Jun 182013



Ambivalence personified

(#168. 82/100)


Ever since I sampled Traveller’s Liquors 1-barrel expression, I’ve wanted to move up the chain – that rum, for its youth and antecedents, was a pleasure to drink, and I really appreciated its ten year old cousin, the excellent Don Omarios Vintage Rum. As with the latter, it was a bottle which “Rum Balls” Tony brought back when he was on holiday over in that part of the world: he obliged his parched amigo by schlepping a bottle of this Belize-made rum back for me to try (with him in attendance, of course). So once again, big hat-tip to Da Man.

I remarked in the Don Omario review that the 5 Barrel would really have to have an oomphed up game to beat it, and the initial nose of the amber coloured, thick legged rum suggested it might: it had a musty, earthy pungency to it, a certain driness, reminding me of an old carpet I used to beat the crap out of in the days before the family had a vaccuum cleaner. Licorice, caramel, brown sugar in a plastic baggie, and a lingering whiff of a cloying overripe (dark red or black) grape notes, something like a sweet red wine. Not quite my thing, that last, though overall, nothing to gripe about, and much to admire..

The taste was an interesting counterpoint. Light and smooth and clear…clean is a word not inappropriate to use in this context, and odd after that darker earthier nose. The rum itself was bottled at 40% and was medium to light bodied, but care must be taken – I’m not comparing the taste on the palate to an agricole, because here the balance was different, well handled between the light clearer flavours of androgynous fruit like papaya, kiwi and breadfruit. The caramel and sugar notes were held in check while not being entirely overwhelmed, and if I had to make on contrary observation here, it was that there was a salty, almost crackers or biscuits background at the last I simply didn’t care for. The finish was shortish, smooth, warm, and decent without brilliance: it simply reaffirmed all the aforementioned flavours. The Omario, which counted this as its weakest point, was still better.

Summing up, I liked the 5 Barrel quite a lot, but those odd discordant notes that crept in somewhat marred the experience for me. At end I can’t help but feel faintly let down. It’s not that it’s a bad rum (quite the opposite — in fact it’s a perfectly solid rum in its own way). I just expected, given the sterling encomiums it was given by individuals for whom I have respect, that it would be, somehow…better. When I compare it to both the 1-barrel, which I enjoyed but which it eclipsed, and then the Don Omario’s, which edged past it, you can perhaps forgive me for being just a shade sniffy about the matter.

If I was feeling bitchy, I’d close by making grumbling, snarky comments about where it failed and what it didn’t do for me and how could it be said to be such a premium expression when it really isn’t, and so on. I won’t, though, because truly, as a mid-range sipping rum, there’s not much fault to find. The thing is solid, just not brilliant (for me…your mileage will inevitably vary). So what it comes down to is expectation versus reality, the very conundrum that infects our daily lives. I go into every new job as an unbridled optimist, thinking that this will be the last one, the best one, this is the one I’ll make my pile from and retire in. Anyone who knows the penurious state of my finances and the precariousness of employment in my drone-like cubicle knows how laughable that sentiment is.

And so also for rums. The Traveller’s Five barrel is what it is, a decent, workmanlike entry into the genre, well put together, decently blended, nothing to be ashamed of at all. My expectations aside, there’s no reason for me – or you, for that matter – to ignore it if it ever came across my path again.



Other Notes

This rum is a five year old, aged in American oak, and so my scoring is a bit out of synch with other five year olds, especially with the four looked at in “A Tale of Four Fives.” I’d rank it below Plantation’s Bajan 5, El Dorado 5 and Angostura, but no lower. It’s a shade better than both the Juan Santos 5 and the Fluor de Cana 5 year old rums, which should tell you something about my personal taste preferences.



Jun 152013


Sedate, but not quite docile. Urbane with just a hint of bad boy. An excellent fifteen year old out of Belize.

