Dec 222016
 

 

***

A grand old PM. Best of the three Small Batch selections from 2016.

#329

It’s reasonable to wonder whether there isn’t some self-cannibalization going on here.  Since their inception back in 1999, Rum Nation’s flagship products were always the old-enough-to-vote Jamaicans and Demeraras, all issued at around 43-45%.  The old wooden box and jute packing gave way to sleeker, modernist boxes, but the ethos remained the same, and happily for the aficionados, there were always several thousand of these floating around, as Fabio Rossi never bottled just one cask, but several. (As an aside, something of the evolution of our world can be found in how long it took for anyone to even notice the original selections from the 1970s, which took years to sell…a situation which simply cannot occur today).

Fast forward to 2016, and the company sprang this surprise on us – in the same year that DDL pushed out its Rare Collection, RN raided its slumbering cask stash to produce three limited edition Demerara rums of their own, called the “Small Batch Rare Rums” (and I hear — in the muttered corners of the smoking area out back where the rum-hoodlums hang around — that others from Reunion and Hampden may be in the works).  Yet, because of their more limited outturn, these rums may be cutting into the sales of, or appreciation for, the top end rums that have won so much acclaim over the past decade or two, since what is made into a Small Batch cask-strength rum won’t be made into a twenty-something year old in the Supreme Lord or Demerara series.

Well, whatever.  We’re lucky to get these rums at all, I sometimes think.  And this one is right up there with the 45% Demeraras of made with such care in Rum Nation’s youth, perhaps even a smidgen better because of the extra oomph that was generously ladled out for us.

As usual, let’s get the known facts out of the way: Port Mourant distillate from the double wooden pot still in Guyana; the single cask was bought via a broker, and aged in Europe, first in the Bristol Spirits warehouse and in Italy after 2007.  The ageing was done from 1995 to 2005 in ex-bourbon barrels and transferred into a second-fill sherry cask in 2005 until final release in 2016 (Fabio told me he didn’t know whether it was first or second fill, but my own feeling after the tasting was that the sherry had an effect on the final product that was not strong enough after so many years to justify the first fill possibility, but that’s just my opinion).  The outturn was 170 bottles, bottled at that so-very-lekker strength of 57.7%, and I have bottle #002, which is almost as cool as having bottle #001.

Was it any good?  Oh yes.  Just opening it up and smelling straight out of the bottle hinted at olfactory impressions to come – some rubber, wax and floor polish, which swiftly dissipated, followed by licorice, bags of raisins and dried fruit, prunes, dates, cedar wood shavings, and a lovely aromatic tobacco and lemon peel smell behind all of those.  There were some well integrated caramel and vanilla notes, a sniff or two of red wine, but in the main, as was to be expected, it was the trio of anise, raisins and wood that were the core of the nose. It showcased all the markers of traditional excellence that I have always enjoyed about the Port Mourant distillate, all in balance and as harmonious as a zen garden.  

57.7% was also an almost perfect strength for it to be issued: over 60% it might have been too raw, under 50% and maybe too easy.  Not that it really mattered, because between the ageing and the sherry influence, the rum demonstrated a powerful but restrained mouthfeel which gave you the heat and the strength without ripping any part of your corpus to shreds. Sharp it was not…forceful might be a better appellation. And then the flavours came through, big and bold: licorice, oak, more of those aromatic cedar and cigarillos acting as the central core, upon which were hung the lesser tastes like apricots, more lemon peel, grapes, brown sugar, red wine and strong black tea, leading up to a masterful finish that lays it all out on the table so your senses get one last whiff before it all gradually dissipated.

The balance of the rum is exceptional – many of the elements are so flawlessly constructed and built into the profile that you want them simply continue, yet they create a sort of emotional, labial vortex drawing you into another sip, another glass…maybe that’s why half my bottle is already gone. What it really is, is a delivery system for ensuring you get every bit of nuance that can be squeezed out of a barrel. I felt that way about Rum Nation’s Jamaican Supreme Lord series, and the 57% white, and yes, about the Demeraras.  To make a series like that, of such consistent quality is something of a minor miracle.  To crank up the volts and issue a small batch version of the PM alone and have it be this good is surely another.

So, if you like Guyanese rums as a whole, cask strength rums generally and Port Mourant rums in particular, well, you really can’t go wrong here.  It’s ambitious, luscious, and delicious, providing a rum profile where drinker engagement and enjoyment is 100%.  As for the quotient of appreciation?  My friends, that may actually be off the chart.

(90/100)

Note:

This rum is the first release.  The 2nd Release, also from 2016, is a 17 year old bottled at 57.4% from two casks resulting in 816 bottles.  I tried that one at the 2016 Berlin Rumfest and can confirm it’s also quite good (though I liked this one more).

Dec 202016
 

rn-enmore-rare-1

***

#328

It really is amazing how many different ways there are to express the outturn from a single Guyanese still, Enmore or Port Mourant or any of the others  We might have to approach them like James Bond movies (or Sherlock Holmes short stories)…enjoying the similarities while searching for points of variation, which gives us the rare rum equivalents of  masterpieces like Skyfall versus occasionally indifferent efforts like A View to a Kill.

Rum Nation’s first serious foray into multiple-edition small-batch cask strength rums probably deserve to be tried as a trio, the way, for example, DDL’s three amigos from 2007 are.  Each of the three is unique in its own way, each has points that the others don’t, and if one is weak, it’s made up for with strengths of another and they work best taken together.  Of course, that’ll cost you a bit, since rums made at full proof are not cheap, but to have rums like this at 40% is to do a disservice to those famous stills from which Demerara rums are wrung with such effort and sweat.  Even DDL finally came around to accepting that when they issued their own Rare Casks collection earlier in 2016.

