there was no question in my mind that this one sat square in the middle, not just in the trio, but in the entire Enmore canon.  Personally I always find Enmores somewhat of hit or miss proposition – sometimes they exceed expectations and produce amazing profiles, and sometimes they disappoint, or at least fall short of expectations (like the Renegade Enmore 1990 16 year old did)….another property they share with Bond movies  However, it must also be said that they are very rarely boring. That wooden still profile gives them all a character that is worth trying…several times.  

rn-enmore-rare-2

Take this one for example, an interesting medium-aged fourteen-year-old, almost lemon-yellow rum, with an outturn of 442 bottles from six casks (77-82).  It was distilled in 2002 and bottled this year, the first batch of Rum Nation’s cask strength series, with a mouth watering 56.8% ABV…now there’s a strength almost guaranteed to make an emphatic statement on your schnozz and your glottis.  And before those of you who prefer no adulteration ask — no, as far as I’m aware, it wasn’t messed with.

The nose demonstrated that the colour was no accident; it was sprightly, almost playful with clean notes of hay, planed-off wood shavings, lemony notes.  Not for this rum the pungent, almost dour Port Mourant depth – here it was crisper, cleaner. Gradually other aspects of the profile emerged – old, very ripe cherries, apples, cider, vanilla.  As if bored, it puffed out some mouldy cardboard and cherries that have gone off, before relenting and providing the final subtle anise note, but clearer, lighter, and nothing like the PM, more like a cavatino lightly wending its way through the main melody.

Certainly the nose was excellent – but the palate was something of a let down from the high bar that it set.  It was, to begin with, quite dry, feeling on the tongue like I was beating a carpet indoors.  It was less than full bodied, quite sharp and hot, with initial flavours of polish, sawdust and raisins, a flirt of honey; it was only with some water that other flavours were coaxed out — wax and turpentine, orange chocolates, dates, vanilla and Indian spices (in that sense it reminded me of the Bristol Spirits 1988 Enmore), and some eucalyptus, barely noticeable. It was the sawdust that I remember, though (not the citrus)…it reminded me of motes hanging motionless in a dark barn, speared by seams of light from the rising sun outside.  The finish was pleasant, reasonably long, repeating the main themes of the palate, without introducing anything new.

Overall, this is a rum that, while professionally executed and pleasant to drink (with a really good nose), breaks little new ground – it doesn’t take the Enmore profile to heights previously unscaled.  Yet I enjoyed it slightly more than the RN Diamond 2005 I looked at before.  Partly this is about the character of the whole experience, the way the various elements fused into a cohesive whole.  My friend Henrik, who also tried these three Small Batch Rare Rums together, was much more disapproving – he felt the Enmore was the weakest of the three, with light woods and citrus being all there was. My own opinion was that there was indeed less going on here than in other editions I’ve tried, but part of what I enjoyed was the way that what there was melded together in a way where little failed and much succeeded.  And if it did not come up to the level of other Enmores like the Compagnie des Indes 1988 27 year old (91 points), or the Velier 1988 19 year old (89 points), well, I felt it was still better than others I’ve tried, and by my yardstick, a damned good entry into the genre. Something like, oh, Thunderball or Goldeneye – not the very best, but far, far from the worst.

(87/100)

Other notes

To provide some balance for those who are curious,see the links to two other sets of reviews:

As with all expressions where this are differences in opinion, trying before buying is the way to go, especially if your personal tastes

I’m waiting on Fabio to tell me where the ageing took place – I have a feeling a good portion was in Europe.

 

 

 

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