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

 

May 212015
 

D3S_1673

When you drink full proof and overproof rums for a long time, many forty percenters can seem, well…a shade pusillanimous.  No such issue afflicts the 62.7% full proof of Albion 1989, ‘cause that thing looks and  feels and samples like it’s about to father a nation.

(#215 / 91/100)

***

 

The Albion 1994 was power and passion and style all wedded together in a remarkable fusion, and my only regret has always been that I couldn’t get more. It was preceded by a version from 1983, 1986, and this one from 1989. These days, the only place you’ll find either is from a collector or on the secondary market.  And that wasn’t helped by the paucity of output for the 1989 either.

I’m always whining about craft makers bottling too few rums in their single barrel or cask strength issues, yet this one is bordering on the ridiculous – Velier only issued 108 bottles of the Albion 1989. Still, points must go to Luca Gargano, who resisted the temptation to blend this miniscule output with something else, and simply took what he could from the single barrel in 2008, added nothing, took away nothing, diluted nothing, tampered with nothing.  And there you are.

When I poured the dark amber rum into my glass in Paris a while back (I was shamelessly pilfering tasting notes on anything in grabbing range, nearly knocking over poor Serge Valentin in my haste to get my grubby paws on this one), it was like coming home. Nosing it, I was struck anew how amazing it was that a rum can be made at that kind of strength and yet still maintain a smoothness of profile that doesn’t do a rabid dog imitation on your senses. The rum’s nose was immense – it smelled thick, creamy, like a melting licorice waterfall; black grapes, anise, caramel, burnt sugar billowed up, being chased by the sweet fresh honey from a cracked comb.  I thought I’d get some wax or rubber notes, but nope, none here.

The taste of the 1989 was wired up, juiced up, and electrified like the Tokyo downtown, and you got into it immediately. I remember just shaking my head with admiration, even awe, after the first sip. The palate was full bodied, without equivocation.  Thick and creamy, surprisingly sweet, and not dry or briny – but there was tobacco and rubber floating around in the background, some furniture polish and tar (actually quite similar to a Caroni).  Dried fruits emerged, mango and papaya, some salt in the back taste.  I added some water and it continued providing new, strong notes of vanilla, nuts, aromatic pipe tobacco and smoke, leading to a long, long finish, with rubber, melting tar, more smoke, more caramel, more vanilla.  I kept a glass charged with this stuff for literally an hour, always coming back to it, always finding something else and still probably missed something.

Albion 1989

I’ve always enjoyed experiments in the craft like this, where the makers change just a single coordinate in the standard equation of the rum universe just to, I dunno, mess with it and see what’ll happen. Here, that’s a hell of a lot.  Even with the overall excellent stable of rums Velier makes (and that’s plenty), there are rums and then there are rums. This, in my opinion, is one of the latter.

See, a rum like, oh, a Bacardi for instance, sells so much that it creates its own weather system in the spirits world.  The Albion 1989 is nowhere near that league – at best it’s an intense, localized twister with a shard of lightning thrown in.  Can you see yourself rushing out to experience that?  Not likely.  But if you’re a person looking at the world through slightly askew lenses, the phenomenal power and quality of something this spectacular cannot be overstated and after you’ve experienced it, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever worry too much, in rum terms, about another cloudy day, threatening rain.

 

Other notes:

Like the 1994, it is remarked as being from a wooden continuous still, about which I have my doubts.

Distilled 1989, bottled 2008, 108 bottles.

May 132015
 

D3S_9068

 

(#214)

***

Although a huge market for cachaça exists in Brazil where it is the national tipple they sometimes call pinga, very little of it makes it to other countries in comparison to agricoles (let alone more popular molasses based rums). For rummies, it’s something like an undiscovered country. A cane-juice-based spirit, it has certain basic similarities to agricoles and has been referred to as a type of brandy, of the aguardente family.  Cachaças are often unaged and like clairins in Haiti, run the gamut from underproof to overproof drinks, and are often bottled clear. I should mention, however, that many aged varieties of cachaça do in fact exist – the three I look at below are examples – but it seems like they stay in-country for the most part. I should also point out that Brazilians don’t worry overmuch about sourcing oak barrels for their aged versions, and just as easily use local woods – and that gives them profiles that are unusual to say the least.

With the increasing interest in cane juice rhums, and a simultaneous uptick in all-natural spirits, cachaça may be due to have its exposure grow. Certainly Bert Ostermann, the man behind Delicana out of Germany, feels that way.  He has been producing cachaças for many years now, always with small sales primarily in Europe.  When I met him in 2014, he was exhibiting his 5 and 10-year old products, and I tried all three he had, which were so new that he didn’t even have labels for them yet (he got some by the time the Fest ended, and those are the ones in the pics below). Unfortunately, ebbing time and the many more rums to sample did not permit me to get into the history of his company, or his production techniques — so aside from noting their source in sugar cane juice distilled in a pot still and production in the state of Minais Gerais Brazil (just north of Rio), I can’t tell you much more until he responds to the email I sent a few weeks ago, or the message I left for him on FB.