(#167. 85/100)


The humourist in me likes to think that Travellers – that excellent rum house out of Belize which also makes the 1-barrel, 3-barrel and 5-barrel rums – has a resident Irishman on the payroll, and he changed his name, and was instrumental in making a left field product with his name on it (I had a similar feeling when I ran into an Irish pub in Kazakhstan many years ago). The reality is different, of course, but it tickled me mightily. Anyway, all that aside, I was otherwise enthused by the vintage rum called Don Omario’s Vintage which “Rum Balls” Tony brought over. He is, you will remember, the guy who has now put me under the table on several occasions with the rums he brings for me to try (while being entertained by my own rare and vintage stocks).

Traveller’s has been in business since the 1950s, founded by Omario Perdomo (yeah, that’s the guy), after whom this rum is named: the company derived its moniker from its origin in serving the various travellers in and out of Belize City. Like many other national companies (DDL and Tanduay spring to mind), they produce a wide range of spirit products for both the domestic and export market, and thus far, the only previous rum from their range which I had tried was a very pleasant 1-barrel (and I now have the 3- and 5- barrel variations to check out if I can ever get around to them).

There’s a certain retro aspect to this bottle that’s quite unique…in fact, it may be one of the most unusual designs I’ve seen in recent memory: it is shaped roughly like a six pointed star when seen from above (too bad that’s not the way it’ll appear on the shelves, isn’t it?). Good cork, so-so labelling, all-over faux-1970s design. Inside was a copper mahogany liquid that poured out along the sides of the glass with the slow plump legs of a chubby baby.


I should confess that the nose on this rum was something a few orders of magnitude ahead of the 1 Barrel I was sampling alongside it. Luscious in depth, it reminded me a lot of the Dictador 20: earthy background, coffee, chocolate, fleshy non-acidic fruits – prunes, dried apricots, even dates. The smell advanced past this to mild white pepper notes, caramel and burnt sugar, and came together really, really well.

As for the taste, no complaints from me there. Medium to heavy bodied on the tongue, bottled at an excellent 45%…my research suggests it was double distilled from molasses. Smooth and pleasant, with initial warm notes of well humidified tobacco leading off, handing over to chocolate and caramel notes, limmed with burnt sugar and a lovely background of coffee and roasted nuts. The nose hadn’t lied either, because fruity scents hadn’t disappeared, and were a shade more intense than previously promised: peaches freshly cut and still oozing sap, prunes and that flirt of apricots. Good stuff. I should point out that it displayed a few discordant notes here and there – mostly some sharpish oak and a tad of dry astringency – as I went back and forth, and I suggest to you that this gives it a nice character, a little bit of bullyism to the palate, something that makes it more than just another rum that pleases.

The finish is about the weakest thing about an otherwise sterling product: dry, short and straightforward, and I’m not damning it for that, by the way, because for all its minimal length, it was soft and billowy, giving up closing aromas of nuts and coffee grounds faintly mixed up with toffee and butterscotch. The close may be too rapid for some, but given what had come before it, I muted my bitch button and simply accepted it as a very pleasant fifteen year old rum, one I would say nice things about to anyone who asked. The 5-barrel I’ve heard so much about would really have to be spectacular to beat it, I think.

So where does this leave me? Well pretty happy, all in all. Traveller’s have made an interesting, professional fifteen year old, smooth, silky, tasty and good for sipping on a cold Calgary night. It is at this point not for sale here, but I will have fond memories of my experience with it, and recommend it as an excellent all-round rum bottled at precisely the right strength for what it attempts, which is to make you savour the visit of a squaddie like Tony who’ll bring it with him for you to try.

Other Notes

Originally I named this a ten year old based on some online background pages I read, though the  literature is inconsistent about the matter: some mention it as being ten years old, some as fifteen.  I have emailed Traveller’s to see if they can clear up the matter.  Tony himself confirmed that when he bought it in Belize, it was specifically sold to him as being a fifteen year old, and so I have retitled my post.







