Sep 272015

Epris 1

If originality and straying off the beaten path of the rumworld is your thing, wander no further.  The thing is just a few stops short of being stunning.

(#234. 85/100)


This is one of the rare occasions where I tasted a rum blind, knowing absolutely nothing at all about it before I started…really, absolutely zilch. Not the country, not the company, not the distillate. I blame this on the pad I crash at in Berlin which has no wi-fi, no internet, no elevator, and what passes for hi-tech is an East-German era rotary dial phone.  So the situation when I tasted this rum was kinda interesting, and allowed me to dispense with any preconceived notions and just tell you what it was like to drink. Short version?  It isn’t half bad, and just a step removed from stunning.

Before all that, let’s speak briefly about the company. L’Esprit is a French bottler and distributor based in Rennes, in the Brittany province of France.  They do all the usual importation and distribution of old favourites from old countries (or islands) which we know better, but have also branched out into independent bottlings from all over the map – Barbados, Guyana, Panama, Guadeloupe, Nicaragua and so on, all uncoloured, unmessed-with, unadded-to.  

This is a column still cane juice product. Bottled at 47.7%, the rum (I’ll call it that, even though, y’know, it confuses me, and it may actually be a rhum….or not) was light yellow, one of 198 from the single cask, and matured between 1999 and 2012 in an ex-bourbon barrel: it’s a hair over thirteen years old. It’s not, strictly speaking, an original – Bruichladdich (Renegade) and Cadenhead have both issued rums from Epris before.  Epris, for what it’s worth, is a distillery located just outside São Paolo in Brazil, and they apparently also distill for Bacardi (as usual, their website is massively uninformative on their product lines).

Epris 2

Brazil may be something of an afterthought for L’Esprit (or not).  Doesn’t matter. It’s great. There’s very little that’s wrong with the spirit, and much that they got absolutely right.  Consider first the aroma: Vegetal, sweet and easy to sniff, quite warm.  Initial notes of cardboard, creamy nougat touched with some lemon zest.  There was a musty kind of background here, like dried hay in a sunlit field, but also the clean, crisp sweetness of a good Riesling. After a while additional notes of peaches, soft ripe mangos, green grapes and then the slight tartness of soursop, ginnips and green apples came to the fore.  Really cool stuff, honestly.

That slight lip-puckering tartness didn’t go away on the taste either, which I think was a good thing.  It was oily and pleasant, a little fuller than the light yellow colour might have implied, and was both a little sweet and a little briny at the same time.  The vegetal hay-like notes (complete with dusty dry hints) stayed along for the ride, with citrus emerging gradually from the background.  Somehow the rum managed to balance both the creamier tastes of brie and toblerone with sharper citrus and soursop into a melange I quite enjoyed. With water these tastes came into fuller focus, but I can’t pretend anything new or more original came out, except perhaps some smokiness and well-oiled leather.  

The finish was also quite excellent – somehow L’Esprit managed to dampen down the sharper and more acidic citrus notes, and allow the deeper, fruitier closing aromas (plus a last surprising licorice hint) to take their turn on the stage in a fade of medium length which closed things off just right. All in all, it was just sweet enough, just strong enough, just fruity enough, just salty enough; and displayed a quality to both delight and impress.

Clearing away the dishes, then, the rum had real character and originality, and I enjoyed it a lot – it was one of those samples that has sent me running around looking for more. I think that agricole aficionados would greatly enjoy it, and even traditional molasses rum lovers would have little to complain about here – L’Esprit have found an intersection of heavy and light, warm and sharp, fruity and tart aspects here, that left me admiring as hell, wondering if I shouldn’t get more into Brazilian products.  In reviewing the Ron Veroes Anejo, I said of it that it should have had more edge, more oomph, more complexity, more daring.  Here’s an example of the rum about which I was thinking.

Other notes

Sometimes a review is about more than just tasting notes, but illustrates a larger point about the rum universe.  

Since tasting the L’Esprit Epris, I’ve been left with questions that remain unresolved. It was made in Brazil, but aged in France, so is it a cachaca?  An agricole? An aged red-haired love-child of both? Does ageing it that long make it less than either, or more? When you think about it, what it does, more – and perhaps better – than any rum I’ve tried in the last year, is tell us that we have to take a look at how we classify rum.  It’s the exceptions that inform how good our rules are, and this one falls into no clear point in the current system. Perhaps it’s time to seriously examine the system.

Compliments to Cyril of DuRhum, who provided the sample gratis, as well as the photographs from which the crops above were taken


Sep 202015
Photo Copyright (c) Henri Comte

Photo Copyright (c) Henri Comte

An agricole that bends the rules just enough to be original, without dishonouring its antecedents. What a remarkable rhum.

(#233. 86/100)


In between the larger and more well known independent bottlers lurk smaller operators pursuing their own vision. Some, like Old Man Spirits, or Delicana, fight the good fight without undue recognition or perhaps even real commercial success.  Others seem to find a more workable middle road. Chantal Comte is one of these, an eponymous company run by a bright and vivacious lady who Cyril of DuRhum interviewed earlier in 2015.  I first saw some of her products in 2014, bought some more out of Switzerland, and now keep an eye out for anything else the lady makes, because, almost alone among the independent bottlers, her company specializes in agricoles and pays no mind to the larger market of molasses based rums.  That gives her rhums a focus that seems to pay huge dividends, at the price of being relatively unknown and relegated almost to bit-player status in the broader rum community.

