Jun 222016
 

SMWS R3.5 1

A big ‘n’ badass Bajan rum, brutal enough to be banished to Netflix, where Jessica Jones and Daredevil occasionally stop by Luke Cage’s bar to have some.

(#281 / 86/100)

***

“They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts,” I remarked once of one of the 151s with which I amused myself.  The SMWS on the other hand, does this stuff with the dead seriousness of a committed jailbird in his break for freedom.  They have no time to muck around, and produce mean, torqued-up rum beefcakes, every time. So be warned, the “Marmite” isn’t a rum with which you good-naturedly wrestle (like with the 151s, say) – you’re fighting it, you’re at war with it, you’re red in tooth and claw by the time you’re done, and afterwards you’re somehow sure that the rum won.  You may feel exhilerated just surviving the experience

Behind the user-friendly façade of the muted camo-green bottle and near-retro label of unintended cool, lies a rum proudly (or masochistically) showcasing  74.8 proof points of industrial strength, the point of which is somewhat lost on me – because, for the price, who’s going to mix it, and for the strength, who’s going to drink it?  It’s eleven years old, aged in Scotland, and hails, as far as I’ve been able to determine, from the Rockley pot still owned the West Indies Rum Distillery, making it a cousin of the Samaroli Barbados 1986 and the SMWS R3.4 10 year, old and thereby setting the stage.

SMWS R3.5 2The hay blonde rum oozed intensity right from the moment it was cracked. It was enormous, glitteringly sharp, hot, strong and awesomely pungent – the very first scents were acetone, wax, perfume and turpentine, so much so I just moved the glass to one side for a full ten minutes.  That allowed it to settle down into the low rumble of an idling Lambo, and gradually lighter notes of flowers, lavender, nail polish, sugar water and olives in brine came through, though very little “rummy” flavours of caramel and toffee and brown sugar could be discerned. It was clear nothing had been added to or filtered away from this thing.

Having experienced some rums qualifying as brutta ma buoni (which is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good” and describes such overproofs perfectly) I was very careful about my initial sip.  And with good reason – it was hellishly powerful. Incredibly thick and coating on the tongue. Massive, razor-sharp flavours of brine, cherries, more olives, some dried fruits, watermelon, and that weird combination of a cucumber sandwich on rye bread liberally daubed with cream cheese.  Christ this was hot – it was so over the top that were you to drink it in company, you wouldn’t be able to hear the guy next to you screaming…he’d have to pass you a note saying “OMFG!!!”.  Yet that’s not necessarily a disqualification, because like the 3.4, there was quite a bit of artistry and complexity going on at the same time. I have never been able to follow the SMWS’s tasting notes (see the label), but concede I was looking for the marmite…it was just difficult to find anything through that heat.  Once I added water (which is a must, here), there it was, plus some nuttiness and sweetness that had been absent before.  

All of this melded into a finish that was, as expected, suitably epic….it went on and on and on, holding up the flag of the overproofs in fine style, giving up flavours of hot black tea, pears, more florals, and a final hint of the caramel that had been so conspicuously absent throughout the tasting. I had it in tandem with the 3.4 (and the R5.1, though not strictly comparable), and liked the earlier Bajan a bit more.  But that’s not to invalidate how good this one is – about the only concession I have to make is that really, 74.8% is just a tad excessive for any kind of neat sipping. Overall?  Not bad at all – in fact it grew one me.  There was a lot more going on over time — so quietly it kinda sneaks up on you — than the initial profile would suggest, and patience is required for it.

SMWS R3.5 3

In trying to explain something of my background to my family (a more complicated story than you might think), I usually remark that no West Indian wedding ever really wraps up before the first fistfight erupts or the last bottle of rum gets drained.  The question any homo rummicus reading this would therefore reasonably ask, then, is which rum is that? Well…this one, I guess. It’s a hard rum, a tough rum, a forged steel battleaxe of a rum. It maybe should be issued with a warning sticker, and I honestly believe that if it were alive, it would it could have Robocop for lunch, yark him up half-chewed, and then have him again, before picking a fight in Tiger Bay.  It’s up to you though, to decide whether that’s a recommendation or not.

May 252016
 

D3S_3878

A blue-water rum for the Navy men of yore.

(#275 / 86/100)

***

This may be one of the best out-of-production independent bottlings from Ago that I’ve had.  It’s heavy but no too much, tasty without excess, and flavourful without too many offbeat notes.  That’s quite an achievement for a rum made in the 1970s, even more so when you understand that it’s actually a blend of Guyanese and Bajan rums, a marriage not always made in heaven.

I’ve trawled around the various blogs and fora and articles looking for references to it, but about all I can find is that (a) Jolly Jack Tars swear by it the way they do Woods or Watson’s and (b) it’s supposedly slang for undiluted Pusser’s navy rum.  “Neaters” were the undiluted rum served to the petty officers onboard ship; ratings (or regular sailors if you will), were served with a measure of rum famously known as the tot, which was a quantity of diluted rum called grog, and if you don’t know the terms, well, brush up on your reading of rums.

