Mar 272013
 

 

A gentle, easygoing underproof rum-wannabe. There’s nothing really outstanding about it, and it’s too weak to appeal to me personally: like other Asian rums, however, it does have a taste all its own, and for those who don’t like forty-or-greater percenters, this one will satisfy.

(#108. 48/100)

***

Is this a rum at all? Liquorature is littered with comments from both the purists (who disdain any additions) and the tolerant (who don’t mind), and the bone of contention between them is always the same: can a spirit be made from less than 100% cane juice, with additives for taste and profile, and still call itself an inheritor of the seafaring tradition and swishing cutlasses — a rum?

The first real lightning rod for this discussion came from the Tanduay 12 year old rum, and here is another one that is sure to reopen that argument, because the Mekhong product, named for the river running along the Thai border, clearly and boldly states its antecedents front and center: 95% cane extract, 5% from rice, plus caramel and a “secret” recipe of herbs and spices. And also – nowhere does it say it is anything but a spirit…Mekhong lays no claim to being a rum at all. So what I’m going to do is simply make these facts known, and place the rum (yes, I will call it that) in the same league as the Tuzemak and the Tanduay. Decent products, nice taste, no other place to categorize ‘em, welcome to the rum family.

Mekhong as a whole doesn’t really impress me, in spite of a few features that are a cut above average. The bottle is undistinguished, with a lurid red and yellow label that is sure to catch your attention in the local rum shelf. Tinfoil cap, standard bottle, nothing special here, unless it’s the clear statement of ingredients that El Kapitan so likes to see. Knowing his predilection for rums to be rums, I think I’ll pre-empt him and say flat out that a lot of people will not consider this to be one, not just because it’s not 100% cane juice or molasses, and also because of all the extras, but mostly because the makers themselves don’t.

As a 35% likker, I didn’t expect much, and I didn’t get much: on the nose it was a shade musty, with herbal and grassy notes (I felt I was in a tropical jungle glade, to be honest), and additional hints of vanilla.  As befitted an underproof, it was soft and easy and made no demands.  Quite gentle, actually.

The arrival was along similar lines.  One might almost say it was lazy: soft and sweet and slow to come forth, with vanilla, caramel, dark sugar and that herbal, grassy note taking something of the edge there (and nicely so).  I think I noted some ginger, maybe citrus, but these were backseat drivers, not the equivalent of my wife’s more in-your-face front-seat aggro.  As for the fade, well, it faded.  There was nothing there to really speak of…what little there was hinted of nuts and more vanilla, but I’d be lying if I said I was anything but indifferent about it.  See, this is where the 35% works against the spirit: as a gentle cocktail mixer (which is how many drink it) with delicate tropical ingredients, it’ll probably work – as a sipper in its own right, it’s…well, it’s a shade wussy.  Keep in mind though, I’m used to stuff north of 40% (including the Lemon Hart 151 which was a gobsmacking 75.5%), so your mileage, depending on what you like, may vary. No offense to the Thais, but West Indian would probably snicker a little at this one.

Mekhong Thai spirit is a product of the Bangyikhan distillery located on the outskirts of Bangkok, and is Thailand’d first domestically produced (and branded) spirit, first created in 1941. It had its origin with James Honzatko, who was an avid brewer and eventually began producing his favourite whisky on a large scale. After Honzatko’s death, his close friend Peter Sawer took over the brewing of Mekong and was ultimately responsible for its mass production. It’s an interesting point that Mekhong is marketed in Asia as a whiskey even if the label doesn’t say so, but it is of course nothing of the kind (so relax, Maltmonster). The distillery itself goes back a lot further, however: Bangyikhan considers itself Thailand’s first distillery, constructed in 1786 by King Buddha Yodfah Chulaloke at the mouth of the Klong Bangyikhan Canal, the canal eventually lending its name to the distillery. It was owned at various times by different parts of the Thai government, until 1957 when the private sector began taking over. In 2000, it was acquired by the Thai Beverage Company.

It may simply be an Asian thing, but rums don’t seem to be a drink of the region the way whiskies are identified with Scotland, gins with the english, vodka with the Russians or rums with the Caribbean.  That’s unfortunate, since the sugar cane grasses originated in that region and you’d expect they’d be going great guns there.  However, given the startling originality (I didn’t say I liked it) of the Australian Bundie, the overall solidity of the Phillipine Tanduay and the impressive quality of the Indian Old Port, I know the expertise and quality is there.  Here’s to hoping that the Thais spread out and go for stronger, more distinctive spirits that can really be called rums….I for one will certainly be buying if they do.