Born in Morocco into a family with West Indian connections, Ms. Comte started out as a winemaker in the early 1980s, in Nimes. Martinique influenced her interest in rhum, and through the decades she was mentored by two major players in the agricole world, André Depaz of the Mount Pelee plantation, and Paul Hayot (the Hayot family company took over the Clement distillery, you will recall). In the  mid eighties this interest developed to the point where she began blending and bottling some of Depaz’s rhums (with André’s encouragement) and stuck with a philosophy of blending the original vintages, sourced from all over the French West Indies, and bottled at natural strength…whatever was felt to be appropriate to the final expression.

What I had here, then, was a bourbon finished 46.5% amber-coloured AOC Martinique rhum…the questions for me were, which plantation and how old, because Martinique has quite a few different agricole makers and Ms. Comte bottles several. But then the fine print on the label showed it was L’Habitation Saint-Etienne, so mystery solved. How old?  No idea. The rhum is a blend, and comprises several different vintages from HSE: there is no detail on whether the blend was itself aged or not, and how long the bourbon finishing regimen was. It was probably an XO, six years old at least, and honestly, I felt it was likely older than that. On the other hand, I was informed that all vintages are derived from small creole column-still distillates (much like most of the French island agricoles) aged in limousin oak before final transferrence to bourbon barrels for the final finishing and blend.  No additions, no filtration, and the AOC designation remains.


These days I don’t write much on presentation unless there’s something intriguing (or irritating – cheap corks and tinfoil caps are pet bugbears of mine).  Still, I’d like to comment on the beefy barroom bottle, similar to Rum Nation’s, as well as the wooden box, which certainly gets my nod of approval, given the thing costs over a hundred euros – I’ve never discarded my feeling that when one pays a fair bit of coin, then one is entitled to a fair bit of bling, and here the delivery is just fine. (Note to wife: makes a great gift at Christmas).

On to the rhum, then.  Amber coloured, remember, and middling strength. Pouring it out was almost sensuous, it even felt thicker than usual.  It nosed well, and smelled heavenly – instant green lime zest mixed with softer vanillas, plus eucalyptus and that characteristic grassy cleanliness that so mark agricoles.  I remember looking at my glass in some amazement, wondering how the soft and the sharp scents could meld so well.  Trust me, they did. As it opened up cinnamon, rosemary and riccotta cheese came out, and there was a growing background of ripe fruits from the bourbon barrels tapping my tonsils to say “Oy…we’re here.”

For a rum this light in colour, it was also pleasantly deep (though not heavy a la Port Mourant or Caroni, it was too fresh and clear for that) – somewhat stinging initially, even harsh, so watch out.  And also, be warned…there’s an opening salvo of cordite and firecrackers in here, a gun-oil kind of metallic note; not strong enough to overwhelm subtler tastes that were waiting in the wings, and they died away quickly…but it did make my hair curl for a moment.  More traditional tastes followed in swift, balanced unison, trip-trapping across the palate – semi-sweet fresh fruit, lemon-grass,  ripe mangos, papaya, vanilla, ginger (very faint). It began to trend towards driness as it trailed off, and the finish just confirmed that – fairly long, heated, arid, and last flavours of grass and mild zest to round things off.

Honestly, I don’t know how they managed to meld the offbeat metallic notes with sharp citrus, clean grasses and soft fruits all at once and wrap it all up in a bow of tannins that were kept in check, but they did it, and the result is really worth trying. I liked it partly on the strength of that originality, and indeed, it was on the basis of this one rhum, that I bought their 1977 45% and 1980 58% Trois Rivieres editions as well. It’s a little offbeat, marching to its own tune, and if it’s not quite as insane as the certifiable Clairin Sajous, well, I guess they thought that they had taken enough risks with their client base for one day, and pulled in their horns

My experience with independent bottlers is that they usually come to rum after dabbling in the obscure Scottish drink and only later discovering the True Faith.  Ms. Comte took a different path, starting out with wine (she owns the Château de la Tuilerie which she inherited from her father, and until recently, ran the winery there).  It’s debatable what specific skills can be transferred from one spirit to another: yet, if other editions put out by her company are on par with or better than this rather interesting and remarkable rhum, all I can say is that I hope more wine makers move over to rhums, and quickly.

Other notes

Big hat tip to Cyril of DuRhum, who not only wrote the initial interview with Ms. Comte, but proofed my initial post.


Sep 142015
Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

Photo Courtesy of Josh Miller @ Inu A Kena

An unaggressive, bright and clear, sipping-quality rhum agricole that can serve as a bridge between traditional molasses rum and agricoles.

(#232 / 85/100)


Clément holds the dubious distinction of providing one of the first agricoles I ever tried.  That was five years (and some change) ago. At the time when I tried that Tres Vieux XO, just about the top of their range, I remember the clarity and smooth brightness of it, and how it flirted with a molasses profile without ever stepping over the  line.  That rhum was a blend of three exceptional years’ production…the Hors D’Age I was trying this time around was supposedly a blend of the best vintages of the past fifteen years.  On the basis of such remarks are high prices charged.  Note the “hors d’age” statement – what that means in principle, is that the rhum is aged between three and six years, which strikes me as absurd for a bottle costing in the €90+ range.  Still, it is an AOC rhum, Clément is enthusiastic abut the care with which they assembled it, and all in all, it’s a pretty decent dram.

