Dec 132017
 

#468

Velier’s Last Ward is an elegaic and haunting rum that evokes memories of old times and old places, yet is brought smack bang up to date for the modern connoisseur and rum lover.  It is a summing up of all things Mount Gay that matter if you’re in tune with it, just a really good rum if you’re not, and is one to savour and appreciate and enjoy no matter what your state of mind or preference in rum.  One can only wonder, with all the great distilleries that are represented in the independent bottlers’ more popular and better-known wares, how a small batch production like this one was ever conceived of, let alone made it out to the general marketplace.  It is one of the best rums from Mount Gay not actually sold under the brand.

The “Last Ward” is about as evocative a title for a rum as I’ve ever come across.  It breathes of Barbados, of history and of rum. It speaks to the Ward family who ran Mount Gay for over a century (Aubrey Ward acquired it in the early 1900s) and still appear to have involvement with the company which was officially in existence since 1703 (unofficially much before that) and acquired in 1989 by Remy Cointreau. Frank Ward started producing a brand called Mount Gilboa in 2007, naming it after the original plantation and distillery before it had been renamed in 1801 after Sir John Gay Alleyne, whom John Sober had inveigled to manage the new company when he had bought it in 1747.

Did all that history and age and heritage translate into a rum worth drinking?  It’s not always the case, of course, but here the answer is a firm yes. It started with the nose, where the very first word of my notes is “Wow.” It was smooth and heated, handling the 59% ABV quite well, smelling of furniture polish, leather, light flowers, bags of white chocolate, nougat, toblerone, coffee grounds and salt caramel.  It was aromatic enough to make me think of a warmer, softer Savanna Lontan, to be honest, and continued with almonds, pecans and vanilla, all of which harmonized into a nose one might not initially pick out as specifically Bajan, but which was definitely worth spending some time with.

The palate developed with somewhat more force, being sharp and intense without losing any of the aromatic character I liked so much on the nose.  Oak took more of a leadership role here, and behind it coiled flavours of flowers, citrus and marzipan. Letting it stand for some time (and later adding some water) cooled it down and allowed other components to emerge – bon bons, more caramel, coconut shavings, bananas, white chocolate, tied together with a vague complementary sweetness which made the whole experience a very approachable one. The sharpness and intensity which began the taste was almost totally morphed to something quieter and by the time the finish arrived.  And that was very pleasant indeed, long lasting, sweet, with caramel and vanilla walking a fine line next to orange peel and nuttiness.

Almost everything about the production details is stated clearly on the label in a fashion that shames brands who indifferently genuflect to the concept (like for instance the Dictador Best of 1977, remember that?): double retort pot still origin; triple distilled in 2007, aged ten years in Barbados with an angel’s share of 65%, no sugar, issued at a robust 59% ABV. About the only thing missing is in what kind of barrels it was aged in, but those are ex-bourbon, so now you know as much as I do. (As an aside for those who like such details, the still is made by McMillan from Scotland, who are still in business making copperware for distilleries the world over, and have been ever since their founding in 1867).

Mount Gay has now started producing its cask strength series of the XO (63%) which I thought was very good, a German indie called Rendsburger made a 1986 Rockley Still 18 year old rum I quite liked, and we’ve been trying WIRD rums for years now — these demonstrated with emphasis and aplomb what could be done even if you didn’t hail from Foursquare…and this rum is as good as almost all of them. Just about everything works here, comes together right – it finds the intersection of a name redolent of memory, a presentation in quiet pastels, all married to a profile of strength, reasonable complexity, and, dare I say it? – even beauty.  

If I had any note of caution to sound about the matter, it’s that those who like fierce and brutal purity in their cask strength rums might not entirely appreciate one which is firm rather than sharply distinct, and rather more diffuse and melded together in a way that makes individual notes lack a certain clarity; and the pot still heritage is not as evident as I might have liked – but to me that’s a minor whinge….overall, this thing is good. The Last Ward is a like a WIRD rum taken out to left field and torqued up to just about the max, and represents a triumph of the imagination as much as the better known Foursquare Exceptional Cask series or Mr. Seale’s collaborations with Velier. It may not entirely beat the Foursquare 2006 10 year old, but believe me when I say that that is no reason to leave it on any shelf where you see it.

(89/100)


Other notes

Both The Fat Rum Pirate and Single Cask Rum, whose reviews are also available, noted that it derived from 19 of the oldest barrels remaining. Luca got back on to me and aside from confirming the 19 barrel number, said the actual outturn was 4,746 bottles.