Of the three Rum Nation rums I tried (in tandem with several others), there was no question in my mind that this one sat square in the middle, not just in the trio, but in the entire Enmore canon.  Personally I always find Enmores somewhat of hit or miss proposition – sometimes they exceed expectations and produce amazing profiles, and sometimes they disappoint, or at least fall short of expectations (like the Renegade Enmore 1990 16 year old did)….another property they share with Bond movies  However, it must also be said that they are very rarely boring. That wooden still profile gives them all a character that is worth trying…several times.  

rn-enmore-rare-2

Take this one for example, an interesting medium-aged fourteen-year-old, almost lemon-yellow rum, with an outturn of 442 bottles from six casks (77-82).  It was distilled in 2002 and bottled this year, the first batch of Rum Nation’s cask strength series, with a mouth watering 56.8% ABV…now there’s a strength almost guaranteed to make an emphatic statement on your schnozz and your glottis.  And before those of you who prefer no adulteration ask — no, as far as I’m aware, it wasn’t messed with.

The nose demonstrated that the colour was no accident; it was sprightly, almost playful with clean notes of hay, planed-off wood shavings, lemony notes.  Not for this rum the pungent, almost dour Port Mourant depth – here it was crisper, cleaner. Gradually other aspects of the profile emerged – old, very ripe cherries, apples, cider, vanilla.  As if bored, it puffed out some mouldy cardboard and cherries that have gone off, before relenting and providing the final subtle anise note, but clearer, lighter, and nothing like the PM, more like a cavatino lightly wending its way through the main melody.

Certainly the nose was excellent – but the palate was something of a let down from the high bar that it set.  It was, to begin with, quite dry, feeling on the tongue like I was beating a carpet indoors.  It was less than full bodied, quite sharp and hot, with initial flavours of polish, sawdust and raisins, a flirt of honey; it was only with some water that other flavours were coaxed out — wax and turpentine, orange chocolates, dates, vanilla and Indian spices (in that sense it reminded me of the Bristol Spirits 1988 Enmore), and some eucalyptus, barely noticeable. It was the sawdust that I remember, though (not the citrus)…it reminded me of motes hanging motionless in a dark barn, speared by seams of light from the rising sun outside.  The finish was pleasant, reasonably long, repeating the main themes of the palate, without introducing anything new.

Overall, this is a rum that, while professionally executed and pleasant to drink (with a really good nose), breaks little new ground – it doesn’t take the Enmore profile to heights previously unscaled.  Yet I enjoyed it slightly more than the RN Diamond 2005 I looked at before.  Partly this is about the character of the whole experience, the way the various elements fused into a cohesive whole.  My friend Henrik, who also tried these three Small Batch Rare Rums together, was much more disapproving – he felt the Enmore was the weakest of the three, with light woods and citrus being all there was. My own opinion was that there was indeed less going on here than in other editions I’ve tried, but part of what I enjoyed was the way that what there was melded together in a way where little failed and much succeeded.  And if it did not come up to the level of other Enmores like the Compagnie des Indes 1988 27 year old (91 points), or the Velier 1988 19 year old (89 points), well, I felt it was still better than others I’ve tried, and by my yardstick, a damned good entry into the genre. Something like, oh, Thunderball or Goldeneye – not the very best, but far, far from the worst.

(87/100)

Other notes

To provide some balance for those who are curious,see the links to two other sets of reviews:

As with all expressions where this are differences in opinion, trying before buying is the way to go, especially if your personal tastes

I’m waiting on Fabio to tell me where the ageing took place – I have a feeling a good portion was in Europe.

 

 

 

Dec 182016
 

rn-sbrr-diamond-2005-1

#327

What a change just a few years have wrought. Back in 2009-2010, cask strength rums were hardly on the horizon, “full proof” drinks were primarily Renegade at 46% with a few dust-gatherers from independent bottlers like Secret Treasures, Cadenhead, Berry Bros., or Samaroli making exactly zero waves in North America, and Velier’s superlative rums issued almost a decade earlier known to few outside Italy.  Rum Nation took two years to sell a pair of 1974 and a 1975 25 year old Jamaican rums bottled at 45%….and they were around since 1999!

As 2016 comes to a close, observe the continental drift of the landscape: Velier is the mastodon of the full proofs, DDL released its Rares in February, FourSquare and Mount Gay are both issuing powerful and new versions of their old stalwarts, the Jamaicans are undergoing a rennaissance of old marques, and previously unremarked and unknown independent bottlers (some new, some not so new) are all clamouring for your attention.  Companies like Compagnie des Indes, Ekte, L’Espirit, Kill Devil and others are the vanguard, and more are coming.  Even the regular, tried-and-true makers whose names we grew up with, are amping up their rums to 42-43% more often.

rn-sbrr-diamond-2005-2In between all of these companies is Rum Nation, that Italian outfit run by Fabio Rossi, whose products I’ve been watching and writing about since 2011, when I bought almost their entire 2010 release line at once.  They’ve been making rums since the 1990s (like the two Jamaicans noted above), and over the past three years have attracted equal parts admiration and derision, depending on who’s doing the talking – it’s almost always the matter of additives to their rums; it should be observed that at the top end, it’s not usually the case, like with the 23-26 year old Jamaicans and Demeraras which remain among the best rums of their kind available.

