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”.


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.


Apr 062017


Amrut, that Bangalore company which makes the Old Port rum I tried many years ago, as well as whiskies many swoon over, is no stranger to making rums, but their marketing effort is primarily aimed at the subcontinent itself, and perhaps other parts of Asia (maybe they’re chasing Old Monk, which is supposedly the #1 rum in India).  There’s not much of a range (five rums in all), and I rarely saw any of them in Canada – this one was bought in Europe.  Given that this particular rum is a blend of – get this! – Jamaican, Bajan, Guyanese and Indian pot-still rum, one can perhaps be forgiven for asking whether they’re going in the direction of Ocean’s Atlantic Rum; and as far as I was concerned that one suffered from overreach.  But at least we know where the “Two Indies” moniker derives, if nothing else.

It’s also worth commenting on one thing: the Indian component of the rum is supposedly a pot still originating distillate based on jaggery, which is a natural sweetener made from sugar cane…whose by-product is molasses so one wonders why not just go there and have done, but never mind.  The issues (not problems) we have are two fold: firstly, jaggery is actually made from either sugar cane or the date palm, so I’m unsure of which variation is in use here (since sugar cane jaggery is cheaper, I’m putting my money there); secondly, assuming the jaggery is from cane, it is in effect a reduced version of sugar cane juice – a syrup – what we in the West Indies and parts of South America sometimes refer to as “honey”. So in effect there’s nothing particularly special about the matter except that its source product is made in Asia and widely known there.  And, of course, the marketing, since it suggests a divergence and distinction from more familiar terms.

Anyway, all this preamble leads inevitably to the question of whether that basic ingredient lends a difference to the profile, the way for example a “maple syrup rum” would (and yes, there is such an abomination). I don’t really think so – the difference in taste and smell I noted seemed to be more a product of the entire geographical environment, the way a Bundie is linked to Australia, and Dzama is Madagascar and Ryoma is Japanese.  I’m not saying I could necessarily taste it blind and know it was either from India in general or Amrut in particular – but there were differences from more traditional Caribbean or Latin American rums with which we have greater experience

Consider first how it smelled.  The nose began by presenting a sort of lush fruitiness that spilled over into over-ripe, almost spoiled mangoes, persimmons and sweet tropical fruit and kiwi, something also akin to those cloying yellow-orange cashews the snacking nuts are made from (not those with the stones inside).  In the background there lurked caramel and vanilla, some cloying sweet and also breakfast spices (cloves and maybe nutmeg mostly, though very light) just as the Old Monk had; and overall, the aromas were heavy and (paradoxically enough) not all that easy to pick out – perhaps that was because of the inoffensive 42.8% ABV it was bottled at.

I liked the taste a lot better, though that queer heaviness persisted through what ended up as a much clearer rum than I had expected.  So, bananas, more of the mangoes and cashews, honey, papayas, and the spices.  Adding some water released some chocolate and coffee, nutmeg, more vanilla and caramel, maybe some light molasses, some licorice, a nice twist of citrus rind, which I liked – it provided an edge that was sorely needed.  Finish was soft and quick, reasonably clean and warm, but was mostly the spices and caramel than anything else.

Reading around doing the usual research (and there is really not very much to go on so I have an outstanding email and a FB message sent out to them) suggests there are no artificial flavours included: but I dunno, that profile is quite different, and the breakfast spices are evident, so I gotta wonder about that; and the overall mouthfeel does suggest some sugar added (no proof on my side, though).  This doesn’t sink the drink, but it does make for an unusual  experience.  You’re not getting any Jamaican funk, Guyanese wooden stills or easier Bajans, nor any of that off-the-wall madness of an unaged white popskull.  It is simply what it is, in its own unique way.

On balance, a decent enough drink. I liked it just fine, though without any kind of rabid enthusiasm – it was from somewhere new, that’s all. You could drink it neat, no issues. Personally I thought the flavours were a mite too heavy (it stopped just short of being cloying) and meshed rather clumsily in a way that edged towards a muddle rather than something clearer and more distinct that would have succeeded better.  Much like the Tanduay, Mekhong, Tuzemak, Bundie or even the Don Papa rums, I suspect it is made based on a local conception of rum, and is for local palates.  Add to that the terroire concept and you can see why it tastes so off-base to one weaned on Caribbean tipple.  There’s a subtle difference from any of the British West Indian rums I’ve tried over the years, and though the Two Indies is a combo of several nations’ rums, I can’t separate the constituents and tell you with assurance, “Oh yeah, this comes from Foursquare” or “That’s Hampden” or even “PM!”  (and no, I don’t know whether these were the constituents).

So, they have used jaggery rather than molasses to make it, blended their way around a mishmash of profiles, and while I liked it and was intrigued, I didn’t believe all that was really needed and may even have made it less than its potential.  In Guyanese creole, when we see that kind of thing showing itself off as an artistic blending choice we usually smile, grunt “jiggery-pokery” and then shrug and fill another tumbler.  That pretty much sums things up for me, so I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a compliment or not.


Other notes

The rum makes no mention of its age, and nothing I’ve unearthed speaks to it.  That was also part of my email to Amrut, so this post will likely be updated once I get a response.

Aug 032016

CDI Caraibes 1

Lack of oomph and added sugar make it a good rum for the unadventurous general market.