 

Nov 122017
 

#399

For decades Mount Gay was considered the premium rum of Barbados, and rested its claim to fame, among other things, on being the oldest rum distillery in the Caribbean (there are papers stating its antecedents going back to the mid 1600s).  Its flagship 1703 was the halo rum of the island and the XO was perhaps the standard mid-priced high-quality Barbados rum with which everyone was familiar – and certainly Sir Scrotimus’s hating on anyone who didn’t champion that rum didn’t hurt (after all, why else would he be such a dick about it if it wasn’t good, right?).  Back when I started writing this was an ongoing situation, and while many extolled the virtues of Doorly’s or Cockspur, Mount Gay was firmly in the driver’s seat as it related to defining the Barbados rum brand.

Now, nearly ten years later, it is Mount Gay which is playing catch up.  They, like DDL and many other national-level brands, misread the tea leaves and came late to the party initiated by the nimble, fast-moving independent bottlers – aged, cask strength bottlings, fancy finishes, single barrel or millesime expressions…all this must have caught them so off guard that it wasn’t until 2016 or so that an effective response could be mounted with the XO Cask Strength (a very good rum, by the way).  

Be that as it may, even for those coming to the rum scene now with so many other options on the table (Foursquare being the largest and best from the island), one cannot simply ignore the XO.  It remains widely available, very affordable, and pretty much the same as it used to be — the 8-15 year old blend has undergone alterations over the years, sure, but the taste remains recognizably the same; the bottle is now the sleek ovoid one introduced some years ago; and in the Caribbean and the Americas it is remains a perennial best seller.  Many new writers and emergent rum junkies cut their baby rum teeth on it, even if in Europe most indulgently pass it by in favour of more exciting rums to which they have access.  And while its star may be fading in the heat of increased competition, this in no way diminishes what it is – a key rum of Barbados, setting the standard for a long time, almost defining the style for an entire region.  All current rums from there to some extent live in its (waning) shadow.

Is it still that good, or, was it ever as amazing as the wet-eyed hot zealots claimed?  I didn’t think so back in the day (as I’ve noted, my preferences don’t always run to indeterminate Bajans, really), but as this series grew shape in my mind and the mental list of candidates grew, I knew it was due for a re-taste and a re-evaluation, and Robin Wynne of that fine Toronto bar Miss Things stepped forward to provide a hefty sample a few months ago when I came sniffing around (and as an irrelevant aside, you could do worse than drop into the joint, because it’s a great bar to hang out in and Robin loves to help out with an interesting pour for the rabid).

Much of my seven year old mental tasting memory of the 43% rum remained the same: the nose began with a smoky sort of butterscotch and toffee flavour, quite soft and easygoing, underlain with a gentle current of coconut shavings and bananas.  Its softness was key to its appeal, I thought, and as it stood there and opened up, some brine, avocado, salty caramel, dates and nutmeg crept out. It was just complex enough to enthuse without losing any balance or being too sharp.

Palate-wise it was also reasonably well put together. Seven years ago I thought it somewhat sharp, but by now, after imbibing cask strength juggernauts by the caseload, I’m a more accustomed to heftier beefcakes and here, then, the XO faltered somewhat (which is a factor of my palate and its current preferences, not yours).  Much of the nose returned for an encore: vanilla, nutmeg and a delicious caramel smokiness, more nougat, toffee, and some salt crackers.  Bananas, papayas and some cinnamon made themselves known, with a little nuttiness and coffee grounds and molasses providing some depth, all leading to a short, warm and (unfortunately) rather bland finish that merely repeated the hits without presenting anything particularly new. It lacks something of an edge of aggressiveness and clarity of expression which might make it rank higher, but in fairness, its overall quality really can’t be faulted too much.

Anyway, so there we have it.  A perfectly well-made, well-assembled, mid-tier rum with really good price-to-value ratio for anyone who wants a very decent rum to add to the shelf, good for either mixing or some sallies into the sipping world. That I remain only mildly enthusiastic about it is an issue for me to deal with, not you, though I honestly don’t know if we can expect off-the-scale magnificence from a Key Rum, since then it would likely fall foul of the Caner’s “3-A” Rule: it must be Available, Affordable, and Accessible.  The Mount Gay XO not only ticks each of those boxes but has something else that has never really lost its lustre in all the years – a reputation for consistent quality and worldwide brand awareness.  Those attributes combined with its pleasing taste profile may well be priceless, and give it a solid place in the pantheon, as one of those rums which any rum aficionado should try at least once in his long journey of rum appreciation.

(83/100)


Other Notes

If it wasn’t so pricey and hard to lay paws on (3000 bottles issued), I would have said the Mount Gay Cask Strength 63% should have dibs on this entry. That’s an outright exceptional Bajan rum.

Nov 062017
 

#398

Everyone has a favourite Foursquare rum and the nice thing is, like most large large brands, there’s something for everyone in the lineup, which spans the entire gamut of price and strength and quality. For some it’s the less-proofed rums still issued for the mass market, like Rum 66 or Doorly’s; for others it’s the halo-rums such as the Triptych and 2006 ten year old.  However, it my considered opinion that when you come down to the intersection of value for money and reasonable availability, you’re going to walk far to beat the Exceptional Cask series. And when Forbes magazine speaks to your product, you know you’re going places and getting it right, big time.