With that paucity of information, I decided to just run them together as a single essay on the tasting notes, the results of which are below.

Delicana 10 Year Old Balsamo – 40% blonde spirit, aged in Balsamo wood.

  • Nose: Light and clear.  Vegetal. Fresh stripped cane stalks.  Peaches. Sugar water, cinnamon, faint whiff of white flowers and sap from a cut banana plant.
  • Palate: First guia was untamed and raw.  Anise, licorice, lemongrass and fresh lime zest. Opens up into some more unripe firm green fruit like mangos.  New-mown grass.  Very little sign of the ageing I’m used to…hard to believe this is a 10 year old.
  • Finish: Short. Grassy notes mixed up with banana peel
  • Thoughts: Not unbalanced, per se…just untamed. Ten years of ageing seem to have done little to smoothen this one out, and it could easily be mistaken for a much younger product. But not an entirely bad one.

(79/100)

Delicana 5 Year Old Jequitibá – 40% clear spirit, aged in Jequitibá.

  • Nose: Holy <bleep>. Enormous for a 40% rum. Salt and pepper…a lot. Unripe green apples. Spicy, coming in just short of sharp.  Like licking an iron bar.
  • Palate: Hot, yet once you get over that, it mellows well. Clear metallic tastes predominate at the inception; saltpetr, firecrackers and gunpowder explode in the mouth and then disappear; some salt butter, black olives, more pepper. I can honestly say I’ve never tried anything like this. Tried it three more times, with and without water, same result.
  • Finish: Medium long, more salt, and pimento-stuffed olives in brine
  • Thoughts: points for originality and texture, but that initial taste really threw me.  Maybe not a drink to have pura.

(74/100)

Delicana 5 Year Old Umburana (artesinal premium) – 40% blonde spirit, aged in Umburana (or Amburuna)

  • Nose: Nice, remarkably gentle after the first two. Vegetal, apples, some grass in there, all pungent and deep. Some musty cardboard (seriously!)
  • Palate: Soft, easy-going, warm to try. Cinnamon, marzipan, then emerging tastes of olives and green grass, lemon juice and some creamy salt butter; sugar water and a whiff of plasticine and rubber. Brine kept in check here.
  • Finish: long and sweet, a little bite at the back end from a vagrant citrus peel; better than the Balsamo.
  • Thoughts: Best of the three (for my palate, anyway).  Bert and I tried all three together a second time, and as far as he was concerned, I had it bass ackwards, and the Balsamo was definitely better.

(82/100)

***

As I also remarked in the Clairin Sajous write-up, these are rums not for everyone.  They are very different from most, partly because of the aforementioned ageing in Brazilian woods that imparted such distinct and unusual tastes to each one. That alone might make lovers of traditional rums (whether mixers or sippers) cast a dubious eye on these, or relegate them to cocktails like the famous caipirinha.

I liked them for their originality, but overall, as a person who generally drinks rums neat, I can’t pretend I cared for these to the point where they become must-haves on my shelf…Brazilians with differently adjusted palates would probably vocally and violently disagree.  So if you’re curious, you should try them yourself, especially since they are all quite affordable. Also, having tried many caipirinhas over the years, I can enthusiastically recommend them that way, at least. After all, Quanto pior a cachaça, melhor a caipirinha, right?

Sooner or later I’m going online and ordering a bunch of the Boys from Brazil, that’s a given; I’m on a bit of an agricole kick right now, though, so it’ll have to wait. For the moment, these three micro-reviews give some inkling of what’s in store for those of us who venture into Brazilian waters to see what white kill-divil lies in wait to ravish our palates and liquify our kidneys.

Other notes

I was about halfway into writing this essay when Josh Miller of Inuakena pipped me with his excellent little series where he briefly compared not three or five or even ten, but fourteen separate cachaças, all from different companies (from the perspective of whether they made good caipirinhas).  So hats off to the man, and if your interest in Brazilian cachaças has been piqued, go right over to his short and informative comparisons.

 

Apr 172015
 
rum-caroni-1994-18-anni

Photo courtesy of Velier

 

This Caroni isn’t the strongest one in the rumosphere but it conforms to most of the expectations taste-wise – a shade more dark and it could probably be used to surface a road somewhere. A good to great exemplar from the closed distillery.

(#211. 87/100)

***

This is one of five or six rums I bought in an effort to raise the profile of the now-defunct Caroni Distillery from Trinidad. That it was made by Velier didn’t hurt either, of course, because almost alone among the rums makers out there, Luca Gargano has the distinction of making just about all of his rums at cask strength, and everything he’s made thus far I’ve liked.  And at 55% ABV, it may just be accessible to a wider audience, assuming it can ever be found in the jungle of Caronis Velier makes (I bought mine from Italy for a lire or two under €80).