Clément has a long history, dating back to 1887 and the purchase of domaine de l’Acajou by Homère Clément. Initially it just produced sugar and raw alcohol, but the demand for liquor durting the first world war persuaded him to upgrade to a distillery in 1917. After the death of Homère, his son Charles took over the business. Credited with developing (some say perfecting) the company’s rhum agricole methodology, he studied distillation at the Louis Pasteur School in France, and named the first bottlings after his father.  He subsequently expanded the company by instigating mass exports to France, which became the company’s primary market outside the Caribbean.  When he died in 1973, his sons took over, but thirteen years later they sold the Acajou distillery to another Martinique business owned by family friends (Groupe Bernard Hayot, one of the largest family businesses in France), who have kept the brand, heritage and plantation intact and functioning and modernized. The company gained the AOC designation in 1996.

Agricoles, of course, even the aged ones, trend towards a certain clarity and lightness to them…one might even say sprightly. The nose on the Homère Cuvée broke no new ground, while still being quite delicious to sniff. It presented a tasty mix of the tartness of freshly pressed apple juice (almost cider-like), and softer tastes of under-ripe apricots, freshly sliced.  Some vague grassy hints wafted around, very much in the background, and after a few minutes traces of nuts and yellow mangoes and a little leather and waxy stuff rounded things out.  It was quite soft and smooth, with very little sting or bite to it.

The golden rum was equally gentle to taste, providing very little aggressiveness even at 44% (unless it was just me and my palate being fireproofed by stronger drinks).  The feel on the tongue was quite pleasant, gentle and easy-going to a fault.  It started out smooth and then morphed to something drier over time. Sharper tastes of lemon dueled it out with more apples, mint-leaves and green grass, some brine and dates, all of which came together really well, with additional breakfast spices, cinnamon and hazelnuts being in evidence…even some chocolate.  I found it, in fact, to be somewhat similar to the XO (they were side by side, so I tasted them both simultaneously, one to inform the other), just not quite as good.  Still, even after all those tastes, there was still some faint traces of leather and smoke to round things out, and while I won’t swear to a tinge of molasses in there, it certainly felt like it. The fade was sweet and aromatic, smooth and warm, pretty short, some wood, leather, chocolate and citrus ending the experience.

There’s enough good stuff trapped in the bottle to please, even satisfy, just insufficient excitement to make it a ultra-remarkable drink that would score higher. Of course, chosing which vintages to blend into a rhum like this presents its own difficulties to the makers, and I’d never say it was bad rhum: my feeling is simply that the Cuvée had more modest goals than the rather more impressive XO, and aimed no higher.  Did I like it?  Yes.  Enjoy it?  Surely. It’s a really well-made AOC rhum for those who like agricoles and displays the hallmarks of time and care and blending expertise.  So when I say you won’t feel short-changed by the Cuvée, that’s entirely true…what you won’t be is seriously challenged.  Still, just because it doesn’t rise to the heights of its predecessor is no reason to dismiss it out of hand. It’s a worthy addition to the brand.



Other notes

It’s possible that this rhum has been made in order to replace the sadly discontinued XO.  Some people disliked the XO (I was initially not enthused myself, though my appreciation grew over the years), and there’s a whole FB thread about varying opinions on the matter; the cynic in me thinks that by not stating which vintages comprise the blend, it allows Clément the freedom to sidestep the issue of what happens when those vintages run out…unlike with the XO, where they couldn’t mess with the assembly because everyone knew which years’ production was inside.  I hope the silence on the components of the Homère is more a trade secret than an end run around the buying public.

Sep 072015
Samaroli Nicaragua 1995

Photo (c)

This is a rum that reaffirms my faith in the Nicaraguan rums.  Nothing need be added to it, nothing can be taken away. There’s a purity and minimalism of construction here that is almost zen.

(#231. 88/100)


The sheer range  of flavours emanating from the glass that held the Samaroli Nicaragua 1995 tickled my nose and astonished my mind.  Few light coloured rums I’ve tried in the last six years were ever this rich right out of the gate.  For a person whose background in Nicaraguan rum trends more to the Flor de Caña range (of which the 21 remains my favourite), this was not only intriguing, but an outright pleasure.

Samaroli is one of the first modern independent bottlers who’s still around (though Veronelli may be older), having opened its doors in 1968.  As with many other Italian outfits, they initially specialized in whiskies, but in our subculture, it’s their rum bottlings for which they are more highly esteemed. There’s a certain cachet to Samaroli rums, perhaps because there were among the first to begin issuing limited edition craft bottlings for rum which were more than just by-the-way-we-think-you-might-like-this efforts done by scotch makers.  Companies like Secret Treasure, Velier, Rum Nation, Compagnie des Indies are its intellectual heirs.  These newer companies seem to grab reviewers’ attention, headlines and market share much more than the old guy on the block, and  yet there is Samaroli, still quietly putting out the hits.  Maybe it’s Samaroli’s absence from the Facebook or festival circuit. Maybe it’s their comparative rarity – this ten year old 45% rum, for example, only has 378 bottles in existence.  Maybe it’s their overall quality – I have not heard a bad thing said about the decades-long rum lines. Still, it ain’t exactly cheap at €160, and that will make a lot of people pause.

All of this crossed my mind as I nosed a more-than-generous sample sent to me by that estimable gentleman from France, Cyril of DuRhum, so a big hat tip to the man.

Usually a light gold rum almost presumes a certain light sparkly diffidence…not here.  Smooth thick and slightly heated aromas rose from the glass, firmly providing the initial dusting of citrus and ripe oranges, cinnamon and pepper, around which danced scintillating notes of overripe green grapes.  It had a slightly nautical tang to it, of seaspray and brine, black olives…really well put together, not too heated to be unpleasant, not too faint to be unnoticeable.  It did take a while to open up, but that wait was worth it – additional scents of caramel and sugar notes sulkily emerged at the tail end, as if doing me a favour.  Never mind, still liked it.