The Criterion 2007 ten year old (Mark V) released this year is the fifth and latest of these rums, following from the Bourbon Cask 1998-2008 10 YO (Mark I), Bourbon Cask 2004-2015 11 YO (Mark II),  Port Cask 2005-2014 9 YO (Mark III), and the Zinfadel Cask 2004-2015 11YO (Mark IV).  It’s quite a step up from the Port Cask, without ascending to the heights of the 2006 10 year old or other rums of its kind.  For those who don’t already know, the Criterion is a pot-still and column-still blend, and while the ageing regime (three years in ex-bourbon casks and seven years in very old Madeira casks) is fine, it also subtly change the underlying DNA of what a pure Bajan rum is.

Let me explain that by just passing through the tasting notes here: let me assure you,the Criterion is pretty damned good – actually, compared to any of the lesser-proofed Doorly’s, it’s amazing.The sumptuousness of a Louis XIVth boudoir is on full display right from the initial nosing.  Even for its strength – 56% – it presented with the rich velvet of caramel, red wine (or a good cognac).  Oaky, spicy and burnt sugar notes melded firmly and smoothly with nutmeg, raisins, and citrus peel, cardamon and cloves, and there was a glide of apple cider on the spine that was delectable.  The longer I let it breathe, the better it became and after a while chocolates, truffles and faint coffee emerged, and the balance of the entire experience was excellent.

Tasting it, there was certainly no mistaking this for any other rum from Barbados: the disparity with other rums from the island which my friend Marco Freyr remarked on (“I can detect a Rockley still Bajan rum any day of the week”) is absolutely clear, and as I taste more and more Foursquare rums, I understand why Wes and Steve are such fanboys. The rum is a liquid creme brulee wrapped up in salt caramel ice-cream, then further mixed up with almonds, prunes, cherries, marmalade, cider and nutmeg, remarkably soft and well-behaved on the tongue. Coffee and chocolate add to the fun, and I swear there was some ginger and honey floating around the back end there somewhere.  It all led to a finish that was long and deeply, darkly salt-sweet, giving last notes of prunes and very ripe cherries with more of that caramel coffee background I enjoyed a lot.  

So, in fine, a lovely rum, well made, well matured, nicely put together.  No wonder it gets all these plaudits.  My feeling is, retire the Doorly’s line – this stuff should absolutely have pride of place.

Here’s the thing, though. Purists make much of ‘clean’ rums that are unmessed with, exemplars of the style of the country, the region and the estate or maker.  By that standard this rum and its brothers like the Zinfadel and the Port are problematical because none of these are actually ‘pure’ Bajan rums any longer… all this finishing and ageing and second maturation in second or third-fill barrels is watering down and changing what is truly “Barbados” (or perhaps Foursquare). What these rums really are, are a way of getting around the adulteration prohibitions of Bajan law….adding taste and complexity without actually adding anything that would qualify as obvious adulteration (after all, what is ex-bourbon barrel ageing but the same thing with a more “accepted” cask?).  So for the pedant, one could argue that the series is more a high end experiment and what comes out the other end is no longer a pure Barbadian hooch but a double or triple matured blended rum based on Bajan/Foursquare stocks….a subtle distinction and so not quite the same thing.

Maybe.  I don’t care.  My work here is to describe what I taste and offer an opinion on the product as it stands, not its underlying production philosophy: and the bottom line is, I enjoyed the experience and liked it, immensely – it blew the socks off the Doorly’s 12 year old I also tried that day, and makes me want to get all the Exceptional Cask series, like yesterday, and put dibs on all the ones coming out tomorrow.  The Criterion is drinkable, sippable, mixable, available, accessible and all round enjoyable, and frankly, I don’t know many rums in the world which can make that statement and still remain affordable.  This is one of them, and it’s a gem for everyone to have and enjoy.

(88/100)

Sep 292017
 

#390

After messing round with other Bajan rums for a while, I finally came to the Compagnie des Indes FourSquare 9 year old, and had to concede that even setting aside the headline-grabbing 2006 or Triptych or Criterion releases, this was what I was looking for and which almost none of the three other caskers — the Cadenhead BMMG and 10 year old and the Isla del Ron — had not provided.  Mount Gay’s indie fullproof bruisers were certainly interesting and made powerful statements for their distillery of origin, but either Florent picked more judiciously than Cadenhead or the Isla del Ron, or the 4S juice in this instance was simply better…because for a nine year old rum aged in Europe, it really was a tasty piece of work.