Because Caroni has now been closed for over a decade, its products are getting harder to find as stocks run down — when we start seeing expressions dated from the year 2000 and greater, the end is near, and purely on that basis they may be good investment choices for those inclined that way.  Bristol Spirits and Rum Nation and some other craft makers have issued rums from here before, but Velier probably has the largest selection of this type in existence (sometimes varying strengths from the same year), and I know I’ll never get them all…so let’s stick with this one, and waste no further time.

D3S_8897

Presentation is slightly different than the stark zen minimalism of the Guyanese rums; here it came with a black and white box, nice graphics, and all the usual useful information: distilled in 1994, aged 18 years (fourteen in Trinidad, thereafter in Guyana), bottled 2012, 6943 bottles from 23 barrels.  Plastic tipped cork (these are coming into their own these days, and are hardly worthy of comment any longer except by their absence), black bottle, decent label, and, I have to mention, when I poured it out, it was quite the darkest Caroni I’d tried thus far, which had me rubbing my hands together in glee.

I appreciate higher proofed spirits topping 60%, yet I couldn’t fault what had been accomplished in this instance with something a few points lower: the rich aromas of this dark blonde rum led off immediately with licorice and candied apples, strong and full fruity scents mixing with sharper tannins of oak; there was some burnt rubber and plastic hiding in there someplace, like a well insulated rubber truncheon to the face.  It was pleasant and full and rich, pervaded by a both deep and heated lusciousness.  The longer I let it stand, the more I got out of it, and recall with pleasure additional notes of burnt sugar, rosy, floral scents, cedar and pine…and, as if to tip me a roué’s leering wink, a last laugh of mint flavoured bubble gum (no, really – I went back to the glass four times over two days to make sure I wasn’t being messed with).

As if to make up for its mischievousness, the Caroni 1994, aged for eighteen years in oak barrels in Trinidad and Guyana, turned serious with a hint of mean on the palate.  Sharp, salty, briny tastes led right off. It was a spirituous assault on the tongue, so bright and fierce that initially it made me feel like I’d just swallowed an angry blender.  Fortunately, that smoothened out over time, and became gentler (if a term like that could be applied to such a concussive drink) – a buttery, creamy profile emerged from the maelstrom, merging seamlessly with oaken tannins, licorice, vanillas, aromatic pipe tobacco, some fresh tar; and more caramel and burnt sugar  tastes, that were stopped just shy of bitterness by some magic of the maker’s art.  And the long and lasting finish was similarly bold and complex, bringing last memories of nuts, tannins and hot black tea to leaven the caramel and anise I detected.

D3S_8896

As we drink this powerful shot, we come to grips with a certain essential toughness of the maker, an unsubtle reminder of a man who makes no small rums, but feral, mean, blasting caps that glance with indifference at the more soothing exemplars which pepper all the festivals and tasting events. It’s big, blunt, intimidating and seemingly impervious to dilution (I can only imagine what the stronger version is like). This Caroni is not subtle but then, Velier doesn’t really do milquetoast, preferring bold in-your-face statements to understated points of please-don’t-hurt-me diffidence.  So I’d suggest that it’s not a rum for everyone…but in its elemental power of proof lies its appeal: to those who are willing to brave it, and to those who enjoy an occasional walk on the wild side with a rum as fascinating and excellent as this one.

Other notes

Look again at the outturn for that year and that strength: just shy of 7,000 bottles from 23 casks.  And that’s only 1994. When you consider the sheer range of the Caronis Velier has already put out the door, and the sadly slim pickings (thus far) from other craft makers, you begin to get an inkling of exactly how much stock Velier has managed to pick up.

D3S_8898

Apr 082015
 

D3S_8890

Another, slightly lesser brother from the same mother. It stands in the shadow of the company’s magnificent 34 Year Old.

(#210 / 85/100)

***

It’s possible that Bristol Spirits decided to play it safe (again) with the 43% expression from the closed Caroni Distillery of Trinidad…y’know, give it a wider audience than the drop-down-dead-of-old-age 34 year old 1974 variation which would dig a deep hole in both your wallet and your marriage. Or maybe that’s how the barrel played out when it came time to bottle the liquor (notice that 2008 was the same year they produced the 1974, so both were issued simultaneously). It’s good, but in my own opinion, could have been a shade better — their contention that they’re happy with the strength at which they issue their rums always struck me as taking the road more commonly travelled instead of breaking out to chart their own path.

Which is not to say that anyone buying the 19 year old will be disappointed. Even the appearance is quietly dramatic and eye catching, and adheres to Bristol’s standards: a psychedelic orange label on a barroom bottle with a plastic tipped cork, all housed in a cool black torpedo tube lettered in silver. I love Velier’s minimalism, but must concede I have a soft spot for Bristol as well.