(#293 / 82/100)


Your appreciation and philosophy of rum can be gauged by your reaction to Compagnie des Indes Caraïbes edition, which was one of the first rums Florent Beuchet made.  It’s still in production, garnering reviews that are across the spectrum – some like it, some don’t. Most agree it’s okay.  I think it’s one of the few missteps CDI ever made, and shows a maker still experimenting, still finding his feet.  Brutally speaking, it’s a fail compared to the glittering panoply and quality of their full proof rums which (rightfully) garner much more attention and praise.

To some extent that’s because there is a purity and focus to other products in the company’s line up: most are single barrel expressions from various countries, unblended with other rums, issued at varying strengths, all greater than the anemic 40% of the Caraïbes… and none of them have additives, which this one does (15g/L of organic sugar cane syrup plus caramel for colouring).That doesn’t make it a bad rum, just one that doesn’t appeal to me…though it may to many others who have standards different from mine.  You know who you are.

I know many makers in the past have done blends of various islands’ rums — Ocean’s Atlantic was an example — but I dunno, I’ve never been totally convinced it works. Still, observe the thinking that went into the assembly (the dissemination of which more rum makers who push multi-island blends out the door should follow).  According to Florent, the Caraïbes is a mix of column still rums: 25% Barbados for clarity and power (the spine), 50% Trinidad & Tobago (Angostura) for fruitiness and flowers, and 25% Guyanese rum (Enmore and PM) for the finish. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to ask what the relative proofs of the various components were. The unmixed barrels  were aged for 3-5 years in ex-bourbon casks in the tropics, then moved to Europe for the final marriage of the rums (and the additives).

Where I’m going with this is to establish that some care and thought actually went into the blend.  That it didn’t work may be more my personal predilections than yours, hence my opening remark.  But consider how it sampled and follow me through my reasoning.  The nose, as to be expected, channelled a spaniel’s loving eyes: soft and warm, somewhat dry, if ultimately too thin, with some of the youth of the components being evident.  Flowers, apricots, ripening red cherries plus some anise and raisins, and unidentifiable muskier notes, it was pleasant, easy, unaggressive.

The mouth was quite a smorgasbord of flavours as well, leading off with cloves, cedar, leather and peaches (a strange and not entirely successful amalgam), with vanilla,  toffee, ginger snaps, anise and licorice being held way back, present and accounted for, very weak.  The whole mouthfeel was sweeter, denser, fuller, than might be expected from 40% (and that’s where the additive comes into its own, as well as in taking out some sharper edges), but the weakness of the taste profile sinks the effort.  Rather than smoothening out variations and sharpness in the taste profile, the added sweeteners smothers it all like a heavy feather blanket. You can sense more there, somewhere…you just can’t get to it.  The rum should have been issued at 45% at least in order to ameliorate these effects, which carried over into a short, sweet finish of anise and licorice (more dominant here at the end), ginger and salted caramel ice cream from Hagen Dasz (my favourite).

CDI Caraibes 2

All right so there you have it.  The 40% is not enough and the added sugar had an effect that obstructed the efforts of other, perhaps subtler flavours to escape.  Did the assembly of the three countries’ rums work?  I think so, but only up to a point. The Guyanese component, even in small portions, is extremely recognizable and draws attention away from others that could have been beefed up, and the overall lightness of the rum makes details hard to analyze. I barely sensed any Bajan, and the Trini could have been any country’s stocks with a fruity and floral profile (a Caroni it was not).

In fine, this rum has more potential than performance for a rum geek, and since it was among the first to be issued by the company, aimed lower, catered to a mass audience, it sold briskly.  Maybe this is a case of finance eclipsing romance…no rum maker can afford to ignore something popular that sells well, whatever their artistic ambitions might be. Fortunately for us all, as time rolled by, CDI came out with a truckload of better, stronger, more unique rums for us to chose from, giving something to just about everyone.  What a relief.


Oct 222015

Black tot 1

Bottled history.  Nothing more, nothing less.

(#237. 87/100)


“The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good,” remarked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I remembered that bit of wisdom before embarking on our tryst with this rum.  And to ensure that my long anticipation for the Tot wasn’t bending my feeble mind (I bought the bottle 2014, and tasted it for the first time almost a full year later) I tempered my judgement by trying it three times, with the Skeldon 1973 32 year old, BBR 1977 36 year old, a Velier Caroni and the Samaroli Barbados 1986.  Just to be sure I wasn’t getting too enthusiastic you understand. I had to be sure. I do these things so you don’t have to.

As much as the G&M Longpond 1941, St James 1885 or the J. Bally 1929, to name a few, the near-legendary Black Tot Last Consignment is one of the unicorns of the rum world.  I’m not entirely convinced it should be so – many craft makers issue releases in lots of less than a thousand bottles, while some 7,000 bottles of this are in existence (or were).  Nor is it truly on par with some of the other exceptional rums I’ve tried…the reason people are really willing to shell out a thousand bucks, is that whiff of unique naval pedigree, the semi-mystical aura of true historical heritage.  A rum that was stored for forty years (not aged, stored) in stone flagons, and then married and bottled and sold, with a marketing programme that would have turned the rum into one of the absolute must-haves of our little world…if only it wasn’t quite so damned expensive.