A:6/10 N:14/25 T:14/25 F:8/25 I:6/15 TOT: 48/100

 Posted by on March 27, 2013 at 5:56 pm
Mar 262013
 
Bundaberg Reserve

First posted October 9th, 2011 on Liquorature

I have a feeling I’m going to catch some flak for this review, of a rum I know many think is the bastard offspring of a low quality formaldehyde mixed with a crazy paint stripper and the stinking armpit of a sweaty canecutter at noon.  Short version – miles better than its low-bred yobbo coz.

(#086. 55/100)

***

Full disclosure: I absolutely detested the original low end Bundaberg Rum, and even Aussies with whom I’ve occasionally been in contact seem to despise the rum most indelibly linked with their land. It was a raw, nasty, foul tasting morals charge, a rum so way off base it was in Mongolia, with a taste so different you found yourself clutching what remained of your tonsils and crying like a baby after merely one sip. My squaddie the Bear probably still as that original bottle from two years ago in his pantry, never opened or sampled again. Stefan Hartvingson, of that excellent website www.tastersguide.com thought that even the Reserve, a step or two up, was not as good as his wife’s nail polish remover.

Therefore it was with some trepidation that I forked out forty bucks for the Bundaberg Reserve when I saw it. You might reasonably ask why I bothered. Well, partly it was curiosity, and partly it was so I could give it a shot (so to speak) and see what it was all about. It couldn’t really be as bad as the entry level, could it? And how could I call myself a reviewer of rums if all I did was go after what everyone else said was good and never went off the reservation myself…where’s the intellectual honesty in that?

Bundie has been around since 1888 when several small operations in Queensland combined to form the Bundaberg Distilling Company, which has been in operation (more or less) ever since – fires caused a cessation in production in 1907 to 1914, and again in 1936 to 1939. The Polar Bear mascot was introduced in the 1960s to signify Bundie’s ability to ward off the coldest chill, and Diageo bought the entire concern in 2000.

With respect to the 40% rum itself here is not much real information about the Reserve. According to the company website, it’s simply a blend taken from vats which seem to be maturing very nicely, and are reserved for some ageing in oaken casks and subsequent bottling and marketing as something more high end. There’s no age statement to be found anywhere, not any indication of how long the blend remains in the oak casks – from my own observation and experience, I’d hazard a guess it’s around five to seven years. The bottle is the standard slope- shouldered, simply-labelled bottle. Tinfoil cap…utilitarian but effective, so no great fancy cork nonsense for this baby.

There  was an earthy, musty nose of truffles and damp earth when fresh rain hits it, to start one off – immediately you get the picture: this is not the normal rum one is used to, all caramels and burnt sugar.  Behind that initial scent I got pineapple, some fleshy fruits, with a faint nuttiness coiling around it all, and the expected brown sugar notes attending smartly.  Much better. The cloying turpentine and rotting fruit assault of the Bundie I had tried previously was dialled down so far as to make it a mild characteristic rather than the whole show of that variation. For something touted a ‘Reserve’ – usually seen as a cut above the ordinary – the arrival was a bit sharp and peppery, yet I got a clear “rum” taste of sugars and phenols that wasn’t bad – the weird thing is that the musty taste of the nose was nowhere in evidence.  Certainly there’s a piquancy to the Reserve – I couldn’t fault it too much for that, however, since the smoothness of the product was rather pleasant and not raw and raging as I had half-feared.  The finish was utterly unexceptional – short, sweet and spicy, and I can’t say I cared much for that – the taste was the best thing about this entry into the Bundie stable.

Bundaberg rum may be considered Australia’s signature spirit, but it’s a queer thing that Aussies themselves don’t seem to care much for it, unless one counts yobbos whose aggressive demeanour after a fair night’s enthusiastic duelling with the spirit has caused the company much embarassment. Maybe most antipodean dwellers think they’re too good for it, or some such – it may be held in the sort of genteel contempt that King of Diamonds is in Guyana.