The rum is bottled at 95.5º proof, and one has to be careful what that means – it’s not actually half that (47.75%) according to modern measures, but 54.5%. And that’s because originally 100 proof rum was actually 57% and so….well, you can do the math, and read a previous essay on the matter to get the gist of it. Beyond that, unfortunately, there’s very little information available on the rum itself — proportion of each country’s component, and which estate’s rums, for example — so we’re left with rather more questions than answers.  But never mind. Because all that aside, the rum is great.

D3S_3876

I have to admit, I enjoyed smelling the mahogany coloured rum. It’s warmth and richness were all the more surprising because I had expected little from a late ’60s / early ’70s product ensconced in a faded bottle with a cheap tinfoil cap, made by a defunct company. It started off with prunes, pepsi-cola (seriously!), molasses, brown sugar and black tea, and developed into cherries and purple-black grapes – complexity was not its forte, solidity was.  The primary flavours, which stayed there throughout the tasting, were exclamation points of a singular, individualistic quality, with no attempt at subtlety or untoward development into uncharted realms. In the very simplicity and focus of its construction lay its strength. In short, it smelled damned good.

The heavy proofage showed its power when tasted neat.  Neaters was a little thin (I guess the nose lied somewhat in its promise) but powerful, just this side of hot.  No PM or Enmore still rum here, I thought, more likely Versailles, and I couldn’t begin to hazard where the Bajan component originated.  Still, what an impressive panoply of tastes – flowers, cherries again, some brown sugar and molasses, coffee grounds, watermelon.  The softness of the Bajan component ameliorated the fiercer Guyanese portions of the blend, in a way that I hadn’t seen before, and boy, did that ever work. It was smooth and rattling at the same time, like a mink-overlaid machine gun. With some water added, a background of fried banana bread emerged, plus more brown sugar and caramel, salt butter, maple syrup and prunes, all tied up in a neat bow by a finish that was just long  enough and stayed with the notes described above without trying to break any new ground. So all in all, I thought it was a cool blast from the past.

D3S_3877A well made full proof rum should be intense but not savage.  The point of the elevated strength is not to hurt you, damage your insides, or give you an opportunity to prove how you rock it in the ‘Hood — but to provide crisper, clearer and stronger tastes that are more distinct (and delicious).  When done right, such rums are excellent as both sippers or cocktail ingredients and therein lies much of their attraction for people across the drinking spectrum.  Perhaps in the years to come, there’s the potential for rum makers to reach into the past and recreate such a remarkable profile once again.  I can hope, I guess.

Company bio

Charles Kinloch & Son were wine and spirits merchants who were in existence for almost a hundred years when they joined the Courage Brewery group in 1957.  That company had been around since 1757 and after many mergers and acquisitions was itself taken over by the Imperial Tobacco Group in 1972, eventually passing to the Foster’s Group in 1990.  In 1995 Scottish & Newcastle bought Courage from Foster’s and it changed hands again in 2007 when Wells & Young’s Brewing company bought all the brands under that umbrella.  By then Navy Neaters had long been out of production, Kinloch was all but forgotten, and the current holding company now is more involved in pubs and beers in the UK than in rums of any kind.

Other notes

The rum had to have been made post-1966, given the spelling of “Guyana” on the label. Prior to that it would have been British Guiana.

The age is unknown.  I think it’s more than five years old, maybe as much as ten.

Apr 132016
 

D3S_3647

A tasty, unaged, pot-still white rum, which St. Nicholas Abbey seems to have made while in a playfully experimental phase.

(#266. 83/100)

***

So there I was last week, reading through my notes and writing unenthusiastically about the 3 year old “Real McCoy” white rum from Barbados, which found little favour with me.  But consider this unaged counterpart made right up the road from St. Nicholas Abbey, also issued at 40%, also a white and in just about every way a superior product.  What could account for such a difference? Well, part of it is the lack of filtration, another is the source – it is a full pot still product, not a blend of pot and column. Double distilled and with a longer than usual fermentation period (5 days plus two more of “resting”).  

Whatever the case, unaged white pot still rums are getting quite a bit of attention these days, moving the rum world away from dependable silver mixing agents whose name everyone knows, to something a bit more…well, adventurous. Clairins and agricoles have always been around and are leading the charge, but cachacas are making some waves too, and if more makers like Nine Leaves, St. Nicks and Rum Nation and others are spending time and money on making them, the next few years will be quite interesting on that front.

This particular rum tried very hard to walk the line between too much and too little, and succeeded pretty well: not for St. Nicks’s was the dumbing down of their product to appeal to a mass market by making a rum that wouldn’t offend anyone; and yet dialling up the volts to something that would be polarizing was not for them either.  They issued it in a smart looking bottle, at a tolerable 40%, and it was soothing enough to appeal without entirely disguising the potential and tamed wildness of its antecedents.