I don’t make these points to be snarky. After all, when you taste it, what you are getting is a 1960s rum and that by itself is pretty nifty.  But there’s an odd dearth of hard information about the Tot that would help an average drinking Joe to evaluate it (assuming said Joe had the coin). About all you know going in is that it come from British Royal Navy stocks left over after the final rum ration was issued to the Jolly Jack Tars on Black Tot Day (31st July, 1970 for the few among you who don’t weep into your glasses every year on that date), and that it was released in 2010 on the same day. No notes on the rum’s true ageing or its precise components are readily available.  According to lore, it supposedly contains rums from Barbados, Guyana (of course), Trinidad, and a little Jamaica, combining the dark, licorice notes of Mudland, the vanillas and tars of the Trinis and that dunderesque whiffy funk of the Jamaicans.  And, the writer in me wants to add, the fierce calypso revelry of them all. Complete with mauby, cookup, doubles, rice and peas, pepperpot and jerk chicken.

Black Tot 1

All that aside, the rum’s presentation is exceptional. A wooden box of dark wood (walnut? oak?). A booklet written by Dave Broom on the background to the rum. A copper plated tot container. A tot ration card facsimile. And a bottle whose cork was covered with a hard, brittle wax sealant that Gregers, Cornelius and Henrik laughed themselves silly watching me try to cut off. The bottle itself was a stubby barroom style bottle with a good cork.  No fault to find on the appearance, at all.  Believe me, we were all raring to try this one.

The aromas first: at 54.3%, I expected more sharpness than the Tot exhibited, and enjoyed the deep and warm nose. Initially, anise and slightly chocolate-infused fumes billowed out of our glasses in well controlled balance.  Cardboard, musty hay, caramel and some tar and tobacco juice (maybe that was the Trinis speaking up?) followed swiftly.  The official literature suggests that the Jamaican part of the blend was minimal, because sailors didn’t care for it, but what little there was exerted quite a pull: dunder and a vaguely bitter, grassy kind of funk was extremely noticeable.  Here was a rum, however, that rewarded patience, so it was good that our conversation was long and lively and far-reaching.  Minutes later, further scents of brine and olives emerged, taking their turn on the stage before being replaced in their turn by prunes, black ripe cherries, leavened with sharper oak tannins, and then molasses, some caramel, smoke, and then (oddly enough), some ginger and dried smoked sausages snuck in there. It was very good…very strong with what we could term traditional flavours.  Still, not much new ground was broken here. It was the overall experience that was good, not the originality.

Good thing the palate exceeded the nose.  Here the strength came into its own – the Tot was a borderline heavy rum, almost mahogany-dark, quite heated on the tongue, with wave after wave of rich dark unsweetened chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, oak deftly kept in check.  Thick meaty flavours (yeah, there were those smoked deli meats again). It was a bit dry, nothing to spoil its lusciousness.  We put down our glasses, talked rum some more, and when we tried it again, we noted some salty, creamy stuff (an aggressive brie mixing it up with red peppers stuffed with cheese in olive oil, was the image that persisted in my mind).  Nuts, rye bread, some coffee. And underlying it all was the mustiness of an old second hand bookstore straight out of a gothic novel.  I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I thought the finish failed a little – it was dry, quite long, so no complaints on that score – it just added little more to the party than the guests we had already seen. Smoke, tannins, aromatic tobacco, some molasses again, a little vegetal stuff, that was about it.  Leaving aside what I knew about it (or discovered later), had I tasted it blind I would have felt it was a rather young rum (sub-ten-year-old), with some aged components thrown in as part of the blend (but very well done, mind).

Which may not be too far from the truth. Originally the rum handed out in the 18th and 19th centuries was a Barbados- or Jamaican-based product.  But as time went on, various other more complex and blended rums were created and sold to the navy by companies such as Lamb’s, Lemon Hart, C&J Dingwall, George Morton and others. Marks were created from estates like Worthy Park, Monymusk, Long Pond, Blue Castle (all in Jamaica); from Mount Gilboa in Barbados; from Albion and Port Mourant in Guyana; and quite a few others. Gradually this fixed the profile of a navy rum as being one that combined the characteristics of all of these (Jamaica being the tiniest due to its fierce pungency), and being blended to produce a rum which long experience had shown was preferred by the sailors. E.D.&F. Man was the largest supplier of rums to the navy, and it took the lead in blending its own preferred style, which was actually a solera – this produced a blend where the majority of the rum was less than a decade old, but with aspects of rums much older than that contained within it.

The problem was that the depot (and all records about the vats and their constituent rums) was damaged, if not outright destroyed during the 1941 Blitz.  In effect this means that what we were looking at here was a rum, blended, and aged solera style, that was in all likelihood re-established in the 1940s only, and that means that the majority of the blend would be from the sixties, with aged components within it that reasonably date back to twenty years earlier. And that might account for the taste profile I sensed.

So now what?  We’ve tasted a sorta-kinda 1960s rum, we’ve accepted that this was “the way rums were made” with some serious, jowl-shaking, sage nods of approval. We’ve established it has a fierce, thick, dark taste, as if a double-sized magnum of Sunset Very Strong ravished the Supreme Lord VI and had a gently autistic child. It had a serious nose, excellent taste, and finished reasonably strong, if perhaps without flourish or grandeur.  The question is, is it worth the price?

Now Pusser’s bought the recipe years ago and in theory at least, they’re continuing the tradition.  Try their Original Admiralty Blend (Blue Label), the Gunpowder Strength or the fifteen year old, and for a lot less money you’re going to get the same rum (more or less) as the Jolly Jack Tars once drank. Why drop that kinda cash on the Tot, when there’s something that’s still being made that supposedly shares the same DNA?  Isn’t the Pusser’s just as good, or better? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s better, no (not least because of the reported 29 g/l sugar added). But at over nine hundred dollars cheaper, I have to wonder whether it isn’t a better bargain, rather than drinking a bottle like the Tot, with all its ephemeral transience. (Not that it’s going to stop anyone, of course, least of all those guys who buy not one but three Appleton 50s at once).