The Small Batch Rare Rums Collection is Fabio’s last old stocks of Demerara rum, and has been on the drawing boards, so to speak, for quite some time – as DDL and Velier showed us with their own Rares, the decision to issue a rum can be made more than a year in advance of the actual first sales, what with all the bureaucratic hoops and logistics a bottler has to go through to bring the vision  to market. Anyway – the Diamond I’m writing about today, the youngest of the three, was from the 1st Batch and is RN’s own foray into the cask-strength market, issued at a rough and ready 58.6%, distilled in 2005 from the double column metal coffey still, and bottled in 2016…the outturn was/is 473 bottles, the presentation of which are the same RN style, but with cardboard tube enclosures, simpler and perhaps more informative labels to go along with them – and which, as always, have the postage stamp motif which has become almost a hallmark of Fabio’s (he used to be a collector in his youth, as I was). And no, no additives as far as I’m aware.

If you’ve been bored to tears by all this set-the-stage introductory material, your immediate and impatient question at the top was most likely, well, how good was the thing? .

All in all, it wasn’t bad – what set it lower on the podium than some others is probably the ageing, which I suspect was not fully tropical (Fabio still has to get back to me on that one but bearing in mind past products, it’s a good bet) and therefore not all the rougher edges had time to be fully integrated with and mellowed by the oak barrels in which it had been aged. It smelled light, with initial easy-to-spot caramel, white toblerone, vanilla and toffee, leavened with some watery fruit (green pears and watermelons), cloves, cumin, marzipan, before settling down to emit some odd background notes of black pepper, sawdust, grapes, raisins, fleshier stoned fruits, bubble gum and a soda pop…maybe pepsi, or 7-up.  Not entirely my thing – it was a bit sharp and raw, needed some snap and firmness to make the point more distinct, and the synthesis could have been better.

Diamond rums, of course, have been among my favourites for a while (comparisons with Velier are unavoidable) and what they lack in the fierce pungent originality of the rums from the wooden stills they regain in blending and ageing skill.  Some of that was evident when tasting the amber coloured rum – it started off hot, lunging out of the gate with first tastes of cocoa and light coffee, vanilla, some brine, some sweet (good balance there, not too much of either), and a muted explosion of fruits.  It was quite a bit lighter in mouthfeel than the PM and Enmore tasted right alongside, which some might mark down because it presents as thin, but to me there’s a world of difference between the two terms – the Doorley’s or an underproof 37.5% rum is thin; well made agricoles are light. So here I think that lightness has to be taken together with the crisp intensity of the tastes that come through, because no scrawny, spavined, rice-eating street cur of a rum could provide this much.  There were peaches, apricots, blackberries, cherries, bonbons and caramel sweets, and with water, all that plus some licorice under tight control, and a light woodsy backdrop melding somewhat uneasily with the whole…and a long, slow finish that provided closing notes of licorice, sweets, more fruits (nothing too citrusy or tart here) and, surprisingly enough, a coffee cake with loads of whipped cream.

All this taken into account, was the youngest rum the best of the three or not?

Well…no.  I found it somewhat austere, to be honest, a few clear notes coming together with the quiet, restrained sadness of a precise Chopin nocturne or a flute sonata by Debussy, and less of the passionate emotional fire of Beethoven, Verdi, Puccini or Berlioz that almost epitomizes the Guyanese rums when made at the peak of their potential.  It requires some more taming, I think, even dialling down — compared with its siblings and a bunch of other Demeraras I tried alongside it, it feels unfinished, like it needed some more ageing to come into its full glory.  Whatever.  It’s still a very tasty tot, and as long as you take what I said about lightness versus thinness alongside the strength and price and tasting notes together, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed if you do end up spring for it.

(86/100)

Dec 112016
 

cdi-enmore-27-yo-1

Single word summary – superlative.

#325

Compagnie des Indes burst in the scene in late 2014, which may be a rather melodramatic turn of phrase, but quite apt. The first of their line that I tried was the Cuban 1998 15 year old, which enthused me about the company immensely, and as the years moved on I’ve sampled up and down the range, from the less than stellar blends, to an Indonesian and a Fijian, and to more standard Jamaicans (with more coming). In all that time they have rarely made a bad rum, and if they eschew the tropical ageing regime and wild inventiveness that characterizes Velier’s Caribbean rums, that doesn’t mean they aren’t in their own way widening the path that Velier built and coming up with some amazing products of their own.

Nowhere is that more evident than in this magnificent 27 year old Guyanese rum, issued at a tonsil-wobbling 52.7%  – it is without a doubt the most Velier-like rum never issued by Velier, and given the difference in owner’s philosophy behind it, a stunning achievement by any standard, a wonderful rum, and one of the best from Enmore I’ve ever had.  One can only shed a tear and rend one’s beard and ask despairingly of the rum gods why the Danes were so clever and so fortunate as to have this 224-bottle outturn made especially for them, because that’s the only place you’re going to get one.

cdi-enmore-27-yo-2Right off the bat, I was impressed when I poured the copper-brown rum into the glass.  I mean, wow!  It was redolent from ten paces, deep and rich and dark and evincing all the hallmarks of a great Demerara rum: initial – and one could almost say boilerplate – aromas of cinnamon, vanilla, brown sugar, caramel and coffee started things off, boiling fiercely out of the glass and around the small room like it was practicing aromatherapy without a license. And then other flavours, firm and distinct and freely distributed as exclamation points in a Ludlum thriller, came out to back up the brass band – some licorice, petrol, wax, furniture polish, acetone, all well controlled (sometimes they get ahead of themselves in an aged Enmore or Port Mourant rum, but here they were in perfect harmony)