A rum like the White can only really be appreciated by trying it in tandem with rums like it up and down the scale.  For example, take the aromas: wax, olives, paraffin wax, floor polish and brine leaped out of the glass, and I know how unappetizing that sounds (I was fortunate in that I’ve tried more potent popskull and so I kinda knew what to expect).  But if you compare it with the DDL  Superior High Wine,  Rum Nation Pot Still 57%, or the Clairin Sajous, (or the Vaval, or the Casimir) which all packed more punch, you could make a reasoned argument that 40% really works for a larger drinking audience with rums like this. The character of the rum might be dampened a bit, yet it’s still there, singing as chirpily as a cageful of canaries. And be comforted…after some minutes the nose does even out a bit, bringing forward more floral notes, the light sugariness of candyfloss, papaya and sugar water…even a flirt of light honey.  However, it should be noted that there were few signs of any of that vegetal, grassy smell which is so prevalent in agricoles.

The taste was also quite intrguing.  I was expecting that oily, paraffin bedrock to continue, and indeed, this was there, just not that dominant.  The profile, which began with some heat, was reasonably smooth, sweet, light and clear, presenting anise, flowers and ripe cherries that kept what most would call unpleasant off-notes in the background, where they contributed a note or two — the floor polish was noticeable, for example — without overwhelming the taste outright.  With water additional cinnamon, whipped cream and crushed walnuts could be discerned, and the finish, while short, was very crisp and clear, without any driness at all.  Considering that I walked up to the St. Nick’s not expecting much of anything, it was a very pleasant surprised to be pampered by the overall worth of what I initially took to be just another throwaway white mixer.

Summing up, then, I think this is a very good all purpose white rum, and if it does not ascend to the heights of crazy as exemplified by the stronger rums noted above, you can see it had the potential to do so had they decided to beef it up some more.  It retained enough character and zest to stand by itself and possesses sufficient off notes to enhance whatever cocktail you’re thinking of dunking it into.  In that sense, it’s a great “bridge” rum —  it can be for both drinking neat or mixing, and would neither alienate those who despised the more elemental pot still whites, nor piss off the guys who prefer something that gives more bassa-bassa.  When you think about it, for any clear rum to pull off that trick is quite a feat, and that’s part of why the St. Nick’s product (and many agricole white rums) succeeds, when the white McCoy three year old, or other industrial white mixing fodder like Bacardi Superior so sadly don’t.  And it also succeeds, for my money, because it had the guts to actually go somewhere new.

Other notes

The source distillate in this case is not FourSquare, but St. Nick’s own stocks, from their own sugar cane.

Apr 092016
 

D3S_3629

Bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts will get more out of this than I ever will. It redefines the word “understated.”

(#265. 74/100)

***

Knowing how I have never been entirely satisfied with rums from Barbados, I decided to buy a few about which many have waxed rhapsodic, followed that up with trying as many as I could at the 2015 Berlin rumfest, and continued on the theme by begging my friends in Europe for samples of their personal stocks of independent bottlers’ Bajans.  Let’s see if I can’t get to the bottom of why — with just a few exceptions — they don’t titillate my tonsils the way so many others have and do.

Such as this white three year old from the “Real McCoy” company, which is using stocks from FourSquare. Others have written about Bill McCoy, a Prohibition era rumrunner who never adulterated his stocks (some of which came from, er, FourSquare, according to a documentary made by Bailey Pryor).  Apparently Mr. Pryor was so enthused by what Bill McCoy had done that he approached Richard Seale with a view to creating a modern equivalent: and after some time, the 3 year old white, a 5 year old and a 12 year old were out the door in 2014.  This one is a blend of copper pot and column still distillate, 40% ABV, aged in American ex-bourbon oak, and an offering to bartenders and barflies and mixologists everywhere.

D3S_3629-001

Part of my dissatisfaction with filtered white rums meant for mixing was demonstrated right away by the aromas winding up through my glass: I had to to wait around too long for anything to happen. The nose was warm and faintly rubbery, with some faint tannins in there, sugar water, light cream,and a green olive hanging around with maybe three marshmallows.  A flirt of vanilla loitered around in the back there someplace but in fine, I just couldn’t see that much was going on. “Subtle” the marketing plugs call it. “Pusillanimous” was what I was thinking.

To be fair, a lot more started jumping out of the glass when the tasting started.  It was crisper and clearer and firmer than the nose, a little peppery, more vanilla, cucumbers, dill, ripe pears, sugar cane sap.  It’s not big, it’s not rounded, and the range of potential tastes was too skimpy to appeal to me.  Skimpy might work for a bikini, but in a rum it’s a “Dear John” letter, and is about as enthusiastically received.  The finish?  Longish – surprisingly so, for something at 40%, though still too light. More sugar and dill, guavas and pears, and that odd olive made a small comeback. I’m sorry, guys, but this isn’t my thing at all. I want more.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to kick off the Barbados tour with a filtered white 3 year old.  It was thin, watery, too weak, and the tastes struggled to get out and make themselves felt.  Maybe it’s the charcoal filtration that takes out some of what I like in my rums.  The profile is there, you can sense it, just not come to grips with it…it’s tantalizingly just out of reach, and like the Doorley’s XO, it lacks punch and is simply too delicate for my personal palate.  For its price point and purpose it may be a tough rum to beat, mind you, but my personal preferences don’t go there. And having had white rums from quite a few makers who revel in producing fierce, joyous, in-your-face palate shredders, perhaps you can understand why something this easy going just makes me shrug and reach for the next one up the line.