So this is where your wallet and your heart and your brain have to come to a compromise, as mine did. See, on the basis of quality of nose and palate and finish – in other words, if we were to evaluate the rum blind without knowing what it was – I’d say the Black Tot last Consignment is a very well blended product with excellent complexity and texture.  It has a lot of elements I appreciate in my rums, and if it fails a bit on the back stretch, well, them’s the breaks. I’ll give what I think is a fair score that excludes all factors except how it smells, tastes and makes me feel. Because I have to be honest – it’s a lovely rum, a historical blast from the past, and I don’t regret getting it for a second.

At the end, though, what really made it stand out in my mind, was the pleasure I had in sharing such a piece of rum heritage with my friends.  I have cheaper rums that can do the trick just as easily.  But they just wouldn’t have quite the same cachet. The same sense of gravitas. The overall quality. And that’s what the money is for, too.

Other notes:

I’m aware this review is a bit long. I tend to be that way, get really enthusiastic, when a rum is very old, very pricey or very very good. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one applies here.

Nov 062014


Don’t bash the bat until you’ve given this rum a fair shot.  Because it’s damned good.

(#187 / 87/100)


Many – myself among them – believe that one of Bacardi’s more unappreciated rums is the 8-year-old, and I’d argue the Reserva Limitada joins the club…and even dials it up a few notches.

The company may sell more rum than anyone else, has enormous (and heavily criticized) tax breaks and subsidies to keep its costs down, is a global juggernaut of the entry-level rums, but at the upper end of the scale has a real bad rep with rum lovers who just disdain it. So if Bacardi wanted to break into the rarefied realms of stratospherically-priced premium rums lovingly issued by craft bottlers, they did well with this one.  And yet, many who taste this rum will express their “surprise,” and how “unexpected” it is.  But it shouldn’t be: one can’t be in the rum making business for over a hundred years and not pick up something, right.  The real mystery is what took so damned long, and why they can’t do better, more often.

Still,  let’s just move away from any preconceptions we might have regarding the brand, and simply address what I tasted that day: a dark amber rum in a standard bottle (I didn’t see a box, but a quick search confirms it comes with one) bottled at — what is now, for me — a mild 40%. (Interestingly enough, while I meant it when I said dark amber, some photographs online suggest a lighter colour, almost honey-like).  The nose demonstrated a solid, creamy nose of coconut, some fruit, burnt sugar, even nougat… and a touch of mischief thrown in via a flirt of lemon peel.  Some clove and cinnamon danced around there after opening up.  It was well done: there was nothing truly exciting or freakishly adventurous about it — it probably wouldn’t be a Bacardi if it exhibited such traits — just above-average quality.

Same for the taste. Soft, smooth, sweet, it was a baby’s drowsy kiss to your palate.  It was a really good melange of coconut shavings, banana, almonds, caramel, raisins, honey, some allspice and cinnamon; even some freshly baked bread.  Barely any smoke and leather or tannins from the ageing. I’m hoping that they didn’t cram sugar into the thing to smoothen it out – that would be a real shame (yet I can’t rid myself of the thought). The mouthfeel at 40% held to that unwarlike temper to which I had become accustomed in my recent enjoyable battles with full-proofs – gentle and easygoing, almost creamy, with merely a nip of the alcohol bite, far from unpleasant.  As for the fade, pretty decent for a milquetoast offering – soft and lasting, with all those rich scents taking their bow before departing.


Bacardi does this so very well: they don’t seek the edge of the envelope, they don’t shoot for the stars, they don’t go off the reservation.  They simply, day in and day out, make rums that are a slight cut above the ordinary for their age, type and price point. Okay, the cost for this rum is pushing it for the masses that drink and move the brand by the tankerload, yet it must be conceded that it’s being marketed as a premium rum, and so perhaps a different audience is being sought.

This rum apparently hailed from stocks which were reserved for the founder’s family, and were released rarely – commercial production began in 2003, and one supposedly had to go to Puerto Rico to get any, up until 2010 when it began to be released more widely.  Varying online sources mention that the age of the blends comprising the rum is 12-18 years and averaged 16 years (one noted that this average is now 12 years, another said 15) and aged in lightly charred American oak.  The 2010 press release noted 10-16 years. I found it enormously irritating that the Bacardi website itself didn’t mention a damned thing about it. What does it say about a marketing strategy in today’s world, that you get the most information from re-sellers, online shops and hobby sites, rather than from the actual manufacturers?

In the end, whatever the background material (or lack of it) says, I think Bacardi’s Reserva Limitada is neither a cult object, nor a brave miss nor even a “flawed masterpiece”.  It is, simply, a solidly excellent rum, well made, carefully put together, showing real care and attention —  I enjoyed it a lot. And if it is, at 40%, a little to weak for my own personal taste these days, it sure won’t let down legions of its drinkers, who might just be encouraged by this review to pony up the coin which the bottle will cost them – or at least for the cost of a shot in a bar somewhere.  In that case, I honestly don’t think they’ll be disappointed.