And the palate, man, just delicious. Not soft or gentle, not something tamed and easy-going for the unadventurous, but really hefty and strong, making its point with force but without ever crossing over the line into savage. When you drink this, you know you’re drinking a rum, y’know? because no attempt was made to dial things down. The waxy, car-engine notes subsided, allowing olives, brine and black pepper to begin the attack on the tongue, which displayed a medium body in texture.  More licorice and cinnamon followed, and yes, there was the vanilla, the toffee, plus more coffee, red grapes, peaches, a squeeze of lemon rind. And at the end there as some dry in there, a sly sherry influence, winey and sweet and salty at the same time, very nicely integrated into the proceedings. Even the finish didn’t disappoint, being just on the hot side, long lasting to a fault, presenting closing tastes of coffee, nougat, more fruits, and a last series of nutmeg and cinnamon and anise notes.

This is a really well made, enormously satisfying rum from Guyana and does credit to the Enmore estate. Luca might champion in-situ tropical ageing, Fabio a sort of amalgam of both tropical and European, while Florent goes the European-only-ageing route…but how can you argue with the results when after twenty seven years you get something like this?  It was the coolest thing to come out of wood since, I don’t know…a flute, a bar stool, a boat…stuff like that.

Anyway, closing up the shop, I have to admit that there’s just something about Florent and his rums I appreciate.  The other members of my pantheon (Luca, Fabio, Sylvano) are from other planes of existence. Fabio is a cheerful instrument of cosmic convergence, while Luca is a visitor to our plane from a superior universe that only exists in the imagination, with Sylvano being one of the benevolent old Star Trek Preservers that have moved on.  But Florent?  He’s a mortal straining for excellence with the tools he has…which he uses to sometimes achieve the extraordinary. Here, I think he made it.  He really did.

(91/100)

Other notes

  • Cask MEC27
  • The company bio makes mention of why the Danes got the cask strength rums and the rest of the world didn’t, but in the 2016 release season, CDI did start issuing cask strength rums for other than Denmark.
  • Aged November 1988 – April 2016
Nov 222016
 

velier-enmore-1987-0

Among the first Velier Demerara rums, eclipsed by its better-made brothers in the years that followed

#319

It’s become almost a game to ferret out the initial issuings of rums made by companies whose names are made famous by the passing of time. Back in 2000, who had ever heard of Velier outside of Italy?  Yet even then, the company was forging into the future by issuing rums defiantly called full proof, although there could have been few who were entirely sure what the term meant. 40% ruled the roost, “cask strength” was for whiskies, and only the occasional Demerara rum from an independent bottler was to be seen anywhere, usually tucked away on a liquor shop’s dusty back shelves, almost with an air of embarrassment.

velier-enmore-1987-2The Velier-imported, Breitenstein-bottled Enmore 1987 full proof rum may have the distinction of being one of the very first of the Demerara rums Velier ever slapped its label on – certainly my master list in the company biography has few from Guyana issued prior to that.  That might account for how at odds this rum tastes from other more familiar Enmores, and how strange it feels in comparison.

Consider: the nose opened with some brief petrol smells, which dissipated rapidly.  Then came pears and green apples, and creamed green peas, again gone in a flash. It was light and sweet in comparison to the other Enmores from Silver Seal and CDI I was sampling alongside it, and I dunno, it didn’t really work for me.  Later aromas of cake batter dusted with icing sugar, caramel and toffee, cinnamon and some faint bitter chocolate were about all I could take away from the experience, and I really had to reach for those.

The palate was also something of a let-down.  Sharp, salty, and somewhat thin, a surprise for the 56.6%, with such acidic tastes as existed being primarily lemon rind and camomile. With water some cinnamon buns grudgingly said hello. The rum as a whole was surprisingly demure and unassertive, with somewhat less than the nose promised coming through, even after an hour or so – vanilla and caramel of course, brown sugar, some light citrus peel, a melange of vague fruitiness that wasn’t cooperating, and that was pretty much it.  Even the finish was hardly a masterpiece of flair and originality, just a slow fade, with some more allspice and toffee and vanilla coming together in a sort of tired way. It was certainly not the lush, rich and firm tropical profile that Luca’s subsequent rums prepared us for.  I suspect that the rum was aged in Europe, not Guyana — the bottler, an old Dutch spirits-trading firm from the 1860s that morphed into DDL Europe in the later 2000s, was unlikely to have done more than provided Luca with a selection to chose from, aged in Holland. That might account for it, but I’m still chasing that one down since it’s my conjecture, not a stated fact.

Anyway, that’s what makes this something of a disappointment – one can’t help but compare it to the high bar set by rums that came later, because those are far more available and well-known…and better.  In this Enmore we saw the as-yet-unharnessed and unpolished potential that matured in rums like the Port Mourant series (1972, 1974, 1975), the legendary Skeldon 1973 and UF30E, and the 1980s and 1990-series Enmores, Diamonds, Uitvlugts and Blairmonts.  In 2000 Luca Gargano had a pedigree with wines and other occasional rums (like the Damoiseau 1980), and now in 2016 he is rightfully acknowledged as a master in his field.  But I feel that when this rum was bottled, he was still a cheerful, young, long-haired, piss-and-vinegar Apprentice mucking about with his rum-assembly kit in the basement, knowing he loved rums, not being afraid of failure, but not yet having the complete skillset he needed to wow the world.  How fortunate for us all that he stuck with it.