There’s a full bio of the Compagnie des Indes available, so suffice to say I need only add that the Florent’s outfit is still going full blast in 2017, and has added to its stable of standard strength rums every year, as well as taking notes from the happiness of the gloating Danes up north (and the envy of everyone else) and began releasing cask strength variations starting from 2016 onwards, to the relief and applause of the less fortunate proles who previously had to beg and genuflect and possibly hock the family jewels to get themselves some.  This Danish-edition rum was a rip snorting 62.1% and one of 227 bottles with the original distillation in 2006 and bottled in 2016 (Barrel #MB45), and now you know pretty much all you need to be going along with aside from the tastes, and we’re going there right now

Right away, the aromas of salty, oily brine (like a really good olive oil) and florals emerged, better integrated than all the other Bajans which were being tried alongside it; and for 62.1% the control over the release of all that sharpness was amazing, because it seemed actually quite gentle for the strength, like a tiger pretending to be a tabby (water helps even more).  Other delectable scents emerged over time – acetones, cherries, peaches in a light syrup, more olives, cherries, even some bananas and raisins here and there – it was really quite nice and the best part was, it lasted for a good long time.

I  thoroughly enjoyed the taste as well: something of a Demerara seeped delicately into the profile here, some deeper caramel and licorice tastes, mixed in with fried bananas, red olives brine, and yes, peaches in cream, cherries and some tart apricots, plus a green apple slice or three, all covered over with  drizzle of lime.  And again I’m forced to mention that the control over intensity and stabbing pitchforks of proof was again masterful: concrete solid, massively rooted in rum fundamentals, assertive and aggressive like a boss, and tasty as all get out.  Even the finish did not falter: longish, very warm, with closing notes of cider, apples, salted butter and caramel, florals and fruit, all coming together and concluding the night’s entertainment with a nice exclamation point.  And a bow.

It always makes me wonder who gets the kudos when a rum like this succeeds.  After all, one could argue that CDI just decanted a third party barrel from FourSquare and bottled and sold it, so shouldn’t all the hosannas go to Richard Seale’s boys, and hence increase their sales?  Well, kind of. Certainly there’s no gainsaying the overall quality of rums from the distillery of origin (even if the ageing was likely done in Europe by Scheer)…yet as we observed with the indie Mount Gay rums we tried before, cask strength and a respected house name do not always a superlative rum make.  The discernment and selection of the guy doing the choosing of which  barrel to buy, also comes into play and I think they did well here, really well.  I’m not a dedicated FourSquare deep diver and uber-fan like my friends Steve James, The Fat Rum Pirate and Rum Shop Boy (they know every one of Richard’s bottlings ever made, by their first names), but even I have to say that  this sub ten year old rum aged in Europe does both the Compagnie and FourSquare damn proud…and given its quality, deservedly so.

(87/100)

 

Sep 242017
 

#389

Based in Germany, Isla del Ron is not a very well known indie, and as of this writing seem to have only done 17 different single cask rum bottlings, from as wide afield as Barbados, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Brazil, Guyana, Cuba, Martinique, Nicaragua, and Reunion. Initially founded in 2009 by Thomas Ewer, it concentrated on bottling small quantities of Scotch whiskies, and began with rums in 2013. In the paucity of their history and selections, and their slim-pickin’s website, I get the impression they have a small operation going, something a bit bigger than, oh, Spirits of Old Man (which did an underwhelming Uitvlught rum a few years back) but not in the Ekte or L’Esprit range (yet).  That’s about all I have to go on regarding the company, so we’ll have to be satisfied with that for the moment and move on.

That aside, here we have another Barbados rum in my short series about Bajan juice issued by the independents – this one is another Mount Gay cask strength beefcake, with an outturn of 215 bottles and a hefty 61.6% ABV, and was tasted in tandem with the Cadenhead BMMG, the Green Label…and a Danish FourSquare from CDI as a counterweight, just because I was curious.

The nose started out with aromas of honey, nail polish, acetone and a thread of sweet diluted syrup, leading into a rather watery burst of light fruit – pears, watermelon, bananas, some nuttiness, vanilla.  But it is actually rather light, even faint, not what I was expecting from something north of 60% and even resting it for ten minutes or more didn’t help much, except perhaps to burp up some additional cough-syrup-like aromas.  You wouldn’t expect a cask strength offering to lack intensity, but outside the sharp heat of the burn, there really wasn’t as much going on here taste-wise as I was expecting, and nowhere near as forcefully.