Ahh, the taste of this thing….just lovely.  It was medium to full bodied in texture, and the various tastes were distinct and separable and came across as sweetly as a series of precise piano notes dropping gently into a pool of silence…something by Mendellsohn, I think, or one of Chopin’s quiet nocturnes.  There was absolutely no bombast or fire here, just one pure thing after another…green grapes to begin with, fleshy apricots, followed by a frisson of plums and the zest of tangerines.  A little water brought out toblerone, honey and nuts…and oddly, very little brown sugar or caramel.  On the other hand, well controlled oak, aromatic tobacco and vanilla rounded things out quite nicely, so no complaints there.  The exit was medium long, warm but not sharp, presenting the final tastes of peaches and citrus oil and leather, and you’d better believe I wasted no time in having another sample.

The Nicaragua 1995 is an completely delicious, professionally made rum.  Mr. Samaroli has always felt that as flavours increase with age the texture and body fall off, and there’s a sweet spot where age, texture and strength intersect.  In this case, ten year ageing and 45% may be just about right for providing a remarkable tasting experience without overreaching.  There are some who have no particular liking for Nicaraguan rums (as represented by Flor de Caña, which has gotten some flak in recent years due to its age-statement  and labeling philosophy) – to such naysayers, I’d simply say that for depth of flavour and overall profile, for an enjoyable spirit that succeeds on practically every level and can be used for whatever you want, you wouldn’t shortchange yourself by trying this rum if it ever crosses your path.

Other notes

No additions or inclusions or chill-filtration

Distilled in Nicaragua in 1995, bottled 2005 in Scotland, where it was also aged.

Sep 032015


It’s all a little bit, well, funky.  There’s an element of crazy about, it, perhaps deliberately created, perhaps not, which is almost in defiant contrast to more traditional PMs.  All things considered, this rum raises my ire and hurts my heart, both at the same time.  In it I see all that craft makers aspire to, while somehow failing to realize both its and their own potential.

(#230 / 84/100)


Last time around I looked at the quietly impressive PM 1990, which I tasted in conjunction with the PM 1999.  You’d think that with core distillate being the same, and with the same port finishing, the results would differ only in the details.  Yeah.  No.  The 1999, too well made to ignore, turned out so different from its sibling that I spent ages with it just to make sure I wasn’t being taken for a ride. It’s an illustration of how similar origins, combined with some chaos theory, leads to a remarkably divergent outcome

As before, the Port Mourant wooden double pot still supplied the core distillate; it was aged until 2013 in oak, and like the 1999-2010, and the 1990-2007, it was left to rest in port pipes for an extra finish, at that same unadventurous 46% that just makes me shrug my shoulders.  When I inquired about the Peru 8 Year Old strength, they responded, “40% suits the rum well, in our opinion,” and I think they have the same opinion here. To their own detriment, maybe.  One or two rums at less than cask-strength I can accept, but when the entire range never varies between 40-46%, I have to question the logic (beyond trying to sell as many as possible to more conventional purchasers). If other independent bottlers can take their barrels out for a spin and crank them up a shade just to see where they can take their audience, I see no reason why an outfit that made the magnificent PM 1980 can’t occasionally break out of their own self-imposed corsets.

Anyway, so, we had a reddish bronze rum here, nicely aged, affordably priced.  On the pour some of the expected notes came out immediately: what made me retreat a metaphorical step was its unexpected aggressiveness.  The thing lunged out of the glass with an attitude, was sharp and unlike its other brothers (and other PMs I’ve been fortunate enough to try)…it did not display heavy, brooding notes of enchanted forests, but instead the harsh spearing glares of desert sunlight.  Initial notes of dusty hay, chopped fruits, some mangoes and papayas were there, gone very fast, a little smoke, some tannins from the oak.  Leaving the rum to open some more brought out secondary scents of anise, smoke, leather, some dark chocolate, green grapes, and it was all nowhere near as deeply luscious as the 1990…no idea why.  There was a shimmering clarity to the rum which was intriguing, yet not entirely appealing. The mix of light and heavy components wasn’t working for me.

The taste moved on from there…not nearly as full bodied as the other PMs in my experience, at all.  More of that light sharpness, a rapier compared to the more elemental battleaxes of even the 1990 variation.  Some of the richness of the others (even made by Bristol themselves) was missing here, and I really was not that impressed with the result.  Tastes were decent, can’t complain too much about that – there were raisins, black grapes, prunes, figs and some dark chocolate to contend with, all interlaced with some sharp bitterness of oak which thankfully was not predominant.  With water, the chocolate started to assert some biceps, as did a slightly drier element, plus fresh brewed black tea and vanilla, and even a flirt of feintiness and some other more winey notes from the port finish.  I seem to remember reading somewhere that a smidgen of sugar had been added to this rum, but I didn’t really sense any – if true, it couldn’t have been much.  On the fade it was dry and spicy, with some crushed walnuts, anise, more fruit and a sly background of molasses and brown sugar: that and the nose were the two best parts of the rum, for me.

My dissatisfaction with this rum stems from what appears to be two differing characteristics marrying uneasily – the dour, anise-led, brown-sugar profile of a PM, and something lighter and sharper, younger, friskier.  It’s like an old fart in his Bentley trying to make nice with a coed driving a 370Z. So, is it, or will it be, a successful commercial rum?  I think so.  It suggests an ironic future for Bristol – they bring a well known, well-loved distillate to the stage, age it decently, make it reasonably, price it well, issue it at an agreeable strength, and I’m sure if it hasn’t already flown off the shelves, it will – and yet, this very success might prevent them from making any more of those genuinely fantastic PM-1980-style rums of which I am convinced they are capable.  What a shame.