(82/100)

Other Notes

Thanks to Eddie K. who pointed out that there were in fact older Veliers issued in the 1990s by Thompson & Co. – so I changed the review (and the Makers rum listing) to reflect that this one is not the first.

velier-enmore-1987-1

Nov 062016
 

cdi-jamaica-wp-7-yo-53-1

A stunning fullproof Jamaican

#314

When a bunch of us were dissecting the 2016 Berlin RumFest, we all noted something interesting – the rums which seemed to be making the biggest splash and gaining some of the best accolades were the Jamaicans, as if they were charging out of the gate and making up for lost time. Certainly the visibility of the island has been increasing in the last year or two what with the issuance of new rums from previously marginal distilleries (Clarendon, Hampden, Innswood, Longpond, Worthy Park), and the appearance of new variations at various festivals.  And many of these rums are amazingly good – perhaps more than anything else they showed what we’ve been missing all this time. I can almost feel a twinge of sympathy for Appleton in the years to come.

If you doubt the rise of the New Jamaicans, look no further than the Worthy Park rum issued by Compagnie des Indes. The Hampden 58% was great and I scored it highly – this one is better still.  I haven’t seen anyone take it apart yet, and it hasn’t made much of a splash, but this thing is superlative, if limited (to 271 bottles). The rest of the Jamaican loving rumworld would go ape for this rum if it was more available, and I swear, if Velier issued the thing, we’d see a mass stampede that would make the online issue of the FourSquare 2006 look like a teutonic model of orderly and restrained sales efficiency.

cdi-jamaica-wp-7-yo-53-3Bottled at a stern and uncompromising 53%, which is still quite reasonable even for those too timorous to buy real brute-force sledgehammers like the >65% rums, the bare details are simple: a seven year old rum from a single cask, bottled in July 2015, aged in American oak, entirely in Europe.  And yes, from Worthy Park: if you are interested in such things, the Cocktail Wonk took the time and trouble to visit and wrote a detailed article on the subject which is worth checking out, since it would be an insult to abridge into a few sentences here.

At first blush it seems odd to say that honey, cream cheese and crackers were the initial aromas; and was that cucumbers, smoked salmon and parsley on rough peasant bread?…surely not…but yes it was, plus dill – it was all very faint and more hint than bludgeon, but very much there. I literally stared, bemused, at my glass, for a few minutes, before attending to business again.  After the amazingly off-base beginning, much more traditional smells started to assert their dominance – citrus peel, nuts, bananas, soft white guavas, some vanilla and cinnamon, nothing really tart or acidic…the rum was not so much soft and easy as firm and quite crisp, almost prissily precise.

It was on the palate that its quality moved out of yummy into awesome.  There were cherries in syrup on a cheesecake, quite delicate; ripe but still tart slices of Indian mangoes.  Yes it was hot, maybe even sharp, yet it was as clear and precise as a Chopin nocturne, and the palate delivered on what the nose had promised, adding caramel, brininess, an olive or three, banana skins, overripe apples, and cider.  It was, in its way, like a really good Riesling, with a sparkling red grapefruit background striking a delicate balance between sleaze and titillation, between sweet and salt, dunder and “rumminess” – it’s an amazing achievement, a wonderful rum, one of Florent’s best, and it finishes with some emphatic final notes of vanilla, cinnamon, very light sweetness of those cherries, salted caramel, and a last twist of lemon. I tried it three times over six hours, and still thought it was great the final time.

Every few years, our world seems to be dominated by rums of a different style.  For a while it was the Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, Venezuelans and Guyanese, then Velier exploded on the scene with its full proof Demeraras, followed by the Trini Caronis. The Bajans have come on strong of late (mostly FourSquare and St. Nick’s), and  there are the agricoles, as ever, quietly and determinedly chugging beneath them all. Now it may be the turn of the Jamaicans to produce the most exciting work for a while. If just on a random sampling, something this good and this young appears out of nowhere, we may all be in for a cornucopia of wonderful rums from the island, of which this is just one.  

(90/100)

Nov 032016
 

rn-jamaica-1990

We should be grateful that some makers still have sufficient stocks to permit the issuance of rums old enough to vote – we sure won’t see many of them much longer.  This one does fans of the Jamaican rums no dishonour – it’s great.

#313

With the recent 2016 release of the 1991 Jamaica SL VIII, which really is just about as good as they say and maybe even better than this one, I rummaged around my bag of tasting notes and remembered I had a bottle from that island from a year or two back knocking about and gathering dust (would you believe I actually forgot about it?) … so I brought it upstairs, re-tasted, updated the notes, and decided to jump it to the front of the queue. ‘Cause those Supreme Lords man, they’re pretty amazing, and we don’t see many rums this old from the indie bottlers all that often.

By now, after recommending them for many years, there is nothing new I can really add to Rum Nation’s company bio that isn’t already there. They’re not innovative – or “limited edition” – in the same sense that CDI or Velier or even EKTE is, but they are very consistent in their own way and according to their own philosophy, and I’ve liked them enormously since 2011 when I first ran across their products and bought just about the entire 2010 release line at once.  Almost always good, always adding a little bit here and a little bit there to tweak things a bit (like the Panama being changed to an 18 year solera, the new bottle design from 2014), and incrementally improving every year (moving slowly to higher proof points, the Jamaican 57% white and those amazing twenty-plus-year-old Demerara and Jamaica rums). They catch a lot of heat for their practise of adding sugar (sometimes it’s actually caramel but never mind) to their lower- and mid-level rums (the Millonario XO in particular comes in for serious hate mail).  However this Jamaican SL VII has no such inclusions and is pretty much unmessed with, so rest easy ye puritans, and on we go.