It was better to taste, however: briny, some olives, caramel, almonds and something minty and sharp, and a queer commingling of  oversweet caramel mousse and very dark bitter chocolate (however odd that might sound).  There was also vanilla, some sweetness, papaya, watermelon, more pears, and yes the bananas were there, together with tarter fruit like yellow half-ripe mangoes.  There’s certainly a “rummy” core to the whole experience, yet somehow the whole thing fails to cohere and present well, as the two Cadenheads tried alongside did – this rum was by a wide margin the faintest of the four rums I tried that day (in spite of the alcohol strength) and even the finish, while long, only reminded me of what had gone before – caramel, some fruits, brine, nuts, vanilla and that was pretty much it.

If the BMMG was too strong and jagged and the Green Label was too light and easy, then this rum somehow navigated between each of each of those and combined them into one rum that was okay but simply did not succeed as well as a cask strength 12 year old rum should, and I suggest that perhaps the ageing barrel was not very active; note also that since I was simultaneously sampling a relatively younger European-aged cask-strength Bajan that was very good, we can possibly discount the ageing location of the barrel as a factor in this disparity of quality (though this is just my opinion).  

So summing up, I kinda sorta liked it, just not as much as I should have, or was prepared to. It made more of a statement than the Green Label but paradoxically gave somewhat less in the flavour department and did not eclipse the BMMG.  So while it’s a decent limited edition Barbados rum from Mount Gay, it’s not entirely one I would recommend unless you were deep into the Bajan canon and wanted an example of every possible variation, just to see how they could be convoluted and twisted and remade into something that was certainly interesting, but not an unqualified success

(83/100)


Other notes

  • Although the bottle does not specifically state that this is a Mount Gay rum, the company website does indeed mention it as originating from there.
  • Thanks to Marco Freyr, the source of the sample, whose 2013 review of the rum (in German) is on his website Barrel Aged Mind.
Sep 212017
 

#388

Marco Freyr, in between his densely researched articles on Barrel-Aged-Mind, indulges himself with tasting independent bottlers’ wares, all at cask strength.  Marco does not waste time with the featherweight Bacardis of this world – he goes straight for the brass ring, and analyzes his rums like he was a Swiss watchmaker looking for flaws in the Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260.  Some time back he shipped me some Bajan fullproofs – being amused, perhaps, at my earlier work on Mount Gay’s XO, and feeling I should see what others did with their juice, both now and in the past.  This is not to diminish Richard’s or the Warren’s output – yeah, right – simply to call attention to decent rums made elsewhere on the island, which was the same line of reasoning behind my writing about the Banks DIH rums from Guyana to contrast against the DDL stuff.

Anyway, in that vein here’s the second of a few full proof rums from Little England I want to run past you.  This one is also from Cadenhead — not one of their M-for-massive iterations that knock you under the table and leave the weak-kneed trembling and crossing themselves, but from the Green Label collection.  A 2000-2010 ten-year-old bottling, issued at a relatively mild 46% and therefore much more approachable by those who prefer standard-proof rums. I’m not always a fan of the Green Labels – their quality is inconsistent, as the Laphroaig-aged Demerara implies and the 1975 Demerara emphatically refutes – but there aren’t that many Bajan rums out there made by the indies to begin with (aside from FourSquare’s juice), so we should take at least try one or three when they cross our path.

Nose first: for a ten year old aged in Europe, it was quite fruity and sweet and the first smells that greeted me were a mild acetone, honey and banana flambee, with spices (nutmeg and cloves), some fruitiness (peaches, pears) and caramel.  Allowing for the difference in power, it was similar to the BMMG we looked at last week, though its nasal profile whispered rather than bellowed and lacked the fierce urgency that a stronger ABV would have provided.  The fruits were overtaken by flowers after some minutes, but throughout the tasting, I felt that honey, caramel and bananas remained at the core of it all, simple and distinct.

To some extent this continued on the tasting as well. With a strength of 46% the Green Label didn’t really need water, as it was light and warm enough to have neat (I added some later) and the golden rum didn’t upend any expectations on that score. It was initially very sippable, presenting both some brine and some caramel sweet right away, right up to the point where – what just happened here? – it let go a series of medicinal, camphor-like farts that almost derailed the entire experience. These were faint but unmistakeable and although the subsequent tastings (and water) ameliorated this somewhat with green tea, a little citrus, more honey, caramel, and chocolate, it was impossible to ignore completely.  And at the close, the 46% resulted in a short, breathy finish of no real distinction, with most of the abovementioned notes repeating themselves.

I’ve had enough FourSquare rums, made by both them and the independents, to believe that Marco was correct when he wrote that he doubted this rum was from them, but instead hailed from Mount Gay – much more than Doorly’s or Rum66 or the more recent FS work, it shared points of similarity with the Cadenhead’s BMMG cask strength as well as the 1703 from Mount Gay itself.  And like him, I thought there was some pot still action coiling around inside it, even if Cadenhead obdurately refused to divulge much in the way of information here.  