Other notes

Bacardi’s strategy mystifies me.  The rum is a blend limited to 8,000 bottles per year, which many boutique makers would be proud to issue: and as noted, it’s a very good rum, great for sipping. My question is, why blend it at all?  Why not issue an age-specific or even a year-specific rum and ratchet up the advertising to tout its uniqueness?  What’s with the anaemic 40% – this thing could easily be a shade stronger and deliver more punch. And then really earn its “premium” cachet.

Update, March 2017 – Interesting how things develop. I looked at this rum again in passing last week as I was comparing a number of others in Berlin.  In just three years, it’s sunk in my estimation.  Blind, I scored it 78 on this go-around, and it was largely because of my tastes gravitating towards pure pot still rums, and because of the 40%.  It’s still a decent rum and beats out the Paraiso…but is left way behind, by all the amazing rums that have emerged since that time when I first tried it.


Mar 262013

Dos Maderas 5+5 follows on from the middling 5+3 underproofed variation, and is in all ways a better rum. Better body, better nose, better taste, better finish. It takes everything the former did and takes such a sharp left turn on it, that you might be forgiven for thinking it’s an utterly different product, made by another company that stole part of the recipe and then ran off the reservation with it.

First posted March 23, 2012 on Liquorature. 

(#94. 83/100)


Just sitting there on your table top and opening up in your glass, the 5+5 is a thudding, concussive blast of cheery dark, brown-sugared rum of uncommon complexity. This is a rum that was never sad, never maudlin, never hated the world – this rum loves you like your almost-best buddy who always had that sh*t eating grin on his face and never outgrew slapping you too hard on the back.

The 5+5 was a full strength (40%) rum originating in stocks, like the Dos Maderas 5+3, from Barbados and Guyana, and aged five years in the Caribbean prior to shipping to Spain (yes, Spain) and then aged a further three years in casks which Williams & Humbert once used to make “Dos Cortados” Palo Cortado sherry, and a further two that were used to make Don Guido Pedro Ximenez sherry (hence the PX in the title). As both of these sherries were aged on average for two decades, the residual flavours in the casks are what give the 5+5 some of its profile (notably the sweetness). It was introduced in 2009 and immediately won a gold medal in the RumXP International tasting Competition at the 2010 Miami Rum Renaissance.

On appearance, the bottle was similar to its weaker younger sib the 5+3 (and was in a nice cylinder, as befitted its luxury cachet), so I’ll pass over that except to note the 5+5 was darker, with touches of deep red in the bottle and the glass. As soon as I decanted, I got a really nice medium bodies sniff of dark brown sugar, molasses, liquorice and chocolate, alleviated by lighter profiles of a good sweet sherry.

But this was a mere intro to the main act, because the palate was a lap ahead of that. Powerful and smooth, like a good Benz limo. Chocolate, tobacco, leather, anise/mint, honey, nuts and liquorice all mated spastically on the tongue until they settled down into a harmonious blend of surprising complexity. St Michael just opened a biblical seal there. I burped gently and birds fell out of the tree. The fade was a it less spectacular: at least it was long; it preserved the memory of that surge of power the palate teased with, without actually following it through to a satisfying finish, but I did note that it left licorice, caramel and nuts (plus maybe figs) on the exit, so points there. Overall, a very solid, very good rum, with one drawback I have to note: you’ll realize after a while that the central core of caramel, brown sugar, molasses and licorice takes on a dominance that is a shade startling…kinda sneaked up on me.

The Bodega Williams & Humbert goes back over a century. It was based on a winery founded in 1877 by Sir Alexander Williams (a supposed admirer and connoisseur of sherries) and Arthur Humbert, a specialist in international relations (don’t go looking in Wikipedia, neither name is to be found there). These days Williams and Humbert also produce the noted Dos Maderas PX and Ron Malabar rums and have lent their name to a Spanish company that acquired them, José Medina y Compañía; the company is well known for their solera systems, brandies, wines and sherries and if not well known in North America, is a bigger player in Europe.

I find myself with conflicted feelings regarding this rum. That it is a good one is beyond dispute. It’s deep, dark and has a powerful and distinctive taste profile. It ranks alongside the Pussers 15English Habour 10El Dorado 15 and St Nicholas Abbey 8. It has the oomph its puerile predecessor the 5+3 lacked, is complex and well blended and tastes just wonderful…and at $60 in Calgary, is value for money. So why the qualification? I think, now that I run it past all the candidates above, that it’s that honey/brown-sugar core…it gets a bit too overwhelming, and you may not always appreciate that. In that sense it shares (to me, but maybe not to you) the failings of the El Dorado 25 year old

So yes, I’m giving it (what for me is) a high score to reflect those qualities I appreciate, and will concede its overall quality. I don’t believe it won the prizes it did because a lot of people felt sorry for it.  But as I’ve remarked before, we drink rums for many reasons, at many points in the timeline of our mental state – I simply want to make the buyer aware that this dark sweet backbone exists, and if it works one day when you’re feeling maudlin, or a shade romantic, then it may just as easily fail the next time, when you’re as savagely vituperative as a mauled ex-spouse with a vengeful bent and an uzi, and the 5+5’s smoothly irritating and determined good cheer may be the last thing you want…or need.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Mar 262013

Dos Maderas 5+3 is a study in opposites, an examination into contrasting styles somehow coming together to produce something different from either. The rums are made in the so-called Spanish style based on ageing in sherry casks, yet have their origins in quintessential English style rums first created in Barbados and Guyana. The result is hamstrung by what to me is an utterly unnecessary dilution to 37.5%, and sinks what could otherwise have been quite an impressive product. (First posted February 19th, 2012)

(#90. 78/100)


Dos Maderas (“Two Woods”) is a brand of the Spain-based company Williams & Humbert, and have done something quite intriguing, in line with Rum Nation, Cadenhead, Gordon & MacPhail and Bruichladdich – they have taken a Caribbean rum or two and aged it their own way, in their own casks. The result is something I’ve been raring to check out for some time, and I bought both the 5+5 and 5+3 variations within weeks of each other last year. I was actually so curious about what they came up with that I didn’t even flinch at the 5+3’s 37.5% strength, which normally is an immediate disqualifier (for me, not necessarily for you).