Anyway, the rum itself: column-still produced, it was a dark golden brown liquid in the glass, displaying slow, chubby legs draining away down the sides. At 43% it was mellow to smell, dense and almost heavy with dark cherries, hibiscus blooms, licorice and a touch of brown sugar and molasses.  Yet at the same time it was also quite clean on the nose, warm, without any overweening alcohol sharpness that would have debased the rather luscious aroma.

To taste, the Caroni 1989 would not be described as “heavy,” as opposed to a full-proofed Demerara hailing from a wooden still, or a massively aged Jamaica rum flinging dunder and funk in all directions, both of which really could be. It was, in point of fact, a curious and delicious melange of textures that accurately navigated to being a medium bodied rum without actually being a pussyfooted one-hit-wonder. A column still distillate produced this?  Wow. Rich — but not overwhelming — notes of anise, fleshy fruit on the edge of ripeness, brown sugar, licorice, some molasses started things going, and after opening up you could tell the shared DNA of the 1974 (which I was tasting side by side): it was a less aggressive, easier version of that growling geriatric Trini. There were faint tastes of black olives, smoke, tannins and smoke, mixed in with road tar (this actually sounds worse than it is, trust me). I could not detect any of that salt and nuttiness that I remarked on the 1974 and it was a very pleasant drinking experience all ‘round…until the end.

D3S_8894

I’m going to spare a word about what to me was a disappointing finish for something so aged.  It was lacklustre in a way that was surprising after the quality of what had come before, and which diminished the positive impact of the preceding nose and palate.  This is where the 43% works against the rum and lessens the overall experience I’m afraid (some may disagree).  Sure it was clean and warm, even a shade dry, on the exit, with caramel and vanilla and smoky notes to finish things off…but it displayed a too-short attitude of good-enough “git-’er-dun” that offended me in a vague way. So yeah, the 43% does make a difference (just as 35% or 55% would).

I’m sort of conflicted on this Caroni.  I certainly liked it enough: it’s a rambunctious, delicious rum with a great profile and sleek, supple tastes to it — but which chokes a little on the back end.  The question is – as it must be – whether it’s as good as the 34 year old expression, or just different.  It’s probably leaning more to the latter. At the end, while it’s not quite as remarkable as its sibling, if you’re on a budget and want a Caroni, this one is an absolutely decent buy (I paid €130 for it), and you won’t feel short-changed if you spring for the thing, my whinging on the finish aside. Because it’s a Caroni and because I wanted to give the distillery some exposure, I bought it (and four or five others from various makers)…yet personally, I’d prefer to wait and save for something a bit more mature, something…well, beefier.  Like the 1974. Even at 46%, that one at least had some of the courage of its convictions.

 

Mar 112015
 

D3S_9323-001

An assembly of two rums that are great on their own, made even better by being blended before ageing.

(#206. 91/100)

***

Permit me a brief box-ticking here: Velier issues cask strength monsters akin to top end whiskies (but which cost less); they hearken to individual distilleries, sometimes to individual stills within that distillery; and Luca Gargano, the maitre, has stocks of Guyanese rums and the Trini Caronis that beggar the imagination; and while occasionally there are rums that don’t quite ascend to the brilliance of others, the overall oevre is one of enormous collective quality. Here, Velier has taken something of a left turn – this rum is what Luca calls an “experimental”.  Which is to say, he’s playing around a bit.  The price of €150 is high enough to cause a defense contractor to smile, and reflects the rums rarity – only 848 bottles are in existence (as an aside, compare this price to the 7000 bottles or so of the thousand-dollar Black Tot).

Blending of rums to produce the final product which makes it to our shelves usually takes place after they have slept a while in their wooden beds.  Ever-willing to buck the trend and go its own way, Velier blended the core distillates (from the Port Mourant double-pot still, and the Enmore wooden Coffey still) right up front, and then aged the mix for sixteen years (it’s a 2014 release).  The theory was that the disparate components had a chance to meld from the beginning, and to harmonize and age as one, fully integrating their different profiles.  It’s a bit of a gamble, but then, so is marriage, and I can’t think of a more appropriate turn of phrase to describe what has been accomplished here

D3S_9329

Appearance wise, box is decent; bottle and label were utterly standard, as always seems to be the case with Velier – they have little time for fancy designs and graphics, and stick with stark minimalism.  Black bottle, white label, lots of info, plastic tipped cork, surrounding a dark amber rum inside. When that rum poured, I took a prudent yet hopeful step backwards: prudent because I didn’t feel like being coshed over the head with that massive proof, hopeful because in remembering the PM 1974 and the Skeldon 1973, I was hoping that the aromas would suffuse the atmosphere like the police were quelling a good riot nearby.

I wasn’t disappointed on either score. That nose spread out through the room so fast and so pungently that my mother and wife ran to me in panic from the kitchen, wondering if I had been indulging in some kind of childish chem experiment with my rums. It was not as heavy as the Damoiseau 1980 which I had had just a few hours before (I was using it and the Bristol Caroni 1974 as controls), but deep enough – hot, heavy to smell and joyously fresh and crisp.  Tar, licorice and dried fruits were the lead singers here, smoothly segueing into backup vocals of black bread and butter, green olives, and a riff of coffee and smoke in the background. It had an amazing kind of softness to it after ten minutes or so, and really, I just teased myself with it for an inordinately long time.