At the end, though, whatever the source, I didn’t care much for it. With the BMMG I remarked it was too raw, perhaps too strong for its (continental) ageing and could use some damping down, a lesser strength – not something I say often.  Here, to some extent the opposite was true: it was mild and medium-sweet, floral and fruity and had it not been for that blade of medicine in the middle, I would have rated it quite a decent Bajan rum, a credit to Mount Gay (if not entirely rivalling the 1703). As it was, combined with the overall lack of punch and depth, it finishes as a rum I’d not be in a hurry to buy again, because it’s too deprecating to qualify as a fullproof bruiser and the taste doesn’t take up enough of the slack to elevate it any further.  

(82/100)

Marco’s unscored 2012 German-language review, from the same bottle as the sample he sent me, can be found on his wesbite, here.

Sep 142017
 

Photo (c) Barrel-Aged-Mind

 

#387

Mount Gay out of Barbados is somewhat in the background of Bajan rum-making these days, maybe feeling like Huzur in Satyajit Ray’s 1958 classic “The Music Room”.  Understandable, since all the headlines these days are about the 2006 ten year old, the Criterion, Triptych and all the other amazing FourSquare releases.  And that’s a shame because there are some interesting indie bottlings out there from the island, as well as Mount Gay’s own recent cask strength work which I’ll get to one of these days.

Today, then, let’s discuss the mastodon of the Cadenhead BMMG 66.3% which was pot-still distilled in 2000 and bottled eight years later…consequently, it somewhat predates the Golden Age of Cask Bottlings through which it could be argued we’re living – no doubt that’s why few who don’t follow Marco’s work or aren’t Cadenhead fans have heard of the thing.  As is usual with Cadenhead, there’s no info on what the four letters mean, but since we’re all smart fellows here (anyone who braves my convoluted parenthetical phraseology almost has to be), I think we can hazard a guess that the “B” is for Barbados, the “MG” is for Mount Gay, which only leaves the mystery letter of the second “M” – and I’m going to suggest “Massive” as a reasonable identifier, because 66.3%, whew, that’s not exactly milquetoast now, is it?  Oh and as usual, one can infer zero additives or other mucking about – that’s standard for the Big C.

Photo (c) Barrel Aged Mind

That out of the way, let’s dive right into the nose without further ado.  At first sniff it was definitely not a Jamaican or a Guyanese rum – it was redolent of flambeed bananas, honey, nutmeg and peaches, rich and pungent…and that was a good thing, because at that strength it would otherwise have been way too serrated for anyone’s nose to take easily and even as it was, it really took some adjustment.  This was one of those occasions where I added some water even before tasting to see what would happen, and this coaxed out some additional salty caramel and cherries in syrup at the back end, plus oak and faint licorice, mangoes….and coffee, which surprised me, since it’s not an aroma I commonly associated with Little England.

As for the palate, well, sharp is sharp and this one carved its way down my gullet with intent to rearrange my insides.  There were bananas and caramel, vanilla, nutmeg and oak, those were easy takeaways – one had to get past the power to find more, and here again water did help.  Once it settled down (or I did), I sensed more coffee, fruits – mangoes, papayas, cherries for the most part, clear and distinct at first but then they took a backseat and caramel, almonds, nutmeg and slightly sweeter coffee notes took center stage.  Although it sort of worked, it just seemed, overall to be a bit too jagged, too raw – it was hard to decide whether dialling down the volts would have made it better, or ageing it for longer, because continental ageing for a “mere” eight years doesn’t exactly smooth out the rough notes, the way an equivalent in Barbados might have.  This was more clear on the finish, which one really had to be careful with because it was long, and quite intense, very hot, leaving us with vanilla, some oak, yet more coffee and some background off-key nuttiness which didn’t blend well, and was fortunately not there for a long time.

Lonely, austere and brutal as an Edward Hopper painting, this is not a rum for the weak-kneed, proof-challenged or saccharine inclined. It’s frenziedly, almost rabidly assertive, and though I am giving it a guarded recommendation, I must also point out that somewhere along the line the balance was a bit off and the tastes didn’t play that well together.  Part of the issue (surprisingly, for a cask-strength lover like me) is the strength – here 66.3% really is a bit much.  Intense and powerful for sure, with all that this implies — but we must guard against the notion that just because some 65-70% juggernauts are so great, that high proof automatically confers great quality without question. This is not a rum that walks up to you and then sits down for a chill on the beach waiting for your inevitable appreciation…on the contrary, it’s a furious frontal assault of proof on the senses, and afterwards, picking oneself off the floor, one might be left wondering whether something less strong, something slightly older, might not have been better, and more easy to come to grips with, after all.

(84.5/100)


Other Notes

  • Last time I checked this was retailing around €150 online.
  • This was a sample sent to me by that historian par excellence, Marco Freyr of Barrel-Aged Mind when he wanted me to get exposure to some differing takes on the Bajan rums, some time back.
Apr 132017
 

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission 

“Super Premium”? Not at all…but still quite a tasty dram. Surprised they didn’t call it a “Navy”.