 

Mar 012016
 

Samaroli Bdos 1

A Bajan rum you’re unlikely to either forget, or get much more of, in the years to come.  It’s among the most original rums from Barbados I’ve ever tried, even if it doesn’t quite come up to snuff taken as a whole.

(#258. 86/100)

***

I wish I could find more Samarolis from the early days. There aren’t enough from that maker in the world, and like most craft bottlers, their wares go up in price with every passing year.  I was lucky enough to buy this remarkable Bajan rum online, and for a twenty year old rum from one of the non-standard distilleries it held its own very nicely indeed against others from the small island.

Samaroli only issued 348 bottles of this 45% rum, and went with distillate sourced from the West India Rum Refinery Ltd (which since the mid 1990s is known as the West Indies Rum Distillery, or WIRD, and owned by Goddard Enterprises from Barbados).  When there were dozens of rum making companies in Barbados, WIRR provided distillate for many, derived from a very old pot still — the “Rockley still” from Blackrock — and a Dore column still.  These days they occasionally resurrect the old pot still, the Dore is long gone, and most of the alcohol they still produce is done on a large multi-column still purchased from Canada — the company is known for the Cockspur, Malibu brands of rum (and Popov vodka, but never mind).  As an interesting bit of trivia, they, in partnership with DDL and Diageo, have holdings in Jamaica’s Monymusk and Innswood distilleries.

Samaroli Bdos 2

Until recently, my feeling has been that well known Bajan rums as a whole have never risen up to challenge the status quo with quality juice of which I know they’re capable. Those I tried were often too tame, too unadventurous, too complacent, and I rarely found one I could rave over, in spite of critical plaudits received from all quarters (some of FourSquare and Mount Gay rums, for example) …and took quite a bit of scorn for thinking what I did.  Oh, most are good rums, competently made and pleasant to drink, I’ll never deny that, and have quite a few in my collection, though I still harbour a dislike for the Prince Myshkyn of rums, the Doorly XO.  Yet with some exceptions I just find many of them unexciting: lacking something of that spark, some of that out of the box thinking…the sheer balls that drives other makers to plunge without a backward look into the dark pools of the True Faith’s headwaters.

All that whinging aside, very few Bajan rums I found over the years were this old.  Twenty years’ tropical ageing takes a hell of a percentage out of the original volume (as much as 75%), which may be why Samaroli bought and aged this stock in Scotland instead – one commentator on the last Samaroli PM I looked at advised me that it was because they pretty much buy their rum stock in the UK, and so save costs by ageing there too.  Which would probably find favour with CDI, who also prefer European ageing for its slower, subtler influences on the final spirit.

Samaroli Bdos 3

Certainly Samaroli produced a rum from Little England like few others.  45% wasn’t enough to biff me on the hooter, so I swirled and inhaled and then looked with some wonder at the light gold liquid swirling demurely in my glass. The first scents were none of that soft rum, burnt sugar and banana flambe I sometimes associated with the island (based on rums past), but a near-savage attack of paint, phenols, plasticine and turpentine, mixed in with acetone and sweet aldehydes reminding me of my University chem classes (which I hated).To my relief, this all faded away after a few minutes, and the nose developed remarkably well: a burst of sweet red grapes, faint red licorice, delicate flowers, clear cucumbers in water, opening further with light additions of bread and butter and orange rind.  Not the best opening act ever, but very original, came together with a bang after a while, and absolutely one to hold one’s interest.

The palate was dry, dusty, with fresh sawdust and hay notes mixing it up with that sweetish acetone from before…then it all took a twirl like a ballerina and morphed into a smorgasbord of pale florals, sherry, lebanese green grapes; to my disappointment some of that assertiveness, that I’m-a-rum-so-what’s-your-problem aggro was being lost (this may be a taste thing, but to me it exemplifies some of the shortcomings of non-tropical ageing to one who prefers robust and powerful rums). The taste profile was light and clear and held all the possibilities of greater power, but even the gradually emergent leather and smoke — which melded well with bananas and papayas — seemed unwilling (if not actually unable) to really take their place on the palate with authority.

So the nose was intriguing and developed well, the palate just didn’t click.  The finish? Oh well now, this was great…come home please, all is forgiven. Long and lasting, a little salty-sweet, furniture polish, wax, peaches and cream, sugary lemon juice and candied oranges, a joyous amalgam of cool, studied stoicism and hot-snot badassery.

That I don’t fanatically love this rum is my issue, not yours, and I’ve described as best I could where I thought it fell down for me. There are of course many things that work in it – mouthfeel, texture, and a nose and finish which I know many will like a lot, and I gave it points for daring to go away from the more commonly held perceptions of what a Bajan profile should be.  I always liked that about indie bottlers, you see, that sense of wonder and curiosity (“What would happen if I messed with this rum…ran a turbo into it, maybe?” you can almost hear them think, and then go ahead and issue something like the SMWS 3.4 which by the way, also hailed from WIRR), and maybe they’re seeing what Silvio saw when he made this rum. It may not be the best Bajan-styled rum you’ve ever tried, but it may have also shown what was possible when you don’t care that much about styles at all.