Other notes

For a much more positive review of the 1999, read Marco’s take, with all his usual and remarkable historical detail, here.

There is another 1999 bottled in 2010 and yet another bottled in 2014 (the latter without the port finish).

Aug 272015


A love note from Bristol to lovers of Guyanese PM-still rums

(#229. 88/100)

Bristol Spirits is that independent bottler out of the UK which started life in 1993. Their barrel selection from the various countries around the Caribbean has created an enviable track record of limited bottlings; I’ll always have good memories of the PM 1980, and the subsequent editions of the 1990 and 1999 were rums I’ve been keeping an eye out for on the basis of that positive experience.

All of these were made, of course, using the Port Mourant distillate – in this particular instance they didn’t just age it between 1990 and 2007, but allowed it rest for the final two years in matured port pipes for an extra fillip of flavor.  It sort of succeeded, it’s a great rum by any standard, and of course, they did continue their happy tradition of a funky, screaming fire-engine-red label slapped on to a standard barroom bottle. I just can’t pass these things by, honestly.

The PM 1990, a dark amber rum with ruby hints to it, derived from the famed wooden PM double pot still now held in DDL’s facilities at Diamond. It poured, sulky and heavy into the glass, and while it was tamed to a very accessible 46% (which is sort of de rigeur for many of the UK craft makers who seem determined not to lose a single sale by I dunno, issuing good rum at cask strength), the initial scents were impressive from the get-go. Wood, sweat, sap, brine, oak and smoke permeated the nose at once in thick waves.  These are not always my favourite smells, but I used to say the same thing about plasticine and turpentine, so what do I know? It’s the way they come together and enhance the experience, that matters, anyway. And indeed, things mellowed out after some minutes, and the good stuff came dancing forward – raisins, Christmas cake, soy sauce, molasses, licorice and burnt sugar, all wrapped  up in salty caramel and toffee, citrus rind (very faint) and chamomile (even fainter). Just a phenomenally rich nose, generous with promise.

It delivered on that promise very nicely, thank you very much.  Warm and strong, some sweetness came forward here, with initial tastes of salt caramel, dulce de leche ice cream, and dark tea leaves.  Quite full bodied to taste, no issues there for me at all – this thing was giving the PM 1980 some serious competition at a lesser price. The more familiar tastes of licorice, molasses-soaked brown sugar and musty leather came through, and after adding some water (didn’t really need to, but what the hell) the full cornucopia of everything that came before mushroomed on the tongue.  Flowers, orange rind, licorice, smoke and some tannins, together with old polished leather and linseed oil, all full and delicious and not at all over-spicy and sharp.  It’s fine rum, very fine indeed.  The fade was shortish, not dry, quote smooth and added no new notes of consequences, but simply summarized all the preceding, exiting warmly and easily with caramel and toffee, anise, and then it was all gone and I was hastening to refill my glass.

Here I usually end with a philosophical statement, observations that come to mind, anything that can wrap things up in a neat bow.  But truth to tell, in this case I don’t think I need to.  Bristol Spirits have simply made a very good rum for the price (about a hundred bucks) and age (seventeen years).  As such, it will be more accessible, more available and probably more appreciated than fiercely elemental, higher-proofed offerings costing much more.  So in terms of value for money, this is one of those rums that I would recommend to anyone who wants to dip his or her toe into the realm of stronger, more complex, and also more focused high-end spirits.  As long as your tastes run into dark and flavorful Guyanese rums, this one won’t disappoint.


Aug 242015


While I loved the single-minded, furious purity of the PM and Diamond rums individually, I could not find fault with what was accomplished by marrying them off.

(#228 / 89.5/100)


In a time where conglomerates rule the roost, where even old distilleries with respected antecedents produce supposedly high-end rums that aren’t always, the wonderment is that rums like Veliers can still be made.  The craft makers are the sharp end of the spear – many are artists who cater only to those who want the pure rum experience…they live in their own corner of the rumworld, have small sales of pricey rums, and we must be prepared to enter there, hoping that their ethos seeps into the wider world. This rum is a good place to start. Because, you see, working through and assimilating the oeuvre of all Velier’s expressions can be a lifelong occupation for us rum lovers; and while there is no one of their rums that must be drunk in order to qualify as a well-rounded geek of the dark spirit, I submit that if you are not eventually familiar with the brand, you’re really not a rum lover at all.

Luca Gargano’s reputation has been made in three major steps – the Damoiseau 1980, the Demerara rums and the Caronis (with maybe Haitian clairins waiting in the wings for the next big thing).  The man addresses the commercial lack of adventurousness in far too many makers by emphatically banging the table with products like this one — un-chill-filtered, unadulterated, cask-strength.  And, as with the EHP-PM blend that was also issued in 2014, here the output of the Diamond still and the Port Mourant still was married (by DDL) prior to letting them age for nineteen years.  He calls it an experimental.  I call it exceptional.


Even as I let it stand there, opening up, the dark amber rum introduced itself with a decisive nose that struck to the heart, and established its quality and originality at once.  After tasting hundreds of rums over many years I didn’t think I was capable of surprise any longer…this thing proved me absolutely wrong.  Immediate wine and feinty notes wafted out of the glass, accompanied by a cheering section of plums, blackberries and vanilla.  I thought, okay, this was great, but it continued – caramel, smoke, some oakiness, licorice and dark toblerone notes added themselves to the overall mélange, combining into a luscious amalgam that represented an obscure and crazy kind of brilliant madness in a bottle.  This was a rum I just could not stop nosing for another fifteen minutes, so enthralling was the experience.