#356

Bottled at an assertive but not excessive 50%, the Svenska Eldvattan Weiron is a blended rum out of Sweden made by the same happy bunch of guys who are behind the Rum Swedes lineup, which I’ve never tried but about which I’ve heard many good things.  That said, they don’t limit themselves to rum, and are primarily into bottling various whiskies, with a gin and a tequila or two for good measure.  This one is rather daringly called the “Super Premium Aged Caribbean Rum” which I’m sure has more than one rum junkie itching to see if it actually lives up to what few independent bottlers would dare to claim, not least because (a) nobody can actually define the term precisely and (b) there’s tons of rums out there which probably deserve the appellation more.

Getting the basics out of the way, the rum was issued in early 2015; part of the blend is Jamaican, part is Bajan, and there is more that remains unidentified.  However, to please the above-mentioned junkie, there are no additives, no chill filtering, and the individual components were all matured at the distilleries of origin, which unfortunately remain unknown to this day.  As an aside the Weiron seems to be turning into its own little lineup, as various other editions are being issued (like some Caroni and Nicaragua single cask, fullproof expressions).  Beyond that, there’s not much to tell you, not even the outturn, or the age of the bits and pieces; and there’s something about the bottle’s stark presentational ethos that suggests the Swedes felt that Velier obviously had far too much flower-child frippery and ridiculous ostentation in their overlabelled and overdecorated bottles.  Either that or they’re channelling Ikea, who knows?

Photo (c) Steve James @ RumDiaries used with permission

When smelled, one can instantly sense some pot still action going on here, as evidenced by the swiftly fading paint thinner and shoe polish aromas, although it didn’t hang around long enough to be a core component of the nose.  Still, there was cardboard, cream cheese, molasses and crispy crackers, both sweet and salt at the same time in a very nice balance.  It was manageably spicy, and took its own sweet time getting to the point, and after some minutes, darker fruit began to emerge, caramel, raisins, together with some nuttiness and leather, and perhaps a touch of toffee and vanilla, all bound together by an undercurrent of lemon peel and faint funkiness that pointed to the Jamaican more than any kind of Bajan influence.

It was on the palate that it came into its own and made more of a statement.  Warm and smooth, with a firm little burn for a 50% rum, and amazingly well assembled.  Cherries, olives, cumin, cardamom, brown sugar were the initial flavours, tied up in a bow with some very faint citrus and licorice.  With water the citrus disappeared, replaced by a good aged cheddar and black bread, more raisins, bananas, plus some herbal background of fennel and rosemary, and closing off with a lovely medium-long finish of fruit, more anise and sharper oaky tannins.  Overall, I had to admit, this wasn’t bad at all, and just wish I knew more about it – Steve James, who loved the rum and sent me the sample, felt it set a new benchmark for multi-island blended hooch, and though I was not quite as enraptured as he was, even I have to admit there was a lot of really good stuff going on here, and at its price point it’s well worth it.

Mostly these days I’m at that stage in my rum journey where blends don’t do much for me as they once did, and I want and prefer the product of a single distillery, bottled as is.  For example, I think the 2007 single-still expressions from DDL are better than their aged blends, and efforts to marry off disparate profiles like Oceans Distillery did with their Atlantic edition, or Amrut with their Two Indies didn’t entirely work for me (perhaps the Black Tot is the exception that proves the rule).  For a profile as distinct as Jamaica to be mixed up with a Bajan (and whatever the additional piece(s) was/were) the resultant has to be damned good to get my vote and my score.  Still, all that aside, in this particular case the lack of information works for the rum rather than against it, because it forces one to walk in blind without preconceptions and simply try what’s on offer.  On that basis alone, then, I’d say the Swedes have done a pretty good job at creating a fascinating synthesis of various countries’ rums, and produced something of their own whose moniker of “Super Premium” may be more hope than reality and which may not be greater than the sum of its parts…but is not necessarily less than those either.

(85/100)

Jan 292017
 

Two year old fire in a bottle

#339

You’d think that after running through a set of FourSquare products over the last few months (here, here, here and here), that I’ve more or less covered what I wanted to and moved on.  Yeah…but no such luck. Still got a few more to come, starting with a representative of one of the most hotly anticipated rum “series” in recent memory: the Habitation Velier outturns of very young rums, you remember the ones, those with the cool pics of the stills of origin on the labels. They are primarily from the Big Three – Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana — and while they are aimed at the general market, my own feeling is that it’s hardcore aficionados who are more likely to enjoy them, not those who are beginning their own personal journey of rum discovery.  You’ll see why in a minute.