Other notes

Bottle #274 of 348

My thanks and a big hat tip to Richard Seale of FourSquare, who provided me with historical background on WIRR/WIRD.

Samaroli Bdos 1986

Oct 262015
 

St. Nick's 15 3

An expensive, luxurious, silky, almost-heavy, near-masterpiece of assembly. This dethrones the $400 Panamonte XXV as maybe the best 40% rum I’ve ever tried. For half the price.

(#238. 88/100)

***

It’s been just over four years since I reviewed the St. Nicholas Abbey’s 8, 10 and 12 year olds, and I liked them all, a lot. They were soft, warm, well-made Bajan rums (initial distillate provided by R. L. Seale of Four Square), redolent of much history and heritage — the plantation itself is as much of interest as the rum they make. Ever since then I’ve been trying to get my hands on the other products I knew were coming: alas, the additional products the Warrens told me about never arrived in Calgary, and they came too late to other markets for me to obtain them before I moved away.

Never mind. That’s what RumFests are for. After being poured a glass or three, I spent a most convival half hour in Berlin in 2015 irritating an enormously helpful Mr. Simon Warren with endless questions and remarks about his rums, and finally gave the poor chap some peace by first calibrating on the five year old, trying some ten, and then launching into the golden-hued fifteen for which I had waited so long.

These rums were a sequence of very similar products, each a little bit different and perhaps better than its predecessor, and each certainly more complex than the one that preceded it. That’s not entirely a surprise, since the remains of the 8 and 10 were what comprised the 12, and the 12 was aged even further into the 15 (the five year old can’t be brought into this discussion since it was made completely in-house). The 10 was very much like I remembered. Soft, warm,some interesting stuff going on under the hood, and if I wished they were stronger (as I usually do these days), there was very little fault to find with what was presented.

St. Nick's 15 1

The 15 ratcheted things up a notch. At 40% ABV, I wasn’t expecting any kind of hurricane-force F5 taste bomb, and I didn’t get one. What I did get was a nose of uncommon warmth and softness, where lush, deep flavours gently swirled around and released themselves over the half hour I spent letting it breathe. Soft molasses and bananas started things off, as dense as an El Dorado that decided to take the day off. A little spiciness, not enough to matter, followed up by some nuttiness of almonds in chocolate, raisins, ripe black grapes and raisins, some orange peel…and was that coconut, a flirt of cinnamon at the back end? Yes it was.

The taste continued on very pleasantly from the nose. Here some more heat was evident, well toned down (well, it is only 40%), a velvet blanket drawn across the taste buds. Bananas and molasses and raisins started the party, followed by smokier, drier hints of aromatic pipe tobacco and an old leather satchel, more almonds, vanilla, caramel, nougat. A bit of coffee and a last bit of citrus became detectable after a while. It was, in fine, a rum that encouraged leisurely appreciation, a languorous conversation, fond memories. And the finish was very much in line with all that – as well as the softer caramel, vanilla and toffee (again, there was that vague spiciness of orange peel), it honestly felt like I was having a weird mocha-infused eclair. Sweet? Yes – but all held very carefully in balance, not overwhelming, and certainly not taking over the show. It was a rum I enjoyed thoroughly, and thought it a worthy addition to the pantheon.

The bottle adhered to the same ethos as produced previous younger editions, being the marvellously etched, squarish flagon surmounted by a mahogany enclosed cork. Apparently you can get custom etching and a cut rate price on refills, if you take your own bottle to the Abbey, up in St. Peter’s parish of Barbados. The rum is completely aged on the premises in used bourbon barrels – research shows it is initially aged for eight years at a high proof strength (65%), and then the barrels are batched and rebarrelled for an additional seven years to make the fifteen. The bottles themselves are individually filled from each barrel – it’s not like the entire output is married and then used to fill the bottles all at once…so some variation is likely to occur here.

St. Nick's 15 2

Tastes aside, the St. Nicholas Abbey 15 year old is not a raw, brawny, uncouth monster that jumps out to assault you with a roaring plethora of screaming-sharp, precise and intense flavours from the moment you uncork the bottle. It is, rather, a gentle, warm drink to have with a cigar, the evening papers and in the warm afterglow of a kiss from the wife. Its genius arises from the way the tastes that do exist meld together into an firm melange of uncommon complexity, with just enough heat to remind you it’s a rum, accompanied by a texture and mouthfeel that was silk and velvet and spice all at once.

I remember thinking that day, finalizing my detailed notes and giving the harried-looking (but still polite) Mr. Warren a chance to escape, that I really wish I knew what the eight year old 65% tasted like prior to rebarrelling for the next seven years – I have a feeling it would be exceptional. But given that few rum makers could make a 40% rum this good at all, I concluded, perhaps comfort could be found by merely having another substantial dram poured into my glass, walking off to the corner, and enjoying it in an overstuffed armchair as restful as the rum while watching other aficionados walk past.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Other Notes

The history of the Abbey is covered in my initial essays on the younger rums, and can also be found on their excellent website.