Some details: this is a pot still rum, from Hampden estate, which is rapidly turning into one of my favourite Jamaican estates, like PM is for the Demeraras.  It was distilled in 1990 and poured into 822 bottles in 2013 at a not-quite-so-spectacular 45%, after slumbering for almost twelve years in Jamaica (in ex-bourbon American oak barrels), before finishing the ageing regime in the UK.

rn-j-1990-2It’s always a toss-up for me whether I’m in a Jamaican or Guyana mood, and this orangey-amber rum showed why – deep rich licorice and honey started the nose off, billowing strongly out of the glass; the funk took its place, oak joined in, to which was added easier notes of mead, grasses (grasses? I wondered, but yeah, there it was), and some orange zest. Deeper, muskier and earthier tones took their turn, before fading off into fruity hints (unripe peaches and a half ripe mango or two). I was impressed as all get out to note a hint of fresh honeycomb (complete with waxy notes) with a clear, light floral undercurrent that all combined really well.

There was no divergence on the taste, as I’ve sometimes noted with Jamaicans, and the palate followed smoothly on from what was smelled. Smooth and warm – yes, 45% could be improved on, but I can find little fault with what has been accomplished here.  Quite fruity, acetone-like and estery, but also competing briny notes were in the mix.  Citrus, sherry, the glue of an UHU stick, then cherries and very ripe apples on the verge of going bad.  It tasted remarkably clear and crisp, with the funk being held at bay while never entirely disappearing.  That might actually be to its detriment, because we look for a Jamaican profile, and it’s there, just not as in-your-face as we are led to expect by other independent bottlers who have no time for subtlety and smack you in the head with it. Finish is warm, remarkably long for that strength, with closing aromas of glue, sweet soya, a sort of mash-up of fleshy fruits, all leavened with a sly, crisp citrusy note that brings it all to a lovely close.  Overall, it’s a lovely and approachable rum that many, beginners and aficionados alike, will savour, I think.

Rum Nation’s marketing is quite canny.  Unlike the smaller independent bottlers, they don’t just do a single barrel – for them that’s too limiting.  They do two and three and four or more at a time, which permits correspondingly greater volumes (usually in the low thousands of bottles, sometimes more, sometimes less).  And they issue their high-end rums — of which this is assuredly one — at an ABV that’s more than the 40% which is practically a North American standard, but less than some raging full proof number that alienates (scares off?) all but the hard core.  What that leaves us with is a relatively affordable, very accessible 23 year old rum of just under a thousand bottles, issued at a decent strength, and quality not to be sneezed at. For ensuring that sales and availability and appreciation go hand in hand, that four-way combo is a tough one to beat. This is a rum worth getting, and the great thing is, you still can..

88.5/100

Other notes

Bottle provided by Fabio Rossi – every time we meet we argue over the cheque, whether it’s for a dinner we share or a bottle he’s provided. Sometimes I win, sometimes he does. I still owe him for this one, which I’ve had since early 2015.

The wooden box with its jute sacking which I so loved has been discontinued, but postage stamp pictures blessedly remain as part of the overall presentation.

Sep 282016
 

la-confrere-long-2014-2

#307

Inhaling the powerful scents of this rhum is to be reminded of all the reasons why white unaged agricoles should be taken seriously as drinks in their own right.  Not for Longueteau and La Confrérie the fierce, untamed — almost savage — attack of the clairins; and also not for them the snore-fests of the North American whites which is all that far too many have tried. When analyzing the aromas billowing out from my tasting glass, what I realized was that this thing steered a left-of-middle course between either of those extremes, while tilting more towards the backwoods moonshine style of the former. It certainly presented as a hot salt and wax bomb on initial inspection, one couldn’t get away from that, but it smoothened out and chilled out after a few minutes, and coughed up a few additional notes.  Was there some pot still action going on here? Not as far as I know, more a creole column still.  It was a briny, creamy, estery, aromatic nose, redolent of nail polish and acetone (which faded) watermelon, cucumbers, swank, a dash of lemon and camomile…and maybe a pimento or two for some kick (naah – just kidding about that last one).

The taste of this thing was excellent: spicy hot, fading to warm, and surprisingly smooth for a rhum where I had expected more intensity.  Like many well made full proofs, the integration of the various elements was well done, hardly something we always expect from an unaged white; and after the initial discomfort one hardly noticed that it was a 50% rhum at all. It was comparatively light too, another point of divergence from expectations.  It tasted of all the usual notes that characterize white agricoles – vegetals, lemongrass, cucumbers and watermelon, more sugar water (it hinted at sweetness without bludgeoning you into a diabetic coma with it) – and then added a few interesting points of its own, such as green thai curry in coconut milk, and (get this!) the musky sweetness of green peas. It all closed up shop with a nicely long-ish, dry-ish, intense and almost elegant finish, with an excellent balance of zest, creamy cheese and those peas, and some of the esters and acetones carrying over from where everything had started.  The balance could be better, but I had and have no complaints.

la-confrere-long-2014-1La Confrérie are not independent bottlers in the way Velier, Rum Nation or Compagnie des Indes are.  What they do is work in collaboration with a given distillery, and then act more as co-branders than issuers.  This provides the distillery with the imprimatur of a small organization well known – in Europe generally and France in particular – for championing and promoting rhum, who have selected the casks carefully; and gives La Confrérie visibility for being associated with the distillery.  Note that La Confrérie is also involved in deciding which shops get to sell the rhum, so certainly some economic incentives are at work here.  (There are some other background notes on La Confrérie in the HSE 2007 review, if you’re interested).  The two co-founders — Benoit Bail and Jerry Gitany – are currently touring Europe on an Agricole Tour to promote and extend the visibility of French island rhums, so their enthusiasm and affection for agricoles is not just a flash in the pan, but something to be taken seriously.