Subtlety is not this rum’s forte, of course – it arrived on the palate with all the charming nuance of a sledgehammer to the head, and at 62.2% ABV, I was not expecting anything else. So it wasn’t a drink for the timid by any stretch, more like a hyperactive and overly-muscular kid: you had to pay close attention to what it was doing at all times.  It was sharp and heavy with molasses and anise at the same time, displayed heat and firmness and distinct, separable elements, all at once: more molasses, licorice, chopped fruit, orange peel (just a bit), raisins, all the characteristic West Indian black cake ingredients.  Adding some water brought out cinnamon, black grapes, ginger, flowers, tannins and leather, with some aromatic smoke rounding out an amazingly rich profile.

D3S_9324-001

Man this thing was an immense drink. I said I expected three profiles, but it was practically impossible to separate them out, so well were they assembled. There was just no way I could say how much came from PM, and how much from Enmore (Velier provided no information on the ratios of one to the other, merely remarking that the Enmore is dominant). It was the sort of rum that when you fully drop the hammer on it — which is to say, drink a gorilla-sized two ounce shot, hold it down for a few seconds, before slugging it down and asking for a refill — its flavours bang away at your throat like the Almighty is at the door (and pissed at you). Even the finish displayed something of that brooding Brando-esque machismo – long lasting, heated, with closing notes of strong black slightly-bitter tea, raisins and anise. It is a brilliant bit of rum-making, and answers all questions people have when they wonder if 40% is the universe. When I see my friends and commentators and reviewers and ambassadors wax rhapsodic over spiced rums and the standard proof offerings from the great and old houses, all I want to do is smile, hand them one of these, and watch their reaction.

Sooner or later, no matter how many rums I try, I always circle back to Velier. I think of the company’s products almost like James Bond films, following familiar territory time after time, differing only in the details.  It’s always fun to try a new expression of an estate specific Guyanese rum, if only to see what madness La Casa Luca has come up with this time. And here, I think we may just have the brilliance of a film like Skyfall, with its originality and uniqueness intact, hearkening back to all that has come before, recalling not only all the old glories of times past, but the remarkable synthesis of those same elements, combined into something startlingly and wonderfully new.

That was a film to treasure…and for the same reasons, so is this rum.

***

Other notes

  • Velier has also issued a Diamond+PM 1995 blend in 2014, for which I have detailed notes but not yet written the review.
  • This was the third of four samples Luca Gargano sent to me personally in September of 2014 when he heard I would be in Europe in October of that year. He has agreed that I pay for them either in cash, or with a really good, high priced dinner in Paris.
Feb 232015
 

D3S_8915

An entry level rum with some unusual and remarkably pleasant flavours that one has to work too hard to find in the raw scrape of underaged alcohol.

(#204. 81/100)

***

One of the things I noted when nosing this dark mahogany-red rum from the German outfit Alt-Enderle, was the baking spices that presented themselves almost immediately. At 43% strength there was no real savagery here, and I didn’t bother letting it rest before trying it (when you practice on cask-strength muscle-twitching bodybuilders, anything under 50% seems easy), and all I remarked on at the inception was how many different, mild, spiced up elements there were. Cinnamon, vanilla and smoke were in evidence from the get go, but also nutmeg, and some cloves. It was quite an interesting experience, to be honest.

I won’t pretend that all was sunshine and roses, of course.  The rum had been aged for only a year, and some of that youth was evident on the mouthfeel, where sharp and raw alcohol notes almost obliterated what could have been a much more interesting sipping experience.  It also dampened the flavours, though I detected vanilla, more cinnamon and nutmeg (as from the nose), followed by some cloves, orange peel, some raisins and a plummy note, wound about with a faint tannic taste, all blending reasonably into the whole. No joy on the finish, I’m afraid, and this was the weakest part of the entire drink – short and sharp, giving little back aside from some more vanilla and caramel hints.

D3S_8916

The molasses from this intriguing rum hailed from India, which may account for that oomphed-up mommy’s-kitchen profile, unusual in island specific rums.  I remember noting something similar in the profiles of Amrut Old Port and the Old Monk Very Old Vatted, though I never wrote about the latter, being a little too loaded at the time to recall my own name, let alone tasting specifics…it may be another example of something noticeably distinct, like Bundaberg is, or the other Indian rums.  To make sure, however, I emailed the company asking whether anything was added to the rum to enhance the flavour profile (still waiting…).