Jun 032015
 

D3S_9106

***

Sweet enough to appeal, smooth enough to enjoy, complex enough to admire. Solid, succulent Bajan rum from 2003, a cut above the ordinary, just like its 2001 brother.

(#217. 86/100)

***

Why Fabio Rossi, the gentleman behind Rum Nation, keeps referring to his Bajan offerings as “entry level” is beyond me.  ‘Cause like Mr. Gump, I may not be a smart man, but I know what entry level is. This is a few notches higher, and that it can do what it does with what for me is a relative anemic 40% strength, is no mean achievement in a pantheon dominated by R.L. Seale, Cockspur and St. Nicholas Abbey.

That said, it does lack some of that distinctive complexity of character that would make me rank it higher. Consider first the nose of the orange-brown rum: like many of Rum Nation’s products there is that olfactory sense of sinking into the soft ease of a plush chesterfield, with which which any consumer of Barbados rums would be quite happy. Bananas, brown sugar and taffy, some crushed hazelnuts, almonds, and an odd spray of cough drops stealing through the back end (cough drops?…I tried again, and yes, that’s what it nosed like).

To taste, that depth of lushness continued, though the rum presented as a somewhat lighter, even “Spanish” style of mouthfeel.  It moved away from the brown sugar and caramel, and provided initial flavours of smoke and vanillas that the oak had imparted; yet also more sweetness and smoothness here, like running our spoon through a ripe papaya.  Some kick of not-quite-ripe apricots, a bit of green grape, kiwi fruit, aromatic pipe tobacco, a bit of dry must…overall, a very unaggressive, quite friendly rum, extremely accessible.  The finish was not too shabby for a standard strength rum: shorter than I might have wished for, but still impressively redolent of caramel, burnt sugar and smoky notes.

You could mix the rum, I suppose, though with something this easy-going, I question why. It has few of the jagged edges that a cocktail might seek to smoothen out, or enhance. I think it’s fine to have neat – its strength (or lack thereof) makes that no chore at all. In any case, Rum Nation has never really hewed to the elemental brutality of full proof rums issued by the Scots, or Velier, or Samaroli.  They strike me as closer in philosophy to Plantation, with their finishing strategy and slightly more voluptuous profiles. In that sense, to me, it is better than the rum many use as their Bajan baseline, the Mount Gay XO, and for sure I enjoyed it more than the Cockspur 12. It actually has more in common with some of FourSquare’s rums, but that’s just me.

According to Mr. Rossi, the rum is derived from Barbados molasses distilled in a column still, aged in American oak barrels in the Caribbean — no mention where, I suppose we can assume also in Barbados — before being shipped off to be finished for 18-24 months in Italy, in ex-Spanish brandy casks before bottling.  As a point of interest, unlike the 2001 RN Barbados 10 year old, this rum did not come from the West Indies Refinery, though you’d be hard pressed to put the two side by side, taste them blind, and know which was which.

Like Plantation, Rum Nation has been catching some flak recently for adding sugar to their rums. I guess people are having some difficulty marrying the generally positive reviews out there (mine among them) with the mere suggestion of saccharine inclusion. Now I acknowledge the influence that sugar has in making this rum what it is (and that’s not a negative opinion), but am also aware this is a deliberate choice to create the final product, not to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, or deliberately tart up and obscure an inferior piece of crap – I’ve spent too much money on, and sampled too many of, RN’s rums, old and young, to believe that for a moment.

In any event, I can tell you that here Rum Nation has produced an affordable, pleasant and drinkable spirit, one I enjoyed thoroughly and would happily buy again.  I may ultimately prefer my high-end aged agricoles and full proof twenty-plus year old taste-bombs, but that is no reason not to give this softer, younger Bajan a whirl.  Even if you believe, as its maker does, that it’s “just an entry level rum.”

Because that it isn’t, not really.

 

***

Other notes

  • New bottle design introduced in the 2014 season
  • 8118 bottles outturn

 

Jul 292013
 

D3S_7028

Good all round Bajan rum from Berry Brothers & Rudd, that’s worth its price and is a good note on which to close your day.

(#175. 85/100)

***

What a relief it was to try this well-aged rum, and to find that its Fijian 8 year old cousin which I had tried some weeks back was indeed something of an iconoclastic aberration. There’s not much I could say about a line of rums of which I have only ever sampled three, and it would have been wrong to extrapolate based on such a small sample size. So it’s a happy matter that I can confirm the Bajan 13 year old is an excellent buy all round.

One of the pleasant things about independent bottlers who make a “series” is the consistency of presentation – think Renegade and their frosted glass bottles, or Plantation and the straw netting. It saves the reviewer a whole bunch of time not to have to assess a presentational score (I know the principle has its detractors, no need to mention it). So, tall bottle, well fitting plastic cork, simplistic labelling utterly consistent with the other BBR rums I’ve written about (the Fiji and the Port Morant 1975).