When I consider the pain Josh Miller went through to get the twelve blanc agricoles which he put through their paces the other day (spoiler alert – the Damoiseau 55% won), I consider the Europeans to be fortunate to have much greater resources at their disposal – especially in France, where I tried this yummy fifty percenter. And frankly, when North Americans tell me about their despite for white (so to speak), having had only Bacardis and other bland, filtered-to-within-a-whisker-of-falling-asleep mixing agents whose only claim to fame is their ubiquity, well, here’s one that might turn a few heads and change a few minds.  

(83/100)

Other notes

  • Outturn 1500 bottles
  • Source blue cane chopped, crushed, wrung out, soaked and hooched in May 2014, left in steel vats for around six months, and bottled in March 2015.
Sep 132016
 

cdi-jamaica

Among the most fiercely aromatic and tasty five year olds around.

#301

***

Although at the writing of this review, I had no idea which four Jamaican rums comprise the blend of this 57% island beefcake which was distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2015, I was neither good enough nor arrogant enough to guess on the strength of the taste.  So after sending the question to Florent Beuchet, he responded a few weeks later by stating it was Hampden, Monymusk, Worthy Park and one more which, with the same penchant for secrecy that informed his Indonesian rum, he declined to name.  Note that this rum is the same as the “regular” Compagnie des Indes’s Jamaican 43% five year old….just stronger.

People who have been following my work for a while will know of my preference for full proof drinks, and while my favour is usually given to Demerara rums from the famous stills, there’s loads of room for Jamaicans as well (and Trinis, and Bajans, and rhums from Guadeloupe and Martinique…).  The funky taste can occasionally take some getting used to, but once you’ve got the taste, mon, you really appreciate its difference.

The 57% strength hearkens back to the “100 proof” of the old days, back when a proof spirit was defined as one which was just of sufficient alcohol content to be able to support combustion when a sample of gunpowder was soaked in it.  That was a rough and ready rule of thumb subject to all sorts of inaccuracies, long since supplanted by more technical ways of gauging the alcohol content of a rum.  Yet it has proved to be a curiously long lived term in the rumiverse, and there are a few other other rums that still use the moniker when describing their products (like Rum Nation’s 57% white, for example).  Let’s just consider it a full proof rum and move on, then.

cdi-jamaica-2There was no question that this was a Jamaican, once the dark gold liquid was in the glass: the musky herbal funk, the pot still background, the esters, were all there, in spades. Furniture polish, acetone and the pungent turpentine reek of a failed artist’s cleaning rag led out of the gate immediately.  Plus, it was quite heated – sharp, even – as befitted its strength, so no surprises here. It developed nicely into a smorgasbord of licorice, bananas, flowers and fruit which balanced off the fierce and raw initial scents quite well.

The taste was where the rum came into its own.  Man, this was nice: citrus peel, grasses, purple olives (not very salty), gherkins in vinegar were the first sensations developing on the palate.  With some water, the sweet and salt and vaguely sour of a good soya came through, plus a few tart and fleshy fruits just ready to go off onto the bad side, more licorice, and some kind of cough medicine my wife spoons into me (elderberry?).  It was an interesting combo, not at all like the tamed versions Appleton sells with much more success, so here I’d have to suggest it’s made at something of a tangent to more familiar Jamaican rums – I have little to base this on, but I thought “Hampden” for the most part (and thereby being related to CDI’s own Jamaica 2000 14 YO which I liked better, partly because of its focus; or the Renegade 2000 8 YO, also from Hampden).  It was pretty good, with a finish that was reasonably long, hot, pungent and tasty, giving last hints of lime zest, dialled down nail polish, some oak and vanillas, but the final memory that remains is the Jamaican funk, which is as it should be. A very traditional, tasty and well-made rum from that island, I thought.

Aged for five years in oak barrels (I suspect in Europe, not Jamaica…another outstanding question), there is a straightforward simplicity to the assembly I liked. So many entries in this genre — occasionally even those by independent bottlers – fail at the close because the makers feel compelled to overcomplicate matters with fancy blending and extraneous finishes; they mistake cacophony for complexity, or quality.  There is a place for keeping things simple, for navigating a course between too much and too little.  This rum, I felt, managed to chart its way seamlessly between those extremes and is as Jamaican as rice and peas…and as delicious.

(84/100)

Aug 302016
 

La Confrerie HSE 1

A lovely, supple rhum from the French island.

(#299 / 87/100)

***

La Confrérie du Rhum’s Martinique Extra Vieux (as labelled), a 2007 millésime rhum bottled at a forceful 52.2% had darker notes reminding me of the Damoiseau 1989, until it went off on its own path and in its own way, which makes perfect sense since it’s actually from Habitation St Etienne. And while I have not had enough of those to make any kind of statement, after trying this one I bought a few more just to see whether the quality kept pace…because La Confrérie’s rhum was quite a lovely piece of work.