Rums under 40% I tend to view with some disfavour, because they lack intensity of flavour which stems from their underproofishness (is that a real word?). They also present a certain smoothness that has less to do with a blender skilfully marrying the products of various barrels, and more with a lack of alcoholic content. Tastes are smaller, noses not as full, bodies somewhat less alluring, mouthfeel not as viscous or enveloping. They edge perilously close to liqueurs (or exes you no longer love…but I digress).

Damn. I must be turning into a rum snob.

That editorializing aside, I shrugged and went ahead anyway. 5+3 was a gold coloured rum, medium bodied and created from rums hailing from Barbados aged for five years there in American white oak barrels, then taken to Spain, where they were aged a further three years in casks that once held Dos Cortados palo cortado sherry (aged for 20 years, as certified by the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Regulatory Council).

On the nose, it was not a rampaging stampede of strong and dominant flavours remniscent of a Serengeti stampede at dawn…more a gentle melange of chocolate, coffee, brandy, burnt sugar and mild cinnamon. And yes, the sherry came through, winding its way subtly around these scents.

The nose was lovely, yes; the taste not quite so much. This is where the lack of an alcohol content dissatisfied me, and perhaps those who like a stronger taste profile will agree (maybe not…). Sure there were the intermingling flavours of nuts, vanilla, creamy butter and burnt sugar – and had the right amount of sweet, which I would suggest is the residual bleed from the sherry casks it was aged in – but also some surprising oakiness and bite, barely held in check by the relative weakness of the blend. It was also quite dry, and while soft and clean, lacked some of that power and punch I would have preferred: in a word, it didn’t have oomph.

The fade, while pleasant came similarly short in character, and the most I can say is that it was not sharp or overwhelmingly piquant, nor did it seek to make up for its shortcomings in the taste department by trying to bitch slap your tonsils one last time to assert itself and say “Yo! I’m here!” In that sense, it was utterly consistent: a good rum in and of itself, just not, well…butch.

In fine, then, this rum is a homunculus of the breed: a perfectly formed replica in every way…but in miniature. That, I am afraid, is not enough to get either my undivided attention, or my undiluted appreciation. Bring it up to 40% or greater, mind you, and Dos Maderas might really be on to a winner. Until then, this lightweight rumlet lacks that final ingredient that would make me take it more seriously as a contender: a punch that means something.


Mar 262013

A solidly impressive aged product from Pusser’s. You might compare it to a barbarian using a fork, or male ballet dancer – you’ll snicker, but appreciate the strength and the quality all the same.

First posted 16 August 2011 on Liquorature


West Indians probably snigger into their shot glasses in every beer garden, corner store or rumshop whenever the name of this Navy-style rum comes up.  In fact, I’m pretty sure of it, and if you don’t get that, find a guy fresh off the boat or the plane and get him to explain it to you.  Like many Caribbean bon mots, it’s about as subtle as a charging rhino.  Yet, there’s no denying either the pedigree or the impact of the rum itself. It’s a powerful strong concoction not overly mucked about with. Rums like this have names like Maxwell, Clarence…or Brutus.

That ambivalent phrasing pretty much sums up my attitude towards Pussers, towards which I have an on-again, off-again relationship (much like I do with Clemente’s).  At one moment I appreciate its marketing, its unapologetically and brutally minimalist presentation and its take-no-prisoners if-you-can’t-hack-it-you’re-a-wuss flavor.  At others I simply blow it away as something not subtle enough, not refined enough.  I’m inconsistent that way sometimes. My friend Keenan, who hails from the Maritimes, quite liked it, by the way, and so do a few others I know.

Pusser is a corruption of the word Purser, a name given to that worthy gent on each ship in the Royal Navy whose job it was to hand out the rum ration in the days before Black Friday in July 1970, when rum was officially banished from aboard all vessels of war. The company that makes it, Pusser’s, bought the recipe and stills from the Royal Navy and launched themselves into business, and may reasonably be said to make the rum closest to what navy rums really were back in the old days. Characteristics include overproofing, not very sweet, dark and heavy body and minimal – if any – additives.  In that way, it’s very much like the Cadenhead Green Label or Demerara rums I’ve tried.  Lamb’s Old Navy, Sailor Jerry, London Dock and Wood’s all have claims (some say pretensions) to the title of Navy Rums, but my feeling is that Pusser’s got it.

The rum is aged for 15 years in ex-bourbon barrels, and various sources have suggested that the blend that is aged comprises four rums: portions of Jamaican, Bajan, a bit of Trini, and a hefty dose of a Guyanese rum, which immediately implies (to me), DDL – because they are the only ones left making rum from wooden stills which is a Pusser rum claim to fame as well. Some have said five rums, but I’ve been unable to confirm this: Pusser’s doesn’t give out too much in the way of details.