The lead in on the nose was caramel and molasses, muted and light, yet with some heat as well (the rum is 46% after all). Vanilla undertones had their place before segueing into subtler aromas of pineapple and nicely ripened yellow gooseberries. A flirt of citrus (ripe orange peel) coiled around all of this, well balanced with preceding elements, and then the whole was wrapped up in emerging perfumes of delicate white flowers and a barely perceptible wine background. Quite intriguing, all in all.

I must comment on the excellent mouthfeel of this thirteen year old, honey-coloured rum: it’s medium bodied yet quite smooth for all that, with some heat imparted by the strength, but not so much as to become peppery or overly spicy. There’s a luxurious creaminess in the way this runs across the tongue, a certain chewiness that was very appealing. The rum was neither too sweet nor too salty (while possessing elements of both), and what I came away with was vanilla, honey, white chocolate, light coconut shavings and bananas, all held together by a softer citrus hint than the nose had promised. And at the tail end the odd sweetness of a strawberry lollipop, fading into a long clean finish redolent of chopped fruits and some saltiness. Really quite a decent product – I enjoyed it a lot.

D3S_7032

Where does the distillate originate? I wish I knew for sure. I almost want to say it comes from Mount Gay, but somewhere in that profile I’m more leaning towards R. L. Seale’s FourSquare (and indeed, the Masters of Malt website says that’s its home), and also, from its richness, that it’s a pot still distillate. The ageing in white oak barrels was well handled, in my opinion, because the resultant is in very good balance overall, and it’s a sipper’s drink rather than one to mix.

Writing this review as my life changes yet again, I am assailed by a sense of melancholy. This review will be one of the last for a while (the country I’m moving to is dry in all senses of the word). Perhaps it is fitting that one of the final rums I’ve tried and written up tasting notes for, is also one of the more pleasing ones. Not the best, of course (is there any such thing?) but certainly a rum to have and to enjoy at any point on the arc of your existence. Even if, or perhaps especially, as with me, you won’t be trying any more for a while.

 

Jul 142013
 

D3S_7047

 

This feels and tastes mean, largely because it is. But just because it treats you like life on Keith Richards’s face isn’t an automatic disqualification…I just call it inspired insanity, and have (much to my own surprise) given it the highest rating I’ve ever awarded to a 75% overproof.

(#174. 88/100)

***

“Makes you strong like a lion”, the label remarks, in one of those tongue-in cheek references with which the SMWS likes to charm its buyers. After being battered into near insensibility (on more than one occasion) by the raging yak that was the SMWS R5.1 Longpond 9 year old 81.3%, you’ll forgive me for approaching the almost-as-torqued up 75.3% R3.4 rum with something akin to serious apprehension. I mean, I love strong and flavourful rums of real intensity, but it’s my personal belief that the folks at SMWS are snickering into their sporrans when they issue these massive overproofs, hoping that the lesser bred such as I will get a hurt real bad, be put under the table for the count, and swear off rums altogether. You kind of have to admire their persistence in the matter.

What we had here was a 75.3% rum issued this year (2013), with the usual obscure moniker “R3.4” which my research suggests makes the rum from the Rockley Still from the West Indian Refinery in Black Rock, Barbados. About which, I hasten to add, I know little, not having tasted their products (Bristol Spirits has a couple from there, which I hope to get my grubby little paws on one of these happy days).

D3S_7036

Dressed up in that delightfully tall, menacing camo-green bottle that is their standard, the R3.4 decanted a pungent, blonde-amber rum into the glass, quite innocently. Here, come try me, it seemed to invite, and you just knew it was suckering me in…fortunately, I had previously sampled its sibling, so I was prepared, having learnt my lesson by now: I let it stand, and then nosed it very, very carefully.

Bam! it went, right away, even after a few minutes. My God, but this was strong. Shudderringly odd, this was a rum in psychopath mode, a snorting, rearing mustang of pent up aggression. Creamy, buttery, slightly salty, almonds and peanuts stomped my schnozz right out of the gate. As sharp as a sushi master’s knife, yes, but Lordie, there was a lot going on here. As it opened up it presented even more: bananas, some mustiness and smoke, the faintest odour of Benedictine. I was impressed in spite of myself, and marked it high for sheer originality, because all other 75% rums (the 151s, if you will), were so straightforwardly simple and relatively uncomplex, that finding this plethora of nasal riches was a welcome surprise.

As for the palate, coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, in case your rum-drinking life flickers before your eyes. Once the fire subsided, the same creamy chewiness from the nose carried over well upon arrival – butter melting in an iron skillet, fried bananas, all wrapped up in a herbal background I couldn’t quite separate out. Intense, very intense. Wood, grassiness, rosemary, sorrel, with a snarky element of smoky peat in there someplace making mischief. It honestly felt like it was powered with fire and brimstone, this one, yet nowhere near as barefacedly badass as any of the other 151 rums I’ve tried in the past…there’s some real couth here, honestly. But of course it is damned strong, and so warning of sobriety transmuted to drunkneness in 2.5 shots is not me being overly metaphorical..