Like Old Man Spirits, Alt-Enderle is a German company which makes rums among other spirits.  Established in 1991, they are located about a hundred kilometers south-east of Frankfurt, and it seems to be a fairly small operation.  They do however make rums from molasses imported from other countries – Thailand and Paraguay are two current examples.  I’m not sure what their philosophy really is regarding rum – like most micro distilleries, they appear to toss them off almost as afterthoughts in their quest to make other liquors like (in this case), whiskies, absinthe, herbal liqueurs and brandies. They distill the molasses themselves — a photo on their website suggests they have a copper still — and set the resultant to age in barrels sourced from the Caribbean.

D3S_8919

Putting all impressions together, I’m scoring this rum at 81, and naming it an entry level spirit. But be advised, it’s not entirely a bad product, and should not be casually written off like yesterday’s fish. The “India” had some real originality in the tastes and aromas– they were distinct, if faint, and points have to be given for that. I have a feeling that the barrels are part of the reason it was not better than it could have been. When told that the rum was aged in Caribbean barrels, some of which were thirty years old, this is not to be considered a point of pride, as I remarked to the booth agent, but of concern, as it suggested dead wood with not much more to impart than maybe some good advice.

Was it a cost cutting measure?  Hard to say.  My own advice here would be to age the rum a little more (and take the hit on maturation and warehousing costs), in barrels with a little more zest left in them.  This rum is a decent starter drink, good for a mix somewhere (especially since it’s not added-to with those spices) …but it could also have been better.

 

Other notes

  • €45 for a 500ml bottle.
  • Aside from the marketing blurb on the back label, there’s a quote: “It’s not enough to be different…one must also be better.”  I like that thought.

 

Feb 122015
 

D3S_9555

A Spartan rum, sporting a massive codpiece, ripped eight-pack, and real attitude.  Not for the lovers of softer or sweeter fare.

(#201. 85/100)

***

You just gotta shake your head with appreciation when you regard Cadenhead and their commitment to muscle-bound zen machismo in rums.  They’ve always had a certain retro charm and a daring to go off the reservation that I grudgingly admired, and they have continued along that path here with this monster full proof.

Leaving aside the squat, glowering psycho-orange-and-yellow bottle with its cork stopper which is almost a Cadenhead signature, it should simply be noted that Cadenhead hewed to their minimalist ethos and added nothing in, and filtered nothing out.  In some previous iterations they tremulously diluted to drinking strength (whatever that might mean), but not here – perhaps they wanted the TMAH to take Velier out back and beat the snot out of it. It’s bottled at 66.9% – a hilariously strong drink, a growlingly full-proofed rum that wants to land on your glottis like a blacksmith’s solid iron anvil.

D3S_9555-001

I had been softened by several forty percenters, sampled prior to cracking this one, and was consequently somewhat unprepared for the force with which the TMAH assaulted my beak (it was sharp and deep, and should absolutely be left to stand for a while before nosing). I could barely discern any molasses background at all, in between furiously swirling notes of rye bread, salt biscuits and salt butter.  Not much caramel here.  But patience, patience – it did get better.  After opening up, it smoothened out a good bit and simply became an intense drink rather than a skewering one – and one could gradually tease out thin threads of honey and nougat, and sweeter notes of vanilla, cherries…and a little spicy note of marzipan.

That didn’t soften the arrival, of course. It was a little less than medium bodied, this rum – even thin, which I didn’t care for – and it detonated with a hurricane force level of taste, scattering shrapnel of sweet and salt in all directions. Dates and figs came to mind, more crackers, a sharp aged cheddar (but not as creamy).  Adding water helped here: almonds, nutmeg and slivers of dried fruit emerged, but slowly, thinly, as if terrified of being bludgeoned to death by the alcohol.  “Chewy” would not describe the experience exactly, but it comes close. Appropriately enough for such a full proof glass of high-test, the finish was enormously long, a sarissa of lingering flavours of nutmeg and vanilla and light sharp red fruit (pomegranates?). Cask strength, overproof, full proof or whatever – it was certainly a rum that demanded attention.

D3S_9556

Trinidad Distillers was established by Angostura back in the 1940s – even then Angostura had been into rum production for decades, though more famous for their eponymous bitters – and began producing alsohol in bulk.  At first this was primarily for rum production: as time went on, bulk exports formed a large part of its portfolio. Note however that most of the molasses they work with originates outside of Trinidad – in Guyana, Panama and the Dominican Republic.  In any event, Angostura as a company has little to do with it.  Cadenhead out of Campbelltown in Scotland have simply followed the craft-bottler route, bought a few barrels distilled in 1991, and then issued the rum at cask strength after it came of age in 2013, without any further mucking about

A rum like Cadenhead’s 21 year old is a curious beast.  Dissecting its profile and coming up with tasting notes is not like having the elements line up and present themselves one after another, like some kind of surreal audition or a debutante’s ball. They arrive when and as they will, and as we sip and try and think, we understand it’s not important to catch every nuance, every last flavour; sometimes all that matters is the overall tone, the commingled experience.  I may not be able to give you a complete set of tasting notes here: but the encounter as a whole is quite something.