But truth to tell, this ain’t all bad, guys. It can be mixed or taken with water, or even (for those who really like something original) taken by itself, and here I should note that a certain smoky character emerges with a cola, and I really enjoyed that. Sometimes I come to a rum with low expectations and get surprised…this is one of those times. I came to sneer and stayed to write of my tolerable appreciation (and that was not a lightly given accolade, believe me). Bundaberg Rum is not the chippest kid on the block, and it won’t convince anyone who hates the other varieties to give it a try…but it’s better than the bad word of mouth has it. Not by an enormous margin…just enough that you notice it.

***

A:7/10 N:15/25 T:12/25 F:13/25 I:8/15 TOT: 55/100

 

 

 

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 11:26 am
Mar 262013
 

First posted 5th December, 2010 on Liquorature.

Some rums just upend all expectations, and maybe even redefine your assumptions.  Smooth, amber-dark, just sweet enough, and with a body and a finish that simply don’t give up, Tanduay Superior 12 year old is like that. Where on earth has this rum been, and why can’t I find it in Calgary?

(#056. 61/100)

***

A very affable individual from my office named Rainerio was heading off home to the Phillipines the other day, and knowing there were interesting rums to be found there (though unashamedly confessing ignorance of exactly which ones those were since I had never had any) I went down on bended knee, indulged myself in a paroxysm of weeping meant to soften any stony heart, and begged him to bring back a sample for me to review.  Well, I exaggerate a bit for poetic effect, but I did ask.  And Rainerio very kindly brought me back a bottle of this  stunning 12 year old.  Hell I would have been satisfied with any local popskull, and to get something so all-round excellent was a like getting an early Christmas present.

Tanduay is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, make of rum in the east, particularly the Phillipines, and made by the Tanduay Distillery out of Manila.  Like other major distillers – Bacardi and Diageo come to mind – they have a complete range, from light to dark, from the very cheap to the very expensive, and they have been in operation since 1854, which pips Bacardi by, oh, seven years. Yet, for whatever reason – distributors ignorance, lack of channels, unfavourable tariffs or whatever, you really have to look around to find it in North America (my research suggests it may be more readily available in Europe) and yet it may be the third most popular brand of rums in the world.

A dark brown rum of the same hue as the Bacardi 8 year old, the Tanduay 12 year old is an oak-aged product served up in a standard bottle emerging from a hard cardboard black box, and sporting a deceptive cheapo tinfoil cap. I looked askance at it and wondered whether this was a harbinger of things to come, but what the hell, I had asked for it and so dived right in.

On the nose the 12 year was spicy and immediately assertive with equal parts vanilla, caramel and lemon zest in some kind of crazy harmony, as if Michael Jackson suddenly joined up with the Bee Gees and they created a song of their own that just missed being nuts by some strange unknown alchemy. It was bold and immediate, but after allowing it to breathe, a sly delicate note of flowers came stealing around the more powerful notes. Yes there was some sting, but this died away after a while and the medicinal reek I so dislike in younger rums was utterly absent.

The rum took my hand and took me along with it: medium heavy body, coating the tongue with a sort of oiliness I have only had with DDL’s more aged rums.  There was just enough sweet to the Tanduay, and the caramel and vanilla notes were now joined by something softer, perhaps bananas or a tamed light citrus. It slides smoothly down the throat and let me tell you, the fade is simply awesome.  Long and smooth, with one last soft gasp of breathy fragrance wafting back up to remind you of what you just had, and inviting you to revisit the experience with another try.

Unless a distributor for this rum is found or whatever has stopped the importation of Tanduay to Canada is resolved, I doubt I’ll ever taste it again (though maybe I can ask Rainerio to bring another one back in a year or two). I’m glad I had a chance to try it: just when I thought I had a handle on the major brands of the world, this one came out of nowhere and smacked me upside the head.  If nothing else, it says that though I may have tasted and reviewed more rums than most, there are always gems from other places previously unconsidered that will just amaze, delight and please with their overall excellence.  This is the first one in my experience: I know there’ll be others, but Tanduay gives me hope that I’ll actually be able to find them, and share that delight with all those who one day read the reviews I put up about their quality.

A:5/10 N:15/25 T:20/25 F:16/25 I:5/15 TOT: 61/100

 

 Posted by on March 26, 2013 at 7:39 am
Mar 232013
 

First posted February 27, 2010 on Liquorature. #014

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

***

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

The answer? Yes, no and no.

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by on March 23, 2013 at 4:31 pm