The fade, as befitted an overproof rum, was quite long and very solid, heat and warmth without real spice, somewhat fruity, nutty, salty, and giving up last hints of oats and bran. I s**t you not, this rum was quite something, and Stuart, who was drinking it with me (he had been clouted about the ears with the Longpond as well, and was therefore understandably cautious with this one), liked it so much he immediately started calling around asking where he could get hisself some too.

 D3S_7038

All right, so let’s sum up. Short version, if you want a good time, no stress or aggro, buy something softer…like the Centenario Legado, for example. If you want to be astonished out of your socks by a rum explosion of startling, glute-flexing originality, this is the one to get (if you can). You don’t need to be a rum snob, collector or even a rum lover to appreciate a bit of overproof blending skill on your table (or your office desktop after hours).

It’s been a long running gag on Liquorature that I resolutely refuse to admit that whiskies have pride of place in the spirits world, and the crown should rightfully go to the rums. Here’s one I wish we could get more of, ‘cause it kinda proves my point (it’s made by whisky lovers, much to my annoyance). Drinking this, trying to describe it in words, I am faced with bafflement. I don’t know. It’s crazy. This rum is liquid, industrial-strength factory effluent that tastes three times as good as it should.

 

Jun 042013
 

D7K_2039

Among the best of the five year olds, and may actually be the best 5 I’ve had to date.

(#166. 84.5/100)

***

One of the surprising things about the Plantation Barbados 5 year old is the fact that it is bottled at what, for Plantation, is a relatively mild 40%. Still, for all my whining about wanting rums to be stronger, I can’t deny the overall quality of what many would dismiss as a mixer’s rum, because it’s a quietly impressive product that is the equal of the El Dorado 5 year old in every way, and exceeds it in others.

Cognac Ferrand is noted for taking rums from various plantations around the West Indies and Central America, ageing them in situ and then bringing them over to France where the finish it in cognac casks for a few months. This double ageing gives their rums a certain richness and depth that is really quite something, and while they simply classify the rums by the date of distillation (one is left to guess how old a given rum therefore is), in this case they have stated front and centre that it is a five year old rum, which makes comparing it against others a much less theoretical proposition.

A while back, I ran four fives against each other and commented on their various characteristics and how they stacked up – based on that, I felt (at the time), that the El Dorado five was the best of the (limited) lot. Well, here Plantation does it one better, and steals the crown. I got this impression right from the get-go, when opening it up and taking a good strong sniff. Most five year olds I’ve tried tend towards the slightly raw – there is usually a sense of better to come, with a spiciness and burn deriving from some ageing, perhaps not so complete. Here, precisely the opposite was true: the rum was quite soft, quite smooth (a bit of a nip, yes…just less than you might expect), quite pleasant on the nose. Vanilla, plums, dark berries (blackcurrants and blackberries with ripe cherries), and a dusting of coconut shavings were all in evidence, leavened as it opened up with some pineapple and cinnamon, butterscotch and toffee.

D7K_2035

As for the taste, well now, colour me impressed: amazingly robust on the palate, deep and intense, oily and quite smooth, warm and easy to sip. Just sweet enough to please, with simpler, forceful notes of vanilla and cinnamon segueing gently into molasses, burnt sugar, caramel, the aforementioned coconut shavings and a dark chopped-fruit melange. The feel of this rum as I drank it was of a warm freshly laundered pillow, something quite soft enough to hug, definitely more polished and nuanced than the ED5. Finish was sweet, honeylike, relaxed, and gave you no attitude whatsoever.  In it, you could see the Plantation Barbados 20th Anniversary take shape. It’s that decent.

On its own you’re not necessarily going to get all this: but trying it in tandem with a few other similarly aged offerings gives you a gist of the quality I describe here. It really is quite an experience, to be able to sip – not even adding water – a rum this young and this cheap. I thought Josh Miller at Inu a Kena was kidding when he muttered disbelievingly “I’m sipping a sixteen dollar rum! Neat!” But he was doing no more than telling the absolute truth.

The Plantation Barbados 5 year old may be relatively uncomplex compared to older rums, not too much oomph in the trousers alcohol-wise, but you simply cannot argue with its put-togetherness. Okay, so maybe it’s not a top ender, but in my mind, it perhaps should be – it takes its place among the best young rums out there. On smoothness, taste, texture, mouthfeel and finish, all for that one low low price, it is a rum that will be difficult to beat even by products many times its age.

 

Other notes

I am aware that I scored the El Dorado 5 a measly 78 points back in 2010. For that time, it was right. Now, three years down the road, I would probably rank it quite a bit more generously (and may yet do that, if I pick up another bottle). I’ll just note the discrepancy, and remark to my fellow bloggers who are kind enough to read this review, that this is why one should never taste a rum for scoring purposes in isolation but always as part of a series of some kind.

Also, it may cost twenty bucks or less in the US, but in Canada it’s closer to forty.

 

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