All this history is fine, you say, but do you mind? Get to the rum itself, willya.

Well, there’s the bottle above.  Squat, unadorned, in your face (a bit like the much more refined English Harbour 10 year old).  The label is somewhat at odds with its proletarian cachet, what with all those bright red and blue colours, and again you think of that dancer (just sayin’…).

The liquid within was dark, as befits a Navy rum, and poured out like a young El Dorado on steroids. The thing had medium legs, and a pungent nose that almost invited further exploration.  You’d think that something so aimed at the drinking classes would have a straightforward bouquet that didn’t frig around and advertised its forthcoming palate simply and directly, with a minimum of fuss and bother.  But that wasn’t so at all.  I took a sniff, wasn’t too impressed, and was about to make snotty notes and grumbling remarks, when the flavours started coming through the air and I realized that this fifteen year old Jolly Jack Tar had quite a lot under its leotards. A full, rich and earthy scent – quite spicy, let me note right off – redolent of cocoa and a hint of vanilla, and dark brown sugar marinated just enough in oak to get that slight bite.  Maybe some cinnanmon played around in the background there, but whatever it was, it made for a more complex nose than I had started off with.

The arrival on the palate is neither smooth nor harsh: powerful, though, quite impressive for a 40% rum.  You get the sense of strength barely held in check from being rotgut moonshine by the blender’s art. I was tasting dark caramel and chocolate, cinnamon (there it was) and baked apples.  Some citrus and maybe sherry. And, alas, the woodiness and spiciness of ageing not entirely mitigated by skilful blending.  This was not enough for me to seriously mark it down, but it was noticeable, and if your preferences are for more flavourings rather than minimalism, more sweet rather than less, then this may not be the rum for you.  I’m no expert on the obscure Scottish drink (okay Maltmonster you can stop your laughing there, fella), but I thought that here was a rum that actually had more characteristics of an aged whisky or a cognac, though it probably is too sweet for the purists and cognoscenti.

The finish was perhaps the least impressive thing about it – however, given how high a position it started from that’s not to be read as an indictment of what is really quite a unique drink – it was medium long and a little too harsh for me, especially after what I had considered a very good beginning, but of greater than usual richness and warmth. The viscosity of the rum was enough to make the finish last – I just didn’t care too much for what it was that lasted.  But at end, this is a matter of the spiciness rather than any intrinsic quality, and by most standards, I’d say Pusser’s 15 year old rum is a solidly top-of-the-middle-shelf product, to be had either neat or in a cocktail, and enjoyed either way. It’s rich, it’s complex, and only my personal preferences make it slightly less than a winner.  Most reviews I’ve read drool over the product.

Over the years I must concede to being somewhat won over by rums stronger than the standard and near-ubiquitous 40% (this is not one of them, being bottled at the standard forty).  The flavours are stronger, more powerful: even a small shot attacks your palate like a tiny hammer of Thor, and as cocktail mixers they are beyond compare for the same reasons.  Pusser’s great virtue is its complexity of flavour and strength of taste you get for a standard strength rum – you’ll go far to find something quite like this, overproof or not, and again, I can only mention the Cadenheads or the Renegades as comparators. Any time I feel like being smacked around by a spicy, muscled beefcake of a rum which proudly struts its stuff, Pusser’s isn’t far from my mind.

So if pressed – yes, I like it.  Yeah, wrap it up for me – I’ll take it.  And I think I’ll call mine Brutus.


Mar 242013

First posted 22 June 2010 on Liquorature.



“The spice must flow,” said the Padishah Emperor in Dune. I agree, because I do love my cheap-ass spiced rums. My sweet tooth and plebian background make having a rum with no stratospheric price or ostentatious pedigree such a pleasant experience, truly.  And I could tell, that day when I trotted out the Renegade 1991 for my Newfie squaddie (who snatched it happily out of my hand with a speed his corpulent frame does not begin to hint at), that even if I was a snob with pretensions to the peasantry, he had more grandiose notions of what kind of rum he liked to drink (or deserved to be poured).

Which is not to say Lamb’s is a bad rum, or even particularly limited in quality. Alfred Lamb, who started making this dark rum from West Indian raw stock in 1849 in London — his factory was bombed out during the London Blitz and subsequently rebuilt — simply added spices, aged it in cellars below the Thames (hence the original title of London Dock Rum) and made pretensions to the Royal Navy cachet by stating his product was made with that recipe.  Pusser’s did the same, as readers of that review may recall. In the years since, Lamb’s has become more of a tipple than a refined drink, and not – to my knowledge anyway – any kind of top tier rum; though I know a few who swear by its 151 proof offering. One can find it pretty much anywhere in Calgary for under thirty bucks.

When I’m drinking with a good friend, I like a good grog, but the point is not the drink but the conversation that the drink enables.  Of course, if the conversation is about the drink, that’s another matter (for example, the higher priced stuff which I like company to taste with) – but for the most part, when I talk I just like a good little mixer on hand, and this is why SDRs (single digit rums) are always good…one never worries about how much money is being pissed away, only what a good time you’re having with it.