That 62.1% really made itself felt on the palate, even after sitting around waiting to burn off for a while.  It was certainly quite spicy, sharp even.  Good body and awesomely intense mouthfeel, but this was one of the few Veliers where I thought it might be a shade too torqued up.  But never mind that – just luxuriate in the panoply of tastes it provided in exchange. Licorice and marzipan led straight off, followed by burnt sugar, some tar (not as much as with the Caronis), mitigated by more unsweetened dark chocolate and coffee grounds.  Port infused cigarillos, mixed in with smoke and wood, black cherries, more plums and more prunes, and some vague phenols rounding things out. Here water is absolutely recommended, and lo and behold, even more stuff came out – some stale coffee grounds (not as bad as it sounds), freshly sawn wood, musty old cigars and more smoke, honey and cream cheese. It was the gift that kept on giving.  I went through three glasses of the stuff, while warding off the depredations of my better half, who was wondering what the gurgles of delight were all about. As for the finish well, pretty damned good, long of course, hot and spicy without the sandpaper rasping across the back of the throat, and final notes of dark chopped fruits, cake, more licorice, dried raisins and (weirdest of all) some fried bananas.


Think of it as you would an El Dorado on crack, beefed up and dialed to “11” and yet, and yet…it didn’t have the direct in-yer-face machismo of Velier’s single-still editions with their singular power and focus. In fact, the tastes were not so much fierce and attacking as well-behaved, coming across the taste buds in a strong and orderly fashion.  For a rum this strong, that’s nothing short of amazing. Drinking and savouring and enjoying a rum like the Diamond-PM is to be reminded that rum can ascend to heights more makers need to seek.  Luca rarely, if ever, just throws rum out the door, never dumbs his sh*t down, never dilutes it to crap or adds the worm.  He always seems to try going for broke, and to experience this rum is to watch a man risking his talent and his company’s reputation, not merely taking them out for a stroll.  I don’t know about you, but for me that deserves respect.

Other notes
2 barrels, 564 bottles

Distilled 1995, bottled July 2014.  The sources are the metal coffey still of Diamond and the wooden double pot still of Port Mourant, with Diamond supposedly dominant.

The marks on the barrels were <SV> and PM.  PM needs no elaboration.  The SV is more problematic, because Diamond had marks <S>, S<W> and SVW at various times.  Marco in his seminal essay of the various Guyanese estates thought it might be from one of the original owners, a Mr. M. Steele, or maybe Mr. Samuel Welsh.  But in truth, with Diamond absorbing so many different estates in the last hundred years, it’s anyone’s guess. Shouldn’t stop you from reading his essay, though



Aug 182015


As appealing and soft as a pair of slippers on a cold evening

(#227 / 83/100)


Nosing this golden brown forty percenter was like revisiting a place in the mind. The soft sweet scents transported me back to the first time I tried the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva on a dark, bitterly cold and wintry evening.  This rum, made by the same outfit as the DRE, was quite similar: caramel, toffee, unsweetened chocolate and salted butter on rye bread.  There was a slight salty-sweet note here that hinted at soya, or even tequila, but very much in the background, and as it developed, coffee, dried dark fruits and raisins were also elbowing their way to my attention – not bad at all. I felt warmer just sniffing it, and thought back to the early fun days of Liquorature, where I fought a long hard battle to excommunicate the heresy of the scottish tipple with the rums of the True Faith (ultimately without success, but the fight rages on).

I have to comment on the velvety smoothness of the mouthfeel of the Cacique, which was great – it was like your rice-eating mongrel’s adoring I-love-you-master kiss without the drool, or a hungry cat purring and making nice. It was warm and sweet and unaggressive sort of feel on the palate, smooth and thick, without ever quite stepping off the edge and becoming a sweet vanilla-bomb.  Anyway…salt butter again, sour cream, toffee, vanilla, more coffee, very light floral notes, and exactly zero woody or even tobacco notes to be found.  Water?  Naah, I passed – water might have shredded this thing, it was already too light.  You see, the 40% was too weak to really emphasize and bring out the potential of the flavours hidden beneath…I really had to stretch just to sense what I described just now. This made it somewhat unadventurous, uncomplicated, and lacking in what us techno-rum-geeks with our love of exactitude, call “oomph.”  And this carried over into the fade, which might have been the weakest part of the entire drinking experience – the brown sugar came out really hard here, with dark, sweet caramel, butter and toffee…barely escaping the dreaded term “cloying” by the slight bitterness of oak and stale coffee grounds.


The brand first marketed its rums way back in 1959 – it is now owned by Diageo – and according to wikipedia, it’s the top selling rum in Venezuela (Diplomatico must be pissed). Three varieties exist, the Añejo, the Cacique and the Antiguo, in ascending order, so this is a considered by the makers to be a middle of the road rum. All the rums in the range are supposedly made from molasses distilled in copper stills (I kinda doubt that – the profile suggests column still product), aged a little, then blended, then aged again, for up to eight years. The 500 is no newcomer to the stage, being first issued in 1992 to commemorate the date Columbus landed in the New World (I hesitate to use the word “discovered”).  Now you know as much as I do, and that’s still more than you’ll find on the Diageo website.