And, it must be conceded, occasionally painful

***

Other notes:

  • Aged in ex-bourbon casks. No information on where, but I think it was in Scotland. If you compare similar full-proofed, similarly aged rums from Velier to the TMAH, you’ll see the difference tropical aging makes.
  • Bottled April 2013.
  • I really have no clue what TMAH stands for: Angostura never responded to me, and Cadenhead’s reps said they didn’t know. An anonymous online wit on FB –thanks, Cecil — said it stood for “Too Much Alcohol Here.” May his glass never be empty.

 

 

Jan 032015
 

D3S_9377

Velier has created a heated, tasty, toasty Demerara rum that in my opinion takes its place alongside the UF30E and the Skeldon 1973 as one of the best rums they have ever made.

***

(#195. 92.5/100)

More than “42”, here’s the answer some of the great and grand questions of the universe.  When asked by the inquiring, “What makes anything you say worth hearing?” or “Why should I sleep with you?” or “Why’s the front door smashed in?”, all you need to do is smile, shrug, and point to this rum.

Velier’s rums sometimes seem similar when described (look how many Caroni rums they’ve put out the door, for example): but their lines are unique, each one depending on its own specific characteristics, closely observed, exactingly made, powerfully executed. Any serious sojourn into the world of rum sooner or later arrives here. And this Diamond estate rum from Guyana is no exception.

As before, Velier adhered to their starkly minimalist presentation, and continued their admirable practice of providing a fair bit of information on the stiff cardboard box: fifteen years ageing in situ, metal-coffey-still distillate set to age in 1999 and bottled in 2014, with an outturn of 1137 bottles from four barrels, and a 72% angel’s share loss.  Note that the barrels in this case where charred new oak, which might be an effort to impart more and intense flavours to the distillate, in a shorter time period.

D3S_9379

If that was their intention, they sure as hell succeeded.  I thought the UF30E and the Skeldon had deep and intense aromas, but they had been aged for a century in rum years, were bottled at greater than sixty percent, and it was to be expected.  Here we had a 53.1% ABV rum aged for half as long, and yet the scents just poured and billowed out of the bottle even before I had a chance to tip some in my glass. The dark, smooth and heavy nose (which mirrored the dark, smooth and rather heavy liquid) was immediately redolent of plums and apricots, vanilla and nutmeg.  No notes of citrus here, but pineapple, and cloves, then backed up by raisins and some very faint licorice, coffee and a whiff of mocha. It had the rich, plush nasal glissades akin to the soft crumpling of your disposable income, and was the kind of nose one just wanted to continue savouring.

As for the taste, oh man, this dark red-mahogany rum jiggled the jowls and rattled the rump like a revel dancer tramping down Vlissengen Road on Mash day. It was smooth with some spice and heat (both proof and oak showed their biceps here), thick, oily, tarry, full bodied.  Licorice, smoke, vanilla (not much), raisins, black grapes, rounded out with lighter floral notes started off, darkly sweet and all-round excellent, displaying a kind of exquisite zen-like brutality I couldn’t help but appreciate. And it didn’t stop there either, but continued providing flavours of dark chocolate, coffee, hibiscus and poinsettias in full bloom, as if you were at some kind of tropical Starbuck’s. I think Velier’s tamping down the volts on this rum was the right decision – I don’t believe that a higher proofage would make this as good a dram as the current strength does…more intense, yes, but not necessarily as memorable. And closing things off, the finish was fittingly long, warm, providing that last fillip of leather and oak, smoke, red wine, licorice and anise.

D3S_9382

Honestly folks, I was impressed as hell. Just to be sure, I ran the Diamond 1999 past four other Veliers in my stash, and still it stood up damned well. It was somewhat like the Diamond 1996 (but better), and, as with the Blairmont 1991, it developed over subsequent sampling.  It rewards re-tasting and comparisons, astounds and amazes, and like my wife, grows better with time and experience.  It growls and gurgles and purrs hard love down your throat, never crosses over to malignant sharpness and bite, shows the heights to which rums can aspire when made with verve and flair and daring, and is simply one of the most phenomenal rums I’ve tried in the last two years. If after two minutes of sampling this thing you aren’t jumping around the room rocking your air guitar like my nine-year-old son and looking for online big-hair wigs, carefully peruse the mail from your insurance carrier. It might have “Deceased” stamped on it.

***

Other notes

Velier has dropped the “Full Proof Old Demerara Rum” from the labelling for some reason.

The <S> on the label relating to the marks on the barrel is obscure. Marco’s phenomenal essay on the Guyanese distilleries speculated it might be related to the diamond logo <> surrounding the single initial of the plantation’s previous 18th century owner, Samuel Welch. Or maybe that of M. Steele, another 19th century proprietor. The question remains open.

This was the second of four samples Luca Gargano sent to me personally in September of 2014 when he heard I would be in Europe in October of that year. Next time I’m out in the real world I’ll pick up a couple of bottles of my own, I think. Maybe even three or four.