This series of rums has several reasons for existing.  To begin with, as Velier’s reputation grew over the last five years Luca Gargano wanted to move along from the issuance of full proof, single still, aged-beyond-all-reason rums whose prices were climbing geometrically, and to collaborate more with other distilleries so as to get newer and more affordable juice out the door.  Second he wanted to prove that young rums could be every bit as exciting as the hoary old grandfathers (in rum years) with which he had originally established Velier’s street cred.  Third, he wanted a showcase for his proposed new rum classifications, the so-called Seale-Gargano system developed with himself and Richard Seale (or should it be the Gargano-Seale system?) which is gradually picking up some traction (though not outright acceptance…yet).  An lastly, of course, just to laugh out loud, shake things up a tad, and make some hot-snot new rums that one could get excited about, which existed in their own universe not overshadowed by the oldsters from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

So, the details of this Bajan popskull from FourSquare: it’s a pale yellow two-year-old (actually two years eleven months according to 4S), issued at a rip-snorting frisson of sixty four degrees of unapologetically badass proofage, pot-still derived, and aged in 370-liter cognac barrels, which may be the single element that raised its profile above that of a standard young overproof and into the realms of some kind of inspired insanity.  And I use the term carefully, because anyone thinking that somehow Velier and 4S waved a magic wand and wove a masterpiece of smooth Bajan silk that took nearly three years to make, would have been in for something of a rude awakening if they tried it with that preconception in mind.  It wasn’t anything of the sort.  Sniffing it for the first time was like inhaling an incandescent blaze of sheet lightning.

“Wtf is this?!” I remember asking myself in dumbfounded amazement as I jotted down my notes. It was hot vanilla and caramel shot through with flashes of brine and olives, all on top of a pot-still impregnated glue-gun. Swirling notes of black pepper, licorice and crushed nuts stabbed through here and there, with an amalgam of cooking spices bringing up the rear – salt and lemon pepper, a little paprika thrown in for good measure, a smorgasbord of sweet and salt and tartness.  It wasn’t entirely harmonious (are you kidding?) but a very distinct nose, suggesting that maybe FourSquare should experiment more with solo pot still rums instead of blending pot and column in their standard lineup.

Moving cautiously into the taste, I tried it neat first, then with water, and similarly intense flavours rose up and smote me righteously both times. Something of salty-oily tequila tastes were first off,  like a Maggi cube (or Knorr, if you’re in Europe) in veggie soup; nuts, dates and peaches followed, interspersed with background hints of rubber and wax, all very very intense and very firm, individual and discrete.  Water did help to tame this beast (to be honest, I took some masochistic pleasure in the sheer force of this thing and added it more out of curiosity) – that allowed some of the sweetness to finally emerge at the backend, though that was more like a thin vein of licorice, burnt sugar and cream than a caramel-toffee mother lode.  I must concede that for a rum this young, it had quite a flavour set – even the finish, which was surprisingly short (and dry) didn’t repeat the experience, but added a few extra hints of kero, fruit, black bread and kräuterquark (ask the Germans), plus a final flirt of honey.  I was left feeling enthused (and quite a bit breathless) at the end of it all, and tried it again a few more times over the next few days, just to see whether the experience mellowed at all with time (it didn’t).

Whew!  This is a hell of a rum. I’m going to go on record as stating it might be better approached not only with some care, but also without illusions and absolutely not as your first foray into rums of any kind. It is a bold, burning, singular rum of real strength and a really crisp profile which would not necessarily appeal to lovers of the kinds of hooch that FourSquare and St Nick’s and Mount Gay have been putting out for decades, because it’s not soft, and it’s not tolerant and it’s not easy.  What it actually is, is a young product that hits both your expectations and your palate like a well swung sledgehammer and upends both.  Perhaps I’ve had so many rums in my time that I’m somewhat jaded and am on the lookout for stuff that goes off in different directions, but you know, that’s not what we have here, because it’s unmistakably the real deal.  It’s quite simply, unique: and in tasting it, I got a forceful reminder of all the amazing directions a rum could go, when made by masters who could actually dream, and dare, of making it.

(87/100)

Other notes

The bottle (a sample thereof) came my way courtesy of Henrik of RumCorner at the follow-up to the Berlin RumFest in 2016, sometimes called “The ‘Caner Afterparty”. As he lovingly extracted it from his haversack that afternoon (being careful to snatch it back if our pours got to heavy, which meant a lot of snatching was going on), Henrik told me that he had been hanging around the agricole stand when Richard Seale passed by; immediately a small crowd gathered and a discussion group started (and knowing the two of them, at least, it could not have been anything other than intense).  When the group dispersed, Richard casually took the bottle, which he had had in his hands the whole time, and handed it over to Henrik without any intro or comment whatsoever. Gotta love them rum folks, honestly.

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.
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