Cacique is made by Licoreras Unidas SA in La Miel – these are the same cheerful amigos who make the equally sweet, light and very drinkable Diplomaticos, which may inspire either praise and derision depending on where you stand on the sugar issue. I always kinda liked the Diplomaticos myself, especially in the early years — and even now that I’m more of a dark, heavy, full-proofed aged-rum aficionado, I still think they’re really good as introductory sipping rums (which is also how I came across them).  So I expected the Cacique to more or less hew to the same profile, and it didn’t disappoint in any major way. It shared points of similarity with the light Colombian and Peruvian rums, as well as the other Venezuelans, which argues for a commonality of origin in the diaspora of Cuban-influenced roneros.

So…did I like it?  Yes and no.  The smooth and familiar tastes were comforting in their own way, sweet, pleasant, unadventurous, uncomplex – they love you. No attention needed be paid to the Cacique – it wasn’t that kind of rum – but if that’s your thing, add five points to my score. If on the other hand you’re into cask strength beefcakes that menacingly flex their power and dunder and esters in all directions, and show their indifference to your health or your opinion or your tonsils, better take five off.

Other notes

A cacique is an Arawak (Amerindian) tribal chieftain. I wonder if the irony of a bottle label commemorating both the arrival of Europeans, and the title of a chief of those they nearly exterminated, ever occurred to anyone.

Aug 132015


Frankly, I get more excitement looking for the keys in my pocket.

(#226. 77/100)


Like most people, the stuff I’ve tried from Venezuela are the Pamperos, the AJ Vollmer rums of Santa Teresa, and the Diplomaticos from Destileridas Unidas, the latter of which have recently been getting some flak on social media for their over-sugary backbones. Let me add to the Veno lineup with the Veroes, which won medals in 2012 from both the Madrid World Congress of Rum (and again in 2013) and from the XPs at the Miami Rum Rennaisance. I think the Cacique 500 is knocking about somewhere, I’ll probably look at that soon as well.

For the history buffs, Veroes is a part of a group of family businesses. With the 2009 acquisition of San Javier Distillery (itself founded in 1974, though 1975 and 1976 are also quoted in various online sources), the inclusion of commercial recreational spirits took off . San Javier Distillery is located in north-central Venezuela and the brand of Veroes seems to have been theirs. Their expansion into the export market gathered steam after a 2009 modernization and while not precisely unknown in North America, their current thrust is primarily into Europe (Spain for the most part).

In a 2015 interview with GotRum Magazine, it was stated that there were no inclusions and additions whatsoever in the Añejo, so we were certainly getting a pure rum here.  I should mention, that there are some discrepancies in various online materials regarding its true ageing: Industries Bravo, a distributor in Venezuela, says it’s 4 years oldMr. Leopoldo Ayala of CEO of Destilería San Javier (DSJ) and Destilería Veroes (DV), Venezuela, said it’s six years old, in 2015The Madrid International Rum Conference gave it a silver in the “five years old or less” category, and the booth attendant at the Berlin Rum Fest was absolutely sure it was a blend of rums between 2-5 years of age. So go figure.  A private message to Veroes themselves gave me the reply that it is a blend of five year old rums…they may be having some trouble getting the word out.

The 40% rum was golden in colour; nosing provided an initially very sharp and spicy entrance, with opening scents of floor wax, herbal tea, incense and alcohol.  In some cases such a melange works, in others not.  Here, not so much. I endured the unappealing sharpness at the front end, and it mellowed out into more traditional molasses, vanilla and caramel as time passed.  I literally hung around with the rum and talked to my glass for over ten minutes exchanging anecdotes (with the glass) about other rums we had known and met over the years, but complexity (or conversation) did not seem to be its ambition or its forte, and apart from some additional light floral and citrus notes, it had nothing further to offer me. So, not being overly inspired thus far (or by its ability to speak), but knowing that sometimes nose and palate diverge widely in quality, I moved on.

The palate: reasonably smooth, a shade spicy, medium to light bodied; clear and clean and much less heated than those nose. It provided pleasant, unremarkable flavours of vanilla and caramel; quite a bit of woodiness in there; the rum seemed to have no particular unique character of its own that would make it stand out, which can be read as both a compliment and a denunciation, I suppose.  Adding water helped a little, just not enough to raise the bar.  Certainly coconut, some cherries and a flirt of citrus made themselves known, yet I felt that it needed more, more of everything – heft, intensity, weight, complexity, flavours – to succeed better, even as a cocktail ingredient.  The finish confirmed this – it was clean and short, nothing additional to report, without attitude or real complexity.



Maybe I’m being somewhat curt with my rejection of what is a workmanlike rum, reasonably made, if unexciting to behold.  Perhaps even unfair, given that it is a young rum still growing out of training wheels and likely not made to be a sipping rum. There are indeed older variants of the brand, six and twelve years old, which I have not tried, and it’s likely that satisfaction is to be gained there, as is usual with older expressions higher up the price and value chain. And after all, it did win those medals in Madrid, got a nod from the XPs, so others appreciate it.  This one may be all about opinion, then.

But for me, the Veroes Añejo is a young rum, too light and untamed. A mixing agent, that’s all. This is not a rum I particularly disliked, or, conversely, particularly enjoyed.  I was left feeling very little of anything. It absorbed enjoyment, anger, challenge, complexity, artistry, character, the way a black hole absorbs…well, everything. Finishing my tasting and writing up my detailed notes, all that remained was a peculiar indifference, hanging around like the Cheshire cat’s grin. Normally I revel in the plunge to dissect a drink’s profile: here, I’d much rather remain on the event horizon and hang around, getting older while waiting for its more aged siblings.