***

 

Dec 282014
 

D3S_9458

A surprising, dry, sharp and flavourful rum, yet somewhat missing of the high bar set by the Caronis made by other Italians. It’s got too many conflicting components, good in themselves, failing to cohere.

(#194. 86/100)

***

Readily available, cheaper and often excellent “everyone has one in his bar” rums dot the North American reviewing landscape, and every blogger usually begins his or her writing with such standards (European bloggers like Cyril, Marco and Henrik do not, for other reasons). Just like all film lovers eventually come to Ozu, sooner or later all us web scriveners move towards the craft bottlers, and with good reason. These makers take a select set of barrels from a particular country, a favoured distillery — even a specific still — and then lovingly tend the result without the problems of mass producing massive amounts of rum for an export market. These are almost always – and probably always will be – somewhat niche products, created for the rabid, not the mainstream, and alas, they tend to be pricey, if available at all. I think it’s a crime that more of this craft stuff doesn’t come over the water…even Renegade Rums are a vanishing breed over the pond. Add to that that this is a Caroni, and that says all that needs to be said as to why I bought it (for €80).

Depending on how you order the words on the label, this rum is called “Silver Seal Fine Caroni Heavy Rum 1997” with an additional moniker “Wildlife series No. 2” which relates to the label illustration of “Red, Blue and Yellow Macaws” by Harro Maas (several other Silver Seal rums have such designs). Given that it was marked as being bottled in 2011 on the label, then it is a 14 year old rum, even if it is not stated outright as being such; and like many other independent bottlers, they diluted the rum with distilled water down to 46%.  Black tipped cork on a standard barroom bottle, which held a golden-brown rum inside.

As I noted before with the Bristol Spirits and Barangai Caronis, there were certain things I expected from the rum, and here I found some of them returning like well-regarded, familiar friends on holiday, others not.  The nose started off somewhat lightly, with cherries and white flowers, but after just a few minutes the heavier flavours began to marshall their attack: tar, leather and smoke began, with estery wax and rubber notes of squishing wellies charging in later.  It was hot and spicy throughout – somewhat surprising for a rum of such relatively modest proofage.  And yet, as I stuck with it (and re-tasted later), the sweet flowers returned, accompanied by aromatic soap, citrus and – get this! – bubble gum.  A bit light, overall, and very rich in complexity and flavour.

No milquetoast rum this, it displayed real heft and weight to the taste.  Salty, briny and spicy, with tar, jute rice bags and heavy burnt sugar notes present, without the rum ever actually becoming sweet. Oak and smoke abounded, plus black dripping engine oil from a leak under your car, cooking on the asphalt on a really hot day.  Alas, these notes on the palate did not reach the high standard set by the initial scent. Adding some water didn’t quite rescue it, but did allow other flavours of vanilla and green olives to emerge.  The rather lacklustre finish of salted peanuts, butter and caramelized sugar was more of a question mark than an exclamation point on a unique rum which didn’t come together properly – I think too many interesting and complex flavours were at work (and querulously interfering with each other) for me to really love it. The nose was great, the palate pretty good and the finish just…meh. In a way it was a kinda crazy amalgam of taste impressions, not all of it succeeding as it should.

D3S_9459

Silver Seal is a bottler much in the vein of Velier, Rum Nation and others, if perhaps older (they were formed in 1979 and named “Sestante” before being renamed in 2001 after a ten year operational hiatus): like them, it bottles casks sourced and aged with attention to detail, from all over the world; like them, it is based in Italy; unlike Velier it does dampen down the natural exuberance of the cask, perhaps to appeal to a broader audience.  Its website gives equal, if not more prominence, to whisky (drat!), which I have to admit may not be all bad – love of the product does not blind me to the fact that flogging rums in the shops of the world can be an uphill slog, so if their whisky sales allow them to continue producing rums, well, that’s all good.

Summing up, I enjoyed the rum, just not as much as other Caronis I went through in series that day. This one is a shade too dry and salty – and maybe harsh – in comparison to those.  Oh, it’s a country mile ahead of cheaper and more available Trini rums, and there’s no denying its complexity (and the taste which single malt Islay lovers will really drool over) — so points for its technique there.

But you see, when people want to know about a particular rum, they’re after something quite specific. They never ask questions like, “Is the bouquet transcendent?” Or “is the palate sublime?” Or “is this a rum to share with friends, to show my personal sophistication?”

What they do want to know is, “Is it any good?” That’s what they always ask. And what they really mean by that, is “Is it good for the price?”

So for what I paid, I can’t tell you with a straight face that the Silver Seal Caroni 1997 is extraordinarily remarkable, an undiscovered masterpiece, a da Vinci among rums.  But I can make the case that for the money you spend, you’ll have a fascinating and intriguing time…as long as you accept that the overall profile is less that of a well balanced rum than that of a smorgasbord of great individual bits and pieces, that somehow fail to communicate with the mothership.

***

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