Mar 262013

A medium-bodied golden rum with nose and plalate and finish all a cut above the normal – if this is what Belize can make with so little fanfare, we should all go and get ouselves some of their wares. 

First posted 6th November 2011 on Liquorature

(#085. 76/100)


Belize , formerly the British Honduras, is a small piece of the Yucatan peninsula (the eastern side), and a pleasant little parliamentary democracy where that staple of West Indian culture, cricket, is oddly absent (for shame). On the other hand, they are making a sterling little rumlet from one of the four distilleries in the country, and for that I give them full credit. The 1 Barrel Refined Old Rum is a lovely piece of work, and for a rum aged for so little, I’m actually more than a little impressed.

Travellers is now a distillery, and it traces its origins during the heydey of the 50s when the Caribbean was a mafia and tourist playground. In 1953 Senor Jaime Pedomo opened a bar he named Traveller’s, meant to cater to the transient clientele that dominated the eeconomy even then; as with most establishments of the time, it was not enough to merely sell imported hooch and locally fermented swill, but eventually to make one’s own, and pretend to some level of quality. Don Omario followed this noble moonshining tradition, developed his own recipe, and its popularity grew by leaps and bounds – I see no reason to doubt various claims that it’s the most popular rum in the joint.

Appearance-wise, there’s not much to say. Standard slope shouldered bottle, the label in the shape of the eponymous barrel (just one, to go along with its name, I would surmise). Screw top plastic cap, utilitarian and effective, no fancy stuff here at all. Never having had anything from Belize before – and being intrigued by anything new, I had no problem forking out the ~$30 to give it a try when I discovered it based on a tip, in a small out of the way little likker joint in Calgary.

Good thing, too, because here’s a golden rum that will make my second “10 Decent Rums (roughly) under $50” list for sure. The nose, admittedly, had an initially slight plasticy note to it (don’t ask), and fortunately this disappeared and was replaced by sweet vanilla, sugars and light phenols. After opening up it assumed a darker character, something more assertive, more mellow…sort of like sucking off the crap from an M&M and then getting to the chocolate. Fleshy fruits, hints of burnt sugar, freshly shaved coconut. It was mild and soft and actually improved over the minutes.

Nor did the taste disappoint, though here I should mention that 1 Barrel is really not a sipper: it’s good, no doubt, just a shade uncouth at times. Still,  just as the nose transmuted into a kind of spicy clarity more reminiscent of white flowers and cherries,  the taste, as it stayed, mellowed like the nose did, without losing that edge, and so the memory you’re left with is one of a kind of half-crazed caramel-vanilla nuttiness and butterscotch that grabs your tongue and then jabs it with a pitchfork a few times just for fun. Maybe that’s the lack of ageing, because the 1 barrel is only aged for a year (in used Kentucky bourbon barrels) – so some of that youthful insouciance and braggadocio of an unbridled and untamed hooch remains to remind you of its origins.

In spite of that sharpness, it was actually milder than one might expect after having been assaulted by, oh, a Coruba or a Smuggler’s Cove; and richer, with the burnt brown sugar scents gathering force as the minutes went by. All of these elements came together, and then mellowed into a caramel enhanced buterriness about as amazing to experience as hearing my nineteen year old daughter tell me she loves me without prompting her with a new car. The finish wasn’t bad either, though shorter than I might have liked, and a shade more raw than I cared for. But overall, not nearly as bad as my previous horror-show with the Bundie had been – I didn’t lose my voice or my sight on this occasion, for a start (much to the disappointment of several hopeful relatives, I’m sure) – and as a mixer, the smokiness of the burnt sugar really comes out.

So to summarize: an excellent entry-level golden rum which just fails as a sipper but can certainly be endured as such; and a good mixer if that’s your bent. Perhaps the best way to round out this review is to simply say I enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to get higher and more aged entries in Traveller’s food chain.


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