Other notes:

The rum conforms to the Venezuelan CIVEA “Denominación de Origen Controlada” (DOC) which marks it as Venezuelan rum adhering to certain standards of aging, production and bottling. I have not yet done any research to see how closely this lines up with the French AOC.

Aug 062015



The last of the flight of seven Caronis I tried in depth back in 2014, and one of the best.

(#225. 88/100)


There are two extremes to the Caronis: the limited release bottling from independent bottlers which are usually less than a thousand bottles, and Velier with its huge stockpile and multiple issues…so much so that one always has difficulty figuring out where to start with ‘em (the 12 year old 50% may be the best place).  I have a feeling that Rum Nation’s take on the late great plantation’s rum is likely to be one of the more accessible ones available to the average consumer, because the rums are (relatively) easily found, well advertised, and come on, let’s face it – Rum Nation do rums well.

In this case Rum Nation double-aged the heavy rum (from column distillate) for nine years in Trinidad itself, before shipping them off to Europe for further seven years of maturation in some barrels that were ex-bourbon, and others that once held the Peruanao 8 year old (a rather light, sprightly and delicate rum with a character similar to Bristol Spirits’s version, and also akin to the Millonario Solera 15).  The effect of the ageing regime in differing barrels and countries certainly added to its complexity and also its overall voluptuousness, I think.

Nosing a beefcake of 55% usually provides an intense intro, like one of those idiots who shakes your hand with a painfully overstrong grip to show he’s a badass…the Caroni 1998 wasn’t quite like that, but it was certainly powerful.  Pungent — if not quite in the league of the Jamaican Pot Still White which edged over into ferocious – and vibrant with initial scent of honeycomb wax and rubber and straw, like a frogman strutting around in a dusty hayloft. There was a lot more going on here all at the same time, mind you — after letting the glass sit for a few minutes, additional scents of freshly sawn cedar, tar, oak, vanilla and moist molasses-soaked brown sugar were joined by softer, muskier scents of coffee, nutmeg and licorice. It was one of those rums that proved why pushing past the too-oft self-imposed 40% limitation is absolutely recommended.  It was a phenomenal rum to simply enjoy smelling.

And no slouch to taste either. Licorice and tar led off, lots of it.  The rubber, happily, started to take a back seat (I like it, but often there’s too much of a good thing and it’s nice to see it a bit subdued).  Caramel and toffee and coffee continued to make themselves felt as primaries, with background hints of green tea, white pepper coiling around behind it all.  The balance between the softer, muskier elements, and sharper, more herbal tastes was really quite something.  Even the faint bitterness of tree sap and fresh sawdust was kept in check (I was reminded of the quinine derivatives I used to have to drink in my bush years, but that was memory, not necessarily a taste I clearly sensed, and what the hell, I’ll mention it anyway). A touch of water smoothened things out quite nicely, but no additional flavours came forward that I could add to this already excellent smorgasbord.  I would like to point out that the rather brutally ascetic character I sense in many full proof Caronis (like the Veliers, for example) has been tamed here somewhat, and I attribute that to the 5g/L of sugar that Rum nation have added to the profile.  I’m not really a fan of such inclusions, yet must concede it works here.

The finish? Very long, heated and dry, really good – it released last sensations of molasses and caramel and angostura bitters (really!), with some of the  licorice and pepper notes coming over from the taste profile.  All in all, this is an enormously pleasant rum to play with and savour if you are into the Trinidadian profile, definitely one to share around.


2014 was certainly an interesting year for Rum Nation.  In that single year they issued a new bottle shape (the squat one); they released their first white pot still rum (the Jamaica 57%); and for the first time they went over 50% in not one but two rums, the aforementioned Jamaica, and the amber-red medium-to-full-bodied Caroni 1998, the first batch of which I’m looking at here, and 3120 bottles of which were issued at cask strength 55% (or full proof, take your pick). They seem to positioning themselves in that relatively untravelled country between the craft makers with their few hundred bottles of exclusive full proof expressions, and the much more commercially orientated big distilleries who issue many thousands of bottles of aged rums at a lower proof point

I mentioned accessibility earlier. “Approachability” is just as good a word.  What I mean by this is how easy it is to get, how expensive it is, and how an average Tom, Dick or Harrilall would like it. With several thousand bottles of the Caroni on sale (and more batches to come), I’d say if you wanted this rum, you could find it; it’s mid-priced — not student-cheap, but reasonably affordable; and the taste has been smoothened out and somewhat domesticated by that 5g/L of added sugar. For purists, this last may be a disqualifier, but I argue that for people who buy rums only occasionally and have less lofty standards (or who don’t know or care), it would make a decent choice and introduction to higher proofed rums (to his credit, Mr. Rossi has never hidden the inclusions, but like many others, I wish a statement to that effect would be on the bottle front and centre).

In any event, a slightly softer, yet still intense taste profile, ready availability and a price your spouse won’t scream at you for, makes this Caroni a tempting proposition when the time comes to buy one for yourself, or recommend a Trini rum for a friend. My love is give to the immense stable of Velier Caronis, of course, but that’s no reason to pass Rum Nation’s top-notch edition by. It’s a damned fine exemplar of rum from a distillery whose stocks are shrinking every year.


Other notes

Steve James of the RumDiaries reviewed a RN Caroni 1998 bottle from the 2nd Batch, with some additional details on the distillery and methods of production.

I’ve looked at eight Caronis, most sourced in 2014. They are:

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