The rum is dark reddish in colour and has a very decent, almost heavy body. Lamb’s is a blend of rums from all over the Caribbean (up to 18, or so my research suggests), and has a virulent nose that I should warn you against taking a deep sniff of, if you don’t want to go crying to your mommy about how the bad rum bottle biffed you on the hooter.  The spirit burn on the nose fades fast and leaves the brave and persevering soul with an overwhelming sniff of caramel, with vanilla and cherry undertones.  The spices are harder to pick out – nutmeg and licorice come through at the tail end.  The taste is strong with the spice, and the spirit burn from those nose hasn’t gone anywhere, just grabs you by thre throat and holds on – yet it can be tolerated and even adjusted to (as I did), at which point it transmutes into a sweet and caramelized almost-sipper that I quite enjoyed. The finish is hard to gauge because you’re being assaulted by the admittedly harsh spirit burn, which lasts long after the taste has vanished.  Lamb’s is about as subtle as a charging brontosaurus, really.

I’ll concede that the rum is better as a mixer, but I would caution against coke or (god forbid) pepsi.  Some kind of cola with a little less sugar would probably enhance it better, otherwise you get a syrupy mess that you either like or toss away.  For the record, I had only coke on hand so that was what I used, but as I got drunker that evening in Keenan’s house, I found that it got progrsssively better over ice.  Maybe that was my throat being sanded away, or something.

In summary, I liked its simplicity and taste, even as I acknowledge how devoid it is of real complexity – a connoisseur would probably never buy one of these except as a reference point. If I were to wax metaphorical, I’d say Lamb’s is the hot country chick with a heart of gold, the one who can rope a steer or take apart a John Deere tractor, who’s on the square-dance floor at Ranchman’s giving you the eye, who you really can’t go wrong with if you don’t expect too much, treat her right, don’t tread on her toes and give her a kiss when the night is over.

That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure as hell is mine.

Mar 222013

First posted January 19th, 2010 on Liquorature.


It looks like a rum and occasionally smells like one, but it sure doesn’t always feel like one; Cadenhead’s policy of making the Classic without any additives or subsequent filtering gives it a thinner body than the average and an overall whisky character that only a psychologist could unravel. Decent drink for those who like a little danger and strange stuff, though.


This is as strange a rum as I’ve ever had, and was a selection of the November 2009 gathering, where nothing but rums were served, and it went head to head with two other rums: the Zaya 12 year old (and the winner by a nose, ha ha), and the Appleton Estate Master Blender’s Legacy (which was the most expensive and opined as the least value for the money).  The Cadenhead Green, for all its ~$75 price tag, was considered middle of the road.

It’s a strange one, this. For one thing, I have no idea how old it is. Nor am I entirely certain where it comes from, although I believe it is a Demerara rum that was then further refined in Scotland and watered down a tad to bring it down from cask strength. The website states it remains untreated and no additives brought in for either colour or taste, and its bold taste makes that likely to be true.

Cadenhead Distilleries is a scotch maker, not a rum maker (actually it’s now owned by the Campbeltown distiller J.&A. Mitchell and Co., which runs the  Springbanks distillery in Argyll), but perhaps they took a gander at what good products came out of Bruichladdich’s Renegade line and followed suit. For whatever obscure reason, Cadenhead has chosen not to reveal the provenance of this rum (the “Demerara” appellation refers to the dark colour and body, not the source), but a few people on the internet have speculated it’s Jamaican, or possibly even Cuban – that would be illegal to market in America, so if anyone bought one of these in the US, I’d be interested to hear about it. It’s listed at 50% ABV, making it an fullproof Rum (I use the word “overproof” to denote rums that are insane for all practical applications…you know, like 70% and up).

The nose is candied, with hints of cinnamon, charcoal, and marshmallow. Dark gold in color, clear. It settles out with chocolate notes, caramel, and burnt pineapple, lightly tingling at the back of the tongue. Strong finish and some bite on the way down. I’d recommend this one with a drop or ten of water plus some ice, unless you’re a peasant like me and just say to hell with it and destroy it with a coke (just kidding). Not really a good sipping rum — it’s not subtle or smooth enough for that – but I’ll say this: the thing had character, and kicked back like a spavined mule after the first few glasses. I’m hoping to get another bottle to see if the first was just me. You’d think that our whiskey drinkers would have been in transports of ecstasy with the Green, given its resemblance to a decent scotch, but in fact the opposite was true, and it came in, as I mention above, in the middle. Given our evolution since then, it’s possible that this opinion might change on a second go-around. (2014 Update: it did, and for the better)

Did I like it?  Tough question. I’ve made no secret of my dislike for distillers who refuse to put provenance or age on their labels – it’s too much like a cheat, giving the buyer no chance to make a first-pass determination of quality, or rate it against other, similarly-aged products –  and that goes double for the higher priced babies, where a buyer needs to know what he’d forking out his dough for. Whisky – Scotch whisky – has its rules about what kind of hooch can bear the highland name, but the plebian and slightly disreputable origins of rum seem to mitigate against rum distillers doing the same.  I admired the strength and character that the Green had, and its body was excellent. The strength stiffened the starch in its spine quite well and the complexity was admirable.

So I’ll split it down the middle: I’d recommend it unhesitatingly for true rum aficionados who dislike adulterations, and dedicated whiskey drinkers (these are the guys who have their snoot glasses in one coat pocket, who sniff and sip and gargle and then rinse with distilled water).  For more middle of the road folks I’d say “Give it a shot, for here is something remarkably different you won’t soon forget.”  And for those who just want a decent mixer, I’d suggest getting something cheaper and sweeter to put into your cocktail.

Fairer than that I just can’t be.