The Habitation Saint-Étienne is located almost dead centre in the middle of Martinique.  Although in existence since the early 1800s, its modern history properly began when it was purchased in 1882 by Amédée Aubéry, an energetic man who combined the sugar factory with a small distillery, and set up a rail line to transport cane more efficiently (even though oxen and people that pulled the railcars, not locomotives). In 1909, the property came into the possession of the Simonnet family who kept it until its decline at the end of the 1980s. The estate was then taken over in 1994 by Yves and José Hayot — owners, it will be recalled, of the Simon distillery, as well as Clement —  who relaunched the Saint-Étienne brand using Simon’s creole stills, adding snazzy marketing and expanding markets.

The Brotherhood itself is an odd sort of organization, since it exists primarily on Facebook.  Running the show are Benoît Bail, a sort of cheerfully roving rum junkie without an actual title but with an awesome set of tats and love of rum who currently resides in Germany, and Jerry Gitany who moonlights at Christian de Montaguère’s shop in Paris; among various other rum promotional activities, they dabble in importation of spirits, and starting in 2015 they were first approached to be part of a co-branding exercise (they are not independent bottlers). What this means in practice is that they work with a distillery to chose the rum (a cask or two), put La Confrérie’s logo on the label, and designate which shops get to sell it to the final consumers, and work to promote it afterwards. So far they’ve co-branded four expressions: Les Ti’Arrangé de Céd (March 2015), Longueteau (June 2015), La Favorite (December 2015) and this one.

La Confrerie HSE 2The story of this particular rhum started during one of Jerry’s regular visits to HSE, when Cyrille Lawson, the commercial director, remarked, “Jerry, we want to do a cuvée with La Confrérie.” “Sure,” Jerry said “But you have to do something that you’ve never done before.”  And Cyrille, probably relieved not to be asked to go base-jumping in a pink suit, agreed to come up with something good. One year later, Benoît and Jerry were at HSE picking and chosing among six different samples, the final result being this first full proof 52.2% beefcake. It was distilled in a creole column still, then aged in an American oak barrel between July 2007 and February 2016, had no additives, fully AOC compliant, and turned out at a very nice 800 bottles. It turned up for sale just in time for three hundred to be snapped up at the 2016 Paris rumfest, and for me to walk into the establishment two months later, see it and want to check it out. 

The aromas of the gold-amber rhum were excellent: the initial attack was all about anise, fruits, raisins, coffee and some red wine (I’m not good enough to tell you which) – this was the part that reminded me of the Damoiseaus. But then it went its own way, adding orange zest, more coffee, and some molasses (what was that doing here?), with just the slightest bit of vegetals, lemongrass and sugar cane juice. They were crisp notes that scattered like bright jewels on a field of black velvet, somehow vanishing the moment I came to grips with them, like raindrops in moonlight.

The taste, on the other hand, did not begin auspiciously – I actually thought it somewhat uncouth and uncoordinated, being sharp and spicy and seemingly harsh, but then it laughed, apologized and developed into an amazingly beautiful profile: honey, dill, candied oranges and coffee, bound tightly together by the clear hot firmness of very strong black tea.  And that was just the beginning: as it relaxed and opened up (and with some water), sugar cane juice and herbals and grasses came up from behind to become more assertive (though not dominating).  Again there as that odd caramel and molasses backtaste, and then came one I’m at a loss to explain except to say trust me, it was there: the scent of salt beef in a tub, hold the beef (I am not making this up, honest). It all finishing up with a lovely fade, long and warm, dry, not overly tannic, with some smoke and light dusty haylofts mixed in with chocolate, juice, zest and grass. I mean, guys, I had this thing in my glass for almost two hours while I went back and forth in that shop, and what I’m describing was real – the rhum has a phenomenal palate…less sharp than might be expected for 52.2%, and yet quite distinct and strong, a veritable smorgasbord of cooperating tastes.La Confrerie HSE 3

Years ago when studying the games of go-masters, I remember reading that one of them lost not when he played the most promising or “proper” moves, but when following lines of play which resulted in an elegance and purity of his game which overwhelmed his desire to win.  It was all about the pleasing  arrangement of stones on the board, you see: the beauty. The ending was, in its own way, superfluous. Irrelevant.  The pattern was everything.

I have a feeling HSE’s master blender might know this game. He started with nothing – an empty board, so to speak – and stone by stone, element by element, year by year, built a mosaic, a poem in liquid, that resulted in this fascinating rhum.  He has not won, no — there are indeed weak points in the final result.  But I contend that what has been made here is a thing of rare skill, of elegance, and yes, even of beauty. That alone, to me, makes it worth buying

***

Other notes

A sample straight from the bottle, one of several that Jerry Gitany let me try in Christian’s shop in Paris in early 2016. You could argue that I was positively influenced by it being a freebie, but since I picked it and he didn’t, and since a fair bit of my coin had just vanished into his till, I chose to believe otherwise.

The dates on the label make it clear this is an eight year old. Benoît confirms it is a true millésime.

As an aside, so Jerry informs me, HSE was so happy with this rhum that they asked La Confrérie to collaborate on a second batch, supposedly to be even better. It will be delivered by the end of 2016 (November or December).

error: Content is copyrighted. Please email thelonecaner@gmail.com for permission .